Six books in January! Of the first six of the year, I only really recommend the last one, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But here are all of my recaplets:
1. The Lark and the Wren - Mercedes Lackey ***
Fiction/Fantasy, ©1991, 491p
Whenever I am at my parent's house for Christmas, I raid the shelves of books I purchased but never read. When I was in high school, I was very into fantasy novels. I still like them, but my tastes are much broader than they were then. Also, it takes a lot for me to see something really new, interesting, and grabbing. I read all of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books when I was in middle school and high school, so I guess I must have gotten the Bardic Voices quartet because of that. The first Bardic Voices novel is about Rune, a fiddler girl who works in the kitchens of an inn until she run away to become a proper bard. In order to do this, she fiddles all night for the Skull Hill Ghost to get enough money to run away. This first book seems more like a set up for the next three, as it lays the groundwork for the politics of this particular world. The writing was okay, but it seemed more like a book of short stories than a cohesive plot.
2. The Robin and the Kestrel - Mercedes Lackey ***
Fiction/Fantasy, ©1994, 384p
Book 2 of the Bardic Voices Quartet is about two of the characters introduced in the end of the first Bardic Voices novel. The political situation in the world disintegrated even more with the Church trying to ban non-Guild Bards from singing anywhere. They also are preaching against non-humans - that they have no souls and shouldn't be allowed in the various villages. Robin and Kestrel go up against one such Church man and uncover a long standing plot to cheat the poor the underprivileged. This book was extremely formulaic, though better really than the first one as it read like one cohesive story.
3. A Cast of Corbies - Mercedes Lackey and Joseph Sherman ***
Fiction/Fantasy, ©1994, 320p
Book 3 features Robin, yet a different free Bard. In this case, he and some of the other bards take up a position as the orchestra for a theater group. Once again, the church preaches against the theater as being immoral and violence ensues. Amdist the violence, two of the Free Bards find love. By the time I finished this book, I had the forumla down and was unsurprised by anything that happened.
4. Vanishing Acts - Jodi Picoult ***
Fiction/Contemporary, ©2005, 448p
I generally enjoy Jodi Picoult's books, but this one the worst of the ones I have read (My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, The Pact). Vanishing Acts is about a woman who finds out that her father kidnapped her when she was only 4 years old. The kidnapping is discovered and it throws the entire family into turmoil. The book is largely about her father's trial and meeting her mother for the first time. Picoult simply tries to tackle too many Issues in this book - there are bits about the treatment of prisoners, drug use and trafficking, alcoholism, kidnapping, and even a little native american's rights and Hopi mysticism for good measure. As a result, the book is a little adrift in Issues and it's hard to really focus on one.
5. How to Be Good - Nick Hornby ****
Fiction/Contemporary, ©2002, 320p
I go back and forth on Nick Hornby. This is the fourth book of his that I have read (About A Boy, Slam, A Long Way Down are the others) and I mostly like it. Nick Hornby's strength is his ability to completely inhabit the thoughts, feelings and motivations of the character that he is voice. How To Be Good is about a woman in an unhappy marriage. Her husband, a formerly angry man, meets a faith healer and has a spiritual conversion. Most of the book is about the main character trying to find a way to deal with that and trying to decide whether or not she should stay in her family or get a divorce. I thought that How To Be Good was very funny and touching and the main character is very believable. I thought the ending was a bit of a downer and perhaps sends a slightly bad message to people, but overall I would recommend this one.
6. Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali *****
Non-Fiction/Autobiography, ©2007, 353p
Seriously, you must read this book. This is the first selection for my new quasi-feminist women's book club and it was fantastic. It is the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an feminist who has written stories and even drafted legislation to empower women who have grown up in the Islamic religion. This book is fascinating on two levels. The first is the story of her life. She was born in Somalia and then moved to Saudi Arabia and Kenya due to the disintegration of the government in Somalia. She gives an unflinching account of her own circumcision. Eventually he father betroths her to a man she doesn't know and doesn't like, so she runs away to Holland where she is given status as a political refugee. From there, she learns Dutch and works her way through university and is even elected to Parliament. The second level of this book is her own personal struggle with Islam. She understands the Islamic religion and speaks about it frankly and candidly. She talks about the way that the Islamic relgion holds women back and breeds violent behavior. It is really, really fascinating. You must read it. Go out and buy it today. Read it. Love it. I predict that it will be one of my favorite books all year.