Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Recent Reading

The scariest part of Halloween for me was when the church across the street from my house (I live on a corner and the church is on the adjacent corner) had a "fall festival" carnival that involved a live band playing outdoors, extremely amplified. They sounded like a bad Gin Blossoms cover band -- very mid-90s slacker monotone whining rock -- though I would imagine the lyrics were rather more religious. It was loud enough that it was uncomfortably and distractingly loud in my house, with the windows closed. To make matters worse, the noise was really upsetting my neighbor's dog, who howled constantly in protest. And then the squeals of what I believed to be teenage girl band groupies started carrying across the street. I resorted to ear plugs, but the drum beats still carried, which made it fairly hard to concentrate on the serious editing work I was doing. Fortunately, they stopped playing at eight. I couldn't help but wonder what the neighbors who protested when the owners of that lot were trying to change the zoning from office to commercial to put in a small shopping center had to say about the noise. They thought a retail center would mean more noise and traffic, but the office park we got after the zoning fight is mostly taken up by a church, and I doubt the retail center would have ever had live bands playing outdoors at night. I guess it's only a couple of times a year, and the church does provide assistance and bottled water to victims of the frequent accidents at the intersection, but I could do without the outdoor concerts across the street.

I haven't talked about books in a while, so here's a wrap up of some recent reading. I've been trying to tackle some things from the towering To Be Read pile, and most of them haven't been worth talking about, but I did find one gem that's a perfect example of Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover. I got a novella collection called The Fair Folk in the goody bag at the World Fantasy Convention in 2006 (at least I think that's where I got it), and it's languished in the TBR pile mostly because it has a cover that looks like what you see on really bad self-published or extremely small press (the kind of "small press" that mostly exists to publish the author and her friends) books. It's not so much that the art is all that bad, but there's just something about the way the cover is designed and printed that screams "cheap and cheesy" to me. It turns out that the book is full of novellas by rather distinguished, award-winning authors, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them. The theme is the fae -- not the cute Disney fairies with butterfly wings, but delving into the folklore version of fairies/elves/fae. I'd read a lot of the authors involved but will be looking up some of the others. In particular, there was a story by Kim Newman that seemed to come from a universe she's established in other works that's sort of a steampunky/gaslight fantasy with a secret society that investigates strange occurrences in Victorian England, and I want to read more about that world. Unfortunately, this collection appears to be out of print.

I picked up what I think must be the latest (it was on the library's new books shelf, but that doesn't mean much in my library) of the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, Unnatural Issue. Finally, the book about Peter (a recurring character who provides a lot of the connective thread to this series but who hasn't yet been the "hero" of a book). These books are all loosely based on fairy tales, but the connections aren't overt. Some of the fun is figuring out which tale is being used by finding the patterns. I think this one was based on "Donkeyskin," the one in which the princess has to flee her home when her father decides he has to marry her, since he swore he couldn't marry any woman who isn't as beautiful as his late wife, and the daughter grows up to look just like her mother, so he sees her as the only option. It's a Cinderella-like story, as the princess ends up working as a servant in another king's castle. This book got a bit creepy, what with the father wanting his daughter and all (in a way that's actually ickier than the original fairy tale), and then it gets into the start of WWI, and you can just imagine what can happen when you combine a necromancer and trench warfare. But I really liked the main characters and the way the relationships develop. It's books like these that I read for my romance fix because the romantic aspect is more satisfying to me than the romances in most romance novels.

Then the book that kept me up way too late Sunday night was Goliath, the final book in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy. I'm going to have to re-read the end, since I was barely staying awake for the last few chapters. I was really tired and wanting to sleep, but I couldn't put the book down so close to the end of not only that book but of an entire trilogy. I've learned that when I do that, I tend to dream bizarre endings to the book and don't sleep well, so I may as well stay up and read. But then I miss a lot when I read while barely awake. This series is about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join an airship crew, and then a fleeing Austrian prince who gets picked up by the airship at the start of an alternate version of WWI. Things get a little complicated when the girl falls in love with the boy but she can't do anything about it because he thinks she's a boy and because he's a prince and she's a commoner. In this volume, their ship picks up a mad scientist in Siberia who thinks he's invented a weapon that can end the war. And meanwhile, the girl's secret becomes less of a secret and they have to deal with the consequences. I enjoyed the book, but I may not be entirely satisfied with the outcome to the series, though it's possible I'm applying adult standards to a YA series. After all, these characters are 16. Their lives shouldn't be decided and settled, so it's probably going to feel a little unfinished to me as an adult. Though this trilogy has ended, the outcome does leave some threads hanging that might lead into another series with the same characters as they move into the next phase of their lives, and I'd like to see that.

I'm really behind on my reading this year, so I hope to catch up in the next couple of months. I think I'll go on a lighter schedule after I get this one project done, and then I can do a lot of reading (which is still work-related).

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