Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea
Diana Marcellas, 2001

Recent eBook release - I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Brierley is a healer by birth, in a land where the people who had magic in the blood were thought to have been all killed long ago. Her calling brings her into politics and danger, and she’s not sure where her destiny will lie, or what she wants it to be.

There are things I really liked about this book. I like the way Brierley’s magic works. I love her connections with previous generations of witches, knowing them mostly through secret diaries. I really like her philosophical musings about the place of those with magic, the choices they make to hide themselves. I like the hints about what could have gone so wrong between two peoples long ago. I love love LOVE her relationship with a late-introduced character, Megan.

But then there’s a romance and everything is terrible.

Some spoilers follow.

Sure, it was relatively well-handled, it could have been much worse, but it just seemed so out-of-tone, and there were so much more interesting ways to take the relationship. I spent a good portion of the book praying these two characters were never going to sleep together. They very nearly don’t! And then, spoiler, they do. Grrr.

Now, if I keep reading this series, there’s a chance that this will be brushed off as a fling by both of them, (one character is very young, and the other is married) and we can all move on.

It just disappointed me that this annoying thing was stuck in the middle of what was otherwise a book I was really connecting to, a book about one woman, thinking about her place in the world, how she can forgive her mother, seek her kin, learn from the women who went before.

And it frankly broke quite a bit of the respect I had for both characters. Primarily because Brierley, because she’s a telepath/empath, knows things about the guy and his wife that make me really want them (guy and wife, not guy and Brierley) to be happy together. Now, this might be the point, to break them both down a little, make them human and give them flaws to struggle with.

But from skimming the promo copy for the next book, it doesn’t seem like it.

Ugh, there was so much I liked about it, but that just kinda broke the thread of my emotional involvement with the story. There was still enough I liked to give it a medium score though.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Important Note: Open Road Media, who printed this e-edition, is still not so great on their quality control. At least in the galley version, OCR typos abound: mat for that being one of the most repeated.

Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, Book 4)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, Book 4)
Kerry Greenwood, 1992

Premise: Miss Phryne Fisher has been a magnet for trouble before, but it’s still startling to be shot at while driving down the street. After witnessing a killing at the docks, Phryne is determined to see the killers pay, no matter if it leads her and her household into further danger.

No, you’re not seeing things, I didn’t review books two or three. I did read them. I’ve really been enjoying Kerry Greenwood’s work for the past year. It’s great light bus reading.

I wanted to mention this one in more depth because while I liked books two and three, this one really brought the things I liked in the first book back to the forefront. In the intervening time since book one, Phryne has settled her new household, and even added to it, taking in two orphaned girls.

The double plot of this novel follows both the investigation of the murder of a young anarchist and the disappearance of a well-off young woman. Both mysteries require Phryne and her companions to infiltrate settings as diverse as a convent, a seance and a morgue to collect information.

I felt that Phryne was more dynamic in this book in some senses. I felt her passions - her anger and fear and lust - more consistently than in some of the other volumes.

I’ll definitely keep picking these up. I need more positive, not-too-brain-taxing reads on my Kindle for my commute through the dark winter.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Catwoman: Volume 3: Under Pressure

Monday, January 12, 2015

Catwoman: Volume 3: Under Pressure
Ed Brubaker, Paul Gulacy, Sean Phillips, Diego Olmos, 2014

Premise: Sequel to No Easy Way Down. Selina returns from her road trip to find that the East End of Gotham needs her help more than ever. But she’s standing alone against a tide… Collects Catwoman #25-37.

And so Ed Brubaker's run on Catwoman comes to an end, not quite with a bang. The writing is still pretty decent, although the larger plotting feels disjointed and awkward. The art however, is just bad. Paul Gulacy more or less ruined this book for me.

It isn't so much that the characters are ugly, although they are. It's that they change drastically depending on the angle and are unrecognizable. If you didn't tell me that was supposed to be Holly and Karon, I would never have known. All of the women are frightening face on, with weirdly grotesque shading. It made it really difficult for me to enjoy the story, especially when the prior volumes had such good art.

And unfortunately the story was just fine, not good enough to transcend the art problems. Each mini section, of which there were several, had its moments, but they didn't add up to anything. Selina crosses some mafia who are moving into her turf and gets a minor supervillain set on her heels. The ‘people in masks chasing her’ plot from the last volume is resolved in possibly the silliest excuse for some extra cheesecake that I’ve seen in a while. Selina disappears, then returns to Gotham in time for two good issues before the comic had to move into a crossover with the other Bat books.

A few bright spots: the War Games crossover issues, though sort of an awkward side jaunt from the standpoint of the Catwoman narrative, had some actually moving scenes between Selina and Stephanie. And right before that are two semi stand alone issues. The first has a great artist (Sean Phillips), and is mostly about Bruce and Selina's relationship, and I really enjoyed that one. The second features pretty decent art by Diego Olmos and has a neat structure.

Selina's personal narrative is a bit messy in-world as well, she's not quite sure of her place or her role, or whether what she's doing is worth it. Brubaker tries to tie it up in a empowering bow for the last issue, but the attempt at a coherent theme was just too-little-too-late.

Overall I was much less impressed by this volume.

2 Stars - An Okay Book (Mostly Because of the Art)

Tales from High Hallack, Volume 3

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tales from High Hallack, Volume 3
Andre Norton, collection published 2014

Recent Release. I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: A collection of Andre Norton’s short stories. No real uniting theme.

I read this book some time ago, but put off writing about it. Partially, honestly, under that old rule: “if you can’t say something nice…”

Was it a bad book? No. Not terrible, but neither was it great. Maybe these are the leftovers and volumes one and two are stronger? This is just a set of middling stories. Andre Norton was extremely prolific, so some of her work is bound to be just 'fine'. A few of them were quite good, but nothing that really stayed with me. At this point, I don’t even remember which stories I liked or what they were about.

I ate up her short novels as a teenager and have read and enjoyed a few in the past few years, but I guess her short stories don’t really work for me.

2 Stars - An Okay Book.

2014 is on its way out.... finally.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Man, 2014 was a year, huh.

It's definitely been an odd year for me. I have been reading, but not so much posting reviews. A few reflections from the year:

  • I read the Paradox series by Rachel Bach, really enjoyed them.
  • I took up with both of Kerry Greenwood's cozy mystery series, as they make excellent bus and airplane reading. Total read so far between both series: eight!
  • As a side note, this year I traveled twice for my job, which is twice more than ever before.
  • I reread one of my favorites (Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold) compulsively for a few weeks during a particularly stressful time.
  • I reread the entire Star Wars Thrawn trilogy this fall. It was less good than it was when I was a teenager, but still okay.
  • I expanded my genre window, reading literary fiction, memoir, YA, historical thriller
  • I've continued to cut down on the number of comic series I buy as single issues, but bought a ton of graphic novels I haven't read yet.
  • Even so, I read a bunch of awesomely weird comics this year I haven’t talked about here, including:
    • Pretty Deadly (started in 2013, surreal old-west-dark-fantasy-horror-fairytale)
    • The Wicked and the Divine (just re-read the first 5 issues, DAMN.)
    • ODY-C (just issue 1 so far, really intriguing - Odyssey retold as entirely female, and in space.)

And like so many, I became more of a podcast junkie this year. My favorites include Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, This American Life, 99% Invisible (so good!), Good Job Brain, and, of course, Serial. Podcasts do cut into my reading time, but I find them very enjoyable, especially when I have to stand on the bus.

Moving into 2015, we’ll have to see how many reviews I post. I still want to finish reviewing all the Hugo winners, and I have that giant pile of graphic novels I mentioned...

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Part Eight)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. This is post eight, section ten, the end!

A Classic Little Christmas

  • The Flying Stars, G. K. Chesterton - Oh, I actually quite liked this.
  • Christmas Party, Rex Stout - Really good except for the unfortunate racism.
  • The Raffles Relics, E. W. Hornung - Unlike others starring a ‘classic character’, it makes me want to read more about the character.
  • The Price of Light, Ellis Peters - Definitely a favorite in this book. Classic Cadfael: just lovely and sweet and Christmassy.
  • A Present for Santa Sahib, H.R.F. Keating - Odd. I guess it could be charming in some lights. Not sure about the dialect..
  • The Christmas Train, Will Scott - A charming crook fools the police. Not amazing but decent.
  • Markheim, Robert Louis Stevenson - Huh. takes a while to get going and the language is thick, but actually its pretty good.
  • A Chaparral Christmas Gift, O. Henry - Eh. A bit tortured in plot despite decent style.
  • The Chopham Affair, Edgar Wallace - Shrug. I’m not sure what all the business is about.. possibly a reference I'm not getting.
  • A Christmas Tragedy, Agatha Christie - Not bad. Not terribly gripping but the plot is fine.
The editor saved a lot of their big guns for this last section. Most of them feature the author’s popular recurring character. I’ll run through them from least to most enjoyable.

“The Chopham Affair” is a bit odd. It is framed as a story of an unsolved case, but that frame story seems to have little to nothing to do with the actual story - about a blackmailer laid low by the husband of one of his victims. I presume that one or more of the characters was previously established and knowing more about them would make it make sense.

“The Christmas Train” and “A Christmas Tragedy” are both decent, serviceable stories, but not really anything special. I really want to like Miss Marple, but I haven’t read anything that’s sold me on her yet.

“A Chaparral Christmas Gift” gets points for style (set in the Old West) but not for plot, which is sort of clumsy and dull.

“A Present for Santa Sahib” is in one sense a cute story about a detective who clears a small-time con man who’s been falsely accused of pickpocketing, as a bit of Christmas goodwill. On the other hand, eesh have I had enough of British writers’ impressions of Indian accents.

“Markheim” takes a while to get going, but then it’s really good, right up until the obvious twist. It’s about a thief turned murderer tortured by his conscience, (and/or possibly the devil).

“Christmas Party” is a Nero Wolfe story, and “The Raffles Relics” is about the thief AJ Raffles. Both of these stories make me interested to read more about the characters. The Nero Wolfe story’s only flaw is a bit of recurring dated language and attitude toward an “oriental” girl. The Raffles story takes place late in that character’s life, and I found it a fun teaser for the world.

“The Flying Stars” features a crime-solving priest (not the only one, as I’ll get to in a minute) who helps discover a thief at a local party posing as a member of the family. It also features amateur dramatics.

“The Price of Light” is definitely in the running for my favorite story in this whole dang book. I’m not surprised - it is a Cadfael story, and I love Cadfael. If you’re unfamiliar, Cadfael is a medieval monk who solves crimes and grows herbs (and has a slightly dodgy past as a soldier). If you have a chance to watch the television adaption starring Derek Jacobi, take it! This story follows the donation of a set of silver candlesticks to the abbey on Christmas, and their subsequent disappearance. There are several motives possible just from the people who arrived in the train of the minor lord who donated the things. Cadfael solves the case, of course, but in his own inimitable and unfailingly kind way.

Overall, despite quite a few duds, I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a bit of murder and mayhem to brighten up the holiday.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries (Part Seven)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Crossposted from Mainlining Christmas

This year, I am taking on The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a 674 page tome containing 59 individual stories about the Christmas season. Conveniently, it’s broken up into blog-post sized sections. Here’s the seventh post, section nine.

A Puzzling Little Christmas

  • Sister Bessie, Cyril Hare - Not bad. Not awesome. Somewhat expected tragic twist.
  • That’s the Ticket, Mary Higgins Clark - Ha. Not a bad little story, cute resolution.
  • Death on the Air, Ngaio Marsh - Fine resolution, pace was a bit off.
  • The Thirteenth Day of Christmas, Isaac Asimov - Super cute bit of fluff.
  • The Christmas Kitten, Ed Gorman - A lot of buildup for not much substance.
  • The Santa Claus Club, Julian Symons - *snurk* the butler did it, naturally.

These were a little bit of a let down after the last section, but most of these stories were still pretty decent. Similar to the “Surprising” section, all of these stories had at least a bit of a twist or a reveal near the end.

“Sister Bessie” follows a man who’s being blackmailed by an unknown relative, and his efforts to stop whoever it is at all costs. “That’s the Ticket” is a humorous story of a stolen lottery ticket. “Death on the Air” is a murder mystery involving a rigged radio and an extremely acrimonious household: the premise and characters start out interesting, but flag a bit by the end.

“The Thirteenth Day of Christmas” is pretty good, which is predictable given the author. It follows a young boy whose father is responsible for dealing with a terrorist threat around Christmas.

“The Christmas Kitten” was probably the weakest in this section. I kept waiting for it to get better, but it just didn’t. The main character is ineffective, the reveal on the murderer is just depressing. “The Santa Claus Club,” meanwhile, had great style, but I rolled my eyes more than a little on the ending. The side notes and descriptions in that one are pretty fun, though.