Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fly Me Away!

The Bird KingThe Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bird King is the kind of book that spoils you from reading others for a few days. It's going to be one of my favorite novels of the year, perhaps all time. (Though Wilson's previous book moves to the top of the TBR pleasure pile.) This book stands on its own as a darkly luminous fantasy novel, but it's also a work of art, created to please on more than one level of perception, as are all the best stories; I mean, of course, it lifts us into the territory of myth. Such fast-paced adventure: a slave girl and a magic map maker flee the Holy Inquisition at the fall of Granada, the last Muslim emirate on the Iberian peninsula. And there are djinn, (not the usual depiction, thanks!) and magic. Worth the read just for the adventure and coming-of-age story. Then there's the exploration of relationships and love. This is a novelistic homage to the great poem written by the Sufi poet that inspired Hafiz and Rumi, Attar. It's not poetic at all, except in its themes. It's true to the spirit of mysticism but it's not a poem or a retelling of The Conference of the Birds. The writing has the flavor of both Salman Rushdie and Guy Gavriel Kay, in reverence and irreverence, in facility with Islamic and history concepts and nostalgia for a past that might have been. There is not a wrong note emotionally, spiritually, psychologically as questions of loyalty, good and evil, free will, service and dominance, sin and goodness are dealt with along the journey. And of course, your own beliefs about those issues are highlighted as you go along. Is there a land of freedom, where justice and mercy are married in balance, where kindness is the law, where people can live in harmony no matter their beliefs? If there's not, does the fact that we can imagine it mean that we can create it, even after ten thousand years of failure? Are Camelot and Granada, Themiscyra and America only meant to last a few lifetimes, perfect in idealism, imperfect in practice--or is goodwill among humans sustainable? Do you have to follow tradition, accept injustice, be the spoils of war? Or do you flee death and look for a future? Must you lay in the bed you made, or is there forgiveness, repentance, more chances at friendship, honor, and life? Once you've been possessed by a demon, are you ever free? You don't have to think about that stuff as you read, but I love the books and authors that make it possible. Highly recommended!

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Heart and Humor Win the Day

Professor Chandra Follows His BlissProfessor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book for book clubs! Professor Chandra and his Cambridge colleagues thought he would get the 2016 Nobel Prize in economics, but on announcement day he’s passed over; put on furlough for calling a female student an imbecile; run into by a bicyclist, and finds out he's had a silent heart attack. He spends his 70th birthday alone: rich, respected, divorced, and mostly estranged from his kids. He has moments of kindness to protégées, but he's a grumpy old man. His son is rich from telling people how to succeed in business through affirmations, his oldest daughter is a radical and doesn’t talk to him anymore, and his ex lives in Boulder with her psychologist husband and the youngest daughter, a high school senior who gets involved with drugs. This allows Chandra to escape from the mess of his life in England. He goes to Boulder in attempt to fix his daughter. Professor Chandra is not a likeable dude—until he punches laid-back Steve ("Kids experiment!") in the nose, and Steve manipulates him into a weekend retreat at Esalen. "Being Who You Are at Summer Solstice" is not where or who Chandra wants to be, but he starts asking some questions and observing himself. Conservative intellectual meets emotional woo-woo, and the humor and growth begin. It’s challenging to read about your country from a foreigner’s viewpoint, just as it’s challenging to see yourself through someone else’s eyes—and yet modernity has shown us we’re all more alike than different, adopting what pleases us and complaining about the rest. So much fodder for book club exploration and talk: generational, cultural, political and societal divides, with heart and humor the only options for authentic connection. This is really a story of coming to an accommodation with an ever-changing, confusing world, coming to terms with life as an elder. I’d love to know what other folks think about it, too: the best kind of book club book. Recommended!
(Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a digital review copy!)

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Welcome the Howls of Spring

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #3; Psy-Changeling, #18)Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Way better than the last one, and worth the hardback price if you’re a collector. (Series beginners should go all the way back to enjoy the complete journey.) So in addition to a love story for Alexei, wolf lieutenant, we get to learn more of how empathy can save the Psy. I’ve always been a fan of Singh’s world building, and she gets back to it in this one. There’s a lot to be treasured in the exploration of how body, mind, and spirit balance, and that’s one of the major themes of the Psy-Changeling series. This book explores the strange bond between psychopaths and empaths—in the context of the Psynet, not the romance. Alexei rescues an empath who’s not aware she’s an empath, and tries very hard not to mate with her. We know from the beginning how that’s going to work out; it’s the mystery of who’s the stealth Psy that’s trying to kill all the empaths that drives the larger story. There’s enough closure to be satisfying, and a clue to the elevation of suspense coming in the next book...if only it didn’t take so much longer to write than to read, because now I’ve got to wait another year until the next one! (Thanks to the First To Read program, I got a temporary digital copy)

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Eyes Have It!

Death of an Eye (Eye of Isis #1)Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read most of Stabenow’s books (wish she had continued sci-fi!) and this historical mystery is up to her usual standard. The Eye of Isis is the pharaoh's investigator; Cleopatra's has been murdered whilst investigating a stolen currency shipment, and Cleopatra replaces her with an old friend. I've never before seen Cleopatra through the eyes of an almost-peer, a schoolmate. There's humor, eye-rolling, and a very human perspective of Egypt's divine queen, but most of the story does focus on the mystery, and that's fun, too. Once I got over the shock, I enjoyed the book very much. Recommended! (I received a digital copy from the publisher for review.)

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