Sunday, February 20, 2011

God's War

Watching Nyx disarm was a more drawn-out affair. There was the sword she kept strapped to her back, her pistol, her whip, the garroting wire she kept strung in her dhoti, the bullets sewn into her burnous, the bullets strung around her neck. The dagger strapped to her thigh, the pistol strapped to the opposite calf, the three poisoned needles she kept in her hair. He noted she kept the garroting wire she used to tie her sandals, but she pulled out the razor blades tucked into the soles.

God's War by Kameron Hurley: You definitely don’t want to be on Nyx’s bad side. As a bel dame, she serves her country of Nasheen by finding and killing the inevitable deserters from their perpetual war with neighboring Chenja. As a bounty hunter on the side, she often takes on even more unsavory jobs. Unfortunately for her, the bel dame council does not approve of moonlighting. Down on her luck, Nyx, along with her bounty hunting team, takes a mysterious job: one with repercussions she can only begin to comprehend.

The author Kameron Hurley has kept a really good blog for years, and I was excited to see this, her first novel, be published.

Overall Quality: Good. Hurley does a wonderful job of world-building, creating a war-torn desert world powered by bugs and magic. (Yes, bugs. You’ll see how it works if you read it.) The characters are well thought out and interesting.  The perspective of the story is primarily through Nyx and Rhys, a devout Chenjan magician who has taken refuge in Nasheen. He works for Nyx, somewhat grudgingly, and the relationship between the two is one of my favorite parts of the book.

If you like action, you will love this book. Fight scenes, chase scenes, ambushes; the adrenaline never stops. A word of warning though, this is one violent book.

Bus Readability: Good. At just under 300 pages, it’s right about at the limit of one-handed reading. I found that the story worked well for bus reading. It gets confusing at times, but everything is explained as the book goes on.  

Cocktail Party Conversation Starter: If you meet an aspiring writer, you can show them the author’s video of fifteen years of rejection letters:

TL;DR: Bloody badassery; good for the bus. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Corked by Kathryn Borel: Road trip! During one of the worst years of her life, Kathryn Borel joins her father for a wine-tasting trip through France. Her dad, a Frenchman turned Candian hotelier, is a renowned wine expert, while Kathryn, a journalist, is fine with the grocery store stuff. This trip is her effort to learn more about her father, bond with him, and come to terms with the traumas in her own life. If she can stand to be around him that long. The first chapter has Kathryn trying to sink into the floor as her dad berates a waitress for not bringing the wine list to their table quickly enough.

Overall Quality: Pretty good. Based on the cover, I was expecting a lot more discussion of wine mixed in with the story of the relationship, and while there are some good wine tidbits, this is primarily a story about a woman and her father trying to understand each other. They bond over their goofy (and sometimes gross) sense of humor, but falter when dealing with more serious issues. Borel is a journalist by trade, and I think that comes through in this book (her first) as many of the chapters read more like columns. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, and I would be up for reading future books by Borel.  

Bus Readability: Good. It’s easy to pick up and put down, so it’s well suited to bus reading. The hardcover is just on the verge of being too big for one-handed reading, but my habds are small. I suspect the paperback would be fine.

Cocktail Party Conversation Starter: The highest classification of wine is called Grand Cru, and it represents the best of a particular region for a given year.

TL;DR: Sweet, easy, and sometimes painful tale of daughter-dad bonding.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Empire Falls

Empire Falls by Richard Russo: Miles Roby is a man with problems. Twenty years after leaving college to see to his dying mother, he’s still stuck in the also dying industrial town of Empire Falls, Maine, managing the Empire Grill. His wife Janine is leaving him for Walt Comeau, an obnoxious (but apparently great in bed) fitness club owner. Their daughter Tick is dealing not only with her parents’ divorce, but also with the ramifications of breaking up with Zack Minty, one of the most popular and powerful students at Empire Falls High. Miles’s luck at work is no better than in his personal life.  Despite the best efforts of his brother David and their waitress Charlene, the woman of Miles’s boyhood dreams, the Grill hasn’t turned a profit in years. He can’t even sell the place and move on, since it belongs to Francine Whiting, along with everything else in Empire Falls. Can Miles find a way to a better future than the grim one he sees ahead?

(Believe it or not, that was probably only half the characters.)

Overall Quality: Fantastic. I know they generally don’t give Pulitzers to bad books, but Empire Falls is truly outstanding. If you tend to like character-driven novels, you will love this. There’s not a lot of action in the first three quarters or so of the book, but through flashbacks and internal monologues, each character is explored in rich detail. Eventually you realize that the author has been very carefully setting up all the dominos and in the last quarter of the book, they start to all fall down. The end is incredibly gripping and intense, though also disturbing in a few scenes.

Bus Readability: Pretty good. The book is a little long for one-handed reading (the paperback has almost 500 pages), but the story itself works pretty well being read in small sections. A word of warning though: once those dominos start falling, it’s a hard book to put down. Watch out for getting so engrossed in the story that you miss your stop being called.

Cocktail Party Conversation Starter: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward both play major roles in the 2005 Empire Falls miniseries, the last live-action acting by Newman before he died and the last time the couple were both in the same project.

TL;DR: Great book with compelling characters, but don’t miss your stop.