29 June 2010

13 to Life; Shannon Delany

13 to Life (13 to Life, #1) 13 to Life by Shannon Delany
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish there were a .5 star so I could give this 3.5, but because I'm cranky about starting yet another series it's dropping to 3 rather than 4.

The pacing in this seems really off: there's a certain flow to the narrative until the very end (say, within the last 20 pages) and all of a sudden there's a rush to exposition and a real dash towards a cliffhanger ending that'll keep readers interested. If that had been cut in half, leaving that last surprise for the next book, it really would have been ok. Readers that like fantasy and romance will stay with a good series, cliffhanger or no cliffhanger.

Jessica's backstory is teased out in a good way, ditto Sarah's. But Pietr? There are drips and drabs and Big Hints, but that last 20 pages? I hope that the other characters get to play bigger roles in the next book because some of them seemed too interesting to just be wallpapering.

ARC provided by publisher.

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Museum of Thieves; Lian Tanner

Museum of Thieves Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The idea of a society where people are so afraid of being hurt and so protective of their children that they chain them isn't that big a stretch: pretty much everyone living in NYC has seen a pod of children holding on to a "leash", being walked by a nursery school aide or teacher. And our society is definitely heading in the direction of wiping out all germs, all diseases and anything that could possibly injure people (it's also heading in the direction of It's Not My Fault I Got Hurt and Who Needs Common Sense When You Can Sue).

The city of Jewel is there waaaay before us, and while it's not explicit, all individuality seems to have also been stripped away. Non-compliant children are put in punishment chains, or taken into Care, while non-compliant adults are put in the House of Repentance. Ruling over all this are two semi-dictatorial people, the Protector and the Flugleman (who happen to be brother and sister). It's never made clear what the Flugleman flugles, or how this power structure emerged, and perhaps that's for another book.

As each ill thing has been eradicated, the Museum of Dunt (perhaps a corruption of "don't"?) seems to have taken it in - there are shifting walls, rooms of oddities, rooms that clearly should be rooms in our sense of the word - all looked after by Keepers. Our heroine, Goldie, runs away on the aborted Day of Separation and finds herself in the Museum, learning its secrets and realizing that being an individual is, well, not always a bad thing.

Because this is part of a trilogy, there's a lot of exposition that could be done without (the whole finger-talking chapter, for example). One volume, tightly edited, would have given this a 4-5 rating.

ARC provided by publisher.

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28 June 2010

Bury Your Dead: Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead (Armand Gamache, #6) Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm really impressed with the intertwining of three mysteries in this latest Gamache mystery. The first is off-stage: who kidnapped Paul Morin, why, and what happened to Gamache and his team, told in flashbacks (on Gamache's part) and in narrative (from Jean-Guy). The second is Gamache's request that Jean-Guy unofficially reopen the case against Olivier (because, as Gabri keeps asking, "why would he have moved the body"?), flashing back to The Brutal Telling. And the third is Gamache helping (again, unofficially) the Quebec City Police as they investigate who killed a Samuel Champlain fanatic in the basement of the Anglo Literature and History Society.

There's more history here than in the previous mysteries, and the one I'd hope she'd answer was not: what is it, exactly, that les Quebecois souvien? I did like the image of that province as being a rowboat society - moving forward while facing back. My knowledge about the Battle on the Plain of Abraham (not a biblical reference, apparently, but the name of the farmer on whose land the battle was fought) and Champlain was increased, which was nice.

Unlike my recent reading of the new Lynley and Jury mysteries, the external characters in this one (mostly, the villagers in Three Pines, but also the members of the Surete) were brought in in thoughtful ways. I didn't sense that the author felt she had to talk about someone unless she felt they were essential to the plot.

ARC provided by publisher.

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21 June 2010

Lost London; Hermione Hobhouse

Lost London Lost London by Hermione Hobhouse

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This could have been a really fascinating book, but the prose style was a bit much (how many "very important" buildings or "serious losses" were there? repetition tends to lessen the impact of those words). There was also minimal discussion of each building, another disappointing factor. Finally, there should have been more maps and more "after" photos. The redeeming quality was the photos of the lost buildings (lost to the Blitz, poor planning and deliberate destruction).

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20 June 2010

This Body of Death; Elizabeth George

This Body of Death (Lynley #15) This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bloat. Nearly 700 pages - at least 300 of which are bloat. I don't know if this was down to the author's inability to cut, the editor's inability to suggest changes to the author, or the publisher's desire to create quite the doorstop but really, 300-400 pages would have done just fine.

I'm also not sure I like the direction that Lynley is going, personally. It's difficult having to bring him back to the Met after the loss of Helen, but there are elements of his return that give me pause. His relationships with Havers and his new boss, Isabelle Ardery just seem slightly out of line with the rest of the series.

As a mystery, I felt as though I'd read something similar before (yes, I know there's a formula and there are limited ways in which a murder can be performed and solved) but there was something here that keeps niggling at me. Not quite plagiarism, but an idea that someone else had also played with. In any event, I was less impressed with this than I've been with other Lynley/Havers mysteries.

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The Black Cat; Martha Grimes

The Black Cat The Black Cat by Martha Grimes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Grimes' series has definitely made a comeback; while not as strong as the very early books, The Black Cat is certainly better than, oh, Stargazy. What drags her down is the very large cast she's created: we don't need to meet them, or hear about them in every book. We don't need to visit Long Pid in every book. The addition of Trevor and Harry Johnson were great, but then leave out Marshall Trueblood.

It's also noticeable when she drops in information that British writers would take for granted that readers know: "The Knowledge" or that the M 25 is the Ring Road. Still, a series I'll continue to read.

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19 June 2010

The Americans; Alistair Cooke

The Americans: Fifty Talks on Our Life and Times The Americans: Fifty Talks on Our Life and Times by Alistair Cooke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In one of these essays Cooke remarks on the difference between being alive during certain events and actually living through them: I found myself remarking on this difference as I read about Watergate, the death of Bing Crosby, the porn wars in the Supreme Court and other events I'd been alive for (and some I remembered reading about and talking about when I was younger). The thing is, that the ten years that this book covers (1969-1979) are the ten years in which I slowly wakened to the world around me. The only external memory I have of the events of 1969 were the Mets winning the series (I do remember the '68 Democratic Convention, but barely), which he doesn't cover, while by his 1979 essays I was saying "oh yes, I remember that".

Sadly, some of his commentary still rings true, particularly the bits about politics, politicians and day-to-day life. These essays were a great way to reacquaint myself with the recent past.

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E.B. White; Scott Elledge

E.B. White: A Biography E.B. White: A Biography by Scott Elledge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this so close to having read Weir's Mistress of the Monarchy illustrates the differences between Biography Then and Biography Now; Then is far less novelistic than Now. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, jut an observation.

White's life is definitely that of a previous age, when not going to college with a Plan was acceptable. His upbringing is rooted in the 19th century (although I'm not sure that being born in 1899 qualifies one in quite that way) and it's that emotionally stiffer time that he seems most comfortable. His treatment of the women in his life, including his wife, is described as not being overwhelmingly emotional (the letters and misunderstandings between him and Alice, for example). Yet in his writing he clearly can strike an emotional chord with readers. On the other hand, it could be that in this style of biography the emotional side is far less interesting (hah!) than the factual side. His hypochondria is given a semi-tolerant gloss, without divulging terribly much about what seem to have been some very real physical and psychological issues.

As I read this book I was wondering why there was no mention of one of my favorite children's books, Mistress Mashem's Repose Silly me - it was written by the other initialed White, T.H.! This White, E.B., wrote poems, letters, essays, editorials and books that have interested readers of all ages (although Stuart Little did not win the approval of the Head Children's Librarian at NYPL). It just may be time to read some, starting with a re-read of Charlotte's Web

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15 June 2010

Matched; Ally Condie

Matched Matched by Ally Condie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this made me think I was reading someone's idea of a mash-up between The Hunger Games (strong central government with rebellious/problematic Outer Districts) and The Giver/Gathering Blue/etc.. Like HG, this will be a trilogy and honestly, it doesn't need to be. I know that there's been some discussion about the ambiguity of the ending in The Giver - why do we need clear-cut resolutions? Why isn't allowing each reader to figure out what happens next for themselves enough any more?

The Society in Matched is supposedly based on reason, on providing an equitable, healthy life for all citizens. Every moment of one's day is dictated (limited choices for "free recreation" times, food deliveries of specifically formulated nutrition, etc.), and "information overload" was been averted a few generations ago when committees 'sorted' the Hundreds (the Hundred Poems, Hundred Songs, Hundred Historical Events, etc.). After your 17th birthday, you are Matched with someone - by 21 you'll Contract, and you'll have all your children by 31; at 80, you'll die, because that's a healthy lifespan.

Cassie's family is typical, with the exception of her Grandfather, just about to have is Final Banquet (so glad it wasn't called the Last Supper!). After Cassie's Matching - unusually to someone she already knows - he encourages her to question that practice, and to question the Society. His few words have a huge impact on her life, and ultimately the lives of her family.

Because this is a planned trilogy, I'm guessing that we'll soon see Team Xander and Team Ky face-offs. Like Katniss, Cassie is a bit of a rebel, yet unlike Katniss she is a more intentional rebel. Much as I hate the idea of a trilogy, it will be interesting to see if she evolves faster than Katniss.

ARC provided by publisher.

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10 June 2010

Nightshade; Andrea Cremer

Nightshade (Nightshade, #1) Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first thought when seeing this book was "oh no, not another book about horror movie creatures updated to sexy protagonists" (eg, vampires, zombies, etc.). Lucky for me, this new take on werewolves is better than that; one might say that this isn't about werewolves at all, it's about dual-natured creatures that can shift between human and wolf form at will. So, slightly different.

Calla's life has been defined by being an alpha in a pack of Guardians, knowing that she will marry (mate with?) Ren, another alpha. This is who she is, what her life has always been. Shay, a normal human guy, arrives in town and her assumptions about her life change, as do her relationships with her pack and Ren. Her confusion about these changes, as well as her emotional distress at being caught between Ren and Shay mimic the real-life confusion many of us go through as we reach the end of our high school careers and explore dating (and other relationships). I particularly liked that Shay wasn't just there as the Exposition Human, that the world of the Guardians and Keepers (and, to some extent, Searchers) was slowly revealed without huge passages of "and then this, and then that" narrative.

My biggest complaints were: the pop cultural references (those get dated really fast!); the way in which a handful of students, possibly 20 total, somehow terrified and cowed the rest - unless the school was far more exclusive than the book implies, it just doesn't make sense; and the abrupt ending. Yes, this is yet another series and clearly you need to end with a cliffhanger, but I felt as though it ended almost in the middle of a sentence (it doesn't, quite). I know that the second book will follow this story, not pursue another narrative thread that takes place in this world (as Fire or Scumble do). I feel manipulated into buying another book, which makes me feel a little resistant (although I probably will buy it).

ARC provided by publisher.

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08 June 2010

The Yiddish Policemen's Union; Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen's Union The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've never read a real noir before, so I don't know how this measures up to the genre; I've read my share of Yiddish-influenced stories before, and this is an ok addition to that genre. As a combination, I could see where Chabon was going, but I don't think he quite got there.

The weaving together of the possibility of a Jewish state in Alaska, the desire of some Chasids (and fundamentalist Christians) to bring the Messiah closer by reestablishing the Temple, chess and Tliglit culture in a noir mystery is a pretty interesting concept. Where it fails is that there's no real context for much of it: if you don't understand any of those worlds, the story doesn't make sense. The use of Yiddish throughout is enough to confuse most readers! As for the mystery piece, I wasn't that surprised by the whodunnit or whydunnit parts, perhaps because Chabon was too busy building his world to make them more difficult (or plausible) to spot.

The jacket cover's phrase "a novel that only Michael Chabon could have written" is one of the stupidest I've read in a long time. I mean, duh. If this had been written, even with the same elements, by Robinson Davies or A.S. Byatt or even Rick Riordan, it would have been a different novel! Having said that, one of the things I enjoy about Chabon's work is that he is willing to dabble in different genres.


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01 June 2010

Scumble; Ingrid Law

Scumble Scumble by Ingrid Law
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this more than I liked Savvy (although I still am not thrilled with Ms. Law's use of the word "savvy" to mean "special gift/power"). In part it's because the story is tighter - no interminable bus ride - and in part because Ledger is more appealing than Mibs.

As with all savvy families, Ledger's is one of hiding the truth and celebrating among family that which makes them different. In his case, Mom's got a gift, Dad just runs well. Of course, the savvy Ledger wants isn't the one he gets (same as with Mibs) and the book is filled with coming to grips with being who you are, with or without a gift. SJ and Winona are wonderful additions to the cast, and I enjoyed the twins, Samson and Rocket's presence.

This is one of those sequels that is set in the same world as the original, but doesn't really continue the story of the original. I don't think a real sequel would have worked quite so well, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.

ARC provided by publisher.

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