Friday, April 17, 2015

Books for June

I am super excited by the choices for the extended gap that comes before our June meeting because they are both titles that I thoroughly enjoyed when I first read them. They have both been up for the vote before, but this time I succeeded in getting them chosen (with the help of one of our other long time members). The Lies of Locke Lamora by the wonderful Scott Lynch is the first of his Gentleman Bastard series and one of my most favorite Fantasy titles. Six Moon Dance by Sherri S Tepper is a thought-provoking exploration of feminism, sexual stereotypes and environmentalism. I predict some interesting discussions at the next meeting!

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
(Fantasy / Adventure / Crime)

In the city of Camorr, the plague known as the Black Whisper is a disaster, killing everyone over eleven years old. However, this provides an opportunity for those who like to ‘adopt’ orphans. Slavers take most of them, but those who seem talented are apprenticed to the Thiefmaker and put to profitable work in the streets, markets and houses of the city. One particularly talented apprentice is tiny Locke Lamora, who displays a massive talent for the noble arts of theft and conman-ship. Unfortunately, young Locke doesn’t always foresee the outcomes of his schemes and drives the Thiefmaker to pass him along to Father Chains, a blind priest who spend his days begging outside his temple.

Six Moon Dance by Sherri S tepper
(SciFi / Fantasy / Women’s)

The planet of Newholme was first settled hundreds of years ago, but that group of violent men vanished. The later waves of settlers had their own problems trying to develop a world strangely devoid of metals, with increasing volcanic activity and a 50% death rate amongst baby girls. The female-dominated society that has developed subordinates the men, who must remained veiled in order to prevent arousing lust in women. Marriage is an expensive business agreement designed to give the men the offspring that they want, whilst allowing women to obtain entertainment and sexual fulfillment from Consorts, sterilized men who are trained to be the perfect companion and to provide ‘compensation’ for the unpleasant business of breeding. Mouche is an only child and, as a boy, he is only a drain on resources, so he is sold to one of the Consort schools where he begins his training. He soon discovers that life on Newholme is not as it seems: another, indigenous, race lives amongst the humans, but their presence is denied, so much so that everyone over the age of seven simply does not see these ‘invisibles’.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Unbeknownst to most people, Camille Preaker is a cutter. This started after the death of her sickly younger sister, Marian, and led to a recent stay in a psychiatric unit. Her entire body is covered with words that she needed to make permanent at one time or another: wicked, harmful, whore. The only places left clear are her face and a small circle on her back. Whilst she is recovering well, and has not marked herself with a blade in quite some time, she still writes on herself with a pen and feels the words already carved into her skin burning whenever they become appropriate.

Unfortunately, her life is suddenly disrupted by her editor’s insistence that she returns to her home town of Wind Gap, Missouri, to get the scoop on the possible emergence of a new serial killer. When one preteen girl was found strangled, the town was willing to overlook her missing teeth and place the blame on a stranger passing through town. However, when a second girl goes missing, it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the truth: Wind Gap has probably become home to a deranged serial killer. Camille’s history with the townsfolk is difficult, to say the least, but she may have a way in to the spectacular story before any of the more successful papers in Chicago have even heard about the sleepy little town.

* * * * * 

Ironically, although we have now read all three of Gillian Flynn’s novels we started with Gone Girl and then read the others in reverse publication order. I was more impressed with Dark Places than her latest, and most famous, offering, but I think that was heavily influenced by the fact that I found both lead characters in Gone Girl to be highly unlikeable! Sharp Objects was her debut novel but it does not read like a book written by an inexperienced author and I can understand why it won, and was nominated for, so many awards. It is complex and very, very dark in a way that will disturb many readers, especially those with preteen relatives. Many of the characters are deeply flawed or disturbingly antisocial and yet they remain horrifically real and believable. Many reviewers have had an almost visceral reaction to the book, and I can completely understand why.

As with Dark Places, our protagonist was deeply damaged by her early life experiences. In this case, Camille and her younger half-sister were both plagued by strange illnesses almost from birth. For some reason, Camille grew out of them, but they increased in severity and frequency for Marian until she finally died without anyone being able to diagnose her medical problems. The death came when Camille was thirteen, a horribly difficult time for any child to finally lose a sick sibling and her grief manifested itself in her need to carve words into her skin. The descriptions of how Camille feels her skin burning and the relief she used to get from her cutting are highly disturbing but yet compelling, because they reveal such a deeply felt psychosomatic effect. She has a real physical need to write the words, and the fact that she resists it throughout this traumatic series of events makes her rather heroic in my eyes. This is not someone acting out to gain sympathy: this is a very private struggle for survival.

As you might expect, Marian’s suspicious death begins to assume increasing importance as we learn more about Camille’s family history, especially when we learn that her medical problems seem to be repeating themselves in the youngest child, thirteen year old Ama. As we become more suspicious of what secrets this family may be protecting, it is revealed that the identity of Camille’s father is unknown: she is the product of an act of teenage rebellion from her mother, Adora. As the only offspring of the family that effectively owns the town, Adora was a golden girl who wanted for nothing. She still has more money than she knows how to spend, even though the town seems to have suffered a bit of a decline, and yet she has a thoroughly irritating need to be pitied by everyone at all times. She floats around her mansion, taking to her ivory-floored bedroom whenever things do not go her way. She is an arch manipulator and is evil in so many ways that I wanted to slap her from our very first encounter. I was not very surprised when her true psychosis was revealed, as I was already familiar with the signs that point to it, but I had zero sympathy for this woman.

As the person lucky enough to marry Adora, Camille’s stepfather is a strangely androgynous individual. I was convinced that theirs would be revealed to be a marriage of convenience and that both Marian and the much younger Ama would be the products of further extra-marital liaisons. I was genuinely surprised that he was really their biological father as I cannot imagine how he could ever engage in sexual activity without creasing his immaculate trousers! He certainly was a good match for the useless Adora, spending his time floating about in a variety of fetching outfits, displaying almost no interest in his family or anything else. Perhaps it is my Type A personality, but I found both parents to be insufferably irritating in their inability to do anything productive with their lives.

Then we move on to the ‘queen’ of the town: Ama. I am not sure that I have ever read such an obnoxious and hateful character. Even though she is only thirteen years old, she displays a dazzling array of personas: she is a baby for her mother, a bully to the other girls her age and a Lolita-like tease to any males in her vicinity. Camille develops some tender feelings for her half-sister, because she understands how Adora has warped the girl’s personality, but I could not find it in my heart to like her one tiny bit. She was unremittingly awful and deserved everything that she got. The final straw was her visit to the pig farm, which made me shudder with true horror.

So, poor Camille has a family that is possibly the worst in the world: it is hardly surprising that she has serious psychological issues. It also explains why she has not spoken to them in the nearly ten years since she finally left town. This makes her editor’s determination to thrust her back into such a hostile environment seem positively cruel. His later actions were also questioned by the group, who saw his attempts to parent Camille as motivated more by self-interest than genuine affection or empathy. Indeed, the number of genuinely ‘nice’ people that we meet in this book is rather small. The town seems to be a simmering mire of petty cruelty and misogyny that was highly unpleasant and yet very believable. Most disturbing to me was the sexual behavior of the preteens that we encounter: their casual use of sex as a weapon and the way that they display such terrible self-esteem was very sad. I hope that their experience of high school is extremely atypical.

Although this is a disturbing read, I would still recommend it. The characters may not be pleasant, but their actions make perfect sense once you understand their motivations, which shows real skill from the author. We also have an appealingly damaged heroine in Camille, and although I could not agree with some of her choices, I was certainly happy to see her stronger at the end of this trail than she was at the beginning.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is reaching the end of his probation with the Metropolitan Police in London and the time has come to choose a role within that mighty institution. Unfortunately, he seems unsuited to the exciting life of a detective and he is heavily recommended to move into the Case Progression Unit, which spends all its days shuffling paperwork. It may be vitally important to the daily operations of the police force, but he fears that he might die of boredom.

Fortunately, Peter displays a rather unexpected talent for seeing the dead when a ghost approaches him and reports witnessing a strange case of beheading. Rather than gibbering or staying quiet about the details he gathers from his ghostly informant, Peter reveals his encounter and is quickly introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the head of a secret branch of the Met that deals with anything decidedly ‘uncanny’. He soon becomes embroiled in trying to catch a strangely familiar murderer with a penchant for hitting people with very large sticks. At the same time he needs to learn to do magic and settle an increasingly heated dispute between Mother and Father Thames.

* * * * * 

I have to admit that one of the advantages of running a book group is that I can occasionally misuse my power to add suggestions from my stupidly long ‘To Read’ list. I was aware that Rivers of London, the English title, had caused quite a stir when it was first published and the reviews of the subsequent titles had only added to my conviction that I needed to read this series. Being a serious fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, I was rather hoping that this would be something similar, only with a English feel. I was not disappointed.

Peter Grant is a suitably imperfect hero, who spends too much time thinking about random stuff to really pay attention to the process of police work. He gets hung up on seemingly trivial details and then misses the important stuff that seems blazingly obvious to his best friend, and potential love interest, Leslie. It is no surprise that she ends up working for the Criminal Investigation Division, whilst Peter seems destined to die by a thousand paper cuts. The fact that Peter is not perfect makes him much more appealing and relatable than some heroes, and I certainly appreciated the fact that Leslie is so much better at being a ‘copper’ than he is: I always like a bit of gender equality in my reading.

I was also rather pleased that Peter’s abilities were not as suddenly amazing as those that many heroes display. His progress with magic is slow and somewhat dangerous as he repeatedly sets fire to things and keeps destroying his mobile phone. This allows us to accept the fantastical elements of the storyline much more easily because we take baby steps into this slightly different version of the real world. Of course there are things that are incredibly ‘uncanny’ but we are surrounded by mundane details and so they seem wonderfully possible. However, I rather wish that the editorial team had put a red pen through much of the seemingly endless lists of travelling directions. At times the book did almost descend into feeling like a print out from Google Maps or the recitations of a GPS. They were unnecessarily detailed and were rather distracting to those of us who do not have an intimate knowledge of inner London. This is a minor point, though, and my only criticism of world building that was generally impressive.

The tone of the writing felt very British to me, with Peter displaying a dry humor and sarcastic turn of phrase that had me chuckling away as I read. His relationship with Leslie seemed particularly English, with his forlorn longing and inability to tell her how he actually feels. This lack of self confidence was rather endearing and helped to counteract the fantastical elements of his new found abilities and experiences. However, the very British feel included some cultural references that were rather obscure and caused slight issues for some of the group. They made the wise decision to simply go with the flow, though, so it did not detract from the experience very much.

As the first in a series, there was surprisingly little time spent on extensive world building and very few times that felt like we were being subjected to excessive exposition. This left me with many unanswered questions at the end of the book, although the plotlines reached satisfying conclusions. It left me wanting to move on through the series to see what else is revealed, rather than being frustrated by a lack of resolution or needless teasers.

Whilst some people might be a little uncomfortable with the descriptions of the strange injuries that we encounter, I heartily recommend this title to anyone who wants a good Urban Fantasy with a British feel.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Updated Schedule

Due to changes in staffing I have had to alter the date of the meeting in June to the 25th. I have also added dates for the rest of the year and marked those which have the earlier start time during our summer hours. You can check out the new schedule on the Meeting Schedule page above.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Books for April

Our choices for this month are Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris and Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is already available on the Red Nooks. The order has been placed with Barnes & Noble and they should be added to all the Nook libraries soon.

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
(Steampunk / Fantasy / Mystery)

These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing and then washing up as corpses on the banks of the river Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless Eliza D Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest and drags her timorous new partner, Wellington Books along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is intent upon the enslaving all Britons. And Books and Braun (he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices) must get to the roots of a most nefarious plot… or see England fall to the Phoenix.

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
(Fantasy / Romance / Historical)

Jane Ellsworth is a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, life still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men

At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Books For March

Our choices for this month are Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and Dark Places, both of which are already on the Nooks. They have been added to the Nook libraries for your reading enjoyment!

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch 
(Urban Fantasy / Mystery / Crime)

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he'll face is a paper cut. But Peter's prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter's ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn 
(Mystery / Thriller / Crime)

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Books for February

The books for February are First Frost by our favorite author Sarah Addison Allen and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin. Both books are now available on the Nooks and there are paper copies of the Shoneyin title could be ordered through Inter-Library Loans.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
(Magical Realism / Women’s Fiction / Romance)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves...

It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.

Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?

When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
(Contemporary / Literary Fiction / Africa)

When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife's childlessness.

Meet Baba Segi . . .

A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing.

And his wives . . .

Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi's youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband's home.

Iya Tope—Baba Segi's second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear.

Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost.

Bolanle—Babi Segi's fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life's misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives . . . and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It’s nearly January . . . where did the time go?

This year has been rather disappointing for me in terms of the number of books that I have been able to read. My shift to part time employment in March put a severe dint in my free time and I had to prioritize the gigantic tomes included in my epic Wheel of Time Read Along. Fortunately we are drawing to the close of that series, so I will hopefully get my life back in the spring of next year. We have been slogging through the series since December 2012, so I may need a period of mourning at that point, but at least I should have more time for other things! However, although I have read a lot of pages, I have unfortunately completed a surprisingly small number of titles. Nevertheless, there are have been some definite high points to my reading this year, so I thought that I would share one of my favorites.

Whilst I am sorely tempted to declare Jan DeLima’s Summer Moon as my most favorite read of the year I am afraid that there was one title (well, it is actually two volumes of a series) that I have raved about even more. I have read quite a few of Brandon Sanderson’s titles, so when some blogging friends suggested a Read Along for The Way of Kings I jumped at the chance. Mr Sanderson writes at a prodigious rate and The Way of Kings was announced as the first volume in The Stormlight Archive, which is supposed to be a huge ten volumes in total. Volume 2: Words of Radiance was published in early March of this year, so we read right through both volumes over a twenty week period.

I have always read Mr Sanderson’s works as Read Alongs and I am almost certain that this has contributed to my massive enjoyment of his titles. The restriction of only reading a set number of pages each week and then discussing the book as you go along is wonderful because it allows you to really absorb the rich detail and complex world-building that seem to characterize his writing. I fear that reading at a more normal speed would lead to me missing some aspects of the complexity of his plotting and character development. His worlds are just so lush and rich with tiny points of wonderment that it seems appropriate to stroll through them and enjoy every minute detail.

Firmly situated in the Fantasy genre, The Stormlight Archive is Epic in every sense of the word. We begin The Way of Kings by being plunged into the final moments of an ancient battle that has left almost everything in the world dead or destroyed. We see this through the eyes of an eternal warrior who has fought this battle many times in the past and is destined to fight it repeatedly for eternity. If that is not epic enough to take your breath away, we next move to the present where an unimposing assassin dressed all in white displays the most amazing magical abilities in order to murder a King. We see the attack through the assassin’s eyes and learn how he manipulates gravity in order to outmaneuver his opponents. If you have seen The Matrix, then imagine ‘bullet time’ writ large: the imagery conjured by this sequence alone is worth the cost of the book. The rest of the title builds upon this amazing start in ways that actually made me squeal with delight in some places. Not only do we have an amazingly creative and wonderfully imagined magic system, but we also have original races, cultures, geography, weather, vegetation, wildlife, languages, history, religions, socio-economic structures and a strange fascination with the number ten.

However, perhaps the most exciting creation to define this series is the concept of ‘spren’. These are mostly manifestations of emotions, such as anger or pain, or natural phenomena, like fire or the wind; however, it seems that some spren are different. In The Way of Kings we encounter Syl, who appears to be a normal wind spren although she has taken a special interest in one of our main characters. Only he can see and hear her and she seems to be linked to his burgeoning magical powers in some way, but even she has no idea what she is or why she is different. It is with such intriguing creations that we are sucked into this world and made to care about our heroes. As I would expect in such a complex world, nothing is black and white, so our heroes are flawed and sometimes behave like total idiots, whilst our villains are revealed to have motives that we can understand even if they commit the most unspeakable crimes. Characters develop in meaningful ways and make surprising decisions that can be massively frustrating or jaw-droopingly awesome. This series is original and packed full of surprises, so that even the most jaded Fantasy reader will be delighted and surprised by the interweaving plotlines.

I cannot truly convey how much I enjoyed these wonderful titles in such a short post: honestly, I could write about them for an awful lot longer and go into amazing detail of several hundred things that I LOVED about them. My only criticism is one of pure practicality: these books are both monsters (Words of Radiance is the maximum size that the publishers could bind into one volume) and I would definitely recommend obtaining ecopies for comfortable reading . . . but the illustrations that are included in the text make me want to say that you should get paper copies as well so that you can really marvel at the world that they portray . . .

Here are two of my favorite pieces of artwork, one from each title. If you want to see more, you can view them on Mr Sanderson’s website.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Road Trip!

Reading Into Paranormal Book Group has invited us to join them for their discussion of Summer Moon by Jan DeLima.

They meet at Gardiner Public Library at 6pm on the first Tuesday of every month and will be discussing Jan’s book on December 2nd. Jan should be there to answer any burning questions, or you could save them for OUR discussion on the 11th! This might also be a good time to revisit the first book in the series, Celtic Moon, which is also available on the Nooks.

I’m afraid that both Sarah and I will be unable to make the trip, so we expect a full report when we see you at our next meeting.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Books For December

The books for December are "Hard Magic" by Larry Correia and "Summer Moon" by Jan DeLima. Orr next meeting is schedules for December 11th at 6:00 in the Lecture Hall.

Here is a brief description of the two choices:

Hard Magic 
by Larry Correia
(Urban Fantasy/Mystery)

Jake Sullivan is a licensed Private Eye—with a seriously hardboiled attitude. He also possesses raw magical talent and the ability to make objects in his vicinity light as a feather or as heavy as depleted uranium, all with a magical thought. It's no wonder the G-men turn to Jake when they need someone to go after a suspected killer who's been knocking off banks in a magic-enhanced crime spree. Problems arise when Jake discovers the bad girl behind the robberies is an old friend, and he happens to know her magic is just as powerful as his, and the Feds have plunged Jake into a secret battle between powerful cartels of magic-users--a cartel whose ruthless leaders have decided that Jake is far too dangerous to live.

Summer Moon
by Jan DeLima
(Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance) 

Rosa Alban has been obedient her entire life. But when her alpha husband dies, she seizes the opportunity to flee the oppressive Guardians—the rulers of the secret shapeshifter world. Her flight instantly brands her as a pack traitor, and she has no choice but to seek protection from a neighboring tribe by marrying one of their sons.

Known as the Beast of Merin, Luc Black loyally plays the part of unwanted son and devoted brother. He realizes marrying Rosa will strengthen his tribe’s territory, but he has no intention of loving ever again. Still, he’s unprepared for the intense physical need the wild she-wolf awakens in him.

When the Guardians hone in on Rosa, Luc must fight to protect his new bride. And as war descends, the unlikely allies discover their destinies are irrevocably entwined.