Haunting and cold and devastating. "I was gay, and bold, and wicked/And never knew I was happy" (pg. 51).
It's been over a month since I finished thisHaunting and cold and devastating. "I was gay, and bold, and wicked/And never knew I was happy" (pg. 51).
It's been over a month since I finished this collection, and what remains most strongly are the moments of intense emotion, captured and preserved in one or two line images: "And street bonfires blazing red/Like roses in snow are flowering" (p. 67). Akhmatova's life was hard, beyond my experience, and I feel it when she cries, "There is a frontier-line in human closeness/That love and passion cannot violate-...Those striving towards it are demented, and/If the line seem close enough to broach-/Stricken with sadness... Now you understand/Why my heart does not beat beneath your touch" (p. 72). Of all her poems of loss, I was wrecked by Lot's Wife:
And the just man trailed God's messenger, His huge, light shape devoured the black hill. But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her: 'It's not too late, you can look back still
At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you, The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed, At the empty windows of that upper storey Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.'
Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind; Her body turned into transparent salt, And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.
Who mourns one woman in a holocaust? Surely her death has no significance? Yet in my heart she never will be lost, She who gave up her life to steal one glance (p. 105)
When reading this poem I was reminded most strongly of Ghayath al-Madhoun'sThe Celebration, and his line, "put your dreams in the shed, and give the plants on the balcony plenty of water/for the discussion with iron may go on for a while." It's the loss of all small, good things, civilization, in the fighting and the flight. "Like the high power/Of purest sound, Separation, you're/Homeward-bound. Familiar buildings/Look out from death at us- And there are still things/A hundred times worse/For me to face than all/I faced, that other time... Through my crucified capital/I'm going home" (p. 127)
Lot's Woman is also a much translated poem, and it is here that I wonder if D.M. Thomas's efforts are among the best. Judith Hemschemeyer's version, missing a stanza, still flows with a rhythm lost in Thomas's version:
And the righteous man followed the envoy of God, Huge and bright, over the black mountain. But anguish spoke loudly to his wife: It is not too late, you can still gaze
At the red towers of your native Sodom, At the square where you sang, at the courtyard where you spun, At the empty windows of the tall house Where you bore children to your beloved husband. . . .
Who will weep for this woman? Isn't her death the least significant? But my heart will never forget the one Who gave her life for a single glance.
Then again, I infinitely prefer the crux of the poem in Thomas's mouth: "Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?" Ignorant of Russian, I am unable to judge beyond the effect in English.
Of course, the crowning poems of this or any Akhmatova collection are Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. They are bare and prophetic, as promised:
I should like to call you all by name, But they have lost the lists...
I have woven for them a great shroud Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.
I remember them always and everywhere, And if they shut my tormented mouth,
Through which a hundred million of my people cry, Let them remember me also...
And if ever in this country they should want To build me a monument
I consent to the honour, But only on condition that they
Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born: My last links there were broken long ago,
Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens, Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,
But here, where I stood for three hundred hours And where they never, never opened the doors for me (p. 193-4). ...more
Ty and Shelby are fascinating characters. If Shelby has been infused with just a bit of too much angst, such is life. If Ty's warmth, reliability, andTy and Shelby are fascinating characters. If Shelby has been infused with just a bit of too much angst, such is life. If Ty's warmth, reliability, and understanding is just a tad too perfect- I can deal.
I always enjoy reading about leads with real life problems- Shelby is struggling to care for her declining mother while Ty is parenting a child he did not even know about until recently. Well-written, angsty, but believable and funny- O'Keefe now writes what Susan Elizabeth Phillips use to, but even better....more
I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. UnliI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war....more
I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a bI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
I forgot how sincerely moving this book is. Rachel's regret in the face of her son's anger and Devin's still-self-centered but increasingly heartfeltI forgot how sincerely moving this book is. Rachel's regret in the face of her son's anger and Devin's still-self-centered but increasingly heartfelt efforts were surprisingly wrenching....more
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy....more
Finally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naFinally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naive teenagers that they are without ever seeming cartoonish. The tension over conditions on the home farm was also interesting, a smidge of North and South livening the plot. ...more
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of WiSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
Maia is a great vehicle for this story- he reacts exactly how I would expect from someone with no immediately obvious skills but keen self-awareness, compassion, and fairness. His callow, self-indulgent moments are balanced by his wonderful wit and ability to laugh at the emperor with no clothes. I also loved that he has no special gifts, no magical destiny, and is as vulnerable as a kitten with only his relationships with others keeping him afloat.
For Maia's sarcastic, perceptive headspace alone this book would be worth price of admission. It's all the better for tight plotting, well-done swirls of political intrigue, a strong cast of secondary characters, and its themes of inheritance, tradition, difference, and self-determination. Fabulous....more
I waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor keyI waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key on the philandering straight first husband, but there is not much novel or particularly well-crafted here to truly hold my attention....more
If not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pIf not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pleasantly surprised by a better-than-mediocre book. Testament of Youth this is not, with even young soldiers thought lost on the front making it through the war intact, but Robson does a decent job of conveying the hopeless mess of life near the front. There are not nearly enough military medical protagonists in circulation (just think of how excellent The Wedding Journey is!) either....more
A nice story of a father getting to know his daughter after many years apart, with a low key romance thrown in. A definite improvement over Carolina GA nice story of a father getting to know his daughter after many years apart, with a low key romance thrown in. A definite improvement over Carolina Girl, much more in the Nora Roberts style that I liked so much in the first installment....more
The conflict here was fascinating- the heroine is a retired MMA fighter looking for stability and an upwardly mobile professional man to wine and dineThe conflict here was fascinating- the heroine is a retired MMA fighter looking for stability and an upwardly mobile professional man to wine and dine her (barf). The hero, however, is a bumbling electrician trying to make ends meet as his true craft (historical restoration, carpentry) melted away in the recession. I found Steph's qualms highly annoying and shallow, especially when goofball Patrick repeatedly tore out his sweet and mushy heart for her to stamp all over. But they ended up where they needed to be, and it was overall not a bad way to kill several hours on a transatlantic flight. ...more
It was pleasant, and Phyl's hopes, losses, and unique professional life made her a vivid lead for a series romance. Jamal, on the other hand, was a biIt was pleasant, and Phyl's hopes, losses, and unique professional life made her a vivid lead for a series romance. Jamal, on the other hand, was a bit bland, and his family drama didn't read like honest conflict. Nice enough!...more
Old school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hOld school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hard to finish, but then again I regularly crave the meaty, sad At Your Pleasure. While Alastair is a bit much (like The Duke's Perfect Wife's Hart Mackenzie on crack) I like how his crazy, devious brain switches from introverted self-flagellation to cunning revenge. Olivia may be a bit too good to be true but she's understandable even when she's lingering over Alastair a bit too long. In the end, there's little I like more than the penniless heroine running out the door (Jane Eyre! Until You! Lily!) and this book certainly delivered on that account....more
How is Mary both the Cinderella poor relation and sent on a hairbrained quest dreamt up by the cook to spice up her life? Why does the good captain, a seasoned veteran of many a port, walk so blindly into danger? Finally, Kelly likes to play with the fire of ultimate redemption- her military heroes are traumatized and in real life some of them harm their partners. Kelly dilutes this real issue of domestic violence by filtering the anger through the ridiculous plot device of a raised arm, a trip, and a sharp corner. I feel that if you are going to traverse this tricky terrain, do it meaningfully and not through a big mis plot point. The Admiral's Penniless Bride is instructive in this regard....more
Why why why did I do this to myself? I had quit Robyn Carr cold years ago and was quite happy with my decision. But then I went ahead and re-read herWhy why why did I do this to myself? I had quit Robyn Carr cold years ago and was quite happy with my decision. But then I went ahead and re-read her Grace Valley trilogy. I always had a soft spot for June and Jim in Just Over the Mountain. Then I re-read Temptation Ridge and wanted closure on Abby and Cameron (this is how they get you!). I read Paradise Valley in one sitting and the silly, trite plot lines and same-old conflict reminded me of how much I used to like Carr, and why I do not any more......more
I always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I'veI always loved when Captain Wentworth pulls her naughty nephew away, and the hope it gives Anne that he doesn't completely hate her guts anymore. I've always loved a martyr heroine, and Anne certainly fits the bill- suffering through the arrogant unkindnesses of her father and older sister, the fits and drama of her spoilt younger sister, the 'good old Anne' assumption that she will be the spinster woman, the one who smooths over all upset and bears all unwanted work. Nothing like suffering in silence to tug at my heartstrings!
As always with Jane Austen new phrases and scenes struck me anew. Thanks to Jane Austen, Game Theorist, I found the bit where Mrs. Croft takes the reins from Admiral Croft darling:
"But by coolly giving the reins a better direction herself, they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand, they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart; and Anne, with some amusement at their style of driving, which she imagined no bad representation of the general guidance of their affairs, found herself safely deposited by them at the cottage."
Or take the delightfully simple workings of jealousy on Captain Wentworth's regard for Anne:
"When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back, and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him; and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced. It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,-a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, 'That man is struck with you,-and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.'"
Or, my favorite this time around:
"Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished,-but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped."
Quiet, romantic, bittersweet, with only the hint of a cutting edge at times, this is a most un-Austen-like Austen that I love quite truly....more
Kathleen Gilles Seidel is a fantastic author and I have been plumbing her backlist. Although some of her books are trapped in their dated-ness, I findKathleen Gilles Seidel is a fantastic author and I have been plumbing her backlist. Although some of her books are trapped in their dated-ness, I find that others (like When Love Isn't Enough, The Same Last Name) are unexpectedly insightful on the interplay between gender, power, and romantic heterosexual commitment. After All These Years explores at length formative romantic relationships begun as teenagers, and how these relationships shape and define not only younger years, but in some cases the later shape of adult life.
It is also interesting how frank and honest this 1984 book is, with our male protagonist, Tom, reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart before and in the midst of an amicable divorce. Tom is deeply shaped by his experiences as a Vietnam vet and afraid of commitments to people, places, and identities that bring with them social expectations and the possibility of failure. He is self-sabotaging, self-flagellating, and lonely even as he is also strong, caring, and decent. Curry is a treat- brave, committed, and no-nonsense; she is rewarded with a relationship that promises to widen her horizons and bring joy back into her life. Really rather an astonishing book....more
I like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each othI like this book because it is a soap opera in the best of ways. Stuart, Robin, and Zoe misbehave so badly and repeatedly hurt themselves and each other with their stubborn insistence on screwing things up to no good purpose. Yet all three manage (oh so barely) to stay in the readers' good graces, so that when they sort out their incredibly messed up baggage you cheer rather than roll your eyes. This is very much a wallpaper romance, but I could not even care I liked the character drama so much....more
Typical Florand in the slightly overblown prose and the sticky-sweet sentimentalism of the last fifty pages or so- but still overall enjoyable. I wasTypical Florand in the slightly overblown prose and the sticky-sweet sentimentalism of the last fifty pages or so- but still overall enjoyable. I was intrigued by the dynamic she set up with her very resentful heroine, and I liked Patrick's inability (at first) to charm Sarah. All his wiles fell flat in the absence of any conviction on her part that there was sincerity or genuine emotion behind it.
That said, I was bedeviled by Florand's choice to make Sarah an over-achieving Asian-American woman who had abandoned engineering for a chance as a pastry chef. On the one hand, Sarah's identity as a first generation immigrant and the trauma experienced by her North Korean mother defined her in very specific and meaningful ways. (Although I would note that the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act does not work the way Florand seems to think it works.) That said, as Florand's only Asian heroine to date it frustrated me that Sarah conformed to so many stereotypes. I would have let this slide to the ok side of the register (while Sarah conforms to several stereotypes she always read to me like a specific, nuanced, strong character) except Patrick concluded the book with several small hipster-racist jokes about stereotyped Asian 'culture' and that threw the book back into not-ok territory for me. Grrr....more
Putting aside this book's multiple crazy (but typical Susan Elizabeth Phillips) portrayals of threatened sexual assault, the way it plays with faith hPutting aside this book's multiple crazy (but typical Susan Elizabeth Phillips) portrayals of threatened sexual assault, the way it plays with faith healing and TV evangelicansim, and the fact that the heroine's prize at the end is she gets to stay in Salvation and live among all the small-minded people who shunned (yes, shunned) her, I compulsively re-read this book once or twice a year.
Why, you ask? I am a glutton for big, meaty angst, and this book is filled to the brim with angst. Single mother trying to support her sick kid? Woman wronged by a judgmental, small-minded community? Heroine a willing martyr to the hero's deep psychological disturbances? Anne Stuart cruelty imported into a zany SEP setting? All of the above....more
Fabulous writing bent to mediocre ends. The source of Brian's angst fuels the entire plot, and I had very negative feelings as to the manner in whichFabulous writing bent to mediocre ends. The source of Brian's angst fuels the entire plot, and I had very negative feelings as to the manner in which Brian's sister's disability was used to ennoble him. I liked Carrie quite a bit at the beginning, but was soon rolling my eyes as she repeatedly prodded Brian out of his comfort zone after entering their arrangement agreeing to respect his boundaries.
This is all quite unfortunate as Rivers is a great writer with a good sense of angst- if only the character motivates were palatable......more
A truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to thA truly fabulous book- our heroine is an awkward, difficult, heartbreaking, brilliant closet botanist/geneticist and our hero loves her to bits, to the point where he presents her work as his own to enable publication of her work until the strain of the double life and its toll on his affection for her prompts him to set up a few boundaries. These boundaries interrupt the dynamic between our leads, force them to reevaluate their self-images, their difficult family relationships, and what level of vulnerability they are willing to assume in order to build a new relationship.
One reviewer commented that the book was very much about consent. This stuck with me as I read because I also identified a theme interwoven throughout, which I guess I will call worth and self-worth. Not that consent (and Sebastian's beautiful displays of mature self-mastery) was an insignificant facet of the book. More important to me, however, was Violet's struggle to negotiate both her outward facing social worth (demanding that people treat her with respect) as well as an inner sense of self-worth (internalizing her right to bodily and intellectual integrity, to pleasure, to a fulfilling life). The radish review eventually highlights this epiphanic scene that characterizes this struggle so well:
Not pretty, and also selfish. Selfish to feel pride at what she'd done. Selfish to want... She looked at herself in the mirror, her head tilting. It wasn't working. Usually when she called herself selfish, she squirmed and stuffed the things she wanted away. But today, it wasn't working. Maybe she was too tired.
"Selfish Violet," she said aloud, but stripped of the shame that usually accompanied them, the words rang false. Selfish?
No. She wasn't empty. Those words had lost their place in her heart. Today she had another refrain in her head, one that had been playing so quietly that she hadn't even heard it until that moment.
Clever Violet. Resilient Violet. Sweet Violet. That whispered memory left no room for selfish. Was what she'd just done selfish? What did the word even mean?
Violet contemplated the mirror. When her husband called her selfish for refusing to go to bed with him, what had he meant? I deserve my chance to have an heir more than you deserve to live. When Lily said it would be selfish of Violet to ally herself with Sebastian, what did she mean? My attendance at balls is more important than your happiness. When Violet called herself selfish, that was what she meant- that she didn't deserve the thing she wanted. Not happiness. Maybe not even her own life.
Naturally this passage and others like it led me to game theory- the excellent Jane Austen, Game Theorist- namely Chwe's pointed observations that rational, self-interested behavior tends to be labeled "selfish" and "anti-social" when the person in question is lower status- younger, female, minority, ect. The social expectation that one gender always gives, and the other always takes, leads to people disciplining even mildly assertive displays by women through guilt and shame. Milan's exploration of that theme here was masterful.
The extended discussion of women's voice, agency, and identity was more often than not explicit, and will be taken up by many readers (and it should be). However, I loved Milan's more subtle exploration of the toll gendered expectations took on her hero as well. If Sebastian has a true genius, it is his deep emotional intelligence and his commitment to caring for his friends and family: "'My friends are worrying about me,' Sebastian continued. 'That's completely backward. I'm supposed to take care of them.'" Emotional/social work is labor, and more often than not it is uncompensated, unrecognized, and feminized (devalued) labor. Sebastian struggles under the dismissive weight of those who judge him as non-serious because his talents shine most brightly in such a feminine sphere. Tangentially, this dynamic forcefully reminded me of Sherry Thomas's excellent Not Quite a Husband, where an equally prickly and brilliant woman is matched with a man with an unexpected (and undervalued) gift for domestic work- running a household, or, in its more masculine guise, logistics. (Now that I think of it, Leo's childhood devotion to Bryony also resonates here- does it take youthful admiration to socialize our romance heroes into love for otherwise intimidating and non-typical women?)
Of course, questions of logistics lead me to my favorite hero Miles, and radish reviews was not off in another Milan review comparing her work to Lois McMaster Bujold. Violet's bath scene and the chasm between her head and her heart (and her sex drive) reminded me of nothing so much as Ekaterin's equally rending shower scene in A Civil Campaign. Of course, the excellent conversation about sacrifices, and gifts, and female agency in that book is also very much apropos. Finally, not to get too ridiculous and meta, but my favorite observations ever on how society distributes sacrifice for the greater good unequally also apply (Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, a favorite!)
In sum, this is an excellent romance that worked both at the genre level (all necessary conventions honored, expectations met, and payoffs delivered!) and at a more meta level, where my brain was always veering off onto tangents in recognition of Milan's solid treatment of very important themes. In contrast to the current sad state of romance series, Milan's books keep getting better and better....more
I remember reading an interview? or afterward? where Tamora Pierce noted the bleak and bloody chapter mid-book was informed by the news of the day- SeI remember reading an interview? or afterward? where Tamora Pierce noted the bleak and bloody chapter mid-book was informed by the news of the day- September 11. It's a shockingly real book for the YA market, and yet it works because Keladry-as-narrator is strong, just, and determined to do what she must to honor her commitment to protect those weaker than herself. Some of Keladry's moral dilemmas are very much of that post-9/11 moment, yielding a YA fantasy with more cogent things to say about use of force and trauma than the mountains of self-serving "adult" literature of the same period. ...more
The kind of complicated, wrenching space opera that enthralled me growing up, and apparently still can... Useless to try and condense the intricate plThe kind of complicated, wrenching space opera that enthralled me growing up, and apparently still can... Useless to try and condense the intricate plot, split for half the book between multiple storylines set over several thousand years of one AI's existence, as Dear Author and the Book Smugglers do an excellent job. Instead- the themes packed into this book!
Everyone is wrapped up in the book's pointed but logical disruption of gender assumptions. Yes, we read through the book unclear as to the sex or gender identity of all but two of the book's major characters. But at the end of the day this is just a sideline (and I sympathize- I am male in Arabic since I'm entirely too lazy to gender myself otherwise!) In many ways, it's like playing Shepard in Mass Effect- so many ways to play the story again and again, tweaking identities with each re-read.
The real meat of the story is the interplay between identity, loyalty (also love, responsibility, and sheer bloody-mindedness), and culpability for actions taken under duress. Our protagonist Justice of Toren/One Esk/Breq is a cold blooded killer and guilty of crimes against humanity as we understand them today. I'm so glad Dr. Strigan had a voice here, despite her comfortably righteous, but narrow, outrage. Someone had to point out the obvious. But, of course, Breq still manages to wrest your heart out and place it bleeding on a platter, given the two very specific people she kills mid-book and her subsequent mission of vengeance (and self-flagellation). And Seivarden, who starts as a lump of a miserable character, grows into someone who can deliver what is perhaps the book's best line: "If that's what you're willing to do for someone you hate, what would you do for someone you loved?"
The centerpiece of this book is the assertion that every human being has a tipping point in which a principle will outbalance self-preservation. That tipping point rarely aligns with neat ethical reasoning, but it is the saving grace of individuals in danger of losing their humanity (or, in the case of One Esk, it is the crucible in which that humanity is forged). Take Breq on a solider executed for treason after disobeying an order to kill civilians:
"You're thinking that of course she had to die, no disobedience can be tolerated, for very good reasons. But at the same time, her treason exposed the governor of Ime's corruption, which otherwise would have continued unabated, so ultimately she did the Radch a service. You're thinking that any fool knows better than to speak up and criticize a government official for any reason. And you're thinking that if anyone who speaks up to criticize something obviously evil is punished merely for speaking, civilization will be in a bad way. No one will speak who isn't willing to die for her speech, and...' I hesitated. Swallowed. 'There aren't many willing to do that.'"
But it's not all heavy metaphysics. Leckie writes with a tight hand and a sense of bleak, dark humor: "In the nineteen years since then, I had learned eleven languages and 713 songs. I had found ways to conceal what I was- even, I was fairly sure, from the Lord of the Radch herself. I had worked as a cook, a janitor, a pilot. I had settled on a plan of action. I had joined a religious order, and made a great deal of money. In all that time I only killed a dozen people."
There is also angst, and sorrow, tied up in the revelations of the second half of the book [spoiler territory, but the funeral medal on Skaaiat's jacket!]. Try, this, our AI solider mingling with "civilization" for the first time in her millenia-long career: "This was home that had never been home, for me. I had spent my life at annexations, and stations in the process of becoming this sort of place, leaving before they did, to begin the whole process again somewhere else. This was the sort of place my officers came from, and departed to. The sort of place I had never been, and yet it was completely familiar to me. Places like this were, from one point of view, the whole reason for my existence." And, can we visit that fleeting but beautifully human moment where Lieutenant Awn runs to hold Breq (aka One Esk Nineteen) as she was so painfully birthed into Justice of Toren's consciousness?
Finally, Leckie's worldbuilding is impeccable, and reminds me of my beloved Liaden books. The setting is pervasive without being obtruse, detailed enough to hold together but coy enough to leave inquiring minds wanting more, and carrying the water of filling in the blanks. The quiet competence of the AI and her ancillaries, and the relationships within a Ship's components, and between Ships, was a joy of characterization. Fetid, decaying Ors and its battered divine was striking. Truly excellent....more
I really love The Chocolate Run, and decided to take a risk on one of Koomson's more 'women's fic' books. The relationship between Ryn and Del, just lI really love The Chocolate Run, and decided to take a risk on one of Koomson's more 'women's fic' books. The relationship between Ryn and Del, just like the relationship between Amber and Jen, struck me as cruel and inflicted with a helping of racism. Perhaps because these books are British there always seems to be missing perspective- the princess behavior of the heroine's friends is as much a function of whiteness as it is conventional beauty in my mind, but the text never delves into race they way I suspect an American story would.
Although Luke's ultimate reasons for inserting himself into Ryn and Tegan's domestic life make sense (and are quite angsty), at first it makes zero sense why Luke shows up to play daddy, nor why Ryn lets him do it. While I enjoyed their blossoming relationship, (despite loathing Luke's entitlement complex and judgement of Ryn's appearance) the end was a bit too rushed for me to truly savor and invest in their happiness. Ryn and Tegan's relationship, on the other hand, was solidly sketched from beginning to end, and I loved it....more
I wanted to love this *so badly* but the incoherent narrative and fan-fic feel of the book left me underwhelmed. On the surface, it's crack- our intreI wanted to love this *so badly* but the incoherent narrative and fan-fic feel of the book left me underwhelmed. On the surface, it's crack- our intrepid agricultural scientist/administrator heroine helps a relocated group of refugee aliens explore the planet for communities where they can intermarry and preserve both their biology as well as their culture. The book does interesting things with these strands- what is innate, and what can be taught? How do you preserve identity?
Yet the book bounced from episodic chapter to chapter, with the feel of a season of Star Trek episodes rather than a coherent narrative that build a holistic picture of one world, Cygnus Beta. The Sadiri were never played straight enough- Grace is supposedly the only one who can see and interpret their emotional cues, and yet the text has them smiling and exclaiming and otherwise emoting in ways that undercut their supposed alien-ness. I've nothing against Vulcan pastiche, and Dllenahkh is dreamy, but again the fan-fiction vibe killed all. Lord neither kept close enough to the Vulcan mystique nor did she take that idea and make it her own. Alas....more
If the angst had been dialed down just into the realm of the semi-believable, this would have been a great book. It was refreshing to read about peoplIf the angst had been dialed down just into the realm of the semi-believable, this would have been a great book. It was refreshing to read about people with ordinary jobs, people with budgets and debt and reasonable ambitions. That said, the lost custody case, plus not one but two pathological, homophobic stalkers, plus the murder, plus the attempted assault = what on earth? Which is a shame, because Rey and Samuel were strong characters....more