Sunday, February 01, 2009

BooksFirst - January 2009

NaJuReMoNoMoBooks Bought
Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card

Books Read
Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
Kingmaker by Alex Braguine
Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card


For the second year I have achieved Green Level in National Just Read More Novels Month, so as I wait for all the other winners to announce their success, here are my reviews, which I do every month, not just NaJuReMoNoMo.

I’ve been disappointed by the past couple of Chris Buckley comedies, particularly Florence of Arabia. Supreme Courtship is a return to form. The premise is that a very unpopular president after having very qualified Supreme Court nominees being rebuffed twice, nominates a television courtroom show judge to the highest bench. Said judge is sassy, smart and sexy and has ideas of her own.

The plot is a bit predictable and some of the side plots are far less interesting than the mains story. There also seems to be a huge continuity problem in the timeline of narrative. In some way, things happen way too fast and in some other ways too slow. Still, there are a lot of smart wicked asides. The inside jockeying over appointees is pointed and hilarious. The book is perhaps eight years too late for it’s maximum effect in the zeitgeist, but it makes for a fun insider romp.

I often meet an author because I’ve read their books, but I read Kingmaker because I met the author. Alex Baguine is a commenter on the Achenblog which he joined in order to flog his book (and as a frequent BlogWhore I have to admire that dedication). He stuck around and even started attending meet-ups. So when I needed another book from Amazon to get the free shipping, I went for Kingmaker.

Braguine is an ex-CIA agent and clearly has an insiders look at how that not always competent organization works. Kingmaker is set in a fictitious African country that is a composite of several dysfunctional countries. Into this mess steps, John Trager, an ex-Marine and part-time CIA operative on the run. The plot revolves around a macguffin of a mystical artifact and the power struggle for the country between the current dictator, his thuggish security chief, a Russian mercenary, and a femme fatale with her own agenda. The story never unfolds quite as you expect but the twists are always surprising but logical.

This book reminds me of all the great action spy thrillers I read as a teenager. It’s got action, cynicism, and plenty of intrigue. A good book like this should be noticed by more people.

Last month I bought Ender In Exile, a new book in the ever-growing Ender saga. Before I started it, I realized that I had never finished the Shadow saga, which told of the events during and after Ender’s Game from the perspective of Bean, Ender’s second-in-command. Shadow Puppets is third in a tetralogy which makes it very tough slogging. The overall story nearly collapses from it’s own weight as all the exposition gets rehashed in various ways.

It had been a couple of years since I had finished Shadow Of The Hegemon, the second book in the series, and all the memories of how bad that book was came flooding back. A lot of that book’s flaws continue to plague the latest episode. In a book that is supposedly full of supergeniuses, the plots and counterplots are lame and transparent. Everybody is guessing and counter-guessing each other but it all seems arbitrary and predictable. It was only in the last third of the book that the action picked up and the plot drove into forward. And while the ending had more resolution than I had expected, but it also lead into yet another storyline to resolve.

I’m a big fan of Orson Scott Card, but he keeps writing himself into corners. I hope to finish off this retelling of the Ender saga soon and see where Card goes with it next.


Mooselet said...

I'm so jealous you have all this time to read! I did buy two books last week, but they're both histories/biographies - one of Elizabeth I and one of Mary, Queen of Scots. I am waiting for a fiction book about Elizabeth I to become available from the library. Given how little time I have these days they'll keep me busy for months!

A Free Man said...

I've read a couple of Buckley's other books and enjoyed the thoroughly. I'll have to check this one out. Well done, three is better than zero!