Monday, February 19, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Cibola Burn)

They are trying to do something very different for each book. I didn't expect this one to be set so very far away from the core solar system, with no opportunities for assistance within months of travel time, and (quite frankly) monsters coming at our fearless protagonists from all sides.

I'd say this one is the biggest nail-biter so far (and I've already read the next one, spoiler alert). Not to give too much away, but important stuff doing a slow slide into the upper atmosphere while everyone scrambles around trying to keep that from happening... That's pretty darn thrilling. Not to discount all the exciting things happening on the ground (even more so, at least towards the end).

It's clear that The Coreys have thought long and hard about the arc of these 9 novels, so that you get a different aspect of space opera each time, with each one leading to the next seamlessly. The only thing that disturbed me in this one was the super-long underground subway system (shades of A World Out of Time, anyone?) that seemed to work so darn... seamlessly after millennia.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saunders, George (Lincoln in the Bardo)

This book came with too many excellent recommendations. This does not discount the inevitable excellence of a book written by Saunders, especially as it pertains to taking a vastly odd premise and making it into something ultra-compelling. But, as with expectations in general, they are not met by such depth and breadth of recommendations.

As stated, Saunders is a brilliant writer. My first encounter with him was with Tenth of December, which is his forte: short stories. I can still recall several of those heartbreaking tales (think: Raymond Carver) tempered by currency (think: Kate Atkinson, sorta). And, it's certainly true that this novel could be thought of as a series of extremely short stories. It's really more of a discussion, or a series of extremely short letters.

I was certainly put off by the structure, and I would forewarn readers to be aware of this. It doesn't take too long to figure out what Saunders is managing to create, and the more comfortable you get with it, the more it reveals itself to you. At its center, this is a novel about loss and regret - in and of itself nothing new. But it isn't just the structure that makes this something different. He is also taking a true tale (you'll see real quotes from real people in certain chapters) and refactoring it to his themes. 

I would never call Saunders' work pleasant to read, because he delves into murky, uncomfortable, squishy personal areas. But I would say that I took a powerful lesson from this book, and actually found it a valuable read for the beginning of the year, in the vein of New Year's Resolutions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Woolf, Virginia (A Room of One's Own)

For some odd reason, I had conflated this essay / lecture with a story by Doris Lessing called "To Room Nineteen". (C'mon, can you blame me??) So, when I recommended that book club read it, I was actually recommending a wholeheartedly different approach to the conundrum of women and writing.

In the end, I'm glad I read Woolf's essay. As far as I know, this is an expanded version of the lecture that she gave to a group of women at Cambridge, back in the 1920s. I mean, really, can you imagine sitting for 113 pages of text, no matter how enthralling the topic? (Heck, maybe they did that back in the day. Fewer movies to watch?) The expansion allows Woolf to truly develop her theme of "men suck".

I kid, for the most part. While there is a fair amount of that palaver, in language only Woolf could get right, the main point that Woolf makes is about having enough money in life to write, which may in fact be a gender-free theme. Even in this day and age, writers go through all types of shenanigans to get enough dough to set aside time to write - and have a room of one's own to do it in. Perhaps it's still easier for men to do that, but I'm not convinced. Certainly, at the time of Woolf's writing, it was worth talking specifically about women's difficulties in this area.

I also very much appreciated her appreciation of Jane Austen as an amazing and heroic writer. I mused to my book club on why Austen has remained popular over such a long, long span of years, and we couldn't really come up with an answer, with Woolf's thesis in mind.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Achebe, Chinua (Things Fall Apart)

This was interesting to read at the same time as Homegoing. Talk about experiences based on male perspectives vs. experiences based on female perspectives...

At their cores, both books deal with African experiences with Western encroachments on the continent (such as Christianity and slavery), however Achebe's book details more African traditions and values. You learn what the gods meant to the villages and the tribes. You learn what their governmental structure was (and why it worked). You learn what was expected, specifically, of a man in that world.

The book follows one particular man, his missteps and faults, navigating his life and what he thinks is expected of it. It makes clear what happens when you don't accept changes that you have little to no control over. In that respect, I found it a valuable lesson for any reader, regardless of the community you live in.

While clearly a tragedy, and also clearly a drama, it has its elements of humor and wonder and mystery. It is, above all, male-centric, which at first was difficult to get used to (in this current climate). More importantly, it offers a view into a world that was not familiar to me (even from Gyasi's book).

Sanderson, Brandon (Oathbringer)

The long-awaited 3rd book in the Stormlight Archive series! Although, really, this wasn't THAT long a wait. I mean, the guy wrote his longest book yet (1220 pages) in 3 years (which is one year less than he took to write book 2). So, kudos to him for that.

More kudos to him for writing something worthwhile reading. This book was never a slog. Also, it did three very important things:

- Bolstered his case for why religion matters to the masses. As with any book Sanderson writes, he does not write it from the viewpoint of the Mormon faith (although maybe a teensy bit more in this one, with complicated mysteries being revealed to some extent), but instead from the viewpoint of why religion should not be discounted as a major factor in people's lives (and certainly not as an opiate or a crutch).

- Developed further his theories around forgiveness. You could put this into the same box as the first thing, but this book actually made these theories explicit. He took each of his major characters (Shallan, Dalinar, Kaladin, and to some extent Teft, Adolin, Jasnah and Szeth) and described their hardships further, why it was difficult for them to forgive themselves, and what they needed to do to get there. Plus all the reasons why it's important to forgive yourself the right way, not the wrong way (specifically, learning from your mistakes).

- Continued the story! We want to know a lot lot lot more about who the Parshmen are, who the Voidbringers are, who our protagonists' true enemies are or will be, what the storms really mean, and why the heck spren and humans can bond or not bond. He moves all those stories forward in significant ways (but the biggest mystery surrounding Urithiru remains). The book itself is not actually about the sword (Oathbringer), it's about the war (which the sword factors into). And fear not, he completes that war. Sanderson is not one to leave you hanging on a major plot point. He has 7 more books to go, and has a lot of story to tell.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Gyasi, Yaa (Homegoing)

It would have been effortless for Gyasi to have created something trite. There are many novels about the slave trade, and many novels about experiences in both Africa and America as a result of that.

First, Gyasi creates the right kind of structure - a genealogical one, which allows her to tell multiple stories across multiple generations. Then she adds one more layer to that by telling both the stories of those who remained in Africa and those who were shipped to America, and putting them side by side throughout the novel.

Don't miss the many opportunities to understand what the African experience was like (which in many stories was brand new to me), and don't miss the fresh perspectives that Gyasi brings to the American experience. Her writing is stellar; so are her insights.

It's likely you'll get to the final chapter and be ready to scoff at her conclusion, but you will know better because of the strength of her writing to that point. She may have created a somewhat mystical ending, but that downplays the power of her craft. It's not at all mystical; it's the unveiling of truth.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Penzler, Otto (Murderers' Row: Baseball Mysteries)

There is very definitely one best story in this book, and you should save it for last (even if it's not the last story in book).

First, though, you must love baseball to read this book. There are at least two jokes regarding how difficult it is to remember the infield fly rule (don't ask me how the rule works, I still haven't got it down). Plus any number of complete descriptions of plays, sides, and innings, and liberal seeding of statistics. To be clear, you can love baseball without understanding every rule (case in point right here), but you probably love baseball in some part because of those rules. So, you'll know if this book is right for you.

Since this is a collection of mystery short stories, none of the stories are particularly involved regarding the mysteries themselves. The writers have worked at compacting the plots they've chosen, which works to the advantage of everyone: editor, writers, readers. I was also surprised at how many different styles were employed, and how often the conclusion was at least partially surprising.

That best story to save for last? The Robert B. Parker story, of course.

(Full disclosure: I only read half of the stories, those chosen by hubby as the best.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Greenwood, Kerry (Flying Too High)

The next in the delightful Ms. Phryne Fisher series. I just looked and I see there are 20 of these novels! We'll see how far I get before they aren't delightful enough any longer.

It's funny how I can't recall particular TV episodes that mirror the book. This one entails airplanes - which I distinctly remember factoring into at least one episode - but also a long sequence of Phryne not driving her sporty car and instead riding surreptitiously on the back of one. You'd think I'd remember that part! The second part of the book revolves around a nasty husband, a misunderstood son, a bunch of kids (and a cat), and a female artist. Yup, I should remember that plot device, also.

Of course, the books and the episodes seem to be quite different. For one thing, Ms. Fisher's bohemian nature in the books is way more eyebrow-raising than in the TV series. And the regular characters are not what I expect them to be when I'm reading them (Bert and Cec in particular). But the wrap-ups are very much the same - very genteel, always including creature comforts, and with the bad guys always getting their comeuppance and our faithful companions getting their rewards.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Chambers, Becky (The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet)

What fun! Another fun space opera series! Actually, it's hard to tell if it's going to be a series. I notice there's only one sequel and no discussion of another book after that. A girl can dream.

The absolute, hands-down, brilliant part of this book is that its core concepts are firmly part of our current times. Almost every plot device involves something that has caused a lot of social unrest in our world (eg, race relations, marriage equality). Chambers creates an environment in which humans have joined a galaxy full of other species, and, lo and behold, humans are not the best at everything. In other space operas, we always are because of our sense of fair play or our striving for new avenues. In this book, we're less equal than the rest because it's taken us a lot longer to be accepted into a future that doesn't have problems with personal space or rigid family hierarchies (vastly different among the other species). Granted, there's still plenty of conflict. However, it is downright refreshing to read a space opera that doesn't revolve around "humans are best" and "guys are even more the best".

Plus, the whole crew of this spacecraft like each other a ton, and when they don't like each other, they work it out. They treat each other like family - a lot like the Firefly family, but not because they are not all, you guessed it, human. Also, did I say it was humorous? It's freakin' humorous, people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Corey, James S.A. (Abaddon's Gate)

Finally, Corey is moving things along at a quicker pace. They take almost no time to set up the new characters and place them at the far reaches of the solar system where the bizarre contraption from Venus has moved. And then they create another bonkers scenario - which does end up clarifying a great number of things across the story arc - that moves at an ever faster pace to conclusion.

Of course, overall, Corey publishes a book a year, and that has to be a factor of being a writing duo instead of a single writer. Naturally, you can write twice as fast (for the most part). Also, I imagine - based on how this book follows the same structure as the previous books - that each writer takes two characters, drafts that half of the book from their perspectives, and then they marry them together in the end. That's likely a simplistic view of how a writing duo works! Setting the arc, the plot of each book, the tone, etc. obviously takes time working closely together.

Regardless, I expect some readers will be deeply disappointed by the reveals in this book, mostly because they don't reveal hugely unique ideas. To them I say: this is space opera! In the end, all space opera has one common theme - multiple cultures vying for power across the galaxy and/or universe. This book simply pushes Corey's agenda further in that direction.