Wednesday, June 29, 2011

National Audiobook Month? Really?

Honestly, I didn't realize, when I picked up two audiobooks for the first time in a while, that this was the month to celebrate them. Hmm.

Life is full of surprises.

And books.

Good books.

Preview of coming events

Well... I haven't been doing much recently. I had 4 wisdom teeth taken out on Monday, and that's put a dent in my plans... and in my mouth, ouch!

I picked up some audiobooks at the library, though.

Another read of Finnikin of the Rock - I don't like that one in audio. I just don't. The pronunciation grates at me, and I don't think the voices the narrator chose quite fit. However, when my face is nastily aching, it's a pretty good "fortitude" book, and Evanjalin does have a way of discouraging one's self-pity.
Today I started listening to Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. I could have waited for the actual book, but there's a holdlist for it, and hey, I was impatient. So far, I love it. I'm still in chapter 3, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

With all these audiobooks, I'm finally getting a chance to start knitting a sweater. No patterns. I just jumped in. It will probably be an abject failure, but the next one will be better. I hope.

Coming later - review of Incarceron. I heard it was a Mythopoeic Award finalist, along with Megan Whalen Turner's amazing Queen's Thief series and Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight ... I'm eager to see if it measures up to its exalted company.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bloodline Rising, by Katy Moran

I read some good reviews of this one, saw it on the shelf, and the rest took care of itself.

Book in a nutshell:
We have a mysterious first-person narrator, whose name we later learn is Cai. He calls himself the Ghost, and he is a thief in Constantinople. We learn slowly about his family, his life, his world - and then, through a jumble of catastrophes, he is taken on a slave ship to Dark Ages Britain. There he learns that there was a good deal more about his parents than they told him, and that his thieving talents may be due to a little more than natural caution...

I loved this book very much. I liked Cai - a very realistic person, not always sure what to do, not always positive what's the right thing. He second-guesses himself, regrets his past mistakes, and tries to do the best with where he ends up. I loved his ability to land on his feet wherever he found himself.

The front of the book calls this "a companion to Bloodline." I don't know much about Bloodline, but this is a strong enough tale on its own.
Can I also mention that I love the cover? I believe the scene is actually mentioned in the book, as well as being a symbolic sort of picture.

The plot is a little hard to follow at parts, and I advise people to try to keep track of who's who. Names get thrown around a good deal. I think it would have been easier if I knew more of the Dark Ages history Ms. Moran was alluding to... But it never made me stop reading, though I did have to go back and check who someone was.

This book is a bit of a mix-up, genre-wise: somewhat fantasy, somewhat political, somewhat just an adventure. There's a lot of Cai's introspection as well. I think it's YA, though I've seen it called MG: there's a lot of strong language, and violence at the end.

The writing style is cryingly beautiful in many places, and always skilled. Some quotes:

It is one of those nights when my city feels alive. The crowds surging through her streets are her blood, the jumble of buildings her ancient bones. It's quicker to go by the alleys, but I race up the Mese, anyway...

-----

But I will reach him first, and we'll get away - by sea, most likely. There's always some boatman willing to look the other way if the coin's enough. Oh, my beloved city. I cannot bear this; I cannot bear to see her, smell her, for the last time. I cannot bear to look on the lamplit windows, the shadows of the grapevines as they droop down from the rooftops to the streets, the great dome of Santa Sofia, mother of all churches. I am leaving the perfumiers' quarter, and the rich, rolling scent of rose oil, spikenard, cloves, ambergris, and lavender makes me want to weep because I am smelling it for the last time. Now I am running past a tavern, and the smash of broken cups, the roaring of drunken men, is my city's farewell song.

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One thing I know: I shall stay away from girl folk as long as I can. Trouble finds me quick enough as it is.

------

I gaze up at the skeins of fog silvered by the moon. It is full, round, and cold, so huge and far away, like a great silver dish. What a price she'd fetch if she were plucked from the night and sold. It is the same moon that shone on me when I was lord of the thieves, lord over the City of the Rising Moon.

---

I fondly love this book; I shall buy it someday, likely enough. I like books of non-circular traveling - I like books where the characters don't have infallible instincts - I like mysterious pasts slowly revealed. Also, I like covers that aren't a photograph of an odd-looking teenage female.

Is there a sequel? I'd be glad to travel with Cai for many a mile yet.

Age rec: Well, there's frequent swearing. A few mentions of nasty content, but nothing indecent shown onstage or anywhere near the stage. Very little romance, though there is a bit. I say 12 and up seems wise, though if parents give it a once-over they might try it with younger kids.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini

First thoughts?
"Yay! He actually finished it!"
and
"Ooh, nice green!"

Second thoughts, deeper.
"How is he ever going to end it?"
and most of all,
"Will he end it strong enough to take this series from 'okay' to 'great'?"

That last one - well, I believe Paolini's got the talent to do it. His style grates a bit on re-readings, but for the first time through, his plots are as gripping as a Venus Fly Trap.

Amazon.com blurb:
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Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alaga√ęsia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the much-anticipated, astonishing conclusion to the worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.
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Another reason for November to show up soon.
Just personally, I can't wait to find out what happens to Elva. Am I the only one who hopes she'll get a dragon?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Returning, by Christine Hinwood, a short note on

I wanted to love this book... and mostly I did. It was a stunningly good writing job, a great debut novel. It should be a textbook example of writing actual speaking styles, rather than just saying something about a person's voice. The story was touching and good.

BUT...

There was some pretty flagrant indecency occurring. One chapter gave me pause in the beginning; I skimmed it and said ah well, let's hope there's no more of that. There wasn't... until near the end, when there's a couple of point-blank sentences alluding to an indecent act - nothing graphic or unpleasant, but I was basically, "Um? Ahem? WHAT?" And then something similar happened not too many pages later.
I finished the book... it was a good book and, like I said, there was nothing described, but I knew it was there, and I didn't see a single good reason for it to be mentioned.
Not A Single Good Reason.

You may sense I'm... peeved, to put it mildly. Well, I am. And sad.
The Returning should have been a wonderful book. It could have been. But I was not pleased by the author's casual acceptance of the character's - make that characters' - behavior.

People who've read Finnikin of the Rock and seen my earlier review of it may wonder why I loved that book and disliked this one. Finnikin had some intense things going on, I will grant. But I never felt that Ms. Marchetta approved of those things, and while I do not want to speak against the moral standards of Ms. Hinwood, I never felt she disapproved at all.

Again... I wish things could have been different. I can't really recommend this book. But I wish I could have. And I hope that Ms. Hinwood will do differently next time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

How I found this book: Several reviews suggested that it might be a good thing to read - it seemed so zany, so odd, that I simply had to give it a try.

So... a girl named September is bored with her life, and a person by the name of The Green Wind comes past her house on his leopard and takes her away to Fairyland. Fairyland is both stranger and more familiar than expected, with customs-officers and a city made of cloth and countries where it's always autumn. A witch asks September to go and find her magic spoon for her, as the wicked Marquess has taken it away. September agrees... and with the allied help of "persons" as varied as a Key, a Wyverary (cross between a wyvern and a library), and a soap golem, she embarks on a grand journey which takes her far beyond the capitol city and into far greater issues than a stolen spoon.

I love this book. Its narrative style seems a little stifling in the beginning, but widens out later; either that, or I stopped minding it. It's a slow start, but speeds up in time. The locales and persons described in this book are amazing and detailed, quite beautiful. September knows the sort of thing that's supposed to happen on an adventure like this, and she's quite aware of her situation at all times, comparing her present experiences to her past experiences on Earth.

There are some very weighty issues being tossed around in this book... freedom vs. safety, normalcy vs. adventure, perseverance and hope... I expected this to be a frivolous little narrative, all fluff and fun, but it certainly isn't. Bad things happen. Worse things can happen too. Behind its cotton-candy exterior this book hides some hard stuff.

Thoughts on the ending: is this a good end or a bad end?

I disagree with a few of the sentiments expressed in this book. A) September is required to lie (among other requirements) before she's allowed into Fairyland. B) September is told, and later agrees with, a statement of a questionable philosophy regarding the necessity of clothing. I'm not offended much by either, in the context, but I'm just dropping these statements out there.

Age rec: 8 and up, though maybe with caution for the younger end.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan

Wow! I can hardly believe the Ranger's Apprentice series is over. Ever since book 4 came out I've been regularly standing in line in my library, waiting to get the next one, and then devouring it as quickly as possible. They're no great literature, but they're great to read - humorous, clever, endlessly inventive, full of heart and adventure and good fun.

Now there'll be short stories too, so as to ease the transition for those of us who love the world so much...

Amazon.com blurb
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Inspired by questions and letters his loyal readers have sent over the years, John Flanagan offers a gift in response: a collection of "lost" tales that fill in the gaps between Ranger's Apprentice novels. For the first time, readers can learn the truth behind how Will came to be orphaned and what his real relationship to Halt is, or watch Alyss in action as the young Araluen diplomat disguises herself and becomes the perfect spy.

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October be quickly!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

How I found this book: I heard good things about it from bloggers before it came into my library. When I saw it on the shelf, I thought, well, let's give it a try... I can send it back if I don't like it.
The first page had me hooked.

Book in a nutshell: Bryn (full name Bronwen Alessia St. Vincent Clare) has been adopted by the local werewolf pack after a loner werewolf killed her parents. She remains fully human and very independent, however. When she begins to have her priviledges curtailed and obscure warnings issued, she guesses that something is up.... something the werewolves don't want her to know about.
Discovery upon discovery will lead her through pain and trouble and rebellion, far into the wilderness, and finally to a final confrontation with the truly chilling villain who is responsible for her parents' deaths - and for much, much more.

This was a new sort of tale for me... I usually thought werewolves were the Antagonists, or at any rate that They Ought To Be Avoided... I think it was my violent mental allergy to most paranormal books that kept me in that mindset. My earliest book on the subject formed my opinions, and they stacked up to Keep A Long Way Away From The Werewolf. So when I found this book, I had to suspend my previous feelings. Fortunately it wasn't too hard, as even Bryn still finds her "packmates" scary.

Some traditions hold, as well as the "scary" part. As in, werewolves still have an allergy to silver. But Ms. Barnes manages to mix the elements quite nicely, and I think most readers will find her 'wolves a fair cross between the original legends and the um, new urban edition.

(Unrelated subject: Just turned on a CD of Handel's Messiah. Terrific music. The opening symphonia is pure heavenly sound... I adore violins!)

Raised by Wolves is not a paranormal romance - thank heavens. Sure, there is a romance going on. But it is not the focus of the plot. It's more of a thriller... that just happens to be about werewolves.... really.
And Bryn is such an extremely sensible person, she doesn't allow herself to dissolve over a guy. She questions their connection and defends it on other than romantic grounds. And I must say, the Signifigant Other is a strong and intelligent person on his own.

The antagonist of this book is about the scariest villain I have read about since the Nazgul. Just saying.

Some quotes:

"I really don't know why you're here," I told him, selecting my words carefully. Most Weres could smell a lie, and Callum, the alpha of alphas in our corner of the world, would have known immediately... Luckily for me, I didn't know precisely what it was that I'd done to merit a visit from our pack's leader. There were any number of possibilities, none of whcih I wanted to openly admit to on the off chance that there was something I'd done that he hadn't found out about yet.

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There were several streams in the woods, as well as the disturbingly named Dead Man's Creek...

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...I knew I shouldn't respond, knew that anyone in Callum's basement was there for a reason... Whoever was down there sounded like I felt. It didn't matter who it was or what he'd done. I had to help him, because it wasn't like I could do a thing for myself...

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"You've never brought her back irreparably harmed," Ali admitted grudgingly. "This better not be a first."

-------


And by the way, I am quite delighted with the delicate power-balances of werewolf politics. This has got to be the only paranormal book where a character asks "Is this a democracy or isn't it?" and the answer actually matters. I can tell that Ms. Barnes put not only her heart into this writing, but also her mind.

As I told my brother not too long ago, "I could live in this book's world. I really could. And I can't say that for many books."
Though I did have to add, "Of course, I would probably have to break my habit of indiscriminate night wandering..."

Age rec: Thirteen the absolute rock-bottom limit. It's not for any indecency... the romance is, as I've said, not an overwhelming plot point... there were a few points I was worried at, but nothing happened... It's mostly the violence and the general nastiness of the villain that I balk at. I figure it would have thoroughly yikes-ed my twelve-year-old self. On the other hand, I wasn't the bravest.