Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse

This book features a young heiress whose good sense carries her through despite some bad luck (including an unfaithful fiancĂ©, a brother who squanders her investment in his theatrical company, and an unpleasant, but successful man who shocks her with a proposal). The plot developments were not surprising: I always knew who was going to show up next, or what would happen with a given play, but despite the lack of true surprises, it was an enjoyable story.

Apocalypse by Troy Denning

This book concludes the Fate of the Jedi series, and wraps up most of the loose ends from the series, while setting up a few new directions for stories--mostly focused on Jedi-v.-Sith encounters. There was actually a lot of mythology in this story to explain who Abeloth actually is (and to ret-con a few Clone Wars TV episodes). I enjoyed the Jagged Fel parts especially--he plays the political game as well as Princess Leia (and apparently flies as well as Han Solo, so he's sort of a complete package). The parts with Allana/Amelia Solo were fairly unbelievable (although so was Anakin Skywalker in Episode I, so maybe it's a Jedi thing. But then we all know how well that turned out for him....).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

This book is definitely the best in the Dark Tower series. In some respects, it's just a side note, a pause in the story, a place that you wouldn't even necessarily have known was a gap until it is filled in. But it really clarifies the relationship between Roland and his mother, and in its limited scope, it is beautifully done. Well worth reading even if the rest of the series frustrates you. The plotting (with stacked stories) is magnificent, and I really felt the story spoke to the heart of what it means to reach the Dark Tower.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A King's Ransom by Jude Watson

This book continues the adventures of Amy and Dan, but with a twist. While Vesper 1 still wants them to continue stealing things that lead to a series of medieval maps, Vesper 6 and her twin brother have decided to beat Amy and Dan to the hunt in order to improve their status in the Vesper organization. The book also reveals that the Cahills' father was a Vesper. The story is fun if you don't think too hard about the premise. I also like that the story explores to a certain extent questions of right and wrong (Amy and Dan are doing some terrible things to save their family--but the family code is that they can only do it themselves).

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Heartfire by Orson Scott Card

This book shows Alvin's adventures with the witchers in New England juxtaposed with Peggy's work against slavery in the Crown Colonies. I enjoyed seeing more historical figures appear (including Denmark Vesey, John Adams, HonorĂ© Balzac, and John-Jacques Audubon) and all the thoughtfulness about how to deal with unjust laws. There was a good mixture of humor and determination in the book. I was also intrigued by Adams's reflections on his relationship with Thomas Jefferson (who only appears in other characters' thoughts). I felt like this book gets the series back on track.

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

I didn't think that this book was one of the best entries in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie herself was drawn in a heavy-handed and awkward way (I found her confusion about whether she loves James Compton or not really annoying and self-indulgent) and while the mystery part was trying to be morally complex (it centers around a British industrialist trying to protect his efforts to prepare Britain for another war against Germany), it seemed like the ending was wrong (we're supposed to look the other way in the case of the murder, just because we all know now that Hitler was a monster?). At least the number of scenes where Maisie sits in a room and mysteriously figures out who did through some kind of psychic superheroism is down.

Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

This volume collects most of the short stories, novelettes, and novellas set in the Dresden Files universe (the only currently available stories not in the collection are "Curses," "AAAA Wizardry," and "Even Hand"; obviously the forthcoming "I Was a Teenage Bigfoot," "Bigfoot on Campus," "B is for Bigfoot," and the untitled Molly POV story from Dangerous Women are also not included). I enjoyed the collection. I particularly liked "Backup" (told from Thomas Raith's point of view), "The Warrior" (a great story about Michael), and "Aftermath" (told from Karrin Murphy's point of view, about her actions after Harry's apparent death in Changes). Butcher generally does a good job selecting subjects for these stories that work for the length--I enjoyed most of the stories in this book as much as the full-length novels (and it was easier to put down in the middle). I'll be tracking down the remaining stories as I can.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams Live in Concert by Douglas Adams

This audiobook is a recording of a reading Douglas Adams gave in 1995 including excerpts from many of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. Adams is a masterful reader of his own work and the excerpts are well-selected. If you're unfamiliar with the series, they will not be significantly harder to understand, and they will retain their humor. If you're familiar with the series, the excerpts offer a fun return to familiar ground.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Life by Elia Kazan

This autobiography recounts Kazan's life, in detail until the end of his film career, and then in sketches (mostly focusing on the death of his second wife and friends) until the late nineteen eighties. The tone of the book suggests that Kazan isn't holding anything back (not always true, as he himself admits), although he tends to speak forthrightly about most subjects (it seems the people he wants to impress, or at least not to scandalize, are his children, despite their relatively small parts in the book itself). There's a bit of back and forth--the story doesn't always go strictly chronologically, especially where Kazan's Congressional testimony in 1952 is concerned. It does give Kazan's take on that testimony in fairly straightforward rehearsal of his side of those events. Overall, the book is enjoyable--definitely an entertaining read. It explains a lot about Kazan's behavior, his choices, and his methods of directing, even if its subject is not always sympathetic (the womanizing without apology, in particular, struck me as egregious).

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

This book finds Harry dead--but his work is not done. He must face the same kind of problems he usually does (that is to say, insoluble ones) without the ability to practice his magic as usual. I really like the way Harry both learns to live with his limitations and the way that he learns about choices and his own moral abilities in the face of some scary (and overpowering) foes and allies. This series continues to grow in an organic and impressive way--things that happened earlier fit into a larger picture seamlessly. Can't wait to see what happens next!

Changes by Jim Butcher

In this book Harry Dresden faces a lot of new information really quickly: he has a daughter and she's in danger. Dresden must make some compromising decisions in order to protect his daughter. While usually I would find this kind of retconning suspicious (convenient that all of a sudden he has a daughter), I found the book to work surprisingly well. This series continues to impress.

Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher

This graphic novel is an introduction to Harry Dresden (it happens before the first book in the series) and is a compilation of about four issues. I found the illustrations to be well done, and while the story was short compared to most of Dresden's adventures, it worked (and introduced the character, his way of acting, and his limitations well).

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

In this novel there was a bit more going on than in Austenland; I liked the mystery component. The Austenland staff had a number of repeats, but the main character was someone entirely new. The setting still feels too twee and contrived to work as a substitute/stand in for Jane Austen.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

This book tells the story of a young woman, Jane, who's obsessed with Jane Austen, and whose eccentric, rich aunt leaves her a trip to Austenland (where extremely wealthy women can more or less live out their fantasies of living in a Jane Austen novel). The whole premise of the story felt over-the-top: an indulgence rather than otherwise. Fluffy, but otherwise enjoyable.

The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris

This book contains a short story about the marriage of Sam's brother (pretty good), synopses of the previous books (a little helpful, especially now that the new Sookie Stackhouse book is out) and a collection of southern recipes. Worth checking out of the library, if not buying.

Night's Edge: Dancers in the Dark, Her Best Enemy, Someone Else's Shadow by Charlaine Harris, Maggie Shayne, and Barbara Hambly

This book collects three novellas about supernatural love affairs. All three were interesting (one about two dancers who show up peripherally in some of the Sookie Stackhouse books, one about a skeptic who's forced to believe in the supernatural when she buys a house with a murderous history, and one about a dancer haunted by a fire at an old factory), but none were particularly noteworthy. I found the historical part of the last one particularly nice.

The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel

In this book Ayla and Jondalar stay with the Mammoth people for a while during their travels back to Jondalar's family. We see Jondalar's jealousy and Ayla's inability to understand human culture (temporarily) confound their romance. I think the book gets too hung up (as others in the series have) on how early humans thought and learned and knew--more like a textbook than a story. The best part of the story was Rydag, the child of a human and a Neanderthal.

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

This book finally seems to tie up more plot lines than it opens and move towards the Last Battle. I still like the Egwene stories most of all (though I also enjoyed the Mat/Tuon stories). I'm not sold on the Perrin/Faille story, and I wanted to see more of Rand. I'm still a little skeptical we can get through all the story in just three more books.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

This novella has a lyrical, haunted quality. It's a patchwork of anecdotes from the life of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the West, who started life as an orphan and who loses his wife and infant daughter in a massive forest fire while he's away. The stories move back and forth in time, and taken together give something of a portrait of the building of the American West.

Songs of Love and Death edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin

This anthology contains a number of stories about love and the supernatural. I liked the Diana Gabaldon story (loosely tied to the Outlander series) and the Jim Butcher story (featuring Harry and Murphy) especially. Most of the stories were easy to get into, but I read this anthology for the Gabaldon and Butcher entries, and the other authors didn't make me feel strongly that I needed to pick up some of their longer work immediately.

The Medusa Plot by Gordon Korman

This book pits Amy and Dan Cahill and their remarkable family against another group, the Vespers, who kidnap a number of Cahills in order to motivate Amy and Dan to steal a painting from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. I appreciated that Dan's friend, Atticus, pointed out the morally questionable nature of the Cahills' actions. I like all the history that's worked into these stories, although they rely a lot on technology to get them out of tight situations.

Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card

In this book Alvin's attempt to build his Crystal City is slowed down by a number of false accusations (and true, but morally unjust accusations). I enjoyed the story (and finding out more about Taleswapper), but at times it felt like it was all tied up and repetitive instead of actually advancing the plot in a particularly meaningful way. Still, I'm excited to follow Alvin's progress on his journey to build the Crystal City.

Flashback by Dan Simmons

For the most part, I enjoyed this book, which is a noir-style detective story set in the dystopic future. The technology is awesome, the drug flashback (that lets you relive your past) intriguing, and even the family drama is handled pretty well. I also found the mystery really compelling. What was less exciting was the book's political stance--not necessarily its side, but its extremism and its desire for screed instead of thoughtful consideration of the topics. I thought the politics took away from the book as a whole.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

This book opens after Lena's escape to the Wilds and return to infiltrate the society she left. I liked the way the totalitarian society came more into focus. At times part of the story seemed a bit simplistic or unrealistic, but I'm intrigued to see how things play out in the third volume.