Month: May 2014

It’s Time for #FridayReads!

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The Books:
Nihal of the Land of the Wind :http://www.amazon.com/Nihal-Land-Wind-Chronicles-Overworld-ebook/dp/B00JBSBFV0
Babayaga: http://www.amazon.com/Babayaga-Novel-Toby-Barlow-ebook/dp/B009LRWW1S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1401488622&sr=1-1&keywords=babayaga
Ancillary Justice: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_8?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=ancillary+justice&sprefix=Ancillar%2Cdigital-text%2C333

Places where you can find me:
My Blog: breesbigbookblog.wordpress.com
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1jTzbcJ
Twitter: https://twitter.com/reev2550

Review: Babayaga by Toby Barlow

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Title: Babayaga

Author: Toby Barlow

Publication Date: August 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retellings

 

For those who don’t know, Babayaga is a witch in Russian fokelore. She’s typically presented as your Hansel and Gretel like witch, punishing bad little children and eating them up. Babayaga also is known for being a fairly vengeful witch, destroying men who’ve scorned women. Think the Greek fates meet witch meets boogeyman. 

Babayaga in Hardcover

Barlow’s Babayaga follows a young man Will who is living in Paris during the end of the Cold War. He’s been working as a lower level intelligence gatherer and an advertising specialist. He gets caught up in an agency misadventure where he meets Zoya, a beautiful Russian woman who, unbeknownst to Will, is a serial murderer. For hundreds of years Zoya has been travelling Europe with her sister witch Elga killing men and conning their way in and out of riches. 

Zoya has most recently impaled a French man who had been sleeping with her on a barbed fence. 

Unfortunately for Zoya, the police are hot on her trail. She goes to Elga’s apartment, but leaves quickly after they have a fight. The police track Zoya to Elga’s home. Elga curses the two policemen, turning them into fleas, and must again pack up and leave. Elga, furious, decides that it’s time for Zoya to go. But first she must get help. No witch can be killed single-handedly. 

Meanwhile, Zoya is attempting to help Will to survive his encounters with the Agency. 

This book was an okay read. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but it isn’t bad either. I did enjoy the extensive backstory that both Zoya and Elga get. Though we could consider them anti-heroes at best, they’re at least anti-heroes with a history. It’s unfortunate that Barlow doesn’t explain why they seem bent on killing men without cause. Zoya throughout her history has picked men to seduce and swindle, then the two will invariably kill them. It’s made clear that Zoya hasn’t always wanted this, but that Elga has insisted and claimed it vital to their survival in a deeper way than someone simply finding out that they’re witches. What makes it so vital is never discussed. 

I thought Will was a fairly mediocre character. Though he is introspective, he’s ridiculously naive and doesn’t really gain in world experience throughout the story. This is a surprising feat for a man about to encounter conspiracy, the CIA, and witches. The inspector who follows the story throughout could have been cut entirely and the story would have been no worse off. 

What I didn’t like was how heavy handed that Barlow was with Elga’s man hating. It’s one thing to have her say and think that men are easily manipulated or that men seek power. Elga’s history has a great deal of precedence for this. But he lays it on pretty thick. He even goes so far as to have her rant about penises and power. I would suspect that a centuries old witch wouldn’t take too much stock in anyone who thinks they make the rules. Mostly, though, it was so frequently brought up without any real action on Elga’s part as to make the book drag and its pacing slow to a grind.

Rating: 3

 

BookCon 2014 and Critical Fans #WeNeedDiverseBooks

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I hope you all have a good time. Below are some videos and links that are really great on this topic.

RinceyReads on BookCon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ZGWUQeyJQ
BookRiot on BEA: http://bookriot.com/2014/04/23/readers-bookcon-diversity-book-expo-america/
Albinwonderland on being a critical fan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcHRR8z1MLM&list=UU3Ic1DIdHPuC_uY-Ky5rnIw

Review: Nihal of the Land of the Wind by Licia Troisi

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Title: Nihal of the Land of the Wind*

Author: Licia Troisi

Publication date: 2004 in Italian, 2014 in English

Genre: YA/ Fantasy

This book is originally an Italian novel that has been translated to German and is being released next week in English.

Nihal is a young girl who wants to be a warrior. She’s raised by her father, an armorer who has always let her run wild. She’s a gifted swordsman and has some magic ability. When her town is raided by the Tyrant’s forces, Nihal leaves in defense of the Land of the Wind.

My problems with this book are many, so be warned.

First and foremost, Nihal is a highly capable fighter with great technique and anticipates her opponents well. She’s somehow managed to gain this ability not through rigorous training regiments and practice, but by running amok with village kids and occasionally (but not very frequently) sparring with her father. This was perhaps one of the most bothersome parts of the book. She’s an extraordinary fighter who bests seasoned cadets and mercenaries without any real battle training. This was ridiculously hard to buy.

Her relationship with magic is almost worse. Nihal leaves for her aunt’s home (An aunt she knows nothing about even though she’s less than a day’s walk away and her aunt and father speak frequently). There, Nihal must undergo a test before she can be trained in magic. She’s to go out into the woods alone and commune with nature. Nihal is terrified of the woods and, so, the challenge is supposed to be difficult. But at no point is Nihal ever alone. Her fellow student spends time comforting her and then wood sprites come and hang out. The wood sprites aren’t actually her communing with nature. They’re there to reassure Nihal that nothing is going to harm her in the woods. They then show her how to commune with nature. Yet another ability that Nihal does not need to work towards or fight for.

The only saving grace there is that Nihal is not a great magician. She only bothers to learn healing spells and some attack spells for battle.

Nihal’s relationship with her father was another point of contention. Nihal is thirteen and lives in a world where women are expected to stay home and care for domestic tasks. I can understand a father indulging the dreams of a young daughter and his only child. However, Nihal’s father doesn’t have any problem with her traipsing about in the woods with an older boy. He also doesn’t worry about her running around alone when there are enemy troops about who are known for terrorizing civilians and taking their women.

In a world where women are largely relegated to the home, it surprised me that Nihal’s father would have no concern for his daughter’s well-being or reputation. Let’s face the cold hard facts: Nihal would not be marriagable material and it’s mostly because he’s being permissive. On top of that, he’s risking her safety. He only expresses concern when he decides that he’s feeling lonely. This made absolutely no sense to me.

On the plus side, when Nihal does become a cadet in training to be a knight (after a series of battles to prove herself in which exhaustion and fatigue are not a factor for Nihal), she does get her pride smacked around by her individual trainer. He’s not going to settle for purposeless fighters and has some fairly decent lessons for Nihal to learn. Not that she really gives him the light of day.

Rating: 2.5

* This book was recieved as an eARC via Netgalley.com

It’s time for #FridayReads!

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Let me know what you’re reading!

Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

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Zita the Spacegirl
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is available here.

Overview: We open to Zita, a human girl of elementary school age, on trial for destroying an asteroid, stealing a spaceship, and interfering with the migration habits of an endangered species (All of these done in pursuit of good). Zita is sentenced to imprisonment and to working in the mines searching for a crystal that her warden will use to invade Earth and takeover. Zita must escape and defeat the warden before it’s too late and all of Earth is destroyed. The only way to do so will be to gather up her friends (quirky robots, some space pilots, and other animated objects) in order to save Earth.

The villain
Zita is an intrepid young girl with an immutable sense of good, easily a great role model for young children. However, she is questioned about how her good acts may impact others. When she’s brought up on charges, we see that even though she has been doing good, there have been repercussions: potentially endangering others, theft, harming a species. Though it’s clear that Zita has done good, I think it’s also a good reminder that we can’t always foresee the ramifications of what we do, but that thinking them through is still a necessity.

The humor is in the tradition of both traditional superhero stories and web comics. It’s nothing a younger child couldn’t understand, but it also appeals to a broader audience that includes adults.

Zita also has a focus on teamwork and collaboration with adults that I think is awesome. It’s not uncommon to see television shows and comics that downplay the role of adults and teamwork in a successful endeavor. Zita features a cast of characters that help her that includes two adults who, unlike many stories, are not blundering fools or overwhelmingly suffocating for the main character. Instead, the supporting characters are valuable and fun to meet and watch.

Zita's friends to the rescue!
The artwork in Zita is great. It features striking contrasted colors, high color saturation, and design that draws on webcomic and more traditional comic traditions.

Rating: 4
All photos in this post are creations of Ben Hatke.

Tic Tac Tome from QuirkBooks!

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Tic Tac Tome from QuirkBooks!

So, I haven’t beaten this yet, but I have tied it (after a good thirty minutes)! Ah hah!

Tic Tac Tome is a book that plays you in Tic Tac Toe. It allows you to play through a variety of boards that adapt as you play. I’m looking forward to bringing this to my family barbeques to see if any of my siblings or cousins can beat it.

Review: Cyador’s Heirs (Saga of Recluse) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Title: Cyador’s Heirs

Author: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Publication Date: 20 May 2014

Genre: Fantasy

Let me preface this with telling you that this is the first book I’ve read by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I don’t know really anything about his other series or the books that are chronologically before this. There are 16 books in the Saga of Recluse series that come before this one.

However, L.E. Modesitt doesn’t write in a way that requires you to have an extensive knowledge of his works in order to read and enjoy this work. Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of this novel is that fact. Modesitt’s work is approachable to those who’ve never picked up his work before.

Cyador’s Heirs follows the young second son of the Duke of Cigoerne, Lerial. Lerial is constantly frustrated by his inability to best his older brother, his father’s lack of praise, and his own sense of inadequacy. At only fifteen years old, Lerial already feels like the world he was born to doesn’t really want him. When Lerial’s father sends him away to the countryside for reasons unkown to Lerial, he feels utterly abandoned. He works for months, knowing that the only way to get back to his home is to follow the mandates of the Majer, an old war veteran who is assigned to train him.

When Lerial does come home, he finds that the world he left is in even more dire streights than the one he left behind. Raiders have been attacking the northern outskirts, his father and brother have left on campaigns, and now, under his father’s orders, Lerial must go to Verdheln, a forest land that wants to be incorporated into his father’s lands.
Cyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Modesitt’s magic system works through the ability to control order and chaos, two forces that surround and create the world. Chaos mages are powerful in battle and both Lerial’s father and his brother Lephi are chaos mages. While Lerial can practice a bit with chaos, we’re shown early on that he’s more adept at order, typically considered to be a woman’s power and commonly used in healing. Lerial is taken under his aunt’s wing in his order use, but it’s made clear that his ability to use order needs to be hidden from his family who might otherwise think he’d be incapable of fulfilling his duties as a future army commander.

When Lerial is sent to Verdheln, his company, led by the Majer, is attacked. The neighboring country proceeds to send three batalions of trained forces and six chaos mages against Lerial and the Majer’s two squads of men and the untrained Verdheln citizens they were sent to train. What seems at first hopeless changes as Lerial realizes (largely from the experiences he gained in healing and under his aunt’s tutelage) that, if chaos and order really must be in balance, then perhaps there is more to be done.

There are a number of aspects I really enjoyed about the book. In particular, I really enjoyed the way that Modesitt build up the magic as something that can be practiced, where strength of magic is earned, and where weakness is built into one’s use. This made it so that no matter how powerful that anyone may be, they don’t have unlimited power and there doesn’t need to be any kryptonite type counterpoint to their power. It also is refreshing to see a magic system that actually physically affects the user.

Lerial as a character was very well done. He was understandable as a person. More importantly, he really develops. The Lerial we see at the end of the book has grown vastly from the young boy we met at the beginning. Not only are his experiences changing who he is in a tangible way as he experiences them, we are shown how quickly he has had to grow up, especially in contrast to his older brother, Lephi, who does not appear changed by the raids he faces up north.

The Majer is a solid choice for a leader and a teacher. He commands but doesn’t push and he encourages the type of critical thinking that builds new leaders. In part, we can see this in Lerial’s development. It’s his military tactics that help them to survive, not Lerial’s solely strength as an ordermage.

Modesitt must have a love for military strategy. A great deal of the book is exactly that, strategy and battle plans. It makes the war seem plausible and thought out, at least on Modesitt’s part. It also does a great deal to point out that magic is a secondary force that may not always be there to help. This is especially true with his magic system and we see it when Lerial has overextended himself and is unable to use his power.

Modesitt makes some interesting points about women and really contemplates the way women are relegated to home or domestic tasks. He shows powerful women throughout the book, women who are strong and women who are willing to fight. I was very impressed with how deliberate these choices were. He’s clear that initially many women were placed where they are because there aren’t enough men in Verdheln, but that they are not less than their male counterpoints. Then he proves it.

Overall, I was impressed. A big thanks to Tor Books who provided me with a galley copy.

Rating: 4.5

Bout of Books 10.0 Wrap Up!

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For my first BoutofBooks, I must say I’m not disappointed. I read quite a bit, though not much more than I usually do, and I had the chance to reflect on my reading habits. 

I finished:

-The Road by Cormac McCarthy

-Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindquist

-The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon

-The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

and 

-Saga Vol 3 by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples

 

I also read 60 pages of Cyador’s Heir, L.E. Modesitt’s upcoming novel.

I wanted to read more. I didn’t get around to Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card and I spent two days not reading at all. I was called to work until ten at night (an almost twelve hour shift) twice over the week and spent the weekend mostly taking care of some family things. I’m not really upset about it though. More than anything, it gave me a chance to really remember what I have to value. 

Total page count runs at 1460 pages, so not too bad. Plus, I did read two out of the three books I set on my “For Sure” TBR. 

What did you read? How did your goals play out? 

Review: Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Title: Let Me In/Let the Right One In

Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Publication Date: 2004

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

 

Linqvist’s Let Me In is a roller coaster ride of a story. It follows Oskar, a twelve year old, who is terribly bullied and who feels wholly inadequate. When Oskar comes home after a beating he goes to the woods to unwind. There he meets Eli, a young girl with a strangely adult way of behaving. Oskar falls in love for the first time, but Eli has a secret, and a series of brutal murders is putting a damper on everything.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how relatable a subject Oskar was. Lindqvist managed to write a novel about a boy that was both reflective of the character’s age, social status, and general experiences that also didn’t read like it was written by a twelve year old. This can be a tough thing to pull off, especially when trying to narrate the character’s thoughts. Not only are writers often adults long since distanced from pre-adolescence, but conveying those thoughts in a way that is true, but also does not lost sight of the audience is a very precarious balancing act.

The quick transition in which Eli becomes a common figure in Oskar’s life was also well done. Though it was fast in scope of time, it didn’t feel unnaturally fast for their relationship to develop the way it did.

When the murders start happening, a rash of characters are introduced. Admittedly, it was pretty head spinning. It wasn’t always clear who was speaking or what relationships the speaker had to the other characters. It took a while to really see all of the connections between the characters and their stories.

However, the intricate ways that the stories tied together was impressive.

I think what I enjoyed most was that instead of gathering suspense (in a more traditional horror story way) to keep the reader going, the intensity built on the relationships of the characters. I’m admittedly a huge chicken about horror stories. They’ll keep me up all night jumping at imagined creaks and groans. Lindqvist, however, didn’t go for the typically terrifying horror story feel. It was a much more approachable, though no less intense, type of horror story; it focused far more on the terror of the transformation and infection than on the monster story that usually reigns.

I was, however, a bit bewildered at some of the way sex and sexuality was used in this novel. While it wasn’t the main focus, per se, the use of gender identity and homosexuality in the novel was very clearly present. I don’t mind any of these as a plot point, but it seemed that, with a few exceptions, the topics were present without actually motivating very much.

In later parts of the book gender identity and sexual orientation during adolescence is brought up as a topic. Lindqvist, in fact, spends a lot of time detailing a situation that would be confusing for any person, but especially so for a twelve year old. It was a bit surprising to me that the situation was left as it was. There was quite a bit of discussion between two of the characters and Oskar’s inner turmoil about sexuality was shown, but it didn’t really seem to affect the relationships Oskar was having with the other characters.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think for many people, sexuality and gender are things that, for the most part, just are. It’s confusing for a time, but many people can come to accept that gender and sexuality aren’t always as clear cut as they might be.

It seemed, though, that Lindqvist spent a great deal of time outlining these as well as a number of horribly abusive tales that were related to the subjects without really making a clear point about them. It seemed like he wanted to, but that it just didn’t appear.

Maybe it’s just me. That’s always a very real possibility.

Overall, a great read. It’s fast paced and outstandingly detailed.

Rating: 4.5

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Let-Me-John-Ajvide-Lindqvist/dp/0312656491

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Let-Right-One-John-Ajvide-Lindqvist/9780312355296