Friday, January 11, 2013

Tales from Watership Down

Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams
Hutchinson - March 1, 1996
198 pages

The author of Watership Down has penned a sequel of sorts. It is a collection of short stories in three parts: the first part are traditional stories of the rabbit trickster El-ahrairah. The second part are more stories of El-ahrairah and his faithful companion Rabscuttle, although these are on their way home from the Black Rabbit of Inle. The third and final part follows the rabbits on the Down in events after what happened in Watership Down.

I was thrilled to see that this was mostly stories of El-ahrairah. The few stories that were mentioned in the original were delightfully whimsical, and the stories in Tales are the same way. The first part also includes a story by Blackavar, a rabbit rescued from Efrafa, about a ghost rabbit. However, it is also ruined by a nonsensical story by the jester-type rabbit Bluebell. In the third part, I started off with a grin upon seeing that Hyzenthlay, my favorite character from the original because of the fact that she is a strong doe, becomes elevated to co-Chief Rabbit with her mate Hazel as opposed to remaining stuck in the "First Lady" type position. I was, however, less than thrilled to see that Blackberry is rarely mentioned and is only once called upon for his intelligence. This book still holds almost as much of the magic as the first. Almost.

Grade: B+

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux - October 2, 2012
304 pages

Clay Jannon worked at the technological bagel store NewBagel for a few months. Then the recession hit and NewBagel drastically changed its style and became Old Jerusalem Bagels. Now Clay is unemployed and roams the streets of San Francisco when all of a sudden he sees a "Help Wanted" sign for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. He gets the job and works the night shift. But the store is odd. The books Penumbra carries are arbitrary, although it's nothing popular. And then there's the Waybacklist, full of books printed in a cryptic code. These books are "borrowed" by a variety of strange customers. Clay has to get to the bottom of what is happening here.

This is possibly the geekiest, most hipster-y book that I have ever read. Not that it's a bad thing. In fact, it is very much a good thing for this reviewer. Anything with smart female geeks and bookstores is off to a good start, but when you throw in Swiss typography from the 1500s and a book series within a book about singing dragons, and that excels it to further levels of glee. My one major problem with the novel was of Clay's roommates, Mat and Ashley. Mat's greatest importance is forging one of the logbooks of the bookstore, and Ashley exists for no other purpose than to act like a robot when not making out with Mat. Throw that blonde bimbo out on her head, give Mat something else to do, and this book would have been among the best.

Grade: B+

Days of Blood & Starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
Hachette Book Group - November 6, 2012
513 pages

Warning: This is the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. My synopsis and review may involve things that are not spoilers to people who have read the first book, but would be to people who have not. If you have not completed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, do not read the following until you have finished it.

Karou had loved the enemy and had sorely paid the price for it. Now they were dead: Brimstone, Yasri, Issa, and Twiga. Karou has gone to Thiago's army, even after what the White Wolf did to her previous self as Madrigal. In the wake of Brimstone's death, it is now Karou's job to resurrect the dead chimaera as revenants so that they may be able to defeat the seraphim for once and for all. But Akiva is waging his own war, this one for redemption.

Can I just start by saying that I absolutely detest the character of Akiva? I don't know what makes me loathe him so, but I cannot stand him at all. Karou needs Ziri, her "little Kirin shadow" from when she was Madrigal. The other characters, however, were wonderful. The dark, sarcastic senses of humor from Karou's friend Zuzana and Madrigal's friend Haxaya were outstanding. There were brief flashes to three escaped chimaera: Sveva, Sarazal, and Rath. Nothing truly important happened to them, so they had better become a large part of the third book in the trilogy, or I will wreak havoc. And nobody wants to see my havoc. The strong Karou plot was weakened by side Zuzana and Sveva/Sarazal/Rath side-plots, and the Akiva plot only built up steam about two-thirds of the way in. While the characters (especially the chimaera) are much more outstanding than its predecessor, the plots of Days of Blood and Starlight left me wanting something thicker.

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
Hachette Book Group - September 27, 2011
432 pages

Karou is a seventeen-year-old Prague art student that hasn't exactly led a normal life. Blue hair sprouts from her head, no dye required, and she's sent around the world to collect teeth for a group of chimaera, or creatures with attributes of both humans and animals. She has bullets in her stomach that she doesn't remember, as well as tattoos of eyes on the palms of her hands. She speaks nearly all human languages there are to offer. One one of her missions she finds an angel named Akiva, and the two of them help her discover a past life that has been long forgotten.

There is one major problem that I have with the book: it destroys Roman Catholicism and basicially all other religions with a concept of angels and/or devils. Basically, there are chimaera (devils) and seraphs (angels) that have no ties to God or Satan or any other deity because there are no deities outside of the goddesses Nitid and Ellai. Now, I'm fine with a nice pantheon or whatnot set in another world, but this actually tears apart true religion and labels it as wrong. That being said, the pace built wonderfully and the characters were rich. There were a few awkward one-sentence chapters, though, that some may enjoy but others, such as myself, found jarring.

Grade: B