Saturday, January 16, 2010

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Posted by Simcha 5:14 PM, under | 4 comments

When I had first heard about Girl in the Arena, I had dismissed it as a take-off of The Hunger Games, due to the similar sounding themes. But after reading a couple of positive reviews, my interest was piqued and I bought myself a copy of the book.

Girl in the Arena opens up with a summary of how neo-gladiator sports were first introduced in America, In 1969, by the grieving father of a Vietnam soldier. Over the years, gladiator games became a professional sport governed by strict laws for the gladiator participants and their families, and the games are often fought to the death for the entertainment of the spectators.

Lyn is used to living a high-profile life as the daughter of seven different gladiators, since her mother has made a career of marrying successful Glad players. Lyn herself is a pacifist who has no aspirations of becoming a gladiator wife, like her mother, planning instead to go to a regular university and maintain her independence. But Lyn still shows up every weekend at the arena to show support for each of her stepfathers, as is her duty as a Glad daughter.

When Tommy, Lyn’s current and favorite stepfather, seems unusually agitated about his upcoming fight, Lyn lends him her dowry bracelet, as a show of support. But to Lynn’s horror, she is forced to watch as her stepfather is killed by a talented, young Glad player, Uber, who then goes on to pick up Lyn’s bracelet from the ground. According to Glad law, any male, other than the father, who holds a woman’s dowry bracelet, is required to marry her. And so Lyn find herself being forced to accede to a marriage with her father’s murderer, otherwise everything that her and her mother possess will be taken away from them and they will be left destitute.

But Lynn has thought of another way she may be able to save herself and her family, by fighting Uber herself, within the Glad arena. The only problem is that Lyn has very little experience in fighting, while Uber has been training since he was a child, and as Lyn gets to know Uber better she finds herself reluctantly coming to like him, which will make things even more difficult when she faces him in a fight to the death.

Although I’m not much of a YA fiction reader, my enjoyment of
The Hunger Games, as well as a few other YA books, has made me more open to trying books within this genre. And although I was presuming that Girl in the Arena would be more then just another version of The Hunger Games, I was hoping that it would be just as good.

There are enough similarities between the two books to cause readers to draw comparisons. Both
The Hunger Games and Girl in the Arena take place in a society where fights to the death are a form of entertainment, and both books have a female protagonist with no father, a mentally unstable mother, a vulnerable younger sibling and a male best friend. But the two books do differ in the plots themselves, and unfortunately, Girl in the Arena lacks the depth and plausibility that made The Hunger Games such a strong and compelling book.

First of all, while the time frame of the story was not specified, the cultural references led me to assume that the story takes place in modern times, in which case, the fact that there were laws governing marriage for Glad daughters and wives, seemed implausible. I just couldn’t understand how a sports organization could force a girl to marry a man because he held her bracelet, or what the purpose for such a law would even be. If the society in which the story was taking place was completely unrecognizable from our current one, then it might have been more plausible, but this was not the case and such strange laws seemed out-of-place in the modern sounding setting. I also wasn’t convinced of how the violent and deadly fights were so readily accepted by society or in the reasoning for the development of these games in the first place.

And while the character development wasn’t too bad, the messages we are given about many of the characters seem to conflict. Uber, for one, was supposed to be one of the top gladiators, but as Lyn gets to know him she discovers that he is actually rather clumsy and has very bad vision. So while I did come to like Uber, I couldn’t help but disbelieve in such an awkward character being a top gladiator. And Lyn’s friend, Mark, supposedly likes Lyn as more then just a friend, but none of his actions actually give us any reason to believe this. When Lyn suffers a tragedy, and Mark’s parents rush over to help, Mark is not even mentioned, which I thought was strange. So while I felt like the characters were pretty well developed and realistic, at the same time I was confused by the mixed messages that were given about them.

I also didn’t really feel like there was very much happening in the story, after Lyn’s father gets killed and her bracelet is picked up. After that climatic event, the story seems to just amble along as Lyn becomes acquainted with Uber and deals with the after affects of Tommy’s death, but it lacks the intensity and drama that I was hoping for.

Ultimately, I would have to say that I found
Girl in the Arena a disappointment, not at all what I had been hoping for. While, unlike The Hunger Games, this is not a book that will appeal to audiences of all ages, I do think it's possible that that YA readers for whom it is intended, might enjoy it more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guess who won The Desert Spear....

Posted by Simcha 5:17 PM, under | 7 comments

For those of you who have been following my blog, you'll know that I entered Peter Brett's contest for an ARC copy of his upcoming book The Desert Spear, the sequel to The Warded Man (aka The Painted Man). This was a photo contest that you entered by sending in a picture of someone holding a copy of The Warded Man, with extra points awarded for pictures taken in an interesting setting.

And though I've never gone beyond filling out my name and email address in an effort to win a book, this time I actually really got into it. I visited a nearby Bedouin encampment with The Warded Man and asked the family there if they would mind being photographed with it, which they happily agreed to. I got some wonderful pictures, which you can see here, and I sent them off to Peter.

A few days later, Peter notified me that I had won! Which goes to show that he is just as intelligent and discerning as I had imagined him to be.

And today I received my copy of The Desert Spear, which I'm quite excited about. I'm tempted to immediately start reading it, but I'm afraid if I do I won't get anything else done today, so I'm saving it for the weekend. (Though I did end up losing myself for a while in the pleasure of popping the bubble wrap in which the book was shipped in. I just can't resist the stuff).

Peter also included in the book his signature, along with a really nice inscription:

You really earned this book.
Thank you so much for enriching my blog with your beautiful pictures

Such a nice guy!

And I can't for the weekend so that I can get started on The Desert Spear. By then I should have finished all the bubble wrap anyways, and will need something to do (I'm kidding, I'm kidding).

You can see all the contest entries at Peter Brett's blog, as well as information on additional opportunities to win a copy of The Desert Spear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jasper Fforde interviewed by The Independent

Posted by Simcha 9:11 AM, under | 3 comments

There was an interview with Jasper Fforde on The Independent website, a few days ago, that I really liked, in which Fforde talks about his writing, his relationship with his readers and some of his future book characters.

I had actually contacted Fforde a couple months ago about an email interview and he had agreed, as long as I could find some questions to ask him that have not already been asked, and he directed me to a list of 500 + previously answered questions on his website. And so I went through the list of questions, and every question I could possibly think of was already there, along with many that never would have occurred to me (by the way, this is a great source for interview questions). In the end, I gave up on the interview idea but I was interested to see that in this interview Fforde does actually answer some of those questions again, such as about his relationship to Katie Fforde and which one of his book characters is his favorite. Perhaps it would have been different if I interviewed him in person. Man, I would love to do that!

I particularly loved Fforde's comment, when asked about his overabundance of puns:

    "But I only use really good puns.... Having a character called Paige Turner in The Eyre Affair was a bad pun, so I made sure I never used both of her names together until the very end. Ha ha! The reader was punned by stealth!"

The interviewer also makes a special point of mentioning Fforde's cheerful disposition, or what she calls his "chirpiness" (she actually mentions this three times. I counted) which I thought was interesting because for some reason I got the impression that Fforde had a more solemn personality.

You can read the full interview at The Independent website

Mistborn the Movie: Don't Do It!

Posted by Simcha 8:30 AM, under | 17 comments

I just saw, on SciFi Fan Letter, that Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn has been optioned for film by Paloppa Pictures. Frankly, this seems to be to be a horrible idea and I really can't understand why any author would want their book made into a movie.

It's rare that a movie is ever as good as the book on which it is based on and what ends up happening is that people watch the movie first and then they never read the book because they didn't like the movie. A friend of mine refuses to read the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because she didn't like the movie and my mother-in-law just told me that she won't read The Time Traveler's Wife for the same reason. Since these are two books that I loved, it seems to me a real loss that people would decide not to read these books because the movies were lousy, and I don't think this is uncommon.

And the only fantasy movie I have actually every liked was The Princess Bride, which probably had to do with the fact that the screenplay was written by the same person who wrote the book, William Goldman.
So why would an author, who puts so much time and effort into writing a book, allow it to be misjudged and misinterpreted by having it made into a movie? I just don't get it.

For more information about the Mistborn movie deal, visit
Brandon Sanderson's website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guest Author; Lavie Tidhar

Posted by Simcha 8:56 AM, under | 4 comments

I'm excited to start off the week with my very first guest post, from Lavie Tidhar. Lavie is a science fiction author who is originally from Israel but has been living the life of a nomad since he was a teenager, traveling across the world and visiting a variety of interesting and exotic locations.

Lavie's works include The Tel Aviv Dossier, which he co-wrote with Nir Yaniv and The Apex Book of World SF, a collection of science fiction short stories written by authors from all over the world. I recently discovered that Lavie has new book out called The Bookman, a steampunk novel published by Angry Robot (a division of Harper Collins) and so asked him over to talk a little about his book.

And so without any further ado... here's Lavie Tidhar....

I didn't Know That
by Lavie Tidhar

My new book has just come out on Thursday; called The Bookman, it tells of a young man, Orphan, and his quest to bring his love back from the dead. You may have read it in first draft, when it was called Orpheus & Eurydice...

Or not quite. It’s hard for me to come up with “copy” about the book. What do you say about it? That it’s an adventure novel? That it’s a strange and loopy Victorian alternative history? Or that it’s a book about books, or a retelling of Greek mythology, or that it’s a pulp novel?

I guess it’s all of that. It’s a retelling of Greek classics and a pulp novel. Why not? Paprika and cumin go well together. You can put coriander into chicken soup – as shocking as that sounds.

If anything, I’m a little bemused about the book coming out at all. I guess I still think of myself as the guy writing strange short stories and, at best, novellas – things like HebrewPunk, with its Jewish vampires and golems in the fighting ring... or Martian Sands, a short novel forthcoming this year or the next from Apex Books, which can best be described as “Schindler’s List meets Total Recall”... yet suddenly here I am with a three-book contract for one of the major publishers in the business – HarperCollins – with pretty-much world-wide distribution and a cover artist I had long admired.

Also, of course, the fame, the drugs, the groupies – the usual things you get with a book deal.

Which is all very strange.

For the last month of writing (the first draft of) The Bookman, I didn’t even have a place to live. Not as such. I was... well, I’ll spare you the details. I was hunched up in an attic room in someone else’s house, trying to finish it while it was snowing outside. While my hero sailed the seas, being assailed by – variously – pirates, automatons, long-lost relatives and the British army (not to mention Jack the Ripper, sundry revolutionaries and giant lizards) I was dreaming of the South Pacific and escaping to the pub. I did end up in the South Pacific, incidentally – I spent a year in a bamboo hut on the beach in one of the most remote places on Earth, with no electricity, no clean water to drink, and nothing but a view of the volcano in the distance every morning.

Which kind of puts things in perspective, or at least it should. It never does, of course – though my favourite prayer still remains, ‘Thank you, O Lord, for this hot shower I am about to take...”

Hot showers are Godly. Everything else is a bonus.

But anyway. The Bookman got written in London, re-written in South Africa (per instructions of my patient and saintly agent, John) and sold while I was living in Laos. I’m getting ready to leave Laos as the book’s being published, but again, I will be the last person to actually see a copy of the book. Puts it in perceptive, doesn’t it? when you’re thousands of miles away from the nearest bookshop with your book in it.

At least, I’m assuming there are bookshops with the book in them.

I’m assuming there are still bookshops.


The Bookman is the first of – well – who knows? A series? A trilogy? A never-ending trail of paperbacks each growing larger than the other? At this point it is hard to tell. Is it fun? I think so. Does it say something profound about the human condition? Well, that’d be telling... does it have any swearing in it – no, though I’d like to write something that has a lot of that in it, at one point... say, if I see a negative review.

Just kidding. There are other ways.

No, I didn’t get hold of untraceable poison unknown to modern science in the South Pacific and, no, I will not use it to poison critics.

Of course not.

Don’t be ridiculous.

So there we are. The Bookman’s out, rather upsetting my carefully-planned schedule of writing weird-things-no-one-would-want-to-buy by writing a, well, weird thing someone might actually want to buy.

I love the cover.

They say not to judge a book by its cover but I always do. So do you, admit it.

I’m thinking of retiring now. Maybe a place in the desert? Or I could just buy my own island – what? sorry, that’s my agent on the other line. What do you mean I can’t afford my own island? How much did we get paid for this book? Seriously? That’s all?

Oh well. Scrap that one, then.

So I guess maybe I won’t retire just yet. Guess I’ll write a few more books – actually, the second book, Camera Obscura, is just about to be delivered. It’s fun – with 30% more explosions!

They told me to say that.

The voices.

Oh, that’s just the publicist telling me I really need to stop now, so...

Try the book. Or try a book. Any book. It doesn’t matter! The Impossibility of Air Travel is a good one. What an idea! Air travel! What nonsense!

What? You mean... you have something called an “air ship” in your world? How does it work?


I did not know that.


For more information about Lavie Tidhar you can visit his website.
You can also read my review of The Tel Aviv Dossier and Randy Lazarus's review of The Apex Book of World SF

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted by Simcha 7:15 PM, under | 8 comments

When eleven year old Daniel wakes up crying one night because he can no longer recall his deceased mother’s face, his father takes him by the hand and brings him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In this immense building of winding passageways and rows of bookshelves, Daniel is invited by his father to choose for himself one book from the vast selection; a book that will be his to guard. After wandering through the isles of books, Daniel finds himself drawn to a leather bound book entitled Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, an author whom neither Daniel nor his father have ever heard of.

After devouring his new book, Daniel is eager to find more works by this unknown author, but he soon discovers that all of Carax’s books have slowly disappeared over the years, as someone has set out to burn them all. Determined to learn more about Carax and the disappearance of his books, Daniel soon sets off on a path that will lead him on a journey of discovery which he never could have anticipated, as he slowly unravels the mystery that is Julian Carax.

The Shadow of the Wind is not the kind of book I usually read, and I had actually assumed it would have some elements of fantasy in it because I had seen it mentioned on a couple of fantasy book blogs that I follow. It turned out to be a historical, gothic mystery- very far from my regular genre reading- but I still enjoyed it.

There are so many wonderful characters in this book, from Daniel and his colorful friend Fermin to the psychotic and dangerous Inspector Fumero. Julian Carax is at the center of it all, and as one mystery after another is slowly revealed, you get to know Julian and his friends and family, and discover unexpected relationships between many of the various characters.

I did have a bit of hard time with the dark tone of the book. As you learn more about Julian, you come to care and root for him, even as you watch his life slowly spiral down into one of misery and misfortune. I just couldn’t see how the story could possibly end satisfactorily and I spent most of the book impatient to get to the conclusion, which is probably why I’m not much of a mystery reader. The pace of the book is also unhurried, as the story is slowly built, and some readers might have trouble with this, though I found it interesting enough that the slow pace didn’t bother me.

The Shadow of the Wind was an excellent book that still has me thinking back to it a few days after finishing it. I did find the ending to be satisfying though it took me a while to dispel the somber mood that the book had put me in. And while I would like to follow up with the second book by Zafon, The Angel’s Game, I think I’ll need to fortify myself first with a few more lighthearted books.


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