Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne disappears from their Missouri home--and her husband, Nick, looks like the reason.

Nick scrambles to find a suitable alibi, desperately redirecting the investigation towards any suspect but himself. Meanwhile, Amy's diary entries reveal a portrait of a marriage gone sour. Gracious wife, beloved only child, the inspiration for an award-winning book series--it is unthinkable that anyone could wish harm on such a lovely woman.

But Nick has harbored resentment against his bride for years, envious of her inherited wealth, exasperated by her city-girl lifestyle. As his excuses run thin and his secrets come to light, all the signs point to his guilt.

But no one can answer the question: what happened to Amy?

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: "Shards of Honor" by Lois McMaster Bujold

This was the only reasonable cover
I could find. The worst offenders
are displayed for your amusement
below the cut.

When Commander Cordelia Naismith's survey expedition is massacred in a Barrayan attack. Stranded in an alien wilderness, she joins forces with the enemy: Admiral Captain Vorkosigan, left for dead by a mutiny within the Barrayan forces. The history of war between their cultures is long and ugly--but the partnership forged over their long trek to safety is stronger still.

Now a prisoner of the Barrayans who rescued Vorkosigan, Cordelia is divided between her duty to her people and her personal loyalty to the man who crossed a planet with her. Intrigue and treason threatens Vorkosigan from his own people. Meanwhile, the survivors of Cordelia's crew team up with the mutineers in a desperate attempt to rescue her.

As far as the warlike Barrayans are concerned, the astrocartographer is no threat: she's no fighter, she's a woman, she's an unarmed prisoner. From where Cordelia stands, though, she holds the power of life and death: for herself, for Vorkosigan, and for both of their ways of life.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: "Bloodhound" by Tamora Pierce

(Bloodhound is the second book in a series. I reviewed Terrier, the first book , here.)


Beka Cooper has survived her training year in the Provost's Guard--but those who said the work would get easier with time were lying. Her ruthlessness in pursuit of justice has won her a number of enemies, both among the criminals of the Lower City and among her fellow Dogs.

Rejected by a string of partners, Cooper teams back up with her old mentor Goodwin. The pair leaves Corus for Port Caynn on a top-priority mission for the Provost himself--to track down the culprits behind a spate of counterfeit silver coins that are ruining Tortall.

They find Port Caynn in the grip of the underworld's Rogue, who isn't half so kindly disposed towards Cooper as the Rogue of Corus. Cooper and Goodwin are on their own in a city full of strangers while the lower classes turn to riot, with false money crashing the market and food running scarce in a bad season.

  4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Filing Systems and the Mystery of "Mystery"

After doing a bit of research on other book review blogs, I cleaned up the tags system and added a "file by label" system (over there to your right.) This way, dear reader, if you're interested in reading my grumps just in a certain genre, it's easy to find. Perhaps in time I'll add a "file by star rating" list as well.

While reassigning labels to these book grumps, I got stuck on how many of them can be called "mysteries." Even without the trappings of trench coats and forensic kits (or, depending on your taste in mysteries, cats), whodunits are found in absolutely every genre.

I now propose my own version of the "only [n] plots in the world" theory: there are three.
  • Get the thing
  • Defeat the thing
  • Find out who did the thing
For fairness' sake, I'm only going to use the "mystery" tag if the book specifically describes itself as such.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: “Heat” by Bill Buford

Bill Buford is successful and happy in his career as a reporter when he befriends the famous New York chef Mario Batali. What was meant to be a simple interview spins out of control as Mario invites Bill to work for him. Untrained but eager, Bill begins work as a lowly assistant in the kitchen of Mario’s three-star Italian restaurant.

A classic comedy of errors ensues--but Bill’s perseverance and maniacal need to Understand Food sees him rise in skill and rank through the kitchen. He is sanctified (as it were) by the hellish fires of the grill.

Mario contemplates setting up the onetime reporter with a restaurant of his own, but Bill has caught the cooking fever. New York is no longer enough for him. He wants to go to Italy and learn where Italian food began. There are little old women in the hills with pasta-making secrets no one else remembers. There are butchers whose handling of meat is said to be operatic. Bill trades the typewriter for the filleting knife--perhaps for good.

  5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Own Favorites

It occurs to me that while I've been posting all these grumpy reviews of new books I've found, I haven't talked about the books that I already love, the ones which cancel out all the grumps.

 For the record: my absolute favorite, Best Beloved, accept-no-substitutes book is The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

 The rest follow in alphabetical order.
  • Margaret Atwood: Cat's Eye
  • Peter S. Beagle: The Last Unicorn 
  • Isabella Bird: A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains
  • Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles
  • Gillian Bradshaw: Imperial Purple
  • Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
  • Bill Buford: Heat
  • Novella Carpenter: Farm City
  • C.J. Cherryh: Foreigner
  • C.J. Cherryh: Rider at the Gate
  • Evan Dahm: Rice Boy
  • Tom DeHaven: Sunburn Lake
  • William Goldman: The Princess Bride
  • Joanne Greenberg: I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
  • Kim Harrison: The Hollows
  • Stephen King: Hearts in Atlantis
  • Stephen King: Lisey's Story
  • Rudyard Kipling: The Jungle Books
  • C.S. Lewis: Til We Have Faces 
  • James W. Loewen: Lies My Teacher Told Me
  • George R.R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Geraldine McCaughrean: Peter Pan in Scarlet
  • Patricia McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
  • Robin McKinley: Spindle's End
  • Hayao Miyazaki: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Patrick Ness: Chaos Walking
  • Naomi Novik: Temeraire
  • Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast
  • Julie Ann Peters: Far from Xanadu
  • David L. Robbins: The War of the Rats
  • Craig Thompson: Blankets
  • Megan Whalen Turner: The Queen of Attolia
  • Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan's Tales
  • Elizabeth Warnock Fernea: Guests of the Sheik
  • Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone
  • Patricia C. Wrede: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
Feel free to share your favorite books in the comments!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Comments Reminder

Hey everyone!

Thank you so much for all the feedback y'all have given me on this blog and the books you've recommended for my (dis)pleasure.
Food critic Anton Ego says hello again

For those who aren't familiar with Blogspot, you don't have to wait until the next time you see me in person or catch me online to talk to me about books or grumps! The comments system is set up so that anyone can reply without having to sign up for this (or any) site.

Please feel free to post your remarks or complain about my font choices--or possibly vent your wrath at my misappraisal of your favorite book. I'd love to hear whatever you have to say.

Looking forward to it!

Review: "Fitcher's Brides" by Gregory Frost

The Charter girls' new stepmother is a very religious woman--and her religion of choice is Elias Fitcher, whose prophecies schedule the end of the world for October 1843. Whether they want it or not, Vernelia, Amy, and Kate are going to be among the saved--and the married--on that day.

While their hapless father mans the turnstile allowing penitents into Fitcher's commune, the charismatic preacher courts each of his daughters in turn. But life as the bride of God's final prophet is far from heavenly. A darkness hides inside the walls of Harbinger House, and in the marriage bed.

  2.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: "Clockwork Heart" by Dru Pagliassotti

That's "clockwork," not "cleckwerk."
Good job, typographers.
High above the streets and smoke plumes of Ondinium, Taya soars on silver wings. In a city driven by the beat of the great engine at its heart, only the icarii couriers move freely among the castes. Taya has been training for years in caste-appropriate protocols, hoping to earn her place in the elite diplomatic corps.

On the eve of her sister's wedding, Taya is in the right place at the right time to save one of the city's Exalted from a sabotaged cable car. She learns it was the wrong time, when the rescue entangles her in a web of intrigue and terrorism.

Across the bounds of caste, the Exalted Alister--a genius programmer--reaches out to Taya for help. But while Alister tries to protect Taya from a string of murders and bombings, his misanthropic brother, an outcast from Exalted society, looks more and more like the culprit. Someone is trying to destroy the computational machines that keep Ondinium alive, and they could use a good pair of wings--even if it means stealing them from a dead icarus.

  4.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis

Not pictured: The Beatles.
Amy Martin gives up a lot when she agrees to join her parents on their expedition to colonize the newly discovered planet in Alpha Centauri: her friends, her boyfriend, her plans for a normal life. Instead, she will spend the next three hundred years in cryogenic freeze, traveling across the universe in the Godspeed. She is "nonessential cargo" compared to her brilliant scientist parents. But in a terrible accident, Amy wakes fifty years too early--without her parents, lost in the cold black of space.

Elder was set apart from birth to lead the crew of the Godspeed. Yet he is also the youngest and most misfit member of the ship's homogenous and rigidly controlled population, shaped by centuries of space travel. Elder's supposed mentor refuses to teach him anything about the ship. Amy is the first person Elder has ever known his own age; the first person who doesn't take a life of lies and confinement for granted; the first person who has walked on real earth and felt the warmth of a real sun on her skin.

For Elder, just knowing Amy is happiness enough. But Amy, once deemed "nonessential," is now considered a freak. She is disturbed by what humanity has become aboard the Godspeed, and wants to know who woke her, and why. More frozen passengers are found thawing ahead of schedule--and don't survive the process. With mind-altering drugs in the water and a killer on board the ship, only the misfits are asking why.
  2 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: "Shine" by Lauren Myracle

For three years, Cat Robinson has kept the world at arm's length. At sixteen years old, she is haunted by the hard truths that people you've known all your life can hurt you—and that the ones who claim to love you best won’t come to rescue you.

The walls of Cat’s self-imposed prison crack when her onetime best friend is found in a coma, badly beaten and scrawled with hateful slurs. She is determined not to fail Patrick the same way her family failed her. But Cat’s search for the culprit hits a roadblock at every turn.

The small community of Black Creek, North Carolina is rocked by the attack on one of their own. Some believe that Patrick brought the attack upon himself; others pray for his salvation and swift recovery. What no one wants to believe is that someone in their midst is capable of such violence. It is so much easier to blame faceless out-of-town thugs than to accuse a neighbor or a relative; that friend, that fishing buddy, the mayor’s son.

Don’t look, don’t ask, don’t talk about it—that is the command Cat is given at every turn. For Patrick’s sake and for her own, though, she must press on. Her solo quest for justice stirs up family secrets, drug deals, and her own buried memories... everything but the answer she needs.

4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” by Isabella Bird

To escape the unhealthy climate of her homeland, English writer Isabella Bird travels the globe, from Hawaii to Tibet, Australia to Turkey. When she visits the mountains of Colorado in 1873, she is already a fearless veteran traveler.

In the newly settled state, there are a hundred miles of untamed wilderness for every town, and hotels are an even rarer sight than English gentry. Her letters to her sister describe a world rough-hewn and ungentle, populated by desperadoes and consumptives. The bleakness of human life is placed in sharp contrast to the timeless magnificence of the Rocky Mountains that surround them.

But the staggering radiance of the landscape is not the only source of beauty that Bird discovers on her journey. In the lonely sanctuary of Estes Park, human generosity reaches a sublime state. By necessity, doors are thrown open to the traveler, for a night or for a month. Here is a world with no space for tourists, only participants.One's neighbors are one's lifeline, and bitter feuds and intense rivalries are laid aside in the face of the mutual need to survive.

Bird plans to visit Colorado only for a short time, but her departure is delayed at every turn. In an economic downswing, the frontier banks refuse to cash her English banknotes, leaving her dependent upon the charity of her newfound friends. Thunderous winter storms close the mountain passes for weeks on end while supplies run scarce. Her hosts, initially dubious of this well-bred foreigner, recognize Bird's skill as a rider and employ her on the roundup of their far-ranging mountain cattle. Meanwhile, the notorious outlaw "Mountain Jim" Nugent, a fellow Englishman in exile, courts Bird with magnificent style, desperate to keep her near him.

Bird describes her time in Colorado in vivid detail, from the shifting colors of the sunset on Long’s Peak to the firelight on Mountain Jim's scarred face, her eyelids freezing shut on a snowy night and  her ride of eight hundred miles in the dead of winter. She writes with keen criticism of human folly and foibles, but also with compassion and wonder. She punctuates it all with that particular dry English humor that makes her tale a delight to read.

4 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: "Tigana" by Guy Gavriel Kay

To avenge his son’s death, the Ygrathan sorcerer-king Brandin laid a curse on the land of Tigana like no one had ever known—one that erased its very name. Only a generation after Tigana’s fall, few people in the peninsula of the Palm remember that such a province existed.

But even the worst tragedies leave survivors. A scattered handful of exiles remember Tigana and beautiful Avalle of the Towers, the birthplace of the Palm’s greatest music and arts, its noblest leaders and heroes. They do more than simply remember—they are determined to rise up and break the curse.

Devin d’Asoli, a traveling singer of rare talent, learns that his destiny holds more than concerts and pretty women when the truth of his own heritage is revealed. In league with Tigana’s outcast prince and a motley crew of other avengers, he embarks on a quest to unravel the sorceror’s magic, throw off the conqueror’s yoke, and make Tigana’s name heard in the Palm once again.

  2 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: “Terrier” by Tamora Pierce

Against bitter odds, Beka Cooper has survived a harsh childhood in the slums of Corus. Now she enlists as a protector of those same streets in the uniform of a city guard, colloquially known as “the Provost's Dogs.” As a trainee, Cooper is assigned to shadow the experienced team of Goodwin and Tunstall, who aren’t too sure they want a puppy getting underfoot.

Cooper keeps meticulous journal entries as she trains to be a better Dog--stopping crime, breaking bones, and taking bribes. Her wits, her tenacity, and her strange talent of hearing ghosts guide her through a corrupt and brutal city, trying to bring justice to the ugly society that raised her.

While Cooper, Goodwin, and Tunstall track a trail of blood to a mysterious surge in the opal market, children go missing and their parents look the other way. Meanwhile, Cooper’s new housemates turn out to be rising stars in the criminal underworld. They could either bring her the secrets she needs to find the killers, or bring her down with them.

4.5 out of 5 stars
(grump below the cut)

What's On The Menu?

Food critic Anton Ego from Pixar's "Ratatouille"
I'm not like that food critic in Ratatouille, who remains skeletally thin because he will not so much as swallow food that does not meet his exacting standards. I am critical about my books--hence the name of the blog--but I love them.

So what is it that I look for in a book?

I look for heart. I look for authors who use language like a scythe. I look for well-built worlds, where the setting lives and breathes alongside its inhabitants. I like stories about women, people of color, marginalized people getting their own voices. I like unusual corners of history, fantasy, sci-fi, and other places and times not too much like my own (on the surface, anyway.) I have a funny soft spot for evocative memoirs and authors who wax poetic about food.

I'll grump more than usual if I read a book whose plot hinges on cheap coincidences, or one populated by bland dude protagonist types coming of age in the exact same way that all the other bland dude protagonists have come of age. But I don't waste time grumping about books I didn't like at all (unless they were so terrible that I want you, dear reader, to be spared my suffering.)

On my previous blog, I was told that I write more about the negatives in a book than the positives. Part of that is because it's more fun; it's also easier to talk about what went wrong than to describe what went right.

Another reason is because I don't like to "spoil" books for new readers, particularly those I am recommending. Very often, the best parts of a book--the ones that make me sit upright in my chair and start gleefully reading aloud to my roommate--are the well-crafted plot twist, the revelation, the emotional crux of the story. How could I rob you of the joy of those discoveries? I'd never forgive myself.

I have a small backlog of reviews to repost, and a few library books on the shelf waiting to be read and reviewed in turn--a mix of historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy. Otherwise, I am always happy to hear recommendations for new books! You can post them in the comment section on any post, or email them to me.

I think, for an introduction, that will suffice. Time to serve up some book grumps!

A Fine and Private Place... To Grump About Books

[Thanks to Peter S. Beagle for the post title!]

Hello, and welcome to the most recent--and hopefully the last--of my blogs.

I've been reading since I was five, blogging since fourteen, and blogging specifically about reading books for about the past three years (in various places on the internet, now lost to the pixelated sands of time.) Credit or blame for this blog goes to the friends who told me to just go ahead and make a website specifically for book reviews.

"But I want to be a published author myself. It would be rather tacky to grump about other people's books in the same place as I try to promote my own," said the Voice of Reasonable-Sounding Excuses To Procrastinate.

"Then make that a separate blog," said the Voice of Wisdom.

So here we are. The personal writing blog will happen another time. For now, there are plenty of books already written and demanding my attention. I aim to introduce them to you, dear reader--to find for you diamonds in the published rough, and to warn you away from narrative wastelands where ne'er heart was stirred by story--and to hone my critical skills along the way. I hope you enjoy reading my book grumps.