Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoyed her Ya-Ya books years ago; I like Southern lit; Fall Into Reading Challenge

Synopsis (from Barnes and Noble): "In the small river town of La Luna, Calla Lily enjoys a blissful childhood under the loving light of the Moon Lady, the feminine force that will guide her throughout her life. From her mother, M'Dear, Calla learns the old, womanly art of healing through "fixing hair." On the same river banks, Calla tastes the sweetness of first love. But when a broken heart knocks the breath out of her, Calla transforms hurt into inspiration and heads for the wild and colorful city of New Orleans to study at L'Academie de Beaute de Crescent. In that extravagant big river city, she comes to understand fully the power of her "healing hands" to change lives and soothe pain, including her own."

First line: "I know the moon and the moon knows me."

My thoughts: This was a sweet book, mostly a coming-of-age story. I liked that Calla Lily enjoyed life in both New Orleans and her beloved La Luna, but that she came home in the end. There is a lot of love in this book - almost everyone who knows Calla Lily loves her and she is a very loving person. There is also a lot of sadness in her young life, but thankfully she has enough people to comfort her along the way. Her relationship with her family, especially M'Dear, is lovely and she has some very true friends in Sukey and Renee - the three girls are very different, but they make a great trio. Calla Lily is smart, spunky, and amibitious but a good girl at heart, Renee is very quiet and a homebody, and sexy Sukey just wants to have fun.

I had a wee bit of trouble with the magical realism element of healing through hairdressing. Although maybe I was just envious of Calla's clients - I'd love to be able to have someone give me a shampoo and draw the pain from my soul at the same time!!

There is a lot of lovely moon and river imagery and I liked the theme of the Moon Lady watching over Calla and her loved ones.

The verdict: A good read with the message that people are basically good and that love, music, good food, and a good hairdo can go a long way to helping to heal a person's pain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: recommended by both
Renay and Owlmoose for Herding Cats

Description: "They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich - they're the only ones worth stealing from - but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming. A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King. Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr. As for Locke Lamora ..."

First line: "At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy."

My thoughts: I really liked the solid male friendships and loyalty in this book. It's almost two books, it start out quite lightheartedly with Locke coming to Father Chains, learning to be a thief, and meeting his fellow Gentlemen Bastards. In the middle, the tone changes to a much darker and sadder one, which took me by surprise. There was still Locke's spunk and cleverness and the strong friendship, but it took me a while to adjust. That said, the book is still satisfying and probably more so for the change to a more serious vein.

I had some of my usual problem with fantasy with this book - the world-building. Although the eerie, beautiful, alien Elderglass towers of Camorr are interesting to read about, I just don't have a lot of patience. That's why I tend to prefer my fantasies set in our world, like the Dresden Files books. But Camorr held my attention better than most. It was very Venice-like, with bridges and canals and Italian-sounding names. There's even a Mafia!

The verdict: Huh, I may protest too much, I seem to be becoming more of a fantasy girl. Darn Husband for geek-ifying me! :-) I think I might read the rest in this series, especially since Renay says it's "the one I really want to list because the female characters in Red Seas Under Red Skies are more awesome than all of you bitches." I can get behind that! Also, I just learned that Lynch is from Minnesota, which always gives folks an in with me. :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Suck It Up

Suck It Up by Brian Meehl
3 stars

Reasons for reading: the cover; wanted to read a boy vampire novel; Young Adult Challenge

Description, from Booklist: "Meehl creates an original and light variation on the current trend in brooding teen vampire protagonists with Morning McCobb, a geeky, 16-year-old, New York orphan doomed to immortality. Morning’s “turning” from mortal to vampire was an accident; usually, only the young and beautiful are selected to join the vampiric community. The leader of the International Vampire League selects Morning to be the first vampire to out himself to humans, or Lifers. Thus begins a mutually manipulative relationship involving Morning, ace publicist Penny Dredful, and her 16-year-old daughter, Portia, a beautiful would-be filmmaker."

First line: "In the end is beginning." Luther Birnam's deep voice rained down from the high platform, charging the air above a wide semicircle of cadets. "In the beginning is end."

My thoughts: Well, I did get a nice change from Twilight-ish vampire romances, so that was good. While I think this book came out before the show, it reminded me a lot of True Blood - vampires "coming out of the casket" thanks to blood substitutes. Because he's non-threatening and has never tasted human blood, Morning is chosen to be the IVLeague's poster boy for Out Day. There are a few "traditional" vampires left who don't want this to happen, so one of them sets out kill Morning. Various attempts fail (it's apparently a 3-step process to kill a vamp), Morning and Portia fall in love, Birnam isn't as kindly as he seems... There are also lots of puns and bad jokes. And shape-shifting!

The verdict: I think this one would be good for younger teens, especially boys, and those not looking for scary stories. Girls could also enjoy it, thanks to cool Portia, but probably not hardcore Twilight fans. I found it a bit long and not a page-turner, but for a different take on vampires, it was worth a read.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Are These my Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, book 10
3 stars

Reasons for reading: enjoyed the rest of the series; Young Adult Challenge

My thoughts: *Spoiler Alert* Well, we come to the end of Georgia's diaries. And, honestly, not a moment too soon. 10 books was quite enough, especially since they only seem to cover about a 2-year time period. After that many books, you'd expect some changes, but there aren't really any. Spectacularly self-centred Georgia does seem to learn a bit of a lesson about friendship but overall the main thing she's learned is that she's not grown up yet. Which is fair, she is only 15. But this book wasn't much different than the previous one(s), right down to the girls having to perform an all-female Shakespeare play. Now, the play provides some of the funniest scenes in the book (the girls have to represent the blood from the fight scenes via interpretive dance and mime and the largest-busted girl in school ends up playing Romeo), but we've seen it before. And we've seen adorable but pyscho preschooler Libby and wild and violent kitty Angus and the ace gang and their disco dancing. (And we've heard, over and over, the lesbian-phobic jokes that were annoying from the start and are really, really old now. This book seems to have more of them than all the others combined.)

But at least the ending we all wanted happens - Georgia ends up with wonderful Dave the Laugh. But even that is a bit...lackluster. The book ends with a kiss, but Georgia is still unsure about everything. Not that thats not normal for a teenager or, indeed, anyone, but I could have used more after hanging in there all this time. I agree with this reviewer from Barnes and Noble: "Georgia did not go out with a bang, she just kind of walked of the stage. Nothing more."

The verdict: Georgia is still funny, Dave the Laugh is someone I'd love to have dated, and the series has been lots of fun. But it's definitely time for it to end.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: Homer and Langley

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
4 stars

Reasons for reading: this month's book club selection

From the publisher: "Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers–the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers–wars, political movements, technological advances–and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves."

First line: "I'm Homer, the blind brother."

My thoughts: This was a very well-written, interesting book. Doctorow immerses the reader in the lives of these eccentric brothers. Their descent into hoarding, their eccentric outlook on life (especially Langley), and, the part that I enjoyed most, their fraternal love for each other. Deserted by every other person in their lives, they had only each other and their house to rely on. Despite their strangeness, it was quite a portrait of brotherly devotion.

The book covers 4 wars and many changes in society and New York City. It's interesting to see them from the brothers' viewpoint - most things don't really affect them, but Langley does get excited about new technology (although he often discards it once the novelty wears off) and their neighbourhood slowly changes from wealthy to poor, ungentrified Harlem.

I have to say, though, that I find the real story of the brothers just as interesting as the book. There are photos and a history of the men here:
One thing that I found a bit odd about the book was that their lives seemed to be very, very long. When I looked them up online, I saw that they both died in 1947, 20+ years before their demise in the book. (Their dates are mentioned in the book and Doctorow notes that it's a work of fiction, I just hadn't noticed the dates beforehand.) While it's conceivable that a World War I veteran would live that long, I definitely found it a bit odd, especially since Homer is sleeping with a young hippie girl and Langley is still ambulatory enough to roam all over New York to get their food and water. I doubt he would have been able to do this at 89 or so. So that was a bit of a niggle as I was reading it, but not enough to put me off what was otherwise a great story.

The verdict: I've always been daunted by Doctorow, but this shorter book was a good introduction. I may read more of his books and I bet they'll get me interested in looking up the historical figures/events they're based on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Genre Challenge Wrap-up

I did it, I got through all 10 of the genres I chose! Thanks to Samantha for hosting it. (And for my prize of Abigail's Story, too!)

Here's what I read:

1. Crime - The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
2. Detective - The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
3. Mystery - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
4. Thriller - Vodka Neat by Anna Blundy
5. Science Fiction - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
6. Action/adventure - Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
7. Fantasy - The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
8. Realistic - Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
9. Historical - The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
10. Western - The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

This was a great challenge for introducing me to new books. I don't think I'd ever read a Western before and I hadn't really thought about women writing them, so that was a cool discovery. I was glad to finally read a James Bond novel, even though it wasn't my favourite. And it got me to read the fabulous And Then There Were None, which had been lingering around in the back of my mind under "I really should read that..." Sadly, The Case of the Missing Books was a huge disappointment (apparently to Samantha and to a lesser extent to Raidergirl, too).

Wow, yet another challenge finished! 6 more to go before the end of the year...

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
4.5 stars

First line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

My thoughts: What can I say? It's a hoot. It's just really well done. The author integrates Jane Austen's words seamlessly with the zombie content. P&P is one of my favourite books and he weirdly did it justice - Darcy and Elizabeth still get their love story and most of the characters are drawn exactly right. The stupid people are still stupid, the mean are still mean and get their comeuppance, the people we love are still lovable. There's a lot of exaggeration, of course. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a first-class zombie killer attended by a fleet of ninjas, for example. And Elizabeth and her sisters have all been trained by Shaolin monks in self-defence and have pledged their swords to the King until they die or get married. I was a bit sad that Mr. Bennet was made out to be a real jerk, but his behaviour even in the original isn't always that nice, except to Jane and Elizabeth. Wickham's punishment is hilarious and well-deserved. I loved how the zombies were referred to with such Regency refinement, such as "the sorry stricken" or "the unmentionables."

I don't know if I'll read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, as I don't know it as well as P&P. I might, although the novelty might wear off in the sequel. But, if he writes Emma and Evildoers, I'll be there!