Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Rathbones- What Just Happened?

When I started this little blog over a year ago, I did so as way for me to communicate with myself and others about the books I read.  I love to discuss books, and I don't really have a chance to do so in real life.  Using a virtual medium, I let my thoughts pour out.  Some people must be reading this, because the stats on my account say so.  To all of you, thank you!  You are much better than talking to myself, if only because you are keeping me out of the psycho ward.  A couple of those in the audience have said I need to publish these reviews somewhere other than a backwater blog, and to them, even more thanks.  It would seem you are correct, and that the Universe has taken notice of my ramblings. 

A couple of weeks ago, a gentleman from the marketing department at Doubleday books sent me a message asking if I would be interested in an advanced copy of a book by a new author.  I was totally flabbergasted!  I wrote back immediately to agree to the offer.  Another author that I greatly enjoy has already reviewed the book, and it would seem the writing styles are similar.  I received the book about a week ago, and I was even more intrigued.  It is a novel in the gothic style, blended with Greek mythology,  an epic adventure with a female heroine.  Set in 1859 on the coast of Connecticut at the end of the whaling era, the story follows the travels of Mercy Rathbone as she tries to piece together the ancestral mystery of her family and their fates.  I love mythology, epic stories, female heroines, stories about the ocean, and historical fiction.  My aunt lives near Mystic, where the author is from; I spent many happy summer vacations on the Connecticut coast as a kid and adult.  This sounds like it should be exactly my kind of story!

The thing is, even when every piece seems to be in place, and every note seems to be right, it doesn't always make a song to sing.  TheRathbones, by Janice Clark, is well-written and compelling, if only because the author left you wanting to solve the mystery.  I deeply appreciate the story that has been crafted, much as I would almost any other piece of art.  I am still unsure if it's something I want hanging in my mental gallery.  The imagery is full and tangible; I can see it in my head like film playing on a projector screen.  In fact, I felt like I was watching a foreign film, one with a good storyline and puzzling characters.  However, I kept snagging myself on the slight cultural nuances that I was missing.  The author notes she was inspired by Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and Edgar Allan Poe.  The inspiration was apparent, but then my sense of OCD would kick in, and I would keep puzzling over which pieces fit into which source of inspiration.  Obviously, this gets distracting after awhile, detracting from the flow of the story.  However, with each new piece of vivid imagery, my mind would race along, trying to fit everything into a coherent backdrop.

The voice was altered between first person limited and third person omniscient, as the story was told by both the heroine and others sharing their stories with her.  The quality of the voice was different from almost anything else I've read, in that it was emotionally stark (as opposed to emotionally raw, which is a whole other discussion).  As the story unfolded, events of dramatic and deeply emotional proportion would occur, and I felt both shocked and intrusive by reading them.  The heroine herself was deeply emotionally damaged, but she didn't seem to realize it, or that her viewpoint was not the emotional norm.  I felt like an intruder for seeing these events with her, knowing the psychological importance of them, and knowing that she saw them with a more flat and dispassionate eye (at least on the surface).  Maybe the emotional content was too much for her, and she had to filter it through an objective lens before being able to deal with it.  It is also possible that my own modern sensibilities were getting in the way; everyday life to her look like traumatic events to me.  Whatever the reason, it made the character more puzzling than sympathetic.  That sense of puzzlement and confusion stays with me even now.

Because of the dispassionate voice used by the heroine, my own mind would continually be lulled into equating her objectivity with a sense of realism.  This would throw me for a loop every time something fantastical happened.  I kept having to recalibrate my suspension of disbelief to different levels throughout the story.  The reality of whaling, living in a coastal community, and the jargon of the maritime world kept me on the level of realistic fiction.  Then something extraordinary would happen, like a character being completely psychically in-sync with the natural world, or crows carrying small girls in their claws, or ghosts telling their stories through their bones.  My mental equilibrium would slip, and my suspension of disbelief would shudder on these imaginary shoals.  The story would pull me on, but the paint continually got scratched up on my mental dinghy. 

Ok, so maybe foreign film was a little strong.  It is more like an arthaus film, or better yet, a Kubrick film; the closest thing my mind can relate it to is the movie The Usual Suspects or the French noir classic, Diabolique.  You keep questioning everything that is unfolding before you; parts of it make sense, and other parts make you feel like maybe you're in the wrong theater, or that you missed some piece of the story even though you've been there the entire time.  The symbolism is as deep as an ocean, and just as complex to comprehend.  The coming-of-age aspects vie with the classic elements, and the gothic is splashed liberally over every chapter.  Either I am looking too deeply at all the metaphors, searching where none exist, or this story is far past my comprehension of American classic literature.  As a friend pointed out to me, if I'm struggling with the symbolism, how much hope does the average person have of understanding this story?  In some ways, I think they might fare better, as they probably won't be examining it as closely as I am.

I feel like all the elements are present in this story for me to be in love with it.  Maybe this book needs more than one read.  Some of my favorite albums are like that; when I first listen to them, I might find one or two songs I like.  I force myself to listen to the entire thing over and over, three or four times, so that I truly get into the experience the artist created.  This book may be just like that.  I need to set it aside for a bit, let my mind try to digest what it's read, and then come back to it when I have a different perspective.  I'm actually curious to see what others think of it, to see how they experience this work.  Will they "grok it in fullness", as Robert Heinlein once said?  Or will they be left just as bewildered and foggy as I am?  Perhaps the author's only goal in telling this story in this style was to force the reader to slow down and puzzle through every step, examine every nuance, looking for clues that would give light internally to their epic quests in life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Elantris: The Creation of Worlds

     Authors have amazing jobs.  Using only ink and paper (or keys and a screen), they build entire universes merely by thinking of them.  It's like playdough for the brain; make it into one shape, change your mind, then make it into another shape.  Obviously, there's a bit more to it than that, but in very general terms, that is the job description.  As an author, one can explore any idea, no matter how odd, out to its most ridiculous conclusion.  You can create hypothetical situations, acting out every part, generating entire lifetimes of strung-together moments.  Best of all, as an author, you get to share your creation with others.  Others get to travel the thought-paths you've invented, immersing themselves in your ideas, and then drawing their own conclusions.  Truly, it is an amazing job.

     Now, I'll grant you, not every author does well in accomplishing this.  Even outstanding authors can miss their own target.  It takes time and practice to become proficient at this task.  Brandon Sanderson, however, seems to have a good handle on world-creation.  In his debut novel, Elantris, he undertakes to create an epic story told in just one book (a rarity these days in the genre of fantasy).  He definitely exceeds expectations!  Sanderson takes to epic world building like a drunk to a lake of beer.  Admittedly, the story of Elantris had some pockets of density; some chapters took longer to get through than others.  This relates back to creating a universe from scratch.  Sometimes it can take longer to explain certain phenomena, or sometimes plot lines will require more space to set up than others.  Overall though, the story kept moving, and I spent several nights burning the midnight oil, not wanting to put it down. 

     I'll admit to "geeking out" a few times while reading this book.  I loved the analytical look at socio-economic paradigms and their influence on political structures.  Sanderson asked some very deep questions of the audience, and left them to make their own conclusions.  What is a great civilization?  What is a well-run society?  What is the difference between the two?  What are the similarities and differences between religion and politics?  Using Socratic method and his story as a backdrop, Sanderson asks you the reader to reflect on these philosophical queries as you take in the various examples he presents: a religious state where the head of the religion is also the temporal leader, and zealotry is the way to succeed; a completely status-based society wherein your financial prowess is the only measure of success; a traditional monarchy; an Atlantean ideal in which advanced humanoids take care of basic needs for all of society.  Each of these archetypes have their merits and flaws, which Sanderson gives with relative unbias.  Even more interesting, at one point in the story, Sanderson has the lowest social caste creating their own society from scratch.  I think this illustrates the author's own opinion on the matter of what makes a well-run society: everyone doing what they love and creating a sense of productivity and usefulness on the part of every member of society.  Having a sense of purpose brings its own happiness.  To know one's purpose is appreciated by the rest of the group is also vital.

     Questioning the macro themes of society and government are not the only part of this philosophical playground.  The characters themselves are an interesting puzzle as well.  Each of the characters are representative of various social and cultural archetypes.  There is the strong female lead, who is atypical of most other women around her because she "thinks and acts like a man".  In some ways I applaud this, but the feminist in me wants to cry over the stereotyping.  A female is only strong when she is acting as a man?  Why is it considered "weak" to be utterly feminine?  If a woman is logical and driven, then she is acting like a man?  The gender bias is familiar, and yet it is annoyingly self-perpetuating.  Acting like a guy is not the only way a woman can be strong.  But I digress.  As a counterpoint to her character, Sanderson created a male rival whose goal is to proselytize to the people and convert the government to a zealot religious state.  In a way, it was like seeing elements of the liberal versus conservative debate.  Both characters believed in the absolute rightness of their actions, yet could not see how they were still part of the paradigm, changing very little except the momentary sentiment of the people.

     The part of religion played a hand in the fabric of the story as well.  Sanderson presents several religions and their doctrines for consideration.  Again the author asks questions of the audience and allows them to draw their own conclusions.  I found it intriguing that the corruption of ideals is wholly dependent on the person and not the doctrine they follow.  This may seem obvious , but in our world today, we are quick to point out how external forces have led us astray, justifying harming ourselves, others, and our environment.  Doctrine itself, no matter how well-written and loftily intended at the outset, can be corrupted over time by the actions of individuals; this is true for religion or politics.  The characters use politics and religion equally as justifications for their actions.  Innate morality is the only true measurement of right and wrong.  If the individual is morally bankrupt, they will use any external reasoning to prop up their righteousness for their actions.

     More subtle still is the arcane force known as the Dor.  It is the energetic force of the universe, much like chi.  Each society and/or religion has some way of tapping into this force; each one has their own version of what it is and how to use it.  Some use a form of martial arts; others have perverse rituals.  The advanced humanoid race known as Elantrians tapped into this power using various symbols written on any surface, even in the air itself.  Use of the Dor was not restricted to those who were just; the innate morality of the individual dictated the use of the raw power.  I find that to be an apt conclusion.  Much like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the individual chooses how to use the power with which they are entrusted.

     Given the discussion of morality, the author's examinations of intentions, actions, and consequences is just as intense.  Meaning well and doing good deeds are relative concepts.  Sanderson gives several examples of immediate good versus greater good,  He asks the reader ponder when does one outweigh the other.  How does one decide between the two?  Is there an absolute moral high ground?  I have my own opinions on the matter; the author confirmed them with his examples.  However, others may come to differing answers.

     It's been hard to write this review, given the density of the topics covered.  Reading the other reviews, some found it to be sluggish, or the writing to be obvious.  I, for one, didn't find the plots overly obvious.  Of course, a) I'm no good at chess because I can't think more than one move ahead; b) I don't care how obvious the plot line is, I care about the journey.  How will the author take me from point A to point B?  People who get upset with obvious plot lines don't seem to care for the journey; they only care that the author told them where they are going.  I also have to disagree with one reviewer who claimed Sanderson violated the show-don't-tell rule.  I think the author left ample room for readers to draw their own conclusions, unless the reviewer was complaining that Sanderson was too detailed in his explanations of the world he had created.  Either way, I don't think Sanderson told more than he showed.  I have to say, for a first published work, this was incredible.  I liked the author's Mistborn series, and after reading Elantris, I am excited to read his final installments to the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  This book, and the entire universe it contains, gets my highest recommendations.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ashes of Honor, or The Bitter Dregs of a Good Time

    A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me a book for Christmas.  (Feign shock).  He and I have a long-standing, albeit friendly, debate over the Fae  in modern literature.  As a rule, he prefers other paranormal creatures in his fantasy novels, given that the Fae are usually portrayed as sexual hedonists or cartoon-like, happy-bright wish givers.  However, recently the paranormal-urban genre has given us more common ground.  I don't mind the hedonism, and I can take the Disney-esque spin.  To me the Fae were always a kaleidoscope of color, passion, rules, and danger.  Rarely did a story featuring them work out well for anyone.  Seanan McGuire has designed a universe of modern Fae that are as dark and dangerous as they should be, with all the emotional dimensions that characters need to continue on, book after book.  Sadly, when I read the first book, Rosemary and Rue, I did not feel this way.  Thankfully, sticking with the series over the last few years, I can say this most recent book is really living up to its potential.

     Ashes of Honor is the fifth book of the October Daye series.  October, or Toby as she is called by some, is in the grip of self-destruction.  Her life has never been easy, but the last year has given a subconscious edge of fatalism.  She has lost her daughter, her first love, her mother, her father, and many others who should have stood by her over the years.  This novel opens with her trying to take down a gang of drug-dealing teenage Fae, all by herself.  To prove how passively suicidal she's become, she stupidly only brought a knife to a gun fight.  From here on, it is a mad dash from near-death experience to near-death experience, coming very close on multiple occasions to exsanguination.

     The best part of this book, and the series as a whole, is the evolution of the main character.  October Daye started out as a grudging knight-errant, a changeling turned into a goldfish for 14 years, full of emotional baggage that would be a golden goose for any therapist.  In the first book she only had two emotional switches: anger and fear.  By the third book she had rediscovered courage and compassion.  Now she is a healthy mix of most emotions, and she is beginning to realize her own worth.  Given her background and childhood as a changeling, October never believed herself worthy of the love and respect of others.  Her recent adventures have gone a long way to convincing her that those around her do care, and they will be loyal to her for a very long time.  This evolution in persona has been fascinating to watch, if a bit of a roller coaster ride.  At times I wasn't sure I could just sit through it; I wanted to smack her as much as I wanted to hug her.  Thankfully the plot always kept me riveted to the chair, and I usually didn't have long to wait before the heroine would figure out her new emotional center.

--------------------------SPOILER ALERT--------------------SPOILER ALERT---------------------------
Skip the next paragraph if you are not caught up on the series or if you are considering reading it.

     The tragic end to the last book made me curious as to how the author would prod October back onto the road "home".  Romantically speaking, the girl has always had a hard time.  Her first love was married off to a psychopath as a matter of politics.  Her time as a fairy bride ended when she was turned into a goldfish and disappeared from her "mortal" life for fourteen years; her lover and her child both thought she had just abandoned them.  Finally, she gets her first love back, only to lose him to a poison arrow.  Now Tybalt, the King of Cats, is declaring his feelings to her.  As much as I like Collin, I think Tybalt had a point- Collin loved the girl she had been, and he didn't always know what to do with the woman she had become.  I think October will finally understand what a love of equals means.  Tybalt will be someone who sees her as she is now, and he will be an equal partner to her.

---------------------END OF SPOILER ALERT----------END OF SPOILER ALERT----------------------

     If you haven't picked up this series yet, I recommend checking it out.  It's dark, edgy, witty, and fast-paced.  The urban setting makes the fantasy dramatic yet almost within the realm of belief.  If you enjoy Jim Butcher, Anita Blake (the earlier books), or Atticus O'Sullivan, then you should get to know October Daye.  She is well worth meeting.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Olympian Strike Team- Go!

      I consider myself an anti-hypist.  I don't usually care for hype; the more something is talked about and popularized, the less I am interested in it.  (I don't go in for hype-bashing, either, but that's a different thought-train for another time).  However, there are those rare times when the object actually lives up to the popularity, and Percy Jackson is one of those times.  In fact, I think that the hype does not do enough justice to the awesomeness of Percy Jackson.  With the first series, it was quirky humor, great action, a little introspection, and inspiring re-telling of ancient myths and cultures.  This second series has been even better, culminating in the Platonic perfection that is The Mark of Athena; that is more than just hype (and there is still one book to go!).

     Much like another reviewer on Goodreads, I am having a hard time breaking this down for a review.  Where to start?  The plot?  The characters?  The setting?  The development?  Every aspect at this point is so complex; it's like trying to name the individual notes in a symphony that define the entirety of the piece.  It's not just one aspect; it's the whole, acting in concert, creating a masterpiece.

     All the same, I have to analyze the parts, to show just how they make up such an outstanding story.  The story opens in Camp Jupiter/New Rome near San Fransisco.  Percy, Hazel, and Frank have successfully returned from their quest, fought off the invading giant army, and are getting ready to greet the airship from Camp Halfblood.  Annabeth and Percy are finally reunited; sadly Reyna finds Jason has moved on with a new girlfriend, Piper.  Leo is as crazy and ADHD as ever.  Hazel and Frank are still very new to their own relationship; it doesn't help that Leo looks exactly like Hazel's first love.  Admittedly, these guys are all teens, but their life experiences have added a bit of maturity.  Still, as youth is, youth does.  The tensions, doubts, and resolutions are wonderfully done.  Everyone questions themselves and their peers at this stage in life.  Piper wants to believe she is the kind of girl Jason wants as a girlfriend, but there is always doubt.  Hazel is conflicted between her new life and her new boyfriend, Frank, and that Leo represents about her past.  Annabeth is caught between her mother, Athena's, need for vengeance, and her new friends from Camp Jupiter.  Percy's disappearance and reentry has also left herein some doubt about his feelings for her.  Jason and Percy are both leaders of their respective camps, and both feel the weight of it pressing down on them.  It's only when they realize they need to work together that the job gets done.  Frank fears Leo, both for his ability to make fire and his connection to Hazel.  Enough drama to please a theater full of ancient Greeks.

     All of these tensions play out well; there is humor and vulnerability in equal measure.  The author did an incredible job of balancing these threads within the overarching plots.  It is challenging navigating these emotional sandbars as a normal teenager.  Riordan uses extraordinary circumstances to show that as a common denominator, we can all relate to this angst.  He also ingeniously orchestrates the plot as a method of examining other big life lessons.

     During the first series, Percy originally had a hard time seeing Luke's point of view about their omnipotent parents.  At twelve and thirteen, you realize that while your parents may be flawed, they still care about you, and do their best to raise you.  As Luke points out, not every parent does their best.  In fact, some parents do their worst.  At sixteen and seventeen, you begin to envision what the rest of your life could be, should be, and the steps you might need to take to get there.  With the gods, or bad parents in general, their children are merely extensions of their own egos.  The child's life, desires, and dreams are always secondary to the needs of the parent.  At thirteen, Percy couldn't grasp this idea; Luke's outlook was selfish to Percy then.  However, Percy is now beginning to understand what Luke was getting at; the gods don't care much about the demigods, whether or not they are their own children.  They care about what the demigods can do for them, like pawns on a chess board.  The epiphany that comes to Percy is that while the gods may be deeply flawed and terribly selfish, they care what happens to the human race (loosely speaking).  Every enemy Percy has faced has been in favor of destroying the human species.  Percy finally comprehends the totality of the phrase "better the devil you know".  This is a deep philosophical concept (and a necessary one to becoming an adult).

     Another deep concept that is necessary for adult relationships occurs towards the end of the book.  Annabeth has to face her quest alone; lucky for Percy doesn't always follow the rules.  As they are reunited, Percy tells her that everything is alright because they are together.  One of the most important hallmarks of any lasting relationship is the willingness to continually meet challenges together, as a team.  Personal injuries, emotional baggage, doubts and fears- none of these matter as much as facing those things with one's partner.

     As usual, I am left in awe of Riordan's use of mythology in complimenting and completing these stories.  His research is thorough; he brings the world of the ancient Mediterranean to life.  When mythology and ancient history are taught in school, the dryness of the subject is usually stereotyped.  But much like Shakespeare's plays manifesting as teen movies, the subjects rely on accurate reinterpretation.  Taking ancient myths and putting them in modern scenarios breathes new life into a once "boring" subject.  Riordan's storytelling will kindle a desire to read more stories and books on these topics; no longer complex genealogies or impossible-to-pronounce names, these characters and people are accessible because of this modern introduction.

     I gave this book five (out of five) stars, which is truly high praise.  Magnificently well done, I encourage anyone with a love of mythology and adventure to tackle this series.  The hype is warranted, and I am eagerly awaiting the next book.  I hope that ones lives up to the stupendous cliffhanger on which this ones ended.

     "Then suddenly Percy was next to her, lacing his fingers in hers.  He turned her gently away from the pit, and wrapped his arms around her.  She buried her face in his chest and broke down in tears.
     'It's okay,' he said.  'We're together.'"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trapped, like rats!

     Much like the Crab that is my astrological sign, I am a defensive creature by nature.  I don't go out looking for fights; I try to avoid them as much as possible.  I'll get into a defensive scuffle when necessary, but by and large, I avoid conflict.  This has it's own share of problems, and they are ones I think Atticus O'Sullivan can relate to.  As the Iron Druid, and the last of his kind, Atticus has done his fair share of hiding and avoiding conflict.  He's had to pretend, to live an illusion of who he is, for millenia.  However, once he decided to face down Aenghus Og, the Celtic god of love (Hounded, book 1), he has put himself out there in a way that cannot be taken back.

     In Trapped, book 5 of the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne, Atticus is finally recognizing the consequences of his actions, both positive and negative.  On the positive side, he has finally finished training his apprentice, Granuaile, and she is ready to become a full-fledged Druid (and thereby doubling the number of Druids in existence).  However, the negative column is much fuller.  After facing and defeating Aenghus Og, Atticus figured he could go back to his quiet life of hiding, sidestepping conflicts and avoiding lasting entanglements.  Sadly, as the only Druid in the world, and now having his presence back on the map, Atticus is a solitary man of unusual talents.  Some deisre those talents, and some fear them.  In addition to these talents, his own archaic sense of honor has also played a role in bringing him trouble.  Promises made become promises kept, despite the cost to himself and others around him. In truth, by this book, Atticus has learned some measure of the humility as a result of those consequences; some promises might be better left broken.

     Trapped finds Atticus desperately trying to bind his apprentice to the earth.  The only place open to him at the moment is in the land at the base of Mt. Olympus.  This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Bacchus having sworn to literally tear him limb from limb.  Though Atticus's own pantheon was a little upset to find him still after twelve years after his supposed death, they did what they could to help render aid to the cause.  Plots within plots, Atticus finds himself and his apprentice the target of attacks by Roman gods, vampires, dark elves, and faerie creations.  Each group has their own vendetta against him and his apprentice, or they have been paid to stop them from completing the Druidic rituals.  Karma has come to Atticus's doorstep, and it isn't pretty.

     In the realm of (minor) plot spoilers, all I can say is- Hallelujah, they finally did it!  The tension between Granuaile and Atticus has been present since book 1 and has only become more blatant in the last book and novella.  Admittedly, this is an entirely PG show, with little of the gratuitous gratification one might find in other books of the same genre.  All the same, I for one cheered when they finally succumbed to their desire.

     The continued violence and fallout from books 2&3 is amazing.  Defeating Aenghus Og in book 1 was personal, a vendetta finally cleared.  For that, I think the pantheons of the world were willing to let Atticus slide for killing a god.  However, the battle against the Norse and destruction of half their pantheon put Atticus at number one on the wanted lists for gods and goddesses everywhere.  Not only that, but the death toll for that is still mounting, two books later.  It is the karmic equivalent of Fukushima.  The author is very strongly making the point that your actions, your choices every day, always have consequences.  You can't anticipate them all, and the bigger the choice, the more deeply felt the repercussion will be.  And though Atticus himself might say he had little chance to deviate from the path he is now on, I don't think that was the case.  We always have alternatives, but we may not always be willing to change our ways.  In choosing to remain uncompromising in his sense of honor and duty, to one person, he has condemned many others to death and destruction, at his own hand or that of another.

     The book has neatly wrapped up a few plot lines that have been running for awhile now.  As usual, the wit and humor were riveting, though it got a little annoying to keep bouncing between foes.  The action, at times, was almost too constant, without enough in-between time for analysis or introspection.  Overall, a great start to the new year for me; I am eagerly awaiting the next book, Hunted, which is due out this summer.  The next one appears to be more consequences and repercussions for "it seemed like a good idea at the time", and of course, the wit that is Atticus and Oberon!  Brilliant!

     "'You must be thinking of stories from other cultures.  Irish women tend to kick ass and do whatever they want.  For exhibits A, B, and C, I give you the Morrigan, Brighid, and Flidais.'"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ring-a-ding, it's the New Year!!

     Well folks, here it is, 2013!  Sweet jebus, how did I get here?  It looks like the philosophy of one foot in front of the other serves well enough for getting through the days, but sometimes it's hard to see past that to the evolution of years.  So here I am, at the start of another year, and another chance to explore new realms between the covers of books.  As the widget on the side indicates, I have scaled back my goals this year, to allow for more flexibility.  In 2011, I had more free time, I guess, or maybe smaller books, so I was able to get through 50+ new books.  Last year, the goal of 50 books seemed possible again, yet by the fall it proved very difficult to achieve.  This year, I am going for 45 books, allowing room for other events in my life.  Who knows what will happen this year?  I'm trying to remain open to all possibilities.

     In turn, I would like to thank all of you that voted in my poll.  I know it was long, but I really appreciate the input.  Nine books, all so deeply tempting, and no way to choose between them!  Such a conundrum.  Now thanks to you, I have a list with which to start my year.  This puts me one-fifth of the way through my challenge.  Hopefully, I will be through February and into March before needing such assistance again. 

     Here, in the order you chose, is my beginning reading list for 2013:

First place- Trapped, by Kevin Hearne

Second place- Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

Third place- Ashes of Honor, by Seanan McGuire

Fourth place-  Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Fifth place- The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan

Sixth place- Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Seventh place- Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson

Eighth place- Iced, by Karen Marie Moning

Ninth place- Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness

     Look for the first review in a few weeks!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Battle Royale!!

     Here we are at the end of another year, and in the course of my reflections, I am trying to not be disappointed in myself.  Admittedly, over the course of the year, I have been very busy (what year isn't busy for me?!), and until October, my goal to read 50 new books seemed reasonable.  I was ahead of the game before Halloween, and it seemed easy to keep up the momentum.  Sadly, through a series of unfortunate events, I fell four books short of my goal.  Oddly enough, it was not for lack of reading material; if anything, I had difficulty choosing between all the books I had pre-ordered that arrived between October and November (not to mention the ones I got in December).  Indecision (and admittedly, a lack of time) kept me from finishing my Goodreads challenge.

     In a fit of creative genius, I have decided to ask you to help me to choose the order of my book list for the new year.  In this Book Battle Royale, I will list the books that are awaiting my attention. You will vote for the order they should go in, one through nine.  Read through the descriptions (courtesy of Goodreads) below, and at the bottom of the page, respond to the polls.  On New Year's Day, I will post the results.  Please help me!!  Don't leave me wringing my hands in another fit of indecision!!

     In no particular order, here is my list of to-read books:

1) Trapped, by Kevin Hearne,  Iron Druid series, book 5

     After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.

      Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

2)  Ashes of Honor, by Seanan McGuire,   October Daye series, book 6

     It’s been almost a year since October “Toby” Daye averted a war, gave up a county, and suffered personal losses that have left her wishing for a good day’s sleep. She’s tried to focus on her responsibilities—training Quentin, upholding her position as Sylvester’s knight, and paying the bills—but she can’t help feeling like her world is crumbling around her, and her increasingly reckless behavior is beginning to worry even her staunchest supporters.

     To make matters worse, Toby’s just been asked to find another missing child…only this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne, who didn’t even know he was a father until the girl went missing. Her name is Chelsea. She’s a teleporter, like her father. She’s also the kind of changeling the old stories warn about, the ones with all the strength and none of the control. She’s opening doors that were never meant to be opened, releasing dangers that were sealed away centuries before—and there’s a good chance she could destroy Faerie if she isn’t stopped.

     Now Toby must find Chelsea before time runs out, racing against an unknown deadline and through unknown worlds as she and her allies try to avert disaster. But danger is also stirring in the Court of Cats, and Tybalt may need Toby’s help with the biggest challenge he’s ever faced.

     Toby thought the last year was bad. She has no idea.

 3)  Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

     Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.

     Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.

     But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.

4)  Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson,  Mistborn series, book 4

     Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

     Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

     One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

5)  The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan,   The Kane Chronicles, book 3 

     He's b-a-a-ack! Despite their best efforts, Carter and Sadie Kane can't seem to keep Apophis, the chaos snake, down. Now Apophis is threatening to plunge the world into eternal darkness, and the Kanes are faced with the impossible task of having to destroy him once and for all. Unfortunately, the magicians of the House of Life are on the brink of civil war, the gods are divided, and the young initiates of Brooklyn House stand almost alone against the forces of chaos. The Kanes' only hope is an ancient spell that might turn the serpent's own shadow into a weapon, but the magic has been lost for a millennia. To find the answer they need, the Kanes must rely on the murderous ghost of a powerful magician who might be able to lead them to the serpent's shadow . . . or might lead them to their deaths in the depths of the underworld. Nothing less than the mortal world is at stake when the Kane family fulfills its destiny in this thrilling conclusion to the Kane Chronicles. 

6)  The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan,  Heroes of Olympus series, book 3

     Annabeth is terrified. Just when she's about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo's fantastical creation doesn't appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

     And that's only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

     Annabeth's biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he's now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

7) Iced, by Karen Marie Moning,  Dani O'Malley, book 1; Fever series, book 6

     The year is 1 AWC—After the Wall Crash. The Fae are free and hunting us. It’s a war zone out there, and no two days are alike. I’m Dani O’Malley, the chaos-filled streets of Dublin are my home, and there’s no place I’d rather be.

     Dani “Mega” O’Malley plays by her own set of rules—and in a world overrun by Dark Fae, her biggest rule is: Do what it takes to survive. Possessing rare talents and the all-powerful Sword of Light, Dani is more than equipped for the task. In fact, she’s one of the rare humans who can defend themselves against the Unseelie. But now, amid the pandemonium, her greatest gifts have turned into serious liabilities.

     Dani’s ex–best friend, MacKayla Lane, wants her dead, the terrifying Unseelie princes have put a price on her head, and Inspector Jayne, the head of the police force, is after her sword and will stop at nothing to get it. What’s more, people are being mysteriously frozen to death all over the city, encased on the spot in sub-zero, icy tableaux.

     When Dublin’s most seductive nightclub gets blanketed in hoarfrost, Dani finds herself at the mercy of Ryodan, the club’s ruthless, immortal owner. He needs her quick wit and exceptional skill to figure out what’s freezing Fae and humans dead in their tracks—and Ryodan will do anything to ensure her compliance.

     Dodging bullets, fangs, and fists, Dani must strike treacherous bargains and make desperate alliances to save her beloved Dublin—before everything and everyone in it gets iced.

8)  Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness,  All Souls series, book 2

      Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

     Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

     Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.

9)  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, book 1

     Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

     In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

     And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.


     Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

     When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?