Friday, January 06, 2017

RIP Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Richard Adams, I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, Last Song Before Night by Ilana C Myer and The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke

At the end of 2016, Carrie Fisher (of Star Wars) died of a heart attack, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds (of Singing in the Rain) died the next day. Both women were extraordinary performers, and both wrote memoirs with varying degrees of success. Either way, mother and daughter will be missed. Rest in Peace.

Carrie Fisher
the actress, author and screenwriter "who brought a rare combination of
nerve, grit and hopefulness to her most indelible role, as Princess Leia
in the Star Wars movie franchise," and "went on to use her perch among
Hollywood royalty to offer wry commentary in her books on the paradoxes
and absurdities of the entertainment industry," died December 27, the
New York Times reported. She was 60. Fisher's books include The Princess
Diarist, Shockaholic, Wishful Drinking, The Best Awful, Delusions of
Grandma, Surrender the Pink and Postcards from the Edge.

In the Los Angeles Times, author John Scalzi wrote
"Fisher's four novels were based to some extent on her own life--as an
author, 'write what you know' was something Fisher took seriously--but
the books were more than veiled tidbits of the life of a Hollywood
scion. They announced the arrival of a writer whose voice--witty but
vulnerable, willing to push her readers to the edge of their comfort
zone with the same lines that made them laugh--was both all her own, and
part of a literary tradition that included writers like Dorothy Parker
and Elaine May....

"Fisher's memoirs were not universally loved... but it's possible that
in the final accounting, the openness in which Fisher addressed her
struggles with mental illness, pills and other drugs may have been the
most important thing she'd done.... There's no doubt that Fisher's fame
comes from Star Wars... But Fisher's legacy includes her written
words--cutting, clever, observant, self-aware and unbowed."
I was a big fan of Watership Down when I was a preteen, and I liked the movie, though not as well as the book. RIP Mr Adams.
British novelist Richard Adams
"who became one of the world's bestselling authors with his first book,
Watership Down, a tale of rabbits whose adventures in a pastoral realm
of epic perils explored Homeric themes of exile, courage and survival,"
died December 24, the New York Times reported. He was 96. Although the
novel was rejected by literary agents and publishers, in 1972 the small
press Rex Collings Ltd. printed a first edition of 2,500 copies and it
went on to win the Carnegie Medal in Literature in 1972 and the Guardian
Children's Fiction Prize in 1973. Macmillan published the first U.S.
edition in 1974.

Watership Down "quickly topped the New York Times bestseller list and
remained on it for eight months," the Times noted, adding: "Avon paid
$800,000 for the paperback rights. It eventually became Penguin's
all-time best seller, a staple of high school English classes and one of
the best-selling books of the century, with an estimated 50 million
copies in print in 18 languages worldwide." Other works by Adams include
Shardik, The Plague Dogs, Traveller, Tales From Watership Down and his
autobiography, The Day Gone By.

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson was recommended to me by a friend, who pointed out a copy displayed in the high school library window when I was visiting the high school on my son's parent/teacher conference night. Though the subject matter didn't initially intrigue me, once I got past the first 20 pages, I couldn't put the book down. Here's the blurb:We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”
At first, Jude and her twin brother are NoahandJude; inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.
Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor.
The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world. Publisher's Weekly: Twins Noah and Jude are inseparable until misunderstandings, jealousies, and a major loss rip them apart. Both are talented artists, and creating art plays a major role in their narratives. Both also struggle with their sexuality—Noah is gay, which both thrills and terrifies him, while Jude is recovering from a terrible first sexual experience at age 14, one of two important reasons she has sworn off dating. Nelson (The Sky Is Everywhere) unravels the twins’ stories in long chapters that alternate between their perspectives. Noah’s sections are set when the twins are 13, Jude’s at age 16, giving readers slanted insights into how their relationship deteriorated and how it begins to mend. The twins’ artistic passions and viewpoints suffuse their distinctive voices; Noah tends toward wild, dramatic overstatements, and Jude’s world is wrapped up in her late grandmother’s quirky superstitions and truisms. Readers are meant to feel big things, and they will—Nelson’s novel brims with emotion (grief, longing, and love in particular) as Noah, Jude, and the broken individuals in their lives find ways to heal.
At first, I was surprised by the vicious hatred and jealousy between the twins, not only because it was so strong, but because it was so destructive. I can't imagine a sibling destroying their brother's chances to go to the one school that will foster his tremendous talent, and then also making it appear that you've had sex with the love of his life. That level of cruelty is just horrifying to me as a human being. I had two brothers growing up, one of whom was a brilliant but self destructive narcissist, and the other a crude and egotistical boy, whose verbal abuse I put an end to for nearly 20 years when we didn't speak to one another. However, neither of them would do the things to me that Jude did to Noah out of jealousy and spite, or the things that Noah did to Jude for basically the same reasons. Then they freak out when they discover that their dead mother was going to leave their father for a famous sculptor, and the cycle of mean starts again. I really didn't like Jude or Noah, but I found Noah slightly more tolerable, though I kept wishing he'd come out as gay to everyone, because it was so obvious that was where his heart was. The prose in this novel is as quirky and eccentric as the characters, and the plot moves as a metered pace. I liked the ending, and I would give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who considers themselves an artist, or who has a twin. 

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C Myer was another book that was recommended to me, and I got a copy, along with the above novel, from the MV library. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a page-turner. Here's the blurb:
A high fantasy following a young woman's defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world's lost magic in Ilana C. Myer's Last Song Before Night.
Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But she has forsworn that name, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings—a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.
On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression—from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar's connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, was broken.
The Red Death's return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld—a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.Publisher's Weekly:In the complicated epic fantasy world of Myer’s debut novel, only men can become poets, play harps, set their work to music, and become magical Seers. Traumatized young heroine Lin is tormented by her sadistic brother and miserable that she cannot openly follow her musical vocation. After being surreptitiously trained in music and magic by the great poet-Seer Valanir Ocune, Lin escapes her brother and embarks on a dangerous journey to find a portal to the Otherworld and secure the true Silver Branch that empowers poets—an act of treason against the evil court poet, Nickon Gerrard, the power behind the throne. Lin endures increasingly horrific trials and humiliations, several of which emphasize the oppression of women; in Myer’s narrative, men must accept the necessity of self-sacrifice before their redemption can be achieved. Despite jarring modern dialogue and some foggy lapses in character development, Lin’s quest moves steadily to an effective though expected conclusion, leaving room for adventures to come.
This is a book for those who love old Celtic music and folk tunes, as well as fantasy that is somewhere to the left of Tolkien. Lin is severely abused by her evil brother R, and as a woman is not allowed to use her talent as a singer and poet in the challenge for the "silver branch." Yet she does manage to engage with many of the other characters, most of them men, to work with Valanir Ocune to try and find the portal and bring down the evil court poet Nickon, who has been taken over by an evil spirit (because he's used blood magic and killed people to maintain his power). Rianna is a wealthy young woman who has been sheltered enough that she ends up getting into trouble by being naive, and when Lin's evil brother uses her, she vows revenge, and in the end, guts him like a fish, which was very satisfying on an emotional level. Though I hated to see the male characters kowtow to the patriarchal system, it was refreshing to see Lin triumph over it all in the end. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who is a musician and those who like high fantasy and old folk music and poetry.

The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke is the second book in the Immortal Empire series. I read God Save the Queen, the first book in the series, and I enjoyed it enough to see what happened to Xandra, the new Goblin Queen in book two. Here's the blurb:
Xandra Vardan is the newly crowned Goblin Queen of England. But her complicated life is by no means over.
There are the political factions vying for her favor, and the all-too-close scrutiny of Queen Victoria, who wants her head. Not to mention her werewolf boyfriend has demands of his own, and her mother is hell-bent on destroying the monarchy. Now she's the main suspect in a murder investigation — and Xandra barely knows which way is up.
What she does know is that nothing lasts forever — and immortality isn't all its cracked up to be.
The spectacular follow-up in The Immortal Empire series that started with God Save the Queen and ends with Long Live the Queen.Library Journal:Newly proclaimed goblin queen Xandra Vardan is back and still in the mood to kick some serious butt. In this sequel to Locke's God Save the Queen, Xandra's brother Val has gone missing while investigating the suspicious disappearances of "halvies" from a popular London club. The suspects are vampire wannabes who will trade favors for a swig of vampire blood. Xandra, with the assistance of Vex, her boyfriend and alpha werewolf, and William, prince of the ferocious goblins, tackles a depraved group of villains searching for the reason behind the halvies' kidnappings. The constant action never lets the reader get bored and the humor keeps us amused.
Locke's prose is fun, her characters fascinating and her plots breeze along like a revved up motorcycle. And in this installment, we get more into the lives of the Goblin plague, and William introduces Xandra to a rare baby Goblin, whom the mother names Alexandra in her honor. But the weres and particularly the vampires seem to have it out for Xandra and for her brothers and sisters, and her wimpy father does nothing when he discovers that his most recent wife is at the helm of the horrible faction of aristos who are experimenting on and killing halvies. Of course, Xandra's mother is no better, only visiting her daughter when she assumes that she can force Xandra to ally the Goblins with her insurrectionists, stationed at Bedlam mental hospital. Thankfully, though, Xandra's beloved Vex the werewolf is always by her side, ready to help her defeat any and all evil, as is Goblin prince William, who not only supports Xandra, but nurtures and mentors her in her growing role as a Goblin aristocrat. I really loved the fact that the Goblins turned out to be like MI6, with all their surveilance cameras and underground informants. My only problem with the book was the same problem that I had with the last one, in it seems highly unfair to be that Xandra's family treats her like crap, with disdain and anger, until they need her, then suddenly she's good enough to put her life on the line to rescue her brother or her sister, but not good enough to live with her sister and escape her siblings prejudice.Even her Tranny friend Penny Dreadful uses Xandra shamelessly, sells her out, and doesn't seem to be too ashamed or guilt-ridden about it. Other than Vex and William, most of the other characters are terrible at defending of themselves and getting themselves out of bad situations. Her brother Val is supposed to be a police officer, yet he can't seem to do much but whine. And of course when everything goes wrong, everyone in town seems to have Xandra on speed dial, because even the police in steampunk London have it out for Xandra and her goblins, in addition to being totally ineffective at solving crimes or kidnappings. But I suppose that is the fate of the heroine, to be the only competent person in the story. Of course, all's well that ends well, but I am hoping that  Xandra's harvested ova aren't used against her in the third book of the trilogy. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who like Gail Carriger's steampunk novels.

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