Friday, August 02, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling

I will readily admit I first learned about the book when the news broke that J. K. Rowling was the author. That being said, I enjoy mysteries and the story sounded interesting, so I purchased and read it on my Kindle.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a traditional mystery. Cormoran Strike is a private investigator, former military intelligence, and his physical description may remind you a bit of Hagrid. His world has pretty much just fallen apart. He has no money, no cases, and just broke up with his girlfriend and subsequently his house. He definitely cannot afford to keep the temp that the service sent over. Robin thinks it's exciting to be working for a private eye, even if it isn't the real job her fiancee is wanting her to get.

The presumed suicide of a model gets brought to Strike by her brother. He can't accept that she committed suicide. The case proceeds more like a BBC mystery than a flashy, action-packed American one. We follow Strike as he interviews friends and family members and doggedly pursues any leads that pop up.

I really enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling. I had also read The Casual Vacancy, which was well-written, but I didn't enjoy it as much. The Cuckoo's Calling is a great mystery, there are twists and turns and it kept me guessing right up to the end.

I would definitely recommend the book, and I hoped the leak of the pseudonym doesn't keep Rowling from writing more Cormoran Strike.

I'm going to give The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, 4 stars.

As a side note, I couldn't help but think Cormoran Strike and Robin reminded me of what Hagrid and Hermoine might be doing if they were muggles. But, the thought wouldn't have occurred to me if I had read it before Rowling was outed.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Three Oceans and a Dud

It was another of those times that I read books that kind of intertwined, although they were nothing alike. I read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

The Light Between Oceans is the story of a lighthouse keeper in Australia. He is assigned to the most solitary lighthouse in the country. It sits on its own island way off shore, between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. This book was beautiful in places, the keeper loved his wife and would do anything for her, including the unthinkable. As the story unfolds and grows more and more complicated, the moral waters become murky. This book, reading as a mother, is heart wrenching. It is definitely worth the read and is a story that sticks with you long after you've turned the last page.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is as magical as The Light Between Oceans was honest and unflinching. It is a kind of fantastical story, a modern fairy tale almost. Many of Gaiman's books feel like the characters could bump into each other on the street. It feels as if he's created a vast world that is populated by all of his books. I feel like if the main character from Ocean went to London, he would find himself in the middle of Neverwhere. In Ocean, a boy is thrust into the traumatic event of finding a dead body in the family car, but as a result he makes a friend. His friend has an ocean in her backyard, although the boy insists it's just a pond. There is a lot of pagan imagery here in this girl and her family, and things are disturbed that should have been left alone.

The man from the lighthouse has to live with his choices and what happened every day of his life. The boy from the lane is given a kind of fog, and only moments of clarity to remember what happened to him. The action of both books revolves around the choices these men make, although one was still a boy, and the fallout from their choices impact more than just their own lives.

I loved both of these books, and I think they are both ones that I would revisit and read again. The characters are so alive in both books. I think you could read The Light Between Oceans  more than once and feel differently each time about the choices the characters make. The Ocean at the End of the Lane I think you could read again and again and pick up more detail each time. Luckily it's a short book, so re-reading it would be quick or wouldn't take long even if savored.

I'm going to give The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, 4 stars.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman gets 5 stars.

Now a short blurb about the aforementioned dud. I'll Be Damned by Casey Keen was a huge disappointment. It sounded as if it would be a lighthearted paranormal romance, but suffered from terrible pacing problems. Most of the first third of the book is the main character complaining about her sister and her sister's upcoming wedding and how hard she has to work at the coffee shop she owns. She is all over the place, contradicting herself at every turn. She yells at her sister for wanting to do exactly what all horror movies would say you should never do, then proceeds to do one of those very things herself later. She doesn't drink hard liquor because it makes her hungover, but almost all of the many drinks she has during the first half of the book are some kind of mixed drink concoction. The apparent male lead is just as annoying. He skulks around her coffee shop staring at her, but never speaking. When he does speak, I just wish he would stop, he becomes bossy, but not in a fun alpha male way (a la Katie MacAlister). The book is listed as #1 in a series, but I hope if Keen really wants to get a series off the ground that she will take another look at I'll Be Damned and rework the pacing. I was over halfway through when I finally threw in the towel on this book and so little plot had happened it was maddening. I understand it's world building, but there was nothing there to pull me in. Even the kidnapping had me not really caring.

It is rare for me not to finish a book that I begin, and even more rare for me to give a truly bad review, but I am giving I'll Be Damned by Casey Keen, 1 star.

If it were re-edited, I would be willing to give the book another try. The premise was interesting based on the blurb on Amazon, if the book was reworked a little to cut out some of the main character's whining and add some real plot movement in the first half, it would be a lot better.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Road Trip!

We took a road trip, hence the no blogging for a couple weeks. We drove from Iowa City to San Francisco, in the Prius, with the kids. Luckily the kids are nine and twelve and iPhones and iPads go a long way to keeping them entertained.

We spent two nights and one full day in Salt Lake to visit my Grandma. The kids also got to try out a trampoline park The Wairhouse in SLC. The kids had a lot of fun, but an hour was enough for them. We also did a short stop at the Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park in SLC. It was great to see my Grandma, just before her 87th birthday.

We drove across the Salt Flats

We finally made it to the Golden Gate!

We checked out Pier 39

We also went to Monterey Bay Aquarium

We saw Dreamworks

There was a photo booth at our friend's wedding

Did I mention the wedding was in Napa?!

There is a castle winery there. Castello di Amorosa. It was a fun tour, and they had some good wine.

After arriving back in San Francisco, we went to the Giants baseball game. Xander had a really good time.

On the way home, we stopped for the Jelly Belly Factory Tour, in Fairfield, CA.

We put 4700 miles or so on the Prius.

I worked on hexipuffs for my Bee Keepers Quilt on the road.

I didn't get a lot of reading done, so book reviews will come as soon as I catch up on some reading!

I hope everyone else is having a great summer too!

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Tale of Two Endings

I recently read the final book in two separate series. The first series ending I read was for the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Dead Ever After. The second series finale was Tempest Reborn by Nicole Peeler.

These two series have things in common, they are both walking the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. They feature a variety of supernatural creatures, the heroine of each is from a small town, and both heroines are called upon to be bigger than they ever thought they would be. Both Sookie and Jane True change from someone fairly naive into someone who has seen too much and become a little immune to death and destruction over the course of their book series.

One place where I feel the series diverge from each other is in the feeling of an overall plan for the series from the beginning. I have read a lot of what Charlaine Harris has written and said about her Sookie Stackhouse series. She knew how she wanted to end it from about book 2 onward. In Sookie's case though it feels like some of the most recent books were not plot lines that Harris had on her mind early on. The series after about book eight or nine starts to feel like she's stretching to buy time.
My personal opinion on that is that she was pressured a little by her publisher to keep putting out new books after the series was turned into True Blood and True Blood was doing well. I would bet if she had wanted to keep writing a few more Sookie books, the publisher would have let her. True Blood has definitely helped book sales. I think the fact that there were still new books coming out also helped True Blood. I think that Harris would have ended the series a little sooner if it had been completely up to her, and I think ultimately the series would have been better for it.

Nicole Peeler's series as a whole is only 6 books long, a little less than half of Sookie's 13 books. The Jane True series reads more like a complete story told in volumes. Each book builds on the last, up to a final battle royale in Tempest Reborn. I can only imagine how a writer goes about creating that. I would think very few writers are like J.K. Rowling and have this complete series in their head from the beginning. Knowing how many books they would like it to be, and getting to write it the way they envision it has to be very rare in literature. Perhaps many authors do plan a whole series that way, but I would guess that there are many obstacles to getting a work like that published, especially for a new writer or a new series.

I enjoyed both Tempest Reborn and Dead Ever After very much. Dead Ever After was not perfect, but I ultimately felt that it was a wrap up that was true to Charlaine Harris' characters and her long held vision of how the series should end. I know there was a lot of disappointment, I was a little disappointed myself, I definitely had a different suitor that was my favorite. However, Harris had said many times that Sookie wouldn't become a vampire, and really how else can you live happily ever after with a vampire? The mystery of Dead Ever After seemed a little out of nowhere, as did the villains of the book, and the big hookup scene definitely wasn't competition from that shower scene in book four. I do think a re-read of it in awhile, after a re-read of all the rest of the series will prove the book to be better than it seemed on first read through. Tempest Reborn was a little predictable, especially when it came to some of the big moments, but it was fun to go along for the ride. Jane gets to go to London and battle dragons, what more could a half-selkie girl want?  Tempest Reborn does a good job of keeping the pace up, throwing in some nice sexy times and having a satisfying, if unsurprising ending. To me, the Jane True books have always been a fun, light read and I was fine not having to think too hard about who the bad guy was. I also liked that the ending didn't feel out of place sappy in Tempest Reborn, or actually in Dead Ever After either.

I remember when I read the last book in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, I was with her right up until the last little bit of Shadowfever. That last little bit seemed so overly cheerful and out of place with the rest of the series that it colored the whole series a little bit badly for me. That series is another example of one that feels fairly well planned out from start to finish though, at least its core five books.

I think it is very interesting to compare a series like Sookie that was probably drawn out by the publisher, longer than the author would have liked to a series that was allowed to run the course the author had envisioned for it. I do know that I will be seeking out whatever either Nicole Peeler or Charlaine Harris writes next. After reading the first few Sookie books I went back and read everything else I could find that Charlaine Harris had written, and I wasn't disappointed.

I'm giving Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris, 3.5 stars.
Tempest Reborn by Nicole Peeler, 4 - 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

3 Books

There are 3 books I’ve read recently that by happenstance seem to fit nicely together.
The first is Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler. The second book is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and the third is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  The genres of these three books are different, but they all seem to kind of fit together for me.

Full Dark House is a mystery featuring detectives from the Peculiar Crimes Unit. The Unit tends to get cases that seem like they will never be solved, and so it is punted to this unit. Not really a cold case unit, the murder that begins the story is quite recent when the Unit receives it. The book flashes back and forth between a mystery in present day and the first case the two detectives worked in the 1940’s, during the London Blitz. Arthur Bryant is the lead detective, he is also very young, but most of the older detectives are away fighting the war. Bryant reminds me a little of Richard Castle, he just lets his imagination run and sometimes that gets him to the answer. His partner is John May, a perfect more logical foil to Bryant’s flighty-ness. Full Dark House is very British and full of some very British humor, which I love.

Life After Life is the story of a girl, Ursula Dodd, who lives her life over and over. Sometimes she dies at birth, sometimes she lives through two wars. Ursula was born in 1910 and WWI and WWII both fall within at least some of her lifetimes. The book does spend a good amount of time dealing with the London Blitz in WWII. Ursula lives out WWII in a few different iterations and I hate to post spoilers, but there are a few here if you want to go into the book with no real knowledge of it. 

Spoilers here!
Ursula spends the war in one of the government offices that collates data on casualties and damage to buildings in several of her lifetimes. She also volunteers to help rescue people after bombings in a couple of lifetimes. Sometimes she dies in the bombings herself. One time she lives out WWII in Germany, in close proximity to Hitler. It gives an interesting view of what Germany was going through during WWII.

It was interesting to see the difference of the Blitz portrayed as a backdrop of someone just trying to do their real job, like in Full Dark House, versus something that is lived everyday, like  Life After Life. Ursula’s life was the war, whereas Bryant and May viewed the war and the Blitz as something that hindered their ability to do their job.

Good Omens is the third book that I am lumping in here. The reason I feel it fits is that it is a book about the apocalypse. Good Omens is funny, and features a couple of great characters in Crowley the demon and Aziraphale the angel. Also, how can you not like a book with a character named Anathema Device? I think this fits in with the Blitz because as the apocalypse begins, people were feeling much like they did during the Blitz. I would think that to many people living through WWII in Europe, it felt like the end of the world, and it was the end of the world for many people. As a side note, I am pretty sure that Crowley in the TV series Supernatural is based on Crowley from Good Omens.

I would recommend all three of these books, although I admit to being a little disappointed in the ending of Life After Life, but the book as a whole was a great read and hard to put down.

I’m going to give Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, 4 stars.

Full Dark House was a great mystery with shades of Phantom of the Opera.

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler gets 4 stars also.

Finally, Good Omens was a funny book, but with some thought provoking elements too.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett receives 5 stars.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What Kind of Adult Collects Dolls?

I spent last weekend at the Tonner Doll Convention in Chicago IL. Tonner makes dolls for the adult collector, although they are starting to branch out into toys as well. I have collected dolls since i was young. I first received some of the holiday Barbies, then I received a few other collector dolls including a couple of Madame Alexanders. One of my favorites is a porcelain doll that was made for me by a friend of my mom’s.

I attended a couple of doll shows with my grandmother when I was young, but once I got older I didn’t really attend those. I never had attended a doll collector convention, even at the height of my Barbie collecting.

I first heard about Tonner around the time that Tyler Wentworth came out. I was aware of Gene and some of the other fashion dolls, especially once I lived in Orlando and there was an FAO Schwarz nearby. I decided not to branch out from Barbie, I was afraid of opening a Pandora’s box, and I was right!

I really started looking at Tonner dolls when he began doing Harry Potter dolls, they looked really amazing! Luckily I was only seeing them online, so it was easier to resist. After lurking on Tonner’s website for awhile, I finally broke down and ordered some of the Fashion Zombie dolls when they went on sale. I could not believe how beautiful they were. I hadn’t really played with a 16 inch doll, but the fabric and the detail were just incredible.

I went to my first doll convention. Tonner hosts an annual convention in May in Chicago, IL, which is only about 4 hours away from me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured if nothing else, I would meet some other people who were interested in dolls.

I met some really wonderful people, people that I have seen again at other Tonner conventions I have attended since the first one. People that are nice and friendly and love to talk dolls.

Many people who collect dolls don’t just buy a doll and set it on a shelf. Some people (like me) change outfits, and wigs to make the dolls look different. I change some dolls around with wigs and outfits, others I leave as they were when I received them. Some people sew and design their own clothes for the dolls, or knit or crochet clothes and accessories. Some people make elaborate scale dioramas to display their dolls. Some people repaint the doll’s face, or add glass eyes, sometimes they even manage to change the basic sculpt of the face.

At the Tonner convention, they have a competition room with different categories which vary from photography to costuming to crafting to support a theme. This year there were some really fantastic contest entries. The pictures in this post are all competition entries. None of them are done by me. The room below is scaled for a 16 inch doll.

So, when you ask what kind of adult collects dolls? I would say, some really kind, creative people who haven’t lost touch with the child in all of us.

As a side note, another great place to see fantastic doll photography and altered dolls is Tonner's Doll Duels site.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is A Book Like a Hot Tub or an Air Conditioned Room?

I recently read the book Ever Shade by Alexia Purdy. The book was a little bit painful to get through, but ultimately the story won me over. At least, it won me over enough to finish it. I am even interested in reading the next book. I just hope the editing is better and the main character is a little less whiny and annoying.

The point in talking about Ever Shade, is that when I finished it I felt like I needed to read something I knew would be good. Do you ever find yourself doing that? You read a book that wasn't good, or was just ok. Or maybe you even read a book that is written well, but challenging or depressing or what have you.

I think sometimes what I read next is just as important as what I am currently reading. After Ever Shade, I decided I to read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. After just a few sentences, I felt this sense of relief. Like being hot and sticky and sweaty and walking into a nicely air-conditioned room, or easing aching muscles into a hot tub. It was almost a physical sensation of peace and relaxation.

There are a few authors that are go-to authors for me. One is Phil Rickman, I still have a few books left to read in his Merrily Watkins series, and there are other books he's written that aren't part of a series. Another author I have started to use as a go-to is Rhys Bowen, she writes the Royal Spyness mysteries, Molly Murphy mystery series, and Constable Evans mystery series. I have read all the Royal Spyness to date and am working my way through Molly Murphy. Neil Gaiman is another go-to author for me, now that I have finally started reading his books, I still have several more of his that I have not yet read. Christopher Moore is yet another author who always writes well and I have enjoyed everything of his I've read, and there is still more that I haven't read.

My go-to authors aren't only used to recover from badly written books. I also pick up a book by one of these authors when I have read something which was particularly good and well written. If I read something that is really sticking with me, it can make it hard to choose what to read next. You don't want to go from reading something really great to reading something that is potentially terrible. Which is why I again reach for something written by one of the authors above.

Who are your go-to authors? Have you ever felt like reading the first few well-crafted sentences of a book are like soaking your aching brain muscles in a hot tub? Do you prefer to re-read a favorite book rather than something new by a favorite author?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has finally come to Iowa. At least, we think it has. It is a little difficult to tell when the temperature swings from the 30s F to 90 F within a day or two. It is nice to throw the windows open and get some fresh air in the house. Our oldest cat, Ariel, is able to do some sunbathing in the fresh air now too.  I hope spring is coming to where you are too, and I hope it's bringing a lower pollen count than here.

My oldest, Andrew, was doing math homework the other day, and had to use the Pythagorean theorem. Which reminded me of the movie Merry Andrew. I remember the Pythagorean theorem thanks to this movie. Merry Andrew has been impossible to find for years, but it is for sale on as digital content, or as a print on demand DVD.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Katie MacAlister series coming soon!

One of my favorite authors,  Katie MacAlister has a new series starting soon! MacAlister is the author of the Dark Ones vampire series, the Dragons series featuring the Aisling Grey, the Silver Dragons, and the Light Dragons. She also has authored several contemporary romances, which I also love.

Here is the info about the new series, including the official blurb:

Katie Mac page:
Time Thief info page: http://katiemacalist...oks/time-thief/
Time Thief official blurb:
Outcast due to their ability to manipulate time, shunned by the mortal and immortal worlds alike, a Traveller’s life is anything but easy.
Traveller Peter Faa is a member of the Otherworld’s Watch tracking down a murderer, and unfortunately, the clues all seem to point toward his own estranged family. Any of his cousins could be guilty, but finding which one is tricky when they’re all experts in the art of stealing time.
After surviving a lightning strike, Kiya Mortenson is determined to get just one thing in her life right. And if that means taking a job as nanny to five pugs who live in a campsite in the Oregon wilderness, then so be it. It doesn’t hurt that the job comes with some pretty spectacular male eye candy, including her new boss’s gorgeous black sheep grandson. If only she didn’t keep having this strange sense of deja vu…
When Peter discovers that his own family is stealing time from Kiya, all bets are off. While she may drive him crazy at times, it’s clear to him that it’s not just lightning that’s creating some serious sparks between them. And he’s not going to let secrets, lies, or a devious murderer keep Kiya from where she belongs: at his side.

I am sure that this latest series will have all of Katie's trademark humor and hot guys. I'm looking forward to this original world and getting to know the characters who populate it, just as I have with her other series.

Look for Time Thief on May 7th, 2013!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I recently read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. It was a pick for March for the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads or Google +. I admit I was reluctant to pick this one up because YA is so all over the place. I don't have much patience for the really angst-ridden, overly sappy romance that is present in a lot of the books. Anyway, after browsing a few reviews on Goodreads, I decided to read it. I have to say I am really glad I did!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a seventeen year old girl living in Prague and attending art school. She is a talented artist, her fellow classmates love to look through her sketchbooks. She draws pictures of fantastical creatures like a woman whose bottom half is that of a snake. What her classmates don't know is that the creatures are real. They are called Chimera, and Karou was raised by them. Brimstone is the main chimera in charge of Karou's care. He runs some kind of business involving buying teeth from various shady characters that visit his shop.

Karou now has her own apartment in Prague and no longer lives in the shop, but occasionally is asked to run errands for Brimstone and collect teeth from people who aren't able to come to the shop. Karou has a friend, Zuzana, the first human friend that Karou has ever had. Karou feels terrible about disappearing and having to lie to her friend, but she would never believe the truth, would she?

While Karou is on assignment for Brimstone, she has a run in with Akiva, a seraphim. In the world where the chimera and seraphim live, they have been at war for centuries. It looks like the war may be encroaching on the human world, or at very least, on Karou's world.

This is a well-crafted world. I like the characters. Karou isn't one of those teenage girls that sees a cute boy and loses herself. She meets Akiva and wonders about him, but she goes on with her life. She is tough and strong, she is able to roll with whatever is thrown at her.

There is a section in the second half of the book that I wasn't as fond of, but I think it's a necessary evil for the series. By the time I reached the end, I immediately downloaded and read the second book in the series.  The Days of Blood and Starlight, also by Laini Taylor, continued Karou's story. I won't say much about it here, because I don't want to spoil the first book. But, I thought the second book was even better than the first.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight are appropriate for older teens, there are some sexual situations in both books.

I am going to give Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, 4 stars. and Days of Blood Starlight, 5 stars.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Night Circus and The Lady and Her Monsters

The Night Circus is a fabulous fairytale. The circus itself is created by two magicians, or  perhaps wizards is the better word, as a field of challenge for their respective students. These wizards are not the Harry Potter variety, or the Merlin variety either. They have different approaches to their manipulations of the physical world. One is a showy stage magician, only his illusions are real. His tricks are not accomplished by way of the clever contraptions his contemporaries use. He is hiding real magic in plain sight, his audiences think he is better than other magicians, but they still believe it is slight of hand and tricks of perception. The other man is more comfortable behind the scenes, manipulation through charms, and is a believer in learning from books. If you read it, and live it, you will do it seems to be his motto. These two wizards are constantly trying to prove which of their approaches to magic is correct, which is strongest.

The stage magician is one day confronted with his daughter. Her mother is dead and Celia has been sent to the care of her father. Prospero, the wizards stage name, quickly determines that his daughter posses significant natural ability. He summons his friend Alexander and proposes a challenge. Alexander agrees and seeks out his own perfect student, a young boy from an orphanage.

The young people are trained in each of the wizard’s preferred methods. Eventually, it is time for the challenge to begin and the Night Circus is born. True to it’s name, the night circus is only open from dusk to dawn. During the day, there is no activity. The circus appears out of nowhere and no one knows where it goes when it’s time in a town is finished. The circus appears all over the world, and as it travels, new attractions are added as the young wizards compete with each other.

The circus is a fairytale come to life for those in the book who are lucky enough to visit it. One is able to wander from tent to tent and find which performances they are the most moved by. The actual name of the circus is The Circus of Dreams, and it lives up to its name. It is one of the few books that I absolutely wish I could spend time inside of.

The world that Erin Morgenstern  creates is beautiful and magical. I would love to attend midnight dinners and wander through the circus. I could definitely become one of the dreamers, who follow the circus as much as they are able and meet with other dreamers in their home towns when they cannot be part of the show.

In many ways this is a kinder, gentler world of magic than Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, although there also some similarities between the two stories. Of the two I prefer The Night Circus. I love the hope and optimism that the circus and its story encompass.

Another book that I think there are some interesting commonalities with is The Lady and Her Monsters. Monsters is a nonfiction look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, specifically the scientific experimentation and other experiences that inspired Mary Shelley to write that story. In many ways Monsters is the story of a challenge, only this challenge is on a somewhat bigger scale. There are the alchemists competing to create the Philosopher’s Stone and the scientists who are looking for other ways to cheat death, perhaps by returning life to a body via electricity.

Both Circus and Monsters take place in the 19th century. Circus celebrates the beauty and artistry of scientific creation, like the amazing clock at the entrance to the circus. Other elements of the circus are built by a great architect and embellished by the competing magicians. Monsters, on the other hand, looks at the horror of the march for scientific knowledge. But, the science of Mary Shelley’s time borders on achievements that may only be possible through magic. The autopsies in Monsters take on a circus atmosphere of their own. From public executions to public autopsies, performed for entertainment of the masses and scientific study by the intellectuals.

Circus uses delicate gears and machinery, and magic to create beautiful things, like a carousel that is alive. Monsters uses crude autopsies and the terrifying jolt of electricity to make corpses move.

The Lady and Her Monsters is a fascinating look at our climb out of the dark ages and into a real understanding of the human body and science and medicine. I always find it interesting to wonder where our medical knowledge would be without the destruction and loss of knowledge in the early centuries over a millennium ago.

The Lady and Her Monsters is also a biography of Mary Shelley and the people and science that inspired her creation of Victor Frankenstein and his monster. I have finally chalked up my first non-fiction read for 2013.

It is pure coincidence that I read The Night Circus and The Lady and Her Monsters side by side. However, in a weird way they complemented each other.

I’m going to give The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern 5 stars.
The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo gets 4 stars.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is the last book from my Female Sci-fi/Fantasy authors list from last year. I think it was an appropriate book to end this list on. The book is definitely on an epic scale, covering the entire life of Morgaine, half sister to King Arthur. This is a King Arthur tale, but told through the eyes of the women surrounding Arthur.

I have to wonder if a better Christian than I would have a different take on this book. It comes across, at least for most of the book,  as very negative on Christianity. There was a lot of conflict in the book. The conflict between fathers and sons, the conflict between Christianity and the Old Religion, between mothers and daughters, between brothers, between sister and brother.

My most recent exposure to the Arthur legend is through the BBC series "Merlin." There are many characters in common between "Merlin" and The Mists of Avalon. It is interesting how different a character can seem based on the point of view from which the story is told. Morgana in "Merlin" is very unlikable, but Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon is more sympathetic. I would say that a lot of their actions are similar, but we are more familiar with Morgaine's motivations. Morgaine may seem to not always be driven by pure service to the Goddess, she does believe that her actions will serve the Goddess.

"Merlin" does not really have the Christian vs. Old Religion dynamic. Uther has banned the Old Religion in Camelot, but because he believes magic corrupts and is always used for evil. However, it doesn't seem that the Old Religion has been replaced by a strong reliance on Christianity in the "Merlin" version of Camelot. In The Mists of Avalon, there are many different people that are pushing Britain, and Arthur toward being a wholly Christian country. The person with the biggest influence with Arthur is Gwenhyfar. She was raised Christian and believes in it completely. Although, at times her push to a stronger link with Christianity seems a bit of jealousy of Arthur's tie to Morgaine.  Gwen feels she should be the biggest influence on Arthur, she feels she often has to take a backseat to Arthurs companions (knights) and his advisers, including the Merlin of Britain. Arthur is torn between wanting to please his wife and wanting to uphold the vow he made to protect Avalon as well as the Christian people of Britain.

The Mists of Avalon was definitely worth reading, and the feminine point of view was nice. Even though all the books on this list were written by women, they were not all so strongly feminist in their point of view. I am glad to have come across this list of women Sci-fi/Fantasy authors, and to have been introduced to new authors and new sub-sets of Sci-fi/Fantasy than I have read before. I think there are quite a few more modern female authors in this genre that will find themselves on this list in the future.

I'm going to give The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, 4 stars.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Doris Lessing's Shikasta

I am wrapping up my Female Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers. I had Doris Lessing and Marion Zimmer Bradley left. They were both large books, and I decided to hit my 100 book goal rather than finishing out my F SF/F list by the end of 2012.

So, on to Shikasta. The beginning of this book was a huge struggle for me. It's not the type of book that I usually enjoy. I usually stray more to Fantasy than Science Fiction. Shikasta, was more Science Fiction, with a lot of social commentary thrown in.

Lessing's book tells the story of Earth, named initially Rohanda by the aliens who have taken it as one of their colony planets. Life had already started on this planet, but they bring some giant aliens from another colony to help speed the evolution on Rohanda. Everything is going along swimmingly until something in the cosmos upsets the harmonious balance on Rohanda. This give the aliens affiliated with Shammat a chance to disrupt the harmony and create a destructive force that they feed upon. So begins the history of Earth that we are familiar with, and the planet's name is changed to Shikasta.

From there we are given a history of earth through the eyes of the Canopeans, the aliens who initially colonized the planet. Johor has been to Shikasta several times, often thousands of years apart, and he is the main Canopean player in the last portion of the book. But, the book really looks at humans disregard for our planet and each other, except this book makes the problem out to be caused by this problem in the cosmos and the encouragement of the Shammat aliens of our most destructive tendencies.

The book was slow to get going, and then when I was seeing Bible stories played out with aliens acting as the word of God, I really started to wonder if I was going to finish the book. I was not offended by these Biblical references, I just wasn't sure if I wanted to read a book full of them. Luckily, the tone of the book shifted a bit. Once it hit the period after WWII, and got into some of the speculation portion of what the near future would hold for our planet and its people, it got more interesting.

This book was written in 1979, so there are a lot of doom and gloom predictions for what the Earth would be like during and after the 1980s. I remember, as a child there was always speculation that WWIII was just around the corner. This book has that, although doesn't give much in the way of detail about the war itself, just some of the lead up (told through journals, letters, and alien reference book chapters), and then ultimately what the planet would be like once the harmonious balance was restored.

Shikasta was a challenging read, but it was worth reading and finishing. I'm going to give Shikasta by Doris Lessing 3 Stars

The last book on my F SF/F writers list is The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Let's more thing here is a quick list of my favorite reads from November and December 2012:

The Woman Who Died A Lot (Thursday Next #7) by Jasper Fforde
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Grave Memory  (Alex Craft #3) by Kalayna Price
Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1) by Cassie Alexander
First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
Cold Days (Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
Nightshade on Elm Street (Flower shop mystery #13) by Kate Collins
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Lethal Outlook (Psychic Eye mystery #10) by Victoria Laurie

All of the above were books I rated 4 stars or higher on Goodreads. There were others, but mostly romances, these were the standouts.