Happy April! Time for some reading!
I’m planning to take some time away from the blog to finish up my WIP and spring clean my house. Yeesh. I need a band of house spirits to help with that second task. One of the challenges with a log house, is wiping down each and every dusty log.
Wish me luck.
March book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of fantasy, a medical thriller, two poetry collections, a short story, and a Vietnam War memoir.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
I loved The Enchantment of Ravens and looked forward to reading another of Rogerson’s books. Just imagine a fantasy set in a Great Library where books ruffle their pages or grumble or sniff or snap at your clothing as you pass. Some of them are talkative, others love to sing opera, and a few are so wicked they have to be chained and locked in a vault. Imagine a world where demons can be bound as servants and where love tests the limits of evil. Where a haunted sorcerer and librarian’s apprentice join forces to save the world. Oooooh. This book is so magical.
The story is told from the POV of the apprentice. Elizabeth is quite daring, full of energy, genuinely emotional, and mostly fearless. Secondary characters are equally rich with distinct personalities. There’s a lot of humor in the relationships as well as tenderness and a touch of clever banter. The book isn’t a skinny little thing, but the plot moves well, and the story kept me turning pages.
And if that isn’t enough, the writing is beautiful, visual, and evocative. I love the imagery: “As the afternoon shadows deepened, the coach clattered into the Blackwald, the great forest that slashed through the kingdom like the stroke of a knife. Everything grew dark and damp. Here and there among the undergrowth stood shocking white stands of birch trees, like specters floating among the black gowns of a funeral party.”
Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, beautiful writing, and giant libraries full of magical books.
Acts of Convenience by Alex Craigie
The opening of this book got me all riled up! It starts with some political maneuvering that might strike a little close to home depending on where you live. The lives of people are reduced to statistics, and their value is measured based on a cost-benefit analysis. In the case of healthcare, old people are deemed a burden on the system, and the government devises ways to help them into an early grave.
Cassie is a nurse in said healthcare system and doesn’t at first acknowledge that a broader conspiracy is at play. She notices poor care and unfair decisions, but there always seems to be a justification and excuse. Time moves forward, and the situation only gets worse. After 40 years in nursing, she has no choice but to acknowledge that something nefarious is occurring at her hospital. And she can’t let it go.
The story starts in 2017 and extends decades into the future. It becomes completely Cassie’s tale at about the 20% mark, and what a thriller. I had a hard time putting the book down and, over several nights, reading wrestled with my need for sleep. The plot is riveting as Cassie engages with an underground group who is dedicated to the truth and willing to risk their lives. Her secret life puts her at odds with her husband and family, and the danger ratchets up until the final showdown.
The characters are well-rounded and distinct with a full range of emotions. Cassie’s evolving relationships are varied and believable, the dialog natural. I especially liked Cassie and her granddaughter, Seren, and the closeness of their relationship. I also was delighted to read a thriller with an “older” main character. The pace speeds up as the stakes rise. Highly recommended.
The Prince’s Son by Deborah Jay
Deborah Jay can write fantasy. This is the second book in The Five Kingdom series. The story focuses on several main characters: One, Rustam Chalice, who has been ordered by the Prince to escort two young women over the treacherous Tylocian mountains. Two, Nessa Haddo, one of the women who is kidnapped by the barbarian clans and must use her wits and burgeoning magic to escape. And three, Resada, the prince’s wife who is pregnant and conflicted about her life.
This is a long read, almost 500 pages. The worldbuilding is fascinating and politically complex, and it’s easy to see the depth of work that went into crafting it. For most of the book there are three related but independent plots, one for each main character. Despite some page-turning action, the navigation between the multiple storylines does make for a modest pace. The three narratives converge and wrap up well with a few dangling problems for the next book.
The characters are three dimensional and emotionally rich, and all three grow during the book with Nessa making the largest leap. To me, she stole the show in this read, though my heart also ached for Rustam and Resada. Highly recommended for fantasy readers who love an epic story with a lot of depth to the worldbuilding and characters. Start with Book One, The Prince’s Man.
Midnight Haiku by Sue Vincent
I read this lovely collection of 365 haiku over a few days, but honestly it should take a year to fully savor them. For that reason, I plan to read the book again, one poem a day, which is how the author crafted them. The poems loosely follow the seasons. They’re reflections on the beauty and wonder of nature and the passage of time. They explore the mysteries of an ancient landscape and the human connections to sacred places. Some return home to the heart, to the magic and poignancy of love and the mysteries of life. In every sense, I found this a deeply spiritual read. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy haiku, daily inspiration and reflection, and beautiful, thought-provoking imagery. A few favorites:
walk forward in grace
stars have strewn a path of gold
bounded by beauty
from a darkling shore
dreamers can walk on water
a land of light calls.
closer to earth
a child’s eyes sees miracles
we have forgotten
we pass as shadows
ephemeral fallen leaves
on the path of time
Minus One by Elizabeth Merry
Merry describes her collection of poetry as “The Story of a Life” and as I read her poems, I was aware of an underlying and poignant theme of loss—sometimes as a result of death, but also those losses brought about by change, time, growth, and aging. The poems are touching. The imagery digs deep, offering glimpses with carefully chosen details more than telling stories.
The book took about an hour to read, and I used the time to reflect and savor the words. It includes a combination of free-form poetry, haiku, and a selection of photographs to complement the poems. A stand out collection from start to finish, I had a difficult time picking favorites. A few that I highlighted are Minus One, The Red Petticoat, Seascapes, Landscapes, In a Yellow Dress, and Frances. Recommended to readers who enjoy reflective poetry from the heart.
As an example, here is the first stanza of Frances:
Here I will rest
My ashes falling
Into swirls of bog-brown water
In Spring perhaps
The river quiet
And the birds gone mad
My ghost will hover –
A shape in powdered white
Casting chills on my attendants…
Brother’s Keeper by Jan Sikes
This short story touches on the relationship of two brothers, Quentin and Rowdy. For his whole life, Quentin has been his brother’s keeper, but when Rowdy kills a man, what will Quentin do? The story is a quick read, almost a character study, and moves at a speedy clip. The ending left me thinking about the family dysfunction and how it impacted every character and relationship, as well as the choices the two men made and were willing to live with. No one walks away unscathed. A grim tale. Well written and recommended for fans of short stories.
Waiting for Westmoreland by John Maberry
John Maberry’s memoir tracks his life from his childhood in a struggling family through his disillusionment with the Vietnam War, and how that experience compelled him to make a positive difference in the world. That difference came first as an anti-war activist, second through getting a law degree, and finally, through embracing Buddhism and the recognition that change comes from within.
I most appreciated the account of his childhood and his years in the service. I was a child during the Vietnam War and “protected” from much of the grim news by my parents. John provides a personal glimpse into the war, and his account of his experiences, particularly the devaluation of human life, is heart-wrenching. The callousness and corruption of US political and military leadership, is infuriating.
I found the account of the subsequent years of activism and academic pursuits detailed and not quite as engaging, though they are part of his search for belonging and a way to facilitate change. How that search led to an understanding of Buddhism and the role of karma in his choices brings the memoir to a conclusion. I recommend this story to readers who enjoy memoirs and anyone interested in a soldier’s experience of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and the search for wholeness that followed.