Monday, November 28, 2016

Kaitlyn Dunnett, 2014

Christmas crossposting!

(Note: Many of the Christmas books I am reading this year have one notable thing in common -- they were all cheap or free on Kindle some time in the last few years. No other qualifications.)

Premise: When Liss’ old friend Gina blows into town with a request concerning an inherited Christmas tree farm, Liss thinks it’s a good opportunity for a casual vacation. It’s been years since she stumbled into a murder investigation, after all.

This is a perfectly serviceable mystery novel. The characters are fine, the writing is good, the plot is interesting even though the villains are too obvious.

The best part is the fact that it is set on a Christmas tree farm.

It actually takes place in late November, and Liss and her husband are tasked with figuring out whether Gina can turn a profit that year, and eventually with figuring out what happened to the previous owner and an unknown man killed on the property years ago. Some of the minutia of growing and selling trees is addressed. I enjoyed the minor character Andy, a young woman who used to work there as a teenager, who has been caring for the farm while no one lived there.

Everything else is just another cozy mystery - people who dislike the main character are villains, quirky small town characters are mostly who they appear to be, and the main characters all espouse the modern middle-class values of the author.

Liss’ husband even is modeled after the author’s husband, to the point of building the same kind of custom jigsaw puzzle tables. From the book, I thought these were inlaid with puzzle patterns, but they are actually tables specifically for doing puzzles on. Okay, I guess there’s a market for almost everything.

It’s an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, but not much more.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

The Vor Game (Vorkosigan Saga)

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Vor Game (Vorkosigan Saga)
Lois McMaster Bujold, 1990

Hugo Winner - 1991

Premise: Miles Vorkosigan graduates from the Imperial Service Academy and gets his first assignment: Weather Officer at a remote, unhappy base. Later, foiling plots and surviving the complex intrigue of interplanetary warfare should be easy.

In the internal chronology of the series, this book follows The Warrior’s Apprentice (and the Hugo-winning novella The Mountains of Mourning). However, it was written after several additional novellas and a novel which take place later.

This isn’t one that I re-read as frequently as some others in this series, but reading it again now, perhaps I should revise that habit. The story mainly concerns a series of adventures and misadventures in the Hegen Hub, a crossroads in space held between four planetary powers, each jockeying for position, spying on each other, and nervous about increased tensions.

The beginning isn’t the strongest part. Miles is shipped off to his ill-fated meteorological assignment, and while it’s a great little interlude, important in the formation of Miles’ character and his career, it’s sort of stressful to re-read. The second half is more fast-paced and frankly more fun.

But the heart of this book is motivation, service, and what you fight for. The various characters, heroes and villains, are pulled in many directions by personal, professional, and moral convictions. Miles is trying to find a way to serve his planet, despite a predilection for insubordination and a mania for control. General Metzov from the arctic base says a lot about honor and service, but his moral compass is a bit… askew. Cavilo fights only for herself; Tung wants his command back but has firm moral codes; Oser’s morality tends toward pragmatism. Elena and Baz are struggling with their duties to the mercenary fleet and their duties to themselves and each other.

I think this is one of the first times, but not the last, that it is stated in this series - the idea that to be Vor (of the military aristocracy of Barrayar) is to serve. The Vor Game pokes at all the nuances of that service, from Miles’ nascent career to Emperor Gregor’s dissatisfaction with his own role.

That’s on top of memorable characters, action, escapes, emotional turmoil, and grand schemes. Bujold packs a lot into a book.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I have two reviews in queue, but I don't feel right posting anything yet.

I'll just leave some old links here, shall I?

The Handmaid's Tale

Bitch Planet: Extraordinary Machine (Volume One)

The Feminine Mystique

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Monday, November 7, 2016

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Gabrielle Hamilton, 2011

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a food memoir

Premise: Gabrielle Hamilton has a successful restaurant in New York City, but she’s always trying to capture an experience of food that you don’t normally find in the food industry. In this memoir, she traces her life from her quirky childhood through her unconventional attempts at education to her unusual marriage and the relationship with food that runs under it all.

I struggled with finding a book for this challenge. I started one and dropped it, perused a lot of lists and nothing called to me. Then I saw this book on several lists of great food memoirs, and it was available from the library as an audiobook on a day when I needed a new audiobook.

It must have been fate, because I really liked this one.

And it’s only partially because it contains some of the best descriptions of my alma mater I’ve ever heard, and I wasn’t expecting that at all.

“It was the most ill-conceived - not to mention expensive - education model I ever could have imagined for myself, this one in which you spring loose totally aimless eighteen-year-olds on a campus designed much more like graduate school than undergrad, and then watch all but the most serious and exceptional of them flail and falter.”

She is one of the many “alums” of Hampshire who did not graduate from that institution, although she did (only half-ironically) appreciate what she learned in the time she spent there.

Her attempt at Hampshire was after dropping out of another school, after lying about her age to be a cocktail waitress in New York, after going through her parents’ (one artistic, one high-strung) divorce.

I loved her story not because the scenes are beautifully captured, the metaphors apt and biting, the gritty reality of working in the food industry spelled out in gory detail, although the book has all of that. I loved her story because she’s honest and prickly. I loved her humor and her stubborn, sometimes illogical opinions. I liked how sometimes unlikeable she seems.

I love her relationship with food. I don’t agree with all of it, but I love her passion for feeding people, what it should mean to satiate hunger. She has no patience for fads or chic, fancy food for its own sake.

Her marriage is fascinating. She loves her husband’s family, loves her sons. She sometimes gets along with her husband, but always feels unsatisfied with their relationship, yet neither of them are inclined to change their situation. It’s difficult to describe or understand except at length, and the biggest fault with the book I found was that it ended before any final resolution from that quarter.

It’s an unusual life, laid out in all its ups and downs, pettiness and lies, love and anger and illogical selfishness. Life, in other words.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book