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review 2020-05-27 21:12
Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o
Petals of Blood - Moses Isegawa,Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

I dragged my feet with this book for a long time. The character sketches were phenomenal, but something about the style kept me at a distance and it was a great effort to keep turning pages. Even being laid up during the covid-19 lockdown didn't help. Have to mark as 'abandoned'. 

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review 2020-04-01 21:15
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler

A feeling of nausea, a dizzy spell, and Dana opens her eyes not in her house, but on a muddy riverbank in time to save a boy from drowning. She finds herself back home, but covered in mud. This begins a terrifying ordeal where Dana doesn't know when she'll be taken again back, only that there is a connection between her and a sullen red-haired boy named Rufus in the early 19th century.


This was not the book I was expecting - I must have had my wires crossed with one of her other books - but 'Kindred' is phenomenal. We follow Dana as she is, sometimes for months at a time, trapped on Maryland plantation: a black woman with no traveling papers. Dana is a modern woman and as this is a first-person novel, we experience her thoughts as she attempts to rationalize her actions and those of the people around her. There is brutality, kindness, slow capitulation and sharp reminders of the era. There are decisions that Dana makes that defy comprehension, but I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation, so I find it hard to judge her. What made the bond between Dana and Rufus so strong? It goes well beyond self-interest.


All I know is that this book kept me reading late into the night, I couldn't put it down until I found out how Butler reached the ending hinted at in the beginning. 

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review 2019-12-03 20:28
The Rocking Horse Secret by Rumer Godden
The Rocking Horse Secret - Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden was a prolific writer and, among other stories, created the eternal classic  'The Story of Holly & Ivy'.


This didn't really match that in terms of emotional impact and originality. Our heroine is Tibby, a 7 year old girl, who comes with her mother to live in a grand old house called Pomeroy Place. Her mother, Mrs. Winters, is the housekeeper, cook, and maid-of-all-work in a house that once had an army of servants. There is Jed who does all of the gardening and once looked after the horses when elderly Miss Pomeroy still had them.


Tibby is alone most of the time and falls in love with the old day nursery. She especially loves the large wooden rocking horse. That rocking horse has a secret, and the reader must muddle through a whole book before the seven year old realizes that secrets are silly things.

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review 2019-10-23 20:45
Warrior of the Altaii by Robert Jordan
Warrior of the Altaii - Robert Jordan


Black Cat Square: The 'warrior brand' of the Altaii, a snarling predatory cat, is depicted on the cover


'Warrior of the Altaii' is Robert Jordan's first novel. It was not published until 2019 because the publishers who bought the novel in the '70s and '80s failed to publish it. By the time the rights reverted back to Jordan he had moved on to other projects and, eventually, 'The Wheel of Time'.


This book is a real treat for diehard Jordan fans, but, for most readers this book will just be a really fancily packaged 1970s barbarian fantasy novel. It was on the strength of this manuscript that Jordan's editor and future wife would recommend him as a new writer for the 'Conan the Barbarian' novels in the 1980s. No one is trying to sell this book as anything but an awesome Easter egg for Jordan fans.


Even if you haven't read much barbarian fantasy or seen any of those movie-films you know there's going to be some, uh, dated, troubling, cringey, problematic, you-name-it elements to the book. You may ask, 'Is this going to be a 'Gor'-sized garbage fire, or just an amusing macho exercise?'


I forgot it was friggin' Robert Jordan so I did not expect the last-act genre-twisting awesomeness.


But first, let me confirm for you that there is slavery, torture, one fade-to-black rape scene where it was non-consensual for both parties (it's hard to explain), and so, so much gratuitous nudity. The men aren't exempt from all of that, but its mostly the women who get the sex drug smeared on their breasts for some reason. Jordan wrote scenes that would make the most eye-catching covers, it was the times.


All of that is terrible. But WAIT! Robert Jordan created here a world where magic is a woman's domain and the 'Sisters of Wisdom' offer up some interesting characters. There are one-way dimensional travelers known as 'wanderers', who are exclusively female, and its implied that they come from Earth! A very cool concept that doesn't get used as much as it should have. The female characters end up being the most interesting of the novel. The warriors, heroes and villains, tended to blur together, but the women were more distinct as allies or as enemies.


The bulk of the novel is macho warrior ego stuff and battle strategery for those who like that sort of thing (Jordan was great at it), but there are further genre twists that I won't give away that make the novel interesting reading for someone looking for seeds of 'WoT'.


Moment of zen: One character, a man no less, is described as having 'slashed' clothing to better show off multiple colors of fabric. It's a Jordan thing.


I enjoyed this.

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review 2019-09-06 16:32
The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser
The Mirror - Marlys Millhiser


Classic Horror Square: Published in Hardcover in 1978


This turned out far, far better than I thought it would be. I had to stay up until almost 3am to finish it! Millhiser has crafted a great story with plenty of family drama, humor, romance (with the character's own grandfather no less - somehow, not gross), historical detail, and, of course, one cursed mirror. The object has its own mysterious history that bookends the novel with good atmosphere.


It's 1978 and the night before Shay Garrett's wedding. Her parents disapprove of the marriage thinking at 20 she is too young and they suspect she doesn't love Marek. Even with these misgivings her mother, Rachel, gives her one of the family treasures: an antique mirror with wavy glass and a frame made of interlocking bronze hands. It had come to the family by way of a marriage and hidden in the attic for years. Shay's grandmother Bran, at 98, has been mute and distant since a stroke twenty years earlier, but has a strong reaction to mention of the mirror.


Shay Garrett doesn't share her mother's interest in family history and has only vaguely paid attention to the stories behind many heirlooms in the family home. For that alone she deserves what's coming to her.


The mirror has been set up in her bedroom, redone in a fussy Victorian style, and standing on the thick carpet, Shay tries on the antique bridal veil. A thunderstorm begins, and she catches sight of her grandmother behind her in the glass.


She is awakened on the bare floor by a woman who vaguely looks like her mother, but has hair piled on top of her head. The mirror looms large in the corner and Shay notices that the carpeting is gone, the woodwork is varnished, not painted, and the body she's in is not her own. She is told that no matter what fits she throws she will be married in the morning.


Shay begins to understand she has switched places with her grandmother in the past and she has no hope, except through the mirror, of returning to her time.


'The Mirror' follows three generations of Shay's family. Herself, Bran (trapped in Shay's body in the future), and, interestingly, Rachel, whose disconnect from her 'seer' mother makes her cling to the physical artifacts of her family's history. Poor Rachel has the worst time of anybody, unfortunately.

The book commits to the period, and a lot of research was done about Boulder at the turn of the century through the 1970s. The different reactions Bran and Shay have to the mores of the day were often delightful. Shay challenging her husband on his attitudes about sex and what's proper for a woman, and Bran's realization that Shay's fiancé, when dancing with her at a disco, is obviously a demon. Amazing. Highly recommended.

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