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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in July
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1. Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin
3. Midnight's Children (audio book), by Salman Rushdie
4. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
5. The Last Days, by Scott Westerfeld
6. Dream Work (poetry), by Mary Oliver
7. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows (graphic novel, volume three of a series), written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez

REVIEWS:

1. Nightwatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
There is a secret world of Others, sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and more, that are divided into two sides, the Light and the Dark. A centuries old truce keeps them at peace, which they call the Balance and which is maintained by the Watches. The Night Watch, comprised of Light Others, polices the dark side. The Day Watch, comprised of Dark Others, polices the light side.

Anton, who has worked for the Night Watch as a computer engineer, has been thrown into fieldwork, told that he must hunt down a vampire that has gone on a rampage, violating the laws of the Balance by killing humans. His hunt throws him into a complex game of political intrigue in which the lives of a young boy and a curse woman and perhaps the entire city of Moscow hangs in the balance.

Nightwatch is wonderfully complex. The duality of Light and Dark would seem to set up the novel for a simplified sense of right and wrong, but it actually blurs things into a wide gray area of morality. Dark Others can heal; Light Others can do evil. Not to mention that the Balance requires cooperation between both sides, so that if a Light Other heals someone, then a Dark Other is given permission to do an equal degree of harm in the world in compensation. Figuring out how to do good, without that good backfiring into some worse form of evil, in a world such as this becomes infinitely complicated.

The novel is divided into three stories with Anton as the central character, a genuinely likable guy, who feels ambivalent in his role as a Night Watch agent. Each story is has its own distinct plot and drive and motivation out side of the rest, but the stories weave together and build upon each other to make the over riding whole. Anton's ambivalence grows with each story, as he learns the convoluted steps the Light choses to take in order to battle the darkness. Will it really be for the good? Or will good intentions distort into evil?

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the sequel, Daywatch.


2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin
From the cover: "Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky -- a palace above the clouds where gods' and mortals' lives are intertwined. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history. But it's not just mortals who have secrets worth hiding and Yeine will learn how perilous the world can be when love and hate -- and gods and mortals -- are bound inseparably."

I quickly drawn into this strange and ornate world, in which gods can be slaves and humans can rule over them (at their own risk). The gods themselves are fascinating, so clearly not human and yet in many ways so similar to humanity. They are flawed and dangerous and powerful, and sometimes kind and compassionate and loving, too. The gods and their children were one of my favorite aspects of this book, especially Sieh, who is both child and not child, both playful and deadly, just as a trickster aught to be (I've always been a sucker for trickster gods).

Yeinne is a strong character with a clear voice. Raised to be a warrior and ruler of her matriarchal kingdom (on the far outskirts of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms), she can hold her own in a fight, but comes up as nearly helpless in the face of the twisting confusion of the political powerplays with in Sky. All her physical strength can't help her, and she must find new strengths to pull her through in order to survive.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the trilogy develops from her.


3. Midnight's Children (audio book), by Salman Rushdie
Midnight's Children is the story of the 1,001 children who were born in the midnight hour of India's independence. Through Saleem, who was born at the stroke of midnight, we learn that each of these children was endowed with unique gifts of varying degrees of usefulness. Saleem has the ability to read all the minds of the people of India, and in this way can make each of the children aware of him and each other.

But that's not the whole story. Saleem draws great significance from his midnight birth, believing it signifies that his life is tied to the fate of the country. He points out how the small, seemingly insignificant events of of his life have had great impact on his chosen country, often intoning that it is all his fault.

But that's not the story either. The story is about how his grandfather fell in love with a woman through a hole in a sheet, how his mother loved the man in the basement, how his father always reeked of failure, how Saleem loved a girl who loved his best friend. Midnight's Children is an epic and immense tale, drawing in the fate of an entire country, and yet is also an intimate and personal tale of a boy who expects too much of himself and all the people -- family, friends, enemies -- who surround him.

Rushdie is an amazing writer with a very poetic style, and he fills these pages with complex characters, full of goodness and ugliness and beauty and kindness and cruelty. He blends the supernatural and the surreal into the everyday, making it entirely believable.

I wanted to love this novel, but perhaps the scope is too large, perhaps there's just too much to take in. I wanted to love it, but I just couldn't quite. It couldn't be anything other than what it is. To try to remove the grand scope of the story the parallel of personal and political, it wouldn't have the same power and effect, and yet, however wonderful it was, I can only say that I liked it.


4. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Katniss lives in District 12, the poorest district on the outskirts of the city of Panem (what's left of the United States after its collapse), where the main cause of death is starvation, while those who live in the city center enjoy a life of luxury. Following a failed rebellion by the outer districts, the inner city asserted their power by forcing each district to send a randomly selected boy and girl to participate in the hunger games, an arena-style gladiator match in which the children must kill one another in the hope of being the last man or woman standing.

When her younger sister is selected for the games, Katniss immediately steps forward to take her place and soon finds herself in the arena, fighting for her life. Katniss is a very shrewd character, someone you could see managing to survive this sort of thing. She's a hunter and understands how to survive in the forest, having had to gather food for her family for years. She makes mistakes, but knows how to partner up when she needs to and knows how to think her way out of a rough situation.

There's an interesting aspect of game show and popularity contest to the games (a not so subtle allude to reality TV), which puts an interesting spin on things, as well. It's brutal and savage and rather believable. You love to hate the people of the inner city (most of them), who are decadent and bloodthirsty.

The book is fast paced and quite enjoyable. You definitely want Katniss to win, while also hoping that some of the other kids in the book don't have to loose. When it comes down to it, it's a tough choice, because there can only be one to live and the author gives you several to root for and to love. I couldn't help but be caught up in the story from beginning to end.

As a side note, they are apparently in the process of making a movie from the book and Jennifer Lawrence has been caste as Katniss (an excellent choice). It will be interesting to see how the movie is handled, however, since Hollywood tends to shy away from children being killed in movies and some of the children who die in the book are as young as 12.


5. The Last Days, by Scott Westerfeld
The Last Days starts off just about the point where Peeps ended, though from the point of view of a new selection of characters. (You could read these books out of order, and it would still be fairly logical.) The Last Days days is told from the viewpoint of five characters, each a member of a band that is pulled together as New York seems to be falling apart. Trash is building up on the curbs, rats are running in herds, cats are behaving strangely, and people are going crazy (trashy their apartments, fighting family and friends, and other antisocial behavior like eating people). Not to mention that something else, something far more dangerous, is rumbling underground, spewing black water, and making the subways unsafe to travel in.

Each character has a very clear unique voice. You would probably know who was talking even if the character name wasn't placed at the front of each chapter. Pearl is my favorite of the characters, even if she was a bit bossy. I don't want to reveal anything, but I hoped for a slightly different storyline for her. Zhaler is a bit whinny, but ultimately lovable, and Alana Ray the drummer is rather awesome in many ways. Minerva, the singer, is a creepy enigma, who you don't really know where you stand with -- she could be the enemy. And then there's Moz, the guitarist, who I'm not totally fond of, but accept as part of the group.

I didn't like The Last Days quite as much as I liked Peeps (too many character viewpoints to jump through maybe), but it's nevertheless enjoyable, and a good followup. One of the things I was quite amused to learn, was that each of the chapters is titled after a band name (I love things like that), which is very appropriate considering how much the book focuses on the music and its effect on people and the world. You gotta love a group of people who are going to meet the end of the world with Rock & Roll.


6. Dream Work (poetry), by Mary Oliver
Beautiful collection of poem that dip into the Oliver personal association with the world around her and with her writing process. She often uses nature to relation to the spiritual or the emotional, drawing out from a deer walking by or sunflowers in a field a deeper meaning about being alive. And then again, sometimes a hawk is just a hawk and a primrose is just a primrose, and its enough to take in their beauty for just a little while.


7. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows (graphic novel, volume three of a series), written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
I don't know how to talk about the plot in this third volume of the Locke & Key series without giving something away, especially since it's an ongoing story. Let me just say that it continues to be fantastic and I continue to love and deeply feel for the Locke kids and hope they survive the weird and wildly dangerous world they've been thrust into.
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