lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
Having been raised with the adventures of Tom Swift, Jr. -- my father brought from his chidhood the first thirteen books in the series -- I was quite pleased to find a copy of the series' sixth book at a recent used book sale. Tom Swift, Jr. does not appear to have enjoyed the popularity of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and I have not found his adventures easy to come by. This is, in fact, only the second I have found in several seasons' worth of garage and used book sales.

This book begins with Tom and his friend Bud Barclay cruising in Tom's nuclear-powered flying lab, the Sky Queen (his first major invention) testing a solar-powered battery that Tom has been working on. Before long, however, the boy-inventor and his chum are embroiled in an adventure involving a competitor in the solar-battery market, and international spies who seem determined to kill Tom (though not his well-known inventor father, Tom Swift, Sr.), Tom's "space friends" (alien beings who contact him from time to time) and the construction of, you guessed it, an outpost in space.

It's best not to think too deeply about the Tom Swift books, nor indeed, about any of the books written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Characterization is practically non-existent or based on stereotypes that make the modern reader stare in disbelief -- in this particular volume, the Chief Bad Guy looked like a gorilla, which was how we knew he was a bad guy, and in the chapters set in the South Pacific, we have superstitious Polynesian natives who don't speak English, as well as the white folk giving beads and trinkets to a native youth who warns them of treachery. As for the good guys, Tom is a genius; his best friend Bud is brave and staunch and true; his sister is, at the same time, a dardevil pilot and paragon of virtue; and his mother would win the Good Mothering Award away from June Cleaver (in fact, I picture Tom's parents as June and Ward Cleaver).

Another point about the Tom Swift, Jr. books: don't look too closely at the science -- you'll get a headache, especially if you remember anything at all about high school science classes. But, in Outpost's defense, it was published in 1955, three years before the foundation of NASA (according to Wikipedia, anyway), but Tom had already been in orbit several times by then.

We won't even discuss the fact that Tom is only eighteen years old and his test pilot sister is only seventeen.

While the Tom Swift, Jr. books provide an interesting window into the attitudes of another era, their chief purpose is to provide rollicking adventure stories for young adults. And that, they absolutely do.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks.
lallis_folly: (Default)
Picture a great turtle moving through space. Balanced on the backs of the four elephants riding its shell is a pancake-flat planet. This is the Discworld, and its inhabitants have no doubt that it's flat. The concerns of the Disc's citizens aren't all that different from those of our world. They're just trying to get along as well as they can.

In Moving Pictures, the tenth Discworld novel, a wild idea leaks through a time-space hole into the Discworld, bringing with it dreams of a place called Holy Wood. At the same time, the alchemists of the city of Ankh-Morpork discover the secret of making "octo-cellulose," a substance that, while highly volatile, can have pictures painted on it (by tiny demons in a box). Light can be shown through the resulting film and by moving the pictures very quickly, educational and historical stories can be shown.

Until, that is, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, purveyor of extremely suspect sausages, comes to Holy Wood. CMOT can sell anything, and what he wants to sell right now is moving pictures (or "clicks," as they're called from the noise the handles of the moving picture boxes make). Thrilles! Chilles! 1,000 Elephants! Suddenly, "educational and historical" goes out the window in favor of such wonders as Valley of Blud (the inhabitants of the Disc aren't much for standardized spelling) and the epic story of love set against the civil war of Ankh-Morpork, Blown Away.

In the middle of all this are Victor, a student wizard who has managed to spend his entire career intentionally just failing his final exams, Ginger, a milkmaid turned actress, and scruffy Gaspode the [talking] Wonder Dog, who principally wonders why the stupid but gorgeous Laddie should have a better shot at Holy Wood stardom than he. And it is the three of them who discover that Holy Wood's dreams are masking the attentions of some fairly nasty creatures from outside the Disc, who want desperately to be inside. Now it's up to them to save the Disc from moving picture monsters.

The recently-knighted Terry Pratchett is a master of...well, just about everything, most especially wonderfully witty prose and sharp satire, and in Moving Pictures, he turns his attention to -- obviously -- the motion picture industry. He skewers everyone from movie execs to star-struck audiences; in one scene, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, attending the premiere of Blown Away wonders who the nice young couple (the stars of the click) are seated next to him, and why they're considered to be as important as he is, and why on the Disc people who would never dream of fawning on him are, in fact, fawning on them.

One reviewer, who is frequently quoted on the covers of the Discworld novels, once compared Pratchett's works to Tolkien's, "only with a sharper, more satirical edge." It would be far more accurate to compare his works to Douglas Adams's Hitchchikers trilogy (with the exception of the downright depressing fifth book) or to Monty Python. Where The Lord of the Rings is serious and -- at times -- ponderous, displaying Tolkien's scholarship and weighted with his attempt to build a specifically English mythology, the Discworld is more like our own world, and Pratchett uses it like a fun-house mirror to reflect all our own absurdities.

Oh... and did I mention that it's funny?

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks.
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
When I was a teenager, I snatched up Pocket's Star Trek tie-in novels the instant they appeared in the local bookstore and read them voraciously. I had approximately two hundred of the things until one day I looked around my library and realized that the books all blended together and I couldn't differentiate one from another. Only a few had outstanding plots that I remembered for more than an hour after reading them. Those few, I kept. The rest were given to a friend.

The current crop of urban fantasies/paranormal romances are much like those long-gone Star Trek novels. There really aren't that many differeces between them, and Lori Handeland's Any Given Doomsday is a typical example of the breed. The snarky, first-person narrator is a kick-ass heroine with a slightly murky past (orphaned, gymnast, ex-cop at the tender age of twenty-five), who has had her heart broken. She's also -- like so many of her fellow heroines -- something of a Mary Sue*. She's special (witness her name: Elizabeth Phoenix) and she only gets more special as the novel progresses. And because she's special, it's her job to save the world. Plus, she gets spectacularly laid several times.

In keeping with the genre, there isn't just one man who reappears from her past, but two. And they -- naturally -- both want her. But neither of them is what he appears to be.

All of that aside, I still read the novel in two days, and it might have been one had it not been for that pesky day job. The novel's pace is right smart quick -- almost rushed in places, but that only makes it the more readable; the faster the pace, the harder it is to put down.

Our Heroine, Liz, is saved from being a complete Mary Sue in that she doesn't want the special powers that keep coming her way. She doesn't want to have to save the world. But she's stuck with it, so she makes the best of it.

Probably the highest praise that I can give a book is to say that I'll read the sequel. I will read the sequel to Any Given Doomsday.

*If you're not familiar with the term, go look it up. I think Wikipedia probably has an article on Mary Sues. Go on. I'll wait.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (words_stay)
In a house on Whitward Street lived a family with three daughters. The eldest, Ivy, was the sensible one. Lily, the middle daughter, was far too enamoured of romances, while Rose, the youngest, was a bit...shy. Unfortunately for the Lockwells, Mr. Lockwell had gone quite mad some years before, so Mrs. Lockwell had done her best to raise her daughters mostly alone. While all mothers dream of high marriages for their daughters -- and Mrs. Lockwell was certain Ivy had snared the attention of a certain gentleman -- it was unlikely that the Lockwell daughters would do nearly so well as their mother hoped.

The setting of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is very similar to early eighteenth-century England, the England we know from Pride and Prejudice, but Altania is not our Earth. This planet is, instead, part of a solar system of twelve planets, one of which has such a long revolutionary period that it has not been seen in the heavens since before recorded history. It is known only as part of myth and fable. But now it returns, bringing magical danger with it.

The book is oddly constructed in three parts. "Oddly," because the first and third part take place in the Altanian city of Invarel (analogous to London) and have multiple third-person viewpoint characters, while the middle part is a first-person narrative by Ivy Lockwell that can be best compared to Jane Eyre, and the tone is somewhat different from the other two sections.

It was Galen Beckett's stated intention to explore what would happen if there were a "fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë." It is not surprising, then, that The Magicians and Mrs. Quent should read like a novel written by either of those two ladies. Or both, actually, given the differences between the sections.

The book is very entertaining, and the magic, while an integral part of the plot, is more or less downplayed. One point of interest is that days and nights are not of fixed duration as our own are, so a very long "lumenal" might be followed by a much shorter "umbral" or vice versa.

Such a short summary does not nearly do justice to a plot which involves marriage, magic, highwaymen, revolution and agents of the Crown. Fans of Austen or Brontë who are willing to take a chance on a fantasy novel (and I know that many people are -- somewhat short-sightedly -- not) would probably enjoy it.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (words_stay)
The subtitle of this books says it all: "How to Catch a Great White Shark, Perform the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Track a Fugitive, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills." In one of my other online lives, I read a lot of TV- and movie-related books (and review same). When I saw this was available via PaperbackSwap.com (which I highly recommend), I snapped it up.

Unfortunately, the book is not as entertaining as one might suspect. Yes, you get actual tips and step-by-step instructions from actual experts in their fields on how to do all sorts of action hero-ey stunts, but it's really all rather dry. There are touches of humor, but unfortunately, the most interesting thing about the book -- unless you really are studying to be an action hero -- is the authors' choices of movie quotes for the beginning of each chapter. Alas, this one is destined not to remain in my library, except perhaps as a writing reference for when I write my own thriller/espionage/mystery novel, just so I can have the hero climb down the face(s) of Mount Rushmore correctly.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (Default)
Aunt Dimity was dead, to begin with. Yes, the title character of the Aunt Dimity mystery series is a ghost. Well...actually, she's not a ghost, technically, she's a haunted journal. When main character Lori Shepherd speaks to the leatherbound journal, Aunt Dimity replies in a neat copperplate hand.

Aunt Dimity: Snowbound is the ninth or tenth book in series -- I can't keep track, anymore, and the titles aren't listed in the book. This deep in the series, a pattern for the stories has become apparent: Lori will go off somewhere without her husband (or if he does go with her, he will spend most of his time offstage), but with Aunt Dimity's journal and her stuffed rabbit Reginald (a gift from Aunt Dimity while she was still alive). She will meet a few new people and run into a mystery. She will be tempted by a handsome man, but will do her best to remember that she is married and has twin sons waiting for her at home. She will manage to humiliate or embarrass herself around the middle of the book because of her suspicions, but it will all turn out right in the end. But just because there's a formula doesn't mean that the book isn't entertaining.

In this entry in the series, Lori, with Aunt Dimity and Reg in her pack, goes for a day hike. However, she manages to miss her trail and get lost. Then an unforecast blizzard sets in, forcing her to take shelter along with two other lost hikers in Ladythorne Abbey. The Abbey is fully furnished, though not inhabited, and her suspicions are immediately roused by the fact that Wendy, one of her fellow hikers, carries a pry bar and lied about trying the abbey's front door. It's a good thing the caretaker's on the grounds and that Jamie, the third hiker, is such a nice, strapping fellow, because it's clear that Wendy is up to no good.

It is an interesting coincidence that three Americans hiking in England all sought shelter in the home of Lucasta DeClerke, though. Especially when Miss DeClerke so violently loathed Americans right up to her death. Or so says the caretaker.

Things are not, of course, what they seem and by the end of the novel, Lori's preconceived notions have been turned upside down, helped along by Mr. Catchpole the caretaker and Aunt Dimity
lallis_folly: (words_stay)
Under the Tuscan Sun tells the story of how Frances Mayes bought Bramasole, a villa in Tuscany which had stood empty for thirty years, and over the course of three summers, slowly rehabbed it with the help of Ed, her Significant Other (the book never states whether he's her husband or not) and various workmen, including a group of Polish laborers. From olive trees, gardens, and wells to floors, ceiling beams, and hidden frescoes, the house and grounds slowly become a jewel where Frances and her family live in quiet summer contentment. (She and Ed are both college professors, so have summers available to spend in Italy.)

The story doesn't end with the work at Bramasole, however. After the initial work is finished and the workmen are packed off, then Frances and Ed have a place from which to explore Tuscany, and explore they do, from local Etruscan ruins to Roman roads to churches.

But there's even more to Tuscany than this. Mayes writes lovingly of the local cuisine, the local customs, even the Italian language. She includes both summer and winter recipes -- in addition to summers free, she also has long winter breaks. Her love of Italy in general and Tuscany in particular shines from the pages.

If you've only seen the movie based on the book, then you haven't seen the whole story. For one thing, the book is a memoir, while the movie is not. The movie compares the rehabbing of Bramasole to the mending of fictional Frances's broken heart, while the real Frances has already moved on and found someone else. I love the movie, but, I have found, I love the book also, in a very different way. And if you don't come away from the book wanting to a) travel to Tuscany yourself (whether or not you also then buy a neglected villa), b) wanting to bake bread, c) wanting to cook robust meals with lots of fresh ingredients, or d) all of the above, then you may possibly have missed the point.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (Default)
Conjuror Edward Moon is a handsome, charismatic man, popular in the best circles. But his assistant is by far the more eye-catching of the two. The Somnambulist is freakishly tall, mute, drinks only milk, and can suffer numerous swordthrusts with no apparent damage. The two are good friends, even living together beneath their theatre. And when London's finest occasionally request Moon's assistance with a case, the Somnambulist is right there to back him up.

Moon, like Sherlock Holmes before him, is subject to ennui unless he has a case to engage his wits. Unfortunately, cases have been few and far between of late. But when a wretched actor is thrown from a tower, Moon and the Somnambulist are drawn into a bizarre mystery that will, in the end, threaten London itself.

This novel hooked me right from the first paragraph: Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it. After that, there was no chance that I wouldn't finish it, and as quickly as possible.

The Somnambulist is a marvelous, convoluted tale. Within its labyrinthine twists are a man who lives backward, a totally unreliable narrator who confesses to lying to the reader, secret organizations, bizarre nightmare Tweedle-Dee and -Dum assassins, and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Barnes' lyrical writing complements his just-post-Victorian setting and, combined with the inspired madness of the plot, makes this novel very difficult to put down.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
I learned today that within the mystery genre is a sub-genre known as the "cozy mystery" in which the main character is an amateur detective, rather than a member of any law enforcement profession. Instead she (for, I learned, the detective is most often female -- though right after I read that Father Dowling sprang to mind) may be anything from a grocery-store clerk to a piano teacher. Cozy mysteries are generally set in a small town or village, and "cozy" is an apt description of the atmosphere.

The Aunt Dimity series definitely falls into this sub-genre. Neither of our heroines were law enforcement professionals: Lori is a rare book curator and Emma is a computer programmer with a passion for gardening (though Aunt Dimity and the Duke may be the only book in which she is the main character).

Oh, and Aunt Dimity is a ghost who appears only in the pages of a journal.

Aunt Dimity's Good Deed is the third book in the series, following Aunt Dimity's Death and Aunt Dimity and the Duke. It has been two years since Lori married her Prince Charming at the end of Aunt Dimity's Death, but she found that happily ever after wasn't. From the moment she and Bill returned to Boston from Aunt Dimity's lovely English cottage, Lori has barely seen her workaholic husband. While Bill's father remained the charming gentleman he always had been, the same could not be said for Bill's harridan aunts who disapprove of Lori's less than blue blood and keep pestering her about whether or not she's pregnant. At the end of her rope, Lori proposes a second honeymoon in Aunt Dimity's cottage, but true to form, Bill cancels at the last minute and she ends up going with her father-in-law instead.

At least William's suddenly leaving the cottage with a barely coherent note gives Lori something to do other than mope over her failed marriage. It seems that William is investigating the family quarrel that exiled one Willis brother to America in the eighteenth century (to found William's branch of the family). But it isn't always a good idea to go poking about in the past, and William may be in considerable danger. At least Aunt Dimity is keeping an eye on him. So it's Lori to the rescue, accompanied by her twelve-year-old neighbor Nell, Lori's stuffed rabbit Reginald, and Nell's stuffed bear Bertie.

The characterization here is great, from Emma, who will not leave her garden to go haring off with Lori in pursuit of William, to the astoundingly mature Nell, and Lori herself who is a bit dim when it comes to certain physical symptoms. We'll forgive her, though, as she's too worried about her father-in-law to worry about herself.

There is a sense in Atherton's writing that she's enjoying herself as much as she hopes the reader will. And this reader certainly did.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
I posted about this book last year, after reading it the first time, but what the heck, here's another: Ysabel )
lallis_folly: (words_stay)
I was given a signed, personalized copy of paranormal romance Some Practical Magic as a Christmas gift; I believe that my Auntie is acquainted with the author. The book is published by a small press in trade paperback format, which I appreciate, as I have tendonitis issues that make reading mass market paperbacks difficult.

Novelist Mick Sandor is horrified to learn that a serial killer is using his novels as a blueprint; he quickly agrees to work with the FBI to bring the killer to justice. Their idea is to organize a book tour using the locations in Mick's latest novel to lure the killer. Other authors, including advice columnist Cassie Hathorne, are included as window-dressing. Mick hardly expects to fall for Cassie during the tour; he's supposed to be helping catch a killer, fercryinoutloud!

This book takes the basic premise of a serial killer patterning his killings after the work of a horror novelist -- which I've seen done a few times elsewhere -- and injects witches into it (hence the "paranormal" in "paranormal romance"). As in Bewitched, these witches aren't human, but a different, long-lived species, most of whom don't look with favor upon homo sapiens. Unfortunately, the author takes the Bewitched route of making her witches faintly ridiculous with names like Medusa, Mortician Morula (called Mort), and Mandrake Tod. Cassie's shape-shifting (cat/woman) familiar is even named Endora, with the lame explanation that Cassie was a staff writer for the television series and lobbied for Samantha's mother to be named after her cat.

The novel takes the romance half of its plot from Bewitched as well, with witch Cassie Hathorne falling for mortal Mick. Fortunately for them, Cassie's mother is much more reasonable than was Bewitched's Endora. Also fortunately, unlike Darrin who insisted that Samantha conform to his world, modern-guy Mick has no such expectations.

Despite the hokiness of the plot, the writing is good -- nothing made me wince, which can't always be said of some of today's biggest authors. I do think some of the novel's resolutions were achieved a little too easily, but is that a fault of the author or the genre?

The ending sets up a sequel which appears to center around Endora (the cat, not the television character) and may not include Mick and Cassie at all.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
Hôtel Transylvania is the first book in the long-lived Saint-Germain series. Having recently read the nineteenth (set in late-Imperial Rome) and the twentieth (set in early nineteenth-century Europe) novels in the series, I was curious to see how it all began.

The novel is set amid the grandeur of mid-eighteenth-century Paris during the reign of Louis XV, 40 some years before La Revolution. Le Comte Saint-Germain is a mysterious figure in Parisian society: a foreigner -- though no one knows whence he hails -- he is filthy rich, a composer and musician, and dresses always in black and white. He is cultured and popular, especially with the ladies, though his attentions to them are always strictly within the bounds of honor.

This first book of the series takes place approximately three-quarters of a century prior to the latest. Where Hero in Borne in Blood is jealous of Saint-Germain's affection for Madelaine de Montalia, in this book, Madelaine is the heroine. She is a young noblewoman who was promised to a circle of Satanists by her father before her birth. Her father later repents of his actions and involvement with the Circle and flees Paris, but when Madelaine goes to Paris to visit her aunt, the Circle comes to claim her, and her only hope is Le Comte Saint-Germain with whom she has fallen in love.

Saint-Germain, of course, is a vampire, born some four thousand years ago. However, Hôtel Transylvania isn't really a vampire book, in the way that, say, Dracula or some of the current paranormal romances or urban fantasies are. The point is not that Saint-Germain is a vampire; the word is used, in fact, fewer than ten times in the course of the novel. Yes, his vampiric nature comes in handy for rescuing Madelaine, but at its core, this is a love story between Madelaine and Saint-Germain (but not of the squishy romancey variety).

As is fitting for the first novel in a series, Hôtel Transylvania sets the pattern for the rest of the series. The book begins with a letter and each chapter ends with a piece of correspondence, sometimes from characters that appear in no other way (which is, in fact, how Madelaine appears in the aforementioned Borne in Blood).

Because the author is also a historian, eighteenth-century Paris really comes to life. I am looking forward to reading more of this series.
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
Before I get started, let me make two confessions: First, I have been a fan of Patricia Morrison's work since she began publishing her science fantasy series The Keltiad (first as Patricia Kennealy, then as Patricia Kennealy Morrison) in the '80s; and second, I was born in 1967 and was a teenager in the Just Say No '80s. As such, I was never a fan of '60s music, so bits of this book were lost on me.

Ungrateful Dead is the first volume in the Rennie Stride Mysteries, a new series by PKM that is as completely unlike her previous work as may be. It is much more similar to her memoir, Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison, than to any volume of The Keltiad.

Rennie Stride is a journalist surprised to find herself in a society marriage in San Francisco in the late '60s, where a revolution in music is occurring. Lucky enough to secure a job writing about this new music, Rennie is enjoying herself immensely until her best friend Prax McKenna finds a body backstage at the Fillmore. When more murders occur, and it looks as though Prax may be the murderer, Rennie goes to work to find the real killer and clear her friend's name.

Having read Strange Days as well as some of PKM's other non-fiction (including her LJ), I detect bits of Patricia in Rennie Stride (and in Prax and in singer Sunny Silver). Her own participation in the '60s music scene obviously informs her writing; the book reads in part like a love letter to the past. This very much helps set the mood for those of us who weren't there.

I did find myself questioning some of the idioms; some of the language seemed very post-Buffy, but idioms come and go and come again (and I don't speak '60s, anyway), so what the heck.

All in all, a very enjoyable book and I hope the next one comes along soon.

Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] webofbooks
lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
The seventh novel in this little-known series appeared with this past weekend with no fanfare ... what? Oh, sorry, must've been Confunded, there.No Real Spoilers, But Nevertheless... )
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