I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.
I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.
It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t supposed to criticize how their society worked.
Edna O’Brien writes beautifully about the naiveté of the two rural girls when they come to the big city. Kate is the artistic, romantic, intellectual girl who has idealistic visions of what life should be like. She wants to discuss literature with her dates and they only value her sexuality. She becomes involved with an older married man from her village because he offers a window into the more sophisticated world that Kate longs for. Baba, on the other hand, is far more earthy—she wants to smoke, drink, and enjoy the company of men. The two women couldn’t be more different from one another, but small communities make for strange friendships. With few people of the right age to choose from, you bond with the most compatible person available and these relationships rarely withstand leaving home.
The poverty, the alcohol problems, the repression of women--The Country Girls reveals them all. No wonder this book was denounced and banned. It was hanging out the dirty linen for the world to look at.
Ireland is a country that is definitely on my “to visit” list. I love reading books which are set there and I will definitely read more of O’Brien’s work.
As the war between Alden and Oridia draws to its conclusion, the fates of both kingdoms rest on the actions of a select group of individuals—and, of course, the unbreakable bonds of blood...
Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.
Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear...
I liked this book just a little less than the first book. And as I sat down to write this review, I realized why. I’ve accidentally read book 3 before book 2. Oops! That would explain all the references to events in the past that I was unfamiliar with. I enjoyed the book anyway (and I’ll read book two when it becomes available at the library), but that explains why I sometimes felt like I was in the fog.
The main reason that I would remove half a star from my rating is the amount of agonizing that Lady Alix, Prince Liam and King Erik do during the course of the novel. All three of them flagellate themselves over decisions they’ve made. Now, most people regret some actions from their past, but don’t most of us also realize that there’s no use dwelling on our mistakes and move on? Do what you can to right the situation and move forward.
I think perhaps this is the author’s way to prove to her readers that these are “good people.” Evil people are sure they are doing the right thing, good people are forever questioning their own motives.
Nevertheless, fantasy is my happy place and I have to appreciate that a woman with a sword saves the day as often as any of the men do. The author will be at a conference that I’m attending this summer and I’ll be most interested to hear what she has to say on any number of topics.
Wow, how is it Thursday again already? I've actually felt like doing some houseworky type things this week and haven't read as much as usual.
So I'm circling back to read some library books that I've had out for a while: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Lion in the Valley, and A Curious Beginning.
Then, I plan to have some fun with Turn Coat. Two more books for my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading List--Beggars in Spain and A Fire Upon the Deep. Plus one of this year's reading challenge books, Bog Child, which is a posthumously published work.
On Sunday, my friend & I are going to see Much Ado About Nothing, presented by the Shakespeare Company here in Calgary. It will be my 18th Shakespearean play.
We've got a long weekend coming up, with Monday being Victoria Day and finally it looks like we'll have nice weather all weekend! A trip to the garden centre for some plants to put in my balcony pots will also be in order.
Happy reading, friends!
Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.
Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.
Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.
What a treat! I could barely put this book down and was almost late for the family Mothers Day celebration as a result.
The beginning was quite transparent—you have an Earth that has been contacted by aliens known as the Leviathan. Enormous whale-like interplanetary travelers, they can create spaces for humans inside their bodies and a small number of humans are chosen each year to go travel the stars with them. These people are known as the Honors and they are (by and large) star mathematicians and musicians. Into this mix, introduce Zara, someone who hasn’t really adjusted to the new situation on Earth, who is a petty criminal trying to stay one step ahead of the law and her enemies. Of course she’s going to be chosen as one of the new crop of Honors, confounding her and her contemporaries.
The story plays on our notion of what whales are all about—gentle giants, intelligent, worthy of our regard and our love. But are the Leviathan the universe’s equivalent? They’ve rescued Earth from environmental and political disaster, but it that rescue a freebie? It takes a con-woman to ask the questions and to deal with the answers! And of course, I came to love Zara because she wasn’t a bad person, but someone pushed into a bad life by her circumstances. She gets to be the skeptic, who is reluctantly won over by contact with Nadim, the Leviathan that she is matched with.
There are many twists and turns to the story, including a sequence that reminded me of Dave & the computer Hal in 2001, where Zara dons what is called a skinsuit to go make necessary but risky repairs! The tension was fabulous!
I’d be really interested to know about the process of the two authors, who contributed what and how they shared the manuscript! But mostly I’m glad that book two is in the works and I have a chance to see how Zara, her co-pilot Bea, and Nadim progress from here.
A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.
Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.
But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…
Another one of the authors who will be featured at When Words Collide this August. She has attended before, at the point where this book had just been published (as a panelist, but not a featured guest). Gotta like a book cover which features a woman with a big-ass sword!
Alix Black is an engaging main character, as she scouts for the army, fights when necessary, and sorts out her feelings for the men in her life. She has a bit of a tendency to act first and think later, which causes some complications! It also keeps her from being entirely a Mary Sue character—she makes enough blunders to keep her grounded.
For those who detest love triangles, you may want to give this book a miss, but if you have tolerance for such plot devices, this one resolves itself before the end of the volume. A bit predictably, but very sweetly.
I was impressed enough that I immediately put a hold on the second book at my library and I’ll be looking forward to hearing the author at this summer’s conference.
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.
Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.
I really like the new girl at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children—the misplaced mermaid, Cora. Cora has been teased and tormented for her whole school career, and comes into the Home for Wayward Children with all her defenses up, ready to defend herself. I love that she finds more acceptance than she expects and that she is valiant during the adventures of this novel.
There are some time paradoxes in this installment, as Rini, the daughter of Sumi who was killed in the last book, hurtles into the turtle pond behind the Home and demands help from its denizens. How can Sumi have a daughter if she was killed prematurely?
No one is really sure, but they have to try to set things right and the ensuing adventure is entertaining and involves tripping through several of the hidden worlds that children can accidentally discover by unwarily opening a door! A great way to see more of McGuire’s intriguing portals to the imagination! I’m glad to see that she is planning at least 2 more in the series.
The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to morality tale. All bear the indefinable stamp of Iain Banks' staggering talent.
A selection of short fiction set in the Culture universe, where your tools and equipment have opinions too and can talk back to you. My own tendency to talk to my surroundings would definitely have to change.
I really wanted to like the story where the Culture visits Earth. Is it still a first contact story if the Earth doesn’t know it’s been contacted? A bit on the preachy side, obviously written when Banks was annoyed with our treatment of our environment and each other, but acknowledging that we’ve got something special here. I liked it without have my socks blown off.
Banks is such a good writer, but not all of these stories demonstrate his best efforts. It does rather feel like a catch-all, displaying varying degrees of polish. Still, well worth reading for fans of the Culture!
In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . .
From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim - an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom's only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world's wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.
Quite a change from Hearne’s Iron Druid series! This is still fantasy, but in a world of his own creation, not just an altered present. A world of giants, special magical talents, and storytelling.
This is a complicated world, with several nations, each of which has its own special talent or Kenning. There are masters of water or air or fire for example. Using that talent past a certain level, however, drastically ages the person wielding it.
The tale is told by a bard, who has the technology to change his appearance and tell the tale from the point of view of each character in his story. Through this means, Hearne manages to introduce us to the complexities of his new world quite painlessly and entertainingly.
There is, of course, a war because a good conflict is necessary to a good story. The major characters are facing an invasion of Bone Giants, from an unknown source, for an unknown reason. This major mystery does not get fully addressed in this volume, leaving the way open for future installments. I, for one, will be looking forward to the next book!
So Friday was a rare book shopping day for me. First, I went to the big charity event, Calgary Reads' Big Book Sale. And I couldn't get in. There was a Sheriff there, turning people away because there wasn't any parking!!
So, I took a box of books down to my favourite second hand book shop and did a bit of recyling. Out with the old, in with the "new."
It took me 2 more tries, but I eventually got into the charity event too. Not quite so successful there, but still a good stack of books.
Hope you all had a good Mothers' Day weekend too!
Such a good selection of books from my library!
I will finish A Plague of Giants this evening and I'll continue to have Robots Vs. Fairies as my coffee break book. Then its time to get started on this selection.
I have tomorrow off work--tomorrow is also the beginning of the Calgary Reads Big Book Sale. I plan to be there when the doors open at 9 a.m. with my wishlist in hand to have first pick. Photos for Monday!!
Also planning to see a performance of Julius Caesar with my Shakespeare buddy on Saturday evening.
Have a wonderful weekend, my BL friends.
The Jubilee Tides will drown the continents of the planet Miranda beneath the weight of her own oceans. But as the once-in-two-centuries cataclysm approaches, an even greater catastrophe threatens this dark and dangerous planet of tale-spinners, conjurers, and shapechangers.
A man from the Bureau of Proscribed Technologies has been sent to investigate. For Gregorian has come, a genius renegade scientist and charismatic bush wizard. With magic and forbidden technology, he plans to remake the rotting, dying world in his own evil image--and to force whom or whatever remains on its diminishing surface toward a terrifying and astonishing confrontation with death and transcendence.
What an odd little novel! Not my usual fare at all, and I wouldn’t have picked it up or persevered if it wasn’t on my project reading list (and if it wasn’t so short). I can see where many people would find it interesting and intriguing. I merely found it all confusing, so it’s not my cuppa tea.
The main character never even gets a name—he is merely “the bureaucrat.” When I first started the book, I thought, “Oh good, this is a sci-fi mystery!” And it kind of was, but it also wasn’t. There’s a lot of odd technology and strange biology. It reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick’s writing, actually, which I quite like. It had that same trippy quality, so I’m not sure why it rubbed me the wrong way, but it did. It also made me think about Gibson’s Neuromancer, with its hallucinatory qualities.
This is the only Swanwick book on my reading list, but I may at some point try some of his other writing just as an experiment, to see what else he has to offer.
Book number 284 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.
For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland's majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ...about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ...and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his ....
Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire's spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ...in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ...and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves....
Not a bad historical fantasy, but I have some issues with it. I kept putting off my reading until close to its due date at the library. Even when I got started and the deadline was approaching, I kept looking longingly at other books on my library book pile and had to force myself to keep reading this one.
First, the book starts with Claire returning to Scotland (in the 20th century) with her grown-up daughter Brianna. They meet a charming young Scotsman, Roger MacKenzie, and sparks fly between Brianna and Roger. Well & good, I am interested in this new plot line. But does Gabadon stick with it? No, everything takes an abrupt left turn, back into the past and we’re back in time with Claire & Jamie. And there are HUNDREDS of pages between appearances of Roger & Brianna.
The historical fantasy isn’t bad, as historical fantasies go, it just wasn’t what I was interested in. Claire & Jamie, blah blah, blah, Bonnie Prince Charlie, blah, blah, blah, Battle of Culloden, more blather. The manuscript is padded with all kinds of vignettes which do absolutely nothing to move the action along and only bogged me down (when Claire & Jaime discover the cave paintings, anyone?)
And this is going to sound very pedantic, but she mentions birds in the course of the book four times and only gets it right once. In the very beginning, chickadees are referenced. Well, there aren’t any chickadees in Scotland—they have related birds, the tits. If Claire had seen/heard Blue Tits or Coal Tits, that would be accurate, but not chickadees. At another point, Claire is woken by a mockingbird. No dice, there aren’t mockingbirds in France. Claire hears a meadowlark—impossible! Maybe a Skylark, but there aren’t meadowlarks in Europe. At least when Jamie feeds crumbs to some sparrows, she just leaves them as generic sparrows and doesn’t assign a species. I even hauled out my Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East just to check that I hadn’t lost my mind, but it backed me up. If you want accurate historical fiction, you can’t just go sticking North American birds into a novel set in Scotland and France!
Okay, bird rant over. I can tell how un-involved I was in the story that I’d be counting and evaluating the appearances of birds in the text.
One thing I did enjoy was the prominence of genealogical research in the plot line. Turns out that Claire’s 20th century husband, Frank, fortuitously counted some of the characters in this narrative in his family tree and had made a big enough deal of it that Claire was aware of these details. She spends a fair bit of time convincing the 18th century husband, Jamie, not to kill these relatives too soon, to ensure that Frank will be born. There’s more talk of the paradox of time travel in this novel, and I enjoyed those speculations.
Book number 283 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.
Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy - a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.
In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father's possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father's murder - or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.
The May selection for my real-life book club. The verdict? We liked it a lot. As one member said, it started out kind of depressing with all of the women seemingly held back and held down by a repressive society and the men in their lives. But as the story progressed, I realized that just like weeds, the women of the tale were strong enough to find their way to some control by growing up through the cracks!
There’s a fair amount of darkness and duplicity in the work. I guess with a title like The Lie Tree that is unavoidable. Faith Sunderly demonstrates that peculiarity of human nature—she cares much more about the opinion of her odious, abusive father than for her mother who she despises as “less than.” And in doing so, she despises herself for being that ultimate “less than,” a girl. She believes in her father’s uprightness until she discovers his special possession, the Lie Tree. A plant which feeds on lies and the more people who believe them, the better the plant grows.
When her father is killed (and her family is due to be disinherited because he is believed to be a suicide), Faith takes matters into her own hands—she tells the tree what it wants to hear and it grows much more luxuriantly that it ever did under her father’s care.
I loved the book for Faith’s realization of her worthiness and intelligence and the resilience of all the women to resist the patriarchal control in their society. I’m looking forward to reading more by Frances Hardinge.
Young Lerris is dissatisfied with his life and trade, and yearns to find a place in the world better suited to his skills and temperament. But in Recluce a change in circumstances means taking one of two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond Recluce, with the aim of learning how the world works and what his place in it might be. Many do not survive. Lerris chooses dangergeld. When Lerris is sent into intensive training for his quest, it soon becomes clear that he has a natural talent for magic. And he will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked. Though it goes against all of his instincts, Lerris must learn to use his powers in an orderly way before his wanderjahr, or fall prey to Chaos.
I liked this book well enough, but it really didn’t distinguish itself. Young Lerris gets sent off to do what is called dangergeld because he is bored with his perfect, utopian life. As per usual in this kind of story, he discovers that he has talents he never suspected, that his parents aren’t who he thought they were, and that non-utopian life can be rather difficult. You know, the usual in these fantasy epics. (See The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond Feist, or Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams or even the King Arthur legend).
There is some attempt made to produce meaningful female characters, but unfortunately they are only there as foils and props for Lerris. When he needs someone to bring him down a peg or two, there’s Tamra. When he needs a romantic interest, there’s Krystal. But they retreat into obscurity when they are not needed for some plot point. It’s nice that they’re intelligent and talented, but they don’t get to shine, at least in this first book. They don’t even really talk to one another, except to discuss Lerris a little bit.
I’ve cheated a bit and peeked at the Wikipedia entry for this series—if that’s accurate, I have some hope for the series. Two technologically advanced cultures are marooned on this world and have very different world views. That reminds me of Julian May’s Saga of Pliocene Exile enough to pique my curiosity and send me looking for at least the second book in the series.
Book number 282 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.
“Oh, mercy. If it catches you in the wrong frame of mind, the King James Bible can make you want to drink poison in no uncertain terms.”
A well written book with an engaging exploration of hubris. The hubris of colonial powers who think they are superior to their colonies. The hubris of men who think they are superior to women. And the hubris of religious men who think their religion is superior to all others.
In many ways, Nathan Price's attempt to grow an American garden in the Congo is representative of all those endeavours. First, he uses methods which work in Georgia and refuses all advice from local people. When his work gets washed away by the rains, he relents and uses local techniques. Then, his crops appear to flourish and grow luxurious foliage, but no fruits or seeds manifest. Eventually he realizes there are no pollinators for his pumpkins and beans, which will never amount to anything edible.
After the failure of his garden, Nathan gives up any attempt to feed and care for his wife and daughters. Instead, they must fend for themselves and face physical violence if they don't care for his needs. He remains obsessed with converting the Congolese to Christianity, while ignoring his own unChristian behaviour. Simultaneously, his Congolese neighbours display great charity, placing eggs under the Prices' chickens and depositing food in the kitchen under the cover of night. Instead of ministering to the natives, they minister to the Price family.
Nathan also refuses to study the local language to be able to express himself clearly. As a result, he is constantly saying, "Jesus is poisonwood" when he thinks he is proclaiming the greatness of Christ. He inhabits his own reality, which bears no resemblance to that of any one around him. His lack of empathy for others undercuts his message constantly. When confronted by missionaries who practice compassionate Christianity, Nathan becomes even more truculent and resistant, rather than recognizing the value of care and kindness.
The Price women are every bit as colonized as the Congo, as they are unwillingly exported from Georgia. All their dreams and desires are over-ridden by their patriarch's obsessions and goals. I found myself cheering for them as they (and the Congo) chose independence, with varying degrees of success.
Colonial powers and the patriarchy may deny the reality of their colonies and of women, but that reality nonetheless exists. As Rachel Price says, "The way I see Africa, you don't have to like it but you sure have to admit it's out there."