Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reading Diary July 2007

Books read online are in green.

  1. The Railroad Children, Charlotte M. Yonge. (Click What's New?, then the link to the story.) Oh dear, I was so excited to find something new by Yonge on the web, but this isn't the type of her work I enjoy. This didactic novellette showcases some of her least attractive tropes: anything mechanical or industrial is bad and leads to moral degeneracy; it's worse for children to be unbaptized than to be starving and ignorant; it's OK for little kids to die as long as they do so uncomplainingly and in a state of grace.
  2. St. Dale, Sharyn McCrumb. Dear Ms. McCrumb: I willingly stipulate that NASCAR is a legitimate sport that is enjoyed by fine people from all walks of life. I am also ready to admit that Dale Earnhardt was a beloved figure worthy of induction into the pantheon of Elvis and Princess Di. Nevertheless, I'm supremely indifferent to both subjects, and your poorly written infodump masquerading as a novel hasn't done anything to change my mind. Let me just add, Chaucer you're not. Sincerely, Muse of Ire.
  3. Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan. Inconsequential comedy of errors about the folly of human wishes, or something like that. Some funny parts, but not as emotionally involving or deeply characterized as Tan's previous work.
  4. Wanted, Kim Wozencraft. Nicely written, well-constructed thriller about Gail, whose muzzy-headed involvement with bank-robbing terrorists has gotten her imprisoned for 72 years, and Diane, a young cop with crucial evidence in a murder case who gets set up on a phony drug charge. Together, they break out of prison; aside from running from the cops, there's a lot of tension between Gail's wanting to go underground far, far away and Diane's wanting to go back home and settle the score. There are some loose ends, and ultimately there's less going on in Gail's story than in Diane's, but both viewpoints are well represented.
  5. The Janissary Tree, Jason Goodwin. Interesting, somewhat choppy mystery set in the intriguing, exotic world of 1830s Istanbul. Are the Janissaries, the feared warriors who were repressed 10 years earlier, plotting to rise again? The hero, Yashim Togalu, is a eunuch, which becomes an important plot point at times; it would have been nice to have a little more discussion of the mechanics. Definitely planning to read the next one, though.
  6. Almost a Bride, Jane Feather. I thought Feather's Elizabethan romance To Kiss a Spy was pretty laughable. This one is better, probably because the Regency period is one she's more at home in, or at least because I learned its conventions in the same kind of romances she did. But the interesting premise and enjoyable dialog can't overcome the dropped plot points, inconsistent characterization, or melodramatic ending.
  7. Moonrise, Ben Bova. Jarring viewpoint shifts and strangely outdated racial attitudes made me give up on this after a couple of chapters. It wasn't worth the quarter, Dad.
  8. Year's Best SF, David G. Hartwell (ed). Some terrific stories, including one from Robert Silverberg about LA becoming a volcanic zone and one from Ursula K. LeGuin exploring the sexuality of the Gethenians. Unfortunately, also contains a story by Gene Wolfe that is so sexist and creepy it made me completely reevaluate my feelings toward him.
  9. Manhunting, Jennifer Crusie. Needed something good to wash the taste of the Wolfe out of my head, so turned to this frothy confection. Lacks the mystery component I usually like in her work, but still an enjoyable love story between a hard-driving woman and a drifting-nowhere man.
  10. Strange Bedpersons, Jennifer Crusie. Reading Manhunting touched off a little Crusie marathon. Decided to work through some of her older, less-read-by-me books. Tess and Nick are not my favorite set of Crusie lovers, but the minor characters are great, especially the secretary Christine.
  11. Charlie All Night, Jennifer Crusie. Enjoyed this one, but it's a little rushed. She could definitely have spun out the crusade to save the city hall into a full-length plot.
  12. Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Crusie. Zach the sexy cop going from commitment-phobe to happily-ever-after-man in 5 days isn't exactly plausible (even my brother took 3 weeks to propose), but the dialog's snappy, the sex is hot, and the dogs are cute, so I'm not complaining.
  13. Fast Women, Jennifer Crusie. It's hard to choose, but I think this might be my favorite of all of Crusie's books. The sheer number and complexity of the relationships between the characters, the way that Nell and Gabe learn how to deal with their past and express what they need from each other, and the gradual unraveling of the mystery all add up to a terrific, satisfying reading experience. And the sex ain't bad, either.
  14. Faking It, Jennifer Crusie. Another good one. Everybody in the interesting cast of characters (my favorite is Nadine, Tilda's teenage niece) is playing a part or wearing a mask. Also enjoyed Tilda's knowledge of art and art forgery and Davy's con games. Surprisingly little sex.
  15. Tell Me Lies, Jennifer Crusie. The first of Crusie's books I ever read, it remains one of my favorites. Yes, Maddie does some dumb things, but I like her. I really like the way the small-town miasma of gossip and expectations colors the actions of all the characters.
  16. Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie. One of Crusie's weakest efforts, with a pretty typical woman-in-jep plot. Her writing still sells it.
  17. Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie. Sophie Dempsey is the prototypical Crusie heroine -- organized, methodical, taking care of everyone else, trying to hold it all together but starting to unravel at the seams. I like the way Phin unravels her. More than usually tricky murder/theft/sabotage plot.
  18. Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie. Min is the Crusie heroine I identify most with. I like how she and Cal complement each other and especially enjoyed the parts where they stand up to each other's parents. I also just really like the way Crusie lets her characters be themselves in this one.
  19. Chocolat, Joanne Harris. Normally I'm not a fan of movies messing with books, but I think the film version made some smart choices. Harris's use of the priest as the bad guy -- rigid, narrow-minded, trying to exercise an undue temporal power -- is a huge cliche, and I preferred the movie's mayor. Roux's involvement with Josephine comes completely out of left field; his involvement with Vianne isn't much better established, but at least the movie gives us Johnny Depp. The thing the book had that I would have liked to see more of in the film is the hint of magic. Harris's prose is good, even beautiful in places, but her constant switching from past to present tense within scenes -- even within paragraphs -- is majorly annoying.
  20. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, Alexander McCall Smith. Smith's sense of place is as strong as ever, and Edinburgh shines almost as much as Botswana. But damn, Isabel is one judgmental bitch. Her relationship with Jamie is the only genuine thing in this rather plotless, pointless novel. I was surprised Smith called her on her habit of jumping to totally unwarranted conclusions, but of course only in such a way that her niece could deny it.
  21. One for the Morning Glory, John Barnes. Charming, often very funny tale of characters who know they're living in a story but aren't quite sure what the story is. Somewhat disappointing ending forgets some of the book's fairy tale elements, not quite bringing the story full circle.
  22. Snow White, Blood Red, Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (eds). A seminal collection of modern retellings of fairy tales that I can't believe I never read before. Quality of the stories is almost uniformly high; I think my favorite is Patricia McKillip's take on the Snow Queen.
  23. Mr. Paradise, Elmore Leonard. More than usually meandering and pointless mystery -- if something so entirely lacking in suspense can be called that -- from Leonard. Usually I like reading him for the caper, but nobody gets away with anything here, and I didn't even enjoy watching the bad guys get theirs.
  24. Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan. Uneven collection. Stories I especially enjoyed were George Saunders' "Jon" and Lucius Shepherd's "Only Partly There," the finest post-9/11 story I've ever read.

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