Well, it IS a Hugo Award Winner: Girl Genius Webcomic

Girl Genius Webcomic - Jump to Site“Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE” ~ Girl Genius tagline

Agatha Clay is more than your average girl. She’s only the last remaining heir to the Heterodyne name. It’s a legacy of power, prestige… and scary mad brilliance.

Agatha finds her life upended upon learning her true identity. Suddenly, everyone wants to get their hands on her–especially two rival princes.

Set on an alternate Earth, this is Steampunk at its graphical finest. “Sparks”–people with the extraordinary skill for building mechanical devices and bioengineering. Mad science, indeed!

Girl Genius has won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story three times, as well as numerous other awards. It’s no wonder: GG has the complete package. While the core idea of the hidden heir is not new, Phil and Kaja Foglio have freshened it up with their brilliant take. Their characters are complex, each with a viable arc. They keep the readers guessing as to who are the real villains and heroes, not to mention who might truly be mad. After all, what is madness, really?

The art is fantastic, with great drawings and wonderful coloring. Cheyenne Wright has a deft touch at bringing this rich world to life. There is nothing flat to this work.

This is a tri-weekly comic that has been online since 2002. New readers (this was me three days ago) can start from the beginning and catch up, thanks to a nifty “Start” button above the comic page. In addition, there is a drop-down list of “chapters” below the panels for when a reader wants to return to the story–as if there was anything else better to do! Granted, this takes some time, but it’s worth it. WARNING: The Girl Genius webcomic can lead to obsessive reading, forgetting to sleep, laughter, skipped meals, enjoyment, neglected chores, and instant fandom.

5-Books

“Science!”

“Meow!”

“Promises to Keep” by Jane Green

Promises to Keep book cover

"Promises to Keep" book cover

Sisters Callie and Steffi live completely different lives. Callie is the happily married mom and breast cancer survivor. Steffi is the wild child who lives it up in the city. Their parents, Walter and Honor, haven’t spoken in the decades since their divorce. Then there’s their friend Lila, a 40-something career woman who wonders if she’ll ever find Mr. Right.  Life rolls right along for all concerned until one year changed everything.

Steffi finds more to a move to the country than she imagines, and Lila gets a glimpse of what it means to be loved. All while handling a terrifying diagnosis which is handed to Callie.

This is novel begins as a light-hearted, almost chick-lit style, look at the contrast between suburban and serious versus urban and carefree lifestyles, and the role played by affluence. Then it grows into a story of how crushing circumstances affect a family whose members have been flung all over New England. Much of the story was inspired by a similar situation in the author’s life, when one of her close friends succumbed to cancer. Knowing this before opening to the first page can predispose a reader to loving it, and many readers will. However, issues with the writing style make it harder to love in the opening chapters. The author uses third-person, present tense for most of the novel, then she enters flashbacks with little warning at times.  This smooths out about halfway through, making it much more readable.

Callie, Steffi, and Lila are endearing characters. Although there’s a certain amount of predictability, Green moves the story along to a respectable payoff. There are a few tear-jerker moments toward the end, which can soften even a hardened heart.


Rating: 3.5-Books
Publisher:
 Plume, a Penguin Imprint
Author Website:
www.janegreen.com

ISBN-13: 978-0-452-29717-3

The reviewer received a copy of Promise to Keep from the publisher. This has no impact on the quality or consideration of the review.

HELLHOLE by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Cover of "Hellhole" from www.wordfire.com

Cover of "Hellhole" from http://www.wordfire.com

A Hell of a Good Read

A failed rebellion. A disgraced leader exiled to a brutal backwater world. An interstellar government with a stranglehold on its people. These are the elements that lead into the opening of Hellhole, the first novel in the new science fiction epic from Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

General Tiber Maximilian Adolphus blinked when his forces had victory within reach. That hesitation won the war for Diadem Michella Duchenet’s ruler of all known habitable worlds in the Constellation. Rather than hand the rebellion a martyr figure, Diadem Michella exiled Adolphus to the most inhospitable world in the Deep Zone, Hallholme.

Set up for failure, Adolphus carves out a community of misfits and criminals who have nowhere else to go. Hallholme, “Hellhole” to its inhabitants, is a world of many surprises, mostly bad. The colony faces heavy taxation while being shortchanged in government shipments of necessary goods. But Adolphus and his dedicated people don’t let the Diadem’s machinations destroy them. A decade after his exile, Adolphus is on the cusp of something big. Little does he know, his plans may be affected by an unimaginable discovery.

Hellhole is the first book in a new trilogy by acclaimed authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. This is their first effort outside of their multiple works in the highly popular Dune series. They bring their mastery of characterization and world-building to this new vision of the distant future. Weaving plots within plots, they pull the reader through the many ambitions of opposing interests. They do so in a way that keeps the reader interested and avoids confusion.

This is a well-crafted tale that engages the senses and heart. Herbert and Anderson have a fresh take the old tale of corrupt government, adding a fantastic twist which puts their unique stamp on the new series.

Fans of Dune, Star Wars, and other space epics will find this an engaging ride into the future.

~Christina Wantz Fixemer


Rating: 5-Books
Publisher:
Tor
Author Websites:
Brian Herbert:
Kevin J. Anderson: http://www.wordfire.com/ & http://kjablog.com
ISBN-13: 978-1847374264

The reviewer received a copy of Hellhole from the publisher. This has no impact on the quality or consideration of the review.


Front Lines… Edited by Denise Little

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4books

Front Lines

Edited by Denise Little

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)


Good Pick for Fans of Speculative Fiction

Reviewed by Vicky Burkholder
on 12/21/2008

I said in an earlier review of a different anthology that reviewing an anthology of short stories has to be one of the hardest things a reviewer can do, especially if the stories are all written by different authors. My previous statement still holds true. Some of the authors in this anthology include Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Laura Resnick, Jody Lynn Nye, Jim Fiscus, J. Steven York.

In this book, we are given twenty-one different stories by different authors but with one theme uniting them all – in this case, being on the front lines in a war, whether against human, pixie, or “thing” and settings are all over the universe, from the intergalactic to a little boy’s backyard. According to the introduction, “this book isn’t about…what it means as a society to fight a war….it’s all about the life of the people on the front lines of battle.” What I find interesting about the book, is that more than half the writers are women. Surely a unique perspective in a hard science fiction book. The stories are thought provoking, funny, poignant, and sad. Everything an anthology should be.

Like all anthologies, there were some stories I liked, some I didn’t care much for, but not because of the writing. Each story is well crafted and well-written. Overall, the tales were very good.

If you don’t have a lot of time to invest in reading, anthologies are a good place to go. Each story is complete and is good for a quick read when you don’t have time for a novel. I recommend this one for anyone interested in speculative fiction from the perspective of someone on the “Front Lines”.

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Arrow’s Flight… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrow’s Flight

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 2)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773776


Disappointing

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia has earned her Herald whites (see ARROWS OF THE QUEEN) and is ready to embark upon her eighteen-month internship with Kris, her mentor. Together, they are to ride through their assigned sector to settle disputes and perform other duties as Heralds.

The circuit is in trouble from the start, however, as Talia learns of rumors that she has abused her powerful empathic Gift. With her fragile confidence shattered, her Gift gets out of hand. She must regain control, or she’ll be a danger to everyone around her.

Talia must successfully complete her internship. The Queen and many, many others are depending on it. Can Talia finish the year and half without driving herself, and her mentor, insane?

I was disappointed with this novel. The first one was enjoyable, so I was eager to dive in to this, the second installment of The Heralds of Valdemar. Unfortunately, the main conflict in this novel was over the lack of control over Talia’s Gift. She didn’t talk about it with her mentor until it was almost too late. The slow degradation of her abilities over many, many months was painful and repetitive to read. For being a smart character, she didn’t act with much intelligence in that regard. One might argue that this lack of communication was due to her long-standing poor self-esteem, but that excuse only goes so far.

One of my pet peeves is when the author expects the reader to swallow a series of misunderstandings that should never have gone beyond the first few scenes. It feels like a deliberate machination on the author’s part. If the author feels the need to use this to make the story fit their idea of the plot, then there’s a fundamental flaw in the plan. The author should figure out how to work with the conflict without using tenth-grade tricks.

Another thing that annoyed me about this novel is that there were events that seemed important to the story and weren’t included. By this, I’m referring to a visit Talia took to her family of birth and was basically turned away. This event was mentioned in passing, but I never saw it happen. The rejection by Talia’s family is a critical key to the formation of her as a character, and it needed to be in the book. Whether Lackey didn’t feel the need to write this event or whether the editors chopped it to save on page count, I feel it was a mistake.

After all that, it probably sounds like I hated this novel. In fact, I liked it well enough to finish it in less than a day. These two major issues, however, made it difficult for me to enjoy this book to its potential.

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Arrows of the Queen… by Mercedes Lackey

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Arrows of the Queen

(The Heralds of Valdemar, Book 1)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-10: 0886773784


Good, but not Spectacular

Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 10/01/2008

Talia would rather die than be wed at the age of thirteen. When she tells her father’s wives that she wants to be a Herald, to be Chosen by the mystical equine Companions, the women are horrified. To Talia’s complete shock, she is found that very day not only by a Companion, but by the most important Companion in the land.

Chosen to be the Queen’s Own Herald by the Companion Rolan, Talia is overwhelmed by a world completely different from oppressive Holder life. Responsibilities far beyond those she imagined are now hers. As Queen’s Own, she is to be the Queen’s confidant. Her far more difficult task is to help reform “the Brat,” the presumed Heir to Valdemar. Certain parties don’t want the Brat to ascend to the throne and will go to extreme measure to see Talia fail. Clearly, there is more going on than young Talia can fathom.

This is the first novel of Mercedes Lackey’s “The Heralds of Valdemar.” She has built a highly detailed and complex world in which readers can be lost for hours. The characters are deep and scenery richly painted.

In this introductory novel, I was pulled in and sucked through to the end. It seems like some scenes may have been cut out to make a page count. This isn’t as big an issue as it is in the next two novels (ARROW’S FLIGHT and ARROW’S FALL), but it may bother the readers who are more particular about such things.

Overall, I recommend it as a good, but not spectacular, fantasy read.

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Foundation… by Mercedes Lackey

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Foundation
(Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, Book 1)
by Mercedes Lackey

Published By: DAW Books, Inc.: A Member of Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405243


Set the Foundation for a New Series
Reviewed by Christina Wantz Fixemer
on 09/21/2008

Mags has been a virtual slave in a mine since he was a little tyke. To survive, he scrabbled for food and learned how to dig out “sparklies” to keep the mine owner off his back. The day the Herald arrives is both the most wonderful and most terrifying of Mags’s life. After more than a decade of abuse and neglect, Mags is brought into a new life that defies comprehension. All that keeps him from panic is the gentle white horse with blue eyes… a horse that is as smart as any human… a Companion who has made Mags his Chosen, a future Herald.

Mags and Dallen must travel to Haven, the city where the Heralds are headquartered, and where the Collegium awaits Heraldic Trainees. Mags must overcome thick layers of defense in order to see the world as more than hunger and beatings. If he can, he’ll find more than he imagined possible—both good and dangerous.

From grubby child worker to a Trainee in the middle of growing intrigue, Mags has the chance to do more than most people experience in a lifetime.

There is no doubt that Mercedes Lackey is extraordinarily talented. This novel is imbued with her spirit and a strong sense of justice. Depth of character, setting, and story are all present in this orphan’s tale, opening readers to a new glimmer of understanding of those less fortunate and the appreciation for having what is needed.

There were some holes in the story that were distracting. As someone new to the world of Valdemar, it took some time to understand what constituted the bond between Companion and Chosen. The story is told from Mags’s point of view, so the reader shouldn’t be told everything right away, but there were basic questions I can’t believe Mags didn’t ask of Dallen. Other “holes” are things that I assume to be lead-ins to the next novel in the series.

Overall, I think fans of Mercedes Lackey will find this to their liking. It seems more targeted for a young adult, or even middle school, audience, but it’s a good read whatever your age.

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