Monday, June 30, 2008

At All Costs


This book has been hanging around my house for a while. I bought it on a B&N binge a while ago. But every time I started it it just seemed too annoying, like the end of an Orson Scott Card series. The end of his series always feel strained, like he didn't really want to write it but the fans were bugging him and his publishers made him do it. But I've been having summer-itis lately and can't seem to get myself into anything serious, even if I check them out from the library with the best of intentions. I am also a victim of short-attention span fever, not my own, but my children's'. I can't go more than half an hour without someone wanting something, unless they are doing something they shouldn't. In that case I have a dilemma, leave them alone, so I can have some peace, or be a responsible mother and go stop whatever it is. The first option has been what I've done more and more, especially if its just computer time infractions. So a good space opera was just what my brain was wanting.
This turned out to be better than I was expecting, once I got past the initial set up pages. The political situation was something of a moral dilemma but in huge political terms. What if both sides don't want to be at war, it is the result of misunderstanding, but neither can find the political strength and will necessary to admit the fault? That is the basis for the book and it made for gripping reading as you go between battles and then to the leaders who are agonizing over what is the right thing to do. As an individual it is easy to say, you just have to bite the bullet and do what it takes to stop things. As difficult as it is for some to be humble and admit fault, this book made a good point about how difficult it is for even bigger organizations to do the same thing.
The biggest complaint I have is that this thorny situation wasn't resolved by the end of the book. You'd think in almost 900 pages a good resolution would be possible, if not easy. The current trend for huge novels gets exasperating at times. This book also had the first polygamous marriage I have ever read in science fiction. It was an unusual solution to a situation that most books would have ended with an affair, but in these Honor Harrington books, they take vows and honor too seriously for that. I like that about military science fiction, especially David Weber.

At All Costs. David Weber. Baen. 2005

Friday, June 27, 2008

Memory

This is a continuation of a series I started a while ago by Lois McMaster Bujold. This one wasn't so much an action book. All the big action scenes actually happen before the book starts. It was a bit of a detective novel and a bit of a discussion about memory and identity and what makes us who we are.
The book opens with the main character awakening from a seizure to find he had accidentally cut off the legs of someone he was trying to rescue as he had an unexpected epileptic type seizure just at the wrong moment. In desperation to keep from being discharged he tries to hide his condition and ends up being kicked out of the military. So he has a lot of thinking to do to readjust his life. Since he is only 30 he has a lot of angst to go through.
Normally that kind of thing irritates me but the plot devices used to drag this character from his slump was very interesting. A longtime friend, and his immediate superior develops problems with a memory chip in his brain. Like rapidly advancing Alzheimer's, he couldn't tell when he was. The investigation to help his mentor provides a base and reason to continue.
The basic plot framework lends itself to ideas about identity and the importance of memory for who you think you are. It went very well with a book that I started but had to stop in the middle for various reasons, Saga of the Renuciates by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She is writing in the mid-80s about women's issues. What makes you a woman, what are the differences between men and women, and what does freedom mean? I finally got tired of freedom being equated with being able to be separated from the consequences of your actions. A completely selfish definition of freedom that corrupts every feminist argument I've ever seen.
Your identity is too much based on how you see yourself in relation to others. If the only thing you want is freedom from restrictions or demands from those around you you may as well become a hermit because that is an impossible demand to make of people around you.

Memory. Lois McMaster Bujold. Baen Books. 1996

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Storm Front

The blurb on the front of this book drew me in, "Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe." Now I was never really big into Buffy but I know that is sort of reviewer code for has supernatural elements. This is a new trend in fiction, to have the normal genres but making them with supernatural people and things. A lot of them are an excuse to put more gore and sex in a novel, but not all.
I also like Philip Marlowe. If you are not familiar, think Maltese Falcon, or any other Humphrey Bogart movie. The opposite of the cool, in control detective with all the gadgets and resources. This guy has such a hard time that he is two months behind on his rent and has to use candles in his basement because he can't afford the new light bulbs when they burn out.
The other unusual aspect of this kind of noir hero is that he gets hurt and doesn't heal immediately. Marlowe, and the hero of this book, Harry Dresden, get hurt in the beginning, in a run in with the bad guys, and they ache from that injury all the way through the rest of the book. I wonder sometimes if some authors just forget the number of fights their detectives have been in, and can't be bothered to include a normal healing process.
So this was a well written book, with elements I like to read about. I don't know if the library has more, evidently there are quite a few.

Storm Front. Jim Butcher. Roc. 2000

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cauldron

Another Jack McDevitt book. I know I said I would stay away for a while, but there it was on the new arrivals shelf at the library, looking so appealing. Not to mention the fact that I was at the library with my kids, so I couldn't go looking elsewhere.
This one followed the development of a new type of space drive, the steps it took to get it functioning and the cool things they find on the maiden voyage. I liked the way he thinks about what happens with an advanced society when they start to loose their drive to explore and do new things. Would a culture really turn in on itself like he shows the Earth culture beginning to do in this book? Of course Asimov also suggested that technology could lead to stagnation in his Robot books. I think it depends on what aspect of human nature you think will become more dominant as time passes.
Though I liked this book I felt it short-changed some things. The last half is exploration. They discover all sorts of cool new things, but only mark them for interest and investigation later. They also leave a huge mystery unresolved at the end. It felt very unsatisfying, even irritating.

Cauldron. Jack McDevitt. Berkeley. 2007

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comfort Me With Apples

This book is by a well-known food critic who has done other things like edit Gourmet magazine and such. I like reading biographies sometimes, but I always come away a little sad that so many choices in their lives could have been better if they had known about the gospel. This book I especially felt this way because while most of the book centers on beginning her food reviewing career, she spends a lot of time with her relationships, including her two affairs that eventually broke up her marriage.
On the purely career level it was fun reading as she learns her trade, has fiascoes and epiphanies and meets famous people early in their careers. She meets Danny Kaye, who loves to cook for her. That part I thoroughly enjoyed.
But it was so sad that she intertwined her enjoyment and love for food with affairs that caused her anguish and heartbreak. That her husband was using his art to do the same thing isn't really a good excuse. I know her life is good later on, and she eventually marries the man she left her husband for, but I wonder, after all is said and done, was the good worth the bad it took to get there?

Comfort Me With Apples. Ruth Reichl. Random House. 2001

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove

Any mother can look at this title and sympathise. It is actually a history of women and cooking over the years. I found it interesting, if a bit conflicted. Any women writing a history of women wants to laud the changes of the last hundred years, but if you are talking about cooking and nutrition, those changes haven't been so great.
I found it funny that the author talks about how great the native folkways were, the ancient ways of food gathering and preparation, but had little to say about the fact that all of those ancient peoples were always a hairsbreadth away from starvation. But one phrase she used when talking about the Native American way of cooking really appealed to me: " When a woman cooked, she was a custodian of the sacred."
In the church we talk a lot about the sacredness of procreation, of the act of giving life, but the continual act of sustaining life should be talked about more maybe. All of the work that women do, as nurturers and providers for the family is a sacred work. It is difficult to remember that while mixing up a wonderful mess of mac & cheese, or trying to get my 8 year old to eat his dinner, but the everyday maintenance of family is holy and important. Maybe I'll write that sentence on the wall above my cupboards in the kitchen.
Then later in the book a paragraph that resonated with me:
Like many American women living in the beginning of the twenty-first century, I can hear an array of voices speak to me about food. Voices that tell me not to cook so I can have freedom. Voices that tell me I should cook so I can be a better mother. Voices that tell me to eat because it is sensual. Voices that tell me not to eat because I will get fat. Voices that tell me to measure vitamins and calories and to avoid pesticides. Voices that tell me to think about the lives of the people who pick and package my food. Voices that tell me to cook because it will please my man. Voices that call out from my own distant ethnic heritage one hundred years after immigration. Voices that lure me to dreams of leisurely taken meals in beautiful restaurants. And a voice somewhere amidst all these telling me to create something beautiful on the table for the people I care about so I can help us enjoy life and one another just a little bit more during our brief time here on earth.
Where do these voices come from? And how did so many conflicts get to be wrapped up in a simple dinner?

Isn't that a great summary of all the conflicts inherent in making a meal in today's world? Physically it is so much easier, spiritually so much rougher. Since I am lucky enough to be home with my family, and again lucky enough to enjoy cooking, some of my dilemmas are eased, but there is too much involved with food, because it does sustain life, for it ever to be just dinner.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove. Laura Schenone. W. W. Norton & Co. 2003

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Playing the Shadow

This was a first for me. This book hasn't actually been published yet. The author let me read it to get opinions about it. Which was very cool. And it was good. I don't know the author personally, we just connected at a website we both frequent, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It was at least the equal of any other book in this particular sub genre of fantasy I have read. It reminded me of Dawn Cooks' books and Brandon Sanderson.
It makes me happy to read new authors, who are very good. I hope that she can get her book published, because the world, or at least the world's readers, need more good books without the innuendo and easy sleaze that passes for entertainment now.
I'll probably not summarize the plot, because I always find it boring, but it was a light fantasy, social drama with an emphasis on dialogue and character development. So look for Kaylynn ZoBell's name, maybe she will be around someday. I hope so.

Playing the Shadow. Kaylynn ZoBell. Unpublished

Spellsinger

I got the Spellsinger books at the used book store in town, mostly for sentimental reasons. I really liked them when I was younger, late teens, early twenties. It is amazing how your tastes changes over the years. They aren't awful but they are heavy on the froth, so to speak.
There is a bit more swearing and vulgarity than I tolerate now and the amusing banter is more annoying than it used to be.
It is nice that I have matured a bit. I won't even try to read Piers Anthony, a great favorite in my later teen years. The problem with having matured is that I am pickier than I used to be so when I want something lighter it is harder to find, unless I disengage my brain. That is why I like Terry Pratchett so much, he is light, but not so light you have to put up with garbage to read it.
I am going to get rid of all the Spellsinger books, I've been whizzing through the others lately, but they are all very similar and I have a lot of other books I want on my books shelf.

Spellsinger. Alan Dean Foster. Warner Books. 1983

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Forgotten Truth

This would be the third in the Truth series. The last two books were intense character studies, with only four people in the whole book, this one expands the view and brings in a city full of people. It was very character driven. The plot was pretty simple, but that didn't seem to matter that much.
Dawn Cook is very good at writing enjoyable characters.
There wasn't too much deep or memorable other than that. It was a good, fun read, good for a mental day off.

Forgotten Truth. Dawn Cook. Ace Fantasy. 2003

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Polaris

Another mystery/sci-fi. This one was interesting in that the people who disappear all are of the zero-population growth crowd and that plays into why they vanished and the plot of the book. The book was OK, though I need to take a break from this author for a while.
The book made me think about change and the whole environmental movement. I think the reason I get ticked off about a lot of it is that it feels very selfish to me. Most human motives are when you come right down to it. Lowering birthrates feels like an "I'm here and have what I want, I don't want anyone else coming in and messing things up." A lot of preservation notions have that kind of note to them. A lot of popular movements have that message. Everyone who thinks like me is OK, but anyone who doesn't is bad and so should be denied access to -- whatever, national parks, jobs, the evil cigarettes, fatty food, -anything really. It is amazing that we have the freedom we do when the government has to balance the ability to be free with the human desire to prevent others from doing stuff.
A lot of non-religious people would disagree, but I find that the LDS church tries to limit that. If we really have charity, as we are supposed to, we won't spend all our time worrying about the stupid stuff other people are doing, but work on the stupid stuff we are doing and how we can improve ourselves and help those around us, not just judge them and cast them off.
I guess it was a good book if it gets me thinking along those lines.

Polaris. Jack McDevitt. Ace Books. 2004

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Crusade

Another book by David Weber. This is sort of the sequel to Insurrection, but actually takes place way before that one does.
It seems that he is using this universe to work out some ideas about politics and military might. This one deals with an attack by jihad minded aliens who have a different set of values about why they are fighting. So the human side has to think about why and how much and how much sacrifice risky missions are worth to save the other race. Because the easy answer is to destroy them all, but can we morally accept that?
I like the conflict between military and political sides. It is what happens in our own day. Perhaps Weber is a bit optimistic because all of his wars are won in the end. In our own day the wars sort of peter out as the political will driving them falters.

Crusade. David Weber & Steve White. Baen Books. 1992

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Voyage Long & Strange

This book fit in with the others I've been reading. The author usually does travel books and "important issue" type of things, but in a trip to Plymouth Rock he started wondering what happened between the pilgrims and Christopher Columbus. There is over a hundred years of history that sort of gets lost. So not only did he look into those missing years, being a travel writer type, he followed their journeys.
It was interesting. I had heard about all the people he followed, Coronado and the other explorers and conquistadors. But there were a lot of details that I hadn't heard. What was most entertaining was when he visited the same spots and heard the various people's opinions of history. Everyone interpreted what had happened differently, according to their own backgrounds and histories. Whether you admired the Spanish or loathed them depended on if you we descended from them, if you liked the rough enterprising spirit or hated the violence and arrogance.
Something that several people repeated was, "they were the first Americans because. . ." they were great salesmen, they headed into the unknown, they rejected the Europeans boring ideals, they wanted to homestead, whatever. A lot of people also said, they were just like people today, for various reasons. I liked how that connection was made. Not by the writer, but by the regular people he was interviewing.

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World. Tony Horwitz. Henry Holt & Co. 2008

If Life Were Easy It Wouldn't Be So Hard

OK Jenny, you were right, reading more than one Sherrie Dew book in a row is repetitious. But she so often says things that really resonate with me. I won't say more than this because I can't find the book. We told the kids if they picked up the front room and family room well enough to vacuum we would go see Kung Fu Panda. So in the resulting frenzy my book disappeared.
King Fu Panda was good though. I don't think I've heard David laugh that hard in a while. I was surprised at how good it was. We are even thinking we want to buy it when it comes out.

If Life Were Easy It Wouldn't Be So Hard. Sherrie Dew. Deseret Book. 2005

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Almost a Miracle

This was a book on the American Revolutionary War. It emphasized a lot of the military aspect, not so much political or the view from the common soldier or any of that.
It was interesting to compare the generaling of this war to the other war I've read about recently, WWII. Its pretty interesting what a couple of hundred years will do for your war craft. Washington, as far as great generals of history goes, won't crack the top ten for sure. A lot of his victories were more because General Howe of the British armies was not all that great either. It seemed like our military leaders were hampered by inexperience and lack of resources while the British were impeded by the aristocratic advancement of ranks and trying to follow directions from England instead of dealing with the situation in America.
It was almost comical to read about England getting dispatches, that took two months to get there, debating policy for a month, then sending orders to the generals, which also took two months to get there. No wonder the war took eight years. Half of that was communication lag time.
I learned a lot of details I hadn't know before. Almost embarrassing ones actually. For example, I didn't know that Yorktown was in Virginia, I didn't know that a lot of battles took place in the Carolinas, that we tried to invade Canada, and we never caught Benedict Arnold. I did know the French helped us but I don't think I appreciated the degree to which they saved our bacon. And how difficult it is to have an army when you don't have any money to buy the supplies, or clothes, or pay them. There were two mutinies because of no pay, and at one point the soldiers refused to march a step further until they were paid. They had heard that Washington had received some money from the French and they wanted what was owed them.
We don't appreciate the common soldiers enough. They went through all sorts of hell to fight this war, no food, no shoes (spectators often commented on the barefoot soldiers), no respect, and at the end, no pay. I would have quit and gone home a long time before. But so many of them had a sense that what they were doing was important. They understood why they were fighting, to a degree even the officers didn't. When Washington refused to back the officers in their political games half of them quit. It's something to think of in an age when all of our fighting forces are volunteers.

Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. John Ferling. Oxford University Press. 2007

Monday, June 2, 2008

God Wants a Powerful People

In my effort to have a better life I have decided to read more church books. I read enough, it shouldn't be that hard. The funny thing is, I resist reading them until I start and then I love them (mostly).
I really liked this one. I enjoy Sheri Dew's books. She seems to put things in a way that resonates with my mind. I can understand and feel enlightened. Unlike with a few others that I feel like I should be getting it, but just don't.
Some of the things that struck me in this book:

The only power available to mankind that cannot be misused is the power of the priesthood.
If the devil's voice was unpleasant, it would not persuade people to listen to it.
It is always dangerous to take counsel from anyone whose primary motive is building his or her own kingdom.-- This one really struck me because it is totally true, yet how often do we listen to people who have a TV show or book or whatever to sell. Not to insult anyone, but who do you think Oprah is really looking after?
Why do we seem to favor earthly counsel over the Lord's (then she gave a great list, ending with)
-Sometimes we're too proud.
-Sometimes we're lazy.
-Sometimes we're dumber than dirt (my favorite)
This life is not about perfection, it's about progression.

There were a lot more, but it all boils down to the fact that there is an incredible amount of power available to us each and every day in every aspect of our lives, but due to our own habits, whims and blocks, we don't use a fraction of what is available. I'm trying to be better, but one of the things about doing that, you suddenly see a whole bunch of other things that you need to improve on. It can be overwhelming, at least to me. So I've decided one thing at a time. Scriptures first. Now that I have a good habit and time for scriptures then I can work on finding a good habit and time for exercise, then on to something else.
It is amazing for me to think this way because for so long I've just been trying to hold on in the midst of the landslide that was my life. To feel that I can start climbing again is a great gift in and of itself. And I'm sure the landslides will come again, but maybe I can make it a little further up first.

God Wants a Powerful People. Sheri Dew. Deseret Book. 2007