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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-09-14 07:47
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Migrations - Charlotte McConaghy

TITLE: Migrations

 

AUTHOR: Charlotte McConaghy

 

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DESCRIPTION:

"Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she so loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and follow them on their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his salty, eccentric crew with promises that the birds she is tracking will lead them to fish. As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s new shipmates begin to realize that the beguiling scientist in their midst is not who she seems. Battered by night terrors, accumulating a pile of letters to her husband, and dead set on following the terns at any cost, Franny is full of dark secrets. When the story of her past begins to unspool, Ennis and his crew must ask themselves what Franny is really running toward—and running from.".

 

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REVIEW:

 

Beautiful, lyrical writing for a poignant and melancholy story. I did, however, find the world building a bit flat or incomplete and not particularly realistic in terms of specific details, and a bit too preachy. No way are ravens and gulls going extinct due to climate change if humans are still around (unless the whole planet turns into an inferno or ice-house) - the birds thrive on human garbage and habitats.

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review 2020-08-31 06:27
Five Children and It (Nesbit)
Five Children and It - E. Nesbit

It would have been of little interest to me as a child, but this was published in 1902, which means it predates the superficially similar "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (parentless children having supernatural adventures in a country-house setting) by several decades. That association is the most likely to have occurred to me (had I been a literary critic of a child), along with the very recognizable pattern of Aladdin's lamp wishes, always having unexpected outcomes.

 

Though the story is told in quite a jocular tone, the wishes at times look like taking a really serious turn for the awful, though of course nothing horrible ever actually happens to this charmingly naive and well-characterized family of two girls and two boys (plus baby), each with his or her own strengths and fears. (Of course, there is tremendous gender stereotyping, but it's a 1902 book, after all). I vaguely remember being quite fond of this story as a child, but preferring its sequel, "The Phoenix and the Carpet", which I probably should make a point of re-reading (to discover why I preferred it). Re-reading Five Children and It half a century later, most of it was still full of harmless chuckles, the most difficult parts being the two episodes featuring gypsies and Red Indians respectively, since one is painfully aware of the harmful stereotypes being perpetrated through these fictional tropes. The blow is softened a little by the fact that the children routinely get the details of the stereotypes muddled up in daft ways (as indeed they do with the other major "romance setting" adventure, being in a besieged castle). Nesbit has great fun with this last, pointing out that the besieging army's accoutrements are drawn from at least seven or eight different centuries of history, as per the imagination of the illustrators' of historical and children's novels. (This is the kind of humorous passage that would have flown right over my head as a child, but would have amused an adult reading to a child). One gets the sense that she is also poking fun at the incompleteness and inaccuracy of the children's perceptions of gypsies and Red Indians, drawn as they would be merely from children's literature; in other words, we are not to take these manifestations seriously at all, any more than we take the Psammead's peculiar version of Stone Age archaeology seriously. Still, these days we cannot but be sensitive to racialized tropes.

 

I don't know how accurate Nesbit's depiction of children's behaviour in 1902 could be deemed to be (they seem pretty recognizable to me, though shockingly well-spoken), but she certainly has a feel for childhood logic and for the way children bravely supply the gaps in their information with anything they have overheard (however imperfectly) from the adult world. I wish I had had an illustrated edition of this to read, instead of the mere text in my Kindle. It would have taken me even further back into a happy place and time where wishes were possible, even though they might have a tendency to go badly wrong and need to be reversed at sunset.

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review 2020-08-31 06:06
The Goblin Mirror by C.J. Cherryh
The Goblin Mirror - C.J. Cherryh

TITLE:  The Goblin Mirror

 

AUTHOR:  C.J. Cherryh

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DESCRIPTION:

" To the princes of Maggiar, over-mountain was a land they knew only from gran's stories; few people in their little kingdom had ever ventured so far from their valley. But now the wizard Karoly announced that he must make the journey there to seek advice from his witch-sister. For things hadn't been right in Maggiar this last season, not right at all... The princes Tamas and Bogdan were to go with Karoly, along with the huntsman Nikolai. Yuri, the youngest prince, chafed at being left behind. So when Tamas' dog chased after his master, Yuri followed. Soon the young prince had traveled far enough into the woods to wonder if he might not catch up with his brothers after all. His brothers had worries of their own. No sooner were they over-mountain, than their party was ambushed and scattered. The kingdoms they had come to find had all been ravaged. The goblins had declared war. Tamas, separated from the rest, fell in with Ela, a witch's apprentice. He found himself caught up in a battle of magic. For Ela held a shard broken off the goblin queen's mirror, a mere fragment that could wield a magic so strong and unpredictable that no other witch dared touch it. With this single sliver of magic, Ela planned to challenge the goblin queen herself... "

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REVIEW:

 

Not the best fantasy novel C.J. Cherryh has ever written, but still one of the best novels I've read in a while.  The writing is beautiful and atmospheric.  This novel has a Russian flavour making it a bit more exotic.  The characters (including the non-human ones) all have distinct personalities.  The plot is a bit simplistic but the wonderful writing makes up for it.  Not to mention Azdra'ik, the Goblin.  She could have written a whole novel about this guy.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-08-31 05:51
Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
Ink & Sigil - Kevin Hearne

TITLE:  Ink & Sigil

 

AUTHOR:  Kevin Hearne

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DESCRIPTION:

"Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
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REVIEW:

 

After Hearne lost in interest in the Iron Druid series and botched up the last book, I swore I wouldn't touch another one of his book... only this one sounded so interesting. But it turned out to be bland, with juvenile potty "humour", a muddled plot and an old man (Sigil Agent) who can magic away any injuries (how bloody convenient!) and a rather ineffective detective - but then again it was a rather ineffective mystery to be solved and the other 2 mysteries weren't solved at all. The side characters were the most interesting part of the book. I would rather have read about them than a mute wizard glued to his phone app. Most of the characters also need their mouths washed out with soap. In short, a decent concept with juvenile execution.  

 

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review 2020-08-30 13:46
'Champion' Heroes
This Paper World - Jeff Lane

In his thrilling fantasy novel, indie author Jeff Lane introduces two strains of superhumans, in effect the Yin and Yang of seemingly contrary forces, locked in a perpetual existential struggle for survival. That the conflict between the ‘champions’ and the ‘spoilers’ rages alongside the humdrum existence of the vast majority of the human population is interesting. That such extraordinary beings are hidden in plain sight among the general population and their activities go largely unnoticed is also slightly unnerving! Both groups are relatively small in number and co-opt lesser mortals to their respective causes, however, the enmity between the two factions is palpable. For the champions it is driven by the predation of the spoilers, whose hunting style resembles that of hyenas. The spoilers seek to harvest power from their superior opponents in a gruesome and tortuous process, draining the very life force from a lone champion, most often isolated and overwhelmed by numbers. Still, for the reader, this insatiable appetite for the ‘consumption’ of champions’ energy, in what is essentially a parasitic existence, readily casts the ‘spoilers’ as villains and the battlelines drawn between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are clearly marked throughout this opening book in the series.

In an act of self preservation, some champions are loosely connected through a national network and this story follows the transition of eighteen year-old, Jim Hunt, from college student to elite champion-in-the-making. Jim is the prodigy of his neighbour, the enigmatic Nathaniel Parker, who had identified the boy’s potential at a young age (and the need to protect it), but until now never disclosed why he was so special. However, the importance of the young man does not go unnoticed and when spoilers audaciously organise to trap Nathaniel and use him as bait to feast on two of the most powerful champion ‘batteries’, Jim has a life-changing decision to make. 

This, will he, won’t he, journey to potential ‘champion’ undertaken by Jim is exciting and at times comical, as the hero is supported by his college roommate, Eric Warner, who exhibits all the more familiar traits of a hapless mortal teenager. In fact, at times, Eric reminded me of Sancho Panza, with his squirely regard and selfless support for his friend, though he is also weighed down by a substantial secret, his ‘sanchismos’ provide a useful lighter tone amid the surrounding tension.

In the broader arc of this compelling story, can the champions survive this coordinated attack on their existence? Maybe even counter attack the unusually organized incursion into their established, but intentionally nondescript lives? No doubt which side the reader is on, but the grandstand finish raises plenty of new questions, which will have me reaching for Book 2 (“This Burning World”). The author has also confirmed that Book 3 (“This Champion’s World’) is currently being edited, so more to look forward to. For fans of thrilling fantasy tales, this is a very welcome addition to the bookshelf and I am obliged to Jeff Lane for a welcome diversion in this time of COVID-19. 

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