Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings
A Clash of Kings, the sequel to A Game of Thrones, starts with many kings. Following the death of Robert Baratheon and the accusations that Prince Joffrey is not the rightful heir, there were claims to the Iron Throne by both Robert's brothers, and Robb Stark is proclaimed King of the North. And, as with its predecessor, A Clash of Kings follows far more than just one character (or these kings). There is Jon Snow (and gang) who venture beyond the wall, trying to find his uncle Benjen and some answers; Arya who managed to escape King's Landing with the help of the Night Watch, as a boy; Bran who must rule Winterfell in stead of Robb; Daenerys and her dragons (and her khal) who try to find a way to reach Westeros; and Tyrion who has been tasked by his father to serve as Hand to King Joffrey (and make sure he does not make more mistakes).

With so many storylines, it's easier to pick them apart and comment on each one. To start, Daenerys part was one that I least liked. There was not much going on, and what did happen did not strike me as very important (but I guess that's because she is so far away from the main action). But on the plus side, there were dragons. Not that they did much either.

Another storyline that I couldn't care much about (at least at first) was Theon's. I never liked him much, and he came across as spoiled and petty. But after seeing what his family was like, I couldn't help but pity him (and I did end up to respect him a bit later on, just because he stuck with his choices, no matter how wrong and stupid they were).

And now that the most disliked parts are done with, let's get on with the good stuff. Last book, I ended with a few favourite characters among the multitude that we have in A Song of Ice and Fire: Jon Snow, Bran and Arya Stark, and Tyrion Lanister. And in this book they did not disappoint (much). In the case of the Stark family (Jon included), I felt there were points the story dragged a bit, but in the end I ended up loving it anyway. That is not what happened with Tyrion's story. Most of the time, I was reading the other chapters as fast as I could just to get to a part where Tyrion made an appearance. I loved his plots and his backhanded way of doing things, and if there were more Lanisters like him, I could end up loving that House (as it is, I'll point his family as his biggest fault).

There were also a few surprises regarding some characters. First, the urge to slap Sansa Stark disappeared, I started to like her. It help that she lost her admiration for Joffrey and the Queen, and that she started to think a bit for herself (of course it helps to be reminded that she is only 12, still pretty much a child, but one can't help but compare her to Arya, who his 10 and kicks butt). Seeing Queen Cersei as a mother (who actually cares for her kids, not simply likes to use them as pawns) was also quite nice, and even if that does not help to clear her image, still gives her a bit of extra dimension. (Of course now I'm left pondering what kind of father Robert was, and if Joffrey could have turned out a bit better if there was a bit more love on his father's side).

And what of all these kings? For most part, I could care less who was going to sit on the throne (as long as it's not Joffrey), and there was a general feeling of waiting throughout the book (sure there were a few battles, a few key-deaths here and there, but still...). Between Stannis and Renly, the only thing that tipped the scales was one using the Red Lady as ally, and the other not caring much about religion (old, new or newer). As for Robb, I never really connected with his character and as his appearances grew farther and farther apart, I stop caring altogether about him.

But since the matter of the throne is far from resolved I can't help but read the next one the series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

Stories, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, takes as starting point their love for good stories and good writing, and 4 words: ...and then what happened? I had my eyes on this book ever since it came out – short stories, some great authors (even if the combination of some seemed strange at first), and a cute cover.

Stories starts with Blood by Roddy Doyle, that is quite upbeat and funny, even if slightly disturbing – I enjoyed it but the ending didn't quite work for me. But the second story, Fossil-Figures by Joyce Carol Oates, more than made up for it. Fossil-Figures is a story of twins, different from what usually is done, poignant and dark – but what really captivated me was the writing, that conveyed the feelings of both the characters so well. I admit never having heard of Joyce Carol Oates, but it won't be the last I'll read something of this author.

The next three stories (Joanne Harris's Wildfire in Manhattan, Neil Gaiman's The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains and Michael Marshall Smith's Unbelief) could have been part of American Gods, and if that is forgiveable in the case of Neil Gaiman, with the other two not so much. Joanne Harris story was still enjoyable for the movie(or TV-series)-like quality of it, fun, with action and a hint of romance. Neil Gaiman's didn't really convince me more because of the writing than the story itself. Unbelief is a cutesy story, with a twist towards the end that made me smile a bit, but not much more than that.

The stars are falling by Joe R. Lansdale is a strange case, because although I can't say I specially liked it, it was memorable enough to still have me thinking about it (more than a month after reading it). It's dark and sad, like many of the stories in this book, but strangely uplifting in the end, despite the grimness of it.

Walter Mosley's Juvenal Nyx starts really slow and boring, and once it starts to be interesting to me, it pick ups the pace and finishes in a flash. As a vampire story it is different from usual, and had it been more like the ending part, it could have been phenomenal.

After Richard Adams's story The Knife I think I am ready to give up on this author, neither writing nor story were to my liking, and the only plus side was that it was extremely short.

I was surprised to see Jodi Picoult in the list of the authors, the few names that I was acquainted with screamed Fantasy and Science Fiction to me, Jodi's didn't. But I'm glad she was included, her story Weights and measures was extremely sad, but extremely well written. About the death of child and the grief of parents, I didn't expect to enjoy it, and certainly not as much as I have.

Michael Swanwick's The Goblin Lake was fairy tale like at first, jumping into metafiction later on. But it never really convinced me, and to tell the truth, the new-comer Kat Howard manages much better the metaficiton in her story A Life in Fictions, which was really good.

Mallon the guru by Peter Straub was another story that didn't work out for me, the same with Stewart O'Nan's Land of the Lost, Carolyn Parkhurst's Unwell and Tim Powers's Parallel Lines (these last two with some similarities, as well as with Fossil-Figures that had already stole my heart).

Lawrence Block's Catch and Release and Jeffery Deaver's The Therapist were both rather good, both showing the darker side of human nature. In the first we share the thoughts of a serial killer that has somehow changed his modus operandi, never giving up the chase of prey. In the second story it takes awhile to realize how dark it is, and since there is an element of fantasy there, the reader is doesn't quite know what to believe.

Jeffrey Ford's Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Chuck Palahniuk's Loser and Jonathan Carroll's Let the Past Begin were nice stories, with some degree of craziness and surrealism, which is always a bonus for me, but not exactly memorable.

Samantha's Diary by Diana Wynne Jones was my favourite story in the book – a retelling of the popular 12 Days of Christmas, set in a futuristic world were such song is almost forgotten. This one made me laugh out loud (I swear, true story). I wish there was a bit more to its ending, but anyway, it is a brilliant story.

Leif in the wind by Gene Wolfe was another poignant story, a science fiction one, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Al Sarrantonio's The Cult of the Nose is another slightly surreal one, that had the power to actually make me believe in the conspiracies and secret society that the main character was involved on. The ending was also quite twisty, leaving it open to the reader to believe in either side of the story.

Human intelligence by Kurt Andersen was another science fiction one, and with quite a big twist in the end that left me with a smile in my face (a much bigger one than in Unbelief). I rather liked it.

Stories by Michael Moorcock was tremendously strange to me, because it didn't feel like a story to me – just the author talking about the past and people that I always felt I was supposed to know who they were but I had no idea who they could be. For the most part it made me feel stupid, because surely these should be really famous authors and magazines and what-not. But slowly I became somewhat invested in the characters, especially the one we know from the beginning what will happen – I guess I want to know how he got there.

Elizabeth Hand's The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon was a nice one as well, rather long, which made me feel it could have been a novel. I wish there was a better explanation to some of the events, but overall it was good.

The Devil on the Staircase by Joe Hill is the closing story of this book, with a different kind of layout. As the main character goes up and down the many stairs of his village, so does the text resemble them. It made it a bit hard to follow the story, but it was nice all the same.

My overall opinion of Stories was that it was somewhat of a disappointment: even if there were stories that I loved, they were few and the ones that didn't interest me one bit far too many. Regarding the central point of ...and then what happened? of all the stories, I felt the great majority of cases that I was asking that because the story had an unfinished feel to it, not because I really wanted to know more about it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Sketch Monsters - Book 1 by Joshua Williamson and Vincente Navarrete

Sketch Monsters - Book 1: Escape of the Scribbles

I got this book in ebook format from Oni Press, through Netgalley

Eight-year-old Mandy isn't what you'd call an emotional child. Whether at her own surprise birthday party, scoring the winning goal, or being stung by a bee, Mandy doesn't show her feelings.

Instead she draws them as MONSTERS in her sketchbook! But one day her emotions run wild and those monsters escape! Mandy's only help catching them is an eccentric monster named Happster, who causes more problems than he solves.

Can Mandy catch all the sketch monsters and return them to her sketchbook before they destroy her town?

This is a very cutesy book, with a pretty straightforward story. Mandy shows no emotions whatsoever, not when she's happy nor when she is sad. Poker face at its best. But when the monsters she draws escape the sketchbook she has to catch them in a very special way – she has to show the emotion they portray.

The art is quite fun in this book, very bright, and the monsters very childlike, and very cute (and for the most part, not very frightening).

And since this a really small book, it can be read in a flash. The story, not being very surprising or in any way complex, is still nice to read. I'm not sure I would go out of my way to read any new issue of this comic, thought.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Orcs: Forged for War by Stan Nicholls and Joe Flood

Orcs: Forged for War

I got this book in ebook format from First Second Books, through Netgalley

Orcs: Forged for War is the first graphic novel in Stan Nicholls’ beloved Orcs universe. The fantasy landscape in this world is brutal and unforgiving, and populated by a race of unlikely protagonists: the powerful and violent warriors, orcs. Orcs: Forged for War is an original story—a new entry in this series, not an adaptation of old material. It follows a ruthless and deadly cohort of warrior orcs as they fight their way free of the dominion of an evil human enchantress. Sitting on an exhilarating peak with high fantasy on one side and the thrilling, gruesome battlefields of graphic novel classics like Frank Miller’s 300 on the other, Orcs presents the world of its ogre-like protagonists with technicolor violence and moments of unexpected sympathy.

Orcs: Forged for War gives a taste into the Orcs universe, one which I didn't know. But the prologue explained not only the reason for this graphic novel but some insight into the world – not that it would be much needed. Forged for War stands well on its own.

The universe of Orcs seems like a nice one to explore – unlike pretty much all fantasy, here this race is not evil, war-driven for sure, but their actions are not malicious. There was a lot that was backstory (that I got to know in the prologue and throughout the graphic novel) and that interested me. Well, to tell the truth, the backstory interested me more than the actual story.

Not that it was bad. It was rather straightforward, with a lot of fighting, and somewhat predictable. And more fighting. In the end, it was not really my cup of tea – I would have preferred something with more plot. The artwork was nice (after, the cover did catch my attention), but still not enough for this book to cause any kind of impact. I might give the novels a try, though.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

The Body Finder
I was in need of something light and fluffy so I picked this book – a YA romance with serial killers and deaths of teenagers. Makes sense, right?

The Body Finder is the story of Violet Ambrose, a 16-year old that would have been normal if not for the little detail that she can feel the bodies of recently murdered beings – be it the small animals her cat kills, or a teenage girl when she was eight. But that is not all, it's not just the feeling of dead bodies, she also can sense the killer, who has an imprint for each kill (making the cohabitation with her cat a bit strained), of which each body has an echo (this is what she senses, the echoes). But when girls start disappearing (and she starts finding bodies), Violet decides that she will do everything to help catch the bad guy.

Of course she is not alone, she has her best and childhood friend Jay, who knows of her strange powers. And because the book wouldn't be complete without some romance, at 16 Violet realizes the changes Jay has suffered during the summer, and has trouble sorting out her feelings.

What the book promised, it delivered – it was light and fluffy, with serial killers and a lot of death. On one hand we have the story of Violet and Jay, that is pretty much straightforward and very sweet. And then we have the disappearances and the body dumps. It was ingenious to have, in the middle of Violet's story, some chapters from the point of view of the bad guy, of how he loved the hunting game of finding a suitable young girl. In a way, this book is like combining Criminal Minds (which I love), with Veronica Mars (which is entertaining) and a show like Ghost Whisperer or Medium (I never really watched much any of those, but I'm going for the paranormal/death thing, and those where the ones I could remember).

The mystery of the murders kept me reading page after page, especially towards the end that I kept thinking that Violet was going to get in BIG trouble (going Oh! No! in my head). And in the end it was rather intelligently done, not too obvious (especially since we actually I have the POV of the bad guy). And I liked that the kids went to the grown ups when things got dangerous, nothing of evil-fighting all alone (sensible kids, I like that).

As for the romance and more normal aspects of the story, Violet and Jay make a nice pairing, first as friends, then as girl/boyfriend. I think one of the reasons they work is because they are friends, and even if puberty and hormones play a important part, they stay with each other because they actually feel good with each other (not because the other is hot). But in its essence it is young love, with all its overwhelming emotions of "I can't live without you" and "I will love you forever". (Ah... love at 16, isn't it sweet?)

And since this book is set during school time, there are mean cheerleaders, idiot jocks, and a dance (not prom, but homecoming). But it was never intrusive on the story – it didn't stop the plot just so these teenagers could go dance – and I actually ended up liking Violet's friends, who helped me believe that for all her spooky powers, she is actually just a normal kid. (Although I do have one complaint about the character – about her complaints, to tell the truth: Girl, you're 16, if you can drive, you can cook as well – so stop moaning about your mum's frozen lasagna being the only warm meal of the week and go learn how to use the oven. Jeez.)

Well, minor complaints apart, it was a nice book, light like I needed, despite its theme – but that doesn't mean the matter of the dead girls was dealt frivolously. All in all, it's a good story, that kept me entertained and turning the pages one after another.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews: 25 Hour Books | Bookeater/Booklover | Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing | Candace's Book Blog | Cuidado com o Dálmata |

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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

September Ins and Outs

Late as usual, here are the books of September:

Not many in this section, I'm finally cutting back on my acquisitions - I blame the lack of Bookmooch points and space on the shelves.

Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio
I bought this one when I was facing a 3-hour train ride back home, with a book that was really boring me. This way I could have something else to read if I had the urge to slash my wrists from desperation.

These were on offer with the newspaper, and my grandmother has passed them along to me.

Daisy Miller by Henry James
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (which I've read back in January, but on ebook)

I had the feeling that the outs would be pretty empty as well, but I did read a lot in September. Only most of these I finished in the first weeks of the month.

Artemis Fowl: the opal deception by Eoin Colfer
Fourth on the Artemis Fowl series, it was a fun one to read (like all the others). At first I thought there was going to be pretty much like the first one, only with an older Artemis, but the changes he suffered in the previous books were not laid to waste even with his amnesia. I liked that it left an opening for a different kind of adventures, so I'll be looking forward to the next books.

Rating: 4 out of 5

A biblioteca mágica by Jostein Gaarder and Klaus Hagerup [The magical library]
This book intended to be perceived as if it was written by two 12 years olds. Well done, authors, mission accomplished. The writing was basic, and the plot not really good. Worse, the language sometimes was of a 12 years old kid, but the ideas weren't. And spending half the book portraying a book lover as a demented villain, well, that just made me want to slap the little brats. Yet there some mystery, and it was such a short book (besides, it has been a while since I ranted about a book).

Rating: 2 out of 5

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner


Rating: 4 out of 5

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin


Rating: 4 out of 5

Fables. 1, Legends in exile by Bill Willingham
The first volume of this Graphic Novel is a good introduction to the world of Fables, where the characters of Fairy Tales have gone into exile into our world, forming a secret society. Old feuds are put to rest, and life goes on. On this volume there is a crime, and the solving of the mystery of who killed Rose Red. It was kind of nice, but not outstanding. I loved the character of the Wolf (but then again, I almost always do), but the others didn't cause that much of an impression.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

El derecho ambiental como instrumento de gestión del riesgo tecnológico by Paula Cerski Lavratti
I received this one through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, so I had to read it and review it. I don't usually read non-fiction, I now I remember why - I don't really enjoy it - if it doesn't take me some new place, or makes me have an adventure, then it's not pleasure reading.

Stories by Neil Gaiman                           Review to come
A nice collection of short stories, although I was expecting more. Diana Wynne Jones and Joyce Carol Oates's stories were my favourites. One is Christmas-y and humorous, the other dark and poignant. There were quite a few nice stories, although I feel that some took too much inspiration from American Gods (Neil Gaiman's included, but he can be forgiven for that - it's his book). Most of the stories are actually quite dark, which surprised me, with such a cheery and cute cover.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

TBR Variation: -5 (From 202 to 197) Yay!

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books in the series (and probably for this one too)

A Conspiracy of Kings has a different tone from the rest of the series – the first person POV is back (although not completely), and Sophos is back, after all, this is his story.

In this book we get to know what happened to Sophos, whose fate has been mentioned and speculated in the previous book. And since it is Sophos himself who tells it, we see who he really is, not just the innocent blushing boy from The Thief. And since that book his life has not been easy. First his uncle, the King of Sounis, decides that the magus is not a suitable tutor (for his purposes, of course), then comes exile to island of Letnos and a whole string of tutors who are bad, drunk, silly, idiot or any combination of those.

But that is not the worse part, when Sounis dies, Sophos becomes king, and everyone knows he is spineless and gullible, so everyone wants to be the one pulling his strings. First comes abduction and betrayal, then Sophos manages to escape only to become a slave, and then he has to escape again, while trying to decide whether he actually wants to be king.

This book is divided in four parts, two of those narrated by Sophos (and it takes a while to become apparent to whom he is telling his story), and the other two, when the gang (as I call Gen, Attolia, Eddis and Sophos) is all together. Sophos's story is brilliant, poignant, and very true to his character. One cannot help but feel for him. But there is also his relationship with the other characters. Attolia, the one he has had less contact with was actually surprising – I could see the beginning of a friendship there. With Gen, it was heartbreaking, because he is no longer just a rowdy boy thief, he is king, of a rival country, one that is at war with his. And since this is Sophos story, we don't get much of Gen's inner feelings, only glimpses, and at first he comes across way too cold.

And then there is Eddis, who once proposed marriage to him, only now there are a lot more political trappings with that marriage. For once, I wished Megan Whalen Turner focused more on the love stories of her characters (a character in The King of Attolia says "the love of kings and queens is beyond the compass of us lesser mortals", and it's certainly true for this series). Even more, because in the light of the ending, Eddis's feelings don't sound as true as they could have (I know they are true, but still...).

Overall it was a very good book, mostly because of Sophos development (who, in my mind, already is Sounis), who is a great character, and thus making up for the fact that there is less Gen (and less than stellar Gen). But I expected more of the ending. It wasn't bad, but I was under the impression this was going to be the last book of the series (now I know there are plans for two more, yay!), and as such it lacked the grand finale vibe. Still, it was a decent ending, with a promise of more adventures to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews: Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books in the series (and probably for this one too)

The King of Attolia feels different than The Thief and The Queen of Attolia. That is not to say that it's bad, but after two superb books, this one seemed more laid back.

It is still the story of Gen, but this time we get to see it from someone else's eyes. And this someone else is a new character in the series – Costis. Costis is a royal guard, and very much loyal to his Queen. And since there is much speculation on whether she had any choice in marrying the King, it means he is not going out of his way to protect him.

But when he punches the King in face he knows he has gone too far. Actually he doesn't really understand how he got to that point, but since he is also a very honourable person, he awaits his punishment. He does get it, in a way, but not what he expected. He becomes the King's sparring partner, his guard, and sometimes his confident.

And through the eyes of Costis we get to see Gen, that now needs to be a bit more covert about his tricks, and who has to comes to terms that he is a king.

At first I wasn't sure if I was going to like The King of Attolia – it was too different comparing to the previous books. There didn't seem to be much of a plot at the beginning – no wars to fight, no jewels to steal. There is a plot, off course, but it's not action-centered, it's more of a coming to terms with responsibility. And also about loyalty.

There is also a small insight about the relationship of Attolia and Gen, but again, mostly through Costis eyes. It did work for me, because not only it allowed me to see into the relationship, but Costis was also learning something. And by the end of the book I had come to like Costis. He might not be as memorable as the other main characters, but he developed very well throughout the book, and his love-hate-incomprehension relationship with Gen was hilarious at times.

I did like The King of Attolia, but not as much as the first two. It was a fun read, with a peek into Attolia's court life, with some twists, and some laughs. What I found myself missing was Sophos, who hasn't appeared since book 1, but has been mentioned a lot. There is a bit of an intrigue with his disappearance that is not resolved (it is in the next book, though).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews: Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing | Fantasy Cafe

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