March 2011

Booking Through Thursday

If you’re like me, you grew up reading everything under the sun, like the cereal boxes while you ate your breakfast, the newspapers held by strangers on the subway, the tabloid headlines at the grocery store.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever read? (You know, something NOT a book, magazine, short story, poem or article.)

I don’t really consider any writing to be odd by default. After all, we need ingredient lists and road signs. Perhaps some marketing texts might be strange but not because they are marketing. My day job involves marketing texts so in that way I’ve seen some pretty weird products which promise to fulfill all my dreams. Somehow, reality doesn’t really match the promise, though.

Well, I guess people who live in English-speaking countries would find it weird that almost everything I watch have subtitles. I just don’t want to be working every time I watch my favorite TV show.

The fourth in the Weather Warden fantasy series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dina Pearlman
Running Time: 11 hrs and 24 minutes

After the end of the previous book, Chill Factor, Joanne was out of work. Saving the world just doesn’t pay the bills. So now, she’s been forced to become a sidekick to a local weatherman. Jo is fed up with her job where she wears one ridiculous costume after another, freezing water is dumped on her on live TV, and the sleazy weatherman tries to squeeze her at any opportunity. One good thing is that she’s managed to find a good friend in the other Weather Girl: Cherise. She’s an UFO buff and a extremely fashionable and pretty. She also drives a Mustang.

Also, Jo’s love the Djinn David is almost drained of power and is on the verge of becoming a mad Ifreet. The most powerful Djinn in the world, Jonathan, threatens Jo that she has to fix David or he’ll kill her. Unfortunately, David continues to draw power from Jo so she’s pretty weak and since she’s pretty much cut off ties with the Wardens, her only option seems to be her old friend and incredibly powerful Lewis, who is also on the run from the Wardens.

To make things worse, policeman Rodriquez starts to shadow Jo. He’s convinced that she’s responsible for killing his friend… and she is, but that’s only because the man was a rapist and a murderer, and of course Rodriquez can’t believe it.

To top things off, Jo’s sister comes to her small apartment. Sarah was the more fashionable and beautiful from the Baldwin sisters and she married a rich man. Unfortunately, she found out that he cheated on her and he kicked her out. Now, she’s broke and depressed, and moves in with Jo. She’s also used to buying lots of expensive stuff while Jo is currently barely making the rent.

Poor Jo’s life continues to be as chaotic as ever. She’s barely able to get a breather and with both her non-magical sister living with her and a normal cop shadowing her, she’s hard pressed to keep all the magical stuff a secret. Also, her relationship with David has changed from love and sex to Buffy/Angel level angst.

Most of the secondary characters we meet here are familiar from the previous books, such as Lewis, Rahel, and Jonathan, but there are plenty of new characters, too. The cop Rodriquez seems to be a decent guy if misguided and Cherise is a hoot. She and Jo do banter very well. Sarah starts out as a comedic relief, especially considering how ridiculously easily she snatches up a new boyfriend. However, there more to her than meets the eye.

Windfall is a great continuation to the series and the stakes are raised yet again, now to epic levels. So, all of you people who want to read an epic urban fantasy: it’s right here. Just start with the first book, please.

The second comic set between the TV-series Firefly and the movie Serenity.

Written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
Art: Will Conrad
Page count: 80
Publication date: 2008
Publisher: Dark Horse
Collects the original three-part miniseries Serenity: Better Days

Like the first comic, this one, too, reads like an episode of Firefly. Again, the characters and the world aren’t introduced so you should watch the show Firefly before reading this.

The art is again fantastic: the characters look like the actors and it looks like the art was painted in rich colors. I really love the gorgeous Adam Hughs original covers and if I could put anything on my walls, I would buy another copy, cut off the covers and put them up.

Mal and his crew are in the middle of large robbery. At the same time, nearby a man with a scar is demonstrating his new tactical robot to a large audience. So, when Mal and the crew are trying to drive away with the loot, the scar faced man uses his remote controlled robot to attack the Serenity crew. The robot turns out to be well armed, fast, and flexible but Mal and Kaylee manage to bring it down. The man with the scar isn’t happy and he was able to identify Mal. It turns out that the crew was after the robot and they deliver it to the man who ordered it. He doesn’t have the money but know where the crew could get enough. Mal agrees and so… they raid a Buddhist temple.

Meanwhile, Inara has an old soldier as a client. He tells her about terrorist Browncoats who are called Dust Devils. They killed civilians during the war and the soldier is still after some of them. Of course, Inara suspects that Mal was one of them.

It seems like the crew got the money and are rich so, they go to a vacation planet. Unfortunately, their enemies are quickly on their tail.

This time we get to know more about some of the characters’ past and there’s some great scenes between the characters. Kaylee is talking about his crush to Wash who is trying to encourage her to approach the doctor herself, the crew is fantasizing about what they are going to do with their money, and there’s a poignant scene with Mal and Inara at the end.

I liked this one more than the first one, especially since it had one my favorite twists near the end.

Again, too short! There’s no time to really develop the villains or story lines feel short and underdeveloped. We don’t get to know much about one of the villains and the ending feels a bit too convenient.

The second book in the fantasy series about October Daye, a half-blooded Daoine Sidhe and a private investigator.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Running Time: 12 hrs and 32 minutes

Toby’s liege lord Count Sylvester Torquill is worried about his niece January. Since January is a mistress of her own domain, he can’t visit her or it could be interpreted as a hostile act. So, he asks Toby to go to January’s computer firm, the Tamed Lightning, and find out if everything is okay. Sylvester also sends along one his young pages, Quentin who is a full blooded fae. Toby isn’t happy but she agrees.

Quentin and Toby drive to January’s place and are confronted by several suspicious underlings. Soon enough they find out that something is really wrong.

The book starts as a basic private eye investigation and Toby doesn’t have any personal stake in the matters. In my experience, that’s pretty unusual for UF where the plots usually center around the heroine’s budding powers and the problems caused by them. Eventually, we find out some things that might have huge implications for the whole Fae world, though. Just like in the PI books, most of the cast of characters were new. This meant that Toby’s personal problems which were revealed in the first book, such as her mother acting like a crazy woman and Toby’s daughter not wanting anything to do with her, where not addressed at all. Nor where the larger fae world issues, such as their missing king or what happened to Luna and her daughter when they spent years kidnapped. This was a bit disappointing because I was really interested in them. But I’m hoping that they will play a part in the next book.

Unfortunately, the book has some problems. Mainly, the villain was a bit too obvious early on so it doesn’t really work as a mystery. That tends to be a problem for mystery books which have severely limited list of possible villains. In that respect the Tamed Lightning company was too isolated from everyone else and there were no suspects coming in or out. Unfortunately, that also makes Toby just a not very good detective.

However, I did greatly enjoy Toby’s wry and humorous narrating voice. She does her best to protect Quentin and the others, and is even ready to sacrifice her life to get to the bottom of the mystery. I also enjoyed the atmosphere and the world-building with the many different fae races, half-bloods, and quarter-bloods. We find out some very interesting things about some parts of the supernatural world.

Quentin was a minor character in the previous book and he work well in this one. At the start, he was reluctant to go with Toby. But he’s young and learns quickly. The Tamed Lightning people are a very closed-knit group and suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, that means that if they had just come clean right from the start, there wouldn’t have been a mystery, so they are hurt by their suspicious nature. I was particularly intrigued by April who is January’s adopted daughter. She’s a dryad but when her tree was cut down, the TL people hook her into the computers. Now, she behaves like an emotionless android and can appear unexpectedly anywhere at the company grounds.

There were several potential love interests for Toby in the book. Tybalt, the King of Cats, is the obvious choice, and he and Toby continue to circle each other even though Toby draws comfort from his presence and wears his coat for most of the book. Another is one of the TL people to whom Toby was instantly attracted. Fortunately, McGuire was able to twist the poor guy into someone unexpected.

Kowal’s reading is okay and I realized that I pronounce the fairy names differently than her, or rather differently than English speakers. For example she pronounces “Sidhe” like [she:] I would pronounce it like I see it written, like the English word “side” with a short i and a h between d and e: [sidhe]. When she says “daoine” I hear it as “junior”. No wonder I had problems understanding what some of the words were!

There’s a sample chapter at McGuire’s website.

This book is part of my Horror & UF, 2nds, and Once Upon a Time V challenges.

Since I read a lot of fantasy anyway, I decided to join Once Upon a Time V reading challenge. It has a variety of challenges that encourage people to read books of the fantasy, fairy tales, folklore, and mythology variety. The 5th annual Once Upon a Time Challenge runs from March 21st through June 20th.

I’ll be joining
Quest the First: Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

Most of my books will be in the fantasy category, although I’m tempted to add at least Seanan McGuire’s books into the fairy tales section as well because they draw a lot from traditional fairy knowledge.

Quest the Third: Fulfill the requirements for Quest the First or Quest the Second AND top it off with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream OR a viewing of one of the many theatrical versions of the play. Love the story, love the films, love the idea of that magical night of the year and so this is my chance to promote the enjoyment of this farcical love story.

I’m also currently watching Angel season 1, so I’m joining Quest on Screen as well.
Stories are not just limited to the printed page. Many entertaining, moving, profound or simply fun stories are told in the realm of television and film. To participate in this quest simply let us know about the films and/or television shows that you feel fit into the definitions of fantasy, fairy tales, folklore or mythology that you are enjoying during the challenge.

Quest the Third:
1, Seanan McGuire: A Local Habitation
2, Rachel Caine: Windfall
3, Rachel Caine: Firestorm
4, Marjorie M. Liu: A Wild Light
5, Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
6, Evangeline Walton: Prince of Annwn
7, Sarah A. Hoyt: Ill met in Moonlight
8, Tim Powers: On Stranger Tides
9, Jon Courtenay Grimwood: the Fallen Blade
10, Emma Bull: War for the Oaks
11, Poul Anderson: A Midsummer Tempest

Quest on Screen:
Angel: Season 1
Angel: Season 2

Booking Through Thursday

Series? Or Stand-alone books?

I like both but I tend to read more series because there’s just something more urgent about getting my hands on the next book in the series than getting the same author’s next stand-alone book.

Today the topic of Top Ten Tuesdays (and I know it’s not Tuesday anymore) is Bookish Pet Peeves.

Boy do I have these! Fortunately, most of them are book, or series, specific or this would be enormously long list!

First, the ebooks:

1, Geographical restrictions
I find a bit weird when I can buy a print book online or even from a brick and mortar bookstore in the middle of Tampere, Finland, but the ebook version is not sold outside US. It’s especially weird when said book is science fiction, such as the Star Trek: TNG books. Dear publishers. I know that it’s hard to adjust to changing times and that us non-USAsians can seem strange. However, I can assure you that we actually can and do use credit cards, and are mostly polite folks in all. I also find it a bit weird that after slapping on a US only tag, the publisher complains that the ebook aren’t selling enough. Gee, why would that be…

2, Different formats which aren’t compatible
Sigh. No, I’m not going to buy a Kindle, a Nook, and five other reading devices just so I can read all of my favorite authors. In fact, I’m not going to buy a reading device at all until and unless I can use it to read comics and books with illustrations, make notes, actually keep the books I’ve bought as long as I live, and borrow books to my friends. You know, do all the things I normally do with print books.

3, Publishers apparently think that all buying customers are potential thieves. Or is it all thieves are potential customers? Apparently, I’m behaving suspiciously just buying an ebook.
I resent that. Even has started to add a warning that their audio books are intended for private use only.

Whew, and then to all books:

4, There no mention on the cover that the book is a part of a series.
Apparently, this is some sort of marketing tactic because people are more likely to buy a book if they don’t know that it’s actually number four in an ongoing series. Dear marketer, picture this: I buy a book I find interesting and take it home. Then I start to read it… and find out that there are a lot of things I don’t understand and it feels like I’ve walked in in the middle of a movie. I find the author’s webpage and find out that the book is part of a series. Now, how likely do you think it is, that I’m going to buy the rest of series now? I’ve done that once and I’m a life-long avid reader in my late thirties. In fact, it’s far more likely that I’ll never look at that author again.

5, The cover doesn’t have anything to do with the story inside the book
I’m looking at you, lots of Urban Fantasy books! I don’t just mean the little things, like wrong color hair, but things like a male in the cover when the main character is a woman or a generic fantasy landscape on the cover when the book is set in a city. I have a special loathing for many UF covers because essentially they tend to sell sex, and not adventure. However, since erotic fantasy is a separate genre, we tend to not get what the cover promises.

6, Courtship romances
Enough already! I love chocolate but I don’t want to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. (Although, I’ve never actually tried that. Hmmmm) Why does 99.99% of books have to have an obligatory courtship romance? This is especially disappointing in fantasy and science fiction where the authors can do anything and instead default to the bog-standard heterosexual, monogamous pair bonding with usually a bickering couple. Look, it’s been done. And done. And done. And done. Please do something else. If you have to write a romance, do something else with it. Non-monogamy? Especially if only one of the cultures involved practice it and the other person(s) have to actually for real think about it. A body-hopping potential boy/girlfriend? A gender changer? A happily married couple or triad?

7, Cultures which supposedly are different but aren’t really
They might wear a bit different clothing or have pointy ears but otherwise they are really all the same. Especially in Star Trek like space opera and in romantic fantasy where couples don’t really have different values at all no matter how hard the author tries to point out the small differences.

8, Poetry and songs that the author has invented.
Please just stop.

9, The blurb that doesn’t match the book
I’ve encountered far more DVDs where the blurb is apparently from some other movie but some books suffer from this too. One of my favorite books ever (Shards of Honor) has a blurb that starts from the middle of the book and not from the beginning… In fact this bothers me far more than the cover not matching. I know that authors don’t have any control over either but the blurb is likely the best marketing effort the book has and often enough the only time to convince the reader to try the book. So, things like, oh, leaving out the female main character and her storyline completely might not be the best strategy. Or trying to sell a book with a murder mystery and a romance as an epic fantasy.

10, The author’s book list on the front or back is in alphabetical order
Really, publisher? Just who is going to benefit from a mess like that? Some of Elizabeth Peters’ books suffers from this. She’s written several series and all of the books where in the same list in alphabetical order without even distinguishing the different series. Luckily that seems to happen only with one printing.

This is a stand-alone science fiction book and it’s part of my Take a Chance challenge. My brother recommended it for me so it’s number 2 on the list: Loved one’s choice. I was a bit surprised to find out that it had been translated into Finnish and was still in the library system. Keyes is a new author to me, so this book will also be part of the the New Author challenge.

Publication year of the original short story: 1958, of the novel: 1966
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 299
The translation’s publisher: WSOY
Translator: Hilkka Pekkanen
Publication year of the translation: 1985

Charlie Gordon is a grown man but his IQ is only 68. He can live on his own and has even a job at the local bakery as a cleaner and a delivery boy. All his life, he’s wanted to be smart and so he starts night classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. There, he becomes a test subject in two scientists’ experiment to increase the intelligence of mentally disabled people. They have made the same surgery to a mouse called Algernon before trying it on Charlie.

Charlie writes progress reports about what he has done during the day and also about his dreams and thoughts. At first, it’s very difficult for him. He doesn’t know much about grammar and it’s difficult to remember anything about his past. However, as the days go by, it’s clear to see that his writing improves as does his understanding of the world around him. Perhaps the most striking change is that Charlie starts to understand how people treat him. Previously, he considered the people at the bakery as kind and friendly. However, now he starts to understand that they are laughing at him, and not with him. Soon, his intellect rises above normal people and he starts having trouble with this few relationships. There’s also the concern that the change might not be permanent. He also wrestled with his past and inner demons, particularly with his sexuality.

At the start of the book, Charlie writes down the events during the day and pretty soon the reader realizes that the people around him don’t respect him at all even though Charlie himself doesn’t understand it. Then when he starts to understand it, he’s angry at first but later he accepts it as a price for having friends at all. Charlie, too, wants to fit in and be part of the group as all humans do.

When he starts to remember things about his past, it becomes obvious that his childhood wasn’t happy. His parents argued a lot. His mother tried at first to ignore his limited mental abilities and tried to force him to learn to read and write and do other things that normal boys do. Then, when she has to admit that Charlie isn’t going to be normal, she spends a lot of money trying to cure him. She also beat into him that he shouldn’t think about girls or try to touch them. Charlie’s father was kinder to him but he didn’t stop Charlie’s mother from beating him. Other kids also teased him mercilessly. Charlie’s younger sister was also teased because of Charlie and she took it out on him.

When Charlie’s intelligence rises, he starts to fall in love with the woman who is teaching at the night school. Alice Kinnion knows about the experiment and is reluctant to have a relationship with Charlie because she suspects that Charlie’s emotional growth can’t match his intellectual growth. She’s right. Charlie’s subconscious mind remembers that he shouldn’t be touching women and it makes their relationship difficult at best. Also, Charlie’s intelligence quickly rises far above Alice’s and they have difficulty even talking with each other.

Eventually, Charlie’s IQ reaches 185 and at that point he starts to feel like everyone around him are frauds because they don’t speak twenty languages and know even the basics about every science, as he does. He also resents it when Nemur and Strauss, the men making the experiment, treat him like a lab rat who wasn’t human before the surgery.

The book looks at how mentally disabled people are treated by the people around them; often ridiculed and taken advantage of and their basic needs are ignored. Charlie wonders how people who wouldn’t hurt a blind man, can mistreat him because they know he can’t understand what is done to him.

Edited to add: This is a classic book and I don’t feel like I have much to contribute to the many reviews about it. However, it’s touching and even heart-wrenching at times, especially near the end. Certainly worth reading.

The characters are diverse and feel very human to me. Perhaps is was a cliché that Charlie fell for the one adult woman he’s ever known, but he didn’t have many choices.

I was rather distracted with the SF elements; I fairly certain the mice and human brains aren’t so similar that they can be operated on the same way and get the same result. Also, other surgeries effects don’t fade with time. But that’s a side issue, really. The main theme is the treatment of humans around you.

Today the topic of Larissa’s Bookish Life is Books for an UF Newbie.

Recommending books has always been pretty difficult for me. So much depends on what the other person likes and what they don’t like. For example, is the person an avid reader who doesn’t mind long book and series, or rather someone who saw, for example, the Dresden Files TV show and liked it so much they are even willing to read a book for the first time since school? Or are they romance readers who demand a courtship romance with a happy ending or perhaps a fantasy fan who just wants to read something a bit different from their usual fare? Or a science fiction fan who is curious about fantasy? Do they hate flashbacks or dream sequences with a passion? There are all kinds of stumbling blocks.

Personally I’d recommend:

1, Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benaires fantasy series starting with Magic Lost, Trouble Found
For a fantasy fan who likes to try a secondary world series written in the urban fantasy style and in first person.

2, Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series starting with Ill Wind
A fun and intense series which uses unusual supernatural creatures: the Djinn and the Ifreets.

3, Kim Harrison’s Hollows series starting with Dead Witch Walking
A more traditional (in the modern style) UF. This is also perhaps the most Buffy-like series I’ve read with a close knit circle of friends and humor thrown in.

4, Laura Anne Gilman’s Retrievers series starting with Staying Dead
A series from the other side of the law.

5, Stacia Kane’s Chess Putnam series starting with Unholy Ghosts
Another intense secondary world series where the main character is a drug addict.

For people who like private detective series or who don’t read books written by women:
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series starting with Storm Front
for people who like science fiction over fantasy:
Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series starting with Working for the Devil

The third in the Weather Warden series about weather controlling Joanne Balwin.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Dina Perlman
Running Time: 9 hours, 34 minutes

The former Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin and her Djinn lover David are trying to sort out the mess they were left with in the previous book. The world’s most powerful Djinn, Jonathan, is in the hands of a petulant teenage boy, Kevin, and they are wrecking havoc. They are in Las Vegas and Jonathan is keep the city off limits from Wardens and the other Djinn. Unfortunately, he’s doing it by manipulating weather and creating earthquakes. Jo and David have been driving around Las Vegas for a few weeks trying to get in but without any success. Kevin has also stolen the powers of Lewis who is one of Jo’s oldest friends and is now near death because of the power loss.

However, the Weather Wardens want Jo to back off. She really has no choice but to agree and the Wardens even take away David’s bottle from her. Then, one of Jo’s friends betrays her horribly. She’s shot and transported to Las Vegas where she’s resuscitated back to life. That’s pretty crappy way to get into the city but things turn only to worse when she finds out that another group (of old men) is really interested in her: the Ma’at are a group who are convinced that the Wardens are corrupt and it’s now up to them to start controlling not only the weather but the Djinn as well.

There’s an additional story which starts as a side plot when Joanne thinks back on one of her earlier jobs six years ago. She was sent to Las Vegas to investigate a fellow Warden who was suspected of misusing his powers. She thought that it would be an easy job but of course, it wasn’t. First, the male Warden tries to sidetrack her by seducing her and when that doesn’t work, he simply won’t see her. That didn’t stop Jo, of course. This story first ties up thematically with the rest of the book; it shows how a corrupted Warden works and shows also that Jo is familiar with the concept of less than innocent Wardens. The story turns really dark, later, and ties in with the main plot, too. I wasn’t really thrilled with some of the things that happened in it.

I really like Jo and David. They’re a good couple despite the fact that they still have the annoying habit of not telling important things to each other. They say things like “Trust me” and then they do things that the other person really should have been told about beforehand. Also, David does something which really, really should have been discussed beforehand!

Jo is a stubborn and contrary person. Luckily for her, she tends to be right most of the time. Considering all of the hard and awful stuff Jo goes through, she has to be tough, though. People around her seem have the tendency to betray her and she can’t really trust even David.

I’ve gotten used to David as the unshakably loyal lover. Of course, when Jo has David’s bottle, he can’t be anything else since a Djinn has to obey his or her owner. And of course, when you start to think about that power dynamic, it is, or can be, horrible. So much power of the one you love. And yet, can you trust anyone else with your lover’s bottle? Would you want to? Jo and David are really sweet together so I couldn’t see that Jo would mistreat her power. However, she is uncomfortable with it and so are some of the other characters around them.

Most of the characters from the previous books return, even one whom I didn’t expect to see anymore. I was delighted and horrified by the character’s transformation. Jo’s old friend and crush Lewis has always seem to be a really good guy but here we find out that he has a real bad side, too. On the other hand, Jo’s sort-of enemy and a hard ass Warden Marion Bearheart is revealed to have a surprising past which made her a more sympathetic character. We’re also introduced to a lot of new characters. Most of them seem to be people who believe they are doing good but aren’t too squeamish about their methods. I tend to like them, because they can be more complex than other villains, not to mention having redemption potential.

The pace is very fast and Jo doesn’t really get a breather at all.

Oh, and once again, lots of stuff is unresolved at the end as usual for a series with a continuous storyline. I’m dying to know what happens to David and the others next!

I really enjoyed Perlman’s reading. For me, her voice just clicked with Joanne’s inner voice, somehow. She reads often with a chatty style which is perfect for the writing style for Joanne’s thoughts. She doesn’t really do different voices.

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