Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rare Bird of Fashion (Non-fiction)

I never even made it out the door of the Library with Rare Bird of Fashion: the Irreverent Iris Apfel. After I checked it out, I went straight for a comfy chair by the windows. I read the account of Iris’s journey to become a famous stylist and perused the photographs from her fashion exhibit in one very satisfying sitting. The experience was like going to see some charismatic motivational speaker. “Yes, yes, yes. Yes, I can.” Of course, the obvious question is “what is it that I can?” Hmm. As I was walking home, sans book that I had tidily put in the book drop, I thought of Brian Glazier and his book, A Curious Mind. Both books are inspiring in the same way. I am sure some language has an expression for it: to be one’s own person, to live with tenacity, to provide luck and serendipity with a big target. It isn’t about their specific crafts but rather about how they are in the world and with themselves.

What a perfect way to spend part of an afternoon!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Invisible Library (Steampunk Novel)

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman has the potential to be my next new guilty pleasure series. Nothing deep to ponder and so much fun. The first book, released last month, is appropriately called The Invisible Library.

What is there not to love? A Librarian committed to fulfilling her duty by searching worlds for rare books, her mysterious assistant, a Sherlockian-like detective, an infamous villain, a vindictive rival, a centuries old organization, lots and lot of books, fae committed to creating chaos, werewolves, a cyborg alligator attack, an airship attack, a secret language, and lots and lots of magic.

A side note: I’ve seen people bring up Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, which I adored, when discussing The Invisible Library. Without going into needless comparisons, let’s just say the case could be made that they have some literary DNA in common, like distant cousins. Nothing to get the ole analytical brain all riled up about.

The next book, The Masked City, is scheduled to be released in September. Evidently pumpkin lattes are not the only guilty pleasures to look forward to this fall.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Honeysuckle & Pain (Augmented Novel)

The questions tantalize me. What is Xanther? Is she turning into something and, if so, what is that something? What are the orbs? Why is the “kitten” so attracted to Mefisto? How do the various storylines fit together? Why are the twins having nightmares? What is the Forest? And, what is it with all those cats? The Familiar: Honeysuckle & Pain creates more questions than answers.

The Familiar: Honeysuckle & Pain is the third novel in The Familiar series by Mark Z. Danielewki. ( The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May and The Familiar, Into the Forest) Despite the 800+ page length, it is more like an individual chapter of The Familiar than like a standalone novel. As with the earlier books, punctuation and graphics take me to greater depths of feeling than the vast majority of other novels that I have read. The storytelling, including the choice of details, is beautifully crafted. Unlike the previous books, the majority of the story is focused on Xanther, the awkward, amazing little girl in the story.

The Familiar Series, which is probably more a huge novel than a series, is demanding for me as a reader, requiring me to remember the storyline that came before. But, I do so love it. A bit of thoughtful philosophy. A meaningful quotable. A perfect little sub-plot. An unexpectedly deep feeling. A tiny plot twist. I let out a tiny gasp, “this is so, so cool.” The next installation of the story comes out this winter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Steampunk Novel)

A cat protagonist. Quirky, loveable human characters. Scary creatures. Airships. Crystal powered technology. Intrigue. Friendship. Young people coming into their power. Lots of fast-paced action scenes.

As I was reading The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, I could easily imagine myself sitting comfortably in a theater watching it. Finishing the book was like leaving the theater, still partially caught up with the characters and the action for a time. How could the 600+ pages go by so fast? I was thoroughly entertained. What a great way to begin a new series by a best-selling author.

Is The Aeronaut’s Windlass Hugo worthy? Maybe. Probably. But, when I compare it to The Fifth Season, Seveneves, and Uprooted, [[I still need to read Ancillary Mercy]] it looks a little, well, “good,” not spectacular, not deep, not provocative, not haunting. It doesn’t creep into my consciousness during my ordinary life. I'm still really glad that I read the novel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seveneves (Science Fiction Novel)

Amazing. Absolutely amazing and well-written. While Uprooted won my heart, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson gets my vote for the best written of the four Hugo Award nominees that I’ve read so far. The story felt real. [[In a teeny, tiny nutshell, Seveneves is about the sudden end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a new world.]] The other day I had to catch myself when I remembered something about the International Space Station: “Oh, that happened in Seveneves not in real life.” The amount of scientific and technological detail is almost stagger. The social, psychological, and philosophical aspects of the story make it astonishingly multi-dimensional. Stephenson's ability to create one smooth plot arch, despite the beginning and ending of the book being five thousand years apart, is sheer writing mastery. I also appreciated that the novel is written in a way that leaves room for a possible sequel.

Not declaring Seveneves my obvious choice for the Hugo Award has little to do with the merits of the novel itself. My only real criticism of the novel is that it is a bit of a stretch believing that the society would continue to focus on the “seven Eves” five thousand years after they lived. Though, I admit, we still hold some religious figures in prominence thousands of years after they have lived. In addition, two things about the novel irritated me. Politics, damned politics. I’ve had enough dealing with the presidential election. So, when I read the section where politics almost succeed in bringing about the annihilation of the human race, I felt deflated. I thought “as a species we are so screwed.” Second, the amount of technical detail is a bit overwhelming. Seveneves is over 800 pages long. Towards the end I felt like screaming, “Enough of the technological detail. Let’s get on with the story.”

All and all, Seveneves is an amazing book. I am curious to see what the Hugo voters decide.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Uprooted (Fantasy Novel)

Is “plucky-heroine-comes-of-age” a genre? If it is, the Hugo Award worthy Uprooted by Naomi Novik would be a stellar example of it. This novel is my favorite of the four Hugo award nominees I’ve read so far. It speaks of the power of friendship, of being an unlikely hero, and of the power of magic that comes from the heart rather than from an exact formula. The novel has the feel of a folk story, but with a modern viewpoint. As should happen with a good folk story, the lessons have snuck into my everyday life. Uprooted is still tugging at my heart a month after I have finished reading it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Fifth Season

Intrigued. Curious. Disturbed. After last year’s Hugo Award controversy, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this year’s nominees. After reading The Fifth Season, the first book in a new trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, I'm so glad that I didn't give in to my disillusionment.

The world building alone made it worth reading. The ideas are fresh. Yes, yes we are told that this is a story about the end of the world. But, why is the world ending? What has caused “Father Earth’s surface [to be] cracked like an eggshell?” Fifth Seasons are “ages in which the earth has broken somewhere and spewed ash or deadly gas into the sky, resulting in a lightless winter that lasted years or decades instead of months.” People band together in “comms” to try to survive the normal upheavals and possible fifth seasons. The world is populated by ordinary humans, but Jemisin also introduces Orogenes, Guardians, and Stone Eaters. The Orogenes, who are the main characters in the novel’s various plots, have the ability to control the movement of the earth. They are despised and feared, considered “not human,” and kept under control of the Guardians. But, who really are these characters? Jemisin slowly unwraps the world.

Jemisin also slowly reveals the novel’s plots.  First, a woman discovers that her husband has murdered their son. As she searches for her husband and daughter, she is also confronted with the prospect of a probable fifth season. Second, a little girl is rejected by her parents and given to a Guardian to take to the Fulcrum, a place where Orogenes are trained and controlled. Lastly, two Orogenes, one fairly competent and the other extremely masterful, are sent to clear coral from a harbor, on what appears to be a fairly mundane mission. How do the three major plotlines fit together?

Because I was so driven by curiosity while I was reading The Fifth Season, I did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the parts that were disturbing. The abuse of the Orogenes is inhumane. Their raw power is terrifying.

By the end of The Fifth Season, some of my initial questions were answered, but I picked up more along the way. Needless to say, I am going to read the next novel in the series. I don’t need anyone or any award to convince me of the value of this novel.