Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cyador's HeirsCyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Modesitt's trademark "angry young man gains sense and experience" is worked out stellarly in this new addition to the Recluce novels. When Cyador was destroyed, the emperor's family fled and started over as supplicants in a new land. We follow the second son, third in line to Cyador's throne, as drought and famine push raiders and slavers into the boundaries of his father's dukedom. Lerial may be his youngest hero yet, called upon to do great and dangerous things with great need and little knowledge. That's life, really, in Modesitt's worldview. The study of chaos and order, the ways of power, the challenges of integrity and intelligence are Modesitt's lifelong themes. In between battles and large explosions, where other authors digress into technical details, Modesitt expounds on philosophy and relationships. And he is thought-provoking to follow, even after 23 years. His characters grow in character. Luckily the next installment is due in November, not a year away.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Love and Life and Death

BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"All that we behold is full of blessings." ~Wordsworth

His literary inspirations are Faulkner, Hemingway, and Chekov, and his prose is as beautiful as Hemingway's, if not as action-filled. What Kent Haruf sculpts with his spare, beautiful sentences is the landscape of the heart.  You don't read Haruf for excitement, but for insight.

Haruf has been telling stories of life in the hardscrabble environs of fictional Holt, Colorado, over the course of his literary career. Haruf grew up in the high eastern plains of Colorado, so his Holt is a distillation, the pure essence of the landscape and atmosphere of the non-urban West and the character of its folk. Benediction, his latest novel, has at its center "Dad" Lewis, owner of Holt's hardware store, who's just found out he's going to die soon, before summer is over. And this is life and death in Holt, Colorado.

Lorraine, the daughter, comes home to help. Their son, Franktook himself off years ago. That's probably Dad's greatest regret. But his and Mary’s love has lasted through their marriage. He believes she’s everything good that ever happened to him. There's another father and son in the story, Holt's new preacher, Rev. Lyle, has been sent out of Denver because he stood up for a fellow minister. His teenage son has this uprooting and embarrassment to deal with in addition to the tension in his parents' marriage, hormones, and the utter, terrifying culture shock from trendy urban to redneck rural.

Poor Reverend Lyle is discovering that having the courage of his convictions
causes a crisis of faith in others. Neither his superiors nor his parishioners
is really interested in What Would Jesus Do, thank you. And yet even as his life
crumbles in this brief visit to Holt, he is the compassionate center. Across the street from the Lewis family, Berta Mae's eight-year-old granddaughter has had to come live with her after her mom dies of cancer. Another middle aged daughter comes home to companion her mother.

There's sex and violence, remembrances and regrets, secrets and revelations,
tragedies and joys large and small. Love begins, love ends, love goes on. In the meltdown of his career, Holt’s new preacher Rev. Lyle takes to wandering Holt's streets at night, looking into the windows of its houses, expecting to see scenes of familial and societal breakdown--a mirrored apocalypse. Instead he sees tenderness and love, "the precious ordinary," he tells the unsympathetic cops.

“Love is the most important part of life, isn’t it. If you have love you can live in this world in a true way and if you love each other you can see past everything and accept what you don’t understand and forgive what you don’t know or don’t like.” Lyle expresses this to a young couple—and Haruf makes us wonder—what is it in us that holds us to hardness? How can we extend our love better?

I don’t know whether it’s the more contemporary setting, or the lack of closure that death brings, but I prefer the earlier novels, Plainsong and Eventide.  Nevertheless, Haruf’s tender truthtelling is always a pleasure.

I think I got this book from a giveaway, but it had no paperwork, so I might have bought it. Thanks, Vintage, anyway!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Those books you can just fall into...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Forbidden Library is lovely. Miss Em looked forward to it with anticipation and a bit of trepidation; Django Wexler wrote her favorite new adult sci-fi novel of last year, The Thousand Names, and as silly as it may sound, some authors just can't make the crossover into good kid lit. No worries, though!

Alice hears a strange conversation between her father and a snarky fairy one night, and practically the next thing she knows, her father is missing, presumed dead, she's impoverished and sent to live with her "uncle," a rich old man she's never met--and who turns out to be a wizard who collects his powers by killing or enslaving creatures found in magical books. There's a talking cat, dragons, and critters of all descriptions. And a boy who has to be rescued. Alice has been raised by her Dad to be a plucky, take charge kind of girl, and it's a pleasure to follow her adventure. She stays true to herself and I look forward to the change she'll cause in every book/world she visits--oh yes, the Forbidden Library is true to the saying, "Books are portals to other worlds." I'll be gifting the book to all my nieces, for sure.

Like the blurb says, the book should be popular with fans of Coraline and Inkheart; I would say also fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Roald Dahl's Matilda, and I was reminded of the plucky, likeable Sara Crewe from A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett, not the movie).  Highly recommended for both personal and library collections. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Drone Worth the Buzz

Sting of the DroneSting of the Drone by Richard A. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sting of the Drone presents an insider’s view of the Predator program, politics, procedure, and philosophy, all while laying out a scenario that puts our heroes not just trying to prevent another 9/11, but trying to figure out if one is planned. Kinda like reality, really.  The Cold War has morphed into the War on Terror—attempting to bring the age of Remote War—through technology like drones. But Mr. Clarke shows us that war does not remain remote—that short of genocide, the reasons for war are reborn with each generation, as are the responses to war.

You will come away with an appreciation for what—and who!—it takes for us ordinary citizens not to be wondering every day if it’s going to happen again—and also thinking, maybe us ordinary citizens should think about it more often.  Undoubtedly most of the scenes in the book were based on actual terrorist attempts, and one hopes not all of them.  Clarke presents the women and men on the new front lines of war--the political back rooms, the computer screens, banks, homes, high schools, hospitals, tents and caves.

Miss Em recommends Sting of the Drone for anyone who likes thrillers. David Morrell describes this book as “a cross between a techno-thriller and a docu-thriller," and I agree. Though not as polished as Mr. Morrell’s own work in balancing, character, action, and structure, Richard A. Clarke’s Sting of the Drone will be appreciated by fans of Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts. (In other words, it's a little heavy on acronyms and technical descriptions, but plenty of explosions and bad guys getting their just deserts.)

Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books for providing an ARE for review.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Sea Without a Shore (Lt. Leary, #10)The Sea Without a Shore by David Drake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love David Drake and I do love this series, though it's hard to explain why sometimes. Short take for fans: this is one of the better ones. If you haven't read them, do start with the first. Drake is a veteran and a historian and his military SF involves his own experiences and certain historical situations, reframed and recast in different universes. See Redliners, a military masterpiece, if you want to know what war is really like.

Daniel Leary is a Naval officer whose father is a political bigwig; they are estranged. Daniel is privileged and handsome and lucky--all good qualities in an officer.  He is also arrogant and prejudiced, a perfect caricature of British aristocracy at the height of Empire--this is why I downgrade the books that have a lot of leave time in them, because Daniel on the family estate in Bantry is a rich redneck. I read the books despite this--because I like his sidekick, sociopathic super-librarian Adele Mundy, whose entire family was massacred by Daniel's father. Adele's hobby is figuring out and mimicking human behavior--and she's inspired her sidekick, the psychopath Tovera.

In this episode, I believe Daniel works out a relatively quick solution to avert a longterm war and the involvement of opposing governmental superpowers. There's always the balance of civilians, citizens, politicians, bureaucrats, criminals, the military, spies--terrain, logistics, intel--practicalities vs. theories. There's even a bit of the spiritual in this foray. Drake is always interesting.

Why does Drake keep writing these, and why do we keep reading? It's the character development. The caricature of the British Empire and its lords is becoming a realized universe; Daniel Leary is young and he is maturing; Adele is learning to blend in. There's action, some introspection, some humor, some politics. It's a great way to spend an afternoon, whiling away the hours in another universe, learning about the human creature...

The first book is called With the Lightnings. Enjoy!
(Baen and netgalley provided an e-galley for review purposes.)

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Woman Power

A Creature of MoonlightA Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca   Hahn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I will read whatever Rebecca Hahn chooses next to write. Lyrical. Dark, dreamy, moody, moon-driven. Creature of Moonlight is an original fairy tale, with kingdoms and dragons and living woods with tricky trees, and a princess as practical as a goose girl.

I may have mentioned how much I mostly dislike reading first-person narratives, but I had no problem with this one. I was pulled into Marni’s head and her world immediately.  Not for everyone, but anyone who loves language, fairy tales, and fantasy, should gobble it up. If you enjoyed Girl of Fire and Thorns, Graceling, and Seraphina, you will like this. The book I kept flashing on was We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson—for the eerie atmosphere and the authority of the voice—and its themes of grief, anger, power, loss, family.

Read the blurbs; consider that every word of praise is well-deserved. Be pulled into another world, where a powerful girl decides what kind of powerful woman she will grow into. Creature of Moonlight is an amazing book not just about coming of age, but of maturing, of choices made and unmade, of love and revenge and life beyond romance, of all the different kinds of youthful burning we do—mixed up with murder, magic, moonlight, and dragons.

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