Monday, March 09, 2015

POTUS Gives a Stirring Speech, Infinity Bell by Devon Monk, The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen and Siege Winter by Arianna Franklin and Samantha Norman

President Barak Obama gave a stirring speech on the bridge in Alabama this past week to commemorate Bloody Sunday, a march for the right for African Americans to vote 50 years ago in 1965. The wonderful Jane Yolen was moved to write a poem about it. I wish I had her talent, because I watched his speech and sobbed, it was brilliant and perfect for the moment. Here is the link to the speech and transcript:
Here's Yolen's poem:
Barack on the Bridge
There is no wind today
making the flag furl,
but his words lift us up,
let us soar.

There are no guns today,
no batons, or dogs,
but his voice shields
the memory.
There is no blood today,
no splintered bone,
but his speech gives us courage
and the nerve to use it.
Not the mountain top, perhaps.
but here in the valley,
this crevice moment,
this crevasse of history,
when we need it most,
fifty years forgotten,
words molten in his mouth,
Barack is on the bridge.
©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Infinity Bell by Devon Monk is the second book in her "House Immortal" series, which is based on the book Frankenstein, or a Modern Promethius by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It's actually a kind of re-telling or reboot, of that story in a dystopian world where the science fiction of bringing people back to life by putting their consciousness into a different body, one that has been stitched together out of parts of corpses, is reality. They call the stitched people the "galvanized" and they are, for the most part, immortal, unless they are assaulted with "Shelley dust" which disintegrates them at the molecular level. Here's the blurb:
Return to national bestselling author Devon Monk's heart-pounding House Immortal series, where eleven powerful Houses control the world and all its resources. But now, the treaty between them has been broken, and no one—not even the immortal galvanized—is safe....
Matilda Case isn’t normal. Normal people aren’t stitched together, inhumanly strong, and ageless, as she and the other galvanized are. Normal people’s bodies don’t hold the secret to immortality—something the powerful Houses will kill to possess. And normal people don’t know that they’re going to die in a few days.
Matilda’s fight to protect the people she loves triggered a chaotic war between the Houses and shattered the world’s peace. On the run, she must find a way to stop the repeat of the ancient time experiment that gifted her and the other galvanized with immortality. Because this time, it will destroy her and everything she holds dear.
Caught in a cat-and-mouse game of lies, betrayal, and unseen foes, Matilda must fight to save the world from utter destruction. But time itself is her enemy, and every second brings her one step closer to disaster....
The second novel has a plot so swift that if you stop reading you fear you'll miss some of the action as it rushes past like raging rapids. Tilly has to get her love Abraham to safety and then find a way to heal him, and in the meantime, figure out how to dodge all the heads of Houses who are after her and her genius brother Quintin. Fortunately, Quintin knows how to send her back in time to repair the rift that caused the galvanized to exist, while killing so many others. Tilly has to take back a revised equation and save them all. Unfortunately, she has very little time to do it in, as the Houses are closing in, and they want Quintin to be enslaved to them, while they want Tilly and Abraham dead or enslaved or caged. Tilly discovers that she can only go back in time by entering the body of a child in 1910, and then discovers that, after changing the equation, things are still not quite right back home. As usual, Monk's prose is clean and crisp and her characters brilliant and fascinating. I can hardly wait for the third book, coming out in September. A solid A, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoys steampunk and retellings of classic stories.
I found a copy of The Sugar Queen at Goodwill during their 40 percent off sale, and I was thrilled, because I've enjoyed all 4 of Allen's other books that I've read in the past. There are two other novels of hers that I would like to get copies of, so that I can say I've read her entire ouvre, but money is a bit tight right now, so I will have to try and find used copies. The Sugar Queen, however, proved to be a lush and lovely novel about a lonely young woman, Josey, who has been cowed into taking care of her disgruntled, mean old mother. The highlight of her day is the arrival of the mailman, Adam, who is a disabled ski bum afraid to move out of his comfort zone because of his accident. Meanwhile, Della Lee Baker, who, it turns out, is Josey's half sister ( Josey's father apparently had multiple affairs and bastard children) shows up in Josey's closet, where she hides her sugary snacks, and proceeds to work to change Josey's life for the better. Chloe, whom it turns out is also a half sister, meets up with Josey at a time when she, too, is vulnerable and struggling to figure out whether to forgive her beloved for an indiscretion. Here's the blurb: In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.
Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.
Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.
 I love the way that Allen blends magic into the everyday happenings in her books, so that these paranormal romances seem more like magic realism in genre. I was especially envious of Chloe's ability to have books appear around her all the time, whenever she needed them. They were like ducks imprinted on her, and they responded to her talking to them and threatening them, like they were sentient creatures. What a delightful, longed-for ability! (For me as a bibliophile, anyway. Chloe doesn't seem too fond of the books that follow her around). All of Allen's books have HEAs, thank heaven, and her prose is mesmerizing. The plots of her books all move at a swift pace, and I've yet to find one of her novels that isn't a page turner that keeps me up at all hours to finish it. A well deserved A, with the recommendation to all who enjoy good stories interwoven with magic and love.
The Siege Winter by the late Arianna Franklin and finished by her daughter Samantha Norman, was not, to my sorrow, the last Mistress of the Art of Death book. I had really enjoyed that series, written by Franklin (the pen name of Diana Norman) about a 12th century woman who was a trained doctor and the first medical examiner/coroner in England. So it was with a heavy heart that I read the first 50 pages, realizing that this was about the politics of 12th century England and the wars that raged at the time. All the political and social details of living in a castle under siege really slowed down the first 75 pages, too, but fortunately, by page 100, things have picked up and the novel proceeds apace. Here is the blurb:
England, 1141. The countryside is devastated by a long civil war that has left thousands dead. With no clear winner in the conflict, castles and villages change hands from month to month as the English king, Stephen, and his cousin, the empress Matilda, battle for the crown.
Emma is the eleven-year-old redheaded daughter of a peasant family. When mercenaries pass through their town, they bring with them a monk with a deadly interest in young redheaded girls. Left for dead in a burned-out church, Emma is one more victim in a winter of atrocities until another mercenary, Gwil, an archer, finds her by chance. Barely alive, she cannot remember her name or her life before the attack. Unable to simply abandon her, Gwil takes her with him, dressing her as a boy to avoid attention. Emma becomes Penda—and Penda turns out to have a killer instinct with a bow and arrow. But Gwil becomes uneasily aware that the monk who hurt his protégée is still out there, and that a scrap of a letter Emma was found clutching could be very valuable to the right person . . . or the wrong one.
Maud is the fifteen-year-old chatelaine of Kenniford, a small but strategically important castle she's determined to protect as the war rages around them. But when Maud provides refuge for the empress, Stephen's armies lay siege to Kenniford Castle and Maud must prove that she's every bit the leader her father was. Aided by a garrison of mercenaries— including Gwil and his odd, redheaded apprentice—they must survive a long winter under siege. It's a brutal season that brings everyone to Kenniford, from kings to soldiers to the sinister monk who has never stopped hunting the redheaded girl . . .
Penda and Gwil's story is the most riveting, of course, and while that of Lady Maud and Alan is interesting, the common people had more of a story to tell, in this case. Penda is actually a girl who was gang raped and nearly killed by a serial-killer pedophilic monk whose taste for red-headed children to rape and murder can never be fully asuaged. Though he is kept at a distance for much of the book, when he finally comes into the castle with Penda and Gwil, I was horrified and yet certain that he would get his comuppance, if not at the hand of Gwil, then most certainly at the hands of Penda. I was glad that the Empress and Maud both were able to survive and thrive, and I was glad that Maud's disgusting husband (and his grotesque mistress) died terrible deaths. But I was unsurprised when William turned out to be...well, that would be a spoiler. So I will just give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who love English history and stories of triumph over tragedy.

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