Thursday, February 28, 2008

Whitechapel Gods - Book Review

By: S. M. Peters

Again with the covers. This book is definitely an eye catcher. So much so that I decided to read it even though I've never read steam punk before. Having said that, I'm not sure if this was typical of the subgenre. I found the writing fascinating but rather dense and a bit slow. A lot of things needed to be explained (how these two gods - Grandfather Clock and Mama Engine - subverted the Baron and took over the Whitechapel area, how the Queen has sent people to reclaim it and how their efforts have thus far failed). The architecture of the area is a series of precariously balanced buildings built over the ruins of the old city and connected by lifts and stairwells.

The characters were well fleshed out (and the disease that turns humans into living machines is downright creepy) and you care about what's happening to them throughout the story. By the end the story picks up and the last few chapters are hard to pull yourself away from.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Anatomy of Deception - Book Review

Written by Lawrence Goldstone

I seem to be on a rush of non fantasy at the moment. This is one of those fiction books that had such a nice cover that I noticed it when it came into the bookstore where I work and knew I had to read it. Perhaps because I don't know much about the history of medicine or what life was like in the US just before the 20th century, I found this book mesmerizing. The story takes place some five years after the legalization of autopsies for medical purposes, but public perception is still negative to the point that the protagonists, a series of medical students in Philadelphia, must bribe the local undertaker in order to perform them. The amount of side information brought into the plot (the introduction of plastic gloves and specialized clamps to allow for increased surgical times and thereby reduce shock related deaths, the newfangled telephone and a city using half gas lighting and half candlelight, female art students acting in socially improper ways) are as intriguing as the actual plot. The plot itself weaves in so many directions. A woman's corpse is discovered. The professor chooses not to autopsy her body, creating a suspicion in his protege Ephraim Carroll. Another student notices Ephraim's interest and invites him out in order to pump him for information. These two acts introduce Ephraim to the underworld and elements both fascinating and frightful.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chameleon's Shadow - Book Review

The newest novel by Minette Walters isn't SF or fantasy, but it's a great read for anyone wanting a psychological thriller. I'm usually not too keen on mysteries, but I decided to give this one a chance and was pleasantly rewarded.

The main character, Lieutenant Charles Acland, was wounded on a mission in Iraq. While recuperating in the hospital he displays disturbingly high amounts of aggression. Meanwhile a serial killer has been attacking gay men with military backgrounds in London. Is it merely coincidence that Charles happens to be in London during each of those attacks?

Well written and twisty enough that you have to follow along to find out if Charles is innocent, an accessory or a killer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Last Wish - Book Review

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski is the European inspiration for the video game, the Witcher. It came out in trade paperback last year and will soon find its way to bookshelves as a well priced mass market paperback.

The novel is written as a series of short stories, flashback missions, Geralt, the Witcher, has undertaken. Between these tales is a frame story that slowly brings them all together into a cohesive whole.

The stories are interesting, showing a strange melding of mythology and reality, fairy tales and unhappy endings as Geralt must decide if the creature he's stumbled across or been hired to kill truly deserves death. Necessarily moralistic at times The Last Wish will have you questioning your own perceptions as the Witcher makes difficult choices.

The only problem I had with the book was that each story is left incomplete. You know enough to want to know more but you're not told that last little bit that would satisfy you.

Still, it's a unique book that's worth the time (and at $8.50 Cdn, you can hardly beat the price).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Time Traveler's Wife - Book Review

My other blog takes up so much of my time that I'm constantly remiss about posting things here. Anyway, my new book club read and discussed the Time Traveler's Wife a few days ago. This is one of those books that makes you re-think classifications. Obviously a science fiction book (it deals with time travel) it was marketed to the general fiction crowd. I find it interesting that people who wouldn't even glance at the SF section for fear of being contaminated by something will pick up and read this book without batting an eye.

It's especially funny, as one of the people at the book club members pointed out, because it's basically a harlequin romance. Take out the time travel (or leave it in) and the story is still: boy meets girl, they are separated by circumstances, they meet again and get married, they have problems, they work them out. The only non romance aspect is that the ending is rather bitter sweet (I won't ruin it for people who haven't read the book yet).

Does that make it a bad book? No. I have to admit that I found the first third of the book very confusing. The characters jump back and forward in time so much that it was hard to remember who said what when who was which age, and as the scenes at the beginning are filled in later on (they happen to Claire, the wife, when she is a child and Henry, the traveler, when he is middle aged) it's important to remember what happened when. In fact, several of the scenes only made sense to me in discussion when someone would point out that X explained why Y happened (I had no clue that the sleep lab jump coincided with the broken glass dinner until someone mentioned it).

Once the characters met in real time and things progressed in a more linear direction I enjoyed the book a lot more. All in all though, as a science fiction reader, I'd put this more in the literary fiction category. There was a token explanation as to why Henry is able to time travel but not enough for me to rate it among the SF greats. Want good science? Give this a pass. Want an interesting read that requires discussion? Then pick this up right away.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Hero Strikes Back - Book Review

The second in a delightful series by Moira Moore, this book with have you rolling on the floor with laughter. I read it, read it again and then skimmed it several times. It's got two completely opposite personalities forced to work together by their pair bond as Source (channeling the forces that cause natural disasters) and Shield. Lee is the perfect narrator. Snarky and opinionated, yet she rarely shares what she's thinking, or feeling, which drives her partner nuts. I can't wait for the third book to come out!