Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 6, Chapter 2

This chapter is a mix of a brutal slog and fortuitous timing.  Tolkien is weaving together elements of plot happening synchronously, and in many ways this is the only thing that keeps Samwise and Frodo on the path of their quest.

To be honest, their situation sucks.  Volcanic fumes, enemy territory, and no water... and that's without the whole Ring deal.  I want to be sympathetic to Frodo, and I know I'm not the best person when fighting a depressive cycle... but I get seriously annoyed at how useless he is and how he treats Sam.  Much of this chapter involves Frodo whining and Samwise making sacrifices.  Sam holding Frodo's hand while Frodo sleeps just breaks my heart.

Mordor itself is not a united land.  It's troops are fractious and frustrated, and even the land itself is struggling between life and death.  No one looks at the two hobbits as anything but two goblin deserters, not bothering to look beyond an initial assessment of their armor.  A poetic irony considering if someone did look past the initial assessment the war would wrap up a lot sooner.

The most significant moment in all of this is perhaps almost overlooked.  I certainly only notice it because Sam reflects on learning that Gollum is still alive.  The significance of course is that he yet has a roll to play, bur for now it's just a skulking shadow following their course.

When I first watched Return of the King in theaters, I reflected on how it dragged for all of the epic adventure occuring.  Going chapter by chapter... I get why.  The time scale here has changed dramatically, with much of book focusing on comparatively very little time.  Before Return of the King, chapters would be either significant events or traveling.  Much of Book 5 focused on the span of mere days, and so will Book 6 for the foreseeable future.

I'm honestly OK with the fact that Jackson excised so much of the crawl through Mordor.  On it's own it could be a whole separate movie (though undoubtedly one with extra hype and excitement surrounding all their close calls).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

[Book Review] Small Favors

Small Favors : the Definitive Collection / Colleen Coover

Annie's all about some self-love... so much so that a personification of her conscious steps up and assigns her a keeper in the form of the adorable (and just as horny) Nibbil!  Abundant sexy adventures ensue.  The graphic novel beautifully inked, and near the end we get a story in absolutely gorgeous watercolor.

This one came up in NetGalley almost right after I'd talked about sexy comics/graphic novels at Arisia... and man do I wish I had known about this one before the panel.  In itself, the story isn't fantasy where you get magic and elves, but a contemporary setting with just a hint of the fantastic in the form of anthropomorphic representation of a character's inner self.  However, for the other meaning of fantasy... yeah, this book is all that.  Small Favors proudly wears the label of "critically-acclaimed girly porno comic."  It's a fun and creative celebration of sexual fantasy and affection.

Also, it is kind of adorably cheeky.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February Read: Signal to Noise

For some reason I've delayed reading this book for over a year.  No clue why as Signal to Noise has also been on my To Read list for over a year.  Maybe it's the promise of coming-of-age magical realism, which I've found all to often disappointing.  Or maybe it's just I'm always in the middle of too many books I need to read.  Either way, I have a copy in hand and it's this month's book pick.

What I can say is that Moreno-Garcia has a lyricism that serves her fiction well.  All of her story concepts grab my attention, and I'm repeatedly torn between reading reviews or just staying with the teaser text.  I don't want expectations and third party descriptions to ruin the text, though if you're looking for a review, NPR does a decent job of handling it without destroying anything.

At this point I'm a few chapters in, but reading with a slight reluctance as I wait for the hammer to fall.  We're warned early on that "magic will break your heart," and that the first instance of magic is serious injury bodes poorly for their later ventures.  It's a good read, don't get me wrong, I just know things are going to go poorly, tempers will rise, and things will be said that will be regretted.

I do enjoy the poetry of the name, something I'm reminded of every time I do a google search for "Signal to Noise" without indicating the author or book.  From Wikipedia: "Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power, often expressed in decibels."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 6, Chapter 1

Our story turns back to the Ring itself.  Frodo has been taken, Samwise is now the Ring Bearer and alone within the realm of Mordor.

While we've read descriptions of the Ring changing the wearers perceptions, but I think this is the first time the bearer has registered that they truly see clearer with the ring off.  But Sam always was different than the others, perhaps that's what leads him to observe what others overlook and to notice details such as Mordor's construction to keep people in rather than out.  I think that Sam understands the Ring on a level that I only see demonstrated by Gandalf and the elves such as Galadriel and Elrond, but perhaps in a more visceral than intellectual way.

This chapter is also all about Team Samwise.  He's center stage, taking actions and experiencing the type of luck that only Heroes can count on.  The Lord of the Rings doesn't overlook Sam persay... but it rarely features him, instead letting him remain in Frodo's shadow.  I'd like to read a Hobbit style telling of The Lord of the Rings, with Samwise as the Bilbo of the story.  My insistence of Samwise's role as the true heir of Bilbo is nothing new, I've made comments on it since early in The Fellowship of the Ring.  But I feel there's something to be said for analyzing their story arcs and character growth.  And now that has me thinking about parallels between Thorin and Frodo... huh.

Through Samwise's bravery, Frodo is recovered, and through some elven blessing, they make it through to continue their quest together.

Jackson lets us see some of Sam's heroics, and thankfully keeps it from going full slapstick.  Everything is a bit more to the point without his internal monologue and self-doubt.  We don't see him wearing the Ring, but we do see his fear and uncertainty when Frodo demands it back.  Actually, Frodo's reaction when he re-dons the Ring may be one of his better moments... it's small and brief, but conveys so much.

Monday, February 6, 2017

5 in 15 - Urban Legends

In December I recorded a Readers' Advisory video for the Mass Library System, it's since been processed and uploaded (though it's official share date will be 2/15).  Of course since I recorded it, I've had a chance to read Battle Hill Bolero, but at the time I had to leave my review of it slightly vague.

Urban Legends: Urban Fantasy that's not Paranormal Romance


Slide 1

Welcome to this Massachusetts Library System 5-in-15: Member Edition!

Slide 2

I’m Tegan Mannino, and among the many hats I wear I can be found as the Circulation Supervisor and Cataloger at the Monson Free Library, as a book reviewer, and as a freelance library technology consultant.

I’m also in the middle of far too many books, but a few are:
  • Snow Queen / Joan D. Vinge
  • You Can’t Touch My Hair / Phoebe Robinson (audio)

Slide 3

This month I’m talking about Urban Legends – Urban Fantasy that is not Paranormal Romance, and for something a little different I’ll be talking about series instead of individual books. Not that I don’t enjoy Paranormal Romance… but it’s become such a popular genre it has sort of subsumed Urban Fantasy, and sometimes I want my kickass action as the focus, not the characters getting some action.

As additional connecting themes, these series all have a hint of neo-noir and plenty of attitude.

Slide 4

First off – the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

Before the Winchester brothers, there was Harry Dresden, PI. You can find him under ‘Wizard’ in the Yellow Pages.

The stories follow the cases of Chicago’s only Wizard PI, with increasing supernatural complexity. The setting is gritty, the tone liberally laced with snark and wit, and Dresden is more stubborn and sarcastic than is good for him. At opening the series tackles the more expected paranormal threats – mad sorcerers, werewolves, vampires, etc. But it grows to feature a wider variety including some heavy-hitting fae, fallen angels, and some lovecraftian inspired horrors. Dresden makes enemies aplenty throughout the series, but he also makes allies and friends that change the scope of the story and help define who he is as a character.

Butcher does have a planned ending for the series, one that all of the novels are braided into, leading to good connections to a long-range plot arc. Up until book number 11, Turn Coat, you can get away with some amount of cherry picking and reading out of order (though you will encounter spoilers for earlier books if you do so), but at book number 12, Changes, a number of very significant plot points come together and bring the narrative arc to its next stage. Right now there are 15 books, plus a selection of short stories, novellas, and graphic novels.

Additionally the audio books are read by James Marsters who proves an ideal voice casting as Dresden.

Slide 5

October Daye by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire has become a go-to author for me, writing smart, fun, and compulsively readable books.

October “Toby” Daye is a changeling, not quite human enough to fully belong in everyday life, and not fae enough to properly belong among fae. But that doesn’t stop her from getting pulled into the dangerous games the fae play and giving everything she has to protect her friends from harm. Being a Hero, even an unintended one, is hard work, but it turns out Toby is pretty hard to kill. For light reads, some of these books manage to hit pretty hard when playing with your sympathies.

The first book, Rosemary and Rue, drops you into a fully realized world and characters, then reveals things as the plot progresses. Overall, the series has a strong arc, and while Toby grows more powerful in some ways it’s offset by the challenges brought on by those very changes. The books build on each other, but there’s enough interlaced exposition and self-containment that you can pick up any of them and start reading without feeling too out of place. In addition to the novels , Seanan offers a selection of short fiction for download on her website, filling in gaps in the background and between novels as well as giving supporting characters their own time in the spotlight.

The most recent book, Once Broken Faith, came out this past September.

Slide 6

Bone Street Rumba by Daniel Jose Older

Paranormal Noir in New York City featuring Inbetweener Carlos Delacruz and his friends both living and dead as they confront dangers that threaten Brooklyn.

Rich, creative narratives with monsters that unsettle, strong characters, and a diverse cast. Book One, Half-Resurrection Blues, introduces us to the world and setting with Carlos as the sole narrator. Carlos is dead, or at least, half dead after a death and a partial resurrection he doesn’t remember, and in his unique status as an inbetweener he acts as an enforcer for the New York Council of the Dead. And then he meets another inbetweener.

Midnight Taxi Tango widens the narrative field by skillfully braiding in the strong voice of teenage Kia Summers who readers will recognize from the first book and introduces us to the powerful Reza Villalobos. Kia starts out as the queen of the botanica she works at, but then she starts seeing ghosts, and someone… something from her past thought long gone starts skittering back in. As a narrator, Kia has a dynamic voice that pushes this book for me ahead of its predecessor, and let me just say the threat they face is quite the unique creepy-crawly.

The third, and I believe final, book Battle Hill Bolero, has a publication date of January 2017 and is set up to be a stunning read.

Slide 7

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

After eleven years serving as a Gladiator in hell, magician James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has tricked his way back to L.A. and has a few scores to settle and some nasty tricks up his sleeve…

As a narrator, Stark (or Sandman Slim) never goes out of his way to paint himself as a particularly good guy. He exists pretty solidly in a grey area, and generally seems happy there, wanting little to do with any side but his own. But considering part of that involves avoiding attentions from both angry angels and demons, there’s some sense in that. This anti-hero never fails to take the story for a chaotic, explosive joyride into the wrong side of town and maybe even hell itself.

Gritty neo-noir infused with over-the-top supernatural mayhem. Charlene Harris describes it as if “Simon R. Green wrote an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter”

Slide 8

Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher

This new Dark Urban Fantasy series combines secret Templar societies, road warriors, urban legends, and the Wild Hunt.

Jimmy Aussapile travels the country, making a living as a trucker while patrolling for the monsters that haunt the highways. When he takes a ghost hitchhiker home he doesn’t expect to stumble into a serial killer cold case and an otherworldly urban legend preying on teenagers. Along with the leader or a motorcycle gang and a determined New Orleans cop, he must find a town not on any map or road before events come to a head.

The feel of the novel is more suspense than anything, but the presence of ghosts and magic make it undeniably Urban Fantasy. As you read it shows you the different strands of the story that you hope come together before it is too late, and definitely leaves an open road for more in the series. More are forthcoming, and an earlier published book, Nightwise, ties into the same world setting.

Slide 9

So that was five Urban Fantasy series for your consideration. I hope you find some inspiration from them.

And don’t forget - you too can do a 5 in 15. Contact Anna Popp or Kristi Chadwick for more information.

[Book Review] Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology / Neil Gaiman

Gaiman has put together a lovely little introduction to Norse mythology in this collection of cleanly written tales.  The narrative voice is one that you could imagine belonging to a storyteller, sharing stories.  Some of my favorite myths are found in these pages, and several I had not yet read.  Overall the selection reads like a continuing story, rather than simply a collection of individual stories.  An enjoyable read for both those new to and familiar with Norse mythology. 

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 10

Some of our party rides out to meet battle, but not all.  Merry, and others still healing, are left behind in Gondor.  This journey is neither quick nor subtle, and that Sauron prepares a trap in wait is no surprise.  Their presence is a clear and deliberate provocation of Sauron, and one that is nearly countered by the brief capture of Frodo.  I think that if it were not for Gandalf the armies would have quailed, recognition by items that the Mouth of Sauron is referring to one of the hobbits.  Of course, the key piece not mentioned in all of this is the Ring... and the fact that if Sauron had the Ring already the parlay would not even be necessary.

This chapter is definitely one that was ripe for translation to the screen.  Cinematically it is both an apex and a cliffhanger, on top of the whole launching into likely doomed battle.  Jackson made some pretty good decisions here to visually ramp up the tension.  I can't really argue with the decision to have all of the Fellowship possible present, and there interactions are poignant as they face down their looming mortality and reflect in their friendship.  I do wish that interactions with the Mouth of Sauron weren't cut (at least in the version I have, maybe it's in the Director's Cut since I know they did do the Mouth of Sauron), especially as I'm reminded yet again that Viggo's voice is not nearly resonant enough for my tastes.

Probably the best weaving here is something I don't want to talk about in full yet, but all along Jackson has been weaving the Books together, tying together chronology, and the splicing here is probably the best done of the trilogy as we go back and forth between battle and Sam & Frodo's final ascent.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

[Book Review] Sunstone

Sunstone (TPB Volumes 1-5) / Stjepan Sejic

Sunstone is a beautiful story about two women who fall in love with each other, as well as some of the misunderstandings that get in the way.  When I say beautiful here I mean that in more than one way.  The artwork itself is stunning and sexy, and for all of its erotic content, manages to appear more like exotic pin-up artwork than erotica.  The story is just so human in its emotions and developments.

At the risk of a spoiler, the story arc does have a happy ending, but they have to work to get there.

The story starts with Ally and Lisa going from an online friendship (and flirtation), to meeting in real life to explore their kinks and fetishes, to navigating the difficult transition from friends-with-benefits to an emotional relationship.  Along the way we meet new and old friends, learn about skeletons in the closet, and get to learn Ally and Lisa beyond the faces they present to the world and each other.

I loved this graphic novel, and eagerly await the next story.  For readers who want more right now, Sejic originally published the strips and various extras on a DeviantArt page.

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