Saturday, December 31, 2011

Please note

There was a Friday post - I saved it as a draft instead of posting it. Perhaps I planned to add something more to it? I can't recall.

The Dozen Books of Christmas, Day half a dozen and half a dozen+1

yesterday's book is being held hostage by math - apparently, there are not, actually, twelve books, and so I can't actually get a book each day. Oh well.

Yesterday was apparently a popular day for saints. Here's just one - St. Egwin. Egwin was the Bishop of Worcester. In order to silence some of his detractors, he made a pilgrimage to Rome. Before leaving, he locked iron shackles on his ankles, and threw the key into a river. Upon arriving in Rome, a servant brought him the key - it had been found in the mouth of a fish in the Tiber river. Thus was Egwin vindicated.

On a secular note, yesterday (actually, given the International Date Line, two days ago for those of us on this side of the line) was Rizal Day in the Philippines, a day celebrating Jose Rizal, a Philippine nationalist who was executed by the Spanish in 1896.

Today, December 31, is of course New Year's Eve. When I worked in the sort of place where you got extra pay for working on holidays, I didn't mind working on New Year's Day. Nothing important happens on New Year's Day. I hated working New Year's Eve, though, because it invariably meant working late, and missing stuff. Which sucks.

Additionally, it is St. Sylvester's Day. He was a pope in the 4th Century. He probably didn't convert Constantine to Christianity. He probably also didn't kill a dragon.

Today's book:

Simon R. Green - Ghost of a Chance

Simon Green writes some delightfully trashy novels. This is the first of a new series of books about ghost hunters. "The Carnacki Institute exists to Do Something About Ghosts," says the back of the book - sounds promising.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Friday Review, 12/30/2011

So, I actually wrote this, but didn't post it, I guess?

Samuel Holt - One of Us is Wrong

A pleasant detective novel. Shades of the Rockford Files and Magnum PI. A little like Steve Barnes' gigilo detective, without the lurid sex. Major terrorism as a plot point - a little "all terrorists are Arabs/Muslims," despite efforts to counteract that (a significant character asserts that all Arabs/Muslims are not terrorists, but there is no discussion of non-Muslim terrorism). A little dated. Also a little prescient - the discussion of sectarian violence within Islam feels very current, if a little shallow. I'll hunt down the rest of the series, or at least the next of the series.

Anton Strout - Dead Waters

Delicious! 4th in the series, but with enough back-story explanation that I didn't feel like I needed to hunt down the first three before finishing this one (which is good, since my library system doesn't have any of them - might have to hit the paperback bookstore in town). Compelling characters (such that I found myself dreaming about them - always a good sign), a pleasantly twisty plot, enough dark humor to keep me happy. Possibly the character depth in the earlier novels will be less - by the time you've written the same characters 4 times, perhaps you begin to imbue them with a certain humanity? But the secondary characters, and, more tellingly, the villains created fresh for this book, had significant depth as well. Good stuff.

Janni Simner - Bones of Faerie

Initially, this was a little fluffy, with a few really hard bits. Later, the hard bits started coming a lot more frequently. It's a conundrum. On the one hand, the writing level almost screams the young end of young adult - especially the oddly large print, so as not to dismay struggling readers (?). Something about the font and the page set up (I'm stretching here, perhaps) demands illustrations (which were not there). But the subject matter is out of sync with the sort of writing Simner engages in.

The novel is about child abandonment and death, and the harshness of living in a deeply diminished post-apocalyptic world. There are some death scenes which, while not graphic in anyway, are pretty raw. There's some parental violence which is pretty raw as well. There were several scenes - the discovery of a baby, the death of a cat - which made me wince, and which, I suspect, would have a 12 or 13 year old in tears. Which, now that I think back on what I and my peers were reading at 12 and 13, is fairly consistent with the YA model, isn't it? So, perhaps, this book is perfectly composed - it's the sort of YA novel that, perhaps, you hide from your parents. Not because you think it contains material they won't approve of (ie, sex, or drugs, or rock and roll), but because it contains material that you don't think they, as adults, can handle.

Anyway, it is a very well written book, and the bits I liked I liked a lot. Good world building, excellent character building, and some really gut churning (emotionally) scenes that gave the book some real punch.

Hmmm. Further musing - to what extent is YA fiction serving the same purpose as poetry in A.E. Houseman's untitled poem which starts: "Terrance, this is stupid stuff"?

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,        60
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all the springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,        65
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;        70
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told.        75
Mithridates, he died old.

Houseman suggests, in the above stanza, that poetry allows us to experience misery and unpleasantness in a dilute form, so that when we experience it full on, it doesn't cripple us. To what extent do YA fiction - or some YA fiction, anyway - do that?

1100 Books of Christmas, Book 101

(That's binary, of course)

It's the 5th Day of Christmas. It is Thomas Beckett's feast day - celebrating the day he was killed ("will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?") Both the Canterbury Tales and Murder in the Cathedral are (more or less directly) a result of Beckett's assassination.

Today's book:

James Houston - James Houston's Treasury of Inuit Legends

An interesting looking book. Houston began gathering Inuit tales in 1948, and illustrating them with hand drawn pictures of the Arctic. He lived for twelve years among the Inuit, travelling with them, eating their food, and generally acculturating into their way of life. According to the introduction (by Theodore Taylor), Houston is well regarded among the Inuit, which suggests that this is not a work of purely cultural appropriation, but rather something more akin to veneration by an adopted member of the culture. Anyway, it looks good.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

XII Books of Christmas, Book 4

Today is the 4th Day of Christmas. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents - in Spain and parts of Latin America, this is a day celebrated with pranks and gentle tricks - like April Fool's Day.

More importantly, it is Christmas Mouse Day! On the 28th (we decided this year) the Christmas Mouse brings socks and snacks and various forms of electronic media (just because, that's why). So, instead of a book (boo) today, I got an abundance of socks (yay!) and also Strange Animal by Gowan.

Ominous Spiritus!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

twelve books of Christmas, Book 3

It is the 3rd Day of Christmas. Wikipedia informs me that it is the feast day of three saints: Saint John the Apostle, Saint Fabiola, and Saint Nicarete. In the Eastern Orthodox faith, it is St. Stephen's Day (which was yesterday for Western Christians) For those less inclined to venerate saints, it is also the day that the Beagle set sail with Charles Darwin on board.

Today's Book:

Jean Rabe and Martin Greenburg, eds - Steampunkd

It's an anthology of steampunk short stories! I'm pretty sure I haven't read any of them before, so that's fantastic! I recognize only two of the 14 authors (actually, 15, because one of the stories is by Skip and Penny Williams - 14 stories, though), which is also fantastic - I love being introduced to new voices.

Library Post, 2/27/2011

What, you thought I wouldn't go to the library because I've been getting books for Christmas? How silly! The library expects me to return books on a regular basis, which provides the impetus to check more books out - it's a brilliant business model, frankly.

Two books today:

Barry Eisler - The Detachment

Eisler writes the John Rain books. Rain is an Asian-American assassin who lives (at least part time) in Tokyo. He specializes in killings that look like accidents or natural causes. He's been trying to retire for 5 books now. This is seventh book in the series (I'm pretty sure I've read all of them). Rain is a highly likable character, clearly in conflict with himself over what he does for a living. Eisler is the sort of author who meticulously researches things for his books, which is also nice.

Chris Moriarty - The Inquisitor's Apprentice

Sacha Kessler is a Jewish kid in early 20th Century New York City. He discovers that he can see witches, and is hired/forced into service by the Inquisitor of the NY Police Department to hunt down witches. And, ultimately, to protect Thomas Edison. This is YA, it looks like fun, Cory Doctorow blurbed it, so I'm looking forward to it.

My wife went back to work today, which means that the book of Christmas will come after dinner. You'll just have to wait, just like me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Books of Christmas, Book 2

A glorious St. Stephen's Day to all of you - be sure to give your servants something you don't want anymore in a box. (Hence, Boxing Day)

My book for the day:

Mark Ovenden - Railway Maps of the World

This is pretty much what it says on the cover - it's a collection of railway maps from around the world. It's maps! And Railways! Together in one book! Yay!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Twelve Books of Christmas, Day 1

First up - Merry Christmas, all! I hope you got what you wanted, not what you deserved. Unless you deserved more than you wanted, in which case, reverse that.

I have been promised/threatened with 12 books this Christmas. (Actually, we've done 12 books before, I just haven't posted about it) For each of the 12 days, I will receive at least one book.


Anton Strout - Dead Waters

I'm pretty sure I read a Big Idea about this one. It is the fourth Simon Canderous novel. Simon works for the Manhattan Department of Extraordinary Affairs - the branch of the police that deals with werewolves and zombies and vampires (oh my!). Either at the end of book three or at the beginning of this book, budget cuts have gutted the department, leaving Simon to deal with weirdness more or less on his own.

Normally, faced with book 4 of a series, I would rush off and find books 1-3. In this case, however, I think I'll see how book 4 stands up on its own. A well written book out of sequence should be readable with no foreknowledge, so this will be an interesting test.