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Catching up on books

Having finished the freelance consulting work which absorbed (sucked dry?) most of my free time for the past six months, I've fallen back into reading with a vengeance. Thus:

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks just gets better and better. I started out with People of the Book and was a convert almost immediately; Year of Wonders confirmed it and by the time I got to March I'd become an evangelist. Her writing is truly luminous -- spare but every word well-chosen, and she evokes a time and place better than almost anyone I've ever read. As with People of the Book, she's taken a small historical snippet and built an intensely believable story around it. Her fiction is more real than most people's history.

Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, with everything from big-game hunters going after triceratopses to unresolvable paradoxes to an old man visiting 1950 in an attempt to find a nice Jewish boy for his daughter. Great fun, if a bit uneven (some are better than others). The Le Guin at the end was, as she always is for me, the star of the show.

All four Tiffany Aching books from Terry Pratchett. All of his books make me laugh; the best ones also make me cry. These did. His witches are the most practical, hard-headed, loving, smart, wonderful women I've ever encountered, whether they're practicing "persickology" or avoiding "the cackle", and the Nac Mac Feegles are the best anti-fairies you'll ever meet.

Dracula, My Love, a huge disappointment. Thin, boring, uneven. Skip it. If you've read Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tapes, you've read a far far better version of this already. The author tries to turn Mina into a modern woman but doesn't succeed very well -- instead of thinking for herself she's like a weathervane, swinging around to believe whoever is telling her tales at the moment, so it comes across as more of a slightly discordant medley than a coherent tune. In fact, Bram Stoker's Mina is in some ways a more consistent and stronger character than this one. There's a completely irrelevant sub-plot about Mina finding her father and mother, which doesn't even make Mina a more interesting character since it's a very cliche Victorian solution. The book was a bit of a snooze in places because James had to recount in all the events of the original book in order to tell Mina's version of them; apparently she didn't want to assume that anyone had actually read the original, which to my mind is a major flaw (what's wrong with demanding your readers come to a book with a little context??). Finally, the ending, while not bad in and of itself, was entirely wrong for the story thus far. It would have been a tolerable ending for a different version of the story, but for me it didn't fit this one well at all.

So there. Right now I'm working on A Discovery of Witches, which I was excited about until I found out it was only #1 of a trilogy. Why must everyone do trilogies? Why??? I blame it all on Allen and Unwin.



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