Saturday, March 28, 2009

Look what I got

See what beautiful flowers my parents sent me.

birthday_flowers It’s my birthday on Tuesday (the big 4-0, although I don’t feel nearly that old) but we’re having a gathering of friends tomorrow, so Mum thought she’d have them arrive early so I could enjoy them on both days. Isn’t she just the loveliest mother?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A big day today

Today was a special day. Marcus brought home his first reading book from school.


The children have been (and still are) learning all their sounds and Marcus has become very adept at sounding out shorter words (excepting, of course, all the many, many words in English that break the rules). Up until today he’s come home with sound sheets and word lists, so getting a real book was very exciting. It certainly was for Mummy anyway, and Marcus did seem very happy that he could read it, although I’m pretty sure he used the pictures to figure out words like kitchen and rubbish.

All the same, it was a proud mother and a proud son that read it through this afternoon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Diamond of Darkhold – Jeanne duPrau

duPrau, Jeanne - The Diamond of Darkhold In The Diamond of Darkhold, Jeanne duPrau goes back to her original time frame as established in The City of Ember and continues the tale of Lina, Doon and the people of Ember and Sparks as they forge a new future together.

When a Roamer visits Sparks, Doon and Lina end up in possession of the last eight pages of a book (or rather, by the sound of it a booklet) that appears to have been intended for the people of Ember when they left their city. Lina and Doon decide to go back to Ember and try to find the “diamond” that the book is describing. They find their city changed and even inhabited, meaning finding the diamond hidden there will be harder than they expected.

This was a solid end to the series. I personally didn’t find anything deeper in it than an adventure that would set the characters (and their children and children’s children and… etc etc) up for a new and hopefully better future. Like The Prophet of Yonwood before it, the book has an epilogue tacked on the end that is essentially a list of “what happened after” that, while not good storytelling, was a nice way to let us know where that new future is going to lead. (Although I did think the plot point of the “travelling star” was totally unnecessary and a waste of space – as was its setup back in Prophet.)

The atmosphere of abandoned Ember was nicely done – a homecoming that isn’t a homecoming to a place that is no longer familiar – and it was nice that Lina and Doon got to say goodbye properly this time. It was also nice to see some of the other children from both Sparks and Ember working together, showing that the groups are slowly beginning to merge.

I know the book is written for children/young adults and, as such, should have adventurous and brave protagonists, but I have to say, from a parent’s point of view, that if Lina and Doon were my kids they’d have turned me grey long before now. Enough with the running off at the crack of dawn and leaving messages hidden so they won’t be found until the two of them are well on their way. As a kid myself – and maybe even right up to before I had a kid of my own – I probably took such things in my stride and didn’t notice, but these days I’m always wondering where the parents are or throwing up a silent cheer if they are present and useful characters.

All the same, like I said, this is a solid end to the series and it has been a satisfying journey. I like a good post-apocalyptic tale and while I don’t think this series has the depth of the other YA post-apocalyptic series I’m reading (Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn books), I enjoyed it all the same.

The Diamond of Darkhold
Jeanne duPrau
The Books of Ember, Book 4

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading Challenge

The Books of Ember:

  1. The City of Ember
  2. The People of Sparks
  3. The Prophet of Yonwood
  4. The Diamond of Darkhold

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ties of Power – Julie E. Czerneda

Czerneda, Julie E. - Trade Pact Universe 2 - Ties of Power After enjoying reading A Thousand Words for Stranger last month, I bought the second book in the series, Ties of Power. Usually it takes me much longer than this to get to a sequel, but I’ve been in the mood for SF lately, so I picked it up and read it this month.

At the end of A Thousand Words for Stranger, Sira and Morgan went into partially voluntary exile to avoid the further machinations of the Clan Council as they seek to control Sira’s enormous power. While on the planet Pocular, Sira is attacked, presumably by a member of the Clan. While Morgan, goaded by Sira’s rage, goes in pursuit of the perpetrators, Sira takes refuge with a group of Drapsk, members of a little known and secretive species. Sira finds herself caught up in the Drapsk’s Festival Contest and learns that there are other races that know of the M’hir, a place that is more complicated and strange than the Clan have ever imagined.

Rather like A Thousand Words for Stranger, I felt myself somewhat tossed in the deep end at the beginning of this book. I couldn’t figure out just what was going on or how anything related to anything else and was worried about my enjoyment of the story. Happily, things started to straighten out fairly quickly, and while Czerneda kept me guessing, I felt less and less in the dark as the book continued.

The layout of the story is the same as in the previous book, with first person POV chapters from Sira and “interludes” in between her chapters with third person POV depicting the action happening to other characters. This allows Czerneda to stick with Sira’s thought processes (always interesting as she still hasn’t fully integrated her two personalities yet) and adventures, while still letting the wider story be told. Since she split up her main characters for most of the book this was a necessity, as there is no way she could have told the entire tale from Sira’s POV without losing much of the story. However, with 61 chapters and almost as many interludes, this made for short reading sections, which aren’t really my favourite way to read.

The mystery of the Drapsk and its slow reveal was, well, slow, but still very interesting. As a biologist, Czerneda excels at creating alien races (even if, not being a visual reader, I couldn’t quite picture what most of them looked like) and the Drapsk were well done. As a species that communicates by olfactory messages (although they can vocalise in the common ComSpeak as well), their “com system” on their space ships consists of moving air currents and they have a tendency to curl into little balls (I imagined little feathery hedgehogs at this point) when over-stressed. Sadly, their technology isn’t as well realised as their biology, but whether this is limited by the imagination of the author or the fact it is all viewed through Sira’s eyes remains a mystery.

Sira and Morgan’s relationship is kind of stalled over the course of the book. Firstly, Sira remains afraid that her power could hurt or possibly even kill Morgan, so while she drills him relentlessly in defence, she also refuses any further physical or emotional closeness. Secondly, they are apart for most of the book, although desperately missing each other. Ironically, it is Sira’s self-growth through her time with the Drapsk that provides the solution rather than further development and interaction between the two of them, sure proof this is a science-fiction novel where the relationship is important but not primary.

The situation with the Clan reaches an end-point at the end of this novel, I assume leaving the next book open for Sira to work on the problem of escalating Clan power (something for which she may now have an explanation) and their potential extinction.

I found this an easier book to read than A Thousand Words for Stranger (although I liked Stranger a bit more than this one) and I suspect that is because the complicated biological and genetic issues of the Clan, which are a fundamental part of the story, have been explained already and it is lesser description of the Drapsk that takes centre stage in this novel. Certainly, I didn’t find myself needing to mark up copious passages of text as I did with the previous novel.

A solid continuation of the series, Ties of Power is a good social/biological SF read (machinery and technology is all drawn with much broader strokes and is less important). If that appeals and you liked A Thousand Words for Stranger, then I recommend continuing the series. I don’t know quite when I’ll get to it (having just signed up for a fantasy challenge so I’ll be focussing on that for a while) but I’ll definitely be getting the last book in the trilogy. I’ll probably eventually get to the prequel trilogy as well.

Ties of Power
Julie E. Czerneda
Trade Pact, Book 2

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge

Trade Pact:

  1. A Thousand Words for Stranger
  2. Ties of Power
  3. To Trade the Stars

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Pool for Once Upon a Time

out3banner6200 People in Carl’s Once Upon a Time III challenge are all posting their lists of books from which they intend to pick their reading. I’m having so much fun perusing all the lists I decided I really did need to post my own.

Firstly, straight from the TBR list:

  • The Night Bird – Catherine Asaro
  • Ink and Steel – Elizabeth Bear
  • Hell and Earth – Elizabeth Bear
  • The Invisible Ring – Anne Bishop
  • The Shadow Queen – Anne Bishop
  • Midnight Never Come – Marie Brennan
  • The Hob’s Bargain – Patricia Briggs
  • War for the Oaks – Emma Bull
  • World’s End – Mark Chadbourn
  • The Initiate – Louise Cooper
  • Memory and Dream – Charles de Lint
  • Prophecy – Elizabeth Haydon
  • Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls – Jane Lindskold
  • Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta
  • Alphabet of Thorn – Patricia A. McKillip
  • Od Magic – Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

And some others, from the bookshelf and from other people’s lists:

  • The Oak Above the Kings – Patricia Kennealy-Morrison
  • Moonheart – Charles de Lint
  • The Ordinary Princess – M. M. Kaye (finished 27-03-09)
  • The Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley
  • Beauty – Robin McKinley
  • Song for the Basilisk – Patricia A. McKillip
  • Landslayer’s Law – Tom Deitz
  • The Infinity Concerto – Greg Bear
  • The Summer Tree – Guy Gavriel Kay
  • The Silent Tower – Barbara Hambly
  • Changer – Jane Lindskold
  • Tea with the Black Dragon – R. A. McAvoy
  • Deep Wizardry – Diane Duane
  • Stone of Farewell – Tad Williams
  • Fire and Hemlock- Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Merlin Conspiracy – Diana Wynne Jones
  • The White Dragon – Anne McCaffrey
  • The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge

I know for sure that I want to read Memory and Dream (de Lint), Finnikin of the Rock (Marchetta) and one of the McKillips, but right now anything beyond that is negotiable. I’d like to cover more than one of the sub-categories if possible, but we’ll see what happens.

Of course, while typing up the lists I realised that I want to read everything!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Just watched (or partly watched) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull while getting my blog tidied up and a bit closer to up to date.

What can I say? Really Harrison, much as I still admire you and think you’re pretty hot, you just aren’t Indy anymore. You’re too old. You should have left it alone.

Otherwise the words the come to the mind are things like silly and good grief and I predicted all the twists and there’s going to be a spaceship before the end and then I’ll have to scream.

And really, really, don’t get me started on the science, or rather the lack thereof.

I hereby officially announce the the Indiana Jones canon consists of Raiders of the Lost Ark (because cool movie) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (because Ford + Connery = win). But that’s it. Nothing else.

I am so glad I didn’t pay money to go and see this in the cinema as I considered doing.

Second Chances


My progress on Second Chances when I stopped to take a break and have a chance. I love how it is coming together, but the stitches are very small, and I think I’ll just work on small amounts of it at a time.

I’m now working slowly on Dawn Star and I’m delighted with how she’s going. She now has a face and when I’ve finished the current page I will happily show her off.

Go The Very Hungry Caterpillar!


Once Upon a Time III


Each year, Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings hosts the Once Upon a Time challenge. It’s a chance to read fantasy, mythology, folklore and fairy tales. It is, of course, right up my alley. I’ve never dared join in before, but since this is my year for challenges, I’m going to give it my best shot. Fortunately, it’s my kind of challenge, where you don’t need to post a list in advance and there’s a lot of leeway for making decisions.


I’ve decided to aim for “Quest the Third”. The challenge is to read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time III criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres AND top it off with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream OR a viewing of one of the many theatrical versions of the play. I’m planning to watch the play and have already put it in our queue at Fatso, New Zealand’s version of Netflix.

The timetable for the challenge is between Saturday, 21st March and Friday, 20th June 2009.

I certainly don’t have a list, but I would like to include at least one Patricia A. McKillip book and one Charles de Lint book in my reading.

I’ll keep my list over on Lists and Such as usual, and post my reviews here.

Mothstorm – Philip Reeve

Reeve, Philip - Mothstorm

I was disappointed to see that our library didn’t have Philip Reeve’s third Larklight book. However, I’ve quickly learned that there’s a solution to that problem; ask the library to purchase it. Happily for me, they did and I embarked on Mothstorm with enthusiasm.

There’s a strange grey cloud out in the vicinity of Uranus, oops sorry, Georgium Sidius (who would be so uncouth as to call it anything else?) and the British Space Navy is worried. Art Mumby’s mother, formerly the Shaper in charge of starting life in our solar system, takes a hand and whisks the family and others out to see what is happening. They soon find themselves caught up in yet another nefarious plan to take over the solar system.  It is up to Art, his sister Myrtle, ex-space pirate Jack Havoc and Mrs Mumby to save the day once again.

I found Mothstorm a lot more fun than Starcross, possibly because it has such a better villain. Mrs Mumby’s no-longer-so-secret former identity comes to the fore as we learn more about shapers and what they are and are not supposed to do. Art and Myrtle become separated once again, meaning we get narration from both siblings. Myrtle’s attempts to be an author are amusing, Art’s footnotes even more so.

Really, this is more of the same from Reeve, but it’s delightful and fun more of the same, so who cares? It’s certainly better than Starcross and I recommend it for a fun, quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it and I find myself sorry to know there are no more books in the series for me to read. Hopefully there will be eventually.

Philip Reeve
Larklight, Book 3

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge


  1. Larklight
  2. Starcross
  3. Mothstorm

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World – Vicki Myron

Myron, Vicki - Dewey The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

This book was all over book blogs last year (which may even be when I put a reserve on it at the library as it took a lot of time to get down to me through the holds). I got it from the library at the beginning of the month and settled down to something rare for me – a non-fiction book.

On a freezing January morning, someone put a tiny kitten into the book returns slot at the library in Spencer, Iowa. The librarians rescued the frozen cat, quickly fell in love with him and adopted him. Dewey Readmore Books, as he was eventually named, because the library cat at Spencer Library and by the time he died at the grand old age of 19, was not only famous locally, but all around the world. This is his story, coupled with some of the story of Spencer itself and of head librarian Vicki Myron, who was Dewey’s “human mum”.

While this isn’t the best written book in the world, it’s a really lovely story about a lovely cat, and if you’re a cat lover (not to mention a bibliophile) you’re sure to enjoy it. It’s a little biased – Vicki Myron clearly loved Dewey very much – but a delightful tale all the same. It also features some interesting history about the American mid-West in the 20th century as well as some of Myron’s own history that puts some parts of the story into context.

I admit I’m not convinced Dewey was as telepathic as Myron makes out, but otherwise I was enchanted by him. I’d love to walk into my library and find a cat waiting to greet me. Dewey’s fame was a little strange but also understandable as it sounds like he was a character and I can readily see his story getting passed on and on in an ever-increasing circle (or probably less perfect shape). It was good to see that New Zealand was included in the places around the world where Dewey had fans. As much as I’m generally reluctant to join in with the “in thing”, I rather suspect I would have been a fan too.

Like I said, if you like books and you like cats, give this book a read. It’s a lovely story of a remarkable – and totally adorable – cat.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Vicki Myron

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Promises in Death – J. D. Robb

Robb, J. D. - Promises in Death

I can’t remember now who first got me reading J. D. Robb’s series about Eve Dallas and Roarke (although I suspect the blame can be laid at the feet of “Barbara the bookseller” who has sold me a lot of books in the series since then). It doesn’t really matter. I’m hooked. I love Eve and Roarke and their ever developing relationship and I enjoy the futuristic setting and the murder mysteries to be solved. So when I heard there was a new one coming out I slapped a reserve on it at the library (I buy this series, but in paperback – I’d be broke by now if I bought it in hardcover!).

Eve finds herself with a personal stake in her latest case when the victim turns out to be the girlfriend of Li Morris, the NYSPD ME and a good friend. She is reluctantly forced to look into the possibility Amaryllis Coltraine may have been a dirty cop, even as she works to bring the killer to justice and deal with the intrusion of an old enemy into her and Roarke’s lives.

Robb’s books are always fun reads, but their quality does vary from enjoyable right through to excellent. Happily, Promises in Death is up at the excellent end of the scale. 

There is a good, solid mystery. It’s not so simple the reader can easily solve it, but not so twisty you need notes to figure everything out. The clues and progress of the case are clearly laid out and Eve works steadily towards the solution while still finding time for her own life and time with Roarke. Of course, these books are always more about the progress of the case and the relationships rather than solving the mystery. I don’t remember if I ever tried to figure out “whodunnit” when I read them, but I certainly don’t now. Instead, I just go along for the ride and enjoy whatever Robb decides to throw at me. In this case there’s a lovely balance of work and play and a light tossing of angst as Eve tries to deal with Morris’s grief and his need to be part of the case even through she knows he’s not the tiniest bit objective.

It’s all balanced very well. It was also nice to see Eve and Roarke simply working together without their issues providing the angst this time. While that can provide a great story, it’s also a pleasure just to see them interacting. There is a wonderful scene where, as they begin to realise an old enemy is involved, both promise not to antagonise the other – then they acknowledge that they probably won’t actually manage to do it and proceed to make up (or should that be make out?) in advance.

But most priceless scene is Eve’s reaction when she is left to host Louise’s hen party while Roarke takes Charles and a large number of friends to Las Vegas (Eve is horrified enough that they’re taking the innocent Trueheart, then she nearly has a heart attack as she realised Roarke will be taking Mr Mira to a strip club). Her plea to go with them and Roarke’s response is just wonderful and a total laugh out loud moment.

In the end, I did actually find myself feeling rather sorry for the murderer, something that isn’t usually the case, but this individual was actually rather pathetic in a vicious way and Eve’s method of resolving the case was harsh but brilliant.

All in all, Promises in Death is an excellent addition to the series and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Promises in Death
J. D. Robb
Eve and Roarke, Book 34

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Eve and Roarke:

  1. Naked in Death
  2. Glory in Death
  3. Immortal in Death
  4. Rapture in Death
  5. Ceremony in Death
  6. Vengeance in Death
  7. Holiday in Death
  8. Midnight in Death in the Silent Night anthology
  9. Conspiracy in Death
  10. Loyalty in Death
  11. Witness in Death
  12. Judgement in Death
  13. Betrayal in Death
  14. Interlude in Death in the Out of this World anthology
  15. Seduction in Death
  16. Reunion in Death
  17. Purity in Death
  18. Portrait in Death
  19. Imitation in Death
  20. Remember When
  21. Divided in Death
  22. Visions in Death
  23. Survivor in Death
  24. Origin in Death
  25. Memory in Death
  26. Haunted in Death in the Bump in the Night anthology
  27. Born in Death
  28. Innocent in Death
  29. Eternity in Death in the Dead of Night anthology
  30. Creation in Death
  31. Strangers in Death
  32. Salvation in Death
  33. Ritual in Death in the Suite 606 anthology
  34. Promises in Death
  35. Kindred in Death (forthcoming, November 2009)
  36. Missing in Death in the Lost anthology (forthcoming, December 2009)

The Grey King: A Combined Response

Cooper, Susan - The Grey King It was a lovely coincidence when Susan from You Can Never Have Too Many Books, Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot and I all discovered we were reading (or in my case listening to) Susan Cooper’s The Grey King. We decided to share some questions with each other and all answer them. It was very interesting to see or different and/or similar responses to the same questions. So, without further rambling, here are our thoughts of some aspects of The Grey King.

What did you think of the book's sense of place?
(Question from Nymeth)

My response:
I am not a visual reader. I don't get an image in my head when I read (or in this case, listen), rather I get I kind of emotional connection to what I'm reading. I found myself feeling very grounded while reading "The Grey King". I've never been to Wales and have no real idea what that is like, but I had a real sense of the farm and the sheep and the mountains. I could almost picture woolly mountain sheep and sharp crags and the grazing pasture. My sense of the mountain and lake at the end wasn't quite as sharp, but it was certainly there. So despite the lack of pictures, I felt well-immersed in the book.

Nymeth’s response:
It was one of my favourite things about it. Last year I spent a week in Wales, in the same area where the book is set, and reading, The Grey King brought back so many memories. Susan Cooper’s descriptions are very beautiful and vivid, and I think that  in addition to that she really captured what North Wales feels like. A feeling of ancientness and also of…confinement, perhaps. I don’t mean this negatively; the place really is stunningly beautiful. But the valleys and the mountains can feel haunting and a little entrapping. As that feeling is a big part of what’s at the heart of this story, the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. You can see some very nice pictures of Gwynedd
here and here.

Susan’s response:
I agree with both Ana and Kerry - the sense of place was very strong in the book.  I like how Kerry put that it made her feel grounded in Wales.  I could see the hillside, and the lake, and the sheep.  I haven't been to Wales, and yet like you Ana, I felt the sense of isolation that the mountains ringing the valleys gave, the remoteness from the rest of the world, that mountains give.  I have lived in a mountain range, in the BC interior, and also on Vancouver Island, and I can say that mountains do give a very definite sense of  space.  Cooper really makes the scenery, the mountains, the landscape, part of the story. All of the important events take place outside, so it seems the battle of Light and Dark is for the earth itself.  I really liked the sense of place in this book.

Share a favourite moment/scene.
(Question from Nymeth)

My response:
Gosh, this turned into a surprisingly hard question. I'm not sure why, but it did. When looking back at the book, I keep finding myself thinking of the lake at the end - the lake in the pleasant place. For all the action and danger that happened there, I find myself with an image in my head of a beautiful, and indeed peaceful place and so I'll choose Will's time by the lake as favourite moments, even though I know this is a vague and very indefinite answer.

Nymeth’s response:
I loved the scene where Bran tries to teach Will to pronounce Welsh sounds, particularly the “ll” sound. It made me smile, and it brought back memories of my lovely hostess in Wales explaining some of the very same things to me. Especially the morning my boyfriend and I went to Llangollen. We had to find a bus that would take us there, and that involved asking bus drivers and attempting to pronounce the dreaded “ll” twice in a single world. I can’t say we did too well, but everyone was extremely helpful regardless.

Susan’s response:
"The bracken-brown slope lay still beneath the sunshine, with outcrops of white rock glimmering here and there.  A car hummed past on the road below, invisible through trees; he was high above the farm now, looking out over the silver thread of the river to the mountains rising green and grey and brown behind, and at last fading blue into the distance.  Further up the valley the mountainside on which he stood was clothed dark green with plantations of spruce trees, and beyond those he could see a great grey-black crag rising, a lone peak, lower than the mountains around it yet dominating all the surrounding land."

Cooper fills the books with a lot of description. What effect did this have on your reading, did it enhance it or make it falter? There are also a lot of Welsh words; did they cause you any trouble?
(Question from me)

My response:
As I said earlier, I'm not a visual reader, so Cooper's descriptions didn't draw pictures in my head. Instead, it was the power of the words in her descriptions that caught me. She uses metaphor and simile beautifully and they add greatly to the power of the book. I marked a few that particularly struck me as I was reading (and I also noted she used the sky and birds as part of her scene setting a lot).

"Birds whirred away from him; somewhere high above, a skylark was pouring out its rippling, throbbing song."

"The voice crawled like a slug over Will's skin."

"Will could sense the man's anger and malice whirling round his mind like a maddened bird caught in a room without exit."

As for the Welsh, here I think I had a huge advantage listening to the audio rather than reading the print book. All the Welsh words were pronounced correctly (or so I assume) for me and I didn't have to stumble over all those consonants on the page. The Welsh characters were also given Welsh accents which added to the sense of place I had for the book. It was an excellent recording and I really enjoyed listening to it. (And as an interesting aside, it was the only book of the five in the series that had a different narrator from all the others. I find myself wondering if the original narrator couldn't handle the Welsh and this book was given over to someone else. I shall be interested to continue listening to Silver on the Tree with the other narrator as, so far as I recall, parts of that take place in
Wales too.)

Nymeth’s response:
I loved her descriptions. I wonder if having been to Wales helped me visualize the landscapes more easily. It’s possible that I wouldn’t have imagined it all quite as vividly if I hadn’t been there, but then again, I haven’t been to Cornwall and she really brought it to life in Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch. I also loved her inclusion of Welsh. It wouldn’t have felt quite as authentic without it, and plus I just love how the language sounds. It could be my imagination, of course, but I actually think that Welsh sounds old. On a side note, the number of Welsh speakers has increased in recent years, which makes me happy and relieved. Anyway, Kerry, I imagine that the audiobook really was an advantage for you. For me, as I’ve had some exposure to the language before, I could mostly hear the words in my mind. I probably didn’t always imagine the sounds correctly, but Bran’s explanations really helped.

Susan’s response:
The description brought Wales to life before my eyes.  While I can't speak Welsh, I want to learn it, and I enjoyed seeing it used in the speech and names and places of Wales.  It adds to the exotic feel of the setting, and enhances the myth being told.  I really enjoyed learning a bit about speaking Welsh, although I think it will be long and a trifle difficult!

John Rowlands speaks of a coldness at the heart of the Light. What do you think about this?
(Question from me)

My response:
This particularly struck me (which is why I asked the question). We like to think of the good guys as being, well, the good guys. They do the right things for the right reasons and don't hurt anyone or anything. But doing the right thing can be hard and it can be painful - and sometimes the decision has to be made that it will be hard and painful for others, which seems far more arrogant that deciding such a result for one's self. Will is there to fight for humanity's future, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy or kind or merciful. He's there to do what has to be done and there's a possibility he might need to sacrifice some of his own humanity to do it, which doesn't feel like it's the right answer. It's what an Old One is called to do and perhaps not something we mortals could manage. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable, just as John Rowlands words left Will feeling uncomfortable.

Nymeth’s response:
I’m so glad you asked this question, Kerry. It touches on one of my favourite things about this series, and I probably wouldn’t have remembered to bring it up otherwise. The Dark is Rising Sequence tells the story of an epic battle between the forces of Darkness and the forces of Light. If I were told this and only this about the series, my reaction would probably be “meh”. See, I’m not much of a fan of moral absolutes, and taken out of context, that seems to be what this is about. But the brilliant thing is that Susan Cooper uses this premise to tell a story about shades of grey and complex choices and humankind’s potential for cruelty, kindness, and everything in-between. For me, the coldness at the heart of the Light John Rowlands brings up is self-righteousness, judgement and mercilessness; the demand for perfection without taking into account that humans make mistakes, and that to make a mistake doesn’t automatically makes you a horrible person. That is indeed a dangerous thing. And that’s part of what makes Will such an interesting character. He’s an Old One, yes, but he’s also a young boy. And that makes him humble and kind, which is why he plays such a crucial role.

[Note from me: Nymeth has managed to sum up much better what I was trying to say than I managed myself. Thank you, Nymeth.]

Susan’s response:
I think it is appropriate - how many times have we read where wizards, or magic users, or others who have access to memory or knowledge beyond their time, who act in ways the characters think is cold, only to find it had the best result?  However, I've never thought of it as cold, because there is a difference between the heart of the Light and the Dark, and what happens to the characters shows that difference.  I'd probably turn to John Rowlands and ask him how he thought warmth at the heart of the Light would be like!  thank you for doing this!  I had so much fun!  Certainly, Kerry, I think Ana and I can send you our questions and answers for Silver on the Tree.  I understand completely needing to take your time with reading it.

Do you think The Grey King deserves the Newbery Medal?  Why?
(Question from Susan)

My response:
Here I admit to my ignorance of things American. I knew the Newberry Medal went to children's books, but that was about all, so I had to go and look the details up on Wikipedia.  It tells me the award goes to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Being neither American nor aware of what other books were published for children in the USA back in 1976 when it won, makes it rather hard for me to answer this question. However, I think it is an excellent book that not only tells a good story, but introduces its reader to beautiful and haunting writing, difficult moral dilemmas, pain and heartbreak and success. It brings old legends to new life and encourages the reader to find out more about them and draws us in to the age old struggle between the Light and the Dark. For those reasons I think it is a book that deserves to be well known and well read, but I still find it interesting that such a very British book should win a US award (I see - from Wikipedia again - that Cooper married an American, which I guess is what made her eligible). Sorry, I haven't really answered the question, have I?

Nymeth’s response:
I, too, have to admit my ignorance when it comes to book awards in general. It’s hard for me to come up with an answer that is more elaborate than “yes, because it’s a great book”. Awards like the Newbery are great because they bring books to people’s attention, and that’s always a good thing. But I’m someone who believes that ultimately, they don’t mean much more than that the people responsible for choosing the winner liked the book. I don’t mean this dismissively – the Newbery winners are chosen by librarians, and librarians are generally sensible and well-read and awesome in all sorts of ways. So I care about their opinion, and I want to know what their favourite book of the year is. But still, I don’t think any award should be looked at as the ultimate definition of what quality is, even one as cool as the Newbery. So I’m not sure about deserving, but it’s an intelligent, beautifully written and complex book, and I’m happy it won.

Susan’s response:
Yes is the quick answer.  Yes, The Grey King deserves the Newbery Award.  Why?  Because it takes myth and legend, and shows that they are rooted in real things, and that above all, faith, and love, show the way. There is such a strong sense of place here, that children can really picture it - the mountains, the lakes, the farms. There are places in this story where the characters could choose to go to the Dark, and by showing this, Cooper makes the characters fallible and real.  Children reading this book can see that being good or bad is a choice, a state of mind. But it's not dull or a treatise, it's an adventure story, and it's well-done.

Did the riddles Ban and Will have to answer make you want to go find Welsh myths and folktales?  What did you think of the answers?
(Question from Susan)

My response:
This is a reread for me. Although I suspect that on my first reading it did send me out to find out more about the myths and tales. I don't remember.  I've certainly been through my Celtic and Arthurian mythology phase before now and accumulated a good collection of books and information on the subject. I'll always be a bit of a sucker for a good incorporation of Arthurian legend in the modern day (which I think Cooper does brilliantly in this series) and I'm sure that remains part of why I still love it to this day. On this read, I could see the parallels building and enjoyed recognising at least some of the things Cooper was using in the story, but I didn't feel the need to go researching. Been there, done that, loved it.

Nymeth’s response:
Yes! Yes they did. I think 2009 will be the year when I finally read The Mabinogion. It’s really about time. I felt that there was a lot I missed about the riddles. I mean, I trusted Will and Bran to be doing things right, and my ignorance never actually pulled me out of the story. But I’m sure I’ll appreciate the inner logic of the whole thing a lot more on a second read. Kerry mentioned the incorporation of Arthurian myth, and I have to agree. We can’t say much about this without giving too much away, but it’s done brilliantly.

Susan’s response:
One of my favorite scenes is the riddle scene.  I love how Cafall helps Bran, and I really love the answers.  I also like this  fantasy tradition, where the hero has to answer a riddle.  This is part of Welsh bardic training, where knowledge is passed through riddles.  The whole setting of the riddles is fantastic, and the answers made me want to run and read all the myths and legends, and Evangeline Walton's series, and the Mabiniogon, The White Goddess which I have started twice now, everything I can find so I can find those answers to the riddles.  Part of my heritage is Welsh, and I feel like I've been given a key to it with these riddles.


I’ve never done a group “review” like this before and I really enjoyed it. I’m currently listening to Silver of the Tree and I’m about a quarter through. If I promise to concentrate to getting it finished, I’m hoping Susan and Nymeth (both of whom have finished the book I believe) will wait for me and we can do this again with the next – and last – book in the Dark is Rising Sequence. Please do check out both Susan’s and Nymeth’s blogs as they are both brilliant bloggers (and much more eloquent than me) and I was delighted to get to play with them.

A quick comment on my reaction to the book as a whole; in short, I loved it. I really appreciated listening to it and getting all the Welsh and Welsh accents (and since I’ve now listened to more of Silver on the Tree than when I originally answered the questions I can say that while the main narrator’s rendition of the Welsh is perfectly fine, the alternate narrator who did The Grey King was much better). That really added to my enjoyment and this has proved to be the first book for the year that I’ve rated 10/10.

The Grey King
Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising Sequence, Book 4

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

The Dark is Rising:

  1. Over Sea, Under Stone
  2. The Dark is Rising
  3. Greenwitch
  4. The Grey King
  5. Silver on the Tree

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Health and generally keeping up with life (getting a five year old to and from school each day, getting homework done and having him home in the afternoon is doing me in) have got me pretty run down.

I’m behind with book reviews, although I still hope to get caught up again. I have Promises in Death by J. D. Robb, Dewey by Vicki Myron and Mothstorm by Philip Reeve to catch up with. I’m reading a long SF book now (Ties of Power by Julie E. Czerneda) and have an even longer one to read after that (Lear’s Daughters by Marjorie B. Kellogg) so that should at least give me some breathing time to get caught up.

I’ve done a little bit of stitching. I’ve been working on the next page of Dawn Star and since that includes her face, I got kind of obsessed about getting the face done and being sure it came out right. It is done and (IMHO) it looks just lovely. However, the exhaustion has stopped the stitching for now too, so I’ll take a break before finishing up the rest of the page.

I have about 40 minutes to go in my audiobook (The Grey King by Susan Cooper), but it’s all about the head into the book’s climax and I’ve been putting it off in the hope I’ll be a bit more “with it” soon and be able to take it in better.

So all in all, things have ground to something of a halt as I do my best to get through each day and not much else. Hopefully things will start to pick up again soon.

Monday, March 02, 2009

V: The Second Generation – Kenneth Johnson

Johnson, Kenneth - V The Second Generation

I just loved the first 1980s miniseries, V, and its followup sequel, V: The Final Battle. What was there not to love – invading aliens stealing our water, dramatic revelations of treachery, a growing Resistance and, best of all, scientists were the heroes instead of the instigators of our disaster. I ate it all up and wasted some long car trips imagining what might have happened next. (There was a single season as a TV show that tried to tell me that, but it all got kind of silly at that point, so I chose to ignore it. Only the two miniseries count as far as I’m concerned.)

All this means that when I learned there was a book coming out by Kenneth Johnson, who was the creator of the original miniseries, I was delighted. Here at last was a chance to find out his vision of how the story should have continued. He only worked on the original miniseries, so as far has he was concerned, that was the spring point for his ongoing story and The Final Battle didn’t occur – sigh, no Ham Tyler and no concurrent image of Michael Ironside in my head, as he only turned up in the later part of the story. For those that remember the original mini-series (or have had a quick read of the Wikipedia synopses linked to at the top of this review), the series ended with Julie and some others setting up a transmitter to send a request for help out into space, in the hope it will be reached by the great enemy of the Visitors.

Twenty or so years later, the Visitors are continuing to steal the Earth’s water and its people, all while running a totalitarian state and using fear and propaganda to convince the human population that everything is hunky dory.

The story opens with the appearance of two strange, naked women in a secluded hunting cabin. By the end of the chapter I make my first (and it turned out only) interested annotation:

These are the “enemy of my enemy” that the message was sent to at the end of the original miniseries?

We then switch to a young Teammate (the follow up the the Visitor Youth of the miniseries) fleeing from the Visitors, his dying mentor Sarah – the one who has just shown him the truth of things and convinced him to change sides – with him. Nathan escapes with help from a young half-breed girl and begins a careful progress into the Resistance.

Sadly, at this point my reactions stopped being interested and started to become frustrated. The writing in this book is… well, to be honest it pretty much sucks. It is not good prose at all. It’s stiff and it’s clunky and there is no flow to it at all.

Two Visitor fighters similar to the one Nathan was flying had dropped from one of the myriad landing bays on the bottom of the sixteen-mile-wide Mothership, which was equal in size to the hundreds of others like it around the world.

Firstly, since we’ve already been told Nathan is flying a fighter, do we need to have it noted that these other fighters are similar? Shouldn’t the use of the word fighter do that for us on its own. The whole of the first phrase is clunky even without that, but then we get a totally superfluous secondary phrase about the hundreds of motherships around the world. That doesn’t need to be there at all. Even if we didn’t now about the other ships already – and I’m pretty sure we did – there’s a better time to tell us that in the middle of a air battle.

Sadly, Johnson doesn’t seem to realise this as he then proceeds to give us another longish paragraph all about what the mothership looks like and how it is the flagship of the Armada and how it’s four thousand feet above the ground and it casts a huge shadow over the city. We’re in the middle of a battle here guys, remember? Who cares?

I’d be interested to know if all or any of this story was originally a screenplay. Johnson is a screenwriter before a novelist according to his author’s bio and it shows. The way this same action scene is written, it suddenly keeps snapping around into different locations to show the scene from a different angle and then snapping back to someone else a moment later. There’s nothing but a normal paragraph break between this parts and I began to feel like I was getting whiplash reading it all.

For example, we have section with Nathan in his stolen fighter that does this kind of jumping. Skipping typing in the paragraph that gives us a very detailed, dossier-style description of the Visitor pilot in the second craft, here’s how it reads:

Nathan knew he was facing a serious challenge.

The pilot in the lead interceptor was a female Patroller, a flight leader named Gina. […] She keyed her transmitter, and spoke with calm command. “Six one niner, you will form up with us and follow to the Flagship.”

In the rogue craft, Sarah was tapping the arm of her seat with growing anxiety.

That kind of swift flash of the enemy’s face would work very nicely on screen, but it really, really screws up the flow of the prose in a novel. This is far from the only example in the book of this screenplay-type technique failing to work in a novel. I think Johnson did improve a little by the end, but I was skipping to pick up the basic plot by then and I can’t be sure.

There there was the assumption that I, the reader, must be a total moron and have everything pointed out to me in case I miss a moment of deep significance. We’ve had another dossier-style description of life in San Francisco, but to be sure we got it, Johnson goes on:

Most people knew there were living in a subtle, tightly disciplined, and ever-present police state. Fort those who were old enough to remember World War II, it reminded them of Paris in the early 1940s after the fall of France.

Then follows a couple of long paragraphs detailing life in Paris after the Nazi occupation. So let me see, in case the initial description of life in San Francisco wasn’t enough for me, then I have to be told it’s a totalitarian state. Then I have to have a unsubtle reminder of Paris during World War II. At that point, I added a snarky annotation that says “I feel like I’m being hit over the head with a brick!” However, clearly even that wasn’t enough and I now get a whole crate of bricks dumped on me with the detailed description of live in occupied Paris. Really, I’m not that stupid, and I doubt most of the other reader who bought the book are either.

Sadly, this is another writing issue that repeats in the book. But try to relax as there’s only one more I’m going to gripe about. This time it’s overwriting again, telling me in varying amounts of detail – but always too much – something that I already know because I read it 50 or 80 pages back but needs to be repeated in case I’ve forgotten already.

She glanced across the roof and saw Bryke approaching Ayden, the amber-eyed man with whom she had communicated via the holographic transmission in the mountain cabin.

Now, I have CFS and it seriously affects my memory. I readily admit that I can read a mystery novel and go back to it after as little as about six months and have no clue about who did it because I simply can’t get things like that to stick in my memory well. (It makes for good opportunities to read things like mysteries without knowing all the answers though, so it has an up side.) However, even I’m not as bad as Kenneth Johnson seems to think I am. We also had long over-detailed descriptions of things that had happened in the miniseries as characters remembered them. Now, I’m not complaining about that quite so much, as not everyone will have seen it and 1981 is a lot further back to remember that 100 pages. All the same, they could have been much better and more smoothly written. My snarky annotation was snarkier for the above quote, a simple “Do you think I’m completely stupid?”

Sad to say, this simply is not a well-written book. But the time I got to about a third of the way through, I was skimming, and the skimming speed got faster and the reading more careless as I continued.

So why did you even finish reading it? I hear you asking me. Well, the answer to that is simple. Go back to my first paragraph of this review. I loved the miniseries. I loved the characters with a great big gushy, I’m-a-scientist-too kind of love. And I really wanted to find out what their original creator wanted to do with them. So I skimmed through to pick up as much of the plot as I could without having to actual read the prose.

It was okay. Some parts of it were good, some parts of it were okay and some I didn’t like. I didn’t like what he did to Mike Donovan (ooh, Marc Singer, almost as good V eye-candy as Michael Ironside), and I was very disappointed that in a book that he filled with a significant number of human/Visitor hybrid children (including a lovely one called Ruby adopted by Julie Parrish) there was not a single mention of Robin Maxwell and her pregnancy which would have resulted in the very first such hybrid child. She was still pregnant at the end of the miniseries, although her child (a daughter, Elizabeth) wasn’t born until The Final Battle. So Johnson wasn’t even constrained to what Robin’s child would be like. He could choose for himself, but he left them out completely, even though her father Robert is in the book and even makes a throwaway comment to Mike at one point about how Mike saved Robert’s daughters.

The final battle in the book was a clever idea, but came together far to quickly as a race against time before the Resistance’s new Zedti allies (those, the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend friends who arrived in the first chapter – the only time I think we were supposed to guess something rather than have it explained to us in 100 words or more) blow up the Earth to stop the Visitors turning on their own home planet.

So yes, the idea was cool, but the execution wasn’t brilliant and there were just enough hints left to suggest another book could be written to follow up from this one – after all Diana escapes (surely you don’t think that’s a spoiler; she always escapes) and there’s now a new alien mothership hovering in the sky over San Francisco and a new alien leader offering to leave his fleet to oversee peacekeeping as the Earth gets itself sorted out again. If that book comes out, I think I’ll just stick the DVDs into the DVD player and watch V and V: The Final Battle again instead of spending any more money.

So sadly, all in all, V: The Second Generation was a big disappointment.

V: The Second Generation
Kenneth Johnson

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge