Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jovah's Angel, Sharon Shinn

Title: Jovah's Angel
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 1997, Ace
Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 8.5/10

Jovah's Angel is the second in Shinn's Samaria series. I read the first, Archangel, a while ago and enjoyed the writing but was completely annoyed by the heroine. But I've like Shinn's other books much better, so I had to give this series another try. And I'm so glad I did, because I loved this one.

The world of Samaria is ruled by a small group of angels, which are led by an Archangel. These angels sing to their god, praying for rain during drought, medicine for the sick, and seed when crops fail. The god has always provided what they pray for. But now the angel's prayers seem to be in vain. It's been storming for months and nothing the angels do makes any difference. During one of these storms, the Archangel, Delilah, is thrown to the ground and breaks her wing. The god surprises everyone by naming Alleluia as the next Archangel. Quiet and unassuming, she is considered by many as a bad choice who will be unable to deal with the politics of ruling.

Alleluia does not particularly want to be Archangel, but she'll do what she has to to help Samaria. In an effort to figure out why the angels' prayers are not being answered, she travels to the oracles and has them ask the god what to do. The god's answer is extremely cryptic. Trying to make sense of this, she studies the ancient texts and her discoveries make her question the very nature of the god itself. She is helped by a moral, Caleb Augustus, a scientist who has lost faith in the god.

I love Shinn's writing style--it's so solid, meaty but still fluid. The language is lovely; the way she describes the angels' singing is beautiful and just amazingly effective. And the romance is so well done. It never overpowers the rest of the plotline, but still manages to be integral to the story. And I was happy that I found it soooo much easier to relate to Alleluia than to Rachel (the heroine of Archangel). I loved her and Caleb both.

And the world-building is so interesting! The world of Samaria is very original, and there are some pretty shocking developments in this book. Before reading Jovah's Angel, I was sort of sad that each book in this series is each set a century apart, so we don't get to see any of the same characters in the sequels. But I changed my mind when I realized that this set-up allows us to see how the world of Samaria is evolving. Archangel is set in a completely pre-Industrial era. In Jovah's Angel, the Samarians are starting to make scientific discoveries, and we see how that is changing the way people think about religion.

The devoutly religious might find the book disturbing, but I thought the discussions of science vs. faith were fascinating. Highlight for BIG spoiler [read the book first!!]: I had already read somewhere that the god was actually a spaceship (I wish I hadn't known!), but I liked the way Shinn dropped clues throughout. And when Alleya's at the oracle and the god says to SEND HELP--well, I was enthralled. ;) I also thought that Alleya's reactions to finding out that her god was a machine were great. She's upset but not crushed--she deals with the fall-out rationally and with great intelligence. :)

I moved right on to the next in the series, The Alleluia Files. And I talked Twin into reading Shinn's Twelve Houses series, and she's loving it just like I said she would. (A few minutes ago she made a little squeal and said, "Tayse was captured!!" Oh no!) :p

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Simply Perfect, Mary Balogh

Title: Simply Perfect
Author: Mary Balogh
Published: 2008, Delacort
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6/10

This is fourth and last in Balogh's Simply series. Balogh is comfort reading for me--I know I'm going to get a very nice story filled with very nice characters and everything will turn out very nicely in the end. ;) So even though I haven't loved this series, I still enjoyed Simply Perfect.

Claudia Martin has run a school for girls in Bath for over a decade. She has been content there, ruling over the roost with a firm, yet kind, hand. So when Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, offers her a ride to London and makes himself charming and attentive, she tries very hard not to fall for him. At 33 she considers herself firmly on the shelf, and she appreciates the independence of her current life. But as the two become closer friends, they both realize that they're falling in love. But Joseph must do as society expects and marry within his own class, even as he discovers that his fiance, Miss Hunt, is one cold fish.

This story is definitely not new--really this is almost the exact same plot as at least two of the other Simply books. But it's told well. It may be too sugary sweet for some readers, but I liked it anyway. Balogh somehow manages to satisfy my need for sweet romance without making me want to puke--it's a fine line and she's always on the right side. :p

That said, Claudia definitely isn't my favorite Balogh heroine--she's supposed to be very no-nonsense and stern, but she seemed to act a bit out of character at times. I guess the point is that underneath her hard shell there beats a soft, soft heart, but I would have appreciated a bit more teeth to her. And I didn't think Joseph was a very good match for her--he's easygoing and jolly, and I was just never convinced that he would appreciate Claudia's good qualities enough to fall in love with her.

My favorite part by far was how Claudia helped Joseph with his big problem (I am being intentionally vague here because I don't want to give it away). Claudia's desire to help did seem very in character--she saw it as a challenge, and her kindness made it impossible for her not to do everything she could. It was just ... nice. ;)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Sharing Knife: Passage, Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Sharing Knife: Passage
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 2008, Eos
Category: Fantasy
Rating: 8.5/10

This book is the third in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. I loved the first, Beguilement, and liked the second, Legacy, for the most part. So no question I had to read this one.

The Sharing Knife series is set in a world where there are two almost entirely separate races of people living side by side: Lakewalkers and Farmers. Lakewalkers have groundsense, which is basically a magical ability to sense ground, or life force. Their whole purpose in life is to use their groundsense to search out malices, which are sort of life-sucking monsters that crop up without warning. Farmers have no groundsense, and over the centuries great distrust and fear have grown up between the two races.

The series focuses on Dag, a Lakewalker patroller, and Fawn, a Farmer girl, who have fallen in love. This is extremely unusual, and they've found that neither of their societies are willing to accept their relationship. Since they can't live as Lakewalkers and they can't live as Farmers, they are left seeking a new kind of life. Dag has also come to the realization that the division between the two races has become a great danger to both--since Farmers are spreading out over more and more land, they are in increasing danger of malices, but since Lakewalkers are very secretive about what they do, Farmers do not have the knowledge to recognize malices or protect themselves.

Dag has decided that it's time to de-mystify the Lakewalker culture, so he sets about teaching Farmers what Lakewalkers do. He and Fawn secure passage on a boat with a vague plan of putting this into action. They are joined by a ragtag group: the boat boss, Berry, is searching for her lost father and fiance; Berry's little brother and drunkard uncle travel with her; two young Lakewalker boys are running from disgrace; and Dag saves a wretched little orphan who quickly becomes his biggest fan. This unusual group makes the long journey down the Grace River to the sea, encountering many trials along the way.

I loved this book almost as much as I loved Beguilement (i.e. a whole lot). Both Dag and Fawn are so completely lovable--Dag because he is so honorable and trying so hard to do what he knows to be right, and Fawn because she is so sweet and lively, and trying so hard to keep Dag from being crushed under the weight of his obligations. Legacy was a tad too gloomy for me because it seemed like the problems the couple faced were just insurmountable. Their problems in this book are still great, but they are facing them and making some progress. There are also several really funny scenes that make for great comic relief: Dag's fishing and the sheep un-stealing were great.

The first two books in the series are really romantic fantasy and focused primarily on Dag and Fawn's relationship. Passage has a more traditional fantasy plotline: it is more concerned with the political situation between Farmers and Lakewalkers, and Dag's quest to find out more about his Lakewalker abilities and how to share those with Farmers. I loved the romance in the first two, though I think this book is maybe the strongest of the three. It can stand alone, which the first two can not.

Passage is also much more of an ensemble piece--Dag and Fawn are still the center of the story, but the secondary characters are much more important. They are all interesting characters, each with their own little story arcs that neatly tie into the overarching one. The group starts out as a bunch of people trapped on a boat together with nothing in common and plenty reason to dislike each other, and they become a sort of family. It's lovely. ;)

So, yay! Super read. There is to be a fourth book in the series, which I can't wait for. Does anyone know the title or when it is due out? I thought I'd read somewhere that Bujold had already finished writing it.

Oh, and I have to say that I love the illustration on the book jacket. That is SO Dag and Fawn. Do you know how rare it is that those illustrations actually look the way I imagine the characters to be? But this one is just right, and so pretty.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

False Colours, Georgette Heyer

Title: False Colours
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: Orig. 1963, Reissued 2008, Sourcebooks
Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 8/10

Sourcebooks has been reissuing Heyers in very pretty trade paperback editions. I bought this one because I hadn't read it yet and it's about identical twins! (Like me.)

Kit Fancot has been working as a diplomat in Vienna but returns home to London because he has a feeling that his twin brother, Evelyn, is in trouble. He finds out that Evelyn is missing. Kit's not too worried about him because it's not that unusual for Evelyn to disappear on larks for a while, but the problem is that Evelyn has become engaged to a society lady and is due at her father's house for a formal dinner to meet the whole family. Kit's mother explains that Evelyn is making the match to alleviate some financial woes and tells Kit that he must go to the dinner and pretend to be Evelyn. Kit doesn't want to, but he has to help out his brother, so he goes and the ruse goes off without a hitch. The problem comes when the fiance decides that she needs to get to know Evelyn better (because all of a sudden she likes him (as Kit) a whole lot more) and comes with her grandmother to stay at Kit's country house with them. Kit was able to fool everyone for one night, but now he's faced with a week in the girl's company. And he has to figure out where Evelyn has got himself to.

Typical Heyer--I loved it. I find Heyer's books so funny--the situations are ridiculous and some of the characters are too, which makes for hilarious scenes. I laughed out loud when Kit's mother tells Evelyn (when he finally comes home) that now that everyone is used to Kit playing him he must pretend to be Kit pretending to be Evelyn.

Kit's mother is actually an unusual character for Heyer. She is silly and frivolous and her inability to keep her debts under control is giving her sons all sorts of trouble, and yet she's still a sympathetic character. Usually those sorts of characters are held up for ridicule. But the while the mother here may be silly, she has a warm heart and loves her sons more than anything else.

And I can say with experience that the twins did act like twins. Except for the part about them just "knowing" that the other is in trouble even when they are in different countries. Sorry to disappoint, but there is no mystical connection between twins. A couple weeks ago Twin went on a blind date and all of a sudden I just knew that he was an ax murderer, so I kept calling her on her cell phone. Of course she was fine (and really annoyed with me for bugging her). But I can see that it does make for very convenient plot lines, so I guess Heyer can be excused that. She did get it right otherwise. They can be apart for months and when they meet again it's like no time has passed. Better than best friends, with so much shared history that they know each other better than anyone else ever will. And they just know that the other will be there for them no matter what.

Not that they'd ever say so to each other. Heyer really hit it right with that last scene. I never tell Twin "thank you" or "I love you." I'm more likely to call her a fat cow, but she knows what I really mean. :) And now you all need some twin cuteness:

(I have no idea which is me. I can't tell when we're this little.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In case anyone is wondering...

I am not the Jennie who has started posting at Dear Author. I don't actually comment that much over there anymore (since they've gotten so big), but when I do I'll have to remember to comment as Jennie S.

I hope her last name doesn't begin with an S. Ahhh, it's so nice to have the most common name of my generation. ;P

Friday, May 09, 2008

Madam, Will You Talk, Mary Stewart

Title: Madam, Will You Talk?
Author: Mary Stewart
Published: 1955, William Morrow
Category: Romantic Suspense
Rating: 9/10

Since I've been working so much lately on the Mary Stewart site, I've of course been put in the mood to re-read some of my favorites of hers. Madam, Will You Talk? was her first book, published in 1955, but in my opinion it's one of her best.

Charity Selborne is vacationing in the South of France with her friend Louise. Shortly after they arrive at their hotel in Avignon, Charity meets a fellow guest, a young boy named David. Charity is rather charmed by him, so she is sad to hear the gossip that's circulating about him: David's father, Richard Byron, was recently charged with murder. He was let off on grounds of insufficient evidence, but Charity soon finds out that David seems to believe that his father was guilty and fears seeing him again. David is traveling with his beautiful stepmother, and both she and David are hiding from Richard.

So when Charity meets Richard and he demands she tell him where David is, Charity is faced with a horrible dilemma: she can't give David up, but what will Richard do to her if she doesn't?

The book is one big fabulous chase scene--and such an exciting one! Charity and Richard run all over, from Nimes and Arles down to Marseilles. Stewart is known for her vivid descriptions of setting, and what better place to be immersed in than Provence? I put together this photo gallery on my other blog, which has photos of some of the settings and quotes from the book. As you can see, Charity visits some gorgeous places and Stewart's descriptions are lovely.

One of the things I like best about all Stewart's suspense novels is that her heroines are everyday women. They're all smart and sensible, and very likable. But unlike many suspense protagonists, they are ordinary people who get caught in extraordinary circumstances--and though they are frightened, they manage to do brave things. Charity is terrified of Richard, but she goes to amazing efforts to elude him because she can't stand the thought of putting David in danger.

Twin isn't really a fan of this book because she says the love story happens too abruptly. And I can see her point. I won't say who Charity's love interest is, because I don't want to give it away, but suffice it to say that she just wakes up one moment to the fact that he is perfect and they're professing their love for each other a second later. Maybe unbelievable, but the pace of the whole book is so fast (it takes place over only four days) that I think it works.

I've just posted a brief excerpt of this book on the Stewart site. It's only the first few paragraphs of the book, but it's so good. It shows the beautiful writing, the romantic feeling of the book, and the gripping suspense. ;)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Grimspace, Ann Aguirre

Title: Grimspace
Author: Ann Aguire
Published: 2008, Ace
Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5.5/10

This book has gotten a lot of buzz online since it came out. It seemed like everyone loved it (for example, an A review at DA), and then I read the AAR review, which gave it a D and tells readers to not read it, it's that bad. Of course that immediately made me dig it out of the TBR, to see how people could have such opposite reactions to the same book.

Sirantha Jax has a special gene that allows her to navigate grimspace, which is (I am science-challenged) some sort of other dimension that allows for faster-than-light travel. So she plugs in while on a ship, and the pilot is then able to jump to far reaches of the galaxy. It's a rare trait and gives her a sort of rock-star status among the corporation that has come to dominate interstellar travel. However, at the start of the novel, things aren't going well at all for Sirantha because on her last journey her ship crashed, killing everyone on board except her. She can't remember what happened, and the people she worked for are telling her it was all her fault. She thinks she's about to be sentenced for the crime when she is rescued by a team of rebels who we soon find out are working against the corporation, which they say is completely corrupt. They want to find a way to train a new independent corp of jumpers.

Okay, that's maybe the first 20 pages of plot. This book starts fast and you have to jump on quick because it doesn't slow down. I think this is the book's best trait--the action is nonstop and exciting. It's told in the first person present tense, which is unusual but works really well to make the story seem fast and immediate. The plot is intricate and the world-building, imo, really interesting.

But for all that, I struggled to get through the book. And the reason is maybe not a very good one, but it's just the way I felt: I couldn't really like any of the characters. I just didn't connect with them--I didn't care if they came to good ends or bad. Sirantha and March (the other main character and Sirantha's love interest) both are so damaged, mentally, emotionally and physically, that I couldn't really see how they'd ever get to a better place and I got really tired of hearing about their sad stories. They are both flawed, which can be a very good thing in a character, but I never felt like they properly redeemed themselves.

And some of the choices they made bothered me. They spend most of the book running around the galaxy in a disjointed effort to bring down the evil corporation, sacrificing the lives of several people in the process, and what do they accomplish? Almost nothing.


My favorite character in the whole book was the bounty hunter who comes on the scene in the last 30 pages and fixes everything. He destroys the corporation simply by using his brain and the power of information--it made Sirantha and March's efforts seem idiotic and ruthlessly and needlessly violent. My other huge problem with the ending is the way March reacts when he thinks Sirantha has been killed. He turns into a terrorist? That's just great. He again shows how unstable he is--it's nice that he's learned to love someone, but I just can't admire a character who is, well, sort of insane.

I am glad I read Grimspace. I tend to stay away from grittier science fiction, just a personal preference that surely is a large part of the reason I didn't really enjoy this book. But I can see why the book appeals to some readers. Everyone is free to disagree with me. ;)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

TBR update

My TBR was sort of taking over my (very small) bedroom, so I did some pruning. I managed to weed out about 60 books that I decided I was never going to read. Then I was actually able to get everything that was left into the little bookshelf I have--instead of in piles on the floor all around. See the result:
The mass markets are double-stacked and those piles on top are getting a little precarious, but hey, they're in there.

I felt so good about it that what did I do? I went out and bought some books. (It's a sickness, I tell you.)

I bought:
Certain Girls, Jennifer Weiner (she cracks me up)
A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray (I've heard great things about this)
Moon Called, Patricia Briggs (it's urban fantasy, which I'm not so keen on, but I've heard it's good)
Passages, Lois McMaster Bujold (autobuy--and it's on sale at Amazon for $17!)
False Colours, Georgette Heyer (the new pretty Sourcebooks edition--and it's about twins!)

I needed all those books. I really did.