Sunday, September 25, 2016

Novik, Naomi (Throne of Jade)

As second books often are, this one was not quite as good as the first. I forgive Novik for this because I love the world she has built. I do worry a bit that the series is 9 volumes long, and a friend who also loves sci-fi/fantasy said she got bored after about three of them. I think I should probably drag out my reading of them so I don't get bored too fast!

It's easy to see why that can happen - if only because the language of the period (the time of the Napoleonic Wars) is formal and seems quite stilted when you read it for a long while. Obviously, that's also part of the appeal. If only I could have been born in these times, when insulting someone involved long, drawn-out paragraphs said ever-so-politely, with which you had to tease the insult out of the words. It seems like an amazing thing to learn how to do (and it would slow us down a whole bunch if we did it today, which is a good thing).

In this volume, we move away from the dreaded French to the unfathomable Chinese. There's a deep mystery at the core of the book - which when revealed is not as mysterious as it seemed at first - and along the way we enjoy an extended sea journey with huge storms, sea serpents, other dragons, pretty much everything you can think of. I do, however, hope that we are not subjected to a sea journey on the return because there's only so much I want to read about a man and his dragon sailing halfway around the world.

I did actually get tetchy with Temeraire this time around! Although all his actions are explainable, I was pretty damn sure I wanted a dragon at the end of the first book. Now I'm very much less sure.

Brundage, Elizabeth (All Things Cease to Appear)

It's not even a love-hate relationship with this book. It's a hate-confused-more-confused relationship with the book.

I'm not a big fan of reading about people and relationships that are simply awful. I see and read about plenty of that in real life, and if you're not going to make these folks sympathetic then I just don't see why I should be reading about them. Especially if one of them is borderline sociopathic! I wouldn't have a problem with a book that tries to provide several sides to the development and continued existence of a sociopath - if done delicately - but this book is not that.

In fact, this book is all over the place. At its core, it's attempting to use Swedenborg (philosopher) and Innes (painter) as a backdrop to understanding a situation that seems to involve both ghosts and pretty damn bad marriages. You figure out how that backdrop works; I had enough trouble with it that I'm not going to try and explain it here. It's not that the book didn't keep my interest (for the most part), but it's the kind of interest that is all about waiting to see what happens next in the train wreck. I'd stop reading and want to shake myself physically to get all the bad juju off me.

The ending was both confusing and understandable at the same time, and I don't even want to finish this review. I just want to forget I ever read the book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

King, Laurie R. (The Murder of Mary Russell)

Well, that one was a doozy. What does one think one's getting into with a title like that?

The insinuation in the title is decidedly reflected in the writing, and don't worry, I won't give anything away. But the plot essentially shivers with confusion around not knowing what is true and what is not, especially as it flips the dialogue and action between three of our tried-n-true characters.

Surprisingly, for the first time, King makes Holmes look the ittiest bittiest bit of a dolt. It's minimal, but it stretches the credulity of her series to suggest that Holmes did not "figure out" a huge turning point in the plot. Not that the readers necessarily did either, but she makes it go on far too long, and we get tired of what Holmes is clearing not perceiving and definitely should be. Is she trying to actually age Holmes? If she's heralding an end to her writing of the series, I will start hyperventilating.

This volume contains a lot of Mrs. Hudson. I've barely thought twice about that character, which is probably why King chose her, as someone whose backstory she can easily mess with. Boy howdy, does she give her a whopper of one. Gotta love King's panache here.

The book also has one of the best endings I've ever seen King write, and that's saying a lot. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Did I just see an entire legion of Sherlock scholars gasp in horror and permanently avert their eyes? I await the next book in the series with great anticipation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stiefvater, Maggie (The Dream Thieves)

A gratifying, but odd, second book to the series.

I think Stiefvater wanted to pump up the action a bit, since this book revolves around the one character from the previous novel that you ended up hating by the close of the book - Ronan. And what's clear in book 2 is that she's trying to take typical teenage boy activity, i.e., Ronan front and center, and suss it into something that works within her magical realism.

And it mostly works. In that Ronan is a fascinating character once wholly explained by allowing him to speak on the page. You get a better sense of why his home life is beyond bonkers and why what happened to his father matters so much in the worldview of the series. But the teenage boy activity - while also explained in those terms - was too over the top.

In addition, the creation of the Gray Man, and how his storyline comes to a close at the end of this book was utterly unsatisfying to me. Did we really need him? Did we need him just for Maura? If so, what was the ulterior motive to that? Is it only leading to something that's necessary in book 3? Because he was, well, gray, and therefore unknowable, Stiefvater can't paint him in any sort of detail. That's ultimately aggravating and nothing else.

But, yea, you can't drag me away from book 3. On the hold list right now.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hannah, Kristin (The Nightingale)

While I didn't think this was as stellar as All the Light You Cannot See, it's not really a fair comparison. These are novels with vastly different approaches.

All the Light You Cannot See is mostly about the similarity of experiences of citizens and soldiers on both the German and French sides. The Nightingale relies on true-life stories of French resistance fighters, those in it from the beginning and those who had resistance thrust upon them. I will completely agree with anyone who says that Hannah knows how to weave stories, because she kept me reading late at night, wondering what the next heart-stopping or unthinkable circumstance would be. I admire how she told parallel stories - both sisters in distinctly different circumstances and how they survived - and brought them together and apart as it befitted the storyline. She has built something wonderfully complex as well as mostly recognizable, and that is worth some kudos (for bravery, if nothing else).

I did wonder at her choice to include the concentration camps towards the end of one of the sister's storylines. This was barely 15 pages long, and that kind of short shrift is surprising in a WWII novel, if it's being told at all. I felt a little like Hannah had run out of steam but that she felt she had to add this in or it wasn't close enough to the truth of WWII, in general.

I also thought it was a bit of a cheat not to let on to which sister was telling the tale from old age, because I don't think that layer of mystery was necessary or added to the plot in any way. It also made me snort that a dying woman would insist on walking around Paris in high heels. But I did live in Italy, and that does seem to be the case on the continent. Nothing would keep you off heels on cobblestones, not even if you were dying!

Friday, August 19, 2016

King, Laurie R. (Dreaming Spies)

It's fair to say I liked this round better because it involved books, libraries and the Bodleian itself. Including whether it's at all possible to break into the Bodleian to swap out a reproduction for an original (ie, doing the right thing) which made my palms sweat (ie, feels very, very much like the wrong thing).

I also enjoyed King's take on Japan, especially the world of Japan when Hirohito was still Crown Prince. King sprinkles small reminders throughout of what US policy towards Japan at the time implied for the upcoming World Wars. As well as providing a lot of cultural information, to explain to a novice why Japan's customs may seem so odd to us Westerners.

The mystery itself was a bit too standard. It was clear who the real "bad guy" was almost right away, and the reveal of where the mystery book was hidden was truly blasé. But things got a little bit more twisty towards the end, also not completely unforeseen, but complex enough to be satisfactory.

Also, I'm nearly caught up! One book to go... until King writes her next one.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Novik, Naomi (His Majesty's Dragon)

Wow, it's been a long time since a fantasy book affected me that much. Especially a fantasy book about dragons.

It's because Novik knows how to create good characters. Strangely, her main human character is deeply loyal and empathetic to his fellow humans and dragons, but he lacks... enjoyment in things. In other words, he's a little bit too austere to be completely likable. I believe Novik has done this on purpose, to create weakness in her main character, but I'm not wholly convinced it has worked the way she wants it to. It's true that she's created that as well in her main dragon, who's just a touch too bloodthirsty and doesn't quite get the concept of loyalty to king and country right off the bat.

Novik worldbuilds well - the Napoleonic Wars with "aviators," that is, teams of men and women who ride dragons - and provides just the right amount of tension between the good aviators and the bad aviators (on both sides of the Channel). When the person you end up hating the most gets a bit of what's coming to them, you want to fist pump the air. That's surprising because I've read a lot of stories like this and not been as moved by these moments as in this book. This could be the effect of the book's voice - posh, and definitely 1800s, and building the plot slowly in layers - which belies its power in terms of storytelling.

I keep forgetting I finished the book, and get excited that I'll be able to sit down and read more of it, followed by deep disappointment. Fortunately, there are 8 more till the conclusion!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atkinson, Kate (Case Histories)

I should be well familiar with Atkinson's style of über-description, and not be distracted by it at the beginning of the book. I do feel like she went to the school of "go off on a tangent when you get the chance" and also the school of "don't worry, the reader will love it". Only, I don't always love it. It makes reading the book go both fast and slow. Fast because that description is always fascinating, and slow because I get irked that she is not getting to the freakin' point.

Regardless, I did enjoy the novel, even with its bizarre plot. The first three chapters throw you for a loop (don't be dissuaded by them, though), and it's not even obvious until a few more chapters in that there is a protagonist to this story, and that he will actually be a central focus. Well, central focus is putting it a bit strongly - he will be integral to the completion of the story. Well, completion may be putting it too strongly...

OK, now I'm just teasing. It is, after all, a mystery and the best mysteries are not wholly finished. Especially if one is planning a series around them. This Atkinson does in spades. I didn't love the ending - but not because the story wasn't wholly finished. I just didn't like what she ended up creating as a lifestyle for Jackson (our protagonist), as if this was what he would always have wanted.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sanderson, Brandon (The Rithmatist)

This Sanderson was way better. I despair that I have started yet another Sanderson series - what am I up to now, four? - but I am glad I finally got around to this one. (In fact, I may give the rest of Mistborn a miss to concentrate on this one and Stormlight. Wait, there's only one left of Mistborn? Well, ohh-kay.)

I didn't expect Sanderson to actually bow to pressure and write something with true steam-punk flair! It shouldn't really surprise me, since his books are so very close to this genre to begin with (those Mistborn coats, as case in point). But here he takes it one step closer to something super geeky.

At first, it just makes no sense. Wait, I can draw a line on the floor in chalk and stop a bullet? Excuse me? But there's something about this book that isn't only a specific depiction of a faith-filled, and question-filled, world. I think it's because for the first time since Stormlight, I've read characters of his that are this enticing.

It's not perfect. I would have liked Joel to shut up already about not being a Rithmatist. I would have preferred a little less evil-looking professor. I would have far preferred being given more of a primer on what the hell Nebrask is, why it exists, what the history is there. He's sketched the world here, but at least the characters are fully realized.

And Melody. Thank you for writing Melody. Up with brassy, moody chicks!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Haldeman, Joe (The Forever War)

What was most fascinating for me about this classic was how fascinated I was by it.

This is straight-up hard sci-fi, no bones about it. Yes, it's also military sci-fi, and that's important in how it relates to other military sci-fi that came before and after, but at its core it is written by someone steeped in science. Because of how it's told, we feel a huge amount of empathy with the grunts, even when those grunts move up the chain of command. That was fascinating to me, because it's hard to write sci-fi (or anything) from the perspective of the "nobody" when that nobody keeps gaining more power.

There are some strange references to homosexuality for about half the book, and then it gets serious about describing the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality in the future. At first, I was a little horrified at how dated the book was feeling, and then I was bemused, and then I was fascinated. While it absolutely, definitely, no question is written by a heterosexual, it tries, in unexpected ways, to be open to differences in sexual orientation.

And lastly, it was fascinating because I was happy about the ending. Why should I be happy about this ending? It's a surprising way to finish a novel with a bummer of a denouement. It makes it seem as if we should be pleased about the handful of folks who've survived the entire plot. I think Haldeman knew that the readers fully understood the horrific nature of the plot, and that it wasn't worth drilling that home any more than needed. In the end, at least someone gets what they've deserved, and that's worth celebrating.