January 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

I guess my reading is inspired by the need to explore other cultures and places different from our modern world. Also, by my curiosity and general love of reading.

Oh and good authors also inspire me to read more of their books.

“Real life,” he said, “is always more interesting. You just never know what will happen.”

Since my ebook challenge is still two books short, I’m adding this one.

This is the first in the urban fantasy series Weather Warden. It’s written in first person and the main character is Joanne Baldwin, who can control weather. She is part of the Wardens Association which is in charge of keep Earth habitable to humans by keeping storms, fires, and earthquakes down to a bearable level. It seems, though, that the Wardens are a secret from ordinary humans and human organizations. On the other hand, some teenagers manifest quite flashy powers before they are taught to control them and at least Joanne didn’t have to keep her powers a secret from her mother. Also, Wardens are taught in otherwise ordinary collage where they just seem to have their own classes. So, I get a bit mixed signals here.

Unlike most urban fantasy, Ill Wind doesn’t have vampires or werewolves in it. Instead it has Djinns who work as the magical assistants for the more experienced Wardens. Djinns are uncommon, very powerful, and therefore valued. Well, as long as they are the good little slaves they are supposed to be. Jo had still six months of work ahead of her before she could get her own Djinn.

Good: the Djinn, the different powers and their usage, the short weather reports at the start of every chapter, and romance is really a subplot and doesn’t drag too much.
No-so-good: too little settings info, human characters are pretty average.
Bad: –

Joanne is on the run. She has acquired the Demon Mark which Djinns can see but the Wardens can’t. The mark targets her as an out of control witch who has had dealings with demons. Except that she hasn’t dealt with demons. So, she’s trying to get help the best way she knows how. First she tries to go to the house of Lewis Orwell who is the most powerful Warden in the world and also Joanne’s old friend. Unfortunately, Lewis himself is currently on the fun from the Association. He also has three Djinns to himself. One of the Djinn meet Joanne at Lewis’s house and later gives her directions to drive to Oklahoma City. So, she doesn’t have another choice but to get in her midnight blue ’71 Mustang called Delilah and start driving.

Joanne decides to call and later visit her best friend and a former Fire Warden Esterella Almondovar alias Star. Star is worried about Joanna and after some friendly bantering she invites Jo to visit. Joanne is also worried about a dark storm front which is chasing her menacingly. Even though she could have the power to disperse it, that takes concentration and time which she doesn’t have. Also, dispersing a storm from one location could create serious weather trouble in another location so Wardens are very careful or they could easily hurt others.

On the way, Jo takes up a traveler, David, to whom she is instantly attracted. She can’t tell much to him about her situation but David is okay with that. He would much rather read a book from his back bag, anyway.

Interspersed with the current-day story are Jo’s previous experiences: how she found out about her powers, how she met Lewis, how she met Star… This is a very good pacing since it gives just enough current plot to keep interested and enough background no to get confused.

Joanne is very much a girl next door type: interested in cars, shoes, expensive clothing, handsome men and keeping in good standing with her bosses. She wants to have fun but not at the expense of her job. She’s also very loyal and responsible. In fact, she’s very much a standard fantasy hero and so doesn’t stand out of the crowd too much. Unless, of course, you’ve been mostly reading about extraordinary heroes. Then again, I’m not really interested in shoes or cars.

The pacing is good and the characters are good enough for one read. I was rather enjoying the friendship between Joanne and Star. Sadly, most books tend to have only one strong female character or at most two who hate each other.

I was really hooked by the ending, though, which turned Jo’s situation completely around. I can’t wait to see what Caine will do to her next.

Characters: 6,5, setting: 6 (very little info again), plot: 7
Overall: 7

Good: Characters, tight writing, Kirin’s abilities, pacing
Not-so good: I want more setting, some modern assumptions put into a pre-industrial setting, too short!
Bad: –

Despite the name and the cover, this is a fantasy book. I would call it dark fantasy with elements of horror in it. This is part of my 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge.

I really liked the first book in this series, Blood Magic, which was just intense. This is somewhat less fast paced but that suits the story. Also, you don’t have to read the first book in order to make sense of this one which is always good.

Kirin is a scout in the Imperial Army which is increasingly desperately fighting the Mor. The Mor are alien beings who live below ground. Every once in a while they come to the surface in large masses and try to wipe out humankind. Kirin has lost her lover and many friends to the Mor.

She also has a secret which could get her killed: she’s a necromancer who can create undead things out of dead bodies. She calls them her sweetlings and before she considered them sort of her children. However, after she had a child, she swore that she would never use her powers again. She can also see the souls of the newly dead which uses the souls to create her undead. She also has the soul of her dead twin sister inside her. The sister makes comments with a voice only Kirin can hear.

Kirin and her friend Lia, who is a lighting mage, are on their way to the Imperial City where Lia’s father lives and where the war effort is being coordinated. Lia’s father is a high noble and also the leader of the elemental mages. During the journey through bitter winter, Kirin and Lia become lovers.

On the way, Kirin and Lia encounter a troop of soldiers fighting Mor. Lia and Kirin help them but afterwards Kirin gets a shock: she can see the souls of the dead Mor! The souls seem to hate and fear the humans – or maybe just Kirin. But she gets no answers from the mute souls.

Together the couple and the soldiers continue to the Imperial City which is under siege by the Mor. They manage to get inside. The city is quite a wonder to country-born Kirin. However, she has to constantly be on her guard against all others. Lia introduces her at court to scheming nobles which makes Kirin even more uncomfortable. At least, Kirin has her job as one of the City’s archers. However, then Kirin sees something on the streets of the city which reminds her of her sweetlings. Maybe she isn’t as unique as she thought she was?

Nights of Sin is mostly very quick paced and at the same time it’s very much a character centered tale. Kirin tries to adjust to life at court, has to reevaluate everything she knows about herself, and fight the deadly Mor at the same time. Kirin is a very strong character but she also has obvious vulnerabilities. In contrast, Lia has never had to hide her abilities as a lighting mage. She is used to a softer existence than Kirin. They make a very cute couple.

I mentioned in the no-so-good section that Cook puts some modern assumptions into his setting. One of them is that thin=rich and good. However, this can only happen when the poor have abundance to eat, when the food they eat is fattening (=lots of meat, cream, sugar…), and when they have desk jobs (=no manual labor). This is actually very rare in pre-industrial societies. Abundant food production just isn’t possible when whole towns starve after a poor harvest. In these societies, fat is the sign of wealth. (See! I told you I’m a settings freak!) However, this isn’t told in so many words but rather implied.

Another is that Kirin is the only female soldier we see and yet she doesn’t have to really prove herself. I find it a bit hard to believe that a society which is in the middle of a desperate war, has the luxury of turning down half of their potential fighting force. Sure, the vast majority of women are probably untrained but so are the majority of males. In fact, we even see some young men at the start of their training. The exclusion of women is even more galling when the Mor are known for killing everyone, including women and children. Then again there are women among the mages but I suspect that all of the mages are nobles or at least rich and the vast majority of women don’t have that luxury. Or the talent, for that matter. But these are really nitpicks.

This time we get a bit more information about the Mor which is welcome. Because Kirin is a necromancer, the book has some horror elements. Usually, I don’t care for horror but once again I was so engrossed with the story that they didn’t bother me (or maybe I’ve played so much table top role playing games that I don’t think of undead as horror). Fast-paced, engrossing, excellent!

Characters: 9, setting: 6 (on rather sparse info), plot 7, fun & excitement 9,5
Overall: 9,5

Booking Through Thursday

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.

So, today’s question?

* What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
* Why?
* And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?

None. And the rest are then not applicable.

A bit longer answer: I tend to like music without lyrics. For me, the melody is everything.

I decided to take part in the Blog Improvement Project . The first task is to think about your goals.

That’s actually a tough one because Kim says (and I agree) that getting more hits is something you can’t control and so it’s not a good goal. And I suppose everyone wants to get more hits, right? So I have to think up better goals.

One could be commenting more. I know that I don’t comment much and there are several reasons for that. Sometimes there’s just no time. But more often I would feel dorky saying just “I agree” and so I don’t say anything at all even though I liked a post. Also, I’m a Finn. Finns are taught not to say anything unless we really have something to contribute (celebrities and politicians seem to be able to overcome this programming somehow). We are more talkative when we are with friends but I don’t really know any of you other bloggers and so it feels a bit like I would be invading another person’s living room. I’ve also been burned when I was more active on some SFF forums. But I’ll try my best to comment more.

Second would be making my reviews more personal. I’ve noticed that many people add numerical values to the reviews and also point out highs and lows. I’m not entirely convinced that a number would really add much (although I guess I have to confess that I do tend to check the number usually when I read other people’s reviews) and there are, of course, books that can’t have just one number to sum up the whole book. (For example: characters: 6/10, but setting 9 and plot 8. And in comics art should be a separate number.) But I’m going to try it and I’m also adding a scale on the sidebar. I’ll also put in some plus and minus things about each book. And probably also a short quote.

I did also consider doing reviews of other things as well such as TV shows or movies but I get them quite late. Also, I’m a settings freak and I tend to get hung up on things that other people often think as irrelevant (how the frak can money based economy still work in Galactica??) instead of the, er, more relevant things happing in the episode. I’m also quite poor judge of an actor’s acting ability.

I do enjoy reading more personal stories from other bloggers. However, I don’t feel comfortable posting that sort of things myself so I’m not likely to write those.

So, my goals are to comment more and add some feature to the reviews.

Lex Luthor: “Did you know that ‘Moby Dick’ can be recited at frequencies so high, Melville’s masterpiece becomes a sonic drill capable of carving through solid rock?
Luthor contines: “..literally boring a passage through the Earth!”

(Incidentally, I’ve never understood why comic book writers (or letterers as the case may be) feel the need to bolden some words. If it’s some sort of guide on how to read the dialogue… well, many people manage to read books without the need of bolded words…)

I read some parts of this one first as a Finnish translation in the Finnish DC Special – comic. Alas, the editors had decided to put in the aptly acronymed ASBAR (All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder) together with Superman (two issues of both in the same Finnish issue) and since I don’t want porn in my mainstream superhero comics, I couldn’t continue buying it. Fortunately, a few of the Finnish libraries had the good taste to get volume 1. Unfortunately, they don’t have vol. 2.

This is written in the style and spirit of the earlier Superman stories. As far as I know, it’s not part of the (current) Superman canon because at the start of the story Lois doesn’t know that Clark is Superman and also because of what happens in the first issue.

The trade has six issues and six separate but intertwined stories (in other words, they can be read separately.)

"…Faster…" Starts the comic off with a bang. The first manned flight to sun is in trouble because Lex Luther sabotaged the ship. It’s, of course, part of Luthor’s campaign to kill Superman. Of course, Superman comes to the rescue but afterwards he hears some startling news: his cells have absorbed so much solar radiation that not only is he three times stronger and developing new powers, but he’s also dying from the overexposure. Superman asks that nobody else is told about it so only the scientists at P.R.O.J.E.C.T know about. Some of the rest of the comics show how Clark is dealing with the news.

"Superman’s Forbidden Room" and "Sweet dreams, Super woman…" A two-part story. Clark has told Lois that he is really Superman but Lois doesn’t really believe him. Superman takes Lois to his Fortress of Solitude and shows her around. He also has a great birthday gift for her: a serum which gives her Superman’s powers for one day. Unfortunately, now that she is has super powers, she appears to be the most eligible single woman in town.

"The Superman/ Jimmy Olsen War". Another twist on the classic tales. This time the ones where Superman is being a jerk towards Jimmy. Here, Jimmy is a star reporter and his column is called "For a Day". Essentially, he lives other people’s lives for a day. This time, the director of the scientists in P.R.O.J.E.C.T. is stepping away from Earth for a day and Jimmy gets to be the director for a day. Of course, he quickly gets into trouble.

"The Gospel According to Lex Luthor". Luthor has been sentenced to death for crimes against humanity (finally, the justice system works!) and is currently in jail. Clark has been given permission to interview him and Luthor tells about his views on Superman and how Luthor himself should be the dictator of the world. Alas, the super villain Parasite is in the same jail…

"Funeral in Smallville". This is a story from Superman’s youth and features Krypto! Pa Kent needs some help with the harvest and three mysterious men appear to the farm.

I’m not really a fan of Superman but that’s mostly because very, very few writers can handle him without making him loose his powers (or at least without diminishing his powers), changing his personality, or downright forgetting some of his powers. Perhaps I should say that I’m a fan of the character of Superman but he is usually written appallingly poorly. I usually like him the most with JLA because there the writers have to invent big menaces for the whole team to tackle.

Here, Morrison not only can write him with full powers but indeed, increases his powers threefold. I have to admire that! I really liked the stories although they are probably aimed at older fans than me. For example, I’m not familiar with Samson and Atlas from the two-parter story although they appear quite funny in small doses.

I also liked this Lois Lane who is, apparently, also tricky to write. I like that fact that she didn’t believe at first that Superman is Clark. I also like her behavior when she had the super powers.

I’m not really a fan of Quitely’s work but it suits the stories there. Although he draws Superman a huge neck!

I decided to take part in the Comic book challenge, also. Here are the rules for the challenge . I’m going for the doctoral (24 comics), of course, although I know only the first few trades I’m going to read.

The list so far:

1. Morrison and Quitely: All-Star Superman vol. 1
2. JLA: Gods and Monsters
3. JLA: Year One
4. JLA: the Nail
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 1: The Long Way Home
6. JLA: Earth 2
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer vol. 2: No Future For You
8. JLA: American Dreams (Finnish edition)
9. JLA: Rock of Ages
10. JLA: Strength in Numbers
11. Captain Britain Ominibus (Finnish edition)
12. JLA: Justice for All
13. JLA: World War III
14. JLA: Tower of Babel
15. JLA/Avengers
16. JLA: Divided We Fall
17. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 1
18. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 3
19. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 4
20. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 5
21. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 2
22. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight: Wolves at the Gate
23. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
24. Hellboy: Wake the Devil
25. Fantastic Four Visionaries John Byrne vol. 6

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