Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: A Taste fur Murder

A Taste fur Murder
by Dixie Lyle

Format: Mass Market Paperback, 330 pages
Cover Art: Mary Ann Lasher
Release Date: February 25, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1250031075

Meet Deirdre “Foxtrot” Lancaster. Trusted employee of eccentric zillionairess Zelda Zoransky, Foxtrot manages a mansion, a private zoo, and anything else that strikes her boss’s fancy. Her job title is Administrative Assistant, but chaos handler would be more accurate. Especially after she glimpses a giant ghost-beast in Zelda’s pet cemetery. For some strange reason, Foxtrot is seeing animal spirits. And, ready or not, in this mystery from Dixie Lyle, the fur’s about to hit the fan…

Still reeling, Foxtrot comes home to find her cat Tango—her dead cat Tango—alive and well and communicating telepathically. But that’s not all: There’s an ectoplasmic dog named Tiny who changes breeds with a shake of his tail…and can sniff out a clue like nobody’s business. So when a coworker drops dead while organizing closets, Tiny is on the case. Can Foxtrot and her new companions ferret out the killer among a menagerie of suspects—human and otherwise—before death takes another bite?

As you can tell from the blurb, A Taste fur Murder is not a typical mystery cozy.  It does seem to be following a trend lately in mainstream mystery and fiction to add a more fantastical element to the story.  In fact, this book might almost have too much supernatural stuff in it as the reincarnated cat and the doggy ghost are hardly the only bits.  It certainly does feel like Foxtrots character and the readers both get thrown in the deep end. 

One of the best elements of the book is the humor, which reading the biography, the author seems to have in spades.  There is a good deal of humorous interaction between the main character and her animal companions.  Foxtrot’s interactions and dialogue with the other humans in the story is also good and well done, though some characters are hardly used at all so few really stand out. 

Where this novel really fails though is in plotting.  There are a couple of big plot holes that are fairly obvious.  Also, many of the logical arguments used in the book are so daft they wouldn’t fool a ten-year-old child.  This means that the main character makes some really stupid decisions that could be solved by just an ounce of common sense.

So, this book may be a mildly diverting read for the casual reader, or someone looking for something a little different with a bit of humor.  However, more discerning readers may want to look elsewhere. 

Rating: 6.5/10.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Were the Dark Ages truly the lost centuries they are so often portrayed as? How could a world so profoundly shaped by Rome and encompassing such remarkable societies as the Byzantine, Carolingian, and Ottonian empires be anything other than central to the development of Europe? In the Inheritance of Rome, award-winning historian Chris Wickham defies the conventional view of the centuries between AD 400 and 1000 with a work of remarkable scope and rigorous yet accessible scholarship.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword
by Ann Leckie

Format: Paperback, 354 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Cover Design: John Harris
Release Date: October 7, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0316246651

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would a agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

The sequel to the multiple award-winning Ancillary Justice is a smaller story with a simpler, more straightforward plot, but it’s no less enjoyable for that.  The much-remarked upon use of gender pronouns in the first book is of course still used in this book, but it was either more toned or perhaps I was used to it this time so I hardly noticed it.  The “villain” that was revealed in the first book is also much less present in this book, as is the whole bit about distributed consciousness. 

So what is this book about?  It has much less space opera and is much more about politics and social divisions.  When Breq arrives at Athoek Station, she has a dramatic effect on the political balance of power, both on the station and on the planet the station orbits.  There is a good deal of examination of conquest, colonization, and militarization, and the consequences thereof. 

I didn't mind the differences in Ancillary Sword and really enjoyed the book.  I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series.  Strongly recommended.

Rating: 8/10.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: some more mini-reviews

This book tells the story of a young man who searches for his lover in a shadowy world of magic.  Along the way he encounters two mysterious women seeking to help their mentor, a once-powerful wizard, from losing his magic to a treacherous enemy.  It's a lyrical quest story much like the author's seminal work, The Last Unicorn.  I probably liked The Last Unicorn more, but then it's considered a classic for a reason and this book is certainly worth reading.

Rating: 8/10.

Return is a limited edition novella set in the same world as The Innkeeper's Song and follows one of that book's characters in a side story.  If you enjoyed The Innkeeper's Song, you should enjoy this too.

Rating: 8/10. 

A decent, but somewhat forgettable story about Christmas.  Given Pratchett's satirical abilities, I expected a little bit more out of this book.  On the other hand, it's Discworld so it's still a good read. 

Rating: 7/10. 

Kraken Bake is the sequel to Karen Dudley's first novel, Food for the Gods.  I really enjoyed the first book, a blend of historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery, about young chef in ancient Athens.  I didn't like this one quite as much.  Partially because Dudley seemed to drop the mystery angle and also because the main character acted like an ass with too much forced drama.  I still eagerly look forward to the next book. 

Rating: 7/10.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Eye on New Releases for 10/7/14

Before being sewn-together, Heraclix was dead—merely a pile of mismatched pieces, collected from the corpses of many troubled men. And Pomp was immortal—at least, so she thought. That was before her impossible near-murder at the hands of the necromancer, Heraclix's creator. But when playing God, even the smallest error is a gargantuan weakness. When the necromancer makes his, Heraclix and Pomp begin their epic flight.

As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and, even, to Hell itself, they struggle to understand who and what they are: who was Heraclix before his death and rebirth? What is mortality, and why does it suddenly concern Pomp? As they journey through an unruly eighteenth century, they discover that the necromancer they thought dead might not be quite so after all. In fact, he may have sealed his immortality at the expense of everyone alive . . .

 (B&N, Amazon)
Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would a agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

 (B&N, Amazon)
Award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan has invited some of the best and most exciting writers working in fantasy today to let their imaginations run wild and to deliver stories that will thrill and awe, delight and amuse. And above all, stories that are filled with fearsome magic! Authors include Garth Nix, K.J. Parker, Justina Robson, Ellen Klages, Christopher Rowe, Isobelle Carmody, Tony Ballantyne, James Bradley, Karin Tidbeck, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Frances Hardinger, Kaaron Warren, Genevieve Valentine and Robert Shearman.

 (B&N, Amazon)
The mantis cyborgs: insectlike, cruel, and determined to wipe humanity from the face of the galaxy.

The Fleet is humanity’s last chance: a multi-world, multi-national task force assembled to hold the line against the aliens’ overwhelming technology and firepower. Enter Harrison Barlow, who like so many young men of wars past, simply wants to serve his people and partake of the grand adventure of military life. Only, Harrison is not a hot pilot, nor a crack shot with a rifle. What good is a Chaplain’s Assistant in the interstellar battles which will decide the fate of all?

More than he thinks. Because while the mantis insectoids are determined to eliminate the human threat to mantis supremacy, they remember the errors of their past. Is there the slightest chance that humans might have value? Especially since humans seem to have the one thing the mantes explicitly do not: an innate ability to believe in what cannot be proven nor seen God. Captured and stranded behind enemy lines, Barlow must come to grips with the fact that he is not only bargaining for his own life, but the lives of everyone he knows and loves. And so he embarks upon an improbable gambit, determined to alter the course of the entire war.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: old reviews from BSC: Palimpsest

by Catherynne M. Valente

Format: Trade paperback, 367 pages
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Cover Design: Carlos Beltran
Release Date: Feburary 24, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0553385762

Between dreaming and waking, beyond the end of the world and every space in between, lies the city of Palimpsest.  There is only one way to get there.  Those who achieve it are marked by a section of the city’s map, tattooed onto their skin after a single orgasmic night.  It is a city of wonder, of color, and most importantly, of desires. 

Four travelers find their way to this strange, fantastical city: Oleg, a locksmith, November, a beekeeper; Ludovico, binder of rare books; and the young woman Sei.  They are all looking for something, something they cannot find in the waking world, a sister, a lover, a wife, and a sense of purpose.  Will they find what they are looking for, or instead will they find themselves consumed? 

First off, I have to admit I had trouble writing this review.  Not because I didn’t like the book, but because Valente often writes in layers and metaphors so straightforward analysis is not easy.  With her books, I’ve found it’s best to simply enjoy it and let the story carry you along. 

Perhaps it might be best to first say what precisely a palimpsest is.  The Oxford dictionary entry states that a palimpsest is “a writing material or manuscript on which the original writing has been erased”.  Essentially, it is a manuscript made of parchment that has had its original writing scraped off for the express purpose of being reused.  You’ll discover as you read, that this definition is one of the core ideas of the novel.  The city does not exist in the same sense as we mean it in the real world.  It is ephemeral, hiding like a ghost.  It flees like the mist before the sun or a lover in the night.  Its construction depends on the desires of those who desire it in turn.

The term palimpsest applies not only to the city, but also to the characters as well.  None of the characters truly live in the real world.  They exist, but are not a part of it.  Sei skips work to ride the trains.  Ludo is so absorbed in binding books he almost never leaves his house.  Oleg has no sights for anything other locks, keys, and his sister’s ghost.  November’s life is made up of only her bees and her brief encounters with others.  Their desires or inability to find them are how they each end up in Palimpsest.  For two of them it happens because they actively seek it or stumble upon it.  For the other two, the search is almost thrust upon them as they lose something and seek to regain it.  They are defined by their desires. They seek to be whole and reborn again.   

Readers will quickly discover that desires and the actions produced by them are central to the novel.  The people touched by the city almost without exception become obsessed with getting there as often as possible.  The longing becomes so much a part of their waking world they’ll do anything to get there and stay there.  The desire works both ways.  There are those inside the city that yearn for those who manage to cross. 

Speaking of desires and yearnings, I wish I didn’t have trouble connecting with the theme.  I’m hardly a prude, but I have always had difficulty comprehending why people will do sometimes do everything and anything to achieve what they want.  Maybe I’m too cut off from the world myself or maybe the metaphors go over my head.  However, this is purely a personal reaction, and hopefully others will get more out of it. 

Something else that will depend on personal reactions will be the level of sex in this book.  It is never gratuitous, but it can be graphic. The amount of sex is logical if you consider that it is the most basic and most physical expression of desire.  One additional thing to note: given how important sex is to the characters and their transition to Palimpsest, it struck me as odd that there was almost no mention of masturbation.  There were one or two references to people crossing alone, however, after that it is not brought up again.  I’m not sure if Valente did that on purpose or not. 

One thing I’m sure many readers will enjoy will be Valente’s prose.  It is a highly detailed and richly imagined prose that describes such wonders as metal bees, living trains, and houses that grow like trees.  The author’s inventions often literally stretch the imagination. 

This book will appeal to fans of Catherynne Valente and those seeking a deeper, richer experience than the average fantasy novel.  If you like rich details and metaphors, this book is definitely for you.  This book is a stand-alone so it does not need to be read in conjunction with Valente’s other work, however, I would recommend reading The Orphan’s Tales first to get a sense of her style.