Friday, November 30, 2012

Believing is Seeing

Believing Is Seeing: Seven StoriesBelieving Is Seeing: Seven Stories by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came to Diana Wynne Jones late in life (any later than ten is pushing it!) and have been making it up ever since. Her Chrestomanci books in particular are masterful examples of great fantasy that does unexpected things.

The stories in this collection sometimes feel like they should be part of a more complete world, particularly "Dragon Reserve, Home Eight", in which a young girl is threatened by a government agency afraid of her special abilities. Others are dreamlike or reminded me strongly of the logic of fairy tales ("The Master" and "The Girl Who Loved the Sun"). My favorite was "What the Cat Told Me", which along with "The Sage of Threar" (Chrestomanci!) and "Enna Hittims" are classic examples of Diana Wynne Jones's skill with unexpected magic--magic that throws her young protagonists off balance while forcing them to improvise in powerful ways by drawing on deeply hidden resources of courage and cunning.

The end of the book contains excerpts from her novels, including "Howl's Moving Castle" and others.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (The Forest of Hands and Teeth, #1)The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When Mary's questions about her place in her village threaten those in authority, she faces danger from within the fences as well as from the relentless zombies thronging outside.

Mary, Mary, Mary. Why are you so annoying? For a girl who grew up in a village surrounded by the constant threats of the Unconsecrated outside, you sure are worthless in a zombie fight. I kept asking myself "These are the ones who survived the apocalypse? Really?"

Mediocre is the most charitable adjective I can use to describe this melodramatic book, which makes me sad. The title is so captivating (seriously, what a great phrase to describe the hordes of the living dead!) that I wish the contents were less pedestrian. There are so many missed opportunities here!

First of all, the idea of a small community ruled by a Sisterhood is great (though their vows of lifelong celibacy seems foolish in a depopulated world). But the Sisterhood quickly prove to be your typical religious wackos who make for absurdly cliched villains.

Side note: Please stop making Christians your punching bag, writers. At least take the trouble to make them seem human, and give them a shred of a conscience or awareness when they violate basic religious tenets (like committing murder, for example - pretty sure that's one of the Ten no-nos). And maybe a scrap of common sense? Contrary to what some believe, having faith doesn't make you stupid, sexist, or controlling. In fact, embracing religion seems to be a pretty good way to reject despair during a zombie apocalypse. Just sayin'.

I'm not saying it's always bad to write villains who are Christians, because Christians are people too, and prone to mistakes and evil-doing. I'm not fine with terrible one-note, one-dimensional villains who are evil and stupid because they are Christians. That's bigotry. And bad writing - not sure which offends me more.

Readers, if you are looking for a more thoughtful take on post-apocalyptic religion, try A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter J. Miller, Jr. If you want a more competent group of zombie apocalypse survivors, check out Colson Whitehead's Zone One or Max Brooks's World War Z. And if you want a truly kick-ass YA heroine, please substitute a reading (or rereading!) of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Snuff (Discworld, #39)Snuff by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Everyone knows that goblins are verminous creatures who smell terrible and hoard their own waste...but when a vacationing Commander Vimes discovers a murdered goblin girl he cannot ignore the call for justice.

Vimes is one of my favorite Discworld characters, but this isn't his best adventure. It's very straightforward and the bad guys feel invisible and ineffective against the crusading Duke. The action was difficult to follow at times. The plot lacked true suspense because Vimes wasn't confronted with an enemy who was his equal (especially after the way his adventures in Koom Valley changed him).

That said, the book is full of Pratchett's signature wit, and the last line of the book is priceless. (I could use a bit more of Lord Vetinari, but that's always the case!)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012


RingworldRingworld by Larry Niven

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On his birthday, two-hundred-year-old human Louis Wu is startled to be recruited to a mysterious mission of exploration by a member of a long-vanished alien race.

The Puppeteers are a great concept, though perhaps their name is a bit too telling. They are a cowardly but far-sighted alien race which has decided to move house after the discovery of a giant explosion that will destroy most of inhabited space - in twenty thousand years. I thought that Nessus was the strongest character, because for him to be pedantic and dull is expected. (Whereas I expected more interesting things from a Kzin.)

If you're into detailed descriptions of a vast alien world, read Rendezvous with Rama, because the Ringworld is a tad bit disappointing and less than shocking once the explorers land. Niven is far more interested in the theories behind how such an odd artificial world could come to be than he is in inventing a new kind of alien to populate the Ringworld.

Unfortunately, the book is hugely marred by rampant sexism. Teela Brown, the human female recruited for her luck (no, I'm serious, she's lucky), is a wide-eyed innocent who needs to have everything mansplained to her by the three "males" in her group (two are aliens, but male by default, since the "females" of both their species are non-sentient. Eye roll, exasperated sigh). She's something of an idiot savant, and so obnoxious I truly hoped she would get lost and never be heard from again (unfortunately, our bad luck keeps her around until nearly the end. She's the Jar Jar Binks of Ringworld). When she does bow out (actually, she gets sold by our hero Louis Wu to a beefcake who's a dimmer bulb than herself, which is saying something), she's replaced by an even more offensive space hooker, because heaven forbid Louis Wu suffer the trip home without some nookie! I can only give Niven so much leeway for having written in the 70s. I don't think I can forgive him for Teela Brown.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Robot Visions

Front Cover

Robot Visions
by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isaac Asimov thinks robots are cool, and I'm with him. The technology he writes about is very retro-future, but the ideas are still interesting. I am always fascinated by the logical puzzles he sets up to revolve around the Three Laws of Robotics, which are Asimov's most important innovation.

My favorite stories star robopsychologist Susan Calvin, who I love because she's usually right. Unfortunately Asimov sometimes paints her as a stereotypical sexless career woman (the story "Liar" is particularly annoying). Her fierce intelligence and overbearing personality make the sexist men she works with class her as something other than a normal female. Still, she's a woman who excels in a male-dominated career field. Pretty badass for a character originally created in the 1940s.

Calvin is also a misanthrope who prefers the company of robots. According to her, robots are not at all like human beings, since "Robots are essentially decent." It is true that robots gain the moral high ground in these stories, where the biggest stinkers are usually human.

For great Golden Age science fiction, you simply can't beat Asimov.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grammar Love

I can't be the only one who loves a word nerd. Enjoy this video of the droll Mark Foryth on the nine-lived superstitions we can't seem to shake about English Grammar:

Foryth is the author of a book called The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, which I am definitely going to add to my to-read list. (Hey, I used to read William Safire's On Language books for fun in high school - and I still get a kick out of Safire's title Let a Simile Be Your Umbrella. Get it?)

My love to all the geeky British men. Especially ones that defend the intelligence of librarians.

Via Explore.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Journal of Best Practices

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better HusbandThe Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David    Finch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I alternately laughed aloud and teared up a little as I listened to this book (read by the author). When David Finch's wife helps him realize that he has the form of autism know as Asperger Syndrome, it completely changes their lives.

David seizes the opportunity to turn his obsessive-compulsive behavior and intense ability to focus into assets to save his floundering marriage and restore his deep friendship with his wife. He turns his energies to bear on his ultimate goal of becoming the perfect husband and father. To aid in this quest, he keeps a "journal" of personal notes to remind himself of things he's learned about his own behavior and what his wife needs.

David's journey to becoming the man his wife needs him to be is touching, charming, and a wonderful love story. Seriously, if you are married, please read this book (maybe aloud to your spouse! - you'll understand that joke better after you read it).

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Devil's Cub

Devil's Cub (Alistair, #2)Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Devil's Cub we meet the next generation of the charming and wildly dysfunctional Alastair family, where the Marquis of Vidal is doing his best to top his infamous father's wicked deeds. After a violent brawl over a game of cards, Vidal flees to France - but not before coaxing a willing bourgeoisie woman to keep him company. Unfortunately, in his haste he carries off the wrong woman....

Anyone who loved These Old Shades will welcome the return of some familiar characters and enjoy the addition of a few new ones. Our heroine Mary Challoner is the forerunner of many female protagonists (including one of my favorites, the inimitable Miss Temple of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters), and the noisy misunderstandings of the eccentric family echo the best drawing room farces as unlikely lovers clash and finally fall in love against all odds.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jeeves in the Offing

Front Cover
Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bertie Wooster braves a visit to his aunt's house in the teeth of a fearsome old schoolmaster,  an unexpected fiancée, a kleptomaniac swain, and an alienist disguised as a butler. When a higher power is needed to straighten the topsy-turvy affairs at Brinkley Court, the vacationing Jeeves proves himself indispensable as usual.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Heyer Mania

These Old Shades (Alastair, #1)These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Heyer, and this book - starring a devilish English Duke and the French ingénue Leonie - is funny, witty, and romantic. The Duke reminds me of the Scarlet Pimpernel, with the same velvet-draped steel and rakish nature disguising a heart of gold.

It all begins when the Duke of Avon buys a red-headed urchin to be his page, and soon realizes that the boy holds the key to getting revenge on an old enemy.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Time Travel

To Say Nothing of the DogTo Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An elusive Victorian gewgaw draws a time-traveling historian into the slippery nets of history, and the fate of the universe may turn on a drowned cat, a woman's indecipherable diary, an unknown Mr. C, and the bombed-out church at Coventry - to say nothing of the bulldog. Anyone who loves Agatha Christie's puzzles, P.G. Wodehouse's starchy butlers and silly gentlefolk, or Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat will appreciate this cheerful romp.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Now Entering Discworld

Going Postal (Discworld, #33)Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moist von Lipwig (what a name!) is a con artist who's finally gotten pinched by Ankh Morpork's authorities. On his way to the noose, he's given a choice by our favorite tyrant-for-life, Lord Vetinari: fix the broken-down postal service or choose the nasty death behind door number two. What's a con man to do?

This is the point where I entered Discworld, and I love the ingenious and flexible Moist. (Though my favorite subseries are the Watch novels starring the policeman Vimes.)

For another perspective on the best place to start reading Pratchett, try this review at The Estella Society.

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