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Oct. 4th, 2008

  • 12:17 PM
Sand Castle
#61: Black Wine
Candas Jane Dorsey

Library book. Read this on the recommendation of a friend. It's hard to summarize; sort of a tale of several women all intermingled. Maybe it would make more sense on a second read, though I don't know if I'd make it through again. The prose is very literary. There's very little world-building, and while there are reasons characters go unnamed or change names, it gets very confusing at times. It's really quite a marvel at how the book is written and put together, but, as a whole, I don't get it. But then, I've never been one for extensive metaphors and having to fill in things that aren't there or catch a single sentence or word that changes the whole meaning of a piece. It won a Tiptree, and some other award, and she's a good writer, but this book just isn't for me.

But, for a more erudite appraisal, read Jo Walton's review on Tor.com.

#62: Sea of Trolls
Nancy Farmer

Audiobook. Boy and his sister get kidnapped by Beserkers, and boy has to go on a Quest for the Magical Object to spare his sister's life.

This one is . . . eh. It's largely based on Norse mythology. Lots of Trolls and Odin and Thor and Yggdrasil. Though Beowulf is thrown in there, which confused me for a while because I couldn't get a grip on what kind of a world this was supposed to be. And the boy is a bit passive; doesn't do anything to earn the tutelage from a bard (magic user) except be nice and totatlly misunderstood by his parents. He shows some spunk later on, but the darn quest just keeps going and going and going. I dunno. I did start listening to it in the car, then had to take it back to the library, and checked it out again so I could finish it. So there's something keeping me listening. And the boy's companion on the quest, Thorgil, is fairly original.

And every time I see the title, I keep thinking of Hamlet's speech, and "to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them." Overall, it's okay, but not something I'd read or listen to again.

Sep. 24th, 2008

  • 2:17 PM
Sand Castle
#58: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Robert O'Brien

Audiobook. I got this because I always loved the cartoon and wanted to see how similar they were. They are . . . and they aren't. There's no magic in the book. No magic amulet. It's all science. The part where the rats are in the lab is given in much more detail. Jeremy the crow doesn't come back so often in the book, but he still gets rescued from the cat and is trying to impress girls. Jennar is still the enemy rat in that he opposes giving up technology, but he doesn't actually show up in the book. The name changed--Frisby to Brisby--ostensibly because Brisby was easier to say. Overall, nifty to listen to, and interesting. Oh, the one thing that got me were all the references to modern, human things in language--"like fingernails on a chalkboard" or some such--when I couldn't figure out how the rats would know, no matter how well-read they were. There's a lot of telling too, but the book's a bit dated. STill worth the read though.

#59: Eulalia
Brian Jacques

Audiobook. Another in the Redwall series, this time about an orphaned badger who wants to wreak vengeance on his captors for slaying his grandparents. Largely the same tale as many Redwall books. The audio is entertaining, because they have a full cast of characters. Jacques narrates, and he's got about a dozen others doing voices. And there's music. Slightly cheesy, but heartfelt. Though I am getting rather annoyed that all the bad/evil critters are always vermin and always STUPID. And all the good critters are always smart and cute.

#60: Kushiel's Mercy
Jacqueline Carey

Library book. To marry the woman he loves--and the one woman in the kingdom that he's been forbidden to marry--Imriel de la Courcel agrees to a task he despises--to find his mother and bring her back for justice. But before he can, an evil befalls the kingdom that threatens all he holds dear, and his forbidden love may be the only key to the kingdom's salvation.

Dude, I liked the last book, but this one was just as good. And if you're looking for strong women characters, this one has a very, very good one, and thankfully it's not the cliched kick butt take-no-prisoners type that's been showing up in a lot of urban fantasy. Sidonie rocks. She's got brains and guts. And there's no frakking politics or gender role assumptions that get in the way, which is nice.

No complaints at all. A lovely, fantastic ending to the series. Carey is damn good at dealing with tension and making things worse, and worse, and worse again. Really good.

I still say skip #4, but #5 and #6 are must reads.

Sep. 13th, 2008

  • 1:48 PM
Sand Castle
Haven't posted in a while because I've been lazy so I'm keeping these short. Likely I'm forgetting a couple. Oh well.

#52: Wide Awake
David Levithan

Very good, thoughtful book. SF, because it's in the future and there's some weird bits of technology in there, and because it's "what if we had a gay, Jewish president? What would you do if someone tried to alter the votes in that election?" I liked this one.

#53: Boy Meets Boy
David Levithan

Good, light book about a blossoming relationship in a very offbeat, LGBT-friendly school (the captain of the football team is a trans woman) and various LGBT issues brought up and resolved thoughtfully.

#54: The Moorchild

Audio book about a half-fairy folk child that grew up as a changeling and never quite fit. Read quite well with lots of lovely Irish accents. Generally good, though after a while I just wanted something to happen besides the poor kid getting into trouble again.

#55: Nightmare
Steven Harper

Re-read. SF with a gay protagonist, about a kid brought into slavery and then rescued from it by a group of people dedicated to finding and teaching those able to enter the Dream, a psychic plane where one can communicate over great distances, among other things.

#56: Dreamer
Steven Harper

Second (chronologically) in the above series. Someone's destroying the Dream from the inside out.

#57:Renegade's Magic
Robin Hobb

I had lots of problems with this book. Some of it was POV (1st person from a guy who shares his body with a more dominant personality) and it was, well, boring. Like, Harry Potter lost in the woods and camping for months boring. I skimmed a lot. And it had LOTR movie-style endings; like, oh, it's over. no wait, there's more. Oh, wait, there's more. Gah. Third in the series, which is the only reason I stuck through it, but, dude, go find other Hobbs to read. Not the Soldier Son trilogy.

Aug. 4th, 2008

  • 7:42 PM
Sand Castle
#51: Heir to Stone
S.L. Farrell

Library book. This book is the last in the Cloudmages trilogy, and everything pretty much goes to hell in this book. Meaning, events do, but the book is fun. That is, if you like things going from bad to worse. I did, and Farrell is very good at making his characters suffer in satisfying ways. :>)

#52: Woman who Rides Like a Man
Tamora Pierce

Audiobook. This was part III in a series. Dunno which one. This was fun; Alanna the female knight goes out to find herself (in a way) and ends up becoming a shaman of a desert tribe. Read by a female narrator, and the way she did voices took a bit of getting used to, but I did.

Only quibble was that the book wasn't stand-alone. It filled in the blanks of what happened in the past just fine, but there were some unfinished plot lines that presumably carry over into the next book. I do like Pierce's characters. They have very real emotions and seem very human. I want to hear (or read) more, but, alas, the library doesn't seem to have more.

#53: By George
Wesley Stace

Library book. This is an odd, amusing tale tracing the life of a ventriloquist's dummy from its original owner to his grandson. About half is told from the POV of the dummy. His name is George. So is the grandson's.

Anyway. I read another book by Stace, MISFORTUNE, and was quite happy to see another book by him. BY GEORGE is just as witty and weird and family-driven as the other one. The family business is show business, and the book shows the impact it has on four different generations. The whole format is quite clever in the way the stories are intertwined.

And Stace seems to have a thing for cross-dressers. MISFORTUNE had one as the main character; this one has a background character as one.

#54: Wolf Brother
Michelle Palaver

Audio book. Read by Ian McKellan! (Which I didn't notice when I picked it up, but, WOOHOO!)

This is a primitive YA tale about a boy who goes on a quest to slay the unnatural bear that killed his father and is accompanied by a wolf cub. I enjoyed this one (Ian McKellan notwithstanding) because it was a good adventure and coming-of-age tale. The setting is great, from forest to plains to glaciers, along with lots of animals and plant life and details of how clothing and food was made. Fun book.

#55: I feel like the Morning Star
Gregory Maguire

Library book. This is the same guy that went on to write WICKED, and, well, he's learned a lot since writing this YA book. I read it because someone recommended it that it was one of the rare examples of YA LGBT SF, but there were only a few vague references that a character might be gay, nothing overt.

Basically, this is a tale of a post-apocalyptic earth where a motley colony of people live in an underground compound. They were told that they'd only be there for a few months, but months turned into years, and there are still guards for reasons that the child protagonists don't know, and the Elders seem to have no inclination or rush to leave.

So, it was a bit odd. Big metaphor about freedom, though. But there were a lot of unanswered questions for me, so, overall, the book was unfulfilling. Oh well.
Sand Castle
#48: Mage of Clouds
S.L. Farrell

Library book. Part II of the Cloudmages series. I'm stealing the synopsis from the third book's bookflap: "Jenna's only daughter, Meriel, is caught up in the power struggle between Jenna and her half brother Doyle. Thrust into the hands of her mother's enemies, Meriel becomes a pawn in a deadly game where individuals are worth far less than the clochs na thintri." (clochs being the stones of power.)

I liked the first book better overall, but I did enjoy this one, which is a bit calmer than the first one. It has a lot of focus on relationships and choices, especially between Jenna and Meriel. It largely is an exploration of a mother/daughter relationship and how the daughter learns to become her own person (as the dedication had suggested.) Very much a female coming-of-age story, and a nicely done one at that.

And I'm halfway through the third book in the series, in which Farrell is his back to his entertaining, knife-twisting, bloodthirsty self. It's great. :>)

#49: Wild Magic
Tamora Pierce

Audiobook from the library for the car.

This was a pleasant surprise I happened upon in the library. Hadn't read any of Pierce's stuff when I was younger, and this was my first introduction. I really enjoyed it, more so because Pierce was the main narrator while a complete cast filled in the characters around her.

Daine, an orphan, finds work with a horsemisstress because she's got a "knack" with animals, and soon learns that her "knack" is far more than she ever thought it would be. She gains both human and animal friends, but a secret from her past may keep her from being all that she is capable of.

The characterization in this was spot-on; it felt like Pierce got all of Daine's nuances just right, and she felt very real. I would have loved this as a kid, since I loved anything with animals. And being able to talk to animals, like Daine, would have been right up my alley.

#50: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mark Haddon

Audiobook from library for car.

See, once upon a time I did have this book, about the adventures of a kid named Christopher with Aspberger's who starts out trying to figure out the mystery behind who killed his neighbor's dog and ends up solving a far different mystery, but I lent it out and never got it back. Grrr.

Anyway. The audio of this is fantastic; highly entertaining, and the narrator gets Christopher's voice (and those of the people around him) just right. The story is good, too, but this time, the audio totally makes it.

Reader and Raelynx

  • Jul. 8th, 2008 at 7:25 PM
Sand Castle
#47: Reader and Raelynx
Sharon Shinn

Library book. Mind-reader Cammon and his Mystic friends do their best to protect princess Amalie from those who make attempts on her life and her throne.

I admit to skimming the last third of the book because I didn't care about what was going on. Cammon--arrggh. This was sort of his book, like the three previous ones focused on a different character, but he drove me nuts. There were many moments when he was little more than an innocent, naive puppet with no assertiveness, and there were others when he served as a voice of reason. I could never get a grip on him, and I kept waiting for him to change or to realize something about himself and do something, but he didn't, really. He didn't change. Or if he did, it was very subtle and I missed it. He's sort of too good to be true; I find it hard to like a character that has no vices except those that come from naivete.

Overall, the book is fine, but I did have a few peeves. I admire anyone who writes a book with an ensemble cast; it's hard to give everyone enough attention and to flesh them out. But it also caught me up a little bit because this started out as one character's story and pretty much ended as another's, and none of the other folks had plot arcs, really, they were just support or hindrance for the two main characters.

But there were a lot of times when certain types of magic seemed to appear because it was convenient. Character A needs more power? *poof* character B discovers he can route magic. Men dying on the battlefield? *poof* a character discovers she can heal too. I dunno. The magic has limits, it has a cost like good magic should, but so much of it felt put in for convenience. The origins of it are explained and plausible though.

I suppose I'm trying to compare it to, say, a magic that has a few limited variations, like, for instance, in Lackey, where there are mind-readers and fetchers and empaths and healers. There's the rare odd magic, like a firestarter. Or in the Dragonlance books, the magic and magic-wielders are much more specific. I think Shinn's bothered me because there were random gifts and gifts added on top of gifts with no idea of how many more would appear, and again, it felt convenient. Some of them were foreshadowed, at least.

Anyway. This felt like a very final book to the series, so I'm not expecting more. Out of the four, the third (DARK MOON DEFENDER) was the one I liked the best (because the characters and stakes weren't so spread out) and the first, MYSTIC AND RIDER, came in second. This one was all right, and the second I didn't care for at all.

And I do hate being mean to books. This is a good series at heart, there are plenty of things to like, I just wanted more out of it than I got.

Brilliance of the Moon, Shadows Return

  • Jul. 8th, 2008 at 6:15 PM
Sand Castle
#45: Brilliance of the Moon
Lian Hearn

Audiobook from the library. The third book in the Tales of the Otori series, though it's the fourth chronologically.

In this one, Otori Takeo faces the prophecy given to him by a sage: five battles to fight, four to win and one to lose, and his wife, Kaede, is kidnapped and forced to marry another, crueler man.

I still adore this series. I like the guy who does Takeo's voice, though Kaede's POV still grates a little. But, fortunately, there weren't that many Kaede sections in this one.

Basically, if you haven't read these, you should. And I wish the fourth book was on audio, but if it is, I haven't seen it at the library. Boo.

#46: Shadows Return
Lynn Flewelling

Bought this and got it signed. :>)

Alec and his lover Seregil, now out of place and out of favor in their usual haunts, are sent by the queen to fetch her sister. Along the way they're kidnapped, because Alec's half-faie ancestry gives his blood a certain property that a southern alchemist will do anything to get.

This book surprised me and made me blink several times in disbelief at the level of abuse the protagonists and others endure (I don't feel so bad about some of my own work now.) There is quite a bit of M/M goodness in there, and some very tender and sweet moments and some good characterization moments.

I liked it overall, though not quite as much as the previous one in the series. All in all, a worthy addition to the series, and a must-read for any Flewelling fan.

Holder of Lightning, Darkhenge

  • Jun. 24th, 2008 at 10:15 PM
Sand Castle
#43: Holder of Lightning
S.L. Farrell

Library book. Though why it was in the YA section, I don't know.

Loved this one. Really did. Have to admit, I'd seen it on bookstore shelves for years but never paid much attention to it, because I'd noticed DAW had been favoring big thick trilogies based on old cultures with strong female protagonists. I picked up a Gypsy one, and it was okay. Tried the Norse one and didn't make it through it. Saw this one was Celtic, and didn't try it.

This one, I should've bought ages ago, though maybe it's more valuable to me now in its own way. Jenna is the first to see the mage lights return to the sky, and picks up a glowing stone that turns out to be the most powerful of the clochs, stones that have various magical powers that can be used for good or ill. Jenna can't put the stone down despite the pain it causes her when it's used, and now everybody wants her, or, more appropriately, the powerful stone.

This is a book that, from the perspective of what all the pros tell you to do, does everything right. Magic has rules and a price? Check. Tension in every scene? Check. Three major turning points for the protagonist? Check. All the loose ends are tied up nicely. And Farrell is very, very good at making things worse. And worse. And even more worse. Several gut-wrenching scenes in here. Characters are all great, and it's hard to tell who's on which side, and it keeps changing. Very nicely done. So is the worldbuilding.

Anyway. I'm off to read the other two in the series here shortly. Can't wait. :>)

#44: Darkhenge
Catherine Fisher

Library book. This is the second I've read by Fisher, and I'm rather impressed. I liked this one better than the first, CORBENIC, but it's mostly because I'm not as into Arthuriana. This one weaves together two tales, the first a myth about Taliesin and Ceridwyn and the second about a boy dealing with the fact that his younger sister has been in a coma for three months after an accident.

So, for a bit of a comparison: both books have protagonists dealing with tragic, real-life issues that just hit you in the gut. Both involve secondary magical worlds in which the protagonist learns more about himself and his inner strength as he overcomes obstacles, including wrestling with the dark feelings that everyone has and no one wants to acknowledge. And both have legendary magical worlds that bleed into the present one--in Wales.

Darkhenge I liked, because it was, well, dark, and had a fun and intriguing cast of characters, all of whom were fully three-dimensional. All characters had good and bad sides and quirks.

It was just neat. Fortunately, the library has three more of her books for me to read.
Sand Castle
#40: Un Lun Dun
China Mieville

Library book. This was weird. Yes, I know, one expects nothing less from China, but this is the tale of two girls who find a way to go from London to Un Lun Dun; a place where old, lost and broken items come to live, where they must find a way to stop a threat to both London and Un Lun Dun--the Smog, which has been growing more and more intelligent over the years.

And this book had pictures. I'd forgotten how fun and entertaining pictures inside a fiction book could be, especially how they're put within the text. China drew them all, and I'm especially fond of the carniverous giraffe. (Yes, I told you it was weird.)

Overall, it's well-written, very witty and creative. Bizarre. I was going to say it reminded me a little of Gaiman's Mirrormask, but China thanks Gaiman for helping him think of things to use, so, there you go. I probably would have liked it a bit better if I were younger, but there's still much to admire about this book, and it's definitely worth the read. Far easier to get into and finish than his other books, and there are enough twists that it's not your average second-world Chosen One plot.

And I'm particularly fond of Curdle the milk carton.

#41: The Mark of the Cat
Andre Norton

Library book. In a world where cats play a large part in society and myth, a young man known for his talent with beasts is shunned from his family and sent on a sort of walkabout to gain his manhood, and ends up finding a destiny heavily entwined with the fierce cats of the desert.

I actually liked this one a lot. The only other Norton I've read is WITCH WORLD, and that was some time ago. This was a pleasant surprise, with only two complaints; one is that it's written in first person, but there are two point of views, and the second comes unexpectedly and without explanation so it took me a while to figure out who was talking. The second was that it ended, well, in a good spot, but there was a lot built up (because of the politics surrounding the hero) that I would have liked to have seen how he handled it, but I didn't get to. (Unless there's a sequel, but I can't really look that up right now.)

#42: Grass for His Pillow
Lian Hearn

Audio book from library for the car. This book is largely about Otori Takeo wrestling with his past and his destiny while trying to stay alive and his love, Kaede, doing much of the same, though they're separated for nearly the whole book.

And it's really better than I'm making it sound. The whole series is good; perhaps it's just the fascination with ancient Japanese culture with some magic skillfully woven in, but I've enjoyed these. Should've started with the first one, but I listened to almost all of it on audio a while back, and I have the first book. I don't remember as much of it as I would have liked, though the second book does a good job of reminding you of what happened.

The audiobook is good. Well, I like the guy's voice, because he sounds much more natural and makes an effort to differentiate between speakers. The woman's voice, while it's Japanese so you know things are pronounced correctly, is much more halting and almost annoying. Neither does she change voices for characters.

Anyway. I'm on the third one on audio now. Yaay. Sure makes the drives go faster.

Fairest, Corbenic

  • Jun. 16th, 2008 at 9:55 PM
Sand Castle
#38: Fairest
Gail Carson Levine

Library book. Was wandering through the YA section, and saw this book was by the author of ELLA ENCHANTED, a movie I enjoyed, so I picked it up.

Aza's exceptional voice in a realm of singers make up for her less-than-lovely looks. She even teaches herself how to illuse--that is, to throw her voice and to imitate other voices and sounds. A chance encounter with a duchess raises her from her life as a maid at an inn and she ends up as the queen's chambermaid, and her desire to be pretty and her talent for illusing soon gets her into a world of trouble.

This was a fun, lighthearted, enjoyable book, although the ultimate moral of the tale is fairly obvious. It took some great twists and turns along the way. I liked this one, and would read ELLA if they had it, but they don't.

#39: Corbenic
Catherine Fisher

Another YA book I found while wandering that section in the library. This is a retelling of Parsifal (which I had to look up on Wikipedia, because I didn't know anything about it) who was one of the knights of the round table who searched for the holy grail. So there's a lot of Arthurian stuff here.

It's set in modern-day Wales, and is written by a Welsh author, which was cool. It's also a coming-of-age tale for Cal, who's had a miserable childhood with his alcoholic mother and who leaves to stay with his uncle, hoping that money will be his way to rise above his past.

I liked this one; I'm generally not one for Arthuriana, because there's a lot of it out there and I'd rather read something else, so what I pick up is by accident (hello, Susan Cooper), but this one had enough other plot stuff going on to keep me interested until the end. Overall, an enjoyable book.


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