Here, There Be Dragons and The Dangerous Alphabet

My reading seems to have sloooooooowed down at the end of April, but I ended the month with an awesome book that I think everyone should read if you haven’t already – Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen. It’s book one in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and there’s not much not to like about this series from what I can see.

Owen has put together a fantasy lover’s dream with this one. Throughout the book there are not only references made to other books and authors that we have come to love, but we actually visit their lands through the Archipelago of Dreams, a world that exists parallel to ours that consists of many islands such as Avalon and Byblos to name a few.

The book opens during WWI in London with the murder of a professor who has been protecting a book called The Imaginarium Geographica. The book is an atlas to the Archipelago of Dreams and 3 caretakers have been unknowingly assembled to bear it’s burden. Their names are John, Jack and Charles. After being questioned for the murder they meet at 221B Baker Street (recognize that address?) and are suddenly visited by a man named Bert who tells them that they must leave as there are otherworldly beings coming after them who will kill them. They of course don’t believe this because they know nothing but the London that they’ve always lived in….until they see these dark creatures looming towards them. Bert hurries them towards a ship with the head of a dragon. It is one of 7 dragon ships and it is alive…it’s able to cross between our world and the Archipelago of dreams.

Once inside the Archipelago of Dreams, they learn that The Winter King is slowly erasing many of the islands in the Imaginarium Geographica and claiming the shadows of it’s residents. He wants to rule over the world and claim his seat as the rightful king. But to do this, he needs the book that John, Jack and Charles are now the caretakers of.

I won’t say anymore about this book except that it was quite an amazing ride and that the last chapter will blow you out the water! I can’t wait to read the next installment of the series. Oh and more thing…Owen also did his own illustrations for the novel which were top notch! One for each chapter and I really like the cover of this one. I loved Orson Scott Card’s quote on the back of the book: “Is there anyone who wouldn’t enjoy reading Here, There be Dragons? If there is such a person, I haven’t met him, and I doubt that I would like him if I did….” Classic :p

The second book that read today was the new Neil Gaiman! Yes, the new Neil Gaiman…No, it’s not a novel, it’s a new picture book illustrated by Grim Grisly called The Dangerous Alphabet and it was great. I don’t think that I’ve seen Grisly’s illustrations before, but I loved them. His monster drawings remind me quite a bit of Ralph Steadman’s art and I’d consider that a compliment. This was quite a fun little ride. It’s the story of a brother and sister and their pet gazelle who sneak away from their father with a treasure map in tow and go on quite the creepy adventure. Along the way they are greeted with all sorts of ghastly apparitions, dead things, soon to be dead things, and strange devices. The story is told in rhyming couplets by Mr. Gaiman with each part of the couplet starting with a letter of the alphabet…though there’s no guarantee that they’ll always be in order…but for the most part they will be. Whenever I have kids, they’ll most certainly get a copy of this book, but they won’t be getting my copy 😉 We can’t be having jelly all over it…

Next up is Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife!

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Weekly Geeks #1 and Mooching

I’m thinking that I’m probably one of the last people signed up for Dewey’s Weekly Geeks to actually do my week 1 post, but what matters is that I’m actually doing it! This first week’s geek-out was to find a few blogs out of the participants that you weren’t familiar with and familiarize yourself with them! So here’s some that I found:

1. The first one I found was JellyJules at Thinking About… She left a comment on my Prince Caspian review and I paid her a visit and found a blog that I really loved and added to my Google Reader right away! Her first post cracked me up and might be the funniest thing I’ve read since I started blogging…it’s called “The ‘F’ Word” You should go read it now!

2. Megan’s blog Leafing Through Life is one that I’ve lurked at occasionally for awhile now but I’m so bad at adding blogs to my blogroll that I haven’t become a regular reader. But everytime I’m there I really enjoy her blog! This time was no different as I truly related to her latest post about falling behind on reading blogs on feeds!! And now that I’m reading blogs on Google Reader, she’s added 🙂

3. Bottle of Shine is just an awesome blog! I love everything about it. She’s hosting the Herding Cats challenge that is taking over the blogosphere and she has awesome taste in books. She also linked to me in her weekly geeks post and had some really nice stuff to say. Who knew I was organized? I certainly didn’t :p Check out her blog for fun posts on just about every topic you can imagine…it’s one of those hodge podge blogs that you never get bored with!

4. In The Louvre is quite the cool blog as well. I love the design of this one. She’s a fellow NaNoWriMo participant and she’s an amazing writer. She does these “Sunday Scribblings” posts that are really great where she writes a short story and I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read. Her other posts are great too!

5. Finally, Lightheaded is another blog that I stop by occasionally but haven’t become a regular reader of because I just haven’t updated my blogroll. So I’m really taking the time to familiarize myself with her blog now and I’ve added her to my reader. I know she’s a big fan of both Gaiman and Murakami which is very cool!

Now thanks a lot Dewey for adding to my already overwhelmed Reader 😉 Kidding of course…I’m always glad to have more great reading material!

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Topic 2: I’ve finally joined Bookmooch! I’m not one to part with my books even if I don’t plan on ever reading them again…but there are a few that I really can live without. And there are a few that I have duplicate copies of, so I decided what the hell, I’ll join up and see what it’s all about. It’s a really cool website…you get rid of books that you don’t want and in return you get books that you do want…well ok, you wait and hope that some day someone will post a book that you want and you’ll be lucky enough to see it before someone else :p But you can also browse and find some cool stuff. I already mooched a copy of Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight (non-fic about an African childhood) which Stephanie recommended ages ago and a copy of The Golden Compass! And I still have 8 points left! Those Bookmoochers are agressive! I listed 10 books and without exaggerating, 6 of them were gone within an hour! So now I just need some of the books on my wishlist to become available. Anyone else a Bookmooch member?

Thoughts on a Friday

I’m loving the fact that Spring is finally here. My reading tends to increase in the Spring big time due to my love of reading outside. I wrote about that awhile ago, but I’m too lazy to go into the archives and look for the post :p But since we’ve been renting, we have this awesome back patio with a swing and it’s the perfect reading spot…especially during those spring and summer rain storms. I just sit on the swing and listen to the rain hit the patio roof while getting lost in my books. Unfortunately during the Winter, it’s just too damn cold to read out there and I tend to just fall asleep if I’m reading in bed, so I don’t get much reading done. Reading Here, There Be Dragons right now by James Owen and I can already recommend it! Great stuff and it makes references to all of the classic fantasy books out there. Incredible! And the illustrations are top notch.

Illustrations in fantasy…that’s something me and Deslily were talking about in her comments the other day. Why don’t more adult fantasy writers have illustrations in their novels? I think that it would add so much to them. You see it more and more with young adult authors these days and I think it’s a great idea. I’d love to see it with adult books as well. John Lawson did it with his books Witch Ember and The Raven and I loved them. Of course, we envision the characters and the worlds ourselves, but I would love to see what artists themselves and authors envision in the characters and worlds. There’s a companion artbook to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that I really want to get that has illustrations that were done for a video game…I wish those were included. The only illustrated books for that series were the Subterranean editions which cost hundreds of dollars and I just can’t afford those. I just think it would be a great move on their part.

In my personal life, the job hunt continues to go nowhere. It’s so damn frustrating. Everytime I have a good feeling about something and feel like I have a good lead, it seems like nothing comes out of it. I guess it’s just because I don’t have experience yet since I’m just out of school, but how are you supposed to get experience to put on a resume if you can’t get a job??? It’s a never ending circle. I’m still bitter about the state cutting the budget and laying me off of my perfect job working with kids who were benefiting from the counseling I was providing. I was helping them and it was good experience on my resume…now I’m left with just 2 months experience from that job on my resume and those kids got dumped in the middle of their counseling. There just isn’t anywhere to apply to down here…I’ve said this many times, but the state of the mental health care system in New Orleans is pathetic. So many people need help and there’s nowhere for them to go. Adults at least have a few places but children literally have none. There are a couple of private hospitals with a combined total of about 50 beds, but you need to literally be suicidal or homicidal to get into those places…what about kids who don’t have private insurance and need the help? They have nowhere to go….I’m willing to help, but there’s nowhere for me to help them through. Pathetic…

Ah well, I’m going to go watch Season 3 of Lost as Disc 1 just arrived in the mail through Netflix! Yay! I love the descriptions of every new season…basically “still stuck on the island, still trying to get off, paranoia and danger ensues” Yet it’s one of the best shows on TV…it really is…I love it!

Also wanted to remind everyone that Becky’s next book club read is Susan Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It and it starts on May 9th! The book club has been so much fun and I’m more excited about this one than I have been of any other book we’ve read so far. I think it’s going to be great. You can get brand new copies of the hardcover through Amazon for $6.99 at the bargain price right now. And check out Debi’s great review of the book!

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis & OUaT Check In

I’m finding myself very pleasantly surprised that I threw caution to the wind and started my planned reading of the Narnia series. I don’t know what exactly was holding me back, I just never seemed to be in the mood for it. But I’m really enjoying them now! As most of you know, there’s two different ways to read these books now…You can of course read them in their traditional order in which they were published or you can read them in this new order that someone decided that they should be put in (don’t know who). I bought my copies in a boxset that have numbers on the side of them that puts them in the new order, but I’m reading them in the original publication order, so it all gets a bit confusing as Prince Caspian is actually the second book published in the series, but the spine says “book 4”. I liked it well enough as book 2!

As Prince Caspian opens, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund are about to board their train to go off to school when they are suddenly sucked back into Narnia. There they meet a dwarf who tells of a prince by the name of Caspian who is the nephew of Miraz, the current king of Narnia. It has been hundreds if not a thousand years since Peter and his siblings have last been in Narnia and all of the creatures that once inhabited it have seemingly disappeared, but Caspian still believes in them and wants to hear stories of them, but Miraz will have none of it! Caspian is only next in line as king because he has no direct heir. One day, Caspian learns that Miraz will soon have a son and that he will be king of Narnia. Knowing this and knowing that Miraz would have his head on a plate for believing in the old ways of Narnia, he flees and finds the old creatures of Narnia along his travels. He’s given Susan’s horn along the way that has the power to summon help when needed and with that, old Narnia awakens and a battle for the future of Narnia begins.

I really enjoyed this second volume of Narnia and I’m thrilled to see what’s to come in the rest of the books. What an amazing series and a nice surprise during this Once Upon a Time Challenge!

Speaking of the OUaT Challenge, After the first month, I’ve got 8 books down already! Much better than what I’ve originally planned. Although it’s obvious that I can’t stick to a list as 5 of them have been “bonus reads” and only 3 have actually been books that I signed up for. I guess I’m too much of a whimsical reader. But here’s what I’ve read so far:

1. The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint
2. Gifts by Ursula le Guin
3. The Book of Flying by Keith Miller
4. Tamsin by Peter Beagle
5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
6. Fables Volume 1: Legends in Exile by BIll Willingham
7. The Raven by John Lawson
8. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

The Raven by John Lawson

The first thing you notice about John Lawson’s The Raven is the size of it at just over 600 pages. This may scare some people, but if you’ve read Witch Ember, it’s prequel, you know you’re in for a treat. In my opinion Lawson could never be constrained to a 300 page book. His worlds are so richly developed, his stories well thought out and thoroughly explained with all of their myths, legends, creations and creatures brought into vivid detail. And his characters are truly some of the most memorable I’ve read and I have no doubt that they’ll stick with me for a long time.

So let’s start with characters for this review since the story focuses around one main character. I honestly thought I would be disappointed with this book as I first started reading it because it departs from the main character of the first book, Witch Ember (my review and Nymeth’s wonderful review can be read by clicking on these links). In fact, she’s not in The Raven at all except as a memory. The main character of The Raven is a man named Guiromelans, who played a role in the latter half of Witch Ember.

Guiromelans is a Raven, a knight of the highest rank of the Medianist church who is sworn to serve God and rid the world of heresy. In Witch Ember, he fought against Esmeree, a witch that he loved yet was doomed to destroy because of her heresy and was defeated by her. So now, in The Raven, the focus turns to him. Why has God turned his back on him and allowed a witch to defeat him? Why was he unable to kill her when he knew that he swore a vow to God to destroy heretics? Guiromelans sets sail on a boat find his answers and atone for his shortcomings and seek forgiveness and redemption.

But along the way he is faced with many trials and battles and meets many new friends and foes. He is forced to re-examine his training as a Raven even as he trains his own young squire. He has always accepted the fact that the only way to be in God’s favor is to be a believer in God whether you are a good person or not. But how could some who claim to believe in God yet commit atrocities be in God’s favor? And how could some who believe in a different god yet shine with radiance be damned to hell? These are all questions that Guiromelans must face as he struggles to atone for his past while facing the demons that he both phsyically and emotionally fights in this amazing sequel to Witch Ember.

On top of all of this is John Lawson’s wonderful skill of creating some of the most amazing battle scenes and fantasy worlds out there. Guiromelans and his crew arrive at a land called Hardanger where dark creatures called Udyronde which are centaur like creatures with four arms, sharp talons, and teeth like nobody’s business have been destroying it’s citizens. The most disturbing part is that the dead tend to come back and join in the destruction later on.  As one of his many acts of redemption, Guiromelans vows to restore safety to a town that worships the Thunderer god…in other words, there are many conflicts along the way.

As with Witch Ember, I can’t say enough about this book except for check it out. You won’t be disappointed. For lovers of dark fantasy or epic fantasy especially, you can’t go wrong with this series.

More info on the series can be found at his website. In fact you can buy both books there autographed!

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On a completely different note, I wanted everyone to know that Kim is doing an awesome giveaway of 4 books over at her blog Bold.Blue.Adventure to celebrate her 100th post!! Yay Kim!!! Keep going!

Also, author J. Scott Savage is having lots of fun over at his blog and so am I. He’s doing a sort of March Madness thing with fantasy series! He started with 60 fantasy series and every day you vote for your 5 favorites of the ones he has listed until we have them all the way down to the number 1 fantasy series out there…join in the fun over on his blog!

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

I think I’m the last one to start reading this series but I’m so glad that I finally have. Not everyone is a huge fan of stories that take fairy tales out of their normal context and put them into a different one, but I’ve always enjoyed that. And that’s exactly what Fables is.

The basic story behind Fables is that all of the creatures and folk of fairy tales and stories have been exiled from their land after a great evil has taken it over. They have set up shop in no place other than New York. Here in New York, King Cole reigns supreme while Snow White oversees everything as Mayor of the Fable world. They must remain secret from the mundanes (that would be us normal folk). Every fairy tale character you can imagine makes appearances throughout the comic.

In volume 1, we are faced with a crime scene. Rose Red, sister of Snow White has gone missing and her apartment is found completely upturned and covered in blood by her boyfriend Jack (of the beanstalk fame).  Bigby aka the big bad wolf sets to solving the mystery in these first 5 issues that are gathered in volumed one.

I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. It’s such a refreshing read brought to us by Vertigo with amazing writing by Bill Willingham and a fantastic art team. I loved the James Jean covers and would really like to get some prints of some of them. I’ll have to look into that. I’m sure I’ll be picking up Volume 2 soon!

The Book of Flying by Keith Miller

Almost a year ago I had written a post asking what people’s favorite books were…what books had left the biggest impact on you, stuck with you…and Carl had mentioned Keith Miller’s The Book of Flying. So I added it onto my wishlist as I tend to have very similar reading tastes to his. I’ve just finished reading this book and it’s left me completely in awe of Keith Miller’s ability as a writer and teller of tales.

Keith Miller has created a melancholy masterpiece with The Book of Flying. If it’s possible for a book to evoke the five senses solely through the eyes in reading it, then Miller has done it. He writes such beautiful prose that makes us long for a time that we’ve never known ourselves…that makes us want to eat pomegranates, dates, almonds and oranges whether we like them or not…sit in cafes listening to poetry and discovering books for the first time all over again…falling in love over cups of coffee and rolled tobacco.

So what’s the story actually about you may ask? Pico is a young man living in a city by the sea where he takes care of the only library and collects tales. He is a poet and is devoted to words and literature. Pico was born without wings and forced to live an earthbound life. You see, the city by the sea is populated by those with wings and those without and the two do not intermingle. When his mother delivered him wingless, she took care of him and then retired him to the library where he learned to read and began his love affair with books. However, Pico falls in love with a winged girl by the name of Sisi and she in turn falls in love with him. But their relationship cannot last, for it is taboo and forbidden by Sisi’s father. There is, however, rumor of a book called The Book of Flying that lies in a city by the name of Paunpuam but it will take many days journey to an uncharted territory for Pico to get there. If he does get there though, he can gain his wings by reading this book.

Consumed by his love for Sisi, Pico sets off on his journey and I will leave the rest of the story in your hands. But along the way, He collects tales from those that he meets and we are told those tales. He meets other people and beings that are alien to his way of life in the city by the sea and he in turn is alien to them, but they learn from each other and grow. The back cover says that this is a “story about stories, a book about books, and how they open our hearts and minds.” And that is a perfect description of this novel. Absolutely beautiful book and I’m imagining that it’ll be in my top 3 for the year unless something else just blows it out the water.

Here are the opening lines of the novel to show you the beauty of Mr. Miller’s writing:

I am dreaming. I’m dreaming of a city, a white city in the sun by the sea, a city of bells and birdcages, boatswains and ballyhoo, where heart-faced wenches lean bare-breasted from balconies to dry their hair among geraniums and the air is salt and soft and in the harbor sailors swagger from ships that bear cargos of spices. In this city a thousand doves live in the hundred towers of a hundred bells and in the mornings when the bell ringers toll a summons to the sun the doves scatter like blown ash across the tile roofs and light under eaves whispering lulling words to sleepers, bidding them stay in bed a little longer. And on the silver sky other wings rise.”

There are some copies available on Book Closeouts for 4.99 which is an awesome price! That’s for the hardcover too. The book itself is presented beautifully with some really cool, yet simple artwork that’s fitting to the story that the author himself did. Sadly it looks like this book is out of print everywhere else. Can’t find it on Amazon…only used copies.

Edit/Update: It came up in the comments that my review could lead one to believe that this is a young adult book and I can see that now, but it’s not. I just didn’t want to go too much into the plot because every word and every tale and story along Pico’s journey is so important to book. However, there are aspects to this book that are more adult and while they are not horribly graphic, I do think that some of these things remain for adults…having said that, I don’t think this book would be unsuitable for someone say 15+ If you’re unsure of it, you may want to read it first. They may not get the enjoyment out of it that an adult would though as it’s not very action driven…I think the power behind this book lies in it’s atmosphere and it’s stories that it tells.