Tag Archive | book reviews

Everless: Playing with Time

Bending the rules of time is usually something left to the devices of science fiction, but in Everless Sara Holland makes time manipulation a part of the fairy tale world. I really enjoyed this story. The characters are a little blank, and it was hard to remember who some of the background servants were, but that’s a bit expected in fairy tales, anyway, as the story itself is usually the point. Cinderella, Snow White, Red Riding Hood–they could be anyone, any girl, even someone listening or reading.

Everless introduces us to a vaguely medieval land called Sempera, in which time has been forged into human blood as something called blood iron. This can be extracted and turned into money that people use to buy things or can dissolve in liquid to drink to add an hour, day, or year to one’s life. I’m not sure how that all works with the normal aging and death process, but it largely doesn’t matter and it was easy to suspend my disbelief.

Jules, struggling along in poverty with most of the population, decides to go work at Everless, a large estate owned by a very rich family called the Gerlings. Her father warns her against it, but she goes anyway, curious to see the estate after so many years when she lived there as a child. She’s especially interested in seeing more of what’s become of the Gerling heirs, Liam and her old friend Roan. As children she and Roan were fast friends, even if they were from different classes. As a teenager, Jules now bears a grudge against the easy way the nobles live, not having to sell their blood for time or food, and spending the long years they’ve given themselves in partying and frivolity. Her time and fate soon become intertwined with both brothers as well as the queen of the land who comes to stay for a while. Jules soon learns that she has a stunning power over time itself.

Again, as in a fairy tales, Jules passes from one scene to the next, because that’s what the plot requires, but this is novel-length story, and events often fold out a bit too easily for our heroine…until the end, of course. The romance angle was overly predictable, as were some of the twists, but I never found that to be a reason to stop reading. Everless is a lot better than some YA fantasy series I’ve tried to read over the years, and I rather like the background mythology of the world so far. Jules has the normal headstrong flaws found in any real life teenager, but she’s not annoying, and her predicament is relatable. Who wouldn’t want to know the truth about their past? Who wouldn’t be dismayed finding out they’d been tricked? By the end of the story, we fear for Jules and whoever she will come to love in the future, as it seems as if the villain holds all of the cards. I am eager to read the next installment.

See Also Murder: book review

As much as I love YA sci-fi and fantasy, adventure, and Regency-era romances, my all-time favorite genre is mystery. Nothing tops a good mystery, and unfortunately they are very rare. My favorite mystery series right now is the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley. I’m reading his latest, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d at a snail’s pace in the hopes I can make it last until the next one is published. I also peruse my local library shelves periodically in the hopes that I will connect with another series. I may have found it.

See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy (love the name!) is subtitled “A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery,” so I hope, hope, hope that means there will be more of them. The sleuth is an indexer caught my eye. Once upon a time I worked as a proofreader (oh, how my grammar and spelling have plummeted since then!) and we also had an indexing department in the building. I was always a little jealous because the indexers had their own offices with doors, and aside from having to proofread their spelling and check occasional page references, I didn’t learn much about their job. According to the author of this mystery (a longtime indexer), not just everyone can be one, at least a good one.  Indexing takes a certain kind of mind that can notice key phrases and points in a work and correctly categorize them for future readers. It also might help to be a lister, or one who writes lists. That’s not me. I keep short lists and often either forget I wrote them down in a dusty day planner or typed them into my notes app. Weeks or months later when I open said planner or app in an effort to prove to myself I actually use them, I’m amazed to find these lists and somewhat embarrassed I wrote them down at all.

(Ah, organizing for the sake of organizing. There’s this great line in the movie The Jacket with Adrien Brody: “I’ve been approached by the Federal Trade Organization. … They have asked me to head up the Organization for the Organized!”)

So, one needs a knack for indexing. And Marjorie Trumaine has that knack. She quickly and easily categories and organizes people, ideas, clues and so on. See Also Murder is set in the North Dakota plains in the 1960s and the story is fully infused with the atmosphere and culture of that era. Readers who’ve grown up in middle states, or “flyover country” as it’s often called, will connect with the story in a way the “coasters” probably won’t.

As a mystery, See Also Murder isn’t so much a whodunit (avid mystery buffs will be able to spot the culprit fairly quickly) as it is a character study. Marjorie Trumaine lives a lonely isolated life and it becomes obvious that any threat to her or her husband could quickly become terrifying, especially if they find they can’t trust the few people they know.

I also want to give a shoutout to Scandinavian history and mythology. It’s not something I know a lot about and what I do know mostly comes from the Marvel Thor movies. Sweazy inspired me enough that my latest book purchase was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I come from half Norwegian, half German stock and once in a while I find it worthwhile to dig into my roots.

See Also Murder is a great, atmospheric read that will stick with readers long after the story has been closed and put away. Isolation is rampant even, and maybe especially, in our modern technology-filled times. Easily seen as both vice and virtue, isolation is a perfect setting for a ghastly murder.  Isolation is the “single effect” (as E.A. Poe would say) that defines the book.

P. Beldona

Miss Buncle’s Book: Delightful

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Modern books and stories are thrilling, entertaining, well written, and in increasing turns, dull, formulaic, and badly written.  Something, perhaps a childlike delight in stories and the world around us, is lacking.  I see it in myself.  As a fantasy writer, I tend to conceive of fantastic plots, eccentric characters, strange settings, but sadly, I find my stories disconnected, if intentionally, from the real world.  This is, of course, because I have so much room to grow as a writer, but also because I have a fear of writing about real people, perhaps characters even inspired by people I actually know, and the places in which I have lived.  This is not an idle fear.  How many books and how many films begin with the cautionary paragraph: “All events and characters in the following are purely fictional and not meant to represent any real person or circumstances, etc.” (or some form of the same disclaimer).

Enter Miss Buncle’s Book, a supremely delightful read I happened to come across at the bookstore this past week.  Written by D.E. Stevenson and published in 1936, the book concerns an English village of the kind that that likely don’t exist anymore and a world in which Anne of Green Gables (also a delightful series) would be comfortable.  Stevenson plumbs the amusing side of “writing what you know” in this tale of a thirty-something woman who decides to write a book about her village.  The characters are at once larger than life and also very human.  It is a book within a book, a conceit made ample use of in the hilarious reactions the village people have when they recognize themselves in the new bestseller sweeping the country.  Miss Buncle, the authoress of this bestseller, is a very good writer, yet her talents at, well, anything, are completely overlooked by the people she interacts with daily.  She is, in fact, a very sharp observer of human nature, but with a comical lack of foresight to her actions.  Her bestseller about a village being turned upside down by a singular event is itself the singular event that turns Buncle and her village upside down.  Miss Buncle herself becomes braver, better dressed, and poised upon a new life entirely, one of passion, writing, travel, and romance.

Miss Buncle’s Book delights in the ordinary, everyday interactions of people and how people’s behaviors are so often misinterpreted.  It portrays those villagers who instantly see the characters as themselves in the book as being self-centered.  It seems to indicate that those who do not really see themselves in the story as having purer hearts.  Yet the former are in some ways more intelligent than the latter.  It is funny that a loud, bossy gossip should see a village character portrayed exactly as such and think immediately that it must be herself.  Not only that, but also that a lawsuit must happen because of the portrayal.  Yet, the gossip is smart enough to know that she is being made fun of, even if that’s not what the author, Miss Buncle, intended.

Miss Buncle’s Book reminded me so much of the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, and also Little Women (referenced in the book and also a book within a book) by Louisa May Alcott.  These types of books that take joy in portraying an idyllic, ordinary world are quiet spaces of refuge in shelves and shelves of modern stories full of cynicism, dystopia, and perhaps a bit too much excitement.  It gives a writer like myself pause.  Which is the truth?  Write what you know, or never write what you know?  Miss Buncle’s Book plumbs both ideas by first describing an average village with average people, and then plunging it (somewhat fantastically) into an innocent chaos.

The Limbo of War: Heidegger’s Glasses

Summer is the best time of year for rifling through the local library for great, but as yet, personally undiscovered reads.  Heidegger’s Glasses by Thaisa Frank has just the sort of cover to grab my attention–rumpled envelope with the Third Reich eagles, faded letter peeking out behind and a shadowed women venturing out across a no man’s land expanse of meadow.

Having never been in a war, I don’t know what they’re like, but my impression from reading about World War Two is that is was a lot of violence and a lot of waiting.  People were in limbo and waiting for their lives to start again.  Heidegger’s Glasses catalogs wonderfully this “falling out of the world” that happens when ordinary things are turned upside down.  In this case is it the Nazi regime that is ludicrously obsessed with making things what they are not, an old mine shaft transforms into a street of dreams and letters written to the dead.  The writers or “Scribes” barely escaped the gas chambers and wear the fur coats of those who didn’t.  These people live lives of waiting for something to happen, for Goebbels to come and shoot them all, or for a miracle to end the war.  Only Elie, the leader of this group, seems to understand the urgency at stake as she tries to save one person after another.

Heidegger’s Glasses is simultaneously heartwrenching and uplifting.  It has the same odd sense of limbo I got while reading another masterpiece about World War Two, Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (this is my all time favorite novel).  The characters are stuck in a pretend world that is a quarter what they left behind, a quarter of what’s ahead and the rest a strange dreamland where glasses aren’t glasses but are something on which the entire future of the Nazi regime hangs.  Parts of the story seem like something out of Indiana Jones (he always liked fighting Nazis) with a street underground, along with a house and a painted on sky, a man who lives in a “shoebox” and mulls over his crystal balls, a woman who is never quite herself, and letter after letter written to the dead.  The philosopher Heidegger, once he appears, is infuriating, a character who shows best just by being himself, that philosophy and other “theoretical” university pursuits have little or no value in a real world where real people who are dying need real answers and real fighters, not someone who will theorize them into their graves.

My favorite aspect of the novel is that it shows what a thorough sham the Third Reich became.  They were beyond ridiculous in trying to justify their actions and to pretend that they were the least bit civilized.  A cell is not a cell, no it’s a waiting room you have to reside in forever.  It’s perfectly acceptable to have seances while Russia is beating down our door.  There is a certain stupidness about evil that will never allow it to fully triumph.  Mostly its stupidness in not knowing that good is where it’s at.  Heidegger’s Glasses is a pleasantly paced read that will get you thinking of the merits of philosophy, power, and humanity in general.  It shows that sometimes even good people have to fight fire with fire in order to win.  It shows just how human we all are, and how helpless we can be when faced with a great political mechanism we cannot control.