Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Remedy by Michelle Lovric

If you're a fan of TC Boyles "The Road to Wellville" you'd love "The Remedy," where each chapter begins with the recipe for a quacks potion, one that is then used during the chapter by a character. This book was entrancing, and though the characters aren't really heroic, due to their selfish and possessive ways and their ability to kill or cause pain to others with abandon, the reader still finds him or herself rooting for the love of Valentine and Mimosina to win out over their lies and deceptions. Pevenche, the fat daughter no one wants gets the last word, which bothered me a bit, as I wanted the book to end with Valentine and Mimosina being totally honest with each other and marrying after they realize they really are two of a kind. The view that this book gave to the street quacks and remedies of the 1700s in London and Venice was exquistie and powerful. The characters fascinate, even in glimpses of their lives, and the passions of the Italians vs the English are so well delineated, I found myself wondering if the author lived in Venice and has actually created some of the remedies and help to hawk them, and had a splendid and labyrinthine love affair with an Irishman herself. The prose style was suitably ornate and read as if the author were a product of the period, which made the reading experience all the richer. My only wish for the book was that the author had defined some of the ingredients of the potions in modern terms, so that the reader would know what those items were that were going into these elaborate decoctions. Many of the items listed were things that I had never heard of, and wondered if they were fabricated words or real items that were called that in the 1700s and are now called something else. Other than that, I'd highly recommend this book for those who enjoy glimpses of the past lives of fascinating people in Europe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Swan by Frances Mayes

Those of you who have read "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "Bella Tuscany" know what I mean when I say that Mayes prose is luminous. Her words about the gorgeous surroundings and fascinating people of Italy make the reader want to hop a plane for Rome after they turn the last page of the book.
I've even seen the movie version of Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane, and found it not as enriching as the books, but not a complete waste of time, either. As movie adaptations go, it was fun and a good use of a couple of free hours.
So I gasped and grabbed the copy of "Swan" that I found in a used bookstore with all due joy--here was yet another feast from the author of the aforementioned robust and lush nonfiction. Fiction, being a stringent discipline, from what I've gathered from those who write it, wouldn't be a match for the gutsy Mayes, I figured. She'd probably have it sewn up in a jiffy, plot, characters and all.
"Swan" takes place in a small town in Georgia, full of Southern characters and wierd happenings, so it starts out at a nice, languid pace, but gets to the action in plenty of time to catalog reactions. The mother of the main characters is exhumed and her fathers grave is defaced by some unknown assailant. All the little old Southern ladies have apoplexy, of course and there's much flashbacking and guilty reminiscences about the deceased. Many things come to light for the readers, but unfortunately, the author doesn't see fit to enlighten the characters about most of the revelations, so they just bungle along until the end, which is horribly unsatisfying, almost cruel in it's abruptness.
We never find out who exhumed the body and defaced the grave marker, nor do we find out if one of the main characters has a different father than the other. None of the mysteries are solved, and distressingly enough, the main characters are left hanging as well.
Shame on Mayes for doing this to those of us who expect more of such a fine wordsmith.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Photos of me with famed authors

For those of you who actually read my blog, you might want to see photos of me with some famous authors that I've met in the last year or two.
Fair warning, I do NOT photograph well, mainly because my skin is so fair and my hair so dark...I look like a lightbulb with hair in most pictures.
But I do enjoy meeting authors, and interviewing them for the newspaper.
Here's the link to the photo page:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Syne Mitchell's End in Fire

I've read all of Syne Mitchell's works, from her fascinating family-in-space drama, Murphy's Gambit to Technogenisis, which will make me look askance at the internet for the rest of my life, and The Changeling Plague, which made me worry about all the genetic research being done here and in other countries, and ultra-wealthy men who have money and power, and will do anything to expand their lifespan. Now that Syne is a mother (Kai, her son, is a toddler already), she's crafted a dramatic story about a mother who is also an astronaut, and who must become a strong leader when World War III breaks out during a satellite run and threatens to strand her entire crew. As usual, there were a number of technical bits that weren't easy for me to understand, but Syne doesn't make them a crucial part of the plot, so you can get the gist and breeze on by to the next graph.
What I love about Syne's novels is that she makes her characters and their situations so normal, so believable, that you feel like you know the people you are reading about. She also has a sly wit, and makes that evident throughout her novels. Her female protagonists always have courage, and smarts, and grace under pressure, which makes sense when you realize that Syne herself displays these very qualities. I was fascinated by the way that Claire Logan, the heroine, took command of the space station, and managed to keep them from flying apart in the face of a radiation effect that threatened to kill them. She was able to handle a military creep who defines the word "jarhead" and keep the youngest member of the crew from suicide, while also keeping the Chinese crewman busy and helpful. I could empathize with Claires fears and worry about her sons radiation sickness and her husbands need of help to handle the chaos of an America that has been bombed.
That was my only problem with the novel; Claire's husband is such a weak idiot. He resents her career as an astronaut, he resents the time she spends with the child he helped to create and he resents her being at the space station. So we must assume from this that he's a jealous, weak and immature as*hole? Is Syne saying that, as Claire is a kind of everywoman, that her dork of a husband represents what most men think of their wives if their wives are successful mothers? If so, I have to disagree with her. My husband isn't jealous of whatever time I spend on our son, as he feels he's involved in Nicks growth and nurture, too. Claire's hubby cheats on his wife the first chance he gets, with a nurse who happens to respond to his call for help with his sick son. I found myself thinking Claire would be better off without this turkey, but at the same time, most kids really need both parents to help them grow, and divorce tends to cause emotional problems, so I'd wish that Claire works it out with weak hubby and helps him grow a spine.
What Syne didn't do in End in Fire was tell us what happened to the Japanese crewmate, Mutsuo that they rescued, and what happened to Hyun-Jin, her Chinese-American crewmate. All we know is that they jumped from the return capsule, and that they had parachutes. We have no idea if they lived or died, or were cut down by prejudiced, frightened Americans once they landed (America was at war with China). I also found it odd that North Korea, which regularly makes an appearance on the "Country Most Likely to Bomb US" list was ditched in favor of India, which doesn't seem to be as aggressive a country, with as crazy a leader in charge. But who knows, 20 years from now, when this story takes place, the political situation might have actually changed in exactly that way.
Right now I am in the midst of reading Wen Spensers "A Brothers Price" and a memoir by Ernestine Bradley about growing up in Nazi Germany.
Now that cooler temps are on the way, I'm looking forward to some great fall reading!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

This is an amazing book. "Some people say that the best stories have no words. They weren't brought up on lighthousekeeping. It is true that the words drop away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. Words are part of the silence that can be spoken." excerpt from Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. The woman who sold me this book at Borders Books and Music said she raves about it to her friends, and that it is her favorite book of the year. She was a young gal, and probably had as little in common with me, a 40-something, as possible, yet I felt a connection with her in her love of juicy prose. I'd been putting off buying this book because it's a hardback, and they are expensive, and now is not the time to buy expensive books in my household. But I couldn't deny this young clerk, or myself, the pleasure of a great read, so I threw caution to the winds and bought it, along with three other trade paperback books, The Hotflash Club, Three Junes and a historical fiction novel about Ireland. It turns out that I was right to invest in Lighthousekeeping, which is an ache of a book, poignant and rife with succulent paragraphs that are all the richer for their sparseness. Winterson's prose is rather like that of Hemingway, but devoid of his macho BS posturing. It's lean, spare and yet not at all wasteful of each carefully-chosen adjective. There is a great deal of thought, of internalized emotion, and of solitude of soul in this book, which tells the story of Silver and old Pew, Mr Dark and Molly, and the dried twig of Mrs Pinch, so very aptly named. The clean prose only serves to help us delineate the characters and their lives against the backdrop of night, and death and life. I get the strong feeling that the fine line between genius and madness is something that Winterson has struggled with herself, and it has boiled away all foolishness in a kind of life-crucible. This is the kind of book that is refreshing to read after a long, hot day, when complications arrise like house spiders from the corners and come after you en mass. Once the battle is won, this book will read like a reward. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Finished Books and Books I'm Reading

I read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the first 24 hours after I purchased it, and was amazed at how dark and sad Rowling had managed to make the book while still keeping it riveting reading. The death of Dumbeldore took me by surprise, as did the revelation that Snape was the Half Blood Prince, as I was certain it was going to be one of Harrys relatives or someone in the Order of the Phoenix, but at least one of the good guys. Snape shows his true evil colors in this book, much to my horror. I was beginning to believe he was a good guy in disguise. Harry is, in the 6th book, just as angry and upset as he was in the last novel, but this time, he seems more bitter and less apt to let things go, or to forgive. I am anxious to see what becomes of Harry in his quest to destroy Voldemort, and I'm equally anxious to see if Hogwarts remains open, and if Harry continues his relationship with Ginny Weasley. The romance in the book seemed ridiculous and embarrasing, but most teenage romances are, so that didn't come as a surprise.
I've also finished Peter Mayles "French Lessons" about the various food and wine festivals in France, and found it to be a a mild and enjoyable read. Mayle obviously loves to eat and drink, and shows his love of the subject on every page.
Next up are Star Jones memoirs, "You Have to Stand for Something or You'll Fall For Anything" which wins the prize for the longest paperback book title. So far, it is like reading an advice column with a bit of personal history thrown in. But I am sure there will be more about her background as we go along.
I am also reading Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson, about several generations of Swedish women, and Isabelle the Navigator by Luke Davis, a book that eludes categorization, and Cat on the Scent, a Sneaky Pie Brown mystery, just for fun. I read a couple of Rita Mae Browns mysteries written by her cat when they first came out, and I enjoyed them, but found them to be somewhat formulaic, and there was a bit too much droning on about politics and sexuality. But I am hoping that Brown has matured somewhat in writing these books, so that by now, her mysteries read like zippy little things, and not like some political text surrounded by a layer of cheap mystery plot. We shall see. It's a paperback gotten at a garage sale, so if the book turns out to be drek, I can always toss it into the "give away" bin.
It's been hot and sunny here in the Emerald City, so I haven't been inclined to read heavy books lately, but I am hoping that I will soon find some good science fiction to perk things up in my TBR pile.
Meanwhile, keep cool and keep reading!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Lady and the Unicorn and others by Tracy Chevalier

I just finished The Lady and the Unicorn, which was a well-designed novel about the famed French Lady and the Unicorn tapestry from the 16th Century. Fascinating as it is to glimpse inside the world of Europeans in that era, Chevalier likes to grip the reader with her characters, always full-bodied and fully realized, and taut plotlines that make you eat up pages like potato chips. This novel was no exception, as we meet the lustful painter Nicholas des Innocents (and I am sure the irony was completely intended) who enjoys relieving women of their innocence/virginity, and then leaving them to their own devices. He's a talented rogue, of course, and he creates the paintings for the tapestry and makes the faces on them those of the women he'd like to have bedded, but due to class restrictions, can't. Claude, the noblewoman he can't seduce, though he tries hard enough, becomes a sad figure by the end of the novel, yet we are again reminded of the plight of women through the centuries, when they were considered property of their fathers or husbands, and not allowed to make decisions for themselves, especially when it came to marriage. One of the tapestry workers, a blind girl, does take matters into her own hands by getting pregnant via Nicholas, so that she won't have to marry a stinking thug of a woad dyer who is too crude and pungent to bear.
Most of the women in the novel seem cruel, catty and often stupid, which is odd, as Chevalier would seem to highlight their imprisonment within a system that only values them as chattel.
I didn't like this novel as well as I did the lush "Girl With A Pearl Earring" which had some intense sexual tension and more emotional scenes that did the Lady and The Unicorn. I invested more in Griette, perhaps because she was such a sensitive soul in a world and an era that devalued such traits in women. Plus Vermeers wife was such a shrew, as was her mother, that it was difficult to see how Giette would survive at all, with such hawks. The Virgin Blue was another of Chevaliers books I've read, and it was more violent and harrowing than the other books I'd read, probably because it discussed the Reformation and how it was dealt with in France, in small towns and villages. There was bloodshed and death, and the usual theme of a woman caught by the mores of her time, and treated badly, with a child paying the price this time. I believe Chevalier is a historical feminist, highlighting the indignities and cruelty that women have faced over the centuries.
The next Chevalier book on my list is "Falling Angels" and I will be curious to see if she changes perspectives, as she did in Lady and the Unicorn, from one character to the next each chapter, or if she will keep to one narrator throughout the novel. I am also curious to see if the novel takes place in Europe or in America, as Chevaliers other novels all take place in Europe or the Netherlands.
Following the Chevalier books in my TBR pile are two books by Lynn Sharon Schwartz, "Ruined by Reading" and "The Writing on the Wall." I've read three of her books in the past, and enjoyed them, so I'm hoping for some great entertainment, as well as enlightenment.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling

Summertime is a great time to soak in some rays and catch up on your TBR (to be read) list. This summer, science fiction and fantasy lovers will be able to load up on fantastic reading easily, with the new "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling, due out at the stroke of midnight, July 15. This is the 6th book in the popular fantasy series, and the next to last, as Harry graduates from Hogwarts School of Wizardry in the 7th and final volume.What we know so far about Harry is that he was orphaned as an infant when an evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, struck down his parents, but was only able to give Harry a lightening-bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. Harry was brought up by his revolting relatives, the Dursleys, and once invited to Hogwarts for wizard training, has been able to put off most of their abuse by magical means and rescues from his student-wizard pals, Hermoine and Ron. Lord Voldemort has tried, via various nefarious assistants, to kill Harry, but has been unsuccessful each time. Harry found an adult who wanted to help raise him in Sirius Black, but was deprived of Black in the last book, "Order of the Phoenix." Though you might think that rooting for the underdog would be the main source of the book’s popularity, I think that Rowling has tapped into a universal love of hero myths and managed to tell some "ripping good yarns" in the process. Her playful and witty prose, and her endearing, well-fleshed-out characters addict readers to her marvelous world, where magic exists alongside ordinary life, and wizards puzzle over the world of common mortals, called "muggles." A new movie is due out this year, and, though she’s just given birth last month, Rowling is said to be hard at work on the final book. Her Web site is as witty and fascinating as her books, and there are always odd corners to explore.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Memoir Club by Laura Kalpakian

If you ever planned on judging a book by its cover, I would hope you'd choose a book like the Memoir Club, which has a beautifully-designed cover with flowers, tea and coffee cups and the remains of looks like the tabletop of a restaurant that serves high tea to ladies of quality.
Fortunately, the book lives up to its cover blurb from, which called it "A tender, wise and witty page-turner."
Kalpakian, my fellow Pacific Northwest dweller, has created quite a well-balanced, nutritious soupcon of characters, all of whom are interesting and grip you with their memoirs, even if you don't necessarily like them or want to have tea with them as people. Francine, the snobbish social-climber gets her come-uppance, and Amy Meadows, the daugther of a character who seemed unnecessarily weepy to me, is just a shallow b*tch who isn't terribly smart, though much of that could perhaps be laid at the feet of her youth.
Jill, the Korean adoptee is a bit too prickly for my tastes, but she was a fascinating character, as was Rusty, Nell, Caryn and my favorite, Sarah Jane, whose personal history read like a Mark Twain novel. Penny, the instructor doesn't count as much of a character because it's evident from the beginning that she's just a deus ex machina for the characters, and I wasn't surprised at all when they discovered she wasn't really a teacher and had no real address.
The characters meet each Wednesday night in to read and discuss the memoirs they are all writing, and in the process of putting their hearts on paper, they discover a great deal about themselves and each other, and become bonded as friends and family. I was amazed that Kalpakian had the chutzbah to use a womens health clinic and a crazy anti-abortion evangelical Christian group as a way to show the characters in a life-changing situation, mainly because so many novelists play it safe these days, because the Christian Right is such a strong and, in my opinion, oppressive and destructive lobby group, they dare not risk seeming "anti-Christian" for fear of boycotts and such. But Kalpakian is made of sterner stuff than your average novelist, and she firmly holds forth on the insanity of people who want to kill doctors who are only helping women in dire circumstances by showing the reader the internal workings of these crazies and the internal workings of a womens clinic that caters to the poor and disenfranchised.
The prose is slightly glossy, but sturdy and workmanlike underneath, and the plot clips along at a precise and rapid pace. Kalpakian runs a clean ship, and there's no dallying here or there on subplots or stupid characters that never see fruition, thank heaven.
I would recommend this book to those wanting their chick lit with a little more meat on it's bones and less frou-frou and whining.
It's well worth the price of a trade paperback.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte & Memoir Club

I finished the Club Dumas three days ago and I am still thinking about it. It was recomended to me by those friends who know that I adored "Shadow of the Wind" by Spanish author Carlos Ruis Zafon. Club Dumas was also a translated work, but it has an entirely different flavor from the upbeat and fascinating Zafon tome. The main character, Corso, is a coarse, cynical man who finds rare books by any means necessary to sell to various thuggish and evil clientelle. He has little in the way of morals, but he does have a love of books that redeems him only slightly. His dealings with women also seem crude and usurious, until he meets "Irene Adler" who has named herself after the only women to best Sherlock Holmes. What, exactly, Adler is (angel? fallen angel? demon?) is never really addressed, so we are left to wonder why she has fallen in love with Corso and what their fate together will be. We are also left to wonder, at the end, if the evil book collector gets what he paid for. We know only that he screams, and that Corso leaves. A rather unsatisfying ending, and the loose end of Adler, her background and why she feels the need to protect Corso (and who sent her to do so?) left me with a more bitter than sweet attitude toward the book. I would only recomend it to those who are serious Dumas fans, or those who are fascinated by 17th century rare manuscripts and how to spot a fake.
Oddly enough, I picked up a wonderful book today from Island Books (on Mercer Island) called "The Memoir Club" by Laura Kalpakian that looks to be great fun. It's about a group of women who get together to write their memoirs. I also got a copy of "The Wizard of Seattle" by Kay Hooper in mass market paperback on the recomendation of an bibliophile online. In looking it over, it appears to be a romance with a bit of fantasy thrown in for good measure. I am not a fan of modern romance, mainly because the writing is ludicrous, the characters stereotypical and the plots laughable. So far, the silly writing is there, but I am uncertain as to the depth of the plot. Fortunately, I didn't invest too much in it because it was a mass market paperback. I also finished Laurie R Kings "Locked Rooms" which is the 8th or 9th book in her Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mysteries. I read the first book in the series, and hadn't read any of the books inbetween, so I was uncertain of what to expect. But the book proved fascinating, a fast and enticing read that kept you thinking throughout. Of course, the reader knows what is going to happen chapters before the denoument, but I find that to be true of most modern mystery books. I find the banter between Holmes and Russell quite amusing, and yet, I recall thinking that Mary Russell was a huge pain in the rump as a character, and I couldn't imagine what Holmes found to like about her, as she wasn't a pleasant person at all. She was even less pleasant in this book, while Holmes came off as the ultimate gracious old gent trying to keep his beloved out of harms way and solve the mystery of her familys death. I learned a great deal about the San Francisco fire of 1906, and about flappers and the mores of that era, which I appreciated, as many authors don't bother to give you a solid picture of what people and their mileu was like in any given era. I also find it bothersome that Russell seems to need rescuing too often, in the first book and in this one. She's supposedly a smart and tough woman, yet she becomes catatonic when she learns her therapist is dead. And Holmes has to take care of her throughout the book, because she just seems to regularly go out of her mind and forget how to eat or take a bath, which is pathetic for a supposedly strong woman. But, other than those nitpicks, it was an enjoyable book with a brisk plot and engaging characters.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Olympos, Dan Simmons, and Winner of the National Book Award

HarperCollins First Look Books sent me an ARC of Olympos, by Dan Simmons, and it got to my house too late. They'd sent it at the beginning of May, but I didn't get it until the 17th, so I've only had 10 days to try and wade through it.
You honestly have to be an Olympian reader just to get through this huge tome of 688 pages. I found it rough going, and I like Greek Mythology!Simmons has taken the famed classic Greek characters and turned them on their respective ears here, with lots of sex, violence, swearing and behavior that, though somewhat in line with modern characters, seems a bit too much gore and horror with no moral payoff for archetypical people who seemed to have some good reasons for what they did in the original myths. On the other hand, techno-geeks who are very fond of long, technical explanations and fantasy sex with gods and goddesses will be all over this book. I can imagine tons of male teenage geeks who lament the loss of Star Trek and are bored with Stargate reruns will find this book breathtaking. It's the kind of book Stephen Hawking or Bill Gates would have enjoyed as teenagers. Unfortunately, I am a 45 year old woman who is not amused by an author having his way with Shakespeares Prospero (The Tempest is my favorite play) and turning him into a violent, ruthless man who kills at a whim. My guess is that Simmons enjoys being a world-maker and bringing the gods of mythology down a notch or two, just for fun. He certainly takes his readers knowledge of Greek myth for granted, which is refreshing, as I don't like being condescended to, and many authors, especially those who have technical backgrounds, write as if they are talking to a dim 10 year old.
I enjoyed Jincy Willett's "Winner of the National Book Award" a great deal more than Olympos.
"Winner" was funny, fascinating and a sister-story that didn't let the "bad" sister off the hook with little or no reprisals for her actions, as did Jennifer Weiners "In Her Shoes." Dorcas had a clear and strong voice, and was witty, ironic and way too kind to her nutty, slutty twin, Abigail. Though I am generally not fond of "victim lit" this book made sure everyone got what they deserved in the end, and Dorcas didn't flinch in her honest estimation of herself or the other characters. Plus, she's a librarian with an arched brow and a solid sense of self, which I appreciated.
I also just finished Tanith Lee's sequel to "The Silver Metal Lover," called "Metallic Love" and I was saddened to see how cynical and cruel Lee had turned, in making her characters give no quarter, and even turn ugly on her original protagonist, the wonderful Jane. No one comes out of the book unscathed, and all the lovely romantic and tender sentiments of the first novel are smashed and revealed to be nothing more than cheap tricks in this book. Shame on you, Ms. Lee, for taking a hopeful and lovely novel and smearing it with your bitter cynical vitriol.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse

"Archangel Protocol" by Lyda Morehouse impressed me because it was a combination of Syne Mitchells "Technogenesis" and Melissa Scotts book about the internal internet (I can't remember the title of the book, but it was written at least 10 years ago) with a bit of Vonnegut and Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" thrown in for good measure. There was also a bit of "The Handmaids Tale" by Margaret Atwood in the milieu of the book. And though I'd read this kind of book before, I was amazed she was able to take those books and make a fairly decent, tasty leftover stew of them.
Diedre McMannus was an interesting character right from the start, as an excommunicated cop who is contacted by Michael (an archangel in disguise) to try and rout a plot by false internet 'angels' to take political power and kill the opposing candidate.
Supposedly known as a "jezebel" I didn't see any real evidence of McMannus as someone who sleeps around...She seemed almost too good in that respect. But I liked her courage and her determination to take responsibility for her actions and decisions, whether she actually made them or was just accused of them. She had guts, and style, and was very real.
I enjoyed the way that Morehouse took archangel mythology and turned it on its ear by having the archangels be a Mafioso, a shark, a transvestite and an African sage. My only problem with them was that they seemed to be rather vague on their theology, and unable to present a strong view of their faith, when I would think that archangels would have dogma woven into the substance of their being. They are close to God, therefore they should be of perfect faith, as they don't really have "free will" as humans do.
I also enjoyed the "Mouse" character and his "page" and the way the internet was presented in such a lively manner...You could tell the author had read William Gibsons famed book on the future of the internet.
Using first person to write a tale is always a crapshoot, in my opinion. If not done right, it can appear quite amateurish. Morehouse started out sounding like an amateur, but managed to use dialogue to good effect, and with strong characters, kept the whole thing afloat until the end.
The end was rather abrupt, in the sense that we don't know what happened with McMannus and her beloved and their baby, but it did tie up everything else rather nicely. The authors liberal/Unitarian stance is very evident throughout the book, so if you're an evangelical republican/conservative, this book is not for you.
If I were to rate this book on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I'd rate it at 7.5.
I will be looking for Morehouses next work, and hoping that she is able to create another good tale in the religious/political milieu of "Archangel Protocol."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Books that moved me, In a Sunburned Country Review

I was recently asked on the bookworm message board of America Online if there were books that moved me or changed me as a person during my reading life.
I had to respond that there were too many such books to mention in one posting.
Of Mice and Men, To A God Unknown, Travels With Charley, all by John Steinbeck, all books that moved me in a profound way. But I was also moved by Shakespeares "The Tempest" and by Ray Bradbury's short stories (and by his book about writing the script for Moby Dick and filming in Ireland...can't remember the name, but it was a wonderful book). I also loved Helene Hanff's "Q's Legacy" and "Underfoot in Show Business" and Patricia McKillips "Winter Rose" and a childrens book called "The Crystal Child" by Barbara Wersba....there are so many books that gripped me emotionally or changed my life in some way. Wm Faulkners "The Unvanquished" made me want to be a writer, back when I was 10. Robert Heinleins "Glory Road" made me want to be an astronaut, and Ted Sturgeons "Godbody" made me realize that everyone experiences God in a different way. Lois McMaster Bujolds Miles Vorkosigan books made me realize that if you have a handicap, it can be an advantage, not a detraction from leading a great life. Steinbeck's works made me realize that writers can uplift and enoble the human spirit with prose that is art, because it makes you think, feel, see the world in a different way. Some of his books are like a prayer from humankind to the infinite. Some of McKillips books are like a poem from the heart of humanity to God.
At any rate, I finished the overly long "In a Sunburned Country" by fellow Iowan Bill Bryson, and though it was by turns funny and fascinating, it also had a few too many ribald moments that I felt were inappropriate. Bryson seemed immature and ridiculous when cursing or fuming, and his salacious take on "Walking Matilda" was just plain stupid. Grow up, Bill.
I also finished Marianne Williamsons "Everyday Grace" and I found myself feeling as if specifc paragraphs had been written with me in mind. Perhaps it was because I gave my two-week notice at the Mercer Island Reporter Friday, 5/7/05, but it seemed that after 8 years, I am ready to move on to another chapter in my life. And Williamson had several chapters about change, fear, leaving one job, one aspect of a life to find another waiting around the corner. I can't say that I agree with her idea that the ego or self is at fault for all the worlds ills, and for keeping us from closer communion with God the Almighty. I think that having a sense of self and belief in ones self is important to having a healthy mind and heart. I don't pretend that I am ready to be what she terms "a modern mystic" however, so perhaps I am just not ready to rise to a new level of consciousness....whatever.
I do agree that we humans need to work on our souls and be more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate when we can be. But it's way too idealistic and unrealistic to expect us all to give up striving to make a living and just live on the streets and starve, too. I don't think God is going to provide me with a steak dinner every day just for worshipping Him. I also agree with her idea that we need to pray and be grateful to God when we are not in crisis mode. That's something both my husband and I need to work on, in addition to our need to learn to live without fear. But those are long-term goals, and not things that can be accomplished overnight. I do think that we are deserving of miracles, and that there is an infinite realm of miracles and love, I am just a regular mortal with a tiny speck of the universe within me, however, so my ability to access that is limited, I believe. I must learn to pray with my whole heart and soul, with honesty always, and Williamson has some excellent guidance in that respect, and some sensible words on the fragility of life and time.
I am currently in the third chapter of a Lucille Ball biography called "Ball of Fire" by Stefan Kanfer. So far, it's quite entertaining, though he makes Ball sound like a bit of a head case.
Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, like me, who seem to spend every Mothers Day taking care of not just their own children, but other peoples kids, too.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Another ARC, Fair Folk Review and What I'm Reading

I received notice today from HarperCollins that I've been selected to review "Olympos" by Dan Simmons. This will be my fourth ARC for HC, and I am looking forward to reading this particular SF author, who has garnered a lot of buzz since he published a best seller about two years ago.
I just finished "The Fair Folk" edited by Marvin Kaye, who co-wrote a book called "Winter Mind" that I read, and loved, back in the 70s. This was a good anthology of stories about Fairies, Elves, Brownies, Red Caps and other wee folk who have been known to wreak havoc on the lives of us muddy mortals. My favorite stories in the anthology were by two of my favorite fantasy authors, Tanith Lee and the fabulous Patricia McKillip. Lee's "Uous" is set in modern times, and puts quite a spin on the Cinderella story and the three-wishes myth, and "The Kelpie" by McKillip is marvelous storytelling that keeps you wondering up to the very end. It's also more of a modern spin on some old tales, but it's done in a very graceful fashion. One other standout is "Except the Queen" by Jane Yolen, which had Yolen's typically rich use of metaphor and language going for it, though I am not sure what Midori Snyder, who is the co-author, added to the mix. "An Embarrassment of Elves" was just that, goofy and embarrassing, and "Grace Notes" was a so-so story, not bad, just average. Kay added a precise little afterword about Fairy Folk, which was kind of him, though I do think he could have edited some of the stories down more (a couple were as long as a novella) and added further works by some other fantasy authors. I'm almost finished with fellow Iowan Bill Brysons comedic "In a Sunburned Country" about his travels through Australia, and I am hoping to get a copy of a book by Stephen King that is supposedly not frightening from the library soon. Meanwhile, I am also trying to read Tamora Pierces "Tricksters" the story of the daughter of Alanna the Lioness. Pierce writes great "coming of age" stories for pre-teen and teenage girls, but her world-building is hard to beat for any age reader.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Twilight by Katherine Mosby

Katherine Mosby obviously loves the written word as a cat loves a ball of yarn. She plays with words, chases them, pounces on them and purrs them into soft, fluffy paragraphs that you want to warm your lap. I loved the way she treated her paragraphs with such intensity, but I was not happy with the point of view of the book. It was what I think is called "limited omniscient" and was therefore too passive to be fully gripping. Things kept happening at a remove, which, though it set a fog-shrouded mood, left the reader without enough emotional contact with Lavinia and Gaston. Lavinia explains the problem perfectly on page 210 when she says "Do you never wonder about me? Have you no curiosity at all? Are my parents still alive? Who was my best friend in elementary school? Have I ever stolen anything? What poems do I know by heart? Does it matter to you?"By writing in the tense that she does, and by using such a distant POV, Mosby makes us as distant and seemingly uncaring/selfish as Gaston. She holds the reader at arms length, and yet beckons to us with her characters desperate desire and soulful need for a love that is fulfilling. I loved Gaston, and found his intricate descriptions fascinating...The reader could see him, with his mole, his chin whiskers, smell his aftershave, and know his heart through his poignant letters to Lavinia. Having had the experience of dating men who were horrible kissers and then dating ones who were fabulous, I could empathize with Lavinia's decision to dump Shelby, with his gagging tongue and stultifying demeanor, and I could understand her passion for the brilliant, if flawed Gaston. The ending left us in the middle of nowhere, bereft, not knowing if Gaston makes it to Switzerland and survives WW2, or knowing if Celeste does,either. We do not know of anyones final fate, just that they all ended up somewhere else. We do not know if Lavinia told Celeste that she was sleeping with her husband, or if Celeste was actually a better person than portrayed to Lavinia by Gaston. This was rather cruel of Ms. Mosby, to leave the reader in the lurch like that, with such a hasty-seeming ending. But I would recommend the book to all who want a strong evocation of the pre-WWII-era Paris and a delcious love story with characters that fascinate, told with elegance.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Crystal Soldier is Clearly Wonderful

For those of you who haven't heard of the marvelous Liaden Universe books, I recommend that you read my blog entry on why you should apply for a visa to this fantastic world of ultra-polite, golden-skinned people with razor-sharp wits and a strong sense of honor.
Crystal Soldier, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's latest entry into the Liaden Universe is the first half of a duology that traces the beginnings of Clan Korval.
This, from the jacket copy, is a quick sum of the book:
"In a galaxy worn down by generations of wear against an implacable foe (sheriekas), a star pilot's mission brings him an unexpected ally and a chance to serve his troop-and mankind.
M Jela Granthor's Guard is a soldier whose genes were selected before birth, whose life was chosen for him as one of service and dedication.
Cantra yos'Phelium is an ace pilot and a...rogue, who trades in the dark and gray markets along the war-torn rim, running solo, with an eye firmly on her own profit."
Though his name sounds a bit like a pedigreed dog or a racehorse, M. Jela Granthor's Guard is one cool customer, and a big-shouldered guy whom the reader grows to love in short order.
Cantra is a more edgy, and one gets the idea that there's a lot more simmering underneath her hardened exterior than we are told. Then there's the Tree, who is just as much a character as the people involved in the story. I felt the Tree was rather like an old Buddhist or wise man, dispensing pods and whispers as it saw fit.
Things progress nicely with Cantra and Jela, though the sexual tension was held out until the last possible chapter. My only concern with the characters was that both Cantra and Jela are genetically-created people, not natural born, from what I gather, thus lending them extraordinary powers of survival and fighting capabilities. I would have felt better had I known that there was a regular person involved who has only the power of their mind to help them survive. All the main characters were just a bit too exceptional, and I like to have an underdog to root for.
But, other than that minor problem, the rest of the book was divine, and told in the usual fast-paced, rich and textured way that Lee and Miller tell their stories. They always leave one longing for more. The reader finds him or herself transported to a very well-built world where the people are so real, you expect to meet them on the street. They always have witty dialogue and characters with a good sense of humor, even in the most grim of circumstances. I don't wish to give away too much of the story line, but I found the fate of the created slave pods particularly fascinating. I am sure our two heroes will encounter the sinister Uncle in the next book, Crystal Dragon.
I can't wait to see what happens next!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ireland by Frank Delaney

Having visited Ireland with my friend Rosemarie M. Larson five years ago, I can honestly say that it is a gorgeous country, from what I saw of it. Waterford was my particular favorite, but every place we stayed had its own magnificence. The people were fascinating, too, and being the people-watcher that I am, I found them a garrulous and interesting lot. We were fortunate to find taxi drivers who were kind and generous with their advice for keeping out of trouble in their green and pleasant land. Because Rosemarie and I were both history majors, we were overwhelmed, at times, with the feeling of ancient history that breathes up from the cobblestones on the streets of Dublin and each town we visited.
Therefore I was a bit trepidatious about the book "Ireland" because I wondered if the author would be able to capture the glory and history and wonder of his country within 600 pages of a book.
I'm happy to report that Frank Delaney did a perfectly marvelous job of bringing the important moments of Irish history to life through the eyes of a storyteller and a young boy, Ronan, who becomes fascinated with him. Though a bit wild in his emotions, Ronan was an interesting person who the reader really felt empathy for, due to his cold mother and her hateful ways. The fact that his aunt and his father were so lovely certainly helped him, but it becomes evident that they shouldn't have cocooned him from the world so much, as he was rather too naive.
The storyteller was a wonderful, layered character, enigmatic and yet full of a love of his native land and its history. I won't spoil the book for you by explaining his life or why he took to the road, as that's part of the mystery that is solved at the end of the book. I did see all the revelations coming, to be fair, about a third of the way through the book...I knew what was going to happen. But I suspect that was part of the authors plan. I think he telegraphs his revelations because he wants us to know more than the narrator, Ronan.
The one problem I had with the book was when things weren't spelled out as quickly as I would have liked, or as clearly. For example, the storytellers name, you must assume, as they never actually come out and say it. I also do not think there was enough time or effort spent on the domination of Ireland and its culture by the Catholic Church, and how cruel that domination became until very recently. Having seen the movie "The Magdalene Sisters" and watching the institutionalized brutality of the Catholic Church, I was horrified and disgusted that they didn't disband those houses of horror until the late 80s, and the last one closed in 1996! Unbelievable that in this day and age, such slavery existed and was condoned by the church. Personally, I think that if the Catholic Church hadn't dominated Ireland for so many years, destroying much of their early culture, the British wouldn't have had such an easy time of trying to immolate the Irish and whatever culture was left to them. It's a testament to the courage and tenacity of the Irish people that their culture and people did survive, and didn't succumb to British mores and way of life.
At any rate, I highly recommend the book, Ireland, by Frank Delaney, to all who are fascinated by the Emerald Isle and its people.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

More ARCs coming/Review/What I'm reading

Hello honorable readers, I'm what you'd call a practitioner of "espirit d'escalier" or staircase wit that only comes to me once its too late or I am on my way out the door.
Definition, compliments of Anu Garg and A Word A Day:
Esprit d'escalier- thinking of a witty remark too late; hindsight wit or afterwit; also such a remark
"Oh, how I regret in the night/With pangs that will never abate/The brilliantly crushing retort/I think of...a little too late!"
In other news, I have another ARC coming my way from Harper Collins, called "Twilight" by Katherine Mosby. It sounds fascinating, but then, you can't really tell much from the publishers blurb. I just finished an ARC called "Toast" by Nigel Slater, which is about a young man who grew up in England during the same era I was growing up, the 60s and 70s. Apparently, Slater is some kind of celeb chef in the UK, but this book is about the people and food of his early years, and I must say it's quite bitter in many senses of the word. It seems to me that most of the autobiographical works I've read from Brits tend to be rather satirical and mean, and not one of the authors seems to like their parents one iota. There must have been a rash of horribly stiff, cruel, cold and snobbish people having children in the late 50s and early 60s in England. And a majority of them had no idea how to cook, it appears. Slater pretty much savages his parents, and is especially viscious when it comes to his mother, whom he shrieks hatred at, and then mourns deeply when she dies of a lung ailment. He's not much happier with his father, who remarries a woman who can cook, but who is also cruel and abusive to poor Nigel.
In other book news, hubby, son and I went garage-saling this weekend, and happened upon an estate sale of a woman who seemed to detest her late mother, and all that she stood for, including all her books, paints and pottery. I had a strong feeling that I would have liked the deceased, as I found many great classics among her book collection. I only bought four, though, because the daughter had everything priced too high. I purchased lovely old hardbacks with their old colorful paper dustjackets still intact, and I managed to dicker her down to 75 cents each. I got Booth Tarkington's "Image of Josephine," Edna Ferber's "Great Son," Alexander Woollcott's (yes, THAT Alex Woollcott of the Algonquin roundtable) "Long, Long Ago" and a more modern book, Bill Brysons "In a Sunburned Country." I also got a lovely quilted bookcover and an Art Nouveu-style pocket-sized mirror. There were so many great books, I really had to restrain myself, but I knew the daughter would want tons for the really great old books. There were two old copies of "The Haunted Bookshop" and "Parnasus on Wheels" by Christopher Morely that I dearly wanted to rescue,too. I found a copy of Antonia Frasiers "Your Royal Hostage" at another sale, along with a cute bookend that has a cow, a pig and two geese on it.
I'm currently making my way through Frank Delany's "Ireland" which is sublime, and "Crystal Soldier" which is, as expected, perfectly wonderful. Today was the first day of the National Writers Workshop, but I feel like I am getting a cold, so heaven only knows if I will make it through both days. But it's always like getting a booster shot to your writing to attend the NWW. This year seems lacking any real "stars" in the writing world, but it does have some veteran editors and some writers whose work I admire. So we shall see. Oddly enough, I had two people whom I do not know tell me that they read the Mercer Island Reporter and enjoy my work. I was amazed at that, and suspected that my mother had somehow paid them off.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sundial in a Grave:1610 by Mary Gentle

This wasn't a badly written book, it was just a badly edited one. It needs to be 200 pages shorter than it is (660 pages with that many redundancies is a crime) and it also needs someone to delete much of the political talk, ruminations and information, because all that is boring to the reader. Not many people find the intricacies of the 17th century, in terms of politics and who is stabbing whom in the back, all that exciting. We know the outcome, after all, so why bore us with the details? What makes history interesting (and I speak as one with a history degree) is the people involved in it, and what the people do that is different or adventurous. I appreciate that Mary Gentle was obviously trying to write a tale in the came vein as Dumas or Sabatini, with the twist of having a female muskateer, however, she didn't really make her Dariole a likeable person. Dariole is a sadistic, cruel and vicious person who really got tiresome one-third of the way through the book. She was not remotely honorable in her behavior, and showed no compassion, kindness or even decency to the besotted and ridiculous Rochefort, who was a masochist and totally pathetic by that same one-third of the book. How Gentle can, in good conscience, have a main character who is supposedly a duelist and a man of dignity be beaten, bloodied, flayed, imprisoned, beaten again, and totally humiliated over and over again, and still try to have the reader believe he's a good guy, or at least a man of honor and dignity is beyond me. He never won any fights, he was constantly beaten by everyone, including a 15 year old and his own servant, and he constantly whined about being a masochist and wanting to be humiliated by Dariole. After about the fourth time that he blubbers that he is undeserving of anything or anyone because he enjoys being whipped by that horrid child, I wanted to scream "Oh please! Not AGAIN!" Gentle seems to want to torture the reader with such redundancy, instead of keeping the plot moving forward. And I found it hard to believe that someone as honorable as Samurai Tanaka Saburo would want Dariole to kill him. She was so shallow, so deliberately cruel, always angry and ill-behaved that I was actually hoping that Saburo would cut her arm off, just so we wouldn't have to read of her beating up Rochefort yet again and causing him to get an erection. Caterina and Fludd were interesting characters, and I felt that more time could have been spent on Caterinas predictions and less on humiliating Fludd, who was suddenly ill-spoken when confronted by Dariole, as if his brain fled. Speaking as a woman who has been raped, I found the whole idea that Dariole wanted to kill Fludd instead of the man who actually raped her just plain stupid. Trust me, you want to kill the guy who actually hurt you, not the evil mastermind guy who told him to do it, and then walked away because he could have cared less. The guy that did rape her did so because he could, and because he enjoyed it, obviously. She should have made it her business to cut off his "cod" and feed it to him. That she preferred anal sex was, I felt, added purely for the sake of titillation, and certainly didn't make Dariole seem any less ugly or freakish as a person. I was thankful that Gentle wrapped it up in the last two chapters, so at least we know what happened to the characters, but again, things could have moved at a much brisker pace, and the story would have benefited. The title of the book was somewhat misleading. We heard of two sundials in the story, but they were not central to the plot. The cover should have been something more important to the plot of the book, such as Dariole fighting, or portrait of "Sully's Black Dog" or something more reflective of the era than books and a skull. Books were a luxury few could afford back then, and not many people used skulls as paperweights. I am also concerned that Gentle used the "F-word" frequently during the book, for no apparent reason. I do not recall reading, during college, that this was a commonly used word during the 17th century, particularly among those of good family. I sincerely hope that Gentle considers what she is trying to say here, and cleans the book up a bit. It's a 300-400 page novel that took her 660 plus pages to finalize in a satisfying fashion. Someone needs to cut out the deadwood, and turn it into an adventure novel with a snappy plot.
I felt this was a novel that was somehow trying to normalize "sado-masochist" relationships, by saying that this type of thing has been around for so long, and was common enough that we should embrace it, and practitioners of it, as just perfectly normal people, instead of perverts. We should also, of course, realize that anal sex was common and made adventurous women liberated because they couldn't get pregnant that way. Yeah, right.
definitely not my cuppa tea, and I think I will henceforth steer clear of Ms Gentles works.

Monday, March 21, 2005

A Recommendation And Anticpiated Books I Want to Read

I spent a good 2/3 of last night reading a book called "Teany Book" by musician Moby and his ex-girlfriend Kelly Tisdale. Seems the two of them opened a tea house on the lower East Side of New York City called "Teany" not only because the space was small, but also because Moby and his friend consider themselves small persons. I've not had the opportunity to listen to Moby's music, but I did see him on a Sci-Fi Channel commercial in which he played music with the space ship from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and thought it was pretty funny.
And I dearly love tea. I've been a tea fan since age 2, when my mother, an inveterate tea drinker, sat right down with me and my dolls and stuffed animals and had a 'real' tea party with real tea! I've tried coffee at various times in my life, and other than coffee soy ice cream, I just don't like the stuff, and it doesn't like my colon one iota. But what's wonderful about this book isn't just the information on various teas and herbal tisanes, it's the humor layered throughout the book, the funny cartoons Moby draws and the fabulous, and I mean scrumptious sounding vegan recipes, taken from their menu at Teany. Because I'm not able to eat any eggs or dairy products, the vegan items are perfect, as they eschew any animal products at all. That means I only have to take out the nuts, onions and strawberries that I am allergic to, and I am all set! There are some things, like key lime mini-pies and chocolate tea cakes that I am dying to make. There's a recipe for green tea chocolate pudding that sounds like heaven, too, but then, all the recipes sound wonderful. It's an intimate, warm and funny book, and I highly recommend it.
The Seattle Times has a Pacific Northwest Magazine insert, tab sized, that usually just publishes boring home and garden articles. However, twice a year, they publish lists of books that are coming out, and this years spring book list had some very promising items on it that I feel compelled to record here, lest I forget the titles when I'm next in a bookstore or at a garage sale.The blurb before the listing says these are "101 most anticipated books of spring"and since this is officially the first day of spring, here are the ones I am anticipating, in no particular order.
1) The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd
2) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
3) Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
4) The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
5) The Writing on the Wall by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
6) Everything She Thought She Wanted by Elizabeth Buchan
7) The Sign of the Book by John Dunning
8) The Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard
9) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
10) Writing With Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005 by Margaret Atwood
11) Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
12) The Genius Factory: The Secret History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz. This book delineates the outcome for more than 200 children fathered by "genius" sperm. Fascinating.
I just got a copy of "The Fair Folk" edited by Marvin Kaye in the mail from the Science Fiction Book Club, and I am looking forward to reading it, as some of my favorite authors have stories in it, from Patricia McKillip to Jane Yolen and Tanith Lee. And speaking of Tanith Lee, she has, according to my very well connected friend, Renee Stern, written a sequel to "The Silver Metal Lover" which was one of my very favorite books of the early 1980s. That and "Electric Forest" are both about women dealing with body issues and as I've had to deal with body issues all of my life, these books spoke to me in a very intimate way.
Now I am left wondering if Magda Cled will make another appearance in a sequel to "Electric Forest"?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bloggers vs Journalists and what I am reading

"A craft's essential skills
Not everyone who simply gathers information and disseminates it can be called a journalist. The craft requires skill in finding story ideas and facts, cultivating sources, and then presenting news in a way that serves the public interest. It requires specific talents for research, interviews, and distillation of information; sifting rant from reality; and then presenting it with clarity, accuracy, speed, and relevance. In giving access to a reporter, newsmakers must be mindful of those essential skills.
This explosion of blog "news" puts more raw information before consumers, unfiltered by the clergy of the established media, who are losing their captured flock. This Protestant Reformation of news lets consumers more easily pick news sources more widely, but often without knowing who's credible.
Among traditional journalists, the checks and balances of editing generally produce credible news. Many bloggers, however, are directly accountable to no one. They may not always abide by basic rules of journalism. They often have no experienced editor questioning their reasoning and sourcing. Perhaps a new brand of bloggers will emerge who commit themselves to a code of standards, helped along by newsmakers who screen them carefully."
March 18 Christian Science Monitor

The above puts paid to the argument that bloggers are de facto journalists. They aren't. I happen to be a professional journalist, and I know the difference. It irks me that there are so many hobby writers out there doing online journals and assuming that by just typing anything onto a web page, they're suddenly transformed into journalists. It's absurd and ridiculous for them to think so, IMHO. There's a craft to journalism and to writing professionally, and that is something most bloggers don't recognize.
I've been working at the craft of writing for over 22 years, and I still learn and hone my skills each year via books, workshops, etc. Journalism and writing aren't just something you do the moment you pick up a pen or put your fingers on a keyboard. Skill, talent and hard work are required.
I am currently reading "A Sundial in the Grave, 1610" by Mary Gentle, the second ARC I've gotten from Harper Collins First Reader Program. It was rather slow going at first, even knowing the history of the era as I do. Finally, by page 100, things began to get interesting. Now, however, there has been a great deal too much angst and turmoil with the main male character being humiliated and debased by the main female character, and finding that he likes it. So he rambles on and on about how horrible he is and how disgusted she should be, until she admits she enjoys debasing him. A perfect S&M relationship. I find it odd that Gentle should use this particular mileau to express such a relationship, considering that she has her characters using the F word and other expressions that I am fairly certain were not commonly used in 1610 in France and England. But, I am hoping things will eventually even out, and there won't be so many more ridiculous moments of the main female character beating the daylights out of the male character just because she can.
I hope to finish the book before the end of the week.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Hallowed Hunt is a Grand Read

The Hallowed Hunt is a magnificent fantasy work that truly shines with Bujold's glistening prose and beautifully-paced plot. Lord Ingrey, though dealing with an animal animagus that he didn't want, and with the murder of a prince that no one liked, keeps his wits and his logic about him as he deals with the political and social ramifications of the death of one close to the crown at a time when the current king himself is near death.One thing I have always appreciated about Bujold's characters is that she doesn't allow them to become pitiable, or pathetic, though they usually are in dire circumstances and fate hasn't been kind to them. Her main protagonists always find the intestinal fortitude and courage to fight their way through to a satisfactory conclusion. For example,Ijada has a murder charge hanging over her head, she is orphaned, and she has 'visions' to deal with due to her own animagus, yet even when at her most dire, we never see her become a weeping, wailing damsel in distress. She's strong, sensible and not about to allow others to completely control her fate. I also enjoyed the fact that in this book, as in "Curse of Chalion" and other Bujold fantasies, the "gods" are right to hand--the characters are touched by them, communicate with them and pledge their lives to them in such a way that you see that the gods are living entities that interact with the people who populate this world. And speaking of worlds, Bujold has always been a strong world-builder. You feel as if you have lived in this place and time once you read her works. Hallowed Hunt is no different. I felt as if I knew these people and their time, as if I could smell the forest, feel the lush fabrics of their tunics, see the enormous ice bear as it lunged toward Ingrey and then stopped cold. I also appreciate Bujold's determination not to have her characters who fall in love, or are married, to get all sticky and slobbering about it. They have moments that are intimate, but there are no heaving bosoms and manly tumescence, thank heaven! Her characters in love tend to have witty banter more than overly-moist kisses. Her male and female characters, especially the lead characters, are also invariably smart, which is great because it takes for granted that the reader is no dummy, either. I love an author who doesn't condescend to her readers. My only qualm with the book, and it's a small one, is Fara and Wencel Horseriver. Wencel, though he is obviously pondscum from the outset, is trusted and treated to a great deal more kindness and consideration than he deserves. Fara seems like a bit of an idiot, and yet she is also treated with too much kindness, when her actions should have gotten her a comeuppance that was much more harsh than what she recieved. Horseriver should have had the gods tormenting him further for all his ills, as I feel he didn't answer for all he'd done. But that was a small thing in comparision to the mighty scope of this book. I was left longing for more, for knowledge of the lives of the two main characters and their children,or grandchildren. The history in this book smells somewhat Scottish or Celtic, with some Skandinavian thrown in for good measure. I can only hope that Bujold will return to this world and populate it with more fascinating characters whose stories are delineated in her sterling prose.
Next week (or the following week) I plan on publishing my review of Mary Gentles "A Sundial In A Grave" which is a mystery, and therefore not a genre that I read a great deal of. But, when I do read a mystery, it has to be, as with everything else I read, very well written. The author must know how to tell a good story. So we shall see if Ms. Gentle, coming from the SF world, can create an exciting mystery story that holds the reader's interest.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Harper Collins ARCs and What I'm reading

I just heard from Harper Collins "First Books" program that they are sending me the latest Lois McMaster Bujold book as an advanced reader copy (ARC) for review, as well as Mary Gentles latest, so I am in heaven anticipating those! I have loved Bujolds works since reading "Falling Free" back in the early 80s, and then falling prey to her magnificent Miles Vorkosigan books, which are, to my knowledge, the only science fiction novels with a handicapped hero who gets into and out of trouble on brain power alone. I will post my review of the books that I get here on the Butterfly Books blog, and hopefully, I will find a magazine willing to print my reviews as a freelancer. That would be ideal, as then I'd get paid for them.
I just finished reading Jennifer Weiner's "Little Earthquakes" which was a good book, but not a great one, like "Good in Bed" which was marvelous. There were some distinctly sappy and unrealistic endings in the book, such as Becky wanting to befriend and be kind to the mother-in-law from Hell, Mimi. I would have said good riddance to bad rubbish, as I am sure most women would have, if they'd been abused and treated with such disrespect and contempt by this appalling woman. I have an awful mother-in-law myself, but even she isn't as horrid as Mimi. She only contacts us on holidays, and otherwise, we don't have to deal with her, thankfully.
I am currently reading "Rose" by Martin Cruz Smith, which is a mystery, (I am not normally fond of mysteries unless they have a fascinating sleuth attached, like Sherlock Holmes) but has some great information on the "pit girls" who worked in British coal mines in the 19th century. So far, it's riveting reading, and I do hope the main character, who is an American, and therefore grouchy as hell, (because all Americans are bastards in the eyes of the English, right?) will survive the narrative. Yet I find him interesting in his very honest view of the hipocrisy of the English and the Church of England.
I've been getting the "Common Reader" catalog from the Akadine Press for years now, and have always loved their reviews and their selections of wonderful books from all over the world. I find a number of future reads in the pages of their catalogs, and their March edition is no exception.
I find there's a book called "The Reading Group" by Elizabeth Noble that I'd love to read, and one called "Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics" by William Donaldson that sound hilarious and lovely. Then there's "P.G. Wodehouse in His Own Words" which I am certain would be a marvelous read and extremely funny to boot. I would love to have a copy of "Switch on the Night," a childrens book by the master of the short story, and venerable SF author Ray Bradbury. I've been a fan of Ray Bradbury my entire life. His short stories are jewels of perfection, and his famed novels are classics for a reason.
There's a book called "Greenwich" subtitled "The Place Where Days Begin and End" by Charles Jennings that sounds interesting, because it delineates how Greenwich was chosen for the as the point of prime meridian. And finally, "The Prettiest Love Letters in the World" with letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo (a typeface was named for him) sounds like great reading...I can only imagine what a Borgia would write in a love letter...or if she'd poison the ink she used to write it with! These letters were written in the 16th century, and the week before last I finished reading a book about a Jewish midwife in the 17th century that was amazing.
I'll write more later, but must dash to a garage sale now.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why You Should Get A Visa to the Liaden Universe

I was introduced to the Liaden Universe by some kind soul on the AOL Bookworms folder who read of my predelection for science fiction and fantasy with strong characters and meaningful plots that move along. I read "Local Custom" 3 years ago and I was hooked. I've since read everything in the Liaden Universe that is available, and enjoyed them tremendously. Here are characters who inhabit a universe in which one's manners are deeply important, and one's "face" is even more so. Clan Korval, as we soon learn, are the rarest of the rare, a clan full of noble and fascinating souls who have the intestinal fortitude, wit and charm to change their world. I heartily recommend these works. The following is from Wikipedia, and is a nice run down of the books and some of the important concepts/characters. I am a big fan of Shan and Pricilla, personally, but I also hold deep fondness for Anthora and Nova, and the tree, of course!

All books and stories are available in electronic form from Embiid Publishing ( The novels have been published by Meisha Merlin (, who have also anthologised the earlier novels, and re-issued by Ace Publishing (

The "Agent of Change" sequence (sorted by internal chronology, not publication date):
Local Custom (2002, ISBN 0-441-00911-5)
Scout's Progress (2002, ISBN 0-441-00927-1)
Conflict of Honors (1988, ISBN 0-441-00964-6)
Agent of Change (1988, ISBN 0-441-00991-3)
Carpe Diem (1989, ISBN 0-441-01022-9)
Plan B (1999, ISBN 0-441-01053-9)
I Dare (2002, ISBN 0-441-01085-7)
Further books:
Balance of Trade (2004, ISBN 1-59222-020-7)
The Great Migration Duology
Crystal Soldier (February 2005, ISBN 1-59222-083-5)
Crystal Dragon (scheduled for 2006)

Partners in Necessity (2000, ISBN 1-892065-01-0 trade paperback)
Contains Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, and Carpe Diem
Pilots Choice (2001, ISBN 1-892065-02-9 trade paperback)
Contains Local Custom and Scout's Progress

Short Stories
These also include stories about Lute and Moonhawk, the earlier incarnations of two major characters in the books.
To Cut An Edge - Val Con meets Edger
A Day at the Races - Shan and Val Con outrage Aunt Kareen
A Matter of Dreams
Moonphase - the 55th tale of Lute and Moonhawk
Where the Goddess Sends - the first tale of Lute and Moonhawk
A Spell for the Lost - the second tale of Lute and Moonhawk
Balance of Trade (expanded for the novel)
A Choice of Weapons - Daav has a bad time at a party
Pilot of Korval - Daav and Er Thom must take up their responsibilities
Breath's Duty - Daav must take up a painful task
Naratha's Shadow - a Scout must control an ancient artefact
Changeling - How Ren Zel became a pilot and what befell him thereafter
The Wine of Memory - Lute and Moonhawk must save one of his oldest friends
Certain Symmetry - Pat Rin must execute a friend's will — at considerable risk to himself
Veil of the Dancer
Sweet Waters
Heirloom - Pat Rin must play a perfect game — without rules
This House
The King of the Cats (non-canon, cross-over with other stories by Steve Miller)
These are available from SRM, Publisher ( in chapbooks. Most are also available from Embiid. The Liaden chapbooks are:
Two Tales of Korval: To Cut An Edge, A Day at the Races
Fellow Travellers: Moonphase, Where the Goddess Sends, A Spell for the Lost
Duty Bound: Pilot of Korval, Breath's Duty
Certain Symmetry: Certain Symmetry, The Wine of Memory
Changeling: Changeling
Trading in Futures: Balance of Trade (the short story), A Choice of Weapons
Loose Cannon: A Matter of Dreams, Phoenix
Shadows and Shades: Heirloom, Naratha's Shadow
Quiet Knives: Veil of the Dancer, Quiet Knives

As mentioned above, there are three main divisions of the human race which appear in the stories. There are some notable non-humans also.

Home planet "Liad". Liaden (singular and plural are the same) are usually shorter than the Terran norm, often with golden skin. They are deeply concerned with their melant'i which roughly corresponds to the concern with "face" for which Japanese Samurai are famous. Some are almost rabidly isolationist; it is not uncommon for Liaden to refer to those of other races as "it" likening them to animals. Several characters are part- or even half-Terran: this does not endear them to the isolationists.
Liaden society is clan-based, each Clan being made up of one or more families ("lines"). The Head of a Clan is the "Delm", the head of a line is the "Thodelm"; either might be male or female as circumstances dictate.
Some Liaden are trained as explorers: the Scouts. They are regarded with distaste by the more isolationist within Liaden society.
Most of the stories thus far centre around members of Clan Korval, made up of the yos'Phelium and yos'Galan lines. Scouts also appear often.
Val Con yos'Phelium - ex-Scout
Miri Robertson - ex-mercenary, wife to Val Con
Shan yos'Galan - Master Trader, foster-brother to Val Con (current incarnation of Lute)
Priscilla Delacroix y Mendoza - wife to Shan (current incarnation of Moonhawk)
Daav yos'Phelium - Scout, father to Val Con
Aelliana Caylon - wife to Daav, mother to Val Con
Er Thom yos'Galan - Master Trader, father to Shan
Anne Davis - wife to Er Thom, mother to Shan
Pat Rin yos'Phelium - cousin to Val Con
Kareen yos'Phelium - sister to Daav, mother to Pat Rin, expert on "proper conduct"
Anthora yos'Galan - sister to Shan, with preternatural abilities
Ren Zel dea'Judan - husband to Anthora
Nova yos'Galan - sister to Anthora and Val Con

Home planet known as "Terra". However as remarked above, there is a brief reference to the possibility that this planet is not our planet Earth but possibly the fourth of that name, previous planets having been abandoned. There appears to be some resentment that the "younger" races (usually Liaden) hold more power in the realm of shipping and commerce than Terra; there is reference to at least one political party involved in less-than-legal operations.

Home planet unknown at this time. Usually much larger than the Terran norm, they are a war-like people who live for conquest. They are almost universally prone to thinking of the other human races as animals. It is not known whether they can interbreed with Liaden or Terrans: the likely lifespan of such offspring is short, not for merely biological reasons.
Nelirikk - ex-Explorer (equivalent to Scout), subsequently sworn to Line yos'Phelium, becomes Miri's bodyguard; aka "Beautiful"

Clutch Turtles
These non-humans are even larger than Yxtrang and very long-lived; they appear much like turtles walking upright, hence the name. Their names are correspondingly long: Edger's full name apparently takes some hours to recite. They are usually slow to act but are very dangerous when angered.
Those encountered in the story thus far make up a "market research" team on behalf of their clan, who manufacture knives of a very particular sort.

There are many cats which appear in the stories, usually by name, often taking an active part in the proceedings.

An unusual participant in proceedings is Jelaza Kazone (possible translation "Jela's Promise") and the seedlings thereof (of which only one has thus far appeared in narrative). This very large tree of unknown species lives in the grounds of Clan Korval's primary residence and is in the habit of communicating its likes and dislikes to senior members of that clan; it has particularly been noted to have an interest in the likely parents of future children of the Clan.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Wierd Books I've Read

If you don't mind being creeped out, you will love these books:

The Prestige by Christopher Priest
This book had my flesh crawling by the 5th chapter, and the ending had me reeling with discomfort, disorientation and a tinge of disgust. Eek!

The Light Ages by Ian MacLeod
This book has an odd premise to begin with, and is part of the unusual wave of "Victorian" science fiction that I've been seeing lately. However, this author manages to make you care about the odd main character, though we never really find out how he triumphs in the end. It's got some very wierd characters and situations.

Felicity Savage's books, Humility Garden and Delta City are extremely creative, in that I could never have concieved of a world like's just too bizarre. Reading her books is like walking into someone's drug or fever-induced dream, and you leave feeling queasy.

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart
This book is very superstitious and odd, a magic realism mixed with Latina chick lit work that kept me going, though I found the main character and her "riders" extremely creepy. But then, possession has always given me chills.

The Bone Dolls Twin by Lyn Flewelling
This book is by turns grotesque and fascinating, until the end, which is just plan horrifying and nasty. I couldn't bring myself to read the sequel. Dark fantasy involving children should carry a warning label, in my opinion.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
This book seemed an obvious ploy for the author to use some serious research she'd done on Cholera. While I appreciate people who like to delve into historical epidemics and their causes, I just can't respect an author who writes a book surrounding that research and doesn't do justice to the hard work of storytelling. There is also a trend I've seen in historically-based novels of this kind to be as descriptive of the gross bodily fluids and symptoms of the dread disease as possible, thereby making the reader squirm (or laugh, depending on how sick you are).

The Best Book of 2004, and my TBR stack

By far the best book that I read in 2004 was "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was brilliant in every way, from the juicy prose that stuffed each page with rich, satisfying paragraphs to the fascinating characters and the plot that zipped along at a proper brisk pace. This book had me from the first mention of the "Cemetery of Forgotten Books" which is a book-lovers wet dream. Stephen King, whom I respect as an author, though I have only read one of his books ("The Shining," which terrified me and made me realize that I should not read horror fiction. I also read "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" and "The Exorcist" in the same week, and had to have the light on in my room for the next 3 weeks, though I was 17 at the time!) called "Shadow of the Wind" " gorgeous read." WAPO called it "Scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling..." and rightfully so! There's a "win a trip to Spain" contest that coincides with the release of the book in paperback, at, for those interested. I am just in awe of the fact that this book was translated from Spanish, and yet it's still rife with glorious prose, so obviously not much was 'lost in translation' as one would assume might happen. Now, as to my TBR stack, at the moment I am reading "Sylvia's Farm" by Sylvia Jorrin, which has lots of interesting nature descriptions, but is told at a definite remove, or distance from the author, whose feelings and life are not really revealed herein, much to my chagrin. Books in line to be read are: "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See"March" by Geraldine Brooks, author of the sublime "Year of Wonders," "Little Earthquakes" by Jennifer Weiner, author of "Good In Bed" which I liked, and "In Her Shoes" which I didn't, "My Dream of You" by Nuala O'Faolain"Accidental Happiness" by Jean Reynolds Page, signed and procured after interviewing the author for the Mercer Island Reporter, "Younger By the Day," by Victoria Moran,"The Acorn Principle" by Jim Cathcart"Corrrelli's Mandolin" by De Bernieres and "Speak, Memory" by Vladmir Nabokov. I will receive a copy of Sharon Lee and Steve Millers "Crystal Soldier" this month from Misha Merlin publishing, and I am looking forward to reading it, as Lee and Miller never fail to exult the reader with their marvelous, well-fleshed characters and their exacting, exciting Liaden Universe. Even their chapbooks, which are compliations of short stories, are wonderful. Once you've indulged in the Lee-Miller nexus of prose, you will be hooked, trust me. I will write more about why you should read up on Clan Korval in my next post. Til then, gentle reader, take care.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Welcome to my library!

Hi there!
Welcome to my library of books I've read, books I am going to read, and books I yearn for...come on in, grab a comfy chair by the fireplace and lets talk books.
I've been an avid reader since age 4, 40 years ago, and I've read every genre there is, and some that defy description.
Science Fiction and Fantasy are my favorite pleasure reads, along with literature, classics, general fiction, non fiction and some poetry.
I'll read anything written by the following authors: (not in any particular order)
John Steinbeck (classics)
Patricia McKillip (fantasy)
Lois McMaster Bujold (science fiction and fantasy)
Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (science fiction/space opera)
Ray Bradbury (science fiction, especially sf short stories)
Diane Ackerman (creative non fiction)
Jane Yolen (fantasy, young adult lit)
William Kennedy (literary fiction)
May Sarton (fiction, poetry)
Syne Mitchell (science fiction)
Arthur C. Clarke (science fiction/ non fiction)
Isak Dinesen {Baroness Karen Von Blixen} (classics)

That's my top twelve best of the best, and I hope to add to that number by finding more authors whose prose sparkles with lush imagery and intelligent, well-drawn characters. I also can't abide authors who have no sense of plot movement, or who are unable to actually tell a riveting story that has believable, interesting characters.
I also dislike authors that adhere to stereotypes and cliches instead of doing the real work of creating something fresh and new.

I plan to add several reviews to this blog soon. Right now, I must get ready for the Super Bowl party my dearly beloved Jim and I are hosting.
See you later, sweet potater!