Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – Book Review

Usually my go to subgenre that I enjoy the most is secondary world fiction, because I like to be taken away to a different world. But often historical fiction set in far away countries can do the same thing, and this one takes you away to Ethiopia.

The main characters are a boy and a girl growing up together, who’s mothers, Rhoda and Delia, were the best of friends. Em’s father is largely absent, and Teo’s father died of an illness when he ws young, and so the two women have a sort of little combined family. The fact that one mother was white and the other was black never bothered them or their mothers, except when they reach America, where racism was what it was in the thirties.

The mothers are both pilots, and they’re a two-woman travelling flying circus, one flying, the other wing-walking. All this changes though after a bird strike kills Teo’s mother. That particular scene was heartbreaking to read – the  whole story is told in the form of journal entries, flight log entries and letters written by the two children, and that scene, as it’s written, it’s so brief, as if they’re too heartbroken to dwell on it or put in any more detail.

To honour Delia’s dream, Rhoda takes both children to Teo’s father’s home country, Ethiopia.

It’s one of those books that paint a beautiful picture of a beautiful place, and I got settled into loving their new home, Beehive Hill. The descriptions of Christianity as it exists in Ethiopia was facinating, because it like nothing we’re familiar with in the west. It’s a branch of Christianity that split off before Catholicism existed, so while everything we’re familiar with is a product Catholicism’s evolution, the Coptic church is just completely different.

At this point in history, slavery in Ethiopia still exists too, with complicated laws governing it. In order to prevent a sudden economic crisis, it’s being phased out slowly, via various ways of slaves being freed.

All the while, news on the radio foreshadows the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

There’s something eerie about reading a story set in a place that exists though, and events that actually happened, even if the characters themselves are invented. I almost hate Italians now, have read about how they invaded Ethiopia, with the intention of pushing the Ethiopians out and take their land, to settle poor Italians there the way other countries settled their poor in the Americas. And how they used mustard gas to do it.

At about the half way point, I had to remind myself this is an author who kills main characters sometimes, so when the invasion started, I bit my lip to keep reading, not sure how many of these characters would make it out alive. I bet she feels magnanimous when she lets characters live.

Overall, wonderful book; if you like historical fiction and planes, definitely pick it up.

Sully – Movie Review

I went to see Sully Saturday, and it was very good.

The most obvious comparison is the movie from a couple years ago, “Flight.” Both movies depict the NTSB setting their sights on crucifying pilots, even when they made the right decisions and saved people. Apparently, especially in Sully, the NTSB agents were made more into villains, for the sake of drama, and the real life investigators were considerably more objective and professional.

The big difference though is the captain in “Flight” was drunk and on cocaine in the cockpit, while Captain Sullenberger was much more like the pilots I know – diligent in being sure his faculties were not compromised while he had lives depending on him.

Other things I liked – the flight attendants were played by women who looked like actual flight attendants, not models. They looked like they might be in their forties, and not Charlize Theron fourties. Actual real people.

I liked how, when he’s being lauded as a hero, Sully acknowledges the importance of the role the rest of the crew played, including the flight attendants, who he listed by name in that scene.

When you’re doing a movie that’s trying to stay true to the original events, I imagine it can be hard to squeak in more female characters, and so very often. Obviously it wouldn’t seem right to gender swap the pilots or flight attendants, who all fit the stereotypes of pilot = male, flight attendant = female. I’m willing to bet there was likely no women at the front of the room in the NTSB hearing through, but they stuck one in anyway. Those NTSB agents are apparently made up – that’s where the movie takes the most dramatic license to up the suspense, and rather than vilify real people, the understandably made up a villain.

And then there’s the background characters that that people don’t notice are usually exclusively male. But I noticed effort put in there too. It’s probably not accurate to have had a female pilot among the simulator test crews, and considering the number of female pilots working at that level, it’s probably not even likely that they would have been able to find a female pilot available to participate, but they squeaked in female pilots in not just one of those simulator test crews, but one on each of the two – one is the first officer in the pair, and the other is the captain. That’s making an effort.

On the other hand, the cast was pretty white – I don’t know if there was so much as a black or other POC passenger on the plane.

Good movie, not horrifically long, and I enjoyed it.

Book Revew of Jay Kristoff’s Kinslayer up on The Punkettes

I finished reading Kinslayer yesterday, sequel to Stormdancer, so there’s a review up on the other blog I contribute to, http://www.thepunkettes.com. Spoilers: it was awesome.

Also, I have an advance reader copy of Endsinger, so there’ll be a review of that one soon too, as well as a giveaway of a free copy, so keep watching The Punkettes and here for details!

The Lake And The Library by S. M Beiko

Wishing for something more than her adventureless life, 16-year-old Ash eagerly awaits the move she and her mother are taking from their dull, drab life in the prairie town of Treade. But as Ash counts the days, she finds her way into a mysterious, condemned building on the outskirts of town—one that has haunted her entire childhood with secrets and questions. What she finds inside is an untouched library, inhabited by an enchanting mute named Li. Brightened by Li’s charm and his indulgence in her dreams, Ash becomes locked in a world of dusty books and dying memories, with Li becoming the attachment to Treade she never wanted. This haunting and romantic debut novel explores the blurry boundary between the real and imagined with a narrative that illustrates the power and potency of literacy.

I had a lot of books on my TBR list, but at Keycon, I attended a reading where this author read from her second book, and what she read was so messed up wtf, that I went and bought her first book.

Disclaimer: I grew up in a small prairie town, loved books and art and spent most of my time lost in fantasy worlds of literature, and wanted nothing so much as to get out of the stupid dick town I was stuck in. In other words, the main character of this book is basically me at that age. It was a little eerie.

And thus, the first thing I noticed was the main character’s voice, and the narrative voice. The narrative actually reminded me of Peter S. Beagle, or Neil Gaiman, honestly, both of whom I love for their elegance of prose. I’m not one to obsess over well written prose, so when I notice it, it’s because it’s especially good.

The story straddles reality and magic in a surreal sort of way. The magic doesn’t jump out and slap you in the face, it sneaks up on you, kind of, in a slow, subtle sort of way, and builds it’s way to immersion.

A beautiful book, and I’m looking forward to that author’s next one.

Tombstone Blues by Chadwick Ginther – Book Review

Catching up on book reviews here.

After beating back the might of Surtur, Ted Callan is getting used to his immortal powers. The man who once would stop at nothing to rid himself of his tattoos and their power might even be said to be enjoying his new-found abilities.

However, not everyone is happy the glory of Valhalla has risen from the ashes of Ragnarok. With every crash of Mjolnir, Thor, former god of thunder, rages in Niflheim, the land of the dead.

Now that Ted’s woken the dead, there’s going to be hell to pay.

Even better than book one. If you thought Ted’s sort-of romance with Tilda was going to go smoothly, you’re worse than wrong. I love that the relationship between the two of them seems so real. I mean, he’s a middle aged guy, hooking up with a teenager. And on the one hand, she has a lot of wisdom she’s gained from what happened in book one, but on the other hand, she’s still a teenager, and she ultimately acts like it. She’s not emotionally ready for the things she’s dealing with, and helping her cope is a task greater than all the power Ted’s been given.

The handling of the mythology too is one of the things that makes this series stand out. It picks up where ragnarok left off, rather than being a retelling. That gives the author a lot of freedom to introduce plot twists, and yet, Ginther seems to be trying to be as true to the source material as he can, playing on the emotions of the mythical characters in logical ways, like Loki’s anger and sadness over the Asgardians murdering his children. Many interpretations put characters like Thor up as a heroic nice guy, but Ginther makes him a villain, and when he reminds the reader of some of the awful things Thor did, according to the stories, he’s really not stretching at all, from the perspective of modern sensibilities.

Loki has significantly less presence in book two – in fact, you spend most of book two wondering every once in a while where the hell is Loki in all this? But the raven’s, Huginn and Muninn actually do a good job of filling in for comic relief, which is important in a story where the emotions run so dark. The scope of the book is a little more epic, since rather than trashing a little town in Manitoba, Ginther’ has the minions of Hel trashing Winnipeg itself.

I’m looking forward to book three in the series. We’ve made a request that the Winnipeg Human Rights Museum* be destroyed, and I do hope he gets to that at some point.

*Before you think I’m a horrible person for taking joy in the destruction of a human rights museum, this building went horrifically over budget, which all came out of taxpayers pockets. On top of that is the controversy that it’s not actually a *human* rights museum, it is a remember-what-happened-to-the-jews-in-wwii museum, and when people asked why the place wasn’t going to be exhibiting anything to do with human rights violations towards black people or first nations people, they just said that’s not what this museum is for.

Throne Of The Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed – Book Review

This was another book I’d been meaning to read just because it was a non-eurocentric traditional fantasy, and also because it was recommended by a friend. Beneath Ceaseless Skies had a twitter contest that I entered and won an audiobook copy, which was great – I love audiobooks, but they’re so expensive!

There’s a bunch of 1-star reviews on this book on good reads, and almost all of them justify it by saying they didn’t like the amount of blessed this and by the grace of the almighty god, etc. I don’t think that’s fair at all. I think those are all prejudiced Americans who are terrified of other cultures. I rolled my eyes at those reviews.

It was a great book, and nice to see something set in a middle-east inspired setting with such a balanced cast of characters, not to mention not being filtered through a lens of western hatred of Islam. Not only is there a variety of different character personalities – from the uptight, uber-religious Raseed right through the irreverent Doctor Adoulla, but also represented are varying cultures within the middle east, to remind us that there is as much, and probably more, variety of cultures within the middle east as there are in North America. From the crowded city, to the nomads, to ancient empires, I’d say it was richly imagined, but I don’t think it’s far from the reality of the region.

Aside from the golems and alchemists and child eating man-jackal, of course.

As far as the plot, I’ll say what others have said – it’s a good old fashioned traditional fantasy. The author doesn’t hide behind any bullshit “Women didn’t do anything important back then” and has several prominent female characters. I loved that the main character, Adoulla is an aging wizard, and yet he’s not pushed to the background and denied a romantic plot for being the age he is.

The reader was great and I think he did the story justice with different accents and voices. Thanks go out to Beneath Ceaseless Skies for providing the audiobook.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Find it on Goodreads.

Why I Stopped Reading George R. R. Martin

This is not a post about how George R. R. Martin is a bad writer, or his books are lousy. Nor am I here to trash people who love George R. R. Martin and say they have no taste.

This is a post about how, if you don’t want to invest the amount of time required to enjoy his books, or the investment required does not justify the reward for you: it’s okay.

Now, before you go and say I didn’t give it a proper chance – I got to the end of book two. I think I probably read more material written by GRRM than some authors ever publish. I really wanted to like it, and to an extent I did (though, IMHO, he doesn’t write female characters as well as some people think he does). It’s really not the content that bothers me, and I did appreciate his skill in constructing a climax to a scene. I *can* see why he is well loved. And if you’re one of those readers who love him, all the power to you, go enjoy. (What, you’ve read book five and there’s no more? Well, uh, sorry, I got nothing for ya.)

It’s not even because I read it at a time when I was a tad disillusioned with epic fantasy. I read other epic fantasy before and after, and enjoyed that.

My husband has read the first four books, and he’ll go on about how much he enjoyed them. He convince me to start reading them. He has the fifth book in his possession, and has not finished it. He’s tried several times to get into it, and just can’t. He says he got to the part where (yet another) new point of view character is introduced, and he couldn’t get past that point.

What it is, is a severe inefficiency of prose. The only reason I got through book one is because multiple people told me “You have to give it at least to page 100, and then it gets good.” Okay, I gave it to page 100. It actually starts to get good at, I believe, page 81, but that’s neither here nor there. And then I thought, “Okay, we’re getting into the swing of things now, right?”

Nope. Every scene takes forever to get going. It’s like he’s starting things from scratch every time. There’s *so* much buildup.

Speaking of buildup: Arya. She learns sword fighting in book 1. Somewhere in book 2 she gets her sword taken away, and hasn’t got it back yet. Then she’s got another plot line starting with this magician, implying she’s going in a different direction than the sword fighting thing. But it all feels like up to where I left off everything to do with her has been setup. The problem is the whole I-made-it-to-the-end-of-book-2-and-we’re-still-in-setup-mode.

Which results in me losing faith in the author. And I know people are going to run up to me screaming, “Oh, but later she ______!” Only, again, I got to the end of book two. I’ve given it a fair shot, and it’s failed to convince me that this character’s plot line is going to progress at a satisfactory rate. I’ve given up. I no longer care.

Then those people will say, “But…but…You’re going to miss out on all the awesome events that happen later! It gets even better in book three! You stopped at the wrong spot! Sansa gets less pathetically annoying!”

And to that I say, “I’ll watch the TV show.”

See, since I did get as far as book 2, I know exactly how true to the books they were in the first two seasons. And the parts they changed were changed for reasons that made sense to me from a storytelling perspective. They’re true to the characters and the spirit, and any changes to the plot are minor adjustments to make the telling more efficient (see that word? *efficient*) or in some cases to add interest to sections that were not as exciting in the books, like the dragons being kidnapped, or something that was implied, but there were not POV characters to tell the tale, like Renly and the Knight of Flowers hooking up. They’re taking all the awesome stuff and condensing it so that it’s a steady stream of awesome, instead of a dragging scene, dragging on, dragging you along because you know when you get to the end, *something* will happen, and you’re waiting for that little bit of payoff at the end of the scene. I think Daenerys is a psychopath, just like the rest of her family, and people just haven’t realized it yet because she’s doing nice things for brown people. I’m waiting for her to go off the deep end.

And like I said, I was enjoying it. Tyrion is awesome. Tyrion and Bronn are golden. I liked Arya. It’s just, I wasn’t enjoying it enough to keep investing the amount of time it took to get to the good parts. YMMV.

It’s just that I know there are books out there that I will enjoy more thoroughly than that. Even within epic fantasy. You don’t have to resign yourself to slogging through a book to enjoy epic fantasy. It’s like eating ten bowls of chicken noodle soup with one tiny piece of chicken in it, versus a one bowl with lots of chicken.

And saying that is not saying that GRRM is a bad writer. He’s obviously a good one, to have managed the success he has. There’s lots of people for whom this is just their cup of tea, and to them, all the power to you – enjoy. And I applaud GGRM for his success. My criticisms are as a reader, not as a writer. It’s personal taste. Chacun son gout.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say. Lets see how many page hits I get for dissing the Martin.