Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Story summary: Now it's finally the turn of Miles's cousin Ivan (known as "Ivan, you idiot.") to have his own book, his own story, and his own adventure.
See the others in this series: Shards of HonorBarrayarThe Warrior's ApprenticeThe Vor GameCetagandaBrothers in ArmsMirror DanceMemory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign.

Thoughts: I've always loved Ivan. It was so refreshing to finally get a book where he gets to have the adventure. Of any of the non-Miles characters so far whom I would have wanted most to get their own book, it would have been Ivan. (Well, also Cordelia, but she already got a book.)

This book wasn't as mindblowing and fast-paced as some of the past in this series. But it would be like that. This is Ivan, not Miles. The romance between Ivan and Tej was sweet, and if not ideal for my taste (Ivan is a bit too much of a womanizer for that), it is at least significantly better than my taste overall for the romance in A Civil Campaign. And Bujold does seem exceedingly good at creating people that suite each other very well. Every single romance in her books so far is unique and well done, even the ones I wasn't fond of.

And then there's Tej's family. LMB does family relations soo well, and I loved their chaotic presence. You also got Tej introduced to all of Ivan's extended family, and it was immensely amusing to see their reactions to Ivan, Tej, and her family.

Altogether, great fun.

Note: The cover to the left is the one I read. Generic, but not horrible. But there's another one--and this one features on the back cover of the one I read--and it made it horribly embarrassing to read this book in public. Sigh. LMB does NOT have good luck in covers. None of them (at least in the English versions) manage to portray all of the uniqueness, sci-fi elements, and character study elements of this series at once.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Catechism

by John Zmirak

Thoughts: Witty, insightful, and a rather hilarious general look at the teachings of the Catholic Church. Zmirak gets the both/and nature of the Church--it's grittiness, humanness, and, yes, catholicity. And although the preface seems to indicate it's meant for non-Catholics, I actually learnt some things myself. For instance, I didn't know that the it was only a widespread Western theory that the Spirit is generated by the perfect mutual love of the Father and the Son. I had thought that was part of doctrine. There was also a fascinating discussion on how most polytheistic tribes said their ancestors used to worship one, highest God, before they decided they needed several more "hands-on" gods because God wasn't answering prayers promptly enough. (pg. 2) He didn't back this up with a reference to the study, though, so I'm going to have to research this. Similarly, he claimed that the Benedictines offered the first advanced schooling to women in Western history, which would be another fascinating fact, if true. (pg. 94)

I must admit, though, I'm glad that I agreed on almost everything he said, because otherwise this would be hard to read. His wit is acerbic and very sarcastic, and would be hard to stomach for many non-believers, I think. Also, as a note, I didn't agree with everything he said. Just as a small example, I found his discussion on men vs. women on page 33 a bit annoying. I am definitely the kind of person who would crash her car while pushing a radio button, not when lapsing into deadly indecision. My multi-tasking skills are not of the highest calibre.

But all in all, decidedly worth reading, if only for how funny it is, and the random interesting asides. In some ways, Zmirak reminds me of a grumpy, Catholic, Bill Bryson.

Grade: 4 stars (maybe 4 1/2?)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cuckoo Song

by Frances Hardinge

Story summary: Eleven-year-old Triss wakes up from a severe illness not remembering who she is or what her life is like. Even as she slowly gains memory, she beings to realize that things are not as they should be. She is getting more and more hungry, and food is satisfying her less and less. She is having strange hallucinations, and waking up in the morning with leaves in her bed. As she slowly discovers who she is and what is happening, she also slowly realizes the price she is going to have to pay.

Thoughts: Frances Hardinge has been one of my favourite living children's authors for some time now. A lot of what makes her so wonderful is her original world building. Gullstruck Island and A Face Like Glass are especially good in this way, but Fly By Night and The Twilight Robbery are pretty wonderful too. This one took place in the real world, and used more standard world-building (bit like her other book Verdigris Deep). But still, it had her characteristic originality still present, with the excellent writing and vivid imagery always present with her books. And she is a master of creepiness. For what is technically a children's book, the imagery is intense...and somewhat disturbing. (Bit like some of Doctor Who, that way.)

Hardinge is one of the few authors I will buy on the spot without reading any reviews or doing any research. Which is saying something. And this book did not disappoint.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

Story summary: A man and his young boy are travelling through the dead and dreary post-apocalyptic America, barely surviving and slowly dying.

Thoughts: This was fairly tough to get through. It was bleak and relentless, and took me a very long time to read compared to most books. In some ways, there seemed very little point to reading a book like this. And yet... there are enough threads of hope throughout the story, that by the end (and especially because of the end), I could have a new perspective on the bleakness and suffering of the rest of the book.

Grade: 3 1/2 stars