PhoenixFalls - , - Reviews

1 to 20 of 186 - Page:
The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot, Bk 12) (aka The Alphabet Murders)
The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot, Bk 12) (aka The Alphabet Murders)
Author: Agatha Christie
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 86
Review Date: 10/9/2009


One of Christie's most well-known Poirot mysteries, and deservedly so. It features a very clever solution and a surprisingly large number of clues make it a more than fair challenge for the reader. Unfortunately, it is such a clever solution that numerous television shows have used it since its publication, giving the reader a somewhat unfair advantage over Ms. Christie. Still, I didn't guess the first time through, and it was a fun ride even on re-reading. A deserved classic.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 12/28/2009


12 of Sherlock Holmes' best-loved short stories in a handy mass market size. Great fun!


Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, Bk 1)
Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, Bk 1)
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 55
Review Date: 9/3/2009
Helpful Score: 3


There is nothing really new in the SF meets noir detective novel. On the noir side, there is the cynical, hard-boiled detective unwillingly drawn in to the machinations of the powerful; there are the beautiful women embroiled in the case in varying degrees, nearly all of whom eventually get bedded; there is the city filled to the brim with drug dealers, whorehouses, and little people being eaten up by the powerful. On the SF side, there are hints of an ancient galactic civilization, now defunct; there are guns and computer programs to do anything anyone could want; there are A.I.s, particularly The Hendrix, which is a fabulous invention; and of course, there is the ubiquitous process of resleeving, by which death has been conquered for the rich. Even the melding of the two genres is not new: it dates back at least to Isaac Asimovs Elijah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw novels.

What Altered Carbon provides, however, is all of those familiar elements done up in a superb style. It is an extraordinarily visual book I understood from the first page of the prologue why Joel Silver and Warner Bros. bought the film rights for $1 million. The narrative is fast-paced, the tone is spot-on, and the philosophical musings, while also not ground-breaking in any way, are moments to savor rather than skip over. The mystery is satisfyingly twisty but still fair to the reader, and the final confrontation ratchets up the tension to a screaming pitch then uses the bare minimum of words to choreograph the denoument. Really an impressive first novel, and one I heartily enjoyed.

I do have one quibble, however: I read the author bio in the back of the book first, and two of the three sentences were about the film rights. I found this a tad tasteless, not very informative, and kind of distracting, as I spent the entire novel trying to imagine how someone would film it.


Ammonite
Ammonite
Author: Nicola Griffith
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 33
Review Date: 8/25/2011
Helpful Score: 1


Damn this is a good book.

It's a first novel, and it has some of the weaknesses I associate with first novels: it jumps through time a lot, and those jumps aren't always telegraphed adequately; some of the descriptions, while each individually quite beautiful, ended up feeling repetitive when taken as a whole. But most impressively, it already displays a great deal of the maturity and style that I loved in Slow River. Even in this first novel, Griffith's voice is assured, her characters are well-drawn, and her themes are delicately presented yet rigorously worked out.

Griffith's style is quietly exquisite, understatedly lyrical (in contrast to Catherynne M. Valente's muscular lyricism or Patricia A. McKillip's ornate lyricism or Peter S. Beagle's cooly intellectual lyricism)(and what is with my favorite authors and all their middle initials?) in ways that seem all the more surprising because this is a science fiction novel rather than a fantasy novel. This is Griffith's description of Marghe's landing on GP:

"The doors cracked open and leaked in light like pale grapefruit squeezings, making the artificial illumination in the gig seem suddenly thick and dim.

Jeep light.

Wind swept dark tatters across a sky rippling with cloud like a well-muscled torso, bringing with it the smell of dust and grass and a sweetness she could not identify. . . She sniffed, trying to equate the spicy sweet smell on the wind to something she knew: nutmeg, sun on beetle wings, the wild smell of heather."

Okay, so maybe that passage wasn't so understated. I delight in that sort of passage in fantasy novels, where I expect magic; I delighted in it in Griffith's Slow River, which is SF but in the more "realist" vein, practically Mundane SF. Here, in this near-planetary romance, it took me aback as it should not have, and I am grateful to Griffith for reminding me that there can be so much beauty in the alien.

Part of the reason Jeep is so beautiful (in a stark fashion) is that we see it mostly through Marghe's perspective, and Marghe is a woman deeply attuned to both the world around her and to her own body. She looks outward and inward, and Griffith paints that dual focus with an incredible eye to detail that made the book startlingly visceral. I have been thinking lately about (female) SFF characters' relationships with their bodies, and the way that Marghe is so firmly sited within hers made the beatings, the starvation, and the sex come alive on the page. (Also it really sends the message: Jeep's a tough place!) The way that that character trait completely informs the way Marghe reacts to and advances the plot is just another sign of Griffith's immense skill as a storyteller.

But the thing I am most struck by is how perfectly the jacket description captures this book -- it is a book all about change. It's about characters changing, and it's about societies changing, and it's about the way those changes amplify or counteract each other, and then it's about everything changing again. It's not a book for people who like tight plots where every question raised is answered by the finale -- the finale just raises more questions about the future of the characters and the world. Instead it's a book for people who like history, who like to explore the hidden ways the past shapes the present and who are drawn to those turning points where the smallest decisions by individuals have the power to dramatically alter the fates of whole societies.


Among Others
Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 1/29/2011
Helpful Score: 1


I love so much about this book.

I love that it's character-driven rather than plot-driven. Nothing particularly happens in this novel -- a girl goes to boarding school, is shunned, writes and reads a lot, and eventually finds a few friends; the "reckoning that could no longer be put off" takes place within the confines of the last few pages, and feels. . . on the whole, slightly unnecessary. Anyone who wants action should look elsewhere. This book takes place almost entirely within the confines of Mori's head, and I love that. I love that it's about grieving, and that it's about identity, and that it's about making the best of your seriously messed up family.

I love that it's about books, and that Mori engages with books, has forceful opinions about them that the reader is clearly allowed to disagree with. I haven't actually read most of the books Mori talks about (somehow I've read lots of stuff from the 60s and from the 80s on, but precious little from the 70s) but my background knowledge of the authors was enough that I didn't feel like I missed anything. Probably the only work any reader has to be familiar with is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, because Mori uses the terms "karass" and "granfalloon" a lot before she explains them to an outsider -- but even those terms are fairly clear from the context.

I love the way the magic works. . . no flashes or puffs of smoke to let you know something has happened, just a sudden string of coincidences (going back long before you cast your spell) leading to the outcome you wanted. It's the sort of magic I think makes sense in a contemporary setting with our history, and it's the sort of magic I wish there was more of in fantasy, because it seems so much more magical than the magic-by-numbers currently popular. And yes, it IS magic: Mori thinks so, and the author says so, so I see no reason to question that fact.

But somehow. . . I did not quite love this book. Maybe it's because I wasn't particularly alienated as a teenager. Maybe it's because I wanted just a little bit more. . . magic, in Mori's voice, to carry through some of the boarding school drama. Or maybe this is one of those books that will hit me harder the further I get from it -- it certainly has that potential. I expected to love this book, and maybe that's why I didn't; very little can live up to the level of expectation produced by the knowledge that there's a new book by a favorite author that's getting tons of praise from other favorite authors. Whatever the case. . . I will absolutely recommend this to anyone who likes the stuff I laid out above. It's absolutely going on my keeper shelf, and I'm glad I bought it in hardcover. But it isn't quite a book that immediately carved out a place in my soul.


And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians)
And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians)
Author: Agatha Christie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 251
Review Date: 12/31/2009


One of Christie's pure puzzle mysteries, and rightfully a classic. Anyone who can solve this one on the first read-through is a master mystery decoder! There is no brilliant detective and there is absolutely no pause in the action until everything is over and done -- and the almost thirty pages of epilogue is absolutely necessary to work everything out. Great fun!


The Anvil of the World
The Anvil of the World
Author: Kage Baker
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 8
Review Date: 1/26/2010


The Anvil of the World is not quite a novel, but rather three novellas, printed chronologically and linked by their cast of characters. I have a minor quibble with Tor in this matter, because the entire volume is divided only by line breaks, with a page break and a graphic of two swords crossing to indicate the start of the next novella, which made finding my page after I had set the book down rather difficult. (I don't use bookmarks.) It also made it less clear that that was to be the structure. If you go into reading this volume expecting a novel, it will seem extremely choppy, so be warned.

That said, the first novella takes the form of a traveller's tale and an adventure story; it serves as a wonderful introduction to the characters and the world. In it we meet Smith, who has just accepted the role of Caravan Master for his cousin; we meet his caravan Culinary Artist, Mrs. Smith; we meet his subordinates, both the muscle-boudn keymen and very young girl runner; and we meet his passengers, a family named Smith, a courier named Parradan Smith, a Yendri (a green-skinned forest-dwelling race) with his nose stuck up in the air, and Lord Ermenwyr and his (extremely attractive) nurse. Despite what the dust jacket says, none of these Smiths are related; they are all indeed Children of the Sun (humans) but none have ever met before and some (including our Caravan Master) are using Smith as an alias. ("Lovely impersonal name, Smith. Rather fond of it myself," says Mrs. Smith to Smith the Caravan Master after he refused to give her his first name.) Needless to say, Smith's first Caravan does not go well; they are attacked repeatedly, and not all of his passengers will arrive with him in Salesh-by-the-Sea, not least because few of them are who they seem.

What is so delightful about this first novella is the world we get to see through it. There has been a trend the past few decades towards more and more realism in fantasy writing -- a trend that has gone so far that books and seminars on fantasy writing always include basic rules for world-building, so that the budding writer doesn't make "mistakes" with geography, language groups, systems of magic, etc. Kage Baker throws that realism out of the window. From the very first page, when she describes how Troon's main event is the Festival of Respirator Masks, she dares us to complain about anachronisms and probability. There is magic aplenty, but no rules are ever laid-out to take its magic away and make it seem like paint-by-numbers; there are technologies side by side that were never seen side by side in our world.

The first novella ends when the caravan reaches Salesh-by-the-Sea; the next picks up several months later, as Smith, Mrs. Smith, his keymen and his runner have given up the caravan life and are now running an inn (already known for its restaurant) in Salesh-by-the-Sea. This second novella has a different structure; Lord Ermenwyr, who is now their patron, arrives to hide out during the Festival, and within hours of his arrival Smith has a dead body on his hands and a grumpy City Warden who has charged Smith with finding the killer by the end of Festival or he won't receive his Safety Certificate. Hilarity ensues, as Smith tries to question his guests and staff in the midst of total debauchery -- the traditional salutation during Festival in Salesh is "Joyous Couplings!" and the traditional costume is a bit of body paint and glitter. I giggled the entire way, enjoyed the revelations about Mrs. Smith's and Burnbright's pasts, and absolutely adored the introduction of Lord Ermenwyr's older brother.

The third novella takes up approximately 9 months after the Festival, but its tone is entirely different from the two novellas that came before, and this abrupt shift in tone is what you must be prepared for. Again Lord Ermenwyr's arrival heralds difficulties for poor Smith and his staff, but this time instead of hilarity we hear grumblings of race riots between the Children of the Sun and the Yendri and the whisper of a Key of Unmaking. The Yendri and the older races (demons, etc.) have always despised the Children of the Sun, for they breed like rabbits (they don't have any conception of birth control) and they decimate the land they settle on like a plague of locusts (they don't have any conception of crop rotation either), and the decision by a real estate company to build a new development on Yendri holy ground is not taken well.

But just as events are coming to a head in Salesh, Lord Ermenwyr abducts Smith for a boat trip to rescue his sister Svnae, of the short story "The Ruby Incomparable" that I loved so dearly in Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy. The trip does not go as planned, nor is Lord Ermenwyr being entirely honest with Smith; the Master of the Mountain and the Green Saint make an appearance, and even the gods (of both the Children of the Sun and the other races) get involved in what quickly ramps up to an end-of-the-world scenario.

And while that may make the third novella the most seemingly traditional of fantasy plots, the effect is anything but. The forces arrayed on either side of the conflict have very just and valid points, and it is not magic at the center of things but very human decisions. We are told from the first page that the Children of the Sun are "an energetic, sanguine, and mechanically minded people. . . They were consequently given to sins of an ecological nature. . ." Given that, Baker poses the following questions: how much can we blame these "children" for their ignorance, even when the consequences are dire? How much is that blame lessened (if any) if there are other peoples that do know better and, instead of relieving the ignorance they see, they withdraw into themselves or grow violent? It was a difficult story to read at 2am, especially coming on the heels of the delightful farce that was the second novella. It was also quite possibly the best thing by Baker that I have ever read, and I adored Sky Coyote. The Anvil of the World would have been a keeper (in hardcover) for the first two novellas alone; given the third, I have to give it my highest recommendation.


Appointment with Death (Hercule Poirot, Bk 18)
Appointment with Death (Hercule Poirot, Bk 18)
Author: Agatha Christie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 48
Review Date: 12/15/2009


This was a very enjoyable Poirot novel, except that the end left a bad taste in my mouth. The solution seemed a bit of a cop-out, as there was no way for the reader to know the motive (even Poirot was only guessing) and the epilogue was just lame. However, even with those weaknesses, any Christie novel is better than most mysteries written today.


Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry
Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry
Author: David Orr
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 2.8/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 4/21/2011


This is not at all the book I expected, given its title and jacket blurb.

It professes to be "A Guide to Modern Poetry," and there is much talk about Orr's analogy that one should approach poetry as one would a foreign city, but there's precious little actual poetry discussed within this volume. Instead, each section feels more like I've stepped into the middle of someone else's conversation -- for example, in the first chapter, Orr talks about why poetry can be but isn't solely a personal confessional, but since I never thought that was poetry's only goal the whole chapter seemed somewhat wasted. Similarly with the second chapter, which argues that poets can be and often are political -- I knew that already, and it stands to reason that most non-poetry readers would know that as well because many (if not most) of the poems in a high school curriculum are political in nature. And I had the same problem in the chapters on poetic ambition and the poetic "fishbowl" -- I'm sure these are very important concerns to modern poets, but they are of very little interest to this dilettante of a poetry reader.

There is a tremendously clear and useful chapter on form, but as it spends very little time addressing the different ways contemporary poets treat form when compared to classical poets, it feels incomplete for what is supposed to be a book specifically aimed at making modern poetry accessible.

The whole book feels, really, more like a guide to the world that modern poetry gets written in -- a world of cliques and battles between competing desires to be academic and artistic and very much caught in the shadow of the larger role poetry used to play in culture. Orr is quite funny at times when talking about that world, and tosses off absolutely fascinating comments about how the world got to be that way without elaborating (I really wish he had elaborated on some of them!), but I had no real interest because it always seemed to be a frighteningly insular and myopic place, and this book simply reaffirmed my previous evaluation.


Behold, Here's Poison
Behold, Here's Poison
Author: Georgette Heyer
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 6
Review Date: 12/8/2009


This mystery just didn't quite cut it for me. The characters were over-the-top stereotypes on the surface and all identical underneath, which made remembering who was who rather trying. The sleuth was surprisingly hard to identify -- the book jacket indicates that the novel is going to feature Inspector Hannasyde, but he isn't actually the character that solves the mystery, and his perspective is shown quite rarely. Meanwhile, the character who does solve the mystery is privy to inside information, information that is never given to the reader, so the mystery seemed a little unfair. The writing was fairly enjoyable, and the mystery reads quickly, and as I've enjoyed one of Heyer's other novels (a romance) I may pick up another of her mysteries sometime, but this one left me underwhelmed.


The Best of All Possible Worlds
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Author: Karen Lord
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 2/24/2013


This novel is simultaneously deeply subversive and disappointingly conventional.

It obviously owes its premise and much of the feel of its world to Star Trek. It's set in a universe where the speed of light is no barrier, where there are quite a few practically-human species capable of star flight, whose planets interact the way countries here on Earth do (meaning there's immigration to and from, they form alliances and declare war, and there's trade) and all of them can interbreed. The Sadiri, the victims of the genocide, are definitely Vulcan-like; though they have not rejected emotion in favor of logic, they have epitomized restraint and morality to the rest of the galaxy, and they attribute their superiority in those fields to the way they have developed their telepathy through meditation and mental exercises.

Interestingly, though not particularly relevant to the story, this is a galaxy without Earth and humans-as-such; Earth is apparently under an interdiction, and the rest of the humanoid species have no contact with it other than the occasional snapping-up of doomed groups to be brought into the galactic fold for their useful genetic diversity.

The first sign that this is much more than just Star Trek-influenced cross-cultural-contact SF is the information, right off the bat at the start of chapter two, that Cygnians and Sadiri (who make up nearly the entirety of the cast of characters) possess "eyes, hair, and skin all somewhere on the spectrum of brown." There is one character, late in the book, that I would identify as white; he's so minor that I've forgotten his name, and what role he played.

The second sign is the nature of Cygnus Beta, the planet almost all of the action takes place on, and the home world of the protagonist. It is a planet of refugees, one of which the protagonist says "There isn't a group on Cygnus Beta who can't trace their family back to some world-shattering event. Landless, kinless, unwanted. . ." It is a poor planet, and one that the rest of the galaxy views as superstitious and backward. But it is not the violent, gang-ridden techno-poverty of the sort that is so often fetishized in cyberpunk, and it's not the picturesquely feudal and martial poverty of, for example, Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar; it's just the poverty of being a people whom circumstance and hostile action have rendered relatively resourceless.

The third sign is the breezy, confiding tone of Grace's narration. Lord's first novel, Redemption in Indigo, took that same tone; there, it was the obvious choice, a folktale fantasy narrated as it would be around a fire on a winter's night. But that tone, when transposed to a distinctly science fictional setting, becomes in itself somewhat revolutionary. Much of science fiction, particularly science fiction with pretensions at seriousness, adopts an objective tone, a distant faux-historical viewpoint that is meant to give it gravitas. That tone often hides as much as it highlights, encouraging the reader to look away from all the things that are missing (brown people, poor people, oppressed people). Grace's voice, warm and occasionally exasperated and always distinctly personal, makes this book feel real, aliens and telepaths notwithstanding.

That level of personal-ness is ultimately what I found so exciting about this novel. It is 100% science fiction, and the sort of science fiction I always find more satisfying, where the world is messy -- multiple types of telepaths, lots of different cultures and subcultures, the sense that the characters in the novel all have existences extending far into the past and the future, rather than existing purely for the sake of the plot. But it is also incredibly domestic -- ultimately, what the Sadiri need is to find a whole bunch of brides, because in the aftermath of the almost-genocide they were left with an incredibly male-skewed gender balance, and so the plot of the novel is taken up with a quest through Cygnus Beta looking for communities that have higher percentages of Sadiri bloodlines, so that the remaining Sadiri males can look for mates.

And that is where the novel becomes unfortunately conventional. Lord makes a point of how progressive Cygnus Beta is: there is a character of whom Grace says "Lian has chosen to live without reference to gender. This may or may not mean that Lian is asexual, though many of those who are registered as gender-neutral are indeed so. However, it doesnt matter, because this has no bearing on our mission and is thus none of our business; various comments indicate that bi/pansexuality is the norm; Grace jokes with her mother that the woman her mother is trying to seduce away from her husband actually wants Grace's mother to join in a triadic polyamorous relationship with the both of them. But there is absolutely none of that diversity of sexual and gender identity represented in the Sadiri and their plight: the Sadiri survivors are (almost) all men, and they are all going to be forced to enter into heterosexual monogamous relationships that are expected to be reproductively fruitful. And no one blinks an eye at that. It is a strange bit of cognitive dissonance, that Grace is so fully enmeshed in a non-heteronormative, non-monogamous society and yet is falling in love with a man from a society so much more rigid without even once questioning how willing his people are to abridge their right to self-determination.

(It is particularly galling, given that this is a science fictional setting, that Lord never addresses any potential technological fixes to the problem of a small, male-dominated survival group: no mention of genetic engineering, cloning, uterine replicators, anything beyond "get boy and girl to have sex, make babies".)

Still, aside from that conventional core, this novel is a delight. Grace's narration makes it a fast, enjoyable read. The quest plot takes the reader through quite a few very distinct subcultures on Cygnus Beta, the same way Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation explores the various sectors of Trantor. There are several call-backs to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, the Sadiri coming to Cygnus Beta intending to reshape it for their needs but ending up becoming rather more Cygnian than Sadiri in the process. There was also a significant reference to Jane Eyre, which seemed out of place. But most of all, I spent the novel thinking that Lord was doing much the same thing science fictionally as Lois McMaster Bujold was doing fantastically in her Sharing Knife quadrilogy -- they set up rigorous SFF worlds, and then they put those worlds at stake, positioned their cultures on the brink of extinction due to both external and internal forces; then they resolved the stories by having their characters settle down and make babies. This is, of course, an entirely fair resolution; if your culture is in danger of extinction, pretty much the only solution is to have children to carry it on. But it's a solution that sits oddly in the SFF canon.

A note on the cover: When I first saw this cover, my thoughts were pretty much "Hey! The person on the cover is non-white! Yay! But what's with the elephant?" I got to the end of the book and kind of wanted to *headdesk*. The elephant, surprisingly, was entirely relevant, was one of two symbols used heavily throughout (the other was a hummingbird, which made its way onto the British edition cover). But the woman on the cover, who I assume is Grace, has very definitely been white-washed.


The Big Four (Hercule Poirot, Bk 5)
The Big Four (Hercule Poirot, Bk 5)
Author: Agatha Christie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 6/19/2009


Christie's strength does not lie with thrillers like this one, and her portrayal of the Chinese characters rivals Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's for offensiveness, but a completist has to read this novel nonetheless. If for no other reason than that it marks the only appearance of Achille Poirot and the reappearance of Countess Rossakoff.


The Bird of the River
The Bird of the River
Author: Kage Baker
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 7/23/2010


This is a melancholy book, both because of its subject matter and because it is likely the last Kage Baker book I will ever see published, given her death last January. The speculative fiction field is lessened by her loss, and this book is a reminder of exactly why.

I suspect I will be in the minority in holding this opinion. It's a slight book, both in length and in that it is one in which not a whole lot happens. The heavy-duty world-building went on in the previous two novels, and this one is essentially nothing more than a gentle coming-of-age travelogue and romance. It has a likeable young protagonist, some light adventure, some not-very-dark secrets, and a happy ending. All of that is usually enough for a young adult audience, which is why I think it will work best when aimed at that reading level.

But that's just the gloss, the stuff the publisher sees (based on the jacket description which, as always with Baker's novels, spoils some things better left unspoiled and gets other things completely wrong). At its core this novel is just as subversive as the two that came before in this gloriously zany fantasy world -- unlike 95% of fantasy written today, it is a novel about the commonplace events that make up the lives of the vast majority of people inhabiting any world, real or imagined. It very gently paints a portrait of the lower classes, the working (and non-working) poor, whose lives are counted so negligibly by the characters portrayed in most fantasy novels. It's about the everyday tragedies of a hard life, and the way small lives get swallowed up by large ones, and the difference that creates in perception.

There is a beautiful passage between Eliss and Krelan where they talk about the way they see the universe. Krelan, living amongst the nobility his entire life, waxes on about how ordered the world is, the strict hierarchies keeping everyone in balance, in their place. And Eliss, whose idea of luxury is eating at a Red House (an establishment Krelan thinks terribly declasse) breaks in to say "But there isn't any balance. That's just made up. A Diamondcut can end up dead in the river mud, and a demon can fall in love with a goddess. Things just happen. Sometimes they're even good things."

That viewpoint is exactly the viewpoint so often missing from fantasy worlds. This loosely related trilogy, no matter its outer trappings, has always been about the value in seeking happiness, in forming families, in striving to be true to individuals rather than principles, and in enjoying life today, because it is a fragile thing. And that message, when delivered in such a gently beguiling way, is one I hope resonates with everyone who reads it.


Blood and Iron (Promethean Age, Bk 1)
Blood and Iron (Promethean Age, Bk 1)
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 21
Review Date: 4/27/2009
Helpful Score: 2


I do not generally read either Arthurian fantasy or books about the Fae; I read this purely because I have greatly enjoyed Elizabeth Bear in the past and I was able to get a copy cheap. Unfortunately, the book suffered (for me) from too many references that I did not understand. I do not know the ballads everyone talks about and gains their knowledge from, and they weren't provided in an index (which is something I would have recommended to the publisher had they asked my opinion). So throughout the book the characters seemed to be reminding each other of things in shorthand that just went completely over my head.

But then there were moments that the characters stopped to explain things to each other in ways that I could understand. . . but because of all the previous references that felt like the author forcing the data dump rather than providing information in a natural fashion. I could not see why some characters knew one thing but not another and vice versa. Three quarters of the way through the novel I was convinced that I would be forced to only rate it two stars, despite my usual enjoyment of Bear's writing.

But the ending made up for all lack beforehand. Bear pulled off a brilliant shift in perspective, the climax was heart-wrenching and the denouement, which seemed long when I measured the number of pages left after the final battle, brought the entire emotional story to its proper climax and resolution. In fact, looking back on the experience of the novel, despite all of the issues with the provision of information, the only real flaw it feels like it had was that Matthew seemed a somewhat wasted viewpoint character. Given that he is the feature of another novel in this series, I understand why he is there, but every time it switched to him (which was thankfully rare) I gritted my teeth a bit because his story just wasn't that interesting.


The Bone Palace (Necromancer Chronicles, Bk 2)
The Bone Palace (Necromancer Chronicles, Bk 2)
Author: Amanda Downum
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 3/30/2011
Helpful Score: 5


This book has, I think, carved out a little piece of my soul.

This is partly because it caused me to have an epiphany that, even if it isn't particularly novel, was still needed. But it's mostly because of the characters.

They aren't Romantic heroes -- they take tumbles down passageways, and they get taken out by ignominous bumps on the head, and afterward they hurt for days or weeks, and that affects their moods and their abilities. Their lives are messy, and Isyllt admits "[I] had never set great store on honor -- it was transitory and subjective, and often directly opposed to practicality." But they live in a deeply Romantic world, where breaking an oath can literally cripple you, and the shadows are definitely filled with monsters. And so they love and they hate, they comfort and they hurt, they live and they die in epic fashion, every event a confluence of secret histories and dark magic and tangled politics.

They are exactly the sort of cast that should be the norm in fantasy, but is sadly rare: spanning three (human) races and a wider range of cultures, at least three generations, all social classes, quite a few sexual orientations (hetero-, homo-, and bisexual, plus polyamorous), the able-bodied and those with various disabilities, and three genders (male, female, and hijra, which includes androgynes, FTM, and MTF transgenders). Even the non-human race we see a decent amount of (the vampires) reflects this diversity. And while I'm sure that having more women than men as named characters was deliberate and pointed, for the most part this diversity is simply a reflection of how any city (including fantasy cities like Erisín) looks. It gives Downum's city a wonderfully organic feel, because it's clear that every person the viewpoint characters see has a history, a life outside the needs of the narrative.

And in this novel that wonderful, diverse, non-Romantic cast starts out investigating a couple of mysteries and ends up neck-deep in nefarious machinations against the kingdom -- a plot I always enjoy. The politics are delightfully twisty, and Downum makes it clear that the politics are always personal. There are no characters acting purely out of a lust for power or sheer evilness; all are doing what they think is right, based on the trauma in their past and their conflicting desires. It's not a perfect novel -- some readers will likely want more info about how the magic works, and I found some of the descriptions repetitive -- but right at the moment it feels like a great novel, one I will treasure.


Bright of the Sky (Entire and the Rose, Bk 1)
Bright of the Sky (Entire and the Rose, Bk 1)
Author: Kay Kenyon
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 6/22/2010
Helpful Score: 3


This is one of those unfortunate books where the promise of a fine story and impressive world-building is completely stifled by mediocre writing. There are some startlingly powerful images in the novel, and some impressive set pieces, but there is so much dreck that I wanted to give up on the book from the very first page.

If you read science fiction mainly to explore well-imagined alien worlds, there is a fair amount here to enjoy. It takes 77 abysmal pages to finally reach the Entire, but when the book does arrive there, there are plenty of strange creatures and a several interesting concepts that Kenyon clearly enjoyed playing with. She could have used a better editor -- I really only needed to have the Entire's time-sense explained to me once, and the same thing goes with the bright looking like boiling porridge, the river Nigh passing through all the Primacies, and quite a few other world-building elements that got repeated ad infinitum. But still, by the end of the novel I had a sense that there was this strange, chaotic, haphazard place out there, and that is saying something for the scope of Kenyon's imagination.

However, nearly every word I read made me want throw the book far, far away. Everything about Kenyon's craft is obvious -- the sentences plod rather than dance, the story takes all of the most predictable turns, and the characters. . . there is no stretch of the imagination that will let me call them people. They are mere compilations of wants that Kenyon moves about the page by means of cattle prod: Quinn wants his family and will seek them no matter what the danger (even when the danger puts him at risk of being totally useless to his family); Anzi wants to please Quinn (actually, every "good" character wants to please Quinn, for no reason that is apparent to me, except authorial fiat); all of the high-ups at Minerva want their profit margins to increase, and that is all they want because that is how Kenyon makes them the bad guys (and apparently the want of profit makes them want to make the most inhumane choice, even when there are better options available). There is no complexity to these characters, no point where they are at war with themselves because they want mutually exclusive things, no point where what they want puts them in conflict with any sort of moral sense or where they wonder if what they want is a good thing or not. Kenyon's characters are flat, and that makes every conversation, every internal monologue absolutely torturous.

If there is a ray of light in that morass, it was the all-too-brief sections in Sydney's perspective among the Inyx. In those sections, Kenyon's ridiculously simplistic treatment of her characters actually worked, because Sydney's world is one of simple wants almost entirely in the present tense. Those sections I was able to actually enjoy -- though it's entirely possible that I'm just another girl who's a softie for a horse story.

But other than those brief moments with the Inyx, I really disliked reading this book, and even though the action finally picked up in the last fifty pages and the story has clearly just begin, I will definitely not be picking up the next book.

And that makes me a little sad, because the series has absolutely gorgeous covers.


Burning Water (Diana Tregarde, Bk 1)
Burning Water (Diana Tregarde, Bk 1)
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 120
Review Date: 9/12/2009


I'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Given that, it does feel like a stronger novel -- I was involved right away, rather than spending the first 1/3 wondering if I should bother. Part of that is that I was now used to Lackey's rather purple style, but part was also that there is far less of the stream-of-consciousness italics that so bogged down Children of the Night for me. Part of it is also that the other primary viewpoint character in this novel, Mark, is much more of an active participant rather than victim, as Dave was. Very importantly, there is a reason provided for Diana totally missing the obvious answer to all her of questions for a hundred pages while Lackey got the action going. The fact that an essential clue simply slipped Diana's mind in Children of the Night annoyed me to no end, and while it was just as annoying here, at least she forgot for a reason.

Incidentally, the names in these novels are starting to annoy me. Everyone has an extremely common one or two syllable name, and an obvious nickname. That makes it very hard to separate characters that are introduced at the same time: in Children of the Night I never got the band members sorted out, and in Burning Water I still can't remember which of the Mountainhawk brothers is which. (I also had to flip back through the book and find their name -- again -- to write this review, because it too simply blended into the prose without impressing itself on me.)

Another thing that threw me in both novels was that in both someone that one of the viewpoint characters is close friends with ends up dying -- but due to the circumstances of that death, none of the other characters seem to mind much. That simply struck me as false -- no matter how much a friend may have brought trouble down on him or herself, I can't imagine myself being as blase as these characters are.

Given all that, I did barrel through the novel in a single afternoon. It's lightweight, has some humor to it, and while I wouldn't exactly call these novels mysteries -- the audience always knows exactly what's happening -- they are serviceable supernatural thrillers.


Burning Water (Diana Tregarde, Bk 1)
Burning Water (Diana Tregarde, Bk 1)
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 21
Review Date: 9/12/2009


I'm reading the Diana Tregarde novels in chronological order, rather than publication order, so I came to this novel after Children of the Night. Given that, it does feel like a stronger novel -- I was involved right away, rather than spending the first 1/3 wondering if I should bother. Part of that is that I was now used to Lackey's rather purple style, but part was also that there is far less of the stream-of-consciousness italics that so bogged down Children of the Night for me. Part of it is also that the other primary viewpoint character in this novel, Mark, is much more of an active participant rather than victim, as Dave was. Very importantly, there is a reason provided for Diana totally missing the obvious answer to all her of questions for a hundred pages while Lackey got the action going. The fact that an essential clue simply slipped Diana's mind in Children of the Night annoyed me to no end, and while it was just as annoying here, at least she forgot for a reason.

Incidentally, the names in these novels are starting to annoy me. Everyone has an extremely common one or two syllable name, and an obvious nickname. That makes it very hard to separate characters that are introduced at the same time: in Children of the Night I never got the band members sorted out, and in Burning Water I still can't remember which of the Mountainhawk brothers is which. (I also had to flip back through the book and find their name -- again -- to write this review, because it too simply blended into the prose without impressing itself on me.)

Another thing that threw me in both novels was that in both someone that one of the viewpoint characters is close friends with ends up dying -- but due to the circumstances of that death, none of the other characters seem to mind much. That simply struck me as false -- no matter how much a friend may have brought trouble down on him or herself, I can't imagine myself being as blase as these characters are.

Given all that, I did barrel through the novel in a single afternoon. It's lightweight, has some humor to it, and while I wouldn't exactly call these novels mysteries -- the audience always knows exactly what's happening -- they are serviceable supernatural thrillers.


Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot, Bk 13)
Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot, Bk 13)
Author: Agatha Christie
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 58
Review Date: 10/26/2009


Christie mentioned the premise of this novel in a couple of her earlier works, setting up her public for it, I assume. It certainly does not disappoint. Even on rereading, when I could remember most of the how of the murder, I was taken in by a really well laid out diversion. There is a great deal of humor in this novel as well, making it delightful to revisit as some mysteries are not. It features mystery writer Ariadne Oliver's first appearance in a full-length work, and the reappearance of Superintendent Battle and Colonel Race, and all get to contribute their part to Poirot's ultimate solution. The bridge play (which is discussed quite a bit) is accessible to the novice and should not put you off. The characters are a shade underdeveloped compared to some of Christie's other mysteries, but all in all Cards on the Table is in the upper half of her cannon.


The Carpet Makers
The Carpet Makers
Author: Andreas Eschbach, Doryl Jensen (Translator)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 9/26/2010
Helpful Score: 1


This is the sort of science fiction that's perfect to hand to someone who says they never read science fiction -- sure, it's set in the future, and there are space ships, and we visit a couple of different planets in a vast interstellar empire, but that's ultimately just a slightly-more-exotic-than-usual setting for a story about some very human people whose lives touch because they each in some way illuminate the central mystery.

Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, and within the 10-15 pages devoted to that character Eschbach is able to give the reader a strong sense of who that character is and what his/her life is like -- and most of those lives are hard, and filled with tragedies large and small. Whether it is Eschbach's doing or the translator's, the prose is imbued with a sense of distance that makes those tragedies bearable -- and were it not for that sense of distance I would have had to put the book down several times to cry. But the book isn't about those tragedies; each one is presented not for pathos but because it gives the reader (and soon, some of the characters) clues about the purpose behind the hair carpets.

As we delve deeper into the mystery the plotting becomes more complex and the scope widens -- we begin to sense the vast sweeps of history and the passions behind them. The book does lose a little of its focus in a couple chapters -- three of the perspectives ended up almost totally extraneous to the final resolution. But the resolution itself is horrifying, and all the more potent because of the dryness of the narration. This is a book that lingers long past the final page, and one which feels far richer than 300 pages has a right to be. I am immensely glad that it was translated into English.


1 to 20 of 186 - Page: