Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bedlam, Bath, and Beyond

Some days I just am not picky enough. I have been playing catch up for a bad couple of weeks after Christmas. I read more when I am feeling depressed and it matters less what it is I am reading. So I had a Mommy's Night Out a few weeks ago and the bookstore, and library were both closed, so I went to the grocery store to find a book. They always have such a wonderful selection.
I got this and realized after I started reading that it was more of a romance than a fantasy and that there are whole recognized genres of romance plus other stuff. I knew about historical romance, and avoided it as much as possible. Now there are mystery romance and fantasy romance and paranormal romance to be avoided as much as possible. I skipped large chunks of stuff I didn't need that was irrelevant to the plot. That is my main complaint. I don't mind a romance in a book per se, I just don't like the extra junk that gets put in on top.
So it was a book, when I needed to get away, and that is about it.

Bedlam, Bath and Beyond. J.D. Warren. Dorchester Publishing. 2008

Naked Economics

I enjoy reading books that explain scientific things to lay people, especially if not dumbed down too much. I found this book very illuminating. It was written by a writer for the magazine The Economist, which I like when I run across it. It was more technical that the economics book I read a few months ago, and used more real world examples and how they work, and how public policy is affected by and in turn effects economics.
It explained how sweat shops aren't necessarily bad things, why Mexico City's air is still remarkably polluted and why Black rhino populations are declining so drastically. One thing I especially liked is that he wasn't saying free markets are perfect, and that governments have a very necessary role in the world, even if you think you are a complete free market sort of person.
It makes you wish that more politicians could understand basic economics, at least hire a couple of staffers that do. The trouble is, after the fact, it is easy to explain how basic principles caused any given fiasco, but it is much harder to do that beforehand, something the author doesn't emphasize enough. Though he does admit that some problems have no real solutions, but that economics helps reshape some of the ways of looking at things.
Anyway, I felt like I learned something and that is always nice, I don't get a lot of mental stimulation some days.

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. Charles Wheelan. W.W.Norton & Co. 2002

Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

This was a great book. it is one I would recommend unreservedly to anyone. That is sort of nice. I usually have qualifications to my recommendations, but this was great, clean, funny and a quick read, only a couple hundred pages on large print.
It is a YA novel, edging towards children's about a boy who receives a bag of sand from his long-gone parents for his thirteenth birthday. That sets up the story and then it rolls along quite rapidly from there. The narrator is funny, though he did get a bit annoying by the end. It is written in the first person, but in a style more honest than a lot of first person narratives I've read. By honest I mean, he admits and tells you he is relating this after the fact, so he knows how everything turns out and just puts cliff hangers and other things in to annoy the reader. It is a contrived plot device, but it works very well. If you stop to think about it, every first person story is that way, but rarely do the stories reflect that.
One of my favorite thing about the book was the grandfather, or to be more precise, the exclamations that he uses when he is surprised: "Jabbering Jordans!", and "Amazing Asimovs!" were two of them. It took me until I read it out loud to David to catch the joke, but it was really funny. That is one of the reasons I read books I enjoy more than once; I read so fast that sometimes I miss things, especially things that are a bit more verbal. Reading aloud I find things I miss when I read because I don't read aloud inside my head.
So find this book and read it. Read it out loud to your spouse, child or pet, that makes it easier to laugh out loud without attracting weird looks. Oh yes, this is by my new favorite author, Brandon Sanderson, he writes really well in several genres it turns out.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Brandon Sanderson. Scholastic. 2007

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Angels in the Gloom

This is the third of Anne Perry's WWI novels. It takes place immediately after the second one and continues the themes she began earlier. I liked it. It helps place some of the important events of WWI that I have in my mind, but with no anchors to say exactly when each took place.
I also like reading a book that gives me the feeling of what certain events meant to the people at the time, not to historians who came later and said, well, because of this, these things happened.
The fighting at Gallipolli in Turkey is represented, as well as the sinking of the Luisitania. I have heard these things before, but I understand them in more of a context now
.
Especially what the war at sea meant to Britain. I guess living in the United States you don't think much about how isolated living on an island would be. Especially for things they couldn't manufacture themselves, like guns and such. As well, with most of the young men out fighting, I'm sure they were importing a lot of their food. In the middle parts of WWI, the German submarine were trying their best to blockade England and starve her out of the war. This was in the days before radar or anything like that. U-boats were invisible until they attacked. That would have been terrifying for anyone traveling the Atlantic, but especially for the British naval ships assigned to protecting convoys and hunting down the subs.

I have really enjoyed this series. I have to get this set of books back to the library because I owe who knows how much in fines, but I will also have to get the last two of this series.

Angels in the Gloom. Anne Perry. Ballantine. 2005

Shoulder the Sky

This is the second of a five book series written by Anne Perry. I read the first one a little while ago: No Graves as Yet. That one took place right before WWI started, this one happens about six months after, during the time it was becoming obvious that the war was going to last for a while.

Though on the surface a mystery novel, it really is dealing with a lot of important ideas; what is the role of faith in war, how do you survive on the front line, or in the trenches when it was so horrible ( in the genuine sense of causing horror), and where should your loyalties lie. Is peace at all costs really worth the "all costs"?

The first book introduces a mysterious character, The Peacemaker, as someone very powerful, but who wants to avoid war so badly that he would generate a world divided like a pie between England and Germany. To think that that would end war is pretty silly, since the beaten countries would still fight and the two empires would then go at each other, but those are this man's aims.

In this book, having been foiled at his attempt to make a treaty between the King of England and Germany, he is attempting to make England lose the war by destroying morale at home so no more soldiers will come and they will have to pull out.

I can't imagine the type of research she had to do in order to write such a book. This is one of the reasons I say I could never be a good author, I couldn't involve myself in such awful things in order to write about them accurately. I am too soft hearted, I can barely read such things, even though they move me deeply, I can't imagine writing them.

The main character is an Anglican priest and his struggles with faith and God in a battlefield are real, yet not so nihilistic as most. Many people did take refuge in faith in war, and not very many books reflect that.



Shoulder the Sky. Anne Perry. Ballantine. 2004

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Well of Ascension

This is the third of the Brandon Sanderson books of Christmas. It is also the second of an incomplete trilogy , following Mistborn.
I really liked Mistborn, and it could almost stand by itself, but this was was a typical middle book. It ended on a tense note and then you have to wait for a year to get the next one. That is the worst thing about reading an author who is still writing. At least if I get into Jane Austen or someone like that there is no suspense, I know all she has written and don't have to expect more.
I liked Mistborn better than this one. There was a good tight plot and this one, some good things happened, but it wasn't as focused and seemed much more of a segue into the last book. Which of course doesn't come out until October. Though an October release is good in that I can get the hardback for my birthday.
He did do very good in continuing to expand his characters. They get married and it doesn't make them become one dimensional , like happens in other things I've read. Being married completes them, not hampers. It is nice when someone can write without using the same gender stereotypes. It seems that authors are aware of some, but each author picks which ones to avoid (sometimes very obviously) and others still show up. Maybe because they don't realize it is a stereotype, or something.
There were some really good surprises and a tense ending. He is not afraid to kill off major characters either, which I find refreshing. Having a major battle in which no one that you know gets killed has always seemed artificial to me, I guess to him to. I also like that this is a continuation of the parts of the story they don't tell you in regular fantasy. So you defeated the Dark Lord: then what? The political system falls apart, minor minions start battling for their own little chunks of the pie and chaos is everywhere. That seems much more realistic (if that word is appropriate to fantasy) that the "We kill the Dark Lord and everyone lives in freedom and justice forever". What about all the people who were doing just fine under the Dark Lord's rule, there have to be some. They won't be happy, and all the people who loose their homes in the fighting, and the breakdown of services, like food and water, what happens then? It is a lot more complicated than a lot of books account for. Of course, escapist fantasy doesn't deal with those things on purpose, but it is satisfying to read something that does take those issues into account.


The Well of Ascension. Brandon Sanderson. Tor. 2007

Monday, January 21, 2008

Nightwatch

I generally keep a book by my bed to read if I can't sleep. It has to be one I've read before or I might get too interested and read too late in the night. Which I tend to do if it is a new one. Even an economics book has caught me. I'm very weak.

Nightwatch is my favorite Terry Pratchett novel. It is funny, as they all are, but this one has a bit more depth and meaning than a lot of the others. I am amazed that Each of Pratchett's novels seem to get better and better. A lot of authors seem to rest on their laurels a bit, especially if they have written a lot. For example, Asimov, Heinlein and McCaffery all got a bit silly towards the end, trying to combine all of their series' and getting all mystical and new age-y and similar things. Pratchett keeps getting better. His craft and how he writes keeps improving. It is very impressive.

I've got just one quote, because I wasn't paying attention to that when I was reading it, but I liked this one because it reminded me of Ryan:

Vimes sighed. "Mr. Shoe, we don't have a file on you. We don't have a file on anyone, understand? Half of us can't read without using a finger. Reg, we are not interested in you." Reg Shoe's slightly worrying eyes remained fixed on Vimes's face for a moment, and then his brain rejected the information as contrary to whatever total fantasy was going on inside.


Nightwatch. Terry Pratchett. Harper Torch. 2002

Mistborn

This is the second Brandon Sanderson book we got. It is the first of a trilogy, so he does follow some of the Fantasy trends. This was a really good book. It is over 600 pages and I read it in only a few days.

I have read the author's web page and he says he likes to create unique, very specific magic systems. I say specific because he creates definite rules about how it works and then follows them carefully. A lot of fantasy is done with wave-of-the-hand type magic where whenever the author wants something to happen, they can have magic do it. I think it is a lazy habit. Brandon Sanderson is definitely not a lazy author. His site is amazing in the details of the writing process he puts in it. This might have something to do with the fact that he taught (I'm not sure if he still does) creative writing at BYU.

This book takes on the whole evil overlord overthrown by prophecy thing. What happens if the evil overlord wins? that is a bit simpler than what actually happens, but that is the scenario as the book opens. Slaves and continual ashes, people that don't believe it when told that plants used to be green. I liked that touch. Sanderson works very hard at creating a complete world. And amazingly enough, his plot and characterization are good too.

That is one of the problems I had with Robert Jordan, he got a bit repetitive and seemed to cut and paste whenever characters needed to be re-introduced. The lead in this book is a teen aged girl and it was nice to read a book with a female protagonist that didn't have sex on every other page. Some Fantasy has so much blood and gore that I can stomach it, and others are just thinly disguised pornography, an excuse for leather clothing.

Sanderson is interesting in that you can tell how hard he works to get it right, after you are done, but not while you are actually reading it. Some authors wrench their metaphors so much you are pulled out of the story, Leven Thumps for example, but every thing works smoothly in this book.

Though I've got to say, the cover art is really weird. But I have decided that cover art doesn't have a lot to do with the actual book in a lot of cases. I wonder if artists actually read the book, or get summaries that they work from? I guess it depends on the artist.

Mistborn. Brandon Sanderson. Tor. 2006

Friday, January 11, 2008

Elantris

When you discover a new, good author it is always exciting, at least for me. David gave me three books by someone we hadn't heard of before and they were all excellent. We found them because he was found by someone else first.

We like and have been patiently reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It was 11 books long, with one left. Then he got very ill and died. This resulted in many feelings of guilt as we felt more loss for the one book that never got written. So just before Christmas we saw that a man named Brandon Sanderson had been chosen to write the last Wheel of Time book. In trying to find out more I discovered that neither our library nor local bookstore has copies of any of his books. My wonderful husband bought these books for me for Christmas and we both spent an awful lot of time reading them.

Elantris was the first one. I knew it was pretty good, because David got to it before I did and didn't talk to me all of Christmas day. This was a stand-alone novel, which has gotten to be pretty rare in Fantasy. Everyone does at least trilogies and I don't want to get into a long series, mostly because the library tends not to have all the books.

The book started out a bit slow, I had a hard time getting into it, but eventually it got really good and I had a hard time putting it down. It is an epic fantasy, nice and complex. It is funny, when I read other stuff, then come back to this genre, to realize how much more is involved in writing a fantasy novel. Especially because this author makes magic systems that have rules and are internally consistent. And a lot of political maneuvering and stuff like that. I really enjoy "epic fantasy" but it is hard to do well, and there are not that many authors out there that I can say I really like. So finding Brandon Sanderson was very exciting.

Elantris. Brandon Sanderson. Tor Books. 2005

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Vanished Child

Just before Christmas I went to the library, then ended up not reading most of the books because my husband gave me some that I liked even more. I'll write about them later. But I'm going to the library in few minutes and I need to write about this one before I go.
This is a thriller, but it is a period novel, so I figured it wouldn't be the gore and horror sort, more a mystery. Which it was, very little of the nastiness that makes me shy away from more modern mysteries. I actually liked it, enough to start reading the sequel. There is child, who vanished, everyone assumes that the child was kidnapped and killed. A man with a missing identity and all those secret things that make for good Victorian mysteries. I really liked how the author handled the emotional consequences of past decisions. So this book was good.
I started reading the next book, but one of the elements of the next book, which draws directly from this one, really irritated me, to the point that I quit reading it. When something bugs me so badly that I keep thinking about it even hours later, then I know I need to stop. This book has a girl who is engaged, to the wrong man of course, (is anyone ever engaged to the right man the first time in fiction?). She meets the hero and gradually comes to know that marrying the wrong guy will make her miserable, He wants her in an idealized sense; he wants a picture of the perfect girl that he thinks her can mold her into, because she is young and almost blind. That's all fine. But in the second book they begin having an affair, when they could have easily gotten married, in fact it was proposed, because the two people cannot reconcile her desire to have a music career with being married. Marrying will ruin her as a musician. What a lot of garbage, like having an affair in 1910 wouldn't ruin her even more. All the excuses you are used to hearing and none of the common sense. A lot of talk of love, and why they can't live without each other, and justification, but all of it modern rot to excuse doing what you want and pretending there will be no consequences. Maybe they do finally marry in the end, I couldn't stand it any more and quit, and I don't really care to find out. I wish people would be more realistic about the effects of sex on themselves and society. So many try to idealize it and say there "Shouldn't be consequences." But there are, whether you like it or not, and to disregard them is to be selfish and greedy, not loving.

The Vanished Child. Sarah Smith. Random House. 1992

Book of a Thousand Days

This is the latest book from Shannon Hale. She tends to write YA fiction and they are really good. My brother-in-law Rob gave me two of her books last year for Christmas and I've enjoyed them and bought more. She must be popular in Moab because our library has kept up with her stuff and gets them fairly quickly.
It was very strange when I first read them because I know Shannon, sort-of. We went to high school together and I know her husband as well. It makes you reappraise your life when someone you know does something remarkable, like write and publish really good books. But that was last January, I'm over it now, mostly. But I've decided that writing books is something you do because you can't not do it, like some people feel about music, and how I feel about reading. I'm just lucky that there are a lot of people who feel that way so I can feed my own compulsion. I don't write, though some have asked why I don't, because I don't need to and right now a lot of other thing get in the way. Maybe when my time is more my own I will feel more of a need and can do more. This blog is hard enough to keep up.
Book of a Thousand Days is a adapted fairy tale. That actually made me shy away from it at first. I'm not to fond of that kind of book. Wicked and all those books I tried and didn't make it through. So many of them are either too cutesy or have gone all the way the other direction and made it so depressing and dark I can't read it, ex. Tanith Lee. This was done very well, with the characters feeling like real people and though you could tell how the story was going to end, you still wanted to read it to find out how they get there.
One thing I particularly liked was how she handled the character's faith. Not as a point of doubt, and not as a curiosity, but with the simplicity of it being one part of her character and a part of her life. Something much more like the faith I know than the overblown fanaticism or gnawing doubt that is more common in fiction. I appreciate that when I find it.

Book of a Thousand Days. Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury. 2007