Monday, November 30, 2009

16. 11/29/09 Graceling by Kristin Cashore (471 pages)

Katie H made Anna read this book, who then made me read it. I'm very pleased to have been caught in that particular chain of peer pressure, because if this isn't one of the best written novels I've come across, it is one of the most satisfyingly feminist. Its the story (of the fantasy persuasion) of a girl who is born with a startling and unique ability to kill. Over the course of the book she learns to control her temper and herself, and then moves on to bigger life lessosns about having relationships with others without losing her freedom, and taking action to make the world a better place. Its a feminist story from the get-go, but it never feels like its pushing a feminist agenda. Katsa makes it clear that all she really wants is to be in control of herself and her life and so she determines never to marry. When she does fall in love, its with another great fighter who understands what she's feeling, and is more than willing to be together in an unconventional way (all the while admitting, without shame, that Katsa can kick his ass any day of the week). Best of all, Katsa never feels badly about any of it because she's a GIRL. She has difficulties and trials, but its all related to her abilities and her relationships, not her sex. Its just so rare to see a fatasy novel with likeable women, let alone truly empowered ones. Finally, a fantasy heroine who's goals have nothing to do with getting married or keeping house. (Not that there aren't any others, just that they are depressingly rare...)

15. 11/26/09 Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris (312 pages)

Sookie Stackhouse's novels are getting more intense, and increasingly gruesome. The story starts with shapeshifters coming out (yay!), but is quickly followed by the crucifixion of a werepanther (yuck). By the time the mystery is solved and the installment is over, Sookie has been tortured, a werefriend is dead, and Vampire Bill seems to be back in Sookie's good books, dang it. Its hard to maintain a sense of lighthearted fun, though, when fairly major characters keep on turning up nastily dead and the heroine gets cut up by psychotic, sadomastochistic fairies. Not even kidding. On the upside, Sookie hops back in bed with Eric, which is delightful.

14. 11/26/09 The Sandman vol. 6- Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman (255 pages)

Have I mentioned that I really love Neil Gaiman? And that I REALLY love Sandman? It reminds me of how I used to love Hercules the Legendary Journeys when the gods would appear and get involved, only Sandman is actually quality literature. I really like this volume because it has the story of Orpheus (which is somehow enhanced, for me, by Morpheus's peripheral involvement), and also has clues in all of the stories pointing towards how the entire series will end. In hindsight, there's a very beginning-of-the-end feel to this one, which is unsettling, but its Dream's relationship with his son that I find most compelling. Yeah, the whole thing with Eurydice was sad, but talk about daddy issues...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

13. 11/24/09 From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (359 pages)

I'm really starting to enjoy the way both Charlaine Harris and Sookie Stackhouse drop men like hot potatoes. I know they all continue to hang around because Sookie's so awesome, but still, in most books the author is reluctant to move from relationship to relationship so quickly. Its refreshing. Its a little more realistic, that Sookie takes other peoples baggage and actions into account. There was a little too much going on in this installment, what with were wars, vampire hostile takeovers, Jason's marriage hitting the rocks, Amelia getting caught on the whole Bob thing, but (although he was a nice guy) I was glad to see the back of Quinn. A weretiger? Really? Come on! There's gotta be a line somewhere. That being said, Sam turning into a lion was pretty excellent. Oh, and the twist at the end was intriguing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

12.11/22/09 The Magicians by Lev Grossman (402 pages)

I loved this book. It was sad, and dark, and it bitchslapped Narnia. Finally real, unhappy people ended up as the heroes in a fantasy story. None of their problems were solved by magic. College had drinking and sex and foolishness. There were lots of hurt feelings, and death came without any sense of fairness. Nothing was resolved neatly. All questions were answered, but there wasn't really any closure. And the climax of the story was chilling and a half. I made lots of gasping and squeaking noises while I was reading the last few chapters, and Sadie got to have a good laugh at my expense. But seriousy? HE BIT OFF SOMEONE'S HANDS!! And you probably won't be able to figure out who he is. I couldn't.

11. 11/20/09 New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (563 pages)

Yep. Still Emo.

10. 11/14/09 Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (498 pages)

I've read this book several times. Its not particularly well written. Its a feminist nightmare (although Twlight itself isn't the real problem there. Its New Moon and, most of all, Eclipse that are the culprits). All that being said, I still love it. And I do like that Bella wants to be a vampire so that she and Edward can be equals. She's not a total moron, just masochistic apparently. I also appreciate that she refuses to believe in the whole vampires are damned thing. It strikes me as a breath of fresh air that the heroine isn't least about that. What can I say? I like vampires, and my review of Twilight has always been that its weirdly compelling, despite my philosophical problems with it. I offer no excuses, just the facts.

9. 11/11/09 All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris (323 pages)

I've been reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels because I love True Blood, and my cousin had all of them so its free. They're fun. They're not very well written. And I know I'm going to look unbelievably shallow when I say this, but I can't help it, it drives me crazy: the descriptions of attire in this book are horrifying. I'm totally going along with it all, believing that suddenly this backwoods barmaid is irresistable to the entire supernatural community when I get a painfully detailed description of her outfit. After that I can't believe she's 26, let alone hot. Skin tight stretch khakis? Blazers? Scrunchies? So many problems. Also, anyone with breasts as reportedly impressive as Sookie's cannot wear a loose halter evening gown with no back without Serious Support Work. Its not only impractical, it would probably look bad, rather than hot and racy. Maybe I just misinterpreted how big her boobs are. I doubt it, though, given how many times it gets mentioned.
So this is the one where lots of vampires get blown up. That's really the plot in a nutshell. It was entertaining, but I think the show is better. The books as a series fall victim to several common problems of fantasy literature. 1- the Anita Blake Used to be a Vampire Hunter and is Now a Supernatural Mega Skank problem. Anita can sleep with whoever, and whatever, she wants, but it was way cooler when she was a badass bounty hunter. In a related story, I fail to see Sookie's appeal, other than the previously mentioned fabulous rack. 2- The This is the Worst Monster You Have Ever Seen...Except This One trap. Seriously? Fantasy writers are turning into the authors who cried Evil. I never believe them anymore when they say someone is super powerful or scary. And finally 3- The Vampires Have a Giant Secret Society With a Rigid Social Hierarchy and Probably Some Royalty of Some Sort game. Really? That's been a secret all this time? Huh.
Like I said, fun. But if you're going to buy something, buy True Blood. Eric is HOT.

8. 11/9/09 The Sandman Volume 5: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman (approx. 100 pages)

Neil Gaiman rocks, and so does The Sandman. This is not my favorite volume, but its like how a "bad" episode of Battlestar Galactica is better than almost all other television. And yes, I am aware that I am showing my uber-nerdiness here. This volume is a good example of the complex ideas that consistently pop up in the Sandman books. It looks like a dream fantasy, but has a great deal to say about personal identity, how much we construct ourselves and how much the outside world has to do with it. And doesn't everyone have a right to be, whether we approve of them or not? I don't know if I'm meant to compare the Cuckoo with Wanda the transsexual or not, but I do. Most readers now automatically feel that Wanda has the right to be whoever she wants to be, whoever she knows she is, and we're all proud of her for leaving her roots to do just that. At the same time, we're all rooting for the Cuckoo to be defeated when all she wanted was that very same thing- to escape from a place where she was trapped in a mold created and enforced by others. If you haven't read The Sandman, you should really give it a shot, and try not to let the graphic novel format scare you, or trick you into underestimating it. Plus, it hilarious to think of Morpheus as the original Emo Kid.

7. 11/8/09 Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (402 pages)

I loved, loved, loved The Time Traveler's Wife, but I loved it before most other people. Everyone says things like that, I know, but I remember when I took the first copy out of the box at work and had never heard of it. The cover was intriguing, and there was time travel, so I gave it a shot. Then later, mostly after the trade had been released, the book clubs got a hold of it.
Audrey Niffenegger has made pretty clear, I think, that she's a little more Neil Gaiman/Edward Gorey than Nicholas Sparks and that her first novel was a fluke, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone that her second novel is radically different, and a lot more effed up. I know a lot of people have been put off by this, but I really liked it. (Of course, I worship at the altar of Neil Gaiman- see the post that follows this one- so I may be biased.)
There's a ghost, her odd lover, the OCD neighbor upstairs, some really odd twin nieces, and an intruguingly lively cemetary next door. Personally, I think the weirdest bit is the relationship between the twins. They're adults, and should be in college, but they still sleep in the same bed? Did no one think to do something about this over the years? Doesn't strike me as a great way to socialize your already really weird children. The fact that three out of the four main characters talk to the ghost fits right in with the story, and is far less creepy than Julia and Valentina dressing alike at 21.
After The Time Traveler's Wife, a lot of readers will look for romance in this book. It is there. Julia gets a sort of crush on the middle aged OCD man upstairs who still loves his missing wife, and Valentina definitely gets involved with her dead aunt's lover. ( Apparently Robert went for Elspeth the Cougar, but was not averse to being all Experienced Older Man either. Talk about having your cake and eating it too, jeez). So, love is there, but its uncomfortable and kinda freaky.
As the story progesses things get creepier, twistier, and more unhealthy for all involved, and I don't want to give everything away and spoil the weird, but lets just say the happiness rate at the end point is only like 50/50. I thought it was a very interesting book, and I think others will too, if they don't go into it expecting more Epic Tales of Love.
Also, it was worth the whole thing just for the scene where Elspeth the ghost gets all hot and bothered when she realizes that David Tennant is playing the Doctor on Doctor Who. Best of all the episode was The Girl in the Fireplace! Good to know that Audrey Niffenegger likes Neil Gaiman AND Stephen Moffat. You really can't go wrong.

5. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (213 pages)

It felt EXCELLENT to finish two books in one day again, even if one of them was YA. Its about polygamy and was borrowed from my sister, Anna, which is where I get most of my polygamy books these days. It didn't strike me as spectacular, but it was very absorbing and a quick read. Mojor kudos to the author for neither romanticizing the situation, nor painting all the participants as monsters. The heroine's family is loving and supportive, but unable to get beyond the beliefs they've been raised with- which means that she's going to have to marry that Humbert Humbert Uncle of hers or else. The heroine herself doesn't really want to leave, but she knows she can't live with the consequences if she stays. And its really chilling when it becomes clear that, in a disturbing dose of reality, not everyone is going to make it out of the escape attempt alive.

4. 11/1/09 An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon (820 pages)

And so this year's odyssey with the Outlander series comes to an end. This was my first time reading this installment, seeing as the book was released earlier this fall. I can safely say that I liked this one a lot better than the last two. I still have plot issues, but the pace was more urgent, which made that less of a problem for me. I didn't even mind the ridiculous number of perspectives (Claire, Jamie, Roger, Brianna, Ian, John, Willie...and even JEM got a chapter), given that it kept the action moving, and ensured that even the bits about battles didn't get too bogged down in military details. My biggest problem with this book is that some of my very favorite bits will never happen now. Years ago I read excerpts on Diana Gabaldon's website called "Jamie Meets Willie" and "Lord John's Proposal". These were two of the most excellent things I have ever read. The major events those chapters talked about still happen, but in very different ways, thus ensuring that I will never read "Jamie Meets Willie" again. This is a tragedy for me, because I always used to go look that one up whenever I needed cheering. That being said, the ways in which the events transpire in An Echo in the Bone is still great, and probably, in the long run, a lot less melodramatic. As a literary choice, it was probably the right one, but it will eternally disappoint me. Ah well.
So of all the 820 pages in the story, it was the last 100 that really mattered. The pace for that last section was frantic and packed with important events an information. I was on the edge of my seat, and didn't really see any of that coming at the end of this book. It was a HUGE payoff for all the time the reader has already put into the series. It could have served the novel better to spread all that action out, but it made the end incredibly exciting and nerve wracking. What will continue to torture me for the next 4 or so years, however, (UBER SPOILER HERE) is the cliffhanger between Jamie and John. How can she leave it THERE?
John, waiting for the death blow: "I've had carnal knowledge of your wife."
Jamie:"Oh? Why?"

3. 10/20/09 A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon (980 pages)

An Introduction.
For starters, Karla, skip this entry, and the next, until you've finished. There will be spoilers.
Next, I'd rather not wait this long to write my reviews, but I'm having some irritating computer trouble and can't access the internet from my house. I'm working on it.
And finally, if you've never read a Gabaldon novel (976 pages, 980 pages & 820 pages for the last 3)- this is why I've been so slow lately. No worries. Now that I am fully caught up I will once again read at my normal lightning speed. Or at least faster than I have been.
Introduction concluded.

This is possibly my least favorite Outlander novel. The entire book is composed of a lot of subplots that aren't sub to any overarching plot. Its like 976 pages of really good filler material. I'm disturbed by the fact that EVERYONE is apparently sexually assaulted at some point or other, and it makes me nuts that the entire population of Fraser's Ridge is super ignorant and appallingly ungrateful. Seriously, people, he gave you that land FOR FREE. However, melodrama aside, there were several excellent standouts for me. Young Ian is always a treat, and getting more of his backstory was incredibly satisfying. Brianna insisting on talking to Willie feels like it was basically fan service, but really good fan service, if you know what I mean. The ending made me cry, but didn't feel wrong. Best of all, however, was Tom Christie. Diana Gabaldon has a real gift for giving minor characters real personlity and pathos, with very little screen time, and I think Tom is one of her best. Certainly the best in a while. He's so unlikeable, and yet the sacrifice he chooses to make at the end made me cry like the idea of Nicholas Sparks Cliffs Notes (if with considerably less horror). All in all I don't love this book as much as the others, but it wasn't painful to read or anything like that, and even the bits that upset me are still getting me to genuinely emotionally react, which usually makes any book worth a read.