Pictures in Books

Well, I finally made it to a comic shop yesterday, and was able to pick up Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #16-17 and Go Go Power Rangers #1.  Given my plans, I figured comics would be a great choice to read over breakfast, and started by rereading Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #14-15.  You know, as a refresher for what was going on most recently.  I remembered the alternate universe, but it helped to figure out exactly what was going on.  And to see that saga come to an end in issue 16.  Oh sure, these are comics and there’s hints that we may see more of that universe in the future, but issue 17 is back to normal, mostly, with the Power Rangers being the do-gooders we all know and love.  A slice of life before the next major story arc begins.

It’s also worth noting that the inside front cover of the series shows the standard diamond pattern from the suits.  This may not sound important, but for the first twelve issues they’re green.  Starting with issue 13 (and also including last year’s annual), those diamonds are red, signifying a shift in focus from Tommy to Jason.  (This year’s annual had yellow diamonds, but I’m not sure if the annuals can really hold a lot of significance.)  Issue 17 heavily implies that we are going to do a Jason-centric arc next, which is fine by me.  Tommy may be the classic eternal ranger, but this is a team of six and everyone has their own personality, history, and contributions.

Then there’s Go Go Power Rangers, the first in a new series that explores what it was like for the original five rangers, before Tommy was a factor.  This ties in very nicely to issue 17 of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers where they begin to reference specific chracter traits and histories that haven’t been mentioned or explored previously.  To have two instances of those mentions in issue 17 there and then to see them brought up right away in issue 1 here is fairly satisfying, and I have to wonder if this is a pattern they’ll be repeating over and over again.  So far, I like it.

Together, these comics are well on their way to making up for the vast disappointment of the new movie’s novelization.  It’s hard to say that they do because, well, these are comic books.  They’re short and serialized and if I wanted to get a better sense of overall story I’d have to read everything in one go.  I’ve done it before, but so much that I don’t feel any need to go all the way back to the beginning of MMPR for some time yet.  I will continue collecting and reading both series though.

Switching gears, today was a great day for books.  Today I went to the Newberry Library’s annual book sale.  If you’re not from Chicagoland, or not familiar with said library’s sale…it’s a doozy.  They have six rooms of varying sizes, all the categories you could ever want, books ranging from mere months to more than a century old, and everything in between.  There are hundreds of thousands of books and it is insane how many of them vanish over the five days of the sale, from the members’ preview night on Wednesday through half-price Sunday.  One day maybe I’ll actually take off work to get down on Thursday and see the real insanity.  Maybe.  I usually end up there on Saturday or Sunday, when things are more picked over and there’s not much left under the tables.

(I was there with a friend who said it was his fifth time going to the sale this year and he couldn’t believe there were still sci-fi/fantasy books he didn’t remember seeing.  I pointed out that there was next to nothing left under the tables, meaning that it had all been moved up on top and onto the shelves.  He agreed that on Thursday there had been boxes he couldn’t even see into under the tables.)

We managed to arrive right around ten, as the sale opened for the day, and I made a beeline straight for my preferred section of sci-fi/fantasy.  The layout’s the same every year, which helps.  And I was stunned by how much was left.  Oh sure, it was opening on Saturday, but it was still Saturday and I know for a fact that people not only use those boxes to carry out their loot, they pile them in carts.  People buy a lot of books at this sale.  So for there to be a fairly large selection left, comparable to some (non-specialty) used bookstores, was very exciting.  After all, the more books available, the more likely I’ll be able to find something.

And I did find things.  Nothing I had been specifically looking for, but things.  I also poked my head into the children’s section, but they didn’t have anything I really wanted.  Then I discovered that the Judaica had an entire table and several boxes beneath, and occupied myself for a good amount of time there.  Finally, I got lucky with some of the CDs.  It was a good Newberry sale for me; I got more than I expected.

However, I was nowhere ready to go home yet.  My friend lives reasonably close to Andersonville, and I happened to know that the neighborhood is having a sidewalk sale this weekend.  I thought to stop by and look at $5 shirts.  Little did I know that the Women and Children First bookstore was having a sidewalk sale too…a used book sale.  There, I struck gold for children’s books.  It looked to me as if someone had donated an entire set of Jewish picture books.  Some I’d heard of (by specific title or series), some I’d read, and some were entirely new to me.  I picked what I thought were three of the best, and then a parody book for shits and giggles.

After lunch, my friend wanted to head over to The Brown Elephant, a massive and classic secondhand store with a bit of everything.  I’ll mention it again when I reread a certain book…but for today, we mostly looked at their books and CDs as well.  I added two more books and one more CD to my haul there.  Then he wanted to show me a local comic shop, Alleycat Comics.  You literally walk down this little alley to get to the store, which is tucked away in a private courtyard, complete with metal chairs and tables.  It was a nice shop and I was able to grab the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels I’d forgotten to look for in previous months.  For some reason, whenever I find the time to go comic shopping, that same weekend a friend drags me into another comic shop.  Why?


Regardless, here’s a picture of my haul for the day.  (And I do mean haul, my shoulders are relatively unhappy with me after toting that pile around for hours.)  Some of these books I’m super excited to own, others I’m mildly intrigued by, and others are just, well, just interesting enough to spend money on.  Though please note that the biggest chunk of money spent here was on A: TLA.  The Newberry charged me $14, Women & Children First was $4, and The Brown Elephant was $2.50.  Oh, and for the curious, the CD without a case is by Enya.  I have no idea what album or anything, but I’m happy to pick it up on strength of Enya.

With this, my Pile now takes up an entire shelf on my old Container Store bookshelf, and I don’t need a bookend to keep things from falling over.  Rather, the books barely fit on that one shelf, even with the picture books taken out.  And since they wouldn’t fit, and the theme of today is already “short and easy reads,” what else should I read over dinner than those four new picture books?

I started with The First Gift, written by A.S. Gadot and illustrated by Marie Lafrance.  It’s a simple, yet surprisingly insightful story about how the first gift any person receives in this life is their name.  It was cute, sometimes funny, and nicely illustrated.  Not something I’ll revisit until there is a small child to read to (with?), but worth keeping.

Next was The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Paul Meisel.  This one is…somewhat brilliant.  And for best effect must be read aloud by someone who can do a great New York Yid accent.  I kid you not.  This is the story of the Little Red Hen, whom everyone wants to mooch off of in the end, but done with a Jewish twist.  She’s your Jewish mother who asks you to do your chores, and kvetches when you brush her off.  It’s wonderful, and I’m going to con my dad into reading it aloud next year.

Continuing that holiday theme, I also read A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss and illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau.  This one’s done in a more painterly style, evoking the Impressionists.  Content-wise, it’s about what makes Passover important to the main character.  This strikes a chord in me because what she likes is all the things that stay the same, so for things to be different because Grandpa was in the hospital makes everything scary and strange.  Admittedly, A Different Kind of Passover is not nearly as disconcerting for me personally as watching A Serious Man.  That movie is like watching the photo albums in my grandparents’ apartment come to life.  Seriously disturbing.

The last picture book is Where the mild Things Are: a very meek parody by Maruice Send-Up and illustrated by Bonnie Leick.  This one is adorable and hilarious.  Even better, you can still read it to kids who won’t understand a third of what’s going on and they’ll still enjoy it.  This is the story of Mog who is the most boring monster I’ve ever heard of.  You can see the titles of so many of his boring books and they range from straightforward things like Calculus, Chemistry, and HTML Code to History of Rocks, 1001 Facts About Dirt, and Zip Codes of Guatemala.  (No, I am not making this up.)  So he goes off on an amazingly boring adventure across the US to visit all sorts of boring places like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine and Normal, Illinois.  (I am super amused that Normal is in there.  It may be the only real city listed.)  Then he arrives in Dullsville and at this point every other adult reading the book really starts laughing.  Point being, this is as amusing and satisfying as The Night Bookmobile wasn’t.

And since this is clearly a day of visually-focused books that are shorter than most novels, I decided to finish up by rereading Avatar: The Last Airbender North and South Part One and following it up with parts two and three.  What the story here reminds me of most is The Last Samurai, where Mr. Graham says that the past and the future are “at war for the very soul of Japan.”  The Southern Water Tribe is the least…European style civilation in the world.  The Fire Nation has been pushing an Industrial revolution, and the Earth Kingdom is developing machines and metalbending to do the same.  Aang is the last of the Air Nomads, so they don’t matter, and then you have the Water Tribe.  The Northern Water Tribe is, as we saw in the animated series, much more European than its Southern sister.  And now that the war is over, the Southern Water Tribe has a chance to rebuild.

The question is how.  Many people would like to see the Southern Water Tribe become more like its Northern counterpart, while others wish to stick to the lifestyle they’ve always known.  It’s clear that the best way would be some sort of compromise between the two, but people being people, no final decision can be made.  Not just in these three books, but probably not in the future either.  It’s just hard to be torn between two very different lifestyles.  In all likelihood, it’ll be the children who end up determining the course by growing up and seeing no contradiction between the two influences that are both factors in their lives.

There’s not really a resolution in that sense, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  These graphic novels exist to tell a bit of the story that comes after Aang’s great victory over the Firelord and the end of the war.  We get to see the foundations being laid for the world Korra will be born into.  I saw something about similar follow-up books coming out following The Legend of Korra, though I’m of two minds about them.  Essentially, I adore Avatar: The Last Airbender unequivocally.  But I have some issues with Korra.  More because of how they got dicked around by the network so that they couldn’t tell a complete and well-paced story the way the first series did than anything else…but disjointed storytelling is still disjointed storytelling and it makes it harder for me to enjoy.

I suppose I should wrap this up now, since I don’t see myself adding anything more to the pile of comics and other books I’ve read today.  At least I have plenty of new reading material to choose from for tomorrow!

Sequels and Rereads

I really, really wish Sunshine had a sequel.  Or even more than one.  So much so that I actually checked Robin McKinley’s website and found a blog post entirely dedicated to the subject.  In fact, it’s a republished blog post, originally from 2009.  The answer is a twofold “no.”  “No,” the author hasn’t had any inspiration to write a sequel and “no” because McKinley doesn’t really write sequels in general.  I had noticed that all the books I’ve read from her are standalones, but I hadn’t really considered that her entire body of work might be such.

This is disappointing.  I think the ending to Sunshine is a perfectly good conclusion to the adventure, but there is so much more clearly waiting in the wings.  I’m not talking about foreshadowing of any kind, just the sense that there’s a lot more going on in the background of the main story which could easily be fleshed out.  Several side characters are revealed to have mysterious pasts which could be explored, not to mention the main character’s new…ally?  Friend?  Whatever, there’s a lot that can be written about.

I am not nearly desperate enough to go looking for fan fiction.  I am quite certain it exists because vampires.  Well-written vampires, who are actually far less human than any others I’ve encountered in years.  Also there’s the fact that McKinley has clearly been asked about a sequel so many times over the years that a blog post is not only necessary, it’s easy to find on her website.  I feel this says it all.

So, why would I choose to reread a book that I first read just over two months ago?  First and foremost, Sunshine is a wonderful book in every aspect, from the cover inwards.  Secondly, I just had to buy myself a copy, particularly with that Carravaggisti cover.  That image and layout was a part of what drew me to the book so strongly, and I considered it well worth the extra couple dollars necessary.  It was, as you can guess, in that amazon box from the other day.  Lastly, I have another busy weekend planned, and I didn’t want to be in the middle of a brand-new book for most of it.

I knew I wanted to reread something, but I’ve been disinclined to revisit a lot of the options on my shelves of late.  This is part of my recent desire for new things.  I’ve been trying to encourage myself in this, because I know how much I’ve pidgeonholed myself in the past by only picking up new books by authors I’m already familiar with.  Then there’s the fact of this blog.  When I reread a book that I’ve already posted about, it’s harder to find something new to discuss.  Take Sunshine.  I spoke about the cover, about the world, and some of the early plot in the story.  But now in this post I’ve spent more of my time talking about whether or not there will ever be a sequel and how I ended up choosing to read that novel today.

So not only is it more difficult to come up with a decent number of words each successive time I reread a book, but the blog also makes me feel somewhat guilty, as if I should try harder to read more new books.  It’s not as if I don’t have the Pile and more that I could utilize.

That’s not right though.  I’m not a slave to my blog.  I started this to keep better track of the sheer amount of books I finish in a somewhat ridiculous amount of time.  Also to have a platform from which to discuss my thoughts on what I’ve just read.  And if I want to reread The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey for the umpteenth time (read: somewhere well over fifty), then I can do so because that’s what I want, and who cares what you readers think?

I mean, I guess I care, a little.  But my reading selections should be like my clothing choices: whatever I feel like reading (or wearing), regardless of what anyone else thinks or says.  I choose most clothes based on functionality; I don’t want jeans that’ll tear after a few washings or shirts that will develop holes as quickly.  Admittedly, I like geeky shirts and socks, but that’s beside the point.  I still won’t buy patterned socks if I consider them overpriced for what I’m getting.  If any piece of clothing doesn’t look like it’ll last a minimum of five years, it is probably not going to be worth the price.  I wear my clothes into the ground, and it’s unusual for anything to survive long enough to be donated.

So I like my books like my clothes: content that appeals to me and that I can foresee rereading again and again over the years.  Sunshine definitely fits the bill in both respects, and the added perk of it still being on the new side (in my experience and awareness) makes it an even better choice than most.  There are some books where I do know most of the best dialogue by heart, and that may not be the greatest sign.  If I remember a book too well, I shouldn’t try rereading it yet.  That’s an easy way to burn myself out on it, and I remember what happened with the mysteries.

When I was young, in first and second grade, we did a unit on mysteries in my reading class.  I don’t know what it was, but I dove headfirst into mysteries at that point, and I read almost all of them.  The Boxcar ChildrenNancy DrewHardy BoysClueClue Jr.The Babysitter’s Club MysteriesEncyclopedia BrownTwo Minute Mysteries, etc.  It’s actually impressive how many book series exist targeting that age group, or the ones slightly above it.  The point is, I read so many mysteries in that two-year period that I completely and utterly burned myself out on them.  There’s only two types of mysteries I’ve read in the years since then.  One is a mystery that is covered in a fantasy or sci-fi “skin.”  Of course, I read a lot of things if you make the surface into a fantasy or sci-fi novel.  Nonfiction, romance, porn, etc.  The other “type” of mystery is actually just a single book.  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

Suffice to say, the only reason I read Christie was because it was a class assignment in seventh grade.  I truly appreciated that the book was completely different from any other mystery I’d read before, and have my own copy today.  But, honestly, the play kind of sucks.  They changed the ending.  Ugh.

I haven’t yet decided what to read next.  I’m tempted to pick another, shorter, reread to get me through the portions of the weekend when I’ll have time.  Though there’s quite a lot to choose from in my Pile now.  I suppose I’ll have to see what the morning brings.

Silly Concepts

I’ve mentioned that I ordered a nice stack of books from amazon recently, and they’ve all arrived as of yesterday.  And, given my reading selections of late, it can come as no surprise that the very first new book I pulled was The Crystal Sorcerers by William R. Fortschen and Greg Morrison.  I mean, come on.  I picked up The Crystal Warriors because the premise sounded interesting but the execution looked ridiculous, and it turned out to be an insanely fun read.  I was ready for more in that same vein.

There are two main aspects to the plot of the second book.  First and foremost, the enemies from the first book are not dead, merely suffering a setback.  And their allies are far more fearsome than we knew.  So there is a continuation of the war which had touched Haven.  But the other main line is the fact that, if at all possible, the Japanese and American soldiers would really like to go home, if only to fulfill the oaths they swore to their countries.  A matter of honor, you understand.

It looks like the offworlders, as Haven calls them, get a real break when Kochanski finds a copy of Stonehenge on the opposite side of the planet.  He also finds a druid who thinks he’s an assassin sent by Julius Caesar.  Why is Caesar such a motivating force in all the strangest eighties books I read?  (Never mind that this one’s from 1991, we’re counting it as eighties for the sake of this argument and the fact that nothing changes immediately when a decade officially ends.)  I swear that someday I’ll get back to that other series I keep referring to…someday.

Anyway, it’s clear from the epilogue that more Crystal books were planned at some point, but sadly we only have the two.  So, the ending is not as satisfying as it could be for the end of a series, but there’s nothing that we can do about that.  Suffice to say, that it was another enjoyable adventure and a chance to explore new and different parts of Haven.  In fact, the druid’s home evokes a concept that’s been seen in several other fantasy worlds, including Avatar: The Last Airbender, but in such a way that I grinned when I realized what they were saying.

It’s a damn shame that’s all there is to the series, but I’m still happy to have it and have read it.

That’s not all I read today, of course.  One of the books I ordered from amazon was Saban’s Power Rangers: The Official Movie Novel.  But before I get into the book itself, let’s talk Power Rangers.  Anyone who’s been following long enough knows that I collect the current Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers comics.  The actual issues, not the trade paperbacks.  (I’m a little behind right now, but I may fix that soon.)  But let’s go way back to the beginning of a franchise that is over twenty years old.

I was the perfect age, just five years old, when Fox Kids introduced a new show.  I was in kindergarten, which meant I only had a half day of school in the morning.  Still, my parents worked and so, when school was over, I boarded the Afterschool Club bus.  They took us to the basement of a local synagogue, and the first thing we’d do there was eat lunch and watch the newest episode of Power Rangers.  (After that we’d hang out at the synagogue until school was out in one of the other district buildings, where we’d join the kids there for the rest of Afterschool Club.)  It was, in retrospect, a great way for the staff to keep us quiet for half an hour.  And it was way better than Barney.

Over the years, I’ve faded in and out of Power Rangers.  I’d fallen out of the habit of watching it by the time the first movie came to theaters, and picked it up again about halfway through Power Rangers in Space.  (The less said about Turbo, and its movie, the better.)  I stayed with the show for another few seasons before Wild Force lost my interest again.  I’ve watched several other seasons in their entirety over the years, but you could say that I’m more of a casual and nostalgic fan.  I don’t live and breathe this (or any other) fandom, but I like what I like.  And I always remember that really, this is an insanely silly concept and franchise.  So I can’t knock it for being cheap or poorly done, I can only appreciate what it gets dead to rights.

As you might guess, I greatly enjoy the new movie.  I think it’s the best Power Rangers movie ever…but we all have to know that isn’t saying much at all.  It’s got the highest budget for sure, and in twenty years a lot has improved for special effects.  It’s not the best movie in the world, not by a long shot, but I had a perfectly good time.  I’ve seen some people complaining bitterly about it though, and my conclusion is that they are much more hardcore and dedicated fans than I’ve ever been.  I think that they may have been expecting too much for a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of a kitschy TV show about teenagers in rainbow spandex.

Now, as someone who’s fairly pleased with the movie that came out this year, I own it on bluray.  And I’ve watched every single special feature on that disc, including the commentary.  It was there that I heard the novelization mentioned.  It seemed utterly logical to me that the next step was to get myself a copy.  After all, isn’t that why I generally prefer books to movies?  Because they have all the extra bits that you just can’t convey in film?  Not to mention the last time I picked up a novelization I enjoyed it.  It was the book for Ghost Rider, but I still liked it.  Just like I like those movies.  Yes, I know how bad they are.  Still don’t care!

When I opened my amazon box yesterday and pulled out Power Rangers, I was a bit concerned.  See, the Ghost Rider book is a standard mass market paperback.  A little on the thin side for what I normally read, but still a respectable size of 272 pages.  Power Rangers though…it’s problematic.  The book is a bit larger in format, which does nothing to conceal how thin it is at a mere 158 pages.  Plus a larger font size, super short chapters in many cases…

To me, it reads as if the book was written from an uncut version of the movie.  All the deleted scenes I saw (or heard mentioned in the commentary) were present, but there wasn’t much more.  In fact, dialogue that I know for a fact was adlibbed is in the book!  Which just makes me very sad.  I wanted this book to be so much more, to delve more deeply into the background of the kids, to give more than a note or two on things the movie didn’t have time to go into, to just…be more.  Instead, it’s about the same, or even a bit less.  That amazingly long, climactic battle?  It’s three chapters.  Three short chapters.  I had to reread at points to make sure I hadn’t skipped over anything.

Now, I’m not going to blame John Gatins, the movie screenwriter, for the book’s failings.  But Alex Irvine?  The person who adapted the screenplay?  This one’s the problem.  A quick check on Wikipedia says that he’s done a number of similar adaptations as well as some original fiction.  I have to then ask why he’s done such a shitty job.  Oh sure, I know the names of the original Power Rangers, but if we’re using a third person limited perspective, you shouldn’t use Trini’s name until we’ve actually been introduced to her.  And since Trini doesn’t get an introductory scene by herself, that means not using her name until she actually gives it, because no one else knows it.

Also I refuse to call it the “Morphin’ Grid.”  Leaving the “g” off was a very nineties thing to do in the show title and does reflect how people talk.  But when you’re writing, it should most definitely be the “Morphing Grid.”

The book is definitely written for younger audiences, maybe first and second-graders.  It can’t be that surprising, but it’s still disappointing that there’s so little to it.  I’ll keep the book for the time being, but I will continue to hope for something more satisfying.  Like the comics.  I really should get over to a comic shop soon.

There is also one line near the end of the book about the gold mine being gone.  Which is not surpising, given the fact that Rita took all the gold to build Goldar.  But I have to wonder…was the mine there in the first place because of Goldar?  It’s not something the book or movie touches on, but simply a thought which occurs to me.

The End of Hogwarts West

After being introduced to Legacies and learning about the Conspiracies, it’s time to make Sacrifices.  Such as…how much is your personal integrity worth to you?  Anyone who thought that book two of the Shadow Grail was dark should stop and take a look at book three where things really get crazy.  Suddenly you wish you’d paid a bit more attention to Elizabeth Walker’s exposition dump, eh?  And now she’s vanished, like far too many other people.

Book three makes it clear that no, this is definitely the direction the series is heading in, you were right to suspect what you did earlier.  Also “normal” is not anywhere near here and may never be again at this rate.  The offense which was subtle in the first book and tense in the second is now overt and obvious here.  Also, some of the most hilarious lines of dialogue and description can be found in Sacrifices…and they’re necessary to lighten the darkness of this book.

The ending here always makes me pause and even tear up a little.  Sure, it’s a young adult book, but it’s written by authors who know damned well what they’re doing and we’ve had two books to get to know these characters.  Of course we feel for them.  Or at least, that’s the idea.  The only psychopaths here are the enemy, and people who read tend to be more empathetic.  So say studies.

As you can tell, I am dancing around the subject and trying to avoid as many specifics as possible because I truly do enjoy these books.  I wish they weren’t school stories, but that’s the story being told.  Just because it’s cliche and overdone doesn’t mean I can deny the fact that this series is well-done.  And it’s not over yet, of course.

The story concludes in Victories, which is the most atypical book of the whole series. There’s a location change, a different structure to the days and, most importantly, no mystery to solve.  At this point, our heroes may find more information, but they are not solving a grand mystery.  They’re merely preparing for the final battle.

And if you haven’t figured out what’s going on before the big reveal, you really haven’t been paying attention.  Everything, going back to the beginning of Legacies, has been building towards that reveal, and Lackey and Edghill stopped being subtle some time ago.  I guess when your target is younger and less experienced at picking up hints, you want to make things more obvious.  Does not change the fact that I do enjoy these books.

Yes, there’s problems.  Yes, there’s a number of questions that will always go unanswered.  But at the end of the day, it’s a short, easy series to read coauthored by one of my favorite writers.

Having finished Shadow Grail, I’m eyeing my Pile of books I’ve never read before again.  I’ve gotten about half of the books I ordered, and the rest will probably arrive tomorrow.  If not then, the day after.  These books include multiple sequels to some of my recent reading materials – things that I’ve read recently enough that I won’t have to do any rereading.  Unless, of course, I want to.  Still, there’s very few books that I can finish, turn over, and start again immediately.  It has happened before, but not in years.  Point being, I have more books to choose from than I did last week.  And tha’ts no bad thing.

Magical School Books

After a lot of new books, I felt it was time to go back and reread something.  I’m still not yet at the mental point necessary for a longer series, but I wanted something more than a standalone.  Plus my brain’s a bit mushy, so something easy.  Which, as we all know, ends up meaning Mercedes Lackey.  And, because Lackey can work in any genre and category and have me enjoy her work, it’s a young adult series.

This is Legacies, the first book in the Shadow Grail series, coauthored by Rosemary Edgehill.  Not only is this a young adult novel, but it’s a magical school novel.  Can it get any more cliche?  Well…yes.  But I’m not going to get into all the details because the series doesn’t start revealing them until next book.

Our protagonist is Spirit White, a fifteen year old girl from rural Indiana.  She’s riding in the car with her sister and parents when suddenly everything goes wrong and the next thing she knows, she’s in extreme pain, about to be operated on.  The next time she’s aware, Spirit finds out that she’s an orphan now, that her family died in the crash, and that her parents had set up a trust with the Oakhusrt Foundation.  Once she recovers from the accident, Spirit is sent up to Oakhurst, outside of Radial, Montana, where she’ll live until she’s 21.

Oakhurst presents itself not as an orphanage, but as an exclusive private boarding school.  For students with magic.  Because every single student there has it, even if they don’t yet know what it is.

And yet…Spirit begins to suspect something’s not quite right about Oakhurst, and not just because it’s a secret magic school in rural Montana.  And she decides to do what she can about it.

I suppose it’s fairly typical for a magic school book.  You have your standard “learning that the world is a bigger place than you knew,” you have friends and enemies to be made, and you have the mystery to solve.  But I have to say, as someone who’s read the whole series multiple times, they do start dropping hints for the major climax in book four quite early.  And a lot of them.  However, it’s easy enough to overlook such clues when the book seems to pass them by.  A lot like how Oakhurst deals with some of the strange occurrences…

From Legacies, we move on to Conspiracies.  Having survived the climax of the first book, Spirit’s friends are finally able to relax and look forward to more normal activities.  However, Spirit herself understands that this was merely the first hurdle, and they’ve a long way to go yet.  She doesn’t yet realize how long it will be, but she won’t allow herself the luxury of denial.

Remember how “ogres are like onions, they have layers”?  Well, Oakhurst has layers too, but the more you peel away, the more you find out you probably didn’t want to know.  Everything begins to change in this second book, and very little for the better.

You can say that Spirit is the main character, and it’s true, and that her circle of friends are the other primary characters, which is also true, but Conspiracies also brings us Elizabeth Walker and her dreams.  And she just unloads it all on Spirit at one point, sounding utterly insane even for someone at a secret magic school in Nowhere, Montana.

And yet…well, there’s more to this series than two books.

Adult Picture Book

I’ve been feeling a bit bad for how few books I’ve been reading (as compared to my usual) while I’ve been working on side projects, watching DVDs obsessively, and having a social life.  To make up for it, I’ve been targeting standalone, anthology, and shorter books in my Pile to make a dent (and not just because I’m going to be filling it up again soon).  Which brings me to today’s breakfast book, a picture book for adults.  Well, the cover says “graphic novel” but when the thing is a hardcover 11.75″ long x 7.75″ tall x 0.375″ wide, it’s a picture book.

This is The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, a find from Quimby’s, the indie bookstore on North Avenue.  From their sale section too, which always has the most bizarre assortment of reading material.  If you’re unfamiliar, Quimby’s is a great place to go for self-published comics, graphic novels, and zines, as well as some more conventional books.  And some unusual book sections, such as Cats.  They have a section just for cat books.

Anyway.  The Night Bookmobile reads like a fairy tale, like a children’s book.  A woman is wandering around Chicago late at night (this is not always as suicidal as it sounds) and happens upon a beat-up Winnebago.  The driver, Mr. Openshaw, explains that it is the Night Bookmobile and invites her in to view the collection.  Alexandra (that’s her name) is looking through and realizes that she has read all of these books.  And the contents include…her old diary.

That’s when Mr. Openshaw explains that everything she’s ever read is in this collection, but she cannot check anything out.

It’s a haunting tale, with joy and sorrow, and no matter what it looks like or how the rhythms of text deceive you, this is no children’s book.  In fact, it’s actually quite depressing in the end.  Not a comfortable read.  Still, there’s something in it that calls out to me, saying “isn’t this neat?” and “I do not want to be like Audrey.”  In fact, it surprises me not at all, as I turn the book over to remove price stickers, that the quote on the back is from Neil Gaiman.  This is the sort of dark fairy tale he’d write.

I don’t regret picking up The Night Bookmobile, but I don’t see myself revisiting it that often.  And thank goodness I read this in the bright and sunny morning because I’d rather not read it just before bed.

I just cannot let the opportunity go by without actually talking about the ending of this book.  Alexandra becomes obessed with the Night Bookmobile, asking Mr. Openshaw repeatedly to hire her, and he refuses, sadly, as the years pass.  Eventually she becomes so desperate that she commits suicide, and then she is finally hired.  Mr. Openshaw tells her as he introduces her to her new job that “Only the Living can be Readers,” which truly resonates with me.

I am not suicidal and I don’t think of myself as being mentally unstable, but who doesn’t occasionally consider about such things?  But the conclusion that I always come to is the fact that I would desperately miss all those new books that have not yet come out for me to read.  If I took my life, I could have missed things like the conclusion to the Symphony of Ages, to Artemis Fowl, to Claymore.  If I died now, I’d never get to read the finally-coming book two of the Dragon Prophecy.  This aside from all the people I love.

I dislike the fact that Alexandra takes her own life in her obsession.  I suppose that it is truly a sign of her obsession, which we see in glimpses of her daily life as she becomes a reader even more voracious than I after her first encounter withe the Night Bookmobile.  But still, it’s not a heroic act to perform, taking your own life.  The story, for me, would be more enjoyable if she lived to a ripe old age like Mr. Openshaw, and died a more natural death.

I suppose the darkness of suicide is the tone Niffenegger was going for which, again, doesn’t suprise me when reading glowing praise from Neil Gaiman, the master of creepily dark takes on ordinary tales.  But it doesn’t make for an enjoyable read for me.  It fits the tone, but it’s not the story I wanted.

This and That

Once upon a time, I went to a used bookstore and bought some anthologies, among other books.  I do this a lot, as you may have noticed.  What is unusual is the fact that this was bought on the day when I said “screw it, I just want new books to read” and didn’t really glance at anything very much.  I bought books on the basis of title or author alone, with no real idea of whether or not these were good decisions.

That’s how I ended up with Once Upon a Galaxy.  You may recall that I am an absolute sucker for fairy tales.  And while I don’t read nearly as much science fiction as I do fantasy, I still enjoy a well-written tale regardless.  So with that kind of title, I figured the book was worth a shot.

The introduction was normal, the stories stronger than some other anthologies I’d read this year, but it wasn’t until I’d finished a particularly good one that followed the events after The Emperor’s New Clothes that I realized the whole book would be good.  I had just turned the page to find “The Nightingale” by Michelle West.  I knew before even reading the story, which I had never even heard of before, that the whole book would be this solid.  And I was not disappointed.

Later I ran into Fiona Patton’s “The Control Device” and realized that this could well be where Tanya Huff’s “Nanite, Star Bright” story was originally published.  In the introductions to stories in some of her anthologies, she mentions that it’s not uncommon for she and her partner to accidentally check each other’s inboxes without realizing it, and it also happens that they are sometimes invited to contribute to the same collections.  Sure enough, the retelling of the shoemaker was here.

There are three kinds of stories in this collection.  First and foremost, there are old, classic fairy tales retold with a sci-fi twist.  These stories have the standard recognizable elements of their inspirations, much like updated movie adaptations.  The second type of tale is stories that read exactly like old fairy tales, but in a science-fiction setting.  New stories told in an old fashion.  The last type is probably my least favorite.  These are sci-fi stories told in a modern way to mimic the intent of the old fairy tales.  Fairy tales were used to inform their audience, whether of stranger danger, or basic kindness and generosity, or whatever the teller wished to convey.  The last stories are teaching tales that don’t necessarily have the same lyrical flow that I personally associate with fairy tales.

I do like that multiple stories take place in traditional fairy tale settings and time periods, but also involve one or more people time-traveling.  I guess it seems like an obvious way to mix the two in hindsight, but when I first started reading “The Emperor’s Revenge” by Stanley Schmidt, it was an eye-opener that made me grin as I read.  And not just because the story was rather amusing.

Of the fourteen authors, I really only recognized the three I mentioned above: Michelle West, Fiona Patton, and Tanya Huff.  Apparently I’ve got two other stories by Bruce Holland Rogers, so this third helped to weight the balance in favor of stories I prefer.  His “Sleeping Beauty” is an odd duck in some ways, but it was a fitting conclusion to this anthology.  As for his other work, I truly loved “The Art of War” in Women of War, but found “The Gift of Rain Mountain” from Young Warriors: Stories of Strength to be profoundly depressing.

I’ve bought anthologies on the strength of a single author before, so to have read a third of these people before is fairly normal.  And, as I’ve said, Once Upon a Galaxy is a good, solid book.  In fact, I seem to have done quite well in recent weeks as far as randomly selecting books with little to no knowledge about their content.  It’s probably a bit of luck mixed in with an understanding of what to look for.

Anyway, I wanted to get a bit more out of the Pile today.  Manga’s nice and short and easy to read, so I figured it was time to revisit Blue Exorcist.  I started with volumes 15 and 16 to get back up to speed, which was helpful as the new volume 17 was about delving into Shura’s backstory.  It is not the happiest of backstories, but certainly not the saddest we’ve seen thus far in the series.  It seems like most of the main characters come from broken homes of some kind, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Shura’s is just a little weirder than most.

I get the feeling that while we continue to explore character backstories, this is really just the calm before the storm.  The next major thing to occur will probably be the Exorcist Certification Exams, when most of the main characters graduate from being Exwires to true Exorcists.  Afterwards we’re likely to have another major battle with the Illuminati.  Of course, these are just my predictions from feeling the rhythm of the story, so we’ll see how right or wrong they end up when volume 18 comes out.  But that’s a ways away.

It does feel good to get another quick read out of my Pile as I track incoming packages.  The earliest any should arrive is Monday, but I think a couple are slated for Wednesday.  And there’s those rereads I should be considering, not to mention the rest of the Pile.

You know, I totally failed to check the mail today.  I guess that’s because I didn’t leave home.  But I did have a nice, relaxing and lazy day the likes of which I haven’t really had in quite some time.  So there was that.

Polyamory: the Book

I seem to have found another “new adult” book.

I had some misgivings and some questions when I first saw it at the library book sale, but I bought it anyway.  After all, it was only a dollar, it went to a good cause, and the back was intriguing enough.  So I bought The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton.

To be fair, I didn’t think it was new adult when I bought it, I thought it was young adult.  But I quickly changed my mind for two reasons.  First, the very obvious yet for some reason suppressed sexual inclinations of Kallista, the main character, towards Torchay, the first of her companions.  Secondly, the not-at-all subtle fact that their country Adara practices polyamory.  Now, I have nothing against polyamory or any other type of sexual or romantic relationship.  I just have no interest in being a part of one or the other.

It quickly becomes clear that polyamory is the main plot point of the book.  Oh yes, there’s a good and an evil and Kallista acquires several other companions on the journey, but the main focus is on Kallista and her ilian.  Ilian is the term for the group of wedded people and ilias (plural iliasti) is a spouse.  And when the group ends up involving six people, there’s a lot of opportunity for character interaction.  So much so that the reader has to be periodically reminded that there is supposed to be a plot going on.

It is increadibly obvious that this is a new adult book when one stumbles across the incredibly gratuitous sex scenes, and the masturbation scenes.  The former are not as common as you might fear, though there’s still too many for me personally.  And they go on for such a long time describing things that I have no interest in.  Or at least, I have no interest in them when I’m trying to read a fantasy adventure.  If I wanted sex scenes, I could go read porn.  Online.  For free.

Now, the masturbation scenes are interesting because they are not conventional.  Essentially, Kallista is magically bound to members of her ilian, and using that magic she can cause herself and those involved to feel sexual pleasure without the actual act.  Which means they are interesting only for the concept.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot more of these throughout the book than the actual sex scenes and together the two add up to a total I’d rather not think about.  I’ve read books where the main character was a prostitute, or worked at a brothel, and there were fewer sex scenes there.

Despite all the problems, and there are many more than what I’ve listed, this isn’t an awful book.  Unlike the Tearling books, I do not despise it.  In fact, I appreciate that Kallista is not at all perfect, that while she may be very skilled, most of the book is her learning control all over again.  She isn’t universally liked and there’s some subplots going on that make me think Dayton has some kind of understanding of politics.

Now, The Compass Rose is somewhat rushed in that far more of the book is devoted to the characters than to the world through which they pass.  I suspected that, because Kallista had to find all her companions, there would be one or two additional books.  Which means I felt that the author made the seeking portion of the book far too easy on her, but I was not at all disappointed in my overall expectation. The story ends the adventure, but makes it clear there will be more.  A quick search turned up two additional titles, making this a trilogy.

I spent much of my afternoon debating whether or not I would keep The Compass Rose, and I have finally come to a decision.  The book will stay, for now, and I’ll keep an eye out for the other two, but I don’t want to spend much money on them.  I just don’t think the book is good enough to spend even $5 on a copy.  If I could find the others for the same price I paid ($1.00), I’d be happy.  Or I suppose I could put the two on my amazon wishlist for my birthday and have someone buy them for me…but if someone’s going to buy me books, I want them to buy me good books that I want a lot more.  Like more Heroes in Hell books.  I swear, I will reread those at some point so that I can better share the awesomeness with you.  Unfortunately, the copies belong to someone else and I’m pretty sure they’re in a box, awaiting a move.

In other book-buying news, I acquired an amazon gift card recently, and ordered a number of novels off of my list.  I got several shipping notifications today, so I’ll be keeping an eye on those.  Still, none of them will be here soon enough to help me out for tomorrow, so I should go ponder that decision.

Woman Power

I rarely visit an author’s website.  I really only do so when amazon is not helpful in determining when upcoming books will be released.  This means that the only information I have about most authors’ personal lives is what they choose to put in their books, which is very rarely anything of not.

So I had no idea that Margaret Weis is a breast cancer survivor.  That is, I assume she is a survivor because this book was published in 2000 and she was a guest of honor at Capricon just a couple years ago and signed several books for me.  But this is about cancer.  In Weis’ mind, she compared the sacrifices of cancer with the legendary sacrifice of Amazonian warriors, said to cut off a breast to better wield their bows.  From that was born New Amazons, an anthology of women overcoming great odds and fearsome foes.

New Amazons is everything I had hoped to find and missed in Dangerous Women.  These eighteen stories are heavily weighted towards female authors, but some men also contributed.  And I didn’t hate a single tale here.  Oh sure, some I liked more than others and some struck me more than others, but every single one was well written.  Even the poem.

It is such a relief to have read an anthology that is this powerful, resonant, and skilled.  I’d have to do some digging in this blog to pull up the last time I had no complaints about an anthology.  A new one, that is, not one of my old classics like Immortal Unicorn.  (I had a great conversation about that today.  A friend of mine found a copy of volume I a while back, and I was encouraging him to actually read it.  Unfortunately, it seems to have been eaten by his apartment.)  I already know what to expect from the old anthologies, so rereading one of those can’t really count as far as being pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by the quality of stories within.

Since it wasn’t a Fantastic anthology, I couldn’t be sure of how good it would be, since I’ve had a lot of hit-or-miss collections.  That’s probably why I’ve avoided reading anthologies for a while: being afraid that they’d be mediocre.  I have some others in the Pile though, for when I can summon the courage necessary to read them.

While all the stories are good, I don’t know that any of them really stuck out quite enough to highlight.  No, I lied.  “Sleep With One Eye Open” by Linda Baker is probably my favorite.  It’s gritty, and clearly evokes a Western while being set in a world a bit different from our own.  It’s short, but sharp and cutting, leaving you wondering if you dare ask for more.

I’m not sure what I’ll be reading next.  I’m leaning towards trying another new book, if only because I’m looking to add to the Pile in the nearish future.  There’s some rereads I’ve been thinking about, but I’m still not ready to commit to the weeks I’d need.

Eighties-tastic Cover

The weekend before last I dragged a friend of mine down to Wicker Park for the first time.  And, as per usual, I took a look through Myopic Books.  I felt somewhat obligated to buy something, and I was really interested in finding something random and new to read.  At least, that’s what I will claim happened.

As I was checking the science fiction section for anything of note by favorite authors, a book caught my eye.  The spine clearly showed some wear (it’s taped, as I later discovered) and the title was, well, typical sci-fi.  The Crystal Warriors by William R. Forstchen and Greg Morrison.  It sounded vaguely interesting.  The cover art was…well, it had a cover with art.  And I was pretty sure I’d read something by one of those authors.  Greg Morrsion, maybe?  (It turns out it wasn’t Greg Morrison I’d read but William R. Forstchen.)  I barely glanced at the synopsis – people from our world end up in a different world where magic is real.  That’s enough for me, and I decided to give the book a shot.

I have no regrets whatsoever about picking up this book.  Oh sure, it’s a little dated, it’s a little homophobic, but it’s still a solid and enjoyable read.  Captain Mark Phillips of the U.S. Air Force is grounded during a bombing run against Japan in WWII.  He ends up landing in China after running out of gas between a lucky shot to his tank and pursuing Japanese.  On the ground, he and his crew meet up with Captain Ikawa Yoshio of the Imperial Japanese Army, whose troops are trying to get home after dealing with Chinese bandits.  And then the world turns upside down and both the Americans and Japanese find themselves Elsewhere.

Elsewhere not only has magic, but also gods.  Real and active gods who don’t always get along.  The Crystal Warriors has some solid concepts that do make you think about some things.  Philosophy instead of hard truths like the Dragon Jousters, but still, given how utterly ridiculous this cover looks, that’s something.  And yes, I do have to show you this cover because it is…so typically eighties.  There’s a reason I barely glance at covers some days.


I know that’s Mark on the left and I think that’s Pina on the right but my goodness does the sorceror look ridiculous.  Anyway, as is typical for these “fish out of water” stories, it turns out that the soldiers have the potential to become sorcerors themselves, meaning the middle section of the book is their learning how to control their abilities as well as becoming accustomed to this new world.

As I’ve mentioned, I had a great time reading this book.  I knew from the title and cover that this was likely to be somewhat silly and over-the-top, so I wasn’t likely to become annoyed.  Even if I hadn’t been ready though, I don’t think it would’ve been a big problem.  Sure, some things are more grandiose than necessary, but there are gods in this book, and sorcerors can live for centuries.

Upon finishing The Crystal Warriors I was left with the feeling that at least two things remained unfinished, and that there should be a sequel.  Well, lo and behold there is!  I shall have to find myself a copy of The Crystal Sorcerors and find out how the story ends.

Now, back to the authors.  As I mentioned, it turned out that I have a short story written by William R. Forstchen.  Titled “Yesterday’s Gods,” it’s from the fourth Bolo anthology.  On reflection, I can see a lot of parallels between the two stories; not so much so that one can be considered a rehashing of others, but similar elements.  Both are “fish out of water” stories.  Both have a soldier bringing his understanding of war to people whose culture is very different (one is primitive, the other has found it more effective to advance in other ways than ours).  Both have the soldier in a place where getting back home may not be possible.  Etc.

The point is, this was a great random choice and an excellent change of pace.