Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson Blog Tour: Week 2

Head on over to Books Without Any Pictures' post to see what we all think of Part 2.

Sue's Saturday Suggestions #2

My apologies for not posting last week: a combination of a dead computer and celebrating my birthday made it very difficult to produce anything. So here is a bumper, two-week edition to compensate: enjoy!

BEA 2012

Kristen at Fantasy Café gives an account of her experiences at the Adult Author Breakfast, the Science Fiction and Mainstream panel, the Random House Power Reader Breakfast and the New York Book Week: Science Fiction / Fantasy Event.

Interesting Books

Here are the books that have stood out for me this week:

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, review at the Little Red Reviewer

Cannibal Reign by Thomas Koloniar, review at My Bookish Ways & an interview with the author + Giveaway

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, review at Travels Through Iest

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, review at Books Without Any Pictures

Redshirts by John Scalzi, review at Calico Reaction

George R.R. Martin Related

Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire edited by James Lowder, reviews at Paperless Reading and Fantasy Book Critic

KMONT at Lurv A La Mode discusses strong female characters

Once Upon A Time Challenge VI Ends

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings gives a fond farewell to the challenge.

2012 so far

Liviu Suciu at Fantasy Book Critic shares her recommendations from the new books published so far this year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Copper Suns Fall by KaSonndra Leigh

My Rating: 1.0 / 5.0

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book free from the author via a Goodreads giveaway, in return for a honest review.

Chela Prizeon is fifteen years old, living in one of the cities that are remnants of the US in 2067. She is part Angel, which makes her forbidden, because the Angels of Light and Dark and their agents triggered the war that destroyed most of civilization. Chela has a twin brother who fell from a fairground attraction a year ago. She is convinced that he was pushed but the official conclusion is that he tried to commit suicide. Now he is in a coma and infected with an incurable disease. Chela herself begins to see unusual children around her and suddenly manifests the power of the memories that she has inherited from her almost-angel, dead mother. This may or may not be connected to the curious blackouts that she has suffered since she was a child.

I am afraid that I cannot tell you any more about the plot or setting, because I did not finish the book.

The reason I requested a copy of this novel was quite simple: the premise looked interesting and original. Unfortunately, the book itself is confused, confusing and not particularly well written. 

As well as the part-Angels we also have genetically modified humans with supernatural talents. These are supposedly caused by radiation from the war. The story would have greatly benefited from choosing one of these ideas and discarding the other: personally, I would have ditched the genetic mutants because it is not original. Even without the ‘About the Author’ note that states that she calls her two sons “the X-men”, I would have spotted that blatant steal from Marvel Comics. However, I was intrigued by the idea of exploring a world destroyed by a war between two opposing factions of Angels and their offspring. I genuinely wanted to read that story, but I felt that the author was not confident enough in her writing to follow the old adage: Keep It Simple. She introduced too many concepts too quickly and with too little detail. For example, we are told that Alchemy is banned, but have no description of what it is, although there does seem to be a suggestion that it is the powers that can be used by the part-Angels.  

The plotting is poor and therefore stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. For example, the first six chapters all take part during one day. In that time our heroine has time to visit her sick brother, argue with his doctor, work a shift for her friend, then go to meet that friend, have scary experiences at the fairground where her brother was injured, get stuck in a porta-potty, escape from a porta-potty whilst awakening her powers, use her powers again to make a door slam, get caught by the police, go to a club, witness a weird assault involving some other part-Angels, get her memory wiped, escape as the club is destroyed and then black out. This strikes me as a little too busy for one day and I am not even going to question her desperate rush to discover who pushed her brother one whole year after it happened.

The dialogue is clunky and the descriptions suffer from an overloading of adverbs, similes and metaphors. The writing feels as if the author is trying far too hard to make it dramatic, with the effect that it is cluttered and heavy-handed. Some of the lines had me laughing out loud, and not in a good way.

As for our heroine, Chela is your standard cardboard cutout “Spunky Young Gifted Savior”. She is different. She gets very angry, but controls herself because she must hide how amazingly powerful she is. Her mother is dead, but she has a not very nice stepmother. She is the only one who is right about her brother. Her father is someone important so she feels entitled to special treatment. No one understands her. She has had a life-long interest in fencing, so no doubt she is an Epic Warrior. She does Too Stupid To Live stuff all the time and yet survives. She has a hot male friend to be platonic with. People in positions of authority are never justified in speaking to her as if she is a fifteen-year-old child. I am absolutely sure that she will prove to be The Only One who can save the world. 

In short, there are some good ideas here, but the book needs some serious editing to simplify the plotting and the prose quite dramatically, while Chela needs a lot of work to make her more believable and sympathetic.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Read Along of War Breaker by Brandon Sanderson: Part 5

You can see Naithin’s Part 5 post, and the links to the other blogs taking part, here.

This week we have read up to the end of the book.

I would like to thank Naithin and Amanda for hosting the read along and everyone else who took part: yet again it has been terrific fun!

1. There were a whole bunch of character revelations in this last section of the book. We now know who Warbreaker is, and what Blushweaver's motivations are, and who was behind the war, and the intentions of several characters we suspected. How do you feel, now that everything's out in the open?

Exhausted! There was so much going on that I feel a little frazzled.

I am not sure that all the plot ends were tied up neatly. We do not know that the Awakened statues were successful in averting the war, although they ended the last one so we can assume that they did. If the Royal family is descended from a Returned I assume that Siri will be able to have a child by the God King, but it would be nice to know if she can. Also, which Returned are they descended from? We saw Denth’s hair shift color, so is he their ancestor? I would also like to know what has happened to the previous God Kings: are they out there doing good deeds or simply relaxing in retirement? However, my biggest question is about the way that the religion functions: is everything going to return to how it was before the attempted war or will Susebron change things?

2. At the beginning of our group read, I asked if you thought the Returned actually were divine. We saw Lightsong change his mind on his own divinity, and learned a bit more about the Returned. Has your answer about divinity changed, then, since the beginning of the book?

I still do not think that they are divine themselves, as Lightsong remembers some power offering him the possibility of Returning. However, they are Returned deliberately, with a purpose that will be revealed to them by their ability to see the future. If Lightsong is typical, then they were people who showed courage or goodness or some other quality that the divine power perceived. It is the divine power that chooses them and gives them the hugely powerful Breath that makes them Returned, so they are simply its messengers.

3. Now that we've seen Nightblood in action, firsthand, and know more about its history, what do you think about it as an object? What are your thoughts about Vasher's relationship with the sword?

It is the perfect example of how an object created to do good can end up doing bad things. Although it was created with the best of intentions it is incapable of making the moral distinction between good and evil and so cannot fulfill its Command as it was meant to. It seems to be heavily dependent upon those people it likes to give it guidance as to who it should kill, otherwise it will just kill everyone.

Vasher knows how dangerous the sword is, but also knows how to control it and his temptation to use it. Obviously it cannot be hidden because it will entice people to rescue it, much like the One Ring. I presume it cannot be destroyed, otherwise he would surely have done that after Shashara died, which I assume was on account of Nightblood’s actions.

4. Lastly, what are your final thoughts on Warbreaker? How did it compare to other books you've read, and to other Sanderson, if you've read more by him?

I thoroughly enjoyed Warbreaker, and I would love to read a sequel, although I guess we will have to wait until all the Wheel of Time books are done and dusted before we see it. I can see why he was chosen to compete those books although Mr Sanderson seems better able than Mr Jordan to restrain his fantasy to a more manageable size. I have only read one other Sanderson novel, Mistborn; the Final Empire, but I am impressed by his ability to create lavishly detailed worlds and his magic systems are excellent and original. I intend to read all his other works as I find time. I like how he can produce intricate plots with interesting characters without everything feeling derivative. He also writes nice strong female characters, which I appreciate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Read Along of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Part 2

This week we read Chapters 8 to 14. The Questions were provided by Stalking The Bookshelves.

If you visit Tangled Up In Blue, you will find the questions for next week and a list of links to this week’s answers.

1.  Claire has been given the task of healer at the castle. She must adapt her nursing skills for the time and learn what herbs and etc will cure each particular ailment that is presented to her. Do you have any home remedies that were passed down to you (cure for a cold, bee sting or what have you)? 

My parents were not quite hippies, but almost, so natural remedies were very popular.

For a sore throat: put a tablespoon of honey and a good shot of lemon juice into a mug, add boiling water and drink when cool enough. For adults, a shot of medicinal alcohol can be added to aid sleep! 

To remove a splinter: place a blob of honey over the point where the splinter enters the wound and cover with a waterproof dressing. This should draw the splinter out of the wound after a few hours.

To remove a tick: cover all of the tick’s body in Vaseline or any other greasy / sticky air proof substance after a few seconds it will withdraw its head and attempt to move to get air – pick up in a tissue and dispose of it.

2. What do you think would be the biggest challenge of living in the past? (Clothing, hygiene, food, etiquette or etc.)

Hygiene would be a real issue because I am a trained biologist, so I would share Claire’s despair over wound dressings and food storage. Also, I would be very unhappy using a chamber pot, especially the whole idea of storing it or carrying it about when it has been used. Then there are the parasites: fleas, lice and bed bugs would be a common problem, as would be all manner of worms and flukes because it would be so easy to ingest small particles of feces from both humans and livestock, especially in the water.

3. Do you have a favorite character, scene or quote so far? If so, share it with us.

I was very taken with Ned Gowan, he seems like a fun chap and I imagine that he could be very entertaining to chat with. I always like stories about people who have gone against convention to do precisely what they want to do. I also liked how Murtagh took on the role of wedding planner and dress designer: it was so unexpected and funny.

I particularly liked the scenes where Claire got falling down drunk after agreeing to the marriage and then suffered the consequences. This seemed like a very reasonable reaction to the situation, and the writing was really good. I guess Ms Gabaldon has suffered a few hangovers in her time because she certainly knows how to describe them very well and with a lot of detail!

4. What did you think about the addition of the blood bond in the wedding ceremony? Is this something you would do with the one you love?

I was a little surprised by the blood bond ceremony, but it fits well with the culture that we have encountered so far. Religion seems to be outweighed by practicality, as we saw with Geilie Duncan and her knowledge of a plant that could cause an early term abortion. It reminds me a little of the ability for blacksmiths to marry consenting adults: a tradition that is still going strong in Gretna Green in Scotland.

This is not something I would consider doing with my husband. I see marriage as a practical contract that allows couples to make a declaration that they plan to spend their lives together. I know this makes me sound wildly unromantic, and I do love my husband with all my heart, but we did not see our wedding ceremony as a spiritual event, just a ritual that formally acknowledged our relationship.

5. Are you reading along closely with the scheduled chapters or are you ahead or behind?

I always stay on schedule when I do a read along. I like how this slows my reading and gives me time to reflect on what I have read and what others have thought about it. It also means that I am able to remember exactly what was included in each section of reading.

A Challenge of Ice and Fire: Week 12

A Clash of Kings: Daenerys IV to the end of Davos III (p. 836)

My previous posts on A Clash of Kings:   week 7   week 8   week 9   week 10   week 11

48. Daenerys IV

This chapter, where Daenerys visits the House of the Undying, was chock full of visions and prophesies, or perhaps memories and possible futures. I am not sure if we should take anything that she sees there as significant, although many of the snippets seemed to refer to things that we have seen or been told. I have a sneaking suspicion that I could write a dissertation trying to analyze them all and that their significance will not become apparent until much later in the series, so to investigate them now would lead to many Spoilers. At first I thought that taking Drogon with her was a massive mistake, but I was proved wrong as he saved the day quite wonderfully. I was very interested in the tiny man at the door: what is he? I have read a suggestion that he is one of the Children of the Forest, which ties in with the use of weirwood for one of the final doors, but nothing is what it seems here, so I am keeping an open mind.

49. Tyrion XI

Although the clansmen are going to have a fine time annoying Stannis, I cannot help thinking that it was a very bad idea to send them all away. I know that Bronn has recruited a lot of sellswords, but I doubt that they will remain loyal and protect Tyrion when he needs them. However, he is still making good tactical decisions about the preparations for the siege, so I have hope that he will come through it in one piece, more or less. I fear that the self-proclaimed ‘Antler Men’ will have an unpleasant meeting with Bronn or his sellswords soon enough to reduce the impact of any treachery in the city.

I was surprised a little that Tyrion was regretful about Winterfell falling to Theon Greyjoy. He seemed to have real feeling that the Starks deserved to hold it that was not only based on his dislike for Theon. Of course, this could be one member of a Great House sympathizing with another and nothing more profound than that.

We have a second suggestion that magic has suddenly started to work more successfully and the Pyromancer specifically mentions that dragons might have that effect. Of course, this makes me wonder why the dragons died out in the first place and why they have returned now. It seems like someone thinks that a little more magic might be needed in the world just now, which is a pretty scary thought.

50. Theon IV

Oopsie! Theon has been outwitted by a cripple, an infant, a pair of ‘frogeaters’, a mentally-challenged stable boy, a woman and a pair of dire wolves: oh, I did laugh! I sincerely hope that something very unpleasant happens to Theon in the near future, because he really deserves it. I am trying to decide if he is actually stupid or just very naive, because he seems to have no clue how to deal with his men or those captured in Winterfell. Of course, he trusts Reek, so I tend to think that he is actually pretty dumb, because there is something so obviously WRONG about Reek that I wouldn’t be surprised to find the word written on his forehead. Plus, he brings along a set of the kids’ clothes just in case they need to ‘find’ a couple of bodies to bring back: this struck me as very strange. Who thinks like that and plans ahead for the situation? A psycho: that’s who.

I did feel a tiny bit sorry for Theon on the search, because he got increasingly desperate and petulant. I seriously thought that he was going to start crying like a little child denied a lollipop. I also liked Maester Luwin’s subtle digs and possible sarcasm. I know the good Maester is supposed to serve Winterfell, not the Starks, but I feel like he is a little biased against Theon. Also, yet again, Theon’s attitude towards women makes me want to slap his.

51. Jon VI

So, Osha is not the only lady wildling with a big axe and a yearning to use it. Ygritte is very brave and practical, much as Osha is and she shows great courage in the face of death. She is obviously going to be a significant character because Jon spared her life. I really hope that he does not regret his decision later. As a female, I am very ambivalent about his discomfort about murdering a woman: part of me wants him to treat all enemy soldiers as the same, but then I am quite happy that he is not an indiscriminate killing machine.

A large chunk of this chapter is given over to Ygritte telling the tale of Bael the Bard. It is unusual for us to get this kind of story in such detail, which makes me think that there must be some significance or foreshadowing going on. One obvious hint seems to be the mention of hiding in the crypts under Winterfell: I wonder if that is where Bran and the others are hiding out?

52. Sansa IV

I am not sure if Ser Dontos actually intends to fulfill his promise to Sansa or if it is just a drunken dream of his. He does seem to have some common sense in judging how well she is guarded and how safe she would be outside the city, but I am not sure if he will ever judge the time to be ‘right’ for her to leave. She has another encounter with the Hound, who always seems to be near to her. He is roaring drunk, obviously scared by the fires burning along the docks. I feel that there is a decent man inside the Hound trying to get out, but that years of abuse by his elder brother have destroyed his ability to show that man to anyone. It is nothing but ironic that Sansa is aided by the two ‘worst’ knights in the city.

Poor girl, she is not having a good day: an awful nightmare and then waking to a bed covered in blood. Her fear that this will mean that she must marry Joffrey is horrible to read as are her desperate attempts to hide the evidence. Although I am not sure how she could explain the state of her bedroom, I can understand her need to do something even if it is futile. Cersei’s comments about the joys of becoming a woman leave a lot to be desired, but she is a bitter woman who has never come to terms with her own thwarted ambitions, so I suppose that they are hardly surprising. However, I do feel like she is being particularly coarse in order to make Sansa even more uncomfortable.

53. Jon VII

I am not quite sure what Qhorin expected Jon to do, but he seems very neutral about Ygritte’s fate. I cannot believe that he does not see her as a threat to their safety, because she will obviously betray their position to her people.

The dream that Jon experiences is confirmation that he is linked to Ghost, just as Bran and Rickon are. It is also significant that he is contacted by Bran via a weirwood. Bran appears to have opened his third eye and touches Jon to open his. I was very concerned about Ghost after the eagle attack and very relieved when they found him and tended to his wounds. Interesting that everyone but Jon seems to have heard of skinwalkers, and accepts that he is one of them without too much trouble. Perhaps this explains why Qhorin wanted to take him along with them. It seems like the eagle is being used another skinchanger, so maybe they come across this ability quite frequently.

I was rather touched by Squire Dalbridge’s decision to sacrifice himself to allow the others to escape. We see the ‘no-one gets left behind’ ethos so much in films and on TV that it was a surprise, although it does make perfect sense.

54. Tyrion XII

I refuse to believe that Bran and Rickon are dead. I am sure that Jon would have known, via Ghost, and we have just seen Bran alive.

I was pleasantly surprised that Cersei’s reaction was not more triumphalist, but as we find out that she is feeling very happy with herself, I guess it makes sense. She is amazingly blunt about Jaime throwing a child out of a window, showing no sympathy for Bran or his family: she really is cold-hearted, especially as she is so over-protective of her own children. I am not sure if I believe her comment about Varys trying to make them all depend upon him, but it could very well be true. However, her prideful assumption that she has outwitted Tyrion makes me distrust her political acumen. On the eve of battle, is it really a good idea to annoy the person running your city? She is so shortsighted that I am amazed that she can cross a room without falling over. However, Tyrion’s reaction was a coldblooded promise of retribution and I believe that he will carry out the threat: hopefully quite soon.

55. Catelyn VII

I really like the relationship developing between Catelyn and Brienne. Brienne is a genuinely nice person, despite all the bad treatment that she has suffered, and is very empathetic and moved by Catelyn’s grief. I like this about Brienne: she is a warrior and outwardly mannish, but she does not despise those women who have followed a more traditional path and she does not try to squash all her ‘womanly’ attributes.

It is an eternity since we last ‘saw’ Jaime himself although we have heard about him a lot. He seems to be quite sanguine and coping with his imprisonment quite well, although I am not sure how much of that is show and bravado. He is remarkably frank with Catelyn, answering her questions in return for answers of his own. Just like Cersei, he denies having anything to do with the assassin sent to knife Bran, which leaves us with a real mystery. He confirms Tyrion’s account of the betting at the tourney, although it sounds like he does know who won the knife. Inadvertently, he tells Catelyn of Littlefinger’s claim to have deflowered her.

He relates how Aerys killed Lord Rickard and Brandon Stark, which is amazingly cruel and makes it easier to understand why Jaime chose to kill the King. He is very bitter about this, because he sees it as his greatest act of honor and knighthood and yet he is reviled for it. What he says is very provoking, so I do hope that Catelyn does not want Brienne’s sword for something that cannot be undone.

56. Theon V

Theon is having horrible nightmares about murdering everyone at the mill to provide a couple of boys’ corpses to present as Bran and Rickon. I do not have a great deal of sympathy with him. He has placed all his trust in Reek, getting him to ‘deal with’ the men who knew about the fabrication: this is a stunningly stupid decision and will end in no good. Asha is quite right to call him a fool, as he gave no forethought to his marvelous plan to be King in the North. Just to show how truly hopeless he is, he has given Reek some money to go out get some men, who Reek will obviously hand straight over to Theon . . . of, course he will! I would trust Reek to do that, because Reek is a straight up, honest man!

57. Sansa V

This chapter reminded me quite a lot of Catelyn IV, when Catelyn prays in the little chapel on the night before Renly’s attack on Stannis. We learn quite a lot about the religion of the Seven, seeing how it is practiced by various people.

Yet again, Tyrion is polite, even gentle, with Sansa and is concerned for her safety, whilst Joffrey treats her more like a pet. I loved her jibes about Robb always fighting in the thickest part of the battle and Joffrey’s totally incomprehensible over confidence. I cannot wait for Joffrey to see the battle: he will need to change his small cloths after that!

Cersei is back to her bitter, overly coarse self with Sansa, taking particular delight in suggesting that they will all be raped if the city falls. She is described as being a little flushed, so I do wonder if she has had a few drinks to give her some courage. I do have to ask though: why is Ilyn Payne using Ned’s sword, Ice?

58. Davos III

Perhaps I have seen too many war films, but as soon as some highborn know-nothing disregards words of advice from an experienced man I know that his plan will fail miserably and they will all die. Ser Imry Florent is not only a highborn know-nothing, but Stannis’ brother-in-law, which makes me doubt his abilities even more. So, when he is rude to Davos, who is a jolly decent chap and knows quite a bit about boats, I know that it is all going to be a horrible mess. Unfortunately, my prediction comes true and they are thoroughly outmaneuvered by Tyrion’s preparations. I felt very sorry for the men wasted in this ill-conceived plan, especially as many of them die from wildfire burns.

I really hope that Davos survives because he is a nice guy and I want to read more about him. 

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