There were many very complimentary things about this book written on the back cover, and in reviews at Amazon, and the like. So I feel I ought to have liked it better. I quite liked the dialogue and the cultural setting (a tiny village in "Kazistan") - it felt very placeish, and very foreign/alien, but believable. (I like believable aliens)! The 2/3 of the book that was grounded in that setting, plus the science-fiction advance of "Air" (essentially satellite network beamed into people's brains) was fun to read. But the 1/3 of the book that required more suspension of disbelief than Air did (some of it extra-science-fictiony, some of it just extreme biological implausibility) bothered me enough that I kept being jolted out of the setting, which was particularly sad because it was so strong otherwise. Hovering betwen three and a half and one and a half stars.
Season of Sacrifice by Mindy Klasky
I don't remember why this was on my list of books to read, but I put it on my Palm at some point. But bookstores didn't have it and MITSFS didn't have it in circulating, so it sat there on the list for a long time. Enh, it could have stayed there. Children get kidnapped. Fiesty villagers go to save them. The big bad world is scary. Children are mush-minds. Evil dukes are evil. Two stars.
Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen
I started out loving this book. It's grand, epic, clever, actiony, mysterious, surprising -- and Dragon Librarians control the world (that's their title, they're not actually dragons, and only partly librarians). What's not to love? But by the end, I can't endorse it as whole-heartedly as I thought I would at first, because it careens a little too much. It starts out at one speed, and then five years randomly pass between paragraphs while various characters undergo training montages. (This was originally two books before being rewritten; the five year gap might be between the original two books). Unique powers prove not so unique. One character's charm seems limitless - why? There are excactly two short scenes set in North America (the rest is Australia) for unclear reasons (I suspect setup for the next book, which takes place there). I'm still going to give it four stars, because even with the careening, it had more interesting bits than most books do.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
You'd think it would be a particularly small niche market, writing for foodies with an interest in how role-playing a persona affects your real personality. But the book spent about ten weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, so it's a larger niche than you'd expect. Anyway, the premise is the (then) new NYT restaurant critic disguises herself, including new personalities, lest she be recognized and given special treatment. Her first review contrasts the meal she gets at a very fancy New York restaurant when she's a dumpy nobody (tasty but rude, including stupid little things like they don't bother to tell her the specials) versus when she's recognized (amazing food and service). That, plus descriptions of meals I totally want to eat, is about half of the story; the other half is how becoming these different people affects her. What does it mean to have your family like your role-played exuberant friendly person better than your real you? (She kinda contradicts my previous belief that it's hard to role-play someone genuinely nicer than yourself). On the other hand, she also easily drifts into becoming unlikeable people as she becomes tired of the job, and what does that mean, that you can so easily become the same sort of person you moments ago loathed? The biggest flaw with this part of the story is that (probably because she's mostly naturally a nice person) she describes her unpleasant-person dialogue with what must be an afterthought patina of reasonableness. So there's one scene where her husband gets upset at how she's behaving, but she just comes across to me as pedantically enthusiastic. Three and a half stars for normal people; four and a half for those who fall into the described niche.