Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones

A re-read. I love DWJ books so much. They are always a fun, weird time. This is installment five, I think, of the Chrestomanci books, but chronologically second. Twelve-year-old Conrad Tesdinic has an evil fate, according to his uncle. In order to put it right, he must kill whoever it is at Stallery Castle that keeps manipulating the possibilities. When Conrad goes undercover as a footman, he meets an intriguing young magician named Christopher.

So, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by the neglectful and abusive family situation Conrad comes from  (this is DWJ, after all), but I hadn't remembered how bad it was or how much Conrad blames himself. Ugh, Uncle Albert is the worst. And I'm a little uncomfortable with the presentation of his mom as a stereotypical man-hating feminist, who can't be bothered to care for her children because that's giving in to the tyranny of gender roles. I'm not saying that someone like that can't exist, but that's not what the vast majority of feminists think in any way, and people who neglect their families for their careers or hobbies apply to both genders and every subject.

The Downton Abbey feel of Stallery Castle made me think of a much earlier time period, and then I would get tripped up by mentions of televisions and computers. Of course,  this is a different world,  so who knows how that works. Maybe being a servant is a highly prestigious and well paid job there.

Reading this time, I noticed the description of Mr. Amos has having a wide nose, large lips, and purplish tinge to his complexion,  and decided that in my headcanon he is black, with Hugo being mixed race, since he has "fairish" hair. This would mean


that Conrad and Anthea are black or mixed race too, since they are his nephew and niece. Hmmm...and since he and Robert's father switched places because they resembled each other, then Robert and Felice are black or mixed race too. That would make a YA fantasy novel where almost all the major characters are characters of color. (Milly definitely is.) Unfortunately this isn't exactly spelled out in the text.


Overall this was a fun reread for me and made me wish we had more time with Conrad and teenage Christopher and Milly. 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Secret Portrait by Lilian Stewart Carl

A mystery novel that is neither overly blood soaked nor overly cutesy! Finally. Author Martha Wells (one of my favorites, look for a review of her The Serpent Sea soon!) posted a list of some of her favorite books over at The Book Smugglers, and recommended this author. So now I have a new mystery author to read.

The series is set in Scotland and features Jean Fairbairn, a slightly psychic (she can see ghosts) magazine journalist and ex-historian as the protagonist. She teams up with DCI Alasdair Cameron to investigate the case of a murdered man she was set to interview who is found in an eccentric billionaire's mansion. There's a lot of Scottish history in the book, most of which I hadn't learned before, but if you are into the history of the area, you may already know these things. There's some hinted at romance, but we're still in the getting to know each other phase. There are four novels in the series, and while I wouldn't declare it my favorite series ever, I look forward to having more new mysteries to read!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. Pozner

Non-fiction book that takes a feminist look at reality television. I wish there was more of a look at size, especially per the "fitness" type reality shows as well as ablism (although to be honest I don't know if shows cast people with disabilities other than on the Amazing Race). The majority of the focus is on dating type shows and ANTM with a strong emphasis on feminism. There's some very interesting information on the overwhelming influence of advertisers on reality shows, plus the way editors shape stories and "characters" to create artificial drama and stereotypes. If you watch even the occasional reality tv show and are at all interested in sociology or social justice issues, this is a very interesting book.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Oh, Terry Pratchett, how do I love thee (and Sam and Sibyl Vimes)? Let me count the ways!

Any new (or new to me) Pratchett book is a cause for celebration, and a new Vimes book is double the cause. I adore Sam Vimes. He's the copper equivalent of Granny Weatherwax--the best at what he does, and someone who has no sympathy for excuses because he knows just how hard he has to work to stay good.

I don't know if it was my mood, but the beginning of Snuff seemed a bit rambling (much like this review). There were still some wonderful lines in there (like how Vimes had never entered a church with religious aforethought), but it didn't seem as tight as previous Discworld books. Possibly it was just because the setting was so different--the countryside, the nobs, the servants, Sam as husband and father foremost. But then we got to the Case. And, oh, there was the Sam Vimes I knew. He's older here. A little bit slower to run after trouble. But he's still the uncompromising believer in Truth and Justice and Law and Decency that I've looked up to for years now.

My one complaint with this book (well, other than my usual 'I want more!'), is that it was full of typos. I realize that an occasional missed comma is always going to happen, but shame on whoever proofread this book and sent it out like this. It was missing lots of commas and some periods and quotation marks. Words were randomly capitalized in the middle of a sentence. Paragraphs of multiple speakers were conflated. It wasn't the most typo-ridden work I've ever read, but a large professional publishing house should do much better.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Circle of Magic: Book One by Tamora Pierce

My blog post title won't accept apostrophes, but this is actually called Sandry's Book.

This was a really fast read. I'm trying to find books for my nieces and nephew for Christmas. Tamora Pierce's books were highly recommended, so I decided I'd start with this series.

The books cover four children with magical powers who are brought to live and train at the Winding Circle Temple. For various reasons, the four have problems fitting in with others, and end up living together and becoming friends. I liked the different types of magic here, which included some you don't normally see, like weaving magic, plant magic, and metal magic. I also liked the diversity of our main characters: class, gender, size, race/ethnicity, and (apparently eventually) sexuality.

This was the first book so the majority of time was spent in introducing our characters and having them overcome their various prejudices to work together. The main word to describe the novel is nice. People all learn to work together, prejudices are fairly easily overcome, everyone we know and care about survives without permanent harm. Of course this IS a children's book, and apparently the series continues through their adult years, so I will expect the problems facing them to get more complex as time goes on.

Overall, I thought it was a cute book, and I'm interested in reading more about this world and these people. But I think I'll see if I can find the series at my library, at least for the next few books.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge

Look, I realize that this all-Frances Hardinge-all-the-time blogging may be a bit much for some people, but when I find a new author I like, I can go kind of overboard. Anyway, she's only written four books, so you'll soon be safe.

Gullstruck Island is magnificent. No, really it is. And painful. You know how in the last review I said I kept pausing at a certain spot because I was afraid something bad would happen? Well, I was also reading this novel at the same time, and so many bad things had happened and kept happening to our protagonist, Hathin, that I had to pause for over a week. And I just wasn't as sure that I'd get a happy ending. It was...hard to read parts of this. Really hard.

But it was so worth it. I love the worldbuilding here, the volcano stories, the Ashwalker, the flickerbird, the Lost, the Lace. It's a story with... Well, I don't want to say a moral... let's say a point. Several of them. But the points of the story are not the point of the story, if you get my meaning?

Anyway, it's awesome. And painful. Brutal. Lyrical. Quiet. Brave. And hopeful. Thanks for coming through again for me, dear author.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Watch Your Back! by Donald Westlake

It's a Dortmunder book, what's not to love? It's also one I somehow missed at the time, so I was happy to get what felt like an "extra" book.

I still always think of What's the Worst That Could Happen? as the real finish to the series. All the gang gathered in one huge Ocean's Eleven style casino takedown, with Dortmunder finally coming out ahead. It feels like a finale to me (and a great one). This novel is not as awesome as that one. But hey, I'll take the worst Dortmunder novel over the vast majority of current crime publishing any day.

There was a point in reading this that I just stopped and walked away for a couple of days. It looked like Dortmunder and Co. were going to get caught in the act. I know Westlake has gotten them out of trickier situations, (Question: has any book ever ended with any of our main crew arrested? I don't think so.) but at that time, to me, (and probably influenced by what else I was reading, not to mention real life), I just knew Something Bad was going to happen, and unlike life, I could pause a book indefinitely before that ever occurred.

I'm glad I did finish it, though. Put your faith in Westlake, this was the closest call I can remember the gang having. But not only did they escape the law, they also managed to neatly get rid of their enemies, stick it to the Man, and come out a just barely a few bucks ahead. It's classic Dortmunder, and why I keep coming back to read and re-read them over and over.

One thing, though, who is the support group using the back room at the OJ in the end of the book? Vampires? Characters from one of Westlake's other series? Their inclusion is so random that they must mean something, but what?