Friday Face-Off: Heroic Covers

Today I thought I’d try a different-for-me meme, and join the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is ‘I am Aragorn son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’ – A cover featuring a hero

One of my favorite bookish heroes is, of course, Alanna the Lioness in Tamora Pierce’s wonderful book series.  I thought I’d highlight the second book in the series, In the Hand of the Goddess, because I’m fascinated by how cover illustrators handle the issue of a female hero disguised as a boy.  The answer is…not very well!

We start here with this rather awful cover, which clearly did not even try to depict Alanna’s disguise.  It’s an action sequence and her hair is the right color, which is about all I can say for it.

This cover graced the library copy I read the very first time I encountered this book, so I have a nostalgic fondness for it.  I like the drama of the moment and the framing of Alanna, as well as the nice detail in the setting.  She at least isn’t showing much figure, but that hair isn’t helping the disguise.

This cover wins for the most convincingly androgynous protagonist–she actually could be a girl disguised as a boy, and neither the disguise or the true gender seem impossible.  I like the clothing choice and the sword hilt too.  It’s just too bad she has such a glowery expression!

By contrast this one has a great expression, resolute and defiant, and I like the hair style.  I want to love this cover, probably for the expression alone.  If she was just standing a little less model-like, with a little less figure…well, then I could more easily forgive it for not only getting the color of her magic glow wrong, but also the color of her horse wrong.  And is it really safe to hold a sword like that?

This is the cover on my copy, and I like the detail of it a lot.  Someone actually read the book because there’s a lot of elements in play correctly here: the purple glow for the magic, the horse in the background, the jewel on the sword hilt and the necklace.  Points for putting Faithful on her shoulders too, and the ghostly Goddess hands look protective and evoke the title nicely.  If she just looked a little more boyish (and what’s with the tunic/miniskirt?) this would be the break-away favorite.  Instead, I’m calling it a tie with this next one.

This is just a little bit busy–but I’m liking all the detail in her clothing, we get Faithful, the magic necklace, and the Goddess hands, plus a convincing job done on that disguised-as-a-boy aspect–which obviously is a stumbling point often!

Cover comparison really is pretty fascinating 🙂  Especially with a book as difficult to depict as this!


Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I mentioned recently that the long (loooong) awaited new Tamora Pierce book was finally out.  I got it from my library, and then (because life is busy) spent a couple weeks reading it.  So how did Tempests and Slaughter, Book One of the Numair Chronicles, turn out after all this time?

Well…I should say that very few things could live up to the amount of build-up that came before this book.  It reminds me of the third season of Sherlock.  The answer to the worst cliffhanger I’ve ever seen had so much pressure behind it, I had little hope that the pay-off would actually work.  The fact that it did was, in a meta kind of way, as satisfying as the actual answer.  But I mention this because of its rarity…and this is all a big, long, almost apologetic and avoidant lead-in to saying that, after all these years of waiting, Tempests and Slaughter was, well…okay.  Not a bad book!  But only okay.

The tale focuses on young Arram Draper, who will someday grow up to be the Numair we know from earlier (but chronologically later) Tortall books.  (Some spoilers to follow, but only if you haven’t read the Daine books.)  Arram is a student mage at the great Carthaki University.  He is troubled by the gladiatorial games held in Carthak, and by the acceptance of slavery within the empire, but he loves his classes and excels at them.  He becomes friends with Ozorne, a minor prince of the realm, and Varice, a lively, beautiful girl Arram harbors a crush on.

I’m not sure where to stop this summary, so I guess I’ll just stop here.  The dilemma points to what is in fact the weak point of the story–there’s not much story.  The premise is lovely, but there’s little plot, no driving direction to the book, no strong climax to pull threads together.  It’s somewhat like a Harry Potter book without Voldemort.  After all these years of waiting, this book felt more like a set-up to (the promised) book two, when presumably some hinted conflicts will finally come to the forefront.

Arram is a likable character, honorable and genuinely excited by his studies.  I did like reading about a magic-learning character who wants to learn.  So often the trope is for the main character to be largely disengaged from learning (creating opportunities for incidents through mishaps and school stress), perhaps with a friend (hi, Hermione!) who is more scholarly.  Arram has his share of mishaps, usually because his magic is too strong, and I liked his earnest desire to learn. Continue reading “Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce”

Blog Hop: Bookish Collections

book blogger hopThis week’s Book Blogger Hop question: Do you collect things that are book related? Like bookmarks, nameplates, 1st editions…

I mostly just collect books!  I wouldn’t say I have any collections of bookish things, but I do have a handful of souvenirs that I bought because of their bookish connections…

P1030436I visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour earlier this year, and couldn’t resist buying a wand at what must be the coolest gift store ever (boxes of wands, piled everywhere!)  You can get pretty much any character you could possibly want, but I decided on Hermione’s, because it’s gorgeous but more importantly because–seriously, Hermione?  SO awesome. Continue reading “Blog Hop: Bookish Collections”

Classic Review: Song of the Lioness Quartet

I feel like I talk about Tamora Pierce and her wonderful Song of the Lioness Quartet fairly often…but it was a long time ago that I actually reviewed the books!  Since I’m a little occupied this week with releasing my new novel (which happens to be about a strong heroine in a magical world), it seems like an appropriate time to dust off this review about one my favorite strong fantasy heroines!


I’m going to try–I really am–not to wax too enthusiastic today.  But it’s hard when I’m talking about a favorite series–when it would actually not be inaccurate to use phrases like “changed my life” and “favorite character ever.”

Am I talking about some great inspirational work?  Well…not a traditional one.  I’m talking about the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.

The first book is Alanna: The First Adventure.  Alanna is a girl who wants to become a knight, except that girls aren’t allowed to become knights.  So she disguises herself as a boy and sets out to become one anyway.  Alanna is an incredible character.  When I was younger, I basically wanted to be her when I grew up.  She’s stubborn, determined, and incredibly brave, but also human–she makes mistakes, she has struggles, and she’s not always sure of herself.  She was my favorite character when I was a kid, out of any book I’d read. Continue reading “Classic Review: Song of the Lioness Quartet”

Weighing Down the Shelves…

Before I get to the actual focus of this post, just a note about novel news!  Last week I told you The Storyteller and Her Sisters was available for pre-order on Kindle.  If Kindle’s not your thing, you can now pre-order other ebook formats through Smashwords!  All ebooks will be delivered, and the paperback will go on sale, on October 10th.

Now on to other business…

I’m really dreadful at keeping up with Top Ten Tuesday (even though it’s such a cool meme!) but every so often I see that they’ve done a neat topic I’d like to write on…so even though it’s Friday, and even though this was the topic for several weeks ago, today I’m going to write about the Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books By.

1) Edgar Rice Burroughs: 56
It helps that he was extremely prolific.  There’s probably still a good 15 books I don’t own.  Though perhaps I should point out, of my 56, 54 of them work with the same two plots: the hero is castaway or the heroine is kidnapped, or both.

2) L. M. Montgomery: 47
You expected this one, right?  That breaks down into 21 novels, 12 collections of short stories (200 total stories), 6 volumes of her journals (7, but one is an abridged version of 2 others), 3 books of letters, 2 books of poetry, 2 collections of early writings, and 1 autobiography.  And…that’s going to stay as-is because there’s nothing else to buy, until someone digs out another archive and publishes something new.  (Though I also have two biographies and two collections of critical essays…) Continue reading “Weighing Down the Shelves…”

Waiting on…Friday

“Waiting on Wednesday” is a meme for book bloggers to post about an unpublished book they’re eagerly waiting for.  I’ve never actually participated…and technically I’m not participating today, since it’s Friday.  But I thought I’d take the inspiration of that meme and share about all the books I’m anxiously waiting for in the next twelve months.

I read so many older books, and so many of my favorite authors don’t publish all that frequently (sigh) that I usually don’t have a lot of books I’m waiting for…but I’ve somehow managed to stumble my way into lots of half-written series, and am now left waiting for the next installments…

1) The Pink Carnation Series: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig (August 5) – A historical fiction/romance/spy adventure series, each book focuses on a new couple in the web of families and friends, mostly from the ton in 1806 England.  Since the books are self-contained, I’m not too desperate for the next one–although since it focuses on the sister of my favorite hero of the series to date, I am excited about that!

2) Fairyland 4 by Catherynne M. Valente (October?) – This is my favorite new series I’ve discovered in a very long time.  And I am tragically without any information on the next installment–like a title or a release date.  Since the previous ones have come out each fall, I am hopeful for an October release of the next one…and I will pre-order it on Amazon as soon as I can.  (If you read my blog often and have noticed that I put all new books on reserve at the library, then you will know that pre-ordering something is a Very Big Deal for me!)  And if anyone knows more than I do about Fairyland 4, please tell me…

3) Castle Glower Series: Thursdays with the Crown by Jennifer Day George (October 7) – The first book of this series about a sentient, constantly-changing castle was delightful, the second book ended with a cliffhanger, and now I am eager for the third!

4) Smek for President by Adam Rex (October 14) – The first book, The True Meaning of Smekday, told a hilarious and heartwrenching (a surprising combination!) story about when the Boovs landed on Earth on Christmas Day (of course), took over the planet and renamed December 25th Smekday.  No idea where the sequel is going, but the last one was so much fun.

5) Jacky Faber Series: Wild Rover No More by L. A. Meyer (November 4) – I’ve been reading the Jacky Faber series since high school…and as you might guess from the title, this is the final one!  In a way I’m sad–but I’m also excited to see how life finally turns out for the irrepressible Jacky.

6) Exile by Tamora Pierce (Fall 2014) – This is sort of a new series…and not.  It’s Tamora Pierce’s new series in her familiar world of Tortall.  Since other series in Tortall have been life-changing, I’m kind of looking forward to this one!

Dearest7) The Woodcutter Sisters: Dearest by Alethea Kontis (February 3, 2015) – Rather like the Castle Glower series, the first two books were fun and wound up with the promise of exciting things ahead…

8) The Lunar Chronicles: Winter by Marissa Meyer (February 2015?) – No release date for this one yet either, but since the last two were out in February I am hoping for a February release again (I mean, unless we can get it sooner…) and I already lamented how desperate I am to get the end of this story!

9) Magic Ex Libris: Unbound by Jim C. Hines (Early 2015) – I loved the premise of Libriomancer, and will definitely read the second one, Codex Born, long before the third one is out…so I’ll have to start waiting for that one pretty soon.

Storyteller Cover 1 - Small10) Beyond the Tales: The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney (October 2014) – One last bonus #10…I’m not waiting to read this one, but I do very much look forward to getting it published and letting all of you read it!

Are you in the middle of any unfinished series?  What books are you most eagerly awaiting?

Plants and Stones and Magic

Battle MagicTamora Pierce’s latest book, Battle Magic, takes us back to the Circle of Magic universe, to revisit familiar characters and explore new countries and magic.  Although I get more excited for her Tortall books, this one promised a new adventure with some of my favorite this-universe characters, Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy, so I was still anticipating the read–and it didn’t disappoint!

Briar and his teacher, Rosethorn, are plant mages; Briar’s student Evvy possesses stone magic.  All can speak to and control the forces they have magical affinity with.  They’re on a long journey away from their home country, first to the welcoming and magical-laden country of Gyongxe, and then to the wealthy and ambitious country of Yanjing.  Yanjing’s emperor initially welcomes the group, but he is cruel, ruthless and power-hungry.  Soon armies are marching, and Rosethorn, Briar and Evvy are enmeshed in warfare.

Slotting this one into the rest of the series, Battle Magic is set after Street Magic and before The Will of the Empress; Briar is 16, Evvy is 12. This is more or less stand-alone, but I think there are a lot of references that would be hard to sort out without reading the earlier books (at the least, Briar’s Book and Street Magic).

I was most looking forward to revisiting favorite characters, and that was a great part of the book.  I always enjoy Briar’s plant magic, and it was interesting to watch the characters’ growth, especially because of the way this fit in between the other books.  The relationship between Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy is really lovely.  They’re essentially a family unit, if an unconventional one.  I love the way Briar sometimes jokingly calls Rosethorn “Mother,” and she does mother both Briar and Evvy–in her own stern, undemonstrative way.  At the same time, Briar is fiercely protective of both “his girls,” and even Evvy has moments of defending the others.

I also love the magic.  I prefer the Tortall books in general, but I really love the way magic works in the Circle of Magic series.  Pierce does so well dealing with things outside of normal senses, describing how Briar and Rosethorn understand and engage with plants, and Evvy with stone.  And I always love massive, impressive displays of magic.  As you might expect from the title, the magic in this book is mostly used in warfare, in remarkably creative ways–like when Briar or Rosethorn cause wooden weapons of the enemy to start sprouting leaves, or even develop into full-grown trees in seconds.

Pierce’s books have in some ways grown more violent in recent years.  There were always swordfights and hostile magic, even in the original Song of the Lioness quartet, but the violence has become more real and less vague epic-battle.  This book is no exception.  I think it still falls under the YA category, but it is, after all, called Battle Magic.  It’s not too graphic in its goriness, but there is a lot of fighting and a lot of dead bodies (not all soldiers–or humans, if animal death particularly bothers you).  There’s also one torture scene of a major character, which I don’t think is quite as bad as the phrase “torture scene” implies, but it’s definitely clear and unpleasant.  If you’ve read Pierce’s recent books, there’s nothing shocking here, but if you’re jumping from earlier books, be warned.

I would have liked something a little less war-focused, but this did have the strengths I look for in Pierce’s books–strong, well-developed characters, fascinating magic, complex cultures and interesting magical creatures.  Another solid installment from a favorite fantasy author.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
My Life Is a Notebook
Homewood Public Library
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Battle Magic