Saturday, May 16, 2015

What's on my Kindle and in my carry-on

I've got another bit of travelling to do (sister trip to Italy! Woot! *shhh! people might get jealous*), with all those long, miserable plane rides and boring layovers, so I'm loading up the e-reader with some things I've been looking forward to:

Ancillary Sword, sequel to Ancillary Justice, which was freaking amazing. Ann Leckie has such command of point of view and narrative structure. And a character I absolutely love. Worth all the hype it's been getting.

Two Serpents Rise. Max Gladstone knows how to title. And how to plot, and how to worldbuild. Three Parts Dead blew me away, so I'm excited to read another set in the same world.

The Lie Tree, newest book by Frances Hardinge. I have no idea what it's about, but it's by Frances Hardinge, and that's all you need to tell me.

Kinslayer and Endsinger, the rest of Jay Kristoff's Lotus War trilogy. Stormdancer was brilliantly original with great characters and a creepily believable, dark world (I kept thinking, no, this is too much, you can't expect us to believe that, and then I'd think: Industrial Revolution England was just like that. Except Kristoff's world has airships and griffins, so, way cooler.)

Signal to Noise, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The '80s, Mexico, music, magic. Silvia is a friend of mine, and lucky for me, because this book might not have come up on my radar otherwise, and it looks very cool.

The Heir Chronicles, 1-3: Warrior Heir, Wizard Heir, and Dragon Heir. Good, solid YA contemporary fantasy. I read these a while ago, and when I saw the fourth one, Enchanter Heir, at the library, I picked it up, but I had forgotten too much. So I'm rereading.

The Quiet Gentleman, because sometimes you just feel like some Georgette Heyer, and I keep finding ones I haven't read yet—yay!

And, because you can't always trust electronics, and I panic at the thought of being stuck with nothing to read, I stopped by the local bookstore and picked up a few paperbacks:

A Terry Pratchett I haven't read and should, because I like Granny Weatherwax.

The second of Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series: got the first from the library and liked it, so we'll try another.

The first of Django Wexler's flintlock fantasy series. Bloggers I trust have been talking this one up, so I thought, what the heck.

Think that'll be enough??

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow by Julie Czerneda

A Turn of Light is a hefty (but complete in one volume) fantasy tome from Canadian Sci Fi writer Julie Czerneda. It's thoroughly original, delightfully quirky and edgily sweet. And not just because of the magic carnivorous toads, though they are a significant part of the appeal!

The cover of A Turn of Light is very indicative of the content: pastoral, magical, a bit mysterious. I would call it a magic kingdom book, but, though there are kingdoms in this world, the whole novel takes place in one little village in an out-of-the way corner of the map. No grand quests or battles, no princes or wizards or grand high viziers. Just a small group of farmers who have been cast out of the rest of the world but have been accepted by Marrodell.

Marrodell is not an ordinary valley. There are the toads, for example. They lay eggs big enough for people to eat (there are no chickens in Marrodell). They're also great at keeping houses safe from dangerous mice. Then there's the self-harvesting grain (not dangerous at all as long as you don't go into the field until the harvest is done). And the path that goes up the mountain that no one ever takes (and no one knows why). And the terrible nightmares that drive everyone away if Marrodell doesn't think they belong.

I thought the world-building here was marvelous. All the little details build upon each other to make this small geographical setting fascinating enough to support an entire novel. The characters are lovingly drawn: Jenn Nalynn, the innocent who longs to see the world; Bannan, the weary soldier who wants to escape the world, and Wisp, the—let's just say he's not human—who doesn't belong in the world at all.

It's a slow-paced book, not a lot of action, lots of description. The tension is in the slowly unfolding mystery of Jenn's identity and the danger of Marrowdell's magic. There's a love triangle, of sorts, but not an angsty romantic one (mostly funny, actually). Lots of family, friendship, trust and loyalty. There's evil in the world, but there are also good-hearted people who care about each other.

A Turn of Light held my interest over 600 pages because the magic is fun and different, because I cared greatly about the characters, because I like stories about people making choices and facing the consequences. Also because it's quite funny a lot of the time. And because I believe the care of good-hearted people is strong enough to defeat any evil and that's what this book is about.

My mom's meringues: crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, so, so sweet.

And having told you that this is a stand-alone, I now have to admit that there is a sequel! I thought the story came to a satisfactory conclusion, but when I saw A Play of Shadow I bought it right away, eager to return to Marrowdell and find out what Jenn Nalynn is going to do with her newly discovered magic. Bannan, Wisp, and Scourge are back (and there's a toad with a starring role!), and we meet two new characters who I really love: Bannan's nephews. Very realistically drawn boys with their own troubles, and Bannan's difficulties parenting them are true to life and quite hilarious.

I will say I found A Play of Shadow to be slower and a little more frustrating than A Turn of Light. The plot doesn't really get going until the last third of the book; I thought too much time was spent learning all the doings of the villagers—and I wasn't interested enough in them to remember who was who, so I just skimmed a lot of those bits. Maybe it's because the mystery is gone that I wasn't as patient with Jenn slowly discovering her powers, and the romance felt somewhat repetitive: yes! they love each other! we get it! So I'm not as crazy about the second book, but I still loved the world, and the characters, and if she writes more about them I will happily read more.

Brownies with nuts in them (because I don't like nuts in brownies, but I'll eat brownies with nuts if they're the only brownies to be had).

These are books 9 and 10 toward my Canadian Book Challenge, a great idea hosted by John Mutford on his blog The Book Mine Set. Head over there to find lots of reviews of Canadian books of all genres. (All sorts of hidden treasures you'll never hear about otherwise!)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A few graphic novels

I was in the graphic novel section of my library—what an interesting place to be. Graphic novels come in so many different shapes and sizes and styles; they're beautiful objects in themselves. (I knew this already, so why don't I read more graphic novels? Must correct that.)

I went looking for Ms. Marvel, because there's been a lot of buzz about it (she's brown! and Muslim! and a superhero??? Superheroes don't all have to be white men???). After getting distracted by lots of colourful pretty things, I did come home with Ms. Marvel. Plus a treatise on the influence of Ayn Rand on the 2008 financial crisis. And a comic book about Star Trek TNG and Dr. Who, together. (I mean, how could I resist?!) I'm telling you, you've got to go check out those graphic novel shelves. It's crazy!

So, what would happen if the Borg met up with the Cybermen?

Why has no one thought of this before?! Assimilation2 (by multiple authors/illustrators) is a fun, wish-fulfillment adventure—because who hasn't imagined what Captain Picard and the Doctor would think of each other if they ever met? (To be honest, it had never crossed my mind, but as soon as I saw this cover it seemed the most obvious thing in the world.) This story has everything you love about both series and some fun surprises. The requisite asides from characters referencing events from TV episodes so you can feel in-the-know if you're a fan. It's a tad explain-y at times, but I loved the art, and just the whole concept, really. (Probably no point reading it if you aren't a fan of both series, though.)

Ms. Marvel is a great story (by G. Willow Wilson) with great art (by Adrian Alphona). Lots of reviewers have dealt with it in depth; I don't have much to add except that I liked it a lot. (And I'm not a Marvel fan, haven't read any other Marvel comics, and don't know anything about Captain Marvel (who doesn't show up in this book—in case you are a fan and were hoping to see her.)) I thought the family interactions felt very real, and Kamala's reaction to her new superpowers was entirely believable. I particularly loved Bruno. I'll be looking for the next episode (or, rather, next collection of episodes; I guess that's how these things work).

I was serious about the Ayn Rand thing. Darryl Cunningham's The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis has a rather frightening cartoon of the über-individualist writer on the front, so you can guess Cunningham isn't a fan. He collates the opinions of a lot of different writers on the causes of the sub-prime mortgage global financial meltdown, making particular note of the fact that Alan Greenspan is an Ayn Rand devotee, and tracing the anti-regulation policy trends of the 90's and 00's to Rand's promotion of selfishness as a virtue. If your eyes are glazing over at my summary, rest assured the cartoon format makes this a very readable, remarkably comprehensible explanation of a very complex topic. American conservatives won't be very happy with his depiction of their psychological underpinnings (based on the book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, by Chris Mooney, so you can see where that's going!). He makes a concerted effort to prove he's not anti-Republican, but I'm pretty sure Republicans will still be offended, and I think it's too bad, because his indictment of the greed and fraud that led to the crisis is a message everyone needs to hear. (Because the root causes have not been fixed, so . . . yikes.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

MMGM: Almost Super, by Marion Jensen

Me and superheroes. Don't know what it is: the whole idea is kind of stupid, if you think about it, so why do I find it so compelling? So many superhero movies are disappointing (I tried the new Netflix series Daredevil, and I like the concept, but it's very violent. I like the Flash better.) I think maybe it's because movies try to make superheroes believable and they're just not, so they end up looking silly instead of cool. (The Avengers gets around the problem by acknowledging the sillyness and moving on. "Yup, this is ridiculous. You got a problem with that? No? Good. Let me go pick up my magic hammer again.")

Maybe what I like about superheroes goes back to my Horatio Hornblower obsession: I can't resist someone who nobly puts themselves in harm's way to do the right thing. It's not the superpower itself; it's the hero's self-sacrifice and devotion to an ideal.

All that philosophizing is my lead-in to a light-hearted, entertaining middle-grade book about superheroes that gets them right.

Almost Super has a great deal of silliness. It laughs at all the clichés, it's over-the-top with all its details. (I loved the spittoons everywhere in the super headquarters, because they're all required to spit whenever they mention their enemies.) Rafter and Benny Bailey get really ridiculous and utterly useless powers when they come of age in their superhero family. There's a nefarious plot behind it, of course, but are the super-villainous Johnsons behind it, or are the Bailey's long-fought enemies perhaps not so evil after all? What if it were possible for Baileys and Johnsons to cooperate with each other? It's entirely predictable but it's a fun ride, and, while the adults are all hilarious caricatures, the kids are sensitively portrayed and believable. The moral, that you don't need a superpower to be a hero, feels genuine when Rafter figures it out for himself.

This one had me laughing out loud at times and smiling at the clever absurdities. It's up there with Captain Underpants, and from me that's high comedic praise!

Chewy flavoured caramels.

This Marvelous Middle-Grade book is only one of many you can read about at Shannon Messenger's blog every Monday.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Why have I never discovered this book before now?? This book is so up my alley it comes out in my bedroom closet. I would have devoured this book as a teenager; would have re-read it to tatters like my Robin McKinley and my Narnia.

All I can say is thank goodness for bloggers. I heard the book mentioned often enough by people  I trust that I finally decided to track it down.

And thank goodness for interlibrary loans! (Have you discovered this miracle? I hope you have it in your community. I can get a book from anywhere in BC sent to my local library, all done online with a few clicks. Amazing!) (There's a copy of The Perilous Gard in Sechelt. Would you like to request it? Why, yes I would, thank you. Click. You will be notified when your book is available for pick up. So easy!)

Right. The book.

The quick way to summarize The Perilous Gard is to say it's a version of Tam Lin, set at the time of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, in a marvellous castle on a hill with a well in a cave.  But that doesn't begin to convey how perfect this book is.

I love Kate Sutton so much. What a heroine! Smart and stubborn and brave. Not just smart: rational. She asks the right questions; she sees things as they are. Her practicality can't be beaten out of her by the spookiest forces of evil. She is now my number one candidate for who to bring along in case self-serving cold-hearted manipulative scary folk need talking back to. (And she's not snarky about it, either. Just clever and, and irrepressible. No, that makes her sound bouncy. She's not bouncy, she's a rock. Indefatigable. Unbowed.) She and Jane Eyre would be bosom buddies.

I loved Christopher, his anguish, his bravery. Loved how it's so obvious he **slight spoiler, highlight to read** is falling in love with Kate—and for all the right reasons—and she has no idea. Loved their conversations. Loved all the conversations, actually. Great dialog.

I love the take on fairies. Pope uses all the traditional lore, but does something quite different with it, and they were very real and quite horrifying. What the Lady does at the end . . . oh, my.

Loved the setting. So specifically described I wonder if there is a real castle she was using as a template. She describes things so well—the writing is spare and poetical; she always has just the right metaphor to convey exactly what a person or place or feeling is.

The plot is perfect. Guess I can't say anything about it without spoilers, but it unfolded at exactly the right pace in an entirely satisfactory way. I really like this version of the Tam Lin story—I would call it a feminist retelling; what do you think? Wonderful ending.

**This paragraph is a bit spoilery, so highlight it if you want to read it.** I also love the fact that Christianity is actually the force for good for once. (Not in an in-your-face way—it's very subtle.) I don't mind the whole druids-are-the-keepers-of-the-land and ignorant-Christians-come-trample-and-destroy-what-they-don't-understand take on things; there's enough history to justify that angle and it makes for great fantasy. But here we have a story where "taking care of the land" requires human sacrifice (Elizabeth Pope was an English professor; pretty sure she studied The Golden Bough), and maybe that's not something that should be celebrated and preserved. Maybe some things need to be defeated and some holy places ought to be pulled down. I thought Pope's slight use of Christian theology as Kate tries to counter the Lady's reasoning was brilliantly done.

This book should be much better known than it is. I'm desolated that Pope only wrote two novels, but I'm greatly hoping interlibrary loan will come through for me with the second of her books, The Sherwood Ring.

Delicious and satisfying as raspberry rhubarb pie.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Black Dog short stories, by Rachel Neumeier

It's been a dry month for blogging. I've started a number of books that I didn't finish, and finished a number of books that I thought were okay but not amazing enough to blog about. But I recently downloaded something onto my ereader that I can enthusiastically recommend:

Short stories set in the world of Black Dog, Rachel Neumeier's very fun take on werewolves (sort of) and witches (sort of). You can go here for Neumeier's explanation of the stories. There are four stories, plus a sneak peek at Pure Magic, (second book in the Black Dog series), which I haven't read because I don't want to tease myself too far in advance of the book coming out. (I think it's coming out next month, though, yay!) Plus a detailed explanation of the genetics of black dogs and Pure women! (In case you were wondering how one family could have a black dog boy, a human boy and a Pure girl. It's all quite scientific.)

Each story is a little vignette that develops a few characters and lets you know a bit of what's been going on since the end of Black Dog. Natividad and Miguel adjust a little more to life with the Dimilioc black dogs. Thaddeus gets more of a measure of the Dimilioc Master, Grayson.

I particularly liked the prequel story about Ezekiel. Great insight into his character. I'm quite excited to see how his storyline develops in Pure Magic.

If you haven't read Black Dog, I would say the first two stories might not mean much to you, but the second two would be a good introduction to the world. If the word 'werewolf' puts you off, I should emphasize that black dogs are not werewolves, and this is not a ParaNormal Romance. I'd call it more alternate-world fantasy—like Robin McKinley's Sunshine, which you can't describe by saying it's about vampires—it's in this world, modern day, but there just happens to be a genetic mutation that causes some people to turn into a huge wolf when they get mad, and gives a few people the power to calm the wolf.

What Black Dog and its stories are really about is family—great sibling dynamics—and about power, trust, loyalty. There are violent action scenes, but it's the relationships that are at the heart of both the novel and the short stories. The world-building is excellent, the setting is gorgeously rendered, and there's lots of humour.

Chocolate pecan tart.

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Lois McMaster Bujold book! (Coming 2016)

And it's about Cordelia! Squeee!

This is what I get for not opening Goodreads every day: I miss important announcements like this!

She doesn't say much, does she? Let the speculation begin! I, for one will be delighted to get back inside Cordelia's headspace, particularly if the book is set after Cryoburn. But, really, at any point in the timeline.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go read Cordelia's Honor (which is the two novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar published together.) And never mind the blurb on Goodreads, it tells you nothing useful about the plot (to be fair, it's a difficult plot to summarize succinctly!). (I wrote a Very Long Post about Lois McMaster Bujold if you want more convincing to try her books.) Cordelia is just one of the best female protagonists I've ever read, and you deserve to get to know her.