Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Poison Study

I've been hearing so many good things about this series, and it's been on my list for so long, that I finally decided to take the plunge. It's always a bit of a risk to have high expectations, particularly when it's a fantasy novel, since I tend to have higher standards for fantasy.  I suppose that's because it's my favorite genre; I've read so much and have become pickier over the years.

This one opens with an interesting premise. Yelena is a young woman who is about to be executed for murder (in her world there are no extenuating circumstances - and we don't really know why she did what she did; that is gradually revealed throughout the course of the novel). She is given a chance to live. She can become food taster to the Commander (someone who is wanted dead by a host of people), or she can continue on her way to the gallows. She chooses life - a life that is measured out by the constant threat of death by poison - and becomes aware of a growing power inside her that she doesn't fully understand.

I really enjoyed this one. Great storytelling, a strong heroine to root for, political intrigue, a romantic interest, a world that is complex and compelling - what's not to like? It was one of those stories that creates a powerful atmosphere and characters that are a believable part of that world. My library shelves this in the adult collection, but I think that it would be just as appealing to teen readers. I look forward to reading the further books in this trilogy.

Books in the Study series:
1. Poison Study
2. Magic Study
3. Fire Study

Poison Study (#1 in the Study series) by Maria V. Snyder (Luna, 2005)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Something Fresh

I've been making my way through Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series, which is a guaranteed lighthearted and clever romp, but a friend of mine keeps telling me to read the Blandings books, which he actually enjoys even more. So I set Bertie and Jeeves aside and picked up this first book in the series, which introduces us to Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle as well as many other fun and quirky characters.

As with the Jeeves series, this book is made up of several subplots that wind together and come to a clever, funny conclusion and involves interesting characters I came to care about as the novel progressed. There is a young man about to be engaged who is worried about being blackmailed about some incriminating letters. There's another young man in need of a change in his professional and personal life, who finds himself behaving in a new and purposeful way after meeting an inspiring young woman. He soon finds himself undercover in an attempt to retrieve a purloined scarab, but that young woman is bound and determined to beat him to it - and to the reward money.

I particularly enjoyed the female characters in this novel, who are stronger and more independent-minded than many female characters portrayed by writers (male and female) even decades after this was published, which is certainly refreshing. There are humorous misunderstandings, romantic entanglements, and all those delightful things to be expected in a Wodehouse novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

These books truly lend themselves to being read aloud, and I listened to the audio version of this one, narrated by Frederick Davidson, who did an excellent job. I'm now hooked on both series and look forward to many more visits to Blandings.

This book is available for free at Project Gutenburg.

Books in the Blandings series:
1. Something Fresh
2. Summer Lightning
aka Fish Preferred
3. Heavy Weather
4. Blandings Castle and Elsewhere
5. Lord Emsworth and Others
aka The Crime Wave at Blandings
6. Full Moon  
7. Pigs Have Wings  
8. Galahad at Blandings aka The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood
9. A Pelican at Blandings 
10. Sunset at Blandings  
11. Imperial Blandings 
12. Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best

Something Fresh (#1 in the Blandings series) by P.G. Wodehouse; narrated by Frederick Davidson (Blackstone Audio, 2009); originally published 1915

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Earth Girl

This YA science fiction novel grabbed me from the start. It features a seventeen-year-old girl living on Earth in the year 2788, in a society in which much of the population has spread out to other solar systems. However, there is a very small percentage of humans who have an immune system that is unable to support their survival on any planet but Earth. When an infant is born off world who has this rare condition, he or she is immediately transported (through a portal transport system) to Earth before anaphylactic shock can set in. If the child's parents cannot (or will not) move to Earth to be with their child, the child is raised in a sort of orphanage/school on Earth, with a very politically powerful part-time guardian to look out for them.

Jarra is one such child, unable to leave Earth, abandoned by her parents, thought of by the rest of "exo" society as a throwback, or worse, an "ape." She is finishing up her final year of school and must decide upon a profession and college. She is utterly obsessed with archaeology, but, being contrary and feisty, she decides to apply to an exo program. The first part of that university program takes place on Earth, so she can physically do it, and she wants to go in proving that an "ape" girl can hold her own among norms. She joins her university cohort, who has no idea she's an "ape," and begins the daunting task of proving her worth among them.

This is a gripping story with a fascinating premise, and I adored it while I was reading it (aside from the inordinately minuscule font size) - up until the end.  I'm not sure what happened, but the story is moving quite nicely toward a suspenseful climax - when it all falls apart, and then it just kind of wraps up retrospectively. The Big Reveal - in which Jarra's "ape"status is revealed to her her exo classmates, happens off stage. That's right - the reader gets to hear about it afterwards, secondhand. How disappointing is that? It seemed like a huge cop-out, and left me feeling utterly unsatisfied. Great premise, interesting characters, excellent setting, nice dash of romance, but ultimately disappointing.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (Prometheus Books, 2013)