Category Archives: Reviews

Book, film, TV and other arts reviews.

Life, the universe, and David Attenborough

Posted on August 30, 2010 by

Today I am posting on Favorite Thing Ever again, this time raving enthusiastically (if semi-coherently) about my true true love for a nine-part series of BBC life sciences documentaries that are absolutely filled with wonders, with a particular focus on The Life of Birds.

(And while you’re there, stop in and laugh hard at the video clips in kelly-yoyoKelly‘s post about Maid Marion and Her Merry Men!)

Favorite Thing Ever

Posted on August 23, 2010 by

Ain’t it just the way? I had just decided to start picking my own reading material and writing about it in this blog when two fantastic review options punched their way through the swinging door of my Personal Possibility Saloon. Fear not–many write-ups will still happen here, of course! This will be especially true when I’m talking about history books or other non-fiction. That said, it looks like a few of my SF and fantasy book reviews are going to end up on Tor.com: as soon as one’s actually up, I’ll let you know.

I have also been invited to join the unabashed squeefest that is Favorite Thing Ever! My first entry, which should probably be entitled “After this, I swear I’ll shut up about Tana French for at least a month,” should be appearing today. Have a look. Then, while you’re there, do yourselves a real favor and check out kelly-yoyoKelly‘s entries on William Shatner’s album Has Been, Michael Bishop’s Brittle Innings, and DD Barant’s Dying Bites. Seriously. What she says about Shatner will make you snort chocolate milk through your nose.

Though most of the raves on Favorite Thing Ever (who also have a Twitter feed, of course!) are about books, films, TV or music, there’s also a piece called “I love potatoes so much, you guys” by one of its founders, the lovable and witty Kormantic.

These are not measured or balanced critiques. They are, in fact, expressions of passionate delight, a sincere wish to share the best stuff going with fellow fans while skimming the occasional kickback from Amazon. Ultimately they all boil down to: “I love this! Here’s why you might love it too!” Ever had a friend sell you on something you’ve come to worship for the rest of your life? That’s all we’re doing here.

Here on my site, tomorrow will bring another Journey interview, this one with author M.K. Hobson, whose brilliant first novel The Native Star will be out in a few short days.

Cruising through the bookpile…

Posted on August 20, 2010 by

Kelly’s brother turned up on our doorstep out of the blue some weeks ago. He was on a business trip to Vancouver, and had ended up at a big fancy dinner at Federico’s Supper Club, which is just around the corner from us. So he ducked out and came to visit.

Part of catching up involved his telling us about a recent trip: he and his family had just come back from a Disney Cruise to the Mediterranean. They came back more tired than they were before they left, he said, because they went on so many shore excursions. (And, really–the Mediterranean? How could you not?) Still. The prospect of spending my downtime getting exhausted did not appeal. I vowed then and there to sit on my butt as much as possible while I was cruising.

So last week, amid the visiting and the wandering around various Alaskan towns, I finished Adam Nicholson’s Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War, reread the oft-mentioned Tana French novel In the Woods
and got two thirds of the way through In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory.

The Nicholson book was rough slogging at points. English history isn’t my strong suit, and this covers several generations of Pembroke family history, with regard to their relationship with the Crown. It goes from Henry VIII through to the Revolution. The best part, for me, was Nicholson’s lovely descriptions of the terrain around Salisbury. Here’s a snip:

Early on a summer morning–and you should make it a Sunday, when England stays in bed for hours after the sun has risen, the chalk downland to the west of Wilton slowly reveals itself in the growing light as an open and free-flowing stretch of country, long wide ridges with ripples and hollows within them, separated by river valleys, with an air of Tuscany transported to the north… At first, the larks are up and singing, but everything else is drenched in a golden quiet. Shadows hang in the woods, and the sun casts low bars across the backs of the hills. You will see the deer, ever on the increase in southern England, moving silently and hesitantly in the half-distance. It is a place of slightness and subtley, wide and long-limbed, drawn with a steady pencil.

I think if you already have a background in this era, it’s a delight. Otherwise, consider waiting on it until you know more. I might still try God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (P.S.), but not soon.

I have been trying to sell Kelly on Tana French, so as soon as she wanted In the Woods, I handed it over. (I finished it yesterday.) My initial reaction to the book is here. I was so ambivalent I gave it away, only to realize after the fact that I’d loved it, so we bought a copy for Kelly to read on the cruise.

In Triumph’s Wake is rocking my world, and will get its own post after I’m finished with it. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of tomorrow’s post about our day in Skagway:
Skagway

Book Review: Mozart’s Blood, by Louise Marley

Posted on August 11, 2010 by

To be an up and coming soprano with a contract to sing Donna Anna–in Milan, at La Scala, no less!–is already to be extraordinary. Octavia Voss is even more singular than that. Born in Italy centuries before the present day, she left home as a teen to pursue the dream of becoming a singer. Talent and determination get her into an opera company, but there she learns that her voice is perhaps less special than she imagined; her career prospects may be limited.

Then a depraved-seeming Countess lures Octavia and the company’s composer into a tryst. After the encounter, Octavia has been utterly transformed. She craves blood, for one thing. For another, she, the Countess and the composer all share each others’ memories… a powerful thing, considering that the composer is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Lifetimes later, Octavia still lives to sing. Her vampiric lifestyle, and her intimate exposure to Mozart’s genius, have given her endless years to perfect her craft and enjoy a bit of the limelight. But to maintain her secret, she must also endure painful periods of forced retirement. At present, happily, she is out of hiding and building a new career. Her partner in life is Ugo, a creature even more ancient than she, who acts as her personal assistant and ensures she has safe access to the blood she needs to survive. The two are very close, and when Ugo disappears just as Olivia reaches Italy to sing in Don Giovanni, she very nearly falls apart. She has become dependent upon him, perhaps to a dangerous degree, and as rehearsals go on and the usual backstage power struggles play out, the thirst–with which she’s made a terrible sort of peace–is on the rise.

Soon she will have to go out and hunt, for the first time in a long time, risking exposure. And with Ugo missing, it’s a safe bet that somebody’s after her, too.

Marley-Mozart's Blood

As some of you may have read in my interview with Louise Marley earlier this summer, Mozart’s Blood is her twelfth novel. Marley’s background as a professional singer lends a satisfying richness to the behind-the-scenes action; the reader is immersed in the clique-y subculture of a professional opera company going about its work. She also offers an interesting twist on vampirism–Olivia and Mozart’s telepathic bonding when they ‘share the tooth’ is the rule, not the exception.

Vampires absorb the memories of all their victims, often to the detriment of their mental health. It is Olivia’s ability to compartmentalize these memories, focusing only on Mozart’s genius, that allows her to survive… at least until Ugo comes onto the scene with a better solution. Survivors of vampire attacks are always turned, and the rule–a sort of rebirth control, enforced by the Countess with ruthless absolutism–is that if Octavia feeds from someone, she must always kill them.

A cold-blooded creature she may be, but Olivia is a fundamentally caring woman, and it is this quality of hers that gives the book its warmth: her affection for Ugo, her sexual interest in one of the other singers, and above all her passion for opera offset the cruel realities of her condition. Mozart’s Blood tells us her life’s story, and Ugo’s (which is every bit as intriguing) in flashback, and both histories are impeccably researched.

I always enjoy Marley’s books, and this novel was no exception. Somehow, though, I found myself wanting an ephemeral ‘something more’ from it; as I read, I had a sense that I’d been more fully drawn into her previous novels. As I wrestled with the question of whether this was just nostalgia for past delights, my first thought was that perhaps those books felt more relevant, politically and socially. But Mozart’s Blood has plenty of political heft: Ugo in particular is born poor in a era where the financially vulnerable have no options at all, and Marley never sugar-coats such topics.

I also wasn’t entirely happy with how the person behind Ugo’s disappearance fit into the story–it had the feel, at times, of a puzzle piece jammed into the wrong spot. But that person’s eventual fate was delicious to behold. I was finally left to conclude that I’d loved Ugo, liked Octavia pretty well, but that they’d both paled a bit, for me, next to the protagonists of other Marley novels: Zahra of The Terrorist of Irustan, and the incredible Magdalene priest, Mother Isabel Burke, from The Child Goddess. And all that means is I may prefer Marley’s SF to her fantasy.

Science fiction Mozart’s Blood may not be, but it is an entertaining vampire novel–original, intriguing, with good historical content, and one that offers a believable vision of how chasing an artistic dream would be even more complicated for an immortal.