Thursday, December 14, 2006

River Secrets

By Shannon Hale.

This book continues the story of the world of Bayern (introduced in The Goose Girl and Enna Burning) from Razo's point of view. I liked this at least as much as The Goose Girl, although you almost certainly need to read the first two in order to get the most out of the story. Razo, unlike Isi and Enna, is apparently just an ordinary guy, certain he has no talents besides stuffing "two cherries into one nostril." Obviously any story that starts off like that isn't going to end there (well, except for The Witch Queen... let's say, any good story.) Entertaining hijinks ensue. I think this book made me laugh more than either of the previous two.

My favorite thing about this book (at the moment) is the way it deals with love and courtship. Not everything is "love at first sight", and even when two characters are undeniably in love with each other their future together is uncertain, not because of outside influences ("I'm the prince and I've been promised to someone else in marriage") but just because of the way they interact with each other. This is definitely not all the book is about, but it is a significant subplot.

Definitely recommended as quite a sweet story, but you will probably need to read The Goose Girl and Enna Burning first in order to get the most out of it. I also agree with some other reviewers who said that there are a lot of names to keep up with. While the review I read blamed it on the fact that the reviewer had not read the previous books, I can say that most of the characters in this book are new and I also had a little trouble keeping up with some of the characters, although it may be my fault for reading it so fast. (I just got my hands on it last night.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Switching to Blogger in beta

I've just switched this blog over to the Blogger beta. Let me know if anything has gone horribly wrong as a result.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Goose Girl

By Shannon Hale.

A great fairy tale somewhat in the lines of Robin McKinley's retellings. This one is based on the Brothers Grimm tale "The Goose Girl", and was quite enjoyable to read, although there were parts where Ani/Isi's naivety was painful enough to make me put the book down before continuing onward. Definitely recommended if you like any sort of fantasy or fairy tales or stories that end well. There is one somewhat mature reference, but I find that in this case "mature" isn't necessarily a synonym for "dirty."

I didn't like it's successor (or "companion novel") Enna Burning quite as much, but it was also a decent read. I'm still waiting on River Secrets, the third volume in the series.

If you like fairy tales (and don't take yourself too seriously) you might also enjoy No Rest for the Wicked, a clever webcomic that starts with the Buried Moon and makes good its escape.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Glory Season

By David Brin.

This sci-fi book is based on a cute premise, but I found the ending extremely unsatisfying due to its weak resolution. The premise is this: humans have colonised other planets. One such isolated colony chose, close to ten thousand years ago (if I'm interpreting the years given correctly), to modify humanity so that women reproduced clonally during the winter. However, men were still required to spark the process.

Problems with this book? Maia gets knocked on the head and kidnapped a lot of times. You get tired of it after a while. Also, she finds out partway through that she and her twin sister (genetic "vars" or variants, conceived during the summer) were named after characters in an old book who... let me guess... had the same idea to pass themselves off as clones that Maia and Leie had. Why? Respect for someone who managed to establish a clan of clones is automatically higher than for genetic vars, who are cast away by most clans when they reach their fifteenth year.

Some of the plot twists (Renna's identity) are a little too obvious, while too many other questions go unanswered. And the ending is quite weak, while not appearing to have a sequel. Not a great book, but not unreadable. However: other opinions may differ. Apparently it was nominated for a Hugo award in 1994.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

American Caesar

By William Manchester.

A biography of Douglas MacArthur.

This was a fairly interesting read, but at times it got bogged down in excessive detail, quoting various opposing letters and interviews from actors in the MacArthur saga. The author makes a big production of excusing MacArthur for many of his mistakes by saying that other parties were equally responsible. His prose descriptions of maps leave something to be desired; it would be nice if the maps were featured more prominently for easier reference.

I also have doubts about the veracity of his account. There are numerous references to other sources, but various people on the Internet seem to think Manchester is not an accurate biographer, tending to glorify his subjects, and some of the things attributed to MacArthur (constantly on the front lines risking snipers, for example, and never getting hit) seem after a while to be somewhat excessive and perhaps unlikely.

It's also not always clear what is happening at a given point. The author makes frequent forward references to events in the future and it's somewhat hard to keep track of them, especially when he refers to things an educated reader may have been assumed to know (this book is dated 1978), but I didn't. It may be helpful to have some familiarity with MacArthur's life and the twentieth century in the United States beforehand.

I only found it to be a compelling read at a few spots, so it was pretty hard to get through. That and my doubts about the book's accuracy make me uncertain about how useful it was to read. It did suggest interesting questions, making me wonder, for example, what the Chinese and Soviets thought about the U.S. during the latter time period covered. However, in itself, I suspect another book (not yet found, at least by me) could have presented the desired information in a more palatable manner.