Saturday, December 08, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;—William Shakespeare
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes there is more delight
Than in the breath which from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak,—yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,—
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground;
¨¨¨And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
¨¨¨As any she belied with false compare.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,—William Butler Yeats
Enwroght with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-ligh,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Dear guests, please gather around, the tour is about to begin. You have all remembered to bring silverware, I hope? Excellent. It is, of course, your good silverware, passed down from your grandmother and polished free of tarnish, the real silver, not the strange conglomeration of metals that they use today. Very good.
No, no reason. It is merely... appropriate to use the real thing.
We shall begin our tour here, in the cemetery, at the grave of that famous Southern belle Shawn of Everything and Nothing. Miss Shawn was known far and wide for her superior conversational and cooking skills. Families would travel from all over the world to sample such delights as her adorable Cheesy Goblin Head, very suitable to the season.
How did she die? Anemia, I believe... very odd, seeing as she loved to cook with red meat.
Let us move on. The gravedigger is most hospitable and has cooked us a stake... excuse me. Of course I meant a steak, as in Steak with Porcini Cream Sauce. I must be thinking of something else.
Oh how lovely, Professor. You've included the garlic. I think that is most wise. And you have invited Scribbit to contribute? What is this called? Dracula's Revenge? What an unusual name.
What a satisfying stop that was. Our next stop will be the Montaigne house, the site of a most unusual mystery. They say that one day the whole family was found in the house, deeply asleep... much like Sleeping Beauty, don't you think? My mother always blamed the heating system. So prosaic. For some reason, nobody seems to remember what happened to the family after that— they were sent off to some institution, I believe, and the upper floors fell into disrepair.
Oh, it's perfectly safe. See, Slow Cooker Recipes has even left some Mulled Cider for us. There is also Harvest Pumpkin Bread from Mama, Baked Penne With Roasted Vegetables from A Penny Closer, and Comfort Food from Tea Party Girl. Just have a seat and...
Oh. Oh my. No, I did not know about that hidden door. How very clever of you to find the catch in that bookshelf.
Shall we see where it goes?
Oh yes, of course. After we eat.
Why yes, of course I could use a flashlight. I even have one, just in case. But it is so much more interesting to use a lantern, don't you think?
Yes, it does seem remarkably free of dust. Almost as though someone were expecting us. And... do you see a light? A faint glow, up ahead? Just around the corner? Shall we go see?
Oh! How perfectly marvelous! Halloween Werewolf Claws! How lovely of Recipes Recipe to think of setting this up! Now to dig in...
Don't be silly. They're made of chicken.
The full moon was last week, and everyone knows that werewolf goes bad after two days.
What a sweet little trick, to set up a snack in the hidden passage. And just look where this comes out— the lounge. Smarter Dollar has prepared a whole range of Halloween Drinks... none for me, thank you... and Rickey has made us some wonderful Bloody Mary drinks from scratch, as is only proper.
And those of you who have been feeling a little unsure about this house, please, assuage your feelings be going after the Edible Haunted House. It is, after all, a season for sweets.
Our next stop is a pumpkin patch reputed to be that of the farmer... what was his name? The one who reputedly punished the ill-will and thievery of his neighbors through magical pumpkin muffins. Oh, you hadn't heard that story? I don't think I shall tell it right now. It might make you nervous.
Pancake Recipes has prepared some lovely Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes with Roasted Pears for this stop. BCS Frenzy has kindly offered Smokey Roasted Pumpkin Seeds And Straight From the Farm has supplied little Pumpkin Popups.
Why, of course those popups are not, strictly, muffins. Besides, you are not ungrateful, are you?
Now, because our hosts were unwilling to make your life too pumpkiny, a few of them have provided some lovely counterpoints. Bean Sprouts, in the UK, discovered that pumpkins are sometimes not available for love or money. She has provided a lovely Mock Pumpkin Soup recipe that her friends prefer to the real thing. [Note for Americans: a swede is that vegetable sold as a rutabaga.] A Weight Lifted felt that a little World Series Bean Bakeoff would be just the thing, and I must admit that those refried beans look perfectly marvelous. Disease-Proof felt, quite rightly, that by Bringin' da Salad they would be doing us all quite a favor.
And now, dear guests, we shall be visiting a number of these historic houses to do a little trick-or-treating of our own. Despite what some silly people say, trick-or-treating does not have its roots in Celtic mythology, nor is it a strange pagan ritual having anything to do with souls. It is an American invention, an institution started by community groups in the early 20th century as a means of controlling Mischief Night, the traditional yearly pranking of All Hallow's Eve. The thinking was that by flooding the streets with people, those who were preparing the nastier, sometimes deadly, pranks would not dare to do such under the public eye.
Oh, don't mind me. It just amuses me to see folks ranting about the evil history of trick-or-treating, a tradition that was, in part, started by groups such as the Boy Scouts.
Let us begin here, at this cozy little cottage. Hello, Seabird dear, what an amusing set of bear suits. Porridge? How appropriate! And such a good, solid base for our later sweets.
Oh! I didn't expect a party here... Why, thank you! We would love to come in. Look, SugarLaw has brought her meltingly soft Oatmeal Currant Cookies. And the Men In Aprons brought Chocolate Chip Pecan Scones, how divine. There's some Chocolate Mousse over there, under the "Fake It Till You Learn To Make It" sign, Black Cat Cupcakes from Chef Tom, and look! Leader Ladies have brought a whole passel of Halloween Treats For Kids.
Ohh. I'm so full. Perhaps if we walk to the far houses, out at the end of the road, we'll have enough appetite.
Club Mom of Readable Feast has offered to tell us of Magical Meerkats as we walk. And she's brought Dulce Du Leche Bat Cookies.
Let us stop at Jennie's before we Ramble too far... I'm sorry, I'm getting a little punchy. She's brought us some lovely Candy Sushi, suitable for your little goblins. And World Famous Recipes has brought out a somewhat early Christmas Trifle, suitable for all holidays.
Well! I admit, that was quite a food tour. Far more treats than tricks, I hope you agree. Please, come back to visit anytime. Just bring your silverware, particularly if it's a full moon.
No reason. No reason at all.
Mock Pumpkin Soup
Oatmeal Currant Cookies
Chocolate Chip Pecan Scones
Fake It Till You Learn To Make It Chocolate Mousse
Dulce De Leche Bat Cookies
Harvest Pumpkin Bread
Steak with Porcini Cream Sauce
World Series Bean Bakeoff
Christmas (Holiday) Trifle
Porridge, as in Goldilocks
Bringin' da Salad
Halloween Treats For Kids
Black Cat Cupcakes
Edible Haunted House
Halloween Werewolf Chicken Claws
Crockpot Mulled Cider
Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes with Roasted Pears
Baked Penne With Roasted Vegetables
Smokey Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Cheesy Goblin Head
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
|Bone Dance: A Fantasy for Technophiles|
Date: 1991-04 — DVD / VHS
This fantasy is set in a post-apocalyptic future that very much resembles certain cyberpunk worlds. Don't be fooled, however, since certain mystic elements come into strong play. The book revolves around Sparrow, a friend-phobic technophilic youth who makes a living mining the past. One transaction might involve the finding of a copy of a pre-Bang (pre-nuke, natch) movie; another might be in repairing a damaged speaker cone. Sparrow loves the music and movies of a past never experienced by any in this age.
When large chunks of Sparrow's life start disappearing— blackouts of total memory loss— it's the indication of big things coming. The loa— hoodoo energy workers— have brought Sparrow to the City (never named, but probably Minneapolis, Emma Bull's stomping grounds) to break up an obstruction in the energy flow. But Sparrow's individualistic tendencies crash heavily against the need for assistance, and too much stubborn insistence on going it alone might lead to a very bad end.
This is perhaps my favorite Emma Bull book. (Unless it's Finder.) Sparrow is a wonderful character who inspires sympathy even while rejecting it. One gets the sense of a person who has never understood the concept of loneliness, in the same way that fish don't have a word for water. When your only solace is an ever-degenerating record of the past, life would seem lonely indeed to those of us who have had friends. But then again, Sparrow inspires friendship without seeking it— just as well, considering the events in the novel.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
|The Wizard of London: Elemental Masters #4 (Elemental Masters)|
Date: 2006-10-03 — Book
This book, which was published subsequent to The Serpent's Shadow, goes into the history of one of its characters. Lord David Alderscroft is the Wizard of the title, a fairly young man whose Element is Fire but whose specialty is almost the inverse, right down to his frosty manner. I could not, at first, identify the fairy tale this one is based on, quite likely because the only version of the original I've ever read is the bowlderized (and somewhat confusing) Andrew Lang version in the colored Fairy Tale series.
This is the story of the Snow Queen, of the man who must break out of the prison of ice by discovering the meaning of love. It's not quite as interesting in that respect as you might think: most of the attention in the book is rightfully placed on the love he spurned many years ago (and who went on to marry a worthier man, who does survive the novel) and her protegés: practitioners of a stranger magic than that of the Elemental style. Her trainees are, in fact, British boarding school children, sent home by parents in India. Isabelle— the spurned love— started her school when she realized the horrible shock and neglect that many such children experience upon being sent to a "foreign" land and culture; some of the children are wholly normal, and the ones who have magic keep their abilities secret as their parents taught them.
Isabelle runs the school in a way that we moderns would approve: she serves food from "home" (India), and does not expect children raised in a hot land by loving servants to tolerate cold rooms and colder emotions. She also trains those whose abilities the Elemental Masters cannot understand— the telepaths, the clairvoyant, the kinetics. All in all, she has a very odd job description. An attempt on two of her students sets her on a path that crosses her former life among the gentry of London, and she discovers that unless she deals with her past, there is danger to them all.
What is kind of sad is that you see the potential for Lord David at the end of this book, but in The Serpent's Shadow he is portrayed as a respected old man, but in a way that comes across as more than a little narrow-minded and curmudgeonly. Pity.
Friday, September 28, 2007
|The Serpent's Shadow|
Date: 2002-03-01 — Book
This entry in the Elemental Masters series is, like its counterparts, based on a traditional fairy tale. I was vastly amused to find that this tale of an early-twentieth century half-caste* female doctor who has come to the wilds of England to be the story of Snow White. More amusing is the Lord Peter Wimsey cognate (Lord Peter Almsley, who even has the proper style of family.) In fact, for those who come to this book after most of the rest of the series, the book is full of recognizeable faces, including the Wizard of London and Fenix.
Maya, the young doctor, has managed to get her license validated, and endeavors to make her practice in those areas that the almost universally male medical system ignores: female problems, particularly those that need discretion, sterile surgery, and actually thinking of the poor as humans and worth saving. This brings her into a little conflict, but the primary danger to her is the one she fled India to avoid: a witch of sorts with a grudge against her because of her parents. However, she has the love and attention of her friends, the strange dwarf cognates, and her Prince Charming: a former sailor who dares to think that a woman and a half-caste might actually have a brain and be worth speaking with.
Of course it ends happily. Lackey does the fairy tales in the commonly accepted way, where they all have happy endings. Somehow, I don't think she's ever going back to the source material of some of them.
*For those not familiar with the term, "half-caste" is a term used to describe someone with a British parent and an Indian parent, and at the time, rejected by both cultures. It's not particularly compliemntary but, in this case, is intended to be descriptive.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
|Nightmares and Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Time|
Date: 2004-03-31 — Book
Fiction, Horror, Graphic Novel
I love dark fairytales. And horror stories. And tales of things that go bump in the night. I can't go Goth, though; I'm too happy. But for your inner Goth, there's nothing like a horror comic based on traditional fairy tales.
Admittedly, the first two installments are more standard slasher horror in black & white, but the stories quickly turn to a dark retelling of Snow White, and an interesting take on Cinderella. There is also the tale of a little girl with horrible parents, and monsters in a new house. One wonders a bit how they ended up with such a sweet girl until one realizes that she's farmed out so much that she must be the product of sympathetic daycare workers and nice teachers.
All of the stories are told from the perspective of a tattered little doll named Annabelle, whose depiction hovers somewhere between Goth and emo*. And Annabelle says she has no happy stories, though quite honestly, some of them do end happily for some of the people involved (Cinderella, for one, though her step-relations fare far worse.) The artwork is beautiful if you're attuned to that style, though possibly bizarrely elongated for those unused to it. All in all, good stuff.
*Goths are the ones in the quasi-Victorian black clothing. Emo is the indie-rock crowd that follows twenty-somethings singing about how their lives suck because they don't have a six-figure job out of high school, or college is so hard. I have friends in both camps who will understand me making fun of them.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
|The Eternity Artifact|
L. E. Modesitt
Date: 2006-08 — Book
Fiction, Science Fiction
L.E. Modesitt must ahve some variant of the Asimov Syndrome. You know, the one where you find typing irresistable? I mean, I can understand a huge backlog of books. Terry Pratchett has over thirty books in one series alone, and he's not slowing down. Or there's always Stephen King.
But Modesitt seems to be publishing on the order of two or three books a year. I'm not sure that many people have noticed this, since he writes in two genres, and though those two are commonly shelved together, most bookstores don't typically have all of his books on hand at one time. In fact, you're lucky if they have half of his catalog. I didn't even know he wrote science fiction until two or three years back... I even thought I was supporting a new author when I bought The Magic of Recluce, the first book in the Recluce series. I was only wrong by a factor of my age at the time.
Most of his science ficiton can be loosely plotted along a continuum. On one end, you have Earth of about a hundred years from now, and on the other, you have a massive war between people who refer to themselves as "angels" and "demons." The tricky part is that many of his books may or may not fit along this continuum, and the heroes and villains keep changing. In other words, plotting Modesitt's universe makes for a good party game but has no authorial sanction or certainty. The books could all be related or they could be completely dissimilar.
The Eternity Artifact is possibly a sidestep of this, or one set comparatively early on. It involves a fast trip to an actual alien world, one long deserted and hurtling toward a dangerous section of space. The quickly assembled group of scientists, engineers, soldiers, and humanities types— because the government in question is not about to discount the observations of intuitive types in regards to an alien civilization— is prey to the combined forces of other societies, particularly one that is very deeply rooted in a paternalistic faith that has a resitance to change. While exploring the dead planet, they'll have to elude sabotage attacks as well as frontal assaults... and all with only the small amount of weaponry they were able to put together in the allotted time.
As with all of Modesitt's science ficiton, it is intricate— with many character arcs, and the speaker designated as a chapter sub-heading— and intense. I will make two further observations. The first is that in this and other fiction, Modesitt seems to have a very dim view of Mormons, since that's the faith he bases the Covenanters (and other religions in other books) upon. Since he lives in Utah, that may be a side effect of observing certain splinter groups (such as the polygamists) close at hand.
The second is somewhat stranger. I think, in many ways, Modesitt's books are subtle love stories. The protagonist invariably has to overcome greater and greater challenges throughout the book, and many of them have to do with relationships (and failing to be good at them), but the truth is that the guy gets the girl, and vice versa, in the end. This is pretty much invariably the case.
The relationships are downplayed, the romance and wooing are all but nonexistant, but the guy gets the girl in the end. How strange is that?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
|Phoenix and Ashes|
Date: 2005-10-04 — DVD / VHS
This retelling of Cinderella has Eleanor Robinson literally bound to the hearth by her stepmother's magic after her father's death, unable to do anything except what her stepmother commands. During the years of the Great War, she fades from people's memories as her life becomes one of degrading slavery. But when her own magic starts to awake, she finds herself being able to, in small ways, break free of the sphere of her stepmother's influence.
And it's a good thing, too, The prince cognate, Reginald Fenyx, has returned from the war traumatized from an incident in which he was buried underground. The stepmother wants power, and she wants advancement, and as an Earth Elemental Master, she's supposed to be good at healing. She begins to do her best to insinuate herself into young Fenyx's life, hoping to bind him to one of her daughters.
I like this version of Cinderella, with a strong heroine who has to fight hard against the compulsions magically binding her, and a lord's son who is quite the decent chap. She is not passively waiting for her prince, but seeking his assistance while helping him while she can. It's the basis for a solid relationship.
Monday, September 24, 2007
|The Gates of Sleep|
Date: 2002-04-01 — Book
Beauty and the Beast gives way to Sleeping Beauty, and turn-of-the-twentieth-century gives way to an earlier period, the time of Pre-Raphaelite art. My only objection with this book is that Lackey draws more on the Disney version than from older versions of the tale, and hews a little too literally to the "three good fairies" parallel. It doesn't entierly mesh with the story, which is a pity since the characters are enjoyable and might have done better with incrementally different characters.
I do, however, like the evil aunt's depiciton very much. As the owner of a pottery, she deliberately has her glaze artists feted and dressed in such a way as to corrupt their souls at the same time as lead poisoning first makes them beautiful, then destroys them. Lackey does point out, subtly, that not all potteries are run on such principles, where she could have otherwise just left a blanket condemnation of the entire Industrial Revolution.
As with the previous book, Lackey does have the heroine feign a certain amount of stupidity as a means of self defense. It's an interesting commentary on the times that it works so very well.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
|The Fire Rose|
Date: 1996-11-01 — DVD / VHS
I like retold fairytales. I like them a lot, particularly when they're blown up to book length. Mercedes Lackey has a series where masters of the elements play a big role, and every one is a retold fairy tale.
As one might guess from the title, this book is Beauty and the Beast. The beast in question is one of these Elemental Masters, a man who let his curiosity get the better of him in attempting something he wasn't quite ready for. Because he needs a trustworthy scholar of sorts— as his secretary is impatient and perhaps treacherous— he enlists his salamanders (fire elementals) to find him a scholarly woman of no relations. The former is quite difficult in 1905, the setting of the story, while the latter is to ensure that no one will be too perturbed if such a person is immured at the ends of the earth, that being San Francisco.
You'll note the date and location. That's one thing you can see coming from miles away.
What I found really interesting, though, is a complete tangent. Lackey mentions something called The Great Peshtigo Fire. I'd never heard of it, and you probably haven't either. It is considered to be the worst fire-related tragedy in the US, with anywhere from 1500 to 2100 deaths— and part of the tragedy is that no one will ever be able to tell how many died. Why haven't you heard of it? Well, on the very same night, there was a fire you will have heard of: The Great Chicago Fire. The one "caused by Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern" or, more likely, by the workman who was seen smoking in the vicinity. The urban fire grabbed the headlines, leaving the huge fire that burned 1.5 million acres and destroyed entire towns to be forgotten.
If you have ever wondered why fire management is so important, that's why. "Firestorm" doesn't even begin to cover it.
At any rate, the bespectacled Rosalind of the title is quite a nice Beauty, and James Cameron makes for a nicely dangerous Beast. And the secretary du Mond is a jerk and a cad, a character all too frequent in the real world and possibly drawn from life.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
|Bride of the Rat God|
Date: 1994-10-31 — Book
With a title like this, who can resist? The tale is set in the silent film era, where a much-lauded but fairly mediocre film star, Chrysanda Flamande works with her widowed sister-in-law, Norah Blackstone. Norah's job is that of a personal assistant, and in a refreshing change from the stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of spoiled film stars, she loves her work. Chrysanda, while indeed a spoiled film star, is a marvelous character, because despite her partying ways and cocaine addiction (not uncommon for the time), she is a fundamentally nice person, perhaps the nicest protagonist Hambly has ever had. She saw the horrible situation that Norah was in when she visited England (as virtual slavey to a boorish family) and immediately offered a job; she actually cares (to a certain extent) about those people she works with, and while she is not the bravest person in the world she is willing to stand firm when she would rather run— high praise indeed.
As to the plot, it is, in fact, the hackneyed sort of story that so enthralled the movie industry of the time. Ancient gods, a cursed necklace, villains that refuse to stay dead, a mysterious Chinaman... in lesser hands, this would be nothing more than a spoof. Yet Hambly manages to pull out a story where you actually care about the characters and worry whether they will make it.
This is a Good Book™. Go ahead and read and enjoy, and don't let guilt over the title stop you.
Friday, September 21, 2007
|No One Noticed The Cat|
Date: 2005-10-25 — Book
My doubts about this book are entirely based upon the fact that McCaffrey didn't seem to know exactly where to aim it. It's basically a little novelette of romantic fantasy, a fairy tale of sorts. The problem is that I can't make out whether she intended this for children or adults, and if she aimed it at both she should read some Terry Pratchett and see how to do it right.
If she aimed it at adults, the simplistic reasoning and lack of depth to the characters is enough to drive you batty. If she aimed it at children, the language and concepts— and the rather blatant hints of casual sex— are a little off for the audience. I am all for exposing children to a wide vocabulary. That is how they learn, after all. But when a sentence is laced with terms that are unnecessarily complex, and the child in question has to look up half a dozen words just to get a sense of what's going on... well, that argues against the book being designed for them.
It was an okay story. But in the end, McCaffrey's writing skill has dropped a bit, and it shows.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
|Winds of Fury (The Mage Winds, Book 3)|
Date: 1994-08-01 — Book
Elspeth returns home in triumph as a mage, resigns as Heir, then goes off in a dangerous quest to Hardorn to depose Ancar (who is abusing his people and his land) and, incidentally, his ally Mornelithe Falconsbane, who has cheated death, yet again. Yadda yadda yadda. Actually, this book is more streamlined than its predecessors, and once they get to Hardorn the pace picks up admirably. I'm still left with the conclusion that Lackey had to force herself to write these books because there wasn't any other way to get to the next ones. They just don't flow like some of her other works do.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
|Winds of Change|
Date: 1993-08-01 — DVD / VHS
As Elspeth continues her magical training, she has to contend with the knowledge of a dangerous foe who styles himself Mornelithe Falconsbane— the latter name in direct response to the existence of the Hawkbrothers. Falconsbane is shrewd but degenerate and has morphed his body into something resembling that of a cat's. He did the same to his daughter Nyara's, then carefully abused her to respond strongly to sexual stimuli. Nyara, having managed to break free, is doing her best to overcome that, primarily because her trained response is a weapon in the hands of her father.
In the meantime, Falconsbane is doing his best to access the power of the Heartstone, the repository for magical energy that the Tayledras use to help their healing of the lands of the Pelagir. In the hands of a crazy and evil Master sorceror, well, you know the drill. So Elspeth and Darkwind and the flamboyant Firesong have to figure out how to heal or shield the crazed Heartstone, find the other half of the Vale's population, train Elspeth so she'll be able to help her country, and oh, kill Falconsbane...
Again, too much. Lackey might have done better to pare this story down. Still enjoyable, though.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
|Winds of Fate (The Mage Winds, Book 1)|
Date: 1992-07-07 — Book
I think the thing I love the best about the Mercedes Lackey books is how she leads you to expect that a subsequent series will be about a particular topic and it turns out to be on something else entirely. Instead of having this trilogy be primarily about the conflict with Hardorn (written about in Arrows of the Queen and By the Sword), it's about Valdemar's search for magical assistance, most notably in the person of its Heir, Elspeth.
Valdemar is rather shocked to understand the reality of magic despite its long tradition of semi-magical Heralds riding Magical Talking Ponies With Big Blue Eyes (aka Companions.) Obviously, there is some outside interference going on— and just as obviously, that interference, and the protection that goes along with it, is eroding. So Elspeth sets off on a Quest to basically be trained as a mage.
Except that Elspeth rather resents being the focus of a Quest. And she resents it to the point of railing long and hard about following the path laid down for her— and to finding a strange, though acceptable, alternative. That alternative leads them to the Tayledras, the magical Hawkbrothers of the magically ruined Pelagir Hills.
These books show their age in a couple of ways. The first is that the prose is much more difficult going than that of Lackey's later novels, and it feels as though she had too much to say. These books are not short and they don't read swiftly. The second is the interior illustrations by Lackey's husband, Larry Dixon... where the men all have strong jaws and mullets. I guess that's the only way he could imagine long hair at the time (the late 80s.)
I don't know what it is about fantasy, but it has certainly matured as a form. It's a much more interesting read when the writers relax.
Monday, September 17, 2007
|The Cat Who Saw Stars (Cat Who...)|
Lilian Jackson Braun
Date: 1999-01-11 — Book
Lillian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who series has unfortunately outlived its credibility. This is a pity, because Braun still writes engaging characters, but it feels as though too much is going on without enough explanation. In this one, we are treated to a rather heavy-handed depiction of Jim Qwilleran's reluctance to believe in the local obsession with UFOs, and his dislike of anything that smacks of telling the future. This is in spite of the fact that he relies upon hunches, both his and those of his frighteningly hunchful Siamese Koko.
I wouldn't mind that so much if it weren't for the overbearing amount of coincidence present in this book. I love Kay Hooper's work and her psychics are even further over the edge than the cats. But when Braun leaves out a major necessity in a murder mystery novel— namely, that there's a dead body at the beginning of the book and the death is not resolved by the end— one has to wonder whether her heart is really in her writing. Seriously underwhelming novel. (But free copy.)
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Date: 01 July, 1998 — $7.50 — Book
Genre categories are determined by sales, not actual content. Because of this, Kay Hooper has several books which are only mysteries in the vaguest sense. This is certainly one of those... yeah, someone ends up dead at the beginning, which is what draws the Laura of the title into the house of a very rich family, and of course into the arms of its scion.
That's the sort of plot point you can't give away, because anyone who doesn't see that coming a mile away needs to have her head examined.
However, since this is Kay Hooper, she's got to have a mystical aspect to the romance, and the biggest mystery of the book is not who offed the jerk brother but what is the secret of the mirror. (That secret, by the way, is not actually anything especially strange. No magic involved. But it's a neat element nonetheless.)
This is a fun little book, and great for that mindless summer reading when you're not trying to take a nap in the middle of a warm day, and need something interesting but not too challenging to keep you awake.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
|By the Sword (Kerowyn's Tale)|
Date: 05 February, 1991 — $7.99 — Book
This book is set shortly after Arrows of the Queen, and takes place for the most part in the old stomping grounds of Tarma and Kethry. In fact, the principal character, Kerowyn, is Kethry's granddaughter. When her brother's wedding is attacked by raiders and the bride kidnapped, Kerowyn is the only one left who can do anything. Adopting a pose that would have her hidebound mother horrified, Kerowyn goes to her grandmother and asks for help.
Kethry passes on the sword Need so that Kerowyn can confront the raiders. Need's abilities compensate for the lack of Kerowyn's skill, and she brings the bride back... only to find that the remains of her family is horrified that she would embarrass the family so by doing something instead of letting the males do it.
So Kerowyn decides to leave home, and Kethry and Tarma train one more mercenary. Kerowyn's not only good at it, she's astoundingly good, and dedicates herself to her calling with a fierce intensity.
Of course, now is when complications inevitably ensue, and they do in the form of a captured Herald... who has the mind-speech that Kerowyn shares. But she fights the idea of being trapped very strongly, and parts from him.
Now, this is the kind of fantasy where you can tell who is going to end up with whom. But it's interesting to see how it gets drawn out in this case, and the ending pairs (plural) are certainly no surprise. Neither is the manner of their occurrence. But it's certainly worth a chuckle from those who can say that truly, they saw that coming... because, of course, the characters involved fight so hard against it, and you know they're going to be happy in the end.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Date: 01 April, 1998 — $7.99 — Book
Ficiton, Fantasy, Short Stories
Here's all that missing Tarma and Kethry information! This compilation has the first story, where Tarma and Kethry meet, as well as several others throughout their career, both during and after the Vows and Honor books. There is the story of a ballad in the back of Vows and Honor (always read those appendices, folks!) and tales of the school the two opened after they retired from their mercenary careers.
Mercedes Lackey has often said that the Tarma and Kethry stories were the easiest for her to write, and they certainly flow smoothly from the author's pen. This book is a must for finishing out Vows and Honor, and if you want, you can even go to the trouble of interspersing the stories so that they will flow chronologically.
Or not. It's up to you.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
|The Girl Who Heard Dragons|
Date: 15 August, 1995 — $7.99 — Book
Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories
Tepid. Definitely tepid. The title story is a companion to The Renegades of Pern, and details an incident of Aramina's life just before she goes to Benden Weyr. That one's not bad, and there's at least one more of interest in the book, but many of them are of the "Um... what?" school of writing. I really didn't get the point of the group unmoored in time, a group which McCaffrey expends more than one story on, and the one about the colonists on the apparently abandoned planet felt as though it shoud have more impact than it did.
These stories come from all over McCaffrey's career, which probably explains why some seem better than others. Again, though, this one's more for borrowing than buying.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
|The Wings of Pegasus|
Date: 1990 — Book
Fiction, Science Fiction
Yes, I know, once again with the omnibus edition. Truly, though, there comes a point in a reader's life when the paperbacks are simply falling apart, and omnibi are an elegant solution to the dual problems of durability and space. This edition contains two novels, To Ride Pegasus and Pegasus in Flight. There is apparently a third in the series, Pegasus in Space, which received less than rave reviews. I'm a little wary of obtaining it.
To Ride Pegasus is a story-compilation-style novel. As you might have gathered, I'm not fond of this type of novel that isn't really a novel; I much prefer when the author chooses to later blend the stories into a coherent whole. What makes it worse in this case is the fact that there is not a consistent set of protagonists from the beginning of the book to the end— and worse yet, we don't ever find out how some of them drop out of the picture. Now that's harsh.
The story is that of the rise of measurable psychic talents, beginning with the accidental brain scan of a foretelling in progress. Armed with the knowledge that psychic talents can be detected, Henry Darrow starts out to build an organization of psychic helpers. Along the way he has to face the expected misunderstandings, fear, persecution, and over-reliance that have become a familiar litany (like a more minor form of the X-men.) And then he passes the reins to Daffyd op Owen, presumably at his predicted death, and we go forward from there.
Perhaps these stories suffer somewhat from later works.
The second book is far more coherent. Earth is building a space platform for further exploration, and the organizers are all but forcing more Talent to help. (A sympathetic underling does improve the working conditions once it is pointed out to him exactly the stresses the 'sensitives' suffer.) However, a young boy with a paralyzed body has begun to do something strange and unusual with his abilities— using electrical power to supplement his own. This young boy is Peter Reidinger, the first of many (as we know from McCaffrey's The Rowan and later books in that series.)
Along the way there are problems to be solved, disasters to be averted, tempers to placate, and a child-smuggling ring to break up. You know, the good old adventure stories.
But overall, these stories are not among McCaffrey's best. Worth a borrow but not, perhaps, a buy.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
|Along the Shore|
Date: 01 June, 1990 — Book
Fiction, Children's, Short Stories
This story collection is centered on the sea and includes tales which were later reworked for parts of other books. Some of the tales are with Montgomery's deep connection with the sea, and others are adventure stories with the sea as a danger. One in particular has the darkest ending I've ever seen in a Montgomery story, a distinct change from her usual romantic endings.
I rather respect that.
Monday, September 10, 2007
|The Doctor's Sweetheart|
Date: 01 November, 1993 — Book
Fiction, Children's, Short Stories
This collection of Montgomery short stories is focused on love and marriage, and is composed of tales that are about everything from a romance with a large age gap to the reconciling of estranged partners and to the typical Montgomery trick of having someone stubborn declare something and getting into trouble thereby. There's also the stereotypica illness that shows how much one is loved, and the marriage that is almost out of pity for the disorder the poor man has to live through.
Nice little stories, all around, good for a snack.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
|The Golden Road|
Date: 1913 — Book
This is an atmospheric novel. It only exists to give a flavor of life during a particular period. I cannot recall a single coherent plotline from beginning to end, just little episodes in the history of the King children. Actually, in many ways it reminds me of parts of Little Women, though that had an overall structure.
This isn't bad, and I will track down the first of the two, but it is certainly not the sort of book to use in teaching plot.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Date: 1935 — $4.99 — Book
In many ways, this sequel to Pat of Silver Bush is about change. What's really strange is that the cover seems to bear this out. The cover on the copy I have is nearly identical as to placement and pose... but one mine, the girl is somewhat different, with redder hair and short sleeves. To make matters worse, the young pine trees in the background have grown a bit before the Amazon cover... so one has to wonder why the same artist (it has to be the same artist or an imitator) has gone back and done essentially the same picture twice! How odd.
Since the theme of the book is Change, the structure is Time. The book takes place over eleven years while the seeming Right Man for Pat is away, studying. Since Pat dislikes change so much, it is inevitable that change should happen to Silver Bush in such a way as to slowly detach her love from it. But she just seems so impossibly dense as to the outcome— when everything she loves about Silver Bush is gone, what is the point of staying? But it still takes a proverbial crowbar to pry her loose.
A lot of people have noted the neuroticism of Pat. Some more have objected to the elitism— but the elitism I saw had mostly to do with manners and with history. Many original families of locations were quite snobbish about their family heritage, something incomprehensible to most Americans, but with that heritage came a sense of duty in acting in a particular manner. One can only point out the rudeness of the Binnie clan as an example.
As a sketch of times gone by, this is an excellent book. But it's a little disturbing, all the same.
|Kilmeny of the Orchard|
Date: 1910 — Book
This early novel of Montgomery's is charming despite the fact that the plot is bizarrely contrived. Unusually for Montgomery, the protagonist is male... a young, rich graduate who takes on a rural teaching position as a favor to an ailing friend. While there, he surprises a beautiful girl playing violin in the orchard and starts to court her.
This is where it gets strange. Kilmeny is mute, and resists him because she feels unworthy of anyone's love. The reason this is strange is that apparently, her inability to speak is purely psychological— a term which they didn't even have at that point, so there's discussion of "the sins of the parent being visited on the child" and all of that. Literally, it's decided that she can't speak because her mother refused to. And Kilmeny is convinced that she is ugly. And unworthy. And just not suited to a man who obviously knows what he's doing.
Well, since this is a Montgomery novel, one knows it will all come right in the end, with the craziest of deus ex machinas, but hey. It's fun.
Friday, September 07, 2007
|Pat of Silver Bush|
Date: 1933 — $4.99 — Book
When you go used-book saling, you discover many things. Everyone knows of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Emily of New Moon is also well known. Some people even remember Jane of Lantern Hill (see a trend here?)— mostly due to the fact that it was made into a television movie shortly after the Anne series.
But this last go-round, I ran across books I'd never heard of. Pat of Silver Bush. The Golden Road (and the predecessor I have to track down, The Story Girl.) Kilmeny of the Orchard. And the fact that when they started compiling her short stories, instead of the dozen or so listed in the official catalogues, Montgomery had written over five hundred published stories. (Many of those are variants on a theme, but hey.)
So Pat of Silver Bush is the story of the most amazing homebody I've ever run across. She loves her home far too much, to the point where she'll drop a friend rather than hear her beloved acres maligned. The normal run of Montgomery tales of growing up form the basis of her life, including finding dear friends and having illnesses and meeting the boy you just know she's going to marry someday after she gets courted by all the wrong boys.
I've given this book a lower score than I normally give Montgomery because Pat's resistance to change is almost pathological. She cries when trees are cut down, dead or not. She can't stand her old clothes being destroyed. And she won't move out of Silver Bush without a crowbar. It's disturbing.