Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ill Met in the Arena

Title: Ill Met in the Arena
Author: Dave Duncan
Genre: Heroic Fantasy
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Solid stand-alone heroic fantasy.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Quirt of Mundil has a doom set upon him to find The Enemy. For many years he searches for the signs of the man until he finally learns who The Enemy is. A plan starts to come together when Quirt is to fight The Enemy's son in the bronze games.

Reactions: I've read a number of books by Dave Duncan, most of them heroic fantasy and I find he has an outstanding talent for creating new worlds with their own culture and magic systems. Hence, I picked up the book knowing I would not be disappointed and I wasn't. Ill Met in the Arena is solid heroic fantasy with a fast-moving plot set in an interesting new world.

The world is developed on the premise that some men and women developed new psychic powers and created an elite ruling class. Women's psychic powers run to interpersonal skills such as reading minds, psychic communication, and even the ability to change one's personality. Men's psychic powers are more physical, their powers are telekinesis and teleportation.

With the powers divided in this way, women are the Hegemons in the seats of power with men chosen as their consorts based on how well they do in a magical duel called the games. It's a pretty interesting version of the world, where the caste depends on how much magical power your ancestors have and genealogy is paid a lot of attention.

The plot itself is a fast paced story following Quirt as he searches to pushing The Enemy who ruined his life. I didn't find a whole lot of depth in the story, but it's a good read where hero will overcome all obstacles and everything gets wrapped up by the end of the book. A nice safe pick of a good unpretentious fantasy story.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Book Orders

Just as my reading stack was reducing to a manageable size I ordered some more books from Amazon. Quite a few of them won't be coming till May when they release, but a few more will be coming in shortly. Here are some of the books I ordered:

1. Dragon Haven: Volume Two of the Rain Wilds by Robin Hobb
I may have already mentioned in the review for Dragon Keeper that the book has been simply cut into two with a knife. This is the second half that will be coming out on May 11th which I wish could be read more closely with the first half. Hopefully I will still remember who's who in May.

2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Continuing with the theme of long book titles, I am very much looking forward to the last book in the Millenium Trilogy. I am sure this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone following my last review. This book is coming out at the end of May.

3. The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The amazement at how good The Shadow of the Wind was is still somewhat fresh in my mind, and I am hoping that this new novel by Zafon will live up to my expectations. It will release in the beginning of May. In fact, I think May might be an amazing month for reading.

4. Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison
The latest Rachel Morgan adventure is being released on February 23rd. I am hoping for another enjoyable romp with Harrison's characters.

5. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This new fantasy novel seems to have graced a whole lot of Best Of 2009 lists. I am going to find out what the hype is all about for myself.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Title: The Girl Who Played With Fire
Author: Stieg Larsson
Series: Millenium Trilogy, book 2
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2006 (Sweden) 2009 (US)

Recommendation: Definitely worth reading if you have enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Rating: 8.5/10

Summary: After the events in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth leaves the country for a long holiday abroad and Mikael Blomkvist returns to the Millenium. The Millenium is about to make another splash with an expose on sex trafficking when Dag Svensson and Mia Johansson who have investigated the issue get murdered. And the prime suspect in the murder is Lisbeth Salander.

Reactions: I started on The Girl Who Played with Fire as soon as I finished the first book of the series. Despite all the wrap up in the previous book, I was eager to find out what would happen to Lisbeth and Mikael next. And even though the author fills in some of the back story for the previous book, I would definitely recommend reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first. It makes Lisbeth's motives in this book much clearer.

There is a new crime to investigate in The Girl Who Played with Fire and a new set of suspects. The common theme in both books are misogynists, but otherwise the plot is quite different from the previous book. After some introductory chapters the plot really takes off and I could not put the book down. I ended up reading the whole book in a day and I didn't go to sleep till 6am. (Vacations are useful for allowing that to be the case).

There is a lot more emphasis on Lisbeth this book, quite a few chapters follow her movements. At the same time the reader is held in suspense as to whether Lisbeth committed the crimes she is accused of. It's also interesting to follow the police investigation and the dynamics of the team searching for the murderer. I felt some of the characters were a little more clear-cut black-and-white in this book, i.e. some of the detectives, but they seemed to be a study in contrasts for this book.

The main reason this book ended up with a slightly lower rating than the first book in the series is the way the author wrapped up. The book ends with a somewhat of a cliff-hanger. While some plot lines are resolved, others are still up in the air at the end. I was slightly disappointed at that but the best I could do was preorder the next book of the series to be released in May 2010.

To sum it up, anyone who enjoyed the first book would also definitely enjoy this one. I am certainly waiting to find out what happens in the last installment and I hope Stieg Larsson does a good job of completing the trilogy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Series: Millennium Trilogy, book 1
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2005 (Sweden) 2008 (US)

Recommendation: Gripping. Suspenseful. Two thumbs up.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, is hired by an aging billionaire Henrik Vanger to look into the mysterious disappearance of his niece 40 years ago. She was on an island with a number of relatives when she disappeared and the crime has never been solved. Lisbeth Salander is a private investigator with an unusual personality and mysterious history. Together they may be able to shed light on some of the Vanger family mysteries.

Reactions: The title of this book has caught my attention a while back, but I never gotten to looking into the book until I read a very positive review on one of the blogs I follow. Then I decided to give this Swedish mystery a try myself. It turned out that I enjoyed the book a lot.

Part of the appeal of the book to me was the elaborate story. The family history for the Vagner family is described in rich, intricate details. The characters are very well drawn out -- the good guys have serious flaws and the bad guys can be likable. Some of the characters are very difficult to peg into any category for a long time and the book just keeps revealing more about them throughout.

Overall, the plot moves quite well. I've stayed up late at night reading, completely unable to stop because I kept getting hooked on the action. However, there is a strange flow to the plot because even though the main mystery gets solved about 5/6th of the way into the book, there are still a 100 or so pages at the end dedicated to resolving other story lines. That felt a little strange, but at the end I was very satisfied how everything was wrapped up.

The story also ended up being darker than I expected at first. There are several rather graphic scenes in the book, some of them very violent. But at the same time, the tone is not depressing. There are obstacles to overcome and each character deals with their own problems in their own ways without getting bogged down in sentimentality.

To sum it up, this was a top notch read and if you get a chance, pick up the books. I have already started reading the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kitty and the Silver Bullet

Title: Kitty and the Silver Bullet
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, book 4
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 2008

Recommendation: More of Kitty fun, still pretty good.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Kitty and Ben come back to Denver when they learn that Kitty's mother may be diagnosed with cancer. Denver vampire politics are getting complicated and Kitty may just have to get involved.

Reactions: I spent quite a few hours on a plane this Tuesday and read Kitty and the Silver Bullet on the way. It was definitely a good choice for having the time fly by and follow some more Kitty adventures.

In general, there is not much to say about this installment in particular. It follows the general set up of other Kitty novels. There is a conflict and there's Kitty dealing with it. It's fun to watch, touching at times, and cheering in others.

I have the next few books in the series lined up as well and planning to see where Kitty is going next.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dragon Keeper

Title: Dragon Keeper
Author: Robin Hobb
Series: The Rain Wilds Chronicles, book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A start for a solid character-driven epic, but incomplete.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: After the dragon Tingalia makes a pact with Bingtown to protect them in exchange for helping a new generation of dragons be born, a number of dragons cocoon and hatch. However, they are not what real dragons should be; born deformed and malnourished they are unable to feed themselves and rely on humans to gather food for them. The situation keeps getting worse until the dragons and an entourage of humans decide to travel into the unexplored parts of Rain Wilds in search for the legendary city of Kelsingra.

Reactions: I have been a fan of Robin Hobb for a long time and started on Dragon Keeper as soon as Amazon delivered it to my door. In this book, we return to the Rain Wilds and even see some of the same characters as in The Liveship Traders. Except the focus is shifted to new heroes and the events take place at about the same time F0ol's Fate ended. There is no pre-assumed knowledge of previous trilogies.

Robin Hobb does an excellent job drawing out the world, the situation, and her characters. I was easily transported to Rain Wilds with its hardships, politics, and romances. The main character, Alise is extremely sympathetic and there are many other interesting plotlines that end up interweaving. A very interesting undercurrent to the events are letters sent between two pigeon keepers interspersed between chapters and developing another perspective on the events as well as additional characters. These little asides were very well done.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read that ended somewhat abruptly just as the action was setting into motion. From what I've read, it was originally one novel that was split into two and is going to be published in two parts. Unfortunately, that meant the book ended right in the midst of other events and that was quite unsatisfying. The only consolation is that the second volume will be published in May of 2010, so there isn't much of a wait. It may be worth getting both books at once.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

January Recap

This was a pretty decent month for reading. I am meeting my reading schedule of approximately 4 books per month and I even started out on my goal of reading some classic sci-fi.

I am also excited about February. I've just received new Robin Hobb's book The Dragon Keeper set in the Rain Wilds and put it on top of my reading list immediately. I am still on the first chapter though, so it's too early to say anything about the book.

I am also planning to travel this month and hopefully that vacation will give me some extra time to read. Looking forward to that.