Sunday, December 31, 2006

Some of the Books I've Enjoyed

Well, it's taken me a while to post this, and the pile waiting for "quick" comments has grown to tottering, but I hope you enjoy the peeks into what I found compelling.

Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy (a long-standing FM writer)

I'll be honest and say I picked up this book merely to support the author, and it took me a bit to get to reading it with the state of my to-be-read shelf. However, once I started, it was really hard to put it aside to work on what I needed to get done...and I stayed up way too late the last night on the "too close to the end" problem. It's a solid story with a likeable, mouthy character who drives her life even when fate seems to try to drive it for her. I suddenly understand why, after this one sale, she's had a cascading effect on the publishing industry. The story is good, the character compelling, and the sense of place, even when things are out of place, is wonderful. I didn't start out a grand fan of the urban fantasy trend, but I keep running into books that make modern day so much more interesting. This is definitely one of them. And a further sign of how good this book was...I just picked up the next in the series :).

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

I picked up this book as a case of mistaken identity. I thought I was picking up that book that everyone seems to be talking about: Kushneil's Dart. It wasn't that book, but I certainly don't regret the error. This is a strange story with an indirect narrative (meaning not a clear story being told), which would normally turn me off. However, it captures the feel of 18th Century London with the backbiting politics, the personal grievances, the cult of beauty, etc. that I've always loved in romance novels. The characters are compelling and you just can't wait to see what will come of this new tidbit you find. Okay, so on the story side, you don't always find out what that tidbit meant, even when the threads are somewhat resolved, but for once it didn't matter to me. I just went along for the ride and loved it. Will I be tracking down the first in the series? You better bet I will :).

Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

This is the sequel to the book I read as part of the publisher's reader review program. I picked it up out of curiosity mostly because, though I enjoyed the first one, the first was more about setting up a world than the story. It's what follows in that world that determines whether the author has taken advantage of the work. The answer in this case is clearly yes. Not only did she take advantage of the world she'd built in a grand way, but she even made me cry. I can say that without any spoilers at all, because the moment would not be what you could expect as a tearing up moment, but all the same it was. As usual with her books, the dense description took some time to get into. I have to remember that because first impressions would have me turn away from her books. They start out as they go on, however. The difference is not in the text or style, but in me. When I first start reading, I'm coming out of my busy, multitasking world and my hand is already rotating in the family signal of "get to the point already." Then, as if I've been walking through a muddy swamp, suddenly my foot comes free, lands on solid ground, and I'm completely enveloped in her forest. It's a change in state, in mindset, that doesn't come easy to me, but a talented author (and Robin Hobb has proved so twice now) can take me from my normal rush into complete absorption so that I want to stay in her world, heavy in detail and all, to become a part of it.

Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell

This book is a poster child for promoting yourself through an Internet presence. When I saw the book, I said, "I know that author," and picked it up. I didn't realize until I looked through the cover that it was his first book. Anyway, here's another book that had the "no clear story" issue. I'm starting to wonder if this is a trend and I'm going to have to just get over it :p. While not as compelling as the Kushner, I enjoyed the characters and wished more for the story to link together in a beginning, middle, and end format. I had a bit of a hard time with some of the gimmies, while at the same time, I enjoyed those same elements. The use of dialect was superb, not just in the actual dialect but in how a character negotiated the dialect, being as he'd been brought up to another speech but had integrated into the dialect-using society. As much as the logic of recreating Aztec society didn't make sense to me (though honestly it was shown from the outside mostly instead of through those to whom it was the norm), I found its use within the story compelling and well integrated. If I let go of the gimmie, from there, it made sense, and though not a society I could support, I could understand how someone brainwashed from birth could think it normal. I also enjoyed the almost steampunk feel of the novel even though it clearly wasn't. They all know they're on another planet and that they came as colonists, but a war set them back to that period and rediscovered tech is coming out much like Victorian steampunk, as clearly shown by the cover art (which, by the way, is right on target for the book, showing the book's cross natures. Anyway, it was a fun, interesting read. Tobias Buckell clearly shows some strengths as a writer that will keep me coming back. It'll be interesting to see what he does with this world and if what I look for in a storyteller is something he'll grow into or if the market has changed so much that I'm a dinosaur in my tastes :).


Erin said...

I heard a reading from The Privilege of the Sword at WFC in Madison. It was great--thanks for reminding me about this book.

As for Crystal Rain, could you be a little more specific than "no clear story"? It had a very clear story line, I thought, on more than one level.

Margaret said...

Hmm, well, I don't have the book around anymore and I wrote this a long while ago, but still the memory holds. Of course, to explain in detail would mean spoilers, which I don't do, but I guess I would say that it was hard to see the scope of the story when there were so many characters and the "main" character was an amnesiac who didn't want his memory back. It made things seem more like coincidences than driven choices. I'm not saying that everything didn't come together in the end, or even that I couldn't see the shape of things after a while, it's rather that the feel it left me with is a series of disparate stories that just happened to trip over each other in a convenient fashion for the book as a whole. And now that sounds incredibly negative, and I don't mean it that way. Some books succeed on all levels for me, others succeed on a few and are tolerable on some others. Overall, I enjoyed the book or I wouldn't have put it up there. I also questioned whether the change is in the market rather than a "failing" per se. The characters were interesting, the world was well drawn, but the plot itself seemed too act of goddish to me. Things came together too smoothly not to be part of a greater plan, and yet the character who would normally be driving it, had no idea about anything. Sigh. Have no idea whether this makes more, or less, sense. I would recommend anyone willing should read the book yourselves because it's a good book, and then maybe even come back and drop a note. It could be I just read it in a busy time and that aspect wasn't strong enough to catch hold of me while the others were.