Saturday, April 29, 2006

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear

Author: Walter Moers
Published: October 20, 2005 (Overlook)
Category: Fantasy
Quote of Choice: My earliest memory is of being afloat in rough seas, naked and alone in a walnut shell, for at first I was very, very small.

Welcome to Zamonia, a continent like no other, filled with strange creatures and wacky adventures. It's located between Eurasia and North America, seemingly many years ago.

Our narrator is Bluebear, the last known creature of his species in Zamonia. Apparently, a bluebear has 27 lives, and this book describes 13 1/2 of Bluebear's lives. However, describing 13 1/2 lives takes up quite a big of paper... 703 pages, to be exact. Some of the lives are very short, like Bluebear's time with the minipirates. These creatures are six inches tall and born with eyepatches, peglegs for both legs, and iron hooks for both hands. The chapter on Bluebear's life in Atlantis was the longest of all, and I found it to be a bit long-winded, involving a lot of lists.

From a production standpoint, this book is quirky and wonderful, but I'd never want to work on it. There are illustrations throughout and little encyclopedia extracts that explain a new creature you encounter, courtesy of Professor Abdullah Nightingale, the most intelligent being in the universe (he has seven brains).

Despite the daunting length of this book, it's easy to put it down and take a break because it's more like a collection of stories rather than a continuous plot. It took me quite a while (in my standards) to finish it - I started on April 11th.

Walter Moers, the author and illustrator has another Zamonia book coming out this fall. This time, it's about a character Bluebear met in his travels, a Wolperting named Rumo. I will definitely pick it up!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Derik's Bane

Author: MaryJanice Davidson
Published: January 4, 2005 (Berkley)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Quote of Choice: "Do I look like I'm worried about irritating someone who licks his testicles during a full moon?"

Ah, here we have the classic romance formula: guy has to handle some non-romantic matter (in this case, Derik must kill Sara, a reincarnation of Morgan Le Fay or the world will end) with a woman who can't stand him, and they wind up falling in love. I should also mention that Derik happens to be a werewolf and Sara is an accidental sorceress. She always finds that she has the best luck when she really needs it (i.e. winning the lottery 4 times whenever she had to pay her school loans and such).

Davidson writes great dialogue; it's super funny! However, I found that the end of the story was a bit weak, almost like the book was too short and the author copped out on the ending. You know: smash, wham, a bit o' glue and bang! Here's your ending! I think I gave a "Huh?" when I got to the end and we figured out the whole "Sara's an evil sorceress and will end the world" dilemma.

Maybe I would've liked the book better if I'd read the other Wyndham Werewolf stories?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Once Upon a Summer Day

Author: Dennis L. McKiernan
Published: April 4, 2006 (Roc)
Category: Fantasy

I think Once Upon a Summer Day had a lot of potential for being a great story, but it got a little full of itself and tried too hard, taking on too much. Summer Day comes after Once Upon a Winter's Night; do you see a pattern? The books are set in the land of Faery, where there are many lands, each separated by a twilight mist. The mist reminds me of Terry Goodkind's "veils" dividing three regions in his epic Sword of Truth series. In this Faery land, there are four distinct lands, each locked in one season for eternity (i.e. in the Winterwood, it is always winter). These "Season" books are inspired by well known fairy tales, and I thought that was a great idea.

We meet Borel, prince of the Winterwood as he's visiting his brother, Prince Alain of the Summerwood. He falls asleep one summer day and dreams of a demoiselle calling for help from a tower, surrounded by daggers. He sets off on a quest to save her, accompanied by various creatures, from wolves to sprites to a bumblebee. It turns out that this plot is based on Sleeping Beauty, since Michelle (that damsel in distress) was celebrating her eighteenth birthday when a witch tricked her into using a spinning wheel, etc.

Too many things in this book annoyed me to allow me to enjoy it. First, McKiernan tries to use a fairy tale style of speaking (i.e. o'er, 'round, 'tis, etc.), but rather than restricting it to let's say... the beginning of each chapter, or dialogue, he sprinkles it about. It's not often enough to get used to, so every time it happens, attention is drawn more easily to that odd word. To make it even more difficult to get used to the language, McKiernan also throws in a good amount of French. To the characters, French is the "old tongue." However, I'm puzzled at why it's called the old tongue if they talk about all of their food in its French terms. Even the servants speak French, so it's not like only the highborne have been educated in the language. Despite being the so-called old tongue, French words are sprinkled into the text rather liberally (i.e. oui and non taking the place of yes and no; mère and père rather than mother and father; demoiselle instead of damsel; so on and so forth). This clash of storyteller speak and French with modern day English grated on my nerves like plaid pants with polka dots.

Borel is a one-dimensional hero (a pity, since this book is so long). We don't really know much about him after spending 372 pages with him. However, in an odd character description moment halfway through the book, McKiernan let us know that Borel's hair-down-there matched the hair on his head. Yeah, weird. Also note that Borel's cover image bears a striking resemblance to Denethor in Return of the King. I know he's not really that old (just premature gray hair to match the realm he governs), but the thought of him getting it on with some eighteen-year-old bugs me.

Besides being one-dimensional, Borel loses his equipment too often. For example, when he's at the witch Hradian's hut, he puts some scrolls in his bag, only to lose those right away when she catches him and throw him in a dungeon. When he gets out of the dungeon, he gets his weapons back, and gets a new rucksack, only to lose it when he's climbing out of the building. Then he loses his knife while running to escape the trolls who held him captive. Later, he gets a replacement knife, which he loses in less than 24 hours. At the end of his quest, his new horse dies during the first couple days he's with Borel. Seriously, Michelle shouldn't depend on Borel, because he's likely to lose her too.

Then I think McKiernan got confused with how proper he wanted to make his characters. Borel doesn't want to take advantage of Michelle in their dreams (that's the only way they can communicate while she's locked away), despite the fact that she puts "fire in his veins," or some junk like that. But you know what? Alain and his betrothed, Camille, sleep in the same bed even though they're not married. Later, Michelle seduces Borel while they're going back to the Winterwood. When they return to the Winterwood, McKiernan makes this pointed display of the steward asking Borel if he and Michelle require separate quarters, and Borel saying that they will have adjoining quarters since they're betrothed. Why even stick that in? It was like another bump to add to an already lumpy story. At the very end, Borel and Michelle are about to leave on another journey to see Michelle's parents, so Borel can ask Michelle's father for her hand in marriage. I see that as kind of moot, since Borel's already announced to his entire staff that he and Michelle are getting it on before marriage, and Borel's father is posting the banns.

Seems like McKiernan didn't know when to end the story. Actually, this book could've been 100 pages shorter. Borel's quest was just a big scavenger hunt of gossip, and in summation, I'll say that it sounded something like this: "John doesn't know how to get to the Endless Sands, but Jennie knows. Unfortunately, John doesn't know where Jennie is. However, Julie knows where Jennie is, but she'll only tell you if you break the curse she's under. And then when you get to Jennie, you're going to have to challenge her in a battle of wits."

Skip this book, unless you like being angry.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Snack Thief

Author: Andrea Camilleri
Published: May 31, 2005 (Penguin)
Category: Mystery
Quote of Choice: "I'm sure I say my share of stupid things, but when you come out with one, it's always a whopper."

This is the third book in Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series, and it happens to be the first book I've read in that series. Just in case you care to know, the first Inspector Montalbano book is The Shape of Water.

Jumping into the middle of a series is a little confusing sometimes, but I think I understood who most of the characters were. We meet Inspector Salvo Montalbano, a detective in a fictional Sicilian town. Two murders take place within a day: an elderly man is stabbed in an elevator, and a fisherman is gunned down while his boat is at sea. Montalbano is the only person who realizes there is a connection between the two crimes and confuses his coworkers with his actions, since he's a "If you want it done right, do it yourself" kind of guy.

In the midst of all the investigation, Livia, Montalbano's long-distance girlfriend, visits and they wind up caring for an orphan who's been stealing snacks from schoolchildren. Livia becomes very protective of the boy and thinks that he is the child she and Montalbano are meant to have, since they're not married and not exactly young. All of this relationship talk scares Montalbano and he shoves it to the side, hyperfocusing on the investigations.

Montalbano is a quirky character, and I imagine he'd do well on television. The story was quite good, although a little confusing at times. The mystery went beyond figuring out whodunnit, and in the end it was a very well put-together book, and the descriptions made me feel like I was in Sicily, smelling the sea and all the food Montalbano savors.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Google Fun

Hey, my book blog comes up in a Google search: "homemade tranquilizer" +cat

Monday, April 03, 2006

First Dance

Author: Karen Kendall
Published: August 2, 2005 (Signet)
Series: The Bridesmaid Chronicles - Book 3
Category: Contemporary Romance
Quote of Choice: Klein was technically out of the picture, after he'd dropped dead at a urinal in the men's room three years ago. He'd left behind a spectacular courtroom win ratio and an exposed trouser snake that bent even farther right than his politics.

My proofreading class has gotten more unbearable than usual and I needed something absolutely fluffy and purely for entertainment value for today's class. I stumbled across First Dance this afternoon while cruising the company take shelves.

Vivien Shelton is a top Manhattan divorce attorney with a reputation for being a ball buster, but her mistrust in marriage and men in general stems from witnessing her parents' awful relationship as a child. When her heiress friend plans to marry a guy she's known for a month, she flies to Texas with ironclad prenup in hand to protect her friend. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) she'll have to butt heads with the groom's lawyer, J.B. Anglin, a man she's tangled with in the courtroom and in the sheets. Ooo, steamy!

With their opposing views on marriage - J.B. hates the ideas of prenups and divorces in general, despite the fact that he's divorced. He feels that lawyers like Vivien are the cause of many divorces when couples should work through their problems instead of jumping ship at the first wave in sight. Vivien saw how her father married her mother for money and felt that she'd rather avoid the pain of a possible bad marriage than start any relationship. I've noticed that I like romances where the girl and guy argue a lot, and who better to argue than a couple of lawyers? The characters and romance seem more real with arguing, because let's face it - a relationship where nobody has a difference of opinion seems a little plastic.

Thanks to the matchmaking bride, Vivien and J.B. are thrown into running errands together, like scaring the disreputable wedding band with their fancy lawyering (it didn't take much). They realistically talk through their baggage and discover each other's quirky, non-lawyerish hobbies. For example, Vivien rescues abused greyhounds, fostering 5 of them at a time in her Manhattan apartment and works pro bono defending displaced homemakers; J.B. makes furniture, but doesn't sell it, giving it away to friends and family instead.

I particularly enjoyed when Vivien chased after J.B.'s ex-wife, trying to give J.B. back to her. It was a lot of fun and made my class a lot less painful. I hope to run across the other books in the series soon.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Even Vampires Get the Blues

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: May 2006 (Signet)
Category: Paranormal Romance
Quote of Choice: "How do I say 'up yours' in ancient, ghostly Gaelic?"

This was my first Katie MacAlister vampire novel (It's a paranormal romance, but her Aisling Grey books are separate from them).

Her heroine is a half elf named Samantha and the male interest is Paen, a Scottish vampire. Think: a sexy vampire in a kilt. Droolworthy, no? Oh, and he has grey eyes, a very popular eye color amongst MacAlister's heroes. According to vampire rules, Paen has no soul and to get it back, he has to find his Beloved, a woman who can redeem his soul for him. Samantha is that woman, except Paen doesn't want a Beloved, and then it leads to all sorts of interesting bickering.

EVGTB is a good mix of romance and mystery (Paen and Sam are trying to track down this missing statue or Paen's mother will forfeit her soul), with less romance than MacAlister's contemporary romances. However, I think there were less funny lines that made me laugh out loud though, but it's a good story.

Good story, but I'm dying to read the next Aisling Grey!