Category Archives: Book Banter

Book Banter: All the Birds in the Sky

birdsTitle: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Length: 319 pages

Genre: literary sci-fi

Where Bethany’s copy came from: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Patricia and Laurence are two outsiders — she, apparently, is a witch and can talk to birds and he is a geek of the first-degree, building time machines and AI interfaces in his bedroom. They become friends in middle school, trying to stick up for each other when the world seems against them. But, sinister forces tear their friendship apart. Until 10 year later when they reunite in San Francisco on opposite side of what might be a war for the planet, pitting magic against science.

Banter Points: Thank goodness for The Morning News Tournament of Books or I might never have encountered this quirky gem of a novel. When #ToB2017 announced the short list, I realized with some level of chagrin, that I hadn’t read any of this year’s choices. I read the descriptions and “All the Birds in the Sky” was the one to pick up immediately.

For all the kids who grew up on Harry Potter, this is the next book for them. Anders has crafted a serious and yet charming book with a plot line that hangs on the edge of apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. She edges up to that line — major world disasters are hinted at, but never fully explained — in such a way that creates a wonderful blend of tension but doesn’t take the reader away from the main story. It’s really a book about friendship and fate and big picture questions about science and magic, all while retaining a heart and a soul.

Bummer Points: This book isn’t any one thing which might aggravate some readers. It’s not just a story about friendship. And it’s not hardcore disaster sci-fi. It’s both. Additionally,  Anders makes some jumps and then goes back to tell the reader what happened. I’m sure she had her reasons, but I had to wonder if a straight-line narrative would have worked just as well.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I’ve already gotten one co-worker to pick this up after a #FridayReads post and I highly suspect this is 2017’s first pusher book of the year.

ToB Thoughts: To read the Opening Round critique of “All the Birds in the Sky,” click here.

Tomorrow it’s up against Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” which just seems highly unfair. I haven’t read “Underground Railroad,” not for lack of interest, but more for lack of time, but I suspect it’s going to sail through the Quaterfinals. I’ve got my fingers crossed that tomorrow’s judge will go for the upset, not because Whitehead’s book about race is not timely and important, but because Anders’ book about science, magic and friendship speaks to a different zeitgeistic (can I make that an adjective?) element and one that we’re not talking about very much.

 

Book Banter: Black Dawn

black dawnTitle: Black Dawn (Morganville Vampires #12)

Author: Rachel Caine

Length: 370 pages

Genre: YA Fantasy/vampire

Plot Basics: Fearless foursome Claire, Shane, Eve and Michael have gone up against their share of bad guys in Morganville, Texas, secret vampire stronghold town. But that was before the draug — the thing vampires are scared of — shows up. Nothing is the same in town and it’s an all out war. The four friends will have to learn how to re-trust each other if they have any chance of keeping their town alive.

Banter Points: I have every intention of finishing this series and have for a few years. I also am making a new intention of writing well-put-together reviews of them. This is series where I got blurbed, and yes, on the back of this one, is my oh-so-poignant statement: “Fans of Twilight should really check this out.” Because it’s better. Because that was a review written in the hey-day of Twilight madness and I was doing my self-appointed duty to try to point out other, better books.

First, I think Caine must have studied at the Joss Whedon school of “how to hurt your characters” because she definitely stepped it up in this one. I’ve always liked her as a writer because of how well she raises the stakes at the end of each book. All her characters have to face real and imagined losses in this book.

Second, this series remains a great page-turner. Twelve books and it’s not getting rote or repetitive. Yes, the basics of the four friends keeping each other safe and going up against the bad guys is the same, but Caine continues to invent new and different circumstances.

Bummer Points: The big, and flawed, difference between Caine and Whedon is that the main characters aren’t ever really in danger. She does a good job of breaking the relationships between Eve and Michael and Shane and Claire, but she also put them back together. I think Whedon would have left one of them fractured and forced them to keep working together through it until it was really fixed or irreparable.

Word Nerd Recommendation: These books are great for readers in their late teens/20s. The action keeps the books going and the relationships presented are far healthier examples.

Book Banter: The Shadowed Sun

shadowed-sunTitle: The Shadowed Sun (The Dreamblood #2)

Author: N. K. Jemisin

Length: 492 pages

Genre: fantasy

Plot Basics: Ten years have passed since the end of “The Killing Moon,” and the once-powerful city of Gujaareh is still under the rule of the Kisuati. Wanahomen, the exiled Prince, is working to regain his city but it will take all the political manueverings with nobles, the army and the magical Hetawa to do so. But, for Hanani, a Sharer left with Wanahomen as a hostage, the conquest will also try her faith as a magical, dreaming plague presents a new danger.

Banter Points: As good at The Killing Moon was, for once, a sequel definitely surpassed the original. Wanahomen and Hanani — the two protagonists — were much more relate-able as characters. Also, the plot had  a brisker pace than the first one.

Bummer Points: There are no more books in this series yet. Jemisin says she has more ideas, but nothing sounds like it’s on the horizon for this series.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Definitely worth reading both.

Book Banter: His Majesty’s Dragon

dragonTitle: His Majesty’s Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: Historical fantasy

Length: 342 pages

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: personal collection

Plot Basics: Will Laurence is happy as a British naval captain, but when his ship captures a French ship carrying a dragon egg about to hatch, Laurence ends up as a dragon aviator with his unusual dragon, Temeraire. They rush through training to be ready to head to the front lines of Britain’s offensives against Napoleon.

Banter Points: I picked up the first four books in this series at my library’s used book sale (yes, please just take my money) because I’d heard good things about this series and the premise of dragons in the Napoleonic War is just too good to pass up.

Temeraire and Laurence are a delightful pair of characters, so much so that I might like the dragon more than the people.

Novik does a great job of world-building — and there’s a lot of it — without it overly bogging down the story. Also, she does major scale aerial combat with dragons in a believable, readable way. I could see the battle and the dragons and it was a really fun read.

Bummer Points: I don’t know much about Napoleon’s conquest (other than he ultimately lost…) so I sometimes felt a little lost in how Laurence and Temeraire fit into the actual history. Also, there are a lot of characters and sometimes they got confusing too.

Word Nerd Recommendation: There are eight more books in this series and you can bet I’ll be reading more.

January 2017 Reading Challenge Report Card

The challenge for January was to read a book to change the year. Here’s how we did with the challenge.

beatenotcover_copyBethany: I read Walter Wangerin Jr.’s “Beate Not the Poore Desk.” Wangerin, a National Book Award winner, finally has penned a book about writing. I’m currently not writing and I was hoping that his advice would get things going again.

Wangerin’s book was lovely. It starts with big picture advice about writing — how art is communication and his take on the ethical and moral obligations writers have to tell the truth — and then it turns to the more practical advice. Write, revise, share, etc.

It was a nice little tome. However, it’s unlikely it’s going to change my year. I’m still not writing. Does that mean this challenge is a success or a failure?

Stacie:  The Broken Way by Ann Voskampbroken-way

I selected this book based on a couple of friends who read it and loved the long, deeply reflective thoughts of what it is like to be broken, and how it changes a person. It d
oes have it’s basis in Christianity, Scripture and spiritual life, which is an area of my life that I’ve decided to develop with conscious effort this year.

I purchased this book as it was on sale in either November or December via Kindle. I wish I had gotten a hard copy. I’m enjoying the deep thought provoking nature of this book, but personally, reading on paper versus a device affects the experience. I read way too fast on a device, and have a 85% comprehension level. With paper, I’d likely be jotting notes, underlining and highlighting, making this book a joint effort after all of my personalization.

I’m about half way through, and am considering starting over with a papercopy so I can do just that.

I strongly recommend this book if you are looking for something that will provide insight into how events that could break someone turn into the events that transform them. It’s a very personal story Voskamp is telling, and one that I’m glad to be part of.

Book Banter: Death and Relaxation

relazTitle: Death and Relaxation (Ordinary Magic #1)

Author: Devon Monk

Length: 320 pages

Genre: Urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Delaney Reed is the police chief of Ordinary, Oregon, which is anything but. The quaint town is really home to vampires, werewolves and the like and serves as the vacation hub for the gods, who in return for some R&R, give up their powers while they are there. Delaney and her police officer sisters (it’s a family biz) are among the only ones who know. But when things start getting blown up right before the town’s Rhubarb Festival AND Norse-god Heimdall seems to have been murdered, Delaney’s got more weird on her hands than she might be able to handle.

Banter Points: This book was a lot of fun. I’ve read a bit of Devon Monk in the past and I just happened on this one in the Wowbrary list and I’m glad I read it.

I really liked how she balanced the supernatural elements. I could see how she was using the characters and their interactions to convey information, but it never felt heavy-handed or like an info-dump.

Bummer Points: The end felt a tad disjointed from the rest. I will keep reading the series because I’m curious what she does in books 2 and 3 with what she seemed to be trying to set up.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Fun start to a series; worth reading if you like lighter-hearted urban fantasy.

Book Banter: Different Class

diffferent-classTitle: Different Class

Author: Joanne Harris

Length: 403 pages

Genre: literary/mystery

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Latin Master Roy Straitley of St. Oswald’s boys school is back for yet another year. The school has a new headmaster who is determined to drag the school — and Straitley — into the 21st century. The headmaster used to be Straitley’s pupil and a man with past secrets. Straitley isn’t willing to go down and does all he can to keep the school from going down to, dragged under by past ghosts.

Banter Points: When I learned that Joanne Harris’ new book was a sequel (sort of) to “Gentlemen & Players,” I was thrilled. I love that book and the twisted mystery tied up in it. Straitley is so curmudgeonly loveable in his adherence to the past. Just like in “Gentlemen & Players,” the story weaves between Straitley and a mysterious second narrator, the reveal of whom it truly is, is one of the pivotal plot points. Harris is sneaky good at misdirection.

She also, a decade later, manages to catch the zeitgeist of 2005. A good chunk of the plot revolves around homosexuality and the fear of being found out. As I thought back to my education reporter career in the same time period, that was all spot on. Ditto with the focus on how technology could change everything.

Bummer Points: While Different Class is good, it’s just not quite as sharp as “Gentlemen & Players.”

Word Nerd Recommendation: Read Harris’ “Gentlemen & Players” and then follow it up with this second one in a welcome return to that world.

 

Book Banter: Death Warmed Over

deathTitle: Death Warmed Over (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. #1)

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

Length: 296 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: Being a zombie isn’t stopping PI Dan Chambeaux from continuing to solve cases — including his own murder. He’s one of the few working cases for the unnatural community, the vampires, ghosts, witches, zombies and more that came to life in the Big Uneasy. He’s got plenty to keep him busy — from a mummy seeking emancipation from a museum to a vampire seeking protection — all while trying to work the cold cases that left him a zombie and his girlfriend a ghost.

Banter Points: I read a short story from this series in the “Shadowed Souls” anthology and thought it was hilarious, so I gave the first book in the series in a try. I’m always looking for a good urban fantasy/PI/mystery series.

Bummer Points: Anderson isn’t a mystery writer. He’s got a zillion books to his name, but the good ones are the space opera. Shamble has too many cases and not enough that holds them together. The ending, while not totally predictable, was still not enough of a twist to leave me excited.

Word Nerd Recommendation: It’s unlikely that I’m going to keep going with the series. There are just too many other good books out there…

Book Banter: Shadowed Souls

shadowTitle: Shadowed Souls

Author: Jim Butcher and Kerri Hughes, eds.

Length: 338 pages

Genre: fantasy short story anthology

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL

Plot Basics: This collection of short stories from many of the reigning authors of fantasy/urban fantasy all center on good guys doing shady things… or shady people doing things for a good end. It’s a little gray. You get the idea.

Banter Points: I put this on my hold list, hoping it would come in for the November Reading Challenge. Alas, it wasn’t there in time, but it was still worth the read. As expected, the Dresden Files story was the best, with the Rob Thurman Cal Leandros story running a close second. The unexpected delight was Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble zombie PI story. I didn’t know about this character or these books and found myself laughing aloud. I enjoyed that one so much that the hubby and I checked out the first one on audiobook for listening to during holiday travel.

Bummer Points: So… when taken all together, all these urban fantasy characters are really messed up. I mean, I knew that, but they are a special breed when you look at a bunch of them in close proximity. Also, demons. Lots of demons. I was glad I saved the Dresden Files story for last because it was NOT those things.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If I hadn’t needed more titles to finish out my 2016 total books goal, I might have skipped everything but the Dresden and Cal Leandros stories. I would have missed out some others thought. Pick it up if some of your favorites in the collection and you might discover a new one too.

Book Banter: The Motion of Puppets

puppetsTitle: The Motion of Puppets

Author: Keith Donohue

Length: 260 pages

Genre: Fiction/horror

Plot Basics: Circus performer Kay Harper loves the puppets she sees in the window of an abandoned toy shop in Quebec. Leaving the performance late one night and afraid she’s being followed, Kay sees the shop’s light on and ducks in for safety. And is gone.

She is no longer a person, but a puppet, spending her days in the back of the toy shop quite and coming to life with the other puppets at night.

Her husband, Theo, desperate to get her back sets off on his own wild quest to see if he can find her.

Banter Points: When Keith Donohue burst on the scene with his “Stolen Child” I was hooked. Unfortunately in the way of book readers, I forgot about him until I saw the listing for his new book in my weekly Wowbrary email. I instantly put it on hold and don’t regret that decision in the slightest. He writes weird things, but blends the weird with the real seemlessly.

The story themes on how much of life we go through as rote, as automatons, until we’re forced into new behaviors. Donohue, as expected, quietly asks which characters are the more human, the actual humans or the puppets.

And when the creepiness of the puppets verges on being too much, he pulls back and drops lines like “Love is the madness which allows us to believe in magic.”

Bummer Points: The plot took a while to really start humming. I wasn’t sure about this book until halfway through, which is quite the slow burn to me.

Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like books like Station Eleven that blend literary fiction with a touch of sci-fi, “The Motion of Puppets”