Wednesday, January 9, 2019

2019, the year I SWORE I'd avoid challenges, delivered one I like too much to ignore

Via Bookish, here's a list of challenges to #KillYourTBR (note that I've modified a few entries to make them possible for me to meet):

  1. A book you bought for the cover
  2. A book by an author you’ve met
  3. A book you’re embarrassed you haven’t read yet
  4. A book that is under 220 pages
  5. A book that came out the year you were born
  6. A book whose title uses alliteration
  7. A book in your best friend’s favorite genre
  8. A book from an independent publisher
  9. A book you borrowed from the library
  10. A book featuring a fictional language
  11. A novel that includes a recipe (Bonus points for making the recipe)
  12. A book won in a raffle/giveaway
  13. A book about going on a quest
  14. A book set in a city you’ve visited
  15. A book with a dust jacket
  16. A book by two or more authors
  17. A book that is over 1000 pages
  18. A book that’s been out for less than a month
  19. A book with a name in the title
  20. A book from a genre you want to read more of
  21. A book written by a Native American author
  22. A book with an asexual character
  23. A book you were given as a gift
  24. A book translated from Spanish
  25. An award-winning graphic novel
  26. A book featuring a false confession
  27. A book you meant to read in 2018
  28. A book featuring a memorable companion animal
  29. A book set in South America
  30. A book with a cover you kind of hate (but a story you love)
  31. A book by an author you’ve never heard of before
  32. A book of short stories
  33. A book featuring a nonbinary protagonist
  34. A book you’ve been waiting for forever
  35. A book about intersectional feminism
  36. A book with a place in the title
  37. Completed; Our Man in Havana on the Thrillers tab
  38. A book bought at/from a physical bookstore
  39. A book by an author you’re thankful for
  40. A book with gorgeous descriptions
  41. A book signed by the author
  42. A book set in Africa
  43. A book about mental health
  44. A book written by an immigrant
  45. A retelling
  46. A book about incarceration
  47. A book recommended by an author
  48. A book with a person of color on the cover
  49. A book by an author who uses a pen name
  50. A book whose title includes a verb
  51. A book recommended by a librarian
  52. A book being adapted in 2019
  53. A book you found in a Little Free Library

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND vol. 2, second manga by a gay man about overcoming eww-ick homophobia


MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND, volume 2
GENGOROH TAGAME
(trans. Anne Ishii)
Pantheon Books
$25.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: The concluding volume in the story of Yaichi, his daughter Kana, and how their meeting Mike Flanagan--Yaichi's brother-in-law--changes their lives and perceptions of acceptance of homosexuality in their contemporary Japanese culture.

As Mike continues his journey of discovery concerning Ryoji's past, Yaichi gradually comes to understand that being gay is just another way of being human. And that, in many ways, remains a radical concept in Japan even today. In the meantime, the bond between Mike and young Kana grows ever stronger, and yet he is going to have to return to Canada soon--a fact that fills them both with impending heartbreak. But not before more than a few revelations come to light.


SECOND VOLUME IN SERIES BEGUN IN MY BROTHER'S HUSBAND vol. 1

My Review
: Yaichi's gay twin, Ryuji, married Canadian bear Mike after emigrating to escape his repressive, hidebound culture. He promised, swore!, he would have his twin—his only remaining family—know Mike as his husband. Then, as is the way with sworn promises, Ryuji died. Mike, to make his dearly beloved husband's promise come true, visits Yaichi and his daughter Kana in their home.

We pick up the story in medias res, this being a two-volume omnibus edition of the manga. Yaichi, a lovely man (for legal purposes), has his most acute attack of the collywobbles yet. Mike mentions that it's possible Kana will be a lesbian. These two pages made me laugh so hard I almost choked:
Poor Yaichi! What's a traditional Japanese father to think? My daughter with a woman?! HEEELLLP!!!!

The rest of the story is Yaichi coming to value and care for Mike, whose love for his brother is strong. They've lost so much, they've got to come to peace with each other. Mike has no problem with this, since he's been out a long time; Yaichi finds himself saddened that he didn't try harder to connect with Ryuji while he was alive because now he can't. All while being a divorced custodial dad to a little girl. Who has fallen utterly in love with her big Canadian bear-uncle.

A very telling scene comes when Mike goes to Kana's school, to be met with hostility and suspicion. It's really amusing at first because Mike doesn't see it, but it becomes a major Thing between Yaichi and his inner demons. It provides Yaichi with a chance to work through what he thinks about Mike's gayness and what Japan as a whole thinks about gayness. The men resolve their desire to be close to each other over a look at Mike's photo album, including wedding pictures. Yaichi realizes how much he will miss Mike as he's about to leave, and Kana asks for a sworn promise that Mike will visit again, or she gets to come to Canada to visit Mike.

And now I venture into personal territory. My Young Gentleman Caller, Rob, is 34 (thirty-four) years younger than I am. We might as well be Canadian and Japanese, since I understand his culture about as well as he does mine. The Moon landing was 50 years ago. I remember it vividly. I had to YouTube footage for Rob, who had sort-of heard about it. His FATHER was born two years after it happened. So we both relate to the "...say what now?" moments between Yaichi and Mike.

We talked at some length about the way it feels to be so different from someone you care very much about, and how that puts strains on one's inner sense of peace and quiet. We both worry about the other's feelings being hurt when we're being our separate selves...we both worry about the way our beloved handles the need we have to be understood. Am I trying hard enough, too hard, do I even know what he means? And it was this manga that called that conversation into being.

If you don't read the series for any other reason, read it for that one. It is good enough to start a life-altering conversation between people too different to know where or how to begin to do that for themselves.

THAT's good storytelling!

Also! Extra! May the US be blessed with the live-action TV series! Here's a promo photo of the amazing casting:

Saturday, December 29, 2018

THE QUEEN OF ALL CROWS, best steampunky fantasy in a line of them by Rod Duncan


THE QUEEN OF ALL CROWS
ROD DUNCAN
(The Map of Unknown Things #1)
Angry Robot Books
$6.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 5* of five

The Publisher Says: Only one woman can stop the world from descending into endless war, in this thrilling return to the world of the Gas-Lit Empire

The year is 2012. The nations of the world are bound together in an alliance of collective security, overseen by the International Patent Office, and its ruthless stranglehold on technology.

When airships start disappearing in the middle of the Atlantic, the Patent Office is desperate to discover what has happened. Forbidden to operate beyond the territorial waters of member nations, they send spies to investigate in secret.

One of those spies is Elizabeth Barnabus. She must overcome her dislike of the controlling Patent Office, disguise herself as a man, and take to the sea in search of the floating nation of pirates who threaten the world order.

THE PUBLISHER SENT ME A REVIEW COPY. THANK YOU.

My Review
: It is not necessary to read the first trilogy featuring Elizabeth Barnabus to appreciate this novel. It would add incalculably to your pleasure in the read, but it isn't necessary.

The plot picks up where The Custodian of Marvels leaves off. Julia has vanished after embarking for America, there to join her hard-won happiness with husband Richard in his law firm's Patent-law practice there. Julia will make herself a new life by studying Patent law at Columbia University. All of that struggle and fight is now gone for naught with her airship's disappearance. Her bestie and earliest supporter Elizabeth is on the hunt for her at great personal cost. It seems, as of now, that Elizabeth's main supporter and illicit lover, John Farthing, has lost her via her betrayal of his trust as well as her disappearance.

For someone who picked this book up because of its terrific cover art, this should be enough: the friendship between the women is explicitly made the stakes of the story within two chapters. Possibly the most intriguing idea in the series is the existence of the International Patent Office. Those who have read The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire may read the spoiler below:
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Elizabeth's journey from Patent-Office battling terrorist to one of their own is a delightful part of that series's arc, and the basis for this series's stories. In these tales we will follow the intrepid, genderfluid Elizabeth as she resumes her part-time identity as her own brother in service of, not in fleeing from, her former enemy-turned-employer the Patent Office. That by itself would make this an astounding series to follow. But the stakes are far greater than merely serving those that Barnabus once despised. Mr. Barnabus is outed as Miss Barnabus memorably and completely for the duration of this book's search for Julia when we discover the truth of a tall tale of sea monsters eating ships.

The action of the story is set largely among the all-female pirate society, the Sargassans, operating in the North Atlantic Gyre. It's a world constructed around the Unicorn, which name made me snigger as I realized it was chosen to be the center of an all-female society. But I show my juvenile sense of humor. The novella-length time we're aboard the constructed world of the Sargassans is spent politicking and coping with human nature's ickier corners. Women, it turns out, do much as men do when left to rule themselves. I wonder if this is, in fact, true; I don't know how much of the world is based on women being women and how much on women reacting to the male-dominated world they hated enough to run away from. I suspect the truth is the latter by Author Duncan's design.

Now the design itself becomes an issue. This is the first book of a trilogy, whose second book has only recently appeared. The ending of this book's two-fold story is complete only on one strand, and that dangling second strand is going to itch and niggle the entire time we're embarked on a new quest in Elizabeth's emotionally battered and physically exhausted condition. The ending of The Queen of All Crows will not resolve the Barnabus case internal to the International Patent Office. It is clear that echoes of "O brave new world..." in the ending are not accidental. And with it, the opening of vast new vistas and fresh perspectives on the Gas-Lit Empire.

Because the action of this book, airship crashes and pirate republics and long sea voyages, all takes place in 2012.

Friday, December 28, 2018

CIRCE, my annual six-stars-of-five read, the delight and demand of a peak reading experience


CIRCE
MADELINE MILLER

Lee Boudreaux Books
$27.00 hardcover, $13.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 6 stars of five (not a typo)

The Publisher Says: In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

THE PUBLISHER PROVIDED ME WITH A REVIEW COPY. THANK YOU.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR PLOT POINTS OF GREATEST POSSIBLE SIGNIFICANCE!
A NON-PHILOSOPHER NOW PHILOSOPHIZES. YOU'VE BEEN FOREWARNED.

My Review
: What does it mean to be a god?

I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.
******
You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.
******
But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.
Circe learns in this novel that gods aren't much more than vessels crafted to serve a purpose. The gods exist relative to us humans so that they may be filled and emptied; all the roots and seeds of the universe's awareness reside in them. The gods woke, they were not born, they did not (as humans, created solely in acts of personal union, always do) represent the culmination of anything. The gods were not, then they were.

Where we struggle to find purpose in, a frame for, our human existence, the gods in the myths and tales struggle to find individual, personal meaning. Athena, born of her male parent's really bad headache, has shape and purpose from the instant she arrives in the world. She's got to spend human lives by the scores in a cataclysm like the Trojan War to perceive the dimmest outline of personal meaning. Her existence is framing the story of this war; her fighting for one side and against the other is what her identity, her meaning, derives from. She's defining herself through this war. Her purpose, Goddess Athena the Personification of Wisdom, was with her always.

Down here on Earth, meaning is an inevitable precondition of human life. Priam, Helen, Agamemnon represent the culmination of generations of royal births. Their meaning in life is to lead large groups of Greeks to their glorious deaths, reduced to simplest terms and presented only in the purpose or frame of the goddesses's desired war. We complete patterns we cannot ever see because we are always amid them, albeit without a sense of our orientation within them. Odysseus, our stand-in in Circe, exemplifies humankind's multivarious searches for a purpose to plop our meanings into. These searches go by many names, religion and art and philosophy and sex. Odysseus returning from the Trojan War experiences all of them. The Odyssey leads its reader a merry chase as one of us humans dashes offstage, leaving Troy to its goddess-war driven fate. Circe, non-combatant, is placed in Odysseus's path as her godlike purpose forms a deepening meaning from Odysseus's yearning to return to his most meaningful role, husband of Penelope and father of Telemachus. Circe, the gods's local presence, sees (and therefore creates) a new pattern of meaning for Odysseus. Like all humans he weaves what he has before him in new searches for "Personal Purpose" in the world.

The only place to see the pattern, that image created by the interaction, interweaving, interdependence of the many meanings human lives have, is from the outside looking in. This means that the gods can offer their clear and purposeful selves as guides, guideposts, guiding lights. Changeable as meaning is, purpose is not; when new purposes are required, new gods arise (eg, a world like Late Imperial Rome that's without security creates an omniscient, omnipotent god). The gods endure an essential lovelessness in their assigned purposes. Love, I contend, is a culmination of human striving to wrest a purpose from existence. Therefore, of necessity, love in this context is confined to the plane of meaningful, pattern-creating existence. The gods crave us as creators of their meaning; our respective positions demand it. A being defined by Otherness, an existence that demands separation from the masses, experiences fascination with the Others. Thus their endless pursuit of human love, carnal or spiritual or intellectual, can never result in satisfaction for them or us.

Circe has to contend with the eternal human wellspring of meaning: Falling in love. What does it mean to be in love?
I wake sometimes in the dark terrified by my life's precariousness, its thready breath. Beside me, my husband's pulse beats at his throat; in their beds, my children's skin shows every faintest scratch. A breeze would blow them over, and the world is filled with more than breezes: diseases and disasters, monsters and pain in a thousand variations. I do not forget either my father and his kind hanging over us, bright and sharp as swords, aimed at our tearing flesh. If they do not fall on us in spite and malice, then they will fall by accident or whim. My breath fights in my throat. How can I live on beneath such a burden of doom?
I rise then and go to my herbs. I create something, I transform something. My witchcraft is as strong as ever, stronger. This too is good fortune. How many have such power and leisure and defense as I do? Telemachus comes from our bed to find me. He sits with me in the greensmelling darkness, holding my hand. Our faces are both lined now, marked with our years.
Circe, he says, it will be all right.
It is not the saying of an oracle or a prophet. They are words you might speak to a child. I have heard him say them to our daughters, when he rocked them back to sleep from a nightmare, when he dressed their small cuts, soothed whatever stung. His skin is familiar as my own beneath my fingers. I listen to his breath, warm upon the night air, and somehow I am comforted. He does not mean it does not hurt. He does not mean we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.
To be fully alive, all the way woke, is a gift denied to a god and granted to all mortals (as Circe must become to atone for her crimes as well as create her purpose) because, in the end, it is sin and atonement, pleasure and punishment, in one long drink from the River Lethe. All things end. Mortals end sooner than gods, of course, but all things end, and in ending become meaningful and beautiful. Poems have endings (despite the interminable versification of Milton, even Paradise Lost stops...after 10,000 lines) and songs do, so must lives; the life of a being is art, ask Atropos or Urd. The weavers of worlds see our little lives as threads in a grand tapestry. The comfort of ages is to imagine that Norns or Fates see a beautiful representational tapestry, say The Hunt of the Unicorn

when actually it seems likely to me that the various gods see that and also see Jackson Pollock's Lavender Mist

in its unedited...uneditable...complexity and structural uniqueness, and they derive all the pleasures of life from both.

Author Miller, a divinely inspired bard, has her own divine creation to design and execute, to wrest from the blankness of Chaos; her apotheosis hasn't occurred yet so let us be sure to grab each thing she makes. Do this so we can experience in our fleeting passage through life the reflected glory of the Divine walking among us. You won't get closer than this while wearing a body.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Yule! Celebrate the Returning of the Light with Joy!

The Solstice is upon us. In the North, we're coming to the end of longer nights and colder temperatures. We celebrate the return of the Sun's warmth and, even globally warmed, we're glad to see the Sun for more hours.

In the South, you're celebrating the brightest, longest day of the year. I hope you're outside soaking up warmth and Vitamin D to bolster you for your journey to harvest and rest.

For us all, I hope we can use this symbolic and energetic turning point to aim ourselves directly toward spreading the best and the brightest gifts we have within us to all who share our home the Earth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Just sayin'


I got a communiqué from someone who gave me a book. The question asked was, "You read it, of course, it's been {a shortish period of time} and no review yet, so when will you review it?"

I might or might not have read it yet; however long you think is long enough for a person to read a book doesn't mean that the person wants to read that book at that moment; and I do not owe you a review because you gave me a book.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

EUROPE AT DAWN, fourth Fractured Europe novel, wraps a terrific series


EUROPE AT DAWN
DAVE HUTCHINSON
(Fractured Europe Sequence #4)
Solaris Books
$6.99 ebook platforms, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Alice works at the Scottish Embassy in Tallinn in Estonia as a member of the Cultural Section. When two men bring her the jewelled skull of a Scottish saint her world gets turned on its head, and she becomes the latest recruit to Les Coureurs des Bois.

On a Greek island Benno is just one of hundreds of refuges dreaming of a new life in Continental Europe. After hatching an audacious escape plan, he may just get his dream, but at the price of serving some powerful mysterious new masters.

Rudi and Rupert, the seasoned Coureur and the scientist in exile from a pocket universe, discover that someone they thought long dead is very much still alive. Not only that, but the now defunct Line – the railway that once bisected the European continent – may be being used for nefarious means.

THE FRACTURED EUROPE SEQUENCE REVIEWS:
EUROPE IN AUTUMNEUROPE AT MIDNIGHTEUROPE IN WINTER

THE PUBLISHER PROVIDED A DRC AT MY REQUEST. THANK YOU.

My Review
: Old friends make reappearances...old problems need solutions again, the only ones at hand are the ones that didn't work before...new faces wear old clothes and frighten us out of our sleep because the monsters under the bed never left.

An island in the Aegean Sea, the Scottish Embassy in Tallinn, a folk duo of no discernible talent but a huge reputation, and a pair of refugee teenagers tear through the pages trailing clouds of story as Author Hutchinson makes his last scheduled stop in hideously Fractured Europe.

So let me start with this. You're not going to make this your first stop on the route of the Coureurs des Bois. It would be a serious error of judgment to jump in any old how. It is necessary to read EUROPE IN AUTUMN first because so many things that happen in each book suddenly make sense in light of remembering events from the ones before; and starting from the first story helps make the experience of reading the fourth richly textured and satisfying.

The multiverse that Author Hutchinson posits, with its pocket universes and its bizarre cartographic secrets and its stunningly amoral and conscienceless elite, doesn't suddenly make sense in this book's denouement. It doesn't really ever make sense. It all—all the books, all the maps you hear about, all the baggy, wrinkled bits of story-cloth left on bushes here and there drying at their own pace—makes perfect sense as soon as you realize that. I'm not trying to be sibylline or obfuscatory. I'm giving you the effect of reading Author Hutchinson's deeply sculpted, complex story. What vistas open to you are important, but not decisive and defining. They're fractal artifacts of a universe possessed of no higher law than randomness. Remembering the things in your subjective past isn't always helpful, though it's always a good idea to rattle the dice in the brain-cup and see if boxcars or snakeyes come up. Either roll can be the winner because, like the real universe, shit just happens, what the hell. (Yes yes, it's a Terry Pratchett line, but believe me when I tell you that Author Hutchinson has a similarly depraved sense of humor to Sir Terry's.)

What you need to know about this book in particular is that Rudi coming back into focus, Rudi from the Krakow restaurant who really never wanted too much of what happened on his watch to happen...Rudi snaps the pieces of this shattered place's soul into focus as only he could. He still wants to feed people and be a cog in a machine that lacks malevolence for its constituent parts. And he is the reader in that sense, he is the character who does what he must but wants some of his work to matter in a simple way without Overtones.

He wants to live a boring life in boring times. The opposite of the "ancient Chinese curse" we've grown up hearing about. Europe's fracture due to the hideous plague of dubious origins is irreparable. The world cannot be put back together again. I think the Western Romans, especially the Britannians, of 500CE must have felt this way. It look the same. The sky's the same. The birds didn't change. But nothing will ever work again so what shall we do now?

Then there are those alternate places that aren't a thing like Fractured Europe...do they fit together better, are they functional societies, and what are we all going to use as glue to hold all the truly jagged pieces in place? There are no answers. There are no better-framed questions. There are a lot of smug bastards pretending they're on top of stuff. They're not. And you know what? Since no one is, since there's no top to be on, the world will sail on. Over the falls. Off the edge. Into safe harbor. Simultaneously.

This, my friends, is why I read Author Dave Hutchinson's books. Do not kid yourself. He sees reality, he tells you what's happening in eleventeen voices, he weaves disparate strands of story together and snips others without warning. This is what life actually is without the comforting lie of linear time to soothe our monkeybrains with story. Author Hutchinson tells us the story but unwraps it so we can get down in the gearbox that only quantum mechanics know how to grok.

I want you to read these novels. Don't start here. This is your reward for making a turbulent and beautiful journey. This is the final cataract on the river. You're prepared for it. And it's a great sense of understanding and accomplishment as you finish this book. For this is what it means to be awake and alive and fully present in a unique place. Control? None. Power? Illusion. A good dinner, some wine, and companions to enjoy. Do what it takes to keep that safe for the greatest number of people.

Happen I agree.