Imagine a world in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588, in which the Spanish Armada defeated the English, and in which in the 20th centur...moreImagine a world in which Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588, in which the Spanish Armada defeated the English, and in which in the 20th century the Catholic Church controls all of Europe and the New World, suppressing all technology beyond the level of the steam locomotive.
This is the world of Pavane, a book of six more-or-less connected short stories (called "measures", in the dance metaphor of the title) followed by an epilogue, or "coda". Pavane is remarkable not for the carefully worked-out details that characterize many alternate histories, but rather for its intensely visual style and hauntingly dark mood. Roberts started his career as an illustrator, and that shows in passages like this (from the first story, "Lady Margaret"):
"At three in the afternoon the engine sheds were already gloomy with the coming night. Light, blue and vague, filtered through the long strips of the skylights, showing the roof ties stark like angular metal bones. Beneath, the locomotives waited brooding, hulks twice the height of a man, their canopies brushing the rafters. The light gleamed in dull spindle shapes, here from the strappings of a boiler, there from the starred boss of a flywheel. The massive road wheels stood in pools of shadow."
With passages like this, Roberts sets the dark, grim tone that pervades the book. The world he presents is not a pretty one, and even the epilogue, with its hints of a brighter future, cannot dispel the somber mood, since it also contains a surprising and disturbing twist. Some of the stories are more successful than others, but all are powerful and intelligent; this is an outstanding work of alternate history, which deserves to be better known. (less)
I'm of two minds about this book. On one hand, the premise is interesting: physically enhanced, immortal operatives travelling through time in order t...moreI'm of two minds about this book. On one hand, the premise is interesting: physically enhanced, immortal operatives travelling through time in order to collect animals and plants otherwise bound for extinction, employed by the Company which has used time travel to take control of everything. I'm not tremendously convinced by the book's time travel theory, which is that history cannot be changed, but that that rule only applies to recorded history; that doesn't make a lot of sense to me (what's so sacred about recorded history?), but since this is the first of a series, I'm willing to trust that Baker perhaps explains further in future novels. The beginning of the book, in which we meet our heroine, Mendoza, rescued from the Spanish Inquisition to be turned into an operative of the company, is certainly intriguing and had me reading with a great deal of interest.
However, once Mendoza travels back to Tudor England, the book bogs down into an uninteresting story of the doomed romance between Mendoza and an Englishman who turns out to be a rabid Protestant, not a good thing during the reign of the very Catholic Queen Mary. Given that Mendoza up until that point has had nothing but contempt for the mortals she comes into contact with, it's awfully hard to believe in her almost instantaneous passion for Nicholas. Plus, although the period detail is well-done, I thought at one point that the novel had plunged into alternate history when it was stated as a fact that Mary had Edward VI (her predecessor on the throne) poisoned and had attempted to do the same to Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I); not a theory I've ever encountered before, and a highly unlikely one, which really bounced me out of the narrative.
It seems from reading reviews that the later books in the series improve in these areas, so at some point, I might try the next one. But then again, I might not. (ETA: And nearly five years later, I still haven't. But I really like her fantasy (see The Anvil of the World), so that's something.)(less)
Princess Torina is the seer, who glimpses visions in a crystal given to her by her father, the king of Archeld, who wrested it from the conquered king...morePrincess Torina is the seer, who glimpses visions in a crystal given to her by her father, the king of Archeld, who wrested it from the conquered kingdom of Bellandra. Along with the crystal, the king took Bellandra's legendary sword and hid it -- but he also took the prince of Bellandra, Landen, who longs to recover the sword and his kingdom. Eventually, Torina's fate is woven with Landen's, as her kingdom is endangered as well and they must turn to the high king, Dahmis of Glavenrell, for help.
Unfortunately, for a story that's full of political intrigue, the worldbuilding isn't quite deep enough to sustain interest; the many kingdoms are sketchily detailed, and there's little sense of their history or culture, which makes the interactions between them less compelling than it should be. On the plus side, Hanley has created several very engaging characters -- the bold Torina and the thoughtful Landen are an interesting couple, as she learns wisdom through the crystal and he learns to take action, and many of the supporting characters are nicely sketched out as well.
This is Hanley's first novel, and she's written at least one more in the same world; The Seer and the Sword was promising enough that I'll seek out the second book in the hopes of a little more worldbuilding and the same good characterization. (less)
Jamaica Inn is a dark, grim, yet exciting Gothic; after Rebecca, it's one of du Maurier's best-known books. (I thought I hadn't read it before, but af...moreJamaica Inn is a dark, grim, yet exciting Gothic; after Rebecca, it's one of du Maurier's best-known books. (I thought I hadn't read it before, but after the ease which with I guessed most of the plot, I think I probably have, years ago.) After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan goes to live with her aunt and uncle, who keep Jamaica Inn, avoided by respectable travelers and shadowed in mystery. When Mary discovers the awful doings of her uncle and his band of followers, she is torn between trying to end their activities and protecting her sad, nervous aunt.
As I said, I guessed most of the plot fairly quickly, but du Maurier's tense pacing managed to keep me in suspense most of the time anyway. I liked the plucky, intelligent heroine and thought the other characterizations were well-done, particularly of Mary's brutal uncle. I wasn't entirely convinced by the romance, but overall, the book worked for me quite well; I was particularly struck by du Maurier's vivid sense of place, of the gloomy moors and the wild sea coast. (less)
I'd been bouncing off new-to-me romance authors right and left for months, so I was hesitant about trying this, but I ended up liking it quite a bit....moreI'd been bouncing off new-to-me romance authors right and left for months, so I was hesitant about trying this, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. Gigi and Camden Saybrook have been living apart for years, ever since something happened on their wedding day to part them. When Gigi asks for a divorce, Camden returns from America, and sparks fly.
Thomas uses flashbacks to good effect to show their early relationship; refreshingly, it turns out to be a truly terrible mistake Gigi made, rather than an annoying Big Misunderstanding, so that it's understandable that the separation would have happened and lasted so long. I thought the ending was really too easy, though: the happy ending was given, not earned, and so wasn't as satisfying as it might have been. Also, though I liked the secondary romance (with an older couple), I thought it pulled the focus away from the main romance too much.
Still, I liked this more than enough to seek out Thomas's next book, Delicious. Oh and yay for the late Victorian setting, which was a nice change from the everlasting Regency. (less)
Mary Anne is an odd sort of beast, a mix of historical fact and fiction that doesn't quite work. Mary Anne Clarke was the scandalous mistress of Georg...moreMary Anne is an odd sort of beast, a mix of historical fact and fiction that doesn't quite work. Mary Anne Clarke was the scandalous mistress of George III's son the Duke of York; she was also du Maurier's great-great-grandmother. Clearly, Mary Anne led a very interesting life; unfortunately, though du Maurier succeeds in drawing the strength of her character, her style of telling Mary Anne's story is lackluster. It would have been better as straight historical biography or as historical fiction than it is as a blend of both; as it is, there's too much invention (largely of dialogue) for it to seem reliable as history, and not enough emotion or narrative drive for it to work as fiction. (less)
Don't you hate it when you've waited for something for years, and it turns out...disappointing? Peters' last book about art historian sleuth Vicky Bli...moreDon't you hate it when you've waited for something for years, and it turns out...disappointing? Peters' last book about art historian sleuth Vicky Bliss was published fourteen years ago, and since then, I and lots of others have been waiting for another one, while Peters continued to write more Amelia Peabody Emerson novels instead. (Not that I have anything against Amelia, but I think there are maybe more novels in that series than there need to be.)
The Laughter of Dead Kings isn't all bad, by any means. It was lovely to see Vicky, her lover and art-thief-turned-honest John, and her enthusiastic and rotund boss, Schmidt (who has a wonderful action scene near the end); the dialogue is still sharp, and I appreciated the return to Egypt, the setting of the last book. But the plot takes an awfully long time to get going; the first three-quarters of the book are simply slow. The last quarter, though, is much better paced and exciting, particularly in the aforementioned scene with Schmidt, and Peters does answer the long-open question of whether and how these books relate to the Amelia books, which is satisfying. I just wish she'd come up with a rather better beginning.(less)
Njall is a jarl's son who is taken to the wolfheall, where he takes a new name, Isolfr, and is chosen as companion by a young female wolf who will eve...moreNjall is a jarl's son who is taken to the wolfheall, where he takes a new name, Isolfr, and is chosen as companion by a young female wolf who will eventually become a pack leader. With her, Isolfr will lead the war against the trolls, who are coming down from the north in ever greater numbers and threatening the existence of the wolfhealls and all who look to them for protection.
Monette and Bear take on the animal companion genre and come up with a book that's a touch too grim and violent for my tastes (there's a lot of male/male sexual violence as well as violence in battle), but undeniably well-written and powerful, as they unflinchingly examine the implications of a true bond between human and animal, the gritty politics of a society which revolves around that bond, and the psychological effects of war. For a book that's got far more male characters than female, there's also a lot of interesting stuff about gender; Isolfr fills a rather traditionally feminine role in the wolfheall, and he meets some females of other cultures which make him think more about his role.(less)
Scalzi retells the events of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe Boutin Perry, who is John and Jane Perry's adopted daughter and near-goddess...moreScalzi retells the events of The Last Colony from the perspective of Zoe Boutin Perry, who is John and Jane Perry's adopted daughter and near-goddess to the alien Obin (who were given consciousness by Zoe's real father). Since much of The Last Colony, especially the ending (which was on the deus ex machina side), depends on Zoe's actions and choices, it seems reasonable to retell from her perspective.
Scalzi does a reasonably good job telling a complementary story without repeating too much, though I think I'm glad I read The Last Colony last year -- otherwise, it might indeed have been too repetitive and predictable. Zoe's voice and her teenage friends are well done, believably precocious, yet adolescently impulsive. I still don't buy the ending, which is just too easy, but I buy it a little more with the extra explanation than I did in The Last Colony. I do wonder if the two books would have been better as one more cohesive one, with alternating POVs from John and Zoe. (less)
Persepolis is the riveting story of Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Iran during the time of the Islamic revolution and the war with Iraq. I was actuall...morePersepolis is the riveting story of Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Iran during the time of the Islamic revolution and the war with Iraq. I was actually expecting not to like it (I read it for my book club), because it's a graphic novel, and because I read so fast, I generally tend to miss most of the art in graphic novels (obviously this is my failing, not theirs). However, I liked it very much.
Satrapi's art is minimalist and stark, which I think enabled me to take it in more easily. The text is understated as well, but taken together with the art, it paints a powerful picture. Satrapi shows the details of daily life along with the hardships of war and revolution, and though the subject is serious and often grim, the book is full of quiet humor and family affection as well.
Persepolis is funny, poignant, tragic, and truly eye-opening. I would recommend it highly even to those (like me) who don't generally like graphic novels. (less)
I can't rate this, because even though I finished it, I don't know what I thought of it. Right up until the end, I liked it a lot; the backstory Gross...moreI can't rate this, because even though I finished it, I don't know what I thought of it. Right up until the end, I liked it a lot; the backstory Grossman provides for Julia is even more interesting than Quentin's further adventures. (A lot more interesting, actually -- I found myself longing to get back to the Julia parts.) However, like The Magicians, it ends in a very open-ended, unsatisfying way. I had thought coming into it that it was the last book, but apparently it's to be a trilogy. When the third book comes out, then I'll be able to rate this as part of the series, but the ending makes it feel as though it doesn't stand on its own.
ETA: Have now rated, as with the trilogy done, this stands as a satisfying part of it.(less)
As with Agent to the Stars, this is a good idea with only adequate execution. It starts out as a parody, and a fairly funny one, of science fiction TV...moreAs with Agent to the Stars, this is a good idea with only adequate execution. It starts out as a parody, and a fairly funny one, of science fiction TV shows, and then it gets more serious. The problem is that the characterization mostly doesn't get beyond the level required for parody, and so when the more serious part of the plot develops, it's hard to care much about what happens to the characters. It's all amusingly meta, but I felt as though it could have been more than what it was, with more care and depth.
Also, (view spoiler)[it would have been nice to have more than one significant female character, especially as that one moves the plot along mostly by sleeping with one of the officers. It's agency of a sort, I suppose, but really, she couldn't have helped out by using something other than sex? (hide spoiler)]
I think I should just start avoiding Scalzi's comedy novels. I do generally like the Old Man's War series and think he gives himself a lot more room for characterization there.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Gillian Bradshaw is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, so I look forward eagerly to new books from her. Sadly, Alchemy of Fire was a disap...moreGillian Bradshaw is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, so I look forward eagerly to new books from her. Sadly, Alchemy of Fire was a disappointment (and I say that with great reluctance). Set in Constantinople in the 7th century CE, it tells the story of Anna, a perfume maker whose daughter is the product of Anna's union with the now-dead brother to an emperor, and of Kallinikos, a Syrian who has fled to Constantinople to escape the Arab invasion and is now working on a secret weapon with which to fight the Arabs.
Bradshaw is usually skilled at bringing other times and cultures to life in her fiction, but this time, the characters and setting fail to come completely alive. The dialogue is wooden (and filled with italics -- so many that I counted nineteen italicized words on two consecutive pages at one point), and I never really cared about the characters or the plots they were caught up in. Having been reading lately about medieval Islam, I was intrigued to see what Bradshaw might make of its clash with Byzantium, but unfortunately, the answer was: not much.
Skip this and go read The Beacon at Alexandria instead, if you haven't read Bradshaw before. You'll get a much better sense of what she can do with historical fiction. (less)
A milkmaid from Leicestershire, Lucy Wentnor is sent to her uncle and aunt in London after being attacked by Civil War soldiers and rejected by her be...moreA milkmaid from Leicestershire, Lucy Wentnor is sent to her uncle and aunt in London after being attacked by Civil War soldiers and rejected by her betrothed. Wishing to contribute her share to her uncle's household, she takes a dangerous position at a radical printing press and is soon caught up in political and personal turmoil.
Bradshaw is out of her usual period here, and it shows. She's obviously done her usual meticulous research, but the way she weaves in the historical details is oddly clunky, drawing attention away from the story rather than adding depth to it. The characterization is also rather thin, and although I liked hotheaded Lucy, I was never really convinced of her too-quick radicalization. I liked the romance, but I wanted more time for it to develop. I think it's time for me to lower my expectations of Bradshaw; I still find her books reasonably good, but she hasn't written one in years that I think is even close to the Byzantine trilogy or The Sand-Reckoner. (less)
In The Glass-Blowers, du Maurier reaches into her own historical background, as she did with Mary Anne, to tell a story of a family of glass workers d...moreIn The Glass-Blowers, du Maurier reaches into her own historical background, as she did with Mary Anne, to tell a story of a family of glass workers during the French Revolution. Unfortunately, also as with Mary Anne, although she tells an interesting story, she fails to make it emotionally engaging. The characters are often flat, even the narrator, and even the atmosphere and the sense of place, usually a strong point for du Maurier, aren't compelling. The story was just interesting enough for me to finish the book, but I was disappointed overall.
It occurs to me to wonder whether, when writing historical fiction based closely upon research and facts, du Maurier felt so tied to the historical facts that she couldn't fictionalize it enough to make it interesting. Frenchman's Creek is historical fiction, yet not based on historical characters, and it's much better than either The Glass-Blowers or Mary Anne. (less)
I struggled with writing about this when I read it way back in 2004, because I really liked it in some ways, but in others, it irritated the hell out...moreI struggled with writing about this when I read it way back in 2004, because I really liked it in some ways, but in others, it irritated the hell out of me. Clearly, there is a lot of truth in Douglas and Michaels's assessment of what they call "the new momism" -- American culture's highly idealized vision of the perfect mother -- and of how the media and many politicians have contributed to its growth. Their history of motherhood in the media is fascinating reading, and the chapter on childcare is particularly compelling in its analysis of how from Nixon's time on the government has failed to support childcare programs.
However, two things prevent me from being able to recommend The Mommy Myth whole-heartedly. The first is the tone. I've appreciated Douglas's witty style before, in her excellent Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, but this time, the constantly snide tone just detracts from the message of the book. It's tough to pick out a particular passage to quote here, but the tone is so pervasive that although I barely noticed it in the first chapter, by the end of the second chapter I was constantly rolling my eyes and wishing they'd knock it off (maybe it was the section about the fictional "Committee for Retrograde Antifeminist Propaganda (CRAP)" that did it).
The second and more serious issue is that although Douglas and Michaels claim to support the rights of mothers to make their own choices, they seem to have their own ideas about the right way to mother, and they frequently denigrate other choices, giving them lip service while writing about them as though you'd have to be crazy even to think about them. For example, they say of home schooling (which I probably won't be doing but have certainly considered) that "for some parents today, home schooling is the best and sometimes the only option they have, and they do it without an ounce of self-righteousness." Great, but since they've just spent almost a page describing home schooling in a very biased way and making it clear that it's something they would never consider ("we have no idea how any parent spends the whole day attempting to impart knowledge to her kids"), it's hard to believe that they're as open-minded as they act.
The Mommy Myth could and should be a valuable book, particularly for mothers who are feeling the pressure of perfection. It does contain a lot of valuable information and a lot of convincing arguments, and I think it's worthwhile reading for those. However, I would have been a lot happier with a book which was a little more serious in tone and a lot more objective. (less)
An Earthly Knight is Janet McNaughton's retelling of the old Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, the mortal chosen by the faerie queen to be her payment to he...moreAn Earthly Knight is Janet McNaughton's retelling of the old Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, the mortal chosen by the faerie queen to be her payment to hell. McNaughton's version is set in 12th-century Scotland, where her heroine, Jenny, is the daughter of a baron and the sister of disgraced Isabel, who ran off with a knight. (In an interesting twist, Isabel turns out to be the heroine of a different ballad, which I didn't recognize until she tells her story to Jenny late in the book.)
Readers who aren't very familiar with the ballad would most likely enjoy An Earthly Knight. The Scottish setting is interesting and well-done, though occasionally too heavy on historical details, and the heroine is likeably spunky. For me, though, the plot didn't have much interest or suspense -- it's a fairly straight retelling of the ballad, with very little faerie presence (and what on earth is the point of "Tam Lin" with not much faerie in it?). The faerie queen doesn't appear until near the end, and with the faeries being so played down, the threat to Tam Lin doesn't feel very real.
I've read books which did much more original things with this ballad -- among them Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, both of which I would recommend over this for readers interested in the Tam Lin ballad. (less)
East is a YA retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", a lesser-known but interesting variant on the "Beauty and the Beast"...moreEast is a YA retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", a lesser-known but interesting variant on the "Beauty and the Beast" and "Eros and Psyche" tales. Rose lives in Norway with her family; when one of her sisters becomes dangerously ill and the family is about to be evicted from their farm, a white bear appears at the door and tells the family that if Rose will come with him, their troubles will end. Of course she goes with him and becomes entangled in the enchantment he's under and his connection to the mysterious Troll Queen.
Though I love this fairy tale, with its strong and determined heroine, and I was happy to find a retelling of it, East didn't quite succeed for me. The narrative shifted between the first-person viewpoints of Rose, her father, her brother, the white bear, and the Troll Queen, and the shifts felt abrupt; also, the voices of Rose, her father, and her brother were insufficiently differentiated - the events were enough to keep me remembering who was telling the story, but the speech and narrative patterns should have been more individual.
The white bear's passages were nicely evocative, though, of how a human turned into an animal might think, in the constraints of an animal's mind. On the whole, the story was engrossing and the reworking of the fairy tale reasonably convincing, so it was worth the read, if not a reread. (less)
The Phoenix Dance takes place in the same city as Aria of the Sea, years later; several of the characters from the first book appear, but not as main...moreThe Phoenix Dance takes place in the same city as Aria of the Sea, years later; several of the characters from the first book appear, but not as main characters. Here, Calhoun takes on a challenging subject: bipolar disorder (which she says in the book's afterword that she has herself). Phoenix is a young apprentice shoemaker who suffers from what the healers call the Illness of Two Kingdoms: the Kingdom of Brilliance, and the Kingdom of Darkness. When she is drawn into a mystery surrounding the twelve princesses of the kingdom, whose shoes are mysteriously in tatters each morning, she must confront her illness and learn to handle it.
I didn't like this quite so much as Aria of the Sea; I thought Calhoun was maybe trying to shoehorn a little too much into the book and didn't quite do justice to the "Twelve Dancing Princesses" part of the plot. I admired her portrayal of Phoenix, though, and her courage in taking on what must have been a difficult thing to write about.(less)
Leopard in Exile is the sequel to The Shadow of Albion, which I thought was fairly entertaining. Sadly, Leopard in Exile is not.
The world's magical s...moreLeopard in Exile is the sequel to The Shadow of Albion, which I thought was fairly entertaining. Sadly, Leopard in Exile is not.
The world's magical structure is poorly worked out; it's a mishmash of elements from British faery lore, Native American beliefs, Satanist black magic, and even Arthurian legend (the Holy Grail). The plot is absurdly contrived, the alternate history unconvincing (why would the American colonies under the Stuarts be more friendly to the native Americans than they were under Hanoverian rule?), and the characters poorly fleshed out.
There's almost nothing of the relationship between Wessex and Sarah which was forged in the first book, just a lot of agonizing about how much they love each other, with very little interaction between them which shows rather than tells. Wessex's desperate search for Sarah, who has gone to the New World to help her friend Meriel, is a driving force behind much of the plot, but as there seems to be no depth to their relationship, it's next to impossible to feel any urgency about the search.
And worst of all, the narrative includes footnotes, which are very difficult to use effectively in fiction without distracting the reader from the flow of the action; here, they are overly self-conscious, frequently patronizing (the note explaining the bill which abolished slavery in Britain and its dominions ends "Aren't you glad I'm here to tell you these things?"), often useless (defining a recaumier as "A couch to you", when it's clear from the context anyway), and generally aggravating. Do we really need a reference to a web site about jambalaya when it's served to one of the characters? Surely not. I cannot imagine what the authors (or their editor) could have been thinking to include these idiotic, distracting notes.
I still think The Shadow of Albion was worth reading, but by all means, avoid the sequel. (Hey, and I didn't even mention the gratuitous Star Wars reference or the meaningless appearance of a character from one of Edghill's other books - duly noted in the footnotes, of course). (less)
It's a good thing I enjoyed Flowers from the Storm so much, because if For My Lady's Heart had been the first Kinsale I picked up, I might not have re...moreIt's a good thing I enjoyed Flowers from the Storm so much, because if For My Lady's Heart had been the first Kinsale I picked up, I might not have read any more and would have missed out on The Shadow and the Star, Seize the Fire, and Midsummer Moon, among others.
It begins with the hero, Ruck, losing his wife, who thinks herself a saint, and all of his possessions to the church, leaving him penniless until he's rescued by the gift of two emeralds, given to him by the Princess Melanthe on a whim; when Ruck meets Melanthe again years later, he swears to her service and is drawn into her conflict with the powerful man who wishes to marry her and take control of her lands. The book just doesn't work for me on a number of levels. For one, Kinsale has the characters use a bizarre sort of quasi-old English dialect which is often jarring or confusing; for another, the characters felt emotionally distant to me, and I was never very engaged with them. This might be partly because the threat to Melanthe doesn't feel very real, as the villain doesn't arrive until near the end of the book. (less)
The Shadow of Albion is a alternative historical fantasy set in early 19th-century England. In this universe, Charles II was succeeded by his illegiti...moreThe Shadow of Albion is a alternative historical fantasy set in early 19th-century England. In this universe, Charles II was succeeded by his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, and thus the Stuarts have remained firmly entrenched on the throne; the French Revolution has happened, so Napoleon is in power, but America remains a British colony. The story begins when the dying Marchioness of Roxbury magically summons an alternate self (Sarah Cunningham, an orphan from Maryland) to replace her, catapulting Sarah into a new world of intrigue and power plays and into an arranged marriage with the Duke of Wessex, who leads a double life as a spy for King Henry IX.
This was an entertaining light read, with an intriguing plot and lively characters (particularly Sarah, whose new role of Marchioness is in constant conflict with her American upbringing and outdoors skills). As usual with alternate history, it's amusing (though not always convincing) to see how the authors have recast famous historical figures: Beau Brummell as valet to the Prince of Wales; the Marquis de Sade as a black warlock in Napoleon's service; and John Adams as a British diplomat. I could have wished for fewer sartorial details (a paragraph about practically every new outfit was far too much) and a little more humor, but The Shadow of Albion was enjoyable nonetheless; I'll be seeking out the sequel. (less)
I've waited a couple of years for this sequel to The Explosionist, and alas, it was a disappointment. The Explosionist was a fun blend of alternate hi...moreI've waited a couple of years for this sequel to The Explosionist, and alas, it was a disappointment. The Explosionist was a fun blend of alternate history and thriller, with a clever and courageous heroine, Sophie, who was left in limbo by the somewhat abrupt end; I looked forward to seeing where she was headed.
Unfortunately, Davidson abandons a lot of what I liked about the first book. Much of The Explosionist was focused on the political scene of Scotland; here, since Sophie is out of Scotland for the entire book, most of that is dropped or reported second-hand. Her interesting relationship with her great-aunt, who's intimately involved with some shady goings-on of the Scottish government, is resolved entirely (well, sort of resolved) via a letter.
I was annoyed by the arbitrary way Davidson dropped historical personages into the narrative in the first book, assigning new and unlikely professions to famous names (Oscar Wilde as an obstetrician). Here, it's even worse, as some historical characters fill new roles (Wittgenstein's Uncertainty Principle, anyone?), but some fill the same roles as they did in our history: Niels Bohr, for example, and other physicists Sophie meets in Denmark. I can suspend disbelief (barely) one way or the other, but not both at the same time. (Although, all right, I did like Eric Blair as a refugee English journalist.)
Altogether, the book never feels as though it's going anywhere. Too much of it is only loosely connected with the first book, and halfway through, it derails into a bizarre and labored version of "The Snow Queen". The book ends where the fairy tale does, providing no real closure to the larger story. And that's a shame, because I thought The Explosionist had a lot of promise. (less)
Grafton's latest starts off when Michael Sutton walks into Kinsey Millhone's life to hire her to investigate a twenty-year-old kidnapping case. In 196...moreGrafton's latest starts off when Michael Sutton walks into Kinsey Millhone's life to hire her to investigate a twenty-year-old kidnapping case. In 1967, four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh was abducted and never seen again, but Sutton claims to have just recalled a childhood memory in which he saw two men burying a bundle which he thinks was her body. It's an old case, but Kinsey is intrigued and takes it, and what starts out as a probe into the past turns into a very much present danger.
As she's done with a couple of the recent Kinsey books, Grafton alternates between Kinsey's narration and several other viewpoints, which allows her to do flashbacks to the events of 1967. The technique does add depth to the narrative, but after a while, I found myself bogging down in the number of viewpoints and wishing she'd streamlined them a bit.
Even the Kinsey sections are just too long and detailed, with too many passages like these: "I activated my left turn signal and slowed, eyes pinned on the rearview mirror to make sure no one was plowing into me" or "The soft drink I ordered was a small one. No point in taxing my bladder when relief wouldn't be in range." Yes, we know Kinsey has an orderly, detailed way of retelling her cases, but too much of it just made me want to skim.
I did think the case itself was intriguing, and I liked that more of Kinsey's family history was revealed (in fact, I wish there'd been more of that). But overall, I thought the book was bloated and could have used editing down; both the multiple viewpoints and the overly high level of detail caused me to slow down about halfway through and start to lose interest.(less)
The Bird of the River doesn't have the cataclysmic, world-impacting events of the first two books, but I really liked it all the same. There's a plot thread having to do with Krelan, an aristocrat on a quest, and with the bandit attacks on cities up and down the river, but essentially, this is a coming-of-age story, all about the characters' journeys. I loved the look at the lower levels of the society Baker's created, and I particularly loved the characterization: Eliss, trying to overcome her mother's history; Alder, looking for his own people and father; and Krelan, learning about life for the non-aristocrats. And I was sad the whole time I read it, thinking how much Baker will be missed. (less)
Jule Devereaux has been trapped for the night inside the WhirlyFunRide in the gigantic Castertown MegaMall, after she quarreled with her aunt and then...moreJule Devereaux has been trapped for the night inside the WhirlyFunRide in the gigantic Castertown MegaMall, after she quarreled with her aunt and then her aunt disappeared, just as her parents did years ago. As Jule is about to find out, the mall is much more than it seems, and during the night, it is ruled by gangs of children, abandoned children and runaways who live in secret places in the mall. Or perhaps the children don't really rule here: perhaps the true ruler is the sinister billionaire Amos Zozz, who runs Castertown and the mall and has his own secret plans.
The setting is intriguing, and I liked the complex interactions of the different groups within the mall: the children's gangs, Jule the newbie, Zozz the great and powerful and his daughter Isabella, the corporate Zozzco employees, and the mysterious outsider Lance. The social commentary, about the dangers of capitalism and the ethical treatment of people, is a little unsubtle, and Zozz himself was so over the edge that I found him unbelievable. Yet the plot is sufficiently tense and fast-paced that I was absorbed to the end. I'd be interested to know if there's to be a sequel, since some plot threads are left hanging.(less)
When I read Hanley's The Seer and the Sword, I concluded that it had good characters, but not enough worldbuilding. Oddly, Hanley's second book, The H...moreWhen I read Hanley's The Seer and the Sword, I concluded that it had good characters, but not enough worldbuilding. Oddly, Hanley's second book, The Healer's Keep, suffers from the opposite problem.
It's set in the same world and follows the adventure of four teenagers who are fighting the mysterious Shadow King, who is trying to take over the Healer's Keep (where two of the teens are studying magic) and then the world. Though the world (particularly the Keep) is well thought-out, none of the characters really came to life for me, perhaps because so much story was stuffed into one book that characterization was sketchy and the action was over-hurried. Again, Hanley's ideas have potential, but at least for me, she hasn't quite hit her stride yet. (less)
The Perfect Elizabeth is a "chick lit" novel that just didn't work for me. Liza is an aspiring poet who has a miserable day job as a legal secretary,...moreThe Perfect Elizabeth is a "chick lit" novel that just didn't work for me. Liza is an aspiring poet who has a miserable day job as a legal secretary, while her sister Bette is a literature student who teaches at a university while working on her dissertation; their names are both diminutives of Elizabeth, so that Liza, the narrator, feels as though they're "the broken parts of one perfect Elizabeth".
Liza and Bette go through various trials and tribulations to do with their jobs and their love lives, described in a style which is meant to be light and witty but which I found merely shallow (and the dialogue was terrible - all of the characters sounded alike). All of the sisters' issues (most of which they created themselves) are easily wrapped up by the end, and I closed the book feeling that I'd made no emotional connection to the characters or their problems.(less)
Half-white, half-Asian Patty Ho is sick and tired of being out of place; she doesn't fit in with either side of her heritage, at school or at home. Sh...moreHalf-white, half-Asian Patty Ho is sick and tired of being out of place; she doesn't fit in with either side of her heritage, at school or at home. She's horrified when she finds out her mom signed her up for math camp at Stanford, but when she gets there, it seems like she's finally found somewhere she can learn to be herself.
I really liked the direct, honest way Headley tackles racial issues, and her exploration of Patty's various relationships (particularly with her mother and her aunt Lu). I thought the style was a touch too facile and flippant occasionally and wanted a deeper look at Patty's family history and some of the supporting characters, but on the whole, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading Headley's second novel, Girl Overboard.(less)