Monday, January 31, 2011

Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil

I cannot believe that it has taken me so long to listen to this book.  I started it with such excitement, but then when I discovered that the audiobook narrator wasn't Rupert Degas, who read books one through five and is an absolutely phenomenal reader, I ended up setting it aside.  In fact, the reason I discovered the audio series was because the first book, Skulduggery Pleasant: The Scepter of the Ancients was an Odyssey Award nominee.  (The Odyssey Award is given by the American Library Association to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults available in English in the United States.)

I related my initial disappointment about the narrator change here, but I remain baffled by the decision HarperCollins made to change narrators.  It seems, judging by the deterioration in quality of the last two books, that they have simply decided not to invest as much money or time in the audio books, which is such a shame.  The first four books included spooky, yet jazzy music that set the perfect tone, and there were also sound effects, like echoing footsteps, that made the book that much more fun.  And then there's Degas's narration, the voices he uses for the characters that really make the books spring to life, full of humor and horror and over-the-top creepiness. 

While the audio production was disappointing, the story itself most certainly was not.  Valkyrie Cain has come a long way since the early books - she is now an experienced, skilled fighter, and she has prevailed against all kinds of horrific creatures intent on destroying her world.  Once again she is trying to save the world from utter destruction, and  - if the psychics are correct - this time the destruction will be caused by Valkyrie herself.  Frightened and, for the first time ever, unwilling to confide in her skeleton detective partner, Valkyrie searches for a way to make sure the predicted destruction does not come to pass.

Nothing is as it seems in this book, for when Remnants escape and are able to possess the bodies of the living, it is impossible to know whom to trust.  Valkyrie and her friends try to stick together, but the situation is dire, and terrible things happen.  Assassins, necromancers, Remnants, vampires, dire predictions, diabolical doctors - Valkyrie has her hands full.  This is the darkest of the novels so far, but it still retains the humorous dialogue that makes me laugh.  Young fans of the series may find some upsetting turns of events in this installment - each book is definitely more violent and disturbing than the last.  My own girls (ten and twelve years old) adore the books, though, and have listened to every one of them many times - and it's good that we are enjoying them together so we can talk about them. They enjoyed Mortal Coil very much - they think it's the best one yet - but they, too, missed Rupert Degas's narration.  We all laughed at the current reader's depiction of Texan Billy-Ray Sanguine.  Degas makes him sound like a genial, incredibly creepy serial killer (which he is); Bowles makes him sound like Donkey from Shrek

While the protagonist is a girl, which can be off-putting to young male readers, I can usually sell them on trying out the series because Skulduggery is such an appealing character.  And once they start, they invariably come back for more!  This is my 12-year-old's hands-down favorite series (and it runs a close second to Harry Potter for my 10-year-old).  It's equally appealing to adults and kids, to anyone who loves mysteries, supernatural action and adventure, humor, and characters that stay in the mind long after the book is over.  I am very much looking forward to the next book in this wonderful series.

Books in the Skulduggery Pleasant series:
1. Skulduggery Pleasant
2. Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire
3. Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones
4. Skulduggery Pleasant: Dark Days
5. Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil

Skulduggery Pleasant: Mortal Coil (#5 in the Skulduggery Pleasant series) by Derek Landy; narrated by Brian Bowles (HarperCollins Publishers, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Book Reviews Blog for Caroline Hooton:  " Landy’s finally starting to pull together some of the outstanding storylines from the earlier books, which is good, and there’s also some character death and gut-wrenching scenes that promise much for book 6. However, there is also a certain amount of padding in this book and some of the storylines didn’t gel as well as in the earlier stories..."
The Book Zone (for Boys):  "...Derek Landy treats us to more nail biting scene after nail biting scene, some of which had me completely stumped as to how our heroes would escape death, or something worse, and as for the final climactic scene....... you will just have to read it for yourself, but I have a very strong feeling it will shock you."
The Fringe Magazine"The atmosphere itself was terrifying and some of the events borderline disturbing and I felt chills creeping up my spine just imagining what would happen if this actually happened in reality."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Night of the Living Trekkies

Let's face it.  There's a glut of zombie and vampire fiction out there, tons of mashups involving (mainly) Jane Austen novels but also other works of classic literature.  They all sound pretty fun, but many of them seem to be gimmicks, amusing ideas with little substance.  I admit I was a little worried that this one would be the same.  But I loved the idea - zombies at a Star Trek convention - so much that I had to give it a try, even if the actual book fell short.  I love Star Trek; I love zombies - dark and funny horror is definitely my thing, but add some science fiction to it? I might actually start drooling.

So when I saw my library had ordered this one, I immediately put it on hold, and I am so glad I did.  This book is actually everything you want it to be.  It is funny, action-packed, well written, with characters who, while they do tend a bit toward various stock types, are still sympathetic and interesting.  The book reads almost like a screenplay - and if they do make a movie out of it, I'd love to see it.

I won't go into too much detail about the plot, mainly because if you like zombies and/or Star Trek, then you simply have to read this book.  It is delightful!  Don't worry if you aren't a die-hard ST fan - you may miss a few jokes, but the authors explain (without being patronizing or condescending) enough as the story rolls along that you will not feel excluded, and if you are a ST fan, there's plenty to enjoy (including the chapter titles - very clever!).  Same goes for zombie fans - and these zombies are not run-of-the-mill brain gobblers.  There is an explanation for the zombies that works, particularly in the context of this story, and the rationale - coupled with their unique characteristics  - makes the zombie threat all the more chilling and dreadful. 

Our hero is Jim Pike, once a soldier who served a couple of tours in Afghanistan, and now he's the assistant manager of a small hotel in Houston.  He likes his job because no one's life is depending on him, and he is content to live day to day without thinking much about the past - or the future, for that matter.  But the annual science fiction convention arrives, bringing something else along with it - a strange virus that makes the infected people act in bizarre and violent ways.  Soon Jim is putting his military skills back to good use - and this time its his sister who needs his help.

I really enjoyed this one - it's funny and intelligent, dark and creepy.  There is a sincere love and respect for SF fandom here (it reminded me a bit of the film Galaxy Quest in that way), but also a recognition of its quirks and foibles.  If you've been hesitant to pick this one up, don't be - it won't disappoint!

Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall (Quirk Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review:  "Night of the Living Trekkies has a little something for everyone and it all comes together to form something pretty special."  "If Trek is your thing, and if you even remotely think that zombies are cool, this is one book I would put at the top of your reading list."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bitten in Two

Reading this seventh installment in the Jaz Parks series was a bittersweet experience, given this author's sudden death a few months ago.  I have enjoyed this series since I took the plunge, despite having so many other series on my plate, and I have never looked back.  Great writing, fantastic characters, quirky sense of humor, and plots that never fail to surprise and entertain - what's not to like?  Jaz is the leader of a supernatural band of U.S. agents (CIA assassins), and this book opens with Jaz reeling because Vayl, the vampire she works with and has fallen for, hard, has been cursed so that he has no memories of her.  At all.  He thinks he is in a time period that has long since passed, and when he looks at Jaz, all he perceives is a middle-aged, frumpy housekeeper - his servant, of all things.  On top of this, Jaz is expected to pull her team together and get the job done.  Loved it!  I'm pleased that the final book in this series was apparently completed before Rardin's death, but I'm so saddened by the loss of such a young, enormously talented writer.

Books in the Jaz Parks series:
7. Bitten in Two

Bitten in Two (#7 in the Jaz Parks series) by Jennifer Rardin (Orbit, 2010)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All Together Dead

I have been enjoying the audio versions of the Southern Vampire series so much that I've given up on reading them myself, plus I've been spacing them out as long as I can to make it last as long as possible, much as I do with J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas series.  This seventh book sees Sookie leaving her small town of Bon Temps to go to a vampire summit where her telepathic abilities are required by the vampire queen of Louisiana.  Of course in the world of vampire politics, nothing is as it appears, and before long Sookie is up to her neck in trouble.  This book includes lots of characters from previous books in the series, and it seems to be laying some groundwork for some interesting new developments.  This series is gripping, sometimes funny, sometimes dark and thought-provoking, and always enjoyable. 

Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series:
1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas
3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. All Together Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone 
10. A Touch of Dead (short stories)
11. Dead in the Family
12. Dead Reckoning (2012)

All Together Dead (#7 in the Sookie Stackhouse series) by Charlaine Harris; narrated by Johanna Parker (Recorded Books, 2007)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Past the Size of Dreaming

This wonderful book picks up the story that began in A Red Heart of Memories, which details the adventures of a young woman who has the ability to communicate with inanimate, man-made objects, and a young man who, one night when he was a teenager, was granted the ability to do magic by a ghost.  Sounds strange and ridiculous, I know, but trust me - when you open a page of a book by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, not only will the most bizarre situations make perfect sense, but you will feel transported inside the story, and you will come to care so much about her characters that it will feel like you've lost some wonderful friends when it comes time to close the book.  Anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction will love her books, particularly fans of Charles de Lint - as would anyone in a reading rut looking for a beautifully written, quirky and surprising story.  While A Stir of Bones was written after A Red Heart of Memories and this one, I recommend reading it first, then these two.  I do hope there will be more about these characters - there is still so much left to explore! 

Books in the Red Heart of Memories series:
3. Past the Size of Dreaming

Past the Size of Dreaming (#3 in the Red Heart of Memories series) by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Ace, 2001)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Reckoning

This is the third and final volume of Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers YA trilogy, which concludes the story of Chloe Saunders, high school student and aspiring film-maker, who suddenly finds herself thrown into a world where ghosts appear to her.  She is told she has mental problems and put in a group home, only to discover that she, along with the other teen residents, are the result of a sketchy medical experiment.  This one opens as the kids are on the run, trying to discover a way to find safety and shut down the experiments if they can.  I wish I had waited to read all three books in this trilogy at the same time, because each one reads like a section of the story, rather than a single plot within an overarching plot line.  So it felt a bit stretched out to me.  It isn't strong on character development, but Chloe is a likable girl who is strong and resourceful, and the series is a popular one with teens at my library.  Fans of the Vampire Academy books and the Blue Bloods series seem to enjoy this one, and I think it would appeal to fans of the Maximum Ride series, too.

Books in the Darkest Powers trilogy:
1. The Summoning
2. The Awakening 
3. The Reckoning  

The Reckoning (#3 in the Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong (Harper, 2010)

Raven's Shadow

Patricia Briggs has become one of my favorite writers during the past few years, after I discovered her through her wonderful Mercy Thompson series.  I am always pleased when I discover that a new favorite author has earlier books to explore, and while Mercy's tales remain my favorites, Briggs is such a good storyteller that I'm perfectly happy to follow her wherever she'd like to take me.  This one is the first in a duology set in a world that is recovering from a magical disaster that wizards brought upon themselves years earlier.  The survivors now live in wandering family groups like gypsies, and they are meant to combat the remaining dark magic that continues to affect the world.  Non-magical folk are suspicious of them, burning them as witches and persecuting them in other ways.  This book focuses on a traveler who falls in love with a soldier returning from war, and settles down among a human community.  But she and her husband - as well as their children - become caught up in a plot that threatens the kingdom.  The characters are simply wonderful, and the story is a delightful, solid fantasy story - nothing less than I'd expect from this author.  I'm very much looking forward to the sequel, because I'd hate to say goodbye to these characters after just one book.

Books in the Raven duology:
1. Raven's Shadow
2. Raven's Strike

Raven's Shadow (#1 in the Raven duology) by Patricia Briggs (Ace, 2004) 

The Night Bookmobile

If you are an obsessive reader (and I know how many of you are!), you won't want to miss this bittersweet graphic novel about Alexandra, a young woman who discovers, wandering late at night through the streets of Chicago, the most amazing bookmobile ever.  An avid reader, she is delighted to explore its shelves - and she is astonished to discover that it contains every book - every thing - that she's ever read.  From Pat the Bunny  to cookbooks, even her childhood diary.  The bookmobile is open from dusk to dawn, and day breaks all too soon for Alexandra.  She becomes consumed with the desire to visit her personal bookmobile again, but doing so isn't a simple matter.  Years go by, while she reads and reads, dreams and dreams, and hopes against hope to find it again.

This book is an ode to reading - but it is a cautionary tale as well.  At first I didn't care much for the style of the artwork, but as I continued to read it grew on me, and by the end I found it really fit the atmosphere and tone of the book.  It's a quick read, but a thought-provoking one, and I think it would be an excellent add-on book for any book club to read (or primary book, really - maybe during those summer months when everyone's so busy) - what a lot of fun discussion this book would inspire!  This is another one of those books that is a great place to start for those who are interested in exploring the unique way in which graphic novels can tell a story.

One question I had [potential minor spoiler here], and maybe those of you who have read this can weigh in, was why, if that librarian was her unique and personal librarian, was he always so busy? Why did the bookmobile show up so very rarely?  That didn't make much sense to me.

In a way, this book reminds me of The Time Traveler's Wife, a novel I loved so much as I was reading, but it was so heartrending that there's no way I could handle reading it again.  This one explores things I adore, but it delves into the dark side, and ends on a truly disturbing note - made all the more heartbreaking because I identified so much with the character and can definitely feel the compelling tug of the reasons for the choice she makes.  This one, however, is one that I know I could read over and over again - it explores the passion for reading, and the importance of books in our lives - and is a reminder to those of us who might rather stay curled up in an armchair with our favorite literary companions to set the book down from time to time and do some non-vicarious living of our own.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (Abrams, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
A Life in Books"Although I was initially taken aback, the more I thought about the book and its message, the more I liked it."
Stuff as Dreams" If you’re a book lover (and we all are) I think you’re sure to love this one. And she says in the afterword that it’s part of a larger collection she hopes to do called “The Library”! Hooray!!!"
The Written World"It's short, but it really packs a punch. I was glued to the pages because it was compelling, but at the same time very dark."

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Mysterious Howling

The Mysterious Howling is the first ebook I've read with my new Nook!  It was interesting to see how quickly I forgot all about holding the reader in my hand, and it soon felt like reading a regular book.  In some ways it was even better.  I loved being able to mark my spot, and highlight passages and write comments.  I was looking forward to reading over my comments before I wrote my review - and how disappointing it was to discover that I could no longer access them, because the checkout period had expired!  When I download an audio book from the library, it stays on my iPod until I sync it up again.  Not so with the Nook, sadly.  So you will all be deprived of the delightful quotations I highlighted and the insightful comments I wrote as I read  - how disappointing for you. :-)

At any rate, this book is the first in a series about a fifteen-year-old governess, Penelope Lumley, who sets off on her first assignment as governess to three children at Ashton Place.  She is rather surprised to discover that her charges are three children, discovered by Lord Fredrick while out hunting:  orphans who were raised by wolves.  Miss Penelope, however, is a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, and she immediately takes matters to hand, confident that with the correct approach, she is sure to succeed in turning the children into well-mannered and educated young citizens.

After only a short time there, Penelope is pleased with her students' progress.  When Lady Constance, who clearly cannot stand the thought of the children under her roof, makes unkind remarks about them, Penelope springs to their defense.  Perhaps she overestimates their abilities, for now Lady Constance demands that Penelope attend her gala Christmas party - along with the children, who are not only to be on their best behavior, but also to do the Schottische.  Whatever that is.  Penelope is a bit panicked, but she is, of course, a Swinburne girl, and she is confident she will find a way to manage.

What follows is a silly, yet exciting and often disturbing tale, set on a country estate in Victorian England.  At first I found myself wondering if the book's target audience of 9- to 12-year-olds would relate to Penelope, who may only be fifteen, but she acts like an adult.  The children are minor characters, interchangeable with one another and rather silly, although they are certainly appealing little things.  But as the story progressed, I decided that the reader would be sure to empathize with Penelope, who is a strong young woman facing a difficult situation completely alone.  I found the narrator's voice to be very like the narrator in the Lemony Snicket books, talking to the reader in humorous asides, and defining things as well, so children who enjoy that aspect of the Series of Unfortunate Events may well enjoy this series, too - as well as those who like the addition of some humor to their creepy Gothic reads. The book truly has a wide age-range of appeal - more sophisticated readers will appreciate things about that book that will pass over the heads of younger readers, but both are sure to enjoy it.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that there are tantalizing hints of further mysteries to be solved, which makes me look forward to the publication of the next book in this series, scheduled for next month.

Books in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series:
1. The Mysterious Howling
2. The Hidden Gallery 

The Mysterious Howling (#1 in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series) by Maryrose Wood; illustrations by Jon Klassen (HarperCollins, 2010) - E-book edition

Source: Downloaded from my public library

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews:  "I found it wonderfully quirky and oh-so-charming. The writing was clever and fun. I would definitely recommend this one!"
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog: "’s also got some things in it that absolutely horrified me, some exciting scenes that kept me reading long beyond the time I should be asleep, and a strong female protagonist that anyone would love to read about."
The Fourth Musketeer:  "The only negative I found in the book--and I don't think it would be a negative for the author's young readers--was Wood's almost uncanny mimicry of Lemony Snicket's style"

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee

Oh, the joy of another book about Jacky Faber!  This series, set in the 19th century, tells swashbuckling adventure tales featuring one of my hands-down favorite heroines of all time.  There is action, humor, great characters, history that springs to life, and each book takes you for a delightful ride that you can't fail to enjoy.  This one sees Jacky end up as a convict on a ship that is making its way to a penal colony in Australia.  Anyone who has read any books in the Bloody Jack series will not doubt that somehow the resourceful, quick-witted Jacky will find a way to turn her situation around and come out on top - but with quite a few entertaining bumps along the way.  I love, love, love this series, and I highly recommend it.  I think this one would have a huge appeal to fans of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vokosigan series and, honestly, to just about everyone else.   

Books in the Bloody Jack series:
1. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy
2. Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady
3. Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber 4. In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber
5. Mississippi Jack: Being an Account of the Further Waterborne Adventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman, Fine Lady, and the Lily of the West6. My Bonny Light Horseman: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, in Love and War
8. The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, on Her Way to Botany Bay

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, on Her Way to Botany Bay (#8 in the Bloody Jack series) by L.A. Meyer (Harcourt, 2010)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Creation in Death

There's not much to say about this futuristic police-procedural series that I haven't said in previous reviews of other books.  They are solid, page-turning mysteries with complex, memorable characters and plots that pack plenty of twists and surprises.  My favorite aspect of the series is the way in which characters change and grow from one book to the next, and how their relationships change, as well.

In this series NY cop Eve Dallas is called to a murder scene, and she immediately recognizes the method as one used by a serial killer from ten years earlier, one who had gone to ground after torturing and killing many woman.  She had been on the case back then, and has worked the cold case periodically over the years with others who were on her team, with no luck. The stakes are higher this time, as the killer has his sights on Eve as the final, ultimate "partner" in his twisted scheme. 

There was a lot to like about this one - seeing Eve and Roarke and our favorite usual suspects working together, using the combination of their skills and strengths to track down the murderer.  Eve never loses sight of what's at stake - she is consumed by her need to save the young women who are abducted, and they are always people to her, never numbers or faceless beings. Her refusal to get sleep in all of these cases does get a little on my nerves - surely she could think more clearly if she took an hour nap?  I loved the fact that, instead of being oblivious to the fact that the killer is after her, they figure it out fairly quickly, which they probably would.  Otherwise it would have seemed like the typical ratchet-up-the-tension device.  And I loved the way things turn out at the climax - not just Eve being the strong but flawed heroine that she is, but the way in which one of the "victims" is portrayed - she is captive, but she is strong and resourceful, refusing to be a victim.

Fans of police procedurals, strong women protagonists, snappy dialogue and memorable characters will love this series.  Each book is a standalone mystery, and any book works as far as jumping into the series.  However, Eve is a completely different person in so many ways in the early books, and she has come so far since then, so reading the books in order would be a much more rewarding way to go.  I am so pleased that I'm still not at the waiting stage of this one - I space them out as much as I can, because I just love to know that there's one out there, waiting and ready for me, whenever I'm in the mood for another fix of Eve and Roarke. 

Books in the Eve Dallas series:
1. Naked in Death
2. Glory in Death
3. Immortal in Death
4. Rapture in Death
5. Ceremony In Death
6. Vengeance in Death
7. Holiday in Death
"Midnight in Death" (in Silent Night)
8. Conspiracy in Death
9. Loyalty in Death
10. Witness in Death
11. Judgment in Death
12. Betrayal in Death
"Interlude in Death" (in Out of This World)
13. Seduction in Death
14. Reunion In Death
15. Purity in Death
16. Portrait in Death
17. Imitation in Death
Remember When (spin-off book with section featuring Eve)
18. Divided in Death
19. Visions in Death
20. Survivor
in Death
Origin in Death

22. Memory in Death "Haunted in Death" (in Bump in the Night)

23. Born in Death
24. Innocent in Death
"Eternity in Death" (in Dead of Night)
25. Creation in Death
26. Strangers in Death
"Ritual in Death" (in Suite 606)
27. Salvation In Death
28. Promises in Death
29. Kindred in Death
"Missing in Death" (in The Lost)
30. Fantasy in Death (2010)

Creation in Death (#25 in the Eve Dallas series) by J.D. Robb (Brilliance Audio, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Blogcritics"Even though this is the 25th book in the series, there's no sign that things are stopping anytime soon. As long as she can continue to pump out great stories and richly developed characters, there's no reason that there won't be 25 more." 
Dear Author" While I liked the climactic ending to the serial killer plotline, much of it dragged for me. I am not sure whether I am suffering from serial killer malaise or what."  
A Nod from Nancy"Mostly it’s the main characters and the supporting cast that are such a pleasure, like visiting with old, extremely interesting friends.  The story is always gripping which is why I am very careful about starting a J.D. Robb novel: I find it almost impossible to put it down until I’ve finished." 

Friday, January 14, 2011


I felt like throwing a party when I learned that a new book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga was coming out.  It's been a long wait since the last one, which was published nearly ten years ago (aside from the novella, Winterfair Gifts).

If you are going to stop reading this post because you don't read science fiction, please don't!  Yes, this series is undoubtedly in the SF genre, but it is so much more than that.  These books are about people, amazing people, characters so real and complex that you'd recognize them immediately if you ran into them in real life.  The books cross genres effortlessly, as well.  This one, for example, is really a mystery.  Others are novels of manners, or swashbuckling action/adventure, coming of age, even romance.  With a different time and place as a backdrop, sure, and with elements from that different time and place that are intrinsic to the plots.  I was once at a science fiction convention where Lois McMaster Bujold's books were likened to the works of Jane Austen.  Really!

The writing is excellent, and the stories are so masterfully told that they will pull you in with an immediacy that is relevant and fascinating, no matter the setting or genre.  These are not books that put the ideas first, or the gadgetry, or the cool extraterrestrial gadgets and gizmos.  Bujold never offers indigestible info-dumps full of futuristic technological jargon.  These are books about people, first and foremost, and once you get to know Miles, if only a little, you'll want to keep reading about him.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Before I talk about the book, though, let me just mention that the series is best read in order, even though each novel tells a complete story.  It is certainly possible to start with any of them - Bujold fills the reader in with relevant details from previous events - but the payoff is enormous if you start out with the first one.  And that first book isn't even about Our Hero.  It's about his parents, and how they met.  It's not my absolute favorite in the series, but it's certainly worth reading.

Cryoburn is, as I've said, a mystery novel at heart.  Miles, who is now an Imperial Auditor, is sent to investigate something that doesn't feel quite right on the planet Kibou-Daini.  So he travels there, ostensibly to attend a conference about cryonics. Miles narrowly escapes being kidnapped by a fanatical government opposition group, and after an allergic reaction to the sedative the kidnappers administered, Miles is hallucinating, wandering the underground labyrinthine corridors of a cryonics corporation.  A chance encounter with a young boy who lives on the fringes of Kibou-Daini's society gives Miles some insight into the situation, and soon Miles is working on opening the can of worms as sneakily - and productively - as possible.  Of course there are a few obstacles in the way, and some unexpected turns of events, but it is, as always, a joy to watch him take care of business.

The tale is narrated in the third person from three separate points of view.  There's Miles, of course, but there's also his armsman Roic, who is separated from Miles during the kidnapping attempt, and there's also Jin, the boy who rescues Miles.  The three points of view lend the story a depth (and often humor) that succeeds beautifully.  This installment in the series was a treat, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly while reading it.  This is one of those rare and wonderful books that, when I'm in the the middle of it but not reading it at the moment, just thinking about it sitting there, waiting for me, gives me a lovely frisson of anticipation. 

Books in the Vorkosigan Saga:
1. Shards of Honor
2. Barrayar
3. The Warrior's Apprentice
4. The Vor Game
5. Cetaganda
6. Ethan of Athos
(almost a spin-off) 
7. Brothers in Arms
8. Borders of Infinity
9. Mirror Dance
10. Memory
11. Komarr
12. A Civil Campaign
13. Diplomatic Immunity

14. Cryoburn

Cryoburn (#14 in the Vorkosigan saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
The Good, the Bad and the Bookish:  "As has been the case with the series as a whole, the writing is lucid and engaging, the dialogue rings true, the characters are multidimensional, and the different cultures are truly unique (rather than cosmetically different but substantively similar)"
Gripping Books:  "The book is not particularly deep, but it's a fun one. I enjoyed the mayhem around Miles as well as the younger characters of the novel."
Mervi's Book Reviews:   "...pretty much all of the elements I most enjoy in this series are present: writing style, humor, and characters. The plot is a bit too convenient in parts, though."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour

I almost hated to read this one - it sat on my shelf for ages - because I was sad to have the series end.  It is such a quirky, bizarre story, smart and original without taking itself too seriously (or seriously at all, for that matter).  The main plot is about Scott Pilgrim, a young 20-something who's been floundering at life for some time, never quite able to commit to one thing or another.  When he meets Ramona, though, he finally finds something worth committing to - mostly.  Issues from the past haunt him and sabotage his plans, and in this final volume, everything comes to a very satisfying - and strange and funny - conclusion.  This graphic novel series certainly isn't for everyone, but for those of you who enjoy the twisted and funny, you should definitely check it out.  My favorite by O'Malley continues to be Lost at Sea (an amazing coming-of-age story that all those who think they don't like graphic novels should read), but I love this series, too.

Books in the Scott Pilgrim series:
6. Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (#6 in the Scott Pilgrim series) by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni Press, 2010)

I Kill Giants

This is an unusual graphic novel about a young girl dealing with a difficult issue in her life.  She is not particularly likable, especially at the beginning of the book, but she certainly is interesting.  So interesting that I could not stop turning the pages to see what in the world was going on.  I loved the artwork, the sense of humor and the compassion in this book.  It is a beautiful, bittersweet story that had me in tears by the end, but in a good way.  This one is definitely a keeper, and I recommend it.

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura (Image Comics, 2010)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


This ninth book in the Discworld series is short and sweet - and, unsurprisingly, very funny.  I was delighted when I discovered that Rincewind, the protagonist of the very first Discworld book (and several others), returns - after a harrowing cliff-hanger left him languishing in a very unpleasant place.

Rincewind, incompetent wizard extraordinaire, is brought back from that unpleasant place in this book - by Eric, an adolescent wannabe wizard who is trying to raise a demon in order to get three very predictable and prosaic wishes granted.  Instead of a demon, he gets Rincewind - whom Eric is convinced is a demon, for demons lie, of course.  The appearance of the Luggage doesn't help Rincewind's case, either.

Rincewind finds himself obligated to attempt to fulfill Eric's wishes, which, in the classic way of every three-wishes story, goes terribly wrong, and in the classic way of Discworld stories, the results are hilarious.

This one is more a novella than a full-fledged Discworld novel, and therefore it isn't as complex as other, longer books in the series.  It is a lot of fun, though, and what a treat to get to spend some time with Rincewind - and the Luggage (which is definitely the hands-down most engaging piece of furniture ever to appear in literature).  There is the usual amusing satire and social commentary, and this one has a lot of fun poking fun at the adoption of a particular business model (in Hell, of all places) regardless of the suitability of the particular approach, which those readers who have experienced such things in the workplace are sure to appreciate.  The humor and satire are there, but they never supersede the importance of the characters and the story itself, which is why I love these books.

Books in the Discworld series:
 1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. Nightwatch
29. Monstrous Regiment
30. Going Postal
31. Thud
32. Making Money

33. Unseen Academicals

Eric (#9 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett; narrated by Stephen Briggs (Random House Audio Books, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
A Book a Week:  "A perfect cottage afternoon read, which is what it was for me."
The Wertzone:  "...a very fast, briefly entertaining diversion from the main Discworld sequence."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lonely Werewolf Girl

This is one of those books that I kept hearing such great things about, but for some reason the library where I work didn't own any copies.  It sat on my list for a long time, and then I started reading all kinds of great things about the sequel, Curse of the Wolf Girl.

Exasperated that we still had no copies, I finally sent in a suggestion that we purchase it, which I don't do as often as I used to because these days I am typically told no, we no longer have the budget.  But in this case my library came through.  We only ordered a few copies for our many branches, but at least we have some now!  And when my copy came in and I saw the blurb from Neil Gaiman on the cover that said, "I [don't] understand why Martin Millar isn't as celebrated as Kurt Vonnegut, as rich as Terry Pratchett, as famous as Douglas Adams.  I've been a fan of his work for almost twenty years," I was doubly glad that collection management had agreed to purchase it.  I felt vindicated when I checked on the books (I get a proprietary feeling about the ones I suggest we buy) and saw that not only was every copy checked out, but there was also a waiting list!

I admit I was a little surprised when I saw what a chunkster this book is - it's over 550 pages!  But I have to say, the closer I drew to the end of the novel, the longer I wished it could be.  It's that good.

I hesitate to say too much, because it is best to let this one unfold and pull you in all on its own.  It is about a huge Scottish family who happen to be werewolves.  The fact that they are werewolves is intrinsic to the plot, but it is just one aspect of the book.  Fantasy lovers will enjoy this supernatural element, to be sure - but even those who typically read and enjoy more realistic fiction will be pulled into this amazing story as well, because it involves so very much more - family dynamics, friendship, coming of age, politics, music - all told with such compassion and humor.

The central figure is Kalix, a teenage werewolf from a seriously dysfunctional family.  She is on the run from them, having committed a crime (and while it is never spelled out why she did what she did, it becomes fairly obvious and makes the reader feel even more compassion for her, particularly in the beginning when she is not terribly likable).  She is hiding in London, with a price on her head, but it is difficult for her to bring herself to care very much, as she suffers from a debilitating depression.  When all seems lost for her, she is helped by two unsuspecting humans, Moonglow and Daniel, who rescue her and then become involved in her life - which puts their own in peril - not to mention turning the lives of everyone involved upside down in various amusing ways.

The plot grows complex and involves many diverging storylines, each featuring characters who are interesting and funny.  These storylines are skillfully woven together to tell a riveting, at times heartbreaking, at times hilarious tale.  The characters are quirky and odd, but always so very human and real.  I was so sad when this book ended - as satisfying as the conclusion was - and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel - as well as everything else this man has ever written.  I highly recommend this one - tight writing, excellent pacing, amazing characters, and a storyline that will surprise and delight.

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar (Soft Skull Press, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Jenny's Books" Martin Millar is a delight. I want to give Martin Millar a hug because his books please me so much."
Stuff as Dreams: " I could just spend days talking about all of the other wonderful characters in this book. All of the different connections, all of the different storylines being told."
Things Mean a Lot:  "...despite its length, I was incredibly sad when I finished it, simply because I wanted to keep on reading it indefinitely. I miss the characters terribly already. This is a book I know I’ll return to again and again."

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Boy from Ilysies

I was very excited to read the sequel to Libyrinth, a book I reviewed last year, which I enjoyed immensely.  It is set in a distant world far into the future, and features a young girl who can hear the "voices" of books.  This second book features a different main character, though, a young man named Po who played an important part in the first book, but was not a major character.  It often takes me a while to transfer my sympathy from a beloved character to a new one, and while I did come to care about Po, I did miss Haly and the "bookishness" that surrounded her.

The book opens as the new order that began at the end of the last book is slowly taking hold.  There are three main cultural groups that were formally at odds with one another, and they are attempting to set aside their differences and live in peace.  But misunderstandings arise, as is natural when groups with different cultural backgrounds and viewpoints are thrown together, and for Po, who comes from a country in which women are dominant, things are especially difficult.  He is constantly fighting with other boys (behavior that is common and accepted in his culture), and he finds that even his best efforts at assimilating often end in humiliation and embarrassment.  Then Po is put into a situation that makes him have to leave the settlement on a mission to locate and retrieve an artifact that may or may not be real - but seems to be the only hope of the new settlement's survival.

This is an extremely thought-provoking book.  It reminds me a bit of Sheri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country, but for a younger audience, with its examination of cultural diversity, how people are shaped by the beliefs of the society they grow up in, and what happens when those beliefs are challenged by others from different backgrounds.  Po is a bright and empathetic teen, but he can also be impulsive and careless.  His quest to find the legendary artifact in the company of companions who come from vastly different cultures is a fascinating look into the way our beliefs can both weaken and strengthen us.  North spins a tale with compelling characters and a memorable setting that will leave readers eager to discover what will happen in the next installment in the series.

Books in the Libyrinth series:
1.  Libyrinth
2. The Boy from Ilysies

The Boy from Ilysies (#2 in the Lybyrinth series) by Pearl North (Tor, 2010)

Source - Review copy from publisher

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews"This novel is more about politics, gender roles, culture clashes, sexuality, etc., than the first novel."
Owlcat Mountain:  "Even if readers don’t feel like exploring the intricacies of Po’s struggles (although I find it hard to believe that you could fail to get sucked into them), the tightly woven action and peril makes this a fast read."

Ninth Key

This is the second in Meg Cabot's Mediator series, in which a young teen with special ghost-seeing (and banishing) abilities moves to San Francisco to live with her mother's new husband and sons.  I love Suze - she reminds me of a (slightly) kinder, sweeter Faith from Buffy.  She tends to take on more than she can handle, and she sure makes mistakes along the way, but she is grounded and learns from those mistakes - plus she makes me laugh.  This one is exciting and funny, with great characters and an engaging plot.  I will definitely be continuing with this series.  I recommended it to my 13-year-old niece, and she's enjoying it as well.

Books in the Medator series:
1. Shadowland  (Love you to Death)
2. Ninth Key  (High Stakes)
3. Reunion  (Mean Spirits)
4. Darkest Hour  (Young Blood)
5. Haunted  (Grave Doubts)
6. Twilight  (Heaven Sent)

The Ninth Key (#2 in the Mediator series) by Meg Cabot (originally published under the name Jenny Carroll) Pocket Books, 2001

Friday, January 7, 2011

White Cat

 I wasn't sure what to expect from Holly Black's new book, White Cat, but I'd heard lots of good things about it, so I was excited when my name came up on the waiting list at my library.  It features a teen named Cassel who comes from a family of curse workers - people with magical abilities who can influence others in various, usually undetectable ways.  Cassel keeps hoping his abilities will show up at some point, as everyone in his family is fairly powerful, but for now he keeps busy at his private school, running betting rings and trying not to think about something horrific he did in the past.  When he wakes up on the roof of his dorm, having been dreaming about following a white cat, and nearly plummets to his death, things in his life quickly become complicated.  Nothing is what it seems in this dark and twisting tale.  It's a page turner that will keep you guessing until the very end.

White Cat by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010)

Free e-books for science fiction lovers!

Now that I have my very own Nook (hooray!), I have been looking around for various places to find e-books.  I have successfully downloaded a book from my library, with a three-week checkout period, and I've also downloaded one of Google's free public domain books.  I have yet to actually purchase a book from Barnes and Noble (I'm sure they love people like me), because as a librarian it rankles me to have to buy a book unless I absolutely must own it for my very own, or if I simply cannot get my hands on it any other way.

I was delighted to discover the Baen Free Library - a site started by writer Eric Flint, whose refreshing view on making works available electronically definitely meshes with my own.  The offerings are limited, true, but I love that the books they make available are often the first in a series.  What a great way to allow people to get a taste of a writer's work - and of course once people are hooked, they will want to read the rest of the books in the series.  Authors who have one or more of their books available for free from this site include Lois McMaster Bujold, Catherine Asaro, Andre Norton, David Weber, Harry Turtledove and, of course Eric Flint.  Selections change periodically, and various formats for download are available - so check it out, sf lovers!

The Twisted Room

When I was a child, one of my very favorite books was The Ghost in the Swing by Janet Patton Smith.  It was the one I checked out the most at my library, and even when I didn't choose to check it out during a particular library visit, I often stopped by its location on the shelf, just to see if it was there.  I read it to my girls last year as one of our Halloween reads, and when I discovered an additional book by the same author that I'd never read, I picked up a used copy (both are currently out of print), and we read it together this year.  My older daughter (11 years old at the time) enjoyed it, but my other daughter, two years younger, did not connect with it as much.  It is about a teenager whose parents are having marital difficulties, and they send her to visit her strange and reclusive aunt while they try to sort things out.  The house next door turns out to be haunted by a ghost who is able to lure people into the time period (the 1940s) in which she lived.  It's creepy and interesting, but the characters were fairly two-dimensional, and in the end we found we all much preferred The Ghost in the Swing.

The Twisted Room by Janet Patton Smith (Lauren Leaf, 1983)

Monday, January 3, 2011

The House on Tradd Street

This is an adult novel with mystery and romance, about a young realtor named Melanie who lives in Charleston, South Carolina.  Despite her disdain of historical property, she is a top seller of historic homes in the city, and ironically she comes to inherit an old house, complete with a shadowy mystery and a few ghosts.  I enjoyed the audio version of this, particularly for its evocative sense of place.  I did find Melanie's fervent state of denial regarding any unpleasantness in her life to be a bit over the top, and her constant whining and nastiness to those around her made me not quite believe that her friends could stand her, let alone be so supportive to her despite her snarkiness.  She redeems herself a bit by the end of the book, thank goodness. 

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (Listen & Live Audio, 2008) 

Magic Bleeds

I continue to enjoy Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels series, and this fourth book did not disappoint.   This one opens as Kate awaits her "date" with the man she is finally admitting she might be in love with (a result of losing a bet to him, she is making dinner for him - with some additional amusing stipulations).  When he doesn't show up, things in her life go south quickly, first for one reason, and then another.  She is called in to investigate a grisly murder scene at a bar that turns out to be one in a series of similar murders, and when she begins to understand the nature of the being behind the killings, she realizes that she is in deep, deep trouble.

Much madness, mayhem, and the usual fun and excitement ensue.  Fans of Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison would be sure to enjoy this series, too.

Books in the Kate Daniels series:
1. Magic Bites
2. Magic Burns
3. Magic Strikes

4. Magic Bleeds 

Magic Bleeds  (#4 in the Kate Daniels series) by Ilona Andrews (Ace, 2010)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I have been reading such glowing reviews of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie all year long, so when I saw this book in my library's catalog of downloadable audio books, I put my name on the list.  I was a bit skeptical, because I often find books that are so wildly popular to be disappointing after so much build-up (I simply could not get through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example).  But oh my goodness!  Who could not fail to adore the brilliant eleven-year-old chemistry prodigy Flavia de Luce?  She narrates the story beautifully, with turns of phrase that had me alternately grinning and shaking my head.  She lives in a ramshackle old house with her father and two older sisters, and they certainly have interesting relationships with each other.  As the book opens, Flavia overhears an argument at night between her father and a total stranger, and in the morning the she discovers that man in the garden and witnesses his dying breath.  The man has been murdered, and her father is naturally a suspect, so Flavia is determined to discover the identity of the killer.  Fasten your seat belts, mystery lovers - it's going to be a delightfully bumpy ride!  I loved this one, loved the characters, the setting, the back story, the mystery.  I loved the way the dialogue between characters conveys so much more than the words themselves.  And I love that the author was willing to take a risk and allow a book for adults to be narrated by a child - it works wonderfully well, and I cannot wait to read the next Flavia de Luce book.  I hear it's just as good, if not better, than the first.

Books in the Flavia de Luce Mystery series:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
3. A Red Herring without Mustard

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (#1in the Flavia de Luce mystery series) by Alan C. Bradley (Books on Tape, 2009)