Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: Ascendant [2010]

I am an unabashed fan of Rampant and Diana Peterfreund, so I was exceptionally pleased to have the opportunity to read the sequel, Ascendant, before its publication. I put up a review over at Team Unicorn, because . . . unicorns, duh!

Grade: A-

Dead Mother: No, but maybe that would make Astrid's life easier.
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: Changeless [2010]

Soulless was my absolute favorite book of 2009, so I was exceptionally pleased to order (for the library, and for myself at a local independent bookstore) and read the next in the series by Gail Carriger. Changeless features the same engaging characters, sharp wit, and deft turns of phrase that made me laugh out loud the first time around.

The plot: Alexia (now Lady Maccon) investigates a mysterious plague that turns supernatural beings such as werewolves and vampires human while they are in its vicinity. As a preturnatural with similar powers to the curse (but limited to the range to her touch), Alexia herself is unaffected. All signs point to Scotland, where Lady Maccon travels via dirigible (with her disagreeable sister, her lovesick friend Miss Hisselpenny and paramour Tunstell, and the mysterious cross-dressing French inventor Madame Lefoux) to aid her irascible werewolf husband and his former pack. There are several tangled threads, not all of which are unraveled by the end of this second book in a series of five.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts:

Characterization is definitely the strong point of this book, and I only wish I could have spent more time with delightful characters like Lord Akeldama and the werewolf Lyall. I must say again how much I appreciate that homosexual characters such as Lord Akeldama (and his collection of dashing young men), and now also Madame Lefoux, are remarkable mostly for the part they play in the plot, rather than the fact that they are gay gay GAY. If only such casual inclusion were more widespread in today's literature. Also: Madame Lefoux makes me swoon a bit.

There are pros and cons to the way the overall series plot moves forward in Changeless. In some parts, it felt like a placeholder book, with the dramatic revelation of [spoiler alert!] Alexia's unexpected pregnancy providing a cliffhanger ending for the forthcoming Blameless. I thought it did a good job of keeping the romance of Soulless (in which Alexia and Lord Maccon fall into passionate, argumentative love) well alive, which is often difficult to do after the "getting together" part. However, I am not fond of the current pregnancy trend in romantic fiction, and am now relying on Ms. Carriger to rescue it for me with her trademark sense of wit and high fashion.

Dead Mother: No
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Reviews: His Majesty's Dragon [2006] and Throne of Jade [2006]

I've read several books featuring dragons over the years: McCaffrey, Wrede, heck, even those Eragon books, and of course the beloved Dragonlance books of my youth. I eventually got to a point where I felt I had probably read enough dragon books to fill my quota. I admit, I was utterly wrong, possibly even crazy! Thank goodness Naomi Novik had the unexpected and brilliant idea to combine dragons with the general time period of the Napoleonic wars. In the first of the series, His Majesty's Dragon (published as Temeraire in the UK), Novik introduces us to Captain William Laurence, a stiff-necked Navy man who finds himself unexpectedly bound to a dragon hatchling (taken from a French ship) whom he names Temeraire. While this event means the end of his successful naval career, his hopes of marriage, and a fragile peace with his father, Laurence comes to love Temeraire and grows accustomed to his new position as an Aviator in the flying division of the British military, despite their more relaxed approach to life. With the threat of Napoleon's invasion looming from the other side of the channel, Laurence and Temeraire must train quickly to have any hope of performing their duty to defend England's shores.

In the direct sequel, Throne of Jade, Temeraire's provenance as a Chinese dragon (intended as a gift to Napoleon) becomes an issue with national security implications as the Chinese government demands his return, much to Laurence's dismay. Temeraire, Laurence, and their crew set off by sea on a diplomatic mission to China, encountering perils both at sea and on land. Once they reach the Orient, however, they find that dragons are treated as equal to humans in China--and Temeraire has a place among the rarest and most powerful dragons in the land. Will Temeraire and Laurence be parted forever on a foreign shore? [Spoiler alert: There are at least four other books in the series.]

Grade: A

Random Thoughts:

I am going to say the words "man-dragon love" to describe these books without irony or sexual innuendo, because the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is adorable and loving and definitely the anchor of the series. I love it when they read together! However, Novik also writes well-rounded and (individually and collectively) awesome secondary characters that are a pleasure to encounter in the pages.

I like the way that Novik plays the strict, duty-bound Laurence against the innocent enthusiasm of Temeraire; it leads to a series of interesting discussions between them about property, the state of women, slavery, government, military service . . . Laurence begins to realize that perhaps his blind faith in duty and love of country may be somewhat misplaced.

Aerial battles between dragons, in which they fly in formation and are crewed in an ingenious manner similar to (but totally cooler than) naval ships, are the best thing EVER.

As usual, I listened to these books on audiobook (but then also read them in paperback when I was out of the car and couldn't help myself from finding out what happened next). The narrator of the series, Simon Vance, does an excellent job, especially considering all the accents that he is called on to perform.

Anyone have any other dragon books to recommend, now that my mind has been reopened?

ETA: Reviews of other books in this series here and here.

Dead Mother: No on both counts, YAY!
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [1979]

I'm not sure exactly how I managed to avoid reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams for so long, especially with various friends quite firmly suggesting over the years that I read it. Sheer perversity? At any rate, reading it was remarkably similar to the time I watched The Sound of Music with one of my friends who had never seen it before. She kept saying things like "HOLY SHIT, that's where that song is from?" and expressing other sentiments of shock and familiarity. If nothing else, after having listened to Stephen Fry's excellent audio rendition of the book, I will be able to correctly source a much greater proportion of the quotes I hear and see every day in my online geek-populated world.

When the planet Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route, Arthur Dent finds himself unexpectedly rescued from obliteration by his friend Ford Prefect--an alien who had spent the past many years stranded on our planet in the course of his research for that legendary tome, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Once in space, Ford and Arthur fall into a series of random(?) adventures that unite them with another Earth survivor, Trillian, and Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, who seems by turns to be unimaginably clever and stupid. Rounding out their party on the pirated (by Beeblebrox) ship Heart of Gold is an incredibly depressed (and depressing) robot and an incredibly chirpy ship's computer.

I would describe the plot but I don't think that it actually makes that much logical sense or would truly be necessary for the purposes of this review. Arthur and his friends go from point A to point B and encounter a variety of digressions, in which they learn that the planet Earth was custom-ordered and run by mice and that careless talk actually does cost lives. The presentation and dialogue reminded me strongly of Monty Python or similar zany British humor, which I enjoy greatly. A great deal of the mystique that surrounds the book is still opaque to me, but, just doing a quick check of my library's shelves, I found not only the novel but:

Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion
Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts
The Science of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Obviously the book in particular and the series in general are a cultural phenomenon which I cannot hope to comprehend unless I KEEP READING. Sign me up!

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

I enjoyed the underlying satire of human behavior and the science underlying the story's goofy twists and turns. Even though the book was written thirty years ago, nothing feels out-of-date in terms of the technology.

I don't believe I'll watch the movie, as I fail to see how the novel can be properly translated into film. It would be interesting to listen to the radio plays, however.

Dead Mother: Most likely, considering the destruction of Earth.
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