March 19th, 2012

book 13

Books 12, 13, and 14

Still catching up with book updates after letting them lapse for too long, so you get another big one today. Hurray? I think I should be caught up by next week, or close to. Until then... hey, look! Books! *points and flees*

All links lead to the full review on my blog. Feel free to clicky or not. I promise not to bite either way. (Well, not much.)

Something About You by Julie James
Publisher: Berkley, 2010
Genre: Romance
Sub-genre: Contemporary

One of the things that makes this different from other romances is that the Big Misunderstanding has happened long before the book even starts. The plot basically deals with the two of them dealing with and getting past the Big Misunderstanding, rather than bringing it in as a bit of extra conflict 3/4 of the way through the book.

There's no secret as to who the killer is, since he narrates a few passages, trying to cover his tracks. This can backfire on an author but James does it well, making it fit the tone and style of the book and letting those sections add to the tension and the reader's understanding of the plot instead of trying to cover it in mystery. That being said, this is not really a romantic suspense. It's contemporary romance played fairly straight, albeit self-aware (the detectives assigned to guard Cameron have a discussion about "meet cute" at one point).

I really enjoyed the characters in Something About You. The story starts off on the slow side, but I didn't care because I had so many fun people to hang out with. Jack and Cameron are both primarily reasonable people who make reasonable decisions based on the information they're given. Jack's partner Wilkins was a nice and sunny foil to Jack's "scowliness" and Cameron's friends Amy and Collin (the requisite gay best friend) are charming. Actually, I kind of wanted Wilkins to get his own book, but no word on that yet.

Something About You is exactly the kind of book I can see being made into a "chick lit" movie. It's got the cute banter, the quirky side characters, the reluctant but undeniable attraction between hero and heroine... Formulaic? Sure, but it's done well enough that it remains enjoyable and even re-readable.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Publisher: Bantam, 1998
Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Alternate history/time travel

When I asked for recommendations for something light and fun, starmetal_oak suggested To Say Nothing of the Dog. And since not only did it sound like a fun premise, but the library had an e-copy of it available (meaning I could read it without having to, like, go outside and talk to people), I went for it.

To Say Nothing of the Dog doesn't just bend genres, it defies them. It's a mystery, it's science fiction, it's a historical comedy of manners, it's an homage to the works of several writers. Somehow Willis weaves everything together in a way that feels natural, and the whole thing is really a lot of fun. The well researched world is highly detailed, the humour has a British feel to it, and while the characters are over the top, they're at least caricatures of people you know.

Light on the science fiction elements, which serve mostly to push the plot forward rather than to provide a world for the characters to inhabit, the strength in here is Willis's ability to juggle several plotlines without letting any of them fade into the background or grow too fractured or confusing. Even when you know where the plotline is going (I knew who the mysterious Mr C was early on), seeing how they get there is worth turning the pages for. And, of course, there are all the literary references, the absurdity of the characters involved, and the clever self-awareness of all the genres the book has a toe-hold in. To say nothing of the eponymous dog. And the cat.

His Robot Girlfriend by Wesley Allison
Publisher: Self-published, 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Near future

Ever since his wife's death, Mike has been lonely. Eventually he decides he's had enough and orders a robot to be his companion and finds his life improves in every way once she arrives.

No, really, that's it. That's the plot. His Robot Girlfriend wasn't the title, it was the plot summary. This novella is 100 pages of male fantasy fodder about the perfect woman, which apparently means someone inhumanly and eternally hot who will take care of your house and your life so you never have to lift a finger. There's no plot, no character development, not a whiff of conflict. Every time something arose that could have developed into a plot or even an element that could have been moderately interesting, the book took the fastest turn-off road to get out of there. Mike's two adult kids have no reservations about their father having a romantic relationship with a robot. Patience (the robot) doesn't bring up any questions of sentience or emotions or free will. She just quietly does what she's told, which mostly involves things like cleaning the house, cooking the food, finding ways to bring in extra income, and doing most of it while naked or dressed in a skimpy outfit, described in loving detail.

Look, I absolutely think there's room for male fantasy fodder within a book. Let's face it, most genre fiction basically exists as some sort of escapism and/or wish fulfillment. Fantasy fodder fits comfortably in there. Being a chick, male fantasies don't as a rule appeal to me, but I understand their inclusion, as long as there are other elements to hold my interest. Quantic Dream put together a short demo of their new motion capture technology. Their female robot protagonist is naked through almost the entire thing, but in less than 7 minutes they have more conflict and emotion than this entire novella. Even Futurama did an episode about society disapproving of human/robot relationships. In typical sitcom format, everything was resolved and returned to status quo by the end of the half hour and included a cartoon Lucy Liu in a skintight catsuit, but it explored society's reactions to human/robot relationships and involved a plot much larger than "man gets sexy robot and sexes it up a lot." I basically made it through this novella because I kept waiting for something to happen, some conflict to pop in. More fool me.
Dead Dog Cat

(no subject)

In the lazing about, yesterday, I did read an ebook, Osprey Campaign #224: Mons Graupius AD 83: Rome's Battle at the Edge of the World. It gave a pretty clear picture of what were the problems facing the Roman's in this battle in the north of Britain; the plates were very high-quality. Nice piece of work.

12: "Goodness! What beautiful diamonds!" "Goodness had nothing to do with it."

I finished Jewels: A Secret History tonight, and I'm glad I gave the author, Victoria Finlay, a second chance. Her first book, Color, was an excellent idea - a natural history of the evolution and cultural associations of the spectrum, focusing on one color per chapter - but the author was an egregiously Ugly American tourist (even though she wasn't American; a trip to Afghanistan opens with the author snitting about a holdup on her visa *just* because the U.K. government had some sort of unfathomable problem dealing with the Taliban), and the narrative was scattered and hard to follow. I was intrigued by the idea of her second book, a similar treatment of the world's precious stones, and I finally checked it out of the library. Happily, I found here that the author is largely a respectful visitor and each chapter fairly sharply focused.

Finlay explores the histories of the traditional precious gems plus amber, jet, pearl, opal, and peridot. She usually centers each chapter around a certain mine or processing locale: for sapphires, a gem market in Sri Lanka, where jewels are traded among certain locals like so many Yu-Gi-Oh cards; for jet, Whitby, England, source of Queen Victoria's mourning jewelry and goth Mecca due to its role in Dracula; an Arizona mountain on an Apache reservation that's the world's largest supply of peridot (though it's not commercially mined due to conflicts in the tribal government).
Her travels are fascinating, though there's a lot that's dispiriting at the same time. For example, much amber these days is melted and molded, sometimes with bugs stuck in to create an aura of millions-of-years-old authenticity. De Beers' early mines were staffed with convicts effectively "bought" from the South African government who were denied even clothing when they went to bed at night (lest they hide jewels, of course).  Burmese ruby miners today aren't kept in much better conditions. Hardly anyone who actually mines stones (no matter what the stone may be or where the mine) gets rich; the buyers always seem to have a chokehold on the market through stockpiling. And cultured pearls are formed by cutting open an oyster's genitals and forming a wound that takes months to heal. (Yeah, it's an oyster, but I dunno, man.) But there's a good deal that's intriguing and beautiful, as well, such as a hunt for Cleopatra's abandoned emerald mines or a collection of jars holding a new type of man-made opals sitting on a shelf in an Australian miner's garage. I'm far more behind lab-created gems after reading this book, though.

There are a couple flaws in Jewels; it is still a bit long, and there're a couple points that could've used expansion: Finlay talks, for example, about how peridot was once highly valued but now is out of favor, but she doesn't really tell the story of why and how, despite promising to do so. I can, though, overall happily recommend this volume; it's reassuring to see an author set back on the right path.

(But I can't get jet. You're wearing coal, people. Come on.)