Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Challenges

I've never tried a book challenge before, but I'm going to try the What's In A Name challenge this coming year.

The requirements are to read a book from each of the categories (taken from the introductory post at the What's in A Name blog:
*Dates: January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009

*The Challenge: Choose one book from each of the following categories.

1. A book with a "profession" in its title. Examples might include: The Book Thief, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Historian

2. A book with a "time of day" in its title. Examples might include: Twilight, Four Past Midnight, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

3. A book with a "relative" in its title. Examples might include: Eight Cousins, My Father's Dragon, The Daughter of Time

4. A book with a "body part" in its title. Examples might include: The Bluest Eye, Bag of Bones, The Heart of Darkness

5. A book with a "building" in its title. Examples might include: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Little House on the Prairie, The Looming Tower

6. A book with a "medical condition" in its title. Examples might include: Insomnia, Coma, The Plague
I'm thinking of the following tentative list:
1: Beast Master by Andre Norton
2: Caress of Twilight by Laurell K. Hamilton
3: Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
4: Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon
5: Fortress of Frost And Fire by Mercedes Lackey
6: Plague Ship by Andre Norton

Some of these are going to be re-reads but not all of them. One or two, I've had for over a year and have yet to read them, so this should be a good push to get reading.

The Adept: The Lodge of the Lynx - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris

Edited on January 20th to add links to the other books in the series.
Edited on August 21, 2011 to add the cover image and some formatting.

The Adept: Lodge of the Lynx
Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
Ace Books
Copyright: 1992
0441003443

The blurb on the back of the book:
He is eternal
So are his foes...

Through countless lives and eras, the Adept has fought against the powers of Darkness. Now, as psychiatrist Adam Sinclair, he leads his loyal Huntsmen against supernatural evil in all its myriad forms.

But the Darkness is striking back - In the guise of an unholy cult long thought to be extinct. Endowed with the elemental energy of an ancient Druidic artifact, the Lodge of the Lynx stands ready to unleash destruction on Sinclair, his allies and, ultimately, all of Scotland.

The old battle begins anew - and this time the future may belong to The Lodge of the Lynx.
This is the second book in the series, which is comprised of: The Adept, The Adept: the Lodge of the Lynx, The Adept: The Templar Treasure (I'm now rereading this one), Dagger Magic and The Death of the Adept. Two other books, The Temple and the Stone and The Temple and the Crown are set in the middle ages in the last years of the Templar Knights that are linked to this series as well, although somewhat tentatively if I'm remembering right. Its been a while since I've read those two books. There are also two short stories set in the same world and time period in two of the Templar anthologies Katherine Kurtz has edited.

The Lodge of the Lynx follows up on The Adept, starting almost immediately after that book left off. Given the start of this book, I'd say it isn't more than a couple of weeks after the end of the previous book. The two books could almost be seen as one book in two parts. This was the first book from the series that I read originally, and I did find things a bit confusing at first then, as the character introductions all occurred in The Adept. Now though, having read the books several times in order, I consider them to be 'old friends'.

All of the loose ends from The Adept are wound up in this book: Gillian Talbot/Michael Scot being the main one, and a whole host of new characters are introduced. Some of them, such as the villains will turn up in later books in the series. In fact, some of the events in this book are setting the stage for the fifth book in the series, Death of an Adept.

To give you an idea of how much I've enjoyed this book, my copy is starting to look as though it came from a public library: a couple of the pages are torn, the spine is getting faded and the corners and edges are all battered.

As with Lammas Night, this is an older series, marked by Indigo Books as 'sold out', and your best bet for finding the books is a used book store.

I wish I knew of more books like these. The closest I can think of are Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde books.

Rereading

I do a lot of re-reading books, and so, inspired by Darla of Books and Other Thoughts, I'm adding a tag just for that. In fact, I'm going to go through the posts I've already made and tag them for it, and not just start from here on in.

Some of the books that are going to be getting this tag today include the Tamora Pierce books, Sherrilyn Kenyon's older books (if I've read them recently enough for the blog), Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books and the Katherine Kurtz Adept series.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas everyone.

I've removed the Christmas songs list from the blog, mostly because it was slowing things down for me. Well, that and the fact that Christmas is almost over :)

I hope to add reviews soon for Smart Cookies: Making More Dough and the second Adept book by Katherine Kurtz.

I've also started reading a translation of the letters of Abelard and Heloise, as well as a couple of recent anthologies including Dark Hunter stories by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Those should be experiences as I haven't read anything by the other authors in the anthologies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Upcoming Paperback releases

These are some of the books being released in paperback that I think might be interesting in the near future. All of the release dates are taken from the Indigo/Chapters website.

Acheron
Sherrilyn Kenyon
Due out March 31, 2009

One of the Dark Hunter series, Acheron's story has finally been told. It came out in hardcover last August. I found it to be an incredible story when I read the hardcover. My review, although I haven't bought the book yet. I've been waiting for paperback.


The Snow Queen
Mercedes Lackey
Due out February 1, 2009

A gem of a story, to say the least. This is the most recent of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. I'm not sure though if it is the fourth or fifth in the series. Either way, I loved it. My review of the hardcover edition. Again, I've been waiting for it to come out in paperback before buying.


Victory Conditions
Elizabeth Moon
Due out January 27, 2009

The conclusion to the five book Vatta's War saga. Elizabeth Moon is one of my favourite authors for both her science fiction and her fantasy. This definitely met the standard. My review.


Swallowing Darkness
Laurell K. Hamilton
Due out August 25, 2009

The hardcover of this book is barely out yet, and they've got the paperback lined up already! This is the most recent of the Merry Gentry novels, and I think, one of the best. I'm waiting for the paperback though to buy it. My review of the hardcover.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Adept - Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris

Edited on January 20th to add the links to other books in this series.
Edited again on August 21, 2011 to add the cover image.

The Adept
Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
Ace Books
Copyright: 1991
0441003435

The blurb on the back of the book:
More than a doctor,
more than a detective...

He is Sir Adam Sinclair: nobleman, physician, scholar - and Adept. A man of learning and power, he practices ancient arts unknown to the twentieth century.

He has had many names, lived many lives, but his mission remains the same: to protect the Light from those who would tread the Dark Roads.

Now his beloved Scotland is defiled by an unholy cult of black magicians who will commit any atrocity to achieve their evil ends- even raise the dead!

Only one man can stand against them...
The Adept

This is the first book in the series: The Adept, The Adept: the Lodge of the Lynx (my current read), The Adept: The Templar Treasure, Dagger Magic and The Death of the Adept. Two other books, The Temple and the Stone and The Temple and the Crown are set in the middle ages in the last years of the Templar Knights are linked to this series as well. There are also two short stories set in the same world and time period in two of the Templar anthologies Katherine Kurtz has edited.

As the first book in the series, The Adept sets up the major characters very well, but it also stands as a full book on it's own, although it doesn't exactly wrap everything up, leaving plenty for the next book.

As with Lammas Night, this is an older series, and your best bet for finding the books is a used book store.

There's plenty of action as well, making this an exciting book. Even though I've read it several times, I generally have trouble putting the book down at night. It's always 'just one more page and I'll put the book away'. Then I realize it's already the next day and the book is finished.

Kurtz and Harris use foreshadowing and hinting very well in all of the books to build the tension, and the events, taken in sequence, even with the magical included are very believable, building one on the next.

I wish I knew of more books like these. The closest I can think of are Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde books.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lammas Night - Katherine Kurtz

Edited on January 23rd, 2009 to add links to the books in the Adept series.

Lammas Night - Katherine Kurtz
Lammas Night
Katherine Kurtz
Ballantine Books
Copyright: 1983
0345295161

The blurb on the back of the book:
What magic can stop Adolf Hitler - History's most evil Black Magician?

Modern War

The year is 1940
Hitler's Germany is about to employ the secret arts of evil witchcraft to destroy England. What can stop them?

Ancient Weapon
It is the mission of John Graham, colonel in British Intelligence, to stop the onslaught of evil with an extraordinary strategy that defies all the rules of twentieth-century warfare: Unite the different witches' covens throughout England, drawing upon powers that reach back through dark centuries, in a ritual of awesome sacrifice on the first night of August, the magical Lammas Night.

Lammas Night is an older book. I tend to say it's set in the same world as the Adept series: The Adept (which I'm reading now), The Adept: Lodge of the Lynx, The Adept: The Templar Treasure, Dagger Magic and Death of an Adept. Thing is, it was written before the other series, so properly, I should say they were set in the world of Lammas Night. However. the books don't overlap until The Templar Treasure, when Gray (John Graham) plays a role. There's also, if my memory is correct a short story in one of the Templar anthologies that Katherine Kurtz has edited (Tales of the Knights Templar, More Tales of the Knights Templar and Crusade of Fire) where Grey and Adam are interacting.

Good luck finding Lammas Night, although it's well worth the read. I ended up searching used bookstores for a few years, but it was well worth it. I've read the book before, but this last time the ending brought tears to my eyes.

Katherine Kurtz uses foreshadowing very well in this book and the others that I've read. As the book builds I found myself hoping that this time things would work out, even though I've read the book before. Of course the story didn't change though. Every time I wish it would. I don't want to say more for fear of spoiling the story, however.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meme - Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review Blogs

Copied and pasted from Scifiguy's blog:

Meme - Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review Blogs

John Ottinger at the excellent Grasping for the Wind has put out the call to create the ultimate blogroll of science fiction and fantasy book review sites (and in my mind that includes sites that feature urban fantasy and paranormal). So have a look at what John has to say below and see if you can add to the list. As simple as posting a revised list to your own blog.

My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out.

THE LINK LIST

The Accidental Bard
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
All Booked Up
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
The Agony Column
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Bibliosnark
BillWardWriter.com
Blood of the Muse
Bookgeeks
Bookslut
Bookspotcentral
The Book Swede
Bookrastination
Breeni Books
Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]
Cheryl's Musings
Critical Mass
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
The Deckled Edge
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Eve's Alexandria
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
The Galaxy Express
Galleycat
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
The Green Man Review
Highlander's Book Reviews
io9
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
NextRead
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Outside of a Dog
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Piaw's Blog
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Reading the Leaves
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
ScifiChick
SF Diplomat
SciFiGuy
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Gospel
SF Reviews.net
SF Revu
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stella Matutina
The Sword Review
Tangent Online
Temple Library Reviews
Tor.com [also a publisher]
The Road Not Taken
Un:Bound
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag
WriteBlack

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New additions

I've added some more book review blogs to the sidebar today, as well as adding a link to Elizabeth Moon's new blog on the world of Paksenarrion.

Moving Targets - Mercedes Lackey

Moving Targets
Edited by Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 2008
9780756405281

This is the fourth anthology of stories set in Valdemar, the book came out at the beginning of this month. There are fourteen tales by different authors making up the book. The other three anthologies are in order: Sword of Ice, Sun in Glory and Crossroads.

I must admit that I found this anthology slightly disappointing, mostly as there are few stories that jumped out at me as outstanding. Generally I find the best stories are the ones that Mercedes Lackey herself adds to the volume. In Sun In Glory, it was the tale of how Talia became a Sun-Priest which was alluded to in the Mage Storms books. In Crossroads it was a take of Tarma and Kethry. Sword of Ice has no Mercedes Lackey story, but she helped co-write two, one of which was about Selenay. Also, unlike the other three volumes (and also unlike all the other multi-author anthologies such as Sword And Sorceress or the Friends of Darkover books like The Other Side Of The Mirror) there was no introduction by the editor.

The Mercedes Lackey/Larry Dixon story at the beginning of Moving Targets was a bit of a disappointment to me. From the beginning of the Valdemar books she's written kyree as mindspeakers. Here she's written a kyree in which you have to make out the words around spoken growls. With no explanation of why, especially given the kyree in Magic's Price, the Vows and Honor series and even Riss from the Mage Winds books, it just didn't seem to fit. The kyree in this story made me think of Scooby Doo instead.

What I really missed in this anthology was stories about characters I already knew, even with them as simple peripheral characters. Most of the stories had no recognizable time in which to place them.

I did like the story Passage At Arms by Rosemary Edghill. It seems like something most Herald Trainees would go through as they started out. We see hints of similar problems through the series: Vostel and Christa for example.

Another favorite from the anthology was A Dream Deferred by Kristin M. Schwengel. This one did the Kyree as Mercedes Lackey has portrayed them throughout the Valdemar books.

The story set after the Mage Storms in the Empire, Heart, Home and Hearth, by Sarah Hoyt and Kate Paulk, was another nice one. Given what Storm Breaking had laid out for the 'hobgoblins' this story has a very nice twist or two.

Judith Tarr's story Widdershins was another good one, and unique. I liked the use of advanced Dressage as the plot mover, although I'm not sure how well it works within established Valdemar. I've certainly liked some of Judith Tarr's other books like A Pride of Kings.

Overall, I'd have to say I probably built up my anticipation too far while waiting for the anthology to be released. I like it, but not as much as I'd hoped to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Music

For the holiday season I'm taking advantage of a new widget offered by Blogger to supply a list of great Christmas music. This is a temporary addition for the season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Librarything's 100 most popular

Found this list on Book Junkie's blog from a while back. I should be studying for tomorrow's final exam.

Here is the Top 100 Most Popular Books on LibraryThing. Bold what you own, italicize what you've read. Star what you liked. Star multiple times what you loved!



1. Harry Potter and the sorcerer's stone by J.K. Rowling (32,484)
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J.K. Rowling (29,939)
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J.K. Rowling (28,728)
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) by J.K. Rowling (27,926)
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) by J.K. Rowling (27,643)
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling (27,641)
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (23,266)
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (21,325)*
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling (20,485)
10. 1984 by George Orwell (19,735)
11. Pride and Prejudice (Bantam Classics) by Jane Austen (19,583)
12. The catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger (19,082)
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (17,586)
14. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (16,210)
15. The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (15,483)******
16. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (14,566)
17. Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) by Charlotte Bronte (14,449)
18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (13,946)
19. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (13,272)
20. Animal Farm by George Orwell (13,091)
21. Angels & demons by Dan Brown (13,089)
22. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (13,005)
23. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (12,777)
24. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Oprah's Book Club) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (12,634)
25. The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1) by J.R.R. Tolkien (12,276)******
26. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (12,147)
27. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (11,976)
28. The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Part 2) by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,512)******
29. The Odyssey by Homer (11,483)
30. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (11,392)
31. Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut (11,360)
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11,257)
33. The return of the king : being the third part of The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,082)******
34. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (10,979)
35. American Gods: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (10,823)
36. The chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (10,603)
37. The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams (10,537)
38. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (10,435)
39. The lovely bones : a novel by Alice Sebold (10,125)
40. Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card (10,092)
41. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman (9,827)
42. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman (9,745)
43. Dune by Frank Herbert (9,671)
44. Emma by Jane Austen (9,610)
45. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (9,598)
46. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Bantam Classics) by Mark Twain (9,593)
47. Anna Karenina (Oprah's Book Club) by Leo Tolstoy (9,433)
48. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (9,413)
49. Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (9,343)
50. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (9,336)
51. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (9,274)
52. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (9,246)**
53. The Iliad by Homer (9,153)
54. The Stranger by Albert Camus (9,084)
55. Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen (9,080)
56. Great Expectations (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens (9,027)
57. The Handmaid's Tale: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (8,960)
58. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (8,904)
59. Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (8,813)
60. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery - (8,764)
61. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (8,421)
62. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (8,417)
63. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (8,368)
64. The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition) by John Steinbeck (8,255)
65. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (8,214)
66. The Name of the Rose: including Postscript to the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (8,191)
67. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (8,169) **
68. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (8,129)
69. The complete works by William Shakespeare (8,096)
70. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (7,843)
71. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (7,834)
72. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial Classics) by Barbara Kingsolver (7,829)
73. Hamlet (Folger Shakespeare Library) by William Shakespeare (7,808)
74. Of Mice and Men (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) by John Steinbeck (7,807)
75. A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens (7,793)
76. The Alchemist (Plus) by Paulo Coelho (7,710)
77. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (7,648)
78. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (Barnes & Noble Classics) by Oscar Wilde (7,598)
79. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk (7,569)
80. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (7,557)
81. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (7,534)
82. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (7,530)
83. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (7,512)
84. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (7,436)
85. Dracula by Bram Stoker (7,238)
86. Heart of Darkness (Dover Thrift Editions) by Joseph Conrad (7,153)
87. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (7,055)
88. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (7,052)
89. The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (7,043)
90. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Classics) by James Joyce (6,933)
91. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel (Perennial Classics) by Milan Kundera (6,901)
92. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (6,899)
93. Neuromancer by William Gibson (6,890)
94. The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics) by Geoffrey Chaucer (6,868) (both modern and Middle English versions)
95. Persuasion (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen (6,862)
96. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (6,841)
97. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (6,794)
98. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (6,715)
99. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (6,708)
100. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (6,697)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Brief History Of Ancient Greece - Sarah B. Pomeroy

A Brief History Of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society And Culture
Sarah B. Pomeroy et. al.
Oxford University Press
Copyright: 2008
9780195156812

Ancient Greece: A Political, Social And Cultural History
Sarah B. Pomeroy et al.
Oxford University Press
Copyright 1999
9780195097436

I'm classing both books together as Librarything counts them as the same book. I don't see much of a difference between them either.

I've had both as textbooks over the years, with the most recent of the two being this past fall (2008). While I liked it, finding it fairly readable, the teacher spent much of the class picking the book apart. I don't agree with everything he's said, but he did have a point: the book is quite inconsistent at various points:
For example, when it's talking about the Spartans, in the first paragraph the book says that the Helots were not slaves, then in the next paragraph it's talking about their enslavement. There are other examples as well.

Another thing I found frustrating was the tendency for the book to make claims without stating the evidence it was using. That and the lack of dates. I took to reading it this morning with the Oxford Classical Dictionary in front of me so I could find the specific dates for events and write them in the margins. Otherwise it wasn't going to be much help for the final exam.

Still, it does give an understandable, if brief, overview of Greek history from the neolithic down through the Hellenic periods, with each era given it's own chapter. Obviously both versions of the text are good for introductory courses at the university level at least, although they need to be backed up with some more specific books as well. But then, isn't that usually the case?

Both books are likely to stay in my collection as I've added notes to both and they work well for double-checking some fact or another.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Swallowing Darkness - Laurell K. Hamilton


Edited to add a link to my earlier review of A Lick Of Frost (01/07/09).
Edited to add a review link at the end (12/11/08).


Swallowing Darkness

Laurell K. Hamilton
Random House Publishing Group
Copyright: 2008
9780345495938

Swallowing Darkness is the most recent novel in Laurel K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series. If I'm recalling the series correctly, it is the sequel to A Lick Of Frost. Honestly, it's been a while since I read the series through (I don't even own copies of the most recent novels), so I was a bit lost at the beginning of this one, but this book has inspired me to do a re-read. Currently I'm a few pages from the end of A Kiss Of Shadows.

The world Hamilton has created here is an interesting one. For the most part, it's the modern world, with the addition of magic and Faerie, which adds some interesting twists and background to events everyone knows about. This is not a series for children, which I assume by now everyone knows about all of Hamilton's latest books from both series, as the author gets fairly explicit.

Merry Gentry as she introduces herself in the first book is now pregnant, so the goal of the series to this point is mostly fulfilled. However, as anyone reading Hamilton's blog knows, this is not the final book in the series, no matter how much it looks like it is. I know I'm waiting for the next book quite eagerly, although in terms of buying this one I'm going to wait for it to come out in paperback.

Other books in the series include (in no particular order)
A Lick of Frost
A Caress of Twilight
A Kiss of Shadows

Also reviewed at:
Books And Other Thoughts

One Silent Night - Sherrilyn Kenyon

I'm finally catching up on the books I read over the last month while working on NaNoWriMo. As a result, the reviews may be a bit shorter than normal. I know in this case it's been nearly a month since I read the book.

One Silent Night
Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press
Copyright: 2008
9780312947064

This is the most recent offering from Sherrilyn Kenyon in her Dark Hunters series. On the down side, I found it a bit too short (I finished it by mid-afternoon the day I bought it, and I wasn't even at home. This involved doing most of the reading on the bus), which I found disappointing given the cost of the book. I've found lately that font sizes and margins are going up for a few authors, including Kenyon.

I did find the story to be good to say the least, although it was different. I don't think she's done a story from the villain's point of view before. In fact I don't think I've ever read a story in a series that's set from the villain's view. I liked it though.

Before reading this book you really need to have read Acheron. A lot of her books can be read out of order, but for this one, you need to have the background, or else a lot of the characters won't make sense.

I'm waiting for the next book now, as she's left plenty of open questions to tease us with.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Upcoming Books

These are a list of books I'm looking forward to reading, along with the release date according to http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/

Moving Targets
Mercedes Lackey
December 1st 2008
This is the latest anthology of Valdemar stories. Included within are stories by Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Fiona Patton, Judith Tarr, Rosemary Edghill and a number of other authors.

Storm From The Shadows
David Weber
March 3rd 2009
According to the blurb on http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/ this is the sequel to The Shadows Of Saganami.

Order In Chaos
Jack Whyte
August 4, 2009
The third and final book in the Knights Templar trilogy. This is one I know a lot of people are looking forward to. If he follows the pattern set in the other two books, this one will be about the fall of the Knights Templar.

For the fourth book, I have no facts other than that there's an excerpt for it in the back of Diana Gabaldon's Lord John And The Hand Of Devils. http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/ isn't listing the book yet, so I can't even find the title. It's supposed to be the next book in the Outlander series though.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Feature and excuses

I know I haven't posted anything about any of the books I've been reading lately, and it's not because I'm not reading. I hope to get reviews of One Silent Night, Swallowing Darkness, a few Darkover books and the new Dragonriders novels up soon.

I've been attempting NaNoWriMo this month, and I'll claim that as my excuse.

On the other hand, I realized that I'm collecting a lot of author's blog addresses, so I've added a list of author blog links to my blog here. If you want to hear what an author is doing in their own words, check there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Foundation - Mercedes Lackey

The Collegium Chronicles: Foundation
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 2008
9780756405243

The amazon.com product description:
In this chronicle of the early history of Valdemar, a thirteen-year­old orphan named Magpie escapes a life of slavery in the gem mines when he is chosen by one of the magical companion horses of Valdemar to be trained as a herald. Thrust into the center of a legend in the making, Magpie discovers talents he never knew he had-and witnesses the founding of the great Heralds' Collegium.
Foundation is the most recent of the Valdemar books, Foundation is the first of a new series about the start of the Heralds' Collegium. It's a good read, if a bit of a quick read (I finished it the day I got it).

The story follows Mags, a young orphan who ends up being Chosen through the start of his time at the new Collegium. In many ways this is a typical Lackey book as the character follows the pattern set down by Talia of an intelligent child who grew up in a bad situation. On the other hand, I don't know how many books this series is going to run to. Unlike the Arrows books, Mags was not finished with his training by the end of the book. Also somewhat frustrating was that Lackey raises plot point after plot point without really resolving any of them in this book. In that sense, it is definitely a first book, and I'm waiting for the sequel to get some answers.

Also, with this book as with her last few set in Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey seems to be returning to books for a slightly younger audience. Where the Mage Winds books were definitely for adults, as were the Mage Wars trilogy, this is more like the Arrows books, which I first found in the Young Adult section of the library.

There is one thing, in the timeline at the front of the book it lists this book in the same time-slot as Magic's Price which is a mistake, and slightly disappointing. When I saw that I'd hoped for more on the characters from those books and the adaptation from Herald-Mages to Heralds. In actuality the one and only time reference in the books sets it about three generations later and no familiar characters.

In no way is that a criticism, as ALL of Mercedes Lackey's books are ones that I've enjoyed reading over and over. I do recommend Foundation, however at this point it's not going to be one of my favorites. That place is firmly held by Magic's Price, one of the few books to bring tears to my eyes every time I read it.

Review edited: March 11, 2010.

Other Reviews:
Bookspot Central: Foundation

Friday, October 24, 2008

Plot - Ansen Dibell

Plot
Ansen Dibell
Writer's Digest Books
Copyright: 1988
9780898799460

This is one of the books in the Elements Of Fiction Writing series put out by Writer's Digest. In it, the writer explains what sorts of things are needed in order to make a good novel or short story, and how to write them.

He talks about character viewpoints, how to chose them, and what not to do. About the different types of story or ending, for example the circular ending or the linear one. About the different patterns a story can take, and much more.

The author not only explains the different aspects of plot, he gives examples. Two of his favorite examples to use are the Star Wars movies and Lord of the Flies. The first I'm familiar with, the second I've never read, but the way he does it the examples still make sense.

I'd like to write a novel or two and I think reading this book has helped. It's certainly strengthened my ideas of what I'll need for a plotline! And, he's done it in a way that's easy to understand, inspiring and fun to read.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Excalibur Alternative - David Weber

The Excalibur Alternative
David Weber
Baen Books
Copyright: 2002
9780743435840

This is an interesting mix of a novel. It's science fiction, yet the characters are from the medieval times. I've read the book before, more than once and I greatly enjoy reading it.

I'm sure I've seen the plot before, where humans end up acting as soldiers for extraterrestrial races, but I can't think of which other authors or books have done it, aside from David Drake's anthology Foreign Legions which I'll admit I haven't read. I know of it from the author's note inside this book.

The one thing about The Excalibur Alternative that I don't especially care for is the way the ending feels rushed to me. For almost the entire book, we are following one character's point of view. Within the final pages of the book, we are abruptly thrown into another character's point of view and the book is finished from that point of view.

Still, as with Weber's other science fiction novels, this is a good book, and one I'll probably be re-reading sometime again. It's certainly a book that stays in my permanent collection.

It's certainly a book that rather leaves me wondering about what will happen after the book ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life in a Medieval Village - Joseph and Francis Gies

Life In A Medieval Village
Francis and Joseph Gies
Harper and Row Publishers
Copyright: 1990
0060920467

The book Life In A Medieval Village is, of course full of detail about everyday village life in thirteenth century Britain. The authors are looking particularly at the village of Elton. There is lots of information about the structure of the village, both physical, such as the design of the houses and the layout of the fields, as well as social, looking at the various duties and responsibilities, but also not forgetting the fun and festivals.

Much of the evidence used in the book has been gleaned from surviving documents as well as from the physical evidence remaining today, such as it is.

As is often the case with history books, this book is divided into sections, each focused on a particular aspect of medieval life, such as the chapter on Marriage and the Family, or the one on Medieval Justice.

Perhaps Life In A Medieval Village doesn't go into as much detail as it could, but the writing style is engaging for anyone interested in this period and easy for the non-specialist to understand. It certainly makes a good introduction to the period. I know I'm planning to buy some of the other books these two authors have written about the period, namely the book on life in a medieval city. It should make for good reading too.

Other medieval history books I've read and reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Kelly

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction
Christopher Kelly
Oxford University Press
Copyright: 2006
9780192803917

While the book The Roman Empire A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Kelly was an interesting read, there were some aspects I found to be less than satisfactory. The biggest issue was the book is so short and there is so much to Roman history. It simply doesn't have the space to go into whys and after effects of events. For example, the battles given seem to be more of a list of dates, locations and commanders. The book skims the surface of the Roman Empire, dipping further in here and there, with 'there' usually not being what I'd like to know: daily life for the ordinary person. Additionally, there is no bibliography or 'Further Reading' section included, which would be useful for someone choosing this as a starting point to find out about the Roman era of history. Usually an introductory text will give some hints as to where to find out more on the subject in question. It would have been nice as well to know which translation(s) the author was using for quotes, as well as to know where in any particular work the quote came from.

On the other hand, this little book did include something I don't remember seeing in any of my textbooks from history classes before: an explanation of how life-spans and the proportions of a population at any given age is determined. If that is the typical method, it is something especially interesting to know, as I'd figured that the numbers were more gained from archaeology. Apparently not. Also, there are some interesting comparisons to modern day given, such as on page 10, which really brings home the scale of the Roman Empire more than simple numbers do. Another nice point was the last chapter, which looks at modern uses of Roman history and propaganda based on that history. The author also makes some interesting points about the layout of Plutarch's Lives, which is especially interesting as today, rather than being arranged as they were in ancient times; paired with one Greek and one Roman, for the most part the Lives are generally sold in two volumes with one being exclusively the Roman Lives and one the Greek. Therefore any implications and inferences Plutarch intended to come from reading them in parallel the way the original readers did is something that are not as easily picked up on.

Overall, this book has its good points and it's not so good ones, and between them the two more or less cancel each other out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Krispos Rising - Harry Turtledove

Krispos Rising
Harry Turtledove
Del Rey
Copyright: 1991
0345361180

The amazon.com product description:
Videssos was beset by enemies abroad and had fallen into decadence at home. But on his first night in the imperial capital, The Empires health mattered less to Krispos than finding a dry place to sleep.

Driven by crushing taxes from the farm where his family had lived -- and died -- Krispos had come to the. city seeking what fortune a good mind and a strong back could earn. He had a single goldpiece to his name -- the gift, years past, of a nomad chieftain to a ragged peasant boy. Now, though the night was raw and the inn was warm, he was loath to spend that coin, for the barbarian had claimed it carried magic.

Keep his lucky goldpiece or trade it for a warm, dry bed? Krispos tucked the coin away and stepped back into the wet streets -- all unaware that so simple a choice would lead to a world of peril and possibility...
This is the first of the second set of books that Turtledove has written set in the world of Videssos. The first series began with the book The Misplaced Legion, which I haven't read, though I intend to. The second and third books are, in order: Krispos of Videssos and Krospos The Emperor.

The world appears to be modeled at least somewhat on Byzantine society, although I am no expert on the subject. The author however, is, having a degree in Byzantine history.

I came to this series in an interesting way, through Turtledove's essay in the book Meditations on Middle-Earth. So far, and this is my first re-read through the series, I haven't found it disappointing. I do however, find that I have to be in the right "mood" to read the books.

I like a well-created world with believable characters, all of which can be found here.

The book starts in Krispos' childhood as a peasant and continues from there, following his rise to Emperor of Videssos through hard work and some lucky breaks. Many, but not all of the characters introduced as the story progresses turn out to play major roles later on.

The author is well known for his alternative history and science-fiction novels, such as his Cross-time Traders series, most of which I'll admit I haven't read.

Although the series is a older one, the books have been republished in an omnibus form as The Tale of Krispos. I'm wondering if The Videssos Cycle, the other series set in this world is ever going to be re-published as well. Currently, I'm still combing the used book-stores for some of them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fantasy Art Now - Ed. Martin Mckenna

Fantasy Art Now
Editor: Martin Mckenna
Ilex Press Limited
Copyright: 2007
978-0-06-13097-7

This is a glorious book if you like fantasy themed art. It's all quite contemporary, including a few book covers I recognize as titles on sale in bookstores right now. Many of the pieces were intended for collectible card games or are from the artists' portfolios.

The art is divided up into themes such as landscapes or mythical creatures, and there are many different interpretations to enjoy. The images are all on glossy pages and most of them are either full page images or close to, so they are certainly large enough to appreciate.

Given that this is a hardcover book with a stitched binding, the price is quite low, at $31.99.

Although most of the images are done digitally, not all of them have been. There are a few done in acrylics or watercolour etc. However, the majority were done in Photoshop or similar programs.

Fantasy Art Now is inspiring for people who would perhaps like to do this kind of art, or simply as an art book to admire.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Terrier - Tamora Pierce

Beka Cooper: Terrier
Tamora Pierce
Random House Children's Books
Copyright: 2007
9780375838163

Terrier is the first of two books I know about for certain that cover part of Tortall's past. The second, Bloodhound, has yet to be released. Current estimates are sometime next spring, although the excerpt in the back of Terrier says, I think, this December.

Anyway, unlike the other books set in Tortall, the Beka Cooper books are done in the form of journals. The prologue to the book, journals of Eleni Cooper (from the Lioness Quartet) and Beka Cooper's mother (I think, again) are done in different fonts to represent the different hands, and even creative misspellings. There are also the occasional pages in the book where an inkblot has been represented (with a page in the excerpt where there are paw prints from the cat stepping across the page). All of these serve to suggest that this is the actual diary, and not an edited copy put to the printers at some later point.

The slang is a bit heavy in these books, but it makes sense as rather than being of noble birth as Kel or Alanna are, Beka is from the poorest parts of the city, and is working in those regions as well.

Through the course of Terrier, Beka Cooper, one of the ancestors of George Cooper, the Rogue/King of Thieves, is undergoing her training as a member of the Provost's Guard, usually termed 'Dog'. It's not just a training period as she ends up working two very difficult cases, for which, thanks to her gifts of magic, she is uniquely suited.

Tamora Pierce has woven in some unique twists that kept me up late reading the book (and this was on a re-read). After you get used to the slang (and there is a glossary in the back of the book to help where the meaning isn't immediately obvious), you'll find the book hard to put down.

Last time I read the book, I refused to read the excerpt from the next book. This time I wasn't so smart and now I can't wait for Bloodhound to come out.

Edited on April 19th: Bloodhound is out, and it's as good as Terrier.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gravity Dreams - L. E. Modesitt

Gravity Dreams
L. E. Modesitt
Tor Books
Copyright: 2000
9780812566611

The amazon.com product description:
In Earth's distant future, Tyndel is both teacher and mentor, a staunch devotee to his conservative and rigidly structured religious culture. Then a rogue infection of nanotechnology transforms him into a "demon", something more than human, and he is forced into exile, fleeing to the more technologically advanced space-faring civilization that lies to the north, one that his own righteous people consider evil. Although shaken by his transformation, he has the rare talent required to become a space pilot. What no one, least of all Tyndel, expects, is his deep-space encounter with a vastly superior being--perhaps with God.
One of L. E. Modesitt's earlier books now, Gravity Dreams is a favourite of mine. It's written from the perspective of a character, Tyndel, who has grown up in a society at about a tech level of our current world, or perhaps a little above, who is forced into a world with a much higher level of technology and very different attitudes. Through the book we are watching Tyndel as he struggles to make his place in the new society.

In the process, Modesitt has laid out a book that, at least in my case, makes me think about ideas around personal responsibility. That's typical of all of this author's science fiction novels, that they center on a theme. Adiamante for example shares the theme of personal responsibility but also connects it with stewardship of the environment. I like this as it makes his books into something a bit different from the typical sci-fi novel.

Where this book is somewhat different from the others is that the main character is an outsider, and we learn about the world as he does, which was definitely not by taking the 'easy way'.

The author uses some interesting language, with Tyndel from the beginning referring to the high tech society as one of 'demons'. While that makes sense given the culture he is from, where it gets interesting is when those of the high tech society also refer to themselves as 'demons', and it seems to be their typical term for themselves. What does that say when a society generally seems to use a negative term for themselves, but without any obvious negative effects?

There seems to be a tendency to take these societies to somewhat of an extreme, which makes for a good read. However, I know that I wouldn't want to live in either society as described in Gravity Dreams. I like my illusions too much, and yet we should at least think about the consequences of the way we live.

One thing, the chapter headings are there for a reason. Modesitt seems to like to jump around, be it from character to character as in Archform: Beauty or backwards and forwards in time as in this book.

I do recommend reading this book if you can find it. The local library might be a good bet in this case. I know it's only available used through chapters.ca and I'd bet its the same through Amazon.

Updated with the cover image and amazon.com blurb in 2013. The content of the review itself is unchanged.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Blog Changes

I've been playing with the structure of All Booked Up and I've added some new features to the navigation bar on the right, including a list of other blogs about books.

I've also gone back and tagged each of the reviews with their author as well as the categories I was already using. I partially did this for my own convenience, as I've found myself searching for reviews I've posted in the past.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Acheron - Sherrilyn Kenyon

Acheron
Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's Press
Copyright: August 2008
9780312362157

The most recent book in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series, this is the story of Acheron, one of the characters that shows up in all of the books but Fantasy Lover. He's been a mystery to the readers from day one.

Who is he? What happened to him? What is he? Why does he hate Artemis so, and yet keep returning to her, and what hold does she have over him? We've been given hints about Acheron through all the books, leading to the above list of questions, which are answered in this book. Finally.

Acheron is also the longest book in the series to date, with 736 pages. It's also quite different from the typical Dark Hunter story. Where the others start in the present day, and we learn about the character through flashbacks, Acheron starts with the main character's birth and works forward, until it finally jumps into the present day.

To be honest, this wasn't my favourite book in the series, that being held equally by Unleash the Night and Night Play, but especially the latter present day half of the book was a good read. I did find myself skimming some parts of the earlier half of the book, as it made for slightly depressing reading. So as not to spoil things, all I will say is that Acheron did NOT have an easy life.

On the other hand, as this is a romance novel, you know that it will have a happy ending, and so it turns out. Acheron does get his happy ending, but it leaves some major questions to be answered in future books. I'm looking forward to them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Squire - Tamora Pierce

Another re-read where my opinion of the book hasn't really changed, so I'm linking to my original review: http://allbookedup-elena.blogspot.com/2008/02/squire-tamora-pierce.html.

Companion To Wolves - Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

Companion To Wolves
Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Tor Books
Copyright: July 2008
9780765357786

This is a stand-alone book, and not part of a series for once. I thought it was a good read (ended up reading until the early hours of the morning again), but I do have one big issue with Companion To Wolves: This is the first fantasy novel I've read that I believe needs an "Adult Content" warning of some sort. The story was very sexually explicit, and violent as well.

While this isn't a problem for me, I know that the fantasy section is a stepping stone for many from the Childrens/Young Adult areas of the store to the regular fiction section.

Aside from that one issue, I really enjoyed reading this book. The storyline is original, the characters good and the world well created.

Like some other fantasies, such as those of Micky Zucher Reichert, this book is set in a northern/nordic based world. However, the authors have gone a little farther and based all the names, as well as many of the terms used on those of the appropriate region of northern Europe.

I liked the book, but I don't think its for every reader.

Another well thought out review of this book can be found at the blog Age 30+.
There is a review at the Fantasy Book Critic as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tamora Pierce - First Test and Page

I've been re-reading the Protector of the Small Quartet. I finished the first two yesterday, and my original opinion still stands, they're very quick reads. I read the first one entirely on the bus, so about an hour and a half or two hours from start to finish, and the second one took about the same time.

My original reviews of the books are:
http://allbookedup-elena.blogspot.com/2008/02/first-test-tamora-pierce.html
http://allbookedup-elena.blogspot.com/2008/02/page-tamora-pierce.html

Friday, August 1, 2008

By Schism Rent Asunder - David Weber

By Schism Rent Asunder
David Weber
Tor Books
Copyright: July 2008
ISBN: 9780765315014

By Schism Rent Asunder is the sequel to Off Armageddon Reef and it was just as good as all of Weber's other science fiction. However, unlike his other science fiction novels, the technology is in the background, making this more of a fantasy type story. Regardless, I loved it.

The only thing is, and this was completely my fault, I found myself quite lost in reading the book, as I last read Off Armageddon Reef when it first came out (now well over a year ago), and I'd forgotten much of the detail. I'm now going to have to re-read that book.

As good as the story is (and I stayed up most of the night to finish reading it), unlike the first book, By Schism Rent Asunder is definitely a 'middle book' in the series. Although the story ends on a victory, it really doesn't resolve anything. This is a book that is just crying out for a sequel, whereas Off Armageddon Reef stood alone very well, and until I saw this book in the store, I'd wondered if it was simply a stand-alone novel. Now, I want to know what happens next.

I highly, highly recommend this book.

My review of By Heresies Distressed, the sequel to By Schism Rent Asunder.

Other reviews can be found at:
Fantasy Book Critic: By Schism Rent Asunder

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

1215 The Year of the Magna Carta - Danny Danziger & John Gillingham

1215 The Year Of The Magna Carta
Danny Danziger & John Gillingham
Coronet
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 9780340824751

Despite the title, 1215 isn't as much about the Magna Carta as it is about what led up to it in the previous years, such as the behavior of King John. There is a lot about what life was like in the period in Britain: wedding rituals, the structure of the church, clothing etc, incomes and how much things were worth and the like.

If you are simply curious as to what life was like in the period, this is a good book and very readable. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of life, such as 'School' or 'The Countryside'.

1215 was a good book, with lots of good information, but I wouldn't use it in research for any classes. This is it's biggest downfall in my mind. The authors don't give detailed sources and when they quotes a chronicler, they doesn't give a specific translation with page numbers or any other locating marks, something that any student is required to give in their papers.

On the whole though, I liked 1215 The Year Of The Magna Carta, and considering it was a bargain book, I think it was worth what I paid for it.

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Ancient Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

The Ancient Tea Horse Road
Jeff Fuchs
Viking Canada
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780670066117

The Ancient Tea Horse Road is a fascinating read if you are interested in any of the following: China, Tibet, tea and history. I picked it up out of random curiosity, not being especially interested in the region, but being a fan of history and horses. I couldn't put it down.

Honestly, I'm surprised that this is the first book the author has written. Jeff Fuchs is an exceptional writer, capturing his experiences vividly.

He's following an ancient trade route between China, Tibet and India and capturing the memories of the last generation to do so using the traditional methods. It's fascinating to learn so much about something we all take for granted, whether we like it or not: tea. Throughout the book there is a lot of detail about the various types, methods and history of the substance.

I think one of the things that is so interesting is it's apparent in the book that the author has spent a lot of time in the region before he embarked on the trail, something it appears that no non-native has done before. It would have been good to find out more about Jeff's earlier experiences, I think, and I hope he writes more.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

By Sword And Fire
Sean McGlynn
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780297846789

The amazon.com product description:
For all the talk of chivalry, medieval warfare routinely involved acts that we would consider war crimes. Lands laid waste, civilians slaughtered, prisoners massacred: this was standard fare justified by tradition and practical military necessity. This popular treatment of a grisly subject examines the battles of Acre and Agincourt, sieges like BĂ©ziers, Lincoln, Jerusalem, and Limoges, as well as the infamous chevauchĂ©es of the Hundred Years War that devastated great swathes of France. Learn how these events formed the origin of accepted “rules of war”; codes of conduct that are today being enforced in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This is an all-encompassing portrait of war in the Middle Ages that combines vivid narrative with explanation and analysis.
By Sword and Fire is certainly a different take on medieval history than many of the books I've read. Instead of chronicling the events, beliefs etc quite briefly as a lot of the general history books do, this book looks at medieval warfare, the attitudes of the time towards it and atrocities that occurred during wars. It's not exactly for the faint of heart. However, it's not overly graphic either.

Sean starts out by examining recorded cases of punishment for various crimes and the attitudes of the people towards criminals, then looks at the place of the King in all of this. It's only after he's set the stage with these relatively everyday occurrences that the book delves into soldiers behaviors.

Within the book, the author has chosen to examine specific examples of several different types of warfare: open battle, sieges and then whole campaigns, using a number of examples for each. The examples range from the campaign termed The Harrying of the North after the battle of 1066 to sieges during the Crusades.

All of the examples are well documented from chronicles of the time, generally including chronicles from both sides of the dispute so there is little bias, then the author looks at the statements made in the chronicle, such as death figures and explains how they have been interpreted over the centuries.

This book has more or less disproved the chivalric ideal of the Arthurian Romance and medieval movie.

I do recommend By Sword And Fire for anyone who is interested in medieval history.

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham

Edited in 2013 to add the amazon.com product description. The rest of the review is unchanged.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tolkien And The Great War - John Garth

Tolkien And The Great War
John Garth
Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0618331298

One of a growing number of biographies of the author J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien And The Great War focuses on the years of the First World War (1914-1918).

According to the dust-jacket flap, this book "is the first substantially new biography of Tolkien since 1977" (the latter would be the Humphrey Carpenter volume). However, it's not the last. There's the Ring of Words (Tolkien's years at the OED) and the books by Hammond and Scull.

It's one thing to have read the Letters and Humphrey Carpenter's bio on what Tolkien went through during the War, but the way John Garth does it, by looking at Tolkien's battallion as well as those of his friends from the TCBS really brings what Tolkien experienced home to you.

Tokien And The Great War is not just about Tolkien, but also about his three friends from the TCBS, Rob Gilson, G.B. Smith and Christopher Wiseman.

It's not just the movements of the war that Garth goes over, but also he examines Tolkien's early writings: his poetry and the Book of Lost Tales and demonstrates how they were affected by the War.

There were two negatives to the book, one of which is probably just a flaw in my copy. The blue ink on the dust-jacket is like old-fashioned newsprint. It smears onto my fingers. This was the first book I've had to remove the dust-jacket to read. However, I haven't heard about anything like this happening to anyone else, so I suspect it was just my copy.

The second flaw in my mind is the way the end-notes were set up, and here I'm comparing the book to Shippey's Road To Middle-Earth. Unlike the latter book Tolkien and the Great War doesn't use any note numbers. The notes are simply at the end of the book and listed by page number. It made it a lot harder to find the notes, to the point where I finally didn't even bother.

Overall, however, I found the book to be a very engaging read and I think I learned quite a bit about those years which were so formative to Tolkien and his writing.

Other Reviews:
Bookspot Central: Tolkien and the Great War

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Square Foot Gardening: A New Way To Garden In Less Space With Less Work - Mel Bartholomew

Square Foot Gardening: A New Way To Garden In Less Space With Less Work
Mel Bartholomew
Rodale Books
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 9781579548568

The publisher describes this book as a 'bestselling garden book' (on indigo.ca). I waited to review it from when I first read it at the beginning of the month because I was inspired to try the methods the author describes.

In my experiment, I'd have to say it's a success so far. Last night I harvested the first lettuce and swiss chard from the garden. The beans are blooming and one of the tomato plants as well. I'm actually thinking of setting up another patch this year.

Square Foot Gardening is good for the beginning gardener as well as the advanced gardener. It starts out describing the method, tells you how to set up the garden, and even gives a few recipes to use the vegetables in. Not to mention plant spacing and growth to harvest spans as well as how long you can harvest and replant the plant before the season is over. At the end of the book it gives detailed information down to the pests to watch out for for each of the plants the book discusses.

Speaking as someone who's never had success with a vegetable garden before, I have to recommend this book highly.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Snow Queen - Mercedes Lackey

The Snow Queen
Mercedes Lackey
Luna Books
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780373802654

This is the latest offering in Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms series, and in addition was the first book in the last couple of months that I've read and couldn't put down.

As with all of the series, The Snow Queen looks at a particular fairytale or fairytale convention from an unusual point of view: That of the magical agent who enables the tale and gives us the happy ending, be it a Fairy Godmother, sorceress or some other magical figure. As a result, the story is filled with all of the details and thought needed to have the situation be resolved and the characters involved come out as better people.

Unlike some of the other books in the series, such as The Fairy Godmother (the very first book in the series), I couldn't outright identify the fairytale the story is centered on this time. Not that it mattered, The Snow Queen was definitely a very good read. I'm just kind of curious, because the last book had elements of Russian tales and also bits from Japan and the Middle-East incorporated into the story.

The whole series is one where the magical system is well thought out and makes sense as a coherent whole, but also leaves room for new things to be shown in upcoming books as well.

Perhaps The Snow Queen isn't the highest of literature, but it was a good read regardless, of the sort where you know there will be a happy ending. The question is, "how is it going to get to that happy ending?" I certainly enjoyed finding out the answer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Road To Middle-Earth - Tom Shippey

Cross-posted with a few changes to the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza boards.

The Road To Middle-Earth
Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0618257608

I finally got around to reading Shippey's The Road To Middle-Earth all the way through, after owning my copy for about five years.

First of all, I thought it was a really good look at Tolkien's ideas and the backdrops for his ideas and writing. Tom Shippey has a different perspective on Tolkien from some of the other books I've read, probably due to his background in the same academic fields.

The time Shippey spent throughout the book examining languages and cultures as they are reflected in the LOTR was time well spent in my opinion.

There were some portions of the book that more or less flew over my head, such as the debate on Manichean vs Boethe philosophy as it concerned the Ring and the nature of Evil in Tolkien's writings. I just don't know enough about either concept to really have it all make sense. However, the way Shippey put it, his conclusions make a lot of sense.

I'm not sure I agree with his opinion that "non-human characters of The Lord of the Rings are natural objects", (p. 132 or "A Cartographic Plot) at least not in the example of the fight between Gandalf and the Balrog, which he uses. I'd always viewed that fight somewhat differently. Gandalf was already shown as having abilities with fire and light, as did the balrog. In that, yes, they could be seen as "natural objects", but to the distant observer well, the damage to the mountain was described as pretty extreme. Wouldn't the crumbling stone sound rather like thunder to that distant observer?
That's how I interpreted it anyway every time I read that scene.

There are also a couple of pages in the chapter 'Interlacements and The Ring' which go very well with that thread a while back on proverbs in the LOTR.

Shippey also spends quite a bit of time on the character of Saruman, raising a number of interesting points.

I thought Shippey's assessment of character traits being inherited in the Silmarillion was interesting, and makes sense the way he explains it. Again it comes from the older sources Tolkien knew so well.

One thing Shippey spends a lot of time on throughout the book is an emphasis on the language Tolkien used in his writings, picking up on secondary meanings and language shifts of specific words. A good example of this is in the pages on Doom in the chapter "Visions and Revisions". Also, though and this was something I'd never really thought on, just accepted is the care Tolkien took at the different types of language used, such as the speech modes of Rohan, vs. that of the hobbits.

Another thought provoking section was that looking at Tolkien's writings on The Lost Road. Shippey interprets this as writings on death and paradise. I'm not too sure how I feel about that interpretation, as The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers (the second especially) is one of my favourite of Tolkien's unfinished stories. Still, it's something to think about next time I re-read them.

Shippey weaves throughout this book the criticisms laid against the Lord of the Rings and examines what the critics said, often disproving their claims completely.

Other Tolkien related book reviews I've posted here:
Mr Bliss - J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien And The Great War - John Garth
Sigurd And Gudrun - J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Victory Conditions - Elizabeth Moon

Victory Conditions
Elizabeth Moon
Random House Publishing Group
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780345491619

The final book in the Vatta's War saga, Victory Conditions winds things up in a realistic way for all of the different character threads. I really liked it, and I'm wondering what Elizabeth Moon's going to be working on next. I've heard rumors of a sequel to The Deed of Paksenarrion, one of my all-time favourite fantasy novels.

I know this is a really short blurb, but to be honest, I read the book a while ago, but between work and classes, didn't have time to do anything about it until now.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Travels With My Donkey - Tim Moore

I'll admit right off the bat to skipping several books I've read: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce, Bill of Wrongs and probably at least one more.

Travels With My Donkey
Tim Moore
St. Martin's Griffin
Copyright: 2004
ISBN: 0312320833

I've also seen this book under the title Spanish Steps, which includes a photograph section from the trip.

Travels With My Donkey is one funny book in places. It charts the pilgrimage made by the author along the Camino De Santiago, the pilgrimage route across northern Spain. The book is rather irreverent in places, particularly as the author tends to refer to St. James, the patron saint of the pilgrimage as 'Jim', 'Jimbo' and 'St. Jim'. The latter name comes in more closer to the end of the pilgrimage.

On the other hand, the author has a way of turning phrases to make you laugh. For example, this one from the beginning of the book on page 19: "There were still wolves in some of the lonelier forests, and bears had been reintroduced by someone with his heart in the right place and a desire to see mine in the serrated, slavering wrong one."

Also often amusing is the way Tim describes the other pilgrims and the places along the route. Sometimes funny, sometimes simply breathtaking, especially for the places and the weather.

Watching the author change throughout the journey is interesting. Perhaps it's because I took so long reading the book (mostly in little half hour segments over my lunch breaks) but I didn't really notice the changes until at the end. At the beginning, Tim is frightened of the donkey he's decided he's going to use for the pilgrimage, but over the course of the journey that changes.

On occasion as Tim Moore writes about the medieval pilgrims he seems to perpetuate the stereotypes about the time period. On the other hand, the author often makes reference to the medieval pilgrimage guide and what it said about the places, which I found particularly interesting.

Overall, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is either interested in the pilgrimage route, likes travel literature, or who simply likes to read about Spain.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Gang Leader For A Day - Sudhir Venkatesh

Gang Leader For A Day
Sudhir Venkatesh
Penguin Press
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9781594201509

Although this book is found in the Community and Culture section of the local bookstore, I think it could just as easily have been located under Biographies.

Gang Leader For A Day is about the author's experiences while he was writing his dissertation on the lives of people in the housing projects of Chicago. And, he had some pretty incredible experiences. The first time he visited the projects, he was thought to be a member of a rival gang and spent the entire night under threat before he was allowed to leave. Or, later on, the event that gave the book it's title, the day he spent being permitted to make the minor decisions for the gang.

One thing the book does is make very clear that its a different world that they live in. Extortion and bribery seem to be the norm.

Gang Leader For A Day is not just about the gang, but also tells the stories of other people, the parents, friends, leaders in the buildings etc, which are also affected by the gangs and their behavior.

It really is amazing that the author was able to get so close to the gang the way he did, and his experiences make for fascinating reading. I will admit that this wasn't my usual reading fare, but I think I'm going to do some more poking around in this part of the library and see what else I can find.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Squire - Tamora Pierce

Squire
Tamora Pierce
Laurel Leaf Publishing
Copyright: 2000
ISBN: 9780679889199

In Squire, the third book in the Protector of the Small Quartet, Keladry is now a squire, having made it through her years as a page. As with Page, there are some fairly large jumps in time, but they don't affect the story any.

Keladry is the first woman to openly train as a knight in over a century. Unlike Alanna, she trains openly, in spite of all those who want her to quit and try every method, fair or foul to make it happen. By this point, most of the foul ones have been tried, and now it's up to Kel to gain the respect of those who don't think women should fight.

Unlike the other main characters Tamora has written in the Tortall world: Daine, Alanna and Beka, Keladry has no Gift, just natural talent and determination. LOTS of determination. And some good friends, both on two legs and on four.

This series is one in which each of the books gets longer, which is, in my mind a good thing.

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