Monday, September 22, 2008

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis

What it's about: Okay. This one's a toughie to summarize (and you thought Diana Wynne Jones was complex!). Basically, in the future, time travel has been invented, and historians go back in time to study the past. There's a project going on to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, and Ned Henry is on the team to go back to the past and figure out what became of a decoration in the cathedral, the bishop's bird stump. He's been run ragged by Lady Schrapnell, the woman who is funding the rebuilding, and after he's come down with a bad case of time-lag, his supervisor sends him to the Victorian era to recover, telling Ned that he has just one small task to complete before he can relax. Unfortunately, Ned can't remember what that is. Even worse, he's starting to worry that he's been causing incongruities in time just by stumbling around the past in his time-lagged state. And finally, no matter how much sleep he gets, he can't get fellow historian Verity Kindle out of his head.

What I thought: Haaard to summarize. But this is an utterly charming story. It mixes science-fiction with historical fiction and comedy of manners and mystery. It's littered with references to various historical events, and time travel theory is tossed around right from the get-go. This book starts out being extremely confusing, but you gotta just keep reading, and it all starts to make sense and work itself out to a very satisfying conclusion. The book is funny, too. Ned's a witty narrator, and he's surrounded by a hilarious cast of supporting character, from Mrs. Mering and her enthusiasm for spiritualism to Tossie and her cunning way of getting what she wants to Terence's innocent lovesickness.

Overall: This has quickly earned a place in my list of very favorite books because of its all-around quality. It's a thoroughly engrossing tale.

A Room with a View

Title: A Room with a View
Author: E.M. Forster

What it's about: Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone Miss Bartlett are two Englishwomen staying in Florence, Italy for a time. In Florence, they stay at the Pension Bertolini, a popular hotel for English people. There are quite a few other guests, and among them are the Emersons, a father and son with Socialist leanings and behavior that is odd but harmless, but nevertheless scandalizes the rest of the guests. Lucy is drawn to the son, George, but she is confused by her feelings. In the end, she must sort through them and make the choice that will determine her happiness for the rest of her life.

What I thought: Beautiful, evocative prose. The descriptions and Forster's way with words had me enthralled the whole time. Lucy is a very real protagonist. She has her flaws and she's not particularly special in any way, but that just makes her story all the more relatable. The plot is simple enough, but the drama of it keeps you hooked until the resolution. Is it any wonder I was so excited to visit Florence and see the various locations of this book? I'm hoping to eventually get my hands on the movie version, too.

Overall: Simply a wonderful story.


Title: Airborn
Author: Kenneth Oppel

What it's about: Matt Cruse is the cabin boy on the airship the Aurora. One night, he helps the crew rescue a stranded balloonist, who dies after speaking cryptically about creatures in the sky. A year later, the balloonist's granddaughter is a passenger on the Aurora, and she's out to find the creatures her grandfather told her about. A shipwreck gives Matt and Kate the chance to investigate, but they have to contend with more than just Kate's annoying chaperone before everything is said and done.

What I thought: So, remember Gilda Joyce and Suzumiya Haruhi? Kate de Vries is totally their kindred spirit. Spunky to the point of being annoying sometimes, you really have to sympathize with Matt, who really plays the Kyon to her Haruhi. Kate's responsible for a lot of the humor in the book, but on the whole, there's just a good sense of humor throughout it. It's pretty light-hearted, but with plenty of real emotion in it, too. Plus, airships. Plus, pirates. Super cool, am I right? The story is simple but told with great detail that really brings the Aurora and the world of the story to life. This is a great adventure.

Overall: A fun adventure story that has long been one of my favorites.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Fifth Elephant

Title: The Fifth Elephant
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: The dwarfs are crowning a new Low King, and Lord Vetinari is sending the Duke of Ankh-Morpork to Überwald for the coronation. Vimes is not happy about this, but he goes, taking with him two of his officers, both natives of Überwald. He was also supposed to take Angua, but no one's seen her. This has Carrot so worried that he leaves the city and sets out to find her. Vimes, however, has bigger things to worry about than a missing officer. He has to put his policing skills to work to uncover a conspiracy involving an ancient dwarven artifact before everything devolves into chaos.

What I thought: I much liked the darker tone this book has, and the Überwald is an interesting place in contrast to Ankh-Morpork. I liked the parts Lady Sybil had in this book, like her knowledge of dwarven culture and her diplomacy, in contrast with Vimes' cruder ways. The parts with Angua and Carrot were kinda cute, too. The various plotlines intersected in just the right way, and the parts back in Ankh-Morpork with Colon were just right for keeping the book from getting too heavy.

Overall: Probably my favorite City Watch book, overall.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Title: Jingo
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: When an island surfaces in the middle of the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, the two states go to war. In Ankh-Morpork, this means that the nobility can take over for the Patrician, leaving Commander Vimes of the City Watch in a lurch. He may not like Lord Vetinari, but he likes the nobility a lot less. What's more, one of his officers gets captured by Klatchians, and so he and the Watch ship out on a rescue mission and to just possibly prevent the war. Meanwhile, the Patrician has ideas of his own, and with the valiant assistance of Nobby and Sgt. Colon, he takes a little excursion of his own.

What I thought: This is the first book where Vimes and his crew leave Ankh-Morpork, and it's interesting to read about how the dynamics of their actions change when they're not in the city where they enforce the laws. The satire is pretty heavy in this book, like with all of Colon's casual racism and Lord Rust as the commander of the army. As usual, there are also some thinking points about power, law, and human nature, but also as usual, those things don't get in the way of the funny, complementing the humor instead. Also, the sections with Vetinari, Colon, and Nobby are some of my absolute favorites in the Discworld series because of how ridiculously funny they are.

Overall: A good, solid Watch book.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Super Special Summer Reading Summary Extravaganza!

Top Six New Books (Because I couldn't choose just five)

Since many of the books I reviewed this summer were ones I read before, I'm not gonna list my top favorite books I read. Instead, I'm gonna talk about my top favorite new books. Here they are, in the order they occurred to me.

- Gilda Joyce: The two Gilda Joyce mysteries contained a well-developed character with a great sense of humor, gripping mysteries, and very atmospheric writing. I only wish I had time to read the third book in the series.
- Eddie Drood: The Man with the Golden Torc and Daemons Are Forever are fun, long action books with a mix of magic and sci-fi, along with plenty of humor to boot. They definitely run on the Rule of Cool and are good relaxation reads.
- Flame of Recca: This manga series has it all. I was blown away by the writing. The characters have realistic senses of humor. The drama never reaches the point where it becomes cheesy. The art is great. There's a good mix of humor, action, drama, and romance. It's a very solid series.
- Unwind: Neal Shusterman was already one of my favorite authors. With Unwind, I loved the mix of science fiction and adventure, not to mention romance and the rather interesting philosophical thinking points. I think this book, out of the three I've read by this author, has the most relevance with the issues it touches, but you never get hit over the head with the morals. Very hard for a fiction novel to do that, in my experience, so Mr. Shusterman gets kudos there.
- Traitor's Gate: Historical fiction and mystery? Yes, please! Two of my favorite genres wrapped into one long, juicy, compelling package. There are plenty of suspects and character growth, some good humor, and nice historical details. I feel like I've overlooked Avi, and if he's written more historical fiction, then I am eager to explore those stories in the future.
- Dairy Queen: An interesting book about the type of character I don't easily identify with. DJ has a sense of humor and the hard knocks she undergoes never seem like the author's just piling on misfortune for the angst factor. The realistic teen fiction genre is one that's rather iffy for me, but I have to say that I really liked this book and its sequel.

So, overall, I think that this reading project was a very successful one. Got a little hectic at times, but I read a lot of old favorites and found some new books to love. I would have probably read at least half the number that I did over the course of a normal summer anyway, so this push to one hundred was simply the extension of my normal behavior, you know? I do seriously love reading.

Well, I've finished Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Airborn, and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (yes, again), and I'm working on A Room with a View and The Sighs of Suzumiya Haruhi (yes, again). I'll get reviews up for those ones I've finished fairly soon, now that I have reliable internet access here.