Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mid-July Reads: A Few Short Reviews

From time to time, I post short reviews of what I've been reading. Here's a new batch:

Sherwood Smith’s delightful Regency Danse de la Folie from Book View Cafe.It’s engaging and fun in a way that doesn’t ask you to leave your intellect or your knowledge of Jane Austen’s work at the door. Various characters have various romantic and other adventures before the couples sort themselves out. (Complete side-thought: our new German Shepherd Dog puppy, is named Darcy vom Steinbeckland; he has a tuft of white lace on his chest and gold dust on his toes; the rest of him will be tall, dark, and handsome.) (Second barely-related thought: I’d been lamenting not having an ereader, but the family exchequer wouldn’t cooperate. My younger daughter addressed this situation by passing on to me her Kindle 1 (I think that’s what it’s called — the absolutely no-frills e-ink one) so now I am gleefully working my way through all the BVC books I want!

Chaz Brenchley. House of Doors from the UK publisher Severn House, which is also putting out much of Barbara Hambly’s recent work. Newly-widowed British nurse goes to work at Very Strange gothic house (D’Esperance), treating wounded soldiers in WWII. One of the earmarks of superlative writing is the ability to make a sequel (or “middle book”) so appealing and self-contained that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve read the first volume. Which I hadn’t. Half the delight in this book is the use of language — it’s a story to be savored as much for the style as for the plot. Which plot has some great twists. The cover says, “A haunting tale of terror…” but although I don’t care for horror as a genre, I loved the weirdness and how it all wove together. For me, it was as much a tale of healing as “terror.”

Ben Winters, The Last Policeman. This was a freebie from the Nebula Award weekend, and I doubt I would have picked it up otherwise, but I’m glad I did. It belongs to an odd subset of novels that, for all their gadgets and rayguns, are essentially some other genre. Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is an example. I think Winters’s book is better, albeit of the gritty police procedural novel rather than a romance. Earth is doomed — an asteroid’s going to go smack and end Life As We Know It. With six months to live, what’s the point of solving a murder? Lots of twists and layers that left me wanting more.

Francis Knight, Fade to Black. Orbit 2013. I received this book as a freebie at the Nebula Awards
weekend and don't think I would have picked it up otherwise -- neither the cover art, the title, nor the subtitle ("some heroes prefer the shadows" -- how generic is that???) appealed to me. Once I got into it, however, I found it picked me right up and carried me along. Sort of a cross between The Dresden Files, Blade Runner, and film noir, although it doesn't fit neatly into any of these categories. The story takes place in a city hemmed in by mountains, forced to grow vertically, layer upon decaying layer. In this gritty, grimy, oppressive, fear-riddled place, magic draws its power from pain -- either yours or someone else's. Nicely constructed, taking us down through the layers of conspiracy and mystery as we descend into the city's lightless depths. It's billed as the first of a series, but I'm leery about going on with it because this first book stands so well on its own. Too many series are downward slides from a great concept that was then milked out way too long. Trigger warning for child abuse.

John Scalzi, Redshirts, Tor 2011/2012. Anyone can write a take-off, and at first this one follows very much in the tradition of not only Star Trek, but Galaxy Quest and a whole host of riffs-on-a-theme. But Scalzi is a thoughtful writer, one I trust to repay my reading time with something of more substance. While he folds twist upon unexpected twist, he weaves in depth and human connection.

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