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?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is a children's author in the same way Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones, or Sir Terry Pratchett is. Which is to say that while her protagonists may be children and her language is all family friendly, what she really writes are Stories That Everyone Should Read.

Fly by Night features the orphan Mosca Mye, black-eyed, by turns surly and naive, with a deep and desperate longing for reading. She's sort of like a Dickensian character, if Dickens had ever thought girls could have adventures too. She runs away from her village with a down-on-his-luck silver tongued conman (and occasional spy), Eponymous Clent, and a homicidal goose named Saracen.

I adore Mosca. I would hug her if I thought I could get away with it. She's prickly and suspicious and a loner. She can be very grudging about letting people know exactly what she's thinking. She is just starting to find out who she is and what she believes, but that doesn't make her dumb or credulous. She is not always brave or wise or gentle or nice, because she is thoroughly human. And Eponymous too. He can be cowardly just as often as daring and cynical just as often as romantic.

And Saracen is just pure awesomeness in goose form.

Just so you know, people die in this book. People change. People are betrayed in large and small matters, accidentally and purposefully, by "Good" characters and "Bad" ones. Not everyone has the same agenda. Things may not get wonderfully better in the future (although there is some hope). But there will be (the sequel is already out) further adventures, and that's all Mosca and I need.