Monday, January 28, 2013

DNF: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Hey, look!  It's another DNF! 

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?
Here's my something nice:
The covers of this book (and the rest of the series) are very attractive.

And here's the stuff I shouldn't be saying (writing) at all:

This series has been on my radar for a while, though I never really bothered to look into the subject matter.  I knew they were paranormal romances for a YA audience.  In other words, I didn't expect great literature, but I enjoyed Twilight for what it was, and I thought this might be similarly enjoyable fluff.

Nope!  'Twasn't to be.
One thing I did know in advance was that this series was set in the South, and that piqued my interest.  (I should've known better!)  However, the very first two paragraphs made it perfectly clear that this wasn't the South-- it was the Stereotypical South.  A podunk small town that anyone of intelligence tries to escape.  Ignorant hicks everywhere you look.  Characters who drop their g's and heap on the drawl-- except the protagonist's family, who don't speak with that nasty Southern accent, because they are Educated.  (Ugh.)  All the characters (except the special few) are narrow-minded and/or dim-witted, and apparently everyone's obsessed with the Civil War:
Only folks down here didn't call it the Civil War.  Everyone under the age of sixty called it the War Between the States, while everyone over sixty called it the War of Northern Aggression, as if somehow the North had baited the South into war over a bad bale of cotton.  Everyone, that is, except for my family.  We called it the Civil War.  Just another reason I couldn't wait to get out of here.

Um, no.  Where I live (in the South), it's extremely rare that the subject comes up at all.  So get over it, authors.   Please stop trying to define us by something that happened nearly 150 years ago.

I thought possibly that I, being a Southerner, was more sensitive to all the negative stereotypes than other readers, but reviews springing from other places indicate that it's not just my imagination-- and yes, it is insulting.

Apparently both authors live in L.A. (that's "Los Angeles", not "Lower Alabama") and from what I can see, the one who claims to have "Southern roots" grew up outside of Washington, D.C.  Despite what some may try to tell you, D.C. is not really part of "the South", so as a true Southerner (as in, if I go much further South I'll be living in the Gulf of Mexico), I'm skeptical of all this "Southern roots" hogwash.  ;o)

Setting aside that issue (even though it's a biggie for me), the story-- or what I read of it, which was about 7% of the book-- was lacking in other ways... and based on reviews, it doesn't sound like it gets much better.  So you know what?  I'm not going to waste any more time on it.  NEXT! 

P.S. "There were no tourists this time of year.  They wouldn't take the chance during hurricane season."  Uh, what?  How hard is it to drive away, if there's a hurricane coming?  And when is tourist season, if not during summer/early autumn?  I live in a coastal county where we do get the occasional hurricane-- yet the tourism industry is alive and well.  Trust me, tourists come every year.  If it looks like a storm's coming, they'll pack up and drive somewhere else-- as do many of the people who live here.  (In other words, you know not of what you write, authors.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Blunt Instrument

A Blunt Instrument, by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him?

Superintendent Hannasyde, with consummate skill, uncovers one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Then, a second murder is committed, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and Hannasyde realizes he's up against a killer on a mission...

My Reaction:
I enjoyed it!  However, what I enjoyed most wasn't the mystery element at all, but rather two of the characters-- Sally Drew and Neville Fletcher.  Both of them remind me somewhat of Psmith (of Wodehouse fame).  They're more biting, satirical versions of the Psmith-type character, though. 

The mystery itself was so-so.  I had a recurring hunch about who the murderer might be, but as usual, I wasn't sure until the reveal.  I was curious to learn the solution to the mystery, but would've been even happier if the book had been about just Neville and Sally.  I liked them so much more than the other characters-- especially Helen and John.  (I was glad when their part of the story was finally wrapped up, honestly.  What bores, the pair of them!)

Specific Comments:
--  It's (almost) always fun when an author writes about a character who is also an author.  Sally is a mystery writer-- and this of course was a mystery-- so we get several amusing conversations on the subject.

--  There were a few "it was a product of its time" moments scattered through the book.  I'm not one who thinks we ought to sanitize the literature of the past, however, and if you can't handle a few things of this sort in an older book... you're likely in for a lot of annoyance during your journey through this life!

--  I didn't get this at all.  A character seems to be accusing another of naiveté (or something similar) by saying "You've a kind heart, and no Norman blood"... which means nothing to me.  It seems to be a reference to a poem by Tennyson.  Probably if I knew more about British history, all would be clear.

--  Describing his interview with a possible witness, Sergeant Hemmingway says that he's been swatting away flies all day, but he never saw a single fly settle on the other man.  Superintendent Hannasyde seems to understand the implication of this.  ("'Oh!...Like that, is he?'")  I, on the other hand, am baffled.

--  "'It would be a kindness to them both, and I don't in the least mind doing people kindnesses if it doesn't cost me anything.'"

--  "'Perhaps Aunty Lucy did it, with one of her Indian clubs.  I believe she wields them with considerable vigour.'"  Looking it up, Indian clubs were bowling-pin-looking pieces of equipment used for an exercise/juggling fad.  Funny how these things have been going on forever.   They had Indian clubs, we get "spinning" classes and those Pilates exercise balls that were all the craze a few years ago.

--  Sergeant Hemmingway on the Mona Lisa: "That picture people make such a fuss about, though why I've never been able to make out.  Pie-faced creature, with a nasty, sly smile."  Yeah, I don't really see what all the fuss is about, either.  (But after looking up "pie-faced", I'm now afraid that I might be described by some as pie-faced, too.  The horror!)

--  "'I can't rest!' Helen said with suppressed vehemence.  'Night starvation,' sighed Neville."  What is "night starvation", you ask?  Look it up; it's interesting.  (It was a 1930s "thing", apparently.)

--  Gosh, that Neville!  (And Sally, too, but mostly Neville.)  He just makes me laugh!  I have a feeling Neville (and Psmith, of whom he really does remind me) would drive me up a wall, if I had to deal with him "in real life", but in books, I can't get enough. (g)

--  One thing I didn't like was the countless reiterations of the same old set of clues-- such as the timeline.  Booooring.  I'm sure that's what real police work is like, going over and over things in the hopes of seeing something you've missed before-- but it's not much fun to read, imho.

--  People (especially murderers) in books are always seeing things through "a mist of red"/"a red mist".  And then there's that saying, "seeing red".  I don't think I've ever actually "seen red" before... Don't remember it at least, though I've been plenty mad, once or twice.  ;o) 

SPOILERy Comments:
--  I did wonder a few times if the person who turned out to be the murderer might be the guilty party, but I was never sure.  I guess I fell into the same trap that left Hannasyde befuddled for so long: "'You were an officer of the Law... Your word was considered to be above suspicion.'"  Or rather, since the other characters thought he was above suspicion, I did, too.  (Like a fool. (g))

I think that this turn of events-- an extremely religious, supposedly righteous (though irritating) policeman who turns out to be the murderer-- would have been more of a surprise/twist ending back when this book was written than it is now.  These days, such an overtly religious character-- especially one who is always quoting the Bible-- would instantly be a prime suspect, 'cause everyone knows that vocal Christians are nuts.  (*eyeroll*)

The biggest clues for me:
1)  When they got more specific about what the weapon would've looked like, I kept picturing those "billy clubs"/police batons.  (And of course that would explain how the weapon kept disappearing from the crime scene without anyone seeing anything suspicious.)

2)  The Biblical references in Angela Angel's letter put up a huge red flag.  I knew at that point that it had to be one of the Bible-quoting characters-- either Glass or Simmons (the butler).

3)  When we learned that the officer walking his beat was not on the spot when the sandwich vendor said he saw him, I was pretty sure I knew who had been walking past.

--  I'm so happy Neville and Sally "get together" by the end of the book.  I was the teensiest bit afraid they wouldn't, which would've been a let-down.  (One I would have alleviated by rewriting it in my head so that it worked out "the right way".  I do that all the time, if I'm not pleased with the writer's ending.)  Yes, I'll admit it:  I cared much more about those two than anything else in the book.  

I'll read more of Georgette Heyer's mysteries, for certain.  If there are more characters as amusing and as much fun to read as Neville and Sally, I want to make their acquaintance!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast (The Last Dragonslayer #2), by Jasper Fforde

Publisher's Blurb:
A long time ago magic faded away, leaving behind only yo-yos, the extremely useful compass-pointing-to-North enchantment and the spell that keep bicycles from falling over. Things are about to change. Magical power is on the rise and King Snodd IV of Hereford has realised that he who controls magic controls almost anything. One person stands between Snodd and his plans for power and riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Meet Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, the employment agency for sorcerers and soothsayers. With only one functioning wizard and her faithful assistant 'Tiger' Prawns, Jennifer must use every ounce of ingenuity to derail King Snodd's plans. It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight.

My Reaction:
(This was another read-along with Donald, so there are no notes.)

It's been a while since I read The Last Dragonslayer, but my blurry impression is that I enjoyed that book more than this one.  The story seemed a bit slow getting started.  Once the action was going, it was fine... and there was wit and humor... but it wasn't on the same level as Pratchett or some of Fforde's own other novels.  The fact that it's written for a YA audience likely has something to do with that.

I certainly noticed the occasional strong language in this novel more than I would have if it weren't "YA lit".  I imagine it's more and more common, these days, for literature written with kids in mind to have cursing-- and there wasn't tons of it, or the very worst words-- but there was enough that I noticed it.  ...So make of that what you will.

Jennifer Strange still feels more like a calm, practical, self-sufficient, almost emotionally-distanced twenty- or thirty-something than a teenager.  Actually, based on what I remember of Fforde's other books (though that doesn't include the sequels in the Thursday Next series, as I haven't read those)... this seems to be par for the course with his work.  I don't remember making an emotional connection with any of the main characters.  Some of his secondary characters seem much more relatable and real than the protagonists.  I read Fforde for humor, not realistic characters or character development. 

All that said, it certainly wasn't a bad book, and Fforde's alternate universes are always interesting.  For light comic fantasy (with an "advanced YA" feel), this is a fine choice-- though I do recommend starting with the first book in the series. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Footsteps in the Dark

Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
What begins as an adventure soon becomes a nightmare...

Locals claim it is haunted and refuse to put a single toe past the front door, but to siblings Peter, Celia, and Margaret, the Priory is nothing more than a rundown estate inherited from their late uncle-and the perfect setting for a much-needed holiday. But when a murder victim is discovered in the drafty Priory halls, the once unconcerned trio begins to fear that the ghostly rumors are true and they are not alone after all! With a killer on the loose, will they find themselves the next victims of a supernatural predator, or will they uncover a far more corporeal culprit?

My Reaction:
Looking for a very light, mildly spooky mystery with dashes of humor and a little romance on the side?   Also a fan of "Britain between the wars"?  Give this a try, but don't expect the greatest mystery (or romance, for that matter) of all time.

It felt like it took me forever to read this.  Partly that's because I've been busy with other things and haven't spent much time reading.  However, I may have been less inspired than usual to spend time reading because this book felt quite predictable, in some respects.  The humorous moments were by far the best part of the book; unfortunately, I could've done with more of them.

Though this wasn't quite so strong as I'd hoped, it was still fairly cozy, and I'll read more of Heyer's mysteries.  (Apparently this was her first mystery, so maybe she hadn't quite worked up to full speed, yet.)  I'll also certainly try some of her regency romances (which are her chief claim to fame).

Specifics (including SPOILERS):
--The extremely predictable bits?  There's the infinitely unsurprising identity of the monk, for one thing.  (It was unintentionally hilarious to see the characters all so shocked when it had been painfully obvious for most of the book.)  Also, as soon as the mysterious M.S. says that the police aren't going to get him, you pretty well know he's involved in law enforcement himself.  When the young lady remarks to him that she hates policemen, you merely nod your head knowingly.

--Someone says it seems ridiculous to have a fire in July, and another person replies that nothing is ridiculous with the English climate.  Wow.  A fire in July?  In the northern hemisphere?  I can't even imagine needing a fire in July, here... Well, maybe if you were caught and drenched in an afternoon thunderstorm.  That can make you chilly... But in that case, you'd need a towel and dry clothes more than the warmth of a fire.

--I know, it was a different time, but sometimes the women in this book are awfully weak.

--"Margaret - I can't tell you what I think of your pluck, and your sportsmanship."  Ha!  Oh, swoon!  The hero complimenting the heroine on her pluck and sportsmanship!  I go all wobbly at the knees!  ;o)

--"Don't marry him, Margaret.  We can't have a policeman in the family.  What about our wireless license?  He's bound to find out that it's expired."

--"Margaret went up to change into the frock she had worn on the previous evening.  With a praiseworthy attention to detail she made her hair look tousled, and wiped all the powder off her face.  As Charles remarked, in a newly engaged girl this deed almost amounted to heroism."  (HA!)

--The "unmasking" scene felt very Scooby-Doo, as did the "sardonic scorn" of the guilty party.  All that was missing was a reference to "meddling kids".

--I found it funny that Heyer had the Monk tell Margaret that he wouldn't have left her to starve.  Why?  So that the book is less horrifying?  Are we supposed to think to ourselves that he's not such a bad chap, after all?  ;o)  Well, sure, so he's already killed a couple men.  What of that?  He wouldn't have left a young lady to starve.  What a guy!

DNF: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

Publisher's Blurb:
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

My Reaction:
Ugh!  I've dragged this book out for so long that, at this point, I've forgotten exactly where I left off!  The additional fact that I knew the story of this first book before I even started (thanks to the TV series)-- and that the TV series seems to have followed this book (if not the subsequent books) so faithfully... I just can't muster up the enthusiasm to bother about the last bit.  (There probably weren't more than a few small sections left.)

Honestly, I'm simply tired of seeing the title in my "currently reading/listening" list, so I'm calling it a DNF, even though I'm so close to finishing that another hour probably would've done it.

Apart from all that, it is an interesting story.  I just think I'd rather watch it than read (or even listen to) it.  I've heard murmurs of discontent regarding the later books of the series, too, so that makes me even less excited about the prospect of reading them.  We'll see.  I believe that the TV series diverges from the books, on some points, but if I were going to read more of the books, I'd probably try to pick up with the story close to where the program has left off.  It's just dull reading the same material I've already seen, with such a long, involved story.

More Specific Observations:
--So many of the characters are so young!  I prefer the TV series in that respect; most of them look at least a few years older than they are in the book(s).

--The reader was pretty good in many respects, but sometimes the voices he gave characters felt wrong or just plain irritating.  For instance, I couldn't stand the voice the reader gave Tyrion.  He made him sound like a very old man with a rather odd accent... which really made no sense, considering that he's not an old man and neither of his siblings had the same accent.  The eunuch's deep, slobbery voice felt wrong, too.  (Shouldn't a eunuch's voice tend to be higher pitched than average? ...Guess it depends on how old he was/whether his voice had already changed... In any case, it was *totally gross*, and I dreaded hearing him.)

Actually... the eunuch's voice reminded me somewhat of... THIS gem from my childhood:

--How many points of view do we shift among?  It feels like at least seven... Ok, looked it up, and there are eight recurring points of view, plus one more for the prologue.  Sheesh.  No wonder parts of the book seemed to drag.  There's no way that all eight are going to be equally interesting to each reader.