Friday, November 27, 2015

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes
by James S. A. Corey
2011
****
4 stars - space adventure
ALR Blue - no animals


Our main library has been closed for several weeks due to an electrical explosion. The little branch library has a scant two shelves dedicated to science fiction. A couple of weeks ago, I went free ranging on those shelves and found this book. It was fat and showed enough signs of wear that I was confident it had been checked out several times, despite the date stamp indicating it had only arrived at the library five months ago. What the heck?

Good decision. Apparently there is a genre known as Space Opera. Who knew? According to the Internet, Space Opera is "a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, and often risk-taking as well as chivalric romance; usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons and other sophisticated technology."

Yup, Leviathan Wakes is all that. The scene opens in the Belt around the rings of Saturn. People have colonized most of the solar system and Jim Holden captains an ice mining vessel which takes frozen stuff from the rings and delivers it to be converted to water. He and his crew discover a derelict ship. Well, what happened here?

Meanwhile, there's Miller. He's a cynical cop operating in the Belt who gets tangled up in the fallout of Holden's discovery (which kind of turns in to riots and war). 

The two of them each search for answers and eventually their paths cross. So, what's really going on? Terrorism? Corporate greed fueled war? Aliens?

The story was everything promised. The inhabited solar system, with it's different cultures (mainly people who grew up on Earth v. those who grew up in the Belt), cool technology, battles, and human interest. Minimal mushy stuff, but plenty of plot. 

Bonus. This is one of five volumes in a series. Yikes! That's a lot of space opera to look forward to.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

Second Grave on the Left
by Darynda Jones
2011
****
4 stars - perfect paranormal romance (with a bit of mystery)
ALR Blue - no animal characters


Charley Davidson (a.k.a. The Grim Reaper) is back for another paranormal romance and mystery. She's still engaging in an on and off affair with the son of Satan and this time he's in a bit of a pickle.

Satan Junior (Reyes Alexander Farrow) has left his corporeal body behind because, well, it's being tortured by demons. Ew. Still, it's all that stands between those demons and Charley, whose bright light (don't forget, she's the gateway to heaven) is oh so attractive to nasty beasties looking for a quick trip out of hell.

If that isn't enough, Charley's busy working on a missing person case which seems to include a trail of suspicious deaths. Suicide or murder? What do you think?

It's all jolly good fun.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless
by Gail Carriger
2009
***
3 stars - vampires, werewolves, romance, and mystery
ALR Green - bitey face werewolves


From the back cover blurb:

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse, apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills a vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

It's a mishmash of delights. Let's take them one at a time.

Romance - This book is first and foremost a romance. It's a regular bodice ripper, with a plucky, independent heroine and a gruff, but well muscled, hero. This reader was a bit grouchy with the writing style at first, but once I realized the book was really not a mystery or a vampire / werewolf story, but a good, old-fashioned romance, well, I settled in for the ride. What a delight!

Vampires and Werewolves - Well, yes, but given that the setting is Victorian England, they are for the most part very well mannered. They register with the government and prey only on willing victims. Most of them live in hives (vampires) or packs (werewolves) with a few independents milling about.

Fashion - Bustles, corsets, cravats, and waistcoats abound. Clothing commentary is present even during action scenes as one can hardly wrestle about with bad guys without silk and taffeta getting mussed. Fashion is a sure marker of character "Highland werewolves had a reputation for doing atrocious and highly unwarranted things, like wearing smoking jackets to the dinner table. Lyall shivered at the delicious horror of the very idea."

Mystery - Well, really just a bit of one. Enough to provide encounters, both amorous and dangerous between our hero and heroine.

Now then, it seems my local library filed this book under "horror," which was no doubt mandated by the supernatural beings, but I wouldn't put it in that category myself. It also had the book in the "young adult" section which is fine, but I must warn you that there is some fairly explicit mushy stuff (provided one has the vocabulary to understand what is being said). 

Robust secondary characters abound. Wonderful!

The destination of the story is apparent from early on, but the journey brings some delightful surprises. Hop on, enjoy the ride.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
translated by Lucia Graves
2001
*****
5 stars - beautiful prose and a compelling story


The Ateneo was - and remains - one of the many places in Barcelona where the nineteenth century has not yet been served its eviction notice. A grand stone staircase led up from a palatial courtyard to a ghostly network of passageways and reading rooms. There, inventions such as the telephone, the wristwatch, and haste seemed futuristic anachronisms. The porter, or perhaps it was a statue in uniform, barely noticed my arrival. I glided up to the first floor, blessing the blades of a fan that swirled above the sleepy readers, melting like ice cubes over their books.

What a pleasure to read beautiful prose. I give high marks both to the author and the translator (who has surely captured all the writing craft of the original text).

This book is a reader's delight on many levels. There is the writing itself, as well as a textured story that takes the reader in directions unexpected. Oh, and don't forget that at the core of the story are books. The love of books and of reading. The power of the written word.

In the opening, young Daniel's widowed father takes the boy to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It's a labyrinth of corridors and tunnels where one can get lost, not just in the layers upon layers of books, but literally in the maze of the structure. Daniel is told to select one volume to keep and protect. He chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, and therein begins his journey.

The story takes place in the first half of the twentieth century. 

Daniel is captivated by the book and determines to find more works by Mr. Carax. He is flummoxed when he discovers that somebody is seeking out and destroying every copy of every book Carax ever wrote. 

"[Daniel's] innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness, and doomed love, and he realizes that if he doesn't find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly."

The book starts off in a slow, dreamy fashion, but picks up the pace, almost without the reader noticing. I read the last 200 (out of 487) pages in one, big gulp (who cares for housework when there is an exceptional story to be read).

Fermin Romero de Torres, one of the characters in the book, is prone to wonderful proclamations.

" ' Television, my dear Daniel, is the Antichrist, and I can assure you that after only three or four generations, people will no longer even know how to fart on their own and humans will return to living in caves, to medieval savagery, and to the general state of imbecility that slugs overcame back in the Pleistocene era. Our world will not die as a result of the bomb, as the papers say, it will die of laughter, of banality, of making a joke of everything, and a lousy joke at that.'"

I recently made the acquaintance of a woman from Venezuela who noticed the book on my side table and was delighted to learn that I was reading her favorite author. Of course she had read the book in its original Spanish, but I assured her that the translation was providing me with the same exceptional experience she had. 

One note. Do pay attention to names during the first hundred pages or so. I was not as determined as I should have been and there was a period where I found myself a bit tangled as to who the different players were. No problem, the author got me all caught up after a while.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Crook and Flail

The Crook and Flail
by Libbie Hawker
2013
***
3 stars - the historical fiction equivalent of a cozy mystery
ALR Blue - no animals


Those nutty Egyptians are at it again.

Book two in the She King series centers around young Hatshepsut's coming of age and adolescent adventures fighting for the throne of Egypt. Hatshepsut's mom has said Hat is destined for the throne of Egypt, as king, despite the fact that she's female.

Hatshepsut falls for that prophecy for a little bit, but then decides she might be better off as Great Wife for now, so she dutifully marries her younger brother, Thutmose, because that's just what you did when you were an Egyptian royal.

Since Thutmose is only 11 when they get married and Hatshepsut is 13, there isn't much bedroom activity at first. Good thing, since Hat thinks her little brother is a twit.

Then some more stuff happens.

As in the first novel of the series, there isn't much character development, and the story is straightforward. I still liked it. The information about day to day life in the royal household is fun, as are the scenes involving dressing and grooming (remind me never to time travel there, all that hair plucking, ouch!). Yeah, I'll read book three, why not?