Posts Tagged ‘Novels’

Adaptation

Sunday, 28 August 2011
Cover of "In High Places (Crosstime Traff...

Cover of In High Places (Crosstime Traffic)

111. In High Places by Harry Turtledove

I just read this book this weekend and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a science-fiction novel for young adults (notably YA only in that the main characters are teenagers and there’s no bad language – it’s a good book with some really big issues in it) set 100/150 years in our future where a means of transferring between alternate realities has been found. A teenage girl and her parents (completely secular Jews) go to an alternate where the Black Death killed off far more of Christian Europe’s population, and thus the Muslims were never pushed out of Spain and now hold southern France as well. Europe is only now getting towards the beginning of a Renaissance and technologically is medieval. Since Jews are as badly considered in that world as they were in our medieval Europe, this family is acting as Muslim traders, and to fit into that world they are fully covered, with the women including face veils.

There are lots of different issues in the book, with slavery, tolerance and whistle-blowing some of the big ones, and covering only a minor one, but it’s fairly sympathetically covered at that.

Annette/Khadijia accepts her veil as a costume that she’s not especially fond of, but she realises quickly that her face covering is the only real difference from what the local Christian women are wearing, and that for a trader it can be quite useful to have her face covered in negociations, and that it’s not so terrible or derogatory as she’d previously have thought. Then when she and others are taken prisoner and forced to remove their veils she doesn’t mind the removal all that much, but the other women are shown as being horrified, and feeling practically stripped naked by the loss of something they’ve worn for years/life.

All in all I thought the book addressed the negatives and positives of its various issues well, and in a way to provoke thought. Those who are careful about what their kids read may well want to read it themselves first, but I doubt it’s one for anyone to reject out of hand.

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Hiatus

Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Cover of "The Bourne Identity"

Cover of The Bourne Identity

Um yeah, trying to add moving into the current hectic lifestyle isn’t leaving much time, and blogging was what gave once I get out of the habit. We have to be out of the ‘old’ place within the next week, so hopefully I can pick up again properly then.

It’s not such a good excuse for disappearing as stress related amnesia, admittedly.

81. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Not sure I’d have picked this up had DH not wanted to read and compare it to the 2002 film (he was given the DVD versions of all three films), and then wanted to talk to me about it without spoiling too much (we’ve both started the second book, but I’m letting him actively read it first). I think I see that film as much closer to the book’s themes than he does, pointing out the major differences like the loss of the major oppositional character (the terrorist/assassin Carlos) and Bourne’s much altered back-story. Personally I saw it more as a retelling of the story reflecting the change in world politics of two decades.

Marie’s role as love interest to be protected in the film is fairly traditionally passive, and so familiar a trope that we barely noticed it until reading the book’s Marie, who is not only a fully active partner to Bourne, bringing specialist and world knowledge into play that he just doesn’t have, but also far more politically savvy and astute than he is. Instead of being a penniless drifter with little to lose when she throws her lot in with a rich and exciting man, this Marie is a self-made world-renowned, brilliant and highly placed official who makes a real sacrifice to help someone she really didn’t even expect to like. Quite why the film-makers chose to lose the in-many-ways more developed character of the two protagonists is beyond me. I suppose it’s basically that they wanted to make Bourne into a superhero (which he isn’t in the book), so they gave him all her abilities, and only left her the driver and love-interest roles.

So while I don’t always agree with the choices Marie makes, she nearly always does make them in the book (far more so than Bourne himself) and that’s entirely missing in the film. On that level, this is an entirely different story, and one that was interesting to read.

Post Shavuot catch-up

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Well, I didn’t finish the dress I’m making DD, so she wore some existing clothes for Shavuot (and was proclaimed very cute when we went out for lunch today). I finally just now got around to adding five books to the reading list from the past few weeks, only the last of which was actually finished today. I’m looking forward to talking about some of them here, at least, and will try to do at least one review tomorrow.

Unfortunate ending

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cover of The Land of Painted Caves75. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

This is not going to be the only fairly negative review of this book out there. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it over the past few days who’s read it seems to agree that it’s very repetitive and disappointing. Personally I really can’t think of anything it even really adds to the story of Ayla‘s life that wasn’t to be expected from the end of the previous book. Admittedly I haven’t read The Shelters of Stone in about a decade, (ie I read it once shortly after it came out in 2002), but at the end of that book Ayla and Jondalar had made it back to his people after a long and unusual journey, had had their matrimonial and then the birth of their daughter, and they were settling down to stable positions within the 9th Cave of the Zelandonii, he as a master flint knapper, she as new acolyte (trainee) to the local high priestess. They missed the friends made along their journey, but didn’t expect to see any who didn’t come looking for them ever again. They were deeply in love, but as two very intense, talented and admired people from very different backgrounds were still capable of deep misunderstandings.

So the new book adds another six years to the tale, but I don’t personally think it includes anything not to be easily anticipated from that, except the rather bizarre implication that as a highly unusual and capable woman who’s fought against conventions she didn’t agree with all her life, Ayla is the one who’s going to eventually (over generations at least) and unintentionally turn a fairly equal matriarchy where jealousy is one of the worst crimes into a controlling  patriarchy.

My impression is that Auel felt she was shadowing the climax of The Mammoth Hunters, but it’s such a straight copying of the storyline that I was bored by it. Not quite so bored as by the constant repetition of all the verses of the Earth Mother song that I kept skipping. Realistically that should have appeared no more than once in the story text, with a brief refrain of a couple of lines some (but definitely not all) of the times, with perhaps the whole thing from start to finish put as an appendix at the beginning or end of the book. Were we supposed to be learning the thing by heart the way Ayla had to?

Basically this book was crying out for a good editor’s red pen (or equivalent) to just cut out vast swathes of the book, including some of the step-by-step paths through every painted cave the author ever got to visit/sent her characters to see, as well as the reminders of stuff that happened in earlier books that wasn’t relevant to this one at all. Obviously in any series where the reader may not be familiar with the previous volumes lately or at all there have to be reminders of things that happened before, but in my opinion these should be strictly limited to what is important to the events of the current work.

I kept reading to the end because I was really expecting all this to lead to something unexpected, and for me it really really didn’t. I simply feel that as a finale to the series this book added little or nothing, and wasn’t worth the nine-year wait.

Ever busier

Monday, 23 May 2011

We’re moving. And we’re planning a complicated holiday. And I have some real problems with the latest Jean Auel book, but I’m also reading it pretty solidly (I’m nearly finished it now). I’m listening to lots of podcasts while pumping, too. That’s when DD agrees to sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time.

More for the collection! :)

Friday, 20 May 2011
Cover of "Shakespeare's Planet"

Cover of Shakespeare's Planet

We finally got to the post office this morning, for the first time in a couple of weeks, to send off a couple of BookMooch items, and receive several more, plus a couple of much appreciated gifts from my mother. Nothing for the baby this time (although there is one children’s book, it’ll be a few years till she’d be ready for it), and a good few of them were DH’s choices (mostly classic science fiction) rather than mine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t read them even before he does…

    • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. (My mother and I both read the first five books in this series in the 90s, so now that the last one is finally published she very kindly got me a copy. I don’t have copies of the others, but with that gap I presume Auel will remind us of any details we need to know. I do remember the basic story, and I’m sure the rest will come back to me.)
    • Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. (Both parents have recommended this as an interesting read, so I’m intrigued.)

    • Timescape by Gregory Benford. (One of DH’s choices whose back cover makes it sound like apocalyptic SF.)
    • Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner. (The second of the Boxcar Children Mysteries, as recommended by a couple of my lovely readers/commenters here, so I’ll try to get to this one relatively quickly.)
    • Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. (I requested the entire set of Hillerman’s Chee/Leaphorn novels on BookMooch, so they’re gradually arriving. I may wait for the rest and then read them through in chronological order.)
    • The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman. (As above.)
    • Cover of The Lovely Bones

      Cover of The Lovely Bones

      The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (I never read this when it was so popular, but it did sound interesting, so we’ll see.)

    • Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak. (DH’s. I haven’t read any Simak yet.)
Cover of "The Planet Buyer (U.K.)"

Cover of The Planet Buyer (U.K.)

  • The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith. (As previous.)
  • Destiny Doll by Clifford D. Simak. (This too.)
  • The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. (And this.)

False expectations

Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Cover of 2001 hardcover edition

Image via Wikipedia

31. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

That’s basically what this book is about, and sums up what I previously knew of Le Guin’s work: practically nothing besides that she is well known for her fantasy writing.

In this classic of science fiction Le Guin really tackles issues of gender, stereotyping and cultural clashes. Genly Ai, our main narrator (although several chapters are by other major or minor characters, all in the form of official reports in one form or another) is the only alien on the planet known to outsiders as Winter, since it’s deep in an Ice Age, or locally as Gethen. He is openly there as the ambassador of the Ekumen, a loose federation of the known worlds with human-like life, and trying to negotiate the local etiquette and politics with particular difficulty because he just can’t get used to the fact that Winter’s natives are hermaphrodite, and spend most of their lives without gender. They are sexually active only cyclicly, and during any cycle may ‘turn’ either male or female. A temporary female who becomes pregnant will remain so until she has and then weans her child but will not necessarily be so again. Many Gethenians are mother to some of their children and father to others, with the distinction meaning little or nothing beyond infancy.

Genly knows intellectually that his constant instinctive attempts to assign male or female-ness to the people he meets are both useless and counter-productive, but even after some years there he can’t do it, and this will become just part of his downfall.

First published in 1969, the novel gets to openly discuss issues of gender, sexuality (including homosexuality and bisexuality), marriage and family relationships as well as those of culture clash and relative value. It took me awhile to get into the story (DH did not have that problem though) but it was definitely worth the read for simple enjoyment even beyond the thought-provocation. Recommended.

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Don’t read this while pregnant

Monday, 9 May 2011
Cover of "Darwin's Radio"

Cover of Darwin's Radio

That was my husband’s advice about this book (not that we had it while I was, but I think he was pleased about that himself, to be honest).

66. Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

This is one of those science-fiction stories which demand the acceptance of a big premise to work, and in this case it’s a bit too easy to pick holes in that premise as presented, particularly in the first half of the book. Weirdly enough, even though I didn’t find the science to be well defended until the second half, it was only really then that there started to be real emotional weight for me either. There are hugely emotive events and ideas at play throughout the book, and yet in the first half we really only meet stereotypically detached (and often very cynical) scientists and administrators. If my DH hadn’t previously intrigued me about the story and the issues raised I’m really not sure I’d have got far enough to engage with the book.

Not that the second half is perfect either. While the original premises are explained, developed and justified (somewhat), new and completely fantastical ones are introduced, and the romantic/familial storyline is brought to a climax just at the end of the book, without a satisfactory conclusion, in my opinion. That storyline seems a set-up for a sequel, which apparently does exist, but which I haven’t come across. I’d probably read it if I came across it, but not go out of my way to do so.

Worth waiting for

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I feel like I’ve been looking forward to this one for a very long time, and thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

Cover of The Ruby Spy Ring71. The Ruby Spy Ring by Libi Astaire

We’re several months after the events of The Disappearing Dowry, and our narrator Rebecca Lyon’s elder sister Hannah is happily married and thus out of the parental home, leaving Rebecca with the burden of trying to be a role model for the younger siblings, while missing Harriet Franks, her best friend, whose family have moved from the vicinity of the Great Synagogue to the more expensive and fashionable Mayfair. Seeing the growing stress levels among his children, and Rebecca in particular, Mr Lyon suggests she goes to visit Harriet for a fortnight to lift her spirits. On the first night of the visit the Franks family take her with them to an exhibition, which is the start of some unfortunate events for the family, requiring the investigative talents of Mr Ezra Melamed, with Rebecca as an interested observer and would-be participant.

The history and culture seems accurate, with the narrative voice strong and plausible, and the characters distinct and consistent with the previous book. The Jewish references are clearly but largely unobtrusively explained, so I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction (especially of Regency England), or mysteries, or tales of Jewish communities. As a pocket-size paperback it’s cheaper than most of the Jewish novels, but is very nicely produced nonetheless. Highly recommended. I hope there are more to come!