30 May 2010

Julie and Julia; Julie Powell

Julie and Julia Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was one of Julie's "bleaders", and my parents watched Julia Child (as did I when I was younger), so reading this was an interesting mix of "oh, so that's how you turn a blog into a book deal" and "oh, so that's how she made it" moments. As anyone who occasionally tries exciting recipes knows, reading cookbooks is a balance between the easy, the simple and the never-gonna-try-it. Julie's year-long battle with MtAoFC is truly impressive (and while I loved the movie, the book's better).

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29 May 2010

Theodore Boone; John Grisham

Theodore Boone Theodore Boone by John Grisham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the place where I admit I've never read a John Grisham book... until now (haven't knowingly seen any movies based on his books, either). If his adult books are as fun as his first YA book was, I just might have to change that.

Theo (don't call him Teddy) is an 8th grader with a preternatural affinity for the law; the son of two lawyers, he spends most of his free time in their office, or running around the courthouse. Apparently he has (or had) asthma, a plot device that gets him out of playing sports and into their office after school. He's also giving out free advice - and legal referrals - to his friends, which makes him sound a little like Lucy van Pelt but with some genuine knowledge to back up what he's saying.

The biggest trial in town in decades is underway and somehow Theo gets involved, and in a way that seems plausible but barely so. His ability to hack into legal resources is a little unbelievable, but I suppose it could happen. It's also plausible that someone that young would be seen as a resource for classmates, but for adults? Not quite. His relationships within the courthouse seem on a level with "favorite pet" or "mascot", which is quite believable.

The cliffhanger ending was a little annoying, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the next book in this series.

Copy provided by publisher.

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Mistress of the Monarchy; Alison Weir

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Alison Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wanted to give this book 5 stars - I loved Mary, Queen of Scots and Eleanor of Aquitaine but, well, the dearth of contemporary evidence about Katherine's life leads to too many uses of "perhaps" and "we can assume" (among other phrases) for this to rate more than a 3. YMMV, of course.

It was fascinating to learn about life during the 1300s, and the vibrancy with which Ms. Weir describes the daily doings, royal and otherwise, is why she's one of my favorite historical writers. Why I'd never heard of Katherine de Roet Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt is a mystery to me; perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention to those royal family trees. I'd also never heard of Hainault, a principality in what is now Belgium (and it apparently has nothing to do with the area of London). There were times when I felt that non-British readers might be a little at sea reading this, but most of the time it was clear who was doing what and why.

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22 May 2010

Tenth Grade Bleeds; Heather Brewer

Tenth Grade Bleeds (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, #3) Tenth Grade Bleeds by Heather Brewer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I said when I read the ARC of Eleventh Grade Burns, I really like this vampire series: no sparkles, but an interesting twist on vampire lore mixed with adolescent boy angst.

Yes, I'm reading this series backwards - next up with be Ninth Grade, which apparently Slays.

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09 May 2010

Espedair Street; Iain Banks

Espedair Street Espedair Street by Iain Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all, this is NOT a book by "Iain M. Banks" - it's by Iain Banks (in other words, it's fiction, not science-fiction). Second, why he's do difficult to find in the US I'll never know. Every book I've read is just good, solid fiction writing, equal to Julian Barnes, Robertson Davies and many other top echelon writers.

Espedair Street is a real street, but it barely figures in this tale of Wierd, the stage name for one Daniel Weir (in school he was Weir, D. - get it?). He's the lyricist and bassist for Frozen Gold, a hugely successful rock band in the 70s-80s until their lead guitarist dies. Told partly in flashbacks of his days with FG and partly in his present guise as Jimmy Hay, caretaker of St. Jute's, the folly that Weird bought, drinking his way through life and occasionally creating a jingle or a movie score. His current friends don't know who he is, or that he's stinking rich; his former friends/fans think he's dead (or perhaps living in the Caymans). It all comes abruptly to an end when he realizes that his brilliant ideas have killed (inadvertently) to of his bandmates. So, what was that about a future?

The characters feel real - even though you know this is fiction, you could plausibly meet someone just like them. The writing is crisp, not the bloated stories that often appear today because somehow bigger = better.

Seriously, if you don't know Banks' non-scifi work, find one of his works of fiction and read it, now.

02 May 2010

Lord Sunday; Garth Nix

Lord Sunday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #7) Lord Sunday by Garth Nix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The conceit of a House, designed by an Architect who leaves only after creating a Will and indicating that a mortal will be the Heir interested me from the start of Mister Monday, and Arthur's adventures throughout the Keys to the Kingdom series have never failed that initial premise.

The way in which Suzy, Doc, the Mariner, the Piper, Dame Primus and Leaf engage with Lord Sunday and Arthur's acquiring the Seventh Key are all in keeping with their roles throughout the series. I particularly liked Elephant, Daisy and Admiral Giac, they made nice additions to the cast.

Some may find that the theological questions raised in this series are too much; I think that if your faith is strong enough, the ideas that Nix raises won't shake them. The ending, where Nothing takes over and the Universe may (or may not) start again leaves one with hope for the future. Given the play that 2012 (the Mayan End of Days) and all the other versions have had, this is relatively mild.

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The Man in the Picture; Susan Hill

The Man in the Picture The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a creepy book in the Picture of Dorian Grey or the Daphne du Maurier sense - the horror is psychological, without using many of the modern horror themes. It's also a quick read, which keeps the sense of impending doom present (in other words, the author hasn't gone on and on and on about things, which often happens and causes my mind to wander enough to lessen the creep factor).

One word of advice: this is a much better read on a cold, damp, rainy day than on a sunny day! My bad.

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Thirteen Days to Midnight: Patrick Carman

Thirteen Days to Midnight Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carman's latest centers on the question "what if your superpower were to be indestructible"? It's an interesting question: would you spend your life (your very long, long life) saving others? would you become a daredevil? could you share your power with friends? could you even tell your friends about it?

Jacob has to deal with all of this, and the fact that his driving killed the only father he'd known (a foster father, actually, and one he'd only lived with for a year). His friend Milo and new girl Ophelia are along for the ride, each experiencing the knowledge a little differently. I think that readers will relate to at least one of their reactions, if not fall somewhere in between after a while.

As for me, if I could have a superpower, I'd want something really useful, like always finding a parking space or being able to get 24 hours of work done in 12. Who needs anything more?

ARC provided by publisher.

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Guardian of the Dead; Karen Healey

Guardian of the Dead Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those normal-person-has-unusual-experiences/powers books (in the Fallen/Evermore/Harry Potter continuum). What really sets it apart is that the setting is New Zealand, an area of the world and a mythology about which most readers will know very little. So while the plot seems rather run-of-the-mill, the introduction to Maori mythology (specifically creation myths and mythological creatures) will make up for that.

There's also some humor in here; the part that got me most was the "battle" between Ellie and Mark over research via Internet versus research via books. But then, I'm a librarian. The relationships between Ellie, Isis, Kevin and Mark are all very realistic and rather complex at times, something not often found in this genre.

ARC provided by publisher.

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01 May 2010

The Cruelest Month; Louise Penny

The Cruellest Month (Armand Gamache, #3) The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hate books that make me cry - although I'm sure that not everyone will find Lilium's fate as distressing. (and no, that's not really a spoiler)

This is almost two mysteries in one: the question of how Madeleine Favreau died of fright at a seance and the question of who has it in for Gamache. The former is a standard mystery, filled with dead ends and misunderstandings and finally that AHA! moment when the killer is somehow unmasked. The other is the thread that holds this series together, the back story to Gamache's life in the Surete. Is he ultimately a hero or a fool?

One of the things I've liked about this series is that while it's in the "slightly crazy villagers" realm of cozy procedural, the crazy villagers aren't quite as annoying as the ones in Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series (although those have been less annoying of late).

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Guardian of the Gate; Michelle Zink

Guardian of the Gate (Prophecy of the Sisters, #2) Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm being a little generous with this, as it's really a 2.5-star book, in large part because it suffers from series-itis: if you haven't read Book One, it will take you a while to get into Book Two (and I hadn't read Book One).

The plot is rather simplistic - battle between Good and Evil, set in vaguely Victorian era London. There's a Prophecy, and twins (Lia and Alice) who appear to be on different sides yet completely linked by this Prophecy. Book Two is largely concerned with a trip to a mysterious island, Altus, and the retrieval of missing pages from the Prophecy.

The other reason that I wanted to give the book 2.5 stars was because of Altus. It feels like a rip-off of the Avalon imagined by Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon, and part of me resented that. It may have been intended as an hommage, or an unconscious similarity, but... if you loved the original, you may be equally bothered.

ARC provided by publisher.

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