the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for July 2012

The Secrets of Mariko, by Elisabeth Bumiller

written in 1995

where I got it: purchased used

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And now for something completely different, non-fiction!

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The Secrets of Mariko isn’t scifi or fantasy. It isn’t even fiction (although that would be a hella cool name for an SF book, wouldn’t it?).  this book is exactly as its subtitle explains – it is one year in the life of an ordinary Japanese woman and her family.

I’ve always been interested in other cultures, particularly how women in other cultures live their lives. In high school my foreign language was Japanese, and I spent two weeks in Japan after 10th grade. I still have a soft spot for all things Japanese – the language, the culture, the music, the religion, the food. So Yes, when a family member suggested a slower paced book about normal life in Japan, I jumped at the chance.

the author, Elisabeth Bumiller, is a professional journalist, and as such she isn’t afraid to ask tough and sometimes awkward questions. While in Japan for three years in the early 1990s, Bumiller decided to profile a completely ordinary Japanese housewife, to give Americans a view of how women in Japan live. Yes, I know this book is over 15 years old, and so may no longer be a completely contemporary view on Japanese society, but it was still a very satisfying read for me.

Through a translator friend, Elisabeth Bumiller is introduced to 40-something Mariko Tanaka, who lives in a suburb of Tokyo with her husband, three children, and aging parents. The Secrets of Mariko is equally about Mariko’s life as it is Bumiller’s reaction to many aspects of Japanese culture that us Americans find, for lack of a better term, foreign.

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I love going to bookstores I’ve never been to before.  With just an address and a not-to-scale badly hand-drawn map, I might get a little lost on the way. I might drive around the shopping plaza a few times until I find the place. I might park a smidgen illegally. I might show up 20 minutes before they are going to close. I might spend $5, I might spend $50.

Exploring a bookstore is an adventure unto itself.  do they have a store cat? do they have a decent science fiction section? do they have fair prices for used books? do they have any chairs to sit on while reading the first few pages of a book? is the staff knowledgeable? Is the staff friendly?  and most importantly, would I go back?

First up, was The Remarkable Book Shop, in Merrillville Indiana.  The on-hand stock is all used, but they will order you anything you want. A rather small, narrow space, this seemed to be the busiest shop in a rather unremarkable shopping plaza. At no time was there less than 3-4 customers in the store, and as it was quite small, that was a lot of people.  I had a very nice chat with the owner about independent bookstores on the Lake Michigan lakeshore, and although he knew every single one and all their owners, I was impressed with myself that I knew the stores that were in some of the touristy towns I’d visited.   I picked up a paperback copy of The Paths of the Dead, by Steven Brust.  Would I go back?  Tough to say. The owner was very friendly and nice to talk to, but his selection in the genres I read was just so-so more due to lack of space than anything else. I think next time I’m in the area I’ll call ahead to see what titles he has of authors I’m interested in.

Next up was Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor Michigan.  Located in an affluent area, and with an uptick in business since the closing of Ann Arbor’s landmark Borders Books, Nicola’s is a large, beautiful, family friendly bookstore.   I’d gone there to see Sarah Zettel talk about her new book, Dust Girl (which I did buy), and ended up spending another half hour or so chatting some bookstore staff and some college aged customers.  Nicola’s sells only new books, and they have a stationary and gift section as well. There was a small social area in front for book clubs, and a larger area in back with a microphone and podium for speakers and authors and such. Nicola’s seemed to have a section for nearly every genre, which means they didn’t have that many titles in each genre. Their scifi/fantasy section was depressingly small, and the employee that I spoke with said they’d gotten more demand for scifi and fantasy since Borders had closed, so they were looking to expand that area. Nicola’s is a perfect suburban high-end bookstore. You walk in, and someone greets you and asks if they can help you find anything, the entire store is decorated with bookish things, they have a newsletter, a frequent buyer card, events for all different age groups, all sorts of modern conveniences. But alas, no used books that be purchased on the cheap and not much Scifi.  Will I go back? Yes, if only to nag them about expanding their scifi/fantasy section, and they seem to get a lot of midwestern authors in to do booksignings.

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The lovely Mieneke of A Fantastical Librarian interviewed me!  see my goofy answers and a photo of my sagging and unorganized bookshelves.

While you’re over there, check out the rest of her wonderful blogger query articles, and learn about more folks in our vibrant community. Mieneke also has a great giveaway going right now for James Maxey’s HUSH. You can learn more about HUSH and GREATSHADOW here as well.

and since it seems to be turning into a link soup type of post, how many titles from the Fantasy Mistress Works list have you read?

 

Due to an odd turn of events at work, I get to enjoy a 2 hour drive each day for the next four days. Thank goodness for podcasting is all I gotta say. I wanted some new goodies, so on Sunday, I asked the twittersphere for some podcast recommendations and reloaded ye olde mp3 player.

A big shout out to blogger KJ Mulder (twitter CrusaderofChaos) for recommending the stellar StarShip Sofa. (other folks recommended some great ones too, this just happened to be the one I turned on this morning) Hosted by the velvety voiced Tony Smith, StarShip Sofa won the 2010 Hugo for best Podcast. There’s plenty more awesome on that sofa, so head over to their website and check them out.

I downloaded a few recent episodes, and early this morning fired up Episode 245 featuring Seanan McGuire’s (you may know her as Mira Grant) short story Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage, which is in the new John Joseph Adams Anthology Other Worlds Than These, and was read by the lovely Christie Yant. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read any Seanan McGuire, so this would be my first exposure to her fiction.

All I will tell you about the story is that it is about a young woman who grows up. That is all. To tell you anything more would wreck everything.

But ahh, as I am quickly learning, Seanan McGuire is pure magic. A simple sounding story about a girl growing up  turned into a fragile state of brilliance, a fading rainbow, a moment of perfection that ended too soon. There is a good reason she is up for a gazillion awards (a record breaking four hugo noms!).

So go download the podcast, go listen to the story.

But don’t make the same mistake I made:

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Orca, by Steven Brust (book 7 in the Vlad Taltos series)

written in 1996

where I got it: purchased used

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I am slowly making my way randomly up to Steven Brust’s latest novel, Tiassa. I own about a half dozen book in this series, have already reviewed a few of them, and feel the urge to reread what I can before diving into Tiassa.

Steven Brust is probably the author who got me into fantasy all those years ago. Seriously. I was once a hard core “Scif and only scifi!!” reader, and hubby put a copy of The Book of Jhereg (reviewed here ) in my hands and said I probably wouldn’t like it because it was about an assassin who didn’t like his job, but was incredibly good at it.  20 pages later, I was a fan. by the end of the book I was addicted.  The series follows the adult life of one Vlad Taltos, easterner, witch, assassin, and lover of good cooking who has found himself away from his own kind and living in the Dragaeran Empire. His episodic adventures allow readers to jump around in the series, and as most of the novels weren’t written chronologically, there is much discussion between fans regarding the order in which these books should be read. Some titles are sadly becoming hard to find, so I read them in whatever order I can find them.

The short novel Orca seems to take place around the middle, chronologically.  For readers new to Steven Brust, this book probably isn’t a good starting point due to some major plot line revelations right at the end, and I suggest starting with any of the first 4 books that were written: Jhereg, Taltos, Yendi, or Tekla. Ahh, but for those of you who are already into this series? What a treat Orca is!

Orca differs from the earlier books in the series in that it doesn’t take place in Dragaera City, and we get points of view other than Vlad’s.  Also, Steven Brust can see the future. Observe:

As usual, the story opens because Vlad is in more trouble than he alone can handle. From a previous adventure, he has collected a young boy who suffered a traumatic event and has become somewhat catatonic. Hoping to avoid the authorities and explanations, Vlad’s only option to help the boy is to find a hedge wizard or sorcerer who won’t ask questions. And he does. She lives in a hideous blue cottage (yes really. The characters take turns describing it as such, and it becomes a very funny in-joke), and is about to lose her home to a property management organization that is cancelling her property lease. Their agreement is she will attempt to help the boy if Vlad attempts to help her keep her property.

With the help of his thief friend Kiera, Vlad begins his investigation.

The man who owns the property management organization, along with a few dozen other small businesses that may or may not actually exist?  He’s dead, possibly murder, possibly not.  His other businesses? shut down. The banks he borrowed obscene quantities of money from to run said possibly non-existent businesses?  Closing their doors, cancelling the savings of senior citizens, and generally leaving town like the place is on fire.

Many of the hints Vlad and Kiera uncover lead in opposite directions, and if that old lady is going to keep her horribly ugly cottage, two thieves (along with Vlad’s ever helpful familiars Loiosh and Rocza) will need to figure out why banks and other lending institutions keep breaking the laws, and why the government of the Empire seems to be covering up for them in such a convoluted way.  Orca was written in 1996, but much of this sounds strangely familiar.

The chapters switch back and forth between Vlad and Kiera’s points of view. As I’m so used to only Vlad’s point of view, that took some getting used to for me. But I’m happy Brust put the story together that way, as it was invaluable to see how Kiera and some of the other Dragaerans view Vlad, a short lived foreigner. Also, there are a few letters and conversations between Kiera and Vlad’s estranged wife Cawti, which I highly enjoyed as well.

Don’t expect much in the way action or intrigue or fight scenes or the like in Orca. it’s not that kind of book. It’s a convoluted literary mystery, with character revelations, emotional discussions on morality, and much left unsaid.  I can only hope that while Brust was writing this, that he had as big of a crooked smile on his face as I did when I was reading it.  Yes, this is some mightily serious stuff, but so cleverly presented that you can’t help but smile.

I can’t get enough of Brust’s sly humor, of his subtle dialog, of his characters who say more in a raised eyebrow while puttering about preparing dinner than some other characters say in an entire novel. Vlad may not say it outloud, but he cares deeply for the people he loves, and puts his life on the line more than once for them.  For a tough guy, he sure makes me cry a lot.  And that’s the point: when it comes down to it, Vlad isn’t just an assassin. He isn’t just a witch. he isn’t just an easterner. He’s just a guy.  Just a guy who is still madly in love with his estranged wife, he doesn’t know how to fix things with her, he doesn’t know how he got to this point in his life, and all he knows how to do is move forward, one step at a time, one day at a time, one mistake at a time. And should he lose his way, no doubt Loiosh will say “hey idiot, we’re lost”.

If you’ve never read any Brust, I can’t recommend him highly enough. The more I read of him, the I want to read more of him.

Skeen’s Leap, by Jo Clayton

published in 1986

where I got it: purchased used

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On the run from the law (what else is new), and left behind by her beloved ship and her now ex- boyfriend, Skeen knows she’s in trouble. With the clothes on her back and the coins in her pocket, how is she going to get off this dusty backwater planet? How is she going to track down her ship and tell that man where he can stick it? To do that she’ll need money, and do that she’ll do what she’s best at: thievery, smuggling, ruin raiding, and selling what she finds.

On the unreliable rumors of a drug addict she follows his directions to an untouched alien ruin, supposedly laden with gems and trinkets the likes of which this corner of the galaxy has never seen. She walks through the gate he described, and into somewhere else. Thus begins the story of Skeen’s Leap, which follows our titular heroine as she steals, cons, talks, seduces, and otherwise convinces people give her what she wants so she can get where she’s going.

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hardback books are hard. . .

. . . on the wallet, that is.

Most mass market paperbacks run $10 or less. A higher quality trade paperback is usually in the $13 – $17 range. But a hardback? Now were talking $22, $25, sometimes upwards of $30. (e-books are all over the place, but I’m not concerned with e-books, as I don’t have an e-reader)

A ten dollar mass market paperback is ten bucks for a reason. The binding isn’t awesome, the paper is usually flimsy, you might get ink rubbed off on your hands while you read. But you’ll probably get a dozen readings out of the thing before it starts to fall apart.

A $25 (or more) hardback is going to last forever. The paper is much higher quality and the ink doesn’t rub off, and that binding glue ain’t going anywhere. Sometimes the dust jacket has better cover art and maybe even a photo of the author inside, and sometimes you’ll find little easter eggs engraved right into the book itself.

Some books are only ever in paperback, and others are first printed in hardback and then a year or so later, a cheapo paperback comes out. How I would love to listen in on a publisher’s decision on whether or not to print something in hardback or paperback, especially for debut authors, where early sales could affect future contracts or sales. Hey, Authors, do you get any weight in the paperback/hardback decision when you are working with publishers?

So, fellow  book lovers: how much does cost impact your decision to purchase a book?

If a book you want to read is only in hardback, do you buy it? Or do you borrow it from the library, wait to find a hardback at the used bookstore, or wait for it to come out in paperback?  There are 4 books that I currently have my eye on. two are paperback, so those are a no-brainer, each will be ten bucks or less. But two of them are hardbacks, each running minimum of $25. It suddenly adds up to a fat chunk of change, and I am going to have to choose. Don’t get me wrong, the 2nd book will eventually get purchased, but possibly not for another two to three months, and damnit, I want to read it now!

And yes, I know the easy answer is to just wait for a deal on Amazon and go that route. Spend enough and get free shipping, etc. It’s easy, but every book I buy at Amazon is another sale my beloved local indie owned bookstore isn’t getting. Amazon is my last resort.

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Libriomancer (Magic Ex Libris, book 1), by Jim C. Hines

published – August 2012

where I got it: received review copy from the author

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Libriomancer is a book for people who love stories, who love characters, who want to visit the places they read about and meet the characters they’ve only been able to visit on paper. Seriously. If the magic of a story has ever leapt off the page and seduced you into knowing that dragons and wizards and galactic empires and zombies exist, this is the book for you. If you adore the physical object known as book, this is the story for you.

Exiled to a tiny municipal library in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, ex-libriomancer Isaac Vainio should be able to stay out of trouble, right?  He’s been set up in an easy job,  been forbidden from doing magic, and is attempting to live a normal life with only his fire-spider Smudge by his side.  Isaac yearns to dive into books again, and pull out something magical, but knows he shouldn’t. Isaac’s exile was for his own safety, because he couldn’t control his magic,  but when vampires attack him in his library, it’s time to find out what the hell is going on.

Thus starts Jim Hines’ newest series, Magic Ex Libris.  Isaac strikes me as a Harry Dresden type character, someone trained in a specific type of magic,  but also responsible for making sure regular people are never aware that anything unusual is going on. He’s been educated and burned, and doesn’t want any more people to get hurt through his own carelessness.

Someone has been attacking Libriomancers, the vampires seem to have lost their minds,  and the creator of Libriomancy himself, Johannes Gutenberg, has gone missing, along with his mechanical bodyguards. Isaac teams up with the motorcycle riding, bokken wielding dryad, Lena, to get to the bottom of the mystery, before it’s too late.

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Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess (a Girl Genius novel) by Phil & Kaja Foglio

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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First there was the webcomic.  then came the graphic novels (identical to the webcomic, just in printed form). Now there is the novelizations.

That could too easily be a recipe for disaster, but this is the team of Phil and Kaja Foglio. Disaster isn’t in their vocabulary. Not satisfied with developing the Hugo award winning Girl Genius comic series, they’ve dived headfirst into writing the novelizations of the comics. (read my review of the first novel, Agatha H and the Airship City, here) Not interested in webcomics or graphic novels? You should still pick up their Agatha Heterodyne novels. Why?  Because they are simply fantastic. These books have it all: characters with incredible depth, humor, doomed romances, hysterically ridiculous mad science, more humor, family secrets, excellent dialog, circus folk, monsters, and an all around good time. You will have a smile on your face the entire time you are reading these novels.  Don’t get me wrong, the graphic novels are great (I own them all), but the novels are even better.

In a semi-fictitious Europe, those with the ability to breath life into machines are known as Sparks. Being a Spark isn’t always a good thing, because they are so intent on making amazing creations that they often don’t realize last week’s amazing creation has burned down the village. Some Sparks hide their abilities, others survive by volunteering to work for the powers that be.

Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess is the second book in this series, and it picks up right where the first book, Agatha H and the Airship City left off. Along with the talking cat Krosp, she’s escaped from Baron Wulfenbach’s flying castle, learned who her parents really are (the famous Bill Heterodyne and Lucrezia Mongfish), and discovered that she is indeed, a very powerful Spark. It doesn’t matter that she’s developed some pretty strong feelings for the Baron’s son, Gilgamesh, as she’ll probably never see him again anyway.

Alone in the forest, she comes across a traveling circus, who allow her to travel with them.  Agatha doesn’t tell the troupe who she really is, and they are hiding their own secrets. The troupe puts on what are known as “Heterodyne shows”, with the actors performing the madcap adventures of Bill and Barry Heterodyne, and their sidekicks Klaus and Lucrezia. It sure is uncanny how well Agatha can imitate Lucrezia on stage! She sounds just like her!

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Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

published in 2012

Where I got it: the library

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Everyone is going crazy for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds.  Action packed and with an engrossing premise,  shattered characters, and Richard Kadrey-esque prose, it’s no wonder this little book is getting a lot of attention.

Although a growing number of people are fascinated by her, Miriam Black wishes she could just disappear. As an adolescent, she gained the power to tell people the circumstances of their death. Perhaps the person lives until they are 95 and dies peacefully in their sleep. Perhaps it’s a housefire, or a drug overdose, or suicide. Living alone and on the run, she tries to avoid touching people. But of course it doesn’t work.  Once upon a time she tried to save the life of a child whose death she’d foreseen.  That didn’t work either.

Miriam comes off fairly crass, but it’s a facade. She’s not a mean person, she’s just really sick of shaking hands and seeing terrible visions in hospitals and bathroom floors.  Her diary, nearly out of pages, is the only therapy she has, the only way she can get these feelings and fears and self hatred out of her system.

Miriam isn’t the nicest person in the world, so it’s doubly unfortunate that she’s mostly surrounded by assholes. Frat boys looking to get laid, truckers who might rape her, violent drug addicts, the scum below the bottom crust of society.  Miriam doesn’t expect to meet anyone nice. And then she meets Louis, and everything changes.  Louis is a completely normal, kind man. And in the moment before his death, he calls Miriam’s name.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.