neadods: (reading)
OB DISCLAIMER: I've known "L.A. Kornetsky" by another name for decades. That said? I wouldn't have written this if I didn't mean it.

Collared (Gin & Tonic, #1)Collared by L.A. Kornetsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Collared may be written under a new pen name, but the author's previous experience shines through. The first of the Gin and Tonic mysteries -- that would be Virginia "Ginny" Mallard, private concierge and Tony Tonica, bartender -- is a thoroughly enjoyable read, establishing an excellent foundation for what will hopefully be a long series.

Self-employed Ginny is always on the lookout for a new job handling the little details that her clients just don't have the time or energy to deal with. Running errands. Finding the right summer camp. Running around finding a missing person may not quite be her usual thing, but it's not impossible for a concierge, especially not for one who stands to make a lot of money and connections just by spending a few days tracking down a missing businessman for his nephew/business partner. After all, it's not like she's being asked to play private investigator and solve a crime, is it?

Of course it is. Fortunately, Ginny has plenty of backup. Not just in the shape of Tony Tonica, her friendly neighborhood barman, but also from her dog Georgie and the bar cat Mistress Penny Drops.

Although the animals talk to each other - easily believable from anyone who's seen pets interact - they do not talk to the people around them, nor do they act like furry little sardonic humans. And that's what makes Collared stand out - it's refreshingly free of twee. The dog worries about dog things; the cat acts like a cat. The humans are equally believably human, especially Ginny. I've read far too many cozies where the author mistakes "neurotic" and "insecure" for "adorably cute." Kornetsky never forgets that a cozy is first and foremost about solving a puzzle, delivering a solid, thoughtful mystery wrapped a well-paced appealing read.



View all my reviews
neadods: (tbabyJack)
T3: lj user="neadods"> a href="http://neadods.livejournal.com/754445.html">reviews Skypoint, Pack Animals, and Almost Perfect

So, three new Torchwood tie-in books have come out. I've read them and found them to be full of massively depressed people who can't put together obvious clues until things are going to hell and someone else has to help them out, who live in a world where nothing has basic, obvious safety features, and who prefer retcon to personal communication.

Well, I can't complain that the books aren't just like the show.

They come with a distinct internal timeline, with Pack Animals coming first, set just before Gwen and Rhys' wedding. Someone is selling a monster-based collectible card game in which weevils figure prominently. Only someone is actually calling the monsters through...

Points to Peter Anghelides (author of the rather better Another Life) for finding a new reason for Ianto to get naked. Points are however deducted by those of us who remember the 70s show those scenes were based on. Also, points in general are deducted for the completely unrealistic means by which the monsters are manifested, and the sloppy solution (although it is doubtless a comfort to Torchwood that someone out there is more screwed up than they are.)

Next up is Skypoint, which should be titled "Take Prozac Before Reading." There's a new condo skyscraper in Cardiff, and it comes with all the modern conveniences - hidden lighting, convection ovens, private parking, psychotic mob boss in the penthouse, and meat-eating alien coming out of the walls. (It's this building that is missing basic, mandatory safety features. You'll know what I'm talking about when you get to that scene.)

Although Gwen and Rhys have just been married, it's Tosh and Owen who get to play unHappy Families in the newest-rented apartment. And unhappy families they are, what with Owen so miserable about being undead and taking it out on Tosh so she won't get any ideas about fantasizing about finally getting him. No fears there, Owen, she's too busy endlessly meditating on her own fractured family and her stint in military prison.

It's not that it's an unreadable book, but I did want them to shut up and do their jobs a lot sooner than they did. Not that the outcome is really in doubt - hello, Torchwood book. Torchwood will win in the end, and (due to the period when it's set) it means that maximum mileage will be gotten from Jack being unkillable and Owen being already dead.

Almost Perfect is set after the end of the season, and frankly, getting rid of the two most morose characters does wonders for the tone of the Torchwood team. Everyone left is in a relationship, however dysfunctional, and thus the reader is spared endless Oh Woe Is Me, I Have No Life internal monologues.

Almost Perfect is not almost perfect, but it is a damnsight better than the others. James Goss is being highly ambitious and a little bit too clever - it's not a linear narrative, all the chapters have obscure, cutesy titles, and one of the chapters is only 1 sentence long.

But for all of that, it's a good read - mostly because it breaks all of the Torchwood cliches. It's almost entirely character-driven. There is a plot and a solid one, but the action is focused on each member of the team, and each character gets something significant to do. Jack is tracking down bits of his past. Gwen is investigating the skeleton sitting at a fancy restaurant. And Ianto... woke up a woman.

Hijinks ensue.

I read the others because I read all the Torchwood books, but I enjoyed Almost Perfect.
neadods: (Default)
I'm going to have to give up my reviewing job because [livejournal.com profile] mistful is way, Way, waaaaaayyyy more entertaining at it than I am. (Do I have to keep reccing her, or have y'all saved time and friended her directly?)

ELIZABETH EYRE: Where are the kids now?
FAKE ROCHESTER: Oh, totally gone. Yeah, their aunt and uncle totally made up with me. So they're off.
ELIZABETH EYRE: As soon as their purpose as plot devices was fulfilled?
FAKE ROCHESTER: ... Do you fancy cucumber sandwiches for lunch? Because I think I do.



I can't link back to the "I love RTD for the character traits he gave Martha Jones" post because it's flocked (and frankly, if you can't read it, you'd never believe who's saying that.) However, I will take a moment to make my part of the conversation public, because it's worth saying again:

Two reasons that I loved Martha Jones were because she 1) was willing to admit the things she doesn't know and 2) is the only companion we see applying what she's read/seen to what she's doing onscreen. We saw Rose apply things she'd learned from the Doctor (sometimes a bit sideways, as in her mashed-up speech in Christmas Invasion) and we saw Donna applying her varied work experience to the adventure at hand, and these are very cool things. But I'm a technical writer IRL and I love someone who actually whips out the manual before operating machinery like pie.

Reading the manual (and the time she called her Mum in 42) - I think it's a really healthy sign to freely admit "I don't know x" and equally openly go find out what she needs. Beyond the tech writer's "yay!" moment, that's the sign of someone with a lot of confidence (and, I think, also a sign that at the time she was a companion, she was still a student, and *expected* to be openly learning.)

But more than that, we see her apply her entertainment to the adventures, and that's just flat-out cool. In part because she's obviously an SF geek, having alluded to Harry Potter and Ray Bradbury, and thus there's the "one of us!" recognition. In part, because when she applies them to the adventure du jour, it means that she not only retains what she's seen, but can apply it logically to the situation at hand.

She's the only companion to pepper the Doctor with a series of time travel questions (Shakespeare Code). Although he blew her off, it was proof that she has read a fair number of time-travel-based stories. (I suddenly realize that the Doctor may have blown her off in part because he was irritated that time travel wasn't a new and shiny concept to Martha; Ray Bradbury obviously got there first.)

She discussed Harry Potter with the Doctor (Shakespeare Code - which, in retrospect, is one of my favorite episodes for her characterization) and she fitted one of JKR's words into the works of the Bard.

And in Gridlock, she used what I'm pretty sure is a Hunt for Red October/Silent Running maneuver (she may well have seen both) to save everyone's lives among the macra.

Rose got to live out her dream of an exciting life off the council estate; Donna got to live out her dream of being important and wanted - and Martha, methinks, got to live out her dream of actually *living* in one of the books/movies she'd seen.
neadods: (academia)
"When much is taken, something is returned." This motto, printed on the cover of Pratchett's latest book, Nation is the heart of every story inside.

There are three stories. The bracket story is of Captain Sampson, who has lost the society he knows. Upon returning from a long voyage, his crew is barred from leaving the ship. Sickness rages through this slightly alternate 1800s England, sickness that has claimed the royal family. Captain Sampson must go find the remaining heir to the throne and the clock is ticking - if the heir isn't found in time, ownership of England is ceded to the French according to the fine print version of the Magna Carta. ("I thought I knew all of the Magna Carta, and I never heard of those clauses." "They are in the ratified version. You don't think barons who could hardly write their names could come up with a proper set of sensible rules for the proper running of a large country?")

The heir to the heir - she prefers to be called Daphne - has lost her way and her protection. A tsunami swamped the ship that was taking her to her father's governorship in the South Pelagic Ocean, and she is the only survivor of the resulting wreck. Scientifically minded but raised to know no task harder than embroidery, she must survive until her father's ships find her.

Mau has lost most of all - his tribe, his home, his identity, his faith, his very soul. Leaving his island home, Nation, he was taken to Boy's Island to leave behind his boy soul and start the journey to being given a man soul. But when he braves the great wave and returns to Nation, there is nothing. No men to teach him the secrets. No anchors to hold the gods to the land. Nothing and no one living except the pale ghost of a girl who flits through the waking nightmare of this empty home. He must rebuild, and in order to do so, he must decide what is worth being rebuilt.

Much has been taken. What will be returned?

I wasn't sure about Pratchett's stepping away from both Discworld and fantasy for this novel; it wouldn't be the first time an author tried to leap genres and failed to stick the landing. I should have had more faith. Pratchett at the start of his career did little more than reactive parody - wouldn't it be funny if the witches in MacBeth were the good guys? Wouldn't it be a funny running gag if "Lady MacBeth" kept handwashing with everything from water to a cheese grater? Well yes, it would, but there was no depth there. That depth came over time and experience; you can watch it grow Discworld novel by Discworld novel, and now Pratchett is a master author at the top of his game. There are still a few flourishes of fantasy - there's a small running gag about tree-climbing octopuses - but Nation can be recommended to people who would never touch a book with a troll or a witch in it.

Discworld fans will recognize elements of familiar characters - Carrot, Vimes, Lady Sybil, Granny Weatherwax, Vorbis, Teatime, Tiffany, Mr. Pin, and Drumknot, just to name a few. Pratchett does like to build on the same character traits. This is not to his disadvantage; in addition to his publishing awards, the British Brownies made him an honorary member for "writing a proper girl in a book." Everyone, from grieving Mau to confused Daphne to Daphne's uber-proper grandmother ("a mixture of Boadicea without the chariot, Catherine de Medici without the poisoned rings and Atilla the Hun without his wonderful sense of fun") ring absolutely real.

And as usual, Pratchett's writing style sparkles. He is the first writer since Thurber to make the English language dance and beg: "she had gone to straight bed with an attack of the vapors and stayed there, still gently vaporizing, until she completely vaporized at the age of eighty-six." But that doesn't mean he pulls punches. On page 8, I laughed. On page 23 there were tears in my eyes, and not from laughter. The description of Mau cleaning up the remains of - and remains in - his village will haunt you for days.

If you already love Pratchett, Nation will not disappoint. If you've never read him, Nation is an excellent introduction. And if your children like survival books like My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves, or Robinson Crusoe, run-don't-walk to the store on Tuesday for the technically Young Adult Nation.

Huzzah!

Jun. 11th, 2008 05:24 pm
neadods: (yay!)
I was going to write a melancholy post about giving up plays I wanted to see in DC and the annual Stratford trip because time and money just won't stretch, with wistful comments about my Stratford map with my favorite B&B and an excellent store scratched off because neither is open for business this year.

That was before I logged on and discovered that Elisabeth Sladen is one of the GOHs at ChicagoTARDIS and found my coauthors discussing another review of Qualities of Leadership.

I've just bought a 3-day membership for ChiTARDIS and checked the schedule - it falls at a fortunate conjunction of timecards allowing me to work off any vacation I'd otherwise need to use. (The current company doesn't give the day after Thanksgiving off.) And since I know I'm going, I can go ahead and get my tickets when they're as cheap as possible. Consider this an open post calling for possible roommates at the con hotel.

(This totally makes up for also bidding a wistful farewell to the notion of seeing Gareth David-Lloyd at Dragoncon... although I will confess to fantasizing that maybe they're talking to him too.)

Qualities of Leadership: The previous review I linked to wondered how the book would read to someone who wasn't familiar with Doctor Who. "JENS," a Who newbie who has seen only the Eccleston season, took the challenge. The total review is a very positive one, urging people to buy the book.

And it includes this lovely paragraph:
Next up is Linnea Dodson's Fifth Doctor story God Send Me Well to Keep, featuring Nyssa, where they have to rescue the timeline after Henry VIII seems to fall in love with the wrong woman. It’s a very solid story. While nothing in it is really exceptional, it’s a fun little tale nonetheless. And considering that this is Dodson's fiction debut, I would say it's a positive surprise how well she is able cover the basics: her writing style has a good flow, her way of integrating the Doctor and Nyssa into history is sound and her character work is solid. One of her biggest strengths in this story was her ability to really bring a feeling for the time and surroundings that the story was set in onto the page. Reading this story, I certainly see some potential in her and would be willing to bet that this isn't her last published fictional work.

I'm betting that myself. Now I just have to get off my ass and do!
neadods: (Default)
This is a partial review because I am not through reading the book but, as it is nonfiction, I'm not worried about a sudden poor plot turn. The book is Survival of the Sickest by Dr. S. Moalem (medical researcher) and J. Prince (Clintonian speechwriter). Touting the admittedly controversial but also fascinating concept that many of the dread diseases we suffer now made evolutionary sense in the past, it's best described as Cold Case: MD, where Moalem starts with a disease and then backtracks along human evolution until he finds a circumstance where the trait could self-select for survival. (As he puts it, "Why would you take a drug that would kill you in 40 years? To keep you alive through tomorrow.")

It's charmingly written - not surprising when your ghostwriter was a speechwriter for the glibbest President in modern history - and thought-provoking. There are funnier bits, but this is the one that drove me to retype it, because it looks like it will be of the largest interest to the largest cross-section of the f-list.

Vitamin D, folic acid, and racial coloring )

This isn't as sexy as tying diabetes back to ice wine and the ice age with a side stop at frogs (a better example than Cold Case would be calling the book Connections with a medical degree) but still, interesting.

Although not specifically about forensics, this'll tickle the forensics fans and historians alike, not to mention the bio majors.
neadods: (Default)
Sorry about the spam, but there were a bunch of things I wanted to pass on:

I echo the latest [livejournal.com profile] calufrax recommendation: Dating in the Workplace, an all-era video/Big Finish crackfic about the ins and outs of romantic relationships in the TARDIS - the companions', the Doctor's, and more. The last bit is probably funnier if you're familiar with the comic/Big Finish companions, but it's not a dealbreaker if you aren't.


Book Review for The Many Hands:

The Many Hands by Dale Smith starts off beautifully. The Doctor is suitably Doctorish, and Martha is everything I'd hoped in her portrayal: smitten, yes, but also competent, brave, and medically minded. As she ran, she kept her mind busy by listing the organization of the human lung... She counted off the diseases that affected the lungs, alphabetically. She kept getting stuck after oedema. THIS is the woman who told Joan Redfern to talk to the hand and all the bones in it!

As a Martha fan, I also appreciate that the Doctor is shown appreciating her, even if he doesn't say anything directly to her. Suits both canon and what I'd like to think he was thinking.

This grasp of characterization continues with the original characters, including a soldier and a minister who, in lesser hands, would be a martinet and either a hypocrite or a fundie loony, but in Smith's are men of principle and intelligence. Characterization is fabulous!

Smith also has an amusing way of not so much breaking the fourth wall as putting the occasional dent in it, with side references to David's real life worked cleverly into the circumstances so that they don't seem wedged in or throw you out of the book - they just provide a bit of a giggle.

And the plot is suitably gothic - the dead walk, and there's an anatomist who seems to be breeding Addams-family-style Things in his basement. Doctor Who! Zombies! Even a Gelth reference!

Cool! The setup is so fabulous that the rave review was written in my mind by the halfway point, and I told [livejournal.com profile] persiflage_1 "he's going to have to fumble really badly to put me off it at this point."

...Aaaand then Smith fumbled. REALLY badly. )

Such a fantastic setup, and Smith doesn't just fumble the dismount, he positively face-plants. On the other hand, odds are good that in future I'll be rereading the first half for the sheer joy of it, and bailing before the skientific, hystorical wreck.
neadods: (Default)
I owe Justin Richards an apology. In my previous review I said that his Doctors were always generic, and yet in Martha in the Mirror the Doctor is very recognizably written as that half of the incarnation pantheon in desperate need of ritalin. Which is a good description of Ten, so that's bang on.

Martha, on the other hand, spares us a gratuitous Rose remark, which is good. The bad news is she's written not only as generic, but a generic Jo-style companion, her main contributions to the plot being snarking the Doctor, ineptly searching a room, passing the sonic screwdriver, being warm and friendly to a small child, and (I'm not making this up) screaming.

I'd make a catty comment about how screaming as a plot point should have gone out in Zoe's era, but "Hush" was a damnfine episode of Buffy.

Buffy regardless, a line of the Doctor's puts Martha in the Mirror as post Human Nature/Family of Blood, meaning Martha's already had the burden of taking care of herself and an incapacitated Doctor once, and should be well on her route to being ready to walk the world. So I would have appreciated her being a lot more proactive. These days, I'd frankly prefer to see all the companions a lot more proactive than they're tending to be in most of the books. The Doctor saving the day doesn't mean that the others - particularly the women - don't get to make major contributions.

The plot is decent, if bogged down by unnecessarily strange details. Castle Extremis - a big honkin' castle sitting on a jut of nothing in the middle of space for some technobabble reason (roll with me here, we haven't even gotten to the bizarre concept of "tour guides" who aren't allowed to talk, even in response to questions from the people they're guiding), is the site of a peace treaty between humans and Zerugians. This is not the first time that peace has been proposed, only to fail and incur more war between the two species, and the intent of everyone at the table now is suspect. As a sign of good will, the Zerugian general has brought a replica of a famous mirror that was to have witnessed an earlier attempt at peace.

Then, when the local historian is admiring it, his reflection steps out and shoots him...

It's suitably creepy, in a children's book way. By which I mean that anyone over the age of 10 is going to see all the plot points coming a mile off. And yes, that's not a flaw, considering that it *is* a children's book but still... a fair chunk of the readership is well over the age of 10. All in all, I found it a pleasant enough read, but it's not one of the ones that I'm going to reread again for the sheer pleasure of the story.
neadods: (Default)
I've finished Torchwood: The Twilight Streets, finally. I've been holding it back because it seemed very Iantolicious. In the long run, though, the best that can be said is that if you're really, really into Jack/Ianto, this book is well worth the price.

If you're really, really into excellent books, not quite so much. And if you're really, really into the idea of an effective Torchwood, you're really, really screwed.

Okay, I'm going to stop using the "r" word. Really.

Something evil and supernatural came through the rift (again) screws up/ends a bunch of lives (again), Torchwood means well, throws itself headlong at the problem, falls over, screws up, and is saved by Jack. Again. In other words, your bog-standard episode of Torchwood. Oh, there's something about Bilis, and a bit that's slightly ripped off from Something Wicked This Way Comes (*sigh* I have to type "again" again), and an area of Cardiff that Jack can't go into, but they're just the trappings on the inevitable progression of A - A monster appears; B - Believing they can do something, Torchwood goes off-half cocked being C - completely incompetent as usual so that D - Dashing Jack can dash in again to save them from the E - evil (even though the original show was very skeptical about the supernatural... Oh, wait, silly me, I'm talking about Torchwood, whose original show is Angel), while he F) flirts all the way with quite a few men.

All in all, I'm feeling pretty "meh" about it. But there are a couple of major OTP moments between Jack and Ianto. And it starts with Ianto getting a fair amount of plot time. For that alone, it is elevated from the "total snoozer" category.
neadods: (Default)
A quick check of Amazon.co.uk doesn't turn up any other genre books by David Llewellyn, which partially explains why Trace Memory (originally called Horaizon) is so exceedingly "meh."

A man suddenly pops into Torchwood's hub. Not "pops" in the colloquial sense, he suddenly just appears. And everyone remembers him from a previous point in their lives. Owen treated him just as he qualified as a Doctor. Gwen arrested him as a nutter. Baby Tosh told him stories. Jack shagged him. Who is he, how did he get unstuck in time, and what can be done about it?

And that, in a nutshell, is the entire plot. No wrinkles, no twists, and because the reason behind his problem is made rapidly obvious, not much suspense either. Some moderately scary villains (the cover art owes rather a lot to the Buffy episode "Hush") but with vague and easily picked-apart motives. The six-page depiction of Torchwood One at the height of its power is a lot more chilling than the ostensible bad guys.

On the other hand, it isn't utter crap either. Unusual for a Torchwood story, the plot is based on science (well, skience) rather than mysticism. The writing is competent, there's some nice character work (Ianto and Jackanto fans will certainly want to read it), and the individual scenes are interesting.

But they don't link together into a whole coherent enough to rise above mediocrity.


In other reviews, my review for The Black Dove is up on Reviewing the Evidence.
neadods: (fridge)
Because the tie-in books come in threes, I like to sort them in reading order from what I think will be the weakest to the one I'm most anxious to read, so that I will hopefully start at the bottom and end on the top.

I started the latest Torchwood trilogy with Something in the Water, and either I've mis-sorted, or this set is particularly strong. Written by Trevor Baxendale, who also wrote several NAs and EDAs as well as the recent Who tie-in Wishing Well, the blurb for Something sounded like a bog standard about a bog monster. What it is is a well-paced, well-characterized pseudo-medical thriller.

Okay, with a bog monster.

Torchwood is running a couple of hunts simultaneously; the first for sparks of random Rift energy that are appearing around Cardiff, and the second for the new enemy in town that gutted a Weevil in one blow. But Ianto's search for leads brings up the interesting story of the woman who the police think is a "serial suicide" - found floating face-down in pools and ponds, but always getting up and walking away. Her attempted deaths correlate with the "sparks" of rift energy Torchwood has been monitoring.

But they are distracted by the flu-like plague that is appearing around Cardiff. It doesn't have a name, although late in the book someone dubs it "the bloody cough," which fits on a number of levels. First you have a sore throat, then you start coughing, then you start coughing blood, and then you die.

And everyone in Torchwood, including Jack, has developed a sore throat...

Most readers will be able to spot the connection and the problem well before Torchwood (it wouldn't be Torchwood if they were *too* competent!) but the plot is as well-paced and exciting as I'd expect from any mystery novel. Dialog pegs the time between "To the Last Man" and "Reset" (it's unclear if it is before or after "Meat" as Rhys does not appear.) This is very much S2 Torchwood, with a snarkier, flirtier Ianto, a less selfish Owen, and a more centered Jack. Plenty of dialog for the Jackanto fans (the kinker ones will have to go change their knickers after one line). If you consider the books extended canon, there is also an intriguing throwaway line about the relationship between UNIT and Torchwood.

All in all, Something in the Water is a solid, entertaining read, completely in keeping with the revamped show it portrays.

x-posted to [livejournal.com profile] torch_wood
neadods: (doctor_potter)
I'm reading the Pamela Aidan trilogy that is supposed to be Mr. Darcy's side of Pride and Prejudice. The first book, An Assembly Such as This, was fun and well done.

However, I'm bogging badly in Duty and Desire, the second in the series. Aidan has made three very poor choices, in my mind, by deviating not from what Austen *said,* but from how she *wrote.*

Austen avoided politics and high society. In doing so, she kept the books from dating and allowed the readers to focus on the fate of her characters and not be distracted by their own opinions on the Napolean War, Caroline Lamb, etc. Aidan has had Darcy attend a ball where he was shocked by waltzing, got into a political argument, and then was shocked to the core by Caro Lamb, and gone on for a couple of pages about what he'd do if she was his wife.

Austen avoided religion. It was probably because there was nothing for her to say at the time, there being few controversies and not a lot of different denominational options, but I've always considered it one of the strengths of her female characters that they take it upon themselves to fix their own problems, not try to pray them away.

Aidan made Darcy devout, which is fine, but the way she's having everyone in suddenly start talking like they've had an evangelical conversion, it's really making my atheist spine cringe. I can't reconcile the painfully shy Georgiana from the original book with this bouncy one who feels delivered by Divine Providence from Wickham. It is unnecessary, out of character, and jarring, and every time I think it's over, I get clubbed with Aidan's devotions again. Barely a page after the bit about Georgiana, we hit the line about the servants blessing their Christmas bonus "in thanks to their Maker for destining them for Pemberley." I'm finding this really nauseating, particularly in light of how many of Austen's books are about finding happiness and security by *breaking* "destiny."

And finally, Austen didn't get coy. Aside from the comment in Northanger Abbey about how fictional heroines should support each other, she never broke into her narrative with literary opinion or advertised her other work. Aidan has a gratuitous bit about someone getting Sense and Sensibility as a Christmas present.

Because I enjoyed the first book, and because I'm curious about how Aidan's going to handle Lady Catherine, I'm going to plow on. But I think I'm going to have to skip to the end of the chapter, because Aidan keeps throwing me unpleasantly out of the world she's trying to depict.

ETA: And now we have the pagan sacrifice. Um, no. WTF were the Republic of Pemberly people reading, because it CAN'T have been this book!
neadods: (reading)
I'm out of my cotton-pickin' *mind* to do a non-episode Who post on episode night (sorry, Who_Daily!) But I just finished The Last Dodo and I have just got to do some serious squeeing. Besides, if I don't get the 17 bookmarks out of it, the spine may crack by morning.

First of all, Rayner has definately brought it on. I knew she could; her other books had excellent characterization and pretty solid plotting. Last Dodo has solidly made my top five favorite Who tie ins (below Raynor's Winner Takes All and Lyon's Stealers of Dreams, on a par with Tucker's The Nightmare of Black Island).

Three fourths of the way in, I was going to write that this book had a stunningly good plot - or I should say, plots, because the point of the novel keeps changing. Set in a museum of the Last Creatures, Plot A deals with disappearing exhibits. Plot B - and no, this is not a spoiler, not when it's printed on the back of the book! - deals with the museum's reaction to a certain Last Of His Kind running around loose and causing trouble. It's plots C and D which get crammed into the last quarter of the book that send it over the top, taking a quantum leap from serious plotting into seriously fromage factor. Since all of Doctor Who is a tribute to the Power of Cheese, this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker development, but I did think it was a bit unnecessary.

This is an Issue book, the issues being conservation and value, but it goes beyond Extinction Is Bad. It throws in some tough questions as well: Is preserving something in amber preservation enough? Is it kinder or crueller to keep the last rather than the last two? What does it say about values when only the last of something is seen as having worth? (That last is a particular dig, since it is phrased not as worth, but worthlessness.) Does the act of conservation only encourage the acts of poaching? Is it cruel to keep the last of anything aware that it is all alone?

The characterization, though, is fantastic. I was particularly interested to see how that was handled as Dodo was originally pitched (and I think partially written) as a Ten and Rose adventure, so how was it going to be changed into a Ten and Martha one? Particularly since Raynor's style is to switch between points of view, which means that large chunks were going to be told to the reader by Martha directly?

She hit the character fairly well; there were parts that I could really hear Freema's voice delivering. The Martha in this book is a little breathless and not quite as analytical as she's been in some scenes on screen, but the characterization isn't far from the gushing enthusiasm of the vaguely canonical Martha Jones Myspace, and frankly, Martha didn't win many Calm Science Lady points tonight either. But her parts have been changed enough so that they most definately do not come off as retread Rose, either.

For those keeping track of this sort of thing, there was no suggestion of romantic love between companion and Doctor, of either the unrequited or requited-but-He's Not That Kind of a Guy kind, with the exception of one line very late in the book that was, IMO, obviously not changed from when this was a Rose book - and one hell of a line it is; I wish he'd said it onscreen. I hope he still might say something similar onscreen.

It's the Doctor who gets some really gritty stuff in - this is a book about preserving the last of every species, but preserving it in suspended animation, and that's going to get the peripatetic Last of the Time Lords right in the hearts. Raynor is frankly magnificent handling his point of view. Up front she gives him a beautifully Doctorish speech when the frustrated Martha snaps she doesn't like people: "No, no no! Hate what some of them do, hate some individuals if you must, hate intolerance and injustice and slaughter and man's inhumanity to man, but never, never hate PEOPLE." He will have his moments of brilliance and self-sacrifice. But he's not just any Doctor, he is quite obviously the Tenth Doctor, with his specs and his "no last chances" and his childlike enthusiasm for experiences and words.

But this is also a Doctor who is facing his situation - not just how he might end up in a zoo, but that he is all alone. The Animated Superman Adventures had a similar plotline about someone trying to "conserve" the last son of Krypton, but you just know that at the end of the episode, Superman went flying back to Kansas to get his adopted mother to feed him apple pie and sympathy. The Doctor (and reader) are constantly reminded that for the Doctor, this is not an option past or present. He has no family anymore. He has no mate.

There are also some very nice old school nods as well. The Doctor refers to his exile on Earth. And he names the Dodo "Dorothea" without ever explaining it to Martha.

All this power is underserved by, of all things, the printer. There's a running joke throughout the whole book that the Doctor has given Martha an "I-Spyder" thing that records points for all the Earth life forms she sees (if she gets a certain number of points, she gets a certificate). Between each chapter is a blurb on an extinct animal and her running tally on facing pages - but to get the pages to face, several times that means a blank right page. And leaving the right-side page blank is a mistake that zine editors cranking out their 20-copy mimeograph-and-staple opuses knew better than to make, so I'm staggered BBC Books does it at all, much less more than once. Compounding the problem later is that we get the slightly sanctimonious listings, but they drop the number tally page, so now we're only left with the lecturing part.

The list is interesting - I actually googled "Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse" and got hits, but since you can also get hits for the Northern Pacific Tree Octopus, I'm not sure how much credence to put into that. Since my day job is editing, I noticed that the I-Spyder (or the Beeb's copyeditor) was defective; listing a certain point value for something on one page and then giving less than half that value in the facing tally page. (However, this also means that I caught one of the best jokes of the book, which is literally buried in the small print at the bottom of the very last page.)

But these are nitpicky. Good plot, good characterization, and some seriously hard questions brought up - The Last Dodo is unquestionably one of the most solid tie-in novels and well worth having.

And now, the spoilery bits, for those who don't mind 'em. )
neadods: (reading)
Like I was really going to wait until Sunday to start reading the new Who novels!

Finished Wooden Heart last night. It rates a solid "meh." I kept waiting for the plot to pull together, which it doesn't, but it's not as curl-up-in-pain-fully bad as, say Resurrection Casket. I wasn't expecting much out of it, to tell the truth, and that's what it delivered. (I'm reading these in inverse order of how interested I expected to be.) Doctor/Companion dynamics were negligible: this is one of the tie-ins where they could do a global search-and-replace and it would make no difference if it was a Three & Jo, Four & Sarah, or Ten & Rose adventure. (Considering some of the things Martha does, I think it originaly *was* a Ten & Rose adventure.)

About a quarter of the way through Sting of the Zygons and things are progressing nicely. Cole is very hit or miss - I couldn't get through Monsters Inside or Art of Destruction, but Feast of the Drowned was decent. In this, there's actual characterization going on - the Doctor's bouncing around like a three year old on sugar-laced crack, and Martha has just snarked him out. There's also a hint as to where this is placed in the timeline, as Martha's still a bit freaked out about "the last time she was in New York." The plot also has me fairly interested; I had expected a rerun of Invasion of the Dinosaurs and we're getting something quite different instead.

So far, no mentions of Rose (or Gallifrey or Saxon), which supports my hypothesis that the last episode was the end of that recurring theme. We'll find out about that on Saturday.

And a bit of non-Who stuff: stolen from [livejournal.com profile] tchwrtr, teaching binary numbers to nine year olds, using the Socratic method.
neadods: (reading)
I originally started this post with a little demure "this is for the fanficcers, I wouldn't presume to tell the pros how to write" but y'know what? A great reference book is a great reference book and I'm not good at being demure anyway. Do media-oriented writing? Run thou out right now and purchase Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box. Go ahead, it's Thursday, you've got those print-out Borders coupons in your email, that'll knock a few bucks off the suggested $15 retail.

That said, I'm going to address the rest of this to the fanficcers while the pros snicker at us from the bar. Hopefully while thumbing through their surreptitiously purchased copies.

I first found out about this book from [livejournal.com profile] susanmgarrett, who recommended it herself as a Wicked-cool read. It's something any fanfic writer should read. It's clever, it's engaging, and I'd marry it if it were a man. I've got a healthy ego and 25 years of fanfic under my typewriter ribbon so I was pretty sure I didn't want to marry it, but I am in awe of Susan, I had a Borders coupon, and I'm always up for clever, engaging books, so I picked up a copy.

I started on Chapter 2 (Great Episode Ideas). By the second paragraph, I'd picked up a highlighter. By the sixth page, I'd added red pen under the highlighter for a really significant bit. ("A great story idea challenges a character's weakness or strength - it forces a character to overcome or at least face one of his flaws, or turns one of his virtues into a risk factor." Emphasis added via Bic.)

I don't usually write a full review based on 1/10th of the book, but -- Damn! Just daaaaaamn, based on this chapter alone, what a hell of a book! Worth the price of admission right here, "Great Episode Ideas" is a fast read, it's a funny read, but most importantly, it strips down the plotlines to their bones and clearly states how to build those bones back into unique skeletons upon which to hang the plot, using as illustration examples from shows ranging from The Andy Griffith Show to Lost. He also talks about what wouldn't work and why it's a horrible idea, and even tosses in examples of how showrunners have successfully smashed the rules of their own shows. (Note to self: Netflix Deep Space 9's "Far Beyond the Stars," which I've never seen.)

After all the book reviewing I can articulate why other people's plots work or not, but ask me about my own plotting and it would either be "they left this loose thread I could tie up in a short missing scene" or (these days, at least) "I want to see how fast I can strip the characters down and stick 'em together in different combos like legos." Plot is a very weak point for me, and Epstein has given me much to chew on, such as this particularly favorite part from page 48: It's the flaw or the strength that makes it a story. (If Hamlet were in Othello's shoes, and vice versa, neither play would happen. Clever Hamlet would spot Iago's treachery in a moment, and decisive Othello would kill the usurper the moment he got back from Wittenberg.)

Want your stuff to sound more like the show you're imitating? Find out how the creators are actually building it.

Alex Epstein also has a blog, Complications Ensue
neadods: (Default)
Yarn Harlot - The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl McPhee

I got this because it was 3-for-2 at Borders looked cute, and indeed it is. This collection of crafting anecdotes will sound familiar to anyone who's passionate about their hobby - the problems of storing the stash, the inability to find anything to use no matter how big that stash gets, the assurance turning to panic as Christmas looms, tackling projects that are too complex for current skills, and the like.

The chapters are very small, averaging three pages each. (I think they were probably originally posts on her blog www.yarnharlot.ca) While many are laugh-out-loud hilarious, the book as a whole has a nice mix of humor, reflection, and in some cases heartbreak. (I don't even like children and I was sobbing over the story of the sock knitted for the baby that didn't make it.)

While it's an obvious gift for knitters, I think this is a good one for any sewer, costumer, beader, and the ilk - and definately worth the buying while it stays on the 3-for-2 table. (Which still has Stiff - The Curious Life of Cadavers. That is SUCH a good book!)
neadods: (Default)
Every now and then, you find it - that one in a million gloriously fluffy piece of silliness that works on all levels. Such is The Stand In by Kate Clemens.

On the face of it, it's your basic brainless chick lit plot. Jayne Cooper, a major TV and movie star from the age of 6, has just been turned down by Stephen Spielburg because he doesn't think she can pull off the role of an "ordinary" woman. Well, if that's the way he's going to be about it, she's simply going to have to study up the same way she does for her other roles. So she goes looking for an ordinary woman to switch places with her.

Mary Lynn McLellan thought the raving woman who interrupted her after her shift at the Food Barn was mental, but she'd sell a kidney for $100,000, which is what the lunatic was offering her in exchange for spending a week being pampered and throwing tantrums.

The reason it works is because Clemens doesn't fall into any of the chick lit literary cliches. For one thing, the book's a solid 315 pages, none of it filler, large type, or extra white space. The plot may be The Prince and the Pauper mixed with Notting Hill (both referenced within the text; Jayne's mother icily reminds McLellan that the storyline of Hill might be cheesy but it made a respectable box office gross) but the twists come regularly, and the resolutions are amusingly warped. Kudos to Clemens, who keeps tossing things into the pot all the way to the very end; while we all know generally where we're going, she doesn't take a predictable route to get there.

Both women work as characters for me; I may not believe that they're totally real, but they work in their context. More importantly, neither one has one of those annoying personality transplants. Both learn a bit and grow, but they don't turn into Stepford Wives, nor do they throw their life's work away for the sake of a screw. Huzzah!

Add sparkling writing and you've got a charming Calgon-take-me-away book. I'll let one of the women speak for herself, in a line I want on a button: "I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to do anything except make love, take risks, and eat chocolate."

The Stand In by Kate Clemens, Kensington Fiction, 2003.


On another note, I'm waving the white flag on "Europe and the Wars of Religion." I've tried to listen to that course twice now and it's just too dense. So I read the liner notes to get the gist and am moving on in the Tudor self-study. I may do more than make love, take risks, and eat chocolate, but I don't see a need to bore and depress myself!
neadods: (books)
Spent some time doing non-review reading while beached on the couch.

Father Knows Best: Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives (Paperback) by Lakoff
Much of this book can be summed up as "Yes, I *knew* that already, I've been paying attention." When the Post is doing multi-page articles on framing and coded language, there isn't a lot of actual news when it comes to discussing manipulation of language.

Yet this is still worth the skimming because it lays out so starkly the premise behind trickle down economics, the prosperity gospel, and neocon/dominionist takeover of social issues: think of the nation as a family with the President as father.

Now shove that family into the paradigm described in Dobson's Dare to Discipline.

Suddenly, the unified neocon theory snaps into place, in a way that never had for me before. When you take it as a given that the head of the household has a moral imperative to lay down the law, no questions asked, and whallop anyone who deviates for their own moral good, then doesn't this Administration make so much more sense? And when you take it as a given that doing good financially = doing good morally, then the prosperity Gospel becomes something that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really meant, even if they didn't say it outright. And of course people will show their benevolence by allowing their good fortunes to trickle down... even if most of recorded history consistently shows otherwise.

The last chapter is rebuttal talking points for those of us who think that Dobson is a baby-beating, animal-abusing martinet whose gospel can be summed up entirely as "I've got mine, screw you."

Fire is a Feminist Issue, pt. 1: Chicago Death Trap: The Iroquois Theatre Fire of 1903 by Brandt.
In 1903, Chicago's booming downtown advertised itself as a woman's paradise. Come to town and bring the kids! You can do a little shopping at our wonderful stores, then have a nice lunch at one of our respectable restaurants, then cap a lovely outing with a family-friendly matinee at one of our theaters! Our streets are patrolled by many fine police officers who will keep you safe!

...our fire inspectors, on the other hand...

Like the Titanic, the Iroquois was supposed to be a model of safety. Like the Titanic, complacency, a rush to open, and the failure to use several fail-safes cost hundreds of lives. Many of which were lost, once again like the Titanic, as fleeing people ran into locked gates and were trampled and smothered to death by the panicked crowd behind them. (For instance, one of the ways they kept people from sneaking from the cheap seats to the good ones was to lock grills across the stairs down into the orchestra.)

This is an unfortunately thin book at barely 150 pages, and that is my only complaint. With the amount of research that went into it (it is thoroughly end noted), I would have appreciated that there be many more quotes and newspaper articles of the day included in the main text. Other than that, it is flawlessly laid out and compellingly, if sparsely, written. The first few chapters deal with the building of the theater and the history of the show currently running ("Mr. Bluebeard," a comedy starring Eddie Foy). Most of the middle is taken up with a description of the fire, the methods of escape (or the bottlenecks that killed), the rescue efforts both successful and unsuccessful, and the horrific task of identifying the charred bodies, over 2/3 of them women and children on a post-Christmas holiday outing. The final chapters discuss the round-robin of groups blaming everyone but themselves for the tragedy - the theater said it was the fault of the the show, the show said it was the fault of the fire inspectors, the fire inspectors said it was the fault of the theater, etc. - and the fate of the building itself.

The adjectiveless writing blunts both triumph and tragedy, but even a bare just-the-facts-ma'am style cannot hide the immensity of what happened. The fire burned for only 30 minutes. 602 people died, most of fumes within the first 5 minutes. So many people were rescued this way or that way; so many other people died in this bottleneck or clawing at that locked door. Most heartbreaking of all in the bluntness are descriptions of who died and who made it out, because often only one or two people survived of entire family or school outings.

It's very interesting, in a heartbreaking CSI sort of way; CSI because it so clinically describes what happened, what went right, and what went wrong. Heartbreaking because this is not forensic fiction.

Oh, and why did I title this review "part 1"? Because Triangle is also in my TBR stack.

Fables

Oct. 2nd, 2005 11:54 am
neadods: (Default)
Well, this was inevitable. One of the books I tossed in the TBR purge got fished back out now that the numbers are down - and I've fallen fanatically for it.

Fables is a serial graphic soap opera about the refugee characters from children's stories. Run out of their land by an anti-magic conquerer known as The Adversary, the survivors escaped through a magic portal, with a fair number of them settling in New York City, living among the "mundys."

Beginning to get why I love it? The book that I have - Compilation #3, "Storybook Love" - continues the 10th Kingdom parallels by having Bigby Wolf (formerly The Big Bad Wolf and now the sheriff of Fabletown) somewhat accidentally knock up Snow White. I have no idea why I suddenly love angst when you stick a tail on it, and Bigby Wolf isn't 1/5 as handsome as Scott Cohen's Wolf - but there is AAAAANGST in the highest, between him being in love with Snow, Snow being ambivalent about him, and his general low position in the pecking order due to his species and his job.

In addition to that, we've got Prince Charming, a serial user who seems to have wandered off the Into the Woods set, because he was definately raised to be charming and not sincere. (He has married and divorced Snow White and Sleeping Beauty "Briar Rose," with a stopoff banging Rose Red in between.) Also Jack, of "and the beanstalk" fame who is renowned for his get-rich-quick schemes that never work; The Frog Prince, now known as "Flycatcher" for his Renfield cuisine; Bluebeard who has stopped killing wives and started making his own mythical mafia; Goldilocks who has since become a gun-toting radical; and a host of others, including the MPs - the "mouse police," an itty-bitty spy force consisting of Lilliputians riding intelligent mice. (They're too small to notice, while other "Fables" who can't pass as mundy live in a farm upstate.)

Multiple plotlines in the novel I have include the Snow/Wolf stuttering romance, Bluebeard's and Prince Charming's machinations, how to cover up Briar Rose's pricking her finger at a jewelry counter and making an entire shopping mall fall asleep, a mundy reporter who thinks the Fables are a nest of vampires and intends to publish, and more. The drama is offset by one-off comics retelling urban legends and "the truth" behind certain fables; these solo stories are much shorter and lighter.

The comic is still running, published by Vertigo. For those who prefer to have graphic novels instead of single comic books, compilations 1-5 are available at Amazon and #6 comes out in January. Although I got my first one out of order, it has long-running arcs and is best read in sequence.

Anyone who likes reimagined, modernized tales with a bite to them will probably enjoy Fables, although I warn you that they aren't kidding when they call it "graphic." 10th Kingdom fans, cheated by ratings out of a continuing story, will find themselves practically coming home.
neadods: (Default)
You can tell the big proposal's over - I'm posting multiple times!

From [livejournal.com profile] twistedchick a couple of links. For those pissed at the White House, a series of icons. And it's not all Lord of the Flies - when faced with the collapse of modern civilization, one group banded together and created a functional hunter/gather tribe.

I came away from Bouchercon with nigh on to 30 new books... but I'm rereading one right now (to get in gear for its sequel) and it's so wonderful that I simply have to spread the delight. ([livejournal.com profile] jennetj, this is the one I was telling Linda about. Give her the right title, will you please?)

The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly

He's Jack Shepard. It's 1949, he's a private dick from the urban jungle, where a plugged nickel will buy a cup of java or a mook's life. The trail of his army buddy's killer led to a cornball town with a cornier name, anathema to a joe like Jack, but he'd promised his buddy that he'd follow the case to the end. He bet his everlasting life on it.

Bad move. Especially since he's spending that everlasting life locked within the foundations of a podunk bookstore, unable to move outside the confines of his unmarked makeshift coffin.

She's Penelope Thornton-McClure, widowed in 2003 and now betting the pittance she got in life insurance that she can build a going business out of Aunt Sadie's bookstore. Anything to get herself and her son away from her overbearing, overwealthy, overpowering in-laws.

Pen's first step is to invite famous author Timothy Brennan to do a signing of his latest book in her store. Everybody knew that Brennan was a cub reporter way back when, and based his best-selling hardboiled series off of a real PI. A guy named Shepard, who (Brennan announced to the surprise of everyone in the room) had disappeared in that very place.

Okay... not quite everybody. One person the room already knew that.

But they were all shocked when Brennan keeled over dead right after making the announcement.

Jack himself doesn't know who killed him, much less who killed Brennan. But as soon as he gets Little Miss Priss to realize that that strange voice in her head isn't in her head, maybe he can teach her enough to get her to use those pretty gams to do the legwork he is no longer capable of...

I'm not sure if Kimberly got hardboiled in my cozy or cozy in my hardboiled, but she makes them into two great genres that read great together. The book itself is more on the cozy side of things - it's told mostly from Pen's point of view - but it doesn't lapse into the cutesy coy that many cozies do. As the title suggests, the slightly romantic/mostly bickering relationship between Pen and Jack comes right out of the many incarnations of Mrs. Muir; fans of Muir will find much of what they appreciated in the original, but McClure has enough changes and updates not to be just a tired retread.

It passes my four P test with highest marks in every category:
- People are interesting, three-dimensional, and believable, with sufficiently different types of characters running around to keep the story nicely mixed. The author keeps herself out of the way, neither hammering home a message nor patronizing the readers.
- Plot keeps moving at a nice clip. There are no wasted or dragging scenes.
- Puzzle is well-paced. There are enough hints dropped that readers can play the home game and figure out whodunit, but with enough red herrings scattered throughout that the first time I read it, I was betting on the wrong suspect.
- The Problem of the Police was handled with particular panache. The cops aren't dismissed or ignored by the protagonist, but she really does have information that they don't have... and for once, the book has a darned good reason why the amateur has to do work that the detective on tap can't!

This is highly recommended for people in the mood for a light read. The sequel, The Ghost and the Dead Deb (which had been delayed for almost a year for reasons unknown) has just come out. But for my opinon on that, you'll have to read the next issue of I Love a Mystery Newsletter.

While I'm making book recommendations, I'd also like to put in a plug for We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews. It's set at a science fiction convention by someone who really knows what she's talking about... this is sort of the Galaxy Quest of books. Copies of the hardcover are still floating around, but the paperback has come out.

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