nebroadwe: (Books)
Ian Ker, G.K. Chesterton
Boy, was I enthusiastic when I heard that the ferociously learned Ker was publishing a Chesterton biography.

Boy, was I disappointed. This is not the book I was hoping for.

What I hope for in a brick of a biography (and at ~750 pages, this is a respectable brick) is lots and lots and lots of CONTEXT. I want to find out who the subject was in relation to his/her family, friends, enemies and society, not to mention the historic events and big and small trends of his/her time. Ker presents Chesterton in a kind of splendid isolation. He records (occasionally in bizarrely minute detail, via extensive quotation of Frances Chesterton's diaries) the daily events of Chesterton's life and provides summaries (which, I must admit, I started skimming about 3/4 of the way through) of his major works, but only spreads his net wider twice: once to deal with Chesterton's view of Jews and Judaism and once to give what he apparently thought was unavoidable background to Chesterton's involvement in the Marconi scandal. For a book that puts a great deal of emphasis on Chesterton's journalism (the first draft of history!), there's very little analysis of Chesterton in relation to his times. What about Catholic Modernism? A little more Boer War, please? Some Big Picture on the literary scene rather than accumulation of anecdote? How about more than sidelights on Cecil Chesterton's career, with which his brother's was intertwined? Left completely unexamined is Chesterton's Orientalism (a product of his time); I was also underwhelmed at the treatment of his opinions on the Woman Question (ditto). On the other hand, the frequent quotation of Chesterton's own Autobiography left me intrigued; I think I'm likely to pick that up and read the man on himself. Not recommended if you're a fan of the same sort of biography I am.
nebroadwe: (Books)
N.M. Browne, Warriors of Ethandun
Dan has managed to return a dying Ursula to the twenty-first century in time to save her life, but finds himself arrested for her attempted murder. Ursula, recovering, refuses to implicate him and a timely visit from a disguised Taliesin presents Dan with the opportunity to escape by returning to the past. He refuses, but Taliesin leaves him with the means to do so in the form of a glass orb. Discovering this, Ursula begs Dan to use it, as her longing for magic has left her unable to readjust to her own time. When he does, they are swept separately into the attempted Danish conquest of an Alfredian England. Ursula loses herself to the magic, is captured by the Danes and worshipped by them as Freya, while Dan takes service with Alfred in the marshes, where his berserkrgang earns him the suspicion of Alfred's adviser, Bishop Asser, and threatens to overwhelm him utterly. Trapped on opposite sites of the war and unable to help each other, the two may be doomed, like their old frenemy Rhonwen, to live and die in a time not their own ...

Concluding the Warriors trilogy begun with Warriors of Alavna and continued in Warriors of Camlann, this is not a standalone. Read more... ) Recommended for fans of the previous books.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Scott Westerfeld, Behemoth (illustrated by Keith Thompson)
Sequel to Leviathan. War has broken out among the Great Powers of Europe -- the Clanker empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary with their machines versus the Darwinist nations of Great Britain, France and Russia with their fabricated beasts. Caught in the middle on the British airship Leviathan are Alek, son of the late Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his morganatic wife Sophie, and Midshipman Dylan Sharp, born Deryn and masquerading as a boy to achieve her dreams of flight. After an indecisive engagement with a German warship armed with a Tesla cannon, the Leviathan limps into Istanbul (not Constantinople!), a hotbed of diplomatic activity as the British and the Germans each attempt to woo the Ottoman Sultan to their side. Meanwhile, Alek, escaping into the city to hide, discovers a democratic revolution brewing in the streets, while Deryn is given her first command, a sabotage mission to clear the way for the ship-crushing Behemoth. But secrets will out (especially with a clever Austrian count, a nosy American reporter, and a perspicacious loris or two sniffing around) and the thing about battles is that one squick of bad luck can make all your plans go pear-shaped ...

Cut for mild spoilers ... )

Excellent stuff; highly recommended. A further recommendation: the fanworks of Julia156, who writes very clever, very well-researched Alek/Deryn in a lovely pastiche of Westerfeld's style.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Scott Westerfeld, Leviathan (illustrated by Keith Thompson)
In the opening weeks of World War I in an alternate universe of giant clanks and genetically engineered fighting beasts, Prince Aleksandar, morganatic son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, finds himself on the run from assassins with his tutors in a Cyklop Stormwalker, while Deryn Sharp is congratulating herself on pulling a successful Sweet Polly Oliver and winning a berth on the Leviathan, the British Air Service's first great hydrogen-breathing aerobeast. But when the Leviathan crashes near Alek's refuge in neutral Switzerland, his attempt to help the survivors unmasks him to Deryn and the mysterious Dr. Nora Barlow, who persuade him that their only hope of surviving their respective pursuers lies in cooperation. This is fun -- it took a few chapters to really get rolling (the penalty of having to introduce both point-of-view characters separately), but once it did, it kept me turning the pages till the end. (The lovely pictures don't hurt, either.) I enjoyed the idea that Darwin discovered genetic engineering as well as evolution and that the continental European powers went all steampunk in response. The author's grasp of real-world history helps to handwave the Mad Science, as does his presentation of a range of ethical and aesthetic responses to it, from squick to enthusiasm. Alek and Deryn are also convincing, if slightly caricatured, products of their backgrounds. I perked up in particular at the way Deryn's gender performance of Dylan is mildly overdone, to the point where she perceives it as hard work and even Alek notes that his new friend is rather emphatic. Romance may be in the offing here, but it's well down the road (Alek hasn't got a clue yet) and, given the tragic history of Alek's parents' marriage across a far smaller social gulf -- not to mention Deryn's ambitions in the Air Service and Alek's status, as yet unrevealed to the world, as his grandfather's legitimate heir -- I rather doubt it would go the way of happily ever after. A sequel, Behemoth, is just out this year. Recommended for steampunk and alt-hist buffs.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Kenneth Oppel, Starclimber
Airship pilot trainee Matt Cruse never thought he'd be dodging terrorists during his summer job ferrying materials to and from the giant space elevator the French are building in Paris until a group of Babelites attempts to turn his tug into a flying bomb. He never dreamed he'd be invited to training camp for the world's first manned space-flight, either -- or that his girlfriend, the rich, unconventional, headstrong Kate DeVries, would become engaged to another man in return for the chance to travel on the same space-flight as its xenobiologist. Perhaps a love between people of two such different backgrounds was never meant to flourish, just as the Babelites insist that man was never meant to trespass in God's heaven ...

Read more... )Recommended, but consider reading the equally entertaining prequels Airborn and Skybreaker first.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Shannon and Dean Hale, Rapunzel's Revenge (illustrated by Nathan Hale)
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: Rapunzel, for horse-thieving, kidnapping, jail-breaking, and using her hair in a manner other than nature intended! Once upon a time there lived in a grand villa with her mother, Gothel, a very pretty, very venturesome, very, very bored little girl named Rapunzel. On her twelfth birthday she climbed over the wall surrounding the villa and discovered not only that she had been stolen from her real mother, but that Gothel was a tyrant bent on enslaving the entire frontier with her growth magic, which can provide a bumper harvest or prevent a crop from sprouting. Imprisoned in a tower for her defiance, Rapunzel plotted her revenge, waiting for the day when her braids would be long enough to lasso the top of a neighboring tree ...

Read more... ) Highly recommended.
弓 きいろ [Yumi Kiiro], Library Wars: Love and War 1
In the future, Japan's federal government imposes censorship of all media, backed up by a Media Betterment Task Force which confiscates unsuitable materials from bookstores and libraries by force if necessary. And it is necessary, because local governments have armed librarians under the Library Freedom Act to protect the public's right to read. Inspired by an encounter with a member of the Library Defense Force, Kasahara Iku has made it into basic training on the strength of her athleticism and dedication to the cause, but her instructing sergeant seems to have it in for her, her parents don't know she's chosen so perilous a career, and she can't even shoot straight. Sometimes only the memory of her hero and the slim possibility of finding him and telling him how much his intervention meant to her keeps her going ...

Read more... )I'll probably give the next volume or two a try on the grounds that armed librarians are cool, but unless the material gets a little more self-aware or takes a left turn into originality, I don't think I'm likely to follow this one far.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Kazu Kibuishi, The Amulet 1: The Stonekeeper and The Amulet 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse
"Not everybody wants to be a hero, Leon."
"But they should."

Two years after their father's death in a car accident, Emily and Navin move to their great-grandfather's dilapidated country house, shut up since he disappeared many years before. Their mother insists that if they work together, they can make it a home, but Emily isn't so sure. Then she and Navin discover a mysterious amulet hidden in their great-grandfather's library that warns them of approaching danger. Too late to save their mother from capture by a cephalopod-like monster, Emily uses the power of the amulet to follow the creature into the parallel world of Alledia. There she and Navin discover that their great-grandfather was a Stonekeeper, the former master of the amulet, whose full strength can even turn back time to grant its possessor's heart's desire. All Emily and Navin want is to save their mother and return home, but by inheriting the amulet, they've also inherited their great-grandfather's allies and enemies, all of whom have their own plans for the stone ... not to mention the stone's own plans ...

Read more... ) Highly recommended.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Naomi Novik, Tongues of Serpents
Convicted of treason, Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire have been transported to New South Wales, Australia. On arrival, however, they find that the military governor, William Bligh (yes, he of the Bounty) has been ousted in a coup d'etat. Both sides are as eager to ally with the Aerial Corps as Laurence is to avoid any such political entanglement. But politics are unavoidable, whether it involves rebellion or the unwelcome return of the abusive Captain Rankin, whose family's influence has secured him another chance to harness a dragon. Even Tharkay's offer of a letter of marque from the East India Company seems a poor choice, though Temeraire is itching for action. Laurence finally accepts coup leader MacArthur's suggestion that he, Temeraire, and their cohorts attempt to blaze a trail into Australia's unmapped interior, where the dangers are at least no respecters of persons ...

Read more... )
nebroadwe: (Books)
My copy of Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Art of the Animated Series arrived last week and it's lovely: big, glossy, and filled with character models, background paintings, key poses, storyboards, and random sketches. (And an overhead shot of the entire Fire Nation capital, which is going to be much consulted if I ever get up the gumption to attempt my "Aang and Zuko search for Ursa" novel.) Apart the fascinating "How we came up with this idea" section at the front end, it's light on commentary, which I find somewhat disappointing; then again, if artists expressed themselves in words, they'd be writers, not artists. (And the DVD commentaries probably cover most of what they'd have said, anyway, except maybe for insights such as: "After storyboarding the epic airship sequence, Joaquim Dos Santos said he never wanted to draw another pointy-tipped airship again.") My favorite part is the one on calligraphy, which translates some of the wanted posters and other signage, such as Aang's advertisement:
Have you seen my flying bison? His name is Appa. He has six legs and weighs ten tons. If you have any information, please contact Avatar Aang in the Upper Ring, 96th district, house #217.
Recommended for all fans of the series who want to delve a little more deeply into its construction -- and specifically to my fellow fanficcers, as a hugely useful visual reference tome.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Heroes of the Valley (Jonathan Stroud)
Halli Sveinsson is too smart for his own good; with no inclination for farming or herding, he regularly sets the House of Svein on its ear with his practical jokes. But the trick he plays on Ragnar, heir to the rich, ambitious House of Hakon, has unintended consequences that end in the death of Halli's beloved Uncle Brodir. When no one else seems inclined to take an heroic revenge upon the Hakonssons, Halli sets forth -- only to discover that the world is wider and heroism more complicated than he'd ever imagined. Stroud knows his sagas and creates a wonderful pseudo-Icelandic world; both its remembered heroic past and current law-and-economics-driven present ring true. Halli makes an entertaining protagonist -- think Miles Vorkosigan without the steadying influence of his parents -- and he's aptly counterbalanced by his romantic interest Aud, who's as intelligent as and even more manipulative than he. Best of all, Stroud places them in situations that test their certainties to destruction, forcing them to evaluate the myths by which they choose to live (and setting them against the mass of their fellows who aren't so inquiring, and inclined to resent anyone who is). There's a rather Bujoldian concern with the relationship between persons and principles here, allied to a Catherine Jinks-esque talent for depicting the reactions of realistic characters in fantastic settings. Highly recommended.
nebroadwe: (Books)
The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan)
Percy Jackson thought he had problems -- ADHD, dyslexia, an abusive stepfather, and an instinct for trouble that's gotten him kicked out of one school after another -- but that was before his math teacher tried to kill him, he lost his mother in a minotaur attack, and he learned that his father was Poseidon, god of the sea. The Olympians are still thriving in updated forms in twenty-first-century America, now the heart of the West. But dark forces are stirring, threatening Percy with monsters by day and evil dreams by night. Worse yet, someone has decided to frame Poseidon for the theft of Zeus's lightning bolt, and unless Percy can recover it, war in heaven will destroy the earth. Now he knows he's got problems ... and his chronicler Rick Riordan has the Midas touch. He updates the Greek myths without losing their archetypal flavor; he maneuvers between verbal registers with ease, so that both Percy's irreverent narration and the terrible formality of the gods revealed sound natural; and he provides his eminently likeable characters with a rip-roaring series of adventures for the reader to root them through. Percy occasionally sounds a bit old for his years and some of the minor human characters (particularly his mother and stepfather) are inconsistently or flatly characterized, but these are quibbles. Hey, the man uses "hither" correctly -- what's not to love? First in a series of five books with an overarching plot and a defined end point; the next two installments, The Sea of Monsters and The Titan's Curse show improvement on the characterization front, as Riordan learns to better balance comic grotesquerie and emotional seriousness. I can't wait to see how it all turns out. Recommended for classicists with a sense of humor.
nebroadwe: (Books)
The Demon's Lexicon (Sara Rees Brennan)
Ever since magicians killed their father, Nick and his older brother Alan have protected their half-mad mother, hunted from pillar to post all over the UK. It would be easier to hide if Alan weren't such a soft touch, but not even Nick can stop him from trying to help a pretty girl and her demon-haunted younger brother. And it would be easier to survive helping them if Alan didn't have his own secrets to hide ... First novel from a writer making the jump from fandom to original fiction, and it shows: the characters are reasonably engaging and the plot machinery holds together, but the dialogue's a bit precious and the narrative needs more falling action than it gets. (Also, for a species characterized by suspicion of and/or infacility with language, the demons are awfully fluent in English.) Room is left for a sequel; I won't seek it out, but I'll probably read it if it crosses my path.
nebroadwe: (Books)
Naomi Novik, Victory of Eagles
Read more... )
Diana Wynne Jones, House of Many Ways
Read more... )
nebroadwe: (Books)
森 薫 [Mori Kaoru], Emma 5-7 (tr. Sheldon Drzka)
Read more... )
John Ostrander & Jan Duursema, Star Wars–Legacy 1: Broken
Read more... )
岩永 亮太郎 [Iwanaga Ryotaro], Pumpkin Scissors 3 (tr. Ikoi Hiroe)
Read more... )
nebroadwe: (Books)
Dave Duncan, The Alchemist's Apprentice
High-concepted to me as "Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin in Renaissance Venice," this book lives up to its billing. Read more... )
nebroadwe: (Books)
Follow the cut to spaceships, magic cities, and military intelligence )... and stay tuned for manga reviews (Emma, XXXholic and Someday's Dreamers) in the near future!
nebroadwe: (Books)
Julia Briggs, A Woman of Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858-1924
Read more... )
森 薫 [Mori Kaoru], Emma 4 (tr. Sheldon Drzka)
Read more... )
Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Trollbridge: A Rock'n'Roll Fairy Tale
Read more... )
nebroadwe: (Books)
CLAMP, Tokyo Babylon 4-7 (tr. Ray Yoshimoto)
Read more... )
小林 深雪 (Kobayashi Miyuki) / 安藤 なつみ (Ando Natsumi), Kitchen Princess 1 (tr. Satsuki Yamashita, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir)
Read more... )
森 薫 (Mori Kaoru), Emma 1-3 (tr. Sheldon Drzka)
Read more... )

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nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014

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