Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweden - inside out

Sweden - inside out, by Anita Shenoi

So you've heard of IKEA and Ingemar Bergman.  But how much do you know about the country behind the famous names?

Get the low-down from an insider, who presents a wry but affectionate perspective on Sweden and its super-shiny Swedes.  Packed with pointers for business travellers, tourists or new residents alike, this guide guarantees to turn Sweden inside out!

My Reaction:
This book (a gift from Swedish in-laws) provides a good, broad-strokes overview of Sweden for anyone interested in the country.  Someone looking to plan a trip will want to dig deeper for specifics-- and the book provides many web addresses (scattered through the text) to point you in the right direction.

Because it tries to give a little of everything, some topics are sure to interest you more than others.  (That's just the nature of this type of book.)  Fortunately, each segment is brief, so if you find your attention wandering, it won't be not long before the subject shifts. 

There are lots of photos to keep things interesting, which also means that the book is a shorter read than it looks from the outside.

(Side note:   The author is a native of Britain, which was very obvious from some of her word choices and syntax.  I don't know that it affects her approach and perspective, but I suppose it's possible.)

So-- good for a brief look at Sweden from a variety of angles.  For more in-depth coverage of specific topics-- history, cuisine, travel-- you'll probably need to locate additional resources.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ammie, Come Home

Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels

Publisher's Blurb:
For the guests at Ruth Bennet's fashionable Georgetwon home, the seance was just a playful diversion . . . until Ruth's niece Sara spoke in a deep guttural voice not her own . . . and the game became frighteningly real.

My Reaction:
Overall, it was... fine.  Not absolutely amazing, but a decent read.  I've read a couple (or is it a few?) of Michaels' other books, and after doing so (and enjoying them to varying degrees), found that reviews indicated (for the most part) that they were not her best work.  This one had higher ratings, so maybe my expectations were too high going in... Again, it's fine, and I enjoyed most of the reading experience, but I wasn't especially wowed.

More Specifics:
-- The mystery aspect felt predictable, unfortunately.  I was hoping there would be something a bit "more" to catch me off my guard, but no, it was pretty much just what I expected.  This may have something to do with the book's age.  Maybe when it was originally published in the late 1960s it would've been less predictable.  Also, there's an aspect of the story that is only hinted at-- possibly because putting any more emphasis on it would've been pushing the envelope too far for the intended audience of relatively "mature" women of the 1960s.

--  Speaking of which, I guess Barbara Michaels specialized in writing gothic mystery romances with "older" heroines.  At least, I'm certainly seeing a trend.  Writing as a "you're no spring chicken, yourself", 30-something reader, I don't have a problem with that, exactly, but I don't like the emphasis on age... and it's getting a bit repetitive. 

--  When one of your characters remarks toward the end of your novel that "this is anticlimactic"... maybe it's time to consider a rewrite.  Sorry, but it was anticlimactic.

--  I know, I know.  Characters almost have to be a little slow and/or a little foolhardy in order to find themselves in bad situations, but good grief, it gets annoying.  How many times did they neglect to notice that it was getting dark?

--  These characters drink more than characters in soap operas!  Of course, near the end, Michaels acknowledges this fact through one of her characters-- but she attributes it to the stress they've all been under.  I beg to differ; I noticed the copious references to hock, wine, brandy, sherry, vodka, and the generic "drink" well before the real drama kicked in.  

-- The choice of the name "Bruce" feels extremely dated.  That's not a complaint; just an observation.  When's the last time you heard of a young man named "Bruce"?  It makes me think of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) and this Monty Python sketch.

--  It always makes me smile when I find the inevitable "hidden" reference to Egyptology.  This time we got "the secret of the Great Pyramid".

--  Maybe I'm being overly critical, but this love scene makes me shudder:  "...wherever his hands and lips had touched she felt stripped, not only of clothing but of skin, as if the skillful fingers manipulated the nerves themselves."  Stripped of skin?  Fingers manipulating the (bare) nerves?  That is so totally not romantic.  Probably the creepiest thing in the whole darn book, if you ask me-- and unintentionally so, I think.

-- References to The Three Faces of Eve (seen the film, don't think I've read the book) and Shirley Jackson's novel, The Bird's Nest (never read it).

--  Oh, boy; it's another book in which most of the characters obviously don't hold religion in very high regard.  They're too modern and intellectually advanced for that, I guess.  On the other hand, one character talks about "the mumbo jumbo of psychiatry", so there's some balance...  It makes me curious about the author's personal beliefs, since these things seem to come up in so many of her books.  I suppose it's almost unavoidable, when you're writing about ghostly things, but I got tired of the two male characters debating one another when there were bigger fish to fry.

-- "'We seem to spend half our time eating and/or drinking, under the most peculiar conditions.'"  Well, at least the characters themselves have noticed it, too.

--  There are three novels loosely (?) based around some of these characters and/or the house.  I read the second one (Shattered Silk) before I realized that fact.  I don't think it made a shred of difference-- but from what I understand, some of the characters from this book reappear more significantly in the third novel (Stitches in Time).

--  On the plus side, most of the main characters are multi-dimensional, and they do change through the course of the novel (though it often seems that Sara is a drowsy do-nothing who spends the whole novel lying on the floor-- when she's not being "overshadowed").  They are generally likeable.  The novel moves along at a decent pace and is always readable.  There's suspense, and it's a little creepy at times, but not keep-you-awake-at-night creepy.  (One reviewer sums it up it as "cozy gothic", which is a perfect descriptor, I think.)

So, final word?  It's a pretty good novel of its type.  A fine example of a "cozy gothic"-- but I'm not sure I'd rate it as highly as most Amazon readers have.  Still, I'm sure I'll continue reading more of Michaels' gothic novels, so she obviously did something right.  ;o)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wool 3: Casting Off

Wool 3: Casting Off , by Hugh Howey

The silo has appointed a new sheriff. Her name is Juliette, and she comes not from the shadows of deputies, but from the depths of the down deep.

But what does being a mechanic have to do with upholding the law? And how will she be able to concentrate on the silo's future when she is surrounded by the ghosts of its past?

Before she can even settle in, the whirring gears of the silo begin to grind anew. Things aren't right. And the people whose help she needs the most are gone.

If Juliette isn't careful, she'll soon be among them.

My Reaction:
The third installment in the Wool series is better than the second, I think.  (Not that the second was bad...)  There's another cliff-hanger ending (sensing a trend there), but I found it less of an instance of "must keep reading now" than the ending of Wool 2.  Maybe that has more to do with me than the books, though.  I need a break from the intensity of the silo.  I'm thinking something by Barbara Michaels... Maybe I'll enjoy this series more if I don't gulp it all at once.

A more specific comment--
I kind of wish the story was a little bit slower-paced.  I mean, I appreciate the fact that you don't have much chance to get bored, and I like the brevity, overall... but there are times when I feel that the story-- or the characters' interactions are a little too compressed.  Juliette and Lukas are a great example of this.  I like both characters, and I enjoyed their budding relationship, but it feels like they are way too invested in one another after, what, two or three evenings of even knowing one another by name.  Maybe emotions run higher and faster in the silo, but I would've liked to have seen things play out a little more slowly and realistically. 

Oh, and another thing... which happens to contain SPOILERS...

Ahem.  Did you catch that?

...We were supposed to know/guess about the 8"x2" screen after the end of Wool 1, right?  I really hope that wasn't supposed to be a shocking revelation at the end of Wool 3.  Because it was pretty obvious by then.  The existence of other silos, on the other hand-- not to mention Bernard's communication link with at least one of them-- now, that was unexpected.

I hope Juliette manages to find one of those other silos and shock its inhabitants by sauntering up to their cameras and waving.  (g)  Or at least finds a way to survive (good thing she's a master-mechanic), because I'm tired of all the deaths in this series, so far!


So, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.  But a break might be nice.  Something vaguely spooky and Octoberish, maybe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wool 2: Proper Gauge

Wool 2:  Proper Gauge, by Hugh Howey

A cleaning has been performed, and now the silo is without a sheriff. With only one good candidate available, Mayor Jahns and Deputy Marnes set off for the down deep to recruit her in person. Along the way, they discover much about each other, troubling news about this candidate, and stumble upon fractured alliances that could spell the doom of a silo they've worked long years to protect.

My Reaction:
I enjoyed it.  Not quite so much as Wool (the first installment), though... But whereas Wool felt like it could have been a stand-alone short novella, Wool 2 has more the feeling of settling in for a longer story.  Wool was one man's story, and while Wool 2 can be seen as one woman's story, it's also the beginning of a story about the silo as a whole.

...Anyway, it was enjoyable, but sad.  (Few dystopian tales can help being sad.)  Also, it has a major case of the cliffhanger ending.  You might as well secure a copy of the Wool Omnibus Edition, if you liked the first installment (which is now free on Amazon), because I can guarantee you won't be satisfied to stop after the second bit-- not if you like stories with some sense of closure. 

Spoilery Comments:
Bernard's insulting words about Jahns and Marnes-- spoken in their presence-- felt a little over the top.  Maybe it was just me, but that felt just too much, even for a guy who thinks he runs the place.  True, considering later (somewhat predictable) developments, maybe someone who'd be willing to do that wouldn't think twice about harsh insults based entirely on someone's age... but I picture Bernard as at least believing himself to be a mastermind of sorts.  What kind of mastermind would cast suspicion on himself by openly insulting the woman he's planning to kill?  Of course, for that matter, how does he think he'll escape suspicion when they trace the water back to his office?  I'm sure he'll have some excuse, but it seems like a bright guy would've found some other place/way to contaminate the water...

In any case, I think I'll have to brace myself for Bernard being an Evil Incarnate character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever-- though I hope he won't continue to be so cartoonishly drawn. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Wool, by Hugh Howey

Thousands of them have lived underground. They've lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you'll get what you wish for.

My Reaction:
I'm impressed!  Well-written and thought-provoking.  It's not long-- just a short novella / long short story-- so if you enjoy reading about dystopian futures, definitely give this a try.  (The Kindle version is currently available for free on Amazon.)  This is the first in a series (not sure if the other installments are so short...), and I'll definitely be reading at least the next one (Wool 2 - Proper Gauge).

It might not be for everyone (can't go into details without spoiling it).  Heck, it might not even be for me on some occasions, but for today, it was good. 

The Girl on the Boat

The Girl on the Boat, by P.G. Wodehouse

Billie, a young woman with a lately developing habit of finding herself engaged to the wrong man finally becomes engaged to the right man, only to put an end to that engagement, as well.  Fortunately, the right man is persistent, and Fate is kind-- but not before she (Fate, that is) has her fun with the would-be love-birds and their friends and family. 

My Reaction:
We chose this novel as our next Wodehouse read simply because I found it available for free on ManyBooks.net.  I expected it to possibly be inferior quality Wodehouse (i.e. still a good comedic read), but was pleasantly surprised.  This is not quite equal to the pinnacle of the Jeeves and Wooster body of work, but neither does it slouch.  In fact, I enjoyed it very much, indeed.  (The "authorial asides" are wonderful.)  Highly recommended!  Wodehouse is just plain good for the soul-- an escape into an ideal world where nothing very bad is likely to happen, and there are sure to be many good laughs along the way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

DNF: As the World Dies

As the World Dies: The First Days, by Rhiannon Frater

The morning that the world ends, Katie is getting ready for court and housewife Jenni is taking care of her family. Less than two hours later, they are fleeing for their lives from a zombie horde. 

My Take:
Well, it's a DNF (Did Not Finish), so... I think you can guess what I thought of it, but since I'm already here, I'll tell you more.  ;o)  The short explanation is that it feels amateurish-- and even more amateurish than I'd expected, knowing that this was originally a self-published zombie tale.  I could pinpoint multiple little niggling details that turned me off, but why bother?  Here are just two tiny things that turned me off from the book:

1.  "An angry howl from the other side of the door made her jump and her thick raven hair fell into her face.  With trembling hands she pushed back her tresses."
Ok, two points.  First, where are my commas?  I demand commas!  Second, ugh.  "Thick raven hair"?  "Tresses"?  Really? 
2.  "'I'm Jenni.  With an "i", not a "y".  I like it spelled that way,' the woman said softly beside her."
You have to take into consideration that this comes mere minutes after the other woman has rescued Jenni-with-an-i from a horrible death at the teeth of her own family.  Alright, maybe Jenni's supposed to be numb-- in shock-- whatever... but still.  Meh.
Anyway, there's more (the cliched pairing of a battered wife and a lesbian, some random elderly man calling out to a woman he doesn't know that she should save herself, even as he's being eaten), but why be mean by pointing out each problem?

By this point (not even through the whole first chapter), I had pretty much decided I wasn't interested, but I read a few reviews on Amazon to see if it might get significantly better, later on.  It has tons of favorable reviews, but the poor reviews seemed to point out the same kinds of things that were already getting on my nerves... so I've decided to "call it" and move on to greener pastures.  

It's unfortunate.  I wanted to like this.  It's the first novel in a zombie trilogy, so there'd be more books to look forward to reading-- and it has a unique point of view (a female perspective of a zombie outbreak)-- but I just couldn't.  

Somehow, this book managed to gain a cult following online (probably because it was originally published for free, online, in a serial format)... so maybe it's perfect for someone.  Not for me, though. I'll pass.