Monday, July 13, 2015

Island Books Citizens of the Year, Fairest by Marissa Meyer, Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop and Linesman by SK Dunstall

Back when I was the lifestyle/business reporter for the Mercer Island Reporter, I used to walk out the front door of the MIR offices and into the back door, a few steps away, of the office of Island Books, a truly wonderful bookstore that has become legendary on Mercer Island. The proprietors of this establishment are the Pages, Roger and Nancy, and as I was soon to learn, they were the best kind of booksellers, the kind who nurtured and cared for their customers, even rabid bibliophiles like myself, making sure that I was thrilled with every purchase, and that I always had somewhere to go to talk about books, to interview authors and to let my then-small son run amok in the kids section. I would hazard a guess that I spent at least half of most of my paychecks at Island Books, and I spent many happy hours there with all their brilliant booksellers discussing books and authors and life in general. So when the MIR was bought by Black Newspapers of Canada and it became clear that they were going to fire all but two employees, I left, and my first stop to say goodbye was beloved Island Books. Roger and Nancy gave me a huge gift certificate as a going away present, and to assure that I'd return for visits, which I have over the past 10 years. Still, in recent years I've not had many opportunities to get to Mercer Island, so I've not seen Roger or Nancy for about 7-8 months. So it was with great joy that I read the following in Shelf Awareness:

Island Books Owners Named Citizens of the Year
Congratulations to Roger and Nancy Page, co-owners of Island Books, Mercer Island, Wash., who were
honored by the City Council as 2014 Citizens of the Year The award recognizes
"individuals or entities whose achievements may have gone unrecognized
in some settings, but who have improved Island life through a broad base
of community service, fundraising, or other means."

The city noted that the Pages "believe their business and personal goal
is to serve the community in a welcoming and caring manner, which
includes hosting special events and countless fundraisers over the
years. Many Islanders, for example, will recall the 2,000 midnight
attendees at a Harry Potter release, with bookstore staff in costume. To
date, the Pages have raised more than $300,000 in donations to a variety
of community causes."

"The more we give, the more the community gives back to us. We are very
grateful for this honor," said Roger Page.
Congratulations, Roger and Nancy. You folks still ROCK in my book!

Fairest by Marissa Meyer is something of an adjunct book to her Lunar Chronicles, as it's the story of how the Evil Queen Levana grew up with a psychopathic sister who turned her evil by burning half of her face and body to make her ugly. I've read all but the latest (Winter) of the Lunar Chronicles, and I've really enjoyed the science fiction reboot of these classic fairy tales, from Cinderella to Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. This particular story is meant to garner sympathy for the cruel meglomaniac Queen of Luna by pointing out how horrible her life and childhood were, and how she used her powers to mentally manipulate a man into marrying her, though she was unable to actually force him to love her forever. Here's the blurb from Kirkus reviews:
"Meyer takes a short break between books in the Lunar Chronicles to explore the back story of evil Queen Levana.As the title suggests, here Meyer riffs on "Snow White," positioning Levana as the wicked queen. As the novel opens, Princess Levana and her older sister prepare for the funeral of their assassinated parents. Levana chafes at the knowledge that her sister will take the throne—Levana is intelligent and politically engaged, while her lovely sister seems interested only in sexual conquest. The 15-year-old princess also yearns for kind, handsome guard Evret Hayle, who is unaccountably in love with his beautiful, pregnant wife. Physical beauty is something the scarred princess can achieve only by casting a Lunar glamour; fortunately, she is very skilled in the art. She is so adept, in fact, that she uses it to lure Evret to her bed and to the altar when his wife dies in childbirth; the only blot on her happiness is baby Winter, her stepdaughter—and her sister, and the Moon's dwindling resources….With this book, Meyer sets herself a formidable challenge. Her overall story and the original fairy tale's structure both demand that Levana end the book thoroughly evil, creating a deterministic, negative character arc. Although she strives to make Levana initially sympathetic, she must also plant the seeds of her cruelty and megalomania; the result is that Levana goes from merely bratty to out-and-out repellent. The author also deprives herself of the opportunity to play to her strengths: quick, cinematic changes in scene and chemistry between her characters."
I found the book to be a quick read, though it wasn't terribly satisfying, as Levana seems shallow and stupid in addition to being evil, and Meyer never really gives us a compelling reason for Levana to become such a meglomaniac and serial killer. Though it is a short book, the plot moves rather slowly and readers are left with a bad taste in their mouths for a character that seems to have less than a spark of decency in her soul. I'd give this book a B-, and only recommend it to those who are fanatical about the Lunar Chronicles.

Murder of Crows  by Anne Bishop is the second book in the "Others" series. The first, Written in Red was a science fiction/horror take on the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
After winning the trust of the Others residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all. 

I hadn't really intended to read any more of this series, as I am not a fan of horror fiction, or of very dark urban fantasy, which these books claim to be, genre-wise. The Others are shape-shifters who view the human population of the planet as prey, and are ruthless about keeping the human population under their control and following their rules. The merest mention of rule-breaking or any harm coming to Others from humans, and entire towns full of men, women and children are slaughtered and eaten by the wolves, bears, vampires and death-stare-dealers. Bishop's prose, which is fine, fairly seethes with menace, tension and the scent of blood. The Others are terrifying, and though the author tries to make some of them sympathetic, it's always made clear that they are dangerous killers who have nearly zero regard for human life beyond that of a meal. Yet their taking in of Meg, and adopting her as their own, and their regard for her fellow cassandras is just heartening enough that the reader feels a sense of hope for human/Other relations. I find that I want to read more about the burgeoning relationship between Simon Wolfgard, an Other, and Meg, and Simon's son who is still a puppy. Though I have to wade through so much gore and gut-wrenching scenarios of death and mayhem to do so, I feel compelled to see these two through to the end. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to dark fantasy/horror fans with strong stomachs.

I was given a copy of Linesman by SK Dunstall by Ace/Roc publishers as part of their Roc Star Readers program. It's a science fiction paperback, and though there is no author blurb, I searched SK Dunstall's name and discovered that this author is actually two female authors working together to create this new series. Here's the blurb:

The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…
Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.
Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.
The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.

I was intrigued by the "every other chapter" narrated by different linesman layout of this novel, but after awhile it became tedious to try and keep up with what was happening with the main protagonist, Ean, because there was all the background noise of Jordan Rossi, the egomaniacal jerk whom I assume represents what most linesmen are really like. Ean is an outlier, a young man from the slums who sings to the lines and hears them singing back, like sentient beings. Though it seems obvious that he's the best level 10 linesman in existence by the time you're halfway through the book, he's still treated like an outcast and an underling by nearly all the other characters, who often talk about him like he's invisible when he's right there. For some bizarre reason, Ean allows this horrific treatment to continue, never speaking up for himself or standing up to anyone until its too late. WHY he remains so cowed, timid and silent in the face of all the bullies and jerks is never explained, nor is it warranted. Especially once Ean has the new Alien ships under control all by himself, I would expect to see his confidence soaring and his self esteem rise at least enough to tell all the other linesmen to shove off.  Please, authors, have Ean grow a spine! He's an interesting enough character to follow through a series, but only if he isn't such a coward and never speaks up for himself. The background of the book is nicely drawn, and the space military also seems very realistic. Oddly enough, though the authors are women, there aren't very many female characters in this novel. Really only two, and the linesmen seems to be nearly all male and the military equally testosterone-heavy. The one prominent woman, Michelle, seems very manipulative and not really all that interesting as a character. Odd, too, that there is virtually no sexual relations in the book at all. I'd give it a B+, and hope that any sequels give us more female characters and a male protagonist who isn't such a wimp.

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