Saturday, March 26, 2011
Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have a problem with this book. According to Goodreads, the ebook is 240 pages long. That seems like a decent length, comparable to McMann's other's titles. However, when I read this book on my nook, it was 159 pages--including several pages of copyright information at the front of the book. It's possible that I read this book in a smaller font than the one it's paginated by, but that usually doesn't alter the number of pages listed. And, it would seem that my edition was the full book, as had a solid conclusion to the story.
The reason I'm going into such detail about this is very simple: I do not think Cryer's Cross was long enough to be sold as a hardcover novel. While I can't do a word count to verify my impression, this seems like a novella, and I'm not very pleased that the publisher decided to sell it for $16.99. While it is a good story, and I did find it deliciously creepy in at least one spot, I would have felt cheated if I had paid $16.99 for it. Thankfully, the nookbook version is selling for $4.99 at bn.com. That's how much I paid, and I do feel like I got my money's worth. However, I would have resented the book if I had paid full price for the hardcover.
Overall, this is a solid novella about a haunting. It fits into the classic parameters of the genre. As an adult reader of YA, I can't say if a teen would find it scary, but the climax of the novel did disturb me. McMann's typical narrative structure--present tense, third person omniscient narration, short sentences--worked nicely to highlight the manner in which Kendall's brain works. Kendall has OCD, and McMann presents a sympathetic and realistic portrait of a girl working to control her anxiety disorder in a town filled with anxiety. My husband has OCD, and it was refreshing to read about a character that has it and is not crippled by it.
I do have one final note to make about this novella: I'm deeply amused by the setting. I live in South Central Michigan (very near Ohio), a little west of the setting for the Wake trilogy. Nearly two years ago, my uncle's family moved from Michigan to Belgrade, Montana, outside Bozeman. Cryer's Cross is also set outside Bozeman. The coincidence of these settings gives me a small chuckle.
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Friday, March 25, 2011
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This book was so not my cup of tea, and, as a student of the Gothic and fan of Stoker's Dracula, that's saying something.
As I listened to the narration of this abridged audibook, I came to several conclusions. First, I was happy with the abridgment, although I occasionally found myself asking "and why did they have to go here again?" Second, it was nice to hear the Eastern European locations and names pronounced properly. That's the extent of the good things I have to say about the audiobook. It was narrated by several people, and while their voices were pleasant to listen to, I found myself having a hard time emotionally engaging in the reading. For a relatively dramatic text, their readings were rather flat.
As for the book itself, I was not all that impressed. It started rather strong, but by the end, I found myself thinking that this was the Da Vinci Code of vampire novels. Our two main protagonists spend most of the novel shuttling around Europe, traveling from location to location, always searching for a rare text or work of art that would help them locate Dracula's tomb. I do understand what they hoped to find at the tomb, but the search itself is based on several assumptions that just didn't make that much sense in the audiobook (I will recognize that the explanatory passages may have been abridged and not present in my copy). Their entire search seemed contingent on one scrap of paper--and a refusal to consider that a nearly thirty year old scribble might not have been the clue they sought.
I was incredibly frustrated with the narrative structure. Normally, I would appreciate the intertwined narratives, but I got annoyed when Paul and Helen kept having to explain their recent history to every scholar they met--while at the same time making certain that no communists overheard . . . If this were a movie, that repetition alone could be used as a drinking game. How many times must they share these dangerous facts . . . and why does everyone believe them?
Of course, it would be remiss of me to neglect a mention of the Keystone Kops, sorry, the communists. While some of them did appear dangerous, for the most part, they were ineffectual and merely irritating. Rather than add danger to the plot, the communists seemed to exist only to make travel through Eastern Europe more difficult.
Finally, I must talk about Dracula. This was the most toothless portrayal of the vampire that I have ever read. <spoiler>I was angry, really angry, when all it took was one bullet (in all probabilities, silver) to kill this ancient evil. The final confrontation is no more than three pages long. After all the build-up and mounting suspense of the novel, the confrontation failed to deliver an emotional payoff. Also, this whole mess took place because Dracula wanted a personal librarian? Lame.</spoiler>
I did think that the end of the book worked well, but it was simply too little, too late.
This book was not my cup of tea. Based on its rating and sales numbers, I know that I am one of the few to dislike it so intensely.
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Monday, March 21, 2011
River Marked by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thank you, Jasmine, for allowing me to borrow your copy of this book!
This is another solid entry in the Mercy Thompson series. I enjoyed the story as well as the character development. I don't want to reveal secrets and provide spoilers, so I will simply say that this book finally explores some of the mysteries of Mercy's heritage. The answers we are given here are both surprising and believable. Briggs continues to use the landscape of the Columbia Basin to enrich her story, and her deep grounding in the setting adds weight to the novel.
I would have liked to see more development for some of the new characters, and the novel does seem to resolve itself quickly. But that could be because this is a fast novel and took me roughly five hours to read.
Overall, each Mercy Thompson book reminds me why I enjoy them so much and leaves me eager to follow her further adventures.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011
The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was exactly what I wanted at exactly the right time. I was suffering from a migraine yesterday when I started it, and this light and fluffy concoction was enough to distract me from my pain while still being light enough not to add to my strain.
This book is entirely predictable, but that's part of the reason you'll want to turn to it. As much as we readers know how the narrative will end, it's a delight getting there. The characters are lively and often filled with joy. Love of music fills each page. Even the villainess in this book is forgivable.
I did find the historical moment of this text fascinating. It's set in that lost period after the First World War, when Austria was trying re-stabilize itself after the crushing disaster of a lost war and lost empire. Each of the characters often yearns for the past they knew and lost while at the same time looking forward to the world they are creating. They want to create a Vienna that is free from the sins of the past (read: reliance on titled nobility--this is a republic, now), but at the same time celebrate their heritage (oh, the music of this city!). My German prof used to say that it was obvious Vienna was the heart of an empire, and you can see that in this book, too.
I'll easily add this title to my list of comfort reads. If it can get me through a migraine, I know this book is a keeper.
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Monday, March 14, 2011
Pale Demon by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There is no easy way to review the ninth book in a series. If you're reading this review, odds are that you fall into one of three camps. You're my friend on Goodreads, and you read all of the reviews that show up on your update screen. You've read books in the series, and you want to see how the later books compare to the first few (people in this camp may either enjoy or despise the series--they're doing the equivalent of looking into the last chapter to see if the book is worth reading). The third camp is composed of fans, and nothing I can say will stop you from reading this book. The only relevant question for the third camp is hardcover or paperback?
Last year, I was lucky enough to see Kim Harrison while she was on tour for Black Magic Sanction. At the time, she said that the Rachel Morgan books were heading toward a finale, and that she didn't envision that many more of them. Once again, I was able to see Harrison on tour. This time, she said that she sees this series ending with book 12 or 13. She knows Rachel is heading for her Happy Ever After, and once she arrives at it, the series will end. Since this is book nine, we're not that far away from the end.
As I look back on the series, I am consistently amazed by the character development. Each of the major characters--as well as a few of the minor ones--have grown and changed throughout the series, sometimes in surprising ways. Much of that growth becomes evident in this book. Rachel, Jenks, Ivy, and Trent go on a road trip to San Francisco for the Annual Witch's Convention. Rachel, as readers understood from the last book, will be speaking and trying to mitigate the damage of her past deeds. Jenks and Ivy are there for support. Trent, on the other hand, is riding with Rachel as a part of an "elf quest." His security, Quent, can't leave Cincinnati for family reasons, and the only person that Quent trusts to get Trent to the West Coast is Rachel. He's not heading for SF, but he's also not willing to tell Rachel much about his final destination. He can't hide the fact that others of his kind are out to kill him, though. Throughout their time stuck together in a small vehicle, the changing nature of their relationships becomes clear. While Trent doesn't fully fit in, he gradually becomes part of the Vampiric Charms family while on his quest.
Nothing is quite as it seems. Rachel's trip to SF will have far-reaching, messy implications for the future. Trent's quest will change everything readers know about him. And no one will walk away from these events unmarked.
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking back to a line from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock." Prufock questions if he has "the strength to force the moment to its crisis?" The characters in this series--Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, Trent, even Al & Newt--find themselves at a moment where they have to decided if they have that strength.
I could not have enjoyed this book more thoroughly. Harrison says that it's her favorite to date, and I can see why. Pale Demon is the work of one the best in urban fantasy at the top of her game. I simply cannot wait to read what happens next.
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