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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The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and DesireThe Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire by Trisha Telep

♥ ♥ ♥ – –

It had some neat little stories and some that were just irritating. I like anthologies for two main reasons: One, they’re short stories. I prefer my short stories not to have dangling, empty endings, and far too many of these felt like a chapter pulled from a book. No real context or story arc to them.

The other reason I like anthologies is because I find new and awesome writers that way. Unfortunately, none of the authors whose work I wasn’t previously acquainted with caught my eye.

Still, for being a book of vampire short stories (which I already have an innate bias against), it wasn’t bad. I just don’t think vampires are particularly suited to short stories — these all hinted at some larger, more important backstory. Some forward-shooting story arc. They were unsatisfying because they felt unfinished.

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Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three TimesLips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

First off: Illustrations. Beautiful. Marvelous. Incredible. They’re two-tone, and they are just lovely. There’s about 5 or 6 pages of illustrations prefacing each of the three short stories, and the illustrations all tell a sort of short story in themselves.

For instance, the first short story is based on the poem “The Goblin Market,” by Christina Rossetti. While Taylor references this background in the story proper and even outlines it a little, she just outlines it as needed for the backstory. What’s beautiful is that the prefacing illustrations tell the story of the poem in and of themselves, without words but with all the emotion. It’s beautiful.

Each story is similarly two-layered, a feast both visually and literally. It’s a great book and I fully recommend it to anyone.

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The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No matter what genre you prefer, try out a Gaiman book. I swear, he crosses all boundaries with his writing.

He’s magical, lyrical, beautiful. He’s the modern version of Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie or Rudyard Kipling — possessed of the same otherwordly, all-engrossing qualities of literary talent. To say his works transport you to another world isn’t quite adequate — they take you to that place between sleep and awake, the fever-dream you can never quite describe.

This particular book, despite the grim-sounding title and macabre-seeming premise is simply another great example of Gaiman’s inimitable talent. It seems to be inspired by The Jungle Book, in that the protagonist (Nobody Owens) is raised away from normal society by non-humans. In this case, though, the non-humans are not animals, but ghosts and vampires. Just as Mowgli is taught important life skills and lessons in The Jungle Book by his animal caretakers, so Nobody learns unexpectedly useful lessons from his otherwordly adoptive family.

Gaiman, as usual, revels in the use of wordplay and double meanings; dropping subtle hints throughout the well-placed plot that culminate in a satisfying ah-ha! moment at the end. The artwork gorgeous, and don’t imagine that because it’s illustrated it’s a children’s book — the reading level is young adult, not new/ beginning reader. The combination of the pen-and-ink drawings and the advanced reading level give a wonderfully nostalgic feeling for a time when books were entertainment for all, and most books had illustrations regardless of the targeted age of the reader.

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Single White Vampire Seeks Same

Single White Vampire Seeks SameSingle White Vampire Seeks Same by Martin H. Greenberg

♥ ♥ ♥ – –

It’s cute. It’s a series of short stories by various authors, each story built on the premise of a personal ad placed (or answered) by a supernatural being. There were only a few stories I didn’t like, with “Someone to Share the Night,” and “Deja Vu,” being the two that left me with the most negative impression.

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Bangs & Whimpers: Stories about the End of the World

Bangs & Whimpers: Stories about the End of the WorldBangs & Whimpers: Stories about the End of the World by James Frenkel

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love short story anthologies, especially by well-established authors in the field. They’re great because I don’t end up spending an entire day reading instead of doing chores and homework and other necessary stuff. Short stories = quickly wrapped up slices of interest that send me back on my way.

Of course, I still love long books, I just often don’t have the time. The difficulty with short story anthologies is finding absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking ones that showcase both up-and-coming and established authors. It can be a bit of a gamble.

Bangs and Whimpers delivers on all fronts. Every time I’ve started to tell someone about this book, intending to tell them about just one short story in particular I think they would find of interest, I find myself saying something like, “Oh, yeah, and there was this other one that explored an end-of-the-world scenario where we planted the seeds to a new creation by . . . “

This book is amazing. Each short story approached the Ending of All Things from a different vantage point and perception. Where one author chose to think that the annihilation of life on earth meant the end of life forever, another author saw a thin thread of hope in the distant future. Where one author wrote with detached omniscience, another wrote in intimate first-person. Each story has a unique style and vision, but they all have one thing in common — they are brilliantly, captivatingly written. This book should not be missed.

A word of warning, though — this book is out of print, not available in e-book, and is extremely hard to find at an affordable price. I happened to stumble across it in my local library, and I’ve been looking for a copy to purchase since. No luck. 😦

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ChaliceChalice by Robin McKinley

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This is a sweet and slightly alternative McKinley offering. She has such a way with words — her worlds always seemed suffused with a dreamy golden light, places where you always know that ill will become good. I love her writing. I grew up with her rendition of Beauty, and it was such a nice twist that the protagonist’s family was supportive and loving, not cruel and petty and jealous. This is typical of McKinley’s writing: She often writes female characters who are often stereotypically feminine according to the necessary social mores of the time addressed (attractive, polite, gracious), but they also have a core of strength to them. They are not malleable and easily influenced. They have support systems and strong bonds with other women. Internalized misogyny is usually absent from her worlds — I recall very little girl-on-girl hate, competition, or jealousy.

In Chalice, McKinley continues this trend, with a female character who may not seem stereotypically strong, but has a quiet core of patient strength and kindness. She is a woman in a position of power who is not a villain. She strives to live up to the expectations of others while forging her own path.

The writing is lyrical and occasionally repetitive, and it doesn’t display the same amount of wit and humor that many of McKinley’s other books showcase — it’s beautiful writing, but the whole thing is paced at a sort of dreamy, patient walk. I do recommend it, but I think it probably fits a lazy, nostalgic mood more than anything.

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Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

♥ ♥ ♥ – –

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ –

I’m a big fantasy fan, and you have to give Tolkien props for practically creating the genre. In all honesty, though, I’ve always found the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to be a bit slow. While I enjoy poetic imagery and can understand the desire to wax lyrical, sometimes I get a little irritated at the sheer wordiness of this series. Every time I revisit these books, I remember why I prefer authors like Neil Gaiman or R.R. Martin for my fantasy fix. The Fellowship of the Rings is well-written and enjoyable, especially in the last few chapters, when the action really picks up. But be warned — you have to slog through quite a bit of speech-making, pointless discussion, and long descriptions of travel to get to that point.

Even so, this is a classic of the genre, and should be read and experienced by any fantasy lover at least once. A point to keep in mind is that The Lord of the Rings was published at the tail end of an era in which books had been the predominant form of entertainment for centuries. In 1954, television was not yet common in every home, and while films were available, they were a theater-only treat. In a sense, Tolkien is one of the last authors to write in the same literary style as Dickens, Twain, Austen, and the Bronte sisters (though obviously in a different genre).

Authors today — even authors of epic fantasy — write differently. They know they have to compete with the internet, television, movies on demand, and mobile devices. Plots come at a faster pace these days, and the action and reaction occurs in swift succession. There is no time or desire for writers who begin their books with long, meandering paragraphs and tend towards tangential writing. In order to be a success, the book must immediately grab and hold the attention, and keep it throughout. I’m not saying any of this is bad — I’m just pointing out that Tolkien was writing for a much different audience. Reading his books requires cultivating a different frame of mind.

That challenge is largely ameliorated by the second book, though — The Two Towers and Return of the King chronicle the bulk of the action, so pacing picks up quite a bit. Long story short: The entire series is a bastion of the fantasy genre, and a must-read for any fantasy fan. Luckily, by the end of the first book, the pace starts picking up. By the second book, it’s whipping right along, and the third book is also a great read.

As a side note, I have recently learned that the estate of Tolkien is apparently displeased with Peter Jackson’s film rendition of his work. That makes me feel a little odd in my high recommendation of the films, since Tolkein’s descendants apparently feel they’re not at all representative of his work. Still, I really do feel like the films do a good job of representing the tone and feel of these books, and I generally do not like films based on books I’ve read. I believe the total of films based on books I’ve read that I actually like is somewhere at 5 (if you count each LoTR installment separately) — the other two are Stardust and The Princess Bride. 

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