Sunday, September 06, 2015

Iowa's Paul Engle Prize, Archetype by MD Waters, A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd, and Crucible Zero by Devon Monk

I wish that I could be there to see Paretsky get her prize at the Iowa City Book Festival. It's an event that would suit me down to the ground. 

Sara Paretsky won the $10,000 Paul Engle Prize
presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization to
recognize "an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering
spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing,
or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the
day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary
arts." The author will be honored October 2 during a special ceremony as
part of the Iowa City Book Festival.

Paretsky commented: "We all have one or two fundamental questions about
life--about our own lives--that we keep returning to, and trying to sort
out. Mine have to do with speech and silence: who gets to speak, who has
to listen. When you're powerless, it can be hard to speak, easy to
remain silent. I try to understand cruelty, both the petty acts we all
do from time to time, and the gross acts, lynch mobs, Auschwitz, Rwanda,
that most of us pray we'll never commit. I'm not interested in reading
or writing books that seek to inhabit the minds of torturers. Rather, I
want to know the mind of that rare person who steps forward, who
I want to rant for a moment here about underrated authors, several of whom I feel are shunned by the websites that should be singing their praises. Buzzfeed Books, Book Riot, HuffPo Books, Book Page Magazine and even the famed NYT Book review section should have discovered the fluid prose and fine storytelling of Devon Monk, Maria V Snyder, Linnea Sinclair, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Jacqueline Carey, Shana Abe, Kevin Hearne, MJ Rose and Juliet Marillier.These 10 authors write brilliant, amazing genre novels. I've read every single book that each of these authors has written, and I have yet to see any of the media/social media outlets mentioned above do any sort of article about them, interview them, review their work or list the backlist of novels they've written. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of these authors are women. Female authors always seem to get the crap end of the stick, while authors whom no one actually reads (like Jonathan Franzen) get more than their share of good ink and digital ink just for farting whatever boring crap they think is "literary" onto a page and then telling us that it's the great American novel. As you can probably tell, this pisses me off, and I've been hacked off about the treatment of female authors, female fantasy and science fiction authors in particular, since the 70s, when I noticed that I had to hunt for the books of Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ and Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. I never had to scrounge around for books by Theodore Sturgeon, Issac Azimov, Arthur C Clark or Ray Bradbury. Those were easy to find, especially for Mrs Beatty, who taught a class on Science Fiction Literature at Ankeny Senior High School in the late 70s.  I remember telling her that, though I enjoyed the male SF authors, I also felt that there were some awesome female SF authors whose work should be given more attention. Though she agreed with me, I remember her saying that she didn't think sexism in the publishing world was going to go away anytime soon, and while she allowed me to write essays on female SF authors, she couldn't keep the boys in class or the male English teachers from snickering or sneering at me and calling me a "fat lesbo bitch" or other cruel taunts because I had the temerity to challenge the male SF status quo (for the record, I am not gay, though I believe strongly in LBGTQ rights). At any rate, I wish that there were something I could do to change things, especially for the 10 authors listed above. Hopefully they know that I am a fan who promotes their books in whatever small way that I can on this blog, and by purchasing their books when they arrive on the shelves. 
Archetype by MD Waters is, I believe, an SF YA novel, and as such, it's set in a dystopian future where women are a rarity. While this novel has been compared to Margaret Atwood's famed "Handmaid's Tale" it is actually nowhere near as ground breaking, well-written or intense as Atwood's novel. Archetype is, for all intents and purposes, a science fiction romance hybrid that is written for the teenage audience. That's not to say that it is poorly written, because the prose is straightforward and clean, while the plot is adventurous and swift. The reader will recognize the influence of Divergent and Hunger Games. Here's the blurb:
In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which . . .

In the stunning first volume of a two-book series that will appeal to readers of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan—a powerful and seductive man—narrates the story of her past, but Emma’s dreams contradict him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but the line between her dreams and reality is about to shatter forever.
I appreciated Emmas slowly dawning sense of self, and her reliance on her own internal compass to help her figure out what her dreams really mean about her past. However, where this novel diverges from Handmaid's Tale is that the women in HT are aware that they are living in a world where their only value is that of a creator of children, a caretaker or a prostitute. Young women in Archetype have no memories of who they are, and are being manipulated into being the "perfect" wives and childbearers for men who do not value them as individual human beings with rights. Without running into spoiler territory, there are physical reasons these women aren't considered anything but property, bought and paid for. But those reasons take a back seat in this book to the "love triangle" aspect of the story, as Emma finds herself falling in love with the man who claims to be her husband, Declan, while also trying to sort through her feelings for a man she sees as her husband in her dreams, Noah. The focus of the story is love and sex with both these men, and their treatment of her in her "new" life, after the accident that supposedly claimed her memory. There's a lot of emotional and physical trauma that Emma must go through, and Dr Travista, who is a huge part of Emma's life and memory is just menacing enough with his experiments and tests to keep readers gnawing their nails in fear every time he makes an appearance. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those teen readers who loved Divergent and the Hunger Games.

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd is the 7th Bess Crawford mystery in this dazzling series.  Bess Crawford is a nursing sister (a nurse) during World War 1 in England and France, and this particular novel takes place at the end of the war, just a couple of months before Armistice Day in 1918. Here's the blurb:
A horrific explosion at a gunpowder mill sends Bess Crawford to war-torn France to keep a deadly pattern of lies from leading to more deaths, in this compelling and atmospheric mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of A Question of Honor and An Unwilling Accomplice.
An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.
The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.
To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England.
As in previous novels, Bess Crawford is tenacious and smart, and determined to help clear Philip Ashton's name. What I enjoy most about these mysteries is not just the strong female protagonist, but the men and women surrounding her who help her solve the mysteries and provide backup when she needs it most. Among those are her father, Colonel Sahib, her father's majordomo Simon and an Australian soldier, Lassiter, who seems to be able to find anyone at any time in the military rank and file. It's always heartening when he shows up and gets Bess to be less somber for awhile, and flirt a bit, too. I've enjoyed all the previous Bess books, and this one was no exception, keeping me on the edge of my seat until the final chapters. I'd give this mystery an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in the role of nurses during the Great War.

Crucible Zero is the third and final book in Devon Monk's House Immortal series. I've read every book that Devon Monk has written, and while I've really enjoyed them all, this series based a bit on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has a special place in my heart, because it's about misfits and time travel, and anything that has to do with something so Doctor Who automatically warrants a read from me. Here's the blurb:
The national bestselling author of Infinity Bell returns to her “fresh and unique”* world where the truce between the ruling Houses has shattered and chaos now reigns. Only one woman has the power to save the world—but she could also destroy it. . . .
Matilda Case never thought of herself as a hero. But because she is galvanized—and nearly immortal in her stitched, endlessly healing body—she doesn’t have much of a choice. Even if she doesn’t want to save the world, she’s the only one capable of traveling in time to do so.
But her rescue attempt hasn’t gone as planned. She’s stuck in an alternate universe, and her world is in danger of disappearing. Worst of all, an unfathomably powerful man who can also travel through history doesn’t want her to put things to rights. He’s willing to wage bloody war to stop Matilda, unless she surrenders control of time to him.
Now, with the minutes ticking, Matilda must make impossible decisions, knowing that one wrong choice will destroy her—and any chance of saving everything she loves. . . .
I was thrilled that Monk decided to go back and tie up a number of loose ends in this book, and bring Matilda's relationship with Abraham full circle. But one of my favorite characters is grandma, and her pocket sheep of many colors who allow her to knit time up into scarves and hats for Matilda when she needs extra time to get the job done. Granny manages to come out smelling like a rose, thankfully, though her survival was in question for a moment there. Monk is brilliant at creating characters that readers come to love and worlds that they'd love to visit. Her prose is tough but beautiful and her plots never slow down. I can only hope that she will continue to write and create more satisfying works in the future. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other two books in this series.

No comments: