Sunday, September 7, 2008

Summer reading

I got a wee bit behind on my book reporting. By about three months. But in the spirit of better late than never:

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
The latest in the Southern Vampire series, a series I like to sum up by saying that it has all of the good parts of Anita Blake without all of the porn, stomach-churning graphic violence and ridiculous powering up of the main character. This was a transitional book, wrapping up several storylines and putting the pieces in place for new ones. It was a little odd to read since it had three separate climaxes/big battles, but it was still a fairly enjoyable read. I'm glad to see that the author is clearly moving towards a romance she's been hinting about since the first book but never acted upon. I've read a bunch of Harris's other series, and I know she's perfectly willing to let characters be attracted to each other but not get together, but I strongly suspect this one is actually going to happen in the next book or two.

Fearless Fourteen
Lean Mean Thirteen
Four to Score
Hot Six
Plum Loving
Plum Lucky
by Janet Evanovich
So I got on an Evanovich bug. I read the newest one, and after that I had the bug. They're funny, breezy books that are good for when you're tired or don't have a lot of time to concentrate. Perfect travel reading. I've read them before, but it's been more fun reading them this time around because now that we live in Philadelphia, a lot of the local Trenton references are a lot clearer to me. I can picture the houses she describes perfectly.

The Cat Who Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun
The first book in the extremely long-running The Cat Who... series. It was amusing and I'll probably read more at some point. It's the sort of light read I can pick up and put down at work, which is useful.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Not a light read at all. Back in the early 90s, there was a series of modern retellings of fairy tales by various fantasy authors that my brother and I loved. Tam Lin was by far our favorite of the group, but Jane Yolen's retelling of Briar Rose through the lens of the Holocaust was another one that I found myself going back to multiple times. This book is another Holocaust story, the story of a modern teenage girl who opens the door for Elijah at Passover and finds herself transported back to Poland in 1943, about to be transported to a work camp. It's a powerful, searing story, graphic enough that I'm not sure how often I want to read it. But an excellent read.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
One of the many childhood favorites I've rediscovered at work, which I read in an afternoon where I should probably have been more productive at work.

When you are engulfed in flames by David Sedaris
I've been a fan of David Sedaris since Naked. I think my favorite of his books is Me Talk Pretty One Day - one of the drawbacks of his periodically appearing on NPR is that I had heard 3/4 of the stories from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim before it came out, which lowered my enjoyment compared to his other books. But I had barely heard any of Flames, so I was coming to it fresh and liked it quite a bit. He seemed to focus on himself and his relationship with his boyfriend a lot more in this book than previous books, where he talked a lot more about his family. It gave him some fresh stories to tell, which was nice.

Shanghai Tunnel by Sharan Newman
Sharan Newman is one of my favorite mystery writers. Her previous series was a long running series of mysteries taking place in medieval France. She manages to combine good writing and characters with a high degree of historical accuracy - she's not afraid to show dirt or unattractive attitudes. One thing I admire about her characters is that she manages to make them relatively open-minded, yet still clearly products of their time-period - the main character has a cousin who is Jewish, and while she loves and accepts him, she still wants him to convert. This book is the start of a new series taking place in 1870s Oregon. The main character is the daughter of missionaries who spent most of her life in China, but has recently moved to the United States on the behest of her wealthy trader husband, who then died before they could be reunited. Over the course of the book, she finds out how much of her wealth is based on traffic in things she doesn't approve of (opium, slaves), and her efforts to try and exert some control with the company's partners result in hijinks, so to speak. A good mystery and once again Newman does a great job of portraying historical attitudes in a complex and realistic way.

by Holly Black
These books, along with Tithe, the first in the series, are must-reads for fans of the urban fantasy/modern people discovering fairies living among us genre. Tithe in particular has a twist I haven't seen in other urban fantasies which makes it stand out. These books are YA and the main characters are teenagers, but these books are more than gritty enough for adults. They're the books I want to use to pelt people who insist that YA books are shallow and unworthy of adult attention.

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