This is radically unlike other Robin McKinley books in tone and subject. You have been notified. That said, this vies with Beauty as my favorite McKin...moreThis is radically unlike other Robin McKinley books in tone and subject. You have been notified. That said, this vies with Beauty as my favorite McKinley ever.
Sunshine is a wry, self-aware, and distinctly herself. She is a vegetarian baker for a family coffeehouse, and if you make it through this book without having to go find a nice gooey dessert, you are a stronger person that I am. The food in this vampire book is exquisite and central to the story.
And this is a vampire story. It's totally a blood and un-nameable muck, and colorlessness-of-pure-evil story. It's a hold-out, be-brave, do more than you think you can story, set in a world of starker choices than we have.
Every time I read this book, I am carried along with Sunshine in her surprising survival and fierce determination. I love it.
Read if: You love cinnamon rolls, everyday heroes, and disconcerted vampires.
Skip if: Dripping vampire gore and fights against hopeless odds are going to put you off your baked goods.
This is one of those series where you don't wish desperately that you hadn't dropped into the middle of it. Although it is related to some other books...moreThis is one of those series where you don't wish desperately that you hadn't dropped into the middle of it. Although it is related to some other books I haven't read, it stands alone pretty well.
Our protaganist is of the small, cunning variety, raised by people who value strength, cunning, and sneakiness. The setting is imperial Ethiopia, a sophisticated and world-ranging empire. The negusa nagast (King of Kings) finds him sneaking around and spying, and sets him a more difficult spying task. When he accomplishes that successfully, he is sent on a very dangerous mission with very minimal backup.
In the manner of the stories, he is triumphant, but it costs him. There are a couple torture scenes in here that were difficult to read. He ends up in the hands of his enemies, and acquits himself well. On his return, he lies to everyone about what happened, because he knows they will feel guilty about having sent him into danger. I thought that was a particularly telling detail, because I remember being a child and hiding from adults the affects of their decisions on me because I didn't want them to feel badly.
His family is complicated and emotional. His father is a voluntary mute, and obviously a carryover from one of the previous stories. He is fiercely protective, but not always in useful ways. His mother is protective, but lets him go anyway. And his aunt is grooming him for a leadership position, although I don't know if he's realized that yet.
Sunbird, by the way, is another way to say hummingbird.
Read if: You like plucky young trickster hero stories, you are interested in imperial Ethiopia, you like books with excellently nerdy chapter poetry quotes.
Skip if: You cannot handle harm to children. You want to be surprised by a plot. You don't really like mid-grade books. (less)
This is not a sequel, although it is set in the same world as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Instead, I think it's a meditation on the destructive and...moreThis is not a sequel, although it is set in the same world as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Instead, I think it's a meditation on the destructive and constructive powers of love.
Our protaganist, Oree, is the strange child of a people in diaspora, scattered by the war of the gods. She is blind, but can see magic. The writing around this is really interesting, and I appreciated that she describes people in all sorts of ways, but never visually.
She is leading an ordinary life, when all of a sudden she discovers a dead godling. (This reminded me irressistably of a story arc in Bendis' Powers comics.) Of course, this kicks the story into whodunnit territory, but Oree doesn't really want to be investigating. She is just framed on the wrong side of the investigation by the actions of her housemate, who is, um, taciturn.
Kidnapping, intrigue, and conversations with deities ensue, and Oree is NOT (thank goodness) magically healed of her blindness. The story could end with her going into exile. In fact, the last section starts with her saying that the story could have ended there. Instead, there is a last prisoner's dilemma moment, which actually left me feeling stunned and satisfied.
Oree's love is frequently constructive and affirmative. Her humanity touches the godlings and mortals around her. The gods' love, on the other hand, is destructive. They are operating at a level that is essentially toxic to humanity. Even if they love her, they cannot show it in a way that is comfortable or sustainable.
Read if: you enjoyed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you like character-driven stories, you will enjoy sensory descriptions.
Skip if: you demand a novel or surprising plot, you are looking for extensive worldbuilding.(less)
Oh, Nevil Shute. I do so adore your unabashed authorial self-insertion. I haven't read all Nevil Shute, or even the majority, but the ones I have read...moreOh, Nevil Shute. I do so adore your unabashed authorial self-insertion. I haven't read all Nevil Shute, or even the majority, but the ones I have read, I have strong opinions about.
In this one, Shute is himself twice, both in the narrator (a young manager at an aeronautics company) and the main character, a weedy, pathetic, but brilliant "boffin".
The novel opens with the young manager, Scott, talking about his job managing a bunch of brilliant but mildly eccentric scientists at a safety facility, a job much like the one Shute had before the WWII. One of his scientists, Theodore Honey, is drawn as extremely eccentric. He is widowed, with a pre-teen daughter, and is essentially uncivilized in a way that is acceptable only in older novels. He doesn't know how to cook or clean or buy clothes. He is interested in many crackpot theories, including pyramidology, and the return of Jesus to England. He is also quite brilliant at what he does, aeronautics-wise.
Honey comes to Scott and tells him that the tail assembly of the brand new plane currently flying the Transatlantic flight is going to crystallize and shear off after a certain number of hours. He is running tests on a tail to be sure, but it will be months before they get confirmation. Scott is torn on whether to take this seriously on not. On the one hand, pyramidology. On the other hand, planes falling out of the sky for a reason that manifests quickly and without warning.
Scott orders Honey to step up the testing and goes to see his own boss to quietly freak out about planes falling out of the sky. He finds out that one of these planes HAS fallen out of the sky -- the prototype, which had almost the correct number of hours for Honey's theory, crashed in a stupid way. It had been ruled pilot error, but the coincidence made Scott edgy.
Scott and his boss decide that someone needs to go out to Newfoundland to investigate the wreckage. Scott would go, but he is going to present his big important professional paper, and so he decides to send Honey, who is not... personable, but is the expert on crystallized metal fatigue.
As you can imagine, the plot is more complicated from there. I shan't give it all away, except to note that I find it completely and hilariously charming that Shute, who was 49 when it was published, depicted the nerdy, asocial little engineer as charming both an aging movie star and a bright and beautiful flight stewardess.
Thematically, I can tell that this book was written in the era when Shute still had faith in the British system. It was not long after this that he emigrated to Australia because he found the country no longer to his taste.
This book is by no means as strong as A Town Like Alice or On The Beach, but it is not unworthy to be on the shelf with them. Shute's charming older men: the narrators in Alice and Pied Piper, the Trustee from the Toolroom, are all extremely homey and sympathetic. I always like to think of them as Shute himself, spinning stories. I haven't read much from his early works, but I may go seek them out. Evidently some of them are about daring young pilots, which Shute also was.
I enjoy reading period books that do not think of themselves as period books. It is not notable that Honey has trouble working his ration coupons and has three years of his jam sugar allotment saved. Of course air stewardesses are unmarried and of course young wives don't work. When I read stories that are ABOUT a period, these things always feel highlighted, but when I read books IN a period, they are just part of how life goes.
Read if: You want to read about failure and risk analysis. Stories about nerdy little men who have women contending for them are amusing to you. The installation of domestic hot water heaters is something you had never thought about. You can tolerate some strange woo-woo in your mostly-science.
Skip if: You want a lot of action, intrigue, or plausible romance. You have problems with outdated science. You are unwilling to read about the typical breakfasts served to transatlantic passengers of the era*.
* I did enjoy reading about the time in Gander. I mostly know it as the place a lot of transatlantic flights ended up at after 9/11, but of course, it's been an airport for a very long time.(less)
Always one of my favorites. Hugo is so smart, and so self-aware. He is constrained by his size and his power to think about whether he can pick or res...moreAlways one of my favorites. Hugo is so smart, and so self-aware. He is constrained by his size and his power to think about whether he can pick or respond to fights, and he has chosen to act as a mellow, slightly slow character. He's plenty smart, but so secure in himself that he doesn't need to flaunt it, or his money.
Anthea is prickly, but humorous underneath, and resigned to her life as she finds it. It chafes her, but she can't do anything about it, so she makes the best of it she can.
I find the courtship very charming and casual, and unusually believable.
Short reviews for books I have read a dozen times. It's hard to say much about it, except that Unknown Ajax scratches my itch for an awesome, smart, unflappable hero.(less)
It's interesting to me to read books set in the cold war, now that my kids are old enough that I have tried to explain the cold war.
This is a band-of-...moreIt's interesting to me to read books set in the cold war, now that my kids are old enough that I have tried to explain the cold war.
This is a band-of-misfits book with a healthy dose of improbable circumstances, but for all that, it's exactly the kind of book I keep going back to, because it is exactly what it claims to be. It's about men and women working together to accomplish an impossible mission.
Read if: you like can-do, derring-do, and awesome little character moments, like the Soviet base caretaker who loves chinese food.
Skip if: your eyes glaze over when people talk about military technology, you don't want jingoism in your escapism.(less)
This third book in the series has Evie settling into a life that she thinks she can live, and then realizing that if she doesn't change things, she wo...moreThis third book in the series has Evie settling into a life that she thinks she can live, and then realizing that if she doesn't change things, she won't get to live it long. I had a horrible feeling it might be the urban fantasy version of 6 Months To Live, but it managed to veer away from that.
There is a plot involving The Wild Hunt, and what she owes them, and people resisting her, but I thought the metaplot, about what it is to be family, and what it is to make promises, was more interesting.
I thought it was a pretty solid continuation of the series, overall.
Read if: you've read the previous books, you enjoy urban fantasy.
Skip if: you are looking for an entry point to this series.(less)
This was a whimsical little adventure book. I think it might be great as a one-chapter-a-night read-aloud. It suffered from my decision to read it str...moreThis was a whimsical little adventure book. I think it might be great as a one-chapter-a-night read-aloud. It suffered from my decision to read it straight through in one night -- the whimsey was not enough to overcome the slightness of the plot.
Read if: You are looking for something with fabulous wordplay and visual jokes, or something great to read aloud to a 5-7 year old.
Skip if: You are hoping for the next Phantom Tollbooth. You are an impatient adult reader.(less)
The thing I love about Powell's books is that you can ask the much-pierced 20-something at the desk about the location of bestsellers of the 60s and 7...moreThe thing I love about Powell's books is that you can ask the much-pierced 20-something at the desk about the location of bestsellers of the 60s and 70s, and they will answer you without so much as a pause for thought.
Anyway, Powell's: a great source for the pop-action-stories of bygone decades.
I picked up an omnibus of full-length novels. I already own /Where Eagles Dare/ and /When Eight Bells Toll/, but can you believe I did not actually own /Ice Station Zebra/ or /The Guns of Navarone/. But I have them all now, as well as HMS Ulysses, which I had never read before. I am going to tell you all sorts of plot points, on the theory that this book is 20 years older than I am.
We start with an abortive mutiny. The poor sods crewing this escort ship are officially about to have a very bad trip. They are slated to do yet another run of the convoy to Murmansk, which is pretty much Dead Men Sailing In Ships. They are pretty sure that they do not want to do this again. However, the ship is sent out again, under the auspices of the kindly, overworked doctor, the kindly, stoic captain, and the kindly admiral. The whole book could really be titled "HMS Ulysses and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Convoy". In only a rough semblance of order, here are SOME of the things that happened.
* U-boats * More U-boats * Henkels * Being bombed * Being torpedoed * Catastrophic winter hurricane * Rogue waves * Stukkas * People having to be trapped on the wrong side of a flood door to Save the Ship (x2) * Tall taciturn strong man sacrifices self in misguided expiation of sins * Captain dies of TB * Betrayal by the command structure * Poor bastard finds out his sisters and mother died in a bombing the day they ship. Then his brother is killed. Then he has to fire on his father's ship because it was endangering the convoy. * Admiral goes crazy * Admiral dies of frostbite/amputation * Bad apple saves the engineer who gave him a chance
Really, it was like a microcosm of horsemen, what with the war, pestilence (TB), starvation, and death. By halfway through the book I was cackling madly and reading choice excerpts to my roommate. It was just the sort of adventure book I love, full of hard luck and people pulling through anyway.
Amazingly, some few battered survivors lived to tell the story. (less)
A solid conclusion to the Hellions of Halstead Hall series. At last we learn the solution to the mystery of the dead parents. The romance itself was p...moreA solid conclusion to the Hellions of Halstead Hall series. At last we learn the solution to the mystery of the dead parents. The romance itself was perfectly solid, and I appreciated the heroine's "as well hung for a cow as a sheep" attitude. It seemed reasonable to me!
I have always liked the investigator, and it's nice to see him get over his damage and on with his life. And Gran gets her comeuppance, too, which is lovely.
I buy these in paper and they are exactly the length of my commute flight, and perfectly escapist for my needs.(less)
Possibly one of my favorite romances of all time. Brother's Price is a loving homage/subversion to all the hidden princess romances of my youth. Jarri...morePossibly one of my favorite romances of all time. Brother's Price is a loving homage/subversion to all the hidden princess romances of my youth. Jarrin is sweet, pretty, good with kids, and virginal. He is courted by a collection of women, ranging from brash to brainy to downright evil. In the end, it's happily ever after, but not the way one would expect.
The worldbuilding is exceptional and strong, and the implications of the initial twists in the world are well-thought-out and cast light on our own culture's automatic assumptions about gender roles.
Recommended for anyone who likes romance novels, happy endings, or loving send-ups.(less)