30 December 2009

The Time Pirate; Ted Bell

The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure (Nick McIver Adventures Through Time) The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish I could get my MS boys interested in this series, because it seems to have everything they want all in one package: wars (in this case, the American Revolution and WWII), flying, pirates, gun and sword fighting, spying and the "magic" Time Machine. The accuracy of the events is, of course, limited by the Time Travel, but Bell's comments about anachronisms should pique any readers interest in further historical fiction.

ARC provided by publisher

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29 December 2009

Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes; Theo Aronson

Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes Queen Victoria and the Bonapartes by Theo Aronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read this type of book I'm reminded of the lack of real background many Americans have about who overlapped whom in world history. This account of Queen Victoria's relationship with Napoleon III and, more specifically, his wife Empress Eugenie is filled with the types of details that make history so fascinating. The disparity between the two women's looks and sense of dignity, for example, speaks volumes.

I particularly liked the fact that the foreign terms were simply left, no translation provided.

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Little Brother; Cory Doctorow

Little Brother Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this after seeing the theatrical adaptation in Chicago this past summer. Doctorow's vision of techno-rebellion in the face of increased surveillance/"security" certainly resonates (just last week we had yet another attempted bomber on a plane) but... there's part of me that vividly remembers what happened on Sept. 11 and is not convinced that we have gone too far in our methods. Sure, some are stupid and some are just ill-planned (really? a color-coded alert system??) but we do have an enemy with whom there is no middle ground for bargaining.

His love of technology led to several passages I just had to tune out (how one sends a tunnel in or through DNS, for example) but the rest of the story sounds relatively plausible, particularly the bits about the rest of the country not caring about SF and the gradually creeping increased measures. One would like to think that we couldn't get to that point here, but it's a definite possibility. When he went off on a tirade, as with the conversion of a "real" neighborhood to create City Center, again: tune out time.

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28 December 2009

So Much For That; Lionel Shriver

So Much for That So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This "searing, ruthlessly honest new novel" (per the back jacket) is more polemic than novel, and very timely in terms of the health care debate. The characters seem to exist as vehicles for extended lectures on the health care crisis, asbestos, subsidized housing and other topics, rather than in their own right. Unfortunately, this meant that I didn't actually care about them, or their issues.

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The Eternal Kiss; various

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desireedited by Trisha Telep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On their own, I'd probably have enjoyed the stories (sorry, tales) more. But taken together, and as part of this seemingly never-ending tide of vampire stories, not so much. Occasionally there was a glimpse of something new and different with the genre, but mostly it was just the insertion of a vampire, or vampire lore, into a rather generic story.

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26 December 2009

War Dances; Sherman Alexie

War Dances War Dances by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another collection of short stories from Mr. Alexie, and another chance to laugh (sometimes shamefacedly) at the tragic humor. His stereotyping of Indians is, at times, difficult to read (is it "natural causes" when an Indian dies of alcoholism?) but that makes his words all that more powerful.

His tale of his menengioma struck home because a friend had one; his did not require surgery, hers did. Other stories hit in different ways, none terribly comfortably. Luckily, they're always short enough that the discomfort doesn't reach the 'put the book aside' level, and there's always humor mixed in.

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Woe is I, Jr.; Patricia O'Conner

Woe is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English Woe is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Conner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute examples will help younger readers/students understand the intricacies of English grammar. Recommend even though I disagree about comma usage.

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The Magicians; Lev Grossman

The Magicians The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading the jacket, you'd think that this was purely a "magic" book - steeped in Lewis' Narnia, Rowling and others of that ilk. However, the relationships between the main characters seemed far more informed by Tartt's The Secret History than by anything else. I mean really, what other SFF book for teens has a threesome?

The similarities to the other source books were sometimes clever, and sometimes a direct ripoff (who didn't see that Janet was Jadis from early on in the book? her distress in the Nietherlands was just icing on that cake). The clever stuff made me want to read more, while the rest made me roll my eyes and think "really, that's the best you can come up with?"

One particular niggle was the retreat upstate. If you can drive, with relative ease, to Buffalo for supplies, you cannot see the sun setting in the Adirondacks. You just can't. The sense of Brooklyn, on the other hand, felt real.

Overall, a good read that I'd recommend to anyone who likes this genre. What I hope - pray - is that this is Grossman's only trip to Fillory. More would be, well, too much (just as I enjoyed his earlier work, but found that it was enough).

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24 December 2009

The Dower-House; Annabel Davis-Goff

The Dower House The Dower House by Annabel Davis-Goff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An Aga-saga, this time set in mid-century Ireland. The author does a great job detailing the decline of the Anglo-Irish way of life: the set rituals, the delicate class prejudices and structure (who knew about pearls and paste?), the slow seeping of change. This is one of those leave-it-to-your imagination books, where the ending is a gentle glide rather than a full stop.

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23 December 2009

Best Friends Forever; Irene S. Levine

Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend by Irene S. Levine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I know the author!)

As the year winds down and we make lists (of course checking them twice), don't we also think about our friends in a slightly different light: is this a gift friend? a card friend? an invite over for eggnog friend? can I ignore them this year? and a multitude of other variations. Or am I the only one?

The reality is, many of us are, or have been, friends in unequal relationships that we still include under the rubric BFF. Then, when it goes south, we feel responsible and guilty and well, it's not necessary. It's good to get away from those toxic relationships, and this book can tell you how (and how to spot one). It would have added to the book for her to discuss the various gradations of friendship - IMVHO we leap all to quickly to the word "friend" when what we mean is "colleague" or "acquaintance."

I'd love to see a follow-up on male/female friendships, but I suspect that might be a generational thing; my mother doesn't have any males in her life that aren't family or "the husband of...".

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20 December 2009

Miss Bianca trilogy; Margery Sharp

The rescuers ;: Miss Bianca ; The turret The rescuers ;: Miss Bianca ; The turret by Margery Sharp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a delightful trilogy - I'm not sure why the Miss Bianca books appear to be out-of-print, but I do hope someone corrects this soon! This series is very British, with talking, heroic mice rescuing prisoners of all stripes. The Prisoner's Aid Society will be familiar to anyone reading "those sorts" of British books, as will the characters (I loved Miss Bianca's attitude of noblesse oblige at all times).

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Candor; Pam Bachorz

Candor Candor by Pam Bachorz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stepford lives - not an incredibly original concept, but interesting execution. Candor (yep, intense irony alert) is a town in Florida created by a man whose reality is just too difficult to bear after his eldest son dies in a freak diving accident. If only Winston had listened!

So off the family goes, to a world created by subliminal Messages programmed by Campbell Banks (wonder if the name is a deliberate riff on the family from Mary Poppins)... except they drive Mom away and Oscar is able to reprogram not only his brain but those of others with enough money to pay for his Special Messages. Oscar's cockiness at being able to fool his father and the rest of the town telegraphs his fall loud and clear.

Since most teens have never heard of Stepford (except perhaps as a bad Nicole Kidman movie), this will definitely appeal. And perhaps make them wonder about those seemingly goody-goodies in class.

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The Brutal Telling; Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling (Armand Gamache, #5) The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having finished four-in-a-row of this series, I can firmly state that Ms. Penny needs an editor. It's one thing to have repetitive tag lines (how many times did Rex Stout remind us of Nero's 1/8 acre of yellow silk pajamas?), it's another to repeat paragraphs. At times it feels as though she just doesn't know how better to describe or comment on something.

Other than that, my affection for the characters continues as does my enjoyment of the plots. Luckily, I don't have another sitting here and by the time the next one arrives my problems with her writing will have receded.

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19 December 2009

A Fatal Grace; Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace: A Three Pines Mystery (Armand Gamache, #2) A Fatal Grace: A Three Pines Mystery by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book that cites one of my favorite Beau Dommage songs? How cool is that?!

Armand Gamache really is growing on me. If Ms. Penny were a different, sparer author, he could be Quebec's answer to Commander Dalgliesh. The only nit I have to pick with this series is that she does tend to get a little repetitive with her descriptions, but the story is a huge help in getting over than nit.

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13 December 2009

A Rule Against Murder; Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder (Armand Gamache, #4) A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really liking this quiet, less deliberately twee series - it's similar to the Richard Jury series in many ways, but Armand seems more real than Richard, and his relationships also feel more real and less "written". Sometimes Grimes' books feel as though they are written for maximum effect (is this character strange/annoying/pathetic/tic-y enough?) while I don't get that impression from Penny's writing. It's also made me want to visit the area in which Three Pines exists - having spent much time in the Northeast Kingdom and in Montreal, it's a pity I've never explored the English Townships in between.

As with many in this cozy procedural genre, skipping around doesn't seem to matter. Can't wait to read the rest, in whatever order.

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11 December 2009

The Way We Were; Marcia Willett

The Way We Were: A Novel The Way We Were: A Novel by Marcia Willett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet another AGA saga, so nothing really to discuss: the usual "things from the past coming back to haunt us", misunderstandings about love and friendship, etc. This didn't actually have an AGA, but still it very much fits the genre's mold.

And, of course, it's a great reading-palate cleanser.

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06 December 2009

Lit; Mary Karr

Lit: A Memoir Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Note to self: stop reading memoirs about people who simply survived something (horrible parents, poverty, being "different").

I know this is heresy, because Lit is appearing on so many Best Lists, but "meh". Yes, Karr's childhood was difficult - her parents were not what we would consider to be good parents, and she had things to overcome on her way to being an adult, a writer, a whole person. But beyond that? "meh"

Here's one of my problems with the book. I love writing that sounds good, words that just feel good to read. A.S. Byatt... Julian Barnes... Robertson Davies... P.D. James... they all have that ability. Karr? She's enamored with words, to be sure. But I, the reader, shouldn't notice that. I should be so engrossed in the story that the technique and the love of words doesn't hit me over the head, I should just feel wrapped up in them. And unfortunately, after reading this, my head hurts.

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05 December 2009

Nation; Terry Pratchett

Nation Nation by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Asking if I liked this is one of those trick questions: it's Pratchett. Of course I liked it.

Having said that, let me say that this non-Discworld book was pretty good. Not as funny as Discworld, and a little heavy (at times) on the polemic (but no more so that some of his more recent Discworld books), but the story of Mau and "Daphne" was fun to read. I wish there'd been more footnotes... and the ending was a bit of a cop-out.

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01 December 2009

When You Reach Me; Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Books like this leave me tongue-tied (finger-tied?) because so many others have been so eloquent about why this is a great book, and I'm not up to their level.

Having said that, I felt for Mira and her confusion about her relationship with Sal, her struggling to find other friends (and succeeding), and her realization about "never feeling meaner than the moment you stop being mean". The 12-year-olds here are really 12 - it doesn't feel as though the adult writing the book is trying to remember what it was like, she knows what it was like.

As for the tie-in to A Wrinkle in Time, well, that was one of my favorite books when I was 12. I remember having discussions with my father about tesseracts and time travel; he was never as informative as Marcus.

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Inside the Jihad; Omar Nasiri

Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda by Omar Nasiri
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure where to begin with this one: the in depth "behind the scenes at a jihad training camp"? the ineptitude of the French (and British and German) intelligence services? the casualness of dedication to a specific jihad in favor of any jihad? All of the above?

Nasiri's tale of his life as a spy is at times riveting and at times horrifying but always readable. When describing his training, I kept thinking about how the guns, explosives and chemicals were simply toys to him - you can almost see him internally jumping for joy the first time he handles an AK-47. His motivations for joining in jihad are a mixture of belief in getting American (and European) influence out of Muslim lands, the opportunity to play with cool toys, and his desire to be "taken care of" by the DGSE.

I wonder how many other jihadis share his background and his sensibilities, and whether we will ever be able to find a middle ground.

Copy provided by publisher.

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