Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Big post of updatery, 4/17/2012

Ummm, so, there was a week last week? And stuff happened? And I read some stuff.

I finished my Lenten book:

Tee Morris and Lisa Lee - Moravi

So, as I mentioned, I've met Tee, and he's pretty cool. This was his first book. Parts of it are really excellent, and it gets progressively better over the course of the book. Even the bits that are not quite excellent are pretty good. Still, it's a first book, and it has some flaws. Some of the dialogue is stilted. Ok, actually a lot of the dialogue is stilted - like, scary-clown-at-the-circus-teetering-two-stories-up stilted. That makes a little sense; Rafe Rafton is a gentleman of Henry VIII's court, and Askana is the queen of a highly ritualized (vaguely Asian) other-worldly society. Both can be expected to speak somewhat artificially. Still. It gets a bit much in places.

The action, which is by far the strongest part of the book, is abundant and highly cinematic. There is a lot of swinging on chandeliers, flashing blades, and well timed explosions. Morris and Lee clearly had fun with this part, and equally clearly want their readers to have fun with it as well.

There is some depth to the main characters as well. Both grow as people over the course of the novel, and that is highly satisfying. However, the secondary characters are less well rounded, and beyond that narrow inner circle the characters may as well not have names. Additionally, I found the death scene of Rafe's First Mate to be in poor taste - he's a Moor, a Muslim, and he blows himself up with a barrel of gunpowder. I don't think it was intentionally in poor taste, I think it was accidentally in poor taste, but regardless of the reasons ... ick.

So. Parts of this book are really really good, and those parts make reading the less good parts worth doing. I'm not planning on keeping the book, but rather than donate it to a library, I thought I might do another give away. Which means I have to think of a way to do that. So, watch for that.

Saladin Ahmed - The Throne of the Crescent Moon

This was an entirely delightful book.  Ahmed offers a delightful new fantasy setting - Arabian Nights type background, without being specifically in the Middle East - a whole cast of exceedingly well rounded characters (deeply complex, with complicated motivations, moral quandaries, and general humanity - fantastic), and a really creepy villain. Ahmed plays with some zombie tropes - and, if my wife and I are a good measure, you WILL dream of zombies after finishing this book - but with some setting specific tropes. The magic is consistent with the setting, the combat is fast paced and breathlessly swashbuckly, everything works, and nothing doesn't work. Go, now, read this book.

Oh. I guess I should mention the cover art. It is sadly misleading - the characters are very cartoony, and that makes me sad, because it's not a cartoony book, not at all. In fact, consider this a trigger warning - the violence and the horror elements are a little shocking, they start right at the beginning of the book, and if you go in expecting something lighter, based on the cover, you're going to be doubly shocked. So, in this case, Mom was right - you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

See? Cartoony. Gorgeous, but misleading.

Holly Black - Tithe

Fairy courts converging in New Jersey to enact a once every seven years tithe to the independent fae, in order to keep them in line. Black is playing with the Tam Lin story, and she does a highly competent job of it. She translates the classic fairy tale tropes nicely to the modern world, she includes enough darkness to satisfy modern readers (which is, of course, entirely consistent with the sources - fairies, traditionally, are not nice!). On some level, the book is like Laurel K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry, but without the outrageous sex - Merry Gentry lite, for an YA audience. Enjoyable, but a little fluffy. I'll read the second book, though.

Heather Donahue - Growgirl

This is the one with the scandalous cover art - Donahue, naked, behind a pot plant. Donahue is, perhaps, best known as "that girl from The Blair Witch Project," but, sometime in the early 2000's, she decided that she wanted to make a clean break from that limiting past, and ended up in Northern California, growing (legal) medical marijuana for a year. This is the story of that year.

As with any memoir worth reading, Donahue struggles with her new life. The struggles are presented in the most entertaining light possible. Donahue is a good writer, and the book is decidedly easy to read. She invites readers to laugh at her predicaments, to cheer on her triumphs, and to cry at her abject failures. Throughout, she explains the process of growing marijuana. She ends the book with a short essay in which she passionately calls for a wide scale decriminalization of marijuana as a source of restoring the US economy.

Look, you probably wouldn't be able to read this if it weren't for the Blair Witch thing, but the book stands entirely on its own, and is well worth reading as a year in the life of a somewhat average mid-30s Californian girl who finds herself in an unusual situation. Go, find a copy, read it.

Oh, and in the whole "don't judge a book by its cover" theme - if you're going to read this book on public transit, especially if you're female and don't want unsolicited proposals from your male fellow passengers, you probably want a Kindle version, or a plain dust jacket - the back cover is, if possible, more provocative than the front:

Ok. So those are reviews. I did go to the library on Monday, I did grab a book:

Martin Greenburg, ed - The Leiber Chronicles

Ahmed's book was compared to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (perhaps a little overly enthusiastic; there are elements, but Ahmed is clearly writing his own work; not a rehash of Leiber), and so I wanted some Leiber, and this is what the library had. I'm pretty sure I've read most of these short stories and novellas before, but that doesn't hurt, sometimes.