Half-Off Ragnarok

46150_originalSeanan McGuire has another InCrypted novel out as of a few days ago.

Half-Off Rangarok leaves off of Verity’s adventures for a spell and visits her brother, Alex, in Ohio.

Frankly this book was great and not so great, but it still gets an Awesome! for one fact:  it is well written, the characters are good, etc.  It just was as fun for me as the ones about Verity have been.  Alex, frankly, isn’t as interesting a person, he doesn’t interact with the Aeslin Mice enough, and I miss Istas.

That said, I found the writing superb, and Shelby was a pretty interesting person.  We learn about a few more interesting cryptids, etc.

Honestly, if you’re like me, and characters have a lot to do with your enjoyment of a story you may want to snag the sample off Amazon, iBooks, or whichever before you lay your $7.99 on the table; just to be sure this one will be enjoyable enough, or if you’ll want to look out for a chance to grab it on sale, second-hand, etc.  Frankly, it’s worth getting and with 5 books contracted and 10 planned it’ll probably be worthwhile to read it.

If you just like a well told story, characters be damned, grab it.

If you like characters who are well done, but nothing particular about any given character strikes your fancy except that they’re well done, grab it.

Twilight

The_twilight_saga_hardbackYes, that one.  I’m still reading my next submitted book and got bored, so here’s an easy one.

First off, no, this is not a “let’s bash on Meyers” post — not intentionally, but as you can see this one warranted a Bad, so any Meyers fans who wish to might want to go sharpen their pitchforks and light the torches.

There, now on to the review.

Frankly, the sparkling vampires?  Kudos points, really.  It’s new, and different.  I can’t think of anyone else who decided to tinker with the vampire mythos in quite that fashion before.  It could have been pretty good — in fact, after reading what is available of Midnight Sun, the first book of the Twilight saga rewritten from Edward’s point of view is … mediocre.  Could even be awesome, but for the fact that I really must say that Ms Meyers could stand to think a little harder about characterisation.

Back to the actually officially published work, though.  It’s bad.  Normally I won’t review a book I couldn’t finish, but in this case I will because I couldn’t finish it, not because it wasn’t my cup of tea, but rather because it was so badly written that I could not bring myself to complete it.  Watching the movie was … an improvement as it avoided the narration.

You are given a young lady, Ms Bella Swan, who … how should I put this?  By page two you just want to slap the stupid out of her.  The first pages are, I believe, trying to establish her as the sympathetic protagonist — the character you’re really rooting for and all that.  I’ve never wanted a POV character to shut the hell up more in my life.

Frankly the trouble is this:  she’s upset because she’s moved to Washington, a part of it that apparently rains more than the Noah story in The Bible out near Seattle.  And she thinks it’s cold.  Also, she apparently has some form of albinism that doesn’t impact her hair and eyes — plausible, I’ve heard of it in other mammals, just not humans.  She’s upset because she doesn’t want to be there, yet she is there voluntarily.  The reasoning might be more believable if it weren’t for the constant griping about having done this which seems to go “oh look at what a tragic self-sacrificing person I am … woe and angst”.  It’s artificial in the extreme.

I will be the first to defend nearly any character in the world, in original fiction, as not a Mary Sue.  Why?  Because Mary Sue syndrome is supposed to only infect fanfiction characters.  I’m often inclined to make an exception for Ms Swan.  Why?  The narrative says she’s plain, boring, ordinary, and exceedingly clumsy.  The narrative shows remarkably beautiful and drawing the attention of all of those around her, remarkable in being rather unique in her reactions to the vampires, and the clumsiness seems to amount to “oh, now might be a good time for her to fall down” rather than actually presenting a klutz (believe me, I live with one, she laughed at Bella’s “clumsiness” not identified and empathised with it).  As I understand it, even at the end of it all, when she becomes a vampire … forgive the pun, but she takes on every mark of a sparkly Sue except for being in original fiction.

Enough about the poor characterisation — Bella’s the best example, but the vamps get a little hard to swallow, too, just not as bad.

Plot.  Oh, so Romantic, yes?  No.  Romance is not, necessarily, roses and candy.  It doesn’t have to be starlit walks on the beach.  No.  Borderline abusiveness, stalking, a deep rooted possessiveness, and a powerful urge to murder someone … it’s not terribly romantic by most standards.  Gothic, sure.  Romantic, no.  Midnight Sun presents an interesting basis for a great Horror novel.  Twilight is just a sad attempt at wangst and dwama.

Oh, but bad writing can sometimes be overlooked if the story is good enough.  As I just said, nope, didn’t happen.  Repeatedly you want to scream to Ms Meyers that there’s these little things call reference libraries, and Wikipedia.  Prime example?  The baseball scene.  Many people hate this because “Vampires don’t play baseball!”  — bah, get over it, I think it’s cute.  Original idea, but oh no, no no no, Stephanie, love — if they’re so strong and fast that they have to wait for thunderstorms to play it … well, you might want to remember that ordinary human athletes are wont to breaking the ball with a good homer off a fast ball.  These vamps would need to have made bats out of good solid metal, probably not aluminium, but steel or titanium, or similar and they’d need to be using something on the order of an old cannonball.  And I’m pretty sure a baseball game, regardless of the tools in question, doesn’t much sound like thunder.  To say nothing of the fact that, as I recall, that corner of Seattle isn’t prone to thunderstroms, a mix of the sea and the mountains.  I know Hawai’i rarely does for those very reasons.

There’re some fascinating other signs that Ms Meyers didn’t get a lot out of her Biology, Physics, and other classes as a youth.  I wouldn’t comment on this, I’m a SF writer who loves things where starships are making banking turns and going “whoosh”, but the difference comes in the fact that physics ignored and discarded is a whole other universe from physics misunderstood.  The former … well, how few people ever watch Star Wars and think “that ain’t right” about the fighter-craft scenes over the death star?  In this case, science was set aside for the sake of excitement and you enjoy it.  In the latter case … there’s explanation, both in the novel and in later interviews by the author.  It’s painful.   It really is.

Really, many many points for originality with vampires enjoying baseball, and the myths about dying in the sun being wrong — oooh shiny!  Supernatural/paranormal/horroresque romance with a bit of Destiny Born in the Stars … what the Hell, it worked for ol’ Bill Shakespeare, I won’t knock it.  Sadly, though, Stephanie Meyer runs amok with these ideas in a way that would be right at home on fanfiction.net, and would very likely have been invaded by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum.

If you can stomach bad narrative and poor characterisation in favour of unique and interesting ideas, and can put aside all you ever learnt about physics and biology, then pick this up.  Otherwise, I’d say give it a pass.

The Hobbit

TheHobbit_FirstEditionI know what you’re thinking.  Oh, God, why?! That book is like 60 years old or something.  It’s been reviewed, it’s been analysed, it’s been dissected, bisected, vivisected, and several other kinds of sected!

Yes, but it’s also a classic, and one very well deserving of that label.

First off, it’s a grand adventure.  Little Bilbo Baggins, never left the Shire, is on his way to deal with a dragon!  Exciting, no?

Next, there’s the narrative.  Oh, the narrator is a character in and of itself!  This is a good thing, not a necessary thing in all stories but one that rarely hurts and can often help.  This narrative draws you in, holds your hand, and paints the picture for you in your mind.  Truly, the prose itself is enough that anyone ought to read this book.

It’s a kid’s story.  For no fathomable reason, it’s often placed near the adult fantasy books, but it’s not.  This story is the kind of thing a parent could read as a bedtime story to a little one, and a must have on any older child’s shelves to read themselves.  A fantastic, good ol’ fashioned Quest tale, as well as one of the first paving stones on the road that would become modern fantasy.

The characters, well now.  That’s an interesting look.  By many modern standards of literature, the characters could use work — but I also have a low opinion of many modern literary scholars, so let me tell you what I think.  I think that, as the story is about Bilbo Baggins, there is a cute little bit of frame story that it is by Sir Bilbo Baggins, et al that the important character to develop is — drum roll please — Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End.

The dwarves are, largely, decoration.  Their purposes need not even be two dimensional, let alone three.  There is a bit of hint that our fine Professor Tolkien knew more about them than he showed us or told us, which is as it should be, the author who knows more about the characters than the reader is an author who has a rich, lively setting that isn’t an endless string of plot devices.

As for our Mr Baggins, he’s very well developed, very well established, and you immediately are sucked into his world and his adventure.  You’re riding upon his shoulder and seeing through his eyes as the narrator guides you through.  Anyone, 5 to 500 male, female, hermaphrodite, animal, vegetable, or mineral ought to be able to readily identify with him.

Truly, this is the quintessential fantasy novel — the one that every generation of fantasy writers except a very new crop of them in recent decades, read and adored.  This book deserves to be rated among the great literatures of Britain.  In my opinion it is also the greatest thing the good Professor ever put on paper (not a fan of LotR, but that’s for another day).

Junie B series

junie_b_jonesJunie B Jones is a truly delightful series by Barbara Park with adorable illustration by Denise Brunkus.

I shall review the entire first series as a gestalt since, in the end, it tells one story — the kindergarten career of one Ms Juniper Beatrice “Junie B.” Jones.

Each book takes you through a small (mis)adventure in the little girl’s life and each one, while perfectly ordinary and innocuous on its own is exacerbated and magnified by the quirky imagination and unusual perspective of the little heroine.

If you have children, I sincerely recommend them.  If you don’t have children, I sincerely recommend them — really, they great for a laugh and a great light read, no one’s too big or too old for cute.

The stories are told from Junie B’s point of view, which only serves to make them even more delightful as you follow her train of thought throughout the day’s scrapes.

There is a sequel series, Junie B: First Grader, which (in case the name was too subtle) is her in first grade.  This one is done as a series of school journal assignments, but otherwise continues the theme of Junie B telling the story of her latest amusing anecdotes.

Really — they’re short, they’re cute, they’re sweet, they’re silly.  The synopsis of any of the books could easily be a sentence (in fact a quick check of Wikipedia confirms just that), and wouldn’t do them the faintest justice.  Go, pick them up — they’re about us$3 each, and short enough that you could easily read a quarter of the series over a latte.

Midnight Blue-Light Special

Midnight Blue-Light SpecialThis is Seanan McGuire‘s second InCryptid novel, and it not only lives up to the first book’s promise but, I rather think, exceeds it.

This is still told from Verity Prices point of view (a critical note for those who keep up enough to know that not all InCryptid tales are nor will be), and continues where Discount Armageddon left off.

It’s simply more of everything, except possibly Dominic. More Sarah, more Istas, more of the mice, and more excitement.

Personally I don’t like the end. That said, it’s a good end, well written, noble, etc. As a writer, my hats off to Ms McGuire for the ending. As someone who is very fond of that character I’m sad, but at least there’s nothing says it won’t all turn out all right by the end of the series.

In fear of giving spoilers I’ll say it as, if you want to read about someone kicking monsters’ asses with the awesome power of ballroom dance, then this as with its predecessor is well worth your us$8. The book is available through all major booksellers, electronic and print.

On technical notes, Seanan is a sound writer and her editorial team too, I imagine, deserve a big hand. The book is one of the cleanest I’ve seen in a long time, possibly topping the first book on lack of typos and mistakes. Again, I can’t laud the story telling enough. Lovable characters in hearty helping. Humour, suspense, action, and excitement abound in proportions that I think would make her a master chef were this food instead of text.

A better review, I suppose, might have simply been three words: buy this book!

Discount Armageddon

Discount Armegeddon by Seanan McGuire is a simply fantastic story and fabulous start to what is likely to become a seriously addictive series.

The characters are endearingly quirky and exceedingly well written, and when the action stops the humour starts, when the humour stops the action starts, and there’s a good chance that they’ll both happen at the same time.

Another reason to love the book? Two words: Aeslin mice. Don’t ask, just read.

The book doesn’t, I think, make any deep philosophical statements about Humanity, society, etc. It also doesn’t pretend to. If you’re looking for that, move along, but if you want a damned fun read that you won’t want to put down and will likely find yourself coming back to again and again, this will be a well spent us$7.

Available in paperback and eBook formats from all major retailers.

A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars, the first in a series by Edgar Rice Burroughs about the exciting adventures Barsoom.

There are nearly a dozen books in this series, though I’ll frankly say I’ve never read past the first six. 

The first three are about John Carter, a Virginian who, while prospecting, finds himself transported by mysterious means to Mars.  From there it is one exciting adventure after another as he learns to cope with the strange, brutal new world he’s found himself on and the strange, brutal people he’s found himself among.  There he meets the incomparably beautiful Dejah Thoris and the rest is history.

The next few books deal with his son, his daughter, and the daughter of Carter’s long-time friend among the Green Martians.  They’re good stories, but they don’t have the same feel as the earlier three and each one progressively seems to lack the lustre and wonder of the last.  Eventually you get to a book that feels like an attempt to rehash the first one with a new character.  I couldn’t finish it.

These stories are often credited with inventing the Speculative Fiction/Space Opera sub-genre of Planetary Romance.  The adventures of John Carter of Mars are deservedly engraved into the memory of SF, and their influence can be felt and seen in all but the newest stuff striving so hard to be unlike that which came before.  Ignoring the rest of the series I cannot recommend John Carter’s exciting adventures enough.  They’re truly timeless.  His chivalrous, honourable nature leaves him the kind of hero that will touch anyone in any era.  By all means, the later stories are a fun read, but more pulpy, and with less staying and wowing power.  But Princess of MarsGods of Mars, andWarlord of Mars will blow your mind or your money back.

Don’t believe me?  Follow this carefully crafted link over to Project Gutenburg and try it.  I swear if you don’t like them you’ll be refunded every penny.  Though I’ve a feeling that you will love them and cherish them and find yourself time and again flying out and away to that arid red globe with its white apes, faithful Woola, the fierce six-armed giants such as Tars Tarkas, the grand towers of Helium, and more.  This is like Princess Bride in space – sword fights, and fist fights, true love, and brave deeds, impossible odds, and dangerous beasts.

Awesome for the start, mediocre for the rest.

Dragondoom

Dragondoom, by Dennis McKiernan may not be indie, but it tends to be a touch obscure. It was even out of print for a good while.

This is, frankly, one of my all time favourite fantasy novels. I nearly read the copy at my local library to death until I found a copy of my own at a used book store in the late nineties (this was during that unfortunate OOP phase), and have proceeded to reread that till parts of it are protected by tape.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. Mithgar keeps to the tropes of fantasy cleanly enough to be accessible, and easily understood by anyone who has ever heard of an elf, or a dwarf, warriors, and dragons. But imaginative too, there are subtle touches to make the setting his own; Tolkein’s ground work is clearly visible, but he’s built upon it to something definitely unique.

This story, by its tropes is a fantasy. Sword and sorcery, magic, prophesy, myth and legend all come alive. Yet it does defy genre a little, it’s a compelling story of love, friendship, honour, pride, and the consequences of these.

The story is told in back and forth fashion as it follows the quest of the main characters, Elyn of Jord, and Thork of Kachar, to slay a dragon that has besieged both their peoples. It tells the story of Prince Elgo of Jord and his quest fir glory which led to Elyn and Thork setting off in search of a legendary hammer. The switchback timeline is carefully done so not to confuse (chapters start by clearly telling you when the scene takes place), and arranged to maximise suspense and provide the best understanding of the total story.

If you want a great introduction to fantasy, this book is a fine alternative to The Hobbit, and if you already know and love fantasy you should add this book to your collection post haste. Hate fantasy? Give it another try with this fine story.

Where to buy:
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
IBookstore
And many more.