Friday, May 27, 2011

Boba Fett: A Practical Man by Karen Traviss

In this novella we see the Mandalorians get caught up with the Yuuzhan Vong just before they invade the galaxy. I enjoyed the perspective on the Mandalorians and getting to see Boba Fett again. I also enjoyed reading about the Yuuzhan Vong war from a non-Jedi perspective.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

This book tells the story of Kamila Sidiqi, a young woman whose studies to become a teacher were interrupted by the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul. Instead of rolling over and accepting their strictures, Kamila developed a dressmaking business to provide for her family. The story read like fiction (the prose was fairly smooth), but the drama was all in anticipation--it seemed like Kamila and her family basically were able to run their business without major setbacks. It's a very powerful story, but I'm not entirely convinced that the way it's told was the most effective or best choice.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I enjoyed reading this book the second time even more than I liked it the first time. The story takes place in two times: a present at the Wayside Inn, where we quickly learn we're hearing Kvothe, a man whose story has already become mythic and who has disguised himself as the simple innkeeper Kote, tell his story his way. The story is an entertaining bildungsroman, and I was much more able to get over Kvothe's early ban from the Archives this time around. I also enjoyed the drug-addicted Draccus interlude more. I am really waiting to hear what becomes of the Chandrian....

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

In this mystery Inspector Kurt Wallender finds an old couple killed for apparently no reason in rural Sweden. But, as he continues his investigation, he discovers links to a secret double life and anti-immigrant sentiment that threatens to have explosive public consequences. This story had some great twists. I liked the way that the mystery had so many constituent parts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

This book felt clunky to me: the names sounded made up, the plot tried to move around a little, but not enough to make me feel like the author really cared about the Sachakan stories, and the magic system didn't make a whole lot of sense. The development of healing magic felt clumsy as well. All in all an OK way to pass the time, but not one that I'd rush out to buy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Affinity by Sarah Waters

I enjoyed this book, though I found the ending completely surprising. It really examines the way that people related to each other and why people help each other. I found Margaret's family hideous, but I was left wondering whether her choices didn't contribute to her misery. I enjoyed the twist at the end, but if this book were a mystery, I would think the author had left a bit too much out for the reader to be able to make a fair conclusion.

Angelica by Arthur Phillips

I enjoyed this story, which is told four times and remains ambiguous at its end. I appreciate that Phillips leaves it for the reader to decide whether there really was a ghost, whether Joseph Barton is cruel, Anne a con woman, or Constance hysterical, or a little of all. The story did not hang together quite as well as The Tragedy of Arthur or The Egyptologist, but it certainly leaves the reader with something to think about.

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

I really enjoyed this book. Even though I am not as familiar with Egyptian mythology as Greek or Roman, the story was easy to follow (and to remember after a year since the last release). Bas, the dwarf god, and the journey through the twelve houses was particularly compelling. I thought the story worked well, and I can't wait to see what happens as far as the final showdown between Chaos and Ma'at next year.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

I was a little surprised when September 11 appeared in the midst of this book (although given the time line, there's absolutely no reason why I should have been). The story is marvelously plotted, and I enjoyed reading about the dot-com bubble. Perhaps the romantic ends of the book are a bit transparent, and the historical ends are obvious, but I enjoyed the plotting and the attention to social relationships. Still, I find it a little unsettling to read about September 11, perhaps because it's an historical event I remember.

The Quest for the Fair Unknown by Gerald Morris

I can tell that this series is building towards its finale: although it has much of the same style as the previous books, there are hints that not all is well in Arthur's kingdom and that a final confrontation is coming. I enjoyed the send-up of the falsely pious hermits, and even the book's lack of patience with Galahad (who is, as usual, somewhat of a twit). I am also a fan of the way that these books are on Gawain's side (as the best knight in Arthur's court).

Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordan Korman, and Jude Watson

This book serves as a decent transition from the 39 Clues (where Dan and Amy race to assemble a serum) and the new series where they have to struggle against the Vespers. The story follows a mysterious ring through four generations (Gideon, Madeleine, Grace, and Dan and Amy)--and while you can tell that each section was the responsibility of a different author, the story fits together reasonably well.

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

While this novel is still an early specimen of the form--there are no chapters, for example--I quite enjoyed this book. While Moll says she's repented of her early behavior, she still has made the most of it (despite incest, time in prison, and the rest). I found myself intrigued by how easily she let go of her children (who generally aren't named, and usually are foisted off on someone else to raise) and by the presence of America (the colonies) which play a surprisingly large part in the novel.

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

In this book we finally learn more about the Second Foundation, which Seldon established as a backup plan to the Foundation hundreds of years ago. Since the disaster of the rise of the Mule (and his near-discovery of the location of the Second Foundation), it has been operating with increasingly bad odds in order to set the Seldon plan back to rights. Meanwhile, the Foundation is hunting for the Second Foundation to put an end to it. This book gives a fitting conclusion to the original trilogy within the longer series.

Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

In this book the Foundation shows that it can resist the last remnants of the Empire, but a new threat rises from the Foundation itself: the Mule, a mutant who inspires loyalty extremely quickly and effectively. Because pyschohistory cannot work on one individual, the Mule throws the Seldon plan off balance. I particularly liked Bayta, and the twist ending.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

I really enjoy this novel, which introduces the Seldon Plan and shows the Foundation's rise to power as it deals with a series of crises. Despite the changing protagonists (the book covers hundreds of years), the book really draws the reader in and makes the reader care about the development of the Foundation. Further, while the stories could quickly become formulaic or repetitive, Asimov avoids that problem and manages to reflect quite a bit on the nature of free will.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide by Stephenie Meyer

This book is a compendium of information about the Twilight Saga. While it doesn't actually provide much new information (and the new information is often incredibly repetitive), it does organize the information in one place. If you're looking for style, you won't find it here--lots of entries re-hash old information. Also, the book is heavily supplemented by quotations from the series. It seems to me that there wasn't a lot of thought in putting everything together, and most of what's in the book, you can find on the internet (either Stephenie Meyer's official page or the Twilight Lexicon) or in interviews with Stephenie Meyer.

Prom Nights from Hell by Meg Cabot, Michele Jaffe, Kim Harrison, Lauren Myracle, and Stephenie Meyer

This collection was a little uneven: I enjoyed "The Corsage," which was a bit expected (the protagonist gets three wishes which don't go like she expects them to), "The Exterminator's Daughter" (a relief to read a vampire story where the girl doesn't spend the whole time mooning over the vampire) and "Hell on Earth" (which was a bit complicated with who was who, but an interesting idea). I didn't enjoy the other two stories as much.

Ylesia by Walter Jon Williams

This novella tells of Ylesia, where Thracken Sal-Solo finds himself after trying to collaborate with the Yuuzhan Vong, and where Jaina and Jacen Solo catch up with him. I found this story short but entertaining.

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

This book continues Charlaine Harris's series of books about Sookie Stackhouse, telepath and part fairy who finds herself entangled with an assorted cast of werewolves, vampires, and witches. By this point (the 11th book in the series), I get the sense that the plot continues as much to move the series along as to create a well-planned book. It's been long enough since the last one that the plot holes are not glaringly obvious to a casual reader, and I certainly plan on finishing the series to the end, but I find myself looking more forward to the fourth television series.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

This book shares its virtues and faults with many of the previous books in the series. I felt like the plot arcs weren't clearly defined and worked towards cliffhangers rather than resolution.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

This book builds slowly into a thrilling tour de force. It took me a while to figure out where the plot was headed, but I really enjoyed reading this book: there's lots of interesting math and codes, and some fun history and places to boot. All in all very worth reading.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

I enjoyed this book, though in truth, it's only half a book, as many characters' viewpoints (including most notably Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenarys) have been cut out for reasons of length--they'll reappear in July in A Dance with Dragons). I find myself most interested by the resurgence of magic in this series: the dragons are coming back just as the wights and the Others are threatening beyond the Wall, and the things from the North seem to be most vulnerable to dragonglass (i.e. obsidian). The most valuable swords (which can no longer be made) are of Valyrian steel (the land from which the dragons and Targaryens apparently came). I'm eager to see how it all plays out not only in the next coming book, but in the final two books of the series (though who knows how long we'll have to wait for them).

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

In this book Nancy Astley thinks she's exchanging her boring life helping in her family's oyster restaurant for a fulfilling one when she leaves home to become dresser to Kitty Butler, music hall sensation. But fame (and love) aren't all they promise to be, and Nan keeps finding that she's gotten the worse end of the bargain as woman after woman betrays her. I enjoyed this coming of age story, but like Fingersmith, Waters really only follows one plotline throughout.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words by Richard Godden

This book contends that Faulkner's prose reflects the trauma of the South after World War II: as its old forms of labor changed (and African Americans migrated north in increasing numbers) white Southerners came to realize that their identity depended on African American identity. Godden gives excellent close readings, although his argument is a bit more radical (and tenuous) than I would like.

The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

I enjoyed this murder mystery, although it depended heavily on the story of On the Wrong Track, the previous book in the series. The mystery plot was pretty good, although the series depends a bit heavily on slapstick style comedy for my tastes. I thought the ending was a bit out of nowhere, or at least that there weren't enough clues for the reader to have a fair shot.

The Lioness and Her Knight by Gerald Morris

This book retells the story of Ywain and Laudine with some additions and Morris's Seelie Court (of fairies and magic) involved. As usual, Morris makes the secondary characters (the ones of his own devising, or the ones peripheral to the traditional legends) far more interesting and sympathetic, perhaps in part because he has more leeway to do as he likes with them. I particularly liked seeing the development and maturation of Luneta.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel by Arthur Phillips

This book is both dazzling and delightful. It purports to contain a newly-discovered play by Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Arthur, and a long introduction to that play by a version of the novelist Arthur Phillips. The reader quickly discovers she's in the midst of a tour de force, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Nabokov's Pale Fire. Arthur Phillips, the unreliable narrator of the novel, is convinced that his father, a skilled forger, forged the play, but Professor Verre, the scholarly voice that adds footnotes to Phillips's footnotes, is just as unreliable as he tries to justify his reading of the play that makes Shakespeare its author. The play itself is not a bad stab at an imitation of Shakespeare--it uses Holinshed just as Shakespeare did, and it borrows lines from some of Shakespeare's other plays. There are some really funny moments in the play too. Along the way, there's a dazzling variation on the Earl of Oxford thesis, interesting speculation on what could have caused this play to have been suppressed, lots of great family drama, and a lot of fun to be had at the narrator's expense. All in all, well worth enjoying.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

I really enjoyed this book, which really had a little bit of everything in it: between history, science, math, literature, cryptography, technology, and theory, it seems nothing is too far afield. I enjoyed the biographical bits about the people whose work made information both legible and useful for us today, and I  enjoyed the scientific bits that show, at least in part, how we came to and continue to manipulate information. I found the concept of redundancy in messages particularly enlightening. The chapter on the Library of Babel and Wikipedia was also quite good. While at the end, Gleick begins to deal with the question of information overload, I felt his heart wasn't in it, or at least, that the final pages were not as well researched or conceptualized as the rest of the book.

Converging Stories: Race, Ecology, and Environmental Justice in American Literature by Jeffrey Myers

This book contends that we ought to understand racial injustice and environmental degradation as coming out of similar Euroamerican attitudes toward the other. It marshals Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, Thoreau's nature writings, Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman, Zitkala-Ša's Old Indian Legends, and Eddy L. Harris's Mississippi Solo to show both how racist attitudes can reinforce an inability to live with or understand nature and how antiracism and ecology can work hand in hand to move toward a more egalitarian society. I found the book reasonably convincing in its arguments (the environmental claims get a bit radical for my tastes at some points) and altogether an enjoyable and quick read.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This book chronicles the development of psychohistory on Trantor despite the increasing decline of the empire and the enormous personal losses that face Hari Seldon. The book picks key moments to demonstrate, so the effect is staccato. We get to infer years of happiness for Seldon in the middle of his life, but we see him in moments of crisis. The mathematics behind psychohistory, too, are sketchy, but this lack of direction, I think, helps keep the book from feeling dated.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I enjoyed this book more than I thought I might. It tells two intertwined stories: that of a young boy who runs away with the circus after his parents' death in a car accident, and that of an old man struggling to come to terms with the nursing home his children have chosen for him and his own aging body. Despite the fact that the young boy and the old man are the same character, and that you see a version of the climactic scene early in the book, the plot still contains many surprises. I particularly enjoyed the way the animals fit into the story.

Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This book chronicles the beginning of Hari Seldon's development of pyschohistory. When a young mathematician discovers that it's possible to predict the probability of a given future event, both Emperor Cleon I and his First Minister Eto Demerzel are interested in the possibilities. But Seldon is less convinced that it is practical to develop this possibility into a working science. Trying to stay one step ahead of imperial interest, Seldon traverses the surface of Trantor with Dors Venabili (a historian who becomes interested in his project) trying desperately to determine how to develop psychohistory before imperial forces catch up with him. This book is quite enjoyable.