Friday, December 31, 2010

Short a Letter: Crave

J.R. Ward writes the popular Bhlackh Dhaggher Bhrotherhhood books, about brand-conscious tough-guy vampires and their devoted womenfolk and the extra letter "h" in everyone's name. They are page-turning fun and awesomely goofy, so when I saw this new book (Crave (Fallen Angels, Book 2)) I grabbed it. Turns out it's the second book in a different series, about a wager between good guys and bad guys for the fate of the world (I think) with ex-commando angels working with select humans (including some of their non-deceased ex-commando buddies) to see if their souls turn nicey-whitey or baddy-blacky.


I spent a lot of time trying to insert new letters into the commando's names, of course. "J" works well, since it can always be silent.

Perhaps because I came in late (what is the deal with series books refusing to identify themselves?), I didn't find the over-arching plot about the earth-destroying wager interesting at all. I liked the angsty hero, Isaac (aka Isajac) Rothe, who was all "woe is me, I'm an ex-assassin and unworthy" with the heroine, Grier (a "j" would help me pronounce that name, I think), who was all "nobody loved my ghostly drug addict brother like me. Also, my dad never told me he worked for a top-secret evil government agency." I finished the book, although I never had any trouble putting it down, but I have no impulse to seek out the others in the series. I have no idea why this one has the title "Crave" -- I mean, yes, the sexy lovers crave each other, but that hardly distinguishes it from any other paranormal romance book by anyone, let alone the other books in the series (I'm guessing).  C+.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making Lemonade: Genius Genes

My son is getting tired of me reading books and trying to talk with him about Asperger's Syndrome, so for my next pick in my ongoing research of this condition, I choose a more positive spin.  Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World, by Michael Fitzgerald and Brendan O'Brien looks at twenty-one outstanding men, discusses their achievements, and then gauges how their behavior matches up with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome or disorder (there are different criteria for each).


It was interesting reading how many of the attributes associated with Asperger's also link in with creative and obsessive genius, but my enjoyment was hindered by the large leaps of faith the authors made in their diagnosis.  I don't find these historical syndrome assignments persuasive in the least, and the further in the past, the less value I found.  It's nice to think Aristotle had mild autism, but I don't agree that the evidence is there.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Zombies Over Elves: Feed

Mira Grant is a pen name for Seanan McGuire, who writes the October Daye books.  I've tried a few but never really enjoyed them, a position not shared by many urban fantasy fans since she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  When Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) first came out, I was slightly interested, but then found out that McGuire wrote it, so I figured it wouldn't work for me.  Then Dirty Sexy Books picked it for her December book club, so I ordered it from the library, but just glared at it it until I missed the discussion, and then I read it.  I'm a master of timing, me.

It turns out that I find Mira Grant more readable than McGuire, and I finished the book with enjoyment.  It's a future post-apocalyptic book with zombies and bloggers, which is always fun.  The main characters are a team of young bloggers who win the right to join an aspiring presidential candidate's campaign train.  All bloggers work with a team of three -- an Irwin, a Newsie, and a Fictional.  That way their web page has exciting acts of wild derring-do, solid articles about fact, and never-ending poems and fanfic about the world.  Most of the narration is from George, the newsie, who works with her adopted brother Shaun (the Irwin) and their friend Buffy (tech expert and fictional, real name Georgia, but all small blondes risk the nickname Buffy nowadays).

The three get a chance to wonder about so the land of zombies makes sense, and the conspiracies pile up in an entertaining way.  There aren't too many unexpected twists, except a real bit of authorial courage at the end which I really appreciated.  I had a problem swallowing one development (only our intrepid team of reporters bother to investigate the zombie destruction at the presidential candidate's home) but then I laughed at myself -- if I don't blink at viral zombies, fanfic as a profession, and the elaborate licensing system for poking the recently dead with sticks, why weep at incompetent secret service agents?  Anyway, I will look for the next book in this series.  B+

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cool Land, Dull Folks: Incarceron

Incarceron US cover
Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)
 by Catherine Fisher has a lot of buzz -- I heard it recommended all over the place, and I borrowed it from my nephew last summer.  Somehow I never got traction with reading it though, and it languished until I noticed I was about to return to Utah without reading it.  So I got cracking, brought it on the plane, and finished it just after Christmas, which is really a glacial pace for me.
My problem was a supreme apathy about all the characters.  There's the rich princess scheming with her tutor and with an inability to make emotional connections with anyone (she only cares for her father because she thinks they share some DNA), there's the Finn, a lost epileptic in the prison with the same problem (his only friend is his adopted brother, whose loyalty is proven over and over again, yet Finn doubts him every time anyone else is less than complementary).  They are pushed around by circumstance, rarely making any decisions or actions, and when they do it is because of distasteful choices they make (be brave or be petulant? Hmm, lets be petulant!).  I never got much sense of either of them, and only a little bit more from the secondary characters.


On the plus side, the two worlds are fascinating and my favorite character was the eponymous prison.  I probably won't look for the sequel, but if forced to read it I'll just keep an eye out for sentient structures to identify with.  C

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Zee End: American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings

I received American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings (Penguin Classics) as a gift a few summers ago, so I put it on my to-read pile, where it was promptly buried by an avalanche. Lucky for me the A-Z Challenge forced me to retrieve it, as the author, Zitkala-Sa, finished off my challenge nicely.

Zitkala was a Lakata who went to a government Indian school in the late 19th century at the age of eight, and spent the rest of her life mediating between her tribe and white society. When back home she felt isolated and different, but white acceptance came only as she validated their beliefs. The first half of the book is her autobiographical sketches, and the purple prose made them hard to take seriously. They were written to be published in literary magazines, and the style changes of the past century are huge. But the last part are stories from legends and events, and in them I can suspend belief and just enjoy the vivid images and strong portrayals of character and place.  B-

Friday, December 24, 2010

Zippidee-Do-Dah: Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage

Buy from AmazonHaving panicked about the state of my A-Z challenge, I raced to the library and searched for my missing books.  For reasons of both inclination and practicality I started in the kids' section, which gave me my missing "U" author: Kaye Umansky. Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage is an old-fashioned story about kids handling magic with aplomb and grace, with little angst or emotional peril.  Physical peril is all right, what with the bad witches cottage-napping the flying domicile, and dungeons, and general clumsiness.  It was fun an interesting, and I'll see if my nine year old wants a look. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Second Time More Lucky: Archangel's Kiss


Nalini Singh writes a popular paranormal series about Psy-Changelings, all about emotion-denying telepaths and shape shifters, which I can't get into.  She kept getting recommended to me, so I tried her new series, Archangel's Blood, which I thought was OK.  So when I saw the second book in the "Pick me" display at the library I picked it up.

I liked more; I didn't giggle as much in the wrong places.  With Archangel's Kiss (Guild Hunter, Book 2) Singh figures we all remember the complicated political and chemical connections between archangels, angels, vampires, hunters, and regular people, which I either do remember or don't care about, so the text is much lighter without heavy exposition.  Elena has just woken up as an angel, and most of the plot involves her avoiding assassination by anyone trying to impress the world with how tough they are.  So we learn about life as an angel with Elena, and we also get lots of fun fight scenes with Elena and her tough friends and enemies.  Uber-archangel Raphael gets to skulk about protecting himself and Elena (his new huge weak spot), with bonus UST as he waits for her to get strong enough to move onto actual ST.  There are still blue feathers and sexy wing dandruff.  Then we get a battle with a superpower trying to destroy the world (as one must), and it's all fun and games and popcorn.  B+

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

He Only Killed Two: Dearly Devoted Dexter

In the second of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter book, Dearly Devoted Dexter, the poor serial killer never seems to catch a break.  Or a killer.  With Doakes shadowing him and his sister calling on him for help tracking the really icky guy chopping up old grudges, and then his accidental engagement on top of that, there just isn't time to track down the second child killer in his sights.

The plot is flimsy, with Dexter's ability to google up information on secret killer squads in Central America, but the book is short enough that it's easy not to notice, or to complain about a certain repetitiveness in Dexter's impatience.  There are funny reactions from Dexter, some of which he notices and some of which he doesn't, and (for me) the interesting game of watching the wider divergence from the TV show.  For example, the TV likes to keep the same actors around, so there is much less attrition from the main cast.  And the entire Doakes plot changes, with the character whittled down in the books (versus blown up in the show).  Also, his potential step children are much more interesting in the text.  Still fun; I'll probably read the next one in a few months.  B

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Short and Sweet: Death's Excellent Vacation

Charlaine Harris and and Toni Kelner enjoy picking out the stories for their paranormal/mystery holiday anthologies, with Harris writing a new story to kick them off.  The latest, Death's Excellent Vacation, has a fun story with Sookie and Pam on a gambling vacation, with silly plot stuff to give them an excuse to get blonde and (almost) naked.  The other stories are also on the fluffy side, although not all have happy endings.Death's Excellent Vacation


It's a fun book for traveling, since the stories are short enough to read while waiting, which is an integral part of any journey.  I enjoyed the Sookie story and A. Lee Martinez's "The Innsmouth Nook" especially.  I think I'll go look for more of Martinez's stuff.  B

Monday, December 20, 2010

Laugh Out Loud: Maybe This Time

Jennifer Crusie is a delight and a joy (most times), and Maybe This Time really delivers on her strengths.  The characters are real and lively, the story is fast and interesting, with a combination of slapstick and real jeopardy, and the writing is literally laugh-out-loud funny.  I attracted some funny looks at the airport while waiting for my kids' plane to take off because I kept chuckling while reading.
The romance itself is mostly foam, since the pair doesn't actually spend much time together, although they spend the first half of the book remembering each other and their brief marriage.  Crusie then packs the haunted house with a large cast of characters pinging off each other in predictable and surprising ways.  Crusie used Henry James's The Turn of the Screw as her inspiration (a book I read decades ago and have only the foggiest memory of), which gives it an extra intellectual spice.  Only Crusie looked at everything she found annoying about James's governess, and started with fixing that. The little girl is a bit too precious, and the brother doesn't get quite enough screen time, but mostly the book is just a fun way to spend some holiday time.  A

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Lost Have Been Found: More Picture Books

Several picture books went missing a month ago during some frantic cleaning.  One kept floating to the top of the flotsam and then sinking again, the other just stayed missing.  But both have finally emerged and been captured in the library bag, which means both that I don't have to pay a huge fine and that I can continue Reading My Library:

  • Image of itemSlugs in Love, by Susan Pearson.  A woman slug woos with poetry, but the man slug's poems can't connect.  Will true love prevail? Will this book be found? Yes!  I particularly liked the pictures with the baseball cap nestle snugly beneath the eye stalks.
  • Image of itemIf You Give a Cat a Cupcake, by Laura Numeroff.  Standard pattern, with a bit less logic than usual, but that may be because cats have minds of their own.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Don't Want a Bad Romance: Siren's Call


I chose Siren's Call: A Dark Tides Novel by Devyn Quinn from the Q shelf so I can swoop on through the last letters of the Alphabet Challenge, but it was hard to finish.  The romance was annoying in that the main obstacles between the characters were 1) they had no reason to like each other and 2) her ex boyfriend (whom everyone hated) shows up, so the new boyfriend sinks all his money into a partnership with him.

The writing had a bad habit of telling rather than showing, and often telling the opposite of what it was showing.  I shall invent some lines to describe what I mean: "She looked at him uncertainly.  Although she had never been comfortable with men, this one left her hesitant, unsure what she wanted to say or do. She said, 'Take off all your clothes so we can have sex right now.'"

To make matters more annoying, the science fiction aspects had me banging my head against any sturdy surface.  She's a mermaid, he's a rich handyman, and her ex-boyfriend is a treacherous scientist, so they all join together in a archaeological dive looking for traces of mermaid civilization.  She swims down to an ancient temple and accidentally summons the two men to this underwater site.  No one worries how they are going to get the air-breathers out because obviously the most immediate concern is to start excavating what looks like a tomb but is actually a portal to the mermaid dimension.  Sadly, the mermaids in that dimension are mostly mean types who want to take over our world with their super-powered magic ray guns.  The only way to stop them seems to be for our heroine to cross back to the bad dimension, but that would interfere with her new wedding plans so it's not really an option.  The end!  D-.

On the other hand, my twelve year old quite liked it.  He read from the discovery of the portal, because he came to ask why I was beating my head on the side of the car.  He did have to skip the sex parts, but since they are completely divorced from anything happening to the plot or characters, that wasn't hard.  (Oh no, they got thrown in a bare cell.  Time to have sex for several pages before the mermaid can remember some more previously unmentioned powers.)  He gave it a B.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Very quick trip this week, although I'm also going to include last week's haul, since I never got around to mentioning that.  I heroically avoided both the new book shelves and the quick picks, even resisting the tempting offers of the new kidlit books, and only checked out my holds, so many books in, only four books out.

My hold shelf offered up:
  • Yu-gi-Oh #9, but it has already gone off with the boys so I won't be reading it.
  • Dark and Stormy Knights, urban fantasy short stories about do-gooders
  • Why Buffy Matters, by Rhonda Wilcox.  Literary analysis of a tv show
  • Feed, Mira Grant.  For an online book club.
Last week I got: 
  • Burndive, by Karin Lowachee.  Sequel to Warchild, I expect it to be extremely depressing.
  • Crossfire, by Dick & Felix Francis.  I expect it to involve horses.
  • Sinful in Satin, by Madeline Hunter.  I expect it to involve sex.
  • A Wallflower Christmas, Lisas Kleypas.  Ditto, but with Christmas romance.

    Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 48. Stuff on my card: 46.  I'm getting very close to my age!  A few more years and I'll be there.

    I'll go sign up for Library Loot this week. That's a weekly event hosted in turns by Clare's The Captive Reader (this week's host) and Marg's The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader where bloggers can share their library finds of the week. Some of them make me look restrained.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    More Lies My Teacher Told Me: The Wordy Shipmates

    I've had Sarah Vowell on my reading list ever since reading Nick Hornby's reading reviews, and the need for a "V" author propelled her up the stack. The Wordy Shipmateslooks at the early years of the Puritan settlements in America, reading the diaries of Winthrop, Williams, and others to see what they thought as well as what they did.  Vowell doesn't hesitate to make judgements or call even her favorite players on inconsistency, but she also shows a hearty respect for the people involved.

    It's definitely a second order book; it helps to have a good idea of the general sweep of the history, because she tends to focus in on specific events and people.  I enjoyed the history lesson with the spoonful of humor to make it tasty.  B+

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Peaceful Adventures: Sky Burial

    Sky BurialI'm now in the mad rush to finish the A-Z challenge, which I've been ignoring.  So I went to the library and hunted up books for the authors I am missing, which was a fun way to choose my reading.  For X, I had slim pickings, but I'm pleased with my choice: Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet, by Xinran.

    All the books I've read that were translated from Chinese give me a sense of distance and calm, which I'm coming to associate with Chinese literature.  I have no idea whether the books read this way in the original, but I hope I'm getting a sense of the real story.  In this case, that effect is heightened by the many stories-within stories -- the frame of the book seems to be Xinran, but I'm not sure of that, and the book itself concerns itself with a woman's life story as told to her, which includes many of the stories of the people she meets.

    The cover proclaims the book to be "an epic love story of Tibet" which I misunderstood as a romance between the narrator and her husband, but is really the love between Tibet and its inhabitants.  Shu Wen's husband is lost during the Tibet-Chinese war in the 1950's, but Wen hopes he may not be dead and goes to Tibet to looks for him. She suffers various misadventures in her first year, and is adopted by a wandering family. Thirty years later she continues her search.  In between and during the final search she learns to love the land and its religion, as well as the people she finds.

    I know almost nothing of the conflict between China and Tibet, so I was as much in the dark as the rural people who barely know of the existence of China. And the distance of the text lulled me into a gentle read, so that I was a bit astonished to realize thirty years had gone by in the mountains. An interesting and lyrical story that I'm glad I stumbled into.  B+

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Slacker Round-Up

    Although I've been neglecting my blog so studiously, I've read a few books.  Not that many, since I accidentally rediscovered Spaceward Ho! on my computer.  I'm not sure I'll have time for small things this year, such as celebrating Christmas, what with my renewed obsession and all.  Galaxy conquering takes time, after all.

    What have I read this month?  And actually I recommend all of these.
    • Pegasus by Robin McKinley.  I enjoyed it, but it is clearly half a book.  Every sentence was tasty, but I did get the feeling that the book was a bit long for the story it told.  
    • Wolfsbane (Aralorn), by Patricia Briggs.  Fun fantasy, with strong guy complete with emotional problems, just the way I like 'em.  I did find out that my understanding of the ages of the characters from the previous book was all wrong.
    • Things That Are, by Andrew Clements.  Gosh darn it, I thought this was the second in this series, and it's the third.  Oops. 
    • Warchild, Karin Lowachee.  Great first person characterization, which was hard because the narrator was a horrifically abused child in the midst of several wars.  Not a typical light-hearted space-opera type war story.  
    • What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, by Jana Reiss.  Ethical and moral dilemma of our times, as expressed by Buffy and her co-stars.
    • Zach's Lie, by Roland Smith.  It's tough to be a seventh grader when your dad is arrested for drug smuggling and his crime-lord bosses want to kidnap you to prevent him from turning on them.  Zach deals with the witness-protection program, but knowing his dad is a crook is hard.  More adventuring than angsty, though.
    • Gil's All Fright Diner, by A. Lee Martinez.  Book club for Dirty Sexy Books (which this book doesn't qualify as).  Amusing book about a small town with a lot of demons.
    • Touched by an Alien, Gini Koch.   Science fiction romance about aliens working to protect the world, as our heroine discovers.  They are all gorgeous, but only the women are super smart.  Which makes the men a bit insecure.  Frivilous fun with some sex thrown in.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Jumping Jellybeans: Jack of Clubs

    Barbara Metzger loves to play with words, making jokes and twists with almost every sentence.  It's fun to read her books, which are mostly historical romances playing in the Regency.  But the setting in Jack of Clubs is so fragile that it's hard to keep the gossamer plot alive.  Even the characters don't seem to believe in their world, so their problems aren't big enough even to giggle at.

    It's a fun book at the sentence level, but doesn't work at any scale bigger than that.  C-

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Still Reading Along In My Library


    Although I've kept it a secret from my blog, I'm still reading along in my library.  I took a brief break in an attempt to get my library count down, but now I've happily relapsed into pretending I'm eligible for all AARP related discounts, based on the rule that you can't check out more items then your age.  Hey, perhaps I was born on Mercury, you know.  Or I count in dog-years.  

    I'm on the M-P's in picture books, with some happy choices and some draggers:
    • Image of itemCaptain Raptor and the Space Pirates, by Kevin O'Malley and Patrick O'Brien.   Dinosaur pirates in SPPPPAAAACE.  Picture books just don't come much better than this comic-book style adventure tale.
    • Do Not Open This Book!, by Michaela Muntean.  We all loved this meta-story about a book not yet read for reading, with words lying messily around and inspiration unhappily gone missing.  Both the fourth grader and the sixth grader guffawed loudly, and then insisted I read it as well.  I particularly liked the warnings to avoid turning particular pages.
    • Image of item
    • Just In Case, by Yuri Morales.  I picked this book for its timeliness, since we read it in early November, but I hadn't noticed that it was an alphabet book.  None of us really like alphabet books, so we grumped through it.  It was interesting to learn all the letters in the Spanish alphabet, and I amazed the fourth grader by guessing the final twist, but even the colorful illustrations weren't enough to overlook the dreary march through the letters.  It's good at what it does, we just didn't want it to do it.
    • We Planted a Tree, Diane Muldrow.  A surprisingly fun book about the benefits of tree planting.  Despite the clear didactic intent, the bright and detailed pictures of families enjoying trees all over the world, from Paris to deserts to New England gladdened our hearts.  Although P smirked at the factoids ("The sunshine went into the leaves.") he agreed that it was a pleasant read.
    • Good As Goldie, by Margie Palatini.  We've long enjoyed the companion book about a toddler and her baby book (Goldie is MAD!), but I think I missed this one.  It resonates because the baby is named Nicky, just lie our cousin.  And now we can all look nostalgically at the young toddler thinking she is big, when clearly everyone under six is really an infant.  
    • Image of itemThe Moonglow Roll-O-Rama, Dav Pilkey. Lush pictures and charming quatrains reveal the secret lives of animals under the full moon.  Our favorite was the littlest duckling, who didn't see as much of the event as his siblings.  I balked at the pillow under the dog's head at the end -- my suspension of disbelief doesn't go that far.
    • Book Fair Day, by Lynn Plourde.  This bait and switch tale follows a small bibliophile tragically stuck at the end of the book fair line.  Although clearly meant as a funny story and without ever allowing a doubt of the happy ending to surface, I admit I found it a bit nightmarish.  I mean, imagine being the LAST class to go to the book fair, and imagine peeking in all day to see all the books selling out, and the evil forces of bureaucracy yanking you away, and...  Perhaps I have issues.  P thought it was funny.