Monday, July 25, 2011

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was abut disappointed in this one. It is the first in the Discworld series, and I have read others (they don't have to be read in order) which I really liked (notably "Guards! Guards!) So thought I'd enjoy this one as much. But, I really didn't. Mind you, it wasn't bad and it was even mildly amusing. But, "Aye, there's the rub" - it was only MILDLY amusing. It really didn't sustain it throughout. Still, I will read more in the series. For fans of Douglas Adams, if you haven't read any of the Discworld books, do so! I just don't recommend that you start with this one.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the DomeUnder the Dome by Stephen King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't like this book as much as I wanted to. I loved the premise: a small Maine town is suddenly covered by an impenetrable force field and is cut off from the world. Though they can communicate via cell phone and Internet, nothing can get through the 'dome'. The town is forced to survive on it's own, as the government tries to figure out what happened and how to break through. This is a classic "microcosm of society" story - how will the town's citizens cope, isolated fro the rest of the world? And, much like "The Lord of the Flies", it ain't a pretty picture.

And I guess that's why I didn't enjoy reading it - the bad guys were SO bad (and there were so many of them). It was painful to watch their machinations as they plotted to rule this new 'kingdom'. I think I'm just sensitive to this kind of behavior - as a little girl I didn't like "The Cat in the Hat" because of the bad behavior of the cat and Things 1 and 2. So, you can imagine my discomfort in reading about politically motivated murder, and rape. Just not enjoyable.

AND, the head 'bad guy' is, once again, a self-proclaimed "man of God". The stereotypical Christian hypocrite. Isn't that a WAY overused cliche? It is SO NOT original.

Of course, King is a good enough story teller that I wanted to finish the book - I wanted to find out what caused the dome and if the people got out. But even here, King resorts to an overused Sci-Fi cliche (harkening back to the original Star Trek series, even!).

So, overall, a disappointment for me, and doesn't make me want to rush out and read more King right away, either.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If I could give this book ZERO stars, I would. I wanted to like it - it had everything I like: time travel, Scotland (men in kilts!!), and light romance. And it started out with great promise, and I was enjoying it. The novel starts in post WWII Scotland, with Frank and Claire Randall enjoying a war-delayed honeymoon. While exploring a hillside, Claire touches a boulder that is part of Stonehenge-like formation and suddenly finds herself in the middle of a battle, with men on horseback. She is not sure what's going on, but eventually figures out she's in the 1700's in the middle of a war between England and Scotland. She ends up being taken in with a group of rebel Scots, including handsome young James Fraser. Through a not too far fetched series of events, she and Jamie are forced to wed. Lo, and behold, they love each other!

So far, so good. The story moved along well, and Claire's reaction to her situation seemed realistic - even falling for Jamie, despite her love for her husband. At this point in the book, she sees an opportunity to try to return to her own time, and escapes. But she is captured by the English and Jamie must come to rescue her. Here's where it all went sour for me. Because she 'endangered the clan' by her escape attempt and rescue, she is to be punished. OK, I can go with that - it's probably hstorically accurate. But her punishment is that she must be beaten, and her punisher is Jamie! Worse, once the punishment is over, she seems to accept that it was appropriate for her husband to beat her!

I realize that during that time period, husbands beating wives was seen as normal, but thisis a woman of the 20th century! This is supposed to be romantic??! I'm sorry - I just can't enjoy a 'love story' where the husband beats the wife. I don't care if it's historically accurate, it's still WRONG and NOT romantic! I tried to keep reading, and just forget it, but I couldn't. I couldn't help but think how I would feel if my husband were to beat me 'for my own good' and it makes me sick to think of it. I was unable to get past that. So I stopped reading the book. And, unless you like beatings as part of 'romance', I can't recommend this book. In fact, I think I may thow this book away. (and for those of you who know me and my love for books, you know these are harsh words)

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of KingsQueen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun read! Part love story, part historical fiction, part mythology, part monster story, all very cleverly woven together in a real page-turner. The book is loosely based on the story of Marc Antony and Cleopatra, throwing in a twist around Cleopatra's supposed suicide by asp. What if the fang marks on her neck weren't from a snake? What if she only appeared to be dead? What if Cleopatra made a pact with something evil, in order to save her country and her one true love? And what if she got a bit more than she bargained for??

I thought the author did a good job of tying together historical facts with plausible (though mythic) characters and events. It became more of a grand mythical tale (complete with a tremendous battle involving gods, goddesses, beasts, ghosts, witches and even the moon used as a weapon) than the simple vampire story I had expected. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was delighted to find out that it is the first of a planned trilogy. I will most definitely be getting the sequel!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Few Quick Reviews

Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook (Little Endless Storybook II)Delirium's Party: A Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fun "kids" book about Neil Gaiman's 'Endless' by author/illustrator Jill Thompson. I thoroughly enjoyed it! The illustrations are magical and very creative and the story is quite cute. If you like Gaiman's 'Sandman' series, I definitely recommend this as a fun way of viewing that world!

The Little Endless StorybookThe Little Endless Storybook by Jill Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it! A great different view of Neil Gaiman's Endless. Very creative! Wonderful illustrations! And the Little Endless are simply adorable! A must for any fan of Gaiman's Sandman series!

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Along the same lines as 1984 and Brave New World, this book doesn't have quite the depth or power as those or other dystopian novels I've read. But since it's a 'middle readers' book, I wouldn't expect that, anyway. For a young teen of a tweener, this is probably a great intro to the concept of a dystopia. The story is well told, with the author gradually letting us see the darker side of the community, so it slowly dawns on the reader what is going on. This helped the story progress quite well.

Young readers will no doubt identify with the protagonist, Jonas, and will find many of his feelings familiar. I think the 'normal' nature of Jonas helps to contrast with the very not normal (to us) world in which he lives.

Our book club had a lively discussion about many of the themes, ideas and scenes, including a good debate over the meaning of the ending.

For an adult, this is a fast read, but certainly of interest to anyone who enjoys dystopian literature. And if your child is assigned it in school, I encourage you to read it so you can discuss it.

The Books of MagicThe Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't even know this book existed until I saw it on the shelf at my local comic book shop. Having fallen in love with Gaiman's writing and devouring everything of his I could find, it was quite surprising to see it there!

Alas, this book didn't seem to me to quite live up to his usual brilliance. It may be that many of the characters were from other comic books and I wasn't familiar with them, so I didn't get the depth some who was familiar with them might have.

Don't get me wrong, it was still chock-full of amazing creativity. It just didn't quite resonate with me as many of his other books have. Perhaps a younger reader who can identify with the protagonist might enjoy it more.

Basically, it's the story of a young boy's introduction to the world of magic - but don't think Harry Potter! This magic is dark, twisted and dangerous. Www journey to many different 'realms', seeing a different aspect of magic and its possible consequences. It's very original and creative, for sure. It just didn't knock my socks off like Gaiman's other work.

Last RitualsLast Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend from Iceland. It takes place there and is written by an Icelander. The book is a murder mystery, introducing us to Thora Gudmundsdottir, an attorney who is reluctantly brought into the investigation.

Having been to Iceland I especially enjoyed the descriptions of places they went, but I think anyone who likes reading about other countries would enjoy it as much.

The mystery is pretty good and it involves a bit of witchcraft/pagan rituals as clues (hence the title). I didn't find it scary or really very suspenseful, but the way the clues were unraveled kept it quite interesting. And we also learn a bit about Thora's personal life, and as this is the first in a series, I'm sure there will be more revealed in future books.

One thing that I thought was poorly done was the 'romantic' banter and developing relationship between Thora and the male investigator. This may have been due to the translation or perhaps due to cultural differences. But I found it very cardboard-y and it stood out from the rest of the scenes as a glaring weakness. However, I liked the book enough that I plan to read the sequel and we shall see if this improves.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book because it has a female protagonist, and it looked like it might be a break from the usual, male-dominated hard-SF offerings. Sirantha Jax, our heroine, is a pretty tough cookie, for sure. She's got a special gene that allows her to pilot in "grimspace" - aka hyperspace. This makes her valuable to "the Corp", which is a pan-Galactic corporation that pretty much runs things and is benevolent, as long as you don't cross them. But when we first see Jax, she is in a mental ward, following an unexplained crash, which killed everyone on board (including Jax's lover/pilot). The Corp psychs are clearly trying to tell her she caused the crash, but she doesn't remember. She is rescued by a dark, mysterious man, and becomes a renegade and gets involved in some dicey anti-Corp action, is nearly killed several times, and, naturally, falls in love.

It is this last bit that grated on my nerves. Why does any novel with a "hard-nosed" female lead always go down the same path: she meets a dark mysterious man, they hate each other on sight, but they are also drawn to each other. Each one has 'deep dark secrets' and is wounded somehow. They fight cute, and discover an almost supernatural connection with each other. The admit their feelings and have racy sex. She gets separated from him. He goes crazy with grief/rage. The reunite. The vow to never leave each other again. They have sex. End of story.

At times, this almost read like a Stephanie Plum novel ("One for the Money", etc), without Stephanie's klutziness. I just wish we could have a female character who is just "one of the guys". Maybe she falls in love, but it's not some magical "woo-woo" romance from a storybook. Because, romance aside, this was a good book. I really enjoyed the worlds and the cultures, and it all seemed very believable (though the ending was a bit too quickly and cleanly wrapped up to be real). I want a female lead like Ripley in Alien/Aliens! She kicks butt and does not need to be swept off her feet by Prince Charming!

That being said, I will probably read at least one more in the series, because, as I said, romance aside, it's pretty good stuff. So I'm willing to give it another shot.

Star Surgeon by Alan E. Nourse

Star Surgeon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grabbed this e-book in desperation one evening, when I had some time to kill after work & before bible study, and I had forgotten to being the book I was currently reading. So - iPhone to the rescue! This was a free book, in the Gutenberg Project, and it was Sci-Fi, and I'd read other books by this author when I was a kid, so I grabbed it. I knew it would be a bit out-dated, but it wasn't as bad as I'd feared - a few too many references to EarthMEN, and no female characters, but overall, it was a pretty decent read.

The story is about Dal, the first non-human to train on Earth as a doctor. (At this point in Earth's future, we are known as "Hospital Earth" and known as the galaxies best doctors.) Dal faces prejudice and fear as he graduates, and it is clear that there is one senior doctor who is definitely out to "get" Dal and prevent him from becoming a full "star surgeon". Nevertheless, cooler heads prevail and Dal is put on a probation ship, with two other doctors-to-be.

The three young men travel around the galaxy, answering pleas for help, and we see further prejudice by one of the other crew. They encounter various medical trials, and finally learn to respect one another when faced with a planet-wide plague that they can't figure out how to stop. Dal manages to figure out what the problem is, and the 3 think they will be awarded their "stars" (as full-fledged doctors), but Dal's nemesis shows up and it's clear he's going to twist circumstances to get Dal kicked out. But then he has a massive coronary, and only Dal can save him. He does, the doctor relents and Dal gets his star!

I found the characters pretty one-dimensional (though Dal's relationship to his symbiont, 'Fuzzy', was original, and the intelligent virus was good), and as soon as the mean doctor showed up at the end, clearly ailing from a bad hear, I knew how Dal would win him over. It was all just a little too pat. I find this kind of plot and writing to be very common-place from novels of this era (1950's), so I wasn't surprised. I still managed to enjoy it, and thankfully it was pretty short.

If you are interested in "intergalactic medicine" then there is a far better, and more recent series, I HIGHLY recommend James White's "Sector General" series (the first is "Hospital Station").