Well, it's New Year's Eve, and it turns out that I finished three books (and am 2/3 of the way through a fourth) before the end of the year, so I figured I might as well post a few reviews before the clock runs out on 2017, which was a rough year for me, but not a completely bad year for books.
First, though, here's my starting wish list of books I want to acquire in 2018. Usually by the time I'm ready to make my trip to Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR, I have 50 or more books on the list. This year I plan to try and borrow more books from the library, which should ease the strain on my book buying budget.
1) A Treacherous Curse, Deanna Raybourn
2) Still Me: A Novel, Jojo Moyes
3) Defy the Stars, Claudia Gray
4) Honor Among Thieves, Rachel Caine
5) Heart of Thorns, Bree Burton
6) Blood of a Thousand Stars, Rhoda Belleza
7) War Storm, Victoria Aveyard
8) Daughters of the Night Sky, Aimie K Runyan
9) Taste of Wrath, Matt Wallace
10) Head On, John Scalzi
11) Record of A Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers
12) Hunter, Healer, Lilith Saintcrow
13) A Glorious Freedom:Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, Lisa Congdon
14) The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, Alan Bradley
15) The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, Theodora Goss
16) Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase, Louise Walters
17) Ordinary Magic Stories Omnibus, Devon Monk
18) The Power, Naomi Alderman
19) Hold Back the Stars, Katie Khan
20) Poison or Protect, Gail Carriger
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is January's book for my Tuesday Night library book group. I've had a real soft spot for Gaiman since reading his Sandman series of graphic novels back in the early 1990s. When I find a writer whose work I love, I tend to hurry and uncover all of their books, so that I can enjoy their creative wonders anew. So I read Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens and Fragile Things. I still haven't read A View From the Cheap Seats and a couple of his children's books. But those of his books that I have read, I've loved, not least because Gaiman is a witty and wise author whose British sense of humor is so delightfully dry that it sets off his gorgeous prose beautifully. We are the same age, Gaiman and I, and those born at the end of the Baby Boom tend to have a particular frame of reference that I understand and enjoy as well. So I embarked on this book knowing that Gaiman had probably also been required to read myths and legends in school, and therefore his treatment of these famous Norse myths would be colored by that. Here is the blurb: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
I completely agree with the blurb, for a change, in that I'd read these myths many times, from the original and stiff renditions to the more modern takes on the subject, but I still found Gaiman's version fresh and fascinating. I should note, as a Whovian (a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who) that Gaiman wrote one of my all time favorite episodes of Doctor Who, in which the TARDIS comes to life in the body of a woman. It was a brilliant performance that had me laughing and crying and viewing the show in a brand new light. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who thinks Norse Myths are dusty and dull and old fashioned. Gaiman's version will give you a new appreciation of Thor, Loki and Odin and the whole Ragnarok thing.
The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman is the first book in a "prequel" series to his Dark Materials series that was so popular (and for good reason!). Its an origin story for Lyra and gives us a view of her early days in the convent and her association with a protective and precocious child of the local tavern owners, Malcolm. Here's the blurb:Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy....
Malcolm's parents run an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust—and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, he sees suspicious characters everywhere: the explorer Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a daemon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl—just a baby—named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm. Publisher's Weekly: For more than 15 years, fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy have longed to return to the world Pullman created. Now, finally, begins a new trilogy, the Book of Dust, that again immerses readers in a thrilling alternate landscape of animal daemons, truth-revealing alethiometers, and the mysterious particle known as Dust. Lyra, the beloved heroine of the original books, is just a baby; 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the hero this time, and a worthy one. Malcolm helps out at his family's inn in Oxford and at the priory where Lyra—sought by her mother, Mrs. Coulter (younger but no less chilling than in the His Dark Materials books), and her father, Lord Asriel—is being cared for by nuns. Inquisitive and observant, Malcolm gets involved with scholar-spy Dr. Hannah Relf and meets (and adores) baby Lyra. But free thinkers are at war with the oppressive religious regime, and everyone wants control of Lyra, who is "destined to put an end to destiny." Amid the roaring waters of a historic flood, Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, attempt to keep Lyra safe, braving kidnappers, government enforcers, murderers, and classmates who, chillingly, are being trained to turn in those perceived to be disloyal to the regime. Fortunately, he has a fleet canoe, the Belle Sauvage of the title, and help from Alice, a cranky and courageous 16-year-old. The new characters are as lively and memorable as their predecessors; despite a few heavy-handed moments regarding the oppressiveness of religion, this tense, adventure-packed book will satisfy and delight Pullman's fans and leave them eager to see what's yet to come!
I could not put this book down, and once I embarked on the journey with Malcolm, I was in for the next 12 hours. There were only a couple of things that I didn't like about the book, mainly the character Alice, who is whiny, mean and horrible, though she obviously cares for Lyra and is a good nurse to her, still she made me want to slap her silly at least once every chapter. I was also surprised that the adults were so comfortable with treating children like small adults, and having them work so hard and put themselves in danger didn't seem to bother any of them at all. Even the famous Lord Asriel has no problem dropping his daughter off with anyone who can care for her, and eventually he designates Alice and Malcolm as her caregivers, (though they are only 11 and 16 by the end of the novel). They had both, by this time, been through many dangers, been shot at, starved, beaten and tricked, had to run for their lives many times and fight bad guys with next to nothing. The fascist religious people who are prowling around in search of people to kill or torture or use as leverage were a terrifying specter throughout the novel. I felt that this was somewhat over the top for a YA novel, but still, it was well worth it for the classic storyline and the wonderful prose that flew by like a hawk on wing. A definite A, with a recommendation to anyone who has read the Dark Materials series, starting with the Golden Compass.
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the third and final book in the Broken Earth series, which began with The Fifth Season. Though these SF/F novels slide into horror territory more than once, I was too fascinated by the protagonist, Essun, and her journey to stop reading them. I had high hopes for an HEA ending, but 3/4 of the way through I knew that those hopes were going to be dashed by the end of the book. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
The earthshaking conclusion to Jemisin’s powerful postapocalyptic Broken Earth trilogy (after The Obelisk Gate) finds the fate of a damaged world in the hands of a mother, who wants to save it, and her daughter, who wants to destroy it. Essun believes she is the only person left alive who has the power and skill to open the magical Obelisk Gate and wield its power to save her cataclysm-rocked planet, the Stillness, which is being torn apart by an ancient experiment that got out of hand. But she is caught between that duty and her need to find Nassun, her 10-year-old daughter. Nassun’s father killed her brother and took her away because both children shared their mother’s dangerous talent; he hoped to “cure” her, but instead she has become incredibly powerful. Essun’s search grows urgent when she learns that Nassun is being guided by a dangerous mentor with plans of his own. Jemisin draws Essun and Nassun perfectly, capturing a mother’s guilt and pride and a daughter’s determination to survive on her own terms. The Stillness, where ancient science is powered by magic, is unforgettable. Vivid characters, a tautly constructed plot, and outstanding worldbuilding meld into an impressive and timely story of abused, grieving survivors fighting to fix themselves and save the remnants of their shattered home.
Though she is young, I could not understand Nassun's love of Schaffa, a murderous, horrific guardian who had abused and used her mother before her at the Fulcrum, training Essun to be "useful" to the regime of non-orogenes in power (regular, prejudiced humans who are afraid of what they do not understand). She was willing even for Schaffa to kill her, just so she could have his "love" and attention. Why Nassun would choose such a vile man as a father figure, for whom she is willing to kill and destroy the world, is beyond me. Nassun's father is a completely evil ass, who, when he discovers that there is no "cure" for being an orogene, tries to kill her (and is therefore doomed because his daughter is powerful and turns him to stone), and her mother, while somewhat cruel in training her as a youngster, gets more hatred and vitriol heaped on her head than the father who literally beat her baby brother to death, which makes no sense. I could not understand Essuns total ineffectiveness in trying to communicate with her daughter, to tell her she was sorry and to explain that she did and does love her,and has been trying to find her for the past year. All Essun does is feel guilty and then allow herself to be turned to stone. Such an ignominious death for such a tough survivor who has seen nearly everyone she loves die.
Still, the prose is evocative and engrossing, while the plot is, as PW says, "taut" and fast, while the characters are unforgettable. Another solid A, though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is depressed or who finds horror novels too frightening. I would also note that there are triggers for those whose children have died and who are victims of domestic violence. Anyone else, dig in and prepare to be astonished.