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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Leif the Lucky - Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire

Leif the Lucky, son of Erik the Red, travels in a long boat with his family. He explores many fascinating places, including Greenland, Vinland, and even America. His adventures in foreign lands will fascinate readers of all ages. With gorgeous lithograph illustrations bring this story to life with people, animals, and curious events. Along the margins of text only pages are Norse knots, similar to the better known Celtic knots, that are sometimes just designs, but often take on the impression of humans or animals.

More by these authors:
Columbus
Pocahontas
Benjamin Franklin

Friday, December 28, 2012

Utopia - Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More's Utopia has been used as an inspiration for all types of media. More importantly, More's text has has often been used as an example in many social movement of how things ought to be.

Many people wrote about utopias long before More, but the two best known are Plato's Republic and Saint Augustine's City of God. What makes "Utopia" particularly convincing, though, is that he wrote it as if he had actually visited this place and came back to tell others about it. His description of the society includes the use of trade, how government works, family units, and even about military operations.

More also recognized that how things work isn't the only important part of a society. He took the time to address the attitude of the society when it comes to the behavior of the individual and the group.

Although the time in which More wrote this piece was much different than the time we live in now, it continues to invite the curious and the hopeful to make life better.

Because this text is out-of copyright, it is available for free from many sites. It is available as an audiobook download from Librivox.org and as text from Gutenberg.org.

Sacred Texts: Utopia Index

Recommended Reads:
The City of God by Saint Augustine of Hippo

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea - Diana Marcellas

The Shari'a Witch, Brierley, has been hiding by leading a normal life. She works as a healer for the villagers, who gratefully accept her and her wonderful gift. When Brierley witnesses an act of brutality from one of the nobles, she foolishly acts in his presence and becomes accused of witchcraft.

Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea by Diana Marcellas is a lovely tale of perseverance, bravery, and discovery.

The writing of Brierley's daily life is standard; however, when vision and dream sequences come into play, the author's style is poetic. Detailed descriptions of sand and caves along the ocean, the call of gulls, and weather draw the reader in. As there are no clear transitions between Brierley's regular senses and witch sense, it can be confusing at first; however, I found it easy to slip into once I figured it out. While the communication with her ancestors can often be a bit bland, the battles with the beast, and her exploration of the other world is fascinating. Even though the author decides to employ the standard "four elements" magic, she makes them her own.

Brierley is a respectable character, who is focused on her duty to heal people. Her overall attitude toward life and the world is fully realized through the first portion of the novel, due to her constant pondering. Around the time of Brierley's arrest, the author seems to lose hold of the character's personality. Suddenly Brierley gets a tart tongue and a blithe attitude toward her arrest and possible death. Thankfully, the heroine soon returns to her previously established personality and continues to develop in a natural manner.

I liked and took interest in many of the characters who appear throughout the novel, especially Megan. I wasn't too impressed with how the romance portion of the book went, though. A noble who takes her under his protection ends up falling in love with Brierley. Because the author doesn't describe either of the characters' feelings toward each other throughout the novel, their eventual coupling is just strange.

Brierley's discovery of her ancestry, development of new-found powers, and the hinted political intrigue may leave many readers eager for more.

Books in the series:
Sea Lark's Song
Twilight Rising, Serpent's Dream

Recommended Reads:
Singer from the Sea by Sherri S. Tepper
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Monday, December 24, 2012

Deadpool: I Rule, You Suck - Daniel Way

Deadpool: I Rule, You Suck by Daniel Way contain classic Deadpool humor with brilliant art.

After unexpectedly helping the Secret Avengers hunt down a terrorist, Deadpool is offered the chance of a lifetime. When asked to join the team, Deadpool agrees saying "I'm Your Man". To Captain America's frustration, Deadpool doesn't accept orders and proceeds to ruin all of their plans. But something strange is afoot. After discovering another Captain America, Deadpool is forced to use his wits to figure out which one is real.

And in "I Rule, You Suck", Deadpool is hired by a bunch of draculas to kill a bunch of bad draculas. Also, not-Edward-Cullens dies.

I enjoyed Deadpool's antics while he tries to figure out how to work in a team, as well as his odd solutions to getting rid of vampires.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan is an allegorical story that follows the travels of the pilgrim Christian and then the travels of his wife, Christiana, and their children.

Christian decides to leave the City of Destruction where he has been living in search of the Celestial City. When he is unable to convince his wife to come with him and bring the children along, he leaves by himself on the journey. Along the way he wanders through strange places like Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He also meets many people along the way, such as Evangelist, Obstinate, and Piety. The second part has Christiana and her children, as they follow Christian's path to the Kingdom of God.

Bunyan left nothing to chance or interpretation. Every place and every person in both part one and part two are given obvious names. When things happen the characters often recap immediately after the event to make sure the reader is clear on what the events are meant to represent. While some may find this tiresome, others may appreciate the clear symbolism, over the more subtle type used by modern authors.

Christian's journey and that of his family is a journey of faith that many people experience. Many may find their own life or the lives of others reflected in this story.

Pilgrim's Progress is an out of copyright text and may be found for download from gutenberg.org and many other sites.

Recommended Reads:
The Bible
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Pilgrim's Regress - C.S. Lewis

Recommended Viewing:
Pilgrim's Progress

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hanged Man - Orson Scott Card

The Hanged Man is a collection of eleven stories in the horror genre by Orson Scott Card.

I first began reading horror in elementary school when I read collections that contained stories like The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. From time to time I attempt a full-length horror novel without the same sense of satisfaction. There's just something about short stories that seem to express the dread in just the right way for me.

One of the neat things about anthologies, whether the stories contained within are from multiple authors or a single author, is that each person can normally find at least one that sticks out to them personally.

In "Fat Farm" a man goes to a medical facility after years of abusing his body to get cloned and live in a new one. The man thinks he's going to live comfortably in the facility, while his clone goes out to continue living his hedonistic life; however, he discovers that the bargain doesn't work out the way he expected. In the end, the man takes on a different perspective on his body than when he started. I think many people may relate to this tale and Card's commentary on the story in the author's afterward is enlightening to his own experience battling weight.

The "Sepulchre of Songs" is told from the point of view of a psychologist who goes to a home once a week to visit a parapalegic young woman. When the rain lasts for more than a week, she begins losing her mind. She tells him about a woman who is teaching her songs to pilot a ship in outer space. For me, this was a fascinating exploration of escapism, while for Card the story is much more personal.

There were only two I didn't particularly care for: "Closing the Timelid" and "Freeway Games". Listening to the author's explanation in the afterward gave me a different feel for each of them, though.

"Closing the Timelid" is about a group of people who decide to use time travel to experience death without actually dying. According to the author it's supposed to be about hedonism. "Freeway Games" is about a man who follows people on the highway, putting them into a panic and causing their deaths. Card states the original version was meant to be humorous, but his wife told him it was "horrible" and he ended up rewriting it with that tone. In both cases, I felt like I just didn't 'get it'.

Other stories in this anthology include: "Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory", "Quietus", "Deep Breathing Exercises", "Prior Restraint", "The Changed Man and the King of Words", "Memories of My Head", and "Lost Boys"

Recommended works by this author:
Ender's Game
Songmaster

Recommended Reads:
Ten Great Mysteries Edgar Allen Poe

Recommended Viewing:
The Twilight Zone

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Witches - Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl is an old favorite that I decided to read again.

In elementary school I read quite a few of Roald Dahl's books on my own, such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The Twits, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. His disturbing sense of humor tickled me in the right places.

I had already read several of his books, when one of my elementary school teachers decided to read The Witches to the class. She announced to us it was her favorite book before beginning. We soon discovered why when we started piecing things together. I was living in England at the time, which is also where this novel takes place. As the teacher described the many features of witches that the grandmother of the story describes to her grandson, we found an uncanny resemblance to our teacher's balding head, sharp nails, and blue spit. (No, really, she had blue spit. We were practicing needle point on plastic canvas and when she licked the yarn to get it through the needle it was tinted blue.)

Many of Dahl's books have been challenged for a number of reasons and The Witches is no exception. The Witches has been challenged for "sexism" because of one character stating "All witches are women"; of course, this challenge is a bit strange, when the same character follows-up by stating "All ghouls are men". It's also been challenged for having occult references: witches, spells, and transformation.  Additionally, it's been challenged for violence against adults, which is one thing found in nearly all of Dahl's books.

Despite the objections of many adults, I still find myself very attached to this story. The transformation the main character undergoes after getting caught by the witches used to terrify me and even now I have a vivid image from how I remember it in childhood. Dahl's imaginative vision of what the unnamed hero, a young boy, is able to achieve in mouse form has stuck with me over the years. While he can never change back, his positive outlook and determination to save other children from witches before they can be harmed is something I admire.

Recommended books by this author:
James and the Giant Peach
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deadpool: What Happened in Vegas - Daniel Way

Deadpool: What Happened in Vegas by Daniel Way is an amusing collection of Deadpool comics.

Deadpool visits Las Vegas for a little R&R in "Tricky". In typical Deadpool style he finds himself at odds with The House and their mech pilot security guard "The House". Impressed with the powerful mech his friend Weasel is piloting, Deadpool decides it would be worthwhile to join up and get a mech of his own. As "Wild Card" Deadpool causes mayhem all across Vegas.

Bored with Vegas life, Deadpool leaves and runs into "Ghost Rider". After being blinded, Deadpool uses his special Pool-O-Vision to track down a group of robbers in "Wade Until Dark".

I didn't particularly care for any of the stories in this collection; however, I did find Carlo Barberis's illustrations crisp and detailed.

Recommended from this series:
Secret Invasion
Dark Reign

Friday, December 14, 2012

Son - Lois Lowry

Son by Lois Lowry is the final book in The Giver quartet.

I originally read and fell in love with The Giver in Junior High when we read it as assigned reading. The dystopian community where children and adults were expected to adhere to strict standards fascinated and horrified me. The disturbing truth of the many seemingly clean procedures in the book made me start digging deeper. And Jonas's courage gave me hope.

The sequel Gathering Blue involved a separate community that was just as disturbing as Jonas's. This one involved a young woman named Kira, who risked everything to do what she felt was right, just like Jonas.

The Messenger, the third in the series, takes place in a remote village that is nearly utopian. After much debate, the village decides to close itself off from outsiders. While this novel, too, carries a strong moral message, it simply didn't contain the same wonder of the previous two.

Son gathers characters from the previous books, including Jonas, Kira, and Gabe to bring the story to a final conclusion. Claire, a birthmother, loses her son to the community and must deal with her loss. The story of Claire's determination through her journey and many trials is admirable.

While the author did a good job of taking many threads from the previous novels and making them into a cohesive storyline for this final book, it seemed like it didn't all fit together quite right. It seemed like Lowry hadn't planned for this to happen, and I found from research that Lowry had indeed originally intended The Giver to be a stand alone novel.

While I felt that this novel was a disappointment as a conclusion to the 'quartet', I felt that as a stand alone novel, it was enjoyable.

Books in this series:
The Giver
Gathering Blue
The Messenger

Recommended Reads:
Earthsea Trilogy Ursula K. Le Guin
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is an unusual book that tells the story of one boy's experience during his Freshman year of High School through a series of letters to an unknown friend.

Charlie has always been smart and keeps mostly to himself. In his freshman year of High School, he unexpectedly becomes involved in a group of friends. They accept him for who he is while he participates in new and sometimes strange activities. He goes to parties, football games, and travels around town. He falls in love, gets in a relationship, and breaks a girl's heart. He even experiments with different kinds of drugs.

Despite the fact that the novel is written in first person as a series of letters, the writing lacks emotion outside of simple statements of anger, sadness, and happiness. This gives the events in the story a dissonant feeling, making it difficult for the reader to get an idea of what is going on in Charlier's head. I think this style actually benefits the story in the end, since he ultimately learns that just going along with things, rather than expressing oneself isn't necessarily beneficial.

Recommended Reads:
There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar
Manic Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fire Logic - Laurie J. Marks

Fire Logic by Laurie J Marks is a story of political intrigue set in a fantasy world with mild elemental magic.

When the ruler of Shaftal, an earth witch, dies without leaving an heir, the land is left in turmoil. The guardians of the hidden receptacle of his power try to keep it safe, while the tribes war among themselves.

While the premise of this story is intriguing, the narrative ruins any enjoyment I may have had while reading. The story moves at a steady pace throughout the novel; however, the writing is choppy. I often found myself having to go back a few paragraphs only to find that I hadn't missed anything, but that the author had made a sudden shift in the setting.

It was clear to me that the author intended for the tribes to be different from each other just by little tidbits that managed to make it into the narrative. Despite the fact that the author afforded many opportunities to illustrate the differences between the tribes, she failed to do so.

Another major problem I had with the novel is the characters. While the circumstances of the characters are sympathetic, I didn't feel empathy toward any of the characters due to their lack of personality. This also led to my overall disinterest in the many relationships between the characters

The use of elemental magic was inconsistent. Earth users could do healing and water users could manipulate the element of water, yet the fire users didn't seem to have an ability beyond a sixth sense.  Fire is often associated with intuition, but it seemed odd that the other two elements had tangible abilities and fire didn't.

While the plot line is obviously stated for the summary of the book, any semblance of a plot line can't be cobbled together in the actual novel until about half-way through. Up until that point, it's a bunch of confused events told by multiple characters that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. When these story lines do finally come together, it still doesn't make much sense.

The events that happen and the actions the characters take felt contrived to me. I felt as if the story was doing the characters, rather than the characters doing anything of their own volition.

For me this novel falls into the "great premise, poor execution" category.

Books in this series:
Earth Logic
Water Logic

Recommended Reads with elemental magic:
The Singers of All Songs Kate Constable
Singers of Nevya by Louise Marley
Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Deadpool Classic Volume 7 - Jimmy Palmiotti, Buddy Scalera

Deadpool Classic Volume 7 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Buddy Scalera collects issues 46-56 in one book.

I only recently started getting into Deadpool and I had only read the ones from the more recent series, where Deadpool is more random and makes a lot more jokes, so this was different for me. Deadpool still has humor in the "Classic" series. I just felt like his character was much more focused, while still a bit crazy and unpredictable.

In the 3-part "Cruel Summer" (issues 46-48) The Merc with a Mouth takes on a job to kill a number of people in the mob. While on the job, he hooks up with his informant for a bit of fun on the side.

Deadpool somehow manages to charm his way into the hearts of five lucky ladies in "Cat Magnet" (issues 49). This can't end well.

After failing to fulfill a job, Deadpool finds himself in the awkward position of fulfilling "The Promise" (issue 50-51) to take care of a guy's teenage son. The kid takes this opportunity to become Deadpool's sidekick.

Glimpses of the antics of two gorgeous psychopaths were revealed in past issues. Now in "Talk of the Town" (issues 52-53), Deadpool is hired under the table by a member of the justice department to catch these two dangerous killers that have been terrorizing the city.

With such a high price on the vigilante's head, Deadpool just can't resist the chance to kill The Punisher. "End of the Road" (issues 54-55) is bound to see one of these two dead.

"Going Out with a Bang" (issues 56) is the conclusion to the ongoing love affair between Wade and shapeshifting Vanessa. Deadpool has been pleasantly cohabiting with Vanessa. That is until Theresa calls him up for a meeting.

While all of the artists who worked on these comics did a stupendous job, I particularly enjoyed the art of Paul Chadwick (Cruel Summer) and Karl Kerschl (Going Out with a Bang).  Other illustrators who worked on this include: Michael Lopez, Darick Robertson, Anthony Williams, Georges Jeanty,and Liam Sharp.

Other compilations for this series:
Deadpool Classic Volume 1
Deadpool Classic Volume 2
Deadpool Classic Volume 3

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe - Richard Corben

Haunt of Horror is a collection of reinterpretation of classic Poe stories.

I spent a good portion of 2nd and 3rd grade reading scary short stories, in particular W.W. Jacobs and Edgar Allen Poe. I've carried that love of the supernatural and creepy into my adulthood, so I was excited to receive this as a Saint Nicholas Day gift!

This book compiles the original comics 1-3 and contains the stories: The Raven, The Sleeper, The Conqueror Worm, The Tell-Tale Heart, Spirits of the Dead, The Lake, Eulalie, Izrafel, The Happiest Day, and Berenice.

The illustrations are gray scale, which lends itself well to the creepy tone the stories have. While the majority of the stories are illustrated with standard pen and ink, there are a few that are computer rendered that give the stories a surreal feeling.

Some stories only contain captions of the original text or variations of it, while other stories contain additional dialogue. At the end of each illustrated portion is the full version of the story or poem.

Both the interpretations of the "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" are straightforward. The rest of the stories contained within are reinterpretations. I especially enjoyed "The Conqueror Worm" and "Izrafel" reinterpretations.

Those who enjoy different perspectives will probably enjoy this, while purists would do well to stay away.

Recommended Reads:
The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe - Edgar Allen Poe
The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre - W.W. Jacobs
The Complete Fiction - H.P. Lovecraft

Many of the stories from the authors listed above are available for free download from http://www.gutenberg.org, due to their out-of-copyright status.

Recommended Viewing:
The Masque of the Red Death (1962)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Banshee - Patricia Lysaght

The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght is a detailed delve into this fascinating piece of mythology.

Banshee is one of the lesser known myths of Ireland, yet it is popular in Ireland itself.  The Banshee is known by many names around Ireland, including baen síh, banshee, ban chaointe, and badhbh.  While these names are quite different they are each known for their wailing to announce the death of a person.  In some areas these beings are attached to specific families, while in others they are attached to the area or those who were born in the area.

What the death messenger wore, what she looked like, and her accessories varied from area to area.  Sometimes she came whisking through town, while in others she would only cry from a particular place.  Her death song was likened to many animals: fox, owl, cat, and many others.  It was always noted that somehow it had an otherworldly sound to it, though.  Very rarely, however, was she actually associated with these animals.

With extensive research, the author details the tradition of the Banshee in her many forms.  The author pulls from archives and questionnaires of Ireland and Irish people.  Half of the book is actually appendixes, notes, references, and bibliography.  Due to the academic tone of the narrative, some readers may find it difficult to immerse themselves.  However, the information is in depth and definitely worth reading for those who are interested in this fascinating being.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wielding a Red Sword - Piers Anthony

Wielding a Red Sword by Piers Anthony is the fourth in the imaginative Incarnations of Immortality series. I originally loved this series when I first read it in High School, but I've discovered that it's not as enjoyable the second time through.

In this series, humans are able to take on the offices of Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil, and Good. The author does a great job of detailing what the duties of these offices entail. He also creates a fascinating world that uses both magic and technology.

Mym runs away from home to go join the circus. Mym is a self-pitying young man who, apparently, didn't like his plush life in the palace. Through a series of unfortunate events he falls in love with one of the ladies at the circus and is later forced into an undesired betrothal after his father hunts him down. When his father breaks off the betrothal with the first woman and forces him into a different one that would better benefit the kingdom, Mym finds himself with the option to run away once again by taking on the office of War. He takes on the office with the expectation of continuing his relationship with his originally betrothal; however, when she sees more of the world beyond her palace, she decides she can do better.

While the four lesser incarnations, Pestilence, Conquest, Famine, and Slaughter are interesting additions to War's entourage, Anthony doesn't do much with these characters. Another insert that never seems to materialize in this book is the inclusion of Mym's studying Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, which is a treatise of war much like The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Mym's battle with Satan lacks any sense of urgency, even at the climax.

The first in the series involving the incarnation of death is still a favorite of mine; however, the novels that follow just don't seem to be as enjoyable. Unfortunately, Anthony's writing has a lot of problems. Many of the characters have the habit of revealing plot points in monologues, rather than letting the story take on a natural progression. Because the author otherwise portrays the characters as stereotypical 'normal', the theatrical dialogue that takes place throughout the narrative is jarring. If one read this particular novel as a stand-alone, I think it would be easy to excuse the sexism in the narration due to the fact that the main character, Mym, was raised in a sexist and entitled household; however, having read many other Anthony novels in the past, it's clear this is simply Anthony's own personal prejudices.

Sadly, the concept of this novel has a lot of potential, but the author failed to bring it to fulfillment.

Books in this series:
On a Pale Horse
Bearing an Hourglass
With a Tangled Skein