09 January, 2007

Cage of Stars (Jacquelyn Mitchard)

As I think I've written before, I enjoy Jacquelyn Mitchard's sagas, although they all have certain themes, which I sometimes find a bit tiring. Cage of Stars is her "Mormon" book, and if the information in it was accurate (and I don't see why it wouldn't be) I learnt a good deal that I didn't know about the Church of Latter Day Saints (or LDS as it's referred to in Cage of Stars.)

Ronnie witnesses her sisters' murder, and struggles for the rest of the novel with her parent's decision to forgive the perpetrator. It's an interesting dilemma to consider, of course, one brought to life whenever you see those ridiculous quotes in newspapers to the effect of "I don't believe in capital punishment but if it were my child..."

I enjoyed Ronnie, her alienation from her family, and in some ways from the rest of the world, due to her religious beliefs. The happy ending was a little too pat and unrealistic, as Mitchard's sometimes are, but I enjoyed it at the time - Ronnie travelled her path and comes to her reward, in the end.

Wintersmith (Terry Pratchett)

I plunged into Terry Pratchett's latest with great hope, and found that it lived up to my expectations. Wintersmith is his third book starring Tiffany Aching, trainee witch, a most delightful character of whom I am very fond. In Wintersmith, the spirit of Winter gets a crush on Tiffany, with fairly disastrous results, and Tiffany cannot quite decide if she is pleased or scared by his attention. Pratchett writes the teenage Tiffany with her characteristic humour and common sense, along with rollicking story and appearances from Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, which is awfully fun. I think these books are technically YA, but I don't really think of them like that - to me, they're just Discworld books, and some of my favourites.

Quaker Faith & Practice and This We Can Say

I picked up these two books, created by the Yearly Meetings of the British and Australian organisations of the Religious Society of Friends (otherwise known as Quakers) when I started to become very interested in Quaker writing on the web.

Of the two, I think I preferred This We Can Say, the Australian book. It was less traditional, I think, than Quaker Faith and Practice, and had a lot more about how Quaker thought and faith applies to everyday life.

Of course, these books are really only of interest if you're interested in Quakerism, intellectually or philosophically. Of the two, I think I'd recommend This We Can Say as the most accessible by far to non-Quakers. I'm not sure whether I'll take my interest in Quakerism any further, say by attending a meeting. Given that half the time I think I'm an athiest (or agnostic at the very least), I'm not sure if it's for me. Although, despite this, I found these books very inspirational, and I'm considering getting myself a copy of This We Can Say for future browsing.

07 January, 2007

Uglies (Scott Westerfeld)

I've been meaning to try one of Scott Westerfeld's books for some time, and chose Uglies over his vampiric book, Peeps. This story is set in a futuristic society were people undergo surgery in their teenage years to conform to an idealistic standard of beauty, and to be known as Pretties. There are those who fight against such a regime, living outside the cities. They have discovered that there is more to the surgery than cosmetics.

Tally becomes reluctantly involved in the rebel movement, and struggles with the beliefs she has been taught about beauty and life. Uglies is an great YA novel, and is pleasantly subtle while still making its point about society's obsession with appearance. It has a dramatic ending, and I'll definitely be reading the sequel, Pretties.

Chart Throb (Ben Elton)

I like Ben Elton's novels. Sure, they make their points very heavily, and all the characters exist to make us realise something, not to actually be people in their own right, but I like sitting down and discovering what Ben Elton think about, in Chart Throb's case, shows like Australian Idol.

Like all of Elton's novels, it's enormously scathing about our society, in an entertaining and over-the-top way, and you can overlook the cardboard characters. And, although I never particularly enjoyed shows like Australian Idol, I don't think I'll ever be able to watch them again without thinking of Elton's descriptions of the behind-the-scenes manipulation that I'm sure exists, although perhaps not quite so dramatically as Elton creates. Despite the rather awful ending, a fun book, although definitely a library-only read for me.

Danse Macabre (Laurell K Hamilton)

I should have listened to the Amazon reviews, and left Danse Macabre well alone. It is truly, absolutely awful. There is no plot. There is a lot of sex, and a pregnancy scare, and more sex, and more more more really terribly written sex. I was incredibly bored, and only finished it because I had read all my other library books and was mildly curious as to whether anything actually happened at the end. No. It doesn't. Avoid at all costs.

Circle of Flight (John Marsden)

Circle of Flight is the latest (and I think, the last) in Marsden's Ellie Chronicles, three books which followed the characters from his Tomorrow When the War Began series. I think it's the worst book of Marsden's that I've ever read, and it's certainly not a stand alone book. It feels like he's just desperately hauling these characters ever onwards where they don't particularly want to go. I didn't care about Ellie during this book, and she's always been one of my favourite characters. A great disappointment.

The Night Watch (Sarah Waters)

I enjoy Sarah Waters novels - they're always so dramatic. Lesbian affairs, murders, betrayal, deception, and so on. I expected The Night Watch to be similar - lesbians in the Blitz, bombings, a load of enjoyable drama. But The Night Watch is probably the most subtle and intricate of her novels, or so it seemed to me.

I'd read about its reverse chronological order, but even though I was prepared for it, I still had to flick backwards while reading to remind myself about how this situation turned out, or the later significance of that person. I'm not sure it really worked for me, and I'm not quite sure why she chose to write it that way. It did add an air of melancholy to the whole story, knowing where the characters end up while you're reading the beginnings of their stories,but I don't like having to flick backwards to work something out - that means a book isn't working for me.

The Night Watch does a wonderful job of invoking Blitz-era London, which is not a time I've read a great deal about, so I found that very interesting. The interplay of the characters, their lives going on amongst the war that surrounds them - it was a very touching story, although ultimately quite depressing. Definitely worth the read, despite the offputting way it's structured.

The Man of My Dreams (Curtis Sittenfield)

I quite enjoyed Sittenfield's Prep, enough to want to check out any future books by the author. The Man of My Dreams has certain similarities to Prep - a drifting story following the insecure Hannah through fifteen years of her emotional and love life. I liked bits of this book, but I'm not sure that I actually enjoyed the whole. I read it a few weeks ago, and my memory of it, and especially its very bland protagonist, has already faded alarmingly. I think if you enjoyed Prep, or were interested in Sittenfield's style, it's worth the read to see where she went next. The Man of My Dreams didn't require a great deal of concentration, and is an excellent book to read on holidays.

15 December, 2006

Grass (Sheri S Tepper)

My most vivid memory of this book, read a month or so ago, is a description of the plague that made me want to throw up. Tepper is certainly a skilled writer in evoking violence and rather horrible things, and I think this book is actually one of her better efforts. Some of her books are quite insightful and fascinating pieces of science fiction, and others are far more trashy, with villians who have no redeeming qualities.

Grass is set on another planet, the only one in the universe where plague has not struck, and the other planets would like to know why. There is a great sense of menace in this story - not only the creeping hideousness of the plague, but a great many other horrors. It's not a story to curl up and read in a comforting armchair, but one to read tensely, leant over its pages, gritting your teeth at the more vivid descriptions. While the scientific conclusion (as to lack of plague) at the end is a bit pat, this is a fun read for fans of Tepper and sci-fi in geneal.