Monthly Archives: December 2014

The adventures of Menahem-Mendl

This book is going to represent a drastic shift from the types of books I normally review.

The adventures of Menahem-Mendl / Sholom Aleichem*

I figured it would be a good idea to celebrate the Christmas season with a classic of Jewish literature. Sholem Aleichem, “the Jewish Mark Twain”**, is notable as one of the first Jewish authors to write primarily in Yiddish rather than Hebrew. He’s notable outside of Yiddish circles for writing the stories that formed the basis for Fiddler on the roof.

Like Mark Twain, Aleichem’s writing is characterized by combining humor with social criticism. Aleichem’s works, while facially comedic, are almost tragic in their depiciction of the lives and struggles of Eastern European Jews. Also like Mark Twain, his work is deeply rooted in the author’s cultural context to the point where a reader lacking that cultural context is likely going to miss out on most of what is going on.

*The author’s sobriquet is now generally romanized “Sholem” instead of “Sholom”, but most editions of this book that I’ve seen use the older “Sholom” spelling.

**Perhaps apocryphally, upon hearing this Mark Twain is said to have countered that he was the “American Sholem Aleichem”

Plot summary

Told in the epistolary format, The adventures of Menahem-Mendl follows the titular “hero’s” attempts to make a fortune through a series of ill-advised business schemes. His letters to his wife (who remains in their tiny hometown while Menahem-Mendl travels through the major cities of Russia) are alternated with her caustic, frustrated replies.

Continue reading The adventures of Menahem-Mendl

Krampus : the Yule lord

Krampus: the Yule lord / Brom

Krampus : the Yule lord is another work by artist turned author Brom. Along the same lines as The child thief, Brom takes a well known story, adds the “lost” pagan version, and infuses it with a degree of moral ambiguity.

So, here’s a Christmas season post that’s actually about “Christmas”. Sort of.

Brief plot summary

Musician Jesse is miserable. After failing to get his daughter the Christmas present she wanted, Jesse witnesses what appears to be a fight between Santa Claus and a small group of mysterious attackers. Discovering that the battle sent Santa’s sack through the roof if his trailer, Jesse soon becomes embroiled in a centuries long conflict between Krampus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.

Continue reading Krampus : the Yule lord

Search term frenzy

So as a change of pace, I figured I’d take a look at what search terms are getting people here. Note that this is pretty much just people using Bing, since I can’t actually see what search terms people who get here from Google are using.

These are the most popular terms as of the beginning of this month.

After my username, the most popular search term is “stand on zanzibar predictions” which is okay I guess… it’s probably why my Stand on Zanzibar review is the most popular post I’ve written thusfar. It’s a popular topic and there are approximately 10,000,000 sites out there talking about the relative accuracy of Brunner’s predictions, so I guess I feel flattered that they’re ending up here?

Next most common search string is “hyperbole in maze runner series“. Considering the number of hits I’m getting for this exact phrase, I’m guessing that some teacher out there has assigned their students an essay about Dashner’s use of hyperbole. Unfortunately that’s not going to be helpful since my review makes no mention of hyperbole whatsoever. Anyways, hyperbole is literally the worst device an author could POSSIBLY use and it’s obviously a sympton of poor writing skills.

The next few terms are all pretty similar:
the maze runner seems stupid

who else hated the mazerunner

maze runner makes no sense

Yes.

Then there are a series of straight title searches, which aren’t interesting. At the bottom of the cluster we have “reader’s advisory predictions” (hey, that’s actually what this is blog “supposed” to be for!) “bloody mary wekneess” (I have no idea) “Terry brooks parental advisory” (not necessary) and “similarities between the maze runner and the hunger games” (not really that many).

 

With so many Maze runner-related search terms you’d think that it would be one of the more popular posts. It’s in the top 10, but the number of hits it gets isn’t really proportional to the percentage of search terms including it that lead here.

 

Yes, this post has been shameless filler. Some things in my personal life have temporarily reduced the amount of time I have to write blog posts and my buffer has suffered.

The hundred thousand kingdoms (Inheritance trilogy)

The hundred thousand kingdoms / N.K. Jemisin

The hundred thousand kingdoms is the first book in the Inheritance trilogy. The books in the trilogy are fairly loosely connected though, and feature completely different POV characters, so I’m going to treat them separately here.

Jemisin is now notable for the racist, gendered harassment she received after giving a speech in Australia where she had the audacity to speak up about sexism and racism in the SFWA. It’s unfortunate that this is what she’s known for, as she’s well worth reading.

This is one of those books that I first encountered when emptying the book drop at the public library where I used to work. It seemed interesting and it was by an author that I had never heard of before, so i decided to check it out. It’s not the fastest read in the world but I certainly enjoyed what I found.

Brief plot summary

Yeine is a barbarian from the frozen land of Darr. Summoned to the city of Sky (named for the giant castle in the sky), she is named heir to the throne. Thrust into a competition with the reigning king’s niece and nephew that she doesn’t understand and stalked by the gods kept as slaves by the royal family, Yeine struggles to avoid becoming a human sacrifice and protect her homeland at the same time.

Continue reading The hundred thousand kingdoms (Inheritance trilogy)

Ultimate comics: Spider-man

Ultimate comics : Spider-Man / Brian Michael Bedis ; Sara Pichelli

So, this is a series I’ve watned to review for a while but since it’s in “decompressed” Marvel style it’s been kind of difficult to do so because I wasn’t finding a good “cutoff” point for which volumes to review. It wasn’t until recently (I’m writing this in November) when I realized that the series called Ultimate comics: Spider-man had in fact been cancelled and was being continued under a new name with new numbering.

“Perfect!” says I, “now I’ve got a defined set of issues to review, since I already own the whole series”.

I also says to myself “that would explain why nobody ever has volume 6 of this series”.

Background info aside, here’s the review.

Ultimate comics: Spider-man is a 28-issue series about a boy who is bitten by a spider who then gains spider-themed superpowers. Spider-man must then attempt to come to terms with the fact that with great power comes great responsibility. Spider-man is also forced to juggle school, friendships, and the risks associated with keeping his Spider-man identity and his Miles Morales identity separate.

Wait, Miles Morales? I thought Peter Parker was Spider-man…

Well, here’s the point where it becomes necessary to dive into …

THE PLOT SUMMARY

While celebrating his acceptence at a prestigious private high school in New York City at his uncle Aaron’s home, Miles Morales is bitten by a mysterious spider and gains superpowers. Coincidentally, sometime later Spider-man is killed and his secret identity is revealed to the world.

With the help of a store-bought Hallowe’en costume, Miles Morales decides to continue the work Peter Parker started.

Continue reading Ultimate comics: Spider-man

The scar

The scar / Sergey and Marina Dyachenko 

The scar, first published in Russia in 1996, is a capital-L Literary fantasy novel. The authors use a secondary world to avoid having to confront strict historical realism à la K.J. Parker, tell a story that owes more to Tolstoy or Chekhov than it does Tolkein.

I read the Elinor Huntington translation, which is as far as I can tell the only English translation of this work.

Brief plot summary

Egert Soll is a wealthy soldier in a highly militaristic society. Arrogant to the extreme, he goes through life taking what he wants and generally scoffing at anyone weaker or less priviledged.

All this changes when, in an attempt to seduce a woman, Egert kills a young scholar in a one-sided duel. A mysterious wanderer, witnessing this, challenges Egert to a duel and leaves Egert with a deep facial scar and, apparently, a mysterious curse.

Continue reading The scar

Brothers in arms

Brothers in arms / Lois McMaster Bujold

That ain’t no clone, that’s my brother

I’ve been having trouble deciding what I want to post about next so I’m just gonna go back to the Vorkosigan series.

Brothers in arms is set more or less directly after the novella Borders of infinity (as opposed to the book of the same title), and is the first in a series of five novels that are fairly closely linked. Borders of infinity is itself the catalyst for this “set”, but it’s not strictly necessary to have read the novella for the rest of this to make sense.

Brief plot summary

After [events of Borders of infinity], the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are forced to stop on Earth for repairs. Problems arise when Miles, technically part of the Barrayaran military hierarchy, is assigned to a desk job while his nominal commanding officer waits for approval to release the funds to cover the repairs to the Dendarii fleet.

Separated from his troops, Miles is forced to conspire with his cousin Ivan to make contact with the Dendarii to prevent mass desertion, mutiny, bankruptcy, and/or the repossession of the fleet by their creditors. All the while, Miles is forced to attempt to reinforce the crumbling wall between his two identities.

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Lord of the silver bow

Blergh.

Lord of the silver bow is the first book in David Gemmell’s Troy series, which is more of an alternate history version of the Trojan war than it is a reimagining of the Iliad, which is how I frequently see the series portrayed.

Brief plot summary

Tensions are rising between the Greeks and Trojans.

Aeneas and Odysseus  are close friends, despite being allied with opposing poweres. Aeneas is in love with Hector’s fiancée, Andromache. There’s a lot of complicated interpersonal relationship drama, coupled with the fact that the heroes on both sides of the conflict are basically pirates.

The actual plot is fairly convoluted and there are enough surprises that it’s hard to reveal much else here.

Continue reading Lord of the silver bow

Ten things I hate about me

Ten things I hate about me / Randa Abdel-Fattah

Ready for a break from fairies, mutants, and time travel?

Then this may just be the book for you!

Ten things I hate about me is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second book. It won the Kathleen Mitchell award, an award I had never heard about before but that is apparently some Australian thing.

Brief plot summary

Jamilah Towfeek is a Lebanese-Australian teenager living in the suburbs of Sydney. Embarrassed by her religion, ethnic background, and overprotective father, Jamilah dyes her hair and wears contacts in an attempt to pass as a “normal” Australian.* She attempts to maintain strict separation between her school life and home life, keeping her background and religion a secret from her closest friends. Her only true confidant is an anonymous online correspondant.

Continue reading Ten things I hate about me