Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
series: Seven Kingdoms (1)

I don't remember the last time I "read" an audiobook so quickly. I finished Graceling today, only four days after I checked it out from the library's e-audio repository. Between recovering from the flu and the heavy snow (read: time spent outside shoveling), I've had lots of opportunity to listen lately, but I have to admit that I also made time to listen. I was utterly charmed by Graceling and by its main characters Katsa (despite her decidedly unsympathetic special ability) and Po (and also by Bitterblue, a secondary character, who seems to be the protagonist of the series' third installment). I wanted to know what would happen to them, if they'd be able to overcome the obstacles they were facing, so I manufactured listening time.

My reluctant-reader sister is going to be receiving a copy of the audio version of Graceling for her birthday.

Cashore's second book, Fire, another installment of the Seven Kingdoms series, was available from the library's ebook repository so I checked it out in anticipation of my quick completion of Graceling. I started Fire shortly after finishing Graceling. I didn't get far (my second round of snow shoveling today ended up taking much less time than I expected), but I already know that I'm not going to enjoy it as much as Graceling. Fire is a prequel to Graceling and just from what little I've heard (again, I'm listening to the audio version), I can tell that it's going to involve one of the least palatable characters from Graceling. Now I'm trying to decide whether I should wait some time before continuing on with Fire or not.

a novel cure for the flu

I'd been ill for about a week before I was actually able to remember that I wanted to look up "flu" in The Novel Cure, which I received for my birthday (see post) when I was actually in the position to find the book. Even though I'd had the book since the end of September, I hadn't actually gone to it looking for a novel cure to anything before now.

In The Novel Cure, Elderkin and Berthoud suggest Agatha Christie, specifically Poirot, as a cure for the flu. They recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Unfortunately I didn't have any Christie in the house and the public library didn't have any ebook or e-audio versions available to check out. I refuse to pay for ebooks so I was out of luck. Following Elderkin and Berthoud's logic, I decided that what I needed was an engrossing mystery.

source: my mom
(she picked it up at the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf at a hotel)

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (published as Midnight Riot in the US)
series: Peter Grant (1)

A paranormal police procedural, Rivers of London takes place in a modern day London, in which the Metropolitan Police Service has a special, secret branch responsible for dealing with "the magic" when it poses a threat to the Queen's peace.  Probationary Constable Peter Grant (protagonist and first-person narrator) learns of the secret branch when he's assigned to assist Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale with a case.  That doesn't happen, though, until after Grant has interviewed an eyewitness to a murder who just happens to be a ghost. 

The primary storyline (serial murder) was a bit overcomplicated1 for my flu-addled brain, but I enjoyed Rivers of London nonetheless.  The secondary (titular) storyline was quite interesting and easy to follow.  I also appreciated the overarching story of the protagonist as he first discovers the world of magic and then becomes an apprentice wizard.

Aaronovitch does a great job of world-building.  There's the recognizable and well-described London from which he lifts the veil.  He gives readers just enough paranormal activity to indicate the extent to which magic permeates his world, but not enough to overwhelm them and/or the story.  British magic has an interesting backstory (Isaac Newton "codif[ied] its basic principles," 81) as I'm sure does Nightingale, to whom Grant becomes apprenticed.   Home base for the secret branch (The Folly) is also populated by an inexplicable character named Molly, who is indispensable to the functioning of the branch.

Peter Grant is an everyman character (mixed race, distractible, and decidedly average with the exception of an aptitude for magic).  He also has two love interests:  another probationary constable (who I assume will be a recurring character in the series as it goes forward) and a magical person he encounters in the course of his work on the titular storyline.

I read Rivers of London ravenously and I'm quite eager to read more of Peter Grant's adventures. There are three more books (so far) in the series, but it seems like only the second installment (Moon Over Soho)2 has been published in the US so far.3

A note on the cover art. I much prefer the art on Rivers of London (and the other British editions) to the art on Midnight Riot (and the other American editions). I felt that way even before scanning other reviews and coming across one that mentioned a concern about white-washing with regard to the American editions.4 The art of the British covers focuses on the city, while the art of the American cover focuses on the character (and with that character focus, obscuring the race is problematic). Additionally, the British editions are quirky, with little details (about the story and about London) hidden in the artwork. I love that.
  1. It's described thusly (from the perspective of PC Grant) on the Rivers of London page of the author's website: "there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying" (The Folly/Books/Rivers of London).
  2. Thankfully they haven't changed the title of this one for the American audience.
  3. Though a quick search of the public library catalog informs me that I can also get #3, Whispers Under Ground, from the library even though my branch doesn't have a copy.
  4. Neth Space shows two different versions of both American editions' covers and discusses this issue, see Neth Space: Another White-washed Cover?.  I don't particularly either version of either of the American covers.  The British cover art is much more appealing to me on many different levels.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things
by Ted Naifeh

source: purchased
Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things by Ted Naifeh
series: Courtney Crumrin Special Edition (1)

I purchased The Night Things last year at a local independent comic book/game shop (Modern Myths in Mamaroneck, NY) to read myself and then possibly send along to one of my nieces or nephews as appropriate. While I was immediately drawn to the Courtney Crumrin books (it seems like each of these hardcover special editions collects four issues of the comic) as the covers showcase Naifeh's characteristic gloomy artwork and are nicely tactile, but I held out for quite a while before I actually handed over my money.

I decided to read The Night Things last night as I needed a break from my regularly-scheduled flu reading (Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching Adventures; I'm on the third installment now). I have to admit, though, that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.  When collected together the story seems disjointed in a way that it wouldn't when read in its original format.  And, I wished there was more character development specifically with regard to Courtney's relationship to Aloysius. I will, however, give The Night Things another chance since it's quite likely that I'll be less critical when I'm not feeling so poorly.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston

The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston

I've had The Witch's Daughter loaded on my pocket electronic device for the last little while. I've listened to it while commuting and shoveling snow, and most recently while suffering from the flu and not having the energy to do much anything else.

The Witch's Daughter is the story of a tenant farmer 17th century England who essentially becomes a witch to escape persecution for witchcraft (as should be obvious from the book's title, Bess' mother hanged) and then spends the next 400 years running from the warlock who aided her transformation (and who wants to claim her for himself). The book is set in 2007, but it includes long flashbacks to various periods in the titular character's life: the plague-ridden early 1600s, in which Bess should have lived out her entire life, Victorian London (complete with Jack the Ripper), and Flanders during World War I. The book long at 400+ pages or 13+ hours, but it didn't drag for me.  

My pet peeve about the story is that Bess, each time she reinvents herself, uses some form of her actual name (and she maintains her appearance complete with her distinctive white widow's streak). Of course her nemesis is going to find her again and again when she does such a poor job of hiding. The fact that Gideon (the warlock) disguises himself so well really highlights this failing of Bess'.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
It was common knowledge that in the hills, with infinite hiding places, bodies disappeared. They were fed to hogs or buried deep in the woods or dropped into abandoned wells. They were not dismembered and set out on display. It just wasn't how things were done. It was that lack of adherence to custom that seemed to frighten people the most. Why would someone risk getting caught in order to show us what he'd done to Cheri when it would have been so easy to keep her body hidden? The only reasonable explanation was that an outsider was responsible, and outsiders bred fear in a way no homegrown criminal could. (12)
When 17-year-old Lucy Dane's developmentally delayed friend disappeared one year earlier, no one in their small town of Henbane, Missouri seemed particularly concerned, not even Cheri's mother. Cheri's first pegged as a runway then quickly forgotten. The discovery of Cheri's dismembered body first brought news crews, then a run on locks and ammunition, but that fervor is short-lived. A lack of leads coupled with the passage of time allows Cheri's murder to fade quietly into the backdrop of life in Henbane. Only Lucy, whose own mother disappeared 16 years earlier, continues to search for answers.

As Lucy begins to find clues about Cheri's life during that unaccounted for year, she begins to hope that she'll be able to discover information about her mother's mysterious disappearance as well. However the more Lucy learns, the more complicated both present and past seems to be. As the novel unfolds parallels are drawn between Cheri's disappearance and that of Lila Dane. In order to unearth the truth about her mother's disappearance Lucy will have to "look past what [she's] always been taught and listen to what [she] know[s] in [her] bones to be true" (223).

The Weight of Blood is an exploration of the ties that bind and the weight of blood. McHugh intersperses the contemporary narrative with flashback's to Lila's life during (and immediately before) her time in Henbane and utilizes different points of view at different times in the novel to great effect  (though readers who dislike multiple POV novels are going to have trouble with this one as the POV characters multiply in the second half of the book).  McHugh's characters are well-drawn and multifaceted (another obvious symptom of McHugh's effective use of different viewpoints throughout the novel).  The story is both gripping (even after readers find out who is most likely responsible for Lila's disappearance, they will still keep turning the pages desperate to learn exactly what happened to her) and evocative (McHugh charts both physical and interior landscapes so clearly for her readers). 

The Weight of Blood will be available in March 2014. It's McHugh's debut novel and I look forward to reading whatever she puts out next.
disclosure: I received a review copy of The Weight of Blood from Random House via NetGalley.

word: susurrus

A wonderful, onomatopoeic word discovery in Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men:
Another and larger part of Tiffany's brain was thinking of the word susurrus. It was a word that not many people have thought about, ever. [...]
Susurrus... according to her grandmother's dictionary, it meant "a low soft sound, as of whispering or muttering." Tiffany liked the taste of the word. It made her think of mysterious people in long cloaks whispering important secrets behind a door: susurrusssusurrusss... (4)
Emphasis not mine.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

remembering what else I read in 2013

My last reading recap post for 2013 was in July (see post) at which point I had read 70 books so far that year. Shortly thereafter the stress of everyday life left me without the will to keep track of my reading (the last book I actively noted down was #71).  I'm doing my best to reconstruct my books-read-in-2013 list (as seen below), but I am certain that I've missed more than a few (particularly library books).  I will come back and edit this post as I remember books I've neglected to add to the list.

Posts on many of the books listed below will be forthcoming in the next weeks.  Any my 2014 blog-related resolution is the same as my (failed) goal for last year:   to post at least something about every book that I read this year, preferably immediately or shortly after I either finish or officially give up on it. Let's hope I'm more successful this year.

Books read August-December 2013 (incomplete)

? Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman - Netgalley
? The Archived by Victoria Schwab - personal collection (gift)
? The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley - Netgalley
? Phoenix Island by John Dixon- Netgalley
? Defy by Sara B. Larson - Netgalley
? Sleighbells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan (see post) - Netgalley
? Children of Men by P.D. James - BookMooch
? Reality Boy by A.S. King - Netgalley
? How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden - Netgalley
? Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger - personal collection (purchased)
? Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger (reread; see post) - personal collection (purchased)
? A Wicked Pursuit by Isabella Bradford - Netgalley
? The Colors of Blue by Lance McCulloch - Netgalley
- Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (I should never have attempted this on a 7-day "speed read" checkout; of course I didn't manage to finish it within that timeframe) - public library
? The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani - public library
? The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni - public library
? Little Joe by Michael E. Glasscock III - Netgalley
? Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci - Netgalley
? A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier - Netgalley
? Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - public library
? The Hollow by Jessica Verday - public library
? Sekret by Lindsay Smith - Netgalley
- If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson (I found the title of this book particularly appealing, but there was just too much difficulty in this memoir for me to handle given the amount of stress I was under) - Netgalley
? The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponsor - Netgalley
? Allegiant by Veronica Roth (see post)- personal collection (gift)
? Insurgent by Veronica Roth (reread; see post) - personal collection
? The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert - Netgalley
? Divergent by Veronica Roth (reread; see post) - personal collection
? Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (see post)- personal collection (gift)
- One Great Year by Tamara Veitch and Rene DeFazio (I gave up on this book after two valiant efforts, not my cup of tea) - Netgalley
? Delectable by Adrianne Lee (see post) - Netgalley
? Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice - Netgalley
? Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (see post) - public library
? Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly (see post)- personal collection (gift)
- One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan al-Shaykh - public library
(read 100 pages before I had to return it to the library)
? Escaping Reality: The Secret Life of Amy Bensen by Lisa Renee Jones - Netgalley
? The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstol - Netgalley
? Louisiana Fever by D.J. Donaldson - review copy from publicist
71. Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves - personal copy (purchased at the Strand)