Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin - Five Kings? Outrageous!

Pro: Engrossing, exciting; I love Tyrion and Arya
Con: Only if you can't handle long books or oodles of characters

The Bottom Line: The second installment in the series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and well worth the library hold line wait.

A few months ago I finally jumped on the Game of Thrones bandwagon. I haven't read good, solid fantasy in a long time, so to be immersed in a world full of knights, kings, direwolves, giants, Others, poison, intrigue, armies, and the last three dragons in existence is a good thing. Initially I was worried that there would be too much court politics stuff going on, there are plenty of other places to visit and other characters to follow to worry about it. Oh, and if you haven't read the first book yet, you really, really need to.

Everyone seems to have declared himself king. No one seems to like Joffrey - and with the people starving within his gates and his severe lack of a conscience, it's no wonder why. Tyrion Lannister is sent to King's Landing to try and rein in the young king and figure out a way to stop Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon from taking the city, while in the north Robb Stark wins battle after battle with Lannister forces. Who will sit on the throne in the end? Will Stannis's dark sorceress grant him victory? Or will Tyrion's wits save his sister and nephew? And everyone seems to have forgotten about Jon Snow and the masses gathering in the North beyond the Wall...

Each chapter is given to a different character just as in the last book, only since we're missing a few character this time, there are a couple of switches:

~Tyrion Lannister
~Arya Stark
~Sansa Stark
~Catelyn Stark
~Bran Stark
~Theon Greyjoy
~Davos Seaworth
~Daenerys Targaryen

Each of these characters has a different side of the story to show, and what stories they are. Despite the fact that Tyrion is a Lannister, I knew from the very first moment that I would really enjoy him. And I do. It's as though he's the only one in King's Landing with any sense. I look forward to seeing what more he has to offer. Heh, maybe he'll be king at some point. And why not? He'd do much better than Joffrey (that kid really needs to be eaten by a dragon or something) and everyone else has crowned themselves king around here...

Arya is my second favorite character to follow. She's such a spunky, strong little girl. I'm still waiting for her to start howling or something and to meet up with her direwolf again. Maybe that will happen in the next book. Bran's narrative almost ties Arya's this time because of his dreams and what happens to Winterfell while Robb is away. Perhaps Robb should have listened to his mother?

Davos made for an interesting look at things from the other side, as he works for Stannis. He's seen things...oh yes, he has. Everyone else offers a little something special, though I'm still relatively bored when Catelyn comes onto the page. Sansa is interesting; I worry for her, though I'm starting to get slightly bored when she comes on the page as well. However, her little dynamic with the Hound is intriguing. I keep wondering what happened to Theon, though I think he's a fool and whatever he got, he deserved, but I suppose I'll have to wait until I get my hands on the next book. And Daenerys...she gets ever closer to her goal of taking back the Seven Kingdoms for herself...

Though the book starts off at a relatively relaxed pace, things wind up - albeit slowly - to a war full of ships, men, horses, weapons, plenty of fire, desperation, and some serious treachery. Sometimes the skipping around of characters from chapter to chapter was frustrating - mostly because I wanted to see what happened next with that particular character. I'd be lying if I said I didn't skip ahead a few times to Tyrion's next chapter, Arya's, or even Bran's just to see what might happen.

Martin does throw out a few little red herrings when it comes to certain characters and their deaths, but I wasn't fooled. Others might be though. But hey, that'll just make things all the more exciting when you find out the truth, eh?

Now I'm on the library's wait list for the third book, A Storm of Swords, which just sounds like it's going to be a party. I look forward to it. I noticed that as I progress, the wait list gets shorter and shorter as well. Are fewer people getting this far in the series? Are they slower readers? Whatever the case, lucky me. Have I mentioned how much I look forward to seeing HBO tackle this particular book? It's going to rock so hard! Whoo hoo! Go fantasy!


Notes from the playlist: "The Orgy" by Basil Poledouris

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Recommended for Serious Teens

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

This has been on my Recommend List for a long time - it's just never managed to find a slot to sneak into. You don't necessarily have to be a serious teen at all to read this book, though the subject matter is rather serious. Janie sees a young child's face on a milk carton one day and suddenly realizes - that's me! From there, Janie's life seems to spiral beyond her control as she discovers the truth about her parents, her life, and where she really came from. Cooney does a great job capturing the emotion of this story and to this day I still remember all sorts of individual snippets of this book. The same can't be said for all the books I read, that's for sure. Especially since I read this book when I was in 7th grade. There's a second book after this one that's 99% as good, and I later learned Cooney made a few more for this series, but for me, I'm comfortable with how it ended after book 2. Definitely give this one a try. It's not that long, and well worth your time.

Notes from the playlist: "Hole in the Head" by Sugababes

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith - I Almost Quit

Pros: Some interesting things, some interesting characters
Cons: Most of the time I got bored, and once I almost quit.

The Bottom Line: If you like this sort of SF you'll be fine, but if you want more excitement and just...more, then look elsewhere.

This was the August choice for the 2011 ABC Book Club hosted by Calico Reaction. While some of the books that have been chosen have been interesting (hmm, I notice that I'm using that particular word a lot with these books...), others have been less than so - at least to me. With so many other books on my plate, my patience is running thin. So I decided, as I began to read this book, that I would do something I don't think I've ever done before.

If the book wasn't grabbing me by the time I hit the 100th page, I was going to quit. Not something I like to do, but I have well over 20 books on my "Want to Read" list, and I didn't want to spend my time with something I didn't like. And let me tell you - I almost put this one down.

Marghe is a SEC rep, and SEC is essentially in bed with Company. They've found the planet Jeep again after hundreds and hundreds of years since its first population of Earth humans. But there's a virus there that kills all men and changes women at the cellular level. As an anthropologist, it's Marghe's job to liaison between the natives and the rest of the people at Port Central. She's also there to test FN-17, a new vaccine against the drug. But when Marghe sets out on her own in a land she doesn't understand, she discovers more than she thought she would - good and bad alike - and when she runs out of the vaccine, she discovers what the virus is truly capable of.

The beginning of this book is, or at least it feels, rather disorganized. Like the author wasn't exactly sure how to move things along to get from the beginning to Marghe's capture by a northern tribe of women. And that's where the book finally gets interesting. I was *this* close to putting the book down, but I made it to page 107 and that's where I was finally intrigued enough to keep going. But in those first pages, I did not like the way Griffith handled the timing of things, I did not like (and still don't) many of her word choices, and in general just found myself bored and not really connecting with any of the characters. When Marghe had a flashback, I almost rolled my eyes in a, "Oh man, are we doing to do flashbacks all the time now?" kind of way. It felt like Griffith was just pushing her way to the meat of the story, so things felt disjointed and awkward until she got to where she was comfortable.

There are a lot of things I just don't like in this book. Griffith tends to describe things like weather and the sky, and that's great, but she completely fails at describing the creatures. I have no idea what the heck a taar looks like, so I just conjured up some shaggy creature like a yak. I think wirrel is unimaginative because it sounds too much like squirrel. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad, but again, I have no idea what the heck it's supposed to look like. And Company as the big bad, um, company, taking over everything is also unimaginative and felt really cliché. In fact, the whole deal with a company trying to eradicate the virus and then exploit all of the planet's resources, not to mention the fact that Company basically owns everything under the sun, annoys me to no end. I'm sick and tired of stories where corporations own everything and they're in complete control and everyone else is just screwed. It's boring! I've heard it a million times! Books and TV and movies alike!

There are times where some of Marghe's past is brought up, particularly her beating on another planet, but Griffith makes that out to be some big deal and then once the information is spoon-fed to us in the form of something very nearly an info dump, it fizzles out into no big deal after all. I thought it might have some significance, but apparently not. Most of the book focuses on Marghe's ordeal, and by the way I thought her reasons for going north were weak and the fact that the head of Port Central (Hannah Danner) allowed her to go alone is pretty stupid. Especially in light of Marghe being the test subject of a new vaccine for the virus.

The other half of the book focuses on Marghe's and other characters' - primarily Danner - need to find themselves. Finding their place in the world. Finding out who they are and how they fit, etc. That sort of thing. Also something that tends to bore me after a while. Griffith wrote at the end that she wanted to show a planet full of women that exhibited the entire spectrum of humanity. So basically nothing is different than if men were involved. And I'm still wondering where they got the horses in the first place - who brings horses on an initial space mission? And who on the first mission thought it would be okay to start breathing the air without thorough testing first.

But whatever, then I guess we wouldn't have a story.

This isn't my type of book, obviously. It does have it's perks and I'm sure that there are going to be plenty others in the book club who enjoyed it. I didn't hate it, despite all my ranting, it's just....well, three Epinions stars average is all. Perhaps if I were more in the mood for a slow, introspective SF book, I'd be more excited about it.


Notes from the playlist: "Bubblin' in the Cut" by Boreta

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Recommended for Everyone

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

It's a piece of history. It's a look at the past in a very special way. Anne Frank, her family, and another family they knew were Jewish. They hid from the Nazis thanks to some of their friends. This is a look at Anne's life during that time, closed up away from the world, wondering when she'll ever be safe, ever live in a normal world again. It's not a happy story. It simply ends with one final entry. She and her family were found out and sent to the concentration camps. Anne never made it out. Only her father did. Anne hoped to be a great writer when she grew up. It's a shame it had to happen this way.

Notes from the playlist: "Magic" by Mick Smiley

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...