Thursday, September 27, 2012

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I finally made it through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. she was on my Sci-fi/Fantasy female authors list. I have to say, out of all the books I have read off of the list so far, this has been my least favorite. I've been having a hard time putting my finger on why I found reading this book almost a chore rather than a pleasure.

I normally like the alternate history this book contains, so that isn't the problem. I like books about magic and faeries. The nearest I can figure out, it is just the round about way the author goes about telling the story.

In some ways it feels like short stories crammed together for a book, which makes me think I might very well enjoy her short story collection more than her novel. The book was long, but that in itself isn't a reason for me to dislike it. I have devoured books by Diana Gabaldon that are longer, and just as full of history.

Maybe part of the problem is that Mr. Norrell is such an unlikable person, and a lot of the first part of the book is spent on him. I don't know why anyone put up with him. Once Jonathan Strange came into the story things picked up a bit. He was a much more likable fellow.

The enjoyed the battles with Napoleon's French troops. I think another thing that aggravated me about the book was that it was fairly clear early on where some of the story threads were headed. It seemed to take so long to get to the resolution of those threads though.

I am not known for my patience, I used to be terrible about skipping ahead and skimming further along in a book. That is harder to do in ebook form, so I don't do that much anymore.

Overall, the writing was well done, and the story was interesting. However, taken as a whole, this book didn't really do much for me.

I'm going to give Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, 2 Stars.

Next up, J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cloaked in Malice by Annette Blair

Cloaked in Malice is the fifth book in Annette Blair's Vintage Magic Mystery series. The series follows Madeira Cutler, a psychometric who can "read" vintage clothing when she touches it. The psychometric thing had been introduced in some of Blair's earlier Witchy books, with different characters.

I thought Cloaked in Malice was fantastic. She did a great job of stringing me along with the mystery, and this book gave me the willies in more than a few places. 

I think Blair has created some great characters for this series with Maddie, her friend Eve, on and off again boyfriend Nick, and her family and other close friends. We also can't forget the resident ghost in her vintage clothing shop.

I like that the overall story progresses. Some characters get stuck in such a limbo, but Mad is going places, her character changes and grows over the course of the series. 

I will admit that my eyes glaze over a little bit at some of the fashion lingo, I don't know enough about different types of fabric and pieces of clothing to get a clear picture in my head. But, if you are knowledgable about such things, I'm sure you can picture the details of every outfit. The fashion lingo doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the story and the characters. 

I will definitely continue to read books by Annette Blair, I have read many, and they are always entertaining. Her romances get pretty steamy, but this falls pretty firmly into the cozy mystery wheelhouse, with more tease than action.

I'm going to give Cloaked in Malice by Annette Blair,  5 Stars.
It was a fun, quick read, with a good mystery.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

My latest book from my female sci-fi/fantasy author's list is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.
It is a book I had read when I was younger, elementary school or junior high. I didn't remember much about it, I remembered there was another book of hers I had liked better, but it doesn't fit the sci-fi/fantasy genre. (Anyone who is curious, the title is And Both Were Young).

A Wrinkle in Time is a Newberry Award winner, and was published in 1962. It is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year. I'm assuming most people have read the book, but I'll try to steer clear of spoilers, just in case.

The main characters of the story are Meg and Charles Wallace Murray, and their new friend Calvin. The young people are led off on a mission to rescue Meg's father by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs What. This is a great adventure story and a great coming of age story. Meg is just hopeless at fitting in at school, she looks awkward and is good at math, but doesn't even try when it comes to other subjects. Calvin is odd in his own way, but he manages to appear normal enough to fit in at school. Charles Wallace, well he is a truly precocious four year old.

A Wrinkle in Time was a jumping off point for a whole series of adventures, and I plan to read the rest of them. Although, I am pretty sure I read many of them when I was younger, that was many years, and many books ago.

The Kindle copy of the book that I read had a Q & A with Ms. L'Engle after the story. One thing that struck me from the Q & A was her mention of reading and loving the books of L.M. Montgomery, who wrote Anne of Green Gables. Based on the kinship chart in the back of A Wrinkle in Time, I would guess that L'Engle was influenced by the way Montgomery's Anne books follow Anne and then go on to follow her children.

This book has the classic opening line:
"It was a dark and stormy night."

But, the description of the storm that followed was what really hit home to me how talented L'Engle was. 

"...watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. every few moments the moon ripped through them creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground."

The part of the book that I loved the most, was her included Newberry acceptance speech. I'll provide a link here. The quote I loved was this:

"Because of the very nature of the world as it is today, our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subject, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure that they must be guided into creativity."

She goes on to comment about standardization, and this speech was given in 1963, but I think it is especially relevant today.

I am a mother to two young boys, both reluctant readers. But, I have always felt it is very important to help them find things to read for pleasure. It is a challenge, but one that I feel is worth the effort. 

To wrap this up then, I'm going to give A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, 5 Stars.
The story is engaging, and I think important, as is the author herself. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I got sidetracked from reading female sci-fi/fantasy writers. The Life of Pi is being made into a movie by Ang Lee, and the trailer looks amazing. I had been intrigued by the book since it came out, but had never read it. Most of what I want to say would be spoilery, so look for it after the rating.

I liked the book and am glad I read it. It is worth reading, but not so compelling that I couldn't put it down. At least, not until I got near the end.

I'm going to give Life of Pi by Yann Martel, 3 Stars.  
I would read another book by the author, but maybe not just because it was written by Yann Martel.

Spoilers ahead!!

Upon finishing the book, my first reaction was feeling like I had been tricked. This whole elaborate story was a complete fiction. As I thought about it, while listening to our middle of the night thunderstorm, I understood why Pi would need that construction to survive what happened to him.
His telling of the real story to the Japanese representatives of the shipping company was more terrible than his story of the Richard Parker (the tiger).

The only part I couldn't correspond between the Richard Parker story, and his true story, was the carnivorous island.

I had been upset by the animal on animal violence in this book and it made me decide I should see the movie before the kids see it. However, that violence becomes even more terrible when you realize it was really person on person violence.

Anyway, upon reflection, I liked the book and am glad I read it. It will definitely give me stuff to think about for some time.