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text 2019-11-26 04:51
Seven Books I'm Thankful For
Danse Macabre - Stephen King
Early Autumn - Robert B. Parker
Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley
Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton
A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones / A Clash of Kings / A Storm of Swords / A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin
The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss
A Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay

The holidays are here, and now it's time to say our thanks.

I'm thankful for each of these books for different reasons. They aren't all favorites per se, but have all made a positive impact on me.


Danse Macabre - Stephen King 


Danse Macabre, Stephen King


This one got me into genre-specific reference books and pointed me towards several books that became favorites. I may never have discovered Harlan Ellison were it not for this, and that would've sucked.


Early Autumn - Robert B. Parker 


Early Autumn, Robert B. Parker



This was the first Spenser novel I read, at my mother's request. After this, PI novels became one of my go-to subgenres and Spenser one of my favorite PI's. This one also had many solid lessons on how to be an adult male, something I needed at the time. It holds up, too.


Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley 


Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley



Another PI novel, but this one showed me that genre fiction was super-flexible and able to tackle almost any theme or issue. It also introduced me to another favorite author and series.


Guilty Pleasures - Laurell K. Hamilton 


Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K Hamilton



I'm not a fan of this series anymore, but this book introduced me (and may others) to the Urban Fantasy genre, which was one of my faves for years. I liked the first few (heavy on the horror, light on the sex) best, and walked away when the series became, essentially, Erotica. Still, this one had a tremendous impact on my own reading as well as the industry as a whole.


A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones / A Clash of Kings / A Storm of Swords / A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin 


Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin


I'm not caught up with the series (got tired after binging the first three), nor have I watched much of the show, but this book got me back into traditional fantasy and introduced many to GrimDark. I will come back to these... eventually.


The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss 


The Great Movies, Roger Ebert


These books introduced me to many, umm, great movies while giving me new perspective on many I'd already seen. Ebert has shaped how I watch and think about films, and his beautiful prose helped me see what criticism should be.


A Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay 


A Song for Arbonne, Guy Gavriel Kay


A very literary semi-historical stand-alone that introduced me to one of my new favorite authors. It also had an effect on what I look for in fantasy. It's awesome, and not even Kay's best.

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review 2019-09-06 05:28
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay - My Thoughts
Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

GGK is one of my most favourite authors.  I love his writing! It's so beautiful and lyrical and all the while telling a great story with terrific characters.  Under Heaven is no exception.

Inspired by Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty, this is the story of a young man, Shen Tai, who, as the result of a two year sacrifice to honour his late father, is gifted with a most AMAZING gift of 250 Sardian horses.  These horses are like gold!  A gift beyond measure. A quote from the book - "You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor." Also a gift that will have a tremendous impact on Tai's life.  And the lives of many others.

Under Heaven is the story of the effects of this gift. 

I loved the characters. Kay has a way of bringing the people he writes about to wonderful and often painful life.  They're so real, even when they are bigger than life, if that makes any sense.  We follow mostly Shen Tai and his sister Li-Mei and while they are young, they do possess some wisdom and knowledge - also, they have faults.  I found both of them very likable and enjoyed reading about them.  I also grew very fond of Tai's friend, the world-renowned poet whose name I cannot for the life of me remember.  *LOL*

I wanted to know more about so many things.  I wanted to know more about the events that follow the book's ending.  I wanted to know more about the people on the steppe.  I think I just wanted more period.  But that's okay, the story of Under Heaven was complete in itself and ended very satisfactorily.

Guy Kay, as always writes with a light, deft touch and honest to God, his paragraphs are often like songs.  The man knows words!  And his plotting!  It never fails, all the disparate threads that begin the book always end up intertwining at the end with just the right amount of twisting and turning to delight the reader.  And there's always a little bit of an open-ended bit of 'what if' in conclusion, in Kay's books. 

I loved it.  :)

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review 2019-03-22 19:43
The Darkest Road, Fionavar Tapestry #3 by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Darkest Road - Guy Gavriel Kay

The epic fantasy ends about where you expect it to, but Kay throws in a few surprises that prove his story of light overcoming darkness was a subtle one, too.


There is a lot going on in this book and Kay picks up on a lot of Arthurian lore and other Western myths in fleshing out the book, but the story hinges on one major act and, for me at least, two minor.


The first is of course the decision that Darien, son of Rakoth and Jennifer, must make between light and darkness. Jennifer sacrifices much to ensure that he has freedom to choose however he wishes. He's a wild card.


The minor decisions were that of Kim in refusing to heed the Baelrath's call. Instead of binding a powerful force as an ally of the light she chooses a more merciful option and it is never clear if this worked out for the best or not. The point was that Kim had that freedom to relinquish her power. Similarly, was Paul's decision to be merciful instead of vengeful to a sworn enemy. Freedom of choice is the central element of this fantasy series. Much of the language is so wrapped up in vows and tradition that its easy to forger this, but everyone in Fionavar has a choice. I'm not sure if they can say that in Middle Earth.


My previous criticisms of the place of women in this universe still stand. I'd hoped that Sharra at least would mimic Eowyn and be badass in battle but instead she tends the wounded and mourns. As a bonus we are introduced to Fionavar's very own "Lady of Shalott". Woof.


I still enjoyed reading this and was glad I took the time to revisit the place. I may have to read carefully with Kay's other work however, but that's one of the risks we take. There is a sequel, of sorts, to this trilogy that features a couple of the characters on Earth dealing with ancient magic in the south of France.


Fionavar Tapestry


Next: 'Ysabel'


Previous: 'The Wandering Fire'

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review 2019-03-12 22:07
The Wandering Fire, Fionavar Tapestry #2 by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Wandering Fire - Guy Gavriel Kay

After the dramatic ending to 'The Summer Tree' the series was in need of some breathing space and Kay wisely takes his time in the beginning of 'The Wandering Fire'. Kim using her Seer powers and somehow tapping into the power of the Baelrath, brought the Five home from Fionavar with the help of High Priestess Jaelle.


They will never be the same again, however, and know they will have to return. Paul and Kim have powers they don't yet fully understand, Dave's experiences on the plain have opened him up to the world, and Jennifer, tortured and raped by Rakoth Maugrim, has a decision to make. Only Kevin, though touched by his time in Fionavar, remains essentially unchanged.


Kay's writing remains beautiful, but the prose has taken a step back from the formal story-telling sensibility that made the first book so distinctive. This is a pity, but I can understand why he would want to write in a more direct style.


Apart from the below commentary, the book suffers from mid-trilogy-slump in that there was a lot of set-up for the conclusion, but not enough substantial action. Diarmuid's sea voyage and the Loren's confrontation with Metran didn't do much for me. Kevin Laine's destiny is sad and perplexing. but was the great centerpiece to the story.


'The Wandering Fire' begins to pull in more myth archetypes - primarily the King Arthur cycle and the Adonis myth. In my last review I said I would try to address the place of women in this universe. Again, I'll say I don't think this was anything concious on Kay's part, but a limitation based on the Romano-celtic myths he sourced his story from.


Kim, as Seer of Brennan, has the power of revelatory dreams and was given the Baelrath - an item of wild magic and mostly out of her control. She is strong in her role though has doubts similar to the male players about her abilities. Kim is great, actually. I don't have any issue except some thoughts about the passivity of oracular dreams which aren't sharp enough to expand on.


Jennifer, has a place in the mythic destiny that becomes clear in this book -

she is Guinevere reborn

(spoiler show)

- and therefore has the most clearly defined and tragic histories of all the characters in the series. Her character before her kidnapping and abuse by Maugrim was defined mostly by being emotionally reserved, strong-willed and proud, and being beautiful. These traits remain, and are even magnified by her ordeal, but after making her decision about Darien she is passive. She accepts her destiny and she waits.


Of the Fionavar natives chiefly there is Sharra, the clever and beautiful princess. She spends her time out-maneuvering her father's attempts to have her be married and in being seduced. Next is Jaelle, the cold and beautiful high priestess of the Earth Mother, being cold is her defense after being raised to such power at a young age. There are others, a few wives and daughters, objects of affection and sacrifice, grieving mothers, literal ice queens and bad mother Swans below the understandably obfuscated behaviors of deities.


I don't really have a problem with these archetypes, they're used well here and the story is entertaining. I just couldn't help dwelling on it while I was reading. I'm hoping that in 'The Darkest Road' there are some surprises in that area that I've forgotten since high school.


The Fionavar Tapestry


Next: 'The Darkest Road'


Previous: 'The Summer Tree'

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review 2019-03-11 21:17
The Summer Tree, Fionavar Tapestry #1 by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry) - Guy Gavriel Kay

The Fionavar Tapestry was one of the great reads of my high school years. It spoke to me in ways that Tolkien didn't and in a grand style that was very different than, say, George R.R. Martin's. Reading it again as an adult it holds up very well, but not without some problems.


'The Summer Tree', after some mythic foreshadowing, begins with five college students at the University of Toronto attending an after-term lecture by a famous and reclusive expert on Celtic culture. Dave Martyniuk is a loner who is slightly dismayed to see fellow law student Kevin Laine, and his sparkling personality, coming into the crowded lecture hall. With Kevin are Paul Schafer, Jennifer Lowell, and Kimberly Ford. It soon turns out that the lecturer is more than he appears and after some intense eye contact and reception-dodging he reveals that he and his associate are actually from the world of Fionavar - the center of the universe and the bright light that every other world reflects imperfectly. The five of them are invited to the High King's Jubilee and will be returned to their world with no time lost.


Of course the offer is too good to be true and the Five are drawn, one way or another, into the complicated, dangerous, and beautiful world of Fionavar.


Kay's writing is beautiful and he uses many narrative tricks that make the novel seem like a legend from the oral tradition. There is foreshadowing aplenty and myth-lovers will see the roots of many myths from the Nordic, Celtic, and Romantic traditions in these stories. Unfortunately, as you may have already guessed, there is no reference to mythology from other cultures - except maybe a bit of 'Arabian Nights' and the American plains - that can't be found in 'Bulfinch's'. This isn't really a problem until you think that the main conceit of this world is that it is the center of all things, so we're left with the implication that most if not all of the cultures of the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, India, the South Pacific and-and-and are all reflections or aberrations so imperfect they don't merit a place in main pattern of the Weaver's tapestry. That takes some of the enjoyment out of this 1980s fantasy trilogy.


Obviously, this was not Kay's intention. At worst this is the result of thoughtlessness. I won't blame him for it, especially as later books of his have drawn from a global and deeper historical perspective. I've written a lot and I'm just realizing I should write about the place of women in this universe, which in many ways is far less excusable than the above - next time!


This is a grand adventure story that doesn't flinch from having its characters take part in the darker elements of our folklore. Poor, benighted Jennifer has the worst of it (more on that in 'The Wandering Fire'), but the other characters suffer for a world they barely know and this continues as they become more entrenched in Fionavar. There are many other characters as well, archetypical fantasy types that refuse to be diminished because of their roles. This is a wonderful series and is a great, if flawed, beginning to Kay's mastery of the fantasy genre.


The Fionavar Tapestry


Next: 'The Wandering Fire'



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