Sunday, November 25, 2012

More Cinda Williams Chima, Nikki Heat

Another eclectic grouping for the past couple of weeks.

1. Cinda Williams Chima, the Wizard Heir. I think Chima is one of my favorite author discoveries of recent months. I've read five of her books, and none of them have been disappointing. In this one, Seph (short for Joseph) McCauley has been shipped to yet another boarding school following the death three years earlier of his guardian. Only this school is different. The headmaster doesn't seem alarmed that Seph can do things--instead he seems to welcome it. That is, until he discovers that he can't bend Seph to his will, as he has all the other wizards who've fallen into the school's trap. Seph has to figure out how to get out of the school--and how to stop the headmaster. This is a companion novel to Warrior Heir, so while characters from Warrior Heir show up, I think it can also be read and enjoyed without having read the earlier book.

2. Jessica Warman, Between. It's hard to say much about the plot of this book without spoiling the first big surprise. On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, popular girl Elizabeth Valchar wakes up on her parents' boat after a night of partying and goes to investigate a thumping noise--something is trapped between the dock and the hull of the boat. What she discovers there shocks her, and sends her on a journey to solve a mystery that changes the way she sees herself and her friends. I liked this one, but I didn't love it. The writing was solid, but I had a hard time liking Elizabeth, particularly at first.

3. Richard Castle, Naked Heat. (Okay, so I know that Castle didn't really write this--I assume one of the show's writers, or several of them, wrote this). I'm a big fan of the TV show castle, so I thought I'd check this out. This is the second in the series, and I haven't read the first one yet (this one was available first), so that may affect my opinion. This was an other book I liked but didn't love. I enjoyed the nod to the show (especially the Acknowledgements, which purport to be written by the real Richard Castle) and the thinly disguised characters. I also enjoyed the mystery and the police procedural angle. But I wasn't in love with the characters--they didn't seem as fleshed out (ironically enough) as the actual characters on the show. I couldn't get into Nikki Heat's head at all. And Jameson Rook, the tag-along writer character, wasn't nearly as charming as Nathan Fillion (who is, after all, the main reason I watch the show).

I also read some Nora Roberts because I was curious about her writing style and wide popularity. I get the popularity: she's a decent writer and the stories have interesting characters. The books, however, have too much sex for my taste and I probably wouldn't recommend them to most of my friends, so I'm not going to bother with a more in-depth review.

I'm also reading Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is fascinating and wrenching, and will have a full review of that in the next week or so.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Not as many books to report on this week (it helps that it's only been a week in between)

S. J. Kincaid, Insignia. My sister convinced me to buy this for my Kindle (it was only 2.99--still is!) by saying it was a cross between Ender's Game and Percy Jackson. I thought that was a pretty fair assessment of the tone. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book, even though generally, sci-fi isn't my thing. Especially not military sci-fi.

The story follows Tom Raines, a 14-year-old undersized boy with bad acne, who's missed so much online school (because his father, a compulsive gambler, doesn't stay in one place long) that his teacher has noticed and is threatening to sic social services on him. Then, while fighting a virtual battle in a gaming room, Tom attracts the notice of a military commander.

The thing is, Tom lives in a world where war is perpetually being fought, but it's no longer a war on national lines (although there's a nominal Indo-American alliance), but on company lines. Giant mega-corps use patriotism to help finance their wars, but the wars are fought in space, using machines. There's no loss of life. The face of the war effort is a group of young, elite fighters, who manipulate the war machines in virtual space. The fighters have to be young, because the adult brain (less flexible) rejects the neural processors that allow them to wield machines.

The military commander gives Tom the option to transform his life, to become one of these fighting machines. Despite his father's skepticism, Tom can't resist the potential to become someone important. He agrees, and finds himself training in the Pentagon's spire. There, he becomes obsessed with Medusa, the code name for the enemy's premier fighter. He wants nothing more than to face her and bring her down (he's pretty sure Medusa is a she).

It's hard to summarize the book without revealing too much, but I loved the school-like environment where Tom trains and makes the first friends of his life. I loved the way Tom stands up for himself (at serious cost), and his unexpected connection with Medusa. I can't wait for the rest of the trilogy to come out.

I also read Rachael Anderson, The Reluctant Bachelorette (on Kindle), because it was cheap and when I read the sample it seemed interesting enough, and clean. It also had mostly 4-5 star reviews.The story was decent (and, as I said, a clean romance, which can be hard to find). The premise was a little far-fetched--that a small town is going to make enough money to finance a desperately needed farmer's market by hosting a bachelorette style show online. The main character, Taycee Emerson, gets conned by her best friend into being the said bachelorette. She doesn't really want to do it, but she'll do it for the town. Then, when her former crush, Luke, gets roped in as well, she tries to sabotage the show so that Luke will get kicked off, only to discover that maybe Luke is the one she really wants. I thought the writing was solid, but I got annoyed with Taycee, particularly towards the end, for her self-sabotaging actions.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Far West

I can't believe I forgot to list what was my favorite book in the last 3 weeks!

Patricia Wrede's Far West, the last of her Frontier Magic Trilogy. "Eff" (short for Francine) is now a young lady, but still fascinated by the workings of the West beyond the Great Barrier (the magical barrier that prevents wild beasts from crossing what we know as the Mississippi River). When word gets out that the government is heading up a mission to map the Far West (where Louis and Clark failed), Eff wants more than anything to be part of the mission . . .

I really love this series, particularly Wrede's clever re-imagining of the U.S. as a part of a magical universe. I know she's taken some flak for not including native Americans in her world, but given that she's reimagined the West as a place incredibly dangerous for *anyone* to live, it kind of makes sense to me. In any case, the rest of her world is so vividly imagined, I can forgive her for this shortcoming.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

October reads

This is why I should post more often--so I don't have a month's worth of reading to review!

Here are some of the more noteworthy books from the past 3 weeks:

1. Erin Duffy, Bond Girl. I'd heard about this book, so when it came up as a Kindle deal of the day, I snagged it. It's not my usual genre, but I actually really enjoyed this story about a young woman's life in the highly sexist and competitive world of a Wall Street Bond trader just before the 2008 crash. (I imagine that Duffy, herself a former trader, drew on some of her own life experiences writing this book). It was sharp, funny, and made me very, very grateful that I'm not financially ambitious and will never have to work in that kind of environment.

2. Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs. This book is free on Kindle, and if you haven't read it--you should! It reminded me of childhood favorites like Anne of the Island and Girl of the Limberlost. Jerusha Abbot is an orphan with a miserable future ahead of her, until one of the orphanage's trustees decides to pay for her college education, on the condition that she write him regular letters about her progress. (But she is not to expect any letters in return). Jerusha--who calls herself "Judy"--agreeably complies, and this book is the collection of her letters. She calls her benefactor "Daddy Long Legs," because when she last saw him at the orphanage, he cast a long, spindly-legged shadow. Judy herself is a delight, and the letters are fascinating for what they reveal about college in the early part of the 20th century.

3. I also read the companion novel, Dear Enemy, where Judy convinces her college roommate, Sallie McBride, to take control of her former orphanage (which Judy's new husband has purchased). Sallie takes on the job, with the understanding that it's just temporary, and this book is comprised of her letters to various friends (including Judy) about her struggles to bring the orphanage in order. While parts of the novel were charming, it' contains some very odd--and old fashioned--ideas about insanity and eugenics that, while presented as forward thinking in the novel, are pretty backward today.

4. Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard series (books 1-3). Lily is a fascinating character--a survivor of a very traumatic gang rape who tries to go about her business as a cleaning lady but is inevitably drawn into some of the mysterious (and murderous) goings-on in town. I'm not sure that I liked all of the murder plots, but I do like Lily, although I don't imagine she'd be a comfortable friend.

5. I also read a couple of Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly mysteries, about a woman (Harper) who can locate dead bodies and determine their cause of death. Not surprisingly, she also winds up involved in some murder mysteries. I'm not sure I will read more of these, although there are several. The last one I read, an Ice Cold Grave, was about a serial killer in a small town--and it was seriously disquieting. I imagine that was intentional, but while I like mystery novels, I'm not up for gruesome ones like this was.

6. Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley (another Kindle deal of the day). I was intrigued of the premise of this story, about a young Englishwoman, Julia Beckett, who finds herself drawn to an old English house as a child, and purchases it as an adult. She discovers herself unexpectedly reliving moments from the life of Mariana, who lived some 500 years earlier, and finds that she is the reincarnation of Mariana. Okay, the reincarnation bit was a bit hokey, but the writing was smooth and convincing and I enjoyed the story--up until the very end, when everything seemed to resolve a bit too quickly.

7. Cinda Williams Chima, the Warrior Heir--the first book Chima sold, an interesting story about a young boy at the center of a centuries old Wizard war. I thought the world Chima created was more interesting than the individual characters, and while I'll read the sequels, I liked her Seven Realms books better.

8. Susan Cain, Quiet. I don't usually read a lot of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed this book, about the power of introverts in a culture (America) that values extroversion over introversion. She made some pretty compelling points (suggesting, among others, that the Wall Street collapse was fueled in part by our valorization of extroverts, who are more likely to act impulsively in such situations). Mostly, as an introvert myself, I liked her careful research into the strengths of introverts.

9. How to Marry an English Lord--also non-fiction, about the wave of American heiresses who married English nobility between 1870-1910. Fascinating stuff, particularly to anyone who's fans of the BBC series Downton Abbey, Edith Wharton, or Henry James. Now I want to go read more Wharton.

10. Miranda Kinneally, Catching Jordan (another Kindle Deal of the Day). This novel follows Jordan Woods, a high school quarterback whose father is an NFL great, who loves football and friends--and who happens to be a girl. All Jordan wants is to play college ball at Alabama, and she's focused on having her best season yet--until new quarterback shows up to play at her school. Not only is he potentially better than she is, but he's the first boy to make her weak at the knees. What I liked about this book was how realistic her friendships were--she wasn't romantically interested in all the boys around her and she had some great friends. I also liked that the romantic angle wasn't totally predictable, and that Jordan had some complicated issues to sort through with her dad (she calls him, sarcastically, the great Donovan Woods) and some of the cheerleaders at her school. What I did not like was some of the language (Jordan swears a lot, which I guess is in character) and the really casual attitude toward sex. I know lots of high school students sleep around--but not all do, and not with the ease and frequency of the characters here.