Take A Chance Challenge

The second book in Vaughn’s urban fantasy series. It’s my last book in the Horror and Urban fantasy challenge and one of the books in my Take A Chance Challenge, number 7. I went to the What Should I Read Next page, put in Pride of Chanur by Cherryh and the page recommended Vaughn’s whole series. I don’t think they’re actually similar, though.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 321 plus a bonus short story Kitty meets the band
Publisher: Orion

After the end of the previous book, Katharine ”Kitty” Norville is staying on the road. She’s still doing her talk show on Friday nights, The Midnight Hour, and talking about various supernatural phenomena. She’s doing the show from a different city every week. Then she’s called to testify in front of the US Senate because they are investigating the Center for the Study of Paranormal Biology. So, Kitty drives to Washington, D. C.

There two hulking Men In Black take her to meet the local Vampire Master, or Mistress in this case. Alette is courteous but firm; the local lycanthropes are running wild, Kitty is Alette’s guest, and she will protect Kitty from her own kind. Kitty isn’t thrilled about it but doesn’t have a choice. She moves into Alette’s house instead of a hotel. Alette plans for her minion to always escort Kitty but Kitty slips out on her own to do some sightseeing. She’s also invited to parties. In one of them, she meets a werejaguar and is instantly attracted to the handsome Brazilian man. Through him, Kitty explores D.C.’s relaxed werecreature community.

But it’s not all fun. The Chair of the Senate committee is a paranoid religious Senator who wants to expose all ”the monsters” to the public. The head of the Center, doctor Paul Flemming, is another witness and Kitty finds out about his military background. A couple of old enemies are also in town. Not to mention all of the reporters…

I liked this book a lot more than the first one. Kitty is away from her former toxic werewolf pack and the dangling plot lines from Kitty and the Midnight Hour get conclusions, sort of. Vaughn can continue them if she wants to but it’s not necessary. I also really enjoyed the start of the book where Kitty does a brief literary analysis of Dracula: ”But what it’s really about is saving the world through superior office technology.” The callers are also very entertaining.

There are a lot of interesting characters in the book. I loved the way Kitty’s mom calls her every Sunday to catch up. Kitty’s lawyer Ben is a solid ally who does his best to protect Kitty’s interests. Originally, Kitty is afraid of Alette and also admires her style. Several people serve Alette and Kitty asks them straight out if they know that she’s a vampire. Turns out that they do; their families have served her for a long time. Also, Alette doesn’t use them against their will or oppress them. Emma is working through collage while serving Alette, and Tom and Bradley, the two MIB chauffeurs, turn out to be rather normal people, after all. I also rather enjoyed the professional psychic and the reporter who grew up with supernatural tales.

The werecreature pack is set up very differently than Kitty’s old pack and it was a revelation to her, and of course to us readers, that there can be a pack without constant jockeying for power and the alpha position. This makes sense, of course, because most people aren’t powerhungry jerks.

Kitty and the werejaguar Luis have a fling. Neither pretend that it’s more than that and it was great to see Kitty more relaxed and enjoying her life. There’s no huge proclamations of love or anything like that. Great!

Kitty has done a lot of growing up since the start of the first book. In a conflict situation her first instinct is still cowering and looking meek, but she can be more aggressive, when needed. She has a lot of guilt from the events in the previous book, which is understandable. The psychic helps her through them which I considered a bit too fast but I’m sure most readers don’t like Kitty dwell on her feelings.

The plot isn’t a roller coaster ride but moves in a good pace. There’s an air of tension about the Senate hearing because they could theoretically declare all werewolves and vampires non-humans and non-Americans. However, I wasn’t really convinced that would happen and I don’t know if that would have really changed anything. So, for me at least, there wasn’t a huge doom and gloom tension.

This was a great continuation to Kitty and the Midnight Hour; in fact I think I would have been happier reading them back to back.

In the short story Kitty meets, on her show, the band Plague of Locusts. The bass player is apparently possessed by a demon. Nice one.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 399
The translation’s publisher: Otava
Translator: Kristiina Savikurki
Publication year of the translation: 2008

This book is part of my Take a Chance challenge, specifically number 9 where I went to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page and picked one book out the 25 most reviewed. This was actually easier than I thought. Most of the books I’ve either read or had no interested in currently and I also wanted to keep the page count to a manageable size.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women in near modern day Afghanistan. Because they are women, their lives are harsh and unhappy.

Mariam is born to a serving woman and her employer. The scandal forces Mariam’s mother to quit but Mariam’s father Jalil is wealthy man with three wives. He arranges Mariam and her mother to live outside their city of Herat. He also gives them food and brings presents to little Mariam. Mariam adores her father but her mother is bitter and tells her that women can have only one skill: to endure. Unfortunately, this turns out to be true for poor Mariam.

When Mariam is 15, her mother kills herself and Jalil’s family is left with the embarrassment of bastard daughter. They decide to marry her off to a widowed shoemaker, Rashid, who is 30 years older than Mariam. Mariam moves to his hometown of Kabul. Rashid had a son from his first wife but the boy died, and he’s now desperate to have another son. Mariam becomes pregnant but has a miscarriage and after that Rashid starts to abuse her both verbally and physically.

The other main character is Laila, the daughter to an elderly former schoolmaster and his wife. They live in Kabul next to Rashid and Mariam. Laila’s childhood is happy and she falls in love with one-legged boy who also lives close to her.

Both women have relatively happy childhoods even though they are totally different. Mariam and her mother live in isolation in the small cottage and she only sees a couple of people. Laila lives in a teeming city and goes to a school. They both have parents who cherish them and want to protect them. Yet, because they are women, they don’t have a chance to affect their destinies. People, male people, around them decide their fates. They also live in a war-torn country where horrible things happen and can change a person’s life in a blink of an eye.

Their lives are bleak, tied to a violent man without any hope of escaping him.

This is certainly very different from the books I usually read. Unfortunately, it made me unhappy and anxious because there’s nothing I can do to help women in similar situations. The whole society has to change so that women are no longer non-entities and slaves to the males. By the way, many women face similar burdens right here in the West and many attitudes have to change here, too, before women and men are free to live the lives they really want.

This is a stand-alone science fiction book and it’s part of my Take a Chance challenge. My brother recommended it for me so it’s number 2 on the list: Loved one’s choice. I was a bit surprised to find out that it had been translated into Finnish and was still in the library system. Keyes is a new author to me, so this book will also be part of the the New Author challenge.

Publication year of the original short story: 1958, of the novel: 1966
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 299
The translation’s publisher: WSOY
Translator: Hilkka Pekkanen
Publication year of the translation: 1985

Charlie Gordon is a grown man but his IQ is only 68. He can live on his own and has even a job at the local bakery as a cleaner and a delivery boy. All his life, he’s wanted to be smart and so he starts night classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. There, he becomes a test subject in two scientists’ experiment to increase the intelligence of mentally disabled people. They have made the same surgery to a mouse called Algernon before trying it on Charlie.

Charlie writes progress reports about what he has done during the day and also about his dreams and thoughts. At first, it’s very difficult for him. He doesn’t know much about grammar and it’s difficult to remember anything about his past. However, as the days go by, it’s clear to see that his writing improves as does his understanding of the world around him. Perhaps the most striking change is that Charlie starts to understand how people treat him. Previously, he considered the people at the bakery as kind and friendly. However, now he starts to understand that they are laughing at him, and not with him. Soon, his intellect rises above normal people and he starts having trouble with this few relationships. There’s also the concern that the change might not be permanent. He also wrestled with his past and inner demons, particularly with his sexuality.

At the start of the book, Charlie writes down the events during the day and pretty soon the reader realizes that the people around him don’t respect him at all even though Charlie himself doesn’t understand it. Then when he starts to understand it, he’s angry at first but later he accepts it as a price for having friends at all. Charlie, too, wants to fit in and be part of the group as all humans do.

When he starts to remember things about his past, it becomes obvious that his childhood wasn’t happy. His parents argued a lot. His mother tried at first to ignore his limited mental abilities and tried to force him to learn to read and write and do other things that normal boys do. Then, when she has to admit that Charlie isn’t going to be normal, she spends a lot of money trying to cure him. She also beat into him that he shouldn’t think about girls or try to touch them. Charlie’s father was kinder to him but he didn’t stop Charlie’s mother from beating him. Other kids also teased him mercilessly. Charlie’s younger sister was also teased because of Charlie and she took it out on him.

When Charlie’s intelligence rises, he starts to fall in love with the woman who is teaching at the night school. Alice Kinnion knows about the experiment and is reluctant to have a relationship with Charlie because she suspects that Charlie’s emotional growth can’t match his intellectual growth. She’s right. Charlie’s subconscious mind remembers that he shouldn’t be touching women and it makes their relationship difficult at best. Also, Charlie’s intelligence quickly rises far above Alice’s and they have difficulty even talking with each other.

Eventually, Charlie’s IQ reaches 185 and at that point he starts to feel like everyone around him are frauds because they don’t speak twenty languages and know even the basics about every science, as he does. He also resents it when Nemur and Strauss, the men making the experiment, treat him like a lab rat who wasn’t human before the surgery.

The book looks at how mentally disabled people are treated by the people around them; often ridiculed and taken advantage of and their basic needs are ignored. Charlie wonders how people who wouldn’t hurt a blind man, can mistreat him because they know he can’t understand what is done to him.

Edited to add: This is a classic book and I don’t feel like I have much to contribute to the many reviews about it. However, it’s touching and even heart-wrenching at times, especially near the end. Certainly worth reading.

The characters are diverse and feel very human to me. Perhaps is was a cliché that Charlie fell for the one adult woman he’s ever known, but he didn’t have many choices.

I was rather distracted with the SF elements; I fairly certain the mice and human brains aren’t so similar that they can be operated on the same way and get the same result. Also, other surgeries effects don’t fade with time. But that’s a side issue, really. The main theme is the treatment of humans around you.

The first book in the Inheritance fantasy trilogy. The cover is gorgeous!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Print
Page count: 412
Publisher: Orbit

Yeine Darr is a young woman from the small and poor kingdom of Darr. Her mother was the daughter of the man who rules the whole world and was destined to rule it after her father, but she abdicated and left when she fell in love with Yeine’s father. Now, Yeine’s mother was assassinated about a year ago and Yeine’s grandfather Dekarta Arameri sends for Yeine. She travels for several months in order to get to the floating palace of Sky where the Arameri family rule the world. She doesn’t really know what to expect and is shocked when Dekarta declares Yeine his third heir. The other two heirs are Dekarta’s brother’s children who have been preparing their whole lives for this chance. The heirs are supposed to scheme against each other for the honor of becoming the next ruler of the world.

A couple of thousand years ago, the gods warred and the winner was Itempas, the Bright Skylord. He killed Enefas, the goddess of life, and made the other gods slaves and gave them to the Arameri so that the enslaved gods could work for humans and make penance for turning against him. Itempas also made it illegal to worship any other god and the Amnites enforce this law by killing any heretics they find.

Yeine knows that the Arameri are cruel and evil, and she can’t win against them. Despite her young age, she’s not yet twenty, she was the ruler of her small kingdom which is a rare matriarchy. Everyone else in Sky, even the servants, consider her a barbarian who can’t survive long in Sky’s cutthroat political landscape.

The book promises to be about politics with a side order of discussion about slavery or perhaps divinity. But it doesn’t really do that. The real plot (twist) is introduced about half-way through and I won’t spoil it here. Unfortunately, I managed to spoil myself which clearly affected by expectations.

The story is told in a first person POV and it quickly becomes clear that Yeine is telling the story to someone. There are short passages at the start of chapters and sometimes in the middle of them when she says something aside or tells old myths. I rather liked that writing style.

There’s no delicate politicking in the book. It was made clear early on that the true power rests with Dekarta and the two heirs, and not the Consortium where decisions and laws are supposedly made. Neither of the heirs are interested in any sort of alliance; Scimina is the strong, ambitious one and she never even considers Yeine to be anything else than a pawn. Her brother Relad has apparently accepted his fate as the loser. Unfortunately, this made it pretty impossible for Yeine do any scheming or politicking. She does it a little in order to save the impoverished Darr but very quickly Scimina warns her that she can’t do anything about that, either. So, politicking is very blunt.

Unfortunately, to me this made Yeine a bit bland character. She has no chance of affecting her fate and very soon she doesn’t even try. On the other hand, she’s a great concept: a bi-racial woman who is never too white to be an Amnite and never too dark to be a true Darre. We get to hear about her childhood and I suspect that her mother was never really accepted and neither was she. She didn’t really have a home. When she comes to Sky, she wants revenge on her mother’s murderer whom she suspect is Dekarte. She also wants to know more about her mother’s life on Sky.

Yeine’s from a matriarchal warrior society and yet, not once does she have a problem with interacting with many males who clearly have power, especially over her. (Lets face it, sexist male POV characters do make sexist and misogynistic comments, if not out loud then at least to the reader.) Yeine took is as a matter of course. We also get only little snippets about Darre culture which I would have loved to see more.

The scheming Scimina is perhaps the strongest character in the book; she wants power and will do anything to get it. Then there’s T’vril, who is also Dekarta’s brother’s son but demoted to a servant, and Viraine the head scribe who is also responsible for magic use. The gods are very interesting. Nahadoth is the Nightlord, the god of sex chaos, and he was the first god in existence. Now, he’s reduced to a slave; used and abused by mere mortals. Sieh is the god of mischief; he’s innocent like a child and still abused horribly. Sieh and Yeine develop a great friendship.

All of the gods (except Itempas, of course) are bound to a mortal vessel but retain some of their godly abilities so that they can better serve the Arameri. In the Nightlord’s case that’s literal: during the night he’s mentally himself, but during the day his personality is suppressed by a mortal man who is just as cruel as the Arameri, and still a slave.

I really liked the myths and the way that the ruling priesthood has changed them and suppressed them. I also love the world-building; the whole gods being slaves idea, Amn conquering rest of the world, and the twisted Arameri family itself. The Arameri are, in fact, a numerous family. However, most of them are servants because they are only half- or quarter blooded. Still, when the sun goes down and the Nightlord gets most of his power back, only people with Arameri blood in them are able to survive in Sky. I really love the concept of floating city but the city itself wasn’t described enough.

Oh, yes. There was also a romance. In fact, the romance was the biggest part of the latter half. Alas, I don’t really care for heroines who fall for men who try to kill her. (Where does that trope come from? An apologia for domestic abuse??) Here, Yeine explains it somewhat as the lust for danger and she’s likely to die quickly anyway. Still, it’s one of my squicks. And I rolled my eyes at the over the top sex scene.

At the end of the book, there are three appendices. One is a list of terms and characters. The other two I liked a lot: a short Clarification of Terms used about the enslaved gods, and a short history of how the Arameri got the used of the enslaved gods.

The next book, the Broken Kingdom, is apparently urban fantasy. I love the concept of having different sub-genres in the same series so I’ll probably get that one.

For a while now, I’ve felt like I need to broaden my reading habits. This great challenge will hopefully do just that: Take A Chance Challenge.

Basic Information

* The concept of the challenge is to take chances with your reading by finding books to read in unusual or random ways. I’ve listed 10 different ways to find books below. Feel free to complete at many as you want. However, anyone completing all 10 challenges by December 31, 2011 will be entered in a prize drawing to win a book of their choice from Amazon.

* The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 until December 31, 2011.

* Crossover books from other challenges is fine. You can read books in any format.

* On January 1, 2011, I will post pages for each of the 10 challenges so you can link up your completed posts.

The 2011 Challenges

1: Staff Member’s Choice: Go to a bookstore or library that has a “Staff Picks” section. Read one of the picks from that section.

2: Loved One’s Choice: Ask a loved one to pick a book for you to read. (If you can convince them to buy it for you, that is even better!)

3: Blogger’s Choice: Find a “Best Books Read” post from a favorite blogger. Read a book from their list.

4: Critic’s Choice: Find a “Best of the Year” list from a magazine, newspaper or professional critic. Read a book from their Top 10 list.

5: Blurb Book: Find a book that has a blurb on it from another author. Read a book by the author that wrote the blurb.

6: Book Seer Pick: Go to The Book Seer and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.

7: What Should I Read Next Pick : Go to What Should I Read Next and follow the instructions there. Read a book from the list it generates for you.

8: Which Book Pick: Go to Which Book and use the software to generate a list of books. Read a book from that list.

9: LibraryThing Pick: Go to LibraryThing’s Zeitgeist page. Look at the lists for 25 Most Reviewed Books or Top Books and pick a book you’ve never read. Read the book. (Yes … you can click on MORE if you have to.)

10: Pick A Method: Pick a method for finding a book from the choices listed below (used in previous versions of the challenge).

* Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Mystery, Children (whatever section you want). Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find. Check that book out of the library, read it and then write about it. (If you prefer, you can do the same at a bookstore and buy the book!)
* Public Spying. Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book. Write about it.
* Random Bestseller. Go to Random.org and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2010 for the max. and then hit generate. Then go to this site and find the year that Random.org generated for you and click on it. Then find the bestseller list for the week that would contain your birthday for that year. Choose one of the bestsellers from the list that comes up, read it and write about it.

I read:
2: Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon Recommended by my brother
3: N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms From the Book Smugglers’ best of 2010 list.
5:Roger Zelazny and Thomas T. Thomas: The Mask of Loki
8: Elizabeth Bear: Chill
7: Carrie Vaughn: Kitty Goes to Washington
Vaughn’s Kitty series was suggested when I put in Pride of Chanur by Cherryh
8: Diana Wynne Jones: The Dark Lord of Derkholm
9: Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns
10 random: John Grisham: Firma