Monday, September 15, 2008

A lack of reading

So, I managed to catch one of those summer colds and the damn thing won't clear up and go away. No, instead I'm left with a lingering cough and the inability to do anything but sleep. This thing is even affecting my desire to read; how unfair is that? The only book I've managed to read this past week is Wren's Quest by Sherwood Smith.

Second in the series, we find the orphaned Wren staying with her best friend Teressa, the long-thought dead princess of Meldrith. Studying the art of magic, Wren is all set to take her first exam before heading off to seek out information on her long-lost family. Focusing on her studies, Wren doesn't see the trouble that's springing up in the court; people are picking fights and causing trouble in record numbers. Attacked herself during her exam, Wren sets off with young Prince Connor as her companion, leaving Teressa behind with her family and fellow magician Tyron. However, leaving the court behind doesn't solve any problems, and those seeking to cause trouble at the court aren't willing to let Wren and Connor leave without a fight.

It's another cute tale, focusing a bit more on Connor this time, with Wren learning a bit more about her family history and Tess learning how to deal with court life. There's also the usual villian--whom I spotted early on--but it's interesting how Smith ties the bad guy in to Tess's family; it isn't resolved either, so I'm sure we'll be seeing more of that story in the following books.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

R.I.P. Challenge

So, as previous mentioned, Carl is doing his annual R.I.P. Challenge again and I am determined to complete this one. I've always started them, but halfway through I switch my reading "schedule" and don't finish it "in time." This year, that will not happen.

I'm going to do Peril the First:

Read Four books of any length, from any sub-genre (mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, supernatural) of scary stories that you choose.

First up: Dead Until Dark (of which the review was just posted) by Charlaine Harris, followed by Coraline by Neil Gaiman (just posted the review), The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters Faefever by Karen Marie Moning (just posted the review), a collection of short stories by Shirley Jackson and I think I might reread Macbeth this year. I know that's five titles, but it never hurts to have options, right?

Of course, I'm completely open to suggestions...

Dead Until Dark

I picked up and read Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris last night after watching the first episode of True Blood on HBO. It's about Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a small town in Louisiana. Working her shift at the local bar, one night a vampire named Bill comes in and everything changes for Sookie. 'Cursed' all her life with the ability to hear people's thoughts, Bill is a rarity to Sookie because she can't hear him. Her determination to spend more time with Bill, and his choice to spend more time with her, causes upheaval in their small town, as most folks aren't too keen on mixed relationships. There's also the recent rash of murders lately, with two local fang-bangers ending up dead...and all marks point to Bill.

I was never interested in the series before then--despite my love of vampire novels--and sadly I'm still not. I thought the episode was OK, had the makings to be great, and I really like Anna Paquin, so I'll probably watch at least the next few episodes, but I doubt I'll read any more of the books. It just didn't draw me in at all and none of the characters were very interesting to me. Has anyone read them? Do the books get better? I really wanted to like this, and I think Pam sounds like an interesting character, but the rest of them just left me bored.

Reviews, reviews, reviews

Who knew that standing on your feet all day was so exhausting? I sure didn't, but I do now! It's hard, and I have no idea how people do this all the time; give me an office job any day. I was so tired by the end of the day that the idea of doing anything but lying down made my head hurt, hence the lack of posting.

But, that's all over now, and I can post reviews on the eight books I read in the past few weeks.

First up, Looking For Trouble by Leslie Cockburn. It's her memoir of her time in the investigative news business. She was one of the first women reporters/producers to cover Third World stories. She went everywhere, covered everything from wars to famines to drug lords--entering countries without permission at times--and she did it while pregnant (she has kids).

It was an interesting read; I learned a lot about things (wars) that I'd never really heard about before and it was inspiring to read about her adventures.

Next, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. I read this one, my second by Hammett, because I thought the story sounded interesting. Nick and Nora are a wealthy, married couple on vacation when they run into the daughter of an old acquaintance of Nick's. It seems that her father has gone missing, two people are dead, and she wants Nick, a former investigator, to find him. Others get word of this, including the ex-wife, the mobsters, and the cops, and suddenly Nick (and Nora) are forced to look into this disappearance whether they want to or not.

I enjoyed it, but I wasn't really interested in it; it's probably going to be my last Hammett for a while.

The Disreputable Files of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart was a cute story, although I was less than happy with the ending. Frankie, a sophomore at a private high school in New York, undergoes a dramatic change from unattractive wall flower to knock out over the course of a summer. When she comes back to school, she gets the guy she's always wanted, but finds that 1) she can't really be herself and 2) he's keeping secrets from her. Following him, she finds that he's part of a secret guys-only society; pissed off, she makes herself a member without anyone being the wiser. Well, except for the guy she's impersonating.

It was cute, clever, and funny, but the end just didn't sit well. I won't tell you what happens because that would ruin it; I just thought there would be more.

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is the first in three-book series, telling the story of a djinn named Bartimaeus and a young magician named Nick. It's set in an alternate England, where magic is quite common, science less. Magicians don't really have magic powers; what they have is the ability to call on magical creatures and command them to do things for them; like steal an amulet from someone else. Nick, angry with being treated like a child, secretly calls up Bartimaeus and forces the djinn to do several tasks for him; however it ends up backfiring and Bartimaeus and Nick are forced to work together to save their lives, much less the lives of the magicians of England.

I liked reading Bartimaeus' side of the story, Nick's much less. He was something of a whiny kid, and he could be incredibly stupid at times too. I'm not sure if I'll read the next two books; I only read the first one because a friend of mine recommended it. Maybe I'll see what he has to say about the next one.

Hunter's Prayer by Lilith Saintcrow was a book that I was eagerly anticipating. Sadly, it didn't live up to quite what I wanted it to be, although it was very good. It's set two years after the previous book (which was one of the things I didn't like) and Jill and Saul are now in an established relationship. Jill, the Hunter for her town, is called in when eviscerated prostitutes suddenly start appearing. Looking into that, she's also got to deal with the Sorrow who killed her mentor; a woman who is part of a cult to bring back the banished Elder gods. Turns out that the murdered women and the reappearance of the Sorrow might just have something in common, if only Jill can figure out what it is before she ends up chained to slab.

Again, I was disappointed when it turned out that this book was set two years into the future; I was really looking forward to reading about Jill and Saul's growing relationship. I was also surprised when Jill let the Sorrow live; it seemed slightly out of character. Other than those two points, I really did enjoy this book; there were plenty of side-stories that kept it interesting (showing us more about Jill's life) and a couple of plot twists that I didn't see coming.

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman is a non-fiction book about Jan and Antonia Zabinski, Polish zookeepers, who, during World War II, hid hundreds of people in their house and the remnants of their zoo. It was really interesting, pieced together from Antonia's diaries and letters, as well as interviews with their son and the few remaining survivors. Sickened by what was going on around them, Antonia and Jan decided to hide both Jews and members of the Polish Resistance, some of whom ended up staying with them for years. Calling them by the names of former animals, the Zabinski's were 100% successful, even with a German camp in the zoo.

In between the stories about hiding people, we also get to read about their zoo-keeping habits (they had one of the better zoos in Europe), we also get to read about Jan's adventures as a member of the resistance, and about their animals, several of which Antonia would raise in the house, alongside her son. It's a very detailed story--with a happy ending--and I think that anyone who likes history, animals, or non-fiction accounts of WWII would like it.

Jhegaala by Steven Brust, is the eleventh book in the Vlad series and I'm honestly slightly confused into where it falls in the timeline. One of the other reviews I read said that it belongs after Phoenix and before Athyra. Either way, I liked it. Vlad is on the run from the price on his head and decides that it's time he took a vacation. Seeking out his mother's side of the family, Vlad ends up in the middle of a three-way war, with all sides thinking he's the enemy. Vlad, who just wants to find his relatives, doesn't really get involved until it's too late. Then, he's thrust into the middle of it, trying to decipher history from legend from hate, all the while keeping himself alive.

Reading it only reaffirms my decision to reread all eleven books in order, because it's been years since I've read any of them and I'm slightly hazy on the details.

Women of the Silkby Gail Tsukiyama is the story of a young girl who's father sends her to a silk-making factory at a young age; the family is very poor and the village fortune-teller doesn't see marriage in Pei's future. Left alone by her family, Pei struggles to make her way in the silk factory, while rumors about Japanese soldiers and the coming war haunt everyone. She's surrounded by other girls from similar backgrounds, some of whom become friends, as well as Aunt Yee, the mother figure to every girl their. It's a very quiet story--nothing major or loud really happens--but it's very beautiful as well. We get the points of view from some of the other girls and women there at the silk-making factory, and each one is intwined around Pei's life. I wouldn't say that it has a happy ending, but it does have a satisfactory one.

Now to catch up with everyone else's post from the past few weeks.