by velocibadgergirl

Monday, December 25, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...on my bookshelf !

It's been a fabulous Christmas for my book collection. Several supremely cool people gifted me with great books that I can't wait to read / re-read.

From my Secret Santa:

Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing

"To go beyond the legacy of revolution, religious fundamentalism and veiled women and find the real people of Iran, a young Canadian dons the cloak of Islam. The result of Alison Wearing's journey is a warm, funny and shocking collection of riveting portraits and stories about the generous, irrepressible people she met. With a novelist's love of language and eye for detail, she takes the reader into the homes and hearts of people whose spirit, intelligence and laughter enlighten and impress. Beautifully written, engaging, fascinating at every turn, Honeymoon in Purdah reveals an Iran rarely seen by Westerners and leads this exceptional bestselling young writer across new literary borders."

From my very sweet uncle, who drew my name for the family gift exchange:

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

"There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion--within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day..."

(I LOVE this book, and reviewed it in my last entry.)

Thud! by Terry Pratchett

"Once, in a gods-forsaken hellhole called Koom Valley, trolls and dwarfs met in bloody combat. Centuries later, each species still views the other with simmering animosity. Lately, the influential dwarf, Grag Hamcrusher, has been fomenting unrest among Ankh-Morpork's more diminutive citizens—a volatile situation made far worse when the pint-size provocateur is discovered bashed to death . . . with a troll club lying conveniently nearby.

Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch is aware of the importance of solving the Hamcrusher homicide without delay. (Vimes's second most-pressing responsibility, in fact, next to always being home at six p.m. sharp to read Where's My Cow? to Sam, Jr.) But more than one corpse is waiting for Vimes in the eerie, summoning darkness of a labyrinthine mine network being secretly excavated beneath Ankh-Morpork's streets. And the deadly puzzle is pulling him deep into the muck and mire of superstition, hatred, and fear—and perhaps all the way to Koom Valley itself."

(This is another previously-read favorite.)

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

"In The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis again employs his formidable talent for fable and allegory. The writer, in a dream, boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations and comes to significant realizations about the ultimate consequences of everyday behavior. This is the starting point for a profound meditation upon good and evil. 'If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven:  if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.'"

From my awesome sister, two books I'd read previously and am extremely pleased to now own:

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

"Welcome to Newford...Welcome to the music clubs, the waterfront, the alleyways where ancient myths and magic spill into the modern world. Come meet Jilly, painting wonders in the rough city streets; and Geordie, playing fiddle while he dreams of a ghost; and the Angel of Grasso Street gathering the fey and the wild and the poor and the lost. Gemmins live in abandoned cars and skells traverse the tunnels below, while mermaids swim in the grey harbor waters and fill the cold night with their song.

Like Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale and John Crowley's Little, Big, Dreams Underfoot is a must-read book not only for fans of urban fantasy but for all who seek magic in everyday life."

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

"Armed with only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnaped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk's local Nac Mac Feegle -- aka the Wee Free Men -- a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds -- black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors -- before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone....

In a riveting narrative that is equal parts suspense and humor, Carnegie Medalist Terry Pratchett returns to his internationally popular Discworld with a breathtaking tale certain to leave fans, new and old, enthralled."

From MB:

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

"Others. They walk among us, observing.

Set in contemporary Moscow, where shape shifters, vampires, and street-sorcerers linger in the shadows, Night Watch is the first book of the hyper-imaginative fantasy trilogy from bestselling Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. This epic saga chronicles the eternal war of the "Others," an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light.

The agents of Light--the Night Watch--oversee nocturnal activity, while the agents of Dark keep watch over the day. For a thousand years both sides have maintained a precarious balance of power, but an ancient prophecy has decreed that a supreme Other will one day emerge, threatening to tip the scales. Now, that day has arrived. When a mid-level Night Watch agent named Anton stumbles upon a cursed young woman--an uninitiated Other with magnificent potential--both sides prepare for a battle that could lay waste to the entire city, possibly the world."

From "Santa Claus" (a.k.a. Mom & Dad):

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

"When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands."

(Great literature? Probably not. But it's lots of fun.)

MB gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card and I got a Books-a-Million card in the gift exchange with his family, and I'm thinking I should probably use at least one of them to buy some nonfiction to balance out this year's haul of sci-fi / fantasy. I'm thinking about the new Jon Katz book, or maybe something by Bill Bryson, who's been recommended to me so many times that I've lost count.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

(this is a cross-post from my regular blog)

I finally finished Sunshine by Robin McKinley this afternoon. The quick and dirty version is that I absolutely loved it.

The review it deserves is a bit longer than that. I'd never read any of McKinley's work and actually don't recall ever hearing of her until Sunshine was recommended to me. Would I sound too much like a nerdy squeeing fangirl if I revealed that it was recommended to me personally by Nancy Pearl after she asked me what I'd been reading lately and I said Neil Gaiman and she said, "Oh, if you like Neil Gaiman, you'll love this book."? If so, don't look, because I'm about to show you the actual note she wrote so I would remember to look for the book:


Since this conversation took place in a library, I hunted up and checked out the book on my way out the door that night. It's taken me nearly a month to get through it, not due to the text itself, but because between NaNo and NaBlo and watching some TV on DVD, I only really dedicated lunch breaks at work to reading it. Right from the first page, I loved the tone, the voice of the narrator (Sunshine), the style, and the pacing. You can read the first few pages of the book here.

I loved the way McKinley wove details of the otherness of Sunshine's world in slowly. Rather than spending several pages on exposition and scene-setting, she opens with Sunshine describing somewhat commonplace things from her life, such as the coffeehouse where she works and the people she sees often. Then, on page 9, an innocuous comment:  "Kenny wanted to get into Other law" with no further explanation forthcoming until the bottom of the next page:  "When I was ten the Voodoo Wars started. They were of course nothing about voodoo, but they were about a lot of bad stuff, and some of the worst of them in our area happened around the lake." I remember at this point noticing how she was drawing me in with subtlety, but not minding even though I was aware of it. Then, a page later:  "I never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires."

She continued this slow weaving-in of details throughout the rest of the story, and it never felt drawn-out or gimmicky. It seemed instead to fit what a narrator would say if she was telling you a story from her everyday world, which seems very much like a somewhat-supernaturally-infused version of our own. The narrator, Sunshine, was believable and likeable. Many heroes / heroines of sci-fi stories have somewhat fantastic life stories. They're witches or wizards or noble or are exceptionally smart or insanely brave. In contrast, Sunshine is a pretty normal girl. She scraped through high school and is perfectly content in her job as a baker in a local coffeehouse. She has no big ideas, no grand plans, until she is caught up in a war between two vampires, and her life is changed forever. I don't want to reveal too much, but there is some elemental magic, some interesting interactions with one of the vampires in question, and a whole lot of enveloping world-making detail.

Reading Sunshine was a lot of fun. The book is somewhat creepy, somewhat funny, and really entertaining. I liked it so much that I put it on my Christmas list before I'd even finished it. While I was still reading, I was dying to get to the end, but once I did I wished that I was still embroiled in it. It did leave me with a few questions, though none are really nagging enough to be considered plot-holes or loose ends, and I don't want to give anything away by mentioning them, so I won't. Let me close by saying that I usually don't go for vampire stories, but I enjoyed this one immensely and would recommend it to anyone. It's got enough magic and undead for the sci-fi / fantasy fan and more than enough down-to-earth, believable characterization for those who tend to prefer non-fantasy fiction.