Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Star For Mrs Blake by April Smith, Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor and Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas


Due to the fact that I have four books to review, I'm going to forgo the usual addition of book news and just get right to the reviews.

A Star For Mrs Blake by April Smith sounded like the kind of historical fiction that I've been reading a lot of lately, so I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy from the library. Though it started out well enough, the novel soon became tedious with too many details about various battles during WWI, and there were also too many deaths discussed in gruesome details, not just of the soldiers but of some of the mothers as well. Here's the blurb:
An emotionally charged historical novel based on the Gold Star Mothers.
Cora Blake never dreamed she’d go to Paris. She’s hardly ever left the small fishing village where she grew up. Yet in the summer of 1931, she is invited to travel to France with hundreds of other Gold Star Mothers, courtesy of the U.S. government, to say goodbye to their fallen sons, American casualties of World War I who were buried overseas.
Chaperoned by a dashing West Point officer, Cora’s group includes the wife of an immigrant chicken farmer; a housemaid; a socialite; a former tennis star in precarious mental health; and dozens of other women from all over the country. Along the way, the women will forge lifelong friendships as they face a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed.
One grotesque 'secret' after another gets revealed, and there are few moments of respite from the pain and grief and suffering that attends the characters in this novel. A disfigured journalist who has become a morphine addict dies from lead poisoning on his way to get a new mask, and to rid himself of the one that poisoned him in the first place, a wealthy socialite purposefully changes her health history to mask her heart condition so that she can go on a trip to visit her son's grave with the other gold star mothers, and after a dramatic rescue from tangling with a leftover German bomb, dies of heart failure, and African-American mothers aren't allowed to mix with the white mothers of fallen soldiers, but are instead treated as second-class citizens and not treated to the same first class accommodations as the white mothers. This is all taken as something of a given, even if the protagonist tries to protest against being separated from one of the African American mothers. The nurse who accompanies the mothers on this trip is scapegoated by the Army general who also sexually harasses her, and then holds that over her head because he knows that though he made a pass at her, she will be blamed for it if she goes to court to protest being fired for a death that wasn't her fault. And our protagonist Cora, after developing friendships and broadening her horizons in Paris, learns that her son got a French woman pregnant, and that she now has a grandson. Yet when she returns to her hardscrabble existence in Maine, we aren't told whether or not she will accept the marriage proposal of her beau Linwood, who wants her to settle down with him on her old family farm, with its dried up soil, and work herself to death trying to bring the derelict place back to life. She seems to have no other choice than to go back to an existence that is not fulfilling or happy in any way, as the nation slowly climbs out of the depression and into World War II. To say that this novel left me depressed would be an understatement. The prose was decent, if overly full of war trivia, and the plot moved at a sedate pace. Still, I'd give it a B, and recommend it to anyone interested in the Gold Star Mothers of WWI.

Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop is book 5 in her "Others" series, and, as I've read them all, I found myself wondering is this is really the end of the series, or just the start of a new series with some of the "side" characters from these novels brought to the fore. Here's the blurb:
Return to the realm of the Others, where shapeshifters and vampires roam, in the powerful conclusion to blood prophet Meg Corbyn and shapeshifter Simon Wolfgard's story arc in the fifth book in the New York Times bestselling series, now in paperback.
After the Elders cleansed and reclaimed many human towns, Lakeside Courtyard emerged relatively unscathed. Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must still work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery's shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave...Library Journal:After the uprising from the Humans First and Last movement left the Others with no choice but to take action, there is tentative peace in Thaisia; the Elders now must decide if they should allow any humans at all in their lands. The Courtyard where Simon Wolfgard and Meg Corbyn live is their test case. The Elders watch Meg and her "human" friends and wait to see if they can be trusted. Into this fragile blend comes a dangerous man accustomed to taking what he wants and using everyone around him. While Simon and the Others who live at the Courtyard would prefer to take care of him their own way (teeth and claws would do the job), the Elders want to wait and see what happens. The world of the Others is as compelling as ever, but this particular entry seems to be spinning its wheels a bit. While the human vs. Others conflict was mostly resolved in Marked in Flesh, the long-unresolved romantic tension between Simon and Meg remained. Fans will be pleased Bishop finally has the pair addressing their feelings.
I don't agree that Simon and Meg actually resolve their romantic tension, other than to kiss at the very end, which doesn't really tell the readers if they're going to marry, have sex and live together or a combination of those things. There is also the question of whether or not their species are compatible so that they can produce live offspring, which is never addressed. There's the problem of the doctors sent to help the blood prophets who are killed, and whether or not they gave up the location of all the prophets in hiding to those who seek to control and use them. The Elders got their answer to whether or not bad humans should be allowed into a group of 'good' humans and terra indigene, when Montgomery's evil brother gets what he deserves in the most gruesome fashion possible. But we don't learn if the Elders have decided to kill only "bad" humans or to just let all the humans continue to re-colonize the empty villages where humans were wiped out. So there are still numerous loose ends that need tying up in the Others universe, and I hope that Bishop will deal with some of these in her next series, if there is one. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other Others novels.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a rather bizarre tome by the author of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I read the first two books in that series, and while I loved The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the sequel Days of Blood and Starlight thoroughly destroyed all the wonderful characters and scenes set up by the first book, and left me unable to finish the third book, Gods and Monsters, because the series had become so depressingly horrific and gory. So I picked up this book rather gingerly, hoping that I could get through it without it devolving into something grotesque and ugly. Here's the blurb:
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around--and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries--including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
Welcome to Weep.
I loved Lazlo Strange, foundling and junior librarian, not least because he is a bibliophole and a dreamer, like myself. So I fell into this novel and was happily reading along when suddenly, 3/4 of the way through, everything goes to heck in a handbasket, and by the end, the most evil godspawn is in control of Lazlo and his beloved Sarai, leading the reader to wait on that cliffhanger until the sequel appears, one hopes, someday soon. I loathe being emotionally manipulated by authors like that, and I really hate it when they leave readers hanging, fearing for the lives of everyone involved, particularly the protagonist. Yet the prose is elegant and silky, flowing along the swift river of a plot so well that you're halfway through this large 700 page tome before you realize it. It's for that reason that this page-turner gets an A, and a recommendation to anyone who is interested in bizarre fantasy that reads like a beautifully-painted nightmare.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas is the 5th book in the Throne of Glass series, and I am unsure of how many more are forthcoming. I've read her previous series, A Court of Thorn and Roses (which I loved) and A Court of Mist and Fury (which I didn't). So I was, just like with Laini Taylor's series, wary of getting involved with another of Maas' series, for fear of getting burned again. Fortunately, Maas first 4 books where riveting and I devoured them, one after the other, hoping for some resolution to the protagonist's situation. As I noted in my previous reviews of this series, our heroine Aelin is apparently another of the irresistible petite blondes of literature who have every male character under the age of dotage (and some well over that age) in love with them, willing to die for their favor, and always amazed at their brilliance and self sacrifice. Of course, Aelin was also trained as an assassin, so she can kick arse when it suits her, and with her powers of fire and light, granted to her by heritage, she can stop the evil monster Valg as well. But no one can win a war fighting on two fronts, and inevitably, Maeve the evil Queen of the Fae decides to kidnap and torture Aelin in order to punish her for allowing Rowan, her immortal beloved, to escape Maeve's clutches, and to find out where Aelin has hidden the Wrydkeys, which are powerful instruments that can be wielded to destroy mankind. Here's the blurb:
Kingdoms collide in Sarah J. Maas's epic fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.
With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
In this breathtaking fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, Aelin will have to choose what -- and who -- to sacrifice if she's to keep the world of Erilea from breaking apart.
So we are left, once again, with a cliffhanger and a bunch of "males" of various kinds, Fae and Kings and mere humans, (and a shapeshifter woman who also somehow feels compelled to give her life for Aelin and her cause), filled with fury at Maeve's capture of Aelin and Lorcan's treason in selling out Aelin's location. And while we're on the subject of loathsome Lorcan, why Maas feels the need to have him fall in love with poor Elide, who, though she's been enslaved and abused by her uncle for years, somehow manages to retain her winsome beauty, is beyond me. Does everyone have to pair up in these "epic" fantasies, even the crappy characters? It reduces them to romance novels with a fantasy setting, which is not what I signed on for when I pick up an 'epic' fantasy novel. Not that romance as a subplot is always a bad thing, mind you, I personally enjoy some romance in my science fiction and fantasy novels, but I appreciate it when it's not inevitable and cliched, and when it is not used as a device to 'redeem' the bad characters with the 'love of a good woman.' Love seems to bring nothing but pain and heartbreak anyway, in Maas' fiction. HEAs are, apparently, anathema to her. And if that weren't bad enough, there's the sexist nobles of Aelin's kingdom or fiefdom who have decided that she is some kind of freak and doesn't deserve the throne at all, so their representative maligns her and she storms off to prove to him that she can conquer the Valg and their evil master all by herself, if need be, so there! Now that she's in Maeve's clutches, though she's gotten an army and navy together to battle the bad guys, it seems doubtful that she will live long enough to sweep into her kingdom and take control. Though most of Maas' novels in this series are well over 600 pages long, I am looking forward to her next door stopper, if only to see how Aelin survives this latest round of pain and suffering. Will Rowan go mad for want of his mate? Will Lorcan redeem himself? So many questions in store. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the series.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Iowa City is a UNESCO City of Literature, The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadow by Sarah J Maas


I am so proud of my home state's literary acumen, and that they've been chosen as the host city for this major meeting.
Iowa City to Host 2018 UNESCO Cities of Literature Meeting


Iowa City has been selected as the host
for the UNESCO Cities of Literature's 2018 annual meeting, which will be
part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the city's
designation as the third City of Literature in the world. At the 2017
meeting in Barcelona, member cities selected Iowa City, which is home to
legendary independent bookstore Prairie Lights

"Given the growth trends of the network, we could have representatives
from 30 or more cities with us in Iowa City next April," said City of
Literature executive director John Kenyon. "This will offer our area a
wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the world the things that make
us a City of Literature, and a great way to celebrate our 10th year with
the designation."

Iowa City is one of 20 UNESCO-designated Cities of Literature. Kenyon
told Iowa Public Radio: "We are seen internationally
as kind of a bright star in the literary sky. People are genuinely
interested in coming to Iowa City and learning about what we have here."
 
I recently read this book about Doc Holliday, who was not an actual medical doctor, but a dentist, and I was thrilled to hear that it's being made into a movie, though I can't imagine Jeremy Renner, who has portrayed Hawkeye in the movies so many times that I find it hard to see him without a bow and arrow, enacting a dissolute dentist. Still, I imagine it will be wonderful to see Russell's take on Doc on the big screen.

Movies: Doc Holliday

Palmstar Media (The Catcher Was a Spy) has optioned rights to Mary Doria
Russell's novels Doc and Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral
Deadline reported. Jeremy Renner will play Doc Holliday in the movie and
co-produce with PalmStar's Kevin Frakes and the Combine's Don Handfield.

"We are excited to re-introduce this classic American character to a
whole new audience by chronicling Doc Holliday's incredible
transformation from Average Joe dentist to a man who Wyatt Earp called
the 'nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a six-gun [he] ever knew,'
" Renner and Handfield said in a joint statement.

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman is the third book in the Invisible Library series, and, while I was a bit disappointed in the second book, Burning Page allayed my fears about the series by laying out a spectacular story and tying up loose ends at the same time. Here's the blurb: Never judge a book by its cover...
 
Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency to find both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...

Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.

With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her... 


Though she still seemed somewhat ignorant or willfully naive, I found Irene's adventures much more interesting in this book than in the last one. Once again, however, the "love triangle" between Kai and Vale and Irene seems ridiculous, especially after Irene throws herself at Vale, only to be rejected outright. That she doesn't seem to countenance Kai's possessiveness and love of her is something of a head-scratcher, in that it makes little sense. I know that she doesn't want to get involved with her apprentice for a variety of reasons, but she should make it clear to him that trying to protect or control her isn't going to work in their favor as partners within the library. Vale's horrible drug habit and his cold misanthropy should have clued her in to how he'd take her invitation to sex. He's not a man to get involved with someone like her, though I think if he did Kai would probably turn into a dragon and rip his throat out. Still, there were a number of great things I liked about this book, not the least of which was the strong prose and the breakneck speed of the plot. The characters grow and change and learn new things about the great evil Alberich, who wants to destroy the library, and has to be foiled at all costs. The characters are well drawn, and the story itself engrossing. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first two books in the series.

A week ago I read the first book, Throne of Glass, in the Throne of Glass series, and became hooked into this fantastic world where a half fae girl assassin becomes champion to a demon-possessed King bent on destroying and enslaving the world. So I got the next four books in the series from the library, and I've read three of them in the past week. I would have read the latest book, but the next three were huge tomes, especially the last one, which was over 650 pages long. So I write this with the ensuing eyestrain of not lifting myself out of this authors world for very long during the past week. So, to the reviews.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas is the second book of the Throne of Glass series, and it begins right where the first book left off. Here's the blurb:
Celaena Sardothien is the king's Champion-yet she is far from loyal to the crown, for the man she serves is bent on evil. But working against her master in secret is no easy task. As Celaena tries to untangle the mysteries buried within the glass castle, she can trust no one, not even her supposed allies Crown Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol, and foreign princess Nehemia.
Then, an unspeakable tragedy shatters Celaena's world. She must decide once and for all where her loyalties lie . . . and whom she will fight for.
An action-packed and romantic adventure that readers “will never want to leave” (Kirkus Reviews), the next chapter in this smash hit New York Times best-selling series is sure to please Sarah Maas's enormous and ever-growing fan-base–and to set the stage for an explosive third book. Kirkus Reviews: If the king catches Celaena disobeying his orders, he will execute her closest friends. However, she can't stomach advancing his agenda, especially if it means murdering innocents in cold blood. When the king uncovers traitors in the city, the first name on his hit list is Archer Finn, a popular courtesan and Celaena's old friend. Plotting Archer's escape, Celaena takes the opportunity to make him her personal informant about the rebellion, which Celaena hopes will help her infer the king's plans--plans she is thoroughly conflicted about challenging, for as much as she hates the king, she thinks opposing him would only get her killed. Secrets damage her nuanced relationships with Chaol and Nehemia. (The complex friendship between these two formidable women is a particular treasure.) Meanwhile, Celaena unravels the mystery of Adarlan's sudden strength, a magical subplot that intersects with Dorian's dangerous self-exploration. Vivid Celaena, loving and brutally violent in turn, is a fully realized heroine. The ending comes at the right time--at the close of one storyline and prologue of another--to leave readers impatient for the next installment. An epic fantasy readers will immerse themselves in and never want to leave.
Though this was an engrossing page-turner, I was still surprised that Celaena didn't see that Archer was bad news from the get-go. I did love that she managed to pretend to carry out the kings gruesome assignments, all while trying to work with the resistance, but she still seems to not know who to trust and who is her actual enemy. A fascinating build up to the next book in the series, with solid prose and a juggernaut of a plot, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who read Throne of Glass.

Heir Of Fire by Sarah J Maas is the third book in the Throne of Glass series, and, at nearly 570 pages, it's a long journey of a novel that is something of a proving ground for the characters set up in the first two novels. Here's the blurb: Celaena has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak-but at an unspeakable cost. Now, she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth…a truth about her heritage that could change her life-and her future-forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. Will Celaena find the strength to not only fight her inner demons, but to take on the evil that is about to be unleashed? Kirkus Reviews: Magic, painful truths and dangerous military escalations characterize this series continuation. Celaena Sardothien's in Wendlyn, ordered by the villainous king of Adarlan to assassinate Wendlyn's royals, or he'll execute her ex and the family of her dead best friend, Nehemia. Celaena—the presumed-dead rightful queen of the conquered Terrasen—plans on finding a way to destroy the king of Adarlan's sources of power, in fulfillment of a vow made on Nehemia's grave. Celaena seeks out the Fae Queen Maeve for information; cunning Maeve refuses until Celaena proves herself (with the help of a prickly, elite warrior Fae trainer) by embracing her hated demi-Fae heritage and magic. Celaena, grieving, goes through dark emotional times and must confront her scarred psyche in order to return to the unapologetically awesome heroine readers know and love. Meanwhile, there's a lot going on: A witch deals with clan politics (Adarlan's king makes them his wyvern-riding airborne cavalry), Chaol attempts to protect Dorian from his own magic, a healer falls for Dorian and more. The jumps from narrative to narrative initially detract from the story's momentum, but multiple perspectives on Adarlan's grotesque schemes and tactics eventually pay off. Despite the slow beginning, tension snowballs into devastating twists and an absolutely riveting ending. Maas' usual hallmarks—an epic fantasy setting and the little-exploited truth that platonic relationships can be more intense and compelling than romantic—are present in force. Will leave readers ravenous for more. 
In this dense volume we start meeting the Witches of the realm, who are a brutal and nasty lot, lead by sociopathic, cruel and abusive "grandmothers" who rule by beating their subordinates into submission and threatening them with death at their iron-claws and iron-shod teeth. I honestly didn't like any of the chapters about Monan, the wing leader of the blackbeak clan, who chooses a handicapped but fierce wyvern as her steed. Abraxos, the wyvern, loves flowers and begins to teach Monan compassion, though it seems impossible to penetrate years of cruel conditioning. Meanwhile, Celaena is off with Rowan, an ancient fae warrior who trains her in magic, but also, of course, falls in love with her, as does every significant male in these novels. Even her cousin, Aedion, who is supposedly like a brother to her, is in love with the idea of Queen Aelin, who is supposed to reclaim the throne of Terrasen. Chaol, who was her paramour, is now disenchanted with her because Dorian, the heir to the throne of the main kingdom, has been forced into demon possession by his father the King and now Celaena/Aelin knows that the demon will eat Dorians soul and that he won't be redeemable and must be killed soon. Chaol can't handle Aelin's burgeoning fae powers or her unwillingness to "save" Dorian, so instead of dealing with reality, he blames everything that has gone wrong on her, instead of on the demon King and his evil minions who are experimenting on humans and killing/suppressing all good magic in favor of their dark evil overlords.  I liked Lord Chaol in the first book, but he soon proved to be a weak and stupid jerk, and I lost all respect for him fairly quickly. Aedion doesn't come off a whole lot better, and Rowan seems like some kind of ancient stalker who abuses Celaena so often that I couldn't really see how either could fall in love with the other. But Celaena/Aelin spends a lot of time with guilt and self recriminations, as does Rowan, so I suppose their mutual hatred of themselves gives them something in common. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to readers of the first couple of books in the series.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas is the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series, and it's a whopping 645 pages long, so it's a marathon read. Maas brings all the characters into play for this novel, which leads up to the epic battle for the entire kingdom. Here's the blurb:
Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire-for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past...
She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.
She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen's triumphant return.
Celaena's epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena's story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world. Kirkus Reviews: Having cast off her Celaena identity, Aelin returns to Adarlan to reclaim her crown. Leaving Rowan behind after Heir of Fire (2014), Aelin arrives determined to stop the king's deadly demons, the Valg. She seeks out her former master from her assassin days, the charismatic and devious Arobynn, and also finds Chaol, but there's no happy reunion between the two. (Chaol fans shouldn't worry—while he and Aelin may not see eye to eye, he has prominent storylines and character growth.) Aelin's most pressing priority is the rescue of her cousin Aedion, slated for execution at Prince Dorian's birthday as an obvious trap for her. As for Dorian, he's imprisoned in his own body by the Valg controlling him—Chaol holds hope that he can be saved; Aelin knows how unlikely that is. Meanwhile, Wing Leader Manon, head of Adarlan's wyvern-riding witch army, finds growing dissent at the commands she is given, leading to tough choices. At times believability is stretched (fugitives travel around the city freely, one or two heroes defeat large groups of enemies), but character motivations and interactions—friendships, romances, and others—are always nuanced and on point, especially as Aelin's growing maturity offers her new perspectives on old acquaintances. The ending leaves readers poised for the next installment.
Too much of the beginning and middle of this book is taken up with Aelin's love triangle with Aedion and Rowan, who are called "males" and who circle one another like large predatory cats who are vying for a mate. Aelin seems to find this state of affairs amusing, calls them "pissing matches" and calls Rowan "pissy" when he's being territorial and obsessive and possessive about her, and yet she's never had sex (and doesn't intend to) with either of them. Though even Prince Dorian was in love with her, he "let her go" to Chaol, who then dumped her and betrayed her once he learned of her fae powers and heritage, and Chaol is the only man she's bedded, as it were. Of course, her old teacher, the leader of the assassin's guild, Arobynn, who turned her over to the demon king and had her sent to the deadly labor camp/salt mines (out of jealousy for a fellow assassin she was in love with whom he then had killed) is still in love with her and wants her back under his control, because that seems to be all that the men in her life crave...control of her body and soul and heart. Shudder.
This possessiveness and controlling abuse is somehow seen as "love" in these novels, which seems bizarre and repulsive to me as a feminist and a woman. Arobynn's favored prostitute, though she's actually a shape shifter, has been enslaved to a cruel brothel owner for years, and is seen as weak and stupid because she's a sex worker. Fortunately, Aelin realizes that Arobynn has to die, but she allows herself to be used for specific missions for Arobynn in order to get the talisman that he stole from her as a child back. I honestly couldn't understand why she didn't just kill the bastard and take her necklace back, but she had to go through this whole convoluted series of jobs and plans first, and only then would she let the prostitute whom he'd had enslaved slit his throat. All this controlling and abusive behavior by the "males" of the novels made my stomach turn, and it got even worse when they revealed that the witches were to be sacrificed/raped as demon spawn-makers for the Kings evil lordly minions who are under the control of this ancient demon whom the first king and queen decided to leave for the next generations to deal with. Manon finally gets her conscience in order and realizes that she can't allow the grandmothers to have the witches killed off and used by the demons, so she fights back and makes a short alliance with Aelin, who saves Manon because her second in command loves her. 
But now that Aelin has gotten magic back into the kingdom and destroyed the evil king, and even managed to redeem Dorian, she will have to go to her home territory and try to piece it back together before the rest of the evil demon forces launch their final attack. Which side Manon will fight on, and how Aelin and Rowan and the others will defeat this ancient evil is still up in the air, and I assume it will be answered in the Empire of Storms, the fifth book in this enormous epic fantasy series. I am hoping that with this last book, Aelin will finally have sex with Rowan, or that one of them will be killed off, because the sexual teasing and tension over the course of the novels has grown tedious and more than a bit ridiculous. Their whole shtick about "not being worthy" of one another, and their guilt and whining over past lovers is just scene chewing melodrama that wastes the readers time, in my opinion. At any rate, the prose is just as staunch as it was in the first novel, though the plot is ridiculously convoluted, and someone should have edited out a lot of wasted chapters of swooning over Aelin. I'd give this book a B+, recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the series, and note that I look forward to reading Empire of Storms.


Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Craziness at Seattle Indie Bookstores, Tom Robbins, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and Thirsty by MT Anderson


I think I would have paid money to see John Irving and Hulk Hogan in the same bookstore together...their egos are so massive that they must have had to be on opposite sides of the store so as to not butt heads! I say this having interviewed Hulk Hogan back in 1986, and having read many an interview with John Irving. 

'Craziest Thing that's Happened' in Seattle Indies

In anticipation of Independent Bookstore Day, the Stranger checked in
with a few of Seattle's indies "and put their staff members on the spot:
What's the craziest thing that's happened in their store?
John Irving and Hulk Hogan with Third Place Books event manager Wendy
Ceballos.
Among the booksellers highlighted were Elliott Bay Book Company
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452567 (" 'three of the most self-obsessed, self-referential writers on the planet' converged in one place");
University Book Store
camped outside overnight wearing a panda suit while waiting to meet
Hillary Clinton"); Third Place Books <http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452569
("booking John Irving and Hulk Hogan on the same night"); Seattle
("booksellers do seem to have a psychic connection to their customers");
Phinney Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452572 ("Not many people know this, but I dated Shel Silverstein from 1972 to 1975, when he lived at the Playboy Mansion."); and Secret Garden Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32452573 ("Stephenie [Meyer], the bricks aren't making any sound.").

Tom Robbins is one of Seattle's favorite sons, and one of my favorite writers, mainly due to his mesmerizing prose style. His iconic books and movies are only part of the reason fans flock to see him wherever he lands, however. His loyalty to area bookstores and even to Seattle's drizzly skies are unmatched.

Image of the Day: Tom Robbins's Favorite Bookstore

On Independent Bookstore Day, author Tom Robbins appeared at Village
Books: http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz32499286,
Bellingham, Wash., to read his essay about why Village Books is his
favorite indie bookstore. His essay is one of the 93 tributes in My
Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read &
Shop edited by Ronald Rice. Pictured: co-owner Paul Hanson; local
musicians Jon Sampson and Lucas Hicks; Tom Robbins; and events
coordinator Claire McElroy-Chesson.

This weeks books can best be described as the great, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman was a huge surprise to me. I understood it to be a YA dystopian fantasy novel, but I didn't expect it to be so brilliantly written that I would literally not be able to put it down until the final page. This is one of those rare volumes that makes me laugh and cry and fall in love with reading stories all over again, and though it is about a very grim subject,(Death), it's actually quite lighthearted and amusing in places. Also, just as an added bonus, the cover art is gorgeous. Here's the blurb:
Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price. NYT Book Reviews: Shusterman…writes prose with the sort of spring in its step that says: "Stand back. I know what I'm doing"…Scythe is full of sly plot twists and absorbing set pieces. The novel is the first in a planned series, but one emerging theme has a nice sting to it: Maybe we should give computers the keys to what's left of the kingdom, because human beings can't be trusted.
I wholeheatedly agree with the NYT Review of Books, Shusterman definitely knows what he's doing with great prose and an exciting plot full of twists, as well as memorable, fascinating characters. My teenage son, who is at the age where books are passe, and he sees everything through the eyes of a jaded millennial, (ie anything that isn't a fast action videogame on a screen is boring and old fashioned), happened to pick up the book while I was reading it, and after just glancing through the first chapter, he was hooked, and kept telling me to read faster so I could pass the book along to him. He's been taking it with him to school and reading it every spare moment he gets, and exclaiming over the plot twists and the characters when he gets home from school. That in itself is a minor miracle that hasn't happened since Nick read, "The Martian" right after I did (and loved it). I found the whole concept of a utopia (this world wasn't actually a dystopia, in the literal sense, since everyone was healthy, well fed and immortal, unless chosen for gleaning by a Scythe), with a high price to be riveting, and the conscience or sociopathic lack of conscience in the Scythes to be equally fascinating. Citra and Rowan's paths diverge as apprentice Scythes, and their journeys are indicative of the way humans deal with death and the taking of life. I can't give high enough marks to this book, so just an A+ will have to suffice, along with a recommendation for later-stage, mature teens and everyone who has to face mortality.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas was another surprise, in that it was a step above the usual YA dystopian "orphan girl becomes assassin" novel. It tells you something about YA fiction with female protagonists that there are actually enough orphan girl assassin novels for this to be a a sub-genre of YA fantasy fiction. I read Maas' Court of Thorn and Roses, which I liked, and then I read Court of Mists and Fury, which I didn't, so I didn't read the third book in the series out of protest for the way the story had run off the rails. So I was a bit concerned, when tucking into this series, that it was going to follow the same pattern. Though I've not gotten the second book, Crown of Midnight, from the library yet, I have high hopes that it will be as entertaining and enthralling as Throne of Glass. Here is the blurb:
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass—and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world. Publisher's Weekly: Readers seeking the political intrigue of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and its sequels or the deadly competition at the heart of The Hunger Games will find both in Maas’s strong debut novel. Celaena Sardothien is considered the best assassin in Adarlan, and she has been condemned to the salt mines for her work. As the story opens, she is plucked from slow execution by the calculating crown prince, Dorian, to be his candidate for champion, competing against “thieves and assassins and warriors” to become an enforcer for the king. The stakes are freedom or death: win or return to the mines. Youthful captain Chaol is charged with preventing Celaena’s escape, and though she fantasizes about killing him on occasion, he becomes a far different target of her attention. This is not cuddly romance, but neither is it grim. Celaena is trained to murder, yet she hasn’t lost her taste for pretty dresses or good books, and a gleam of optimism tinges her outlook. Maas tends toward overdescription, but the verve and freshness of the narration make for a thrilling read.
I disagree that Maas's prose is overdescriptive, as I've read some seriously flowery prose in YA and adult novels over the years, and Maas keeps it in check, for the most part. That said, I was not too thrilled that she fell prey to the cliche of the teenage love triangle surrounding the female protagonist that is in every YA novel I've ever read. Because of course Celaena is beautiful (though she's been nearly starved and beaten to death in the salt mines) enough that the crown prince falls in love with her, as does the captain of the guard, Chaol, who seems to be a real jerk to her about 90 percent of the time. The fact that she's most interested in winning her freedom and not having romantic liaisons with either of them is telling. I also thought it was interesting that the original Fae queen of the realm has come back in spirit form to help Celaena, albeit on her own time table. I'd give this enthralling tale an A, with a recommendation to those who are interested in female protagonists who kick rump and are not so selfish that they forget that others were enslaved with them. I look forward to the sequel.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers is the sequel to the magnificent The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which I read and adored last year. Because I loved her first book, I was expecting this story to be a tale that took the characters from the Wayfarer and moved them forward in their lives. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and the story starts very slowly with Lovey's getting used to her new biomechanical body (which is illegal) on a world where lots of misfits live their lives. The mechanic charged with keeping her safe until she adjusts is Pepper, whose story we read in flashback chapters, and Blue, Pepper's boyfriend, whose story emerges alongside Peppers. Here's the blurb:
Embark on an exciting, adventurous, and dangerous journey through the galaxy with the motley crew of the spaceship Wayfarer in this fun and heart-warming space opera—the sequel to the acclaimed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.
Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for—and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.
A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to that beloved debut novel, and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect, and Star Wars.
Rosemary Harper is nowhere evident in this book at all, nor are any of the other crew of the Wayfarer, which is why, I suppose, it's considered a stand alone book. Still, I was disappointed and felt cheated by not reading about the crew and what is happening with them. Lovelace/Sidra isn't an exciting enough character to carry a novel, nor is Pepper's past as a clone slave on a backwater world where such life is considered expendable. The first few chapters are deadly dull, as nothing exciting really happens, and even then, Pepper's survival story as Jane is often tedious and lame. The prose is workmanlike, but the plot plods and gets stuck in details that don't enhance the story at all. So I'd give this non-sequel a B-, and only recommend it to those who are interested in AI and clones.

Thirsty by MT Anderson is one of those books that I feel like I've read before. It could be that I did read it and just forgot the plot, or it could be that it's so similar to other novels of this genre that it feels familiar. At any rate, it's thankfully short enough that I am not too torn up about wasting a couple of hours reading this unoriginal take on a YA vampire story. Here's the blurb via Publisher's Weekly:
"In the spring, there are vampires in the wind." So begins this blackly atmospheric first novel, set in a New England that is under quiet siege by elfin changelings, mongrel swamp creatures and other inhuman beings. Chris, struggling through the awkward changes of adolescence, finds his teenage lusts becoming the thirst of the vampire. He narrates the pull of his own evil nature with rhythmic, morbid accuracy: "I tear at my arm and slash downward with the teeth, rutting up little tracks of meat while the thick, sour tang of my own gore sweetly fills my mouth and cheeks, puffing them out." Chet, a so-called celestial being claiming to be from the Forces of Light, contacts Chris-not yet a full vampire-and asks him to interfere with a ceremony that will release Tch'muchgar, the vampire lord, from his bondage in another world. But can Chet be trusted? The overtly supernatural climax and a disappointing plot twist squelch the sparkle of Anderson's prose somewhat, but horror fans will find this vampire novel a bloody cut above the usual fare." 
I am not a horror fan, and I honestly didn't find this a cut above anything. It was a stupid vampire fantasy filled with cliches about adolescent boys and their cruelty and crushes. The ending is extremely disappointing and the prose is dull. The plot is bloated and the characters grotesque.I gather I was supposed to find this gruesome work funny, but I didn't, I found it cliche-ridden and cynical. I'd give this book a D, and only recommend it to those who are into horror and vampires so much that they can't miss even a schlocky novel like this one.