Book Review: Fire (Cashore)

February 19, 2010

In her stunning debut novel, Graceling, author Kristin Cashore brought us Katsa, a young woman of extraordinary

The cover of my copy isn't nearly this sexy.

power and will who possessed none of the biological or stereotypical weaknesses associated with femininity- and in her just-released second book, she returns as magnificently as ever with a new heroine by the name of Fire, who suffers many of those weaknesses a hundred times over (she can’t help but to inspire lust and contempt in men, she often finds herself attacked and injured, and that time of the month is downright calamitous), but manages to wrest control of her own destiny despite them.

In a country barren and war-threatened, Fire is the last human “monster,” the only remaining person with the ability to reach out and control the minds of those around her. Cursed by this ability and the stunning beauty that comes with it, Fire is unable to hide her nature, and is set apart to be loved or hated by all who behold her; those who don’t desire her body or her blood want her power. Her monstrousness inspires fear in everyone- including herself.

It was Katsa who wondered, “When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster?” (Graceling, p.137) This question remains a central theme in Cashore’s work, and Fire does fight to throw off the label she’s been given by her birth; indeed, she at times seems less monstrous than her supposedly more human counterparts, who loathe her but wish to make use of her powers in interrogating enemies of the realm, a task that Fire balks at.

Hated and adored, afraid of herself and of becoming the true monster that her father was, struggling with the balance between the rights of individual men and women and the greater good, Fire is an easy character to fall in love with, possessing the same vulnerable strength that so endeared readers to Cashore’s first heroine. Throughout all of Fire’s suffering and her triumphs, as she struggles with everything from a father’s legacy to love and war to the fact that she is the last of her kind, Cashore crafts a masterful tale that tackles the big issues in life without turning depressing or preachy. Five stars all the way, and many wishes for a third book soon.


Book Review: Iron Kissed (Briggs)

February 19, 2010

*Spoiler Alert*

Fun fact: Mercy's tattoos change on every cover.

I have read the first four Mercy Thompson books and loved each of them, but Iron Kissed is by far the best, though, due to a graphic rape scene, it is not for everyone. Wow, you’re saying, she’s sick: her favorite book in the series is the one with the rape? However, part of what attracts me to this book is how Patricia Briggs portrays the psychological impact it has on the victim; to me, at least, it seems very accurate. Though she’s no sniveling coward, it is, perhaps more often than we would like for a character we love, overpowering in its horror. Briggs doesn’t downplay this, nor does she overstate it.

Apart from the rape, the mystery of the book, a grisly string of murders on the fae reservation, for which Mercy’s friend Zee is being blamed, keeps you guessing, or at least it did for me. The world is as rich and real as ever, and of course there’s the ever-present tension with Mercy’s relationship problems.

All in all, Briggs has crafted a lovable character who can stand up for herself without being an unrealistic Superwoman, and who lives in a richly layered world of that includes romance and intrigue as well as broken-down cars and homemade brownies.

New Readers: The first book in the series is called Moon Kissed, if you want to find it. There is also a rather excellent graphic novel prequel called Homecoming.

Five stars.

This book contains explicit sexual content and scenes of graphic rape which may offend some readers.


Book Review: Crécy (Ellis, Caceres)

February 19, 2010

No, that most definitely isn't a peace sign.

“…hundreds of years from now, no-one’s going to understand. No-one will understand how much of their modern warfare comes from this night and this field.”

Warren Ellis, my good sir, you are right. Because before picking up this gem of a historical graphic nonfiction, I had never heard of Crécy. But I have now. Oh, have I now.

This book is unforgettable. It is the most enthralling account of any piece of history that I have ever read. It is crude, disillusioning, and not peppered but liberally salted with all manner of offensive language. You will not believe in chivalry after reading this book. It is pretty funny, though.

Charming.

We are taken through our journey in learning about this most definitive battle by a longbowman peasant by the name of William of Stonham. He is “a complete bloody xenophobe” with a mouth so foul it would put “I’m On A Boat” to shame. He isn’t a nice man, and you won’t fall in love with him like you sometimes do with characters. In his

own filthy, perverse way, though, he’s… charming.

Primarily, Crécy examines exactly how the British underdogs were able to invade France, carve up the countryside for a while, and then take a stand at Crécy and absolutely massacre the French army in August of 1346. And I am not exaggerating when I use the word massacre. The figures our good William presents us with in the last few pages are jaw-dropping. It’s a rather incredible picture that is painted for us.

So if you can handle the distinct “M” rating, I would definitely recommend this, whether or not you like history. Four stars.


Book Review: It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Authors Famous &Obscure (SMITH Magazine)

February 19, 2010

So Harper Collins sent me a free uncorrected proof/advance-copy-that-wasn’t-an-advance-copy-because-this-book-came-out-in-January a few weeks ago, and I read it, and now I’m reviewing it because I can only assume that that’s what they wanted. A hearty thank-you to you, Harper Collins; I’m a big fan of the six-word memoir books. I have no idea why you sent me this, since it’s doubtful that you mistook me for a high-profile book reviewer. But thanks.

But anyway, the book. It’s fantastic. I bought myself a copy of the first one, Not Quite What I Was Planning, after hearing about it online, and loved it, then took it around and showed it to everyone I knew, then took it around again and annoyed them all with how much I loved it. But the first time they loved it, too.

The premise of the books is obviously to write your own life story in just six words (see more here), a practice inspired by a famous legend about Ernest Hemingway. He was challenged, it’s said, to write a novel in six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Also according to the legend, he once called it his best work. It certainly hit me harder than The Old Man and the Sea.

The best thing about these books, though (there are currently four of them out) is that the writers actually are “famous & obscure.” In It All Changed in an Instant, you’ll see memoirs attributed to Somebodies like  Michael Moore and Isabel Allende right next to ones by people you’ve never heard of. Even better than the best part, these people-you-have-never-heard-of write the best ones! Anyone, literally anyone, can submit a memoir to SMITH for consideration. I myself have done a few. Just head on over to the link I supplied above and give it a go. As The New Yorker said in their six-word review, “You could spend a lifetime brainstorming.” Five stars.

P.S.- it is my advice to take these a few at a time for best effect. After a while, as with all little-this-and-that books, they tend to blend together if you read too many. And seriously, take your copy around and share it. People will love you more.

EDIT: Mystery solved. LibraryThing sent it as a part of the early reviewer program that I signed up for. I was merely confused because right there on my homepage, it said I hadn’t received any books from them yet. If you click on that, though, you can see that by “no books” they mean “this book.” Oh, LibraryThing. Love ya.


Cons

February 15, 2010

It seems to be customary for internet personalities (which I suppose that I now am) to announce where they’ll be making real-life appearances. Yes, I’m actually leaving my house. This is big news for all of us.

I’ll be at NonCon this coming weekend down in Poughkeepsie, near NYC. More importantly, Tamora Pierce, Danielle Corsetto, and a bunch of other cool people will be there. It looks to be a lot of fun.

I also hope to make an appearance at Confluence in Pittsburgh come July. There’s going to be all sorts of cool stuff, including a writing contest that I intend to enter and a writing workshop for teens that I’m going to try to get into. Tamora Pierce will be there, as well. She gets around. Go check out the site, it’s pretty cool.

EDIT: I read this over and realized that phrases like “make an appearance” would make more sense if I was going as an artist or dealer, which I’m not. It would also make more sense if I had readers, though, so there you go.


Book Review: Fray (Whedon, Moline, Owens)

February 8, 2010

Melaka Fray is a tough chick living a life of crime in the huge cities of the future, stealing to survive and enjoying the occasional bar fight for variety. Sure, her police sister gets on her back, and yeah, she wishes she weren’t haunted by the death of her twin brother a few years earlier, but for the most part Mel lives in the moment, kicking ass and taking names while pulling off a fantastic blue-and-pink hairstyle. This all changes the day Urkonn, a huge, demonic, “sarcastic goat-thing” steps in and informs Melaka that she is the latest in the line of the Slayers, and that it is her destiny to combat the vampire scourge. Her response? “What’s a vampire?”
Slowly, though, pushed on by a will to avenge her brother’s murder, Mel begins to take up the mantle she is meant to. It’s not enough to pick off the hunters in the alleys, however. A war is coming, one that will test Mel’s emotional fortitude even more than her physical strength as she is brought up against an enemy she never expected to have to face.

I have decided that Joss Whedon is God and that nothing he does is wrong. This may sound fanatical, but I’m basing that supposition on the fact that, to date, I have found nothing that he has done that was wrong. Fray is one of the better not-wrong things in his portfolio. If you loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will probably enjoy this book. If you enjoy science fiction more than fantasy, you will be pleasantly surprised to find flying cars, ray guns, and sprawling, futuristic urban decay alongside the vampires and creepities. If you just want a kickass heroine who doesn’t take any crap, well, you already know that Joss Whedon supplies those without the ridiculous man-contrived accoutrements such as double-D breasts and skimpy, oft-torn clothing (God bless him). Also, there’s a giant snake. You just can’t go wrong with that.

Hell yes.

If you have already read Fray, heads up: Mel makes a second appearance in Tales of the Slayers and a third in Time of Your Life, the fourth volume of the Season 8 comic series of Buffy. I haven’t read either yet, but (see above) Joss Whedon is never wrong, and I have every confidence that it will be fantastic. Five stars.


Book Review: Going Bovine (Bray)

February 3, 2010

I think I’ll let the video sum this one up:

I didn’t even have to read the book to decide that Libba Bray is the funniest person I’ve ever read. It was just based on that video and the acknowledgments. The acknowledgments are, in my opinion, funnier than this video. However, if you do read the book, you’ll find that it’s full of weird profundity, punk-rocker angels, and the mysteries of the universe (including, yes, why does microwave popcorn taste so good). You will never look at a snow globe the same way again. Despite the fact that it’s just short of five hundred pages, I finished it in less than six hours because I could not put it down. If you’ve read A Great and Terrible Beauty and/or its companions, let me tell you that it’s rather remarkable that they were written by the same Libba Bray, but that this is pretty much everything English teachers want in the big thick books they give people to make them think, only it’s not fifty years old, it’s easier to read (understanding may require several attempts, though) and, unlike Steinbeck’s novels, which are frankly disturbing, I liked this book. ()