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.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim Hines

So, to be honest, I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy this going in. The cartoony cover made think this was for a very young audience and kind of turned me off. But the author seemed like such an awesome person that I HAD to buy this just to support him. Now I want to buy the rest of the books in this series to support more of these books (and because I really want to read them!)

The Stepsister Scheme centers on Danielle Whitestone, or, as you may know her Cinderella. Life sure does seem to be progressing Happily Ever After enough for her. She just can't believe she's not still a servant to her spoiled stepsisters and cruel stepmother and instead married to the gorgeous and loving prince, with servants to wait on her for a change. Of course Danielle's happiness soon hits a stumbling block when her stepsister shows up to try to assassinate her. Seems the gruesome twosome have gotten their hands on some powerful magic and used it to kidnap Prince Armand. Luckily the queen has a crack squad of secret agents to send to rescue him: Princesses Erminilla and Talia, or as they're also known as, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The three princesses set out to Fairytown to rescue the Prince or die trying.

The first interesting thing Hines does here is to go back to some of the older, darker versions of the tales. Sleeping Beauty was raped by her prince and only woke when she gave birth to twins. It is Snow's own mother who tried to kill her, not a "wicked stepmother". These are definitely not kiddy tales.

Secondly, although Danielle can at times be almost exasperatingly meek and goody-two-shoes nice, she does grow into a more assertive person who's willing to defend herself and even kill if it is absolutely necessary. She also isn't completely helpless, as she has both a magical sword and the ability to talk to animals. Danielle is also nicely contrasted with Talia who is harsh, dour, and violent. Talia will do and has done whatever it takes to survive, and she doesn't like leaving enemies behind to come after them later. Then there's Snow. She's pragmatic, a cheerfully enthusiastic flirt and sensation seeker. She's also a highly accomplished sorceress, and much less willing to forgive and forget than Danielle. These are not cookie cutter "Strong Female Characters" like you often see. And there's more: Danielle is happily married to her One True Love (when was the last time you saw the married protagonist of an adventure or fantasy book?), Snow flirts with any guy that moves and lived with the huntsman who spared her life, and Talia is either bisexual or homosexual. How often do you see that?

Thirdly, Hines gave us a fun world to play in. All the fairy tale creatures can live here. All the legends can find a version of themselves. Little Red Riding Hood is an assassin. There are goblins and gnomes, trolls and flying horses, magic mirrors and pixie pubs.

So. Definitely not for the wee ones, but if you like fairy tale retellings (such as McKinley's work) or adventure or girls learning to work together to save the day, I think you'll like this series.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

I think you can see the trend of my reading lately. I don't normally read much horror, but Halloween makes for a good opportunity to shake my reading habits up a bit.

Fledgling is a title I've been meaning to read for quite a while. I'd read the opening chapter or two and found myself creeped out by the descriptions of her horrible injuries, of the process by which she healed, and of the obviously sexual connection of feeding considering our protagonist appears to be a ten year old child. Once I made the decision to read it all in one go, it did get... easier to read.

This is still some seriously creepy mind control/suggestibility/addiction going on here. And even though she is actually fifty-three, showing people sexually attracted to/having sex with someone with the body of a child squicks me out.

There's a lot of politics to this book: Ina (vampire) politics, gender politics, racial politics, species politics. You can really see how some of the discourse of human racial politics is used to inform the anti-human (and in some cases, also anti-POC) prejudices of the Ina. She's weak and volatile if she shows emotion, unnaturally cold and brutal if she doesn't. She needs to be turned over to someone else's care "for her own good" as she obviously can't take care of herself (this from someone who took away all of her support). She is told that she must out-Ina the Ina: not speak out, not attack, not circumvent the law that her attackers chose to ignore. For all that the Ina creep me out, I still want to hug Shori and tell her I support her.

So. Creepy book. Well-written book. Book I'm glad I've read. I think I'll hunt up some more Butler now. And maybe re-read Sunshine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Night in the Lonesome October

Just finished a re-read of Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October. This is such a fun book to read. Our narrator is Snuff, a watchdog, and the events are set out in journal format for each day of October. See, Snuff and his owner Jack are Players in the Game. Figuring out who or what the other Players are and what the Game is about is half the fun of the novel. There are nods to pretty much every classic of horror literature, from the old man with the sickle who weaves wicker baskets (perhaps to form a man from them?) to the Good Doctor in his lightning rod-like mansion and the master of disguise (except to a dog) Great Detective. Illustrations are by Gahan Wilson, and are quirkily odd, if not necessarily how I picture them. A brief warning: while for the most part you could give this to a kid (even if they didn't get all the references to Elder Gods and such), there is a scene in which animal cruelty (vivisectionists) is described. People who can't take animal harm may want to skip that particular entry. The human bloodshed is described very little, and a lot of the deaths are simply implied.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

Just finished reading Verdigris Deep, a YA book about a trio of kids who steal some coins from a wishing well and find things going wrong for them. It was a nice book to read in the run up to Halloween, full of suitably creepy things like the Spirit of the Well who has water gushing from her eyes and mouth, extra eyes sprouting on our protagonist, Ryan's hands (so apparently I share an eye squick with the author), and some very nasty wishes. It reminds me of Coraline, both in the tone and in the way that it reflects upon the ultimate futility of wishing rather than finding out what you really need and doing it. People in this book feel like real people. Some are nasty; some are broken and may never be fixed; some don't want to be fixed; some work desperately hard to get better. I really desperately wanted for our heroes to save the day, and they mostly did, and the ways in which they didn't were mainly other people saving themselves and each other. Good book; I'll definitely look for more by Hardinge. Don't feel put off by the YA label, as it's eminently suitable for a creepy Halloween read by adults. And there are absolutely, positively no lovelorn teenage vampires.