Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book of the Week: Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

Happy book birthday to this intriguing fresh fantasy debut novel. The world Leonard has created features a different take on dragons, creatures who are very alien in a world splintered into small kingdoms under the fealty of empires. Prince Corin of Caithen has had strange memory gaps since a foray into the north and has since seen the occasional dragon flying overhead. Now back at home for Summer Court political machinations abound as he enters into the social flurry where he is to make a dynastic match. Tam, an intelligent well educated commoner, has come to court with her sister-in-law to find her own match but sparks fly when the prince and the commoner meet even though a match between them would be unthinkable. Readers who stick with this through a longish romantic middle will be amply rewarded by an action filled final quarter leaving them looking forward to discovering more about this enticing world.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Two Books of the Week - Dangerous Women and Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol

Life has been hectic but I have been getting some reading done. It is just writing it up where I'm lagging.

I finished Dangerous Women, the massive anthology of never before published stories featuring, what else, dangerous women. Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, and weighing in at just under 800 pages, it features tales of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and horror, by 21 different authors, with dangerous women who are sheroes, villains, and everything in between. As with any good anthology, some of the stories will appeal and others will not and the truth is those stories will be different for each reader. Rest assured, the quality is consistently high, the appeal will vary. I was a little disappointed with the layout which put the author's name on a page preceding the story and its title and introductory remarks prefacing each story that were mostly mere listing of the writers' publication records. I would have liked more substance there to better connect with the authors. Because of this I had a hard time linking each story with its writer. The two stories that really resonated with me, that I think I will remember for a long time (hey, I still remember reading Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine back in 1982 and finding Connie Willis's "A Letter From the Clearys") are Brandon Sanderson's "Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell" and Caroline Spector's "Lies My Mother Told Me." It's not surprising that these were my favorites because I want to like the protagonists of what I read and I like for them to be on the side of good. Evil and amoral main characters just don't do it for me so I really enjoyed these two very different stories, both featuring mother love, and fighting evil. Sanderson is a longtime favorite but I haven't read anything by Spector before (as far as I remember) so this anthology did what I expect a collection of short stories by different authors to do; it introduced me to a writer whose other works I'm now going to have to hunt down and read.

This morning I finished the ebook of Elizabeth Hand's novella, Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol. I love Open Road Media for reprinting as ebooks, wonderful stories that have enduring value but did not become household names. This exquisite story of a man, his autistic son, and his childhood friend, a has-been rockstar is incredibly powerful and is something I'm going to try to reread every year. Like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it has universal themes and evokes deep and lasting feelings in the reader. Brendan, a middle aged, not successful but not a failure attorney has a definite Scrooge-like attitude towards Christmas. It was Christmas when he and his now ex-wife realized that something was really wrong with their two-year-old son Peter. Tony Kemper, the once famous punk rocker, Tony Moroni, who lost control of his band's rights to their music is broke, unemployed and homeless so he moves in with Brendan who has Peter on Tuesdays and every other weekend. Four-year-old Peter doesn't talk and for the most part doesn't interact with anyone. Tony becomes obsessed with Chip Crockett, the host of a kiddie tv show they watched in their childhood and spends hours on a fan web page even though only a few seconds of recordings of Chip Crockett on tv have survived. He finds rumors of a Chip Crockett Christmas special that may have somehow survived.

This has tiny bits of fantastical elements giving a little of the feel I got from Connie Willis's Bellwether with both set in our very real world. I loved how Brendan, Tony, and Peter, all flawed and damaged still are lovable, strong in their own ways, and memorable. Best of all this is a book that is not sentimental or sweet but definitely leaves the reader feeling good at the end and wanting to revisit again and again.