Tuesday, May 29, 2012

paladin of souls

This book is apparently a sequel to another by Lois McMaster Bujold called The Curse of Chalion. I didn't know that when I bought it*, but after reading I did feel that it had a good backstory. I hope I didn't read all of the spoilers from the first book as backstory in this one. There may even be another one in this story line...trilogy? Lets check... sure enough, the third is called The Hallowed Hunt.

McMaster Bujold has been at it for a while; she has a bunch of books listed in the front matter of the book I just finished, Paladin of Souls. Paladin follows the story of Ista, a seemingly typical reluctant hero archetype, who pretty quickly steps out of the norm and does a great job carrying this story with a well rounded out character. Each of the main and supporting characters are pretty well fleshed out. McMaster Bujold seems to be very good at that, as well as careful plotting, backstory development, and she is capable of some very fine surprises.

As with many stories that take place in another realm, the character and place names can get a little heavy, but by about halfway through I stopped wishing for a glossary and just got on with it. When I finished, I still thought that it would have been a good idea, and a map would have been helpful too. Thankfully you can now find both of those things here and here. I'll parrot McMaster Bujold's warning however: looking at the map and especially the glossary can be spoiler dangers. I told you

This story is not a Lord of the Rings wannabe, thankfully, and if anything, it reminded me a little of The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. I wouldn't say that its similar, but if you liked the Nix books, this would be right up your alley. Some of the things that are similar: strong female hero figure and some spirit-world-type action.

A real treat was the lack of any pasted-on-label good guys and bad guys. McMaster Bujold has painted a picture of a very realistic world where the politics of different nations, kingdoms, or whatever, are very similar to our own. Leaders, soldiers, and common men do much the same things. The bad guys in this story just seemed to make more of the wrong choices than the good guys on the whole, and that's what tips the scale.

Well that, and you know... some hellfire and devil worship, doesn't exactly encourage a lot of invitations to the barbeque. Nah, I'm just kidding. There wasn't a barbeque.

Read it! attend me, rapscallion!

* I bought this book used form the library book sale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

sacré bleu

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D'Art  is the latest by Christopher Moore of Lamb fame. Moore is up there with Tom Robbins as a favorite comedy writer of mine. They both have streak of raw insanity running through their prose, and while their particular forms of off-kilter-ness are different, they each bring a unique perspective to their writing.

The hardcover comes with a half-jacket that modestly covers la petite femme bleu to the shoulders. i'm sure it said something on it.

I saw this pretty, little hard cover sitting at the quick picks table at the library and snapped in up with greedy, ventripotent--one could even say pleonastic--glee! The last Christopher Moore I read was Fool, which I enjoyed, so I was excited to see this one at the library. But when I say pretty, I really mean pretty. The case is obviously decorated with this beautiful illustration by Aly Fell*, partially covered by a half jacket; the endpapers depict a groovy old tourist map of Paris; the pages are deckle edged; and the entire book is printed in blue! Its crazy, right! Its a love note to book lovers. designed by Jamie Lynn Kerner.

This is a story about blue, and about artists. Specifically: Impressionists in Paris in the 1890s. Sacré Bleu follows the story of a young artist named Lucien Lessard, as he tries to make his way in the art world, make a name for himself, and make his family proud. Lessard is no one, but the artists he knows, learns from, talks with, even takes lessons with, are the giants of Impressionism... you know, sort of.

In the backmatter, Moore has a little essay on what is real and what isn't in this story. Obviously, the names and the places and the world events are mostly true, but he has clearly taken some liberties with some of the finer details with these famous painters--who are no longer around to defend themselves. What this story is really about is their muse. What inspired them; drove them to create some of the most exciting and daring art the world had ever seen, and in some cases, even drove them mad.

This was different from the other two Moore books I've read, in that it isn't a retelling of a well known story, but is a sort of historical-ish, fictiony thing. Not quite as funny as the other two, but very entertaining from beginning to end and some serious belly laughs throughout.  To good, really to simply label as comedy. Its funny, yes, but first, its a good story. Speculative-Historical-Fiction? Go get some.

You can read a sample of Sacré Bleu here on Christorpher Moore's site if you're interested.

* An interesting side bit about Alastair (Aly) Fell and the illustration he did for the cover; it seems that he recreated an old-timey Absinthe poster featuring La Fée Verte in 2010, which he then modified for the book illustration. More here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

scorpion betrayal

My wife gave me this book to read. She just finished it, and went to look up more by Andrew Kaplan, but our library didn't have any. So its on to inter-library loan! This book, Scorpion Betrayal, is actually the second in the series about the Scorpion; not your run-of-the-mill superspy. This guy's got chops! The first book is called Scorpion, and the next one is called Scorpion Winter.

According to his site, Kaplan "is a former journalist and war correspondent covering events around the world. He served in both the U.S. Army and in the Israeli Army during the Six Day War and worked in military intelligence." It certainly sounds like he talks the talk; there's even a glossary in the back to help with the terms and acronyms. Which is good for me, being acronyminally challenged.

Superspy Scorpion obviously has a counterpart who is a superterrorist. Natch. What's nice is that this guy isn't the typical gun-waving, keffiyeh-wearing, cartoon of a man that often shows up in pop culture. Kaplan has carefully crafted a fully developed character whose personality and belief systems just don't match up with his western counterpart. The storyline then, follows a kind of tennis match format: we follow the action back and forth between these two characters as they both work to realize their personal plans and stop the other from doing the same.

The writing is easy-to-read and the story moves incredibly fast, keeping the tension in the story constantly twisting forward. There are hard choices both men have to make and Kaplan does a good job helping the reader to understand how these choices are weighed by his character. There's sex and violence, brutality and tenderness, humor and horror; all in a well planned story, from beginning to end.

My wife is right, lets get those other Scorpion books...

Read this book. And the other ones too, I bet.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


One of the benefits of reading used books is: I get to sort thru the books available and choose the ones that have done well. Its a kind of a mob-intelligence thing. Yeah, I choose some of my books the way ants build amazing underground cities: by dumbly following each other around and doing what most of the others do.

Baaaa! yes, mixed metaphor. what?

But lots of times it works!

Enter Paulo Coelho and The Alchemist. Simple tale. Short and sweet. Powerful lessons. But with, you know, complete sentences. Coelho is a thoughtful guy, and clearly believes both in God and in faith. Funny thing is, I think you could bring one or the other with you to this story--maybe both, maybe neither--and you'd still get something out of it. Every book is a conversation between the author and the individual reader, and what we bring to the reading makes the conversation, and the ultimate result, different for everyone. So how is it that some books, especially books like this, connect with so many people? That comes from Coelho's simplicity in story telling, and the simple, personal way he describes faith as faith in ones self first. Because his ideas are centered in the self, we all get it. Its a kind of middle-east meets east idea.

Coelho has written a bunch of books, but I haven't read any of the others, and my guess is that I won't. The ideas presented in this book are clear and powerful. So much so that I think its something Coelho has been working on for a while. I'm guessing this book took off because its his best attempt to express these simple ideas. And once you've read it, why bother reading it again? The others will pale in comparison.

Is this feeling completely contrary to what I've just read? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. My conversation with Paulo Coelho is different than yours; but its one you should have.

Read this book.

And support the public library. It still is, what the promise of the internet was. and still could be, by the way.

Friday, May 4, 2012

red tent

I picked up this copy of The Red Tent at my library's on-going book sale. Its amazing how many books I get from the book sale. I hardly ever take out a book from the library. I end up buying them instead, and when I'm done I keep them if they're great, or I return them to the library book sale so the library can make another buck. This seems to work for me for a few reasons. First, it takes me a few weeks to read a book, and if its good I'd like to give to my wife to read as well. This can pretty quickly eat up the 4 weeks on a typical book loan. The current books are typically 2 weeks, with no renewal, which is almost never going to work for me. Second, as I said, if I love a book, I'd like to put on the shelf and maybe go back to it a few years later, or loan it out to the other readers I know. So book sale: love it!

But back to Anita Diamant and The Red Tent. I wonder if Diamant is an anglicized version of the Italian name, Diamante, or vice versa. The Red Tent is one of those books that has become a modern classic in pop culture. I think they may have even made a movie. lets look that up shall we... ah, here we go Not a big budget Hollywood movie at this point, but there is a project underway. A quick look around that website confirms what I was pretty sure of when I picked this novel up...

That's not a bad thing, I just feel a little like I walked into the ladies room by mistake. The story bears this feeling out by the way, from the very introduction, which is addresses specifically to women. 'ats alright, I've crashed parties before. Sally forth!

This is essentially a retelling of a biblical story from the point of view of the women in the tale. The narrator is Dinah, grand-daughter of Isaac. you know, spared-from-sacrifice-boy Dinah tells the story of her mothers, the four wives of Jacob, her grand-mother Rebecca and her husband Issac. Dinah also tells the story of her brothers, her marriages, and her son. Her story is one of family, family strife, love, honor and betrayal. Its a story of beautiful and horrible things wound together. Its also a story of Canaan and Egypt. There is a lot going on here, but its sewn together with care and clarity. 

Diamant wonderfully discusses the very different values of everyday life during this time, with a matter-of-factness that adds to the power of the story by diffusing things like multiple wives and polytheism, so that they take their place in everyday life as they did then. This is the shining moment of this tale. Diamant puts into the mouths of the women of Canaan, a real and living history of a family and a place, that few others have been able to do.

Read this book.