Tuesday, May 6, 2008

May 2008 Reads

1. THE PATRON SAINT OF PLAGUES by Barth Anderson. Plague fiction set in the year 2061, mostly in the city of Ascension, Mexico (once Mexico City.) It’s a vastly different world than we know today. Mexico and the US are at war, with Mexico being headed by a religious group, an offshoot of the Catholic church that rules with a fascist furor. And someone has unleashed a deadly plague in the city, a combination of a couple of different plagues and set to attack only those with a certain genetic background and who are connected to the pilone network—basically ‘internet in your head’ so that the government can keep track of everyone. The main character is a scientist known as ‘the Patron Saint of Plagues’ who is summoned by the Mexican government to help them get this plague under control, and yet they won’t give Stark the vital information he needs, so he must accumulate that knowledge by other means. Ironically, a renegade nun named Sister Domenica, who predicted the plague, is also referred to by the same title, and inevitably Stark and Domenica’s paths do eventually cross. An interesting book, with what seemed to be a plausible storyline, with one major annoyance—that the main character spoke in a shorthand type language that drove me mad! B+

2. KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR by Carrie Vaughn. #1 in the Kitty Norville paranormal series. Kitty is a midnight shift DJ at a local Denver radio station who accidentally starts a talk show about the paranormal and supernatural—a discussion of these topics brought up by a caller spawns high ratings and her boss asks her to continue once a week on that topic. Since Kitty is herself a lycanthrope—a werewolf—who is simply trying to maintain her humanity, these topics are near and dear to her heart. When the show takes off with amazing success and is syndicated six months later, her pack leader Carl asks Kitty to leave the show as he feels it is drawing too much attention to the ‘other’ world they live in. For the first time since becoming werewolf three years previously, Kitty disobeys her pack leader and reacts to the order as a human—a human who has found her niche and is at last coming into her own. Of course, conflict ensues. LOL The conflict steps up a notch when Kitty “comes out” to the world about being a werewolf and is asked by the police to consult on a brutal murder that is quite obviously the work of a werewolf. I really enjoyed this book and practically devoured it and have put the next couple on my PBS wishlist. A+

3. ROSEANNA by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. #1 in the Swedish police series featuring detective Martin Beck, this book is an oldie, published in 1967. It’s also one of my TBR Challenge Books and has been on my shelf patiently waiting for me for almost 2 years. When a dead, naked body turns up in the bucket of a dredging machine on Lake Vatten, national detective Beck is consulted by the local police to aid the investigation. The case consumes him and he becomes somewhat obsessed with it over the course of months, when finally there is a break in the case. It’s learned that the woman was a tourist, a librarian named Roseanna McGraw from Lincoln, Nebraska—which, back in the pre-internet days, most people in Sweden (including the police on the case) had never heard of! The mystery held me in thrall—and really, the way the book was plotted, it wasn’t possible to guess the killer beforehand. And I guess it wasn’t even a ‘mystery’ technically, more a testimonial to police procedure. The book was a bit dry, which I’m not sure is the result of the author’s writing style or the translation of the book from Swedish, and even perhaps a bit of the time the book was written in, 40+ years ago. Beck is a very melancholy person (not unlike another Swedish detective I read about) and the prose is often just—I don’t know, slow and plodding. And yet the story itself was very interesting and I read this rather quickly because the author made me truly interested in it, and in Roseanna, the dead woman. I can’t say this will become a favorite series, as Beck was just too much of a blah character for me, but in a strange way, I did enjoy this book (at the same time as I was pointing out its faults to myself, I was eager to read on) so if I can lay hands on the next one, I probably will give it a go. The strength of this book was definitely in the story of the dead woman. B-.

4. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: ORIGIN by Christopher Golden. Graphic novel that tells the ‘backstory’ of how Buffy came to be the Slayer—the story at her previous school/town before she came to Sunnydale. I hadn’t realized when I wishlisted this at PBS that it was indeed a graphic novel so was a little surprised when I got it, and obviously it was a very quick read. It was entertaining and a good read for what it was, but not something I’ll order more from in the series. B.

5. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones. First in the fantasy series for young adults, this is the story of Sophie, a young woman apprenticed in a millinery shop owned by her stepmother. When The Witch of the Waste becomes angry with Sophie because none of her hats suits her, she puts a spell on the young girl, making her look and feel like an old crone. Sophie sets out on her own and ends up in the magical, moving castle inhabited by Howl, professed evil wizard of the land who feeds on the hearts and souls of young girls—or so the stories say. Sophie, who makes a deal with Calcifer, the fire demon inhabiting Howl’s hearth—finds him to be just a horrible slob, and she sets herself up as his new cleaning lady while trying to figure out how to hold up her end of the bargain with the demon so that the spell on her can be lifted. Things take several twisty turns until the story comes to its inevitable conclusion. Enjoyable, light fantasy—now I need to see the movie! B+

6. FORTUNE’S DAUGHTER by Alice Hoffman. Another of my TBR Challenge books that’s beeen sitting here on my shelf for ages. This is the story of two women, Lila—an older woman who was forced to give up her baby for adoption as a teenager, and Rae, a young woman who would be about Lila’s daughter’s age and has recently found herself to be pregnant, though her live-in boyfriend has recently left her. Rae comes to Lila for a ‘fortune telling’ as Lila reads tea leaves. But what Lila sees in Rae’s teacup leaves her distraught and brings back many unpleasant memories for her and begins to entwine their stories together. This was an interesting story, with some of Hoffman’s usual mystical element to it, Also present is her theme of women ‘finding themselves’ which is fine for an occasional story, but I couldn’t read steady doses of this stuff without pulling my hair out. In short, it was okay but really nothing memorable. In fact, I forgot to add this to my review list and in going back to write this three weeks later, I had a hard time remembering the characters’ names or the plot. LOL C

7. THIS GAMING LIFE by Jim Rossignol. ARC for review from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Rossignol lost his job as a journalist due to his disinterest and basically played online games full time for a few years—this book details his experiences, talks about the people he’s met doing this, and goes into the big business of online gaming a bit as well. He talks about some of the more popular games out there, the history and rapid evolution of the whole gaming culture, too. Unfortunately, the book isn’t very readable in my opinion. The information is too scattered and there isn’t really a cohesive story or theme to it, and there is quite a lot of repetition as well—saying the same things in several different ways in later chapters. I myself am a novice gamer when I can be, so I was hoping for more than was there. I admit that I skimmed the last few chapters and this wouldn’t be a book I’d recommend to either the general public nor to gamers. C-

8. THE WICCAN WEB: SURFING THE MAGIC ON THE INTERNET by Patricia Telesco and Sirona Knight. A book about not only how and where witches and pagans can find support and information online, but how to make your computer space into a sacred altar and work magick over the ‘net, how to protect your computer from viruses and other attacks magickally as well. There was, as always, ‘some’ good information here to be gleaned, but much of it was outdated in that the book is several years old—though admittedly the authors do list that as a caveat right at the beginning. The magickal information is pertinent, though most of it wasn’t really practical in my own case since I’m not the only one using the computer. I’ve decided to trade the book off after taking a few notes from it. B-.

9. THE LAST WITCHFINDER by James Morrow. Historical fiction that begins in 1680’s England and then moves to America, this is a book ‘written’ by a book and is the story of Jennet, the daughter of a witchfinder. The father is a zealot and seeks to be the first in an office called the Witchfinder Royal, and does all he can to put forth his case to the king and other government officials, but the tides are changing and witch trials are no longer so popular as they once were so he finds it rough going, eventually exiled to America with a supposedly grand title but in reality being thrown to the wolves. The daughter, on the other hand, is very interested in science, the teachings of Galileo, Sir Isaac Newton, etc., and is aghast when her father accuses her aunt (sister to her father’s long-dead wife) of being a witch, as Isobel is the one who has been her tutor for several years. The story is interesting and it’s written with a background of dry humor that makes it all the more appealing; it’s easy sometimes to miss the bits of humor dropped into the book at first, as I was expecting more of a ‘straight’ historical fiction but was delighted with the voice of ‘the book’ who authored this book once I figured out that he/she/it was trying to be funny and slip one by me. LOL It was interesting how the author incorporated real historical figures into the story; he certainly took a lot of liberties there—but as I always say, it IS historical FICTION after all, but he did make some real leaps out into “far out!” land. LOL It also got rather slow and draggy in spots and took me almost 2 weeks to finish—yeah, it was a long book, but it felt much longer, and there were times I just wanted it to be done with. And finally, it was. B+

10. THE GLASS FACTORY by k.j.a. Wishnia. Fourth in the Filomena Buscarsela mystery series. I enjoyed this book, except that Fil seemed a bit like a super-hero, jumping from scene to scene in her cape and tights to the point where it crossed the border into fantasy-land. Just a whole lot of implausible stuff going on. Definitely surreal. Fil ends up moving in with her “sister-in-law” (the sister of her daughter’s father) when she discovers that she has lung cancer from the exposure to the chemicals from the last book. She goes on a crusade to nail the head of the company and scuttles here, there and everywhere gathering evidence against him, and generally being, as I said, superhuman. That said, I do really like Filomena and her ‘voice,’ so it rather irked me that the story was so disjointed and frenetic. There’s two more left in the series (with none added since 2002) so I will finish it out, just because I care about Fil and what happens to her—but I do hope the author settles down a little and makes the next story a bit more realistic. B-.

11. RAIN STORM by Barry Eisler. Third in the John Rain thriller/mystery series about a half-American, half-Japanese assassin, who is now living in Brazil after his last caper, needing to disappear. He melds into the Asian community there until he gets a call out of the blue from the CIA (or some unofficial branch thereof) to take out a middle-eastern arms dealer. Of course several monkey wrenches get thrown into the stew along the way, making for an interesting, exciting story spanning continents and cultures. The only thing I have a hard time with regarding Eisler’s series is the detailed descriptions of the martial arts/fight scenes, which are done in such detail that they pull me out of the story because I have to work to visualize the scenes and it reads like a slow-motion video clip. The elbow going here, knee there, arm twisted this way—then he does this and I do that, and yadda yadda. I tend to skim those parts, to be honest. Otherwise, I love the main character, the cultural details and Eisler does write a good thriller! B+

12. DEATH OF A SCRIPTWRITER by M.C. Beaton. #14 Hamish MacBeth mystery set in the Scottish Highlands in which a TV production company comes to nearby Drim to film the adaptation of a local mystery writer’s book. The writer, Patricia, is a stuffy, class-concious older woman who is horrified when she learns that her protagonist, Lady Harriet, has been turned into a commune-running, drug-taking, boob-bearing slut in the adaptation. When the scriptwriter, and then the lead actress are both murdered within a few months of each other, the writer is one of many suspects who float to the surface and it’s only Hamish’s shrewd thinking and plodding police work that sort out the truth. Typical visit to Lochdubh with Hamish and the gang—enjoyable but not spectacular. B.

13. DISCO FOR THE DEPARTED by Colin Cotterill. Third in the Laotian mystery series featuring 73-year-old national coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun. Dr. Siri and his nurse Dtui travel north to investigate the case of a body trapped in cement for approximately five months. How did it come to be there, and was it murder? They (or rather, the young head of security, Lit, at the compound where they’re headed) need to solve the case before the president arrives there for a concert the following week. The body was that of a Cuban, and it seems he was alive when he went into the cement. Dr. Siri’s mystical bent continues, when he hears and feels a nightly disco dance in the concert hall—when he investigates, he sees it as well, with many spirits participating. Meanwhile, Mr. Geung, Dr. Siri’s morgue assistant who has Down’s Syndrome and was left behind to mind the morgue, is kidnapped by a Communist Party official (“it doesn’t look good having a retard working in such an important post’) and removed to a labor camp. While Siri and Dtui are laboring up north, Mr. Geung escapes his captors makes the 300-kilometer trek back home, quite an interesting feat for someone who can’t read and has limited mental capability. But he promised Dr. Siri to look after the morgue in his absence and he means to keep the promise! What a lovely series and a great way to end the month! A+

I'm almost done with THE ELVES OF CINTRA by Terry Brooks, but the report will need to go on next month's list as I've still got about 100 pages to go and I always reserve review til I get to the ending, which can make or break a book. LOL