Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Final 2008 reading numbers

I've just posted the list of my December 2008 reads over on Lists and Such. It was a quiet end to the reading year, but still a satisfying one.

Here are my final reading totals for 2008:
Books read in 2008 = 127
DNFs in 2008 = 19
10/10 reads in 2008 = 15
New reads in 2008 = 100
Rereads in 2008 = 27

Just for a comparison, here are the totals for 2007:
Books read in 2007 = 127
DNFs 2007 = 16
10/10 reads in 2007 = 17
New reads in 2007 = 107
Rereads in 2007 = 20

Interestingly, I read exactly the same number of books as last year and the other numbers are really pretty similar. I had a few more rereads compared to new reads this year, but DNFs and 10/10 reads were pretty close.

Okay, I'm all caught up now. I can relax and go and read some more of Dreams Underfoot.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Along with The First Betrayal, I took two other book group reads on holiday with me. They were The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Eifelheim by Michael Flynn, both for [Beyond_Reality]. But when it came right down to it, I found I simply didn't feel like reading either. In line with the summer holiday, don't-exercise-the-brain-too-much mood, I decided to read Stephenie Meyer's New Moon instead.

While I enjoyed Twilight, I wouldn't class myself as a Meyer fangirl. New Moon didn't change my opinion, but I still enjoyed it and I'm still planning to read the other two in the series.

The main confilict between Bella and Edward remains the same; she wants him to turn her into a vampire while he, born at the beginning of the 20th century, belives that to do so would destroy her soul. This sets up the potential for a fascinating book about the nature of the soul and our beliefs about it. But...

This isn't that book.

In fact, that phrase - this isn't that book - could describe a lot of things about New Moon. There are a lot of thematic missed opportunities here. There could have been a contemplation on the differences between vampires and werewolves, or on the nature of loss, or love, or even the nature of youth and how being seventeen for a hundred years could affect the psyche. Meyer does none of those things.

Instead, we get the story of an angsty teenager so caught up in her own Romeo and Juliet drama (with ample references to the play in case we missed it) to really notice what is going on around her or to take the time to consider any deeper issues than her own pain. Her reaction to Edward leaving her (and no, that's not really a spoiler as it happens early on) is melodramatic and way, way over-the-top. I found myself rolling my eyes over it all rather than buying into the fantasy. This is how, as teenagers, we imagine love and loss should be (at least when it is happening to us). Love is forever, the pain of its loss is forever and something from which we will never recover.

It isn't like that in real life; instead we tend to survive our teenages loves and losses, we grow and we become better and stronger people for it. But if you're looking for that kind of treatment of the teenage years in your YA fiction, well, this isn't that book. Still, if you go into it, aware of that and without any great expectations, you can have fun going along for the ride.

When Bella finally starts taking some kind of action instead of going on and on about the hole in her middle, the story picks up in interest. Jacob is a great character and the final action with the vampires is pretty well done. The conflict between Bella and Edward still isn't resolved at the end, there is new conflict introduced between the werewolves and the Cullens and so long as you don't expect any great contemplation of what that means (remember, this isn't that book), then you can enjoy yourself.

New Moon
Stephenie Meyer
Twilight Saga, Book 2

Quick update on Marcus

He's still not well, but he's better than yesterday.

It's hot here today, and humid as well, so right now he's sitting around in his underwear while Daddy builds him the Lego house he was given for Christmas. So far he has a car and garage and most of a house, but it's lacking a roof. It's a good thing it's a sunny day.

The First Betrayal by Patricia Bray

This was the December read for [FantasyFavorites]. It seemed to be an interesting premise; the monk Josan is a lowly lighthouse keeper who is recovering from a debilitating illness five years earlier. Lady Ysobel is a trade delegate back in the Empire five years after a failed rebellion with a mandate to stir up further trouble. Unsurprisingly, both these characters and the rebellion turn out to be linked together.

Frankly, I found the book boring. I liked Josan as a monk and lighthouse keeper, but as soon as he started having strange spells and being hunted by unknown asassins he was, amazingly, less interesting. And Ysobel was a selfish upstart who seemed lacking in redeeming qualities. I guessed the "big secret" early on - gosh, how amazing so many different things all happened five years ago and I wonder if they're related? - and by chapter 15 I really didn't care any more and gave up.

However, having said all that, other members of the group loved the book and are intending to read the rest of the trilogy, so don't necessarily trust my judgement.

The First Betrayal
Patricia Bray
The Chronicles of Josan, Book 1

Thank you, Secret Santa

We went to the post office today to check the PO Box and pick up any mail that accumulated in the week we were out of town. Along with some Christmas cards and bills, there was a parcel for me. I opened up this package from Australia to discover my Book Bloggers Christmas Swap present. I was so tempted to rip it open then and there to discover what was inside, but we had some shopping to go and do after that, then we needed to pick up our cat from the cattery before heading home again. I managed to put it down and we carried on with our jobs.

However, I admit that my restraint didn't last as long as I intended. While Marcus and I were waiting in the car for Dave to check a few things, I succumbed to temptation and opened the package. What lovely things I found inside!

My secret Santa is Sarah from A Devoted Reader. Looking at her blog, she and I have quite different tastes, so she has done an amazing job and sent me a perfect gift. She gave me a beautiful card, some yummy chocolate frogs (I know because I didn't resist that temptation either and I've already eaten one) and a book I had never heard of before, called Finnikin of the Rock by Australian author Melina Marchetta. It looks very fascinating and like it will be just my kind of thing. (And it doesn't hurt that it has such a very pretty cover - I'm a sucker for a pretty cover.) It has already been added to my TBR list and I'm really looking forward to reading it.
The blurb from the author's website:
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere.
And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.
Until the 'five days of the unspeakable', when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne.
And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.
But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light...
Thank you so very, very much, Sarah. I am really looking foward to reading this and after checking out the author's website there's a good chance I may be looking for some of her other books as well. As as for the chocolate frogs, they are totally yummy. Thank you.

The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody

Having throughly enjoyed Isobelle Carmody's first novel in the Obernewtyn Chronicles (conveniently titled Obernewtyn), I was looking forward to the second book, The Farseekers. Happily, I was not disappointed.

This book starts two years after the end of Obernewtyn. Obernewtyn is now safely in the hands of the Misfits and, exactly as Rushton intended, is a refuge for those with emerging mental talents who are hunted by the Council and therefore general society in the Land. As the book begins, Elspeth (who is now head of the Farseekers Guild) learns that the Beforetime machine hidden in caves near Obernewtyn has picked up the thoughts of a very powerful Misfit somewhere to the south. There is also believed to be a possibly-untouched Beforetime library in the same general vicinity. An expedition is mounted and Elspeth and several others of the Obernewtyn Misfits head south to try to find both the library and the Misfit.

Along the way they get caught up in two different rebellions against the Council, find themselves in terrible danger several times, get captured by Herders, learn some interesting things about the Beforetime and Elspeth gets more hints of her destiny as the Seeker who must find and destroy the powerful machines that caused the Great White.

The biggest problem I had while reading this was that I kept wanting to stop and take a break because I was so worried about what might go wrong and what might happen to Elspeth. So I'm actually going to count that as a point in favour of the book, rather than one against it. She gets herself into all kinds of peril and for all that I knew she'd be back in the next book, I got myself quite worked up about what was happening to her. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about her that evokes that kind of reaction in me, but it's there. Maybe it's that she's just the kind of heroine I would have liked to daydream about being when I was about her age. Whatever it is, I love Elspeth and want everything to work out well for her.

Another plot that becomes significant in this book, is the role of animals in this new psychically gifted world. We already knew, from Obernewtyn, that there were Misfits that could speak to animals and Elspeth's cat friend, Maruman, was a significant character. The animals are every bit as intelligent as the humans - if with a different persepective on things - and in this book they begin to demand a place on the Obernewtyn council and a say in the future that is being built. It becomes clear in this chapter of the saga that the animals are going to be just as important to the future as the humans will, and that a lot of attitudinal changes will be needed on all sides.

There are a lot of plots and issues in this book - the political status of the Land, the mysteries of the Beforetime, Elspeth's destiny as the Seeker, the future of the beasts, the introduction of new characters and Misfit abilities, as well as the return of at least one old enemy - and, all in all, Carmody manages them well. This being a YA book, she doesn't have a huge number of pages to fit in everything, but nothing felt too dwelled upon or overly skimped.

I am looking forward to the next installment, Ashling, although I also remain worried about what awful things may happen to Elspeth before she can eventually triumph in 2010 when the last two books in the series will be published. I can't help it. I'm a wimpy reader.

The Farseekers
Isobelle Carmody
Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 2

My "Best of..." Post

There are a lot of "Best of 2008" posts turning up around the blogsphere at the moment (hardly suprising since today is the last day of 2008), so I thought it might be interesting to play along.

I rated 15 books as 10/10 this year. Looking back at them, they seem to fall naturally into four categories.
  1. Old (and one new) favourites that prove still to be great reads.
    • The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley
    • The Changeling Sea - Patricia A. McKillip
    • Emergence - David R. Palmer
    • A Company of Swans - Eva Ibbotson
    • The Secret Countess (aka A Countess Below Stairs) - Eva Ibbotson
    • Alpha and Omega (in On the Prowl anthology) - Patricia Briggs

  2. Trusted favourite authors that deliver yet again
  3. New Discoveries
    • Grimspace - Ann Aguirre
    • Rhapsody: Child of Blood - Elizabeth Haydon
    • The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

  4. Well, I loved it at the time (but I might debate the quality with you now)
For all that there are fifteen books here, looking over the list I'm inclined to think that 2008 wasn't the most stellar of years in my reading. After all, the largest category is rereads of old favourites, while the second is from authors I already know I like. As for that last category, I could also have called it "Guilty Pleasures", so they kind of fall into that second list of tried and true authors.

Only three new books/authors that really blew me away this year. That's kind of sad. That, or an indication that I haven't been very adventurous in my reading this year. Hmmm, yes, probably the latter. Health wise, it is still hard work for me to read (or at least, harder than it was before I got sick), so I'm less inclined to take risks on things that might be brilliant but may also be hard to read.

I did really enjoy Rhapsody and do want to continue with the series, but each time I looked at the second one, the size (700 pages) would put me off and I'd pick something else instead. Similarly, for all that it fell into my favourite authors category, it took me six months to get up the courage to read The Ruby Dice because I knew parts of it were going to be unpleasant to read (when you're an empath surrounded by human barracudas who want to soak up your pain, some of it's got to be nasty). And there are other books that I think look interesting, but I chicken out on, usally because of one or other of those two factors - large size or possible nastiness in the book. I'm not sure if I have always been an reading wimp, but I readily admit that I am one now.

I think perhaps I need to set two personal goals for my 2009 reading. First, to conquer my reading fear, and secondly, to keep up with posting book comments here. After all, it's always great fun to share one's reading (whether anyone else reads what I write or not). How I go with either remains to be seen, but it's always good to have goals!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bits and pieces

Well, we're home from our holiday. We had a lovely time catching up with friends and family, but it is also great to be back home. Marcus caught a cold in the last few days of the visit, which turned out to include conjunctivitis, so he hasn't been a very happy boy today and travelling for seven and a half hours wasn't the best thing for him. He was sick a couple of times on the trip and is now sound asleep in our bed. He wanted Dave to sleep there with him tonight, so I am relegated to the spare room for the night. Oh well, at least it means I can write this up and listen to a podcast before going off to sleep myself.

I took several books away on holiday with me (mostly book group reading), but when there and choosing, I realised that I didn't particularly feel like reading any of them. I wanted something light that I didn't have to put too much work into, so I fired up the PDA and read Stephenie Meyer's New Moon instead. It was perfect for the type of reading I wanted so it turned out to be a good choice. My comments to come.

Yesterday I stared Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint. Looking at the length of it (it comes to 1683 PDA pages in eReader) there's no way I'll get it finished tomorrow, so this evening I started thinking about my reading list for December. That made me realise my good intentions of making comments on my reads had (yet again) slipped away from me. All the same, I want to write something for each one before writing up my December list. As the previous two entries show, I've done a couple and I'll try to do the rest tomorrow. They may be short, but I figure something is better than nothing. Also, I want to get into the habit so that as I read books for the various challenges I've joined for 2009, I'll have a post over here that I can link to in my book lists.

I've also been aware for a long time that my book ratings may not be all that useful as I tend to rate books high. I go into books intending to enjoy them and they have to be pretty bad for me not to do so. I also rate as much (in fact, probably more) on my emotional reaction to what I've just read as on the qualities of the story itself in the writing, themes, characters etc. (Which is one of the reasons why I don't write "real" reviews since I am focusing on my reaction to the book rather than trying for at least some impartiality.) So, to cut a long story short, I've added a rating guide to my sidebar. This gives at least a vague idea of what my numerical ratings mean to me. Also, please be aware that I am quite willing to give a book with faults a 10/10 grade if it pushes all the right buttons. For me, 10/10 grades are primarily emotional grades and if you point out specific faults in such a book to me, I'm quite likely to agree with you.

Right, bed and podcast (The Dragon Page - Cover to Cover) time for me. Hopefully there will be some more book posts tomorrow. Sadly, there won't be any stitching ones as I barely stitched while I was away. It was a bit too much for the rest-and-don't-think-too-hard kind of holiday I decided I wanted to have.

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

I readily admit that I loved David Eddings' Belgariad series when I first read it, way back in the dark ages of the late eighties when I was a teenager. While it would probably be considered old and formulaic now, it was something new and captivating at the time. Having recently gained access to the audiobooks of the series, I decided a "reread" was just what I needed. And I'm happy to say that I am enjoying the books all over again.

Queen of Sorcery is the second in the series (I listened to the first, Pawn of Prophecy before I started up with book coments again - something I intend to try very hard to keep up with in 2009 as I've joined a number of book challenges and want to have some entries to link to from my reading lists). In this volume, Garion continues to travel with his Aunt Pol and her father, Mr Wolf (revealed at the end of the first book to be the ancient sorcerer Belgarath and his daughter Polgara) to retrieve the stolen Orb of Aldur before it can be used to waken the evil god, Torak, who will then set out to destroy the kingdoms of the West. So, yes, I admit the books are formulaic (Garion even starts out as the scullery boy on a farm, fulfilling the whole "farmboy" cliché) but they are fun. In this book we continue to amass a cast of characters who are generally equally formulaic (a barbarian swordsman, a thief and spy, a master of horses, a spoiled princess etc etc) and Garion (surprise, surprise) discovers that he has a sorcerer's power himself.

The thing is, as I've already said, the books are fun. They're a light weight adventure that refuses to take itself too seriously. The cracks between the characters, while not outstanding in their wit and style, are still amusing and lying back (literally as I've mostly listened to these in bed at night) and going for the ride is a pleasure.

I was a bit worried that the books wouldn't stand up to my fond memories of them, and I am delighted to discover I was wrong. Sure, if I wanted to indulge in literary criticism, I could probably rip them to shreds. But that isn't what I want to do. I just want to enjoy a fun story where I don't have to think too much and can spend some time adventuring with old friends as I drift off to sleep.

Edited to add: I had meant to add a comment on the narrator and had completely forgotten until a reader asked me about him/her. In all honesty, the narrator is pretty sucky. Not so bad I can't listen, but annoying. He over-pronounces all the names with great gusto that doesn't match the general narration. He's also tried to do individual voices for each character which means they are all a bit over the top. He's taken different European-type accents for the main nations and used those. So Durnik sounds like some kind of hick-German, while Mandorallen is an over-the-top Frenchman and Polgara is an upper-crust kind of Englishwoman.

All the same, I'm still enjoying myself and that's why counts. I just roll my eyes at the narrator every so often.

Queen of Sorcery
David Eddings
The Belgariad, Book 2
Audiobook / Reread

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

After really enjoying Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, I reserved her other book, The Sugar Queen from the library. This is a winter book, set around Thanksgiving in North Carolina and, while setting doesn't usually affect me, reading it in a New Zealand summer felt a little strange. All the same, I was soon enjoying reading about Josey Cirrini, only daughter of a rich, aging mother who controls her life yet refuses to show any appreciation for her daughter's efforts. Joesy's only rebellion is her secret stash of sweets and romance novels in her closet. However, these become unavailable to her when local waitress Della Lee Baker takes up residence there. Della Lee forces Josey out into the world and Josey soon finds herself making new friends, including heart-broken Chloe who magically attracts books and the Adam the mailman, on whom Josey has had a crush for years. This is a book about family and relationships, love and pain and starting over, spiced up with some facing up to unwanted truths.

Again, the magic realism in the book is mild - even more mild than in Garden Spells, which I didn't think was possible. The most "gifted" character is Chloe, who is haunted by books. Whether she wants them to or not, books simply appear in her vicinity, their subjects potentially relevant to her situation at that moment. She has a whole storage shed of books waiting for her to find a home for them, something Chloe does indeed do in the course of the book.

I have to admit that I wasn't as enamoured of this novel as was the case with Garden Spells. The characters and setting didn't resonate with me in quite the same way and there were times when I considered leaving the book and trying something else. All the same, I am very glad I persevered. The book comes into its own as it reaches the conclusion and, as I look back a couple of weeks later (yes, I'm late with my book comments again) I find myself thinking fondly of the characters and feeling glad that they all reached the endings they did. I'm certainly still looking forward to reading Allen's next book and she has joined the list of authors whose books I keep an eye out for.

I guessed the main twist of the book fairly early on, but that didn't hurt the story. Instead, it became a case of looking for evidence to see if I was correct or not. Josey was a pleasant character, quiet and hesitant at the beginning, who needed the push Della Lee gave her to start questioning her life and trying to change it. She resists that change at first, not really believing it is for her, and it was nice to see her begin to find herself throught he course of the book. I liked the story and do recommend it, but if you only want to try on of Allen's books, I'd point you towards Garden Spells rather than The Sugar Queen.

The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For anyone who's read/seen Twilight

It made me literally laugh out loud, anyway.

I got it from Angieville. It originally came from Maggie Stiefvater.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Patricia A. McKillip Reading Challenge

Lenneth over on Livejournal is holding a Patricia McKillip reading challenge for 2009 that I just can't resist joining. Her guidelines are beautifully simple.

Read 3 novels by Patricia A. McKillip between January 1st and December 31st 2009.

This is just the gentle push I need as I already have 2 McKillip books I never read when they came out sitting on my TBR list and any challenge that helps me whittle down the TBR is a good one as far as I am concerned. As for the third, my inclination is either to have another attempt at reading The Tower at Stony Wood which I didn't manage to finish the first time I tried, or to reread Song for the Basilisk which I loved when I read it. Of course, I could go crazy and try to do both.

So my planned list is:
  1. In the Forests of Serre
  2. Alphabet of Thorn
  3. The Tower at Stony Wood or Song for the Basilisk
I will be listing my books read over on my Lists and Such blog as usual, but I will also have a specific post for this challenge over there and a single list of my 2009 McKillip book reads. [list]

Packing for the holiday

I was down in the study/library with Dave and he was choosing a couple of books to take on holiday with him. Literally. He picked two.

"Aren't you taking any?" he asked me.

"No," I said easily. "I've got a few library books upstairs and I'll be taking 30 or 40 others."

He gaped at me for a moment, then insisted my statement was worthy of a blog post.

Who am I to disagree?

P. S. In the interests of accuracy, I will actually be taking 55 books with me. And we're only going for a week!

Yes, exactly!

I saw this on Christine's LJ and as an ex-scientist (which seems to be like being an ex-Catholic in that you never really escape) I had to laugh and agree.

(Click to enlarge)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Changing my reading plans

I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump at the moment, which is frustrating. (I'm in a total stitching slump to the point I packed my project away, which is also frustrating.) As a result, I keep tweaking my TBR list as I change my mind about books, take things off and add things on.

I'm currently reading The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody, which is the sequel to Obernewtyn. I'm actually really enjoying it, but the problem is that I'm emphasising with the main character to the point I keep taking a break because I'm worried about what is going to happen next. Objectively, I know this is silly. I know she'll survive as she's the heroine of what is technically a YA book - and she's still the heroine for several more after this one. But I can't help worrying about her. So on one level I want to read the series straight through, and on another I keep wanting to put the current book down.

(It's also kind of embarrassing to realise that my behaviour is basically exactly the same as that I try to help my four year old overcome. He gets so caught up worrying about what's going to happen in his kids' TV shows that he runs out of the room or comes to hide behind me. "Who's going to win?" I ask him and when he admits the heroes of the show will, I point out that he doesn't need to worry then and he can keep watching. Hmmm, sound familiar?)

Back before it came out, I put Christopher Paolini's Brisingr on my holds list at the library. While I acknowledge the books aren't exactly ground breaking, I thoroughly enjoyed the reads for Eragon and Eldest. Brisingr turned up for me last week. I looked at it tonight and read through the synopsis of the first two books. (I love books that have a quick "story so far" in the beginning. With my faulty memory I can never remember all that much of what happened before and it's nice to have it there for me. Why can't more books do this? It's only a few pages extra.) I looked at the thickness of the book and decided I really didn't feel like 750 pages of more of the same. Sigh. I did like the first two and maybe I would like this one too, but I totally don't feel like it now, so off the TBR list it goes.

Of course, being me, while I took one book off the list, I added on three more, so instead of reducing the total number, I actually increased it. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is waiting for me at the library and Eifelheim by Michael Flynn is in transit. Both are the January reads for my [Beyond_Reality] book group, so hopefully I will be able to pick both up on Saturady and take them with me when we head down to Palmerston North to spend Christmas with our families. Of course, with the way things are going right now, whether I read them or not remains to be seen (and let's not forget The First Betrayal by Patricia Bray which is the December read for [FantasyFavorites]).

Maybe I'll just suck it up and keep reading Isobelle Carmody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

I have a memory of standing in a bookstore in my hometown and seeing Obernewtyn on the shelf. I don't know exactly how long ago it was, but I'm pretty sure it was when this was a standalone book and not the first of six as it is now. I can't imagine why I didn't take it home with me as it was just the sort of book I loved at the time. Now, having read it many years later, I can safely say that it's the sort of book I love now as well.

This is a YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, significant generations after a disaster known as the Great White. While it is not clearly stated, the impression is given that this was a nuclear war. The main character and narrator is Elspeth who has telepathic mental powers. In the totalitarian society she lives in, such mutations are anathema and those that possess them are burned or sent away to the far north, to a place called Obernewtyn. When Elspeth is found out, she is taken to Obernewtyn, where she finds a dangerous place and others like herself.

Post-apocalyptic and telepathy; two favourite themes of mine. Again, I find myself wondering why I didn't read this book long ago. Elspeth is a pleasant heroine, well if not deeply developed and her adventures before and after being sent to Obernewtyn are well told. There are nicely dropped hints about the Beforetime and the blurbs of the later books suggest the truth of what happened in the past (and whether or not it might happen again) will become a significant part of the plotline.

Carmody's world is small in this book, focussed around the orphan's home where Elspeth first lives and later at Obernewtyn. I'm not a visual reader, so I didn't get a good picture of the world (one of the reasons I like maps, and a good one is provided in this book) but as the story was about Elspeth and Obernewtyn, this was not an issue. All the same, I look forward to learning more about the entire world as the hints were suitably teasing.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and while I'm sorry I didn't discover it sooner, I'm delighted to know there are more books in the series waiting for me to read them. I want to know what happens to Elspeth and her fellow Misfits next. With Obernewtyn so isolated, it's easy to get caught up in their story and forget about the harsh and dangerous world outside the walls.

Isobelle Carmody
Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 1

Monday, December 15, 2008

eBook Reading Challenge

And yes, J. Kaye does it yet again. I've also signed up for her 2009 eBook Reading Challenge. I admit that this one is going to be easy for me. I already read a lot of eBooks, but it will certainly be interesting to see just how many I read in a year.

Challenge Guidelines:
1. You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading to your books prior to 2009.
2. Read 10 eBooks in 2009.
3. Overlaps with other challenges are fine.
4. You do not have to list your books ahead of time. If you decide to, you can change them as you go. Feel free to remove or add titles as needed.

I will be listing my books read over on my Lists and Such blog as usual, but I will also have a specific post for this challenge over there and a single list of my 2009 romance book reads. [list]

YA Reading Challenge

J. Kaye is holding another challenge I've decided to join. This time it's the 2009 YA Challenge. I like her challenges as I'm not required to choose books in advance. Instead, I can list them as I go. So in a way, it ends up a list of what I've read in a certain category instead of a millstone around my neck. I like YA and while I don't read heaps and heaps of it, I read enough to feel I can manage the challenge.

Challenge Guidelines:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.
2. Read 12 Young Adult novels. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.
3. Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.

I will be listing my books read over on my Lists and Such blog as usual, but I will also have a specific post for this challenge over there and a single list of my 2009 YA book reads. [list]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

I've been trying to figure out what to write about this book ever since I finished it. There was something about it that got to me and I can't work out exactly what it was.

I'd heard lots of good things about Deanna Raybourn's debut mystery novel set in Victorian London. I read several good reviews and it was highly recommended by a friend. So I started off reading it with high hopes of a good story. And I got exactly that. Yet, as I hit the second half, I found my pleasure diminishing. Not to the point I didn't like the story - I did, a lot - but it wasn't quite as much as I had expected. And ironically, as I've thought about it I've come to the conclusion that Raybourn did her job a bit too well.

The main character and narrator, Lady Julia Grey, is beautifully conceived. She's from a noble and eccentric family and has always been the quiet one. With the death of her husband she finds herself investigating his possible murder with investigator Nicholas Brisbane. Along the way she gets caught up with prositutes, gypsies, the members of her unconventional family and the lives of her servants. For all she develops her own sense of independence and is willing to befriend society's outcasts (most likely due to her father's influence), Julia is still very much a woman of her time and place in society. She is offended when an acquaintance of her brother's calls her "Julia" leaving off her title and she seems to genuinely believe her family's position grants her not only rights and advantages but to some degree a natural superority. Julia's sensibilities are those of her time, not the reader's.

Raybourn shines here, creating a real sense of the Victorian era even while including enough "eccentricity" on Julia's side to appeal to the modern reader. And I think this is where the book dropped out a bit for me. The solution to the mystery is - in the eyes of Julia and those around her - rather squalid and sordid. Totally appropriate, beautifully written and very convincing, but still kind of dirty, and Julia is left very hurt and disturbed by it all. And Raybourn got me feeling that way too, even though with my modern sensibilities I completely understand the situation that led up to the murder (although I totally don't understand or condone murder in case you were wondering). So I was left with a feeling quite different from what I was expecting and that's where the book was a slight let down for me. I think the author was a little too successful in my case.

All the same, this is a very good book and a very good start to the series. I loved Julia and Brisbane was also a excellent character with an interesting past that I'm sure will continue to effect his future behaviour. (Although I hope he and Julia snipe at each other a little less as that began to annoy me by the end.) Julia's family are strange and wonderful and I'm delighted to see that they will be major players in the second book, which I plan to read.

Despite my downbeat response, I really do recommend this book as a successful period mystery and I'm looking forward to reading Silent in the Sanctuary (as soon as I convince my library to buy it).

Silent in the Grave
Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia Grey, Book 1

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Go the library - and other book babble


In the Forest of Hands and Teeth and Princess of the Midnight Ball are both now on my holds list with the library. I also requested they get The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop, but no sign of that at this point.

I had been feeling myself to be in a bit of a dilemma, as three of my favourite authors (to the point I will buy them in hardcover) have books coming out early next year. (For any interested parties, they are The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold, Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs and The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop.) I want to buy them, but since I need to combine the three to make shipping from Amazon vaguely reasonable (it'll still be US$20 for the three), that means they won't ship until the third one is released and then, going on my Acheron experience, could possibly still take two months to get here.

The books are going to be in the library by then and I'll be desperate to read them. So I was caught, feeling I really should read my own copies, but for the one that is published first at the end of January, it could be as late as May before I get it.

Then I had a moment of revelation.

I'm doing two different things here. I'm getting hold of books I want to read and I'm supporting favourite authors that I want to get the sales to keep getting the contracts to write more books for me to read. Which means it doesn't matter if my own copies of the books sit on the shelf unread until the day I decide to reread them (which will happen with these being favourite, keeper books).

So now I have library holds on both Horizon and Bone Crossed, and as I said above, I've put in a purchase request for The Shadow Queen.

Life is particularly nice when you can have your cake and eat it too.

And in further library news, I picked up three books I'd reserved today (The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, Thirteen Orphans by Joan Lindskold and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, which is a particularly fat one). When this is added to my discovery and enjoyment of The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody, means my TBR list has suddenly expanded back close to 40. My dream goal was to read some of the books on it and get it under 30, but I guess I'll just have to work on keeping it under 40.

I've been aware of the original Obernewtyn book since it came out in around 1985 but never read it. I can't remember what got me aware of the series again this year, but I went looking for it in the bookshops here and finally found it - for NZ$32 for an itty bitty YA paperback. There was no way I was paying that much and when I found a website saying the series was being released as ebooks this December I decided waiting a bit longer wouldn't hurt me. I'm now about halfway through Obernewtyn and thoroughly enjoying it. It's the kind of book I loved when I was a YA (as I was back in '85 when it came out) and so I'm getting a good story and a nice dose of nostalgia at the same time. At halfway, I went and bought the next two from Fictionwise (one of the dangerous sides to ebooks being the ability to purchase immediately). I'd loved to have picked up the whole rest of the series, but decided I should read a couple more before spending even more money. All the same, I suspect I'll keep going. Oh dear, more for the TBR list.

I finished Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn yesterday and I'm struggling to come up with what I have to say about it. I liked it, but... I especially liked the characters but as it progressed, something about the overall thing turned me off it a bit and I'm still trying to figure out why. The thing I think is my problem, I also consider a strength of the book and well done, so I'm feeling kind of confused. Hopefully some kind of post will show up about it in the next few days.

Right, it is past my bedtime - as Dave has just come to tell me - so I shall stop meandering (or I could go on all night) and post this. I hope it doesn't have too many typos as it is kind of late for me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Interesting Upcoming Books

Between book blogs, Amazon and, I've just added a bunch of books that I think look interesting to my Amazon wishlists. I thought I'd share them here.

In the Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

I've asked my library to purchase this one. I hope they do as it sounds interesting and the excerpt on Ryan's site reads well.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A tale of twelve princesses doomed to dance until dawn... Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.

I admit, but attention was first caught by the cover. It's not usual these days to have a woman in an old-fashioned dress with some or all of her head cut off on a cover, but the way she is moving rather than still on this one was what caught my attention. I'm also generally interested in fairy tale retellings, although I don't read as many as I might. I've also requested that the library purchase this one. They have a good YA section, so I'm hoping they will.

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen

While I don't think I could take a diet of it all the time, a little touch of magic realism in my reading can be a delight. Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, Garden Spells is perfect in this regard. It's the story of two sisters reconnecting after ten years apart mixed in with a lovely dose of gentle magic.

I find it hard to write about this book as just talking about the plot doesn't capture to magical feeling of it and I'm not sure what else to say about it. This is a book about the characters and their innate magic and relationships with others and they are drawn with a deft hand. Organised, lonely Claire who is terrifed to reach out to others in case she is abandoned as her mother abandoned her years ago is the focus of the story, but the other characters share the spotlight with her. Her sister Sydney has returned to the family home after years away, running for an abusive partner and finally finds herself and her gift while her daughter, Bay (whose gift is to know where things "belong"), finds a place where she herself belongs. And linked inextricably with the sisters is the apple tree in the Waverly garden which tries desperately to guide their lives.

The side characters are also delightful, and of these Evanelle was probably my favourite. Her gift is to give people things they will need, but she never knows why or when. She finds herself with a house full of "stuff" so that she won't need to go looking for it and odd and difficult hours when the need to give someone something strikes her. How her gifts come to be used and the impact they have on the people around her is a lovely thread through the book.

I really liked this book and highly recommend it to someone looking for a light, but crisp and delightful story. It did remind me of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic in places as the books have some of the same elements - estranged sisters with family magic, an abusive boyfriend and the magical realism element - but how they are used is totally diferent and both books are lovely in different ways (and Practical Magic the book is totally different from Practical Magic the movie in tone and emphasis) and I recommend both.

I have now requested Allen's second book, The Sugar Queen from the library and I'm looking foward to reading it. I'm also looking forward to her third book with the evocative title of The Girl Who Chased the Moon which is to be published in May next year.

Garden Spells
Sarah Addison Allen