Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amy Meyerson's love of books is at the core of this family mystery, in which Miranda inherits a bookstore named Prospero Books from her beloved Uncle Billy. A serious falling out between her mother and her uncle when she was twelve has deprived her of any further contact with him. Sixteen years later, upon Billy's death, she finds she is both the owner of a floundering LA bookstore and sent on one final scavenger hunt, seeking answers to her many questions about what happened between her mother and uncle. The astute reader can surmise the reason for the family fracture early in the book.

While I enjoyed some aspects of the story, I found the scavenger hunt aspects a bit contrived to have been arranged by an aging man dying of cardiac disease. I also loathed Miranda's boyfriend from the get-go, and wish that her parents had been fleshed out a bit more. This is a pleasant summer diversion read, especially if you share a love of books.

I Received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Park Row via Edelweiss.Plus in exchange for an honest review. I also received a paper ARC copy of this book.

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Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

The most astonishing thing about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is that Carson McCullers wrote it in her early twenties and that it was published when she was only 23 years old. The human struggles in this novel are poignant, fascinating and quite surprising for a novel written by a young woman in the 1940's. Tackling topics that include racism, Marxism, religion, disability, and sexuality, McCullers created a complicated crazy quilt of characters, all revolving around her deaf-mute protagonist John Singer. The handling may not always be deft or sophisticated but her writing is clear and she examines topics that were rarely addressed in her day.

Communication, isolation, and connectedness are the central themes of this book: everyone tells John Singer all their hopes, fears, hatreds, without even being sure he understands their confidences but no one reaches out or appears to listen to the deaf man at all. None of the other characters understand him, or know him, in any depth. Singer is the well into which they pour their emotions and needs, but no one recognizes the desperation of this quiet, kind man, other than perhaps Dr. Copeland, who is too busy with his own personal struggles to see how desperately alone, depressed and forlorn John Singer becomes over the course of the book.

The varied cast of central characters is headlined by Mick Kelley, a fourteen-year-old loving daughter/sister and aspiring musician, who represents the only point of hope for the future in this entire novel. Additional characters include Dr. Copeland, an African-American doctor who rightfully bristles at the terrible lot of black people in American, Biff Brannon, owner of the local café, whose hardworking but no longer loved wife dies midway through the book and Jake Blount, a disgruntled alcoholic who espouses socialism but a different flavor from that of Marx-reading Dr. Copeland. These four characters all develop a relationship with Singer that is unidirectional to varying extents. Singer, the deaf man, is there to "listen" to them and that is all. At least Dr. Copeland seems to care about Singer as a person, admiring his kindness and generosity, but he holds him up an idealized white man and that seems to get in this way of his truly being Singer's friend. Mick, in the way that is all too common with teens, doesn't seem to really see John Singer as a three-dimensional person. She feels his kindness and seeks him out to share her hopes, but she never attempts to learn to understand and communicate with him. Jake and Biff neither understand Singer nor are motivated to seek much understanding of him. The lack of connectedness to Singer and to their others in their own lives is painful. Every character in the book seems fairly disconnected from everyone else. Spouses from each other, parents from children, siblings from each other. Even when Mick seems to connect to a prospective boyfriend, he departs.

One of the hotly discussed subtexts of the book is the relationship between John Singer and his best-friend and former roommate, fellow deaf-mute Spiro Antonopolous, who is interred for mental health reasons by his callous cousin Charlie Parker. While much has been written in retrospect about the relationship between John and Spiro being sexual, to me the essential point is that John loves Spiro. Spiro was the one person that John could easily communicate with, prior to Spiro's descent into what appears to be schizophrenia or a severe mood disorder. The tragedy of Charlie's unilateral decision ripples through John Singer's life, severing the only close emotional relationship he had and depriving him of the one person who could understand him. We know little of either man's background but their finding each other seems to have been vital for their surviving in a world that devalues the differently abled, at least for a time. As one fails, the other slowly spirals into depression and loss, culminating in the crushing end of Part 2. They shared a life together and what they did in that life sexually seems secondary to the love and devotion Singer feels. Spiro is the only person that John Singer loved and to whom he was connected. In fact, other than Mick's relationship with her baby brother Bubber, John and Spiro's relationship is the only truly loving relationship we encounter in the book, though by the time we meet Spiro, it too seems like a fairly unilateral relationship.

While one could quibble with some aspects of the plot, this is a powerful novel and one of the earliest novels to feature a protagonist who is disabled, or more accurately, differently abled, given John Singer's wholly normal cognitive and emotional capacity.


"There he lies in the darkness, under the frail white flowers,
Heedless at last, in the silence, of these sweet midsummer hours...
Green wind from the green-gold branches, what is the song you bring?
What are all the songs for me, now, who no more cares to sing?
Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,
But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill."

from The Lonely Hunter by Fiona McLeod, quoted from the poem from which Carson McCullers drew the title of this novel.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trail of Lightning is the first book in the Sixth World series, set in a post-apocalyptic America (our America as we presently know it would be the Fifth World) in which a reformed Navajo nation, Dinétah, tries to forge a future. Resources, including fresh water, are scarce. Magic, gods, and monsters of legend thrive. Maggie Hoskie, the central character, is a monster hunter endowed with the magical abilities of her clan, K'aahanáanii, the Living Arrow, a kind of preternatural ability to kill things (and sometimes people), and the gift of Honágháahnii, or Walks-Around, meaning she's very fast. Maggie, or Magdalena (interesting choice of name both for biblical and urban slang reasons), is also a very troubled soul. As we see from the outset, she is burdened by the disappearance of the man that trained her, Neizghání, who abandoned her after training her to fight magical monsters. It's not giving much away to say that Maggie has some major emotional issues with Neizghání's departure. Maggie continues to fight monsters, safeguarding the communities inside the magical walls of Dinétah, until she encounters a witch-created creature she is puzzled by. Her friend and father figure, the medicine man Tah, connects Maggie with his grandson, handsome Kai Arviso, who has both medicine man powers of healing but also mysterious weather-ways. Tah thinks Kai will help Maggie stay safe as she pursues the witch that is responsible for creating the Navajo version of golems, who start showing up in scary numbers all through communities in Dinétah, stealing and killing people, including children, creating ghosts that Kai can see. Of course, if you know anything about the Navajo mythos, you know when there are witches that Coyote won't be far away.

This book draws on rich Navajo mythology, in particular, the dynamic between Coyote and Rabbit, two trickster characters, one bad and capricious, and the other known for his cleverness. You can get a feel for Coyote and Rabbit on the website here. Coyote is a notorious trickster, never to be trusted because he just can't resist the opportunity to stir up trouble. (He's the Loki of the Navajo mythos.) Rabbit is the clever figure who manages to get away. Roanhorse has adapted the Diné Bahaneʼ (Navajo creation myth) in an interesting fashion in this book, and the reader floats in the Navajo world of Dinétah, the Sixth World, rarely seeing or hearing of anyone who is not Navajo. That immersion is one of the best aspects of this book. I loved how Roanhorse has adapted the mythos to her world.

Less satisfying in this book is some of the plot's structure and its pacing. Maggie is an unreliable narrator and we are left with Kai and some of the secondary characters trying to give us a fuller view of her, as they try to offer her their observations of her actions, worldview, and choices. Without revealing any spoilers, there are two major plot twists (at least one of which you can see coming a mile away) revealed toward the end of the book that then left me dissatisfied with Maggie's insights into her actions. Chief among the narratives I am troubled by is the fact that in the opening of the book, Maggie kills an injured child, based on faulty information she has absorbed from another character. Late in the book, when it is revealed this character has lied, manipulated and abused her emotionally, Maggie never looks back on what she did because of him. Her internal focus remains on what she herself lost as a child, due to yet another abusive character's machinations. I was dissatisfied with that lack of insight because it leaves me wondering whether she will continue to repeat her mistakes. Killing a child is a visceral moment that remains unresolved in its implications. In terms of its pacing, this book races along on a wild series of road trips with Maggie and Kai, and yet most of the revelatory action takes place in the last fifty pages and the novel ends on something of a cliffhanger, which I know is a problem for some of my readers.

In spite of some of my dissatisfaction with the plot, the pacing, etc. I would definitely pick up the next book in this series because the Sixth World that Roanhorse has given us is a fascinating world to read about. I'm looking forward to the sequel! This book should appeal to fans of Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series who have enjoyed the walker/Coyote dynamic. Roanhorse has upped the ante on Coyote's notorious mischief and, of course, she offers an authentic taste of the Navajo world.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Review: Circe

Circe Circe by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first of Miller's work I've read and it is a masterful retelling of Circe and her mythos. I'm not sure what readers complaining in other reviews about lack of story-driven plot were expecting but iterations of Circe's story are told in Homer's Odyssey, Hesiod's Telegony, Virgil's Aeneid, and Hyginus' Fabulae. Miller has faithfully stitched together these fragments, creating a moving tapestry of Circe's long life.

Depicting Circe as a survivor of much familial abuse, a minor goddess who fights for herself, her son, her freedom, Miller gives us a woman who grows into her powers out of necessity rather than any true malevolent desire. (Other than her jealous treachery with Scylla.) Even the origin of her turning men into pigs lies in a heinous act, perpetrated upon her when she is exiled on the island of Aeaea by her father Helios. Living as a woman, plausibly alone and vulnerable in her exile, she grows to feel that the best defense is a good offense. And yet she still is capable of evaluating men as individuals because Odysseus survives (in part thanks to Hermes), as do his men. Miller has given us a Circe whose loneliness and longing for love and affection are palpable, as is her anger and outrage. I listened to the audiobook, read by Perdita Weeks, whose narration is pitch perfect. She relates even the most terrible of Circe's acts in a sympathetic and sometimes confidential tone. I highly recommend this audio edition.

This is a marvelous adaptation. I am looking forward to exploring Miller's other work.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: The Mermaid

The Mermaid The Mermaid by Christina Henry
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

This is my first foray into Christina Henry's work. At first glance, The Mermaid reads like a cautionary tale, platformed off the opening of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a mermaid who sees a sailor and falls in love. While there is less sorrow than in the Andersen fairy tale, there is greater danger and in sharp contrast to the Christian ethos of Andersen's writing, we see the damage religion can cause.

In this story, Amelia is a mermaid separated from her people after she goes exploring. She meets Jack, a sailor, after being tangled in one of his fishing nets. Jack, kind soul that he is, releases her. She follows after him, after seeing a sadness in his eyes. After a painful exit from the ocean, she finds her magic allows her to shift to human form and she finds Jack in his cabin and stays with him. For decades. Though she regularly still swims with fins, she lives like a human woman and Jack's wife. When Jack dies the townspeople, long suspicious that unaging Amelia isn't a regular human, cover for the grieving widow, shielding her from gossip and burying any outsider tales that their widow was actually a mermaid. Enter the machinations of P.T. Barnum and his partner, Levi Lyman, with a plan to create a stir and make a fortune off of displaying a real live mermaid.

The most interesting aspect of this story is Amelia's status as not quite human and not quite animal (in the sense of being a "dumb" animal, as if there is such a thing.) Amelia is a smart, freedom-loving being, who, for reasons I never grew to understand, decides to go into the employ of P.T. Barnum, showing her true form to thousands of onlookers a day. She didn't need to and she doesn't really need any money to live. Her decision to leave Maine and travel to New York to forge some sort of new life puts her at no small risk. Both Levi Lyman and Barnum's wife Charity (once she's on board the mermaid train) genuinely fear for Amelia's safety and her rights. While the book has lots of interesting points to make about sentient beings, racism, (speciesism?) and religious extremism, the story itself, like any fairy tale, requires a fair amount of suspension of belief on the part of the reader. The thing I kept coming back to again and again is why would this mermaid put herself out there like this, agree to it, stick with it, etc? I found that aspect of the book tough going. I could quibble about other things like the jarring use of isolated vernacular, particularly the word humbug which is employed, in a nonstandard use for those who have read Dickens,* with an article ("a humbug"), throughout the book.

This was a pleasant diversion, giving the reader a pensive mermaid trying to find her way.

*"We must have humbug, we all like humbug, we couldn't get on without humbug." - Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from First To Read and Berkley Publishing, along with a paper ARC copy of the book from a Goodreads giveaway.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: Plum Rains

Plum Rains Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Plum Rains is quiet genre-bending book. Historical fiction, sci-fi, and dystopian all at once, it takes place in the near future (merely a decade on from now) in Tokyo, in a world on the cusp of mainstreaming artificial intelligence into the workforce, and on the brink of disaster from toxic environmental conditions that take worker lives and sabotage white collar fertility. The story follows three characters. Angelica Navarro is a Filipina caregiver who has been working in Japan for five years and who is mired in debt to the Cebuan mob guy who funded her move to Japan. Sayoku Itou, the hundred-year-old woman she cares for, is stubborn, private and fragile. Hiro is a prototype carer robot who starts out naive as a toddler and learns exponentially as he lives with Anji-sensei and Sayoko-san. Angelica is at first very resistant to everything Hiro represents since he is clearly a harbinger of the end of the guest workers program in Japan. Over the course of the book, her resistance to Hiro wanes.

At the start of the book, Angelica and Sayoko are preparing for Sayoko's birthday party. Angelica's phone and all her accounts have been hacked and she correctly assumes that it is because she is late on making her payments to her debtholder. As Angelica struggles to regain control of her assets, accounts, and life, we see the struggle of guest workers in foreign countries. Parallel to Angelica's story is Sayoko's, for she is not what she seems. First of all, she isn't even Japanese, she's Taiwanese and from an aboriginal Taiwanese tribe. She has many dark secrets in her past, a past about which her son, a minister in the Japanese government, knows nothing. As the book opens, Sayoko receives a robot as a present and surprisingly, given her age, embraces the technology. She spends a good fraction of the first half of the book assembling the as-yet-unnamed Hiro in several stages and teaching him about Japanese culture. Romano-Lax's insights about the elderly and their need to be relevant and needed are poignant. Hiro, once he is Hiro, is an engaging and thoughtful AI with an interesting moral compass and seemingly few protocol checks. He becomes integral to the life of Angelica and Sayoko in surprising ways.

While I was a bit dissatisfied with the end of this book (I'd be happy to discuss with readers why), I loved its quiet contemplation of the role that artificial intelligence will play in the future care of the first world's aging population and how robots can potentially eliminate human jobs. (A valid question is whether there will even be enough humans to do these jobs, however.) The effects of heavy metals and other chemical contamination, social and cultural delays in childbearing, and the steadily decreasing fertility of women in first world countries are significant and real trends that are emerging in many first world countries. (Currently, in 2018, Japan has the lowest birth rate in the world.) The interface between low birth rates, aging populations, a country's economy, and the use of robots to do jobs that there are fewer humans to do is an interesting one to explore. However, what I loved most about the book is Romano-Lax's focus on the struggles of guest workers in a country like Japan, where people never discuss their private lives, struggles, and fears. Angelica's vulnerable situation is artfully rendered, enough so that you almost don't feel the edge as the book crosses into a dystopia where babies are prized above individual's rights.

An enjoyable read.

Readers interested in the Atayal tribe and Formosan headhunters can find more information here.

I received a Digital Review Copy and paper copy of this book from Soho Press and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Review: Revenant Gun

Revenant Gun Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A solid 5 Stars

Reading this series has never been facile but it has always been satisfying. While Ninefox Gambit was an often disorienting immersion experience, the fascinating world in which Jedao awakens in rewarded the reader with a novel of the scope and scale that truly defines the Space Opera genre. If the first Machineries book was Jedao's and the second, Raven Strategem, was Cheris's, Revenant Gun belongs to Nirai Hexarch Kujen. We finally learn more about this shadowy, or might I even say shady, character. Prepare yourself. If you had qualms about Jedao, Kujen is the most challenging (repellant?) character in a series in which our shifting paradigms defined the moral ambiguity of the Machineries world. I can firmly say that every reservation that I had about Kel formation instinct, or what happened to Jedao every time he reawakened since his execution, or my thoughts about the relative benefits of calendrical heresy were borne out by this final volume. Lee finally lets us see more of the backstory and the underpinnings of this world. He graciously leaves us at what will merely be the beginning of the latest iteration.

Moving almost a decade forward in time from the end of Raven Stratagem, we find that Nirai Kujen has come up with his ingenious/diabolical plan to regain control and restore the high calendar which Cheris fractured at the end of the second book. His plan involves use of that well-known mass murderer, who was executed four hundred years before. Yep, that's right. How, you ask? Well, he is a Nirai, and those STEM guys are wicked clever. Thus, in Revenant Gun we get two Jedaos. One is the early life fragment of Jedao's memories at age seventeen, a revenant reawakened in the beaten up body of a forty-four year old man who is not a man (to explain would be a spoiler but, once again, communication with servitors leads the astute reader along the path of insight into just what's going on here) while the other Jedao is the Cheris-Jedao hybrid. Cheris holds the many memories, and especially the strategical mental database, of everything that happened (and a lot of it was no-bueno) to Jedao after age seventeen. She doesn't really make her appearance, along with a few interesting servitors, until more than halfway through the book and I had missed her voice. Cheris-Jedao still want the world to be a better place than it has been. The status quo Kujen and his Jedao are working to return to pose a powerful opposition, however. How these two Jedaos evolve over the course of this story, since both have essentially the same starting material, is absorbing reading. In occasional looks backward to the period just after Cheris creates exotic calendar chaos, we see how the rebellion struggles following the decimation of the hexarchate that leaves Nirai Kujen and Shuos Mikodez standing on opposite sides of calendrical heresy. (Cheris had disappeared at that point.) As the reader parses the two Jedaos, Nirai Kujen comes to fore in the book. Stepping much farther back in time, we begin to see the truly creepy and abusive relationship Kujen has had with Jedao. How did the world end up in this mess of cruelty, violence, rigidity, submission of self to power? Just as in our world, the seeming best of intentions for social order so often go astray. (Of course, sometimes our best intentions are also just those convenient lies we tell ourselves to get what we want.)

Among the many things I've enjoyed in this trilogy was the diversity of gender and orientation that was threaded seamlessly, and without labor for the reader, in the Machineries universe. We see straight, gay, bi, and ace, and trans/nonbinary characters, all of which reflects the real world we live in. (The sensitivity of language and pronoun usage in this series is terrific, by the way.) The issues of abuse of power, consent, personal will and freedom presented in this book made me better understand some of the dynamics of the first two books. What an amazing finale. While I missed some of the characters from the second book (want. more. Mikodez.) the exploration of Kujen and Jedao, locked into their centuries-long morality play, was fascinating and satisfying. The vast and complex world that Yoon Ha Lee has created will be hard to leave behind. In fact, I am likely to listen to the entire trilogy, all over again, on audiobook shortly. (Is the audiobook of Revenant Gun is forthcoming soon?) I hope Lee continues to give us occasional short works from this world. Whether more about Cheris and the Mwennin or once again bannering the deuce of gears in some new adventure, I'd be an eager reader.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Solaris/Rebellion Publishing Ltd. and NetGalley along with a paper review copy from Rebellion UK, in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: An American Marriage

An American Marriage An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

An American Marriage evoked so many feelings in me. Chief among them were anger and frustration at our uneven justice system, and a sad resignation that love and marriage can be such fragile things. While the disintegration of a marriage is its central theme, this story is impossible to separate from the racial context in which it is told. And yet this book is not directly about the justice system, per se. It is about how easily what you build can fall apart and how everything you've worked for can turn on a dime, especially if you are a black man. Jones writes masterfully, giving us rich characters and a New South overlaid with the painful authenticity that shows it too often still mired in Deep South injustice.

Roy Othaniel Hamilton and Celestial Davenport meet in college (he went to Morehouse, she to Spelman) thanks to Celestial's lifelong friend Andre, who has become Roy's best friend at college. Their relationship takes off after they've graduated. Roy, a rising corporate executive, and Celestial, an artist creating high-end dolls, seem to have created the perfect upper-middle-class New South life. And yet, it can all be over in a flash, it seems, thanks to a criminal justice system that thinks black men are more than likely guilty. (Specifically, the offensive idea that somehow black men are also likely to be sexually predatory.) How a black corporate executive goes home with his wife to see his parents in a small Louisiana town and ends up being dragged out of his motel room in the middle of the night, arrested, and convicted of rape is just the beginning of this story. Roy's life, the years lost to his wrongful conviction, and the slow disintegration of his marriage are a testament to the fact that if you are a black male in America, you could do every single thing right and still have everything go wrong in the blink of an eye. The corrosive effects of this injustice on marriage and family are the core of the book. This searing exchange, deep in the book, is one of the things I'll long remember about it:

"Roy, tell the truth. Would you have waited on me for five years?"

"Celestial, this shit wouldn't have happened to you in the first place."


Because of the injustice of Roy's situation, the reader is naturally inclined to take his side early on in the novel. The character flaws of Celestial and Andre made me dislike them, intensely at times. Celestial's love for Roy wasn't as strong as her pride's rejection of her self-image as a woman married to a man in prison (even if he was wrongfully there). Her father's disappointment in her character was well placed, but it's also true that Celestial has had her love, and faith in love, shattered, back in her first year at Howard, before she transferred to Spelman. The sad point Jones makes isn't so much about Celestial's disloyalty, her infidelity or lack of faith in Roy and her marriage as it is that love is so fragile- when it's gone, it's gone. I disliked Andre, the man who was never strong enough to speak up about his feelings for Celestial until she was someone else's wife and until her husband wasn't able to counter his claim on Celestial's affections. 

While the extensive epistolary format of this book is not my favorite thing, the story of Roy and Celestial's marriage was a moving read. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Eisa Davis and Sean Crisden.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Supergirl: Being Super

Supergirl: Being Super Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

I've always been more of a Marvel kind of girl but the recent resurgence of Wonder Woman and Supergirl have piqued my interest enough to make me select this origin story which comprises the first four comics in the 2016-2017 series reboot.

The first thing I have to say about this Supergirl run is how much I love Joëlle Jones's illustrations. They are terrific and give us characters with diversity, including diverse body types, facial expressions that convey emotion, and clear body (non-verbal) language. The color work is also great. Honestly, I can think of dozens of comics I wish she had drawn.

Mariko Tamaki has managed to capture the teenage angst and uncertainty of Kara's life in a way that brings this origin story to life. She captures the relationship between Kara and her adoptive parents well. She gives enough of a backstory for her arrival to earth to help make sense of how it is that Kara's powers have been kept under wraps and at what cost this has come to her parents. Her friendships with Jen and Dolly feel real, as does her mourning the loss of a friend when her strength is being mysteriously drained. Kara's motivations to balance her Kryptonian origins and her human family and friends flow naturally from the story as developed by Tamaki. My only reservation about the storyline is the unidimensionality of the villain Tan-On. While we get something of his origins, his hateful and violent nature in the timeframe of the story seems too flat.

I'm looking forward to more installments in this series and definitely hope that Tamaki and Jones remain on board for future volumes. They've done a super job with the first four installments. ;)

I received a Digital Review Copy from DC Comics and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Memory of Fire

The Memory of Fire The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

3.75 Stars

The Waking Land, first book in this series introduced us to Elanna Valtai, a teenage heroine who was enjoyable to read, and Jahan, a character who, as can be seen in my review of the previous book, I had reservations about. Whereas The Waking Land was all told from Elanna's POV, The Memory of Fire is Jahan's POV, a brave change of course for a second book. (Audiobook listeners who recall Erin Spencer's narration as Elanna in the first book will have Andrew Eiden narrating this book as Jahan.)

As the book opens, Elanna has exhausted herself and her powers trying to wake the land and restore agricultural fertility to villages in Eren. Jahan is called back to Paladis and we are introduced, through his painful memories and intrusive communique from a witch by the name Madiya (I kept thinking of Medea), to his painful history. Jahan and his younger brothers Rayka and Lathiel have all had their minds and their magic manipulated by Madiya. The damage done to their family has resulted in Jahan suffering lasting trauma and self-doubt. Madiya, using a combination of drugs and what can only be seen a coercion and torture, has sought to make Jahan resistant to the witch hunters, who use bells to see out those with magic. The tone of the bells disables the magician and from the opening scenes of the book we know that from early childhood, Jahan is as familiar with their use as he is with his own struggles to use magic in his homeland. (In contrast how to his magical ability flows when he is with Elanna in Eren.)

While I was interested in finding out more about Jahan's history, I found that I missed Elanna's bright voice. (I have to say that overall, Bates' prowess at the first person POV writing has improved since the first book.) This is a much darker book than the first entry in the series, because Jahan has had a much darker life. The political intrigue that awaits Jahan back in Ida is fast and thick, as he finds Lathiel addicted to opium, Rayka missing, his friend Prince Leontius on the outs, and all the usual fear of discovery should he or his brothers be revealed as sorcerers. Add to that Emperor Alakseus, who was less than thrilled with a Caveadear magically waking the land in Eren, having Elanna captured and dragged before him for draining of her power and execution. (He doesn't give a damn about kidnapping a subject from another country, dragging them before his throne and sentencing them to death for something that was legal in the country they were kidnapped from.) In attempting to protect her, Jahan himself is revealed as a sorcerer.

Some of the lackluster manner of Jahan that I felt in the first book is now clearly understandable after reading his history in this second book. His tendency to despair (in contrast to Elanna's resilience) made the middle portion of the book drag a bit but the last third of the book is full of action, as things must be put aright in Paladis. It is also full of Elanna and Jahan working in synchrony and ultimately I have decided I like them together. Jahan is a different character when Elanna is around.

This book's final chapter and epilogue provide a clear opening for a third book in the series. Bates has created a world that is fresh and characters who have plenty more life in them. I will definitely pick up the next book to see what trouble Elanna and Jahan get into next. I do have to say that I hope it will be Elanna telling us about it, however. The comparative vivacity of her POV just makes for an easier read.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this Book from Del Rey and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War

The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

The Hawkman is a hybrid retelling of the well-known La Belle et la Bête/ The Beauty and the Beast by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and a lesser-known tale by the Brothers Grimm, Der Bärenhäuter (The Bearskin). (You can read a summary of the Brothers Grimm story below,* or read about it yourself here.) These two fairy tales are superimposed upon or interwoven with the story of Michael Evans Sheehan, a traumatized veteran of the Great War (World War I) and Eva William, the angel that saves him. This is a very poignant, quiet story. As you move past the prologue it is easy to somehow forget how things will end. The story of how we get to that prologue is unbearably sad. This is an unusual book of magical realism that will appeal to those who enjoy books that are more literary in tone. By the book’s end, I was in tears.

*In Der Bärenhäuter (The Bearskin) a young man, having served and survived a great war, finds himself without means or purpose at the war's end. Making a bargain with the Devil to become a gentleman of means, by assuming an unpleasant, animal-like appearance by wearing a bearskin for seven years. Midway through his years in the bearskin, he meets a penniless father, depressed over the plight his circumstances have put him and his three daughters in, and gives the old man money in addition to paying his present debts. The man offers the kindly bearskin wearer one of his daughters as a wife. The older two daughters shrink in horror at the thought but the youngest, a gentle and faithful girl, who unlike her older sisters, manages to see the path of righteousness (the Brothers Grimm were devout Calvinists and this was a time when women were chattel) and loyally pledges herself to him. When he returns to the inn after his seven years are finished, he is clean, handsome, and rich. The youngest daughter is rewarded for her loyalty to him with marriage. The two older sisters, kicking themselves for refusing to marry a bearskin wearing man, commit suicide, granting the Devil two souls instead of the single one he held claim to for the seven years the hero wore the bearskin.

I received a Digital Review Copy from Amberjack Publishing, NetGalley and Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.

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