Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leviathan (2009)

Scott Westerfeld has created an alternate history where Europe has two facing sides; the Clankers and the Darwinists. The Clankers, from eastern Europe, have developed mechanical machines that mimic the movement of animals and the Darwinists, from western Europe, have fabricated animals to be their war machines.
But Deryn's favorite lectures were when the boffins explained natural philosophy. How old Darwin had figured out how to weave new species from the old, pulling out the tiny threads of life and tangling them together under a microscope. How evolution had squeezed a copy of Deryn's own life chain into every cell of her body. How umpteen different beasties made up the Leviathn - from the microscopic hydrogen-farting bacteria in its belly to the great harnessed whale. How the airship's creatures, like the res of Nature, were always struggling among themselves in messy, snarling equilibrium.
Alek finds himself orphaned, his father Austrian Duke Ferdinand and his less-than-royally born mother have been killed. Alek is spirited away by two of the Duke's men who take him to a hideaway in the Alps, set up for just an occasion. Deryn is a young English woman who disguises herself as a man (Dylan) to enter the British Air Service and gets a position on the Leviathan, a fabricated whale with the ability to generate enough hydrogen to take it aloft. When taking a secret cargo to the Ottoman Empire, they are attacked and crash in, you guessed it, the Alps.
Deryn had always reckoned herself a tomboy, between Jaspert's bullying and Da's balloon training. But running with the other middies was mroe than just punchups and tying knots - it was like joining a pack of dogs. They jostled and banged for the best seats at the middies' mess table. They taunted each other over signal reading and navigation scores, and whom the officers had complimented that day. They endlessly competed to see who could spit farther, drink rum faster, or belch the loudest.
It was bloody exhausting, being a boy.
This exciting action is enhanced by illustrations by Keith Thompson which help the reader get a vision of the size and complexity of the machines described. There will be a sequel to continue the action. This is a real page turner with nonstop action. I highly recommend this book to science fiction and war fiction readers.

My rating for this book: ++++

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nation (2008)

Terry Pratchett is well known for his series of Discworld books and his sense of humor. This book is about the results of a disastrous tsunami in a remote region of the South Pacific. Mau is a member of an island community called the Nation by its people. He is taken to another small island called Boys' Island to undergo the rituals which will mark him as a man among his people. While there something terrible happens. He has no clue what is happening but thunder, storm clouds, dancing water, upset birds and animals tell him that he had to leave.

Very fast, and not so far away now. Not a wave, either. It was too big. It was a mountain of water, with lightning dancing along the top, and it was rushing, and it was roaring, and it scooped up the canoe like a fly.

When he returns home, no one is left alive except for a English girl named Daphne who was deposited on the island in a ship. Together they learn each other's language and take care of survivors who make their way to the island.

Somewhere out there, flying to him from the edge of the world, was tomorrow. He had no idea what shape it would be, but he was wary of it. They had food and fire, but that wasn't enough. You had to find water and food and shelter and a weapon, people said. And they thought that was all you had to have, because they took for granted the most important thing. You had to have a place where you belonged.

One of the biggest issues facing Mau was recovering the god stones that his people had used to leave tribute to their gods for generations and had been swept out to sea. Somehow, taking care of gods that wreaked such havok on his people seemed to be a high priority to everyone else but him.

"The gods let you down. When you needed them they weren't there. That is it, and all of it. To worship them now would be to kneel before bullies and murderers."

Interestingly, the same sentiment has been made by survivors of the recent earthquake in Haiti.
Another big issue arrives with Daphne's rescuers. No other European has as yet reached this island and the first thing they wanted to do was plant a flag and claim it for England. Daphne pointed out that there was a nation already existing on the island and came up with an ingenious was to protect the islanders.

I loved this book. It is a survival story, a story of an unlikely relationship, and a story of the strength that people find when they most need it. I would recommend it to readers who like thought provoking stories.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry (2009)

This is the first novel by Audrey Niffenegger that I have read and it was a corker. Twins, OCD, ghosts, and cemetery tours all feature in this book. Valentina and Julia are mirror twins who inherit an apartment in London from their aunt Elspeth, twin sister of their mother, Edie. One of the provisions of Elspeth's will was that her sister could not step foot in the apartment. After living in the apartment for one year they could sell it if they wanted to. In the upstairs apartment lives Martin, a man with Obsessive/Compusive Disorder who is also agoraphobic. His wife just left him because of his demanding lifestyle. Downstairs from them lives Robert, Elspeth's younger friend/lover.
No one knows why, or is telling why, Elspeth and Edie split with no contact. Robert has possession of Elspeth's diaries but grief prevents him from reading them. When the twin girls turn 21 they leave their home in Chicago and go to live in London. Elspeth is still inhabiting the apartment as a ghost. She learns how to make her presence known and communicates with Valentina and Robert.

Both twins stood in the front hall looking solemn. "Come upstairs," said Valentina.
"What's wrong?"
"We have to show you something."
Julia followed Valentina and Robert upstairs. She was conscious of feeling hopeful.
The flat was blazing with light. The twins escorted Robert to the piano and stepped back. He saw Elspeth's handwriting.
ROBERT - 22 JUNE 1992 - E.

One thing that bothered me about the book was the emphasis on the twins being thin little Paris Hilton types. It made them seem to be closer to 13 than 21 years in age. Not only their build but the way they dressed and spoke. It made them, in my eyes, less believable and likeable.

It was very exciting toward the end and I stayed up very late finishing it. I was a little disappointed in the very end since it felt that the author had to tie up loose strings or had to add another 20 pages that I felt were unecessary and took away from the conclusion.

This is a pretty good ghost story. It had me gasping in spots. I would recommend it to a reader who likes books with a touch of horror.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

A Land Beyond Ravens (2009)

When I was a teenager I enjoyed the Merlin/Arthur series of books written by Mary Stewart. This book by Kathleen Cunningham Guler took place at the same time (486 A.D.) but the characters are only tangentially connected with Arthur. Warlords and kings vie for power and Christianity is slowly creeping in and taking over the ancient religions. Marcus and his gifted wife, Claerwen have promised to support Arthur when he inherits the crown of Uther Pendragon and are involved with the intrigue and power struggles.

Claerwen straightened her shoulders. So be it, this was not a place for her. And to visit the grove was not the reason she and Marcus had traveled to Ynys Witrin. They had been charged with the secret transport of Gwyar, daughter of the high king Uther Pendragon and his queen Igraine. The young girl of six summers had become a target of political factions that sought to take her hostage or even to assassinate her. In fear Igraine had decided her daughter must be taken to the Lady of Avalon and raised in obscurity.
Another child in hiding. Like Uther's first-born, Arthur. Claerwen wondered where the boy might be by now. He would turn eight in the next winter. Still so young. She thought of Myrddin Emrys as well, the king's nephew and Britain's last high druid, a powerful man and a longtime friend, who had taken Arthur from Igraine's birthing chamber the night the boy was born. Few had been entrusted with the knowledge that Myrddin was raising Arthur - the boy was an even greater target for assassins that the high king himself.

Myrddin, also known as Merlin, meets with Marcus in this story and we see Arthur from afar but the story is really about all that went on behind, beneath, and around the boy. This story was so rich I slowed down my reading to enjoy the language, the history, and the story.

I highly recommend this book to historical fiction fans, especially lovers of the Arthur stories.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Friday, January 1, 2010

Murder in the Latin Quarter (2009)

This book is the ninth in a series by Cara Black featuring a detective name Aimee Leduc and taking place in Paris. I thought for sure this would be a book for me but I couldn't finish it. First of all, I don't know what French gun laws are but I doubt seriously that a Swiss Army knife would be considered a weapon of choice by any self-respecting detective.

In almost any book, a reader has to suspend belief, especially when reading fantasy or science fiction. However, the author has to stay in bounds sometimes. The following is the passage that pushed me off the page. She is in the catacombs below Paris.

Shuffling sounds came from ahead. She froze. The yellow flare of a match sputtered, illuminating a man's face. Lined and craggy. Philibert the ghost who wandered forever in the quarry?
Then she saw blue jumpsuits, the flash of silver badges. Not ten feet away stood two catablics, the IGC who patrolled the underground.
She shut off the headlamp, blew out the candle. Edged back, trying to melt into the stone. Somehow, they hadn't seen her.

Somehow, indeed!

I can't recommend this book.

My rating for this book: +