Sunday, April 27, 2008

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (3/5 stars)

This is the first book in the Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfield. The book follows Tally and Shay, two Uglies who are waiting to turn 16 so that they can get their operations and become Pretties. Pretties are all beautiful and get to live in New Pretty City where life is a party and beautiful all of the time. Everyone becomes a Pretty when they turn 16 without exception. While Tally yearns to become a Pretty Shay wants to escape Uglyville to see what lies outside of the city. Shay is worried about the Pretty operation; what if more than just your appearance changes?

Does the above sound like a shallow premise for a story? Well it is kind of. Although it makes you think a little bit (and I mean a little bit) about what would happen if everyone was perfect and beautiful. Although the story really isn't about that and maybe if it talked more about that it might have some substance.

I realize being 30 I am not the main market for this young adult novel; but it seemed a like surfacey and overused material for me. I think even young girls reading it will figure out what is going by the first chapter of the book. In tone it reminded me a little (tiny) bit of the Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher; except with young girls, and it was all about being pretty and identical, and humans actually have it pretty darn good, and there was a little love story, and I guess it's been about 15 years since I read the Tripods so maybe it wasn't all that similar. I really think it had a similar tone to it though.

By the end of the book I am still not sure if people being turned Pretty is all that horrible. I think you were supposed to think it is the worst thing in the world but I wasn't all that convinced.

All the above being said. The book was simply written, easy to read, a very quick read, and entertaining enough that I finished it. Given all I have heard about these novels I already purchased the next two so...I will probably read the next book in the series even though I am not all that enamored with it. It gets 3 stars for an "It's okay, I guess". It didn't offend me but it didn't work my mind or thrill me either.

Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn (2/5 stars)

This is the third (and final) book in the Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn. This books continues where the second book left off. Takeo and Kaede move to claim Kaede's inheritance so that Takeo has enough strength to take his rightful place as head of the Otori clan. Of course their rash actions at the end of the second book have angered a number of very powerful people and their plans are dashed by treachery a number of times over.

This book has a lot more action and violence than the previous two. For the most part though it follows in the same style as the first two books; and for people who really liked those books this one should please them.

Unfortunately there were a number of things I didn't like about it. I thought many of Takeo's and Kaede's actions were juvenile and poorly thought through. I was disappointed that Kaede lost most of her power in Takeo's presence. I was also irritated that, in general, when Kaede was allowed to make decisions she made them poorly. It was like justifying that all the male dominance at the time was there for a good reason. I was disappointed that the whole deal with the prophecy was so simple and straight-forward in a way that prophecies usually aren't. The number of people who killed themselves because "it was right" is also astounding. I understand some of this is part of the culture of feudal Japan, but still. By the end of the book I didn't really like Takeo or Kaede at all; I kind of wished they were on the losing side. Although to be fair everyone in this book was power hungry and selfish, so maybe it would have been more fitting for them all to lose.

The only bright spot in this book for me was the inclusion of storytelling from Shizuka's point of view. She is a much more interesting character than Kaede or Takeo and it was refreshing to have an interesting point of view in this book.

The other thing I find irritating is that this "trilogy" now has two more books out. The "Harsh Cry of the Heron" was released as the Last Tale of the Otori and a First Tale of the Otori has also been released. It always bothers me when an author promises a trilogy and then, when it sells well, adds onto it. It makes me think that maybe that author couldn't come up with a new world or a better story. The exception to this is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which sold itself as a trilogy as a joke of sorts.

Despite all my gripping the book was well-written and a good conclusion to the series. Although the hints at another book at the end of this trilogy were irritating; I suppose the people very dedicated to this series will be very happy.

Grass for His Pillow by Lian Hearn (3/5 stars)

This is the second book in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. This book picks up where the first left off. Takeo leaves Kaede for training under the mysterious Tribe; whose supernatural abilities Takeo has inherited from his father. As his training concludes, and he is asked to take out certain missions, he must ask himself if his loyalties will lie with the Tribe or with the Otori? Kaede meanwhile is left on her own to return home and see what state her family is in. Kaede struggles to consolidate her power and claim the inheritance she was left in a world that is run by men.

This was a fitting second book for this series. It moved along at the steady, descriptive pace of the second book. Although for some reason I found myself getting bored while reading this book. The lush descriptions, while detailed, didn't bring the book to life in the way I hoped they would. I had a little trouble understanding some of the stupid decisions made by Kaede and Takeo along the way. Despite these misgivings, if you liked the first book you must read the second book. It is very much in the same style of the first book and continues the story of Kaede and Takeo. This book definitely builds to a climax preparing you for the war and conflict of the third novel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (4/5 stars)

This is the first book in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. Originally I believe this was supposed to be a trilogy; with the addition of the Last Tale of the Otori and the First Tale of the Otori there are now 5 books that deal with the subject matter presented in this book.

This book tells the story of Takeo and Kaede. Takeo is a orphaned son of a tribe of the Hidden. After the decimation of his tribe he is found and taken into custody by the Lord of the Otori. Kaede is a young girl who has been held as a hostage at a lord’s estate for many years as assurance for her father’s cooperation. Their stories start out separately and are expertly woven in and out of each other throughout the book.

This is the second time I have read this book. The book is full of beautiful descriptions and the action scenes are fun to read. The world of the Otori is complex and dangerous, as well as full of intrigue.

While this is a well-written book I found that at times it got a little slow to read. At the end of the book there are many plotlines left unresolved. I remember being irritated with that the first time I read this book. The second time through I am just glad that I have the other books in the series on hand.

Overall this is a good book, well-written, and interesting. I am not sure how accurate it is to Japanese culture and history but some effort appears to have been made to make that as accurate as possible. I look forward to reading the second book.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (4/5 stars)

I feel like everyone has probably read this book. I resisted reading it for a while since it is not the type of book that I usually read. Finally, though, I broke down and read it. To my surprise it was a very enjoyable book.

After going through a horrible divorce and losing a good deal of her money/valuables to her husband, the author decides to spend a year traveling abroad. She wants to spend 4 months in Italy, 4 months in India, and 4 months in Indonesia (Bali) and write a book about it. She gets paid in advance for the book and takes off on her journey to write, well, this book. The premise is that in Italy she will concentrate on pleasure (eating, friends, just enjoying life); in India she will concentrate on praying and finding balance; in Indonesia she learns how to love again.

The author has a quick wit and a great sense of humor. It is really this sense of humor that makes the book and makes the author seem, well, like a normal person. The author is cynical and does not try to hide this even in her stay at the Ashram in India. It was well-written and I like how it was organized into small sections. This type of organization made it easy to pick up and read a little bit at a time. The humor of the book seemed to fall off some in the last “phase” of the book; I am not sure why this is. I was also a little disappointed that this book is kind of a series starter in that it leads into another book on the next phase of her life.

The above being said, this book will make you look at every aspect of your life and reconsider it. It will make you think about past decisions, future decisions and spiritual decisions. It will make you think about your day-to-day interactions with the people in your life. Overall I believe the book delivers a positive message; that even the most distraught of people can find balance and peace. I liked her spiritual take on things and I wish it was a concept that more people would grasp world-wide; this is just basically that people aren’t spiritually separate from one another and that all religions are based on the same concepts and are just different ways of getting to the same state of mind.

This book was a fun departure from what I normally read. It was a bit heavy for me. I am not sure if I will read another book by this author, but this book was a good one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Small Favor by Jim Butcher (5/5 stars)

Small Favor is the 10th book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. This series continues to amaze me with it's high quality and creativity.

When Harry is attacked by none other than the Three Billy Goats Gruff; he wonders what he has done to deserve the attention. Especially since he thought he was on good terms with the Queen of Summer. Shortly after he is contacted by the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, and Mab calls in one of the favors he owes her. She wants Harry to find out who kidnapped Chicago mob boss Johnny Marcone and rescue Marcone.

As Harry begins his quest to find Marcone he finds out that things in Chicago are much more serious than he initially thought. The Denarians (Fallen Angels) are somehow involved in this whole mess too. With the Summer Fae bent on killing him, Queen Mab breathing down his neck, and the Denarians seeking to "talk" to him how will Harry make it out alive?

I was very impressed with this book. I continue to be impressed that 10 books into the series Butcher is still working to write a really good book and not riding on the success of his previous works (as many authors do).

It was great to see more of Thomas and Michael in this book. Of course the Denarians are a wonderfully frightful group of demons and let Butcher add in some very creative fight scenes. This book was non-stop action; I felt tired for Harry just reading all he was trying to get done. The book was also packed with Harry's sarcastic wit and some particularly funny scenes. I felt like Harry spent more time passed out in this book than in previous ones; but despite that he was still just as busy as ever.

The addition of Harry's new power at the end hints at more interesting things to come. Also it looks like the issue of a Black Wizard Council will be visited in more detail soon. I really like that these books have independent stories, yet everything seems like it is going to tie in well with an overall story arc that deals with the Black Council and the Denarians.

I am already excited to read the next one. The worst thing about this book is that I am sad that I am done reading it :-)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix (3/5 stars)

This is the third book in the Keys of the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. This book follows much in the footsteps of the first two books of this series. I listened to this on audio book and the audio book was very high quality.

Arthur is taking a brief respite recovering in the hospital on Earth when he receives an invitation from Lady Wednesday requesting his presence for a lunch meeting. Things go all wrong when the crew sent by Lady Wednesday fail to pick up Arthur and instead grab his friend Leaf. Arthur is left to drift at sea until he is picked up by some scavengers. Arthur needs to find the third part of the will and obtain the third key from Lady Wednesday, as well as find Leaf.

I didn’t really think that the first two books in the series were all that special and this one follows those. These books are very creative and interesting to read; I just can’t seem to get past Arthur’s character. Arthur’s incessant whining drives me crazy. He is always whining about how he thinks this time they really are going to die. I think that this is something that doesn’t need to be constantly spoken out loud. If the characters are in a dire situation and the situation is well described you shouldn’t have to tell your readers that the characters might die; they can figure that out. That being said there was a noticeable change in Arthur in this book. Towards the end of the book Arthur is less whiny and more commanding in his rule as the True Heir of the House. Of course right at the end he has to whine a bit more about how he didn’t chose this and doesn’t want the responsibility, blah, blah, blah.

Some of the new, and old, characters are what really hold this book together. It was good to see Leaf take on a larger role in this book. It was wonderful to see Suzy Blue back, as she is probably my favorite character. The Moth’s crew and the Raised Rats were also a wonderful additions to the book. Feverfew was a positively evil villain, although I wish he had been present for more of the book. It was nice that this book didn’t follow the formula of the last two; that is to say that Lady Wednesday wasn’t as corrupt and evil as the other Morrow days have been.

This book was better than the first two. I will continue to read them because I want to know what happens; so I guess that says something else positive about these books. I still much prefer Garth Nix’s Seventh Tower series or the Abhorsen Trilogy.

Many Bloody Returns, various authors (4/5 stars)

Usually books with a number of short stories in them have some big names with great stories and some unknown authors with either surprisingly good or surprisingly bad stories. This was not the case with this book. All of the stories were really good and there was a larger variety of writing styles than I expected given the genre. All of the stories have to deal with vampires and birthdays.

The main reason I read books like this is to get a sampling of some authors I haven’t read and get a glimpse into the series that they are writing. This book was a good read and I found a couple new (to me at least) authors to check out from it. Because of this book I will read more of PN Elrod’s work, check out the Morganville vampire series, see what else Hallaway and Kelner have written, and possibly check out some of Jeanne Stein’s work too. Below is a quick comment/synopsis of each story.

Dracula Night by Charlaine Harris
This story is an addition to the Sookie Stackhouse series and addresses the celebration of Dracula Night by the vampire community. It’s a fun read; although there’s not a ton of content here.

The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden
The only other book I’ve read by Christopher Golden is “The Boys are Back in Town”; which I liked pretty well. This story follows a girl as she learns about her unique heritage. I enjoyed it and it was well written and mysterious.

I Was a Teenage Vampire by Bill Crider
This was probably my least favorite story of the anthology. The story was predictable, boring, and seemed quickly and lazily written.

Twilight by Kelley Armstrong
I liked Twilight okay. It was a little boring and moved slowly but it was well-written and dealt with the topic of vampires dying of boredom.

It's My Birthday, Too by Jim Butcher
Fun addition to the Dresden Files series. I enjoyed a story in which Thomas played a main role. I especially enjoyed the role-playing; being a DnD player I thought it was hilarious.

Grave-Robbed by P.N. Elrod
This was my first time reading anything by PN Elrod and I liked it. The main character, Jack Fleming, is a bit campy. Some of it reminded me of Harry Dresden a bit. I enjoyed it and will read more of Elrod’s writing.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life by Rachel Caine
This was a story that took place in the world of Rachel Caine’s young adult vampire series “The Morganville Vampires”. This was my favorite story in the book and now I am interested in reading this series. I’ve read some of Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series and that is also a good series.

The Witch and the Wicked by Jeanne C. Stein
This story creeped me out. I believe Stein is the writer of the Signs of the Zodiac series. The writing style wasn’t my favorite since it was kind of plain and straight-forward; not as much flare to it as I had hoped. The premise is pretty darn creative and creepy though.

Blood Wrapped by Tanya Huff
This was a nice addition to Henry Fitzroy’s world; it was a fun read. It really brought home the fact that I haven’t read the last few books in this series yet. I was like, what do you mean Vicki is a vampire?

The Wish by Carolyn Haines
I’ve never read anything by Carolyn Haines but I did like this story. The story is very sad and yet it is beautifully written and really grabs a hold of you. It is a very beautiful and well-written story, if not as fun as the rest of the book.

Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two by Tate Hallaway
I’ve never read anything by Tate Hallaway before; this was a fun story. I was intrigued by the witch having a demon trapped in her and by the elemental evil forces at work. I could really sympathize with the characters and the cold weather, being from MN myself.

Vampire Hours by Elaine Viets
I really enjoyed this story. I liked that the main character was an older woman dealing with day-to-day issues a lot of women deal with (okay maybe not as extreme as these issues). I liked how the woman cleverly got back at everyone; it was funny and a quick read.

How Stella got her Grave Back by Toni L.P. Kelner
I’ve never read anything by Toni Kelner, I really liked this story. I liked the idea of vampire dams and I liked the mystery solving that went on in this story. The characters were fun and likable. I really want to know the history between them now.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (5/5 stars)

This is the third book in the "Percy and the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan. I listened to this book on audio book and the audio book was excellent. This book follows much in the same vein as the first two. I really like these books, they have all the grand mystery of a Harry Potter book, but they also have a quick sense of humor and are not nearly as serious.

In this book Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia are contacted by Grover; he needs their help to collect two half-bloods at a military school (Bianca and Mico). When they arrive they find that Bianca and Mico have been being watched by a horrible monster. In the ensuing fight Annabeth falls over a cliff and the goddess Artemis shows up with her hunters to help out. After the fight Artemis leaves to track the biggest-meanest monster of them all and she ends up lost.

Back at Camp Halfblood it is determined that someone needs to find Annabeth and Artemis before the Winter Solstice. Percy is excluded from the quest, but eventually, of course he makes his way into the action.

This was another great book. I really like this series. There is a lot of excitement, humor, and I love the incorporation of all of the mythology. It is a riot to see all of the gods given such human personalities and flaws. I like that you still hear about Percy's mom some too. Meeting Annabeth's father was fun too! This book was very similar to the first two in writing style and content-type. If you liked the first couple you'll definitely like this one.

There is a growing sense of doom overshadowing these books as the Titan King continues to awaken and gain power. I am anxious to read the next book.

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder (4/5 stars)

This is the third book in the Poison Study series by Maria Snyder. In this book Yelena continues to discover what it is to be a Soulfinder. Yelena is trying to get permission from the Sitian Council to continue studying at the keep when she gets a message from Moon Man that he has found what she it seeking.

Yelena then travels to the plains to talk to Moon Man and ends up, once again, involved in battle with the Sandseeds as she tries to track down Ferda. Things end up being more complicated than Yelena initally knew and as the plot rushes along she ends up in a situation where she has to decide if her loyalties lie with Ixia or Sitia.

This was an adequate book for this series. I listened to it on audio book; the audio book quality was excellent. It was face-pasted and action-filled. Kiki and Valek are by far my favorite characters in this book. I liked the fact that Valek is in the book quite a bit more and that he still seems to know and see all.

I was disappointed in the path that the character of Moon Man took. I thought it was out of character for him to just step back and accept things like he did. I thought Yelena was more than a little dense throughout the book. Her Soulfinder powers seemed pretty obvious to me right at the beginning; yet it takes her until the end of the book to figure everything out. For some reason what happened with Roze Featherstone at the end of the book took me by surprise; I didn't really expect Roze to play as major of a role as she did. I found some of the debate between Ixia (military style government) and Sitian style government (more of a parliamentary style) to get a bit preachy at times; I suppose this discussion was inevitable given the political overtones of the book.

I still think that the strong point of this book is the cast of supporting characters. Kiki, Valek, Janco, Ari, and even Yelena's parents are, to me, much more interesting and likable characters than Yelena. This book seemed very well wrapped up at the end. I wonder if there will be another book; it is hard to tell. I kind of wish Snyder would just write the series from Valek's point of view; I think it would be more interesting!

Anyway, it was a good book. Just about what I expected. It would make a satisfying end to this series if that is what it is.