Monday, January 20, 2014

The Shining Court - shiny, creepy, epic

The Shining Court by Michelle West (The Sun Sword Book 3 of 6): Back to the South we go!  But first a sliiiight detour into seriously weird territory.  If you wanted to know more about Avandar, Jewel's unconventional domicis, this book will, well, it will make you want to know more and less at the same time.  This person is one seriously scary individual, and his motivations are remarkably unclear. 

Again, one of this author's strengths is her ability to create compelling characters with obviously full histories behind them.  Avandar is someone who just screamed "I am ridiculously powerful and have been alive for a very long time, and my actions now seem unfathomable to normal mortals."  Holy cow. 

In general, I feel I should also mention that this author has a special gift for the inhuman and super-human characters.  Anya A'Cooper is completely insane.  And you KNOW it from every interaction with her.  Avandar, the Winter Queen, newcomer Celleriant, Firstborn (offspring of two gods), and the ever superb Isladar are each unique and perfectly not at all human in different ways.  Good stuff!

The Voyani are back with a vengeance, as are all the fraught shenanigans in the southern court, and more insights into the Shining Court of the demons.  More threads are starting to wind together halfway through the series, but I still have NO IDEA where things are going, where they will end up, and who will survive.  But, it must be said, I completely trust this author to bring it all together.  Eventually.  If I can steal enough time to read faster than I forget people's names . . .

Monday, January 13, 2014

Red Knife - the massacre book

Red Knife by William Kent Krueger: Didn't expect the ending to this one.  I suppose if I had read it when it was published, it would have been less unexpected and more sad and timely.  Maybe.  Anyway, a suicide, a double murder, a reservation gang, some bigots, more murder, moral decisions, decisions about the future, possible drug connections,  and some reservation justice bring this all to a close.  Except for that terrible coda.  Krueger does different things with each book, branching out to focus on different characters instead of keeping a mostly single focal point of view in this one.  There was just more massacre-ing than I really wanted to deal with.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thunder Bay (a.k.a. the history of Henry Melou)

Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger: For all the folks who really wanted to know more about Henry Melou: this book is for you.  Henry ends up in the hospital and then asks Cork to help him out by tracking down his son.  Yep, his son.  This is a big surprise to Cork, who wants to know the whole story.  And it is a long, sad story full of history, tragedy, love, and murder.  Then it's back to the present where more tragedy and murder and mystery await as Cork does his best to track down the mysterious son to arrange a meeting.  When he finally does, the reunion goes awry, and there is more death.

Good stuff!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Are You My Mother? by the creator of the Bechdel test

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel:  I was curious about this one because I'd read Fun Home and wanted to know what an analysis between the author and her living mother would be like.  I have to admit that there wasn't much for me to identify with in this mother-daughter relationship.  I found myself engrossed because a friend of mine has a particularly fraught relationship with her mother, and I kept sensing echoes in this book.  I also like memoirs that stretch over a longer time period when history is an important element.  Seeing history through the lens of a person's life can be rewarding, especially when the memoir is a graphic novel because you really can see it. 

There were a lot of threads running through this book: literature, lesbian history, psychology, romantic relationships, memory,  family history, gender, the writing life, etc.  I loved how frequently her mother, literary analyst that she is, brought up the problems of focusing a piece of literature when there are too many pieces to it.  Overall, I feel the author did a decent job of tying the threads together.  I read it in one day, so my still mostly scattered mental state wouldn't make the story feel artificially fragmented, and I think that was beneficial.  Nothing blindsided me or tossed me out of the narrative, although at times the fragmented chronology (anchored to names, which are one of my weaknesses) did get the best of me.

It's a very different book from Fun Home, a very different relationship with a very different person.  (And I think that someone I once studied with made a brief appearance in it, which was really wild, to say the least.)  I do wonder if the order of reading would affect someone's opinion on which of the two books they think is "better."  Both of them were interesting, educational, and touching, so I consider reading them both to be a win for me.  (I would suggest that you at least take a look at the physical hardcover because I loved the symbolism on that one more than the paperback.)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Uncrowned King - thickening plots, new characters, lots of awesome

The Uncrowned King by Michelle West (The Sun Sword Book 2 of 6): And now for something completely different.  We move back to the north where the sole surviving member of the Leonne clan has gone from the least to the greatest rather suddenly.  His first act as uncrowned king is to try to save the other Southern hostages from retaliatory execution.  Then he just has to win the biggest tournament on the continent all while avoiding assassination at the hands of demons and humans.  There is absolutely no way to summarize much of anything in this sprawling book without spoilers.  However, Kallandras, Mirialyn, Devon, Sigurne, Merallone, and other characters are present and awesome.  Some new folks are introduced  (mostly awesome), politics are suffered, intrigue is enacted, people die horribly, surprisingly, and suddenly, and the author proves, once again, that she knows how to make a novel a satisfying story arc while still advancing the larger, seriously epic plot she has going.

Valedan is a really intriguing character, as is his advisor, the only bright Southern woman who did her best to educate him even in the North.  They have really tough choices to make.  Valedan is one of those good people who is thrown into a position where, suddenly, all his choices seem like bad ones, and he has to make them to prove that he is an adult capable of ruling an entire kingdom, but he has no real power.  I like it when an author tackles this kind of character and makes the difficulties real and believable and also finds ways to let the goodness of the character manifest even in the midst of all the choices. 

Having spent a book in the South, I find myself also respecting the author's world-building abilities.  She is good at depicting the different cultures and the ways they clash.  The way she shows you the limitations on characters like Mirialyn in the north contrasted against the limitations for the southern women is really heartbreaking in both similarities and differences.  This author also has that ability to surprise with the turnings of the plot.  You think you see where something is going, and then it suddenly twists and turns and shifts, and it's going in a completely different direction that is completely in fitting with the plot.