Posts Tagged ‘book sales’

Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ♥ Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?

Advertisements

Library Book Sale Finds: The Goldcamp Vampire

Hooray! Another one off the shelf for your enjoyment. Neither my husband or me cop to buying this. I mean, look at the cover.

This has no elements that would entice my husband. It’s bright. It’s colorful. No one is immediately dying. (My husband tends towards darker fantasy.)

But I dislike vampires. A lot. I so rarely pick up any sort of media that includes them, and there one is, right in the title.

(It probably was me. But what was I thinking?)

Maybe I thought it would be a romp. I do like romps.

Anyway! I bought this book at a library book sale in 2015 and now I have read it, and we can talk about it.

Title: The Goldcamp Vampire
Author: Elizabeth Scarborough
Genre: Historical fantasy
Publication Year: 1987

Pros: Occasional fun capers and no one cares about there being a vampire, not even the Mounties
Cons: Wanting to beat viewpoint character over the head with something

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s fairly ridiculous, and no one’s fooling anyone, and also no one cares and it’s glorious. But I felt like the prose was dense and I admit to skimming when it got bogged down in description, and I wasn’t too fond of the main character, who often couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

(Goodreads includes a longer title: The Goldcamp Vampire, or the Sanguinary Sourdough, though I’m not sure where sourdough comes into it.)

This is also the second book in the series, the first being The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas. I have not read that book or this author previously.

Pelagia Harper, also known as Valentine Lovelace (author), has recently lost her father, so when his mistress offers her a chance to make a new life in the Yukon, she goes along with it, thinking she’ll at least have a good story to tell. There is a weird addition to the party, however–they’ll need to escort the coffin of the mistress’s new employer’s former partner with them.

By the time they reach their end destination, several people around them have died seemingly randomly, and Pelagia/Valentine has been implicated in at least one of their murders. So the mistress and her employer insist on hiding her in plain sight by dying her hair and making her a flamenco dancer at their saloon, answering to the name of Corazon and speaking no English.

So you can see what sort of book this is. I wish I had liked Pelagia/Valentine better. Besides the name confusion (as she rarely thinks of herself by name, and those around her have practically half-a-dozen names she’s referred to), she’s older (in her ’30s), an author, has dealt with supernatural creatures previously, and isn’t afraid to go to other people’s rescue. I should like her. But I didn’t. Nor was I too wild about most of the side characters, of which there are a couple dozen, which are sometimes hard to keep track of. I did like Larsson, Lomax, and Jack London, and occasionally Vasily Vladovitch. Oh, and the cat.

I dunno. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars. So not good, but not bad. If you like romps involving the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and vampires, hey, here’s a book for you. There’s also a were-moose.

Read anything else by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Would you recommend anything?

Library Book Sale Finds: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

Good afternoon, Squiders! Been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? My archives tell me last June. In case you were wondering, I’m still working on the stack of books from the library book sales in summer 2015. (We didn’t go to any last summer, which is probably for the best. I think I still have over a dozen.)

You know, I picked up all these lovely science fiction and fantasy books, yet I keep reading the non-scifi/fantasy ones. (Okay, well, I have done seven of these–this is the eighth–and three were scifi/fantasy, so not always.) Admittedly, I just finished a 600-page fantasy novel (American Gods) which probably had a fairly major impact on the decision, which came down to “not fantasy, not huge.”

(And now I have Wintersong back from the library, so I’m back into another fat fantasy novel. Just a two-day mystery cleanser in the middle.)

On to it!

Title: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year:
1951

Pros: Great mystery, excellent use of misdirection
Cons: Weak, uninteresting beginning, too many characters?

I think I’m out of mysteries from the book sales with this one, though I do have several mythology collections and a book by Edith Wharton, so I can procrastinate on the scifi/fantasy for a bit longer if I’d like.

This is a Poirot novel! I’ve never read one before. I am familiar with Hercule Poirot, of course, because my family watched Masterpiece Mystery on PBS religiously when I was younger. It’s a far cry from the Miss Marple books, as it is in Poirot’s viewpoint (though it does occasionally stray into others) and also has a bit of a weird structure to it.

The book opens with the wrap-up of the trial for the murder of Mrs. McGinty, a charwoman (or cleaning lady) who was seemingly done in because she kept her savings under her floorboards and everyone in town knew it. The case has been rather clean and obvious, and Poirot took no note of the murder at the time because he found it boring. However, the superintendent of the police for the case, having worked with Poirot on a previous case, comes to him and tells Poirot that though he gathered the evidence, he can’t help but think that they’ve convicted the wrong person. He has nothing concrete to go on except his experience as a police officer. Poirot agrees to look into as a favor to a friend.

I found the first couple of chapters pretty dull. The book opens with an older Poirot wandering about being sad about the fact that he can’t eat constantly. Even once the potential mystery is introduced, the book still takes a few chapters to actually get into the act of mystery solving. For a while there, I actually considered putting the book down, which you know I rarely do.

Fortunately, for both me and the book, the pace picked up and got quite interesting after that point. Mrs. Christie throws in a good half dozen potential culprits and expertly keeps your attention off the real one. If I have one complaint, it’s maybe that she had too many suspicious personages in the end, because I’m pretty sure it’s never explained why–oh. No, never mind, I just figured it out. Nothing to see here.

I went to a mystery panel at a writing conference once, and one of the panelist said that you couldn’t know who did it, as the author, until you were most of the way done, because otherwise you’d  subconsciously write in too many clues that would point readers to the killer too early. So you have to write the book as if they all did it, so there’s enough red herrings and clues for any number of people. This book feels like it was written like that.

Anyway! I enjoyed it. I read the whole thing in two days, which I haven’t done in a while. So I’d recommend it, if you like classic mysteries and/or Poirot and/or Agatha Christie and/or if you’re looking to get into reading mysteries, which I also highly recommend.

(I use them as a brain cleanser.)

Read Mrs. McGinty’s Dead? Thoughts on Agatha Christie or Poirot in general?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold

I know I did one of these, like, last week, and I apologize for reading library book sale books so close together. Except not really.

So, as I mentioned about a month ago, I bought this book to read for my Twitter book club, and then found it in my library book sale books. I suspect I picked it up because I have several friends who are obsessed with Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (of which I have read an omnibus called Cordelia’s Honor and nothing more). This is her first fantasy novel.

Title: The Spirit Ring
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Interesting characters that you care about, cool magic
Cons: Slow plot build which culminates rather quickly

So, apparently Bujold used actual historical events/people for the inspiration for this novel, which is kind of cool. It takes place in Italy in what’s probably the late Renaissance. The main characters are Fiametta Beneforte, the daughter of a metalsmith/mage, and Thur Ochs, a Swiss miner. Most of the action revolves around the city of Montefoglia, where Fiametta lives, which has been taken over by an invading force when the Lord of Losimo kills the duke instead of marrying his daughter as planned.

The magic system here is very interesting. It’s mostly based off of “real” magics from the time period, though in a more traditional fantasy bent. For example, the Church oversees the mages to make sure they’re not performing black magic. While the magic is essential to the plot, it works well with the world and seems very reasonable. Historical fantasy can be hard to do well, but Bujold manages both the history and the fantasy parts well.

While I found I liked both Thur and Fiametta, the plot moves along fairly slowly. There’s a lot of reacting and forced inaction. The build up to and the climax felt a little fast, but I can’t be sure whether it really is, or if it’s because it took me three weeks to get through the first two-thirds of the book, and then I read the rest in one day.

So! If you like historical fantasy and/or ’90s fantasy, you’ll probably like this. I found it a little slow, which is why it took me so long to get through it, but that’s just me.

Read The Spirit Ring, Squiders? What did you think?

Library Book Sale Finds: Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

You ever have a book that you’re not quite sure why you picked it up? That’s the case here. I have a vague memory of selecting this book from one of the library book sales last summer, but when I picked it up to read it again, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what had attracted me to it.

Title: Sushi for Beginners
Author: Marian Keyes
Publication Year: 2003
Genre: Chick lit? Slice of life?

Pros: Doesn’t require a lot of thought to keep up with despite the myriad of characters
Cons: Inconsistent characterization, head hopping, lack of plot

I mean, maybe I thought it was romance? I can get behind a good romance. Okay, I’ve just re-read the back of the book, and it definitely sounds like a female friend romp/romance. That would have been okay.

It is not either of those.

I admit I don’t read a lot of real life based stories because I don’t necessarily get the point of them. They tend to focus on depressing things, like infidelity, illness, depression, loss of spouse/child, getting over childhood abuse–all things that I don’t really want to think about if I don’t have to. Now, from what I understand, knowing that I am wildly out of my depth here, chick lit tends to be upbeat, funny, kind of like candy for your soul.

So, I think that’s probably what this book is–it’s got the witty banter, the sex scenes, etc. But I still don’t really see the point. It wasn’t necessarily hard to keep reading, but I didn’t particularly like anybody in the book, and there’s very little plot to speak of, which again, I think is normal for the genre.

Most of the action takes place at Colleen, a new fashion magazine based in Dublin, Ireland. You’ve got Lisa Edwards, the editor, who’s upset about being shunted over from London when she thought she was going to get promoted to a New York magazine; Ashling Kennedy, assistant editor, who is kind of a wet rag, honestly, and is still the most likeable person in the book; and Clodagh Kelly, who’s the mother of two and Ashling’s best friend. And then there’s occasional head hopping into male points of view for a line or two.

And there’s finding ourselves and learning to be better people, blah blah blah, but it’s not terribly interesting.

ANYWAY. I didn’t particularly like this book, as you can probably tell. But, again, not really my normal genre cup of tea. Good to read around and all that.

Squiders, do you know anything about chick lit? Is this a good example of it? Is there a different book I should read instead?

Library Book Sale Finds: Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis

First of all, good news, Squiders! We’ve finally decided on a title. So that’s one thing checked off the seemingly endless list.

Anyway, onward!

I’ve read a couple books by Connie Willis before (To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the Blackout/All Clear duology) from her Oxford time travel series. This is not one of those. This is planetary exploration scifi in the style of a Western.

Title: Uncharted Territory
Author: Connie Willis
Publication Year: 1994
Genre: Science fiction

Pros: Short, fun, interesting world and premise
Cons: A character twist really threw me, and not a lot actually happens

In general I liked this quite a bit. Westerns, like Age of Sail, have a lot of the same tropes as science fiction, so ala Firefly space westerns feel very natural. (You can read more about this subgenre here.) Connie Willis writes this first person, which generally I am not hugely fond of, but I love the character voice so it works out fine.

Basic premise is two surveyors, out on a new world, trying to explore but being faced with bureaucracy at every step. You see, the government doesn’t want to be accused of expansionist tendencies, so they’ve given the natives the ability to monitor and fine the surveyors, which the indigent people have figured out how to twist to their own advantage.

The voice is fun, the situations are ridiculous and totally believable, and I liked the characters as well. My biggest issue is that the PoV character is female, and this is completely not obvious until about halfway through, when it suddenly becomes (and remains) a plot point throughout the rest of the book. I thought the PoV was male, and it took me a good half a chapter to adapt to this new information. I’m not sure if I missed something early on (I did go back and do a cursory look) or if this was supposed to be a big reveal, or what, but it really threw me.

The other thing is that it doesn’t quite feel like a complete story. It’s a short book, only 149 pages, and it’s almost a slice of adventure sort of story. Only one thing’s changed from start to finish, really, and even that doesn’t seem to be anything major.

But it was short, it was fun, and I enjoyed it. So I’d recommend it, if you like space westerns or other planetary exploration stories.

Have you read this? What did you think?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

I think I picked this one up because it sounded like it might be magical realism, though I’m not sure where I got that impression. It’s not; it instead falls into that category of family/personal drama.

As kind of an aside, I noted when I started reading the book that Eleanor Brown is a local author, and I happened to read in the newspaper a few days ago that she’s hosting some sort of writing class at my local library tomorrow. How random is that? Coincidences work in strange ways.

Title: The Weird Sisters
Author: Eleanor Brown
Genre: This one goes in my “general literature” category.
Publication Year: 2011

Pros: Interesting first-person plural viewpoint, doesn’t get trite or depressing like so many family/personal dramas
Cons: Doesn’t quite justify the interesting viewpoint

I actually enjoyed this quite a bit, so I was interested to note on Goodreads that it actually has a lot of one-star reviews. It just goes to show how arbitrary people’s reading preferences are. Maybe people like those sad, depressing dramas that I want to throw across the room. And I can’t tell you how pleased I was to read a book of this type without a dead baby anywhere to be found.

The book is about three adult sisters (in the late 20s-early 30s age range) who all find themselves returning back home because of their own issues, as well as their mother’s breast cancer. The narration is from a plural first person, which I haven’t seen before, from the perspective of the sisters. This kind of works because each of the sisters regards herself against the other two, but because the sisters don’t really function as a collective unit, sometime it feels a bit weird. (Har.)

The title comes from Shakespeare, and there are a lot of Shakespearean references throughout the book, though they don’t actually seem to have anything to directly do with the plot.

So I’d recommend this book for people who like their drama to not be of the soul-crushingly depressing kind. I found it an easy read, and it’s worth it to give it a try to see the interesting viewpoint, though I will warn that it’s hard to get used to.

Anyone else read this and have opinions? How’s your 2016 going in terms of reading? I’ve finished two novels (including a BFFN–big fat fantasy novel), am in the middle of three nonfic books (whoops), am still very slowly working through a SF anthology, and am reading Web of Air, which is the second book in the scifi!steampunk Fever Crumb series.