Main

November 23, 2009

Reading Log: Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Silksinger.jpg

Dreamdark: Silksinger (Faeries of Dreamdark) by Laini Taylor

It's a pretty telling thing when a book sticks with you, even through a massage and another books. I've been waiting for Silksinger since reading Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer about a year ago. I love the Dreamdark world, the fairies and their legends and tales. I was a little afraid that we wouldn't see Magpie Windwitch and the crows in this sequel, but that fear was completely unfounded. As the Magruwen's champion, Magpie has to be a part of this story too, and the new characters, Whisper Silksinger and Hirik Mothmage are wonderful.

The Azazel is the Djinn of the hour in Silksinger. Magpie and her crow companions, and Talon from Blackbringer have found the Djinn Ithuriel, with the help of the imp Batch. Magpie bribed Batch into helping (Batch can find things that he wants to) by promising him a pair of wings. Upon returning through the Moonlit Gardens (the gateway between life and death), Magpie discovers that the last of the Silksinger clan is guarding the Azazel and bringing him to his ancient home of Nazneen. Magpie knows that Whisper is being hunted by all manner of demons ("snags" in the language of Dreamdark) on someone's orders.

Whisper, in the meantime, is trying desperately to get to Nazneen, but without coin or anything but the kettle holding the Azazel, can't get a ride in any of the caravans. After trying several tactics, she stows away in the same caravan that Hirik has become a mercenary for. Hirik also has a secret...he is of the Mothmage clan, the same clan that legend has it refused to help the dragon Fade, and has now become a clan in exile. Hirik also wants to reach Nazneen in order to become the champion of the Azazel and reclaim his clan's honor--the clan knows the truth, that they were incapacitated by magic in the rubies that the rest of the faeries believe the Mothmage clan was paid off to stay out of the war.

Ultimately, Magpie, Hirik, and Whisper all end up in Nazneen. While she is returning the Azazel to his throne, Whisper is captured by the devils who have been hunting her, and taken before Ethiag, the demon commander. She is not alone in her prison, as the Master has also kept the Firedrakes in prison since the defeat of Fade...the Master uses leeches to gather the Firedrake's blood, the only thing keeping him alive through the centuries. Ethiag demands that Whisper sing him a flying carpet (the specialty of the Silksingers), which does, but she weaves in an undertone of wrong-ness.

In the ultimate pages, Magpie learns about betrayal and lives through the death of a dear friend. Her quest ultimately succeeds, but I can't wait to read the next volume.

I loved Silksinger as much as I loved Blackbringer about a year ago. Taylor's writing is very enjoyable, keeping me engaged in the story. But her writing is so evocative, that I kept thinking of the book through the massage I had later in the afternoon. It stuck with me that much.

Reading Log: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan.jpg

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I haven't read Westerfeld's the Uglies trilogy, so I can't compare Leviathan to his previous works. But I did thoroughly enjoy the book, despite the fact that it's the first of a series that has just come out and now I have to wait forever for the next volumes.

As a young adult, I don't know if I would have enjoyed the steampunk atmosphere, but I do now. As a kid, I tended to want my books to be pure fantasy or pure sci/fi, but Leviathan has an interesting blend of machinery and nature.

The alternate history is also interesting, especially since I know at least a little bit about WWI. Westerfeld notes that there wasn't really a son involved in the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and Princess Sophie, but Westerfeld nicely sticks Aleksander into the story

I did have some difficulty conceptualizing the Leviathan itself, though. It's hard for me to think of a living ship, a whale-creation that is both alive and mechanized, one that contains an apiary within its belly. I'm also not sure I liked the Darwinists use of animals...I think I preferred the Clankers with their non-sentient machines.

So that I remember when book 2 comes out:

Deryn Sharp, 15, posing as Dylan Sharp, new mid-shipman on the Leviathan; on her first day, even before her middy exams, she was blown away while flying a Huxley, a jelly-fish-like single flier

Jaspert Sharp, Deryn's older brother, and an airman in the corps, helps Deryn disguise herself and study for the exams

Aleksander Ferdinand, 14 to 16 or so, son of murdered Archduke Ferdinand and Princess Sophie; Sophie was not deemed royal enough blood, so the emperor disinherited Alek upon his birth--the archduke achieved a recognition from the pope, declaring Alek heir to the emperor's throne

Count Volger and Otto Klopp--Alek's retainers (fencing master and chief mechanic, respectively), who rescue and support him as he escapes from the Serbs and other enemies out to kill him

The Leviathan docks in Hyde Park, London, to pick up Dr. ? Darwin Barlow, ancestress of Charles Darwin, and one of the original designers of the Leviathan and many other fabricated beasties. Dr. Barlow is on a mission to deliver fabrication eggs to the Ottoman Empire. Even though England is not officially at war during the course of the novel, the Leviathan is shot down over Switzerland, and lands on a glacier which is devoid of any life. The Leviathan can repair herself, but she needs enough food sources to rebuild her energy stores.

At the same time, Alek has been wakened by Volger and Klopp and hustled into a mechanical walker, supposedly as part of his military training. Only later does he learn that his parents have been killed, and Volger and Klopp are following the archduke's final orders to protect Alek. The only way to get him to safety is to flee across Austria to neutral Switzerland, to a glacial castle the archduke and Volger have prepared for just such a contingency. The Austrians see the Leviathan crash, and Alek ventures out to help.

The book ends with the crew of the Leviathan cobbling parts of the Austrian walker to the Darwinist ship, and defeating German forces which have discovered them. They have struck a bargain with the Austrians, not yet their enemies at war, to take them to the Ottoman empire, where Alek and his retainers will disappear.

August 1, 2008

Reading Log: Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation by Nathan Winograd

I've been sitting on this one for a while because it's a more complex issue than most of the books I read. And I still don't have a full review ready. But for an additional take on some of the ideas surrounding Winograd's book, visit John Woestendiek's blog, Mutts.

May 7, 2008

Reading Log: It's a Dog's Life...but It's Your Carpet by Justine A. Lee, DVM

51FPvFOj7QL._SL160_.jpg

I just made an impulse buy at the bookstore. It's a book of questions and answers about dogs by one of the UM Vet Med faculty members. I've only browsed through it in piecemeal chunks (I am at work, after all), but even with what I've seen, I've already sent emails to dog-owning friends recommending it.

What I think is particularly great about this book is that the questions are very practical (should I be paying for the high $ foods? what are the top 10 toxins for canines? are houseplants poisonous?) and the answers are straightforward and understandable. She includes some personal little facts, some medical examples, some case studies, some research, all of which are readable (she owns a pit bull and uses him in her answer for the question about leaving a dog outside unattended). In some ways, she might not take quite a strong enough stance (in the example of leaving a dog outside, I probably would have flat out said a dog shouldn't be left outside unattended), but I do think for the average dog family, she does a great job. (Now I just need to look to see if/what she says about backyard breeding.... ;-) ).

Update: I did get to the point about breeding, and thought her answers were very good. The next area I need to explore her answers for are "where do I get my dog." I don't know if she tackles that one.

Update 2: Better and better. She extols the virtues of "hybrid vigor" while suggesting that designer dogs might not necessarily result in that vigor; she recommends shelters, rescues, and finally breeders. The only ting I wish she had discussed more is not buying from pet stores, but who knows...she may have had a whole book in that topic and her editor told her to take it out. I guess I would say that's the biggest flaw I've seen so far, and as far as it goes, she handles the subject well enough for me to still respect everything else she says.

May 2, 2008

Reading Log:The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

51nxyvrTr8L._SL160_.jpg

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day 1) has been popping up everywhere recently. I grabbed it on a whim at B&N recently, it appeared in my recommendations at amazon, and I've seen it mentioned on several blogs (though none of the blogs I read regularly has actually said much about it). Generally speaking, I'll take that as Dog telling me to read the silly book, already.

This isn't a light, single afternoon's read. Weighing in at 736 pages, one might call the physical paperback "dense." To be honest, I've been developing a love hate relationship with this book. I have finished it, and it has definitely stuck in my mind (sometimes in reading a similar book I find myself thinking back to this one and have to remind myself which story really happened in which book). But I've got some complaints.

The first complaint I have is that this is book one of a planned 3. I didn't do my research ahead of time (heck, it was an impulse buy, after all), but the subtitle isn't readily available on the front cover. As one book of several, I didn't realize that there were future installments until well after I began reading. When I finished, I was frustrated as I always am when there are unpublished chronicles to come (Harry Potter was of course notorious for this behavior also, but at least I knew there were more coming before starting book 1). My frustration only grew when I looked on amazon to discover that book two won't even be out in hardback until May 2009. By then I'll have forgotten the whole thing and have to reread, if I even remember that I read it in the first place.

My second problem is with the narrative frame Rothfuss uses to surround his primary story. It's the same complaint I had with Kostova's The Historian. In The Name of the Wind, the legendary hero Kvothe has been tracked to the town where he resides as a mostly anonymous innkeep by a man known as the Chronicler. After much back-and-forthing, Kvothe agrees to tell his life story to the Chronicler, but it will take 3 days to tell. Kvothe may be talented enough (he is a legendary figure, after all), but the majority of people could not "novelize" their life stories in an "as told to" form. I know this is a very peevish complaint and that not accepting this narrative strategy can severely limit creativity, but I'm starting to find it more and more annoying. What's wrong with just telling a plain old story?

Fortunately, I am mostly capable of ignoring logical gaps if the story is compelling enough. I want to say that this one is. I did enjoy the book; it has plenty of action, plenty of interest, enough new or creatively re-structured elements of fantasy. But overall, I'm not completely convinced that a 3-day life-story marathon session really requires three 700+ pages of a paperback novel (assuming the next installments are around the same length). Even after these 700 page, I'm not sure I really have a sense of Kvothe's primary purposes. We know that he started at the University based on Abenthy's teaching and advice, we know that he is interested in the manner of his parents' death, and we know that he wants to know more about the mysterious Denna. Many times in the story, though, I felt like I was reading related short stories (the most egregious case is toward the end of the novel where he follows leads about deaths that were in the same manner as his parents'). Perhaps this is more realistic, in that our own lives don't ever really seem to follow one primary purpose and could appear quite tangential if novelized. But I'm not willing to let authors have it both ways; if I have to suspend my disbelief in accepting the "photographic/recording memory" from the narrative frame, then the story is not allowed to insist that it is simply following the structure of normal living.*

Do I like the story? Yes. Will I read the next two installments? Very likely. But if book 2 doesn't offer me a slightly tighter internal logic, I may not be able to finish the series, and that would be a very unpleasant thing. Or, I'll just use my local library and not contribute to Rothfuss' royalty collections.

* I'm probably not making myself clear, but at least I understand my logic at the moment.

January 7, 2008

Reading Log: The Chronicles of Faeirie: The Hunter's Moon by O.R. Melling

21VWWMPWZTL._AA_SL160_.jpg

The Chronicles of Faerie: The Hunter's Moon is possibly the first young adult novel I've read in a while that I probably would have enjoyed more as a young adult. I enjoyed the story line and most of the characters, and I was definitely intrigued enough to read to the end, which was fairly exciting. But the book just never clicked for me the way that so many others have, though I'm almost certain it would have ranked among my favorites when I was somewhere between nine to twelve years old.

Quick plot summary: Gwen is visiting her cousin, Finnabhair (Finn-av-heer), in Ireland for the summer. The two girls set out on a jaunt, sleep on a fairy mound, and Finnabhair willingly goes into the land of Faerie to become the Faerie Queen. The Faerie King, Finvarra, also wants Gwen, as that will give him a human hostage for his bride and a human hostage for the ritual sacrifice. In her efforts to rescue her cousin from the Faerie realm, Gwen flirts with Faerie, yet ultimately escapes with the help of the Wise Woman and her grandson, Dara. Left without a second human hostage, Finn will have to play that role, unless Gwen et al. can come up with something else.

What works: The atmosphere is lovely. I did get caught up in the faerie revels and the tension leading up to the final scenes. I also appreciated Melling's insistance that faerie and real life don't have to be at opposites. For example, Dara is the King of Inch [Island] (where the drama is the highest), but he is also the son of resort owners and will be going to college for business and Irish history degrees. Contemporary and modern is just fine, but it doesn't hurt to leave a dish of milk by the back door for the garden fairies.

What doesn't work: While the language of the book doesn't exactly condescend, it is clearly intended (giving the benefit of the doubt) for a less sophisticated reader. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I didn't feel the flow that excellent prose can bring to a novel. I felt like I was reading a young adult novel rather than reading a novel that may or may not be categorized as young adult (think Phillip Pullman).

I was also not satisfied with the character development. Finnabhair comes off as not much more than a selfish, good looking teen age girl who gets accepted into the cool girls' clique. As with many 16 year old girls, Gwen finds herself questioning her body image, especially in comparison with Finn. Yet Gwen still manages to come away with a boyfriend of her own.

Finally, the penultimate scenes just didn't work out for me (I kind of enjoyed the twist at the end, so I'll say I liked the ending). The energy and drama did pull me up to the end, but I'll just say that there was some confusion in the heat of the battle. I'm not really sure what happened or why, and what was ultimately gained from the climax.

All in all, it was a fun read, and I would recommend it to a pre-teenage girl who is interested in Faerie. Since I have the second book in the Chronicles, I'll go ahead and read it, too, but I think these will be in my "find another home" pile.

October 12, 2007

Reading Log: Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

21DZsrkJMpL__AA_SL160_.jpg

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels actually isn't. First, that is. This is the latest edition of the Thursday Next series that began with The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, and continued with Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Novels), The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next Series), and Something Rotten (Thursday Next Novels). And that doesn't even include the Once Upon a Nursery novels, nor the subsequently erased Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco. Yes, erased.

See, the Book World is a beast of its own. It houses characters when they are not on screen in their own novels and it has its own complicated set of rules, jurisdictions, and protocols. And Thursday Next is one of the very few Outlanders (real lifers) who can pass between this world and that world.

Books in the Thursday Next series almost always have some sort of dramatic problem in need of solving. For instance, in The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, Thursday was responsible for making sure that a pack of disgruntled readers didn't highjack the text of Jane Eyre and force it to end with Jane marrying St. John and moving to India with him. In Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, it is all of classic literature in danger, starting with Jane Austen's novels. With book reading rates at an all time low in the Outland (which, of course, has dire consequences in the Book World), some on the Council of Genres want to turn the classics into reality TV shows that will compete directly with such productions as Samaritan Kidney Swap. The TV show will permanently rewrite and erase all of classic fiction. Furthermore, the stupidity of this venture will help the Outland deal with its excessive reserve of stupidity before that reserve overflows and causes unrecoverable damage.

In with the excitement of preserving the classics, Thursday has to deal with a rogue version of herself, Thursday1-4 (a character with delusions of grandeur) and Thursday5 from Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco (no longer available because it was erased in Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, and negotiate with the Chronoguard who is trying to replace her current son Friday with a different Friday who will join the Chronoguard, become a director-general and invent time travel which is what allows the alternate current Friday exist in the first place. (Confused? Me too. Fforde's novels are not for those who don't like a little head-spinning now and again.)

Only with Fforde do readers encounter characters such as Jack Schitt and his wife, Dr. Anne Wirthlass Schitt. We have well-known and beloved literary characters acting out of character, and armies of Danver-clones (as in Mrs. Danver from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca; don't ask about the clone part...just read the books) ready to invade Racy Novels to prevent Racy Novels from following through on a threat to deploy a dirty bomb in Ecclesiastical and/or Feminist (a dirty bomb is "a tightly packed mass of inappropriate plot devices, explicit suggestions and sexual scenes of an expressly gratuitous nature. The 'dirty' elements of the bomb fly apart at a preset time and attach themselves to unshielded prose" [56]). And oh, yes, it gets better!

I picked up Thursday Next: First Among Sequels without rereading any of the prequels. I thoroughly enjoyed the reading, but I may have picked up on a lot more of the humor and nuance if I remembered exactly how some of the plot devices worked and who exactly was who. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this latest addition to the Thursday Next series, and have yet to see a more creative and clever author (especially where the subject of literature is the concern).

October 8, 2007

Reading Log: Passage by Connie Willis

212V8WS0E4L__AA_SL160_.jpg

I've read three ooks by Willis before, and loved them all. While I enjoyed Passage, I didn't find it nearly as compelling as Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, or Bellwether. This may be one of the more "science fictiony" books of hers that I've read, although Bellwether was fairly grounded in science (maybe "not-science" as Andy would say, but it sounded good to me).

Passage is about near death experiences, or NDEs. Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist interested in what happens in a person's mind in an NDE; she meets Dr. Richard Wright, who is a neurologist interested in the physical brain activity of an NDE. Together, they work with volunteers to simulate an NDE, then try to figure out what was happening, both psychically and biologically (and before you go where my mind naturally went, yes, Willis is very much aware of Flatliners, and makes sure that Joanna explains why this isn't like that movie). Of course, the hospital comes with its own resident quack, Dr. Maurice Mandrake, whose less than sound interviewing principles have led him to the "discovery" that a NDE experience leads one to the light at the end of the tunnel where the person will be welcomed with open arms of angels and loved ones, and generally told to return to their lives.

But the story is also about life. Joanna's best friend is a nurse in the ER who faces death and danger every day, yet still carries on with a smile. Joanna also visits Maisie Nellis, a first-ish-grader with cardiomyopathy and a very poor prognosis but a very sound head on her shoulders, as well as Coma Carl Aspinell. Later in the book, she finds her high school English teacher, Mr. Briarly, now with Alzheimer's, and becomes friends with his niece/caretaker, Kit. Each of Joanna's relationships highlights another piece of life and living, of carrying on when one doesn't really feel like it.

Even if I believed that Dr. Wright could really reproduce an NDE, I'm not at all sure that I believe Joanna's experience. Maybe what she ultimately discovered about the NDE, but getting there was a little bit tedious. I won't reveal the answers here, but I will say that John, you might enjoy the book for a very specific plot device in it. And while the story definitely has a dramatic climax, I'm not sure the blurb on the back is exactly true when it says that "a shattering scenario . . . will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page." The last couple of chapters are more of a wrap-up than a climax. But an interesting read, nonetheless.

Reading Log: Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

31UziOxstnL__AA_SL110_.jpg

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor was so much more than I expected it to be. I heard about the book on one of the children's lit blogs that I read, and since I realized it is a brand new book, I went through the library rather than waiting for it in paperback. I'm glad I read it, and I may need to buy it when it is out in pb..

The book takes place in the realm of Faerie, primarily in the forest of Dreamdark. Dreamdark is protected from human interference by a variety of magicks: hedges that dull axes, forests that turn people around and lead them right back out, etc. Magpie Windwitch, the grandaughter of the West Wind, is one of the very few faeries to venture beyond Dreamdark. Her role is to recapture devils, or snags, unknowingly released by humans. Taylor has a clever twist on the "genie in the bottle" motif; humans, usually fishermen, find a bottle at sea and open it, which releases the demon: "Magpie siged. One devil, just one in all of devil history, had granted three wishes to the human who freed it. Magpie had caught that troublemaking snag five years ago and put him back, but the damage was already done. The mannies had a mania for it now, and every chance they got they freed some wicked thing back into the world, and they surely didn't get wishes for their trouble" (8). In the instance that opens the book, however, not only was a devil freed, but one that had been sealed in its bottle by the Magruwen, one of the Djinn who created the world. Taylor also nods to Garth NIx's Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy) with part of what makes up the magic in the book: "Glyphs--symbols drawn in one's thoughts--were the basic element of faerie magic. The simplest were mere shapes that every sprout mastered with learning to read. . . . Real magic came with the more complex glyphs and fusing multiple glyphs together in precise ways, being able to conjure them from memory and 'vision' them, hold them burning in one's mind with perfect concentration" (9). Glyphs in Blackbringer are very like the Charter marks in Nix's Abhorson trilogy. [I had already mentally made this comparison before reading Shannon Hale's interview with Taylor, where Taylor points to Nix as an example of fiction she enjoys. Yay me! I figured something out on my own!]

The majority of the story is about Magpie and her crow brothers/companions' search for this new evil. She returns to Dreamdark in search of the Magruwen and ends up discovering that this devil is actually the eighth elemental present at the creation of the world. Astaroth was the "world-shaping wind" (263) who helped feed the seven Djinn's fires as they created the world: "He had no dreams of his own, but he shared theirs. When the time came to shape the Tapestry into a sphere and bind closed its seams, he chose to remain and witness the burgeoning of the world he had helped forge" (263). In that choice, however, the Astaroth became bound; every attempt to escape created a new snag in the Tapestry, a new devil. Eventually, he became a new thing, a new devil, "the heavens with the stars ripped out" (275).

But there's even more complexity than that. Six-hundred years before the beginning of this story, the Djinns and their champions faced the Blackbringer and forced him into a bottle that the Magruwen himself sealed. It wasn't without loss, though, as his champion, Bellatrix, lost her husband of only a few hours. Shortly after, she disappeared from record, until Magpie found her in the Moonlit Gardens, the afterlife for faeries. Rather than "becoming," the ultimate destiny of a faerie, she remained in the Gardens, communicating with Magruwen, until he gave up on the faeiries and also went into hiding, a deep, deep sleep. Bellatrix and the Magruwen's dragon companion Fade (also in the Moonlit Gardens) planted a dream in the Magruwen's mind to create a new faerie who could re-write and repair the damaged Tapestry, and bring memory back to Dreamdark and the faeries. (Throughout the book I could hear Cate Blanchett's voice as Galadriel at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy as she notes that "that which should not have been forgotten was forgotten." Scroll down to the bottom of this entry for the example.)

I'll stop there in order to stop this entry from becoming more of a book report than it already is. Amazon lists the book as for ages 9-12, which is probably appropriate, but there is so much more complexity that older "children" can also enjoy it. Taylor plays a little with legends and fairy tales, such as the "genie in the bottle," with animal gifts and blessings, with gods and their creations, with the relationships between different species and creatures, and with human emotions and fraility (disguised, of course, as faery emotions and fraility). Characters in the novel are born with defects; the prince of the Ratherstring clan was born with the wings of a moth, unable to support himself in flight. Yet he learns other skills to compensate, and comes out a hero (plus, he knits!). I got so caught up in the adventure that I could hardly put the book down, and I was sorry to see it end.

This book was a wonderful surprise as a debut novel. In terms of readability and general storyline, I'd rate it higher than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; I suppose HP is so popular because it's about a human in a magical world, but I prefer the faeries any day.

(Here's a YouTube video of the opening sequence from LotR, while the clip is available:)

September 13, 2007

Reading Log: The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

Lest anyone think I haven't been reading, I have been. Just haven't been posting about them as often as I should/would like to.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I picked up The Princess and the Hound because I thought the dog on the cover looked like a Great Dane. And because I'd seen it on another blog and it sounded good (I still haven't found the original post, so if you have come across it, please let me know!).

The story takes place in a kingdom where some people are born with animal magic. These people have the ability to communicate with animals in their own languages. But animal magic has been outlawed for many years, and those who have it have been forced to hide their powers to avoid many nasty punishments, the least of which usually ended in death.

But what if the queen and crown prince also have animal magic? And what if the princess of a neighboring kingdom, the princess to whom the crown prince is betrothed, has an unusually strong bond with her hound even though she doesn't have animal magic? And where does the doctor fit in?

I enjoyed the book. But I don't feel the need to buy it. The story-telling is just a little bit stilted...I really didn't care about any of the characters, except perhaps the hound, though much less so after we found out more about her. It might also have been difficult for me because, for the majority of the book, animals in general are reviled unless they have a specific purpose (hunting, food, trophies, etc.). No one has pets because that might cause them trouble even if they don't have animal magic. This concept is so foreign to me, that it might be one reason I didn't attach myself to the story.

March 28, 2007

Reading Log: Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

0451461290_01__AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Ysabel is the book that The Historian wanted to be. The story is more or less concurrently past and present; in this case it's the story of the Celts and the Romans in Provence. I really enjoyed the book, and since the narrative was written as a story, rather than a series of letters, I didn't have the same mixed feelings about the amount of detail that I did with The Historian.

Ned Marriner's father is a world renowned photogrpaher. They are in France for 3 weeks for a series of photoshoots for Edward's new book. While exploring a cathedral, Ned meets an exchange student from New York, Kate, and the two of them stumble upon a strange man with knives and a scar across his bald head. As Ned follows the strange man's escape path, he begins to sense different things, including the knowledge that the man was the sculptor of a 2 thousand year old skull he finds in the cloister.

After that, Ned and Kate get sucked into a series of events surrounding the Beltaine ritual that has brought the bald, scarred man (the Roman) and a giant Celt together for the past 2,000 years to fight for Ysabel's favor. To complete the summoning, they require not only the Beltaine ceremony, but also a woman, who Ysabel will change into. Kate was supposed to be that woman, but Edward Marriner's aid, Melanie, is accidentally transformed instead. Rather than allowing the Roman and the Celt to fight as they have every other time, Ysabel challenges them to find her; they can neither use magic nor fight each other. Ned knows that he has to find her first in order to get Melanie back.

The whole story involves not only the 3 ancient ones, but also Ned's own family, as his mother is working with Doctors without Borders in war-torn Darfur, and his Aunt Kim, whom he has never met, suddently phones him while he's in France. Turns out there is more to Ned and his family than meets the eye, and he must learn about that while trying to rescue Melanie.

I enjoyed the whole book. It made me think hard enough to not be a completely simple read, but not too hard so as to kill the pleasure. And it turns out that the research is more or less accurate, too, or at least as accurate as a simple Google search provides. I didn't ever realize tha the Celts were in France, so I even learned something new.

February 11, 2007

Reading Log: May Bird and the Ever After by Jody Lynn Anderson

141690607X_01__AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Again, this is part of Becka's doing. It was on their dining room table one day when I went over to take Lucy out for a walk. As I got further into the story, I expected it to have an ending, then I'd decide whether to read more. But little did I realize that this is the first in a trilogy, and I might not know how it comes out.

Apparently there are four different portals to the Ever After, one of which just happens to be in the forest behind May's house in Briery Swamp, West Virginia. May Ellen Bird is somewhat of an outcast at school, and consequently spends a lot of time playing alone with her cat, Somber Kitty, as her only companion. Then she finds a letter in the abandoned post office dated 1951, but addressed to her. In it, the Lady of the North Farm asks for her help, and May finds herself unable to resist the urge to find out more.

May certainly holds appeal for any reader who has felt alone in a crowd, anyone who doesn't quite fit in with their social group. She is also a flawed character, tending more toward comfort and safety than "doing the right thing" and defeating the larger evil. Like any of us, she wonders how she, a mere child, can bring down the Evil Bo Cleevil who is threatening to destroy the Ever After.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly. May initially rejects Pumpkin, her house's resident ghost, because of his looks. Later, she realizes that he's there to help her, but she first thinks of him as something dangerous because he's different. She learns how to make better judgements about people (in this story, usually ghosts and specters) based on their actions rather than looks, and develops a certain compassion that she might not have had earlier. Anderson's writing is very clear, and usually not condescending, though I did think I was in for another Lemony Snicket when Anderson described May's cat prior to Somber Kitty: "She knew there could never be another Legume [the cat], which, by the way, is another word for peanut." That mechanism was amusing in Lemony Snicket, but got old even there. Fortunately, if that situation appears again in May Bird and the Ever After: Book One I was too engrossed in the story to notice.

I probably won't be actively seeking out the next book, but if Becka just happens to have it, well, I might just be inclined to read that one also.

Reading Log: Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

0441008658_01__AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg

As far as I'm concerned, Robin McKinley's Blue Sword is the best book she's written, and one of the best I've ever read. I love everything about it, from the world, to the magic, to the myths. I enjoy The Hero and the Crown nearly as much, nor have I liked subsequent novels as well. I believe I've read Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast and The Outlaws of Sherwood, though I thought I had also read Spindle's End, which I clearly had not.

At any rate, Spindle's End has come the closest yet to returning me to the enjoyment I had with Blue Sword. Katriona, a young not-yet-fairy attends the princess's naming day. As the traditional Sleeping Beauty story has it, the fairy godmothers bestow their gifts upon the baby, until the evil fairy shows up with her curse. After that point, the story becomes completely one of McKinley's own, as Katriona is charged by the Queen's fairy to take the princess into hiding and keep her safe.

The majority of the novel is the story of Rosie growing up not knowing that she's the missing princess, and Katriona and Aunt's efforts to keep the secret safe. It's a world of magic dust and fairies in disguise, Rosie talking to animals and wild baby-magic. The climax comes just before the princess's 21st birthday, when the curse will either be proven ineffective, or cause the princess to prick her finger on the spindle and die. I will pretty much stop there, because the ending is so completely unexpected and I don't want to give too much away.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this one is because Becka told me there's a dog in it that reminds her of Remy. Here is the passage in question:

"Sunflower began to bark and leap, rushing back and forth in front of her companions, wagging her tail feverishly, sometimes curlying herslef up into a circle and spinning round and round in place, uttering little cries, half whimper, half yelp, which was all what she did any time there were visitors..." [then the fairy Sunflower is with creates the illusion of multiple Sunflowers to deal with the human-like enemy] "The Sunflowers leaped on the things, strking them in what might have been their groins and their stomachs. The ones she knocked down immediately she began to lick furiously, especially around the face regions; and convincing-looking arms rose up to try to fen her off. But she was an old hand at this game, and she knew how not to be fended."

I don't know why anyone would ever think that my little Remy would behave in such a manner....except for the licking and the whimpering and the jumping and the litte cries and the knowing how not to be fended.... :-)

I've also recently read Sunshine , which is a complete departure for McKinley; I liked this book a lot as well, but that's probably as much because of the subject matter and story of the book as anything. But now that I've read and enjoyed another one, I might have to go back and reread some of the ones I had previously rejected; maybe I was still too close to Blue Sword to appreciate her other novels when I initially read them.

February 3, 2007

Reading Log: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

0316011770_01__AA_SCMZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I did enjoy reading The Historian. One of the most interesting aspects for me had less to do with the book per se, but more with the Eastern European setting prior to 1990. Most of the second half of the book takes place in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, all further East than I ever got when we lived in Germany. It is so easy for us to think about traveling to the former Eastern bloc, that I found Kostova's descriptions of some of the protagonists' difficulties reminiscent of my own experiences.

Probably the only negative I really have the book comes in the structure. The narrative takes place in 1972, but the main story lines come from the 1930s and 1960s through different characters' letters. After the narrator's father disappears leaving only a letter saying that he is looking for her mother, the majority of the narrative takes place in his letters to her telling the story she has only begun to drag out of him in person. I just simply found myself unable to read the story as letters; they were far too detailed and descriptive, too narrative, in fact, to really be letters. Epistolary novels are nothing new, and certainly not unfamiliar to most English majors, but I've always had problems with "reality" when I read letters that are more novelistic than what someone would write in a letter. For instance, when describing his and Helen's flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul, the narrator's father, Paul, writes: "Helen was actually laughing next to me, watching my amazement at all this. She had brushed her hair and put on lipstick in teh airplane and looked remarkably fresh after our cramped night. She wore the little scarf on her neck; I still had not seen what lay under it and wouldn't have dared to ask her to remove it. 'Welcome to the big world, Yankee,' she said, smiling. It was real smile this time, not her customary grimace" (189). There are too many details to be remembered after a lapse of some 15 years in time, as well as the general feeling reading the letters is more like reading a novel than epistles. Which, in fact, is what we're doing. The letters, plus a few other historical texts and manuscripts thrown in, essentially last from page 187 to page 650, with only a few breaks to continue the narrator's search for her father.

I did feel, at times, that the story seemed to get a little off track and become bogged down in Kostova's own interest in history's twists and turns, but by and large, I truly enjoyed the story. I've always been a fan of the Dracula story and vampire legends/tales. There is more to this novel (at almost 700 pages, I guess that's an understatement) than there is to most treatments of Dracula's legend, including quite a bit of detail about the Ottoman empire and Eastern Europe in the fifteeth century. And as a bibliophile, I can always appreciate stories whose action forms around books and written texts. The inside front cover of my copy (paperback) shows a painting, presumably of Dracula, but I was disappointed to never see a visual representation of the dragon image that is the center of the mysterious books, and is the symbol of Dracula and the Order of the Dragon.

October 8, 2006

Reading Log: Kingdom of the Golden Dragon by Isabel Allende

0007177488.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I picked up Kingdom of the Golden Dragon in the Amsterdam airport on the way home from Norway. I didn't read it immediately because I read Labyrinth instead. I probably would have finished in on the plane; I didn't realize when I picked it up that it is book 2 of a trilogy for young adults.

Fortunately, I was able to get into the story right away without any previous knowledge necessary. It seems as though each book can be a stand-alone, though the main characters progress through all three, and it makes more sense to read them in order since the order is chronological. if I were younger with fewer books on my reading list, I probably would hunt down the other two books. As it is, while the story is intriguing, it's not quite enough for me to keep going.

Alex Cold, a teenager from California, joins his grandmother on her expedition to the Kingdom of the Golden Dragons, high in the Himalayas. His grandmother has also invited a friend of Alex's, Nadia, whom he met on their previous adventure (in the previous book). Allende does a nice job juxtaposing the mystical (prophecy, the Golden Dragon that is said to speak to the king, the Yeti) with technology (helicopters, bad guys with big guns). There is plenty of adventure, and even some explosions, which ought to appeal to both boys and girls.

August 24, 2006

Reading Log: Staying Dead

0373802099.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I think I found Laura Anne Gilman's Staying Dead as a recommendation from Amazon based on my other choices. It falls along the same lines as the Hamilton, Harrison, Harris books (and the author's name begins with a "G" instead of "H"!)--we have a heroine who has an unusual, perhaps magical, skill that gets her into and/or causes more adventures than the average person would normally see. Genevieve Valere (Wren), is a Retriever, someone with magical Talent, who freelances finding and retrieving missing objects. Her partner, Sergei, is an attractive art gallery owner who finds Wren the gigs.

The main job in this novel is to retrieve the cornerstone of a building that was stolen via magic. What Wren and Sergei don't know going into the job is that the cornerstone has a spell in it that must also be retrieved as part of the deal. More interesting characters show up, such as the fatae, creatures who would probably be just as at home in a Charles de Lint novel. I'm not sure there's ever a real definition of fatae, but they seem to be closely associated with the faerie realm. There are also several varieties of demons, one of whom is a frequent informant for Wren. Then we have the Cosa Nostradamus, the Mage Council who seem to have control over most people with Talent, though there are several like Wren who are considered lonejacks because they work outside of the Council's control. And we also discover that Sergei, while not a Talent, has his own secret society, the Silence, a collective that attempts to keep the balance between things magical and non. I'm still fuzzy on exactly what the Silence is, which I think is a deliberate maneuver on Gilman's part; we'll definitely see them in future novels.

And since my previous entry was about fantasy novels and prejudice, it exists in Gilman's world as well. The fatae are being attacked by an extremist hate group (here I think of people like Jim Phelps and abortion clinic bombers), the Cosa not helping because they don't really hold the in any regard, high or otherwise. Even Sergei has his own set of biases; he can barely tolerate Wren's demon informant, P.B. We haven't gotten to the point where Wren has to make a decision about Sergei based on whether he can accept Wren's relationships with demons and other non-human creatures, but I wouldn't be surprised if that comes further down the road.

I will definitely be reading more of Gilman's Retrievers (besides goldens) series, but at the moment there are only two more in the series. I just ordered the rest of the Anita Blake books that are currently in paperback, so that will keep me set for, oh, 7-10 days (they really are quick reads, especially if you don't/won't/can't put them down). I might also go poking around in some of the used bookstores to see if there are any other Gilman fans who might have relinquished their copies. Besides, it will be a break to read a third-person narrative after all of the first-person I'll get through Hamilton.

Reading Log: Creatures, Beasts, and Others

When I first discovered Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries series, a commentor on my blog mentioned that I might also like Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter and Kim Harrison's Hollows series. Boy, was that commentor ever right. One reviewer on Hamilton's books calls her novels "R-rated Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which they are.

But as I've been reading them, I can't help but let the English major in me out just a little. What is it that attracts me to these stories of vampires, werewolves, fairies, psychics, etc.? One of the things that I'm finding in all of these stories are conversations about what it means to be human, and what it means to have prejudices. The basic rules seem to be the same through all of the stories: vampires burn in sunlight, werewolves turn at the full moon, holy water and silver can be extremely painful if not fatal, non-human creatures seem to be stronger than humans, etc. But what also links the stories are the internal conflicts of the main characters (in all of the novels above, the protagonist is a woman, and the narrative is in the first person). Sookie Stackhouse can read/sense people's thoughts, Anita Blake is a necromancer and animator with more-than-human power, Rachel Morgan is a witch--even a separate species from human. And each heroine finds herself making a distinction between human and "monster," the label society seems to give to non-humans.

I find Anita Blake the most interesting, possibly because she's in more novels than either Sookie or Rachel at this point. Her dilemma is quite interesting. She has two men very interested in her: Richard Zeeman, a biology teacher at the junior high who happens to also be a werewolf, and Jean-Claude, the Master of the City, who is a vampire. In the first books, she is far more drawn to Richard, the "living" man. But when she finally sees him change into a wolf, she rejects the beast for the corpse. Fortunately, Hamilton carries these internal struggles through several novels, which highlights the believability of Anita's problems. And it doesn't help matters that no matter how "human" Blake is herself, her jobs as Vampire Executioner and professional Animator, as well as the danger she consistently finds herself in, have led her to question her own "humanity" more and more.

Back to my question of why these stories are so interesting. Believe it or not, they have a very strong connection with politics and society today. No, I don't remember much about Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, but I think I remember the essay talking about how we push things away from us, turn them into "other," that we don't want or like or think we need. By writing about vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other creatures of horror, Hamilton, Harrison, and Harris are giving us creatures against which to define ourselves. But what happens when we start to sympathize, empathize, or even love these "beasts?" In the same way, especially in American politics, we find a group (or many groups) that we ARE NOT in order to define who we are. Rather than looking for similarities, we tend to look for and emphasize differences to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and our choices.

Don't know, but this is definitely the most analysis I've done on any piece of writing since finishing the dis. Might be there really is a scholar in me somewhere, definitely the scariest creature I can think of to give me nightmares.

August 20, 2006

Reading Log: The Beekeeper's Apprentice

0553571656.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I did enjoy reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King, even though I thought I might not. I'm one of those readers who likes my characters to stay with their original authors--I don't even like watching Sherlock Holmes stories that don't star Jeremy Brett, let alone reading a novel about Holmes by an author other than Conan Doyle. King's novel operates on the premise that even after Sherlock Holmes officially retired, he still remained moderately active in crime solving. His apprentice, in this case, is the 15 year old Mary Russell. Unlike Watson, Russell's mind can actively keep up with Holmes's, so they begin a friendship that leads to a partnership in detective work.

The first quarter to half of the book reads more like a series of short stories than a complete novel, as Russell describes the small adventures she and Holmes have. The novel begins to pull together as a whole in the larger case she describes, one that tests both of their wits and nearly defeats them.

King does an admirable job of resurrecting Holmes. Just as with the original stories, her detective relies on clues that only he knows about--types of clay soil, brands of cigarette ash and the precise location that brand may be sold, etc. With Russell as a narrator, though, the reader doesn't feel quite as off-guard, as she herself goes through several learning moments, or explains things that we otherwise wouldn't have known.

I don't see myself actively seeking out the subsequent novels in this series, but I do think they are worth reading.

August 16, 2006

Reading Log: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

0399153446.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_V56230613_.jpg

I saw this book for the first time in the Amsterdam airport coming back from Germany in April. Thought it looked interesting, but a little expensive in Europe, so thought I'd just pick it up here at home. Yeah, right. Just now out in hardcover, which I don't usually buy. So I picked it up in Amsterdam on my way back from Norway. Almost finished it on the flight, too, all 697 pages of it. Labyrinth is an anthropological mystery. It reads very much like A. S. Byatt's Possession: A Romance, which means difficult to put down.

There are definitely significant plausibility issues with the book. As mythology dictates, the quest for the grail is the quest for the fountain of youth, or at least the extension of life. I had a sense of many of the directions the book was going, many of which required a firm suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, I can do that if the story is good enough. Which this one is. Mosse has a good sense of timing...she switches between time periods by leaving the reader at a cliffhanger. I knew where the cliffhangers would be, but that didn't make them any less dramatic.

Interestingly, religion, historical artifacts, and secret societies are all parts of Mosse's novel, much like The Da Vinci Code. Both must have been originally published at around the same time. Makes me wonder what's going on in society right now that is sparking novels about secret societies, intrigue, dishonesty at high levels of wealth and society....oh, wait. This is America under the shrub tyranny.

July 3, 2006

Reading Log: The Sisters Grimm

0810959259.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives - Book #1 by Michael Buckley allows readers the opportunity to venture once more into the world of legends and fairy tales. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are the two heroines, girls of almost twelve and seven, whose parents have gone missing and have finally joined their grandmother, Relda Grimm, at Ferryport Landing.

At Ferryport, the girls discover that the book of fairytales by the brothers Grimm are not so much stories for amusing and teaching children, but rather accounts of true happenings that have been recorded for future Grimm generations. In order to save the Everafters (people and creatures of myth, legend, fantasy, and fairy) from humans and humans from Everafters, Wilhelm had Baba Yaga enchant them all to remain at Ferryport Landing, a place they had originally built. The price of the spell was the Grimm familly's freedom as well; at least one member of the Grimm family has to remain at Ferryport Landing at all times. The spell will be broken with the death of the last Grimm.

As a first book in the series, this one has the duty of introducing readers to the general characters and story archs. We meet a variety of Everafters, from Puck and his fairies to Jack the Giant Killer, to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We also meet The Magic Mirror, who is the guardian of all of the confiscated magical items (wands, shoes, magic beans, anything else in any fablie or tale). But the best character of all has to be Elvis, Relda Grimm's great dane. (Of course I have to love the dog the most!) :-) I suspect that over the long run, the series will become fairly repetitive in the way the Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) books do, but the entertainment value will come from the creative situations involving Everafters.

May 14, 2006

Reading Log: The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

0226469352.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

The Diviners was published in 1974 and is sort of a Canadian version of Willa Cather's My Antonia. It's not especially plot driven, but rather tells the story of a girl who grows up in Canada in the mid-1900s. The narrative is interesting in that the narrator is primarily talking about her life from an autobiographical perspective, and she switches between the first person voice in the "now" and a third person voice for the "then." Morag Gunn was orphaned at a young age when her parents died of some disease or another. She was raised by Christy and Prin(cess) Logan, friends of her father's. The Logan's live on the outskirts of society; Christy is the resident garbage collector. He learns many secrets of people from all class levels, yet receives their scorn and degradation at the same time. Morag's embarrassment is like that of any child for her guardians, and it becomes a point with which she must come to terms.

Through the course of the story we learn not only about Morag growing up, but also her own daughter. As a newlywed to a college professor, Morag learns about the boredom and routine associated with middle-class families. She cannot find anything to occupy herself except writing, but Brooke refuses to accept that she has talent. Eventually she leaves and divorces her husband. After leaving Brooke, Morag spends some time with Jules, another outcast from her community. While they never officially marry, Morag sees Jules off and on throughout the book. She gets pregnant during her time with Jules, and becomes a single mother, while still pursuing a career in writing.

The novel is pretty difficult to describe. Not much happens that's particularly exciting or thrilling, but it is an interesting look at a woman's life in the mid-twentieth century Canada.

March 13, 2006

Reading Log: Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing)

0525476229.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Chicks with Sticks: It's a Purl Thing by Elizabeth Lenhard is a very cute quick read. It's about the friendships that 15-year-old Scottie Shearer forms and reforms through knitting. This was definitely not the high school I went to. First, Starker High School encourages independence and creativity amongst its students. Second, if I didn't know as much about technology as I do, I might not be able to understand the computer terminology.

But aside from that, gotta love the knitting. At Scottie's Aunt Roz's funeral, her great-aunt teaches her to knit. At first Scottie tries to hide her addiction to knitting, until she finds Knitwit, a small yarn store owned by Alice, an adult who finally seems to understand Scottie. One by one, three other grils from Starker, one of who is Scottie's best friend, also find their way to the shop. Knitting ultimately becomes a habit for all of them, no matter how hard they try not to.

I bring knitting to a variety of functions these days, as do many other people I know. I've brought it to training sessions, and there are two people on one of my committees who knit during the meetings. I just love having something to do with my hands while I'm otherwise occupied. I can't watch movies without doing some sort of crafts. I'm not sure I find it quite as therapeutic as the girls in this book do, but I definitely do enjoy it. And someday maybe I'll be able to move on to sweaters too!

March 12, 2006

Reading Log: Neverwhere

0380789019.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Neil Gaiman is best known in some circles as the author of the The Sandman comics or graphic novels. He's been branching out into children's stories (Coraline and The Wolves in the Walls), and Neverwhere is one of his adult novels. The blurb on the back from the Mpls STrib calls Neverwhere "a dark contemporary 'Alice in Wonderland,'" which is pretty accurate.

Richard Mayhew breaks a date with his socialite fiancee in order to assist the bleeding homeless girl they've just come upon. Little does he know that getting involved with Door, the only surviving member of the Portico family, will force him into a journey in the dark, medieval London below.

The inhabitants of London below are those people who have fallen through the cracks. They have been overlooked and lost from London ablove. (As a side note, there are also collectors in London below who find all of the items that we lose here above: socks, jewelry, umbrellas, keys, you name it.) None of the rules are the same in London below; places that don't exist above, do exist below, and even a simple kiss can get one killed. Door is on a quest to find out who had her family killed and why, and because she's his only source of knowledge about London below, Richard is swept into Door's adventures.

I wasn't too impressed with Coraline, but I did enjoy Neverwhere. This novel is darker than Charles de Lint's urban fantasy, but I'm always interested in exploring the ideas of worlds that exist parallel to what we call the "real" world.

March 1, 2006

Reading Log: Songs from the Seashell Archives

Songs from the Seashell Archives by Elizabeth Scarborough is actually two novels in one: Song of Sorcery and The Unicorn Creed. These two novels describe the adventures of Maggie Brown, a hearthwitch, and Colin Songsmith, a young minstrel. In the first, Maggie and Colin set off to rescue Maggie's sister, and in the second, to save the kingdom of Argonia from Maggie's malevolent sorcerer uncle.

Very fun novels. As a hearthwitch, Maggie's magical skills are related to improving a household. She can whip up fuelless/smokeless fires, mend any fabric, make fabrics, extend meals beyond their apparent capacity, and many other skills that can come in useful in a variety of circumstances (for instance, during a battle scene in Unicorn Creed, she causes the enemies' bootlaces to weave themselves together and hobble the wearers). What also makes Maggie particularly appealing is that she is a rather unlikely heroine. She's not especially beautiful, and definitely not in possession of many of the finer "womanly" qualities (such as silence, obedience, cleanliness, etc.).

Song is the better of the two, in my opinion, though that's not to say they aren't both great. I enjoyed reading about the characters getting to know each other better, and the story plot and actions were much simpler. Unicorn Creed has so much going on at anyone time that the last few pages are a complete rush to wrap up all the story arcs (Step one: set story in motion; Step two: a miracle happens; Step three: end).

In both books, though, Scarborough's writing is very entertaining. Characters frequently have charming names, such as Maggie's granny's cat, Chingachgook (a distant relative of magicians across the waters), or the Nymph Nasturtium who changed her name to Sally Forth. We also learn about other less savory characters, such as Elsphat, Maggie's great-great-great-etc. grandmother who lured children into the woods with her candy house then ate them. Elsphat's descendent, Maggie's aunt Sybil, still lives in the house, but she lets the children eat the shingles until Maggie has to lay a strong preservative spell on it to keep it from disintigrating in the rain. Other fairy-tale characters pop up in the novels, which I always enjoy.

February 25, 2006

Reading Log: The Changeling Sea

0141312629.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Patricia McKillip has long been one of my favorite authors, and I just discovered The Changeling Sea by browsing on Amazon. McKillip has taken the traditional story of the human baby changed with a fairy child and moved the story to the sea. The King of the land loved the Queen of the sea, but had to marry a human-born woman. Both women bore him a son; the King's wife died, and the sea Queen gave him their son and took the human born child. The changeling, Kir, had always been drawn to the sea; his heart's desire was to return there. The human child, on the other hand, became a sea dragon, chained to the sea by the Queen's anger. All it took was a young fisherman's daughter to begin unravelling the magic of the sea.

The first McKillip story I ever read was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Then I moved on to the Riddle Master trilogy (now available in one volume, The Riddle-Master's Game), which are some of the best fantasy books I've ever read. I think they will always be my favorites of MicKillip's, but she is definitely up there in my favorite authors.

February 24, 2006

Reading Log: Death of a Gossip

0446607134.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_

I picked this one up for two reasons: 1) Amazon is doing a 4 for the price of 3 promotion; and 2) it's the basis for BBC's Hamish Macbeth TV show. If there is one thing that would convince me we need to go back to a TV-world, it would be BBC America. Hamish Macbeth is a village constable for Lochdubh (more-or-less pronounced "lock-due"), a tiny village nestled in the Scottish highlands. In both the TV series and the book, Macbeth is the man with the quiet intelligence to solve the crimes, rather than the obstreperous "big brass" from the city.

In this story, the Cartwrights are a local couple who have begun a fishing class. Every week brings in a new round of tourists hoping to catch an award-winning salmon in the Scottish rivers. The mood of this particular class is very tense, as Lady Jane Winters takes pot-shots at all of the members about some skeleton in their closet. Is it any wonder that the woman is found dead in a loch? The mystery is pretty typical, in that everyone has a motive. And readers get to learn more about the things Lady Jane uncovers.

The one story-line that I found most dated (the copyright date is 1985) is that of Alice Wilson, a young secretary who is secretly in love with her married boss. She is on the trip hoping to impress him enough that he'll leave his wife. Jeremy Blythe, a barrister with a history of womanizing and scattering pregnancies around, seems like a good distraction for Alice, to the point that she believes that by sleeping with Jeremy, he'll have to marry her. I'm not sure i was that naive in 1985, when I was only 12 years old (and let me tell you, I am the queen of naivete...). But other than those few quibbles, it was definitely a fun little read.

I don't know if it's good or bad that I saw the TV series before reading one of the books. The location is the same and the general "feel" is the same, but the show takes more liberties with the characters, which I think actually adds some depth. Of course, that's after seeing 5 or so episodes vs. reading one book, but, hey, that's life.

Yes, this makes the third book in two days, but in my defense, they're all short books. Living Dead in Dallas clocks in at 291 pages. I don't think I'll actually buy any more Beaton mysteries per se, not because I don't like them, but in this instance, I do prefer the TV series, of which I can only get series one right now, which is really annoying.

Reading Log: Club Dead

0441010512.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Um, yeah, so I stayed up last night to start and finish this one too. Took about 3 hours. And what fun those three hours were! I'm definitely going to have to find more of them. Again, see my previous entries on the Southern Vampire Series for more details. Same characters, different plots. And the plots continue to be interesting.

February 23, 2006

Reading Log: Living Dead in Dallas

0441009239.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

Living Dead in Dallas (Southern Vampire Mysteries) is not very much different at all from Dead Until Dark in the same way that Sherlock Holmes stories are the same. No need to go into extreme detail, except that I enjoyed this one as much as the previous, and am now starting on the third. If nothing else, they go very quickly. :-)

February 22, 2006

Reading Log: Trader

0765302969.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I frequently forget that Charles de Lint is my all-time very most favorite author in the whole world. Trader is the story of two men who wake up one morning in each other's bodies. Max Trader is a quiet, well-mannered luthier, a maker of fine guitars. Johnny Devlin, on the other hand, is a smooth talking lady killer who can never take any responsibility for his own life or anyone he touches.

In true de Lint stile, though, the story is far more than the exploration of body switching. He takes up the question of what makes us ourselves, not the least of which is how we treat others. The story also emphasizes the importance of knowing who we are, but also in knowing who our friends are. In some of the scenes I love the most, the now homeless-Max-trapped-in-Johnny's-body befriends a stray dog who stays with him for the remainder of the book and eventually saves his life. How can I not love that story?

I only recognized a few characters from other stories, but they seem to be in most of de Lint's books: Jilly, Geordie, Sophie, and Bones. My all time favorite de Lint is The Little Country, but I don't really remember who shows up in that story. My next favorite, though, Memory and Dream, is completely about Jilly and Sophie, so I feel I know them pretty well.

One of the things I like best about de Lint is that almost all of his stories are based in Newford, yet he has so many different stories to tell. And the fantasy part of the urban fantasy is absolutely fantastic. (But I may be a little biased since I love these books so much.) :-)

February 13, 2006

Reading Log: Dead Until Dark

0441008534.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I basically read Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries) by Charlaine Harris in one sitting. I wasn't quite ready for bed, and had finished doing other things for the evening, so thought I'd just sit down with this book and see how it was. I'd read part of chapter 1 on Amazon, and hadn't been blown away by the writing, but it was fun enough to give a used copy a shot.

And I didn't put the book down until I was finished, 2.5-3 hours later. You can stop reading here if you don't like vampire stories. If they're not your cup of tea, you won't like the book. But me, I have a thing for vampire stories. Love Dracula and Carmilla. Love Anne Rice. Love Buffy and Angel. Love Sunshine. (I'm scaring you now, aren't I? You didn't know this about me, did you?)

The interesting twist in Harris's world is that vampires are a new legal minority. The rumor that keeps most people "happy" (the term is a euphemism here) is that vampires are not actually "undead" per se; they just seem that way because of a strange virus that affected certain people. This background, and the minority status, are two areas Harris could have gone into more detail with, but the lack of detail also draws the reader in by assuming a shared knowledge and leaving it at that. This is a skill that many authors don't have; somehow with this novel, we just read along and nod our heads without really questioning what we're being told.

The heroine of Harris's Southern Vampire Novels is Sookie Stackhouse, at least currently a waitress at a local bar. But Sookie isn't quite "normal" herself; she can hear other people's thoughts. It depends upon who, the type of thoughts, the distance, etc; sometimes she can actually hear thoughts, other times she can get pictures or images. She's spent her whole life learning how to guard herself against prying or listening in. If she doesn't put up the barriers, she'll get headaches from hearing the jumble of thoughts around her, or hear things people think about her, or things she just doesn't want to know that people think about. Most people in Bon Temps, her rural northern Louisiana town, think she's just crazy, but a few actually know the truth.

The main premise of the book is a murder mystery; someone is killing girls who have been with vampires. Sookie fears for her own life, as she finds herself with a vampire boyfriend by chapter 2. The mysteries aside, I found the book very interesting in the development of characters and their relationships with each other, as well as the relationships between humans and vampires, and their frequently uneasy co-existence. Harris's writing is not as refined as Rice's, but I found the book more fun to read and definitely quicker.

February 11, 2006

Reading Log: The Rule of Four

0440241359.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I was actually able to read Ian Caldwell's and Dustin Thomason's The Rule of Four for a graduate level class. My mother left it for me after Christmas, and I thought I was reading it on the sly, until I saw it as a possibility on the syllabus of my College Students Today class.

The storyline is very similar to that of The Da Vinci Code; a literary artifact contains a mystery that has been puzzling scholars for centuries until someone takes a different look at the problem and solves it. Of course, reaching the solution requires having someone else try to take credit for your discovery, being chased through tunnels, and ultimately presumed dead, but where would the narrative tension be without those details?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good at pulling narrative inconsistencies out of fun novels. I thoroughly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, and found The Rule of Four almost as compelling. But one thing nagged at me through the entire novel, and unfortunately, it is one of the major components of the plot. Paul Harris, an orphan, enters Princeton (that bothered me too, though not nearly as much as what comes next....) knowing what he would be researching for the next four years as his senior thesis: a very obscure Renaissance text, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream by Francesco Colonna. Granted, I don't work with Princeton-bound students. But obscure literary texts and college freshmen never seem to go hand in hand.

If you can either believe or suspend disbelief about ths premise, and if you enjoyed Brown's novel, The Rule of Four can be a very entertaining literary mystery. It will also make for a fairly interesting discussion about college student development for my assignment.

Reading Log: Marley and Me

0060817089.01._AA_SCTZZZZZZZ_.jpg

I just finished reading Marley & Me : Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan. The fact that Grogan really is a newspaper columnist does show through in his writing; each chapter reads very much like a newspaper column, and I frequently felt that there wasn't much holding the narrative together other than Grogan's descriptions of his life with "the World's Worst Dog." I didn't even cry at the end, at least not until he started quoting some of the sympathy e-mail he received after writing about Marley and the family's loss.

While Grogan candidly confesses to many of the mistakes of a first-time dog owner, there were many times that I couldn't help but feel the family got what they deserved, though I'm sorry poor Marley had to suffer through all that. On the other hand, they did stick it out and keep him (though I was very concerned for a while that they wouldn't keep him), and he did enjoy a very nice life, by and large.

Marley came from a backyard breeder, which is a fairly typical new owner mistake. But despite that, how can there still be educated people in the world who don't do research into dogs before racing out to get one? I knew we were headed to trouble in the prologue when Grogan described his childhood dog who could do no wrong. Another typical mistake: "my first dog was so wonderful, how can anything go wrong with the next one?"

Then there's the reason they got a dog in the first place: so his wife could feel better about her maternal skills. She overwatered a plant, for pete's sake. You don't get a dog to "practice" being a mom. You get one because you enjoy the companionship that the four-leggeds can bring to your life.

Many aspects of John and Jenny's lives horrified me to no end, and I really hope that people might read this book as a "what not to do" rather than a "how to" manual.

Overall, a quick and fun read, but I'm glad I borrowed the book rather than buying it. And I can guarantee that the name alone does not make the dog; our own Marley was one of the sweetest, best kids I've ever had. :-)

marley1.jpg

marley2.jpg