The Hobbit (The Lord of the Rings Prequel) ★★★★★

hobbit (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Hobbit
Series: The Lord of the Rings Prequel
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 235
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit. Who ends up with a wizard and 13 dwarves for dinner. And somehow gets finagled into going on an adventure to recover the dwarves lost treasure, that is guarded by the dragon Smaug.

Along the way Bilbo meets elves, runs away from goblins, plays a riddle game in the dark with Gollum for his life, finds a ring of invisibility, flies on eagles’ wings, fights giant spiders and is almost eaten by 3 trolls.

Eventually he and the dwarves reach the Lonely Mountain and Laketown. They rouse the dragon and Bard of Laketown kills Smaug and then elves, humans and dwarves prepare to fight over the treasure. Until a huge goblin army shows up and everybody fights them. The good guys win, the treasure is shared and Bilbo returns home a better, wiser and more eccentric hobbit than ever.

 

My Thoughts:

What a book. I’ve read this enough times that nothing is a surprise. And yet… I am still in awe at how Tolkien weaves such a children’s tale so as to keep me intrigued, for the umpteenth time.

What do I say? A simple tale of adventure that is the prequel to one of the worlds most renowned fantasy series? A tale of bravery, generosity and kindness overcoming perils, greed and hatred? A stout heart being greater than a dragon? I just don’t know what to say beyond the fact that I enjoyed the heck out of this just like I have all the previous times and I don’t have any issues with it.

Well, except maybe all the singing. I wouldn’t have minded if there hadn’t been any singing. In regards to the singing though, the only thing I can say positively about the horrific movie trilogy is that the song by the dwarves in Bilbo’s house is absolutely haunting and enchanting. Who knows how long this link will exist, but here’s a youtube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8ymgFyzbDo

If only the Silmarillion had been this interesting. Well, at least I’ve got the rest of the Trilogy to look forward too!

★★★★★

 

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The Changeling Sea ★★★★☆

changelingsea (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Changeling Sea
Series: ———-
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 142
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Peri’s father went to sea in his rowboat and only his boat returned. Her mother has retreated inside herself and Peri is angry at life itself. She leaves her mother’s house and lives in a shack by the sea where an old woman taught her the fine art of hexing. Peri creates as many hexes as she can think of and one day throws them all into the sea and hexes the sea for stealing her father.

The King of the Island and his son Kir come into their summer residence and Peri meets Kir one night on the beach. He confesses that he has found out he is a changeling and part sea creature. He desires to go to the sea but can’t find the way. Peri is interested against her will. Then a monstrous sea creature is seen with a golden chain around its neck. The villagers hire a magician, Lyo, to tame the sea monster and take the golden chain for them. Lyo gets Peri to help him and accidentally turns the golden chain into a rain of periwinkle flowers. Nobody is very happy with Lyo, who disappears.

The next night Peri is at her shack when she sees the sea monster approaching the shore. It comes onto the shore and turns into a young man, very like Kir in appearance but golden where Kir is dark. This young man can only repeat words he has heard and so Peri begins to teach him words. But each night before the sun rises this golden prince returns to the sea and his monstrous form. Peri is bewildered and Lyo reveals himself to her. They figure out that the golden boy is the prince by the King’s dead wife who was taken by the Queen of the Sea, who was the lover of the King. She substituted her own son, Kir. Now each son is yearning to return to their native element but neither can figure out how.

Peri, with help from Lyo, solves the mystery. Her hex worked and it was so powerful that it hexed the whole sea. Peri unhexes the sea and that allows them to commune with the Sea Queen and Kir can return to the sea while the golden prince can return to the land. Peri realizes how powerful she is and Lyo says he’ll stick around to help her out.

 

My Thoughts:

Very enjoyable, very short and one of the most “romance’y” of McKillip’s books. While not Harlequin Romance or even most Paranormal Romance level, this was on the edge of what I’d be willing to read. That is about the only caveat I have for this book.

The shortness of this book really struck me this time. I started it one evening during the week and I was done the next night. It was kind of nice actually. I felt like I had gotten a small personal pan pizza instead of some huge buffet. Just enough to get a good taste but not enough to satiate or make you sick of it. Gluttony of words by authors is as much a sin, as far as I’m concerned, as is actual gluttony.

This lacked something, a richness I guess, that I’m used to in McKillip’s writing and that is why I’m only giving it 4 stars. Still, that is a Star upgrade from 2007. If you like McKillip’s other books, you’ll like this. Whether you’ll like it more, less or the same as her other books will depend on your personal tastes.

★★★★☆

 

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Our Mutual Friend ★★★★½

Ourmutualfriend (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Our Mutual Friend
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 1021
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

A rich dust collector dies and in his will he leaves his inheritance to his son (who he drove away years ago) and to his two faithful servants. A stipulation of the will reads that the son, John Harmon, must marry a young woman by the name of Bella Wilfer, or the entire inheritance will fall to the two servants, Mr and Mrs Boffin.

A body is fished from the harbor by a man who does such things and the while disfigured and sea eaten, the clothes and papers match the description of John Harmon. This leaves the entire fortune to the Boffins. This fisherman, a Mr Hexan, is accused by an associate of doing the deed and while no charges are brought, it brings a stain on Mr Hexan’s two children, Lizze and Charlie.

A young man by the name of John Rokesmith approaches Mr Boffin and offers to be his secretary. Having no need of a secretary, Mr Boffin kindly rebuffs his offer but invites him over for lunch. Mr Boffin then gets rich, becomes overwhelmed by everything, is amazed when Rokesmith deals with every in a matter of minutes and hires him on the spot. The Boffins have also taken on Bella Wilfer since they feel bad that she didn’t get any of the money and that her potential husband died. They bring her out to Society with them, where Bella claims she’ll be mercenary and only marry for money.

Members of Society have their own things going on that while not directly affecting the Boffins, do impact them through Bella. Mr Boffin starts to turn miserly and upon learning that John Rokesmith made an offer of marriage to Bella, turns him out of the house. Bella is ashamed at Mr Boffin’s behavior and begins to realize what a loyal man Rokesmith was to the Boffins and to her. She gives up all claim their money and goes back to her family. Rokesmith makes her an offer of marriage again and this time she accepts.

It turns out in the end that John Rokesmith is actually John Harmon and he and Bella inherit everything and are fabulously wealthy. The miserly Mr Boffin reveals it was all an act on his part to prove to Bella that money really isn’t everything. The man who tried to murder Rokesmith/Harmon is found out but gets his just desserts through another agency.

There are approximately 3 other side storylines going on through it all and they tangentially touch on Rokesmith/Harmon. Maybe I’ll go over them in another decade or so. Or perhaps not.

 

My Thoughts:

I had not realized that I hadn’t read this since 2001. I was sure I had read it just before 2010 but nope, didn’t happen. Second, while all the editions on Librarything show this as around the 500-600 page mark, my kindle showed it as just over 1000 pages and when I checked my hardcover copy, it was divided into 2 volumes. So this was a big book.

And that is probably my only complaint and the reason I gave this 4.5 stars instead of 5. There was at least twice that I just said out loud “Come on Dickens, get to the point!”. Anyone who complains about bloat in this book is fully justified and I certainly won’t argue with them. This was a 19 part serial and it shows.

Other than that issue, I enjoyed this tremendously. I have come to realize that I simply like Dickens’ work. I enjoy his plots, I enjoy his characters, I even enjoy (in a limited sense) his meandering and descriptions. It all adds atmosphere and when I’m reading it I can’t accidentally think I’m reading something by somebody elese. Dickens is Dickens. His books are shaped in such a way that they slot right into the space I have.

A lot of this book is about Deception, both justified and not. Dickens preaches at the society of his time unabashedly, especially about the Poor Laws and rips away the mask of what some levels of Society are telling themselves. It’s a good reminder for me to not sit too smugly in my own little chair and cast stones indiscriminately.

There was a side story about a Jew and I was surprised at how graciously Dickens treated him as a character. He was kind and loving and not a Shylock. I think part of it is that Dickens had enough scorn to heap upon his own fellows without searching about for others to castigate.

To end, I really enjoyed this and wish I could write more about it but me and longer reviews just don’t mix.

★★★★½

 

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In the Forests of Serre ★★★★★

intheforestsofserre (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission 
Title:
In the Forests of Serre
Series: ———-
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 316
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Prince Ronan, the son of the heartless and one-eyed King Ferus, had his wife and child die several months ago. Now his father has arranged a marriage for him with Princess Sidonie, from a small neighboring kingdom known for its magic. Before Ronan hears of this news though, he accidentally kills a white chicken belonging to the witch Brume, who goes about the forests of Serre in walking house of bones. She curses Ronan and he becomes enamoured of the firebird. He begins to hunt the firebird down only to become as wild as an animal.

Sidonie meets Ronan on her way to the castle only she doesn’t know it is him. She is with a wizard named Gyre who has been sent as a guardian by the powerful wizard Unciel, who fought a battle in The North and barely survived. Once at the castle Sidonie is pretty much held captive under threat of invasion of her home until Ferus can find his son. Gyre pretends to be Ronan but his magical disguise is seen through and Ferus attacks him and drives him into the forests, leaving Sidonie alone.

Gyre runs into Ronan and helps him pay back Brume. Ronan has to give Brume his heart and since it is already broken, he gladly gives it up and returns to the castle. Sidonie realizes something is wrong with Ronan and sneaks out of the castle to find Brume and bargain with her for the return of Ronan’s heart. At the same time Gyre is roaming the forest looking for Brume for the heart of power that makes Serre so mysterious.

While all of this is going on, a nameless, faceless monster appears and begins terrorizing Serre. It would appear that the threat Unciel the great Wizard defeated is not truly defeated.

Turns out that Gyre stole the dead monsters heart and so it doesn’t know it is dead. Sidonie gets Ronan’s heart back, Ronan falls in love with Sidonie and Brume, the firebird and Gyre all figure out what is going on and destroy the monster’s heart, which was Gyre’s heart which merely needed to transform from a jewel into a real human heart.

I think.

 

My Thoughts:

This was confusing and weird and perfectly delicious. It was definitely one of the most fairytale’ish and straight forward of McKillip’s tales, as there was NO misapprehension with what was going on with Brume or Ronan or Sidonie. Where things were confusing was all with Gyre, Unciel and the nameless terror. I think the firebird’s egg was involved somehow, but I really didn’t catch it all. I was too busy enjoying the parts I could easily understand.

It has been almost 14 years exactly since I last read this and I have to say, it has only gotten better. Despite my not understanding the nameless terror, or maybe because of it really, I am going to be adding the “Best Book of the Year” tag and put this in the running for the end of the year. Something in this book just resonated with me and while not making me jump up and down with glee, so thoroughly satisfied me that I felt like a fat little buddha statue full of literary satiation.

So far, my re-reads of McKillip have only enhanced my enjoyment of her storytelling and of her writing skill. It saddens me that more people don’t love these books as much as I do and at the same time I realize that I’m not exactly a focal point for what is hot. I do hope that McKillip’s books stand the test of time and survive where other fantasies simply dissolve back into the morass from which they came.

The cover is once again an amazing one by Kinuko Craft. I’ll be including the full size piece of art in clickable linkiness so you can peruse as you wish. I can already tell you that this cover is probably going to win April’s Cover Love hands down at the end of the month.

★★★★★

 

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Hard Times ★★★★½

hardtimes (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Hard Times
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 368
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Louisa and her younger brother Tom have been raised by their father to think only of “facts”. If it can’t be quantified and tabulated on a report, then in the School of Mr Gradgrind, it simply doesn’t exist. A circus girl, Cecilia, comes to their school and her father abandons her. Cecilia is taken on by Mr and Mrs Gradgrind, first as a student and then a servingmaid.

Louisa has turned all of her stunted feelings towards helping her brother, who has been employed by a friend of his father, a Josiah Bounderby. Bounderby is a self-made man who dragged himself up from the gutters after his mother abandoned him and has become one of the most successful businessmen in the town. He also is the kind of man who is always telling everyone how he dragged himself up by his bootstraps. He has watched Louisa grow up and likes the idea of a wife who is only concerned with facts. He proposes marriage and her father asks her. She realizes it will help her brother and so says “why not”.

We also meet a working man by the name of Stephen Blackpool. He married unwisely years ago and his wife has destroyed their life with her drinking. She now wanders the countryside prostituting herself out for money for more drink. Stephen asks Bounderby, who owns the company that he works for, if there is any way he could get a divorce, since he has heard of such things happening for rich folk. Bounderby replies in his usual bombastic tone and tells the man to get out of his sight. The men of the company are trying to unionize and Blackpool doesn’t agree with it. As such, he is kicked out of the social sphere and ostracized. Between that and the antipathy of his employer, he is forced to leave the town and seek work elsewhere. Right before he leaves though, he is accosted by Tom Gradgrind who asks him to hang around the bank where Tom works each evening, just in case Tom wants to send some messages. No messages are sent and Blackpool leaves the town.

Tom has been living beyond his means and gambling away what he has earned, as once he was released from his father’s school of thought he went in the exact opposite direction. He comes into contact with James Harthouse, a rich younger son who is “trying out” being a businessman. James meets Louisa and begins trying to seduce her, just for a lark and because he hates Bounderby. He also leads on Tom in his extravagant lifestyle. This leads Tom to robbing the bank he works for and that Bounderby runs. He implicates Stephen Blackpool who isn’t around to clear his name.

Eventually Harthouse asks Louisa to have an affair with him and meet him. She agrees but only to get rid of him, as her husband Bounderby pretty much leaves her to her own devices, and runs off to her father for protection. Mr Gradgrind is stunned by the news and by Louisa’s revelation that she wants love as much as “facts”.

On top of this news Stephen Blackpool is found dying in a pit and he reveals that Tom Gradgrind asked him to visit the bank before Stephen left town. Tom hoofs it with Cecilia’s help and takes cover at the circus she used to work for. Mr Gradgrind and Louisa meet Cecilia there and plan to smuggle Tom to the Continent (Africa) or South America so he can escape justice. He is found out but the circus people help out the Gradgrinds because they took Cecilia in.

Tom escapes, Louisa lives with her father and mother until her death, Bounderby is revealed as a fraud when his mother comes forth and shows she is the sweetest and most loving woman alive and only Cecilia lives happily ever after.

 

My Thoughts:

This was one of Dickens’ shorter books and as such his characters and situations weren’t quite as fleshed out as I’m used to but I still found this eminently enjoyable. The only downside was Stephen Blackpool when he talked. Dickens used some sort of “working man slang” that made it almost impossible to figure out what he was actually saying. That is the only bad thing I can say about this book.

It is very obvious that Dickens is writing a “message” book here, what with the over the top “Just the fact’s, ma’am” school by Mr Gradgrind and how it ruins Louisa’s life. In many ways it reminded me of those Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories, which are Christian morality stories at their most stark. By the by, Arthur Maxwell was a 7th Day Adventist. Fun fact for the day. Anyway. Thankfully, Dickens makes it clear where he falls on the “Just the Facts” debates but it never felt like he was preaching to me like a pigheaded Social Justice Warrior. That is because Dickens had class, talent, skill and he was willing to create something, not just tear something else down.

This is my 3rd time reading this and I really debated about giving it 5 stars. In many ways it deserves 5stars, as not only have I now read it 3 times but I already plan on re-reading it again in the future when I read all of Dicken’s stuff again. Not only has it stood the test of time, it has stood the test of Bookstooge. Dickens can rest easy, as there will be no grave desecration and “Unholy” water in his future. However, the dialect of Blackpool was a real stumbling block to me and I skipped almost all of his dying speech. So that is why I really like this book but can’t give it 5stars.

★★★★½

 

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The Engineer Reconditioned (Polity #13) ★★★★☆

engineerreconditioned (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Engineer Reconditioned
Series: Polity #13
Author: Neal Asher
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 260
Format: Digital Edition

Synopsis:

A collection of short stories from Asher’s Polity Universe, his Owner universe and some general SF shorts.

 

My Thoughts:

Really, my previous review still stands. Asher just unloads several times on anything “religious” and even in one of his intro’s to a story admits that’s exactly what he is doing. Makes me wonder why the vitriol. His wife hadn’t died yet, so it wasn’t like he was blaming God for that. In fact, now that his wife has passed on, I’ve noticed LESS bashing of religion in his books. Thankfully, I knew this was an element in this book so it didn’t shock me like it did the first time around. Scyenze is Asher’s god, he just won’t admit it.

I enjoyed the Owner stories a lot this time around as I now had the Owner trilogy under my literary belt. Did make me want to add them to my tbr. Once I finish up my Polity re-read, I’ll probably re-read the Owner books to tide me over until Asher’s Jain trilogy wraps up.

There was a story about the Hive (turns out Wasps are sentient creatures) and I have to admit I would like a trilogy about them at some point. I doubt it will happen and I’d be ok with just some more short stories, but since I’m wishing, a trilogy is what I want.

★★★★☆

 

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[Manga Monday] Northern Pride (Shaman King #15) ★★★☆½

northernpride (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Northern Pride
Series: Shaman King #15
Author: Hiroyuki Takei
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Manga
Pages: 200
Format: Digital Copy

 

Synopsis:

Volume opens with Dr Faust VIII watching over Manta who had fainted at the brutality of the last battle. Faust tells Manta that Team Funbari (Yoh’s team) is up next and Manta gets all worried. Next we cut to Team Funbari who are letting off steam at a restaurant in various ways. Yoh reveals that he’s confident enough in the training they’ve done that he thinks he can take the next team single handedly. Team Ren then has a little run in with Team Icemen, who are Yoh’s next opponents. The Icemen show off a bit and then leave the restaurant.

The battle begins and Yoh reveals his big sword. Ohhhhh myyyyy. He tries to be friendly but the Icemen are having none of it and immediately attack Faust as the weak link. Faust shows how he’s powered up by calling forth a gigantic demon version of his beloved Eliza. Team Icemen then attack Yoh but Ryu steps in and shows the burning power of friendship and literally melts their ice attack.

Eventually Yoh sets his team mates aside and lets the Icemen attack him directly. When he survives, they realize they simply don’t have a chance. Yoh invites them to try again, not to win but so that they can lose with the pride of knowing they gave it their all. They accept and Yoh unleashes the new Amidamaru against them and destroys their attack. The connotation being that the Icemen used up all their mana in their final attack and since it didn’t work, they lose.

 

My Thoughts:

This was a much shorter battle than I was expecting. It felt more like a showcase for the new and improved powers of Faust, Ryu and Yoh. The pride of the leader of the Icemen kept them from realizing how friendly Yoh was trying to be. It wasn’t until the very end that the truth sunk in. Which was what Yoh was trying to do. He didn’t want to create enemies as he climbed up the ladder to become Shaman King so he does what he can to show his opponents that they are not truly his enemies. Thankfully, the Icemen got the message. I suspect other teams later on won’t care or won’t believe it.

I think the fight is over, but it didn’t explicitly show the Icemen officially losing. So I’m holding off judgement until the next volume. With only 32 volumes Takei can’t stretch the fights out into Dragon Ball Z territory, thankfully!

★★★☆½

 

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