Cover Lover: Dag and Fawn

Welcome to Cover Lover, a feature on this blog dedicated to book covers! For a long time, I’d wanted a place where I can share some of my favorite covers, or talk about any that might have caught my eye. So when I came across this idea on fellow gamer/book lover Angelya’s site The Oaken Bookcase, I jumped at the opportunity to adopt it as well. The “meme” was originally created by another friend of mine, Jaedia, on her book blog Once Upon A Time, so be sure to check out both their sites and take a look at some of the covers they have featured.

Opinions of Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Sharing Knife series has always been a bit mixed. “Hey, what’s this romance doing in my fantasy?” is a comment I see a lot when I read reviews of Beguilement and Legacy, and I suppose that’s fair enough (though in my opinion, the books are still much more romance-fantasy than fantasy-romance — there’s a difference!)

What I mean is, the romance factor is definitely strong with these novels but at the same time, they don’t read like typical Romances. Like in all fantasy books by Bujold, she really makes the world and its magic come to life, but what I loved most about this series are the characters. Bujold made the hero Dag Redwing a sweet, caring and protective male lead without turning him into an overbearing and possessive asshole. Fawn Bluefield is much younger than he is, but she holds her own and takes care of him in turn. They treat each other with respect, and their love is straightforward and honest — no games, no manipulation, no silly misunderstandings a lot of romance plots throw in for the sake of stirring up relationship drama.

The first two books are really meant to be read together; they are two parts of one whole, just like the lovers Fawn and Dag. They’re two people from two very different worlds, and yet they fit perfectly together. And that’s why I love these original book cover images, because I think they reflect this so well.

Comic Review Bites: The Great Comixology Raid

I hopped on Comixology to pick up this month’s read for my ladies comic book club and ended up finding a few other gems.

LAZARUS: Greg Rucka’s creator-owned title is being heavily pumped by Image and for good reason. Well, Rucka is good enough reason for me, actually.

Money is power and those without it are Waste. The Families are the ones with power and Forever Carlyle is a Lazarus, a Family member trained and augmented to serve and protect the family’s needs. As the codename implies, there is a lot of death involved in her life, but we quickly learn that, because of how much she understands physical death, there are a lot of unresolved emotions connected to killing that Forever should not be having. For now, she does her job to protect the Family, but her increasing empathy is probably going to be problematic.

The cold-hearted killer with a warming heart is not an unusual, nor is the powerful few lording over the poor. But I’m confident that Rucka will bring in the heavy emotional content that will make everything worthwhile.

PETER PANZERFAUST: This is a unique retelling of the Peter Pan legend that transposes the story into World War II. Peter is an American soldier who seems to just appear to a bunch of French orphans one day and drags them along on his quest to find the missing and mysterious Belle. Peter is the same confident boy we know, but without the magic – only, the story and art does a great job of making you wonder if there is a bit of magic going on, or is it really just Peter’s exuberance and utter belief that he can and will achieve anything he sets out to do?

X-MEN #2: I am collecting this on the principal that comic companies need to have more females and PoCs front and centre and this book truly fills that need.

Unfortunately, the story is falling flat. It’s a typical bigger bad than the last time story, with the twist being that she’s stolen the body of a former teammate who may or may not be dead. There’s no issue with the characters because I know and love them all and love seeing them. Last issue had them interacting more and it was a great insight into their personalities and friendships, but this issue, they really aren’t doing anything.

There are some very small moments of intrigue, such as the continued existence of the mysterious baby. But otherwise, I’m not blown away yet.

CYBERFORCE: I read the original Cyberforce during Image Comics’ Shiny Age and have been very curious about this reboot, available free thanks to a Kickstarter. This is a much grittier story where the heroes aren’t as obvious, nor is their fate. The “team” is still comprised of genetically altered former Cyber Data shock troopers, but I really like the emphasis on the different models of augmentations. Some are weaker, obsolete models and all require Serum to prevent their bodies from rejecting the technological grafts.

There is a big political plot going on involving Carin Taylor, whose parents are both political powers and are hunting her down after she runs away. She has learned of the great big apocalypse plot that also fuels the story and requires the aid of the missing and presumed dead Morgan Stryker.

Other than a few cringe moments of dialogue trying a bit too hard to be trendy and/or crude, I definitely approve of the new, more mature Cyberforce.

BATMAN & SUPERMAN: I’m a big fan of Jae Lee’s art. I love the sharp edges he uses and I love the way those edges are muted and the colours flow like they are being brushed by the wind in this particular book. I also like Greg Pak, after reading his Phoenix: Endsong that finally let Jean Grey rest in peace. But this book is about, obviously, Batman and Superman. Their relationship has always been an interesting blend of loyalty and contempt for each other because of their completely differing views and upbringings, but ultimately similar goals. I don’t much care for Superman as a character, and I think I would have written him off completely if not for having a counterpoint in Batman and Lex Luthor. Here, the story quickly grabbed me during the opening scene where Clark and Bruce first meet. Their personalities and the conflicts of their relationship are spelled out in pithy perfection through their reactions to a brawl between some kids, and again when they meet as Batman and Superman.

I’m not entirely certain about the plot, though. Or rather, the time difference aspect of it. I’m fine with the strange creature possession, but I got a bit lost when first-time-meeting Superman and Batman suddenly turned into well-established-relationship Batman and Superman. I guess that just means I’ll have to read on to find out more!

GIRLS: The first issue of this was free and the covers for the series caught my eye and the mystery within has definitely gotten my interest.  The main character, a young man in a small town, ends up meeting and eventually calling out and offending every possible female stereotype that appears in the book – from brow beating wife to cocktease.

Then this naked girl from the cover shows up in front of him on the road…

DEMETER: This is the third and final book in a trilogy by Becky Cloonan. A self-published labour of love that depicts three different stories that share the similar themes of love and loss.

Black and white comics can be so haunting and Cloonan uses the art and minimal words well to shape her stories. I can see the influence of familiar fairy tales woven into each tale, but the stories are still unique, emotional, beautiful, painful and memorable all on their own.

Comic Review: Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis by Warren Ellis

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis by Warren Ellis

While staying at the X-Bunker located in San Francisco with the team, Ororo receives a message from T’Challa about disturbing events taking place in a small village in Africa. There’s been a rise in the number of pregnancies occurring there, and many of these babies are being born with extraordinary powers and mutations. There are also reports of explosions being caused by these babies and a “devil” living in the bush.

Even though I am a Marvel fangirl (with the X-Men comics being my favorites), I’ve somewhat strayed from them in recent years and have started reading more comics from other companies. I’ve also started reading manga, so I’m being exposed to a whole new world of stories.

This is the first full arc that I’ve read in a while from Marvel. Was I impressed with what I read? No, but I wasn’t disappointed either.

This started out as a really interesting story, but soon became too easy to anticipate. A predictable story isn’t always bad, but the premise of this story held so much potential in my opinion. And even with it’s predictability, the story was solid. The writing was tight, moving. Despite the somewhat dark tone of the story, Ellis knows just when to bring a joke in without making it seem like it was too much.

The end was a bit too whipped up for my taste, but it was nice to see Emma get to shine a little bit. I’m an Emma fan, but she came off more air-headed than usual in this arc as if she were the butt (or should I say “the breasts”?) of some joke that everyone got but her. She just seemed really useless at first, but she made up for it. However, poor Hisako didn’t seem to get much play at all in the comics. She was just there.

Overall, this was a good story. No, it’s not memorable, but it isn’t horrible. And sometimes, given the state of comics now days, I think getting a solid story is a damn good thing.

Final Verdict:
3 of 5 stars

 

Audiobook Review: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

I seem to have developed a habit of reading the first book in a series then skipping a whole bunch to read from the series again. It worked well for me with Star Wars: A New Jedi Order and I can’t complain about my recent run with The Dresden Files.

So now, ten books after Storm Front, Harry has gained an apprentice, werewolf friends, a vampire brother, a warden girlfriend, fae connections, a pizza lordship and subsequent army and a promotion to the White Council. But Harry is still good old snarky, sarcastic, self-deprecating Harry and the man you can turn to and count on when you are in desperate need of help and can’t trust anyone else. Which is exactly what Morgan does when he’s framed for murdering a White Council Wizard. Harry agrees to help him, but doesn’t count on Morgan being trailed by a very powerful, very deadly skinwalker.

I’ve definitely missed a lot – White Court Vampire wars, teenagers becoming werewolves, a big fairy battle – but Butcher does a great job of filling me in on just enough details to make sure I wasn’t completely in the dark, without overloading me or giving away too much. I’d like to think that the balance works well for readers who have been with Harry all the way through. No one wants a full recap of the “previously on” every time they read a new book in the series.

One of the changes that definitely stuck out for me was the increased sexuality. Blame it on the damn vampires, who can’t seem to exist in an urban fantasy setting without bringing all their kink with them. Harry is a male with standard male urges, but they weren’t as prominent in the first book as they are now. At least Harry is a gentleman and apparently so is Butcher. There is a lot of look and appreciate, but no touchie touchie in the sexual interactions. As in, the sex doesn’t take over the plot as it does with certain unnamed urban fantasy writers who shall not be named and shall remain nameless.

It was fun meeting all the new characters and seeing how they interacted. Shout outs go to Mouse, Harry’s dog, who really held his own in all the scenes he appeared in. Man’s best friend brings me to the overall theme of relationships and especially loyalty that runs through this book (and perhaps the series?). Harry’s loyalty to those he cares about and those who put their trust in him remains stellar. Mouse and some of his other companions, like the stalwart Murphy, are unquestionable friends, but the loyalty of others – to Harry, to their respective ruling bodies, to each other is all over the place. At the heart is Morgan’s apparent betrayal and the fact that many of the Council members don’t believe he’s guilty, but are willing to let the steadfast warden take the fall for the greater good unless Harry can find the traitor in the ranks.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the players and the political machinations of the various councils and courts, nothing was overly predictable for me. It was nice to just sit back and enjoy the show. Credit also must go to James Marsters, the narrator of the audiobook, who really nailed Harry’s nonchalant attitude.

4 of 5 stars

Wendy: Favourite Title

I just stumbled on this in my daily Goodreads update review. 
The title made me smile (and sing) and the blurb made me curious.
To-read pile updated! 

For my Listening Pleasure: Part 2

This post may or may not have just been
an excuse to post a picture of Claudia Black
on our blog. Image by Morhain-stef
It’s been a few months since I stepped into this wonderful world of audiobooks and I continue to love it. Several narrators have quickly become favourites and, while my library is fairly good at keeping me supplied with audiobooks, an audible.com subscription is very, very tempting. I want to say that I can’t quite justify the cost, but these narrators are really, really good. In honour of Audiobook Month, here are some of my favourites :

CLAUDIA BLACK: I know her skills as an actress from Farscape and other film and television work and I know her voice acting from Dragon Age and various other games. In all things, she has impressed me to no end, so I expected no less in her audiobook narrations. She did not let me down. In acting and voice acting, she had the advantage of the visuals to aid her performance. Her narrations prove that those are just icing on the cake. She is fully capable of weaving mere words on paper into an emotional adventure. She creates unique personalities for each of the characters not only different accents, but with nuance as well. And, while some narrators reserve emotion for only the characters’ spoken words, Black brings her all to everything, getting completely wrapped up in the moment and dragging the reader along with her for the excitement.

SIMON VANCE: Tiara recently listened to Medicus, read by Simon Vance and sang his praises. I hunted down his resume on Audible and found that he’s basically narrated all the things! At least, he’s narrated a LOT of the books I’ve got on my to-read pile and I am strongly considering that Audible account *just* for him since my library’s selection is so limited. I did listen to You Only Live Twice, though and can firmly second Tiara’s opinion. Early in my listening, she asked what I thought of him and I told her that there was no more Simon Vance. There was only James Bond and Tiger Tanaka. Here is a video of Vance discussing the best book he’s ever narrated, Interview with the Vampire. I’ve read the Anne Rice books he speaks of, but would definitely be interested in hearing them retold by Vance. It always increases the enjoyment of a product when you know the person delivering it enjoys it as much as you do.

HUMPHREY BOWER: Here’s what I had to say about Bower’s work on Shantaram: Bower almost literally brought every one of these characters to life. Slipping from Lin’s native Australian to a myriad of different Indian accents, European, Palestinian, Afghani and more – it was dizzying to imagine how Bower could possibly keep track! Yet he did, making each each character perfectly unique and memorable, bringing out all the beauty and flaws that Lin loved about each one of them

JOHN LEE: I have actually not gotten beyond a few chapters of the China Mieville books narrated by Lee, but that does not mean he is unworthy of praise. In fact, it may be that he is just too good that stopped me from being able to listen to the books. Normally, I listen to books at work. I’m a multitasker and it feels wrong for me to be listening to a book without doing something else. But I found Perdido Street Station and Kraken just too engrossing to concentrate on both my work and listening to Lee. I definitely want to listen to more by him, but for the moment, I plan to read Mieville’s books myself.

JAMES MARSTERS: Like Claudia Black, I was a fan of the actor first. In this case, I knew Marsters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and admit to squeeing like a fangirl just a little bit when he slipped into a dirty cockney accent for one of the characters in Jim Butcher’s Turn Coat. Marsters made an excellent Harry Dresden, catching all the sarcasm, wit and self-deprecation perfectly.

Book Review: Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh

Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh

This book contains three stories that revolve around romance and ecstasy among other things.

Lorraine Goes to Livingston is the first story. It was titled a “Rave and Regency” romance. Famed regency romance novel writer Rebecca Navarro (who writes stories such as Lucy Goes to Liverpool and Yasmin Goes to Yeovil) has a stroke, which jolts her out of her dreamworld. When she actually takes a look at reality, she realizes that her husband is a prick who’s using her for her money, and he uses her money for all forms of debauchery. She, along with the help of a nurse — Lorraine, plan revenge on her dear husband.

This was my favorite story in the whole book. The next two stories are powerful, especially the one following this one, but this one held the most value to me. When you first meet Rebecca, you don’t really like her much, but you feel empathy for her. And Lorraine is one of those characters that you can relate to. She’s a single woman who has questions about her sexuality and wishes that everyone would stop trying to force love down her throat. Then, of course with this being your typical Irvine story, you have drug abuse, raves, and some bizarre, disgusting sex practices (bestiality and necrophilia for this particular story).

Fortune’s Always Hiding is the second story and is subtitled “A Corporate Drug Romance”. The story revolves around a woman, who was the unfortunate victim of a drug marketed in the 60’s, and a man, who’s obsessed with soccer (or fitba, as they commonly say ;Þ). The woman is hell-bent on revenge and the man is in love and would do anything for her.

Another powerful story revolving around revenge, but this time it’s against a big corporation who refuses to take responsibility for destroying people’s lives. They’ve given money, but they aren’t truly remorseful about their actions. I loved how Welsh jumped back and forth giving us tiny portions of what happened to the woman, Samantha. This one is my second favorite story in the book as well.

The Undefeated, an Acid House Romance, is about a jobless, drug dealer-slash-raver named Lloyd, and a unhappy, sexually frustrated housewife named Heather.

There’s not a lot that I can say for this story. Most of the story is spent following their everyday struggles and few pages are actually dedicated to their meeting up. Lloyd’s side of things didn’t interest me all that much. It was interesting at times, but most times, I found his commentary lacking. Heather’s side of things was quite fascinating though. It was just something about reading about her going from “good” Heather to “bad” Heather that really kept me reading her chapters.

It seems like I liked the stories in the order they were written. I loved the first and was only partially impressed by the last, even though, I did really love the hopeful ending we get at the end of the last story. Yeah, I’ll admit the characters aren’t all that drawn out, but this is only a 275 page book. What do you expect? Shrek’s analysis? A wonderful addition for people who collect Welsh’s off-beat works.

Final Verdict: 
3 of 5 stars

Mogsy: A Book That Makes You Sad

 

 
Can I take “Book that made me sad” to also mean “Book that made me bawl my friggin’ eyes out so hard that I couldn’t even see well enough to finish the last page”?

If so, this would be it. 11/22/63 isn’t really that sad per se, but the ending is gut-wrenchingly bittersweet. I found myself at the kitchen table the morning I finished this book sobbing so loudly my husband rushed in from the back of the house to ask me if anything was wrong.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Stephen King actually made me cry!”

Yup. Stephen King. Made me cry. I doubt he’d be the first one to come to mind when naming authors adept at pulling heartstrings, and in fact, I believe King has been criticized in the past for his awkward handling of scenes that involve any deep emotion or feeling. For example, you wouldn’t think romance would be his forte.

11/22/63 would prove that wrong. Obviously, the book isn’t a tearjerker romance (Note: it’s not horror either; personally I would say Thriller/Suspense). Still, I can’t deny those emotional factors made it even stronger, and ultimately it’s the love story in the end that stayed with me.

But the book is about so much more! Basically, it’s one giant “what if” scenario involving John F. Kennedy and his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald that fateful day in 1963. It’s got aspects of time travel, alternate history, historical fiction, thrills and chills — honestly, it’s great. But I’d say the less you know about the story going in, the better the experience is going to be. It’s just one of those books!

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina byRachel Hartman

Know how I’ve always marveled and pondered the many ways authors handle the subject of dragons? Well, in Seraphina, they are intelligent, possess advanced technology, and have a magical ability that lets them take human form. The book takes place in a world where humans and dragonkind exist in a constant state of mistrust. After warring with the humans for time eternal, the leaders of the two races had finally come together to agree upon a peace treaty.  

Now forty years have passed, and while dragons walk amongst humans at court and in their cities as scholars and ambassadors, bitter feelings still exist between the two sides. The tension reaches a fever pitch in the days before the dragonkind leader arrives to commemorate the treaty’s anniversary, and a human prince of Goredd is found dead, his head missing–presumably eaten by a dragon. 

These events hold terrible implications for our protagonist Seraphina Dombegh, a half-dragon hybrid who has struggled to hide her secret for most of her life. Circumstances draw her into the murder investigation, and she finds herself working with handsome Prince Lucian, Captain of the Queen’s Guard, despite her position as the court musician’s assistant. With the day of the anniversary celebrations fast approaching, they have limited time to tease apart a dangerous conspiracy plot.

The world-building in this book is phenomenal; as in, a lot of thought seems to have been put into every aspect of the setting. For example, its rich history adds a lot to the story, and to a certain extent, the reader has to understand the significance of past events to fully appreciate the impact they have on the present. Then there is the complex religion, which encompasses a fair number of saints to which the people of Goredd look to guide them. The religious aspect certainly isn’t central to the book, but at the same time, it adds a layer of context to the story and characters, making them feel more refined.

Then there are the dragonkind and their culture. Let’s just say when it comes to emotional suppression and denial of their feelings, the dragons in Seraphina make the Vulcans on Star Trek look like cuddly puppies. The idea that they can look like humans is also very interesting, if not wholly original, but what I found amusing are the dragons’ general impressions on having to take human shape; I just wished there were more details on the magic involved during the actual changing process.

And speaking of magic, on the whole, the concept of it in this book is quite abstract. Seraphina, for instance, has to regularly “tend a garden” in her mind in order to control the debilitating visions that overtake her, thanks to the powers she inherited from her unusual parentage. If you’re anything like me, it’ll take some time to wrap your head around this bizarre idea, which really is more a part of Seraphina’s abilities than a metaphor, which I know it sounds like.

So why am I not absolutely crazy for this book, like I should be? Unfortunately, some books that by all rights I should adore are diminished in my eyes by the characteristics of the main protagonist, and this was the case for Seraphina. Try as I might, I just couldn’t connect with the eponymous heroine as I’m usually not a fan of the “wallflower-type” character. Granted, Seraphina has all the reasons in the world to be the way she is, but she’s still a bit too far on the meek side of things for my tastes. It’s true she displays moments of strength and determination, but then also wallowed in her self-pity one too many times for me to truly engage with her narrative.

Don’t get me wrong, this book was a wonderful read and I’m glad I picked it up, but being able to like the main character is a biggie for me, and it was that one thing that prevented me from giving it a higher rating. Overall, however, Seraphina is an impressive debut featuring excellent world-building and very imaginative elements. It’s classified as Young Adult, but a wider audience could definitely appreciate this.

Final verdict:
3 of 5 stars

 

Wendy’s Book Haul (aka Book Lootz!)

I told Mogsy that my latest BookCloseOuts order had arrived and she demanded visual evidence. So here it is!