Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reading Diary May 2007

Books read online are in green.

  1. Deadly Advice, Roberta Isleib. See post May 3, 2007.
  2. Jamaica Me Dead, Bob Morris. Even with a huge chunk missing from the middle (what is with publishers' QC these days?), it wasn't too hard to figure out what was going on. But the setting was pretty entertaining, and the characters OK to hang out with (although I could have lived without the stereotypical mystic Indian). Seriously, though, who carries around a signed first edition? That's what paperbacks are for.
  3. Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler. Another fragmented, elliptical meditation on race, class, and especially gender. Who or what is Sarah Canary? She is a blank canvas for others to project their ideas of being female onto: thus, to Chinese railroad worker Chin, she's an immortal; to a psychologist, a madwoman; to a naturalist, a feral human; to feminist Adelaide Dixon, a discarded mistress who turned on her betrayer. Interesting and at times funny, but never quite comes together.
  4. Saddled with Trouble, Michele Scott. Subpar writing and an idiot heroine made me abandon this book far, far from home.
  5. Bone of Contention, Roberta Gellis. Much better outing for Magdalene la Batarde than the second book in the series (although the title has no relevance to the story). In the mode of Ellis Peters, Gellis does a pretty good job of interweaving her characters' concerns with people and events on the national stage.
  6. Instrument of Fate, Christie Golden. A glorified D&D adventure disguised as a novel -- and I say that as someone who likes D&D.
  7. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr. I remember some of these groundbreaking stories from the early '70s, but it's interesting to see them all collected together. Not all of them are masterpieces, but it's good to be reminded how talented, and how revolutionary, Tiptree was.
  8. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber. I was going to write a huge rant about this, but I just don't have the energy. Starts off well, but loses momentum as soon as William moves Sugar into her flat, mostly because we don't have any clue what Sugar feels about any of this: is she really in love with William? how and when did that happen? Just when it seems like the story might be kicking into gear again, the oh-so-clever ending comes like a slap in the face to readers who have stuck with the book for almost 900 pages. Gahhh. I've read worse books, but few that have made me so angry at the waste of promising material.
  9. Air, Geoff Ryman. Funny, charming, thoughtful, and altogether enjoyable. Except for the last five pages, which no doubt are supposed to be Deeply Symbolic of something or other, but are just plain disturbing.
  10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon. How can a book so funny be so amazingly tender and profoundly sad? Devoured the whole thing in one glorious day and only wished it were twice as long.
  11. Quality Street, J. M. Barrie. Play on which one of my favorite Katharine Hepburn movies is based. Just as adorable as the film.
  12. Dead Man's Ransom, Ellis Peters. Ran out of new stuff, so I'm back to Brother Cadfael. This book has one of my favorites scenes in the whole series, where Cadfael questions the cattle-man Anion in Owain Gwynedd's court.
  13. The Pilgrim of Hate, Ellis Peters. Peters has an unfortunate habit of trying to present conversations and situations as if they can only mean one thing, when clearly there are alternate explanations. Doesn't help when she puts the real motive in the title.
  14. An Excellent Mystery, Ellis Peters. Well, not really so much, with Peters doing her ineffectual "look over there" handwaving, but still an enjoyable read.
  15. The Raven in the Foregate, Ellis Peters. One of the more genuinely suspenseful of the late Cadfael oeuvre.
  16. The Hermit of Eyton Forest, Ellis Peters. Some interesting goings-on, with a victim and murderer who for once both deserve their fates. But Rafe of Coventry is a little deus ex machina, and there's more than a little wish-fulfillment in the way Hugh Beringar, himself a holder of villeins, connives at the escape of Hyacinth.
  17. The Heretic's Apprentice, Ellis Peters. Solid detective work by Cadfael and a truly dramatic climax, with a maguffin worthy of the fuss.
  18. Tomb of the Golden Bird, Elizabeth Peters. After a brief return to form in Guardian of the Horizon and The Serpent on the Crown, Peters is back to phoning in the mystery while she dwells on the domestic relations of the vast and quarrelsome Emerson clan. After all, who could possibly be interested in such petty matters as the discovery of King Tut's tomb, political unrest in the post-WWI Middle East, or a tomb robber who somehow blows himself up when we could be discussing the stormy state of Sethos and Margaret's marriage (maybe Amelia, with her vast knowledge of psychology, could teach these two a little about communication skills), the need for Ramses and Nefret to have some independence (it only takes them 3 months to decide to do what Amelia planned for them from the beginning), or whether Bertie and Jumana will finally get together (they do, in one of the most rushed and undramatic romances Peters has ever penned). Even Amelia disappoints, as she fails to deliver her usual blithe outrageousness (she does figure out the baffling cipher, but it's a meaningless clue that leads nowhere). Also, the book is riddled with annoying grammatical errors that should have been cleaned out by a good copy edit.
  19. Killer in High Heels, Gemma Halliday. Reads like the author was writing with a Chick Lit Checklist in hand: "Wacky young single heroine with the libido of a hamster? Check. Offbeat creative job? Check. Ditsy friends, including obligatory gay guy? Check. Tough sexy man of mystery? Check. Obsession with fashion, including rampant product placement? Check." Too bad the checklist didn't include anything like clever dialog, believable situations and motivations, characters readers can care about, or actual clues pointing to the killers.
  20. Ghost of a Chance, Amy Patricia Meade. Another period effort with no sense of history at all. A vast wave of indifference engulfed me as I read this and I tossed it aside halfway through.

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