Out of My Genre

The weirdest stuff I read, by far, is what comes from the Book of the Month Club.  Well, the weirdest stuff for me.  I have found some utterly bizarre and insane books that are still science fiction, fantasy, or speculative fiction and that is all very much my wheelhouse.  So it’s weird for me to read other things.  Like…a historical romance.

You may recall that I was offered a coupon for my birthday, a free add-on book to my box this month.  Which, of course, necessitated actually picking a book this month.  I wasn’t incredibly impressed with any of the five choices, but eventually settled on Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke.  I don’t completely abhor romance, though I don’t seek it out or read it outside of subplots in other books.  But I’ve enjoyed reading books set in the Victorian era before, and I can get behind a female protagonist attending Oxford.  Sure, I know exactly what to expect from a book like this because it’s categorized as romance, but I figured that if the rest sounded interesting I could well like it.

At the very least it would be completely different from what I read yesterday and hopefully help me steer myself back into reading more normal books.

Our protagonist is Annabelle Archer.  At twenty-five she’s still unmarried and living with her cousin as an unpaid drudge.  Hearing that Oxford would begin to accept female students, a fire that she’d thought utterly quenched reignites and Annabelle convinces her cousin to let her attend.  Her tuition is covered by the suffragist movement, so in addition to her schoolwork Annabelle is obligated to help spread the word about getting the vote for women.

On her very first day, they are to hand out pamphlets to powerful men coming from Parliament.  And Annabelle inadvertently picks out one of the most powerful; the Duke of Montgomery.  This being a romance, you can clearly see where all of this is going.  I don’t feel the need to detail the plot further.

What can I say?  It’s an easy read, a predictable book, and your typical mushy happy ending.  I appreciate that throughout the entire book there are only two sex scenes – Dunmore spends most of her time building up the tension and connection between our romantic leads instead of the actual sexual acts.  To be fair, that first sex scene goes on quite a while, but it also includes a fair bit of conversation and some of the most intimate backstory revelations.

And while I am glad to not have to suffer through too many sex scenes, or to have them be horribly gratuitous, I can fully appreciate that the entire point of a romance is to get the two characters together.  I mean, that’s the plot of the story.  It’s not a romantic subplot that’s taking valuable time away from the main plot and the two characters acknowledging their love for each other and acting on their feelings is the climax of the book.  I personally may be aromantic, but I have nothing against relationships that are fulfilling and supportive to those involved.  And if I’m reading a romance novel then I’m not going to knock the book for focusing on the attraction between the two because that is the point of the whole thing.

Do I think it was a bit cliché to bring in a Roman philosopher theorizing that each person has a soulmate?  Yes.  But what’re you going to do?  It’s a romance novel and the bar just isn’t set that high.  For me, I appreciate that the book was well-written, that the characters’ choices felt logical given what I knew about them, and while I might roll my eyes at how predictable most of it was, I was still cheering for the leads to get together and accept that the author made them perfect for each other.  Well, no human is perfect, but their strengths clearly work well together.  Weaknesses…I don’t know that Dunmore really gave that many weaknesses.  The duke’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness, which works very nicely.  Annabelle though is mostly hindered by her past and low birth, which isn’t actually a character weakness.

So I guess that’s the biggest problem with the book, that the main character doesn’t have a lot of flaws.  I feel like I’m really being nitpicky to even bring it up, like I can’t just let myself enjoy a romance novel and I have to find something wrong with it?  Well, maybe a little.  I don’t know, it’s not the best book I’ve read, but it’s far from the worst.  I definitely enjoyed reading it and knew there was no way I wasn’t going to finish it tonight, regardless of length.  I still don’t see myself browsing any romance section of any bookstore, but as with The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, I can see myself choosing a romance from the Book of the Month Club again in the future, if that’s my best bet.

Would I have picked up Bringing Down the Duke if I didn’t need it to get The Girl the Sea Gave Back?  Probably not.  Then again, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the latter if not for the fact that it was completely free.  Still, I keep the subscription because it does encourage me to read outside my normal genres and this is ample proof of why I should continue to maintain my membership.  I can definitely see myself returning to this book the same way I revisit books in Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series (and those are pretty definitely romances with fantasy elements).  So, score another point for Book of the Month.

Visual Media

Some friends of mine were out at Mitsuwa yesterday and I met them there.  I had no intention of spending money outside of lunch, but you know that bookstore has the most tempting things.  However, what I saw that I truly needed was no random object but Blue Exorcist 22.  With a book being translated into English roughly every six months, I have a tendency to forget about them sometimes.  So I doublechecked on my library app and sure enough I was in need of this newest volume.  And I figured I’d reread number 21 as well.  But going over the summary at the start of that book reminded me of the Very Important Character Moment in volume 20…so I went back to that just to get the full story.

In some ways the story of Blue Exorcist has shifted into a fairly stereotypical direction for twin main characters, or main characters who are close as twins.  That is to say, becoming affiliated with opposite and opposing groups.  But there’s so much more going on than that.  Yukio wants to know about the past…so Mephisto is sharing that with Rin, who doesn’t Need To Know the way his brother does.  Yukio’s been pusing all of his friends away and burning his bridges in a self-centered nihilistic downward spiral, and now needs to deal with the consequences.

We’re also seeing hints dropped concerning who (or what) Shiemi truly is and why she chose not to continue as an exorcist, but the revelation is yet to come.  But theories and guesses can be made.

Right now the manga is taking a trip into the past to explore what led up to the Blue Night that preceeded the twins’ birth.  I’ve seen how the anime chose to interpret things of course, and that worked out well enough for the story it ended up telling, but the manga has gone into a much darker place and the story is not at all the same.  Which is no bad thing.  It doesn’t make the anime invalid or less enjoyable.  They’re two different versions of a story with the same characters.

While I may not always keep track of when the next volume is available, you can bet that I will continue collecting this series to the bitter end.  I think at this point we’ve largely left the high school dramas and shenanigans behind and moved straight into Plot Central, which makes me quite happy.  I might sigh and groan about flashbacks, but they serve a purpose and only time will tell me what the full purpose is.

I stopped at the comic shop today, partly because I was in the area and partly because I knew the new issue of Doomsday Clock was waiting for me.  I did not expect the veritable pile of freebies that were thrust into my bag.  Not only was there an issue of Comic Shop News as well as two books of Marvel previews, but there was also Read Banned Comics celebrating Banned Books Week, This is What Democracy Looks Like giving a rundown of how the United States government works (you know, that stuff you’re supposed to learn in seventh and eighth grade) and encouraging people to become involved in their communities, and a coverless issue of Usagi Yojimbo.

The first is largely the same as last year.  We’ve got a summary of some notable banned comics from the previous year, some of the most popular banned comics in general, and what the Comics Legal Defense Fund has done or is doing about it, also in partnership with the American Library Association.  Nothing earth-shattering or unusual there.

The second is likely in relation to the increasing discussion concerning the 2020 Presidential election.  It’s a reminder (or it should only be a reminder) of how government works in this country and that there’s so much more to it than just casting a vote next November.  It’s a pretty good summary, and touches on some of the problems we’re seeing in the system.

As for Usagi Yojimbo…I didn’t know that it was a story of anthropomorphic samurai animals.  That kind of threw me for a loop.  And the initial fight with Sasuke and the demons of Mount Funai…there’s just something about how it’s drawn that I thought for the longest time that this was somebody’s imagination pretending to be a great and mighty samurai.  I’m sure the story is good given that I’ve heard of the series for years and seen the books around in many places, I just…don’t see it being for me.  There’s nothing inherently wrong, I just didn’t click with it.

I think that’s enough for tonight.  Oh sure, I could read Doomsday Clock or my increasing pile of Power Rangers, but I don’t quite feel up to it.  I’m not at all certain what I do want to read next, so I think it’s time to stare at the books and see what interests me.

Note to self; really try and remember to tell the comic shop to order some of those DC previews for me.

More, Please

It’s probably deeply satisfying for an author to learn that, upon finishing their book, the reader’s response was “omfg I need more of this right now.”  Well, it must be deeply satisfying as long as the reader does not proceed to be an entitled Gen-Zer who has never not had access to instant gratification.  Once I poked around and realized Spirits, Spells, and Snark had only been released nine months earlier, I decided that, much as I want a third book now, I can wait as per a normal release schedule.  I mean, Magic, Madness, and Mischief was released last year and as there’s still loose ends I can definitely see a third book coming next year.

Anyway, as you’ve no doubt figured out, when I said I was looking forward to reading the second book that was because it was sitting in my Pile, having just arrived in the same package as the first.  Some friend of mine showed me a silly website (or so I refer to it as) wherein overstocked and dinged-up books can be purchased for far less than the cover price.  Given that I generally don’t mind condition too much as long as the book is still readable and unlikely to fall to pieces in my hands, I won’t complain about books with sharpie dots on the bottom and the like.  It does tell you if a particular book’s page is for overstocked items versus damaged, so you can choose one or the other if you’ve a preference.  Given that most novels are under $5 apiece, I’ll go for the undamaged overstock personally.  It’ll last me longer, I hope.

So, we’ve got Kalvan’s second adventure in Spirits, Spells, and Snark.  And once again Kelly McCullough’s title utilizes the Oxford comma and I love it.  I also love the fact that “snark” is in the title because there is a very sarcastic fire hare and he is amazing and I want one please.  Also the art still makes him look absolutely adorable and I just want to cuddle him and his flames.  (I get cold easily.)

Kalvan’s mom is not at her best following the events of the previous book.  She really needs a pillar of stability in her life and maybe her son can be that, but there’s also a magical component and he’s only just beginning to understand magic in general.  Also if you thought the climax of book one concluded a conflict, you are dead wrong and nothing is yet resolved.  In fact, nothing is still resolved at the end of book two, which is part of why I’m certain that there will be a book three.  But also I have been sure from the start that the series as a whole is meant to be a growing-up, coming-of-age tale and Kalvan is nowhere near done with that journey.

In fact, he’s only begun to understand that there is a buttload of magic around him all the time and more people than he realizes know about it.  Not all of them have magic, but that’s not strictly necessary for the knowledge.  And just because they have magic doesn’t make them trustworthy.  There’s all sorts of good lessons about trust and people and whatnot in these books.

Also Kalvan is so far from understanding what he’s capable of that it’s kind of a good thing he’s got several teacher figures who can just give him a Look when he’s done something particularly stupid.  It’s also funny in a terrible way when he’s told “just do the thing RIGHT NOW and do it correctly” and afterwards it’s explained that yes, we all could have died if you screwed that up but it was the best possible solution at the moment.  (This has happened more than once through the series thus far.  I foresee it happening again because fire can be no little bit hasty.)

I think I’ve made it clear that I am thoroughly enjoying these books and looking forward to reading as many more as McCullough chooses to write.  I do have the feeling that the series will have a set length (five and six seem to be the other series he’s done previously so I expect something around there) and that it’s relatively planned out, at least as far as major events for each book.  Frankly, I don’t care.  I’m having a lot of fun and at this point I’m happy to add McCullough to my trusted authors list and just let him drive.  I really should find a copy of his other adult series at some point and get started on it.  It’s simply not something I’ve come across in any used bookstore and why spend all the money for new?  Plus it’s way more fun to find things used.  You really never know what you’ll turn up.

Although if I’m not careful, I’ll find myself planning a trip to used bookstores that is really not necessary given the number of books in my Pile at the moment.  Though that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted…

Bah, I better get this shelved and pick out my next read before I start planning a trip to the city.

Mischievous Magic

As I was getting deeper into the mythological insanity of the WebMage series, a friend of mine recommended that I read another series by Kelly McCullough.  I’m not sure this is one of the books she had in mind, but it’s the one I was able to get my hands on.  It is Magic, Madness, and Mischief and I have to say, I appreciate a book title that actually uses the Oxford comma.  That is an important piece of punctuation and it irritates me no little bit when I see a book or story title that should use an Oxford comma and doesn’t.

Anyway, let’s talk about the book.  Magic, Madness, and Mischief is the first of a kids or young adult series by aforementioned author Kelly McCullough.  Our protagonist is thirteen year old Kalvan Munroe and he lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.  You know, one of the Twin Cities, the one on the Mississippi side.  I’ve not spent much time in Minnesota or the Twin Cities, but it’s only a six hour drive from here.

Continuing on, Kalvan goes to a weird hippie school that tries to both let students do what they want while still trying to get those classes and subjects into their heads.  I’m not sure how well it works, but I went to a fairly typical public school and so have little firsthand experience with the one Kalvan attends.  He lives with his mother who may be mentally unstable and a stepfather who is…hard to deal with.  He’s smart, likes to skirt the rules, but is still trying to do well, at least for his mom.

Then one day Kalvan’s sneaking into the darkened gym, tripping the lights on, and the next thing he knows he’s flat on his back and there is a fiery rabbit attached to the wall.  Because, you know, that’s a thing.

Welp, turns out that Sparx (as the flaming mammal becomes known) is a fire hare and Kalvan’s the wizard who accidentally half-summoned him.  Actually, Kalvan’s referred to as a “child of fire” with the implication that the other elements are all out there, that he was born to this and has always been this.  And he just thought it sounded like a weird book!

Of course, this isn’t Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  He’s still got to go to his weird school, do his homework (luckily Sparx is great with mathematics), and pretend he’s not carrying around a talking rabbit.  While learning that the world is a lot bigger, more magical, and more dangerous than he’d ever imagined.

I would not call this a coming-of-age story.  A coming-into-power story, sure.  An origin story, definitely.  But Kalvan is still very much learning and nowhere near adulthood physically, mentally, magically, or chronologically.

I do note that McCullough really likes for his protagonists to be given hints and clues as to what they’re going to have to do in a given book but be so thickheaded and obtuse about figuring it out that they almost have to be smacked in the face with the answer in the end.  And then they feel kind of dense, but that comes with the territory.  Also, smart-talking sidekicks because of course.  But as far as author tropes go, there’s worse ones.  And I seriously doubt that this will end in the same place as SpellCrash.

But you know, I wanted something easier and lighter to read.  And this most definitely is that.  I’d say it’s on a comparable reading level to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, especially given that the protagonists are of similar ages.  I doubt that this series will be anywhere near as wide-ranging as that one has become, but that’s no bad thing.  Not every series has to be epic in scale and longer than an ocean-crossing.

Some other notes about the cover art.  The back cover shows a large wave (which wraps around to the front but I’ll get to that later) and the back text is actually an excerpt from the novel.  What makes this most interesting is that the text moves with the wave, starting at the ends of the lines closest to it and eventually having the entire lines following the curve of the water.  The real contrast comes from realizing that, as is reasonable for a book about a child of fire, that this watery illustration is behind text all about fire.

Then the wave wraps around to the front, as I mentioned, shaping a fantastical castle and looking like it’s about to swamp the St. Paul skyline behind Kalvan.  The boy himself is carrying Sparx and running into a wave of fire that almost matches the curve of water on the back cover.  Also, Sparx is fucking adorable.  I know he’s a hare and a mischievous sort, but he looks like a bunny gilded with flames on the front cover and I just want to cuddle him.  The cover design is great and I love it.

So, this may not be what my friend had in mind, but I have no regrets and cannot wait to read the second book in this series.

Dreams and Visions

As I was scanning my Pile the other night, looking for an easier read than The Dreaming Tree, my eye fell upon another C.J. Cherryh book.  Given the title, I wondered if it could be linked to what I’d just finished reading.  After all, if I’m to read a series I generally like to go straight down if I have them all.  Cases like Heroes in Hell are special and few and far between.

As I read through, I determined that while Faery in Shadow has a great deal in common with The Dreaming Tree, the two have no relation to each other and are variants on a world, not the same one at all.  A lot of the research and worldbuilding Cherryh did for The Dreaming Tree creates the foundation of Faery in Shadow, but I picked up on a number of differences, not the least of which is that elves in the latter do not have stone necklace thingies.  (Yeah, my brain’s a little shot, sorry.)

Anyway, Caith is our protagonist and viewpoint character of Faery in Shadow.  He’s a cursed kinslayer who serves the Sidhe in an effort to make something right in his life, but he never knows what he’s meant to be doing at any given time because instructions aren’t really a Sidhe thing.  He does have Dubhain for a companion, a pookha who is obnoxious in the extreme at times but does still care for Caith.

What made me wonder if the two were connected are the secondary characters Ceannann and Firinne, twins whom Caith stumbles on unknowingly as he’s wandering aimlessly.  Or perhaps the Sidhe led him to them…

There’s a darkness upon the land, a wicked witch and her beast to beware, and Caith has a long road ahead of him as he tries to do what’s right despite a hasty temper and sword.

I found Faery in Shadow to be a slightly less difficult read than The Dreaming Tree, although that could be related to the ten years between publications.  It was still not the easiest going and while I compared aspects of the latter to a nightmare I struggled to wake from, there are actual plot points in the former wherein Caith is asleep and dreaming.  His dreams are often metaphorical representations of the magic and conflict around him, and thus can be incredibly unsafe for him and those relying on him.

I don’t think I like this quite as much as The Dreaming Tree, but I don’t know that I dislike it either.  I’ll hang onto it, for the author if nothing else, and we’ll see how things go from there.  In the meantime, I am determined to read something easier next.

But before I choose a next book, something much, much lighter.  Comics that have been sitting a bit.  Specifically Jane Foster: Valkyrie #1-2.  It’s a two-part beginning titled “The Sacred and the Profane” as Jane begins to try and balance her new life with her old.  It’s not easy though.  The hospital’s not thrilled with her seemingly poor work ethic and demotes her to morgue assistant.  Then one of the most powerful weapons wielded by a former (now deceased) valkyrie ends up in the hands of Bullseye, the man who can make anything lethal.  Not to mention how very different valkyries are from gods, something Jane is only just beginning to understand.

As beginnings go, it’s auspicious enough.  There’s a lot for Jane and us readers to learn about her new job, but I imagine the series wll give us plenty of time for that.  We’re still early on, still setting things up, but we’re also building on the foundation left by War of the Realms.  After all, Dragonfang is just one of the many weapons being cleaned up all over Earth.  The authorities are trying to get these dangerous objects out of the way and beyond the reach of supervillains, but that’s no easy task when you’re talking a worldwide effort.  Not to mention the fact that Jane’s new job came from the aftermath of that event.

Still, Jason Aaron wants to make sure that we know Valkyrie is not going to be a nothing of a sidelined series, and he shows that with the ending of issue two.  There’s definitely going to be some repercussions from that, and they’ll surely affect all other Marvel comic series with Asgardian characters.  Note to self, tell the comic shop to for sure add this to my list, as I originally asked for just the first three issues.

A Nightmare of a Book

As I’d determined, I set out to do.  I went through my Pile looking for Michael Whelan art and found no less than five books.  And of those five, I chose C.J. Cherryh’s The Dreaming Tree.  You know, faery and elves just sounded most appealing of those options.  And it’s an omnibus too, previously published as The Dreamstone and The Tree of Swords and Jewels.

It wasn’t until I got into the fourth chapter of The Dreamstone that the nagging sense of familiarity fell into place.  After all, I have “The Dreamstone” collected into Treasures of Fantasy as well as Amazons!.  So maybe I should have recognized the title sooner.  But while I can remember “The Dreamstone” on reflection, it’s not the sort of story I’m going to remember off the top of my head from a particular book.

Regardless, I can now add it to that ever-growing list of books I’ve read that were expanded from short stories.  It’s a fascinating data set too, especially in how very different some of these expansions are from each other.  I can look at stories like “Fiddler Fair” which became the opening chapters of The Lark and the Wren (by Mercedes Lackey of course), or “Except the Queen” adding in additional information and viewpoints (Jane Yolen and Midori Syndyer), or “Atlantis” being summarized and overall informing a character’s backstory in Pastwatch (Orson Scott Card).  There’s more variety with additional examples not mentioned here tonight, but that’s just a small sampling of how they can differ wildly.

In the case of The Dreamstone, our harper from the short story becomes merely one in a series of protagonists who meet the Sidhe Arafel, guardian of the Eald.  He is not the first Man she is inclined to aid at all, nor is he the last.  But perhaps I should backtrack and talk about the overall story.

Somewhere in the British Isles, where the naming conventions are influenced by Welsh and Celts and others, we have a King and his lords.  Not all is peaceful.  And a man of the former king has been on the run for five years as his price for staying true.  Arafel guides him to a place of safety.  But the world will not let him rest forever and Niall is drawn back into Man’s world where he retakes his rightful place.  By this time, the harper has died and a magic stone returned.

The stones are the hearts and memories of the Sidhe.  To cast it off deliberately is to become a drow, become a creature of darkness.  They can have power…but it comes at cost.  This is discovered by Ciaran, a generation or two later.  Niall raised his usurper’s son Evald as his own, and Ciaran was sent to warn Evald’s people because the King would not trust Evald himself to do so.  He had to pass through the Eald, and was sorely wounded.  Arafel chose to help him and, because of his own Sidhe heritage, bestowed a stone upon him, belonging to her friend and cousin Liosliath.  With the stone around his neck, Ciaran became as the Sidhe; immune to death and injured by iron’s presence.

A mighty battle was fought, and peace returned to the land.

But the story was not over, for a darkness roused in The Dreamstone and only in The Tree of Swords and Jewels can it be laid to rest.  Ciaran now is the lord nearest the Eald and he himself desires only peace.  But his actions in the war are remembered, and not fondly by his King or his kin, who share his heritage.  Still, he has his wife and their children, who sometimes the lady Branwyn fears are more his than hers.

It will take all of them doing their own parts, along with their trusted retainers and allies, to put the darkness back to bed in this longer and more extensive volume than the first.

Maybe because I’ve been very distracted by family (and learned how much I fucking despise Gilmore Girls), but it took me a lot longer than I could have wished to finish this book.  It was a challenging read, and I have to wonder…why?  Partly it could be the language used.  There’s something about the strange names from a language tradition I am not connected to that seemed to create a barrier.  Also there’s the odd, dreamlike quality of the book as a whole – reading it can often feel like one of those nightmares where you try to move your body and yet are paralyzed.  Or perhaps the pacing hindered me, for the time of Sidhe is not the time of man.  Regardless of the reason, The Dreaming Tree took a while to read.  And also I just didn’t have a lot time to sit down and get comfortable with the book.  This is not the sort of novel you can pick up and put down after five minutes.

All that being said, of course it’s good.  That was, if not the ending I foresaw or the ending I wanted, an ending I felt and appreciated.  It felt like the story had been brought full circle and most loose ends tied up.  Of course there are still questions lingering and new ones raised, but that’s in the nature of any good book.  I think I will one day choose to reread The Dreaming Tree, but there’s a lot of other things to discover and revisit before then.

And I definitely am going to look for an easier read after that.  My poor brain needs a break and working overtime helps nothing.  I’ve got some young adult books in the Pile, as well as more anthologies (because of course I do), so I’m sure I can find something light enough to suit.

After I move far too many books around to add this to the C.J. Cherryh section of shelf.

Art or Book?

When does it count as a book?  Because I “read” (flipped through, slowly) Michael Whelan’s Beyond Science Fiction.  This is the art book he kickstarted not too long ago, featuring a number of works for both book covers and personal productions.  There’s a few short biographies/essays about him and his work, but the vast majority of the book is just the gorgeous paintings the man has produced.

If you’re unfamiliar with Michael Whelan himself, you’ve probably still seen his work.  He’s got a fantastically realistic style that just brings fantasy and science fiction worlds to life.  Some of the books/series/authors featured in here include Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, C.S. Friedman’s trilogy that includes the book When True Night Falls, Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson’s A Memory of Light as well as the latter’s Stormlight Archive.  Plus so many more.  If I were absolutely insane, I could start a new database listing the cover artist for each of my books.  But I am not that crazy.  Even if Whelan’s art is just that good.

I myself will always be a fan of The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen paired covers he did.  They’re amazingly intricate and the more you study them, the more you see.  It’s great.

So does it really count as a book given that it’s mostly just me looking at amazing art?  I don’t know, but it’s certainly longer than most comic book issues.  So I guess I’ll count it because it’s just too substatial a book for me to ignore it.

And, you know, Michael Whelan cover art seems like as good a way as any to pick my next read.

Some Short Stuff

When the Book of the Month club offered me a free second book in my box as a birthday present, I was immediately intrigued and tempted. The question became simply what book would I want? I browsed their additional section, the fantasy and science fiction and eventually the young adult when I came upon an intriguing title. The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young. The synopsis sounded like something I could work with even if it was young adult and therefore should take a second thought to make sure it’s worthwhile.

But that is an awkward title. The Girl the Sea Gave Back. There’s just something about that phrasing I dislike. But it does evoke the right images, doesn’t it? You hear about giving things to the sea in sacrifice, in burial, etc. So you don’t often hear about the sea giving back, at least not outside of things like Moana.

In a world strongly based on the Norse beliefs and locales, Tova is a young girl living in a Svell village. But she herself is one of the Kyrr, from the hinterlands in the far north. We know this because of the tattoos covering her body, though she doesn’t remember a thing about her homeland. The Svell keep her, untrusting and unloving, because she is a Truthtongue, able to cast the stones and see the future. But they fear her even while they use her for their own gain.

Halvard is a young man of the Nadhir, a clan that used to be both the Aska and Riki. However, when the Hjera attacked twelve years prior, the remnants of the two were able to not only put aside their differences and work together, but also to make of themselves a single clan. In fact, Halvard is going to be the next Nadhir chieftain for a number of reasons, but including the fact that he sees no more divisions between Aska and Riki people and his willingness to fight for the peace he’s known the past ten years.

The peace that’s been known for the past ten years is about to come to a violent close and only the Fates truly know what will happen next. But it’s all going to be exciting, if at times predictable, and interesting to boot.

Are there better books out there? Of course. Are there worse books? Most definitely. But for what it is, I liked The Girl the Sea Gave Back. It’s a very quick read, taking me from breakfast to mid-morning (with interruptions). I don’t imagine there’s a sequel or series planned because while not all of the questions are answered by the end, most of them are and it’s a very solid ending with no truly loose ends needing to be tied up. And a standalone is not a bad thing in these days of excessive trilogies and series that seem to never end.

So I’m not disappointed in my free book. I can only hope that the actual book this month, the one I had to pick in order to get the free book, is as good as this was.

But that’s something I’ll figure out another time.

I also checked out the Avengers Endgame: Prelude graphic novel from the library. Unfortunately, this is not worth the paper it’s printed on. The first part of the book is a very abridged version of Avengers: Infinity War. The second part was better – part of the original Infinity Gauntlet wherein Thanos had obtained all six infinity stones and was now essentially a god. (Remember Loki telling him at the start of the movie how he would never be a god? Direct callback to the comics.) Anyway, we didn’t get the full story here, just up through the disappearance of half the universe’s population. And then the last bit is something from the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and I just totally lost interest by then. Only the original event comic really held my interest and the rest was just…a waste.

Frankly, I’ve been very disappointed in Marvel ever since they started producing their own movies. No novelizations, just tie-ins and other books that are very hollow marketing. I mean, novelizations are also marketing in a way. But at least a novelization is a full story as opposed to this Prelude that’s really just an advertisement for other things you can spend your money on. It’s just a waste in every sense of the word.

Not sure what I’ll be reading next (or what time I’ll have to read), but there it is.

Badass Women with Weapons

I knew what I was going to read next.  I had it pulled out, with a bookmark.  But I wasn’t that excited.  And then I remembered that I was to receive a book package today, and I was actually interested in at least one of the novels inside.  Which meant that today should be something standalone that wouldn’t greatly detract from what I read next.  So…an anthology of course.  From Esther Friesner.

Yes, it’s another one of those.  This time entitled The Chick is in the Mail.  Although this time there are no stories about actual mail.  Or actual chicks.  Not that there aren’t enough humorous stories regardless.  And another host of big name authors including Elizabeth Moon, Harry Turtledove, Nancy Kress, Margaret Ball, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Eric Flint.

The book opens with a very brief poem by Kent Patterson called “To His Iron-Clad Mistress”.  It helps set the tone for the book…although if you were expecting anything else in this fourth book of women in chain mail I think you are looking at the wrong series of anthologies.

Elizabeth Moon continues filling us in on the gossip of the Ladies Aid & Armor Society in “Sweet Charity”.  You see, it’s that time of year, when the Ladies throw their annual charity ball to raise money to support orphan girls.  Not only are there tchotchkes to buy, but for a small fee all invitees can cast their vote for Queen of the Ball.  A nice way to raise money.  But someone is desperate to win and stack the votes in her favor…and that’s only part of the plot.

Then Harry Turtledove takes over with “The Catcher in the Rhine”.  I have a feeling that if I remembered more of The Catcher in the Rye I would find some subtle literary references and jokes here.  Instead, we’ve got some nameless Joe Schmo who, frankly, should have brushed up on his history, legends, and myths before wandering around Europe missing the U.S.

And then, to make sure I regret not clearly remembering the classics, Charles Sheffield comes next writing “With the Knight Male (apologies to Rudyard Kipling)”.  This story is, at the base of things, a lesson concerning contracts and clear phrasing.

“Patterns in the Chain” by Steven Piziks follows that.  This story seems to be a deconstruction of a stereotypical story and the ending is left open to interpretation.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Nancy Kress has, oddly enough, a male protagonist in “Arms and the Woman”.  And he’s the kind of guy any self-respecting person hates.  He’s completely full of himself, considers all other people to be lesser beings, and is too up his own ass to ask the questions he should.  But, given who’s writing the tale, you can guess things don’t necessarily go his way.

“Fun With Hieroglyphics” by Margaret Ball is another sequel to stories seen in earlier collections.  You really do have to feel for poor Riva as she tries to make a living, raise a teenager, and not have too many people she’s actually a swordswoman from another universe now living in the United States.

Editor Esther M. Friesner also wrote “Troll by Jury”, another story that involves wading through legalese to get the punch line and resolution.  Not a bad thing at all, but something that is seen several times throughout the book.

William Sanders’ “Looking for Rhonda Honda” is an interesting story from an author I’ve never heard of before.  Our narrator is Johnny Noir, a Public Investigator, and if you think Sanders is trying to make it obvious that this story is modeled on the old detective stories and noir films, you didn’t need to be a genius to figure that out.  Still, there’s some interesting twists and turns that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I think overall Sanders’ timeline is far too optimistic, but this was published in 2000.  A person can dream.

“The Case of Prince Charming” by Robin Wayne Bailey nearly fooled me into thinking it was a second poem.  It certainly starts out that way.  But once you turn the page it switches to narrative prose.  It seems Bad Rose once lived in a Snow White style story, but she seems far too practical and inclined towards violence to stay there.  Now she roams the land as a hero or cop for hire.  Not that they really have much of a police system in a feudal world.  But she seems to do a fair bit of detective work.

Karen Everson contributed “Incognito, Ergo Sum” which is a story I did not expect to make me as angry as it did.  Not in a bad way.  But I do not consider myself a friend of PETA or an animal rights activist and so I was somewhat surprised by the strength of my reaction to a character’s willful use and abuse of animals.  Which probably helped me enjoy the story overall because payback’s a bitch.

“Chain of Command” comes from classic author Nina Kiriki Hoffman and a coauthor with one of the most amazing names I’ve seen in some time; Leslie What.  The story itself is…not great.  We’ve got another mother of a teenage daughter, they don’t see eye-to-eye on pretty much anything and the daughter is actively opposing just about everything the mother does.  And the resolution is…eh.  And the plot takes a very weird turn.  I have mixed feelings.

Eric Flint presents “The Thief and the Roller Derby Queen: An essay on the importance of formal education” though it is told as a story with asides instead of written completely as an informative essay.  It seems that with willpower and ingenuity, the lack of formal training can be somewhat overcome.  However, it does help to have basic intelligence.

I raised an eyebrow at the title “The Right Bitch”, but then I recognized author Doranna Durgin.  This is another one of those stories about dogs smelling magic stuff.  I’m still having a hard time coalescing the group of stories I’ve read into a solid narrative and I’m starting to wonder if I should just pull every anthology I have with a Doranna Durgin story, and read just those tales in publication order.  I suppose I could look and see if the group has been collected into their own book, but I’m just not interested enough to spend money on such a thing.

Unknown other Piers Askegren produced “Foxy Boxer Gal Fights Giant Monster King!” and it is the kaiju story I didn’t know I needed.  I mean, I’m familiar with kaiju, or giant monsters, on principle.  Who hasn’t heard of Godzilla?  And Firebreather, which I was reading just a week ago, features Belloc, a dragon or kaiju or whatever you want to call him.  Duncan’s dad.  Now, I’m no fangirl and don’t really go for those kind of movies, but I had a lot of fun with this story regardless.

K.D. Wentworth finishes the volume with another story of her warrior woman Hallah.  This one is “Hallah Iron-Thighs & the Change of Life”.  Here, Hallah and partner Gerta are clearing out bandits when something seems off.  Like Hallah’s chainmail being uncomfortably tight.  It’s not unknown, and considered to be part of the change of life, which I think is a fancy way of saying menopause.

I got exactly what I expected and wanted out of The Chick is in the Mail.  Humorous stories of badass women kicking ass.  And this time it’s neither the editor nor the publisher who is being blamed for the book’s title.  No, the introduction lays that squarely on contributor Robin Wayne Bailey.  Even so, I just think it’s hilarious that every book in this series has to blame the title on someone specific.  A running joke, perhaps.

Anyway, it’s getting late and I can worry about what book I end up reading next in the morning.  At least I can sleep with a smile on my face.

Eastern Myths

I opted to continue the theme of books for younger readers (than myself) with another of my weekend acquisitions.  I had forgotten that Barnes & Noble had a number of brand new books for half price and managed to find a single one on those tables that I wanted to read.  I mean, they had the second too, but only in hardcover and we all know I’d rather collect a series in a single format.

Now, I did know about this book ahead of time, just not that it would be on sale.  I’d read a preview at the back of another book and thought it sounded intriguing, but not necessarily worth buying.  Still, $4 is a reasonable price for a great many books, so I picked up Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi.  This is, if you’re unfamiliar, a Rick Riordan Presents book.  That is to say, Mr. Riordan loves his world of mythology and modernity, but recognizes that there are a number of religions he is completely unqualified to write about.  We can assume they all exist in his world, but he simply doesn’t have the background to write those books.

Enter Roshani Chokshi, a woman of Indian descent who is more than up to the challenge of bringing the Hindu gods into Riordan’s world.

Now more than ever I am really just a spectator reader.  I have had some exposure to Hinduism, can name several of the gods, and have a very vague familiarity with the Ramayana.  I’ve even been to a Hindu temple once.  It was part of a World Religions class in college, but the professor has a good relationship with a temple in the area and we students were able to visit, hear a bit about it, and watch some members worship.  But none of that amounts to a great deal, especially when it comes to writing a book.  Why, it’s almost like the difference between The Calculating Stars and Spinning Silver

Aru Shah is a twelve year old girl with a propensity for lying to her school friends to make herself seem cool.  Totally typical.  She lives with her mother above the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture in Atlanta Georgia.  Less typical.  And she’s the reincarnation of the Pandava Arjuna, child of Indra, the deva who is king of heaven and god of thunder in the Hindu pantheon.  The Pandavas are a group of sibling heroes who are apparently reincarnated into every age, though they do not always awaken.  And Arjuna is known as the warrior and strategist, third-eldest of the lot.

Not that Aru knew about any of this until she disobeyed her mother and lit the lamp that triggered the End of Time.  Heroes and demigods being what they are, this of course starts a quest to stop the End of Time, all while Aru learns a lot about herself and her heritage.

It’s a fun little adventure, every bit as much as any of Riordan’s own introductions to mythology.  There’s obviously much more to come, but we can start sort of slowly at first.  They only escaped death…five times?  Maybe more.

I do particularly appreciate this excerpt: “Traffic was at a standstill.  But Aru was used to that.  After all, it was Atlanta.”  Having driving through Atlanta, and having the custom of planning roadtrips to and from Florida around Atlanta’s rush hour…I most definitely appreciate that joke.  I may live in Chicagoland and deal with this traffic…but at least I know what I’m getting into and what kind of alternates I can take.  There’s literally no other good way to get from Illinois to Florida unless you really divert and go via Lousiana or something.  Or I guess you could fly.

So, Aru Shah and the End of Time was fun and I’ll eventually pick up the next book.  I don’t need to read the sneak peek at the end of this paperback to know it’ll be just as much of a hair-raising adventure as this was.  And yet also very touching in several ways, which I do appreciate.  I do think that Chokshi needs to keep herself out of the glossary though.

It’ll be fun making space to shelve this, as I do need to fit it next to Rick Riordan and thus move the last Guardians of Childhood up to the top shelf and therefore something’s got to move off of that shelf.  And I should consider my next book.  I could continue the kids’ book theme…and fantasy…and be timely…or I could go in a completely different direction as I’ve been known to do.  I’ll figure it out.