Over the past week, I've read three books, two of them by Australian authors and one by an author I've never heard of who actually lives up to her cover blurb.
I picked up "Sweeping Up Glass" by Carolyn Wall after reading about it in the email newsletter for booksellers and librarians, Shelf Awareness.
The blurb on the back cover said "This is a perfect little book, like a head-on collision between Flannery O'Connor and Harper Lee with a bit of Faulkner..." Joe R Landsdale
I actually laughed when I read that, and figured Mr Landsdale must somehow be related to Ms Wall.
Much to my astonishment, once I cracked open "Sweeping up Glass" I couldn't put it down...it does, indeed, read like a cross between "To Kill a Mockingbird" and a Flannery O'Connor short story with a dash of Faulkners insane Southern characters. It's a perfect blend of innocence, ignorance, pride, prejudice, mystery and transformation. I was riveted right to the last word, which I read at 12:30 am this morning.
This is the story of Olivia Harker Cross, a woman who lives in poverty in a little Kentucky town at the base of Big Foley Mountain. She's taking care of her evil mother, Ida, and raising her beloved grandson Willem, while trying to eke out a living by tending the tiny grocery at the front of her home. Having lost her father, who was the town veterinarian and moonshiner, Olivia has been at odds with her insane, vituperative mother and the town thugs for years, mainly because her best friends are the local colored community, who treat her like family and helped raise her when her mother was in the state mental hospital. Oliva's father brought silver-faced wolves to the area, and now they are being hunted and killed off in her back yard, and Olivia must solve the mystery of who is behind the killings, why her father was buried near the outhouse, and why the love of her life married someone else.
Once Olivia starts to unravel the mystery, the power of love to transform a life, even one that is halfway over, is revealed. The prose in this novel is deceptively simple on the surface, yet it has the power to create people who seem as real and possible as the neighbors. The plot is swift and full of twists you won't see coming, and the characters voices are spot-on for the South of the 1950s. I highly recommend this novel and I hope that my book group at the library will consider reading it this year.
I also read Australians Jennifer Fallon and Denise Rossetti's latest works.
Jennifer Fallon wrote the Hythrun Chronicles series, about the Harshini, which I loved, and the Wolfblade trilogy, which I was somewhat less enthusiastic about, mainly because there were a lot more political machinations in that series, and politics bore me, whether real or imagined.
"The Immortal Prince" is the first book in a new series by Fallon, and it is terrific, full of strong, self realized female characters and both good and evil male characters.
The story takes place on a world where magic and Tide Gods are the stuff of legend, even a deck of tarot cards, but Arkady Desean has become an expert on those legends and on the history of the Crasii, a race of slave creatures created by the Tide Lords from animal and human DNA. Akrady learns that the Crasii believe that the Tide Lords exist and are just waiting for the tide to come in to regain their powers and take over the world.
Meanwhile, Arkady, who grew up in the slums, marries a gay Duke, enabling her to continue her studies and help keep him in the Kings good graces. Once a man is tried for murder and hanged, unsuccessfully, the kings spymaster, Declan, asks Arkady to interrogate the man, who claims to be the Tide Lord Cayal, an immortal.In the cell next to Cayal is a dog/man hybrid named Warlock, who engenders Arkady's sympathy as well as her trust when he claims that Cayal is telling the truth. Over time Arkady gets the real story of the immortals and learns of the despair Cayal feels over not being able to die, after centuries of guilt over heinous crimes committed by himself and his fellow immortals, and eventually, she realizes he actually is a Tide Lord.
The trouble is, some of the other immortals, particularly her husbands lover, are manuvering into position for the tides return, so they can take over Amyrantha and enslave not just the Crasii, but the mortals as well.
Fallon's prose is rich with imagery and her plots never plod. She did, however, leave me with a cliffhanger at the end of the book, so I've now got to wait, impatiently, for the second book, the Gods of Amyrantha, to arrive at the library so I can find out what happened! I'd recommend this book to those who enjoy Mercedes Lackey's fantasy novels, or the works of Barbara Hambly.
I will admit that I picked up a copy of Denise Rossetti's "The Flame and the Shadow" because her name is similar to my own, and because I am a fire sign, and any fantasy/SF novel about fire witches is bound to appeal to me.
I was a bit taken aback, initially, when the book started out with the anguish of a mother over losing her baby daughter, and then moved rapidly into a sexual scene with a musician that the main character, Cenda, barely knows.
But I was willing to give this Australian author the benefit of the doubt, mainly because Shana Abe, author of the wonderful Drakon series of paranormal romances, blurbed the book as inventive.
Unfortunately, the story, which had great promise and was interesting, was consistently stalled by detailed sexual scenarios in nearly every chapter of the book.
So much so that I realized the author was writing erotica/soft pornography with a story lightly wrapping around it, like a transluscent robe over a naked body.
The story runs thus: Grayson, the Duke of Ombria, has a living shadow that he wishes to rid himself of, mainly because he doesn't want to face his own homosexual feelings toward the shadow, named "Shad."
He is told that there is a rare fire witch that the technomages want to experiment on, to use as a weapon. There are others who also want the fire witch and her powers, and Grayson makes a double deal to ensure that someone will give him the way to remove Shad in exchange for the fire witch, Cenda.
Meanwhile, Cenda is working with the Enclave, a group of magicians who do things organically, not using technology, to hone her powers when she meets Gray and the two are so immediately enamored of one another that they spend many pages in sexual encounters, each more explosive than the last (and yes, Shad gets involved, too, as he is able to keep Cenda from burning Gray during sex).
What follows are thugs chasing the two, who end up adopting a street child, and escaping from the evil technomages. Cenda learns of Gray's treachery, and Gray realizes that he is in love with Cenda, as is Shad, so all is forgiven and they have more sex. The end.
Other than feeling like this book shouldn't be shelved in the Science Fiction/Fantasy area of the bookstore (it should be under erotica or adult literature/pornography), I was alarmed at the frequent use of the F word along with that despicable host of euphemisms for body parts that were rife in this book. Why can't erotica writers use the word penis? Why use slang words that make everything sound ugly?
A writer with this much talent, whose prose was otherwise fairly decent, killed her credibility by using swear words, ugly oaths and slang wherever possible.
So, while I liked the story, the world-building and some of the characters, I can't recommend this book to anyone, knowing that the pornographic scenes would offend most of my friends who read genre fiction such as SF and Fantasy. I felt angry that I didn't get what I paid for. I wanted an SF/Fantasy novel, not a book of erotica or porn.
Perhaps Ms Rossetti, the Australian version, will clean up her prose and create a book more worthy of her talent as a writer.