Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley

In this memoir Sandra Beasley focuses on how her allergies have affected her life. She covers some of the scientific aspects of food allergies (and the distinction between an allergy and an intolerance), but mostly it's a series of personal (both her own and other people's) experiences navigating a world that's not particularly aware of or set up to cater to food allergies. I enjoyed the stories, and I enjoyed the style of the writing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway

As I read this book , I was interested by the women this time through. Hemingway at least mentions childbirth in three of the first four sections. The men in this book seem overwhelmed and unable to connect with the women; when I was younger I read this as evidence of Hemingway's misogyny, now I think it's much more indicative of the trauma the male characters are suffering.

The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound by T. S. Eliot

I found the drafts of this poem fascinating. I was a little surprised to see that Vivian Eliot suggested the line, "what you get married for if you don't want children." Pound's revisions definitely made the poem less metrical and more personal. As for the poem itself, I was fascinated by the appearance of bodily trauma in the poem (people that couldn't see, feel, hear) and by the changing state of water in the poem.

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

This book got much better in its second half than the first. Things really started moving when Egwene returned to Salidar and was invested as a rival Amyriln Seat to Elaida in the Tower. If the rest of the series is more like the first half of this book, it will be a slog to get through it; if it keeps up the pace of the second half, it will be much more enjoyable.

The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

I enjoyed this book, although I think the movie made a more compelling narrative. The book seems to be written as an attempt to capitalize on the interest generated by the movie. It uses both Logue's diaries and records and a variety of other sources to tell the story from the side of both George VI and Lionel Logue. While I think the claim that Logue saved the monarchy overstated (and indeed, the movie and the book both seem to exaggerate his friendship with George VI in different ways), the book gives a nice portrait of Britain and its king.

Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

It was easier to read this book than I expected; the story came back to me fairly easily (after eight or nine years). I did remember why (in part) I stopped reading this series. I like the characters (especially Zedd), but there are a lot of didactic asides about when violence is justified, moral relativism, and achieving balance. If I wanted someone to lecture me on those topics, I'd register for a philosophy course.

The Dog Who Knew Too Much by Spencer Quinn

In the latest entry in the Chet and Bernie mysteries, they find themselves at a camp where a young boy has suddenly gone missing. As usual, Quinn does a great job both capturing Chet's perspective and making his communications realistic. I could hardly put this book down.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

If you thought that Harry Dresden's life couldn't get any worse, this book sets out to prove you wrong. He's in a funk because his girlfriend now has vampiric tendencies, he's almost out of money, and the White Council, the Red Court of the Vampires, and apparently the fairies are all out to get him! To add to the confusion, his first love, Elaine, whom he thought was dead, suddenly reappears. I really liked the way this plot came together. I also thought the faerie mythology was deftly handled. A great addition to the series.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

This book combines Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax's search for a third witch (after Magrat's defection to become Queen of Lancre) with a spoof of the opera generally and The Phantom of the Opera more specifically. I definitely found myself chortling at this book. The witches are some of my favorite Discworld characters, and they don't disappoint here!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Robert Silverberg

I didn't enjoy this collection quite as much as I enjoyed the first one, but it was still enjoyable. It contained the following eleven short novels: "Homecoming" by Robin Hobb, "The Sworn Sword" by George R. R. Martin, "The Yazoo Queen" by Orson Scott Card, "Lord John and the Succubus" by Diana Gabaldon, "The Book of Changes" by Robert Silverberg, "The Happiest Dead Boy in the World" by Tad Williams, "Beyond Between" by Anne McCaffrey, "The Messenger" by Raymond E. Feist, "Threshold" by Elizabeth Haydon, "The Monarch of the Glen" by Neil Gaiman, and "Indomitable" by Terry Brooks. I particularly liked the stories by Hobb (you see a character really find herself and change from an insufferable prig to a strong heroine), Martin (Dunk and Egg at it again), Card (I need to read the full Alvin Maker series), Silverberg (great story about art and poetry), Haydon (nice twist at the end), and Gaiman (again, I need to read American Gods). I thought the others were OK, though I couldn't really get into the Feist story, I had read the Gabaldon before, the McCaffrey story felt a little fluffy, the Brooks story felt way too much like you needed familiarity with the full world, and the Williams story was a little far out there for me. Overall I enjoyed the collection.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Although this book is not my favorite work of Joyce's, I enjoyed reading it this time through. Like his more complicated books, Portrait makes more sense if you pick a few threads to follow through the book like lifelines. I traced naming in particular this read through. Although Stephen Dedalus can be self-centered and downright irritating at times, the book does a lovely job representing his consciousness.

The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

I read this book because I was part way through the series (which I started based on a positive review somewhere online), but I was not impressed. The writing is clunky, the magic system is clunky, and the plot is clunky--Canavan seems far more interested in pairing her characters willy nilly than in making them consistent. The high/black magic thing (where you can take power from another magician or another living thing) provokes some interesting ethical debates, but Canavan does no more than skim the surface. I know there's a sequel trilogy, but I have other things I'd far rather read.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History: Volume IV: Global America (1915-2000) by D. W. Meinig

This volume begins by looking at the changes in technology (like the car and airplane) that changed American life, and then at the migrations within the country. It ends with American "missions"--that is U.S. involvement in the world beyond its borders. It chooses not to go into the changes that happened because of and after September 11. This volume, like the previous three, offers an entertaining and informative geography of the United States and indirectly makes a strong case for the viability of geography as a discipline.

The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History: Volume III: Transcontinental America (1850-1915) by D. W. Meinig

This volume overlaps slightly with the previous volume; Meinig returns to before the Civil War to cover the geographical history of the West in more detail. Then he shifts his focus to the country as a whole to look at railroads, the economy, the population, and how people were beginning to be united again after the Civil War. He closes by looking at American spheres of influence in the world. As with previous volumes, this book provides a good mixture of specific and general, lots of maps, and a fair amount of history.

The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History: Volume II: Continental America (1800-1867) by D. W. Meinig

This volume covers the expansion of the United States from a country on the Atlantic seaboard to one that covers the continent. It was clearly organized--first showing how the country acquired the territory, then looking at patterns of settlement, and then covering the Civil War before closing by showing the US in relation to its neighbors. If you're looking for a solid geography that tracks both details and the big picture and which is well-illustrated, you won't be disappointed here. You can get a lot of history from this book, too, although it is not a full replacement for a history.

Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Robert Silverberg

This anthology houses a phenomenal collection of short fantasy. There wasn't a story in here that I didn't enjoy. While I was familiar with some authors, and not with others, between the introductions and the pieces chosen, I never felt totally lost. "The Little Sisters of Eluria" by Stephen King was set in the Dark Tower world and was a nice set piece with Roland's experience with some really creepy ladies. "The Sea and Little Fishes" by Terry Pratchett shows off Granny Weatherwax and her headology at its best. "Debt of Bones" by Terry Goodkind made me decide to pick the Sword of Truth stories back up again; it was a beautiful story about Zed before the wall shutting magic out, with a heart-warming twist at the end. "Grinning Man" by Orson Scott Card was set in the America you hear about in tall tales. I definitely want to pursue this series as well. "The Seventh Shrine" by Robert Silverbeg was set on Majipoor; I really enjoyed its exploration of cross-cultural communication and misunderstanding. "Dragonfly" by Ursula LeGuin is an Earthsea story; I think I've read this one before. I actually don't remember much of "The Burning Man" by Tad Williams. "The Hedge Knight" by George R. R. Martin is the start of the Dunk and Egg stories. I really liked this one; it sets up them as a great pair and offers the potential for even more stories of the Seven Kingdoms (also something nice to do while waiting on The Winds of Winter). "Runner of Pern" by Anne McCaffrey may have been my least favorite story of the collection; I just couldn't get into the whole runner thing (which was a big deal for most of the story). "The Wood Boy" by Raymond Feist is another story that I don't remember as well. The collection concludes with Robert Jordan's "New Spring," which shows a younger Moirane meeting Lan for the first time.

The Velvet Horn by Andrew Lytle

This book is one you have to ease yourself into slowly. Its outer layer showing a Southern family at the death of the patriarch, slowly melts away, revealing years and years of betrayals and lies. In other words, this book is Southern Gothic at its best.

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

This book shows the Ystad police department at a crossroads: Björn is retiring and, after Hansson fills in temporarily, a woman will arrive to take his place. Kurt Wallander finds himself in charge of a difficult investigation of a series of scalpings at this time. We get to watch the murders being committed as Wallander and his colleagues struggle to solve them. The mystery for me this time was not only could Wallander find the killer in time, but who was the killer and what was his motivation. I really enjoyed this book--it's one of the most interesting of Mankell's that I've read yet.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I think this book needs a resistant reader. If you don't resist it, it's easy to get caught up in the feel good messages (look at women coming together to fight racism! look at how bad things were just fifty years ago! how far we've come!), and forget the very real questions of race and class that still haunt this country. The book also seems to reinforce a lot of heteronormative standards. The story was incredibly compelling, in part because Stockett builds in so many mysteries (what happened to Constantine? what's up with Celia?) and questions. Many elements of this book (the pie, Celia, the toilets on Hilly's front yard, the Senator's son) seemed way over the top, but it is definitely a thought-provoking read.

Ape House by Sara Gruen

This book made me rethink my career path, if only temporarily. I really enjoyed reading about the bonobos and I thought the research/bonobo plot was strong and nuanced. I was less enamored of the reporter whose marriage was on the brink all novel. I also liked the way this story thought about how we entertain ourselves and what it means to be human. A great read.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text by Mary Shelley

In this edition of Frankenstein, we get Mary Shelley's earliest take on the story. I was particularly interested in following Shelley's ideas about developing familial and community structures. I was also surprised (again) with the monster's eloquence--no dumb brute here! Finally Victor Frankenstein seemed to be much more of a selfish jerk than I had previously thought him.

Selected Poems and Four Plays by William Butler Yeats

This collection contains most of Yeats's most familiar poetry, organized by original book, and four of his short plays. I really enjoyed watching Yeats's interest in Irish mythology and Irish politics develop and fade. I thought the plays were quite good--and the poetry definitely took on more of an interest in drama as time went on. Finally, I enjoyed the classical allusions (especially to topics related to Troy).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Crack in the Lens by Steve Hockensmith

In this book Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer return to Old Red's old stomping grounds to try to solve the mystery of his murdered girlfriend. The plot definitely kept me on my toes. The writing is serviceable, if you don't mind lots of cowboy slang.

The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankell

This book has all the parts for a great murder mystery: a man with no enemies who turns up dead, a cop who's good at his job but bad at his life, and lots of great detective work. These books are more interested in the psyche of Kurt Wallander and digging up how the police solve the cases than in tricking the reader (who knows from almost the first page who dies and why). A really engaging book.

Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber

This book is a fluffy murder mystery. I enjoyed it, but it's not anything particularly unusual. I found Lucy's hangups about her relationship with Sean to be tedious.

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

I felt like I was missing something from the start of this novel--it started in medias res, but in a confusing way. I enjoyed following the adventures of Harry Dresden, and I thought Michael's character was especially compelling, but this was not my favorite book in the series.

The Scar by China Miéville

I really enjoyed this book, although you never know quite where everyone stands. Bellis Coldwine is fleeing New Crobuzon because she has noticed that the government has been going after the friends and acquaintances of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin. But before her ship can reach its colonial destination, it's hijacked by the Armada, a mysterious floating city on its way to great things under the leadership of the Lovers. Bellis finds herself caught in webs of betrayals, where no one is trustworthy, as she moves through a fantastic landscape. This book is really well written and full of thrilling ideas.