Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vacation Book Report

First, a little housekeeping note: If anyone has been following me on MySpace (or knows someone who was), they've "updated" their site to the point that I can no longer access it with my current browser. I can't upgrade my browser without upgrading my operating system, and I can't upgrade my operating system on my current computer. Since everything else I need on the Internet seems to work perfectly fine with my current computer, I don't see the need to buy a new computer just to access MySpace, so I'll no longer be posting my blog there, adding friends, or anything else.

Now, about the only thing vacation-like I've managed to do while I've been taking a break is read, I've got a good-sized book report. In chronological order:

Elfland by Freda Warrington -- I suppose this would be an example of "suburban fantasy" that we were discussing in a FenCon panel. It's a contemporary fantasy set in an English village and the countryside around it, so it's not really "urban fantasy" the way the industry seems to see it. It deals with a fairy-like people (called Aetherials here) who fall somewhere in the middle ground between the cute fairies (which I'm admittedly guilty of using) and the punk street gang type fairies of a lot of urban fantasy. The Aetherials are from a kind of otherworld, though some of them live in our "real" world, which is connected via a set of magical gates to the otherworld. But the gatekeeper closes the gates due to a feared threat, and that may rip apart the community. The first half of this book has only the slightest touches of fantasy elements and is more of a drama about two families that are linked while being at odds. Then the fantasy elements become more and more important. The writing is very evocative, and the author managed the impossible: she actually made me end up liking the bad boy jerk character. It looks like this will be the first of a series, and I'm curious about what happens next because this book felt like it had a real, definitive ending. I also thought this book had some of the most beautiful cover art I've seen in a long time. I'm not a visually oriented person, so I usually don't even notice cover art, and I'm not usually a fan of fantasy art because it can get kind of twee -- it's okay for a book cover, but not something I'd want hanging on my wall. With this book, though, I wouldn't mind having a painting of that cover.

Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde -- This would probably fall into the category of "chick lit" in that it's a female coming-of-age story, but it doesn't have the stereotypical chick lit tropes -- urban setting, shopping, gay best friend, etc. Our heroine, Grace, lives alone in an empty old (like, centuries old) home she inherited from her aunt. Her siblings inherited the furnishings (and resented only getting that much) and removed everything that wasn't nailed down, but that was okay because her husband had furniture. But now her husband has left her for someone else, taking the furniture, and her siblings are hounding her to sell the house and give them some of the proceeds that they think they deserve. Grace ends up taking in a struggling young artist who finally got the nerve to dump her selfish boyfriend and her ex's teenage daughter from his first marriage, who feels unwanted after both her parents find new partners. The three of them team up to find a way to get their lives back on track and save the house from dry rot. Katie Fforde's books are like crack for me -- I can sit down to just read a few pages, and next thing I know, it's two in the morning. She tends to cover subjects I find interesting, like restoring old houses, canal boats and cooking. In this one, there's the old house plus cooking, as well as a bit of art. I don't think this is my favorite of her books (I thought it ended rather abruptly), but it's a nice "comfort food" read.

Looking for Andrew McCarthy by Jenny Colgan -- I'd been looking for this book for ages, but her books are hard to find in the US (I first discovered Jenny Colgan on a trip to England), then I found the British edition in a used bookstore here. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to the anticipation, mostly because the plot was so outlandish, in the category of "nobody in the history of ever would really do that, right?" The book is nearly ten years old, so the characters turning 30 were 80s teens, and they realize that adulthood hasn't quite turned out the way they thought it would, based on all those Brat Pack movies. Ellie figures that Andrew McCarthy might have some thoughts on the subject, since his career was so hot in the 80s but he then fell off the face of the earth, so she comes up with a scheme to go from England to America, find Andrew McCarthy, and talk to him, which she's sure will help her figure out how to deal with her life. It turns into a cross-country road trip when she neglected to do even the most basic research and automatically went to LA, since that's where movie stars are, and then discovers that Andrew McCarthy lives in New York. Unfortunately, that reveals some research issues, as you get the feeling that this British author may possibly have been to New York or LA, but has certainly never been anywhere else in the US, so she has no sense of the scope and gets a lot of details badly wrong -- like the book takes place in November, but the characters run into a high school prom at a hotel along the way, and they go to a county fair in Missouri (Texas has a late fair in October, but up north, the agricultural expo type fairs take place much sooner). I guess I also had trouble relating to the premise, in spite of being in the same generation as the characters. I didn't see any of the Brat Pack films until I was in college, so I never really had those people as teen idols. When you're a mature, sophisticated college woman, a high school character is sooo beneath you (never mind that the actor was probably older than you even when the movie was made). The supporting characters and subplots are a lot of fun, reminding me of a lot of those British romantic comedy movies where the main characters are a bit annoying, but the supporting cast of their wacky friends is great. I suppose this was a fun read, but it didn't quite live up to the "I've been searching for this book for ages and finally found it!" anticipation.

Witches Incorporated by KE Mills -- this is the sequel to The Accidental Sorcerer, which I read on my trip to New York in August, and I think I may like the second book better. The first book was setting up the situation, but then this one was more of a fun adventure. Our hero Gerald has been tested and trained to be a kind of magical secret agent, and while he's off doing the testing and training and then going off on his first assignment, he hasn't been allowed to see his friends. In his absence, his best friend Monk has inherited a house that gives him room to conduct his crazy magical experiments, and Princess Melissande (from the first book) has escaped her royal duties to go into business with Monk's kid sister and Reg, the witch queen trapped in the body of a bird, in a sort of "No. 1 Ladies' Magical Detective Agency." A seemingly petty case reunites them with Gerald when their paths cross, and he has to decide between following orders and having success with his case by getting help from his friends. I LOVE these characters, and after plowing through this book I immediately wanted more, but the next one isn't out until February 23 -- and it's called the final book in the trilogy. That makes me sad because I felt like this book set up a situation that could run for many books. There doesn't seem to be a major plot arc linking the books, just a character arc, and I'm not yet ready for it to end. There may be pouting. I've said before that it's usually the guys that get me into a book, and while I adore Gerald as a hero and would love reading any book with him in it, I also would be totally willing to read a book entirely about "the girls" (as they're referred to in the story) because they're the kind of female characters who can carry a book for me. "Princess Pushy" (as Reg calls her) is so delightfully stubborn and practical. Reg is a hoot. And the kid sister, Bibbie, seems like the kind of character I'd hate -- basically a Barbie doll, ridiculously gorgeous and seems like an airhead -- but then she turns out to be something of a mad genius who does not like being patronized.

I was surprised when I went to Amazon to see when the next book was coming to find that the reader reviews were pretty negative. I feel like these books are the closest I've found to being along the lines of what I write -- that scratch that particular itch -- without me having to write them. The setting is different, but I think the tone and characters are similar in style. Gerald, Monk and Owen would totally be best friends (and the world might not be safe if the three of them teamed up), and Katie might fit in with the girls, even if she did want to knock their heads together every so often.

Now I'm in the mood to read more of something like that, and there isn't really anything that I've found, so I don't know what I'll read next. My parents have the new Dick Francis book, so I'll be reading that over the holiday, but now I have to figure out what to read today and tonight. I have hundreds of unread books on my shelves, but I'm not really in the mood for any of them.

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