Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Official Farewell

I did try to write the remaining reviews that I owe people here and I failed due to other pressing deadlines. My interest to supply this blog with content has dried up completely and instead, I just want to officially announce that I won't be reviewing here anymore. Mainly, because authors and publicists have approached me for reviews and I don't intend to lead any more people.

The facts remain the same. I had a blast these four years, but at the same time as my own involvement with side projects on the Internet grew as well as the lists of responsibilities I know have to handle, I found that I can't follow my own set deadlines and not even my near Catholic guilt about it couldn't motivate me to perform better.

Really, I can't say that I'll stop reviewing. People know that I'm like herpes; I pop up every once in awhile everywhere so that people don't forget that I exist. I'm most grateful that I met so many of the people I know through this blog and grateful for the books I got to read through this blog AND the chances I got through this blog.

But not to bore you. Farewell. Take care. I'm leaving this blog as an archive for your perusal. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

[Beyond the Wordcount] Gemma Files on Explicit Sexuality in "A Book of Tongues"

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

BIO: Born in London, England and raised in Toronto, Canada, Gemma Files has been a film reviewer, teacher and screenwriter, and is currently a wife and mother. She is the author of two collections of short fiction (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart, both from Prime Books) and two chapbooks of poetry. She also won the 1999 International Horror Guild Best Short Fiction award for her story “The Emperor’s Old Bones”.

Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West's most dangerous outlaw gangs-the troop led by "Reverend" Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned "hexslinger," and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow's task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook's power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself.

Magicians, cursed by their gift to a solitary and painful existence, have never been more than a footnote in history. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a plan to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world-a plan sealed by an unholy marriage-oath with the goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men. To accomplish this, he must raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.

Caught between a passel of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook's witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow's only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess's fate comes clear-the doom written for him, and the entire world.


So: Harry kindly asked me to drop by and talk about my first novel, A Book of Tongues: Volume One of the Hexslinger Series. The short pitch is that it’s a Weird Western set in an alternate 1867 where it’s common knowledge that people sometimes randomly develop demigodlike magical powers--people like “Reverend” Asher E. Rook, for example, the infamous “hexslinger” who leads an outlaw gang co-captained by his volatile lover, Chess Pargeter, and once cursed an entire New Mexico town to salt. Add a conflicted undercover Pinkerton agent and a not-so-dead Mayan-Aztec goddess with a plan (Ixchel, the Rainbow Lady, Mother of Hanged Men) to the mix and it’s a party, for certain blood-soaked values of such.

Now, this being a Western, the book contains a fair deal of the usual gunfights, train-robbery, hanging out in houses of ill repute, sass-talking and riding at high speed from here to there, along with all the black magic shenanigans. Where it differs from other Westerns, however--excepting, perhaps, William S. Burroughs’ The Place of Dead Roads, whose title I shamelessly plundered for one particular plot-point--lies in its depiction of the central relationship between Reverend Rook and Chess, which I wanted from the get-go to be as passionate and explicit as possible: Just like any other big-R Romantic collision between two very-bad-for-each-other-everywhere-but-in-bed people usually is, except with two dudes. And going by reviews like these--

What a disappointment! Great premise, great writing, great characters. All completely overshadowed by a constant barrage of explicit sex scenes. I am baffled as to their purpose. I gave up about 40 pages from the end. I won't be reading the sequels. (“mystery lover”, at

I have had to struggle through the authors repetitive gay sex scenes as I'm more interested in how the plot progesses. The two main characters, though told in part from a 3rd character, are gay (and/or bi) and have a stormy, rough relationship. I get that, ok, no worries -- but every few pages it seems they are engaging in rough sex. Now, a little of that to establish the nature of the relationship is ok, but it is used overly much and becomes a page-skipper for me. After all, the rear cover text doesn't say "Bang your way through the Old Weird West with hot gay action." (John Cunningham, aka “Mil-history fanboy”, at

...the plot seemed exciting and had all the elements that I thought I might enjoy: magic, mystery, monsters and mayhem. Unfortunately there was one thing that held my enjoyment of the novel in check: sex. Lots and lots of sex... I found the sex in A Book of Tongues to be a major distraction from what amounts to a completely fascinating story full of horror and magic. (Mike, at King of the Nerds)

--I think I’ve succeeded in that aim.

Though it’d be easy to take the “I came out of Fandom, where it’s quasi-normal to write explicitly about sex!” stance, in my case, that’d be more than slightly disingenous; not only did my decade-long affair with writing fanfiction come very securely after I’d already become a published author, but it also came after I’d gained a weird little rep for writing stuff that was capable of literally icking the Powers That Be on Showtime’s The Hunger TV series out enough that they sometimes preferred to pay me for the use of my titles and make things up wholesale, rather than option the stuff that had actual sex in it and then (oh, I don’t know) use that actual sex in their supposedly sexy show. For them, I think, the main problem was that A) I kept putting horror in my Erotic Horror and B) often said eroticism was of not just the dude-on-chick/chick-on-chick variety, but also the dude-on-dude variety.

So why do this at all? Why alienate a prospective section of my audience--mainly, it seems, the core demographic to whom Westerns and horror/dark fantasy novels usually appeal, ie straight guys? Well, as the old saying goes, when I wrote this book, I was writing it for me; I was my audience, possibly the only one the book would ever have, which is why I filled it with things I enjoy. And one of the things I’ve always enjoyed is telling stories from a non-default perspective--making my main characters people who, in “regular” media, are rarely coded as protagonist material. Like Hal Duncan, I believe there should be queer characters of all types running through the mainstream narrative: Not just as adjuncts to the heterocentric “norm”, not de-sexed for our protection, but as full, functional, complex, conflicted human beings capable of full agency, from heroes to villains and everything in between.

After all, we’re already dealing with two guys of very questionable moral fibre indeed, from the get-go; Chess alone is, at base, a typical Billy the Kid/Jesse James bad-ass who kills because it’s easy and fun, a post-Civil War adrenaline junkie with an equally rotten attitude and temper, while the Rev is a smooth-talking hypocrite, a faithless preacher, a Bad Man with a Bible. So the fact that Chess is also a literal son-of-a-whore who hasn’t been above trading blowjobs for bullets, born small, pretty and outright queer in an ultra-macho world, should really just add a few more petals to the flower--I never wanted to be in the ridiculous position of saying he was bad because he was gay, or gay because he was bad. He’s simply one of those guys who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, preferring to communicate far more directly, and the Rev responds in kind, like he’s the lit match to the Rev’s fuse; as with other toxic couples, their sexual interaction pulls them inexorably together, right up until it eventually tears them apart.

But it’s not all politics either, nice as that makes me sound, because I am also what the kids call a slasher--a woman (functionally straight, as it turns out) who is turned on, in a frankly fetishistic way, by the idea of gay male sex. Which isn’t to say that I’m not interested in anything else, as I think any cross-sampling of my shorter work would bear out--sex is one of the most primal motors around, an integral part of any writer’s paintbox, especially when you’re concentrating on a genre as literally visceral as horror. But after having spent the first twenty years of my life trying to explain this particular oddity of mine to other people and being stared at in fascinated revulsion, if you’d ever told my teenage self that one day there’d be so many women with the exact same kink writing porn on the Internet that it would become a bit of a cultural joke, I’d’ve laughed right in your face.

Now, I could talk all day, pretty much, about the innate heterocentrism of mainstream horror—point out that “mainstream” usual means “threat from outside disrupts normalcy, normalcy is restored”, and that heterosexuality is still assumed to be the default, for example. But then I’d probably get sidetracked into talking about how hilarious the very concept of “mainstream” horror really is, when horror’s already a ghetto inside a ghetto inside a ghetto. Or the dicey concept of Monster as Other, in which the inclusion of a non-default character in a narrative can be easily seen as Othering that character in order to evoke cheap thrills or squirms. These are all valid issues that make for equally valid sidebars, but I’m not going down any of them just right now.

Instead, let’s go back to the general idea of How Much is Too Much? How Far is Too Far? Which often, but not always, tends to blend into the sub-category of Why You Gotta Make Me Think of That? Ew, Ew, Ewwww!

I do believe that there are some narratives which call out for explicitness in sexual matters—narratives in which the sexual interaction of the characters is as least as plot- and character-important as any other sort. Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest woud be a fine example of one of these, a story in which sex is a given, required, in order to get what the characters “really” want, which is entrance to the titular trans-dimensional city itself. The interesting slant this places on those sex-scenes is that they become entirely functional very quickly, and then shift once more when the characters form relationships with genuine emotional currents amongst themselves. In Piers Anthony’s Chaining the Lady, meanwhile, which has gender-issues aplenty (like all Anthony books, it’s somewhat obsessed by boobs and the prospect of “impregnation”), each of its many sex scenes forms an absolutely necessary point in the story as a whole; for these mainly alien creatures, sex is a way of communication, of exerting dominance, of facilitating transition. Or the Phaedre no Delaunay books, by Jacqueline Carey—they’re very securely about sex, because the main character is a sex worker whose gifts lie within the realm of diplomacy through S & M. Remove the sex, and though there would still be a plot, that plot becomes far less understandable.

Perhaps all of this comes back to what I used to call “and then the lamp went out” syndrome, something fairly rampant in historical fiction. In books like Mary Teresa Reynolds' Myself My Sepulchre, a re-telling of Nero’s reign from his own POV which casts him as a hapless victim, there’s a fair deal of sex of every conceivable type going on, but we’re not allowed to play through it blow by blow (so’s to speak)…at a certain point, sometimes fairly early on in the action, the lamp goes out, and we’re left to imagine the details for ourselves. This as opposed to Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which I read at a sadly early age, in which we do get the full monty, with choregraphy. Interestingly, this quickly becomes less titilating than oversatiated, boring and tragic, even without the lashings of murder piled on top. Yet it truly does seem necessary to take this particular funhouse tour, in order to understand the crazy world of privilege and power Caligula inhabits; as with the film it was based on, pornography is a poor categorization—a trick of the MPAA ratings system, like saying Behind the Green Door is literally “the same” as Henry and June.

In A Book of Tongues, I start out with a relationship between two equally screwed up people, one of whom literally defines himself via his sexuality. It’s become part of Chess Pargeter’s general bad-assery that he will indulge himself any way he wants with whomever he wants, and damn the consequences; in a way, it’s like Rook’s magic is for him—automatic, reflexive, increasingly easy. And as we learn more about the hexes themselves, my magician-characters, we discover that they’re drawn to parasite on each other, to suck each other’s power out in a vampiric manner than mimics and accellerates sexuality, re-framing Rook and Chess’s mutual obsession as something even more integral (and sinister).

In terms of the mechanics of the sex itself, my rubric was always character-based. Chess, perverse bastard that he is, likes to tweak other people’s expectations, and his liking to be on the bottom has become yet one more way to do that--but because he’s Chess, he’s also the toppiest bottom on the face of the earth. As he tells one character, it gives him a thrill to overpower larger guys with his willingness to submit; he’s basically shameless, so it’s not like he’s losing anything to be on the receiving end, and watching the conflict they go through in realizing that is part of his general orgasmic charge.

The Rev, on the other hand, is far more cerebral, and weirdly more equitable in his bedroom habits. What turns him on most is emotional intimacy--the idea that for Chess, who’s done everything you can think of with guys he could’ve cheerfully shot afterwards and not turned a hair, the Rev is the first and only person he’s ever really cared for. So how far can Rook go with that? The good part is that he genuinely enjoys causing Chess pleasure, but the bad part--the secret, increasingly gleeful part--is that he sometimes enjoys causing Chess pain, too. That he enjoys steering Chess around by the dick, the way Chess does so many other guys.

So yes, there’s a lot of sex in the book. From my POV, however, it was all necessary, and it could have been far “worse”. But I definitely enjoyed writing those scenes, and I suppose that comes across in a way that might well read as creepy depending on your mileage, or standards. Is the difference basically a matter of whether or not you feel like the author was enjoying his or herself a little “too much” while writing the scenes in question? If so, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place; I can’t—won’t, I guess, more likely—deny that’s a strong component to my motivations, always.

Funnily enough, however, it’s been occurring to me lately that I may take some flack for there being substantially less sex in the next Hexslinger Series installment (A Rope of Thorns, out in May), but--a lot’s going on in that book, and they’re busy, you know? Things to do, places to go, wounds to recover from, apocalypses to avert. Plus far more world-building than I ever thought I’d signed up for, if you like that sort of thing...

I guess we’ll see.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Zombie Feed, vol. 1 on Pre-Order

I'm posting this [while I am still preparing the final reviews that I will supply the review site, hopefully before the end of the month, but not like likely] straight from the workplace, so feel free to judge me [actually no, don't judge me; instead pay attention as Paul Jessup is a writer to talk about even if I'm indulging in an incestuous relationship between my positions].


Former Stoker Award-nominated editor Jason Sizemore compiles seventeen tasty, brainy morsels of zombie short fiction in The Zombie Feed: Volume 1.

Zombie fiction from many sub-genres are represented here: zombie apocalypse, zombie survival, zombies in human society, zombie hunters, and more. And the one thread interlocking these disparate groups–ZOMBIE MAYHEM! This action packed anthology takes a syringe full of contaminated adrenaline-laced undead and slams 1000 CCs directly into your chest cavity.

Fast paced, yet thoughtful, The Zombie Feed: Volume I will sate your appetite… at least temporarily.

* Table of Contents Undead Introduction by Jason Sizemore
* Cold Comfort by Nathaniel Tapley
* This Final December Day by Lee Thompson
* What’s Next? by Elaine Blose
* Rabid Raccoons by Kristin Dearborn
* The Twenty-Three Second Anomaly by Ray Wallace
* Not Dead by BJ Burrow
* Tomorrow’s Precious Lambs by Monica Valentinelli
* The Fare by Lucien Soulban
* A Shepherd of the Valley by Maggie Jamison
* Broken Bough by Daniel I. Russell
* The Last Generation by Joe Nazare
* Goddamn Electric by K. Allen Wood
* Hipsters in Love by Danger Slater
* The Sickness unto Death by Brandon Alspaugh
* Lifeboat by Simon McCaffrey
* Zombies on the Moon by Andrew C. Porter
* Biten by Eugene Johnson

About the Editor:

Jason Sizemore is the owner and operator of Apex Publications. He also writes and edits, earning a Bram Stoker Award nomination for his first book, Aegri Somnia. He’s seen over thirty short stories published and four anthologies. He maintains a website at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Dead Stay Dead" by Paul Jessup on Pre-Order

I'm posting this [while I am still preparing the final reviews that I will supply the review site, hopefully before the end of the month, but not like likely] straight from the workplace, so feel free to judge me [actually no, don't judge me; instead pay attention as Paul Jessup is a writer to talk about even if I'm indulging in an incestuous relationship between my positions].


Book #2 in our novella series will be coming out February 22nd and we’re offering this one signed for those who pre-order!

What do you get when you cross Buffy, the Vampire Slayer with equal parts Shaun of the Dead? Well… we’re not sure, but Paul Jessup’s Dead Stay Dead does an admirable job of trying!

Natasha is a ghost whisperer. Her roommate is a gypsy able to explode heads Scanners style with her mind. And campus has been overrun by zombies. What’s a girl to do?

In Jessup’s fast-paced, gore-packed novella you’ll follow Natasha as she attempts to save her school (and humanity, she supposes) from an impending apocalypse. Funny, bizarre, and even a bit sad, fans of hardcore zombie fiction will find plenty to enjoy in Dead Stay Dead.

Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed writer of fantastical fiction. He’s been published in many magazines, both offline and on, with two books published in 2009 (short novel, Open Your Eyes and the short story collection Glass Coffin Girls) and a third in 2010 (the illustrated book, Werewolves). You can visit Paul’s web home at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's Quiet Because I'm preparing to close down

It's been pretty official on Twitter, but I wanted to finalize things on the blog. I've decided to shut down Temple Library Reviews, but leave it open as an archive. I've had fun running this blog in the first two years to be honest, but with the start of the third year the strain to maintain my blog regular and interesting took its toll on me. Reviewing remains one of my passions, but as I become more involved with other projects, the more I am aware that I'm much more suited to contribute rather than organize or run.

So I've compelled a list of the books I will review before shutting down. After that I will throw my weight around and post reviews elsewhere.

The List:

1) "Death's Disciples" by J. Robert King
2) "The Emerald Storm" by Michael J. Sullivan
3) "Wintertide" by Michael J. Sullivan
4) "Glass Coffin Girls" by Paul Jessup
5) "Metrophilias" by Brendan Connell

Not sure on the exact order yet, but this is the Doomsday Clock ticking.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

REVIEW: Declare by Tim Powers

Format: Paperback, 576 pages
Published: June 1st 2010 by Corvus (first published 2000)
ISBN 10: 1848874030
ISBN 13: 978-1848874039
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought online

From the back cover:
An ultra-secret MI6 codename
A deadly game of deception and intrigue
Dark forces from the depths of history
The terrible secret at the heart of the cold war

London, 1963. A cryptic phone call forces ex-MI6 agent Andrew Hale to confront the ultra-secret wartime mission that has haunted his adult life.

Operation Declare took Hale from Nazi-occupied Paris to the ruins of post-war Berlin, through the trackless wastes of the Arabian desert to a night of terror on the glacial slopes of Mount Ararat.

Now, with the Cold war at its height, he is ordered to return to the mountain and face the dark secret entombed within its icy summit. Hale has no choice but to comply, for Declare is the key to a conflict far deeper, far colder, than the Cold War itself.

Declare won the World Fantasy Award in 2001 and has recently been re-released.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

[Beyond the Wordcount] Blake Charlton on Worldbuilding Genesis

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

BIO: Pursuing dual careers can be an exhausting, even haunting task. Devoting time to one craft is almost always accompanied by the sensation that the other craft is being neglected. The above quotations remind me why I bother to combine medicine and literature. At the root of both arts—when practiced correctly—is a transformation. From sickness to health, from ignorance to experience, from absence of feeling to wonder or awe or dread. Both arts are about expanding life, helping us become more rightly ourselves.

That might sound like lofty mumbo-jumbo coming from a guy who writes about wizards and dragons.


Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.

Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.

Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.

Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.

But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one…and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.

The Task: Ever the worldbuilding nutjob I poked Blake Charlton to explain [yet again] how his world emerged and as nice as he is, he complied. So here it is kiddos. Enjoy.


As a junior in college, I was the only learning disabled student I knew and semi-terrified that I was an admission mistake. I also was painfully earnest about cultivating the “life of the mind.” The previous summer, I had revisited the first books I had read by myself, fantasies all of them. So the genre was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t searching for an epic idea. It just happened.

Specifically, it just happened in a boring English Literature seminar on Shakespearian tragedy and ancient Greek tragedy. Fascinating syllabus, underwhelming lecture. I was jotting down notes. Back then, I still wrote mostly in a phonetic script, especially for words I had never seen spelled. For example, I might write the word “onomatopoeia” as “onohmonohpeeah.” Next to me sat another junior with whom I had something of a rivalry. We had taken several English classes together and often butted heads about interpretations. I both disliked and grudgingly respected him. At this particular moment, he had stopped listening to the lecture and was eyeing my notes.

“Wow,” he whispered while tapping on my phonetic shorthand, “you really did ride the short bus to school.”

I said something inane like “Tell me about it,” when in my mind I had this image of pulling my misspelled words off the page and using them like a boxing glove to punch him in the face.

I was still steaming after class as I walked back to my residential college. It was a beautiful dark, late-autumn day: the first snow of the year seems only moments away. Yale was built in imitation of Oxford and Cambridge: gothic arches, stone spires, the whole bit. My residential college, Trumbull College is particularly beautiful, abutting the large stain glass windows of Sterling Memorial Library. I found myself wandering around Trumbull’s neo-gothic courtyards and dreaming of clubbing my rival with physically real sentences. In particular, I paced the Potty Court: a stone courtyard that houses a semi-famous stone gargoyle sitting on a toilet.

Suddenly, the idea for Spellwright bloomed in my imagination. In a world where written language could be made physically real, universities would be vitally important. They might have even more spectacular gothic architecture and living gargoyles. In this world, authors would be terribly powerful and, because words had to be physically created, their muscles would be as important as their brains. And of course, being dyslexic would be really, really dangerous. How then would the magic spells behave? At the time I was also studying biochemistry, specifically how the language of DNA made proteins that affect the physical world. I decided that magical language would behave like organic macromolecules: it would have to fold into a correct conformation to become effective.

About an hour later, I had an outline for a young spellwright whose touch caused any text to misspell. Turning that into a novel, however, took eight more years; this is mostly because an interesting basis for a magic system doesn’t make an interesting novel. There’s a lot to consider when world building around magic (one must consider limits to magical power, its effects on society, etc). It took me a while to figure all of that out for myself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

[Book Review] Catching Fire (The Hunger Games 2) by Suzanne Collins

After the Game ...

Things have changed back home and Katniss has troubles fitting in in her new home in Victory Village. Gone are the days of hunting with Gale who now work in the mine during the day so she has to hunt alone. Gale struggles with Katniss ‘fake’ relationship with Peeta especially since Peeta’s feelings for her are real even if he now has turned his back on her.

To further complicate things Katniss defiance in the Hunger Games has begun to stir up rebellion among the districts and they are making her their symbol. So late at night the day before she and Peeta is to leave on their victory tour of the Districts she is visited by the President that threatens her and everyone she holds dear unless she can prove during the tour that she acted blinded by love.

The second book of the Hunger Games takes the action out of the arena and into the political field and we learn a lot more of the world. The world building really works for me; I just wish Suzanne would write a prequel or something that explains how we went from here to there. I am curious. Sorry for digressing. The return of the stylists was well done and added to my enjoyment of the book especially with their agenda. Another great very emotional scene was when Katniss visited District 11 where Rue her friend in the arena came from.

There is more happening in the story but I won’t spoil the surprises for you.

The characters continue to be well done and that is not only Katniss in all her lovely and frank teenagerness caught as she is in more than one conundrum. The other supporting characters also step out of the book lifelike and often with surprising depts and twists to their personalities or back stories. Suzanne really kept me captivated with this one.

Second books are though and while I enjoyed the Hunger Games greatly I think I enjoyed Catching Fire more. It has more dept to both the characters and the world building. The stakes are higher; it is not just about 24 teenagers trying to kill each other any longer.

Reading about teenagers in situations like this is really chilling especially if you are a parent yourself. Kids should never have to live through anything like this. This story made me think about the world we have out there today.

Catching Fire is a thrilling sequel with a formidable and oh so human female protagonist caught in a love triangle as her world is about to burst into a flaming war of liberation.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Bought it myself

Title: Catching Fire
Series: The Hunger Games 2 (Review of book 1: The Hunger Games)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Audiobook: 10h 41 min
Publisher: Scholastic Audio (2009)
Order from: Amazon US | UK

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games. She and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol — a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

[Cover Battle] The Bulgarian cover for "The Passage"

I sometimes dread, when books I'm excited about [I admit that I want to read The Passage, cause everyone else has] are translated in Bulgarian. Not so much because the translation would suck. I either read it in Bulgarian or in English [don't re-read]. I've come to terms with translated books not entirely capturing the mood of the original language. No, it's the covers that bother me. When Bulgarian publishers try to be creative and fashion a new cover for a bestseller [especially in the SFF field], the results are disastrous.

Take the newest desecration of art. I'm talking about The Passage by Justin Cronin. Look at the covers below. They look good, right? The UK cover [on the left] being superior cover, but that's irrelevant at the moment.

Look at the Bulgarian cover... Right, I will wait for the vertigo to pass.

You can see how the Bulgarian publishing house [Intense] incorporate the concepts of the two covers. They want the pretty trees [US] and some human element to it [UK], because in order for the title to be The Passage, you need a) something to pass through + b) someone to do the passing. FINE. Okay, I can live with it, but really... This looks like a half-assed draft of someone, who has amateurish [at best] Photoshop skills. Everything needs smoothing. I can SEE the pixels on the silhouette, which was so badly inserted in the trees.

AND really, look at so many things done wrong:
1) The font makes me believe that this is self-publishing
2) This ugly, ugly font just brings out the cover design's fault.
3) The logo seems so out of place that it's driving me insane.
4) The actual cover is not hardcover, nor is it the tougher softcover material. NO, they used a thicker magazine type paper that bends and wrinkles into waves. Reinforcing the idea that this is a waste of money and time.

And actually these all could have been avoided, if someone spent a bit more time on it. I think an additional 4-5 hours to smooth out the kinks would have sufficed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

[Review, Part 2] "Walking the Tree" by Kaaron Warren

Title: Walking the Tree
Author: Kaaron Warren
Genres: Fantasy
Softcover: 525
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, February 4th 2010
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: Review copy from the publisher

Botanica is an island, but almost all of the island is taken up by the Tree.

Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.

Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?

Available from:
Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository


In the first part of my review [HERE] I talked about the plot and pacing of Walking the Tree, without saying much about the worldbuilding. This post will solely focus on the Botanica as a social organism, functioning in an unusual geographical situation. The pacing issues I mentioned in the first review and the repetitive model of the school’s walk find their purpose in the purely anthropological aspect of the novel.

The rhythmic and little altering pattern [walk – welcome feast – customary 30 day stay – sex with the settlements’ men] offers a control sample, establishes the accepted tradition. As the school visits each new settlement Warren layers new elements over this pattern and the reader spots the variables, those tiny differences in seemingly similar people. Considering the issue with overpopulation all settlements are modestly populated and even one distinct trait impacts the social structure of the settlement. They can be caused by the natural resources or cultural developments.

For instance, opposed to almost all settlements the people in Ailanthus have an adversarial relationship with the Tree, because unlike other settlements the Tree grows closest to the sea, thus stealing the land from the people. In Cedrelas, because the Tree produces fruit that makes wonderful wine, people drink and party all night to forget their problems, sleeping through the day. The men in Douglas are violent and there is segregation of the sexes unlike any other settlement. At the same time the people in Rhado are cruel and arrogant, because they have perfected the art of cooking.

Speaking of food, Walking the Tree is a novel about food. Whenever I cracked it open, I felt immense hunger at all the feats, catalogued in great detail. On Botanica, cooking’s an art form and constitutes the islander’s creativity to spawn diversity, when all they have to work with is fish for meat and the few vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Of course, I can’t ignore the small details, which contribute to the overall effect of reading a documentary rather than fiction. Different version of the Myth of Creation, the Death of the Tree, different attitudes towards strangers, prejudices, lore, relationship with the Tree, phobias and all of the other small and invisible details, which suspended my disbelief throughout the novel.

Warren deconstructs our understanding of society – millions occupying the same space, but at the same time remaining utterly indifferent towards each other and so disconnected from our place of origin, nature – and has created a society, subjugated to the whims of a giant Tree. It is a smart reversal of roles, considering how trees disappear due to deforestation and Earth is in imbalance. On Botanica, people have to life according to the Tree’s cycle, but they also live in balance with the Tree. The islanders function in nature’s cycle and don’t parasitize. It’s a certain kind of utopia, albeit some imperfections in the islanders themselves.

Before I conclude my review, I’d like to comment on how Walking the Tree will resonate a lot more with female readers than with male ones. Although the settlements have male Elders to decide who is allowed to walk and male Tale-tellers, the women are the ones to walk the Tree. Apart from the right to travel, women are the ones who choose the men they will sleep with, a rarity in both real and fictional cultures. It is a woman, who discovers the truth about the ghosts inside the Tree and it is a woman, who redefines the world anew. But perhaps most literally, Walking the Tree is the representation of a woman’s journey into womanhood.
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