Sunday, 3 May 2009
Sunday Salon - Finally, some book reviews!!
Good morning! It's the third day of May, and the leaves are springing out on branches, the geese are flying north, and it's calm here. After last weekend, this is a good way to begin the day! Oh, and it's now officially less than a week until the new Star Trek movie opens!!!!
On top of that, I have been busy reading. I didn't plan on taking a break, it just turned in to one. It has been so stressful at work for me that I would come home and read, and then read some more. This is good for getting to my 100 books read this year goal, bad for socializing in any way with anyone!
So I thought I would give a quick review of some of the books I have read, with my new rating system - 5/5 being the best read, 1/5 being don't bother, etc.
Riddle of St Leonard's - Candace Robb - Book 5 in the series
4/5 - very good historical recreation, characters, setting (York England in 1369), interesting mystery. I think i had the most fun though envisioning my York with the recreated one, and it was so much fun to know I'd been on Stonegate and worked there, and it was a main thoroughfare back then too. It was most interesting to realize that St Leonard's stretched from the Museum Gardens almost to the Minster in 1369 when in 2000 there is only a partial block of some of the hospital - really a partial stone chamber - left to visit. This was the first of her mysteries I read, which are sadly out of print now, so I will now have reason # 430 to haunt used bookstores in the future! Anyone interested in medieval England, enjoyed The Name of the Rose (for the blending of religion and politics), or has been to York, will enjoy this mystery.
****I forgot to mention the plot: Riddle of St Leonard's is set is 1369, during an outbreak of the plague. There is a series of deaths that may or may not be innocent, involving St Leonard's, which has had thefts and debt, and the victims who died were recently at the hospital. Owen Archer is the series main character, a spy for the Archbishop, and also for the King and Queen of England. He does not want to take the job on, as it is not clear there is a link or anything suspicous, and he is trying to protect his family from the plague. There is of course, a link, and the guilty party is as devious and clever as any modern killer. Very well done, very enjoyable mystery.*****
The Reaper - Peter Lovesey
4/5 - I have to thank the lovely Cath at Read-Warbler for this book. She'd finished it and rather than give it to a charity shop, she asked if I'd like to read it, since I enjoy mysteries so much also. So she sent it over the ocean to me! (Here thanks Cath most gratefully)
I'm not sure I could get this book over here, so this was a double pleasure for me. And it is a very good read. There are plenty of murders, an Anglican priest who is gorgeous, and the feel of a very small village where nothing goes unnoticed......except the unwillingness to and inability to recognize something could be wrong. There is an unexpected twist at the end that is chilling, and in a very fun way, a twisted happy ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be passing it along to my mother who also enjoys mysteries. I am going to look for more of his books also. Second-hand bookstores, here I come!!
Dead Cold and The Cruellest Month - Louise Penny - series catch-up
4/5 for both. Set in the fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec, featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, these mysteries take place a year apart. Dead Cold takes place right after one snowy and very cold Christmas. The victim is so cold (pun intended with her body that is cold, and the weather outside that is so terribly cold) that no one is unhappy she's dead, not even her family. Death at an outdoor curling event - and no one noticed. I love how this series juxtaposes the quiet calm and beauty of the village and the fondness the villagers have with eachother; part of the charm of these books are the main village characters we meet , Gabri and Olivier B&B and bistro owners, Peter and Clara Morrow the artists, Myrna the bookstore owner, Ruth the famous poet. They provide delightful repartee and solid grounding against which the murder in each book is set. Other characters are introduced in each book, among whom are most of the suspects. There is old history of Three Pines in this book, and characters who leave and come again, as in The Cruellest Month. The author refers to past experiences in the previous books, so reading in sequence is recommended. I find this adds to the warmth and realistic setting of the books, that the characters don't suddenly forget previous actions and history. No one in a village ever does!
The Cruellest Month is set in April and features a delightful description of an easter egg hunt, and how Ruth adopts a duck. Of course, there is most hideous murder, and a thrilling seance in a creepy haunted house on top of the hill. Both mysteries have super atmosphere. The weather is also featured - sudden snowstorms in both books, very cold temperatures, spring blossoms and flowers. This is a delightful mystery series with a very strong Canadian atmosphere and setting. Oh - and Inspector Gamache? Picks the detectives who don't fit anywhere else in the Surete of Quebec (provincial police force) and guides them to becoming the best detectives. Throughout both books he is also being betrayed by someone he trusts in the force, and the reason why, and who is involved, make Dead Cold particularly riveting. I felt that The Cruellest Month didn't resolve in quite the dramatic fashion the author envisioned - in fact the whole setting of the denouement didn't fit and the inspector was entirely too calm throughout for my liking - but overall, it was a very good read again. I am a real fan of this series now, and am hoping my mother will pick up book 4, which is in trade paperback, for my upcoming birthday......I'd also like to move to Three Pines. Right Away. If it existed!!
Blood-Bound and Iron-Kissed - Patricia Briggs. Books 2 and 3 of Mercy Thompson series.
*Sigh*. Those wolves, Samuel and Adam. That vampire, Stefan. How can the author make a vampire seem sexy? when he's cold and dead? and charming and intelligent? and slightly heroic? And Samuel and Adam, who could choose? They are gorgeous and protective and masculine and thrilling and love her. What is even better is that it does get resolved, this tension between Adam and Samuel and Mercy, in Iron-Kissed, and that is done in a way that Mercy learns something about wolves and packs, and in a way that the wolf not chosen doesn't hate her.
Oh yes, the mystery. There was one. Two, one in each book. Right. You mean I have to discuss the mystery? I can't think about - ? Never mind.
Blood-Bound: The second book is chilling. The vampire with a demon controlling it is truly scary. I had no idea how Mercy would get out of it. And how she does makes for truly heart-pounding reading. I know that I couldn't put this down, that I was totally involved in the story, and very interested in the creativity Briggs has put into thinking about vampires and how they could function in their own society, or even if they had one. I definitely would only want to meet Stefan the Vampire, no others, but then I shudder at their victims, what an awful way to go. There is no glossing over that vampires to prey on people to eat - but yet Stefan is a very interesting character and I want to know more about him. He's definitely intriguing and those words he mutters to Mercy......I think book 4 features him more......*fans herself* It seems that even being undead doesn't save one from power politics, something I will remember when I go into work tomorrow. I also like how Mercy chooses her own course of action, refusing to abide by most rules others try to impose upon her.
In Iron-Kissed, the third book of the series, this is finally discussed, for as the fae creature (I don't want to name who, but suffice to say a major Goddess of war makes a surprising appearance) comments, Coyote is the unexpected. Iron-Kissed is about fairy tales and myths, the dangerous kind: we have to go into the woods, but I'm not sure I would want to meet any of the fae that feature in Iron-Kissed. Oh, yes, the mystery: Mercy's former boss (who is a fae) is being framed for a murder he didn't commit, Mercy sets out to clear his name, despite being warned by everyone to stay away, except for one key character, mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Mercy is a Coyote - finally a little something about what her nature is, is revealed - but only in cryptic remarks such as the fae drop from time to time. I thought this enriched the books immensely. I really like how the author has created the supernatural world co-existing with 'people world'. The coyote remarks are about Mercy, but also points out about how the supernatural isn't something to play with - it is dangerous, as fairy tales keep trying to tell us. Mercy herself lives only because of her nature, because of who she is and how she can slide between the rules, as Coyote the Trickster does. This was a smart move on the author's part, to bring in her Coyote nature and the role she plays in these books. She also doesn't belong anywhere, and this is a thoughtful way of showing how Native American myths were displaced by the Europeans, and yet - they survive. This gives Mercy an element of natural power that makes it possible for her to survive all the attacks she does survive. Just as Coyote has survived the near-wipeout of His culture, and yet he's still there, surprising us with tornadoes out of nowhere, the clown who brings the truth, the unexpected - there has to be room for surprise, or things get too rigid, as the Goddess of war murmurs thoughtfully to Mercy.
These are very well-written supernatural books, ones I highly reccommend. They both come in at 5/5. My only problem? I want more!!! More!! I went from reading Book Two straight to Book Three because I just couldn't wait to see what happened with Mercy, Adam and Samuel. The mysteries are well-written and very good, it's the werewolf clan structure, the fae world, the vampire sett, that sets this supernatural series well above any others for me. As well, Mercy herself - she is extremely likeable, independent, and bakes brownies and cookies when she's stressed. She's like one of us! (except she doesn't read as much). Though a book does feature in Book Three....
Briar Rose - Jane Yolen (read for Carl's OUaT3 Challenge) - part of the Fairy Tales Series by Terri Windling.
5/5 Lovely. Despite the horror at the heart of the book, this book is about how fairy tales can be used to transmit the truth in a way that the teller can tell it, and the listener hear it, without having to relive the full horror every time. In Rebecca's family, her grandmother Gemma has a personal recreation of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty that Rebecca, of all the girls, loves to hear. Gemma repeats it over and over. After she dies, Rebecca discovers among her papers that Gemma was in Europe during WW2, and she sets out to find what happened to her grandmother, and who her grandfather could have been. This was a very moving story about survival, love, and courage, and the people who died in Poland in the awful concentration camps, and other small villages where everyone was killed. Who awakened Sleeping Beauty? How did she escape? Why did her Grandmother tell only this story? Rebecca has to go into the heart of Poland to find out. It is as moving and horrific as any story, as every story, about World War Two. As with any story of the Holocaust, be ready to cry.
This is also a story about the power of telling a story, and how a story can give meaning to a life. If you had survived what Gemma had survived, what story would you choose to survive with, to pass on what you had been through in a way that didn't hurt the ones who heard it? It is a story in the end of hope, of survival - just as Sleeping Beauty awakes and goes on to fall in love and have children, so Gemma's life continued on. There is even love for Rebecca, who opens up to possibilities around her as she realizes the real gift- that the story does go on with love and children. "Sometimes living takes more courage than dying," she says to the man she discovers in Poland. And that's what Briar Rose is about, in the end. Both the fairy tale and this superb fairy tale retelling.
The Blue Girl - Charles de Lint (read for Carl's OUaT3 Challenge)
3.5/5 - I wish I could give this a higher rating. I am still surprised that I am disappointed with this one. For the first time that I can remember, I didn't find the two main characters, Imogene and Maxine, entirely believable. Imogene especially bothered me - not her tough nature, but her sudden recreation as she enters a new high school. I know that a teenage girl cannot hide her true character in high school. High school is brutal for the most part, and that's where what a person is made of is revealed. It's like a slice of life. And The Blue Girl fails not in the setting, but because no one guesses that Imogene was ever a tough girl who ran with a gang, despite her attitude and her skipping classes. I do like her for her imagination, her cleverness, and because she faces things head-on. I do like her friendship with Maxine. I know from Charles' afterword that he wanted to explore the friendship between two unlikely girls, and how this would affect both of them. So for trying it, and for telling a really good story, because it is, he gets the 3 stars.
The good points: the dialogue, the other characters, the story - there's ghosts, the dead, fairies, and very scary dark things with teeth in shadows. There's a lot to like in this book. It is a good read. And I like this quote, from Thomas (one of those very interesting secondary characters that Charles does so well that I really want to know more about!): "Oh, sure. It's fairy this and fairy that. We've even got CDs that 'inspired' by the fairies, for god's sake. But it wasn't always like that. The way my grandparents told it, the one thing you didn't ever want was to get their attention. If you did, you made sure you treated them with great respect. And you never show your fear." Now that, I like!
I think I wanted more - less Imogene being saucy, and more explanation of why she is special. Why can she see the dead, when she is not dead herself? where did all her tough manners go when she decided to drop that image? It's not easy to not let attitudes slip. And why isn't she unsure of herself? Most teenagers go back and forth from being secure to being completely insecure, often within the same day. And she's actually mean to Adrian, the dead teenager haunting the school. And I wanted to know more about Pelly, Imogene's imaginary friend who turns out to not be so imaginary, and I wanted to know more about the shadows with fangs. Oh yes, they were very interesting. I think it was the teasing both undergo in the school - the popular crowd and the toughies pick on them both, and other kids, and it is unlike Imogene's character to put up with it. That, and she physically hurts someone, and suffers no emotional repercussions. She says she will have to live with it, but we don't see her suffering from it. That is when the book stopped being realistic for me. Any act of violence scars both the victim and offender, for the offender at the least the first few times, and yet Imogene blithely passes it off and ignores it for the most part. This really upset me, and I thought it was wrong - wrongly handled, and didn't really belong in the book. It ruined her character for me, especially when she says she doesn't want to go to juvenile center if she tells the truth, so she lies. And she has all the answers - for Valerie, the girl she saves, for Brent who she attacks. What 17 year old knows the right thing to say all the time? Still, I liked her, but with reservations by the end.
So this is a solid book, with de Lint's trademark highlights, and wonderful Newford feel and fairies galore of the dangerous kind - they all are.
Well, that's my Sunday round-up. I am reading Possession, and surprisingly, really enjoying it. I tried many years ago when it first came out, and couldn't get past the opening pages. This time, I thought, well, Nymeth likes it, let me try it again, and voilà! So when I get it finished, she will get two points - because she convinced me to try a book I thought I hated!!
I hope you have a delightful day reading and with your family. It's spring, finally!