Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee. Houghton Mifflin, 2016

The narrator of this novel cannot get a break. Born on the American frontier, she is hopeless at the tasks normally assigned to girls. Her singing voice is sublime, though- and her mother won’t let her use it, saying she has the sin of pride, even going to far as to tie her mouth shut. When her whole family dies of fever, the issue is moot; she leaves for the coast to find a way to get to Lucerne, where her mother’s people are. To get there, she joins a circus, doing trick riding, shooting, and singing. On the way she steals a name from a gravestone, Lilliet Berne. Her adventures include being a maid to the Empress, an unknowing spy, a courtesan, and an opera singer. She changes identities with ease. But every time she thinks she’s got things under her control, the floor gets pulled out from under her. In her life, she only loves one man… and can never seem to get free to spend her life with him.

The story actually begins when Lilliet, now an acclaimed opera star, receives a novel, which clearly tells the story of her life, exposing all her secrets. There are only three people in the world who know this story, and she must discover which one of them it is. It shouldn’t be hard; one is dead, one loves her, and one wants to own her. But finding who it is leads to a still greater web of secrets. She may end up dead or enslaved again.

Lilliet is the narrator of her story; she speaks clearly and does not spare herself. She describes things vividly, whether it’s about things royal and beautiful or poor and dreadful; how things look, feel, sound, smell. The prose is lush, and envelopes the reader in the story.

I loved this book. I did not want to put it down, and did not want it to end. Lilliet is an ingenious survivor, a strong woman who does what it takes to make a decent life for herself, even when she seems totally trapped. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wind/Pinball, by Haruki Murakami. Borzoi, 2015

“Hear the Wind Sing” is the first thing Murakami wrote, back in 1979. He just got the idea he should write a novel, then sat down and did it. The book is short and fairly undeveloped; hardly a novel at all. I’m really surprised it got published. He wrote “Pinball, 1973” directly after “Wind”, and the difference is amazing. That the author learned so much about writing so quickly is almost unbelievable. The characters in “Pinball” (some of whom are the same as in “Wind”; it’s a sort of sequel) are developed and have depth. It’s like “Hear the Wind Sing” was just an outline, whereas he actually got around to writing “Pinball”. The really odd part about these stories? Murakami himself doesn’t like them and really didn’t want them published in English.

Both stories revolve around an unnamed young man and his friend, the Rat. Both are narrated by the nameless man in the first person, but the sections about the Rat are written in third person- the two are never even in the same scene in “Pinball”. There is little plot in either tale; they are simple strings of events. In “Wind”, the narrator is home from college for the summer and hanging out with the Rat in a bar run by J; in “Pinball” the narrator has graduated and set up a translating business with a partner. He is living with a pair of mysterious twin women who just sort of show up one day, and searching for a pinball machine he played obsessively in college. “Pinball” has that touch of surrealism that Murakami does so well. The characters are drifting through life, unattached to family, mostly content to let life happen to them- even if they are unhappy with it. I don’t think these stories would be good introductions to Murakami’s work, but for a fan, they are important to read. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review. 

Moth Flight’s Vision, by Erin Hunter. Harper, 2015

Moth Flight is young, a kitten on the verge of cat-hood. She seems unable to do anything properly and this is a source of great aggravation to her mother, the leader of the Wind Clan. She is sent to hunt, and instead finds herself distracted by interesting plants and wondering what uses they might have. She goes off on what turns out to be a vision quest, and is spoken to by the spirits of cats passed on already: she, and a cat in each of the other Clans, is to learn to use herbs and heal and become Medicine Cats. She returns to tell this tale, and it’s greeted with a fair bit of antagonism- peace between the Clans has been sorely won, the clans don’t mix or visit, and most are not willing to test that peace. Most, that is, except for the young cats chosen to learn healing- they all have a natural bent for it. The project of all of the ‘interns’ going from Clan to Clan to learn all they can from each other takes off, despite border skirmishes. But not all the cats want peace, and some have grudges that could cause real trouble. The feral cats have all the traits of real cats, and also the ability to reason and communicate like humans (who they avoid- to call someone a ‘kittypet’ is a big insult!).

I didn’t realize when I picked this book up that it was part of a series- it seems to be part of a ‘prequel’ series for the Warrior Clans. I’m not sure how many are in the series, but it’s a LOT. I enjoyed the book; the cats have personalities that are fairly well drawn. It is a children’s series, but there is some violence, death, and the book is very sad in places. Not that I feel those things have to be removed from books for children; just a warning. Not sure if I’ll pick up any more books from the series or not- I suspect that if I see one at the library, I’ll bring it home, but I probably won’t hunt for them. In other words, good, but not fantastic to an adult. I would have loved it as a kid. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review.