Monday, 29 October 2012

Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notes: Published in 2000 by Penguin Putnam.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Why I read it: 
I've lost count of the number of people who have recommended this book to me. I had to check it out eventually.

My review

Harry Dresden is the star of “The Dresden Files,” a wizard and private investigator from Chicago with a ridiculous knack for trouble. The book takes place over five days that speed by: in them, Harry basically rushes from place to place, wisecracking while dodging threats from all sides. To me, the plot seemed absurdly rushed, although I think it was done deliberately. Otherwise, it was a well-crafted tale with predictable elements: He’s making a love potion he’ll never have to use! Oh wait... He’s putting an amulet in his desk where it won’t hurt anyone! Oh wait...

But looking back, I realise the only people who recommended this book to me were guys. And that’s not surprising at all.

Harry is repeated described as a cool, hyper masculine character. On the cover, he’s your classic action-hero: chiselled jaw, long dark coat. But he spends a lot of book one scraping together just enough money to pay his rent; it’s clear he can’t afford a gym. He repeatedly describes himself as ‘old-fashioned’ (which clearly translates as sexist) and revels in his ability to treat ladies like the gentle sex they are, even when this pisses them off. Not surprisingly, he also spends a fair while musing over how incomprehensible women are, because this is what cool action wizards do. Sometimes he does this in his man-cave, while making potions with the leering spirit Bob. Otherwise, they talk magic – or sex. Towards the end of the book, Harry even manages to monologue this monstrosity: “A man’s magic demonstrates what sort of person he is, what is held most deeply within him. There is not truer gauge of a man’s character than the way in which he employs his strength, his power.” Right. Do women not do magic then? Constructions like that really piss me off, and in the 21st century, everyone should know better. Even old-fashioned wizards from Chicago.

There are also problems with the female characters throughout this book. Practically all are defined by their gender. There is Susan Rodrigiez, the savvy journalist, who uses “her charm and femininity relentlessly in the pursuit of her stories.” There is Linda Randall, the super-sexualised prostitute, who actually purrs “And I like a man that just won’t stop” in the middle of a serious conversation. There is Bianca, the ‘vampiress’: a powerful player in the underworld, whose main concern in life is being considered beautiful. Riiight. Last up is Lt. Karrin Murphy, the hardened detective.  Admittedly a cool character (although I dislike how often she was described in terms of her ‘cute nose’ and ‘ladylike fingers’), she still had to be rescued by a man at the end of the book.

I daresay this book would appeal to most guys who like fantasy, especially the urban stuff. Still, it is a major gender fail. I certainly wouldn’t buy it for anyone.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Book Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Title: Dark Currents: Agent of Hel
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notes: Published by Roc Hardcover


The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.

Why I read it

I’m a massive Jacqueline Carey fangirl. I own every single one of her books, mostly in hardback. There was no way I was missing this one.

My Review

Urban fantasy is not my favourite genre. It has its gems, certainly; Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark are some of my favourite books of all time. My favourite books by Jacqueline Carey, however, are her Sundering and Kushiel’s Legacy Series: both dark, lush fantasies, far removed from the present day. Still, it’s clear Carey has also mastered books set in our world – Saint’s Astray was an amazing read – so I had high hopes for Dark Currents.  

Monday, 15 October 2012

Book Review: Poorly Made in China by Paul Midler

Title: Poorly Made in China
Author: Paul Midler
Genre: Non-fiction (China)
Notes: Published by John Wiley & Sons. Was an Economist Best Book of the Year in 2009.

Why I read it:
I live in Beijing, so an interest in books on China is pretty much a given for me. However, I didn’t seek this one out – it was simply in a pile of books lent to me by a friend.

What it’s about:
The thoughts and frustrations of one American working in Guangzhou, chronicling time spent as a middleman in China’s manufacturing industry. Trust me when I say it’s definitely not as boring as it sounds.

My Review:
Poorly Made in China was marketed as a hard-hitting exposé of manufacturing practices; meaning when I first picked it up, I expected a businessman’s cynical diatribe on Chinese industry. Turns out I was wrong. Most of Midler’s book consists of entertaining anecdotes, and while it occasionally gets cynical, this is done is a very readable, informative way.