Thursday, April 07, 2011

Spring Reading

As usual, I'd like to begin my post with a tidbit from Shelf Awareness, and then progress to short reviews of the 5 books I've read in the past couple of months:

What is the future of libraries in the e-book age? "Libraries have
always been thought of as a kind of 'temple of books'... a place you can
go to for peace and quiet, a place to read and think," NPR's
Lynn Neary said in her report on a new era in lending. "They are
intricate part of the fabric that pulls a community together. But if
they are to be relevant in the future they will have to make space for
themselves in the digital community as well."

Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation at the New
York Public Library, told Neary that libraries "use intermediaries to
manage both their physical and digital book collections. He thinks
libraries could work with these intermediaries to develop subscription
packages of e-books. Libraries would pay the publishers for these
subscriptions and use them as they see fit."

"So I'd buy a title with 1,000 uses," Platt observed, "and then it's up
to us and our readers whether those 1,000 uses get used simultaneously
in the first few days or whether they get drawn out over time. And then
if they do get used quickly, we'll buy more."

Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, would
like to see more publishers involved in the e-book conversation: "When
we look at the future then we have to really think very seriously about
what is our role--and how can we actually serve the millions and
millions of people who use our public libraries everyday if we can't
even get access to titles."

I've read:
Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine
Star Trek: The Lives of Dax edited by Marco Palmieri
Magic on the Hunt by Devon Monk

Starting with Wise Man's Fear, I honestly loved this novel as much as I loved the first book in the series, The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss is a master storyteller, and his epic tale of the life of the legendary Kvothe is just un-put-downable. Reading his books makes me wonder where the heck Rothfuss has been all my life. He just appeared out of nowhere with this tour De force of genius and we're supposed to believe he's never published anything before? Hmmm...makes me wonder.

The Swan Thieves is Elizabeth Kostova's second novel, following The Historian, which I enjoyed eventually, after it got off to a very slow start. The Swan Thieves falls prey, unfortunately, to the sophomore curse, and is an awful novel, full of tedious characters, dreadfully dull prose and a plot that drags like an anchor in tar. What is even more annoying is that the protagonist just sort of spontaneously gets better and is released from a mental health facility for no apparent reason by a vain psychiatrist who is sleeping with the protagonists ex-girlfriend. There is a lot of that in this book, leering old men who fall in love with gorgeous young women and go to all sorts of lengths to get them into bed, which is, frankly, revolting and disgusting. The painting by artists in the book is just merely a backdrop for all the sleazy old man romantic antics, and we're never really given a reason to like any of the men in this book, because it seems the women get the crap end of things every time, no matter the era. It takes some doing to make France and Impressionist artists boring, but Kostova manages it in 561 pages of rambling prose. I would recommend that anyone who liked the Historian skip this novel and move on to something better.

A Lesson in Secrets is the 8th novel in Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mystery series, and it's a gem. As was quoted by USA Today on the back cover: "Sometimes when you adore a series, you're terrified to crack open the next installment, fearing disappointment. Fortunately, Winspear fans can rest easy. Her new Maisie Dobbs mystery is...excellent." Which is most certainly true. In this installment, Maisie is asked to go undercover for Scotland Yards Secret Service (kind of like the CIA in America) as a professor at a college dedicated to pacifism, run by a man who stole a pacifist children's book, Greville Liddicote. When Liddicote is murdered in his office, Maisie has to do some serious sleuthing to find out whodunit. I couldn't figure out who was the culprit until the end, either, which is a testament to Winspear's skills as an author. Maisie is still mourning her mentor Maurice, who left her a substantial fortune, and we discover that she's doing good with the money, buying a house for Billy and his family and helping a gal whose husband was killed find paying work. The novel takes place in 1932-33, so things are starting to get ugly in Germany with the Nazi party, and I'd bet that Maisie will be involved in WWII in the next novel. I sincerely hope she gets married to James Compton in the next novel, too, because, though I love her independence and brilliant mind, I think Maisie deserves a happy and fulfilling relationship, especially if she is going to get involved in yet another war.
I highly recommend this novel for those who love a solid mystery and a good tale, well told.

Lady of Hay is the first novel I've read by Barbara Erskine, and as it has to do with reincarnation and British and Welsh people, I figured it would be a real page-turner for me. Alas, it was not, being more along the lines of the Swan Thieves in terms of unlikeable male characters and horribly wimpy, stupid female characters who were all, of course, pretty redheads or blonds. There was a great deal of melodrama, weepy scenes, bitchy backstabbing and swooning going on, to the point of heaving-bosoms-style romance novels, which I detest. In this maudlin novel, we're expected to believe that Jo, a reporter, is the reincarnation of Matilda De Braose, a noblewoman of the 13th century who had three men wildly in love with her, Richard De Clare, a knight, William De Braose, her husband, and King John, Henry II's nasty youngest son, who comes off here as a sociopathic rapist. Apparently, three of the men in Jo's life, her photographer, her ex-boyfriend and his brother are the reincarnations of these three men and therefore obsessed with Jo and doing everything in their power to 'possess' her completely, which usually means they want to beat her and rape her or try to kill her. Jo waffles constantly between loving and hating them, and cries a lot, which doesn't endear her to the reader at all, it just makes her seem weak and ridiculous. Each chapter has back and forth versions of Mathilda's terrible life in the 13th century, followed by how poorly Jo is faring in the 20th century (the 1980s). The lengthy discussions of the political climate of the 13th century really bogged down the plot, and Jo's endless whining, coupled with the bitchy women around her constantly trying to make her life miserable got really old, really fast. I think about 200 pages could have been edited from this book without it losing anything, and in fact would make the book less dull. It would also be a good idea for the female characters to get a grip and be less wimpy. At any rate, I found the middle of the book hard going, and nearly gave up. I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone but the most die-hard historical romance fans.

Fortunately, I have the latest Allie Beckstrom novel, Magic on the Hunt, to wash the wussy women taste out of my brain. This is the 6th of Devon Monks "Magic" series, and though I have read all her other Beckstrom novels, this one is just as exciting as the previous books, with Allie B full of fight, ready to take on the bad guys and see justice done with her handsome boyfriend, Zayvion, to help. I really enjoy these paperback urban fantasy novels, mainly because the protagonist is realistic and intelligent, and the novels are set in Portland, Oregon, a favorite place for booklovers everywhere, myself included. Much like Jim Butchers Harry Dresden, Chicago Wizard at large, Allie Beckstrom gets the snot beat out of her and is always in danger of losing her life while fighting evil magicians who want to take over the world. But, also like Harry, she seems to be able to pull a rabbit out of her hat in each book, and though she gets battered and bruised and ends up in the hospital a lot, she has 9 lives and survives each encounter. This time is no exception, and at the end we have the birth of Allies half-brother to look forward to. I have to say that I wonder how many more books we'll have to go through before she gets her father, Daniel, out of her head and into a body or gone into another dimension, but I wasn't fond of the ancient coin-demon who possessed Harry Dresden for a couple of books, either. Still, the book deserves an A for the glory that is Allie and Zay on the hunt and kicking arse in their own inimitable fashion.

As to the Star Trek: The Lives of Dax book, I happened across this gem at a church rummage sale, of all places, and though I'd never seen its like before, (its trade paperback size, which is unusual) and I'm not generally a fan of Star Trek novels, I had to buy it because Dax was one of my favorite characters on Deep Space 9. In my experience, Star Trek novels are mostly poorly written, with a few exceptions such as the Captains Table series and a couple of novels by Christie Golden (and one by Peter David that was hilarious). Hence my reservations about this book. I need not have worried, however, as each author who took on telling the tale of one of the symbiont's lives was respectful of the characters background and the Star Trek universe in general. It was also a relief to discover that all the authors were professional writers, not just fans out to write a "Mary Sue or Marty Stu" tale as an ego trip. I would recommend this book to anyone who was a fan of Deep Space 9 or any of the Star Trek series. The prose was clean and delightful, the lives of Dax fascinating and most of the plots moved at warp speed.

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