LegendsLegends edited by Robert Silverberg

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I love anthologies, and this is one of the defining reasons why. This is a great book, with a series of well-developed novellas by well-known authors in the fantasy and science fiction genres. The contributors include such respected writers asStephen King, Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Anne McCaffrey, Tad Williams, George R.R. Martin, Raymond E. Feist, Terry Pratchett, and Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as the inclusion of Orson Scott Card (this was before my awareness of his extremely vocal and frequently-blogged politics overwhelmed my enjoyment of his writing).

The best thing about Legends, to my mind, was that each of the authors chosen has a successful book or series out already, and the novella for this book was based in whatever world that author had already conceived. It was a great way of introducing me not only to previously un-read authors, but also introducing me to intriguing characters and storylines that I can now explore in more depth.

I fully recommend this book to any fan of fantasy or sci-fiction. It is also available in e-book, and there’s a Legends II. I really hope they come out with another volume, featuring authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson.

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Orbital Hearts

Orbital HeartsOrbital Hearts edited by Thaddeus Rice

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I opened this. A friend sent me the ARC and asked that I read it, review it, and let him know my thoughts. I was mostly excited because it’s the first ARC I’ve ever gotten. It was described to me as an “anti-Valentines day anthology,” but that didn’t tell me much. I wasn’t sure whether I was about to read a series of stories about how much Valentines Day sucks or what.

Anyway, it has nothing to do with Valentines Day, other than apparently being released in February and being about love. Of course, it’s about love in the same vein that Bangs and Whimpers: Stories About the End of the World is about the apocalyptic scenarios. In other words, it’s unexpected, marvelous, and brilliant.

The stories all feature a love that cannot, for whatever reason, be. Some of them feature characters or couples from classic mythology, some of them look to parallel universes, magic, or sci-fi futuristic differences to explain the divide between the doomed lovers. But every story is thought-provoking, beautiful, and realistic in a larger-truth sort of way.

The writing style varied from author to author. All of the authors were extremely talented, able to highlight the unique settings and characters in the brief word counts allotted to anthologies. There were definitely some authors I enjoyed more than others, and I will say that I was somewhat disappointed in the style of the short featuring the Norns/ Fates — it was such a great concept, but the writing style itself was somewhat off-putting.

That’s the only complaint I have, though — out of 10 stories, I disliked only the writing style of 1, although I thought the concept and characterization was brilliant. Overall, this is a treasure of an anthology, featuring extremely talented authors who portray love and relationships with a sort of graceful dark humor and a subversively melancholic beauty. I found the collection disturbing, entertaining, impressive, and ultimately thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.

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Trilogy: His Dark Materials

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, #3)

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I was pulled into this from the first paragraph, and found myself with so many questions about the world and the characters. I was delighted when the series wound up, and my various questions had been satisfactorily resolved. The writing style, plot pace, and characterizations were excellent — my biggest complaint is the ending. It’s entirely logical and internally consistent with the world and character Pullman created, and it was also really depressing to me. I was kind of blindsided by the ending because I’m not used to the sort of ambiguous/ realistic endings in YA, and certainly not in fantasy YA. I wanted a happy ever after — but at the same time, it was really well written, and it made sense, and the characters are of the sort that you know they’ll move on and be fine. Furthermore, I’m actually generally uncomfortable with happy-ever-after endings when the protagonists were paired off at an emotionally immature age, which makes my internal conflict at the resolution all the more confusing to me.

It’s kind of impossible to read these without being aware they’re a religious analogy — they’re most famously posited as Pullman’s “answer” to the Chronicles of Narnia. I enjoyed both series equally, to be honest. I read Narnia as a child and His Dark Materials as an adult. These days, when I read Narnia, it’s impossible not to pick up on the religious allegory and social commentary. When I was a kid, I thought of it as a really kick-ass fantasy series, and I just didn’t see any religious allegory at all. Not even the oh-so-obvious Christ motif. I can’t say what I would or would not have picked up on with His Dark Materials as a kid, but I rather suspect I would have been equally naive. As a fore-warned adult, I still didn’t pick up on certain themes — for instance, I wasn’t prepared for the whole Adam & Eve allegory, so I didn’t anticipate it until I was reading the final scene and it hit me like a ton of bricks between the eyes. I felt like an idiot for missing all those hints, and I don’t think I would have picked up on any religious themes if I hadn’t been primed to think of the series as an allegorical response to Narnia. I liked them, and I thought they were fun. The alleged religious debate is more like an interesting side-note in culture of the series than a real factor in the actual reading of it.

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Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account

Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness AccountAuschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklós Nyiszli

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

The writing style is very bare-bones, pared down, and concise. Nyiszli, a Jewish doctor forced to “practice” his craft at Auschwitz, recounts his experiences in a detached, almost emotionless-seeming way. This approach serves to highlight the atrocities and horror of the concentration camps by dint of the very factual, almost scientific approach. In a weird way, his detachment keeps the reader so off-guard that each fresh nightmare is an unexpected development; even for those familiar with the history.  I really think this is something anyone with a passing interest in history or war should read.

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Waiter Rant

Waiter RantWaiter Rant by Steve Dublanica

♥ ♥ – – –

I didn’t like this book that much, I’m sorry to say. I’m sorry to say so because it came highly recommended by a close friend of mine, because it’s about an industry I’m intrigued by, and because the author often cites theological, historical, and psychological points I find utterly fascinating. It was weird to read a book from the perspective of someone who has the same type of interests I do and analyzes people in muc the same manner I do. I can’t help but wonder if I come off in the same sort of off-putting way he does. It’s a bit discomfiting, to tell the truth.

At the same time, I honestly think the reason I didn’t like this book was because his writing style seemed . . . I don’t know how to explain it. Unnatural? Feigned? It felt as though he was writing in a style he admired, as though he was copying some tough-as-nails author he wished to emulate, but his actual writing style kept pushing through. Like a teenage boy wearing his dad’s business suit, a bit. There were moments in the book where his voice flowed and everything seemed natural and un-self-conscious, and there were other points were I felt as though he really, really, really wanted to impress someone and was trying to mimic their style and their voice instead of staying true to himself.

So maybe I shouldn’t rate it so low. It’s a good book, a decent read, and fairly interesting. I suspect as he familiarizes himself with writing and the publishing industry, he’ll settle into his voice and style and I’ll probably quite like his writing. I’ve seen a similar situation with other authors, and no doubt it’ll happen to me if I ever climb that mountain.

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Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

Marriage, a HistoryMarriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This book. This book is so freaking brilliant. Every once in a while you come across that treasure of treasures: The readable, well-researched, topical historical book. Something that is written so engagingly and interestingly, you read it like a novel, unable to put it down. Something that is so well researched that almost every sentence has a reference, and something that is so relevant that you keep thinking, “Oh, so that’s why society as a whole thinks this or does that or acts this way.”  It’s a really fantastic and very accessible read.

Basically, marriage used to be more of a social contract, even for the peasants and such. It was about improving the family situation and adding to the community. This was generally true no matter which social level you were at, the material goods involved just changed as you moved up the scale. A peasant might hope for a spouse with livestock or land and strong work ethic, as well as a family tendency to have lots of healthy children; a landowner might hope for a spouse with adjacent land or merchant-style talents; a noble would hope for a spouse who can increase their social standing; a monarch would seek a spouse who could provide a useful alliance to their country and strengthen their hold on throne. No matter which social strata, the driving factor behind determining a marriage was the effect said marriage would have on your community and family — the hope was for a marriage with affection or at least a tolerable kindness, but it was not a primary decider in whom the spouse would be.

The Catholic church/ papacy became involved in the political aspect of highborn weddings as early as 481, with Clovis and Clothild, so fairly early on in their history.

At various points throughout history, the Catholic church has even argued that marriage is not desirable, because of sex and the potential for putting one’s spouse/ worldly situation above the cares of god. If one could not control their bodily lusts, marriage was better than nothing, but the really preferable thing would be to eschew all worldly concerns and go celibate. It was around the industrial revolution and the shift away from agrarian communities that we also began to shift toward the idea of the “love match,” which led to all sorts of interesting social ramifications (such as the idea of ending your marriage because you “weren’t happy” anymore).

Read the book, it’s awesome. Marriage used to be more about the social contract and impact on the communities; the Catholic Church got involved initially in the political/ highborn marriages and a few centuries later began getting concerned about recording/ policing all marriages; the industrial revolution started the shift away from agrarian communities and families and increased the focus on individuals which indirectly led to the growth of the marriage for love idea. It’s a fascinating history. Coontz’s writing and research is seriously brilliant. This should be required reading. I loved it. Mind. Blown.

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The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of TimeThe Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

Apparently Josephine Tey normally wrote mysteries. Not a big mystery fan, myself — especially if there are multiple murders involved — but Tey’s writing is intriguing and compelling enough that I may make an exception for her.

This mystery is more of a historical puzzle, which is why I picked it up. I love those questions historical figures have left in the cloth of our reality, and I enjoy the quest to solve them. This particular mystery has to do with the Princes in the Towers, who were murdered around the beginning of the Tudor reign in Europe. Apparently it’s commonly accepted that Richard III, last of the Plantagenet dynasty, killed them.

Using the device of an injured policeman bored with his hospital stay, Tey examines the evidence for and against Richard III murdering his nephews and looks at other possible murderers.

It’s a great book, and does what I think all great books examining history should do — makes the reader want to know more. I’ve been researching the Plantagenet’s and early Tudors since I read this book.

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Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never SeenBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I loved this book. I was ambivalent, I admit — I’m not much one for books recommended on tv shows, and I probably would have never picked it up on my own in a bookstore (it’s about running, come on!).

But the author was on the Daily Show, and he was so obviously excited and knowledgeable about his topic — it was infectious.

I immediately put it on my to-read list, and ended up reading it on my Nook. It is, in a word, incredible. The science, the history, and the people . . . it’s all woven together in this seamless, always fascinating manner. It’s both educational and entertaining — writing at it’s finest.

More than that, it’s inspiring. I actually want to run now!

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Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

I read this when I was a teenager, and it’s one of those books that has always stuck with me. The vivid imagery of a society so addicted to surface pleasure and immediate gratification that they had willingly surrendered the ability to read or even own books . . . it was such a terrifying idea that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it; the same way you might be fascinated yet repelled by a massive wolf spider that has made it’s way into your bathroom.

Bradbury’s writing is straightforward yet poetic, and I prefer this book over other futuristic dystopian fiction of the same time period because it ends on a hopeful note. I remember that when I finished the book, I felt eager and invigorated, ready to act and change the world for the better. In contrast, when I finished 1984 and Brave New World, I felt drained, exhausted, and hopeless, like it wasn’t even worth trying to prevent the posited futures because we could only fail.

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The State of Jones

The State of JonesThe State of Jones by Sally Jenkins

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This amazing history book reads like a novel. I was fascinated at every turn: The description of the siege at Vicksburg, the utter decimation visited on the South as wartime policy, and the heartrending aftermath of the war. I’d been aware that blacks had been granted the vote in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War; I had never fully understood why the federal government allowed Jim Crow laws and the essential reversal of all the North fought for.

This beautifully written tome explains a great deal of how deep and all-encompassing not only Southern pride, but Southern racism really was. Is? It didn’t touch on current politics, seeming to assume that in the decades since the Civil Rights Act, the teeming morass of racism, classism and political division has been largely tamped — or perhaps assuming it best not to touch on current issues.

I finished this book shocked and horrified at all the atrocities committed during the Civil War and the following decades. During the first part of the book, Newton Knight and his band of Unionists reminded me so much of Robin Hood that I was actually disappointed when Confederate generals succeeded in hanging or shooting men from Jones County. Disappointed not just for the pointless deaths, but that Knight hadn’t ridden down like an avenging angel and stopped the Confederate troops after they caught his men.

Ridiculous, I know, but seriously. Read about Knight defying Confederate-installed sheriffs, robbing from rich plantation owners to feed the poor whites and emancipated slaves, and living in the Mississippi swamps throughout the war and try not to make the Robin Hood parallel.

It’s a boldly written, beautifully pieced-together book. It’s rife with heroism, love, and betrayal — all on both a grand and a personal scale. This is probably the most evocative, intriguing look at the Civil War South I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

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