Archives: Reviews

The Long Ships

long shipsHere’s another grand adventure novel that any lover of such really ought to read, or keep on the shelf to read again. My own copy’s so frayed I’ll probably pick up another, because it’s one I intend to revisit.

You can find a lot of praise about just how fine The Long Ships is, and I could throw in my own weight and say, yeah, it’s a great adventure novel and thereafter provide detail, but I have books to write and a house to clean, and besides, here’s Michael Chabon. Check out what he has to say.

A movie was made in 1964 based upon the first third of the book, starring Sydney Poitier and Richard Widmark. I seem to recall it was both pretty good and fairly faithful. The book, though, is where you ought to go first.

Gray Maiden

graymaidenI had a longer post in mind, but I need to get to some yard work before it heats back up today. So here’s a great old short story series that any heroic fiction appreciator ought to snag.

I remember when it was only possible to get some of the Gray Maiden stories. Now you can snag them all in a single book.

Gray Maiden is a series of short stories originally published in that great old pulp, Adventure, about a sword that’s handed down through the ages. There are minor notes of the supernatural in most of the stories (very minor, but still notable given Adventure being reality based) but what’s most appealing is just the slam bang action of the tales.

I’ve written about Gray Maiden before (and Black Gate‘s Matthew David Surridge has written about one earlier collection here). Some of the stories are pulpy, some are dry, but at least half are top notch action pieces. The one set in Viking times, for instance, is one of the best Viking stories I’ve ever read, and then there’s the one about the Carthaginians trapped behind in Italy after Hannibal evacuates, and their desperate effort to escape…

Devil May Care

devil may care 1The old saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which is a nice sentiment and all, but doesn’t usually hold water as far as actual books. Yes, occasionally a great book is hiding behind a terrible illustration, but more often, as my first born Darian says, “it turns out that no.” A bad cover might mean the publisher either didn’t have their act together or didn’t believe enough in the product to bother hiring a good artist.

Or it might mean that the novel isn’t marketed for you… or that it was marketed in another time.

A case in point is this great adventure novel from the 1950s by the writing team of Wade & Miller. They’re one of my favorites from Chris Hocking’s pulp list, and I hope to go into detail about them later this year. But judging from that cover, which suggests some kind of romance with a hot dame and a brooding lunk, I’d never have picked it up.

Strange Juxtapositions

nicklebyUpon reflection I find that I’ve been poised between the old and the new a lot in the last few days. For instance, while a passenger on the way to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, I was reading Nicholas Nickleby. Immediately after finishing Nicholas Nickleby I started reading some hard boiled detective short stories from several omnibuses I’ve acquired.

And, of course, I just finished the rough draft of one novel and am getting ready to start work on the slightly less new one I finished a draft of a few months back.

Maybe I could find this kind of old and new parallel every week if I tried, but it struck me as curious. I mean, I guess any Dickens is pretty old, but not as old as the Reniassance, and that the short stories I was reading were at least 50 years old, but not as old as Nicholas Nickelby, so maybe the problem is I’m reading nothing new.

Return to Evenmere

The High HouseJust last week I discovered from an interview Nick Ozment held with the talented James Stoddard that there’s a third Evenmere book. I also learned that Stoddard had revised the second of the two previous books (The False House) to raise it to the standards of the first.

The first meaning The High House, which is among my favorite novels. It’s a house that sort of contains the universe in its myriad passages, attics, and hidden ways, and is a loving homage to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series from the late ’60s and early ’70s. (And no, you wags, not THAT kind of adult. Once upon a time it had to be stressed to readers that fantasy wasn’t just for kids.)

The High House is a wonderful men’s coming of age story. It’s not a child’s story of a boy learning to grow up, it’s a man learning to stand on his own. Main character Carter Anderson has to come to grips with his vanished father, learn how the world works, seek wisdom, overcome heartbreak, find common ground with his estranged brother, etc. And it all happens under a backdrop of mystery with wondrous places and fantastic scenery and beautiful writing and amazing magical tools. I love it.

Breaking up is Hard to Do

daredevil 2Dear Daredevil TV Show,

I’m ending our relationship.

You have so many admirers and groupies that I’m certain my own absence will have no effect upon your feelings, but I wanted to air my grievances anyway.

I was pre-disposed to like you a lot, maybe even love you. Sure, I wasn’t a huge DD fan who owned all the Frank Miller graphic novels, but I like a good superhero comic or show and I have fond memories of reading all of my sister’s Daredevil comics. I even bought some myself back in the day.

(If anyone hasn’t seen the show yet, there are SPOILERS GALORE in the following. Be warned!)

last vikingLast Friday I mentioned that I was reading a Viking series about Harald Hardrada by Poul Anderson, but failed to mention the title. This is The Golden Horn, the first of three books about the hero. I’m still kept at arm’s length, but the tone is growing from me. In talking with my good friend Chris Hocking about it he asked whether there wasn’t a bit of a feel from the sagas in it, and I assented that there was, and I think that the tone grew on me. I’m not sure I’ll immediately jump up and read the next of the books, but I ended up enjoying it.

I still haven’t finished reading my pulp anthology, but as most of my reading has been taking place while I am waiting for my daughter to come out of school or finish some after school activity, I haven’t wanted to bring a fragile old book/pulp along, or drag a laptop to read an e-book (I don’t have a Nook or Kindle, just an emulator on the Macbook).

Empires in America

eia6I spent so much time drafting a review of a great solitaire war game at Black Gate this morning that I don’t have time to spare for much of a blog post on my own site. If you have any interest in solitaire gaming, particularly at the strategic level, you ought to pick up Empires in America from Victory Point Games. Details are here.

I know that I promised I’d be reading some modern stuff, much of it by people I know, but on the way out the door or over breakfast I keep grabbing something from my “I should have read this sooner” pile. So I’ve recently finished de Camp’s Dragon of the Ishtar Gate and I’m most of the way through the first of Poul Anderson’s three paperbacks about the exploits of that famous Viking, Harald Hardrada.

The Borgia Testament

borgiaThis time last week my wife and I were driving to Pennyslvania for a funeral. It was a trip of about ten hours, so we brought along a few books to share out loud. While she was driving, I tried reading a Solar Pons story, which we both found fairly enjoyable (Solar Pons is a sort of Sherlock Holmes stand-in that I’ve heard about for years but never seriously tried, until I got a recommendation from friend and Pons scholar Bob Byrne). The second Pons story in the collection didn’t grab us, so I pulled out an old book I’d read in college, thinking my wife might enjoy it.

Turns out that she did. That book was The Borgia Testament, by Nigel Balchin, a fictional autobiography of Cesare Borgia, hero of Machiavelli immortalized in The Prince, son of a pope, and would-be uniter of Italy when it was nothing but a fractious collection of city-states. He was ruthless but very clever, and an irresistible magnet for historical fiction writers. In college (which is, jeez, a quarter century ago now) I read a big stack of novels about him. Now it’s possible that there have been some more, and better, novels since, but The Borgia Testament was head and shoulders the most compelling and entertaining of the lot, and I liked it well enough that I tracked down a copy for my permanent library some years ago.

Rare Treasures

lybeck 1I’m still moving forward at a fast clip into the rough draft of my next book, although I’ve had a slow start this morning. Now that I’m not reading a long Conan story every week, and that the season is over for my daughter’s high school swim team, I have a little more time to read. On the docket soon are some books by friends and acquaintances, the first being an e-book I’m long overdue getting back to (sorry, Peter!).

First, though, I’m finally finishing a read through of an anthology that’s a little like a mixed tape. I discussed my collection of one-of-a-kind pulp anthologies a few years ago if you want a little more information. Each was created, compiled, and hand sewn by pulp collector Al Lybeck. The one I’m reading right now includes several short novels: