Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Parasol Protectorate 4 and 5

Heartless and Timeless by Gail Carriger, 385 and 402 pages

Cover image for Heartless / Gail Carriger.While this series is still quite good, it seems to be slipping away from Carriger. There are a couple of important plot points that seem rushed or only half thought out. It almost seems as if she had the general points she wanted to cover but didn't know how to transition the story along them. This leads to some choppy and unlikely events. The only thing that holds the story together are the exceptionally designed characters and the interlaced humor.

Cover image for Timeless / Gail Carriger.Heartless, despite an assassination attempt, starts off slower than the rest of the series and almost seems to stall out in the first half. Luckily the action and excitement really ramp up to an explosive finish.

The highlight of Timeless is the baby Prudence. She, like her mother, is very talented at being a bother and causing mayhem wherever she goes. As this is the final book of the series I was disappointed with it. There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered and it seems like Carriger was really building up to another book that would wrap everything up.

Overall the series was worth the read and was entertaining, but like any series had its highs and lows.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

Fairest [vol. 2]: The Hidden Kingdom by Bill Willingham and Lauren Beukes, 160 pages

This is the second volume in Willingham's Fables spin-off, Fairest. This series focuses on the women of Fables, giving some of their background (not the original stories, mind you; these stories all happen after "happily ever after"). This volume in particular centers on Rapunzel, who fled the Adversary and ended up in the Hidden Kingdom, a mystical world filled with Japanese fables. A mysterious origami message finds Rapunzel in Fabletown, drawing her back to Tokyo and into a world she'd left behind hundreds of years earlier.

I won't lie: this was a weird book. The appearance of Japanese fables was both intriguing and a bit disconcerting, as I'm not familiar with them at all (well, at least not outside of the occasional Miyazaki movie). I liked the change of scenery, and I'd love to hear more stories of some of these fables. My one complaint was the appearance of animate bezoars, which was a bit stomach-churning for my taste, and seemed like an odd way to spin Rapunzel's story; there are so many ways this could have gone, most of which would be less gross. Aside from that, however, this was a good volume, and a great way to bring in some fables that aren't well-known in Western culture.

Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar

Everything Is Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford, 317 pages

Kelly Oxford has had an imperfect life, full of embarrassing mishaps and crazy stories. But then, so have we all. However, Oxford's anecdotes seem just a little crazier and a little funnier than most of the stories a lot of people would come up with. Who else would be able to spin out a yarn about flying from Edmonton to Los Angeles for a long, pot-fueled weekend for the sole purpose of tracking down a Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio? (Spoiler alert: she never finds him.) And while I'm sure all of us had fantasies of directing backyard versions of Star Wars when we were kids (no? Just me then.), I doubt any of us stood up in front of the whole elementary school to announce an open casting call for Chewbacca, to be held in our own dining room after school. But Kelly Oxford did, to hilarious and somewhat cringe-inducing results.

This is a funny book. There were several times when I chuckled out loud. However, there were also several times when I thought, "Geez, Kelly, TMI!" Cuz really, I would have been perfectly fine not hearing about the time she had to give herself an enema at the hospital. Also would have been fine with fewer stories about puke. It's because of those TMI stories that I can't really give this book a solid recommendation. If tales of bodily fluids are totally your thing, go for it. Otherwise, steer clear.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, 277 pages

In this sequel to Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley has grown up a bit, and is now a 16-year-old schoolteacher in a one-room schoolhouse on Prince Edward Island. This book is every bit as idyllic and squeaky-clean as its predecessor, filled with picnics, daydreams, and mischievous children getting into relatively harmless situations.

While this was a nice break from some of the more adult books I've read lately (A Song of Ice and Fire series, I'm talking to you), this was a bit TOO squeaky clean. A book where the most talked-about scandal is a town hall that's been painted the wrong color? Where we have no idea what the foul-mouthed parrot actually said, just that it was rude? Where a child gets reprimanded for saying "whopper" instead of "falsehood"? Yeah, this is quite possibly the least objectionable book in existence (I mean, unless "being a titch too pro-Canada" is objectionable), making it a poor choice for Banned Books Week.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and I'll definitely keep reading this series, whenever I need a good palate cleanser from a sex-gore-violence-filled novel. (So, whenever George R.R. Martin finally gets around to releasing Winds of Winter. Right after that.)
Collector of Dying Breaths by M. J. Rose
368 Pages

When Jac L'Etoile's brother dies of a mysterious poison, she attempts to finish off a project that he had started.  A group of glass vials that purport to hold the dying breaths of several 16th Century figures was found and if the formula of the perfume maker Rene Le Florentin can be recreated would mean that those individuals could live again with all their memories.  

Part historical novel, part romance novel, this book is a mess.  While there are interesting premises that could be investigated and great subject matter, Rose fails to make any of her characters connectable and there are several times where the plot drops a thread and never has any resolution for that plot line.  Supposedly the second book of the series I could not in good conscience recommend either book to anyone.

Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages

Cover image for A short history of the Papacy in the Middle Ages / Walter Ullmann.Ullmann's book is not a history of the popes, but of the development of the idea of the Papacy, and the role of that idea, and that institution, as the midwife of Western civilization.  The universal claims of the bishop of Rome established the idea of a united Christendom, even as the development of a uniform code of canon law encouraged the transition to governments based on laws rather than custom.
Ullmann stresses the impact of the Byzantine imperial example during the period between Constantine and Charlemagne, a vitally important time for the papacy.  In his telling, the popes supported the growth of the Holy Roman Empire to counter the power of the Eastern emperors, then the assertion of national monarchies to undermine the power of the German emperors.  This new nationalism produced a centrifugal force that, combined with the new focus on the individual fostered by Renaissance humanism, pulled apart the medieval papacy.
If, as Macaulay famously claimed, "There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the [Papacy]", this is a good place to start that examination.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lisette's List

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland
414 Pages

Lisette and her husband move in 1937 from Paris to a village in the south of France to care for the husband's grandfather.  The grandfather has 7 paintings that he earned by making frames for famous impressionists such as Cezanne and Pissaro.  As Lisette adjusts to the slower pace of life, the grandfather tells her the stories behind the paintings and the painters that painted them.  This increases her admiration for art.  When war looms large, Andre, the husband, hides the paintings to keep them safe.  He doesn't tell his wife where they are so she won't accidentally give away the secret.  When he doesn't survive, one of her list items is to find the missing paintings.  The book details the struggle of the french woman Lisette learning to grow and adjust to changing situations.

Vreeland has written other novels that take place around a famous painting or artist.  This one is less confined and because it isn't shoehorned to fit a certain situation seems much better than her previous novel. 

Beyond the Grave

Beyond the Grave by Jeffrey L. Condon, Esq.
498 Pages

If I don't add the subtitle you might think this a new zombie novel but instead it is a book about how to will your money to your children and potential pitfalls to avoid.  The style is easy to read and their is a lot of good information in the book.  I personally didn't find the answer I was looking for but for people just beginning estate planning it brings up a lot of good points for consideration.

Pilgrim's Regress

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327952574l/989775.jpgThis is the tale of John, a native of Puritania, raised in terror of the judgement of the Landlord of that country.  Leaving home to escape from the shadow of that tyrant, John journeys through the city of the Clevers and the land of Mammon, into the home of old Mr Halfways and his daughter Media as well as into the home shared by the bachelors Mr Angular, Mr Classical, and Mr Humanist, accompanied at times by the warrior maiden Reason and at times by the adventurer Vertue, chasing an Island he has seen only in dreams and visions.  His quest takes him to the ends of the earth, which turn out to be rather closer to home than he had imagined.
This is a remarkable book, full of Lewis' customary insight and wit, which always seems to cut through layers of obfuscation to the heart of the matter.  It is intimated at times that this is the landscape of The Pilgrim's Progress, transformed by the passage of years, but John's regress involves more progress than Christian's pilgrimage.  Unfortunately neglected, it will surely be appreciated by any fans of Lewis' theological fantasies (The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce) or the novels of Chesterton.


Visions by Kelley Armstrong
448 Pages

The second book of Armstrong's Cainsville series continues to develop this new fictional universe.   After Olivia has cleared her real parents of 2 of the murders they were charged with she plans to continue working with Gabriel on a new appeal for her mother.  However, past mistakes cause a rift between the two of them which leads to Olivia dating Ricky, the son of the leader of the local biker gang. 

Olivia finds a dead woman in her car dressed to look like her but when help arrives the body is gone.  It turns out the woman went missing days ago and is part of a mystery the revolves around Olivia and Cainsville.  As it turns out Olivia is in the center of several old and mysterious forces, all with their own secretive agendas. 

The development of the backstory of Cainsville is part of the reason I enjoyed this book and look forward to future releases.  Strong secondary characters  are part of a solid sophomore entry.

The Third Kingdom

The Third Kingdom by Terry Goodkind
527 Pages

 The sequel to the Omen Machine which is part of a new trilogy of the Sword of Truth series, this book was okay, but not great.  Having killed Jit the hedgewitch, Richard and Kahlan have been infected with death which, if they don't do something, will eventually kill them.  Separated from their friends, Richard must depend on a young sorceress Sammi to figure out a plan of action and determine what is occurring. 

Goodkind tends to be repetitive in this novel with a lot of narrating and plot devices that don't add anything to the book. 

The Mine

The Mine by John A Heldt
286 Pages

 Joel Smith is about to graduate from college and is on a road trip with his friend Adam, just a few days from graduation.  When a traffic jam causes him to make a detour, he stops at an abandoned mine and lets his curiosity take control.  He enters the mine and finds a strange glowing room.  When he emerges, his friend is gone and he soon discovers that he has traveled back in time to May 1941. 

The book deals with Joel adjusting to this new era, with no hope of returning to his own time and how he debates using his knowledge of things to come to alter the lives of the friends he makes. 

Set up as a Kindle series this first entry is middling and fails to develop or expand what could be a interesting premise.  For readers looking for good time travel books I wouldn't recommend this volume but instead direct them to Jack Finney's Time and Again, Connie WIllis Doomsday Book or Household Gods by Judith Tarr


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell, by Paul Dini, ill. by Joe Quinones, 144 pages
Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell

The story is thus: Black Canary went undercover to break up a heist, but things are getting scary now that everyone else involved is mysteriously dying.  She calls on the only person she can trust- her good friend Zatanna, who tries to use her powers of magic to figure out what dark powers are working and how to save her friend.  I'm not very well-versed in my caped superhero stories, but I'm always happy to see strong, female superheroes not depicted as sexual objects.  As usual, there is a fair amount of objectification, regardless, but at least these are two strong female characters who save each other instead of calling in the Avengers all of the time.


Radiant by Karin Sumner-Smith
400 Pages

Xhea has no magic.   In a society that runs on magic Xhea is an outcast.  The only way she can make a living is using her ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world.  When a man comes by and asks to be free of his ghost for a few days, Xhea thinks it is just another job.  However, the ghost, Shai,  is a Radiant, one of a few rare individuals that generate so much magic they serve as the engines of the Towers.  Xhea gets caught up in the power struggle between towers concerning Shai and learns to use her strange magic that emerges.

 Coming out later this month, the book isn't bad.  It would appeal to readers who like strong woman protagonists and fantasy.

Just Call My Name

http://slpl.sdp.sirsi.net/client/catalog/search/results?qu=just+call+my+name&te=ILS&rt=false|||TITLE|||TitleJust Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan          328 pages

This is the sequel to I’ll Be There.  This book could be read as a stand-alone but will probably be better enjoyed after reading the first book.  Sam and Riddle have been taken in by the Bell family.  Sam and Emily have continued dating and although Sam has his own apartment, Riddle usually sleeps at the Bell’s house.  They plan to adopt him and to become Sam’s legal guardians.  Because he is almost 18, this seems the best solution to make him part of the family also.  Their evil father is out of the picture, in jail, awaiting trial.  But their father is full of plans for escape and revenge.  He doesn’t revenge just on his sons, but on the family who has been helping them, because they turned his boys against him, or so he believes.  Of course, Sam and Riddle were terrified of their father, who kidnapped them ten years previously and were glad to see him in prison.  Will he destroy the new life they have built?  An exciting, action-packed sequel that a lot of teens will enjoy reading.

Kingdom Keepers VII The Insider

Kingdom Keepers VII The Insider by Ridley Pearson         609 pages

This is the final installment of The Kingdom Keepers series.  Finn, Willa, Maybeck, Philby and Charlene have been called on again to help defend the Disney kingdom from the Overtakers.  This time they are sure that the battle will be worse and final.  Somehow what happens now will decide the outcome of Disney’s magic once and for all.  The trouble is centered in the park that began it all, Disneyland, and the kids have relocated to California physically to help deal with the menace.  With clues from Wayne and help from Amanda and Jess, the five try to come up with a plan that will allow them to defeat the Overtakers, who are being led by Tia Dalma and the Evil Queen from Snow White.  They appear to have released Chernobog and it seems that the only way to defeat them is to somehow recover Mickey Mouse, who apparently was destroyed by the Overtakers years ago.  An exciting finale to the series, fans will probably like this book.  The series should probably be read in order and fans of Disney, adventure, and fantasy will like the series.  I felt like the ending wasn’t wrapped up quite enough for a final book, but perhaps there are plans for a new series based on this one.

365 Days Of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book Of Precepts

365 Days Of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book Of Precepts by R. J. Palacio      432 pages

This is a book inspired by the book, Wonder, by this author.  The book is really a list of precepts, supposedly collected by Mr. Browne from his fifth grade students over a period of years.  He chose 365 of them, one for each day of the year, and used those to create a book.  At the end of each month he has a couple of pages where he tells a story about some of his teaching experiences and his students.  Some of these stories are about the characters in Wonder, but some are not.  The book is really intended to be read one day at a time, for a year, I think, and to reflect on the precept for that day.  Some of the precepts are quoted from famous people and some are ones that the kids made up themselves.  Overall it’s an interesting book and kids who read Wonder will probably like it, as will kids who like inspirational stories, like the Chicken Soup For The Soul series.