Here are the books I read this year:
1. New York, Rutherfurd
2. Behemoth, Westerfeld
3. Willie Mays: the Life, the Legend, Hirsch
4. Ender’s Shadow, Card
5. The Memory of Earth, Card
6. Turtle in Paradise, Holm
7. Heart of a Samurai, Preus
8. The Dragon Knight, Dickson
9. Spacer and Rat, Bechard
10. Assassin’s Apprentice, Hobb
11. The Explosionist, Davidson
12. The Floating Islands, Neumeier
13. The Iron Thorn, Kittredge
14. The Eagle of the Ninth, Sutcliff
15. The Songs of Hollywood, Furia and Patterson
16. Finding Serenity, Espenson
17. The Wise Man’s Fear, Rothfuss
If I keep this up, I’ll be at only 35 or so by the end of the year. We’ll see!
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Marcus, like his father before him, is an officer in the Roman army stationed on the barbaric island of Britain. Many years ago, Marcus’ father and his Legion marched north of Hadrian’s Wall and never returned. Rumors are now coming south of the Wall: the Eagle, the standard and symbol of the Ninth Legion has been seen in one of the temples of the barbaric tribes of the north. With such a symbol, the tribe could rally others and mount an attack on the lightly defended Wall. Marcus knows that this cannot be allowed to happen, so he volunteers to go north of the Wall and retrieve the Eagle. With his freedman friend Esca, a Briton, Marcus searches throughout Caledonia to find the Eagle and to find out the fate of his father.
This is an excellent story. The Roman Britain setting is well drawn and the characters that inhabit it are all realistic. Marcus was an interesting narrator and while the ending of the story was a bit predictable, I found his quest to be compelling. If you’re looking for historical fiction that will bring the ancient world to life, this is a good story to try.
The silver screen and the small screen are the topics of my next two books:
The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The introduction of movies with sound – known at the time as “talkies” – brought about a revolution in Hollywood. The Songs of Hollywood explores how music, and more specifically, songs with words in them, shaped the movies they appeared in. Furia and Patterson explore the relationship between movie studios and sheet music publishers, the careers of many famous songwriting teams (many of whom are perhaps more well-known for their musicals) and the experiences of the performers who made their names singing and dancing on the silver screen.
Early directors and producers were unsure of using songs in movies; the idea of a character bursting into song to explain his or her feelings was too different from real life and it was thought that audiences wouldn’t like to see that on screen. It wasn’t until much later when several visionary directors began to really incorporate the songs into the characters and stories that movies were able to use songs in a setting other than a performance, ie, the character is a singer and is auditioning or performing a song in the course of the show.
It was very interesting to see how attitudes towards songs changed between the first talkies in the ’20s and ’30s and the way songs are used in movies today. The number of famous songs and famous singers and songwriters who came out of Hollywood is astonishing, particularly because I associate so many of them with settings other than the movies. This is a well-written and fascinating history.
I visited two very interesting fantasy worlds recently:
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After a freak volcanic eruption kills his entire family, Trei must leave his homeland to go and live with his aunt and uncle on the floating island called Milendri. “Floating Island” is not a redundant term – the islands actually float high in the sky, kept aloft by the magic of the sky dragons and guarded by the kajuraihi, the men who wear wings and fly. When Trei sees one of these men on his journey to Milendri, he is immediately entranced and swears to himself that he will become one.
Trei is warmly welcomed by his aunt and uncle and cooly welcomed by his cousin Araene, a girl with a quick tongue and a passion for cooking. Like Trei, Araene has a dream: to become the most famous chef on Milendri. As time passes, the two cousins find that they have more in common than they thought and are able to become friends. However, circumstances are conspiring to keep Trei and Araene from fulfilling their dreams. Can the cousins work together to do the things they love best?
The idea of islands that float in the air is not a new one, but it’s not one that I’ve seen too often (the other good example I can think of is the Firefly episode “Trash”) and the corps of flying men who defend the islands is new. I liked the magic system Neumeier uses as well – the power is used by the people but it comes from dragons, who allow the people to use it. Trei was an interesting and likeable character, but the one I liked best was Araene. She is a strong and well-rounded heroine, stuck in a tough situation who has decided to deal with things her own way. I would love to see these characters again in another book.
More books, more books!
Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jack is a Spacer. He lives on the space station Freedom and spends his time working in Gert’s pub to save up credits for a new zip scooter and sometimes hanging out with his friends. But Jack’s understanding of his world turns upside-down when he meets Kit, an Earthie fresh off the latest space freighter to dock at Freedom. Before he really knows what’s happening, Jack is helping Kit escape the station and finding out that the things he thought he knew might not be true after all.
Margaret Bechard has created one of the most interesting sci-fi settings I’ve read in awhile. Her characters are interesting, and their future slang is easy to pick up on and fun to read. Like all really good science fiction, Spacer and Rat brings up questions about life and humanity, but it does so subtly and gracefully. And the shout out to classic science fiction is great – each of the spaceships mentioned in the book is named after a famous sci-fi author. I would absolutely *love* to see this book made into a movie – Bechard’s space station setting would be fantastic on the big screen.