Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Local News

Title: The Local News
Author: Miriam Gershow
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2009

Recommendation: A character driven novel about loss and coping. Slow and impossible to put down at the same time. Two thumbs up.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Lydia Pasternak's older brother goes missing. Her parents become distant and uncaring, withdrawing into their loss. Smart, but not popular, Lydia suddenly becomes the center of attention at school. Dealing with all the changes is not easy given her strained relationships with parents, brother, closest friends, and everybody else around her.

Reactions: The Local News is not the type of fiction I typically read. But it came highly recommended and a gift at that, so I started on the book almost immediately. The first book that came to my mind as I started reading The Local News is The Lovely Bones which deals with a similar subject matter of a kidnapped child. There are a few interesting parallels between the two stories, such as the reactions of the families to the tragedy, but The Local News is told from a very different perspective than The Lovely Bones.

At the center of the story is Lydia, who is smart and bookish, but not particularly popular. She is very observant, but rather closed off and introverted. The story progresses with her family, detectives, and everyone in the town searching for her brother who was a popular jock at the same high school prior to his disappearance. Now his friends are suddenly nice to Lydia and her struggle to deal with the new situation and people to whom she was invisible before really strike the mark.

We follow Lydia into the dark recesses of her brain as she spirals down trying to deal with being alienated and the loss of her brother. It's not an action-packed story at all, but I was very much fascinated by Lydia's world and read late into the night unwilling to put the book down.

The supporting cast of the story is very well drawn. From Lydia's best friend David who surprises her by making advances to her brother-adoring Lola, there is a variety to characters and motivations. The relationships grow and change, interactions are nuanced, feelings are hurt and truces are made. This is a story about relationships down to its core.

All in all, a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend heartily. It's dark without being depressing and entertaining without being fast-paced. Only towards the end did I feel my incredulity a bit strained at some of Lydia's reactions. Overall though it's a well written story that is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Naamah's Blessing

Title: Naamah's Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Kushiel's Legacy, book 3
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A fitting ending for Moirin's adventures.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Moirin returns to Terre d'Ange with Bao to find King Daniel depressed and unable to rule while Jehanne's daughter becomes neglected. Moirin becomes the daughter's oath-sworn protector -- not a popular political move. And more challenges are yet on the way, including a trip to the recently discovered Terra Nova.

Reactions: I pre-ordered the book last year, knowing that I will want to finish reading the series as soon as I can get my hands on the book. It was a pleasant surprise that the book was released a couple weeks earlier than the originally posted publication date and got delivered to me at the end of last week. Without much adieu, I submerged myself in this final installment of Kushiel's Legacy over the weekend and finished it.

There's really something magical about Carey's writing that grabs attention and submerges the reader into the story. The plot moves along at a lively pace and doesn't slow down for anything. If I could have read the book in one sitting, I certainly would have. It's really hard to put down Moirin's adventures.

It's not that the story itself pushes the envelope. In a sense there's not much suspense in the book since the victory of the "good guys" is almost assured. But at the same time, the lyrical language, description of the tribes they encounter, characters they meet and travel with all make for a wonderful reading experience. I was satisfied with the book's ending and with how the story lines were concluded. Overall, a very fun and well-written series. Recommended.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Fire Upon the Deep

Title: A Fire Upon the Deep
Author: Vernor Vinge
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1992

Recommendation: A solid science fiction adventure on a scale.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Beyond the Beyond, humanity discovers something very old and powerful. A perversion that will take over unless something can stop it. An item that was taken far into the Slow Zone onto a planet inhabited by wolf-like creatures and kept safe by two human children.

Reactions: This book has been mentioned to me as a good example of a human-alien contact story. Vernor Vinge has indeed done an outstanding job creating a world where multiple species coexist. We get deep into the psychology of Tines and get quite familiar with the race of Riders.

The story is told from two angles. One part of it happens on the world of Tines where two human children end up being marooned in a medieval civilization. The other part follows Ravna, a human who works at the Relay and her relationship with Pham. Eventually the two stories become one, but Vinge takes his time to draw out of the characters, introduce the world, and build conflict.

I was enjoying the book a lot at the beginning. There is a lot of world building happening, but it's well combined with character interaction and developments in plot. However, somewhere around the middle of the book, I felt my pace slow down and felt that the book could probably be more concise. It picked up the pace again towards the ending and did a pretty nice job tying off various subplots of the story.

Overall, it was a pretty good read with world building being the strongest point in the book. It also has some very interesting ideas on evolution of civilizations. However the pacing left me wondering whether I would want to pick up another novel by Vinge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May Recap

May is over and June is here! I am still reading Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and enjoying it so far. My book count is up this month, but it almost feels like cheating with the YA being so quick to read. Though it's not quite clear whom I am cheating in this case since I enjoyed the books.