Illusion by Paula Volsky
Once in a while, I like to return to my old favorites in the science fiction and fantasy genres - it's like having a good chat with a friend whom you haven't seen since your school days. Illusion by Paula Volsky is one of those books well worth rereading, in my opinion. It's a complex genre retelling of a fantastical French Revolution, complete with magic and mechanical creatures.
The writing is superbly detailed, and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat. The main character, Eliste, is one of the Exalted, which are the ruling class in Vonahr. When the peasantry revolt, the ruling class are cast down, and Eliste must struggle to survive in a suddenly hostile city intent on sending her to the executioner.
My full review of the book came out at Bewildering Stories today, so please feel free to check it out here. I hope you enjoy reading (or rereading) Illusion as much as I do, even if it's my two millionth time doing so!
Those of you who read my book reviews know that many of them are written for the magazine Bewildering Stories. Recently, I read Gary Inbinder's new mystery The Man Upon the Stair. In the process of writing the review, I had a very fascinating conversation with the managing editor of Bewildering, Don Webb, who had great insight on the time period in which the book is set. In the course of our discussion, we decided to do a conversation-style joint book review, which was published today. You can read the full review here.
Overall, I thought it was a very fun and fascinating book, with an amazing level of detail about late nineteenth-century France. The characters are interesting, and the writing style was compelling. I got caught up in the mystery and couldn't stop turning the page in search of the next piece of the puzzle.
Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Free Ferry by Ann Cefola
Free Ferry by Ann Cefola is a work of poetry that recalls post-war prosperity with an air of wistfulness. It contrasts the innocence of childhood and family with the harsh realities of world politics but still retains the double-edged sword of science versus emotion, knowledge versus love.
I thought this was a very wonderful work that combines a sense of world history with personal history. You can read a full review of the book at Bewildering Stories by clicking here. If you'd like to learn more about Ann, I also had a lovely chat with her about her book and writing in general, which you can find on my blog here.
I really enjoyed reading Free Ferry, and I hope you will, also.
When the Tree is Dry by Alice S. Hill
For those of you who know me, you'll know that I'm a history buff. I'm always happy to read nonfiction books, and I absolutely love very detailed fictional stories set during pivotal moments in time. I especially enjoy reading history from around the world.
Alice S Hill's debut novel, When the Tree is Dry is set in fairly recent times, but it is filled with life and death struggles for basic human and political rights in Zimbabwe. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who is looking for a fast-paced story filled with sympathetic characters, mostly female protagonists, who must do what they think is right - for themselves, their families, and their country.
A full review of the book has been published at Bewildering Stories - you can check it out here. Happy reading!
Silencing the Blues Man by Sherman Smith
I grew up in the Bay Area listening to the stories from my Japanese grandmother about our family's internment during World War II. So it was with great interest that I picked up Sherman Smith's book, Silencing the Blues Man. It is the third in a trilogy, following Poets Can't Sing and The Honeysuckle Rose Hotel. The book focuses on the perspective of several characters who have survived the atrocities of WWII, and it explores how Americans from different races and cultural backgrounds cope with the aftermath of war once they return to civilian life.
There is a full review at Bewildering Stories magazine. I hope you enjoy reading it.
A Whisper of Leaves by Ashley Capes
A Whisper of Leaves is a novella that tells the story of Riko, a twenties-something girl who was raised in Australia, but whose parents are Japanese. She is currently living in Japan on a work visa, although she has just lost her teaching job because of a false sexual assault charge leveled at her by a government official's son. If she doesn't find a new job, she will be deported back to Australia. To get her mind off her problems, she decides to go hiking in the national park by Mount Fuji with her friend and roommate, Kiyomi. The mystery begins when they leave the hiking path at the smell of smoke and discover a strange old man kindling a fire in the woods. When they try to return to the path, Riko trips over something and discovers an old journal partially buried in the earth. She takes it with her and starts to read it, and as the story in its pages unfolds, strange things begin to happen to her. She can't decide if perhaps she is going crazy or if perhaps there is a supernatural explanation for everything that is happening to her. As her situation grows more dangerous and she becomes haunted by inexplicable events, she has to get to the bottom of the mystery quickly – or she might not survive long enough to be concerned about finding a new job.
I felt that this story started out a bit slowly for me. Although some explanation was necessary to establish the backstory of the characters, I probably would have liked to have a little less explanation at the beginning and more of a jump straight to discovering the journal. Having said that, the story does pick up quickly after that, and I especially liked the incorporation of poetry and journal passages into the text – it provided a nice contrast with the straightforward narration. The voice was very accessible to read and I think it would appeal strongly to a YA audience. It never gets too graphic, as a lot of modern horror tends to do, and it reminded me of classic teen horror stories I read when I was younger, à la R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike – hinting at danger, but never stepping too far over the edge and out of my comfort zone. I also enjoyed the exploration of cultural differences within a Japanese setting and incorporating Japanese beliefs/superstitions. The passages from the journal are particularly poetic and poignant, as they recall an earlier time in history, for example:
Mother still wore the Mofuku, the black of her hair was lost in the fabric when she bent to pour tea, but I
remember one day, right after Father died, she smiled. I had woven a scarf. She smiled and stroked my head.
Was it the last time she truly smiled? I don't know."
So for those readers who enjoy horror that is not all blood and guts, but incorporates more of the traditional elements of true suspense, this would be a good novella to pick up. I've read other work by Ashley Capes before, and I'd read more by him in the future.
Fire From the Overworld by B.T. Lowry
Fire from the Overworld is a complex story that follows the lives of three young protagonists as the structure of their world falls apart. The three main characters live in a rural town reminiscent of historic India. Yuvali and Héyowan are mystics and close friends who have grown up together, and Pradah is Héyowan’s older brother who will eventually take over for their father as chief of the village. The natural world has gone crazy--animals and men behave erratically, the crops are dying, and attack from roaming bands of tribeless warriors threatens the very existence of the village. It is a fight taking place on both the physical plane--Pradah is training to be a warrior to defend the village from attack--and the spiritual plane--Yuvali and Héyowan appeal to the very highest of the gods for rescue. But when the line between good and evil blur, the three children must grow up quickly and make adult choices that will change not only the course of village life, but perhaps change all the infinite worlds ruled by the gods.
Lowry’s writing style has beautiful passages of description that easily transport the reader to the kingdom of Raiya. Here's a brief snippet, when Yuvali is using the mystic powers of an ayur to travel outside her body:
The sand beneath her was liquid, or blowing in the air across the big world, skins on the surface of a great
creature who was a ruler herself, and Yuvali was like the dust in the wind around her, blowing everywhere
and mixing with the world’s winds. She loosed herself to the four directions.
Hands caught her, held her together so she could go on. Someone with her, keeping her whole. The tree
grew closer; a branch caught moonlight as a covering cloud broke apart. Buds lined the branches, and spiky
clusters of leaves. The silvery mound had a dark patch within it.
It was a cave.
Interspersed and inspired by mythology and oral storytelling, the book’s world has a richness that is the perfect backdrop to an epic story of good and evil. If you’re a fan of Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy or are looking for a YA story similar to the atmosphere of Alexander's MG-level The Iron Ring, you would enjoy reading Fire from the Overworld.
The language in this book is beautiful. It produces a dreamlike narrative where the reader is carried along by the events taking place, so that the most horrific things that are happening in the Sri Lankan civil war seem to carry a deeper and more profound meaning than just three families caught up in a conflict. I liked how seamlessly the history of the island is incorporated into the main narrative, so that as a reader, I was transported to this paradise-turned-hell-on-earth and carried along each step of the way with the protagonists.
The one thing that pulled me out of the story is that there are some confusing moments/transitions which I think speaks to this being Munaweera's first book. The book begins in a time before the protagonist is born, but I didn't feel that inserting elements of the present-day into the initial setup of the story really added much to the narrative. There is one passage where one of the protagonists explains directly to the reader why she starts the story before she is born. It pulled me out of the narrative somewhat, and made me aware that I was being told a story rather than just being able to enjoy the story itself. This is useful if it is a repeated conceit that adds extra meaning to the narrative, but it seemed to be the only part of the story where there is this forced type of self-identification, so it stuck out to me.
The second confusing part for me was at the beginning of Part 2, where another "I" protagonist appears with no explanation of who this person is in relation to the original family that the reader has been following for the first half of the book. The connection becomes apparent later, but I still felt it was a confusing transition for the reader. It lost me a bit as I floundered in the narrative trying to figure out what was going on. A very simple and commonly-used device would have negated my confusion - in each part, if the name of the protagonist had been used after the section or chapter title, such as "Part 1: Yasodhara" or "Chapter 8: Saraswathi," it would have easily indicated a change in character without necessitating extra explanation to pull the reader out of the story.
Other than these small technical items which caused a bit of confusion, I really enjoyed this bittersweet story. When I close a good book, I want it to linger in my thoughts, and this book did. I would definitely recommend it.
I read a lot - depending on my writing schedule, I can usually read about a book a day. Some of the books are fantastic and I would love to recommend to everyone - some, not so much. Either way, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I'm reading at the moment.