Book Review: Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read this right after the first book Curse of Chalion. I liked this one a whole lot more, mainly because I loved that Bujold focused the sequel on Ista, mother of who had been considered mad and is now bitter towards the gods. This story is The Sermon of the Cups, explained in the first book) expanded in the form of Ista’s pilgrimage. I particularly enjoyed Liss’s characterization of a courier girl who becomes Ista’s handmaiden, and breaks all the rules in how a handmaiden is supposed to act. I also loved the interaction between Ista and the gods, which was equal parts exasperation and intimacy. This is a beautiful tale of growth and submission, done from a fortyish woman’s point of view. Lovely!

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Review: A Stranger in Olondria

A Stranger in Olondria
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last month I read a book that took me to a futuristic Brazil. This month I read a book that took me to a different world altogether.

A Stranger in Olondria is a book you read slowly to savor every sentence. It’s about a young man who travels to a distant land and is haunted by an illiterate ghost, but really, that’s not what the story is about. It’s about the love of reading. How words are a type of magic that conjures images, embodies the heart of a person, indeed, even a person long dead, and transport a reader to a different place and time. Sofia’s descriptions lands of Bain and the Tea Islands were so incredibly rich, it felt at times like reading it was an escape, a true escape, from my real life.

This is not a book you read fast. Mundane moments are explained in rich detail: following Jevick as he learns to read, accompanying him as he travels to long-awaited Bain, experiencing, his wonder, his joy, as he explores the city. Experiencing his fear as the ghost of a young woman he met on the ship starts appearing to him. His attempts to get rid of the ghost, which takes him to an asylum. The characters he meet: The Priest of the Stone, his daughter, the melancholy Tialon, chipper Miros, who humor covers a lovelorn despair, and his uncle Auram, a fanatic who wishes to use Jevick to contact his ghost, or Angel. And then there’s the ghost herself, Jissavet, a force to be reckoned, even after her death, who demands her story to be written. And oh yes, there are stories. Many many stories, not just hers alone. (My favorite is a retelling of a selkie story that I instantly recognized, and felt extreme happiness upon recognizing it.)

There was a point where Jevick bemoans the loss one feels upon approaching the end of a book. I looked to see how many pages I had left, and I felt that loss keenly, it almost felt kind of meta. This is a book lovers book, something to read for the pleasure of reading itself, one mesmerizing word at a time.

Five books out of five, because…I can’t think of any other perfect way to rate it.
Five books out of five, because

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Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m familiar with Saladin’s short fiction and been wanting to read this for a while.

This book really appealed to my spiritual self. I loved how Adoulla and Raseed had different views of their faith. Raseed being more the literal, by the book conservative while Adoulla was more relaxed and liberal. And it was so cool to see Adoulla using God’s name to fight the ghuls. Also, Saladin is the best blasphemer ever. The insults in this book had me in tears.

I also liked the depiction of the different relationships, particularly the tension between Adoulla and Miri. The book did slow down in the middle, where I found myself skipping a lot of talking scenes. But the story itself was good, and the action scenes, particularly towards the end of the book, had me riveted. It has me all psyched up for the next book. Four cardamon teas out of five.

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Review: Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness, I devoured this book in two days. And I am not that much of a Jane Austen fan, but loved, loved, LOVED this book! I loved the fierce love/jealousy between Jane and Melody. Melody is a silly goose, but Jane could be so stubbornly blind to her own strengths. I knew full well how the love affairs would play out, and yet I went along for the ride anyway because it was so delightful. And the glamour in this was wonderful. The magic fit so well with the rules of etiquette, it didn’t feel forced like the zombies in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It flowed very natural with a very satisfying finish. Now I’ll have to read Glamour in Glass next! Five glamurals out of five.

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Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We listened to this during our trip to Yellowstone.

Sometimes I forget the authors who have heavy influences over my writing. If the Narnia series was the first fantasy books I ever read, the Wrinkle in Time series would be the first fantasy/science fiction series that set me on the path to writing. I believe it was also the first SF book I read that effectively wove Christian faith and science into a fun, cohesive whole that did not feel preachy, but filled with wonder and possibility.

As an adult, I was surprised at how much science is in this. I know as a kid, the concept of space and time being the fourth dimension was beyond me (and certainly never explored in school) To this day, I know what mitochondria are, not through my science class, but through L’Engle’s exploration of Charles Wallace in the second? third? book. (Have to put that on my list). I also was able to pick up on the love of all things geek, during a time when being a geek meant being an oddball, an outcast. There’s a point where Meg and Calvin are talking about how different they feel around other people, how they don’t feel “normal” and they can’t fit in, and I looked at my husband and said, “They’re talking about being geeks!”

I fell in love with Meg all over again. Such a change from the Narnian Penvensie girls, who are proper and ladylike. Meg slouches, grumbles, and when someone makes a crack about the brother, instead of running off to tell her twin brothers, she beats up the kid herself. She’s a delinquent, a crybaby and a whiner, which, due to L’Engle’s reading, becomes overdramatic and overblown with angst (more on that in a bit). I love how Meg matures throughout the book, such as when she recognizes that her use of handholding is a sign of comfort, but also puts her in a position to constantly rely on others rather than trust her own strength. She also learns to use her faults as a weapon. I also love Mrs. Murray as both mother and scientist, though it’s interesting that she spends much of the book “cooking” in her lab. The three old ladies, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which (I finally got the pun of her appearance.) And then there was the Happy Medium, which not only surprised me, but was also a pleasant departure from Narnia’s ALL MEDIUMS AND WITCHES ARE EVILLLLLL….

In fact, women as a whole are treated with a positive bent. It made me wonder if this book was written as a response to Lewis’s Narna. I know it definitely influenced me as a child.

It’s the only complaint I had with the audiobook is L’Engle’s reading. I was excited to learn that she reads it herself, but then realized she TENDS. TO EMPHASIZE. AND. EMOTE. EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. LIKE. IT’S. WRITTEN. IN. CAAAAAAAAAAPS. Her portrayal of Meg was so full of angst, she became almost unlikeable. Her reading of Mrs. Which, fun on the page, is torture in audio, because she shouts in a loud echoey effect which grates on the ears.

But reading aside, I fell in love with this series all over again, and look forward to introducing the next book to my son. (I’ll do the reading this time, I think). Four tesseracts out of five, and we could’ve used one of those. Would’ve made our trip to Yellowstone easier.

Edit 7/16/14: There’s also a Wrinkle in Time graphic novel. My son read it in one day,and when he gave it to me he said I would love it. I’m happy to say that his prediction was right. You can read my review of it at Goodreads.

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Review: Watership Down

Watership Down
Watership Down by Richard Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After watching the movie when I was a kid, I avoided the book because I thought it would be dark and disturbing. Not so. It’s mainly about a bunch of rabbits that set off to form their own colony. There’s a lot of rambling about flowers and nature and oh-isn’t-this-pretty? prose that I skipped. I also found the written accents, such as Kehaar, to be grating on the eyes. But I did enjoy the character development of all the rabbits (my favorite was Strawberry), and the myth tales of El-ehrairah was a delight to read. A new way to look at the Rabbit Trickster mythology. I think this would be a good book to read to the boy. I’ll keep him away from the movie, though.

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Lavender & Chamomile Reprint, Wiscon 36 Schedule and Chicon 7

Way…way too much has been happening in my life. Suffice it to say, I finished my short story Sun-Touched and sending it out to markets, and I’m putting all my energy into editing Willow.  I’ll post more on that, but for now, I have a couple of announcements:

LAVENDER & CHAMOMILE REPRINTED IN A RUSTLE OF LEAVES ANTHOLOGY

I’m pleased to announce that my short story "Lavender and Chamomile" has been reprinted in the anthology A Rustle of Dark Leaves: Tales for the Shadows of the Forest, edited by Inanna Gabriel and published by Misanthrope Press. From the website:

Step among the trees and discover the tales that lurk within the shadows that fall across the forest floor. From the words of the Forest himself to the ancient gods who defend him, from those who dwell within to those who merely wander, these fifteen tales of the forest will intrigue, inspire, terrify, and enchant.

Includes stories by Alexis A. Hunter, Gerri Leen, LaShawn M. Wanak, Jenni Wiltz, Seth Drake, and many more, with an introduction by Cory Thomas Hutcheson. A Rustle of Dark Leaves: Tales from the Shadows of the Forest is sure to leave you with the camping lantern on and the tent zipped tight.

You can get the print version from their website or the ebook at Smashwords. You can also order both versions at Amazon. And when you do read it, send a review to Goodreads!

MY WISCON 36 SCHEDULE

This year’s Wiscon will be a little busy for me since I am this year’s liaison for one of the Guests of Honor at Wiscon 36: Andrea Hairston,  author of Mindscape and the 2011 Tiptree winner Redwood and Wildfire. Because of this, I’m keeping my schedule pretty light:

Friday, May 26, I’ll be moderating the Religious Agenda in SF panel in Conference 4 at 4pm. We will discuss such works as The Chronicles of Narnia, Left Behind, Battlefield Earth and other stories that have a clear religious bias.

Then, on Saturday, May 27 I’m part of the Exotic Worlds reading group at Michelangelo’s at 1pm. I’ll be reading an excerpt from the short story I just finished, "Sun-Touched". Even if you aren’t going to Wiscon, stop on by!

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Finally, just a brief, brief note that I’m going to Chicon this year! More info on that in a later post, but they just announced that the opening night will be held at the Adler Planetarium. Can you say SQUEE!!!! I knew you could.