Sunday, July 01, 2007

Reading Diary June 2007

Books read online are in green.

  1. Red Lightning, John Varley. Disappointing, depressing follow-up to the exuberant Red Thunder. First half in a tsunami-struck Florida (interestingly, written pre-Katrina) is absorbing, but ultimately has nothing to do with the point. Mars and Martian society never really come alive, and the part about the revolution has been done better by Robert A. Heinlein. Varley is also all too eager to score points regarding contemporary politics to do service to his story. In all, reminds me of how Star Trek III messed up everything that was good about Star Trek II, and there's no condemnation lower than that. Edited July 4 because I'm an idiot. That's the trouble with movies that have numbers instead of names. Thanks, Damian!
  2. The Truth-Teller's Tale, Sharon Shinn. Another lovely, romantic fantasy in the world of Shinn's The Safe-Keeper's Secret. Not much suspense, but Shinn writes so well I don't care. She writes the kind of books that make you want to race ahead to see how everything comes out while turning the pages slowly because you don't want them to end.
  3. Midnight Choir, Gene Kerrigan. Very mixed feelings. Starts out as an interesting, many-layered police procedural set in modern Dublin, but about halfway through begins to leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Synott is too sympathetic a character to be someone I love to hate and too hypocritical and corrupt to be someone I can root for.
  4. Bone Valley, Claire Matturro. A little high on the wackiness scale at times, but some good moments. Loved the Florida panther. Hard to believe that a dedicated crunchy-granola-type like Lilly would be so ignorant about the gigantic environmental mess on her doorstep.
  5. If I Never Get Back, Darryl Brock. Bloated time-travel fantasy, deeply unsatisfying on so many levels. Well-researched but too eager to show it off, as with gratuitous encounters with the James brothers and too many quotes from contemporary documents. If Brock wants to write about the beginnings of pro baseball, why does he drag the Fenians into it; and if he wants to write about the Fenians, why does he spend so much time giving us play-by-plays of baseball games and completely bypass their failed invasion of Canada? Only the least interesting of the plot strands is resolved, and the ending is an obvious cheap set-up for a sequel.
  6. Still Life, Louise Penny. A pretty good effort from first-time novelist Penny: thoughtful, with engaging characters, and often beautiful prose. But her inexperience shows in her unsure grasp on the omniscient authorial viewpoint, whipping in and out of people's heads at an annoying rate, and the way various plot points fail to add up (if Yvonne thought she had inherited Jane's house, why paper over the walls in a way that would have made it impossible to live in or sell?). After such a leisurely, unconventional build-up, it was disappointing that the final confrontation with the villain was pure Thriller/Horror Movie 101.
  7. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood. Tony, Charis, and Roz are great characters, but I couldn't empathize with them as much as I wanted to. Still moping about the worthless men Zenia took from them 30 years earlier? Zenia did them a favor, and I loved it at the end when she told them so. Hated Boyce, the gay assistant -- the only thing more annoying than a guy who quotes at you nonstop when you're trying to have a serious conversation is a guy who quotes at you and then finishes off with the author's name.
  8. Flight, Sherman Alexie. A very slight book -- read it in a morning -- not as funny as I'd hoped, but with a very affecting ending. Zits is too young to know this, but if some random guy comes up and starts quoting Nietzsche at you, watch yourself. Made me want to know more about Crazy Horse.
  9. The Target, Gerri Hill. Equal opportunity suckitude: proves that books about lesbians can be just as stupid, predictable, and badly written as those about straights.
  10. Transformation, Carol Berg. Got interested in Berg through her shared site DeepGenre. Was rewarded with this thoughtful fantasy about culture conflict and the unlikeliest of friendships. Convincing characterization and well-drawn cultures. A bit disappointing that, after the kickass magical battle, the climactic physical battle takes place offstage while one of the heroes is recovering.
  11. North of Market Street: Being the Adventures of a New York Woman in Philadelphia, Harriet Boyer. I always enjoy reading things set in Philadelphia, but this was very odd. The book is entirely devoted to complaining about how unfriendly Philadelphians are and how living north of Market St. puts one beyond the social pale. It might be true (even today North Philadelphia is pretty undesirable), but seems like a very slight premise for a novel. Something with an actual, you know, story might have been nice, like the experience of being a female medical student in the 1890s (which is what I thought this was about).
  12. Don't Look Down, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Fun but not totally successful collaboration between romance writer Crusie and action/adventure writer Mayer. Crusie seems to have set the tone, but she's lost control of some of the stuff that make her books so great: the way the lovers get together is unconvincing, their later conflict more so, and some seriously loose ends are left dangling (hello! did Daisy try to kill herself, or what? And how's she doing?). On Mayer's territory, the whole art theft/mob/CIA plot is impenetrable and the body count disturbingly high for what's, on the whole, a light romp. On the plus side, Lucy's a great heroine, her relationship with Daisy and Pepper is terrific, the sex is hot (Crusie's into bondage these days, it seems), and details like the coin check convinced me that Wilder is the real deal. I'm looking forward to the next Crusie/Mayer project, since advance word is that they've ironed out some of the kinks.
  13. California Fire and Life, Don Winslow. The opening, with its short, smartass chapters, is a bit offputting, but persevere and soon you'll be swept along on a wild ride involving arson, murder, the Russian mob, the American dream, corruption, and true love. A good writer can make anything interesting, and you'll be eager to absorb whatever Winslow tells you about fuel loads, insurance law, and Georgian furniture. Jack Wade's a great hero, smart and stubborn, although a few hundred pages too slow to realize one crucial fact; but when you think you've got everything figured out, the story twists hard, then twists again.
  14. The Compass Rose, Gail Dayton. OK, so sexy magic chick is married to 4 count 'em 4 smokin' hot men (and another woman) and she won't have sex with them because sex is too complicated? And she doesn't see that not having sex is what's complicating everything? Suuuuure. There's some good stuff going on here, but the large number of personalities and relationships makes for very uneven storytelling; Obed and Aisse get especially short shrift. Also completely ignores the possibility of homosexual relationships, even among the Spartan-warrior-pair-bonded Tibrans. The final battle is laughably anticlimactic.
  15. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The Apocalypse has never been funnier.
  16. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See. There's a story in here somewhere screaming to get out, but it's trapped in this conventional, cliched tale of friends who have a misunderstanding. See has beautifully depicted women's nu shu language and life and culture in remote 19th Century China ; I wish her characters had received the same attention.

No comments: