27 September 2008

Less of a Fangirl

A~Z Reading Challenge “S” author: Sharon Shinn’s Dream-maker’s Magic (Penguin, 2006).

Dream-maker’s Magic is the last book in a three-book series that started with The Safe-Keeper's Secret. This novel is about Kellen, who is raised as a boy because her crazy mother refuses to believe she gave birth to a girl. Kellen doesn't fit in with the other village children (who know she is a girl in boy's clothing) and gets in some trouble. Then she meets Gryffin, an orphan boy with twisted feet and legs. Of course, both being freaks of some kind, they become good friends. They grow up together until (and just as their friendship might be turning into something else) a great discovery is made about Gryffin ...

This book did not thrill me. It read, in many places, like a draft. Most characters felt underdeveloped -- perhaps because there were too many of them popping in and out of the story? Also, some events seem rushed through as if Shinn had an idea, but no time to work it out. I mean, the murder-suicide? The birth revelation? Total non-events. How could this be??

While I've been a devoted reader of Shinn's novels since Archangel in 1999, I thought Dream-maker’s Magic was a complete let down and do not recommend it. If you've never read anything by Shinn, start with her Samaria series or a stand-alone like Summers at Castle Auburn.

Emily Carr: An Introduction to Her Life and Art

A~Z Reading Challenge “N” author: Anne Newlands’s Emily Carr: An Introduction to Her Life and Art (Firefly Books, 1996).
Stumbled upon this in my quest for a book about Emily Carr that might actually include color plates of her works -- looking at Big Raven in a virtual gallery is well and good, but I'd like a big book I can spread across my lap. Of course, I'd really like to see him in the face-to-face, but the Vancouver Art Gallery isn't exactly down the street. Anyway, I acquired this slender volume through interlibrary loan and what a gem it turned out to be! If you know nothing about Emily Carr, this book may serve as a wonderful introduction. Newland presents a brief overview of Carr’s life and work and skilfully compliments full color reproductions of Carr's art with excerpts from her own writing. Indeed, Carr's paintings are well chosen and beautifully rendered -- far better quality than I expected in such a flimsy-looking book. (Zunoqua of the Cat Village with her verdant sea of cat eyes ... who would have thought that was what Carr was writing about in Klee Wyck?)

Running Out of Letters, Thank God

I've been reading lots of books, but writing about them has felt too much like homework and, like any good student, I like to put my homework off to the last minute. Well, this must be close enough to the last minute. Six reviews racked up and more books on the way ... time to get cracking.

(Can you believe I'm finally nearing the end of this challenge?)
A~Z Reading Challenge “E” Author: Barbara Ehrenreich's This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation (Tantor Media, 2008, with Cassandra Campbell as reader).
Do not want. I approached This Land is Their Land with some trepidation. I must admit I had not enjoyed Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed when I read it a few years ago. Oh, I saw her point and agreed with it, but I still found her job experimentation insulting -- probably because, at the time, I had a low-paying dead-end job like those she dabbled with. So why read This Land is Their Land? Because, like Nickel & Dimed, it is one of those books I feel I ought to read and ought to agree with. While I did already agree with many of the points Ehrenreich raised in This Land is Their Land, I found nothing particularly enlightening in repetitive and off-puttingly sarcastic (and I love me some sarcasm) essays. Ehrenreich comes across as bitter and cynical -- which is fine, I can see how the last decade would leave even the most pie-eyed optimist bitter and cynical -- but she offers no solutions to the problems she discusses. It's just one long diatribe. Rather like this review.

A~Z Reading Challenge “K” Author: Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (Image Comics, 2004).
Read like a badbadbad pastiche of every zombie film or novel ever made. Trite. Derivative. Sexist. Stupid. Gah. Annoying, because I love me a good post-apocalyptic story and I had heard nothing but good things about this series from Comic Book Guys and, maybe, that was the problem. The series is probably intended for a male audience more receptive to uncomplicated heroes straight out of Marlboro/Budweiser ads.

A~Z Reading Challenge “L” Title: Laughing Without An Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, At Home and Abroad by Firoozeh Dumas (Random House, 2008).

Laughing Without an Accent is Dumas's follow-up to her memior Funny in Farsi, but I do not think you need to read the first to enjoy the second. Certainly, I did not read Funny in Farsi and yet still thoroughly enjoyed Laughing Without An Accent -- so much so that I followed The Husband around the house, inflicting long passages to him. Apparently, the book is funny even when totally out of context. Not that everything is snorts and chuckles -- Dumas's encounter with Kathryn Kob is quite serious and made me want to weep (as well as inter-library loan Guest of the Revolution). This is an excellent read if you're looking to widen your world view without being made depressed or suicidal. Also, if you enjoyed Dumas's memoirs and now want something a little "heavier," I recommend Azadeh Moaveni's Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran.

A~Z Reading Challenge “F” Title: Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).
Desert guide Nayir ash Sharqi is hired to find Nouf ash-Shrawi, a sixteen-year-old girl who disappeared into the desert three days before her marriage. Did she run away? Was she abducted? No-one knows. And, when her body is found in a wadi, it looks as if no-one needs to know. The girl is dead. Terrible, but that's the end of it. Nayir, however, cannot let the Shawi girl's death go. Finding Nouf was a well written and well crafted mystery. There were just enough suspicious characters and red herrings to keep me reading along without frustrating me (I do not enjoy mysteries in which anyone could be the murderer and then it turns out to be someone who was only in one scene for two lines). The characters, for the most part, seemed very real to me and, while I have no idea about Ferraris's accuracy, the novel's description of Saudi culture was fascinating. Honestly, I'd love to see Finding Nouf on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! one day.

A~Z Reading Challenge “V” Title: Venetia by Georgette Heyer (HQN Books, 2006).
Heyer essentially created Regency romance as we know it today and, as I love a good Regency romance, I've often wished to read her novels ... except they looked so dated and icky. Happily, many of her novels are being republished by Harlequin and Sourcebooks Casablanca and the like. In Venetia, the eponymous Miss Lanyon grows up in the country, away from the world with only her lame and scholarly younger brother, Aubrey, for company. All is (mostly) peace and quiet until one their neighbor, wicked Lord Jasper Damerel, returns to his country estate. Venetia sensibly keeps away from him after his initial discourteous treatment of her, but when Damerel takes an injured Aubrey into his home after a from his fall from a horse, she revises her first opinion of the wicked rake and they soon become the fast friends. Will friendship turn to love? Will the wicked rake reform? You will have to discover that for yourself, gentle reader. Overall, I enjoyed this book. Perhaps it helps that she is twenty-five, but Venetia is a very commonsensical and refreshingly forthright Regency heroine. Unlike most contemporary Regency romances, there's no sex in this book and very little kissing yet the the desire and attraction constantly zipping between Venetia and Demerel is never in doubt. Besides doing such a marvellous job creating (and maintaining) that constant air of desire, Heyer also writes quite wittily and creates secondary characters worthy of any Austen novel. I'm not saying that you'll love Heyer if you love Austen, but if you're looking for a non-sexual-but-still-smokin' sparkling romance with a strong heroine, you could do a lot worse than Venetia.

A~Z Reading Challenge “W” Title: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Macmillan Audio, 2007, read by Adam Grupper).
You may have heard of as The World Without Us as it has received a fair amount of publicity since its publication. You know, it’s the “ohmygodnopeoples” book. Or, anyway, that’s how I’d been thinking of it. And while, yes, the sudden disappearance of the human race is the launching point for Weisman’s book, that disappearance isn’t the point. It’s what comes after that is the point. And how do we know what will happen after we've done? We don’t, but we can conjecture based on how the world was before we came along. That’s were it all gets interesting --for me, anyway. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, and the like, Weisman took me way back when to examine the rise of humans and its impact on the Paleolithic world. Aside from the world before us, Weisman does of course write about the world with us. This is not a good workd. Did you know we're killing everything, outstripping the potential of our environment, and generally behaving like total idiots? While, the ecological doom and gloom message wasn't new it was well intentioned and necessary -- just not my favorite part of the book. Bring on the pre-historic megafauna!