Monday, March 28, 2016

[Book Review] Arena

Arena / Holly Jennings (Powell's Books)

Competitive gaming is getting hot these days, and Arena takes it into a future with fully immersive and reactive virtual reality.  Gone are the days of competitions orchestrated by manual I/O devices like mouse and keyboard, and the rigors call for peak physical condition from the competitors.

Gladiatorial arenas of old have nothing on the Video Gaming League and RAGE.

Kali and her team enter this year's RAGE Tournament the top picks to win it all, only to meet a brutal defeat from a team no-one's heard of before.  Image is nearly as important as game play, so when their manager names Kali team captain, she assume's its no more than a publicity stunt for the novelty of the first female-led team in RAGE Tournament history.  But it turns out she's suited to the role, perhaps even better than their manager wants, and she'll need her entire team behind her with what's coming up.

Commercially, I think this book will do reasonably well.  It fulfills a number of high-interest check boxes while capitalizing on a Hunger Games like feel (only without the whole Capitol/District conflict) thanks to the brutality of the virtual reality experience and the tournament setting.

But for me, as a gamer and a martial artist, it was a bit of a miss.

I find it far easier to be negative than positive when writing a review.  If something bothers me it stands out and generally incites complaint.  If a book is amazing it leaves me grasping blindly for words.  This book came in at about the middle, some good, some not so good, and various comments about the wisdom (or lack there of) present.  In this case I made notes in the ebook as I read.

My reading notes/marginalia:
p. 40 - Speed balling, cause that's never killed anyone ever...
p.46 - Yes, seriously, who approved that?  Someone in the future didn't learn at all from past nuclear disasters that building a new one on a major fault line would be more than a little problematic?
p.48 - Well damn, guess I was right (re: speed balling).  also, the death wouldn't have been that quiet or clean... the body does not respond well to its respiratory system shutting down.
p.63 - Chris Kluwe might disagree (re: traditionally sports athletes don't have what it takes to be a video gamer)
p.129 - I'm sorry, there's no way this is a new concept or that they haven't been doing something along these lines so far (re: the revolutionary idea of training against simulations of opposing teams and their tactics)
p.167 - Um, wtf?  Are they suddenly having sex?  What is going on here?  (final conclusion, it doesn't seem that they were, but still, what just happened with their hips sinking into each other?)
p.190 - I can't help but have some love for the inclusion of bo staff.
p.190 - "So not impressed.  If he'd been shirtless, maybe." hahahahahaha
p.190 - I do think the author really fails to respect how dangerous it is to spar solid wood bo, even with protective gear (that they're not wearing).  I call shenanigans on the lack of broken bones.
p.194 - "You have no idea how much I want this."  Only the sneaking around in the back halls turns out to be a quest for pizza.  Love it.
p.241 - Again, I'm not buying this.  Yeah, publicity is good, but mental and physical well being needed to excel in a demanding sport does not pair well with nightly heavy intoxication and clubbing.  It would effect performance.
p.261 - Of course, where would gaming culture be without rape jokes.  Not unexpected, but /sigh
p.265 - Yes, people will watch it if it becomes a torture fest, so they're right to worry.
p.317 - Oh hi, Neo.

Going into the setting there are just a number of things I just don't really buy.  Among other things, I'm just not convinced that Kali is the first ever female team captain.  In a co-ed league, I don't buy it.  Even if it was just a marketing scheme, someone would have thought of it beforehand, and I fully expect there would have been at least a handful of all-female teams.  Similarly, I don't buy the idea that there's such a difference between "gamers" and "professional athletes," especially since everyone playing on a professional level effectively is a professional athlete and martial artist.  And the idea that they'd be required to go out, club till the wee hours of dawn, and heavily imbibe drugs and alcohol every night for the public eye?  No.  I'd buy some of that, but every night is pretty ridiculous with the training regime they are expected to maintain as well as their performance as athletes.

From my reading notes, I clearly was unsurprised at someone overdosing but also felt that the characterizations of gaming and celebrity cultures weren't too far fetched.  The ending has Kali going a bit too Neo for me.  And if you don't get it, go watch The Matrix.

For whatever reason, my biggest complaint is Rooke and Kali full contact sparring with bo (and yes, they were wooden staves).  No.  Just, no.  That doesn't leave inconsequential bruises, that breaks ribs and hands.

The book did make me laugh, and hallelujah, there were no love triangles.  No love triangles is worth at least a full star bump in the rating.  Light read with a strong YA feel.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Ace (Berkley Publishing Group) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 11

Perhaps for the first time, the situation's profound danger and seriousness really strikes Frodo.  Unfortunately, so does a Black Rider.

The chapter opens with Black Riders seeking Bilbo's residence in Buckland, where Fatty Bolger is playing decoy by keeping house.  The Riders definitely move with impressive speed, even taking in the difference between mounted and foot travel.  Perhaps for the first time, the Black Riders openly announce their allegiance and backing, demanding "Open, in the name of Mordor!"  This actually shows us a very strong example of hobbit stalwartness, with a raised cry of alarm and raising of the hobbits to defend Buckland.

From my various reads, I have never strongly retained much of this passage, possibly in part because it seems largely inconsequential beyond the Black Riders discovering that there are no longer any Bagginses in the Shire.  The bit of history mentioning previous furious defense of their homes is neat, but doesn't really seem more than flavor text to the present.  Then I read this line:
"Let the little people blow!  Sauron would deal with them later."
Why would Sauron have any special concern about the fate of the Shire above the rest of Mordor?  What brings Saurman to the Shire with such spite?  Other reasons may arise, but I think the seeds are right here in this act of unexpected defiance and show of strength.

Over in Bree, Frodo wakes to some unknown disturbance, then falls back asleep dreams of moving wind and galloping hoofs.  Clearly his dreams are attuned to the efforts of the wraiths, a connection Frodo either has yet to make or is deliberately avoiding making.  To me, the connection speaks to a greater-than-realized awakening of the ring and Sauron.  Should Frodo honestly share the contents of his dreams I believe it would raise some alarm from Strider (and Gandalf were he present).

Morning dawns on the wreckage left in anger by thwarted hunters.  The film clearly implicates the Black Riders in the destruction of the room, but Tolkien leaves it a bit vague.  The guilty parties could be Riders not searching Crickhollow or it could be a mortal agent such as the missing Southern trader implicated in the theft of the horses.

Now, these days most of us don't have much familiarity with horses for two reasons: they require space and they often involve a significant financial investment.  In the economic framework of the Hobbit, it's an even bigger deal for one's horse to go missing.  It's like you stayed over night at a hotel and woke up to find out that not only does your original room look like Mötley Crüe hosted a post-concert party, but that every car in the parking lot is missing.

In the short run, Bill Ferny profits on our party's misfortune and sells them his much-abused pony.  But in the long run it works out for the best.  Tom Bombadil facilitates the return of the missing beasts, providing a silver lining to Butterbur, marking the start of a beautiful friendship between Sam and Bill the Pony, and likely saving the original ponys from a horrible fate at the hands (tentacles?) of to be encountered monsters.

Well, now travel plans are all messed up, including a need for leaving openly by the main road rather than slipping off into the back country from the start.  For all of Butterbur's distrust of Aragorn, the locals largely view him with awe (except, of course, for Bill Ferny).  But it's still not that hard to slip off into the woods once down the road, so minus the late start date, nothing's too drastically changed.  Off to Weathertop Hill!

We get quite a bit in the way of weighted statements and bits of information.  At this point, the mention of Gil-galad, beyond some connection to Mordor, seems largely superfluous (if lovely and rich world-building).  The tale of Luthien Tinuviel seems far more presently relevant, with the revelation of Elrond's lineage.  In both cases Tolkien is laying the groundwork for deeper connection further along, with the grace of Gil-galad in the fight against dark forces and the lay of Luthien Tinuviel and the trials of Aragorn and Elwyn.

What stands out to me in this chapter is how much Samwise reminds me of Bilbo.  It's little things, and not just his singing.  It's little details, like his reflections on comforts he'll be missing soon enough, and the accuracy of his throwing arm.  Bilbo throughout The Hobbit always had a reflective streak in him, and out of the four hobbits here Sam's the one who's really exhibiting that trait.

There's no Gandalf at Weathertop Hill (after all, that would be too easy), but there are signs that he was present and that he faced off against some threat.  Our party is looking at a good two weeks to reach Rivendell, but that is now not only their best hope of sanctuary, but their best surety of meeting up with Gandalf.

Unfortunately, the Riders arrive that night and Frodo falls sway to their compulsion.  This encounter teaches us a few things.  One is that while they may not "see" the mortal realm the way living creatures do, they can quite clearly see Frodo when he wears the Ring.  The other is they cannot stand the light of Elvish blessing nor the bite of fire.

I'm noticing a trend on Strider's part of making off-hand comments indicative of a dark future and a deep familiarity of what they are up against.  Last chapter when Merry mused about Frodo's song and disappearance act that "The worthies of Bree will be discussing it a hundred years hence,' Strider replies "I hope so."  What Strider is hoping for here is that civilization is around (and in such a healthy state where silly gossip and legends are thriving) in a hundred years, and not dead and fallen.  In this chapter we get more comments, though a little less off-hand.
Pippin declaired that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit that he had been.

'Very odd,' said Frodo, tightening his belt, 'considering that there is actually a good deal less of me.  I hope the thinning process will not goon indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.'

'Do not speak of such things!' said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness.
What's unsaid, and unknown to Frodo, is that is a legitimate real fear, and one that was starting to wear into Bilbo before he gave up the Ring.

On to the film!

I've already mentioned that there's a good job of showing, not telling, as well as build up in tension with the Nazgul in the hobbit's guest chamber, so that all still stands.  Clearly the Rider's don't bother with Crickhollow, since as far as the film is concerned it might as well not even exist.

From the point of view of a largely visual medium filled with exposition, and in light of how much history is excised, I think it makes sense for us to learn the nature of the Ring Wraiths right off the bat.  On the screen the Wraiths are too large, present, and threatening to ignore.

Happily, the nearly week of travel from Bree to Weathertop is neatly cut down to a few shots... however dialog makes it seem like it's really just one long day.  Knowing Jackson, the distances to this point may very well have been shortened that significantly.

We get a brief interlude of the indomitable Christopher Lee as Saruman the White, carrying out Sauron's directives.  I love the visuals that Jackson gives us surrounding Saruman, very strong atmosphere and setting with gorgeous contrasts.  We also get hints of things to come with "The trees are strong," and the sheer scale of the deforestation implies a large plot.  Gandalf still is captive, unable yet to hinder Saruman's plans or to aid our hobbits.

At Weathertop it makes sense for our party to camp there for the night, even without the richer context Tolkien provides.  I think it makes sense for Strider to arm the hobbits, though it of course means he assumes they have some ability to use the weapons... and I'm not sure why he doesn't caution them about fire, either to avoid it or to maintain one.

Ignoring my confusion about Strider's complete absence until a dramatically appropriate moment, I love how the appearance and approach of the wraiths was done.  Beautifully portrayed, with excellent framing and music.

Jackson gives us wraiths a little more present in the physical world than Tolkien's.  These wraiths have no difficulty seeing in the mortal world, but they are definitely called by the Ring.  Here when Frodo dons the Ring, the wraith halts his attack and reaches for the Ring itself, before striking out when it's pulled out of reach.  Visually I'm struck by the choice to make the spirit manifestations of the Wraiths as glowing white, while Aragorn stands out as an inky dark form.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

[Book Review] Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary / Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra

Bloody Mary was first published almost 20 years ago, with a trade edition 10 years after.  It has just been republished under the Image imprint, with Bloody Mary and Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty together in the same volume.

Now, as is generally the case with a future story who's date has since past, the story does show it's age.  The art style has a sort of... crowding I associate with comics from the 90's and earlier, as well as a limited color palate.

It's best to take the story as an alt-history, taking place in 2012, during another Great War in Europe.  Mary Malone, AKA Bloody Mary is a top specialist agent and assassin.  She's known for getting in and out of situations no one else can, and in this war not all of the players are simply human.

Out of the two stories, I far preferred that of Lady Liberty, though the backstory of Bloody Mary is definitely a major factor in establishing elements of Lady Liberty.  The battle is more than just armies pitted against each other, but powerful players moving their own pieces around the board.  Lady Liberty has the stronger plot, action, and better connection with the characters.

The cover of the volume makes me expect more gun-toting nun than was delivered.  Story-wise, I get why this is the case, but... I still ended up disappointed.  Bloody Mary is a full story arc, present, past, and conclusion.

Lady Liberty takes place in the US, dealing with a sex-addict cult leader instituting a totalitarian regime of racial and ideological supremacy.  It connects surprisingly to the original story arc, bringing our protagonist back into conflict with a free agent.

I will say, that I was probably too amused by the references to Kurt Cobain...  They were darkly fitting.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 10

"You fear them, but you do not fear them enough, yet."

After Frodo's disappearing act, the hobbits and Strider conference, with Strider offering information for a price, and generally playing up the mystery man role.  Some of this is for Strider's own benefit as well as the hobbits', as it serves to test their wits and caution.  I feel like Frodo's reluctance to agree to Strider's price (accompanying them on their journey) is exactly what Strider wanted.

I like Strider's self-awareness and deprecation.  We don't yet learn the nature of his heritage, but Strider does know both his lineage and that of the sword he carries, neither of which necessarily induce humility in the bearer.  However, I'm inclined to think that any arrogance on his part comes from expertise and long association with elves, rather than pride in his family and destiny.  Elves do seem to have two modes: deceptively silly or stiffly aloof...

Pippin comes out the most diplomatic of the hobbits, with his "I daresay we shall all look much the same after lying for days in hedges and ditches."  While even Strider admits he appears a bit "roguish," Frodo's comment about thinking the enemy will "seem fairer and feel fouler" is a bit... disparaging.  It brings to mind the use of toxins as cosmetics, and though we'll see very few examples of "fair" seeming agents of Sauron, I can't help but feel that it's a good reflection on appearance vs. nature.

This chapter gives us quite a bit in the manner of reflection on the nature of people, in particular the darker natures of some.  Unscrupulous Bill Ferny is not the first of his ilk they'll encounter on their journey.

Speaking on the nature of people, Butterbur comes in well meaning but misguided and with a letter that was meant to be delivered some time ago.  Fortunately for all, Gandalf makes mention of Strider... and how to verify the correct one.  Butterbur isn't quite on top of who's on the level and who isn't, painting Strider with the same brush as the black riders, but he does mean well.  He is not a man for intrigue, and in matters of the ring, caution is worthwhile.  He's rather hobbitish, round, protective, and fond of his home, but unlike hobbits he recognizes the name of Mordor.

Honestly, everyone seems more on top of the situation than Frodo, who determinedly plays dumb to Strider's warnings and hints.  I have a feeling this observation is quickly approaching mantra status.

I find it amusing that in the book it's explicitly stated that Strider doesn't mention his association with Gandalf until it comes out in the letter, while in the film he name drops the wizard very early on.  In both cases Frodo's reactions are believable, be it the wariness of a stranger who seems to know too much or the excitement of someone mentioning the sought-after Gandalf.  I fully believe that Frodo would have willingly trusted the first semi-knowledgeable person who knew of Gandalf and who wasn't dastardly twirling their mustache.

Now, clearly the letter in Butterbur's keeping would have served us all well has it been delivered in a timely fashion.  Gandalf's urgent leave by date is long past, and that whole "do not travel at night" warning might have cut out a few close calls.

The letter also gives us words that are incorporated in perhaps one of the most iconic rock songs I know of, Stairway to Heaven (for those interested in reading more on Tolkien's influence on rock and roll, check out this article by Rolling Stone and this Wikipedia article).  Note, I do realize that Stairway's connection to Tolkien is considered more tenuous than the songs that explicitly reference Middle Earth (such as Ramble On), I have this mental bridge to "not all that glitters is gold."  Regardless of my potentially biased connections, Middle Earth comes up again and again in rock and roll.

The lyrics are very relevant to the story itself, as Aragorn's journey is as strong of an arc as Frodo's journey.  The mission to destroy the ring, the looming war, and the vanishing elves are all pieces of the end of one age and the start of a new one.

Merry's absence is noticed almost as an afterthought.  As a reader I wasn't even tracking it until the Pippin mentions it offhand!  But Merry is soon after brought in by Nob, takes it on to make up their beds as if they were asleep within when he goes to fetch their luggage.  Aragorn is amazed at the risk Merry took, but clearly he's not familiar with the inquisitive nature of hobbits, nor of their unexpected bravery.  Of course, if my memory serves me right, this is far from the last time Merry will take outstanding risks as part of his curiosity.

Aragorn is our first really connection with the greater world completely outside the Shire.  Both Gandalf and the Black Riders come from outside of the Shire, but they were introduced to us within those bounds.  Perhaps it's his role as a true outsider that allows him to best serve as a guide to our hobbits, both in terms of the road ahead and in enlightening them to information.  Among other things, he drops this gem: "Gandalf is greater than you Shire-folk know - as a rule you can only see his jokes and toys,"  which also fits into what I've talked about in The Hobbit about Gandalf as a trickster.

Going on to the film, Jackson does a fantastic job of showing rather than telling.  Much of the dialog and even additional participation is cleanly cut out.  We never meet Nob, Butterbur fails to show up with the letter, and Merry never goes sneaking after the Black Riders (who never meet with Bill Ferney... these Black Riders are not the type to consort with your normal mortals beyond intimidating information out of them).

The scene neatly transitions from Frodo's donning of the Ring to Strider dragging our clumsy hobbit to a private room to chide him for his foolishness, lack of fear, and lack of respect for what he carries.  As I mentioned earlier, Jackson not only cuts out the letter, but has Strider nearly start with name dropping Gandalf.  Merry, Pippin, and Sam get to showcase their protective nature by storming the room to rescue their friend, who at this point has already been largely convinced of Strider's benevolent nature.

Bill Ferny becomes a victim of the Black Riders rather than a conspirator, in a moment of slapstick body humor as the Riders knock down the gate and ride into town.  I think it more likely that our hobbits or Aragorn made up the beds instead of the invisible Nob, to better keep knowledge contained.  All we see are shots of sleeping hobbits interspersed with shots of Riders stalking up to the beds and raising their swords to strike.  It's not until after they strike that the duplicity is revealed to all, and their cries of rage wake the hobbits, leading to storytime with Aragorn.

Friday, March 18, 2016

[Book Review] Octopus Pie Vol 2

Octopus Pie Volume 2 / Meredith Gran (Powell's Books)

Volume 2 picks up where Volume 1 leaves off (see my review here), with the odd couple roommates Hannah and Eve (and their friends).

In some ways I enjoyed volume 2 more than 1, going in with the established relationships rather than introducing the characters and their associations.  Octopus Pie continues to deliver zany adventures intermixed with relateable real life experiences.  A great continuation of the comic.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 9

The Prancing Pony itself is a nexus for travelers and locals alike.  A place for a good meal and company.

The people of Bree seem rather hobbitish.  Short, stout, and cheerful, but lacking the Shire's default wariness of any and all outsiders.  Interestingly enough they date back to the days of the first men and the great Kings, yet (spoiler) they have no concept of the origin or history of the Rangers.  On the other hand, that may speak to the skills (and misdirection) of the Rangers themselves.  Actually, I wonder now if the Rangers have something to do with the invisibility of the Shire itself.

Strider's introduction frames him as shadowy and mysterious, possibly dangerous.  In the film, Butterbur warns Frodo away from Strider, with no question about the threat Strider represents to his enemies as he watches from the shadows.  The need to interrupt a story that brings a little too much attention to where they come from stays, but the film cuts out Frodo's attempts to turn attention away from who they might be and substitutes a careless identification instead.

The Ring itself acts out, as it is wont to do.  Frodo wonders if the Ring had played a trick.  I have no doubt that is the case.  Our ring-bearer still does not quite realize what he carries, what it represents.  Some of this I believe is due to Frodo's nature.  He is a dreamer, raised on tales of adventures, some of which feature the very ring he carries.  On some level, the Ring is still his dear uncle's trinket.  I do wonder however, if part of Frodo's naivete is thanks to the Ring itself.  His friends all seem a little quicker on the uptake concerning the nature of their situation, and it would work in the Ring's best interest to hide it's darker nature from a bearer it has yet to properly claim.

At this point we're finally seeing parts of the book in the film again, something that has been largely absent since chapter three.  Jackson made the Prancing Pony and Bree itself seem much darker and less inviting than the town in this chapter.  The film shows an edgy and slightly paranoid Frodo flinching from shadowy figures dining in dark alcoves, not a hobbit singing and dancing on tables (even if that was a distraction ploy in itself).  One representation gives us a short, sharp plunge into growing danger, the other gives us growing unease with lulls of something approaching comfort.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

[Book Review] Tales of Honor Vol 1 & 2

Tales of Honor Volume 1: On Basilisk Station / Matt Hawkins and Sang Il-Jeong (ill)

On Basilisk Station starts out in the middle of the seventh book in the series In Enemy Hands, with Honor held prisoner of Haven.  Tried and sentenced to execution for war crimes by Haven, and kept in isolation, Honor has little to do but reflect on the course of events that led her to where she is now.  The first step in that journey are the events of On Basilisk Station.

Pretty solid adaptation, with a gorgeous art highlighting the sheer scale that we're dealing with.

Tales of Honor Volume 2: Bred to Kill / Matt Hawkins, Dan Wickline, and Linda Sejic (ill)

Bred to Kill launches a new story, one that reminds me of the a bit of the Crown of Slaves companion series with details familiar to some of Honors adventures.  In this Honor takes some leave while her ship is in space dock to seek out a missing uncle.  Her search takes her to the gambling station of Eros and finds her involved with a mission to liberate genetics slaves.

Slightly different art style, but not so dissimilar that Honor is unrecognizable.  Less of a focus on ships and space, but on the characters and the environment they occupy.  I vastly prefer this rendition of Nimitz over that of On Basilisk Station.  We also get more of Honor's dry wit that is present in the novels, but significantly less present in Volume 1.

Definitely fits well within the Honorverse while adding a new story to the tales of Honor Harrington.
Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Monday, March 7, 2016

[Book Review] Kill or be Kilt

Kill or be Kilt / Victoria Roberts (Powell's Books)

It’s been three years since Lady Elizabeth Walsingham ended her childish crush on Laird Ian Munro, the fierce Highlander who scared everyone but her. She’s a grown woman now, heading to London to find a proper English gentleman. But when the wild Highland laird walks through the door, she’s that breathless youth all over again.

Ian tries hard to avoid the young lass who’s confounded him for years. But now that they’re attending court, he must keep watch on her night and day. Danger is at every turn and advisors to the Crown are being murdered. Ian soon realizes the girl he’s been protecting is a beautiful lady who needs his help, almost as much as he needs her.

Confession time, I was compelled to pick up this to read purely based on the title. A+ for titling.

What can I say about this book?  If you like "classic" Highlands romance, you'll probably like Kill or be Kilt, it definitely checks off all the major criteria.  Large, brawny, man in a kilt?  Check.  Spies for the crown?  Check.  Passionate and sexually adventurous, yet still naive virgin?  Check.  Dastardly rake with ill intentions and and a help-himself attitude?  Check.  Overblown misunderstandings?  Check.

Honestly, for me it's a miss.

Among other things, I couldn't stand the leading lady.  I get people do stupid things, but seriously Elizabeth needs some sense slapped into her.  Even without Ian's point of view it's pretty damn clear that he's trying, but that he also is pretty unsure of how to proceed, and all she can do is act like a little snit.  Add in things like when Ian catches her in the arms of another man being kissed, she sees that he's extremely hurt and upset, then angrily demands to know why he left when she sees him next.  Um... cause he's recently declared his love for you, has been trying to make amends for all of the perceived slights you feel regardless of if an apology is warranted, conceded to your demands for total honesty, and you know about the fact that he finds himself extremely unattractive and feels threatened by the very hansom suitor he caught you with?  Yes, he should have given her the benefit of the doubt, but he also has every right to feel hurt and need to remove himself from the situation.

The intimacy is pretty boilerplate.  All surging lust and searing kisses, but nothing particularly inventive or sizzling.  Very classic romance novel.

As with most historical romances, the historical setting is mostly window dressing.  There's no acknowledgement of formal Scottish wear, and a very... modern take on who's to blame for sexual assault where it suits the love story (but not anywhere else in the entire English court).

I'm admittedly picky when it comes to romance novels, this didn't fit what I tend to look for.  For people who read broadly and voraciously within the genre I think this will be a better fit.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

[Book Review] Octopus Pie Vol 1

Octopus Pie Volume 1 / Meredith Gran

Octopus Pie Volume 1 introduces us to the roommates Eve and Hannah as they navigate post-college life.  Customer service, family, childhood rivals, exs and potential new relationships tumble through adventures with the chaos of life.

Eve and Hannah's adventures are something like the Odd Couple meets Calvin and Hobbes.   Eve's default is grumpy and standoffish, while Hannah tends towards exuberance and flights of fancy.  The stories and illustrations are adorable and fanciful.  A good read for fans of Lumberjanes.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Image Comics in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Read - Book 1, Chapter 8

Even within the realm of Tom Bombadil things aren't safe.  Tom himself is not evil, but like nature itself he's not all good nor all safe, and nor are his lands.  He does come to their aid, banishing the wight "Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended."  But Tom's merriment does not abate even after such a dire encounter, finding even amusement at the hobbit's predicament.

I don't even think the barrow-wights are evil.  They are remmnants of lives and deaths past.  I don't think that entombing the hobbits is an act of particular malice, but the living don't belong deep within the barrows and the wights treat the dead with respect, laying them to rest.  The wights were men that fell to an evil king, men who stood against the dark lord and even in death guard "from evil things folk that are heedless." The barrow-wights don't show up in the film at all, possibly because the whole passage with Tom was excised, but also perhaps because they would have been too easily confused with the ring-wraiths on screen.

This is the chapter where Frodo finds his hobbity core of courage, a seed that needs to grow.  Fortunately, part of this seed is initiative, with Frodo realizing the name "Baggins" is best left behind, as they follow Tom's advice to seek out the Prancing Pony in Bree, and as they leave the Shire behind.

Friday, March 4, 2016

[Book Review] Fire Touched

Fire Touched / Patricia Briggs (Powell's Books)

Things don't stay quiet around Mercy, but it's not her fault that things in her life keep getting complicated.  Last time Adam's ex-wife brought rains of literal fire as she sought safety from a volanco god she shacked up with.  But even among the supernatural, Mercy's an rarity, and that attracts curiosity and animosity.

The fae have largely withdrawn into their "reservations," plotting their own games out of sight.  So a rampaging troll becomes a problem for the pack, and the following declaration of territorial protection afterwards ruffles a few feathers.  But the troll was chasing something the fae want back badly, a changeling child stolen long ago with a special connection to Underhill, and what happens next could either upgrade the cold war with the fae or establish a new treaty.

Thank you, Penguin RandomHouse!
Ok, so first of all, were you missing Zee?  I know I was.  We get Zee. Stuff with the fae get interesting, and we get some heavy hints about level of power some of Mercy's fae associates possess that have been kept well tamped down before.  I have to say, vampire power-games have nothing on those of the fae.

Things haven't quite settled down with the pack in regards to Mercy's role.  After all, she has been instrumental in some rather significant upsets.  But she and Adam are done with leniency.  It's taken quite a few books to get to this point, but the books generally take place over relatively short periods of time... and it is at the very least politic to try and not use the nuclear option to solve problems.

Fire Touched brings together many characters and elements that have built up through the previous books.  Alliances, alienation, politics, and sacrifice come solidly into play.  A great continuation of Mercy's story, and one that leaves me eagerly waiting for the next chapter.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Ace (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

[Book Review] Her Fantasy Husband

Her Fantasy Husband / Nina Croft

Nearly five years ago Alexia and Josh married and went their separate ways.  The pretense of their marrage allowed Alexia to gain control of her trust fund from a family that wanted it for their own squandering, and Josh was paid well for his participation, money that ultimately went into the founding of his own security company.

A near brush with death makes Josh re-evaluate his life, and inspires him to break free from his marriage arrangement so he can pursue relationships.  Expecting to find a rich girl living the high life, he instead finds a young woman dedicated to helping others, and one who cannot let him end the marriage for another six months.

They're both in for a contest of wills... and libido.

This book made for a sweet, sexy read.  You can't really call it insta-love when they've been married for over four years.  The book has snappy pacing, and the "villains" don't read as overly charactured.  I do question some of the details, among other things I cannot be convinced that it's a good idea to keep a chicken in one's kitchen, though Prudence did facilitate some delightful silly details.  Overall, quite enjoyable.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Brazen (Entangled Publishing) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Today's mail goodie: Fire Touched!


Thank you Penguin RandomHouse for the review copy, review will be up in the near future!