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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Rising Thunder by David Weber

I've followed the Honor Harrington series since On Basilisk Station and have loved many of the books in the series.  Others have been less appealing, and unfortunately, A Rising Thunder falls in the less appealing category.  


The Solarian League, manipulated by Mesa, becomes more and more foolhardy in its attempts to hold on to its power.  Manticore and Haven make an alliance, previously supposed impossible.  New weapons, many characters, machinations by the Mesan Alliance, nanotechnology....


Strangely, I was involved as I read this one, while at the same time thinking that there was nothing much to hang on to.  


Honor has taken a smaller role in recent novels (perhaps this is a good thing), but the number of characters has increased exponentially over the thirteen or so books in the series.  


The result (for me, at least) is that by giving approximately equal time to all characters and situations, it becomes difficult to develop a rapport with any of them, to latch on to their particular stories, to even sort them out as to planet, star system, history, etc.


Someone mentioned that A Rising Thunder is a kind of "bridge" to the next H.H. installment.  Hopefully, the next one will give us some time with a set of characters.
---
Don't get me wrong, Weber is a mastermind in creating characters and worlds.  Having my attention spread so thin, however, didn't allow me to become attached to a particular plot wrinkle or its participants.


Fiction.  Science Fiction.  2012.  464 pages.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

River Secrets by Shannon Hale (Once Upon a Time Challenge)

River Secrets continues the Bayern cycle that Hale began with The Goose Girl.  It is another fine  novel by Hale, filling in the niche between children's books and YA novels for the older set.


Young Razo is chosen to accompany the group from Bayern that travels to Tira in an exchange of ambassadors.  Razo is young, small for his age, and without the skills or the strength that others in the expedition possess.  He is a goofy, Bantam rooster kind of  kid, with great personal charm, an interest in other people, and unusual powers of observation, but he feels inferior and doesn't know why he has been chosen for this mission.


All of the members of the group are aware of the danger that threatens their mission in Tira (recently defeated in the war with Bayern).  Not all of Tira's citizens are over the grief and outrage of their losses, and some are actively calling for a return to fighting. 


When Razo discovers a burned body on their journey to Tira, no one is sure who caused the death and their concerns increase, only to multiply when they are actually ensconced in Tira itself and more burned bodies are discovered.


 Enna (of Enna Burning, the second novel in the series) is also part of the group.  Although she has come a long way in conquering her gift of fire, Razo and Finn worry about her for several reasons: they fear that she is not yet fully in command of her powers, they fear the Tirans discovering that she is responsible for so many of the Tiran deaths during the war, and against their wills, her friends fear that Enna may be the one who has burned the bodies they find.


I loved The Goose Girl and liked Enna Burning, but Razo's personality marks this book in a different way.  It is a coming of age story about a rather delightful young man and is lighter in tone (despite the many dangers) because of Razo's outlook on life.


The beginning is slow, and it took me a while to become fully invested in the story, but once there...a pleasure and a very fast read!


Fiction.   Fantasy.  2006.  310 pages.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon moves from WWII to the 1990's, from Shanghai, to the U.S. to Britain, to Manila--globe-hopping across the world, character hopping across the novel.

There are two basic stories:  one involves the WWII code breakers and the other, the programming geeks in the "present" who want to set up a data haven of encrypted information.

 How are they connected?  In many ways that are not obvious at first: through descendants of the characters involved in the WWII story line; codes, computers, and code-breaking; and gold.

The children and grandchildren of many of the characters from the war era, as well as some of the original characters themselves, find themselves coincidentally entangled in the second story line.

Stephenson's entire book works as a puzzle in itself as he moves from one character and one time period to another with little preparation or explanation.  First, you are in Shanghai with haiku-writing Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe, then in North Dakota reading about the genealogy of Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, and then at Princeton with Waterhouse, Alan Turing, and "Rudy von something-or-other"  discussing complex algorithms (Waterhouse can't remember names; he would no doubt be diagnosed today as having Asperger's Syndrome, but Lawrence does have some social skills), and then to the present and his grandson, Randy Waterhouse in Manila, and so on and on.

Everything and everyone is connected eventually.

One of the most interesting characters is Enoch Root, a Catholic priest and member of the Societas Eruditorum.   He doesn't get as many pages, but he pops up to save Bobby Shaftoe at Guadalcanal, he pops up in Finland, in Manila, etc. and always plays a pivotal role.

 (spoiler:  at one point, I grieved for Enoch Root's death in Finland and was a bit annoyed, hoping it might be a trick.  Yet, even allowing for that possibility, it did seem that he died.  I thought maybe the emails from root@pallas.eruditorum.org were either from the organization itself or from a descendant of Enoch Root.  I'm still not sure about Enoch Root; he is a mysterious character, indeed. At one point in a jail cell with Randy in Manila...I heard Neal Stephenson rather than E.R. discussing myth)

Goto Dengo, the Japanese soldier who befriends Bobby Shaftoe before Pearl Harbor, also has fewer pages, but turns up in different scenarios and also plays a crucial role in the plot(s).

Shoot!  I can't even begin to get into the complexities of this book and all of the characters (I haven't even mentioned all of them).  I give up.

Cyptonomicon is fascinating, involved, unbelievably detailed, and covers so much territory that reducing it to a review is beyond my abilities.

What I liked best:
1) the alternate view of history and inclusion of idiosyncratic versions real characters like Turing and MacArthur, etc., and especially, everything about Bletchley Park which has long fascinated me
2) the development of the fictional characters
3) the remarkable detail, and
4) all of the marvelous excerpts that I failed to flag so I could use them as quotes.


What I liked least:
1) the role of Andrew Loeb.  It didn't hang together that well for me.
2) the abrupt conclusion

I've read many books of 900-1000 plus pages, but this one is in a league of its own.  It is a slow read and a satisfying one.  Fascinating.

Fiction.  Science Fiction/ Alternate History.  1999.  910 pages.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This and That

My goodness, I've been an absent blogger so often lately.  My good intentions don't always come to fruition; despite my goals of keeping up with this blog, I repeatedly fall behind.  Keeping up with more than one blog appears to mean that I can keep up with only one blog at a time.

At least, I finally posted my review of Sheri S. Tepper's Beauty on Sunday-- that is quite an accomplishment.  Katherine Langrish liked it, and Katherine's knowledge of fairy tale and fantasy is pretty thorough.  Not that I'm changing my opinion; I was disappointed, but Katherine has made me think about the book again.  Anyone else read this one?

My quilting and miscellaneous blog has been getting much more attention lately because I've been stitching prayer flags and experimenting with surface design techniques.  Most evenings I've settled in for stitching and watching television instead of reading, but I think I'm beginning to experience a sea change, the reading bug has begun to catch on again.

Like Carl, I'm a great fan of The Guild, but I'm all caught up with those episodes and have to wait for more.  (AACK - a note from Carl...they haven't even begun filming the new episodes).

Lately, I've been deeply immersed in Korean television series and highly recommend Tree With Deep Roots .  My friend Thomas got me addicted to this one, and now my husband is also addicted.

Finally finished Cryptonomicon!  Loved it!  Well worth the time expended on this one.  The closer I came to the end, the slower I read, the more pauses I took, the more I tried to delay the conclusion.

Almost finished with A Rising Thunder, the latest in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber and have begun River Secrets by Shannon Hale, which is part of the Bayern series and will go toward my Once Upon a Time reads.

Has anyone read the Shadow Prowler?  The third and final book in the trilogy is out, and I'm wondering if I want to give it a try.  So much better to begin a series that is already complete than having to wait for each new book.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beauty by Sheri Tepper

Beauty is retelling of Sleeping Beauty with several other fairy tales mixed in.

(I started this review after reading the first chapters, then finished the book, and have had a huge delay in completing the review because my pleasure didn't continue.)

3/31/12 I've decided to take a few notes as I read because the Foreword intrigued me and then, in the first few pages, other incidents caught my attention.

The Foreword is written by Carabosse, "the fairy of clocks, keeper of the secrets of time."  Carabosse remarks that Beauty was given many gifts when she was born, "Though it is regrettable that no one gave her the gift of intelligence (a  gift not highly valued in Faery, she has a practicality that often makes up for that lack."

Now, intelligence is rarely mentioned in fairy tales, so I'm curious already.

A few pages into the story, Beauty describes the education she receives from her aunts.  She is taught sewing by her Aunt Marjoram "(who was herself educated by the Sisters of the Immediate Conception at St. Mary of Perpetual Surprise)" and music by her Aunt Lavender "who, though tone deaf, plays upon the lute with great brio and a blithesome disregard for accuracy."

Tepper has my full attention now and has made me smile.

-----------

4/18

The first section was so charming, so delightful.  Unfortunately, the rest of the book, although interesting, was not at all charming.  I was so disappointed.

With the first incidence of time travel, things degenerate.  Up until Beauty leaves her own time period for the first time, the story was a delightful alternative version of Sleeping Beauty--unfortunately, that was only a very small percentage of the book.

While Tepper makes several points with which I completely agree, the book becomes an unpleasant polemic.  While I can understand and completely agree with her views about our lack of care concerning the environment and her distaste for books that  celebrate violence and abuse, her bitterness defeated the purpose for me.  Tepper's inclusion of violence and abuse, her completely dark view of the fate of the world--leaves a feeling of despair.

What would have pleased me much more would have been a story that presents alternatives and inspiration for working for a change.

From such a bright beginning, the book turned into a struggle to read and on finishing it, a feeling of having accomplished nothing.

Fiction.  Fairy Tale/Time Travel/

Friday, April 13, 2012

Everything I Need

milkweed
My friend Thomas sent me this quote:


 “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." —Cicero

  I love this quote!  Thomas has been reading Fung Yu-lan, History of Chinese Philosophy.  In Mandarin or Cantonese or something, no doubt.  He did lift his head from translation long enough to think of me when he saw this quote, however.  Yea, Thomas!


Back to the quote--I have both a garden (although not nearly as wonderful as my previous garden, the one wiped out by the tornado) and plenty of books.  I'm posting  pictures of a few of my  delights as I work on creating a new garden .  
Cleome


garlic

For the last two years, I've done nothing much with my new small garden, but this year, I'm determined to include more plants that I love...thus the two new milkweed plants and the cleome.  The garlic is a volunteer from last year.  I love garlic, in food and in the flower bed.

And books--there are always books.  Some that are wonderful and some that are disappointing, but always a book to read for entertainment or information.  

I  finished Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper a while back and have been thinking about how to review it.  Such an auspicious beginning!  Sadly, after falling in love with the beginning, I found the rest of the book a painful contrast.  I've resisted reviewing it because ofthis, but do want to make some comments about it.  Has anyone else read this one?

On the other hand, I'm loving Cryptonomicon and am in awe of Neal Stephenson.   The more I read, the more invested I become in the characters.  At the moment, I'm very concerned about Bobby Shaftoe who is now in Manila awaiting the arrival of General MacArthur.  Stephenson deals with Japanese atrocities in a way that does nothing to ameliorate the horror,  yet somehow manages to keep enough distance (and enough satiric humor) to make it bearable.  

In the present day section, I think Randy Waterhouse will be OK, despite being in jail because someone planted drugs in his luggage.  The section on Randy's wisdom teeth is priceless and comparing the removal of his wisdom teeth to his love for Amy is...somehow...oddly perfect.  Randy was not one of my favorite characters initially, and I'm glad that I've grown so fond of him.

Stephenson is a Wizard!  

Slight Digression:  Has anyone watched The Guild?  Wil Wheaton has become a regular and the guest stars in Season Five are amazing!

This post jumps around like I was on Benzedrine (via Bobby Shaftoe)!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

Believing the Lie is an Inspector Lynley mystery.  Although George's books are long, they read very quickly.  Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed the series as much since she killed off Helen.

Description from Amazon:  Inspector Thomas Lynley is mystified when he's sent undercover to investigate the death of Ian Cresswell at the request of the man's uncle, the wealthy and influential Bernard Fairclough. The death has been ruled an accidental drowning, and nothing on the surface indicates otherwise. But when Lynley enlists the help of his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, the trio's digging soon reveals that the Fairclough clan is awash in secrets, lies, and motives.


What I like:  the book reads very quickly and does keep my attention.  I like Barbara Havers and Winton (although Winton is not really a part of this one).  As a side note, Barbara mentions Lynley's Lobb shoes.  I looked Googled it, and Lobb's boots and shoes are quite expensive  -- check the price list.   Got several grand to spare, get a pair of Lobb's boots. 


Not so much: 


1)  Simon and Deborah St. James have, in the last several books, become more and more  annoying.   The plot line about their inability to have a child is supposed to support the main plot line, but is irritating.  Deborah's behavior is idiotic.


2) The reporter for the scandal sheet and his "girl friend" -- silly.  Their phone conversations are too silly to discuss.   Not a bad idea, but ultimately, a failure. 


3) Lynley's attraction to Isabelle.  Didn't like it much in the previous book, either, but at least it is resolved in this one.


4) The story line with Tim, Ian's young and troubled son--he was an interesting character until it just got out of hand.   Troubled is one thing, where George carries it, quite another.
------
Remember these are just my personal opinions.  I used to love this series, but ...


Fiction.  Mystery.  2012.  624 pages.

Back From New Orleans Trip

We had a short road trip following Bayou Teche from Port Barre to Morgan City.  Then on to New Orleans and back through Baton Rouge.  It was great fun, and I've covered the highlights over at Bayou Quilts.

I've got a review of Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George scheduled and need to write a review of Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper.

Cryptonomicon is still in progress, and I'm still enjoying it, but have to include other books as breaks...thus the two mentioned above.


Watched an interesting documentary, Millay at Steepletop.  Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of my favorite poets, and I enjoyed the documentary in honor of National Poetry Month.

Here is one of her poems that fits the Once Upon a Time Challenge.


Bluebeard

This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayed... Here is no treasure hid,
No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you see... Look yet again—
An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place. 
Edna St. Vincent Millay
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Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (Once Upon a Time)

The Apothecary is a book for young readers, but like all good books, it is a story that appeals to all ages.  A fantasy with some important and often neglected history mixed in, the novel begins with a move from the U.S. to London for fourteen-year-old Janie Scott.

Janie's parents are screen writers in 1952 during the time of the Hollywood Black Lists.  When Janie's family comes under surveillance, her parents know that if they are called to testify, they would be asked to name names, putting an end to many careers.  They decide to move to London where they have been offered a job working on a television series about Robin Hood.

(By the by, this period in our history is a shameful one that really does deserve more attention.   Many innocent people were denied the right of the First Amendment and lost their jobs during the McCarthy witch hunts.   John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye were among those who protested and formed The Organization for the First Amendment. )

Back to the novel, Janie is very unhappy with her parents about this move (something I could identify with as a move at that age brought out the worst in me and drove my poor parents crazy).  She misses her old school and her friends; she must attend a new school as the odd-man out.  She even has difficulty understanding the English -- same language, different pronunciation.

She does make a new friend, however, in Benjamin Burrows, son of the local apothecary.  The Cold War is at its height, the Russians are the enemy, the "duck and dive" mentality is the useless caution against nuclear warfare, spies are everywhere for both the good guys and the bad guys, and treasonous activities occur.

 Janie and Benjamin become involved in an adventure neither could have imagined, complete with spies, kidnappings, and magic.

I'm not going to tell you any more, but I am going to send you to Nan's review (Letters from a Hill Farm) because her review is the reason I checked out this book.

I have already Googled a bunch of sites on the Hollywood Blacklist and the House of  Un-American Activities Committee and plan to eventually do some nonfiction reading about this period.  Although this is background material only for the novel, and I've read some in this area before, my interest has increased.

Fiction. Fantasy/YA.  2011.  353 pages.