Sunday, February 28, 2010

Workaholic book lover with a large TBR pile = too little sleep

I already know I spend longer at work than I should (although at least I don't take work home with me), but last week took the cake, due to a very large catalog maintenance project I and my library's Systems Librarian started. On the plus side, I'm hugely excited to be doing this project - the problem it's fixing has been on my back burner for over a year, and this project is the largest one I've ever done, touching nearly half the records in our system. On the minus side, I was very, very tired by the end of last week, even with the time we got off because of snow. I think that, at the rate we've been going, 6 more hours of work and we should be done.

It doesn't help that I'm addicted to books (and anime, but this past week it was my book addiction that was the issue). The day we started the huge maintenance project, I started reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling, and I was seriously hooked. In fact, today I reread the book, skimming over the bits I didn't like as much. I recommend it to anyone who has ever read and liked anything by Tamora Pierce - one of her books will be listed in the read-alikes list for my Graceling post. Although I enjoyed it a lot, Graceling cut into my sleep time -- I couldn't put the darn book down. Now I've got to see about getting Cashore's second book, Fire.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chosen (book) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

I kind of had a hard time, at first, even remembering everything that happened in this book, because it didn't seem like much happened. Actually, not much did happen - most of this book is about Zoey's various relationships unraveling, with just a teensie bit about Stevie Rae to keep the story moving forward. All I can say is, thank goodness Zoey had to experience some of the consequences of her incredibly idiotic way of dealing with her multiple relationships.

Sorry for the long synopsis, but anyone who's still reading this blog should be used to this by now. As always, feel free to skip down to the commentary and/or book and movie suggestions.

Synopsis:

The book begins with Zoey's 17th birthday, which she is sure will be awful. Not only are her mother and mother's husband horrible as usual, her friends don't realize that she doesn't like "birthmas" gifts (her birthday is on Christmas Eve, so well-meaning people try to give her birthday gifts with a Christmas theme). Things get even worse when she opens a gift in front of them, not realizing until too late that it's a gift from Heath. Her friends' feelings are all hurt when they realize that Zoey didn't like the Christmas-y theme of their gifts, and Erik's feelings are especially hurt, because he sees this as yet another sign that Zoey must prefer Heath over him, because Heath knows her better than he does.

Before going back to try to mend things with her friends and boyfriend, Zoey, with the goddess Nyx's help, finds Stevie Rae. Stevie Rae, now a filthy shadow of her former self, is in an alley feeding off of a homeless person. Zoey manages to convince Stevie Rae to meet up with her later. She hopes she can find a way to "heal" Stevie Rae, but at the very least she wants to help her keep what little humanity she has left.

Once she gets back to the House of Night, Zoey makes up with Erik and has a steamy make-out session with him, complete with a little blood, only to be completely embarrassed when Loren catches them. Unlike Zoey, Erik doesn't mind Loren seeing them together. In fact, he does his best to rub his status as Zoey's boyfriend in Loren's face - he's definitely noticed how Loren has been looking at Zoey, although he doesn't seem to have noticed that Zoey has practically been panting after Loren.

While in the library looking for a way to bring Stevie Rae back to the way she once was, Zoey runs into Loren, which leads to him giving her a birthday gift (diamond earings), which then leads to the two of them kissing each other and him inviting her to his place for more. Zoey comes to her senses a little and comes up with an excuse for why she can't go to him, but it's obvious that her love life has gotten out of control.

Things get rocky with Erik again when Zoey tries to have him be Stevie Rae's replacement in her ritual circle and it doesn't work out. In fact, it turns out that Aphrodite now has an affinity for earth, making her the perfect replacement for Stevie Rae, much to everyone's dismay. Zoey convinces her friends to let Aphrodite be a member of their circle, although they grumble about it. Later, Aphrodite tells Zoey about a vision she had of Stevie Rae being killed, for good, by Neferet, who will pull her out into direct sunlight if something isn't done to prevent it. Aphrodite and Zoey hatch a vague plan to keep Stevie Rae at her parents' house (empty for three weeks while her parents are off skiing) and feed her blood stolen from the kitchen in the House of Night. They put the plan in motion, but it may not go so well, since Stevie Rae has to go through blood faster than Zoey or Aphrodite anticipated.

Back at the school, Zoey and Aphrodite are about to go their separate ways when Aphrodite starts to get the feeling that something's wrong. Aphrodite and then Zoey find the beheaded body of Professor Nolan, with nails through her wrists and ankles, a stake through her heart. The first person they find is Neferet. Although Zoey knows Neferet is bad, she's got to tell someone what they found. Neferet takes charge and sends Zoey off with Loren. They talk for a bit, and Zoey calms down. Again there is kissing and flowery love-speak. The mood is ruined a bit by Zoey's suspicion that her step-father might have had a hand in Professor Nolan's death.

Heath comes back to town, and Zoey manages to figure out a new vampire trick (which allows her to go all ghostly and invisible, so that even the warrior vampyres who are now crawling all over the school can't see her) that allows her to leave the school in order to see him. She's determined to break up with him once and for all, but things don't go the way she planned. Heath cuts himself again, and Zoey can't help but drink his blood. They get interrupted by some jerks, who Zoey then uses her powers against, inadvertently putting them in a situation that may possibly have killed them. Heath is shocked, and so is Zoey. Zoey goes back to the school with Heath still one of her boyfriends. Bad Zoey. Unfortunately, Zoey's friends accidentally spilled the beans to Erik, so Erik thinks Zoey has finally broken up with Heath, and she's too chicken to tell him the truth.

Neferet performs a special ritual that night, due to Professor Nolan's death. The ritual will tell her if any vampyre, fledgling, or human enters or leaves the school, which automatically makes it really difficult for Zoey to continue taking care of Stevie Rae. Then it's time for Zoey's ritual, which goes well, except then Erik collapses in agony. At first, Zoey thinks Erik is rejecting the Change, but it turns out he's actually completing the Change. After he's taken away, she's shaky - this reminded her too much of Stevie Rae's death after her last ritual. Plus, now that Erik is a vampyre, it's possible that they won't be able to be together until she completes her Change as well.

Loren finds her during her vulnerable time and tries to get her to tell him everything that's bothering her, but she resists. Soon, they're drinking each others' blood, and then they're having sex (although the Casts' kissing scene descriptions tend to be pretty steamy, the actual act of Zoey losing her virginity amounts to "Loren made love to me until our world exploded in blood and passion"). Afterward, Zoey learns that she and Loren have Imprinted, which broke her Imprint with Heath. Zoey now feels comfortable telling Loren more about what's been bothering her - she tells him about Stevie Rae and trying to find a way to cure her, although some last vestige of sanity (and the goddess's influence?) keeps her from admitting to him everything she knows about Neferet's involvement.

Unfortunately, their lovely post-sex interrogation scene is interrupted by Erik, who is hurt and angry at having caught his girlfriend with Loren. After getting dressed, Zoey ends up having a talk with Erik, in which she apologizes and tells him she and Loren are in love, and Erik says lots of hateful things and tells her that Loren is only using her for sex. Erik doesn't seem to realize that he caught Zoey and Loren having sex for the first time, rather than just one of many times, although I'm not sure that realization would've helped things much.

After that painful scene, Zoey goes back to Loren, only to eavesdrop on him and Neferet. Loren had been seducing Zoey in order to find out how much she knew, so that he could tell Neferet, the person he really loves. Zoey is heartbroken, and her friends go to her and ask her what's wrong. Erik tells them she's been having sex with Loren, and everyone is shocked, although Aphrodite stands up for Zoey and makes Erik leave. Things get even worse when Stevie Rae comes. Stevie Rae hadn't realized that Zoey hadn't told any of their friends she was still alive. Zoey's friends are hurt, and the only one who knows why she couldn't tell them (Neferet, who they all still believe is good, would have read their minds) is Aphrodite. Her friends are pissed, but they help Zoey form a ritual circle to heal Stevie Rae. Unfortunately, Stevie Rae comes completely unglued when Aphrodite demonstrates her affinity for earth. She attacks Aphrodite, and Aphrodite allows herself to be a sacrifice, completely healing Stevie Rae and turning her into a completely new kind of vampyre (she has the completed vampyre tattoos, but they're red instead of sapphire). Unfortunately, although Aphrodite is miraculously still alive, she now appears to just be a regular human - her Mark is gone. Aphrodite runs off, and Stevie Rae goes after her, leaving Zoey alone with friends who hate and distrust her.

On the way back to an assembly called by Neferet, Zoey collapses in agony. The pain goes away and she continues on the the assembly. Neferet begins by talking about how vampyres will now be at war with humans, but she's interrupted by the news that Loren has been killed, the same way Professor Nolan was killed. Zoey's pain was caused by the feedback of his death through their Imprint. After the assembly, Neferet and Zoey have a little confrontation, in which Neferet blames Zoey for Loren's death. Zoey officially declares herself and Neferet enemies and is comforted by the new tattoos that have appeared on her waist. Afterwards, she comes across Erik, who is shocked - he heard everything Neferet said to her and now knows that Neferet isn't as good as she seems. However, that doesn't fix things between him and Zoey.

Commentary:

I have to admit, main female characters who have guys falling at their feet for no apparent reason kind of annoy me - it was one of the things that drove me crazy about the Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books. I wasn't too surprised that Loren didn't adore Zoey as much as he said he did, since I had already thought Zoey was a bit of an idiot for always feeling all "womanly" around him. I wasn't sure who I wanted her to end up with, but Loren wasn't even on my list. Heath seemed like a nice enough guy, but he also seemed like a horny, fluff-brained puppy a lot of times. Erik was sexy enough, but his behavior had a tendency to bother me a bit. Now, I guess, Zoey has no one. Nice going, Zoey.

But wait, maybe she does have someone! After all, that one warrior vampyre, Darius, showed up quite a bit and seemed very loyal to Zoey, and Zoey kept noticing how muscular and good-looking he was. That's practically a recipe for a future boyfriend/lust object.

I know, it sounds like I'm being mean, but I also think I may be right. It really is a good thing that this series is intended for young adults (16+, I believe) rather than adults, or I'm sure I'd have to put up with long, drawn-out sex scenes reminiscent of Laurell K. Hamilton. Seriously, is it just me, or has that sort of thing become a trend? And, if it has, was Hamilton the one that started it? Anyway, if I'm going to have to put up with a heroine who can't decide between all the gorgeous guys she keeps tripping over, it's at least nice not to have to deal with super-detailed sex scenes. One, those are only sexy if there is actual affection and love in the mix. Two, it's hard to like a sex scene if all I can think about is how stupid the heroine is being - might as well keep the sex scene brief.

It's been months since I finished this book, and I still haven't even requested the next one. I'm sure I will, eventually, but I'm really getting tired of books like this. Maybe the next book will be better, but it's always quite possible that it will be worse. It's not good when you start to hate the main character of a series.

Read-alikes:
  • Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Once again, this is the first book in a series set in a world where the things that go bump in the night have recently revealed themselves to the world at large. Before American law gave vampires, werewolves, and other beings the same rights as humans, Anita Blake was a vampire hunter. Now she's a vampire executioner, in addition to her full-time job as an animator (raiser of the dead). In this first book, we meet Jean-Claude, a vampire who is one of the many people throughout the series who will be competing for Anita's affection. The various supernatural societies in this series all have their own politics and culture, and the cast of characters is usually fun and interesting. The early books feel a lot like paranormal mysteries with a hint of romance. Be warned, though - at around book 10 or so, the tone of the series changes drastically, Anita becomes darker and harder, and the sex scenes become way more graphic and time-consuming, leaving little room for the mysteries that were part of the early appeal of the series. Those who enjoyed all the relationship angst in Chosen may, however, particularly like these later books.
  • Vampire Academy (book) by Richelle Mead - This is the first book in a series. Lissa is a mortal vampire princess and Rose is her half-human/half-vampire guardian. After having been on the run, they are forced to return to St. Vladimir's Academy, a private high school for vampires and the half-bloods who protect them. Rose and Lissa must deal with dangerous social politics, as well as the discovery that Lissa seems to have abilities that haven't been found in vampires for generations. Those who'd like another young adult book (and series) featuring main female characters who must deal with danger, intrigue, and complicated relationships might want to try this. Like Chosen, this book is aimed at an audience mature enough to handle the occasional bit of steamy sex and "language."
  • The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - After Chloe Saunders suddenly starts seeing ghosts, her father and her aunt have her admitted to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. All Chloe wants is to convince the adults at Lyle House that she's better and can leave, but it's not long before she starts noticing that there may be something sinister going on. A couple of the other teens at Lyle House are convinced that Chloe really can see ghosts and is, in fact, a necromancer - they may know what they're talking about, since one of them can do magic. Similar to Zoey, Chloe has to deal with sudden freaky changes to her life, new friends and enemies, people who can't necessarily be trusted, and potential romance (a very tiny part of the book, since Chloe is more concerned with getting to go home that finding herself a guy in the slim pickings of Lyle House).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chalice (book) by Robin McKinley

At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like this. It started off kind of ordinary, then I got a few pages further, and I was hooked. And also somewhat confused, but loving it.

Synopsis:

Mirasol has always considered herself an ordinary beekeeper, quietly tending her woodlot. Although the Master, Chalice, and their Circle are technically of interest and concern to everyone who lives in Willowlands, because their actions and decisions can affect the stability and welfare of the land and everyone and everything living there, Mirasol didn't really think she had any kind of direct connection to that group. Unfortunately, the Master's behavior, always wild to begin with, has grown wilder over time, and his Chalice does not seem to be able to control him. In the end, the Master's wildness kills them both.

Mirasol's quiet life changes when things go suddenly, drastically, magically awry at her woodlot and the Circle visits her cottage to tell her that she is the new Chalice. In the normal order of things, Mirasol would have been the apprentice of the old Chalice and gradually made to understand her duties and powers. Unfortunately, the old Chalice had never named an apprentice, and Mirasol is left to figure out what she must do and how she must do it on her own. Desperately, she gathers up every scrap of information she can find in books. What she can't find in books she must learn through trial and error, because no one seems to want to help her, or even look at her. It's obvious that, if they could have, the Circle would have chosen someone else as Chalice, but Mirasol is Chalice, and that's that.

It's hard to say who's more unwanted - Mirasol as Chalice, or the man, the exiled brother of the old Master, named the new Master. When he was exiled by his brother, the new Master was sent to become a priest of Fire. When he was asked to go back to Willowlands to be the new Master, it was almost too late - he had almost, but not quite, passed the point where he could no longer live among human beings. As it is, the new Master finds it difficult to touch human beings without searing them to the bone and burns Mirasol upon meeting her for the first time. Living in the human world exhausts him.

Both Master and Chalice are ill-equipped for their new duties, but they have to settle into their roles as best they can, because, if they don't, Willowlands will suffer. When the Master, Chalice, and Circle are in an upheaval, the land suffers and literally tears itself apart. Unfortunately, an Overlord is watching the Master and Mirasol's every move, trying to find an excuse to remove the current Master and name a new, outblood Master. Even under calmer circumstances, naming an outblood Master can be a disastrous thing. With Willowlands as unsettled as it is, an outblood Master would likely destroy it. Mirasol desperately wants to keep the current Master and heal Willowlands, but she's barely holding on as Chalice. As it is, she knows that, as a honey Chalice, she's unusual, because there has never been a honey Chalice before. All she can do is try things out, see if they work, and hope she doesn't do too much damage.

Unfortunately, with her lack of political savvy, Mirasol ends up making a misstep, and it becomes more likely that an outblood Master will be named. It isn't until it's almost too late that she begins to actually talk with the Grand Seneschal, who had always intimidated her, and finds in him a good ally. In the end, it's Mirasol's bees, honey, and wax that help tip things in the current Master's favor.

Commentary:

This is one of those books that it's hard to write a summary for, because, really, not much actually happens. I suppose you could say it's a political story, but it's the politics of a strange fantasy land, from the perspective of someone who has very little idea of what they're doing. In a way, it was kind of exhausting, because so much of it is in Mirasol's head, and Mirasol spends most of the book absolutely drained. She doesn't sleep much while she's trying to learn how to do her job, and, when things start to fall apart even more than they had been, she pretty much stops sleeping entirely. I liked Mirasol a lot and kept wishing I could give the poor woman (girl? I can't remember if her age was ever mentioned) a vacation.

The thing about this book that really hooked me, beyond the fact that I liked Mirasol and felt like cheering her on, was the world it was set in. Even though the whole "humans beings directly linked to the well-being of the land" bit has been done before, I liked it. Maybe it's because it always seems to ramp up the tension - if bad things are happening, the human beings who are linked to the land have to worry not only about their personal well-being, but also the well-being of their very environment and the other beings who live in it.

Maybe it's because it wasn't so long ago that I reread McKinley's Beauty, but the Master made me think of the Beast from the "Beauty and the Beast" story. He couldn't really be looked upon at first and seemed to inadvertently cause problems all the time, just by his very existence. Although I was expecting some romance, because I know Robin McKinley's habit of including at least a little romance in everything (this is not a complaint, by the way), if I hadn't had experience with her books before, I'm not sure I would have expected Mirasol and the Master to end up together. Friends, yes, husband and wife, no.

But it's possible that I'm assuming even more romance in their relationship than there actually is - in Mirasol's world, I think that marriage is possibly more of a stabilizing thing than necessarily a romantic thing. Mirasol and the Master care for and respect each other, but I'm not sure that it can be said that they love each other, not yet. It's not like they really know each other all that well, even by the end of the book. I could wish for a sequel that further develops their relationship, but I already know that's not likely to happen. I believe that, other than The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, McKinley hasn't ever written more than one book with the same setting and/or characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I really need to reread her stuff. Happily, I think my library may have a book by her that I've never even read before - that should be nice.

Read-alikes:
  • Sea of Wind (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This is the second volume in Ono's Twelve Kingdoms series - however, it can probably still be enjoyed by someone who hasn't read the first volume, even though certain details may go unnoticed. In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, kirin serve the important role of choosing the kings who rule each kingdom. Unfortunately, the unborn kirin of Tai is torn from the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and spends several years in our world, not knowing that he is really a kirin and not a human. When he is brought back to the Twelve Kingdoms, he must somehow figure out how to be a proper kirin, because only he can choose the next king of Tai. Tai's last king almost ran the kingdom to the ground, and it is in desperate need of a strong ruler, but can a kirin who doesn't know how to be a kirin really figure out who the next ruler should be? Similar to Chalice, this book features a world where each kingdom is intimately linked to its ruler - if the king is flawed and rules badly, the land and its people literally suffer. Like Mirasol, Taiki (the kirin) has no idea what he needs to do or how he should do it, although at least Taiki has others around him who try to help him.
  • Sebastian (book) by Anne Bishop - A long time ago, the world of Ephemera was split into many smaller lands, connected by bridges that can take a person to the land where they truly belong. Each land has its own character and may belong to the Dark, the Light, or somewhere in between the two. Sebastian, a half-incubus, lives in one of the Darker lands and is surprised when one day a sweet young woman who seems to obviously belong to a land of the Light ends up in his land. Even though he knows she's not the sort of person who should be with someone like him, he can't help but start falling for her. However, they both have other things to worry about, too - something truly evil is killing beings in Sebastian's land and other places. Those who'd like another story in which the land is intimately linked to its people might like this. Similar to Chalice, this book begins by just dumping you in the thick of the story - part of the initial fun is just figuring out how the world works. Just a warning, though - this book has more violence, blood, and sexual situations than Chalice.
  • Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - This is the first book in Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series. Talia is part of a very restrictive community that she doesn't feel she fits in with. She dreams of being able to leave and serve Heralds (sort of like travelling peace-makers, although they do much more than that) and their Companions (beings that have bonded with humans and that look like horses, but that are at least as intelligent as humans). Talia's wish is granted when a Companion finds her and bonds with her, taking her away to be trained as a Herald and the new Queen's Own (emotional advisor to the queen). Like Mirasol, Talia has to deal with political machinations and stressful situations in which she doesn't quite know what she should do or how she should do it - plus, she's hesitant to ask others for help, after years of receiving emotional and sometimes physical abuse from several of her own family members. There are also other books in the series that feature characters with an intimate bond with the land.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Death of a Gentle Lady (book) by M.C. Beaton

If I were a more consistent blogger (or if I had not abandoned my previous method of keeping track of my reading with an enormous Excel spreadsheet), I would have realized I had already read this book before I requested it via ILL. I spent the first few pages wondering why everything felt so familiar. I kept getting tingles of "I know who gets killed and who the killer is," which is unusual for me - I'm the kind of person who doesn't put a great deal of effort into trying to guess the killer, so the revelation at the end of the book is usually a surprise for me. If it's not a surprise, then the killer is probably incredibly obvious, or the author did a horrible job of hiding him/her.

Once I figured out I had read the book before, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue reading it. I opted to continue, since I went to the effort of requesting it and our ILL department went to the effort of getting it for me. Plus, it wasn't like I remembered every single detail of the book.

I started this series very far into it - with Death of a Dreamer, I think. At some point, I tried starting over from the beginning but found that I missed some of the characters and story developments that happen later in the series. So, there's a huge chunk of this series I've never read. One of the benefits of that is that, if this series is getting as tired as Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, I don't really notice.

Overall, I like the characters (even though Hamish has an annoying inability to choose who he wants to marry and/or date, combined with an annoying inability to even be happy with not choosing). I'm looking forward to reading more in this series, and maybe one day I'll even make myself try the earlier books again.

Synopsis:

(Warning: I give away the ending.)

Mrs. Margaret Gentle is one of those people who is only nice on the surface. Scratch beneath that surface, and a completely different person is revealed.

Mrs. Gentle lives outside of Braikie, and everyone in Braikie and Lochdubh likes her well enough - everyone except local policeman Hamish Macbeth, who witnesses how insulting and mean she can be towards others, including her own daughter. After Hamish sees Mrs. Gentle as she really is, she retaliates by complaining about him to his superiors. Superintendent Daviot tells Hamish that in six months he will be transferred to Strathbane and his police station in Lochdubh will be closed down. Not only will he not be able to watch over the area and people he really cares about, he won't be able to take his beloved dog and cat with him. Of course, Hamish doesn't take this lying down. He begins to gossip about his situation and Mrs. Gentle's part in it, and it isn't long before Mrs. Gentle is much less liked than before.

Cracks begin to show in Mrs. Gentle's "nice elderly lady" facade. She kicks her daughter out and threatens to report Ayesha, her maid, to the police for not having a work permit. Ayesha, in tears, turns herself in to Hamish, who, being an all-around nice guy (and it probably doesn't hurt that Ayesha is a lovely damsel in distress), has someone alter Ayesha's passport to give her a little more time. Hamish then has a bright idea: he offers to marry Ayesha. If he marries her, she would become a British citizen, and Daviot and the rest would leave Hamish alone for a bit, since there are no quarters for married men in the police accomodations in Strathbane. The two of them could then get a divorce. Ayesha agrees to the idea.

Mrs. Gentle, hoping to annoy Hamish by getting back in the locals' good graces, promises Ayesha a hefty sum of money as a wedding gift and says that the wedding reception can be held at her home. However, Mrs. Gentle had no idea what she was getting herself into - everyone plans to come to the reception. In order to restore her own good mood, she tells Ayesha that she can't give her the money she promised her as a wedding gift. Ayesha, angry, threatens to tell everyone something she overheard that Mrs. Gentle doesn't want known.

The day of the wedding, Ayesha doesn't show up. People feel bad for Hamish, but Hamish is thrilled - he's off the hook! No one can find Ayesha anywhere, however, and it looks like maybe there's more going on than Ayesha getting cold feet. More and more information is uncovered about Ayesha, who is not actually a young Turkish woman named Ayesha, but rather a former Russian prostitute named Irena, on the run from the Russian mob. Hamish suspects that something has happened to her, but he's shocked when the person found dead is not Irena, but Mrs. Gentle. Someone has strangled Mrs. Gentle and thrown her off a cliff.

Not long after Mrs. Gentle's body is found, so is Irena's, folded up into a trunk in Mrs. Gentle's wine cellar. It's unlikely that a small, frail woman like Mrs. Gentle could have killed Irena, and, even if she had, who killed Mrs. Gentle? Likewise, if Irena killed Mrs. Gentle, who then killed her?

Once the townspeople find out about "Ayesha"'s true identity, Hamish is the butt of many jokes. It's embarrassing for him, and it doesn't help that the area is now crawling with reporters, including Elspeth, one of Hamish's ex-girlfriends. Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, another of Hamish's on-again-off-again loves, also reappears. Despite gossip that Hamish may be responsible for Irena's death, neither Elspeth nor Priscilla believes Hamish could've been capable of that, although both women were hurt and shocked when they heard that he was getting married.

While the murder investigations are going on, Harold, an arrogant, annoying writer visiting Lochdubh, helps the townspeople put on a production of Shakespeare's Macbeth (cue the Macbeth jokes). Hamish is jealous because Harold and another man are both showing interest in Priscilla - Harold even gives the part of Lady Macbeth to Priscilla. Hamish also finds his emotions all knotted up when he's around Elspeth. However, he hasn't yet gotten over the problems that caused both of his relationships to fail - he feels Priscilla is too cold (I haven't read the book where things go badly between them, but he seems to think she sees sex as something to stoically endure), and he still feels Elspeth is too critical of his relationship with his pets.

As if his romantic life wasn't making things complicated enough, Hamish also has to deal with the arrival of a visitor from Russia, Inspector Anna Krokovsky. The Inspector was in London, observing British police methods, but she decided to help with the investigation of Irena and Mrs. Gentle's murder, because of Irena's connection to the Russian mafia and her nationality. Unfortunately, Hamish doesn't really like Krokovsky's methods (he gets most of his information from friendly gossip with the locals, while she believes in a more hard-nosed approach; also, she basically tries to kill Blair by encouraging him to nearly drink himself to death shortly after being released from the hospital for alcohol poisoning). It doesn't help that the Inspector seems awfully fond of Hamish. She'd rather accompany him than any other more highly positioned policeman. Hamish is also a bit shocked when she asks to have sex with him (actually, it almost feels like an order).

Suspects in Mrs. Gentle's killing abound. Nobody who really knew her liked her. There is evidence that her killer may have been a woman with a mole on her face, but no one knows who the woman is or where she went. It seems likely that Irena was killed because she knew something she wasn't supposed to.

Before long, one of Mrs. Gentle's relatives, Mark Gentle, becomes the primary suspect in both murders. It looks like the man killed Mrs. Gentle before she could change her will and cut her out and then killed Irena because she was blackmailing him with a recording of him saying he would kill Mrs. Gentle for cutting him out of her will. However, Hamish doesn't believe that they have the right person in custody, and the case soon unravels. Someone keeps trying to kill Hamish, and he is finally forced to go into hiding. However, Hamish's superior, Blair, who is determined to get rid of Hamish, spreads rumors about his location, and there is another attempt on Hamish's life.

Doing a bit of investigating outside his own territory, Hamish discovers that Mark Gentle has been killed. Without any obvious primary suspects left, Hamish and the rest of the police are left high and dry. However, Hamish begins to suspect the writer, Harold, after he sees the man dressed up as a woman for the part of Lady Macbeth (Harold had upset the other two women who knew the part). Once Hamish sees Harold's small feet, he's sure he's the murder. It's revealed that "Harold Jury" is really Cyril Edmonds, the bastard child of Mrs. Gentle. She left him to a life filled with abuse and neglect, and he was determined to get even with her. He killed Harold Jury and assumed his identity. Irena had agreed to help him get his revenge, but when she told him that she was going to marry Hamish, he became afraid she would betray him, so he killed her. He repeatedly tried to kill Hamish because he thought Hamish knew more than he was letting on, due to misleading rumors Hamish had spread. He killed Mark Gentle just in case Irena had told him anything incriminating.

In an attempt to escape, Cyril goes to Mrs. Gentle's castle on the cliff but dies when the cliff finally crumbles and the castle goes down with it. Things aren't over for Hamish, however. He is kidnapped by a cheap prostitute named Ruby, under Blair's orders. Blair hopes that if Hamish is gone long enough, Hamish's police station will be shut down and he can finally live peacefully without him around. However, Hamish gets loose, finds Ruby, and encourages her to blackmail Blair into marrying her and allowing her to live a respectable life. Ruby does just that, going by her original name of Mary Ashford. Blair, having no other choice, marries Mary, much to Hamish's glee.

Commentary:

Like I said, I've only read a few of the books in this series. There's really nothing in each individual book that excites me - it's one of the reasons I haven't felt the need to buy any of the books in this series. However, there are general things I tend to like. I like Hamish for basically being a nice guy. I like the hints of romance (although too much more of Hamish's indecision, and I may start disliking the romance). I like the humor, and I like the quirkiness of Lochdubh's residents.

I first started reading this series as part of the "mysteries" portion of the readers' advisory class I took - if I remember right, this is considered a "cozy" mystery series, which brought me up against some of the misconceptions I had about cozies. The murders in the Hamish Macbeth books aren't described in queasily graphic detail, but they're not completely bloodless, and Hamish Macbeth's world isn't devoid of real world ugliness - this particular book, for example, has prostitutes, the Russian mafia, and an alcoholic character. Even so, the overall feel of the book and its setting isn't dark and ugly - Lochdubh seems like a fairly nice place, even with all the murders. It's like the murders are something separate and don't touch the village enough to taint it.

Overall, I liked this book, although I can't say that I'd rave about it to someone. I could see myself recommending the series to someone, but not necessarily a particular book - it's general aspects of this series, not the plots of specific books, than appeal to me. That's part of the reason why this commentary is so short - there's just not much I can say about this particular book.

Read-alikes:
  • The Quiche of Death (book) by M. C. Beaton - This is the first in Beaton's Agatha Raisin series. Agatha Raisin has decided to retire from her London public relations job and live a quiet life in the Cotswold village of Carsely. Hoping to gain acceptance from the villagers, Agatha enters a local bake-off, undeterred by her inability to cook or bake. When Agatha's quiche turns out to be poisoned and kills the bake-off judge, she's determined to prove on her own that the judge was murdered (by someone other than her) in order to avoid having to admit that the quiche was store-bought. I know, it's cheating, suggesting a book by the same author. Still, if you like the village atmosphere in Death of a Gentle Lady, you might want to try this series.
  • Evans Above (book) by Rhys Bowen - This is the first book in Bowen's Constable Evans series. In this book, Evan Evans, a young, unattached North Wales police constable, becomes suspicious when two men die in separate mountain "accidents" on the same day and tries to convince his superiors that their deaths are connected and are the result of murder. The setting is a Welsh village rather than a Scottish one, and Evans is a newcomer to the village, but he deals with some of the same personal issues as Hamish, such as superiors who don’t trust his hunches and villagers who’d like to see him paired off with someone.
  • The Murder at the Vicarage (book) by Agatha Christie - Col. Protheroe, a generally disliked man, is found murdered, apparently shot in the back of the head while writing a note in the Vicar's study. The only problem is that this seems impossible - no one heard the shot, and no one saw anyone go near the study. It seems as though everyone had a motive for murdering Col. Protheroe, and several red herrings make things even more complicated. Those who liked Hamish's methods (using his insider status in the village and sensitive attention to how others react to his questioning to find out information that others could not) might like this book, also set in a small village.
  • The Cat Who Blew the Whistle (book) by Lillian Jackson Braun - This is actually the 17th book in the series, but, like the Hamish Macbeth series, you can start almost anywhere in the series and not be too confused. In this book, newspaper columnist Jim Qwilleran ("Qwill") and his mystery-solving Siamese Koko, are convinced that Floyd Trevelyan, the owner of a refurbished train that was supposed to become a new local attraction, did not leave town to escape prosecution for fraud and are determined to investigate. Meanwhile, Qwill also has cause to worry about his girlfriend Polly's health (I'm pretty sure she's his girlfriend, but correct me if I'm wrong). Fans of quirky characters, a quiet location (aside from all the murders), and Hamish’s soft spot for animals might want to try this.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wild and crazy eyed

Expect another couple posts tomorrow and next week, but only because I already finished and scheduled them prior to the onslaught of pet-related stress. I somehow have to keep my pet rat from ripping out his stitches, while at the same time allowing him to stay fed and hydrated. The E-collar he's currently wearing helps with the former and interferes a bit with the latter. Plus, the poor boy now has a slightly swollen jaw from the crazy antics he performs trying to get the collar off. I really, really need to get some sleep, so I think I'm going to bed early. However, I can't help but worry that, when I wake up, he'll have somehow removed and/or destroyed his collar and ripped out his stitches again. This freaks me out all the more because I don't think there's a vet anywhere nearby that I can visit until Monday if something bad happens. Still, I can't go without sleep and sit there staring at him until Monday.

If I had remembered that rat post-surgery healing was this stressful and difficult, I'm not sure I could have said "yes" to the surgery so easily. Here's hoping the next 7 or so days go better than I expect them to.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogger change

I remember, at one point, wishing that certain aspects of Blogger were a bit more like WordPress - one of the things I'd seen on WordPress blogs that I wished Blogger had was the ability to create standalone pages. It seems that Blogger now has this capability, if I understood what I just read. I don't know when this feature appeared - I only just noticed it next to the "Edit Posts" tab. I'll have to try it out sometime.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Higurashi - When They Cry: Abducted By Demons Arc (manga, vol. 1) story by Ryukishi07, art by Karin Suzuragi

I don't know if I would have liked this more, or less, if I hadn't already seen some of the anime - the moment when the cute girl turns psycho was wonderfully freaky and creepy in the anime, but, since I already knew that moment was coming, the surprise was a bit ruined when I read the manga. Currently, I enjoy the anime more than the manga.

I've seen the games for sale on JBOX and really wish I knew Japanese so I could play them. The mystery elements, combined with the creepiness, would probably make them lots of fun.

Synopsis:

It's 1983, and Keiichi Maebara moved to the tiny rural town of Hinamizawa only a month ago because of his father's job as a painter. It's an idyllic little town where everyone is friendly and gets along well - even though Keiichi is such a recent transfer student, he's already part of a close-knit group at school. That group is composed of four girls: Rena, Mion, Satoko, and Rika. Rena is a gentle, blushing girl Keiichi's age who obsessed over "adowable" things. Mion, also Keiichi's age, is more confident and aggressive - she's also got a big chest and loves to use it to tease Keiichi. Keiichi's new school is very small, so there's only one class, composed of a variety of grades and ages. Satoko and Rika are younger than Keiichi, Mion, or Rena. Satoko is mischievous and loves to try to get Keiichi to fall into the traps she sets. Rika is sweet and very polite.

Keiichi figures he's starting to fit in pretty well, until one day, when he meets an outsider, a freelance photographer named Tomitake who often visits Hinamizawa to take pictures of birds. Tomitake tells Keiichi a little about a gruesome murder committed in Hinamizawa several years ago - the victim was dismembered, and one of his arms still hasn't been found. When Keiichi tries to get Rena to tell him a little more, she cuts him off, saying that she doesn't know anything and that she, herself, only moved to Hinamizawa a year ago. Mion, too, seems creepily resistant to admitting that any violence ever occurred in Hinamizawa. When Keiichi discovers an old magazine with an article on the incident, he has further cause to wonder why his new friends are lying to him. Little things start to freak him out, like when Rena approaches him with a huge cleaver (at this point in the story, Rena's intentions are still entirely innocent - she found the cleaver so she could cut some "adowable" junk free).

Keiichi's life becomes a surreal mix of goofy fun with his friends and an increasingly paranoid desire to understand what's lurking underneath Hinamizawa's idyllic surface. On the day of the Cotton Drifting Festival, Keiichi meets Tomitake again, as well as Miyo, a nurse at Irie Clinic. Miyo tells Keiichi more about the murder. Apparently, a dam was proposed that would have destroyed Hinamizawa, and the man who was killed was the director of the dam construction project. He was killed on the night of the Cotton Drifting Festival, and, every year after that on the same night, somone has died and someone has disappeared. The locals call it "Oyashiro-sama's curse," after the village's guardian deity (which is actually a demon). Despite this freaky bombshell, Keiichi and Tomitake leave the festival in high spirits after spending the night playing festival games with Keiichi's friends.

The next day, however, Keiichi is called out of school by Detective Ooishi of the Okinomiya Police - Tomitake died on the night of the Cotton Drifting Festival, sometime after leaving Keiichi and his friends. There was evidence that he has been attacked by several people, but the direct cause of death was self-inflicted wounds - he clawed his own throat out. Miyo has disappeared and may be dead as well. Ooishi wants Keiichi's help identifying the killer. He wants Keiichi, who hasn't been in the village long but gets along reasonably well with the locals, to act as his informant, letting him know if he hears or sees anything potentially useful. However, Ooishi warns Keiichi that he must not tell anyone about the murder or what he's doing to help the police - not even his friends, and especially not Mion, whose family led the resistance against the dam construction project and who personally interfered with a public official performing his duties during the resistance.

Keiichi is conflicted - he wants to know the truth, but he hates hiding things from his friends. He later overhears Rena and Mion talking about the murder, which they shouldn't even have known about, since it was supposed to have been a secret. They say something odd, that Miyo may have been "demoned away" - Rena worries that she may be next because of something that happened a while back. While cleaning up with Rena after school, Keiichi discovers an old score sheet with all the girls' names, plus the name Satoshi. Rena won't tell him about Satoshi, saying that she had only just transferred to the school when Satoshi transferred out and she never knew him well. Keiichi is getting more than a little tired of constantly feeling like an outsider, however, and he blows up on Rena and accuses her of hiding things from him.

That's when things get really freaky. Rena's eyes become inhuman, and her behavior completely changes. She confronts Keiichi about the things he's hiding, how he met with a stranger. Keiichi, terrified, doesn't tell Rena the truth about Ooishi. Her behavior briefly switches back to the old Rena, but then she goes demonic again, screaming that he's lying. She changes back to her usual gentle self, but now Keiichi doesn't know what to think or do. When Ooishi calls, Keiichi tells him about some of the things he's overheard, but he doesn't think Ooishi will believe him if he tells him about what happened with Rena, so he doesn't mention that. Ooishi tells Keiichi more about the murders, including that Satoshi was one of the people "demoned away" on one of the nights of the Cotton Drifting Festival. Unfortunately, after Keiichi hangs up, he discovers that his father had let Rena into the house earlier, and she had apparently been quietly listening in on his entire conversation with Ooishi.

What's going on with Rena? Will Keiichi, still an outsider, die next?

Commentary:

Higurashi: When They Cry started out as a "PC version doujin novel game," according to one of the pages of extras in the manga. There's also an anime version - I saw a few episodes of this prior to reading this manga. I have to say, I prefer the anime so far, because the level of creepiness seems much higher. The contrast between the girls' sickeningly happy and often goofy behavior and the horrors that Keiichi gradually uncovers feels, to me, to be much better in the anime - not only are there visuals to raise the tension, there's the music and the voice acting. The bit with Rena's cleaver also was better in the anime, I think. I can't say anything about the game, because I've never played it. You can buy it (and other related games) at JBOX.com, but you'll need to know Japanese, because it hasn't been translated.

The goofy parts of this manga are just over the top. At one point, Keiichi tries to foil one of Satoko's traps by wearing a cicada outfit. At another point, he plays a game with the girls where, when he wins, he gets to tell them what to do, like wearing panda ears and talking like a little sister, or wearing a PE uniform and talking like a maid. I'm glad that this is a horror manga and not a harem romance manga, because this would all just be disgusting otherwise.

Rena's demonic behavior was very well done - the artwork was a little odd, but the slightly "off" feel fit well with Rena's "off" behavior, so I didn't mind so much. The artist emphasizes Rena's freakiness by switching over to full-color artwork for the spread where Rena blows up on Keiichi - very nice effect, although I ruined it a bit for myself by flipping through the manga before reading it all.

Ooishi bothered me in the anime, and he still bothers me here. His usual cheerful smile just feels a bit macabre when he's there to talk about a murder. Plus, what is this guy thinking? He knows the situation is dangerous, he suspects that a group of locals is responsible for the murders, and yet he's asking a teenage boy, who he has already identified as a potential future victim, to be his spy?! Is he trying to get Keiichi killed?

A lot of stuff in this first volume corresponds to what happens in the first few episodes of the anime (I'm not sure which came first, the anime or the manga). However, the emphasis on the demonic aspects plus the information about Mion's potential connection to the murders are both things that don't come up quite as strongly or in the same way until later in the anime. It's interesting seeing another interpretation of the story - it makes me wish I both knew Japanese and owned a Nintendo DS, so I could try the game.

Overall, I look forward to reading more of the manga, but, I don't think I'll be buying any of it - I've already got the anime on my "to be watched" pile, and that's good enough for me. When I finally get around to see it all, I'm sure I'll be sleeping with the covers pulled up to my chin and a flashlight nearby.

Extras:

There's a page that explains a little about the story, its origins, its appeal, and the way it's structured. There's also a little bit at the end written by Ryukishi 07, just a few paragraphs, a few paragraphs by Suzuragi, and two pages of translation notes. You can also count the 3 (or four, if you count that first page) full-color pages as extras, if you'd like. Those who appreciate that sort of thing will like that the translation keeps the suffixes (Tomitake-san, Oyashiro-sama, onii-chan, etc.).

I had a horrible time coming up with read-alike and watch-alike suggestions, so feel free to comment and suggest your own. I just don't watch a lot of psychological horror - I get nightmares too easily.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Perfect Blue (anime movie) - This movie is about a Japanese pop idol who wants to become a movie star. She takes a very sleazy role that's not in keeping with her shiny pop idol image, and one of her fans feels very betrayed and begins stalking her. Those who liked Higurashi's combination of cute and creepy might like this movie - the "cute" factor is lower (basically, just that the main character is a pop idol), but the "creepy" factor is off the charts.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another creepy psychological mystery story might want to try this.
  • Elfen Lied (manga) by Lynn Okamoto; Elfen Lied (anime TV series) - Two teenagers find a bloody, naked young girl on the beach. She has lost her memory, so they name her Nyuu. What they don't realize is that the girl is a killing machine, from an experiment gone horribly wrong, and it's only a matter of time before she starts killing again. Those who found themselves strangely fascinated by Higurashi's combination of cuteness and horrible, bloody murder might want to try this. I'll admit, I've neither seen this anime nor read the manga - I watched a snippet of an AMV using clips from this series, and the graphic depictions of severed body parts was a little more than I felt I could handle.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Adventurous reading, future reading

I'm really bad about updating my Shelfari "currently reading" list - I've actually been reading Deeanne Gist's The Measure of a Lady for a few days now and only got around to adding it today. Heck, Kelley Armstrong's Awakening never even made it onto the list - I started that one and finished it before I ever even got around to updating the list.

Anyway, back to Gist's book. I read about Gist's Maid to Match and would really like to read it (and, seriously, Blogger needs to fix its search boxes, I had to dig through a few months worth of archives to find this post because a search for "Gist" turned up nothing). There's still a few months left before that one comes out, though, so I decided to try one of her other books. I have read a grand total of two Christian fiction books - Jan Karon's At Home in Mitford and Nancy Moser's Time Lottery. At Home in Mitford was set in a town that felt like it was stuck in someone's glorified idea of the '50s. I just couldn't relate to its world or any of its characters, and the lives of its characters didn't interest me. I enjoyed Time Lottery more. I wanted to see if, in terms of its ability to interest me, Gist's writing fell more on the Karon or Moser side, and I'm happy to say that she seems to fall more on the Moser side. I'm almost done with The Measure of a Lady, and it's been interesting and, for the most part, not too preachy. I do plan on writing a full post about it, but it may be a long while before it gets published - I have a feeling I'll have an awful time coming up with a decent read-alike list. Any time I get adventurous and read something outside my usual genres and subgenres, the read-alike lists take a least a few hours to put together.

Also on my list: What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss. The cover is terrible (I'll just tell myself that she's cosplaying or something), but I can't help but want it. If I sell some of the stinkers I've read recently, I can buy it and avoid the embarrassment of getting it via ILL.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...