Monday, October 29, 2007

Clothed With Charity

This is one of the Women's Conference books. I really love these books but I can't pay twenty-five dollars for each. But I found this one at the used bookstore. You can also get them on good discount from Deseret Book after a year or two.
I had almost forgotten to enter this one on the list because I read it really fast one weekend. I try to be good reading my scriptures and the Ensign and stuff, but these books always feel like water to my parched soul. There is just something about the stories and the life experiences of all these women that mean a lot me.
A lot of the articles in this book were about writing; writing in journals or writing about scriptures or just writing to write. Since I have started this and have been making the best effort towards journal writing since my mission it felt particularly pertinent.
Just talking about it makes me want to reread it again, more slowly to drink it in again. But that will have to wait until after Halloween. Making costumes is occupying most of my time right now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Pinhoe Egg

This is the newest book in the Chrestomanci series by Dianna Wynne Jones. I really like her books. They are technically YA books, so have to make an effort to find them but its usually worth it.
She has good plotting and realistic characters, for a book about magic at least. She tends to deal with issues pretty squarely too, a nice middle ground in a category (YA) that either tends to gloss over bad things or dwell on them in the interests of "realism."
The Chrestomanci is an enchanter who is in charge of magical law-keeping. As the ultimate authority in magical things he is a good foil for talking about ways of dealing with authority. Someone in most of these books needs help but is too afraid of authority for various reasons to go to the person who could help them. Aimed at teenagers it is a good theme I think. But it also talks about the things adults do to undermine the trust and authority they have. A lot of her books could be modeled on D&C 121 now that I think about it.
In this one there are communities of witches who have stayed under the official radar for hundreds of years and a lot of the effort in the communities goes into avoiding the Chrestomanci's gaze. Since they live very close to him that takes some doing. Then the matriarch of one of the families goes a bit batty, dementia we assume, and things get really bad. It makes you glad we don't have magic in real life. The idea of a sorcerer getting Alzheimer's or a stroke is frightening.
A good story, I enjoyed it. David stayed up way to late to read it. I have rubbed off on him. I read a bit less than I used to and he reads way more. And we both get stuck in books now instead of just me. So I try to get things that won't make me want to stay up until all hours of the night to finish. It is too hard the next morning.

The Pinhoe Egg. Dianna Wynne Jones. Eos Books. 2006

The Atlantic 150

This isn't a book. It is the 150th anniversary edition of a magazine I subscribe to called The Atlantic. Normally I don't write about the other things I read; magazines, the newspaper, the books I read with the kids, or I would never be caught up, but this edition really impressed me.
The Atlantic was founded to write about the American Idea, so for this issue, they got many people to write short essays on The Future of the American Idea. I really enjoyed reading them. There were some I disagreed with, some I really liked and some that made me think. They deliberately put contrasting ideas next to each other: for example, a famous atheist is next to the author of the Left Behind series. They were so short that even the ones you really hated were too short to make you upset, just enough to start thinking of your own reply.
It made me wish I could have a week uninterrupted to write my own version. They asked for reader submissions and will publish the best ones in a coming issue. If I were a teacher my class would be writing them. If I had child-free writing time I might be too. But as I started thinking about it I feel like my thoughts are too scattered to write a coherent 200 word essay about something as huge as the American Idea. It is still wandering around in my head, but very unformed.
The website has additional essays, I haven't looked at them yet, but I plan to. So if you happen to spot this magazine at the library, pick it up and read the essays, they will give you something to think about for the rest of the day, if nothing else.
Oh, and just a note, I changed the comment section, so you don't have to sign in to leave one, just in case anyone is interested. Thanks.

The Atlantic. Nov. 2007. pp 13-62.

Making Money

This was my birthday book. The newest Terry Pratchett. When we lived in Las Vegas, the library was very good about getting new books quickly, so I could read the latest Terry Pratchett quickly and be patient enough to wait for the paperback. The library here tries but is so much smaller that only really big new books show up quickly. And I am not patient enough to wait until the paperback comes out to read it even the first time. My spending on books has gone up since we moved here.
David didn't like this one as much as Going Postal. It sort of has the same main character, Moist Von Lipwig, but the plot isn't as tight and it rambles a bit. But I think the main character is really the person working behind the scenes in the book, Lord Vetinari. He manipulates Moist in very specific ways and is more of a protagonist than the obvious hero. There were some bits I really enjoyed, the glooper, the four gold? (no that word isn't gold, its thousand!) golems and some normal Pratchett phrases that stick with you. There was an unfortunate running joke that was too crude for my tastes.
I liked it, but it wasn't nearly one of my favorites. No quotes this time. Typing one handed with a baby on your lap is too slow.

Making Money. Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins. 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lords and Ladies

Another Terry Pratchett. I generally have several lying around half-finished. This one is VERY loosely based on Midsummer Night's Dream. The witches are the main characters and so is the tiny kingdom of Lancre. A few quotes:

Much human ingenuity has gone into finding the ultimate Before.
The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus:
In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator is merely the tip
of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerge; shoot
one, and there'll be another along in a minute. Shoot him too? Why
not shoot everyone and invade Poland?

Lords and Ladies. Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch. 2002

Going Postal

I love Terry Pratchett. Anyone who has heard me talk about books knows this. I have been busy and just rereading things that I had lying around half-finished. But I decided instead of explaining each Terry Pratchett book, because there are going to be many, I would just put in some quotes from each book. So here goes. Basic premise of Going Postal is Moist von Lipwig, con man, is almost hanged and offered a chance to redeem himself by re-establishing the postal service. Sounds simple but it is a great book, one of Pratchett's best.

You can't treat religion as a sort of buffet, can you? I mean, you can't say,"Yes please, I'll have some of the Celestial Paradise and a helping of the Divine Plan but go easy on the kneeling and none of the Prohibition of Images, they give me wind." It's table d'hote or nothing, otherwise. . . well, it could get silly.

And there was a fight going on. More or less. But in some ways, at least, time had moved on. You couldn't just haul off and belt someone with an ax these days. People expected things of a bar brawl. As he went in, Moist passed a large group of men of the broken-nosed, one eared persuasion, bent in anxious conclave:
"Look, Bob, what part of this don't you understand, eh? It's a matter of style, okay? A proper brawl doesn't just happen. You don't just pile in, not anymore. Now, Oyster Dave here -- put your helmet back on, Dave--will be the enemy in front, and Basalt, who, as we know, don't need a helmet, he'll be the enemy coming up behind you. Okay, it's well past knuckles time, let's say Gravy there has done his thing with the Bench Swipe, there's a bit of knife play, we've done the whole Chandelier Swing number, blah, blah, blah, then Second Chair--that's you, Bob--you step smartly between their Number Five man and a Bottler, swing the chair back over your head, like this--sorry, Pointy--and swing it right back onto Number Five, bang, crash, and there's a cushy six points in your pocket. If their playing a dwarf at Number Five, then a chair won't even slow him down, but don't fret, hang on to the bits that stay in your hand, pause one moment as he comes at you, and then belt him across both ears. They hate that, as Stronginthearm here will tell you. Another three points. It's probably going to be freestyle after that but I want all of you, including Mucky Mick and Crispo, to try for a Double Andrew when it gets down to fist-fighting again. Remember? You back into each other, turn around to give the other guy a thumping, cue moment of humorous recognition, then link left arms, swing round and see to the other fellow's attacker, foot or fist, it's your choice. Fifteen points right there if you get it to flow just right. Oh, and remember we'll have an Igor standing by, so if your arm gets taken off, do pick it up and hit the other guy with it, it gets a laugh and twenty points. On that subject, do remember what I said about everything tattooed with your name, all right? Igors do their best, but you'll be on your feet much quicker if you make life easier for him and, what's more, it's your feet you'll be on. Okay, positions everyone, let's run through it again. . ."

And one last one: "Peas are known for their thoroughness."

Going Postal. Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch Paperback. 2005

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead

Isn't that a great title? This is a mystery of the type I don't usually read because police procedurals tend to have too much gore and sex and everything else you can think of but the title hooked me and I didn't know that author.
And yep, it had too much of what I don't like but was a very well written book. The detective has glimpses of Civil War ghosts that comment on the current case and make him doubt his sanity. A new item in the old "quirky detective" category. The funniest comment I've ever read on the conventions of detective fiction was in The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde who has his characters discussing which plot device they will use next, "Number 26 or Number 37? Isn't that the one where I get suspended then solve the case on my own, discovering it was my superior officer all along?"
The conventions are observed in many cases in this novel, but the writing is so good it gets away with things that are simply annoying or boring in a lesser writer. I don't think I will be reading any more of this author's books because I don't like the graphic crime in this style of books but he is very good.
And I do know about the conventions. I did my senior thesis on the changing styles of police procedurals over the years, using Ed McBain as an example. He died recently but wrote police/detective novels for close to forty years and you could definitely see society's downward trend in them.
In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead. James Lee Burke. Hyperion Books. 1993

Simple Genius

Spy thriller. That pretty much sums this one up. Nothing surprising or revolutionary. Worse than Tom Clancy at his best, not as bad as Tom Clancy at his worst.
Not much else to say about this one. I was having a rough week when I picked this one out and read it. I try to be more discriminating, but sometimes I'm not.

Simple Genius. David Baldacci. Warner Books. 2007

The Serpent and The Rose

The little blurb on the top of this book almost made me put it back: "FORBIDDEN MAGIC, FORBIDDEN LOVE." I honestly wonder who does the blurbs on the back of books. I think more good books are done in by a bad back cover than any other reason.
Despite that I brought it home from the library and it was a good story. David read it too and got into it; he stayed up late to finish it.
It is a bare bones plot of the war that began with the destruction of the Knights Templar but with that as a base and lots of magic added. Since it starts with vaguely Christian imagery David was annoyed when some Earth Mother magic was introduced. I guess it didn't bother me that much because that is one of the trendy things to do in fantasy and I've seen it a lot. I enjoy books that that a true Christian theme and work with it, like The Doomsday Book I've already mentioned. This was not of that caliber and it is pretty unusual to see honest religious thought in a novel. I think writing nice Earth Mother type things is easier and you can do whatever you want without dealing with any theological minefields. In other words, I think it is so common because it is easier. The same reason that type of general "spirituality" exists in our own world, it is easy, not a lot of rules or commandments, just do what you like and think slightly elevated thoughts occasionally.
This is the first in a trilogy. I will probably read the others. I have a hard time finding things I like, so I mostly go for things I don't actively dislike. A poor way to choose books, but the things I would prefer to read, especially when I am feeling mentally alert, aren't available so much. This is a small library and Deseret Book's books are expensive. I would like to read the biographies of the prophets and the new books that come out from the apostles, but the only things that get to the library are some of the more popular LDS fiction, which I don't like much. Oh well.
The Serpent and the Rose. Kathleen Bryan. Tor Books. 2007

The Blue Girl

I like Charles de Lint, he writes faintly New Age-y novels set in Canada. They usually involve mortals interacting with fairies and other mythical creatures in a modern city setting.
This one is a Young Adult novel, with the protagonist being a teenage girl. She moves to the city and is making some big life changes: leaving her former gang-banger lifestyle for a more sedate one. Since this is her choice, there is a lot said about choice and inner strength and believing in yourself and that type of stuff. As far as YA novels go it was pretty good, not too preachy, but getting the message across.
I like de Lint's use of fairies in an urban setting. They go to clubs, hang around musicians and cause trouble in purely modern ways, as they have adapted to humanity's changes too. And the bad soul-sucking fairies in this novel are repelled by the color blue. As the heroine finds out when she accidentally overdoses on some protective magic and gets turned completely blue. Good thing its near Halloween. And I've never read a book where the bad guys are conquered using blue paint, but it works pretty well.
It was a pretty good book. I think I would have liked it better twenty years ago and that a literate teenage girl would enjoy it.

The Blue Girl. Charles de Lint. Firebird Imprint of Penguin Books. 2004

Ethan of Athos

This is another book by Lois McMaster Bujold, sort of side book in the same series I have been reading. Of all of the books, this is my least favorite. The plot wasn't as entertaining and the issues she wanted too explore weren't dealt with very effectively.
The main reason I didn't like it was the annoying use of a cliched idea. The concept of changing something about society to discuss issues within our own society is very well known and used often. It works especially well with science fiction and fantasy since that is one of the basic premises. But blaming some sort of catastrophic and bizarre shift on a fringe religious group gets on my nerves, especially when it is done clumsily.
Taking all the women out of a society so you can look at reproductive policies when cloning or artificial methods are the only ones available could be done in a lot of ways, but I really didn't like this version of it.

Ethan of Athos. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 1992