Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

Thank you Top Ten Tuesday, I feel like this is always happening to me!

1. Karen Lord

I read The Best of All Possible Worlds almost two years ago now, and I still need to read Redemption in Indigo. At least I'm not too far behind!

2. Marge Piercy

I really loved Woman on the Edge of Time, I imagine I would enjoy her other works as well.

3. W.G. Sebald

I really enjoyed The Rings of Saturn, have been meaning for years to check out his other work.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert

I found Committed to be a very thoughtful read, and The Signature of All Things is sitting on my shelf. Maybe I'll even get around to Eat, Pray, Love one of these days.

5. Karen Joy Fowler

The Jane Austen Book Club is one of my favorite books, but I wasn't really riveted by the idea of the next couple of books she put out. The latest sounded interesting though.

6. Philip Pullman

Not sure if this counts exactly, since I did read the whole His Dark Materials trilogy, but I haven't read anything after that and I really want to read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

7. Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I read The Shadow of the Wind, but haven't read the other books, though The Angel's Game is in my collection.

8. Catherynne M. Valente

I read the first two Fairyland books, but I need to read her adult novels.

9. Deborah Feldman

Unorthodox was one of my favorite books of 2012, and she just came out with Exodus this year. And-again, yay!-I'm not too far behind.

10. Tanuja Desai Hidier

Until last month, Hidier only had one book out, Born Confused, one of my favorite books of all time, but which I'd long since given up on a sequel to. And then, magic, the end of last month, the sequel came out and I got to see her at the National Book Festival. And Bombay Blues is tucked away until a someday soon when I need it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders

Although I've been reading more collections of short stories, I'd stopped reading as much individual short fiction as I did last year. My primary source has been Tor.com, and for a while I wasn't very impressed with the offerings. But I decided to take a chance on "As Good as New" since I recognized the author name, and the plot description intrigued me.

"As Good as New" is one of the cleanest, most satisfying short pieces I've read in a while. Marisol, a playwright turned medical student, is possibly the only person to have survived the end of the world. Holed up in a panic room, she eats frozen dinners and watches "The Facts of Life." And then she finds a genie in a bottle.

Read it if you like classic, thoughtful stories. It's pared down, with just two characters, and just one clear plot with a couple of underlying ideas that underscore the whole piece. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: Rav Hisda's Daughter: The Enchantress by Maggie Anton

33. Rav Hisda's Daughter: The Enchantress by Maggie Anton

*Published Sept. 2, 2014*

Hisdadukh is a charasheta, or enchantress, who is learned in the ways of healing and protective magic. She is the daughter of a historical Talmudic scholar, Rav Hisda, who is himself learned in priestly magic. In Anton's world, the wives and daughters of Talmudic scholars have an equivalent brand of magic that they use to protect their families and communities. It's an interesting portrait of feminine power in a highly misogynistic era.

Anton is known for her earlier historical novels on the daughters of Rashi, arguably the best known Talmudic scholar. The Enchantress is the sequel to Rav Hisda's Daughter: The Apprentice. Although I have not read the first book, I was able to get into the story fairly easily. That said, I think my knowledge of the eponymous viewpoint character would have been deeper if I had read it. Many of the events in the earlier book are referenced here.

The book is heavily steeped in the apocrypha of Judaism and Talmud. I recognize some of it, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge the historical accuracy of it. In any case, the presentation of demons and angels as real entities is grounded in Biblical and folkloric representations, though in this day and age, it comes off as fantastical. The interactions with these creatures and the numerous discussions of Baraitot, rabbinic teachings, were the most captivating sections of the book to me.

Early in the book, Hisdadukh teaches a Baraita to her prickly love interest, Rava (also a historical scholar):

"What is taking vengeance and what is bearing a grudge?" I asked. "Revenge is when one man asks another to lend him a sickle and the second refuses, then when the second man asks the first to lend him a shovel, the first one says, 'Just as you wouldn't lend me your sickle, so I will not lend you my shovel.' This is taking vengeance."


"a grudge is when one man asks another to lend him a sickle and the second refuses, then when the second man asks the first to lend him a shovel, the first one says, 'Here it is. I am not like you who did not lend me your sickle.' This is bearing a grudge."

The content of the Baraita cleverly references Hisdadukh's awareness that Rava bears her a grudge for long ago refusing to marry him. In this new novel, she hopes to re-capture his interest, for she realizes it is their fate to be together.

I understand that many people will be repulsed by the nature of their relationship and by both characters', though notably Rava's, misogyny. What I would say is that this book is rooted in a historical period and in a religion, and furthermore particular interpretations of that religion, and to both of them, their relationship is perfectly consensual. It may not be what a modern woman longs for, but in Hisdadukh's context, a man who respects her arcane practices and even trusts and consults her learning, is a lot to be thankful for.

While there is an underlying plot throughout the novel, it's almost an excuse for this fictional biography. Once past the drama of Hisdadukh and Rava's reconciliation and marriage, the book slows down. Anton skips and glosses over years and events, but the events she does show don't necessarily relate to the underlying threads, and she seems to feel the need to mention events that she didn't think worth portraying. This makes for a lot of telling rather than showing, and oddly jarring moments.

For example, Hisdadukh's slave Leuton is a recurring character who features in many events. She braids Hisdadukh's hair, advises her, and accompanies her in difficult moments. Though the character is never fully developed, it's very off-putting when she is finally disposed of in a a couple of afterthought sentences:

"Leuton, who'd served me loyally since Rami's death, had died after a distracted carter crushed her against a wall, and I couldn't replace her."

Goodness, what a violent death! You would think there would at least be a scene to describe it, and a scene of mourning. But that's it. Leuton is never mentioned again.

The Enchantress is, at best, an imaginative investigation into what a Jewish sorceress' life, if she really existed, might have entailed. At worst, it is a dragging, improbable, misogynistic Talmud-era riff on the far more engaging The Red Tent. It really depends on your view. Personally, I'm intrigued enough to try one of the Rashi's daughters novels, and I would recommend The Enchantress if you have a strong interest in the period or in Judaism.

Note: While a number of obscure Hebrew words are scattered throughout the book, there is a thorough glossary in the back.

Received for review from LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Top Ten Books I Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

I'm a little late with Top Ten Tuesday...

1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

2. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

3. Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz

4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

5. Messenger (And Son) by Lois Lowry

6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

7. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

8. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

10. The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin

(Now the real question is how many books do I want to read that I DO own...)

Monday, August 25, 2014

August Updates

Just Finished:

Well worth reading, it was an impulse library grab, which just goes to show that random browsing is still an effective method for choosing books! It reminded me of when I used to go to the library as a kid. The experience of reading also felt relevant and impactful, in a way that most books haven't since I reached young adulthood. Maybe this is the payoff for scrupulously avoiding non-fiction throughout my childhood? Anyway, review to come.

A purposeful library grab, this read was also well worth it. I may also have cried because I will never write with Karen Russell's innovation and grace. A stuttering mouth becomes a "stubborn syllable engine." Oh perfection! I will be grokking this one for some time to come.

Currently Reading:

It's an ARC from LibraryThing, coming out in September. I'm liking it so far, it does an excellent job of immersing the reader in Talmud era Persia-although there is a lot of misogyny about the period to dislike.

Next Up:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling Me That I Must Read

1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I've read the other two, and I just need to get on it already.

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

It's been recommended to me so many times.

3. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I read and loved The Name of the Wind. I was waiting for the third book to come out, but apparently I should just read it anyway.

4. The Magician King and The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

Again, I read The Magicians on a friend's recommendation, and need to finish.

5. Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

I bought it for my mom, who heartily recommends it, but I still haven't gotten around to it. And then I'll have to read A King's Ransom too.

6. Stoner by John Williams

A friend recommended this to me a while ago.

7. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

A number of people have told me to read this, but something about it just makes me sad.

8. Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (or anything by Haruki Murakami)

So many people recommend Murakami to me, but idk...I was underwhelmed by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, despite the fact that I still think about it sometimes, so there's that.

9. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

No excuse. I really want to read it.

10. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana

A woman recommended this to me when I worked in a bookstore.

In the course of writing this post, I realized that (unfortunately or fortunately?), I don't really have a cadre of people in my life telling me what to read. Most of the recommendations I get are from book blogs and newspaper reviews.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

30. The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

*Published in June 2014, available now from Mundania Press*

The dream of human life after Earth has been realized-within a bedrock of crippling limitations. Humanity cannot travel beyond the solar system, which is replete with dead, lifeless rocks. Impressive, inventive structures allow people to eke out an existence in the barren wastelands of the Moon, Mars, Titan, and an asteroid called Ceres, but only a small elite enjoy anything resembling luxury. There is no Star Trek style terraforming, no warp speed. Yet neither is there an oppressive Central Planet structure, or an evil dictator (yet).

Bruno’s tempered vision of life after Earth is interesting because it manages to be pessimistic, but not quite dystopian. The Circuit's political and economic forces draw on familiar narratives from Herbert and Asimov, but reflect more contemporary sensibilities. The Circuit's economic transports of the necessary Gravitum element, and the New Earth Tribunal's comforting theocracy, are stop-gap measures to sustain, not spread, humanity. This stagnation leaves the solar system vulnerable to a veritable Game of Thrones in space-albeit with far fewer viewpoint characters and a much lower dial on diabolical scheming and irredeemable misery.

Cassius Vale, a primary viewpoint character, is perhaps the most difficult to relate to. He and his android creation ADIM (Automated Dynamic Intelligence Mech), are staging a secret coup against the oppressive Tribunal throughout the course of the novel, but his personality is more reminiscent of You-Know-Who than a popular rebel hero like Captain Mal. At one point, Vale, justifying genocidal actions, proclaims, "There are no monsters...only different perspectives." It's a chilling reply in context, as an army of his metal creations "mowed [some of the finest soldiers the Tribune had to offer] down like children zapping insects with magnifying glasses." Although ADIM remains relatively flat for most of this book, one wonders how he will use his superhuman powers in accordance with his beloved father/Creator's callous attitude toward human life.

Like much other science fiction, The Circuit explores the blurred lines between human and machine, but with a dark twist. The question is not whether androids can become human (Re: Data, Bicentennial Man), but whether humans can become mindless (or, more terrifying, fully aware) killing machines. Furthermore, if Cassius is a monster, how much more of a monster can the non-human ADIM become?

This theme is apparent in another viewpoint character, Sage Volus. Sage, a formidable redhead with a mechanical arm, is an Executor for the Tribunal. An undercover spy and assassin, she is sent to infiltrate the rebels on Ceres, to determine who is responsible for a series of missing Gravitum shipments (the reader, of course, already knows that Vale is at fault). Sage's struggle with her faith and her human vs. mechanical nature makes for a much more sympathetic, but still complex character. Sage's gender also makes her the target of particular violence and prejudices, that female readers will relate to and appreciate.

The most likeable protagonist, however, has to be Talon Rayne. Here is the rugged, tortured, self-sacrificing hero that readers will recognize. Dying slowly of the Gravitum exposure-induced Blue Death, Talon is fighting for his young daughter's future, with a dash of rebel cause thrown in. A ruling family of Ceres tasks him with stealing some Gravitum from the over-stocked Tribune, and unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, the undercover Sage joins his band.

The Circuit is a dark (and unfinished) creation legend, a Foundation for the 2010s. It's not as intricate as much other contemporary sff, and the character building is underwhelming in comparison to say, George R.R. Martin (though ages beyond Asimov), but the social and economic structures have enough complexity to be interesting while not being daunting to understand, as in, say, Herbert's universe. Overall, my greatest complaint is that the ending is woefully unresolved-a bold move for a first-time author, but one that I hope pays off in a sequel!

Received for review from the author.