Tuesday, August 04, 2009

2009 Books So Far

I can't believe it is August and I haven't posted about the books I've read so far this year. Granted the year got off to a slow start, and I have been posting them in the sidebar on the right, but it is high time I filled you in.

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski
feminist S/F and fantasy
I have really enjoyed each of the books by Slonczewski that I have read starting with A Door Into Ocean (which won a Campbell Award in 1987). But I can't leave my brain behind when I read her books, no I have to have it engaged or I'm left in the dust. Not that I mind. Brain Plague tackles the not-all-all-small question of what lives are worth saving. An artist adopts a colony of microbes that set up residence in her brain. She can communicate with them, and they with her. Each gains from the partnership. But where are the lines? What are the responsibilities, to each other, or to society? Are the microbes even safe or should they be removed as a disease-causing virus would be? You can read this one alone, but you'll know more about the background of the world if you have already read A Door Into Ocean, Daughter of Elysium, and The Children Star. But I wouldn't line them up to read all in a row. I like to let one percolate for a while before diving into the next one.

The Postman (Il Postino) by Antonio Skármeta
fiction, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
I kept hearing how wonderful this book was and I never picked it up. I finally gave in and loved it. It is the story of Mario, a young man in pre-Pinochet Chile who happens into a job as a postman with a very particular job: his job is to deliver the mail to the famous poet Pablo Neruda. He gets the job because he has a bicycle. Mario is a dreamer, a lover of movies, who thinks if he can get Neruda to autograph one of his books of poetry, then he can use it to impress the girls. And somehow we get carried away with Mario learning about metaphor and about the lovely Beatriz, and about a country's upheaval.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Book 7 in the series
Chelle and I read the whole series to each other out loud. It took us forever because we have too many other distractions. But this was a very satisfying end to the series. I am content.

Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser
I know I must have heard the name Ted Kooser more than once, but it never sank in. Then I happened across him reading some of his own work on YouTube and I was hooked. I bought this book and enjoyed it immensely. I like his language and the pictures he paints. My favorite is probably "Skater", where his description turns just as the graceful skater herself. But even his titles charm me: "A Jar of Buttons", "Depression Glass", "Applesauce", and "Bank Fishing for Bluegills." Each is something I've seen or done, but Kooser looks at things a little differently and I see more by looking through his visions.

The High King's Tomb by Kristen Britain
fantasy, 3rd in the series
This book, a long one, is about sorting things out. The first two were quite chaotic in their pace, leaving broken people and a pile of messes behind. This one deals with a now-adult Karigan and her companions gathering up the pieces and laying groundwork of repairs, perhaps alliances, and hopefully a plan to protect the kingdom against a deferred threat.

The Exile and the Sorcerer by Jane Fletcher
fantasy, first of a series
This one kept popping up on the "recommended for you" list at Amazon and I finally decided to try the first one. Imagine an isolated chain of islands where young girls must drink a nasty potion when they are growing up, the result of which is that they are all super-strong. The society this makes is the flip-side of misogynistic. But the heroine doesn't fit in, fearful she'll be stoned by her family and clan if they ever find out she only has romantic feelings for women. She ends up pledging to find and retrieve a magic chalice, a task she knows she'll never complete, but which allows her to leave with her dignity, and that of her family, intact. She finds her way to the mainland where she can make a living on her strength, but has oh-so-much-more to learn. A bit of action, some romance, some mystery - I was entertained enough I bought the next two books in the series.

The Black Ship by Diana Pharaoh Francis
fantasy, a novel of Crosspointe
The first book in this series, The Cipher, gave me some fits. I wasn't sure if the fast-paced ending was worth the slog at the beginning. I decided that I'd give the sequel a try. This one starts out with another character entirely, a ship captain with attitude that only gets him in trouble. The pace on this was better, and before long, there is a swirling in of characters from the previous story, enough that I wanted to know more. I'll be back when the next one is available.

Dervish Daughter by Sheri S. Tepper
I picked this up at a book sale at the local library and recognized it as a part of a series, one of which I'd read years ago. Unfortunately, I seem to be reading the series backwards, which means that I'm still a bit confused. I read Jinian Star-Eye which I believe is book 3. This one is book 2. That means I still need to find Jinian Footseer which I think is book 1. To complicate this even more, I believe these together may be just one of a trilogy of triologies. I may never sort the story out entirely! These are good stories, and I think the characters are alright. But these are not on the level with the newer books by Tepper (such as Grass or Shadow's End or a Plague of Angels).

Fiddler's Green by Ernest Gann
This book turned up at my house when my wife mistakenly ordered it, thinking it was something else. It didn't cost much and so wasn't worth the postage to return it. I needed something to read one day and picked it up, thinking I'd be so bored after a few pages that it would go straight to the pile of books to give away. I don't read a lot of books by men, and I don't read a lot of books with so few women characters. This book was first published in the 1950's and it is set in San Francisco, along Fisherman's Wharf, and in the sea nearby. The book spells out the story from a number of viewpoints, a crook with ambitions, a detective who wants more, an immigrant fisherman who can't understand his American-born son, the son who is embarrassed by his immigrant father, the waterfront bum who can't remember beyond his last (or next) drink, and more. What I found most interesting is the inner dialog each of the male characters has. Most of the time, there is a thread of competition, of comparing oneself to the others, measuring your standing, or protecting it. I started to wonder if that is how most men do run their lives? Or was this just a theme in this book? Was it true in 1950's San Francisco? An interesting read.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
fantasy, Book One of the Dresden Files
My older brother told me I'd like the Dresden Files TV show on the SciFi channel a while back. He had some of the episodes on DVD when we were both visiting my Mom and played a couple for me. I liked them well enough, but kept thinking I should probably just read the books. I picked up the first one and I definitely like it better than the TV series. Harry Dresden is a wizard, the only one listed in the Chicago phone book. In this first book, he has a very bad week (give or take). I'm hooked.

Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris
the first Lily Bard Mystery
I have read most of Harris' vampire series with Sookie Stackhouse, so I was wondering if I would like this series or not. Lily Bard is in hiding (from her past) and picked the town of Shakespeare because of it's name (and hers) - sort of a "why not?" kind of thing. She cleans people's houses and apartments, and does some other odd jobs for folks, so she sees and hears a lot. This book opens when she can't sleep, goes for a walk to clear her head, and finds a body dumped in her own neighborhood. She ends up trying to help solve the murder without people looking too deeply into her own past (which she wants to keep in the past). We do find out what her past was (let me warn you it is grisly and disturbing) and we see that Lily is just starting to arrive at a point where she can let people back into her life.

Idaho Code by Joan Opyr
lesbian fiction
If you are going to read this around other people, you may have to warn them ahead of time that there will be either giggles, or snorts, or other outbursts from you. Why? Let's see... the book opens with Bil, an on-the-rebound baby dyke (now living back at home with her parents to whom she has not told she is a lesbian) sitting in church next to her mother at a funeral. They are sitting directly behind the widow and daughter of the deceased when Bil's mother's cell phone rings, her mother answers it, and proceeds to carry on a short-but-loud conversation with Bil's brother, Sam, who has been arrested (again) and needs to be bailed out before his chemo session the next day. Springing Sam may not be so easy because he might have killed the funeral's honoree. Oh, yeah, and Bil has had a crush on the widow's daughter since she was in elementary school. Can't forget the old flame who arrives in town to help fight the anti-gay bill up for a state vote. Throw in Bil's best friend, a drag queen who lives at his mom's place, which happens to be a kind of lesbian-survivalist camp with guns and softball. Quite a wild ride, with lots of chuckles.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
fantasy or S/F
Another find from the book sale, this is an older piece by McIntyre. A good story, though the main character was a little too "oh-woe-is-me" for a while, but fortunately came up with a plan to help dig herself out of trouble. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it has some interesting underpinnings of thought on how people might live long, long, long, long after nuclear bombs poison large swaths of the world. But the focus is not on that, but on a story of a young woman's quest and the people she encounters along the way. It leaves some questions unanswered, but many in a way that invite you to think about what might be.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
children's fiction (junior-high age)
A story about a girl who doesn't fit in and the strengths she discovers in herself. A nice story that isn't too frilly. Set in a well-rounded environment, it all makes sense and the people are largely believable to me.

Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews
a Kate Daniels Novel
Kate Daniels is back and in deep doo-doo as usual. There are a lot of returning characters, with developing storylines. Some new foes appear, and some new facets to those friends. A lot of fighting and some sizzling verbal sparring between Kate and her would-be-suitor. Along the way, we are treated to some more of Kate's mysterious history, and why she is so driven and paranoid. I had to stay up late to finish this one.

No comments: