Monday, May 31, 2010

Green Rider (Kristen Britain)

Green Rider
(The Green Rider series, Book 1)
Kristen Britain
DAW
Fiction, Fantasy
**** (Good)
Green Rider
DESCRIPTION: Karigan G'Ladheon, daughter of a wealthy merchant clan, ran away from the prestigious school at Selium after a fight with a nobleman's son led to her unfair expulsion. She worries about how to face her father even as she rankles at the injustice... until a dying man on a winded horse stumbles across her path. He is a Green Rider, a messenger for the king of Sacoridia, and with his dying breath he extracts Karigan's oath to deliver the message in his saddlebag, unopened, to King Zachary without delay. He also warns of great danger, but the black arrows in his back take his life before he can explain more. Though no Green Rider herself, Karigan wouldn't be her father's daughter if she took oaths lightly, and she's as loyal to the crown as any good citizen. Reluctantly, she climbs into the saddle on the man's horse - and into a wild and dangerous adventure. Dark and ancient evils are afoot in the land, and the message Karigan bears may mean the difference between life and death... not just for King Zachary and Sacoridia, but for the known world and beyond.

REVIEW: Karigan's adventures start nearly on the first page, and don't let up until the very end. If the story sags now and again, Britain's world was interesting enough to keep me reading until it picked up again, which it invariably did. Once in a while, Karigan's stubborn refusal to accept the obvious got irritating, but on the whole she proved a reliable, strong heroine. Some loose ends are left dangling at the end of the book, but the main plot wraps itself up with an appropriately spellbinding conclusion. Amazon claims that there are more books in the series available; I expect I'll end up tracking down the next one someday to see how Karigan fares. All in all, an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

Coraline
Neil Gaimam
Harper Perennial
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)
Coraline [Mass Market Paperback]
DESCRIPTION: Young Coraline's family has just moved into one floor of a run-down old house. The upstairs neighbor claims he's training a mouse circus. The elderly sisters downstairs raise terriers and speak endlessly of their bygone days on the stage. Her parents are wrapped up in their jobs, hardly noticing her coming and going. Left mostly to her own devices, she starts exploring... and finds a peculiar door in the drawing room that leads to a brick wall. One night, she follows a strange shadow to the door, and finds that it now opens onto a hallway leading to another flat just like her own - only not quite. Here, Coraline meets her "Other Mother," a paper-pale woman with black buttons for eyes.  She offers the lonely girl all the love and attention that her real parents haven't given her in ages... but at what cost?

REVIEW: This movie formed the basis of the 2009 animated film of the same name. I saw the movie first, and there are significant differences. The overall creepy nature of the Other Mother's world remains the same, as does the independence and courage of the heroine herself. Considering that I find Gaiman a very hit-and-miss author, this one falls in the "hit" category, with the strangeness augmenting the story rather than bogging it down. While I personally preferred the movie, I could still enjoy this book.

Comet's Nine Lives (Jan Brett)

Comet's Nine Lives
Jan Brett
Putnam
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)
Comet's Nine Lives
DESCRIPTION: Born and raised on Nantucket Island, the cat Comet was happy and carefree... until an ill-advised snack on foxgloves cost him the first of the nine lives all cats are born with. He decides it's time to find himself a permanent home, but can he find a place to live before he runs out of lives?

REVIEW: I bought this for the beautiful watercolor images, full of bright details and a subplot told almost entirely in pictures. The story is light and fun, and it reads quickly. Enjoyable all around, whether you're a child reading it for Comet's adventures or an adult appreciating Brett's remarkable artwork.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cats Cats Cats (S. Gross, editor)

Cats Cats Cats: A Collection of Great Cat Cartoons
S. Gross, editor
Perennial Library (Harper & Row)
Fiction, Humor/Comics
*** (Okay)
Cats Cats Cats: A Collection of Great Cat Cartoons

DESCRIPTION: A collection of cat cartoons from many sources.

REVIEW: This is an older book, but even considering that, the humor is dated. Lots of unfixed pets with unwanted kittens/throwing shoes at strays/kicking the cat outside all night type of jokes that might have been funny in the 1950's; I'm delusional enough to hope that spaying and neutering are more mainstream these days, as is keeping cats safely indoors. Some of the cartoonists treat cats with such contempt that I wonder why they bother drawing them at all, or why Gross thought they'd be worth including in an anthology of cartoons aimed at cat-lovers. A few others take way too many panels to get absolutely nowhere. For all that, there are a few fun cartoons here. Overall, the dross outweighs the gold. It didn't hack me off enough for a Bad rating, but the general blandness and dated humor place it firmly in Okay territory.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Site Updated, Reviews Archived

Brightdreamer Books has been updated again. The previous reviews have been archived. I also rotated the Random Recommendations, and I cross-linked more book reviews.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Inscription (Pam Binder)

The Inscription
Pam Binder
Sonnet Books
Fiction, Romance
*** (Okay)
The Inscription (Sonnet Books)
DESCRIPTION: In many corners of the world, a legend is whispered of a secretive race of immortals. In the fifteenth-century Scottish Highlands, where myths grow thicker than heather on the hills, these stories find flesh in the MacAlpins and their castle on the shores of Loch Ness. The MacAlpin laird, the handsome Lachlan, is strong and wise, an arbiter of justice and reason. He is also cursed, as his father was before him, with a terrible bloodlust, a savage thirst for death that fills him more and more whenever he bares his blade in battle. Though he may try to avoid combat, sometimes it comes seeking him out. As an immortal Mongolian enemy makes his way to MacAlpin territory, bent on revenge, Lachlan feels the shadow of his curse growing darker across his destiny, a doom as inevitable as the coming confrontation... but there may be hope, in an old legend which even his own immortal kin hardly believe, a legend about a woman whose healing love will transcend time...
Amber MacPhee, visiting her Aunt Dora in Inverness, was driving past Loch Ness when a freak lightning storm drove her car into the icy waters. She woke in the arms of a tartaned man, in a place that seems to be taking medieval reenactment far too seriously. She has spent her life as many in the twentieth century do, flooding her schedule with a constant flurry of external activity to hide a deep internal void. Her Scottish hero may fill that void, but he hides his heart as well as she hides hers. Can a love out of legend redeem them both, or is Lachlan doomed to lose his heart and his life to the monster that dwells within?

REVIEW: No, I don't normally read romances. They usually put plot on the back burner, playing out as an overlong seduction scene with fairly predictable endings. This book is no exception. Amber and Lachlan waver back and forth over their feelings and motivations depending on whether the author wanted to heat up a scene or cool it down. The story of Lachlan's enemy seeking vengeance on his doorstep lacked bite, and his face-to-face meeting with his nemesis is practically over before it begins; his real enemy, I suppose, is supposed to be his curse of blood-fury, but I still expected more out of a nemesis who spent years honing his blade and his sadism under the nefarious Genghis Khan. The climax felt tacked on, ending abruptly. Binder's descriptons of life in the medieval Highlands were decent, though I'm not sure how many Irish Wolfhounds (as opposed to Scottish Deerhounds) were running around on the shores of Loch Ness in the 1400's. (I also dispute the idea that the Loch Ness Monster could be a creature resembling a Brachiosaurus, as is implied here - the "aquatic brachiosaur" idea was debunked when it was shown that their lungs would collapse under that much water - but I digress.)
Overall, considering that I only picked this book up to kill time, I can't say I hated it. I can say that I preferred it to Diana Gabaldon's The Outlander, which uses the vaguely similar plot of a (nearly) modern woman plunging backwards in time to warm the bed of a Highlander; Binder, at least, didn't derail the minimal plot to delve into the downright sick territory Gabaldon explored at the end. I suppose I'm just not a fan of romance novels, even romance novels with the sci-fi twist of time travel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kiln People (David Brin)

Kiln People
David Brin
Tor
Fiction, Sci-Fi
**** (Good)
Kiln People (The Kiln Books)
DESCRIPTION: Two generations ago, scientists finally cracked the secret of the Standing Wave, the individual resonant frequency that was once quaintly referred to as the "soul." Now, copying one's soul into clay "dittos" is a mundane part of everyday life. Sure, they only last 24 hours, but that's plenty of time to go to work or indulge other interests... and, if you don't like the day they've had, you don't even have to upload their memories. Guilt-free extra lives, fully recyclable, cheap enough for the masses... and, of course, the criminal element.
Albert Morris, a first-rate copier and a talented investigator, has been pursuing the counterfeit-ditto manufacturer Beta for years. Countless clay Morrises have crossed proverbial swords with Beta's forces, many of whom never came home to inload their findings. After striking another blow to the mysterious man's criminal empire, Morris finds himself entangled in a plot that cuts to the very heart of ditto technology and may bring the modern world as a whole to its knees.

REVIEW: This is why I read sci-fi. Brin takes a fascinating idea - the ability to create copies of oneself, self-aware and identical in thoughts and memories yet inherently considered disposable property - and fully explores the technological, legal, social, and moral implications while still delivering a good story. Brin's future is full of both optimism (a cleaner planet and an end to "realwar," as staged battles between ditto-soldiers settle international disputes) and cynicism (massive unemployment, a new breed of discrimination, and skyrocketing interest in violence and other perverse pleasures, made "safe" and socially acceptable so long as only clay bodies are involved), instead of the clear-cut utopia or dystopia some people prefer.  A nice sense of humor underlies Albert's narration, and the plot moves along nicely with plenty of action. The tale splits into multiple threads as Morris and his clay dittos head out on their own investigations, each learning pieces of information which contribute to the whole puzzle. I clipped it a point because some of the ending felt a little out of the blue, and the climax felt drawn out. Otherwise, an enjoyable and thought-provoking tale that read surprisingly fast.  If this is typical of Brin's efforts, I'll have to read more of his books.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Dragon of Never-Was (Ann Downer)

The Dragon of Never-Was
(Sequel to Hatching Magic)
Ann Downer
Aladdin
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**** (Good)

The Dragon of Never-Was (Aladdin Fantasy)
DESCRIPTION: How do you return to a normal life after you've met a hatchling wyvern, talked to magicians from another time, fought an evil wizard, and tapped into terrifyingly potent powers within your own mind? Twelve-year-old Theodora Oglethorpe, a modern Boston girl, did all that, and more, in the Events of Last Summer, and try as she might she can't seem to go back to being the ordinary kid she used to be. Her former best friends have drifted away, her faithful nanny Mikko - whom she had hoped would become her new mother - has left... even the wizard who introduced her to her own powers hasn't talked to her since then. At least she still has her father, even if he doesn't remember a thing about the Events... though his write-up of a wyvern's scale finally got him the professorship he had long deserved. When he gets a letter from the Scottish island of Scornsay about another mysterious scale, he heads off to investigate - and, for once, he takes Theodora with him. If she thought she'd get a break from magic and wyverns in Scotland, she's sadly mistaken, for that scale ties in to a mystery steeped in superstition, wizard conspiracies, forbidden prophecies, and that most peculiar magical dimension of Never-Was.

REVIEW: I enjoyed Theodora's first adventure enough to grab this book when I saw it at Half Price Books. I think I liked this book a little more. Not so much of the plot relies on conveniently missed meetings and people taking too long to figure things out; Theodora already knows about magic this time round, and isn't quite so slow on the uptake about things. She struggles over whether or not she can come to terms with her gifts, gifts which will alienate her from many people, including her own father. The magical "technobabble" slows things down now and again, but overall it reads quickly.  Downer does a good job recapping events from the first book, Hatching Magic, so newcomers won't be completely thrown (though there is a reference at the very end that they might not get if they didn't read Theodora's first adventure.) I enjoyed this story. There is, of course, every hint of a third book, with new enemies and allies awaiting Theodora; I expect I'll read it, should I find it cheap enough someday.