Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reading Journal | Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Jacqueline Carey

Well, here it is, the end of 2011, and to tidy up my sense of what I've achieved, and what I need to strive for, here is the final bit of my reading journal, the books I finished before the clock struck midnight.

Definitely Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 6) - There was a hiccup in the smooth flow of the continuing storyline here. It didn't trouble me overmuch, but the short story "One Word Answer" will fill in the gaps in Sookie's plotline, for those of you following along.

All Together Dead (Sookie Stackhouse Series, Book 7) - Bestseller Harris mixes humorous Southern-fried fantasy with biting satirical commentary in her seventh novel to feature Sookie Stackhouse, the bubbly telepathic barmaid from Bon Temps, La. (after 2006's Definitely Dead). Sookie attends an all-important central U.S. vamp summit on the shores of Lake Michigan as a "human geiger counter" for Sophie-Anne Leclerq, vampire queen of a Louisiana weakened by Katrina and who will be tried during the event for murdering her king. Sookie knows the queen is innocent, but she's hardly prepared for other shocking murders, not to mention protests by the Fellowship of the Sun, a right-wing antivampire movement. Her sleuthing skills, along with those of her new telepath friend, Barry the Bellboy, are put to the extreme test. Harris juggles a large cast, including several romantic contenders for Sookie's heart, with effortless exuberance. HBO's True Blood, based on this addictive series, is scheduled to begin its TV run this fall.

I can't say too much that I haven't already said. The series is keeping my attention. Harris is a skilled writer, and it's not likely that I'll stop reading them at this point. However, it is what it is - light, brisk, fun, escapist literature. Are there global themes and character developments and other such literary aspirations? Of course. But mostly, it's entertainment. And that's what storytelling should be.

By the end of this year, I was intent on mixing it up. Keeping with my theme of female authors...

Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Kitty Norville, Book 1) - Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station?and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew...

I've been wanting to read Carrie Vaughn ever since I read her piece in the Warriors anthology last year. THIS book, I finished in a day. I don't know if it was the story pace or the smoothness of Vaughn's writing style, but the pages flew by. Vaughn is smart and witty, which I had guessed; and I also confirmed that her ability to represent the inner workings of the female mind is amazing.

Of course, by the time all was said and done, it was time to get back into fantasy fiction, and one female author I always enjoy is Jacqueline Carey. After burning through these 300 page urban fantasies, picking up a 960 page epic - well, that's what I read this past week, finishing up Saturday afternoon.

Kushiel's Scion (Kushiel's Legacy) -  Imriel de la Courcel's birth parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions. Stolen, tortured and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood; third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies...and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his mother, Melisande, who nearly destroyed the entire realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure...and her dangerous gifts. As he comes of age, plagued by unwanted desires, Imriel shares their fears. When a simple act of friendship traps Imriel in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess and where a dead man leads an army, the Prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

While I wouldn't recommend starting off with this book, it holds its own as the beginning of a new trilogy with a new protagonist. Kushiel's Dart is where it all begins, and I would suggest starting there.

I can't say enough good things about Carey. Her prose is beautiful, the world-building is exquisite, and her voice is so smooth and sweet, it's like having a naked woman whispering in your ear and telling you the story (while feeding you grapes).

As fantasy fiction goes, this departs from the norm. It's not as rich in political intrigue as GRRM, but close. It's certainly not crude or direct sword and sorcery. There is magic, and it's powerful and mysterious and delicately flawed. The plots are adept, and while not entirely linear, they aren't difficult to anticipate.

As a male author writing about manly things, it's sometimes easy to overlook those subtle nuances of human frailty, and that's something that Carey expresses so well. In the genre of fantasy fiction, capturing sensuality is often failed miserably, and here again, Carey is outstanding.

Some may say that the story is slow, languid like a lazy river, and that wouldn't be untrue. But in the telling of epic tales, I can appreciate the immersion into the character's life and thoughts, and the slow, gradual growth of the troubled child into a young adult with a little experience and wisdom beneath their belt. The story leaves one wanting for more, even after nearly a thousand pages.

In a holiday week where I found myself heartsick, homesick and agitated, this deep escape into Jacqueline Carey's delicious, smooth, sensual and beautiful story was exactly what the doctor ordered. It became its own homecoming, a return to epic fantasy, and was just what I needed to end 2011.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays...

The house is still quiet, the children are still snug in their beds; steam curls and winds its way up from my coffee mug, towards the window. A clear, brisk day and I'm thankful for what has come to pass, and what will be.

I'm thankful that anyone reads this blog. ;-)

In the spirit of the season, here is a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Enjoy.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie Trailers | The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Silly me... I thought this was coming out THIS December. I was wondering why I hadn't heard any buzz about it... heh. Part one will come out December 14th, 2012. Here is the first official trailer.

It's nice to see the continuity from the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy; another reason I'm glad that Peter Jackson has taken on this project.

I am also reminded that the Dwarves are somewhat comical in The Hobbit, seeing as it was originally a children's story (what we'd now call 'young adult'). It's pretty interesting to consider all the tropes that have derived from Tolkien's work, and to see them come alive so well on the big screen.

Between The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones (Season 2) and probably some things I'm not considering at the moment, 2012 will be a great year for fantasy in the mainstream.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011 | Reading Journal, News, Links

There's a theory that most people can be connected to one another, for instance, a famous movie star, within 7 degrees of separation. (I may have this idea completely wrong, but since I procrastinate blogging most of the notions in my head, I'm just going to go with it and see what happens.)

1) Big news this week was the release of our first Game of Thrones Season 2 teaser trailer, featuring the Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) voiceover.

2) Some may argue that there's actually more footage in this "Making Of" video...

Either way, April can't get here soon enough!

3) Speaking of HBO (see what I did there?), it's been announced all over the web that Christopher Meloni, the former Law and Order: SVU regular lead has been cast as a series regular on True Blood season 5. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

(Executive Producer Alan) Ball describes Meloni’s role as “an ancient, powerful vampire who holds the fate of Bill and Eric in his hands.”
Ever since the news broke that Meloni was negotiating for a role, fans have suspected he may be part of The Vampire Authority, the council which rules over all vampires and gives its royalty their power.
4) Those of us in geekdom may recall the buzz a year ago, when Canadian webcomic artist AK Tettenborn of  "Twice Shy" did a parody of Law & Order: SVU - and a month later received the response from the aforementioned Meloni.

The day after the comic went up, I got an email from a man who told me he was Christopher Meloni’s assistant. According to this man, Ice T had seen my comic and sent it to Meloni, who loved it – and could I please mail them a few signed copies? Because Meloni wanted to get them framed and give them as gifts.
The news? Well, unfortunately, as Meloni moves on to become a vampire, so too does AK Tettenborn - she bid the world farewell from her very popular webcomic this week.

Well, all, after a year of Twice Shy, it's time to say goodbye. I've had a great time making comics for you, and while they're not all winners, some of them weren't bad, and a select few were pretty darned good.
ALOT* of them were pretty darned good, AK! Best of luck to you.

1) And speaking of Season 5 of TrueBlood... last night I finished reading Dead as a Doornail, book 5 of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlaine Harris.

Notable to me was this: This was the first story in the series where Sookie doesn't sleep with anyone! While most of the male characters still want to sleep with her, there was slightly more mystery than romance within.

Also notable, events from previous novels start to have more significance in this book - and - events from within this tale are going to be far more influential in future stories (presumably). In other words, the introduction of longer story arcs.

Overall, still an enjoyable series, though I fear I'm getting saturated - may have to mix things up. I probably won't, though. It's the holidays, lots of stuff going on... keeping it fast, simple, light and fun.


Hmm. Not bad, did it in 5. Any of the above catch your eye?

* Yes, I realize I linked to another webcomic, not the one in question. That was today's theme. :-p

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gaming | Stronghold 3 - Trailer

Don't know how I missed this! It's been out since October!

Undoubtedly, because I've been obsessed with Skyrim (which I'll write about .. soonish).

The Stronghold series has always been fun for me, particularly since in gaming, I thrive on economic strategies and building up the overpaid military. Campaign play in Stronghold is not comparable to say, the Total War series, it's notably simpler. However, the builder mode is amazing - and I've used it often in trying to imagine the little villages, hamlets and cities in Zherlios. Apparently, this has been beefed up quite a bit in Stronghold 3.

The graphics look good - nice job, Firefly Studios!

Which means I'm likely to pick this up at some point - and since it's a PC game, I'll be able to get you some nifty screenshots (like the ones below from the official site)! Yay!

Mmm, I love tearing me down some walls! Rawrrr!!

More information is available here, at, and the official site.

Anyone played with this yet?  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading Journal - The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (1,2,3 and 4)

Back in June, I mentioned that I had watched HBO's TrueBlood. In some ways, it was a response to not having Thrones on air - in others, everyone I know, including people whose opinion I valued, (haha), were relatively insistent that I watch the series.

So I did. With relish. Something which I had intended to recount here was that by the end of Season 4 of TrueBlood, I had gone and watched Season 1, 2 and 3. Since I am quite the fan of sex and violence, I was hooked.

Going along with my theme of "I should post more often," I had intended to blog when I finished book 1 Dead Until Dark and then after book 2 Living Dead in Dallas. Failing that, I finished Club Dead (#3) over the weekend and finished (#4) Dead to the World this evening.

Good thing I stopped doing book reviews (more or less).

It's safe to say that I enjoyed the reads. Harris, quite simply, is fun. Turn to HBO for the multiple perspective, very intense, multi-layered drama.

In The Southern Vampire Mysteries, it's all from Sookie's point of view.

There are differences - notable ones - from the novel to the television screen. Thrones may be a relatively faithful adaptation - TrueBlood is not.

In the show, Sookie is a slut, and there's little explanation... in the books, however, it fits. There's several references to how her telepathic abilities make dating a nightmare... what if you always knew what YOUR significant other was thinking? Sounds fun for a day. ;-)

What's different in the book, and takes some getting used to, is that you don't know where all the other characters are, unless they're in the scene with Sookie. Having said that, Harris does a good job of filling in gaps without too much exposition. The novels are fast-paced, not overly complicated, and yet there's twists and turns and character development.

Perhaps not as much character growth as in other fantasy tales - on the other hand, these novels take place immediately following the events of the previous book. Further, the events in the book don't often last for more than a month, if that. How much character growth can you expect in a few months?

This is not exactly how it goes in the television series, so again, it's an interesting thing that HBO has done to make TrueBlood .. hmm.. more appealing to their audience and validating the other main roles in the storyline, by giving the other characters more screen time.

In case you're curious... I find that urban fantasy has the best female protagonists. There are subtleties in the novel, things that women consider or think about, that sometimes seem forced or inappropriate when written by a male author; for instance, Sookie checking herself in the mirror is presented for what it is by Harris - she's a woman in her late 20's discovering her self.

Also, moods and the effect of being tired, or scared or angry - so often this is written to sound like women are nags or moody or confusing, yes? When read from inside the mind of the protagonist, (especially one who reads minds), her motivations and impulses, even as a backwoods 20'something girl, make sense. They're valid. They're understandable. This makes Sookie, who is somewhat vain and certainly flawed, a far more sympathetic character than might be expected.

I don't always agree with what Sookie does, of course, but I get it. It doesn't seem false. Too often, television shows do things that seem ... well, a little flaky. Something to get ratings. (Yes, sexposition scenes in Thrones, I'm talking to you.)

I enjoy reading urban fiction because it seems these are the best versions of available female heroines. We know what we see as we see it, but it's nice to get inside Sookie's head and understand motivations.

(Note: This is why I was such a big fan of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart
- a well written female protagonist is immensely insightful.)

There are plenty of (what I assume are) strong reviews for The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and having plowed through the first 4 books like they were nothing, I certainly understand why HBO picked up the series.

TrueBlood is a different animal, though some of the markings are similar. There was no way they could tell the same story in television, so they did what they had to do, which was give all the other characters more robust storylines and events. Even the ones who live and die do not follow the novels, necessarily.

Certainly, if TB is too graphic or gritty for you - the novels are more fun, lighter, even more amusing. At the same time, if you want to understand some of the finer details about some of the events in the television series, the novels are a good choice.

Mostly, however, they stand alone as different takes on the same basic story, and are interesting and entertaining enough to be viewed as separate works of art. Charlaine Harris, as noted on the book covers, mixes romance, mystery and the paranormal genres without a hitch. She's done a great job in making a fun, fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek romp through the supernatural world, with characters that are enjoyable to read about, and an original and entertaining protagonist in Sookie Stackhouse.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comics | Monday Morning Literary Humor

A little something I meant to share last week, but got busy and forgot. And no, I haven't read "Pride and Prejudice", I'm afraid to admit.

Speaking of which, I will update my reading journal this week, maybe later today, even. Happy Monday!

Comic Source

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Wish List | Thoughts on the Kindle?

Last week, I endured the Black Friday madness - and survived! I'm super tough like that.
One of the things that caught my eye was the Kindle for $75 - I ended up passing on it, for a variety of reasons, the most notable was that .. it was only a $5 discount. It didn't seem necessary to stand in line for an hour to save five bucks.

Now, when the E-readers first came out a few years ago, they were more expensive than they are now, which is always rule #1 with new technology: If you can be patient about getting the new technology, you can save a lot of money. But you sacrifice being the coolest kid on the block, which has never been a problem for me. :-p

I'm a bit old school. I like having books. I like the thought of having an expansive library on ornate bookshelves, organized and categorized, reflecting my outlook and interests as a person. It's amazing for novel research, grabbing that old psych textbook or history text, and verifying some things. Notes in the margins.

In this, I cringed at the hundreds of books I left behind in Florida when I moved to North Carolina. In this, E-readers were not interesting to me.

Then something happened. I was looking on Amazon at history books. History was never a strong subject for me, but because I'm writing in a pseudo-prehistoric world, I've become more interested lately in how those hunter-gatherer tribes evolved into the powerful, epic cultures that still have their mark upon the lands, thousands of years later.

I discovered some massive tomes on say, Ancient Rome, the "goto" books, the must-haves, and they were a little pricy. Unless you got the EBook - in which case, they were FREE.

Free books.

Admittedly, pricing on new release Ebooks is not very competitive, in which case, I'd just as soon have real books for the pretty shelves of my imagination/future. On the other hand, recently there've been some amazing sales - recent releases for $3, promotional sales for $1 - only in Ebooks.

Who doesn't love to save some money?

But I've never used an Ereader, so before I put that on my Xmas wish list, I thought I'd ask around and see if any of you have one, what you think of them, and so forth.