Friday, February 12, 2016

Winter

Winter by Marissa Meyer, 824 pages
Book 4 in the Lunar Chronicles

Spoilers if you haven't read Cress.

When last we met our crew, they had successfully managed to kidnap Emperor Kai before he could say "I do" to the evil Queen Levana. Orbiting Earth using Cress's hacker skills to evade capture, Cinder comes up with a plan that will get her onto Luna and (hopefully) start a revolution. Unfortunately, it involves Kai marrying Queen Levana after all, except this time on Luna, so that he can help smuggle them in.

Meanwhile, Jacin has made it back to Luna after seemingly selling out Cinder and her friends to Sybil Mira. He really doesn't care what happens - he just wants to get back to Princess Winter, Queen Levana's beautiful step-daughter. Winter herself is more than thrilled he has returned, not only because he is the only one who can calm her down when the walls start bleeding, but also because she loves him. Jacin also loves her, but knows that the two of them could never be together, for millions of reasons.

Cinder's plans are set. Can she and her friends start a revolution and change Luna forever?

What an adventure. 800-plus pages of cliffhangers, deadly struggles, and romantic moments later, and I can't believe the series is over. But what a fantastic ending! Every night I went to bed with my mind racing, not sure how everyone was going to survive and desperately hoping that they all would. Admittedly, there are a few moments that were a little too perfect (like Cress meeting Kai at just the right moment to evade capture), but the story moves so quickly that it's hard to be too judgmental. Meyer really drives home the deadliness of the Lunars and their powers in ways that weren't as obvious in the previous books, and she still manages to deftly weave all the different characters' narratives together without missing a beat. She also manages to make Winter almost satirically perfect as her stand in for Snow White (of course she could go convince a pack of Lunar special operatives to join Cinder's cause just by singing), but without making too much fun of her. Luckily I still have the recently released short story collection to keep me anchored in this wonderful sci-fi world.

March: Books 1 and 2

March: Book 1, 128 pages, and March: Book 2, 189 pages, both by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and with art by Nate Powell

March recounts the life of Congressman John Lewis, one of the Big Six leaders of the civil rights movement and the only person still alive who spoke at the March on Washington. Using the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009 as a framing device, Lewis tells about his childhood as a sharecropper's son, his desire to be a preacher, and the experiences that led to his role in the lunch counter sit-ins and other civil disobedience movements in the 1960s. Book 1 primarily deals with those early demonstrations, while Book 2 sees him remembering the Freedom Rides into the deep south to challenge the non-enforcement of interstate bus desegregation and the events that led to the March on Washington in 1963.

You might think that a comic book would be ill-suited to tell a story like this. You would be wrong, of course, but there is also a historic precedent for this. In 1957, a comic about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery bus boycott was published. John Lewis read this comic book as a young man and was inspired, and it was his hope that by publishing his story in comic format, he might do the same for others. Both volumes are fantastic, especially with Nate Powell's wonderful art. Rendered in black and white, he manages to capture what many of us have seen on TV (either live or in documentaries), and make it more than just a carbon copy of newsreel footage. For example, you can see and feel the dread of the Freedom Riders pulling into a town and being forced to wait on the bus while the mob grows outside, knowing they face violence as soon as they are allowed to get off. March is an incredibly important read, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I can't wait until book 3 comes out.

Born to Be Awkward / Mike Bender & Doug Chernack / 153 pp.

Goofy pictures of babies and small children, with somewhat-funny captions.  My favorites were the 'Re-creating the Awkwardness' pages, in which a bizarro baby picture is re-staged with adult subjects.  Fun, but not as good as Wreck the Halls: Cake Wrecks Gets Festive, or the benchmark title in this genre, The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

Seraphina and Shadow Scale

Seraphina, 467 pages,Shadow Scale, 608 pages, both by Rachel Hartman
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I realized while digging through my old posts that I never had the chance to review Seraphina, so it's a good thing I re-read it before reading Shadow Scale! Seraphina Dombegh has spent a large chunk of her life trying to remain unnoticed, and for good reason: she's half-dragon in a land that still hasn't quite accepted dragons living amongst them, despite 40 years of peace. Complicating things is the death of the queen's son in a suspiciously draconian fashion, just days before Ardmagar Comonot, leader of the dragons, is scheduled to arrive in Goredd to celebrate the anniversary of the treaty between the dragons and humans. Despite being a lowly assistant to the court composer, she still manages to find herself in the middle of the investigation, helping Kiggs, the captain of the city guard, and Princess Glisselda, unravel the mystery surrounding the prince's death. And, surprisingly for her, she finds other half-dragons along the way. Shadow Scale sees our heroine leave Goredd in search of the rest of the half-dragons, as war looms from the fallout of the ending of the first book.

I'm leaving a lot out here to avoid any major spoilers, but the important part is that both of these books are great. What Hartman (a WashU alum, I might add) does with the concept of dragons in these books is wonderful. Instead of making them incredibly deadly creatures and leaving them at that, she instead makes them intelligent beings who pursue knowledge doggedly and place logic and order above everything. They remind me a lot of the Vulcans from Star Trek, especially in their determination to avoid any and all emotion, which is complicated when they transform into humans. There's also a touch of romance between Kiggs and Seraphina, which is of course made worse by the fact that Kiggs has been betrothed to Princess Glisselda since forever, and neither of them want to hurt her. Hartman also does an excellent job of world building, drawing heavily from medieval and Renaissance history and European, African and Caribbean culture in order to create the different countries in the books. While the ending of Shadow Scale seems to wrap everything up nicely, I wouldn't mind another book in Seraphina's world.

The Princes of Ireland

The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherford  350 pp. (estimated)

I didn't realize this was an abridged audiobook version when I selected it. Based on the number of discs I'm estimating it at less than half the pages of the print version. This saga spans eleven centuries, beginning with the love story of Connell and Deirdre during the Pagan times of the High Kings of Tara and going through the English takeover of Ireland during the reign of Henry VIII. Along the way there are battles with Vikings, the creation of the Book of Kells, Druids, monks, illuminated manuscripts, tribal chieftains, rebels, intrigue and a rich interweaving of history with characters true to their place and time. Rutherford takes historical detail and enlivens it with the stories of memorable people, both real and fictional. To be honest, I don't know if I would have tackled the lengthy print version but I'm disappointed that this audio version was an abridgment.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fates and furies

Fates and Furies / Lauren Groff 391 pgs.

Lotto and Mathilde are the "it" couple.  Married right out of college they are beautiful, glamorous, in love, and destined for greatness.  But some times things aren't always how they seem.  The fates part of the book covers Lotto.  He is a sex machine, tall, and dynamic.  But he is also entitled, slow to understand the true nature of his talents and a bit self centered.  He meets Mathilde and many things change.  He becomes a dedicated  and faithful husband but never really finds success as an actor.  Mathilde is a saintly dedicated and faithful wife who works hard to support their fairly poverty stricken household.  Lotto, who hales from wealth, is disowned by his mother because she disapproves of the marriage.

In the furies portion of the book, we get Mathilde's story and a better view of how things aren't what they seem.  She had a tough childhood that resulted in her toughness.  Lotto seems to be her only friend and that seems ok with her.

In the beginning, I didn't know if I wanted to continue reading I was so turned off by the story, the writing and how we had to be reminded a LOT of just how sexy these characters are...Later, I continued reading because there are some twists and turns and it becomes more interesting.  Over all, after hearing so much about this book, I had hoped to like it better.

The mare, by Mary Gaitskill



The premise of this novel sounds not only unpromising, but perhaps downright awful:  Frustrated and childless second wife of an older academic becomes overly-involved with the Hispanic/Black young girl from Brooklyn she sponsors as “Fresh Air Fund” kid.  While visiting her in the country, the under-privileged child falls in love with an abused and ugly mare and finds “happiness” through taming and riding her to triumph.  Ugh.  And, actually, the first part of the book made me very uncomfortable and I almost gave it up.  But it is really an unsentimental look at all the characters.  Ginger, an unsuccessful artist and recovering substance abuser, is an adjunct at the same college as her professor husband.  Paul, whose ex-wife and teenaged daughter live uncomfortably nearby, is not only unwilling to start a new family with Ginger, he embarks upon an affair with a younger colleague.  Velveteen Vargas, eleven years old, lives with her often hostile and abusive mother, Silvia, and favored younger brother, Dante, in a dangerous part of Brooklyn.  She is becoming attractive to older boys and struggles both in school and at home.  No one, not even the well-to-do white folks, are secure or happy.  Nor do they always make the right or sensible choices.  There are mixed motives on all sides and the book provides no easy answers.  441 pp.

Dept. of speculation, by Jenny Offill



Less than 200 pages long, and consisting of seeming unrelated paragraphs separated by white space between them, this quietly affecting book tells the story of a marriage from the perspective of the narrator known only as “the wife.”  In this compact and intimate space, the novel is very successful.  The reader comes to know the protagonists very well and roots for the success of this imperfect union.  179 pp.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Soon I Will Be Invincible

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, 287 pages

Doctor Impossible is (as he keeps reminding us) the smartest man in the world. It's obvious when you consider all of his diabolical plots for world domination: robot armies, moving the moon, various viruses. Fatale is a new-ish superhero, a half-cyborg half-human who's not entirely sure she belongs on a superteam. Soon I Will Be Invincible starts just as Doctor Impossible is escaping prison (for the twelfth time), and Fatale is helping her new superteam track down CoreFire, the ultimate superhero, who has gone missing. The rest of the story is a superhuman treasure trove, playing with all of the tropes of the genre (the farfetched evil plans, the origin stories, the secret identities, the villain monologuing when he should be destroying) but offering it in a fresh, fun way.

Christa has been telling me for what seems like YEARS that I need to read this book, so when I finally picked it up, there was a certain pressure to like it. And hey, whaddaya know, I did like it. A lot! I should have listened to her ages ago.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Masters of sex

Masers of sex: the life and times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the couple who taught America how to love / Thomas Maier 411 pgs.

This biography of the "sexologists" Masters and Johnson that lead to the hit tv series of the same name.  It was interesting to learn more about their groundbreaking research and life in St. Louis.  Equally interesting is their personal lives...before they became "Masters and Johnson" and eventually a married couple who may have been more focused on their professional life than their private life.

Even though some of their purported research was faulty, they still made huge steps forward understanding the actual biology of sex and take away the discomfort of talking about it, making sure people realize what an important role it plays in relationships.

I thought the book did a good job covering both people but was a little disappointed in the end where the focus seemed to be a little heavy on Johnson being alone and bitter.  Oh well, not saying it isn't accurate, just not sure if it should define her.