Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Unfair Godmother by Janette Rallison

(I read the e-book)
This is a young YA book (as opposed to some of the more sophisticated YA books). It's about Tansy. Angry at her father, at her mother, at the world, she begins to experiment with rebellion. Enter Chrissy, her amateur fairy godmother. Tansy gets three wishes and ends up transported to the time of Robin Hood. Fairy tale adventures ensue as she is forced to re-write the ending of the fairy tale she's in the middle of. The moral of the story? She has to figure that out too.

This was a really fun book. I was engaged the whole time. Tansy is a senior in high school, so we've got some teenage angst, but it's not overdone and Tansy is mature enough to learn from her adventures, so there's a nice ending, with a good message. Seems like good messages in books directed to teenagers are few and far between, but this is a very positive message--genuine without being heavy handed. The book is also squeaky clean.

I catch myself thinking that teenagers can't fall in lasting love, but I know that's not true--I fell in love with my husband my junior year in high school and 28 years later I love him more than ever! I enjoyed reading about Tansy's romance as well. She is a likeable character from start to finish. I found her rebellious tendencies easy to understand. I like the way her estrangement from her father was portrayed. There were some deep feelings in the book that were illustrated in realistic, positive ways.

It was a good book, full of adventure from start to finish. Nothing is resolved the way you think it will be, the fairies aren't particularly reliable, and the truth is a far cry from the written account of it! Fun!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Murder at Ford's Theatre by Margaret Truman

I really like Margaret Truman's mysteries and it's been awhile since I've read one. So I'm going to try and avoid generalities about her mystery series (since I don't clearly remember the others I've read) and just tell you about this one.

The book takes place in Washington DC (as do they all, I believe). This is part police procedural (one of my favorite kinds of mysteries) and part Perry Mason-esque lawyer procedural. Our main character (who appears in her other books too) is Mackenzie Smith, former criminal lawyer and now law professor. He is well known in Washington DC, with a good reputation as a criminal lawyer, with many friends in high places, with classes full of students who are there because of his skill and popularity as a teacher.

A senator's intern is found murdered in the alley right outside of Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. Ford's Theater is famous as the place where the Shakespearian actor Booth murdered President Lincoln. Throughout the book the reader learns all sorts of interesting details about this historical event. Detectives Moses Johnson and Rick Klayman are assigned to investigate. There are many suspects and plenty of little twists and turns.

I really enjoyed the book. I like Mackenzie Smith and his wife Annabel, I liked both detectives and I love reading about Washington DC as seen through the eyes of Margaret Truman. It was an engaging read all the way through. I appreciate Margaret Truman even more because her mysteries are always "clean". There may be murder and sexual shenanigans, but Ms. Truman does not include graphic scenes in her novels AND she eschews all foul language. I SO appreciate that!

You On A Diet by Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz

This book reports the science behind the way a body and mind reacts to food, with plenty of witty phrasing and cartoon-like illustrations. The authors include a food and exercise program as well as some solid advice on how best to re-train the reader's approach to eating well and exercising.... and just generally taking care of his/her body.

I came away with a few solid ideas that I felt I could use in my own efforts at being more healthy: walk 30 minutes a day WITHOUT FAIL; the waist measurement (32 1/2" or less for a woman) is the definitive measurement for health--NOT weight... The book was very informative. The diet and exercise plan was pretty standard.

I got very tired of the clever little metaphors stuck in all over the place--it felt like they were there to lighten up a whole bunch of heavy scientific explanations. Sometimes I found them almost patronizing. I also found the illustrations almost completely unhelpful. Also, I will admit that my eyes glazed over in some parts. Too much information. But I think this is stuff that people should know--it has always seemed unfortunate to me that we humans know so little about our bodies and they way they work.

Generally I found the book solid but uninspiring. There are a bunch of other diet books out there that offer the same advice: change your eating habits, stay away from sugar, get plenty of exercise (walking and weight training). There are others that give the body info in more interesting and even more palatable formats too. I guess I'm glad I have this one on my shelf as a reference--it can answer a lot of my questions about how the body uses food, but when I'm looking for inspiration or motivation, I won't be consulting "You On A Diet".

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

This is the second in this series. The first is "Poison Study" (my favorite) and the last is "Fire Study" (my least favorite). In this book Yelena returns to Sitia to meet her family and to be trained in the art of magic.

This book is most interesting to me because of Yelena's family and because of the continuing development of her relationship with Valek, who I can't help but adore. I also like the glimpses of the other characters that I've learned to love--Ari and Janco and even the Commander (and his "cousin"). We also meet new likeable characters--Bain, his apprentice (whose name I can't call to mind right now and I'm too lazy to walk into the next room to get the book), the horses... and some not-so-likeable characters like the wannabe king and his unsavory henchmen. And Roze, one of the master magicians.

I was sorry that the conflict in this story involved yet another sadistic man, raping and killing a series of girls. Get a new storyline, will you? Why all the torture and rape? I also was not particularly interested in Yelena's magic. I liked the first book a lot more because Yelena's character was developed so fully apart from magic. She had experienced awful things and yet managed to overcome them and become a whole, strong person. I really liked that. This book was just Yelena being a maverick, running off and solving all the problems in Sitia almost single-handed.

I still liked this, though, because it tied up the loose ends from book one, "Poison Study". It was worth reading just because of that. Oh, and because reading about Yelena and Valek's unique bond and the way it works to assist both of them is pretty cool. I like Valek so much! Sigh.

Book 3, "Fire Study", however, is just more of the same maverick behavior from Yelena. There's more of the characters we like, but this story did not capture me the way the first book did. I'll go back and re-read it eventually and review it here, but later.... Meanwhile, read "Poison Study". It's so good!

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

This is the story of Yelena--a prisoner on death row in the commander's dungeon. She has murdered her benefactor's son, but has been given a second chance at life--as the commander's poison taster. She begins her study of poisons, but her life is complicated as her former benefactor seeks her death and as she learns self-defense and discovers that she is the possessor of a magical talent--a possession that is illegal and if discovered will lead to her execution.

This is one of my very favorite YA novels. It has adventure, magic, complex emotions, love, fighting... I really like it. I really engaged with the main characters and I find the contrast between Ixia and Sitia (the North and South countries on this continent) very interesting. It compares two governments: a military dictatorship and a committee/council-led government. The evils and benefits of both are dispassionately noted. I actually end up preferring the military dictatorship in this book even though in real life I find the idea horrifying. Actually, I'm jumping ahead a little bit. This book "Poison Study" is the first book in this 3 book series and it takes place completely in Ixia, the country of the military dictatorship. The second book "Magic Study" takes place completely in Sitia and that allows the comparison. My next review will be for "Magic Study".

Be cautioned: Yelena was tortured and raped before she was sent to prison. Throughout this book she remembers these experiences as she tries to recover from them emotionally and mentally. I found this marginally disturbing, but her recovery and her revenge made it interesting enough for me to not be too bothered by her memories. Another caution: There is premarital sex here. In a dungeon, in rotten hay, after Yelena has vomited repeatedly and after she and her lover have been in the dungeon for at least 24 hours. Oooh. Sexy. Another instance of fictional sex that I daresay would NOT be in the least plausible in real life by normal people. That's kind of weird, and I wish it weren't there, but... it is. And it's not graphic in the least.

A very memorable book. The best in the series, as a matter of fact. I really like this one.

The Lives of the King and Queens of England edited by Antonia Fraser

We checked this one out of the library to listen to on our long road trip. It is not a book written by one person, but is a collection of works by different authors. Each ruling house is written about by a different historian.

I found this book very interesting. It told the history of England through the lives of its kings and queens. Of course, not a lot is known about some of these monarchs, but what is known is interesting. There were no sensational accounts here, but all accounts seemed to be balanced and based on true history. My 15-year-old nephew thought it was the most boring thing ever, but I found it engaging from the start to the end. It DID get a little drier towards the end as the government of England became more complex--all those prime ministers and Tory and Whig governments and parliament and all that jazz.

It was particularly interesting to me to hear a British point of view on the much vilified King George (the 3rd, I think)--the guy who "lost" the American colonies. According to the British historian, he was a good guy who had bad advisers at the time. Hm.

I enjoyed getting a timeline-like picture of the history of England from the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings (that's the right name, I hope--there were so many battles!) right up to Queen Elizabeth and her disastrous daughters-in-law. And since it was a long book, it took up many driving hours and kept me awake and alert. A good one if you like history.

The Chinese Alchemist by Lyn Hamilton

This one took place in China (you could tell that from the title, eh?) and dealt with the antique trade there. I liked this one better than the Moai one. It was a little more complex, had a GREAT side story (the secondary tale that's hundreds of years old) and was more engaging generally.

Our protagonist, Lara McClintock, travels to China to bid on an antique silver box for a friend. She thinks she's taken on a relatively simple assignment, but she becomes embroiled in danger and intrigue. This one was fairly believable and was interesting without being too scary (I don't like too scary). And even though some bad things were happening in China to Lara and some others, the reader comes away from the story with a positive feeling about the country. That's an accomplishment for the author, I think.

I will probably read more from this series.

The Cat Who Went Bananas by Lillian Jackson Braun

Ugh. We got this book on tape to listen to during a long drive. It was BORING! I've read others in "The Cat Who..." series and have moderately enjoyed them. But not only did I get tired of the insufferably attractive, intelligent, wealthy and gifted Jim Quilleran (enough already!), but there was barely a mystery to be found here! We were on the last disc before anything mystery-like took place and the book ended with a lame resolution. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I enjoyed some of the earlier "Cat Who..." series, but the newer ones just get more self-congratulatory and plot-less. Disappointing.

The Moai Murders by Lyn Hamilton

This book is billed as "an archaeological mystery" and it takes place on Easter Island--the one with the big carved heads, which are called Moai.

This book was fine. It was fairly interesting, fairly educational and pretty good. Faint praise, I know. It took me awhile to get into the story; it moves pretty slowly. It also took me a little while to warm up to the main character. For one thing, she and her best friend are both a feminists. I found that a little distracting at first. I am afraid that feminism, to a great extent, has made many women unhappy and I don't like to see it glamorized in books. But! Our character ends up being pretty likeable. Mostly.

The mystery in this story is solid. It's logical and interesting. I LOVED how there's a double storyline, albeit one is much less developed than the other. But it was interesting to read a the little snatches of a story that took place hundreds of years before our mystery did. And I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Easter Island and its history and inhabitants.

Not a bad book at all. I have a few of these by Lyn Hamilton in my library book pile and I'll probably read at least one more of them. If you're looking for an interesting, slightly educational, low-key read, you'll like these mysteries.