Alternative Reality Web Zine. A magazine of fantasy, science fiction, horror, historical and more...


December 12, 2009

Joe Schreiber's No Doors, No Windows

I admit that I haven't read a ghost story in a really long time. This really too bad, because a good creepy psychological thriller/ ghost story is worth it's weight in gold. Joe Schreiber's No Doors, No Windows is one of those thrillers.   As these types of stories usually do, it starts out normal enough. After many years away, Scott Mast has come home to small town New England for his father's funeral. It's a little awkward being home after all these years, trying to rebuild his relationship with his alcoholic brother Owen, and help take care of Owen's young son Henry. Scott's high school aquaintances are still floating around town, and he can't help but drive past the old theater that took his mother's life in a fire 15 years ago.

When Scott finds his father's unfinished novel manuscript, he becomes obsessed with finishing the story about a young couple who live in a strange old house. When Scott finds the actual building, Round House, that inspired his father's tale, he immediately moves in with high hopes. He explores the large home, and finds other artistic ventures by other family members – paintings, theater posters, other manuscripts. All unfinished, they involve horrific happenings in and around Round House, and Scott is hauntingly drawn to each of them. Can he unravel the Mast family curse before the curse unravels him?

Reading like an extra long version of your favorite Twilight Zone episode, or a better scripted and developed version of The Ring or The Grudge, No Doors, No Windows is a classic ghost story/ psychological thriller with twists and turns to spare. Even better, we're spared the blood and gory details. It's only as bloody or gory as you imagine it to be, and let me tell you have I got a imagination.

I absolutely devoured this book in two days. As the second evening came on, I only had 50 pages to go and I'd be finished. It was dark outside and I was getting ready to climb into bed. Turn off most of the lights and read the book in bed, or wait till the sun was up to reach the conclusion? As much as I hate to put down a good book, I was going to make sure I finished this book when the sun was high in the sky.

December 07, 2009

A good Heist

a) I just adore those Ocean's 11 movies. I love a good heist story. cool stuff gets stolen, but no one gets hurt

b) I'm trying to read more non fiction. Just for kicks.

Was at the library the other day, trolling the new releases, and The Art of the Heist leapt off the shelf and into my hands. Its by a dude named Myles Connor, who recently got out of prison. for stealing stuff. like Rembrant paintings.

no kidding.

So in those Ocean's 11 movies, and stories like that, stuff gets stolen, no one gets hurt, hardly anyone gets caught, and no one goes to jail, at least not much.

Myles went to jail. Like, a lot. An avid art and weapons collector, he would do anything to get certain peices for his collection, including stealing them. and there are some bank robberies too. It sounds kind of glamourous, until you realize that Connor and his buddies are packing heat, and although Myles doesn't want to hurt anyone, his cohorts aren't so chivalrous. Great parts about this book involve Connor disguising himself as an art professor to worm his way into museum's back rooms, and his detailed plans for heists. Not so great parts include how he killed time in jail, his horrible character judgement of other people, and the fact that this man is a criminal trying to glamorize what he's done.

so is he a guy who got a bad rap for loving art and weapons too much who deserves a book and a book tour? or is he a spoiled loser who never learned to respect the property of others? not sure.

I haven't read much true crime, or books of this type, so I'm not sure how to digest what I've read. It was a morbidly fascinating read, and Myles Connor is some kind of genius and magnificent actor to get away with the things he's gotten away with. but should it be glamorized? if you can't tell, I'm torn on what to think.

November 13, 2009

Soulless, but very witty.

For how much I struggled through Quicksilver, I'm surprised at how quick I'm getting through The Confusion. As I mentioned before, perhaps it's easier because I know what I'm getting myself into, and I know what to expect.  Or maybe it's just plain a better book?  Stephenson can skip all the character, location, and political introductions, and get right to the action.  Talk about action!  So far Jack and his crew of ex-slave pirates have stolen a ship full of silver pigs, with the hopes of making a profit in Cairo.  When they check the holds, they find absolutely zero silver, but nearly a metric ton of gold. Nice.  Too bad their investor is expecting the pigs and has no legitimate use for gold. When Jack learns the investor is none other than Duc d'Archacon, he comes up with some specific plans of his own.  Meanwhile, Eliza and her baby are trying to avoid intrugue, blackmail and poverty, and failing miserably at all three.  Being blackmailed into a marriage with Etienne d'Archacon might not be the worst thing that ever happened, after all, he believes he is the father of Eliza's child, and it will keep  them alive and out of the poor house. Provided she can keep Etienne alive, that is. 

And major big plus, the book has maps in the front. I loves me a good map.

On a lighter side, we picked up Soulless, by Gail Carriger.  It's a lovely, amusing, witty vampire novel with a twist.  Carriger implies this is just the beginning of  a casual series, and that is just fine by me. Alexia Tarabotti is under no danger of being bitten by a vampire, as she was born without a soul.  When supernatural creatures touch her, they lose all their supernatural powers – fangs recess, werewolves are no longer hungry, things like that.   I've only read a few chapters, and the gaslight environs and Alexia's obsession with her wardrobe is keeping my highly entertained.  A nice light read, perhaps this will be my gateway drug to Twilight?  Was talking with a friend a work who is nuts over the Twilight books. . . sounds like things easy to read while you're babysitting a counter.

November 03, 2009

Umberto Eco's The Name of The Rose

CoverI finally finished Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and I'm happy to add it to the “Books I want to read again the moment I finish them” list. For an Eco, it's surprisingly readable, and layered in such a way that readers of any interest level will get a lot out of it.

At its most basic level, this is a murder mystery. In Eco's afterward, he mentions the idea of the novel was born when he played with the idea of poisoning a monk. He also mentions that he wrote the prose in a specifically open manner to encourage readers to form their own interpretation of events and conversations. Is that person being sarcastic? Is there some kind of secrecy going on? If you interpret it that way, then he is, and there is.

Brother William and novice Adso are traveling to a Benedictine Monastery in Italy, for the purpose of meeting up with other monks in the area. They are hoping to devise a plan of attack for an upcoming meeting between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, at which heresy will be the main topic. When William and Adso arrive, they are informed of the recent death of a young monk, and asked to investigate. To protect the reputation of his monastery, the Abbot wishes for William to find out what's going on before the other Catholic representatives arrive.

And, as this is a murder mystery, the bodies start piling up. As a friend of Sir Francis Bacon and William of Occam, brother William goes about his investigation in a very scientific way. Ask questions, find out where people were at the times of death, look for people with fishy alibies, look for footprints in the snow by the bodies. Piece by piece, Williams puts together his hypotheses, with minimal help from the secretive monks. He even sneaks into their famous labyrinth library after the abbot forbids him from doing so. There is something in that library that people are dying for. Like myself, William is a lover of books and knowledge – no learning is heretical, it is all important. Libraries of that time were literally banks of information, scrolls and books that existed no where else in the world. The philosophical idea of a library that exists to keep knowledge away from people and keep secrets was beyond fascinating for me.

The days go by, there are more deaths, the other Catholic representatives arrive, along with the Inquisition. Eco says he put the Inquisition in the story because you can't have a 14th century story take place in a monastery without them. And yes, that chapter made me queasy, had me biting my nails, and nearly gave me an anxiety attack.

There is so much more I could say about this novel, so I'll say just one more thing: read it. Make sure you get a copy with Eco's afterword (because that's the best part), and read it. Eco hits everything just right: style of prose, action, descriptions, dialogue, I can't find a single thing to complain about.

It's books like this that make those mediocre novels so hard to enjoy.

November 02, 2009

Review of Kadrey's Sandman Slim

Sandman Slim isn't so much a novel as it is a revenge genre graphic novel with no pictures – plenty of action, violence, some flirtation, and not much else. A bastard child ofThe Crow, Constantine, Spawn and Sin City, it's all the grit and action of a first person shooter adventure video game, with a less intelligent script.

When James Stark was 19 years old, he was a talented magician, in love with the beautiful Alice, and running with the wrong crowd. After a ritual gone horribly wrong (or right?) he ends up in hell. Alive and kicking, but in hell. An obvious novelty, Stark spends the next eleven years as a slave pit warrior, killing monsters left and right, and generally becoming a hellion himself. He eventually finds the magic key that gets him out of hell and back to earth. None of this is really explained, the reader learns of it through Stark's scattered flashbacks.

He's missed eleven years of current events, but is thrilled to be back on earth to track down Mason, Parker, and the rest of the guys who sent him to hell and then killed Alice. Kasabian is easy to find – the dumbest of the lot, he's been holing up in a junky video store, which while in a bad area of Los Angeles is of course surrounded by Beamers, Lexusi, and other fancy cars for Stark to steal whenever he needs to get somewhere. The manager of the video store is the beautiful Allegra, who offers to help Stark merge back into society because she thinks he's right out of prison. She helps him buy a cell phone, he tells her magic is real. Next thing we know, Allegra is apprenticing with the mysterious Dr. Kinski, alchemist extraordinaire. Stark's only goal in life is to avenge Alice's death by killing Mason very slowly.

Like leveling up in an MMORPG, as the novel progresses, the bad guys get tougher, but Stark gets stronger. Convenient how that works. Kadrey should have hired an artist and an inker, because this would have made a decent graphic novel.

Stark spends most of the next few hundred pages getting the crap beaten out of him while trying to find Mason and rest of his minions. Did I mention Angels get involved? And the Department of Homeland Security? And a brothel? And lots of porno dvds? It's not that this book is over the top, it's that this book is so over the top it that it starts to come off as rediculous. Kadrey seems to be competing with himself to see which he can do more often – remind us that Stark is beyond stronger than the strongest person ever, or that everything MacGuyer could ever need is found in the porn section of Kasabian's video store.

This is where the “revenge novel and nothing else” got most annoying for me. Stark was sent to hell during a magical ritual gone horribly wrong. What were they trying to do? Maybe it didn't go wrong, maybe Mason had planned to send him to hell? What did Mason get out of the whole thing? I want to know more about Alice. I want to know more about Kinski, I want to know more about the Jades and all the other creatures in this dark fantasy world. I want to know how Stark managed to trick and kill the Devil's generals and I want to know how he got the key to the Room of Thirteen Doors and embed it in his own body. Kadrey had every opportunity to flesh out his characters, story, and universe by giving the reader some information about how this whole disaster started, but all he could was give Stark some weapons and start him running. Makes me wonder if this is the second book in a series, and I missed the first one?

I probably shouldn't have finished this book. The more I read it, the angrier it made me. It made me angry that Kadrey would make Stark so naïve and stupid. It made me angry that the most interesting character, Kinski, got minimal screen time, and that other characters were so undeveloped as to be embarrasing. It made me angry that reading this made me feel like a prude, as I'd reached my limit of violence, carjacking, blow job jokes and video store porn by page 75. It made me angry that everytime I put the book down I felt the need to bath in Clorox.

All that said, I'm sure this novel has some redeeming points. I picked up a ton of great insults that I hope never to have the opportunity to use. Change the names and place, and you'd have a great novel adaptation of your favorite first person shooter video game. I hope when they make the movie Kinski is played by Peter Stormare and Aelita is played by Tinda Swinton.

October 22, 2009

When did autumn get here?

I've been terrible with timely posts this fall, I know. Been busy, been travelling, been playing Fable 2. I'm over it.

The summer of one bowl big salads has morphed into the autumn of one pot hearty stews. We've already had one chili and a pasta/tomato/peas/salami thing. I'd give you the recipe, but the chili is a family secret, and the other I don't know what all I put in there. Incidentally, I read that cayenne is good for staving off colds, so I made sure it was a super hot chili. My throat was burning off, and it's a good thing!

Newsflash! I did finally finish Stephenson's Quicksilver! it was both one of the best and one of the worst books I've read recently. If that makes no sense, scroll down for further discussion of what I was going through while I was reading it.

On a better note, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is both eminently readable and subtly satirecle, two of my favorite things. Even funnier, I just watched the “Monk” episode of Terry Jones's Medieval Lives, and while watching it I could say “those people are in my book!” it was delicious nerdy fun that even Yomiko Readman would be proud of.

Been reading buckets of Steven Brust lately, just can't get enough. Bought Orca (part of the Vlad Taltos series) and The Phoenix Guards (sorta kinda a prequel series to the Vlad books), and zipped through Orca in about 2 days. Vlad Taltos is becoming one of my favorite fictional characters. Smart, sarcastic, scrawny and a smart-ass, sometimes he beats people up, sometimes he pays people to beat other people up, and sometimes he gets the shit kicked out of him. When I first met Vlad many volumes ago, he was young, brash, and an assassin for hire, mostly working for the corrupt Jhereg, a royal house in the Draegeran Empire. Always the misfit, he's too human to ever truly fit in in the Empire, and too Draegeran to ever fit in back in the east, where the humans live. These days, he's semi retired, semi forcefully. Having done something horribly wrong (if someone knows what book this occurs in, and what happens, please tell me the book!), he is now on the run form the Jhereg, who would love to give him an unrevivafiable death sandwich. Hiding out in the east, and venturing back into the Empire when duty calls and to sneak a visit with his ex-wife and son, Vlad spends his days as part muckraker, part witch for hire, and part punching bag. Having a telepathic familiar and being on a first name basis with the Empress doesn't hurt either.

These books are filled with action, sarcasm, wit, sarcasm, intruigue, action, and a little more sarcasm, and a surprising amount of romanticism. Not romance, with kissy stuff, but romanticism. Think of it what you will.

Some fans have voiced some angst about Brust never giving a real physical description of the Draegerans, other than that they are tall and live a really, really, really long time. Humans call them Elves, in a derogatory fashion. But not having a physical description of them? It's never bothered me. To me, the Draegerans are just tall humans who seem not to age. They seem to accept Vlad and his family pretty readily, allowing humans to live in the vicinity, and even meet with the body politic. So not knowing everything there is to know about the Draegerans? Not a problem, not one bit.

September 11, 2009

A few more thoughts on Stephenson's Quicksilver

And no, I haven't finished it yet. Not even close.

If you pick up this book thinking it is going to be just another novel, you will not like it. If you pick it up thinking I surived Robert Jordan, I can survive this!!, you probably will not like it.

Quicksilver isn't so much a novel as it is a discussion and an observation. If all my history of math (which I hope to re-read this winter) and history of science had a plot line, they would read like Quicksilver. If I can survive reading this, I'm pretty sure i'll be inspired to pick up the husband's histories of econ in Europe books. Although they look obscenely boring.

Read a novel, learn something, get inspired to learn more about a subject you had always thought was obscenely boring. Now that my friends, is a sign of a good author. Ok, and author who really, really, really for the love of anything you believe in needs a better editor, but a good author nonetheless.

That said, if someone were to ask me “is is a good book? Did you like it?” my response would have to be something along the lines of “describe the last sunset you saw”. Because the person's response could easily define if they will like Quicksilver or not. Was the sunset just ok? Did they not even notice it? Were they too busy texting at the time? Or were they fascinating by the shape and colors of the clouds? Did they stand and watch for a few minutes as they could observe the height of the sun just by seeing what colors the clouds were, and how tall the clouds were based on if there was any daytime sunlight on the tops of them? Do you see what I mean?

On that note, I believe this saturday will be spent away from distractions attempting to read more of Quicksilver. Those distractions being the 2nd cutest video game ever, Eternal Sonata, (the cutest video game ever would be Katamari Damacy) and a fun actiony gamey thing called Devil may Cry. Damn you xbox 360, and your distracting box of fun!

September 04, 2009

I require FUN books.

I'm finding in my old age, that fun is a requirement while reading for pleasure. Call me unliterary, call me immature, call me uneducated, just so long as you call me.

Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson – informative, humorous, beautifully detailed, a palatable history lesson, but fun? Not so much. I'm about a third (400 pages + )of the way through, and I just don't feel like I'm getting anywhere. Like this is going to be 900 pages of set up, for something that's going to take another 2500 pages to come to fruition. Have I ever mentioned I hated reading Robert Jordan? The one thing this book really has going for it is it's damn educational. I feel like I'm taking a political / financial history class, and for once, this is a good thing. Stephenson's got so much going for him, would it kill him to get a damn editor? If/When I write a review for this book, it's going to read like a dissertation, because it will take me 10 pages just to set the scene. Even worse, the stupid book is addicting. I can't put it down because the characterization is great, and I'm getting a great history lesson, but other books sitting around the apartment are just so much more fun and entertaining. Sigh.
And will someone please tell me what the hell Enoch Root is doing in Massechussetts in 1713? Shall I just assume he's immortal?

Hood, by Stephen Lawhead – again informative, somewhat humorous, detailed, somewhat of a history lesson, a little slow. Many of the same things I complained about regarding Stephenson's Quicksilver, but with Lawhead, it's not such a big deal. Then again, in my book, Stephen Lawhead can do no wrong. He may write some cheap endings (Endless Knot!), but I still adore him. Hood is his take on the Robin Hood legends, except in Wales, during the Norman conquest of England. Bran ap Brynchan may be the heir of Elfael, but he wants to live his life as differently as his warlord father as possible. When his father is killed by invaders, Bran can run away from the burning villages of his people, or he can stay and fight. More apathetic than afraid, Bran simply does not want the life of a leader. He saw what that life did to his parents, and he wants anything but for himself. Finding safety in the forest, and help from a forest “witch”, it takes time for Bran to decide to do the right thing. The middle of the book is fairly slow, but it needs to be, as Bran is fighting his transformation into the leader he didn't know was inside him. Lawhead makes this into a perfectly acceptable Robin Hood myth. Where's friar Tuck? Where's king Richard? Don't worry, they are in there, just in slightly different incarnations. I am looking forward to the rest of the books in the trilogy – Scarlet and Tuck. Another thing I respect about Lawhead – he doesn't string me along. A trilogy is a trilogy, a stand alone book is a stand alone book. Lawhead tells me ahead of time how much of my attention he wants, and I like that.

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch – This is the second or third time I've read this book, which is the 2nd book in Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series. Sure, It's not as good as the first book, but damn, it is just so funny, and I can't help but giggle at all the swear words. Like the first one, Red Seas is pure, unadulterated FUN. It's taken me a long time at admin to my friends that I am a Scott Lynch fan girl, as his stuff just strikes me as so immature. But when I want something fun, he is my go to author. Don't be surprised in a group of rabid fangirls descends on Lynch's home in Wisconsin, demanding the next book in the series.

August 21, 2009

Missing in Action

t's been near a month since I posted, and that's just plain sad.  what could have caused this you might ask?  a mixture of weather that's so beautiful i couldn't bear to sit inside, weather so hot and disgusting my braid couldn't do anything but attempt to stay cool, a growing video game addiction, an overwhelming pile of library books, and a bit of burn out.

Hopefully all that's passed. what's most unfortunate is that overwhelming pile of library books? not a lot of winners. sigh. Just like last summer, all I wanted to do was read favorites that I already own. so i did.

and cooking? sure, been doing plenty of that when the mercury isn't boiling out of the thermometer, but not much in the way of recipes: whirl up some pesto in the food processesor, toss it with some pasta and grilled chicken or shrimp. my Basil plant is out of control, I've made pesto 3 times already!  and next week I'll be swimming in ripened tomatoes. Can you say Caprese?

I don't enjoy saying that books weren't winners, and maybe they just weren't winners for me. so many losers in a row however, got me mighty discouraged.  Lessons learned: don't keep saying "add that to my ILL list" in conversation with the nice librarian, and what your buddies at the library like you might not like.

Declare, by Tim Powers - a cold war spy story with some occult thrown in. Powers does occult far better than he does spy. The book takes place in 1941, when Andrew Hale is a British Agent who infiltrates the ComIntern in Paris, meets up with Kim Philby, and all sorts of strange things start the happen, and in the 1960s, when Andrew is reactivated to find out exactly what happened to Philby. A metal ankh Andrew wears saves his life more than once, a strange half human creatures he meets around Mt Ararat begin to expose the truth to him. If you know your biblical mythology, you know where this is going. and it is, but it isn't.  Powers has the gift for turning pockets of forgotten time into the best story you ever heard. unfortunatly, Declare is not the best example thereof. The beginning of the book was great, the end was excellent, but the middle was muddled and suffered from putdownableness.

The Stress of her Regard, by Tim Powers - far better than Declare, and the enjoyment faults were all mine. Taking place in the early 1800's, we start with Michael Crawford who is about to marry the beautiful Julia.  Julia is thrilled to leave behind her provincial family and her clingy yet antisocial twin sister. The couple is married, and in the morning, Crawford is horrified to find bloody Julia, brutally murdered, lying beside him in bed. Knowing he will be found guilty of murder, Crawford runs.  Meanwhile,  Percy Shelley and Lord Byron are up to their regular shenanigans, wooing women then leaving them, enjoying themselves in Europe, and getting involved in secret societies.  Crawford eventually hooks up with them only to learn that Julia was killed by a lamia, or vampire, and who now sees Crawford as her legal husband. And she is very jealous, and will kill anyone who shows loves for Crawford. Already involved with Shelly and Byron, the Lamia is slowing killing their families and loved ones. The only way to kill the lamia is to do so while the Graie (remember them from Mythology? three old hags who shared one eye?) are awake, but blind.  I wish I had paid more attention to literature class in high school, so i could have known more about the livse of Shelley and Byron before reading this. Sure, i know Mary Shelley, who doesn't, but I never read her husband. The Stress of her Regard is a great book for students of literature and mythology, and a good book for everyone else.

Hominids, by Robert Sawyer - the easiest, quickest, and least cerebral read of the group. It's not an insult to Sawyer when I say this book isn't cerebral, it's just that unlike Powers, Sawyer connects all the dots for the reader. All you have to do is read, he'll do all the thinking for you.  THe premise of Hominids is great - through a quantum computing experiment gone wrong, a portal is opened to a parallel universe in which Neanderthals are the primary hominid, and homo sapiens were wiped out generations ago. The Neanderthals lean towards hunting gathering rather than agriculture, which along with a strictly maintained population size, makes their world very much in peace with nature and the earth. The Neanderthal earth is Sawyer's ideal world: everyone is happy, everyone is safe, no one is unemployed or hungry, no one is cruel or greedy, there is very little crime, there is culture, but no religion.  A perfect vehicle for Sawyer to preach about all that is wrong with homo sapiens and our society. This is where no thinking is required on the place of the reader, because Sawyer will bash you over the head with his "Neanderthals are the perfect peaceful creature, and you horrible disgusting humans killed them all and did a million other horrible things!" again and again and again, until you are blue in the face.  All that said, this was a good, easy read, which was much appreciated after those two Powers novels that made my brain nearly melt. This series has three books, and I might just read the next one, just to see the damage Sawyer can do. Not the best reason to read a book, but hey.

speaking of my brain melting, I borrowed a copy of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver from a friend, and I'm already running into familiar names: Enoch Root, the Waterhouse family. . . not to mention a 10 year old Ben Franklin.  This book is going to kick my ass, and I verily think I'm going to enjoy it.  Having survived his Cryptonomicon, at least now I know what to expect with a Stephenson style brain melting ass kicking.

July 22, 2009

I knew it would happen sooner or later

CoverIt was bound to happen eventually.  I knew i couldn't live in book bliss forever. I knew one day the other shoe was going to drop.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's happened. I have discovered the true meaning of the phrase "I got too many books from the library".  but it wasn't my fault, i swear! i was chatting with one of the librarians, and he was putting a book or two on my interlibrary loan account, and i lost track of my tab, and I'd already gotten some stuff at the other library and browsed around before I even remembered to check my interlibrary loan at the desk!!

the husband has promised to keep me away from libraries (except to return stuff!!) for the next 3 weeks at least.  that's a tall order, this is me we're talkin' about.

Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman
Declare by Tim Powers
The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers
Hart & Boot, by Tim Pratt
Looking for Jake, by China Mieville
Hominids, by Robert Sawyer
Sword & Citadel, by Gene Wolfe

that's a lotta reading.  at to top it off, I got an advanced reading copy of a new Larry Niven, and since i didn't feel like i had enough to read to begin with, I felt the need to pull down one of my Mom's old books on biblical commentary. go figure.

July 14, 2009

Joe Haldeman, Gene Wolfe, and Ai Yazawa

CoverYou know, if I posted more often, I wouldn't have so many of these catch up posts.

Review for Gene Wolfe's Shadow & Claw (first two books of the Book of the New Sun series: Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator) is on ARWZ.

What cracked me up was I was reading Wolfe's slow paced Shadow & Claw at the same time that i was reading Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine, which is nothing but fast paced action.  Wow do those two books not go together! Was very jarring to go back and forth!  is my own fault, as i tend to be reading more than one fiction book at a time.

Accidental Time Machine - my first Joe Haldeman, and i wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped. It was a fun, fast, well paced book, but I was hoping for something deeper from this award winning author.  Story follows physics student Matt Fuller, who literally, accidentally creates something that works as a future-only time machine. rigging the machine to an old car, Matt is able to hop about a decade into the future where he finds his girlfriend has left him for a rival, his physics professor has stolen his research, and everything he thought he knew about physics has changed.  When Matt gets in trouble, or bored, he can always hop into the time machine and jump into the future, where he eventually hopes to find the technology to send him back to his own time (Dr. Who? Quantum Leap? "hoping to get back to their own time" - that's gotta be it's own subgenre by now.) This is where the narrative falters: the time machine is nothing more than a plot device for when Haldeman isn't sure what to do.  It was a distraction, as in I knew the moment Matt (or Haldeman) got bored, frustrated, or curious, he was just going to hop into that machine and hit a button.  The little twist at the end was nice, but still, i was a little dissapointed in the book as a whole.

Speaking of Joe Haldeman, Hugo and Nebula award winning author, i just started his Forever War. This is the novel he's famous for, and my expectations are high.

If you've been following this blog, you've know I've been throwing a ton of manga at the wall lately, to see what will stick, and I've come to the conclusion that Ai Yazawa can do no wrong.  I'm still pretty obsessed with the short series Paradise Kiss, and now i've moved onto one of her older series: Nana.

Nana Komatsu is trying to start over in Tokyo - after a few years of falling in love with every guy she meets, she's trying to "be friends first", and maybe have a meaningful relationship. oh yeah, and keep a job, find an affordable apartment, and keep her relationship with Shoji afloat.

Nana Osaki is brokenhearted after her bandmate Ren is invited to join a famous band in Tokyo. trying to make it on her own as a rock musician, she moves to Tokyo and starts a new band while she is still pining for Ren.

the "Nana's" become unlikely best friends, and help each other through their hard times.

Nana in Japanese is another word for the number seven, and can also be used as a girl's first name.  Four volumes into Nana, and it's got humor, sex, relationhips gone bad and good, unrequited love, rock music, and then a little more humor and sexual situations.  This is my kinda Shoji (girl's romantic stories)!

June 24, 2009

American Gods, some re-reads, looking for some manga

CoverIs this turning into a summer of re-reads, again? Perhaps. I was in a bit of a book blah, where nothing was keeping my attention. The English Patient? Beautiful, haunting, heart breaking, but too depressing to read when I've been in such a good mood lately. Perdido Street Station? Also beautiful, haunting, and a little heartbreaking, but too drug trippy.  Dan Brown's Angels & Demons?  Eh, I recently saw the movie so I know what happens at the end. What to read on a hot summer's day? Gaiman? Manga?

I finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods and love love loved it. I read this book a few years ago, and it is 100 times better the second time around, not in spite of but because you know what's going to happen at the end. In fact, i might go read it again.

I'm still looking for a new Manga series to grab me, so i've been getting the first two volumes of random manga from the library. We'll throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

King of Hell by Ra In-Soo, was suprisingly, a comedy. But not a very good one. Lightly amusing, but artwork left something to be desired. Majeh is a servant of hell, and part of his job is to escort new souls to the underworld. Sarcasm abounds, which i appreciated. Soon Majeh is sent on a quest to banish all evil spirits from his plane. much monster fighting ensues. Is this manga more than just swordfights?

D Gray Man by by Katsura Hoshino. Also a bit of a comedy, but more the dark Trinity Blood type of comedy (as in, not). The steampunk elements of D Gray Man are very cool, and the bad guy, the Millenium Earl is creepily awesome, I shall have to track down some more of this. Main character is Allen, a blonde teenager (who is a carbon copy of Edward Elric, and that is just weird!!) who is an exorcist. Allen has a metal cross burned into his disfigured hand, which makes him a natural adept for exorcisms. After the first 2 volumes I can tell you it's good, but odd. possibly odder than gooder.

Shutterbox, by Tavisha Simons and Rikki Simons.  It's by Americans!  How weird! Megan just graduated high school and can't decide what she wants to do with her life. Work? University? Community college? She doesn't really care.  When she dreams, she ends up at Merridiah University, a sort of multiverse university for the dead who are trained to become muses. Megan has been chosen to be a "Shutterbox exchange student," where she can be a mortal attending the school (and occasionally wake up back in the real world). A little gothica, a little St Lunatic High, this one's got some potential.

June 21, 2009

Catching up on booktalk: Louis L'Amour, Neil Gaiman and more

CoverThe librarians are probably wondering what happened to me, this weekend i renewed books from one library online, and returned some others after hours at their drop box. I'll have to stop in sometime during the week, just for kicks. Here's what made it from the "out of control to be read pile" to the "finished reading, or am reading right now pile":

Iron Council, by China Mieville
Sackett's Land, by Louis L'Amour
Artificial Light by James Greer
Unintended Consequences of Constitutional Amendments, edited by David E. Kyvig
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

thoughts on the above:

Iron Council - omg, loved it, see my review on the main page.  Simply put, Iron Council is about a railroad worker's strike, and as city dissidents are inspired by them, the city government fears and wishes to destroy them. but of course, that's not what the story is really about.  I love Mieville's take on criminal justice, human rights, and just his commentary on society in general.  as i mention at the end of my review, this is not a book for those who are satisfied with the status quo. but if you're not so satisfied? give Iron Council a try.  My favorite Mieville novel ever is The Scar, and this one comes in second. As Goto Dengo is Neal Stephenson's most honorably tragic character, Judah Low is Mieville's.  Mieville may have his faults, but i keep coming back to him, so he's go to be doing something right. 

Sackett's Land, by Louis L'Amour - the opening novel in L'Amour's grand series of the settling of America by immigrants, this novel was just Okay.  Set in 1599, Englishman Barnabas Sackett gets into some trouble and can choose possible death, or the New World.  guess which he chooses.  Honestly, I found most of the novel simplistic and contrived, but I'm hoping L'Amour did a lot of that on purpose, to quickly and easily set the stage for a series that now has over 30 novels in it, following a handful of immigrant families.  I'm not going to say this was a good book, but I like L'Amour's style, I was able to finish the book in 3 days, and I do want to read the next few books in the series, because I'm interested in early American history and can't say know to a nicely written historical novel.

Artificial Light by James Greer.  eh, it's going back to the library unfinished.  Taking place in Ohio in the early 90's,  this is the diary of a young woman named Fiat Lux who meets Kurt Cobain and feels responsible for his death.  I didn't start listening to Nirvana until  maybe 5 years ago (after I realized the guy from Foo Fighters came from Nirvana, actually), but I respect their musical style, and it's too bad about Cobain.  it's also too bad that this book really isn't that interesting. Most of what I read was just Fiat's internal monologue about this and that and the other thing, with minimal details, and it just didn't grab me.

Unintended Consequences of Constitutional Amendments, edited by David E. Kyvig -  Wow, what a title!  and a collection of surpriseingly fascinating essays on constitutional amendments that were designed to do good things, but did some not so good things as well. the road paved with good intentions, eh?  Beyond the Bill of Rights, many newer amendments that were designed to help people and make their lives easier just ended up pitting faction against faction, increasing government beaucracy, and making things way more complicated and political that needed. I could seriously write a full review on each essay, but isn't this a fiction blog?  anyway, I'll be searching out more essays written by some of these same folks.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.  ahh, the perennial favorite. When i'm staring at my bookshelves, looking for something satisfying to read, i know I can always grab a Gaiman, and life will be good.  I've read this book before, so I kind of know what to expect, but I forget what happens at the end.  Shadow, recently released from prison to find his wife killed in a car accident, is "hired" by a mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who takes Shadow to meet his mythical friends. This is Gaiman's take on Gods and sprites and mythologies that immigrants brought with them from the old country. but as those immigrants aged, and children and died, what happened to the memories of the old gods?  and what about the new American Gods, television, money, technology?  I'm halfway through the novel and loving every page.


June 10, 2009

Finishing Chabon and some love for China Mieville

CoverShortly after my recent post about how weird I thought Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, I finished it, and let it percolate through my brain for a few days. It took about a week, but now that i've read the book and thought about it, it's weaknesses have mostly drained away, leaving the wonderful, if bittersweet end. Review to be posted soon.

And maybe I just have a thing for stories about girls who dress up as boys to save the world. Oops, did I just spoil the story for you?

Girls who dress up as boys to save the world . . . . Gentlemen of the Road, Revolutionary Girl Utena (although there is never any question that Utena is a girl!), Mieville's Iron Council. . . yup, looks like that calls to me. Gender issues? Power issues? I'm leaning towards the latter.

Oh China Mieville, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Perdido Street Station had major issues but The Scar made up for all of them. Un Lun Dun was adorable genius and King Rat was wonderfully gruesome. You put the fantasical back into fantasy, you give me the white knuckled imagery I crave along with the Lovecraftian horrific descriptions and consequences of getting everything I asked for, you give me characters who have been destroyed, deformed, enslaved and turned into monsters and they are more human than I am. I'm nearly done with Iron Council, when is your next book in the Bas Lag universe coming out?

Iron Council had a rough start. We've got a small group of rebelious misfits leaving the metropolis of New Crobuzon to find the possibly mythical “Iron Council”, to protect the council from the city militia. No one is sure who they can trust, so dialogue is vague and full of code words. Great for the characters, not so great for the reader. We've also got a group of rebels inside the city who believe if they assassinate the Mayor, they will be able to take over the town and stop the war with the neighboring Tesh.

Judah Low, a middle aged (but he must be older than that!!) member of the group looking for the Council is a golemist. I adore Mieville's fanstical sciences. Golemists are trained to make golems out of clay, earth, mud, water, whatever. a little like Earth-bending. Sure, fans of high fantasy are welcome to call this "magic", but Mieville treats it as an academic, university driven science. When Mieville goes into a multi chapter flashback of Judah's life and how he ended up where he is, i stop caring about anything else that happens. May this flashback never end, I just want to know about Judah.

nearly done, and I hope the end is as good as the middle. Sure, Mieville tosses some of his personal politics into it, but as I can't find anything i disagree with yet, politik away! reading this makes me want to read The Scar again.

In quickie manga news:

Et Cetera volume 1 - cute, but not that good. Taking place in a sort of Wild Wild west, Mingchao's inhertance is the magical Eto Gun, which is powered by the essences of animals of the zodiac. Hoping to get to Hollywood, she ends up travelling with Baskerville, who claims to be a priest, but surely isn't, as his "bible" is full of blueprints of the Eto Gun. This was too slapstick for my tastes.

Nodame Cantabile volumes 1 & 2 - or as my husband calls it No Damn Catbile. ewww! it's not that bad. Shinichi Chiaki is a top piano student at a music university. He's excellent at piano, but really wants to be a conductor, and transferring into that program won't be easy. After meeting his next door neighbor Nodame, Shinichi starts to learn that maybe the world doesn't revolve around him and what he wants. Again, a cute story, and i really, really appreciate all the music stuff, but this will be returned to the library unfinished.

back to the library with you Et Cetera and Nodame!

June 07, 2009

Michael Chabon and some comics.

One of CHabon's  lesser well known works is a little novel called Gentlemen of the Road.  in the afterword written by Chabon, he jokingly says the working title of the book was "Jews with Swords". Jokingly indeed.  Taking place around 950 AD in the Caucuses mountains, Gentlemen follows Zelikeman and Amram, two Jewish soldiers for hire.  When there isn't a war on, the two friends make ends meet via a handful of quick con jobs. After making the aquantance of a dethroned prince, Zelikman and Amram have to decide if it's worth their skin to help the prince (who isn't exactly who he says he is either) avenge his family.  Parts of this book are impossibly for me to take seriously, and others are smooth and beautifully rendered. I vastly appreciated the references to ancient Jewish practices, but I felt lost when Chabon was talking about obscure cultures that I know nothing about.  I think in parts, Chabons similie filled writing style gets in the way of him getting his message across.   I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, and i loved the end, but the middle left something to be desired. that said, i must read and experience all things Chabon!

In other Michael Chabon news, I picked up a few more issues of his Dark horse comic The Escapist. Very good, and very fun. Highly recommended. sure, they are obviously contrived and more a "fan project" than an actual series, but that doesn't bother me. I’m hoping I can convince the library to buy this for their graphic novel collection.  If you enjoyed Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, then you will appreciate The Escapist.

In fun Manga news:
Fullmetal Alchemist #18 is out, and I have a copy!! I’ve read it twice now, and things really are starting to come to a head. All the pieces are in the right place, if you know what I mean. Kimblee is politely holding Winry hostage, and offers Ed the philosophers stone in exchange for Ed becoming a human weapon. Kimblee is the perfect sociopath, no wonder the homunculi support him. Speaking of, how is Riza going to share her secret? Perhaps little Hayate may be of some help.

I just can't get enough manga. my house will be full of it, and i will still be aquiring more.

Revolutionary Girl Utena – the best way to describe this manga is pure zany. Tomboyish Utena is raised by an aunt who lets her get away with just about anything, including designing her own fuschia colored school uniform in a boys cut. Every year, Utena gets a rose scented letter from a mysterious man. Each letter is written on the back of a picture, and the final picture is of the wealthy prep school Ohtori Academy. Utena is accepted into the school, and immediately, accidentally picks a fight with a member of the school council. The fight turns into a duel, and as winner of the duel, Utena “wins” a young woman named Anthy, who is the “Rose Bride”. Anthy becomes Utena’s personal servant, and “belongs” to her. As melodramatic and somewhat sexist as this sounds, it really is a comedy, with Utena constantly questionting the sanity of everything going on around her. Determined to meet the mysterious sender of the letters and protect Anthy from abusive members of the student council, Utena stays at the academy. I’ve read two volumes, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Blame . . I'm slowly purchasing this series as I can find it. It's out of print, and i'm pretty sure i'm the only one who enjoys it. Killy is working his way up through abandoned cities, where humans have been wiped out by the machines (think the matrix meets terminator, plus insane AIs?). I really enjoy this manga for the artwork and the cyborg designs, and pretty much the design of the whole thing. Sure, there isn't much said, but it's mostly just Killy and his gun, so who is he gonna talk to anyways? he's a pretty shy, quiet guy. Not a series most people will gravitate towards, but i like it.

June 05, 2009

Welcome to Read Rinse Repeat!

Welcome to Read Rinse Repeat, a column featuring slightly random snippets, commentaries and reviews of scifi, fantasy, comics, manga, general fiction, the occasional history book, and my fangirlish worship of authors who rock my world, which include Scott Lynch, Hiromu Arakawa, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, and increasingly Michael Chabon.

I have an apartment that is overflowing with books, 3 active library cards, the attention span of a meerkat, a snarky sense of humor, and a happy obsession with libraries and languages and all things dark and mysterious.

If this column inspires one person to read one book that they never thought they would enjoy because "it's not their thing," then my mission is complete. Until then, come along for the ride and enjoy yourself!





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