Science Fiction

Young Miles

by: Lois McMaster Bujold

Young Miles is this month’s book club pick and to be honest, I’m just not that into it.  I’m nearly 250 pages in and I have no inclination to finish, really.  I keep on trying to, because book club, but as soon as I pick it up, my mind starts wandering and either I start considering a nap or I think of something else that I desperately need to do, like dishes.  I need your opinion – should I finish reading it or do you think that we have incompatible differences? Read on, readers, and let me know what you think in the comments!

The volume I have is apparently 2 novellas and a short story, so there’s approximately 800 pages total.  (Also, I’m nearly 250 pages into the first novella and it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near a conclusion, so I’m saying it’s at least 1 novel and 2 additional stories of undetermined type.)

As for why I’m not interested…well, firstly, there’s one female character so far and she’s young, spirited, over-protected, and out on her first adventure.  (She’s basically Jasmine from “Aladdin” but without being bad ass enough to strike out on her own.) Her only redeeming value is she can fight – except the two most prominent male characters spend all their time worrying about her even though it’s made clear she’s a very good fighter. While I don’t need every story I read to feature a female lead, I have a hard time staying involved if all the important characters are male.  (And I don’t mean strong like bad ass mofo here to save the day, just that they need to have a personality and be there for a reason besides love interest! or token female! or damsel in distress!)

Secondly, the characters doesn’t feel that well-developed.  They’re not badly developed, it’s just that they’re blandly predictable.  Miles is the unfortunately physically disadvantaged guy who’s wicked smart and cunning and will end up saving the day using only his brains and force of character! Even though everything was stacked against him!  (Except for the fact that he was born in a position of power and money and given the best of education… does she go into that?)

His bodyguard is an ice-cold soldier with a deep dark secret (that probably drives his sense of honor and obligation)! Also, he’s a sadistic sociopath? Or maybe just a sadist… A nice twist but it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere character wise, as he’s unlikely to use his sadistic torturing abilities against anybody but the bad guy.  I can see tension building between him and Miles – they’ve already had one stand-off on torturing enemies – but I feel like that’s the only tension his soullessness will bring to the book.

I could go on, but the rest of the characters are much less well-developed and really aren’t worth the time.  I did find Tung, an arrogant but brilliant military historian fairly interesting; Lois threw some unexpected twists in with his personality that I really liked.

And I’m just not very into her world-building.  It’s okay but several things I’m just not getting quick enough, so scenes only make sense after the fact, like when I was confused about how they were having a spaceship battle at the refinery. It was only after the battle that I realized the refinery was in space. (This could be because I’ve been intermittently spacing out while reading, rather than a fault in the writing.)

Her writing is good, but, at least in this book, not great and she’s definitely had more than a few choppy scene shifts that were just awkward to read.

I can see where she’s using her world building for political metaphors or to make a point about American politics/society … but it’s just not gripping me or even making me think terribly hard what she’s saying.

Space books aren’t my favorite, anyway, and I think the problem with this book is that to me, nothing is exceptional enough to really grasp my attention.  Everything is okay across the board but there’s nothing about it that’s a major draw to me.

Am I missing something, readers?  Should I go ahead and strive to finish, as it will drastically improve, or do you think that this book and I are, alas, never going to be friends?

Teen Fiction

The Animorphs

The Moonlight Library blog is doing the most awesome sauce thing. They are rereading and summarizing/reviewing all of the Animorphs series, a sci-fi staple of my childhood. (Well, up until about book 25, when they began to be ghostwritten and, sadly, lost much of their charm for me.)

Ah! I can’t express to you all the fond memories and joy these posts are evoking in me.  I love that someone out in the wide world is doing this and making it available for everyone else.  (My thanks!)  I love discovering things that I missed as a kid or feeling that “fond memory” glow.  (Or, sometimes, laughing at how something I thought was soooo awesooommmmeeee!!!!! was in fact pretty ridiculous.) I’m just in love with this whole business, really.

I remember finding, years ago, a website where someone had done a similar-but more snarky-website with the Sweet Valley High books, another staple of my childhood.

Anyone know of other childhood book series being given a similar treatment? Please, leave a link in the comments!


The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m really excited for the new movie coming out! I read The Great Gatsby in high school but didn’t retain much so it was the perfect excuse to reread it. Instead of actually rereading it I listened to the audiobook that Anthony Heald narrated so well.

If you’ve never read The Great Gatsby, it’s an American classic set in the Roaring Twenties. Nick Carraway, our narrator, tells of the summer he went to New York to become a businessman.  There, he meets up with Tom, a former classmate at Yale, and Daisy, Tom’s wife and Nick’s second cousin, a couple of leisure.  He lives next door to one J. Gatsby, millionaire and man extraordinaire.

Upon my “reread” I’ve changed my opinion of the novel.  I think, in fact, that I – not exactly like – but perhaps appreciate this book.

Thematically, I have a very hard time dealing with the novel.  “Daisy and Tom are careless people.” Fitzgerald writes, and of all things that are cruel or hurtful, carelessness is the one I have the hardest time understanding.  I can comprehend a person driven by malice, blinded by emotion, or unable to see the consequences of their actions.  But hurting another through carelessness – not by intent or some unfortunate inability to learn – that’s something I cannot easily grasp. To be so careless takes a willful rejection of something essential to humanity, though what that is, exactly, I couldn’t articulate. It seems so utterly alien to me, that such a person could exist; it creates a disconnect with the novel.

Oh, well, I suppose everyone has characters or themes they cannot connect with, even in the greatest of literature.  Fitzgerald is a brilliant author, however, and his characters are beautifully complete.  Gatsby is one of the most wholly human characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  He is by turns magnificent and pathetic, both buoyed up and deceived by a type of hope intimately related to the notion of being American; something akin to, or perhaps part of, the American dream.

Nick, the narrator, is searching for something, though I’m not sure even he knows what. He undergoes a type of disillusionment that, I think, is rather common to the middle and upper middle class, especially for recent college graduates. One of the nuances I missed in high school was how he changed from a passive character idly reflecting the values and social notions he’s been taught to an active character acting upon his own observations.  Best of all, he does this by actively living, rather than spending long periods of time in deep introspection or self-examination.  Even though the novel is first-person, it is never about Nick’s involvement with himself.

I’m no expert on the Roaring Twenties, but I rather think Fitzgerald’s caught the feel of a society high on life and winning the war.  The ease in which the war is mentioned, the complete lack of gravity shown towards the veterans, is one of the most notable differences in their time and ours.  It would be hard for an author in today’s society to write about a soldier without attaching some charged notion of heroism or the banality of war.  And yet, Fitzgerald only casually mentions the veteran status of Nick and Gatsby; without any fuss he notes simply that Nick feels Midwestern society unexciting after the thrill of WWI.  And Gatsby’s war heroics simply add to his appeal rather than being a separate status symbol.

Fitzgerald’s writing is elegant and understated.  There’s tons of symbolism, if that’s your thing, and thematically the novel is rich.  Much of it applies to American society today.  Most of the classics I read are European in origin and don’t apply in the same ways; it was oddly fulfilling to read something direct specifically at Americans.  The book is also short and easy to read, so if you’re on a time or energy budget, fear not this novel!

I recommend this to anyone who likes American classics, the Roaring Twenties, great literature, or simply a good story that feels meaningful without being preachy.  If you love your happy endings, though, or want everyone to learn their lesson, you may want to give this one a pass.  

Side note: I’m so excited about Leonardo DiCaprio playing Gatsby; I think he’s perfect for the part! And Baz Luhrmann is one of my favorite directors; I cannot wait to see how he does the Roaring Twenties.  I only wish Amy Adams was playing Daisy; I think her artless charm – anyone seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? – would be the crowing touch of the film.

Wow! Long post! But if you made it all the way through and have a thought on the book or the movie or the casting, drop a line in the comments!


The Temptation of Your Touch

temptationcomingattractionsby: Teresa Medeiros

The Temptation of Your Touch is Teresa Medeiros’ latest romance novel, a companion to The Pleasure of Your Kiss. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as Goodnight, Tweetheart, the last book I reviewed by her, I did enjoy it more than most of her recent work.

The premise is that our hero, Maximillian Burke, finds himself in disgrace in London, buys a country mansion, and flees to it to escape his pain.  Alas, that country mansion contains a most intriguing housekeeper and heroine, Mrs. Anne Spencer, a mystery, a ghost, and a staff of inept servants.  May the hilarity ensue!

It is a fairly funny book that doesn’t ever feel like the author is forcing her characters into awkward situations or clever comments for a laugh.  Medeiros has a light, humorous style which she generally employees with great success.  The tragic elements in her books somehow complement this tone, giving the stories a depth I wouldn’t expect from just reading the first chapter.  She easily introduces tragic elements into a “fluffier” read without sacrificing the lighter tone.

Hmm. I will say that I didn’t much care for the hero’s interactions with his family, which didn’t feel as natural as they could have.  Then again, I think she’s building off of The Pleasure of Your Kiss, and it has been a while since I read that.  Perhaps reading the two together would smooth out the one awkward scene.

(If you’ve read Yours Until Dawn, then the rest of this paragraph will be spoiler-y.)  Thematically, it’s very similar to her previous book, Yours Until Dawn, and she handles the plot line and heroine very similarly. I liked Yours Until Dawn a bit better, but I think that was because I enjoyed the basic plot structure more – Yours Until Dawn was loosely built on a Beauty and the Beast scaffold, just without any kidnapping or evidence of Stockholm syndrome. Having read that, it was fairly easy to predict the similar twist in The Temptation of Your Touch.  This actually detracted a bit from my enjoyment, but I imagine some would find it adds to their experience.

Medeiros doesn’t usually go for remarkably original plots, mind you, but she uses old plot lines so very well that I prefer them to anything original or new she’s produced. There’s something so satisfactory about reading a fresh retelling of an old story. Now, this one was a mite too close to one she had already written, but normally she uses a fairy tale structure or a common romance plot line and just counts on the characters, stylistic touches, and setting to differentiate it from countless other stories.  And it works.  There’s a charming familiarity that draws the reader further into the story without overpowering any of the other elements.

Overall, it was a fun read and exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it – something that was light and easy with slight dramatic touches.  It was more reminiscent of her work from the early 2000s than anything she’s written lately – but, in my humble opinion, that’s a good thing. She’s an excellent writer; it is never painful to read her words and her characters are engaging and sympathetic. My only big criticism of this book is that it’s too much like Your Until Dawn.

If you’re looking for a happy-ending novel that’s never sloppy or overly dramatic but is funny and has a realistic feel, if not terribly realistic events, than you should give this book a chance.  If you like hugely dramatic or very sexual novels or unduly romantic characters, than, alas, this may not be the book for you.