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review 2018-12-12 12:22
"Magic Binds - Kate Daniels #9" by Ilona Andrews - highly recommended
Magic Binds - Ilona Andrews

This series has rebooted with a vengeance. The game changed in "Magic Shifts" with Kate and Curran stabilising their relationship, leaving the Pack and building a new power base of Mercs and former pack members and with the conflict between Kate and Roland, her I-WILL-dominate-the-world father, now out in the open.

 

"Magic Binds" uses this new situation to put Kate under intense pressure and see what happens.

 

Her father is the first pressure source. Now that the confrontation between him and Kate is no longer covert, it has become much more intense,  partly because Kate is becoming more and more like her father. They are both powerful and territorial and seem incapable of not pushing one another. Being who they are, each "push" costs people their lives. Roland's public demonstrations of how ruthless, powerful and cruel he is are more than just vanity. They're designed to push/tempt Kate to retaliate in kind. The question as to whether Kate's true nature is to give herself up to her power and become more like her father is central to the tension of the story.

 

The second pressure source on Kate is the Oracle's visions. These are cleverly conceived not as prophecies but as images of pivotal points where Kate's decisions will change her future. That the pivot points all seem to lead to Kate choosing between Curran's death or the death of their as-yet-unborn son drives Kate's aggression but also makes her desperate to find a third way.

 

There's more to this book than a power puzzle to be solved with ingenious strategies. I was impressed by how well characters from earlier books are incorporated into the story in ways that develop them as people and also change the meanings of earlier events. It was fascinating to see the Pack from the outside again and to understand just how deeply the Order hates Kate and to see how Curran and Kate bind their new team together. Both Barabas and Christopher develop in surprising ways and the emergence of a previously unknown cult, built by Roland to assassinate Kate, is cleverly linked to earlier events as well as giving Kate a reality check.

 

There's some interesting and emotionally intense stuff going on between Kate, her adopted daughter and her recently deceased aunt (yeah - that takes some explaining but it works).

 

As always, Iona Andrews excels at both humour and at big battle scenes.  The book kicks off with an almost slapstick scene in which Curran and Kate ask her Priest of Death cousin to marry them and wit, banter and absurd juxtapositions provide light relief throughout. When the battle finally arrives it is bloody, emotionally charged and intense.

 

This is an extremely accomplished urban fantasy. I'm looking forward to the next one.

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review 2018-12-11 22:26
Book for Door 7 Mawlid An-Nabi - "On Turpentine Lane" by Elinor Lipman
On Turpentine Lane - Elinor Lipman

 

"On Turpentine Lane" sat on my TBR pile for eighteen months. I bought it in a fit of enthusiasm after reading "Isabel's Bed".  I've looked at it a few times since then and gone, "I want to read that but not today." I finally picked up because it qualified as my book for Mawlid An-Nabi in the 24 Festive Tasks challenge,

 

It wasn't the kind of book I'd expected. It was a light, mildly amusing comedy of manners kind of book but I found myself struggling with it because I found it hard to empathise with a privileged white middle-class, university educated woman in her thirties who was so hapless.

 

Her haplessness was fundamental to the humour of the book so letting it irritate me was self-defeating. Her haplessness is quite plausible. She's conflict-averse, trusting, committed to her job and looking for a quiet life. I'd probably like her if I met her. Yet I find myself irritated by her inability to use the advantage she has, which says more about me than about Elinor Lipman's writing.

 

About a third of the way through the book, the lights went on - flashing LED lights - spelling out IT'S A ROMANCE, DUMMY.

 

That explains why the heroine is intelligent, well-educated, slightly bland and completely hapless - so she can come into her own by getting together with the right guy.

Suddenly, it was all clear. 

 

The contract with the reader is that the woman should be nice, maybe too nice for her own good when it comes to dealing with her self-absorbed, hippy-boy-man-at-41 boyfriend, so that the reader can root for her and hope she'll smell the coffee and find someone worthy of her.

 

I got distracted by the bullying sexism or her employer, the apparently dark history of the house she's recently bought and my underlying lack of empathy for a woman so used to be being loved and protected by her family that she lacks basic survival skills.

 

I felt like someone reading the start of a werewolf novel and wondering why the characters, who seem prone to physical aggression when resolving status-related conflicts, are stressing about how close the next full moon is.

 

Once I settled back and let the romance roll with the appropriate level of readerly collusion. with what the author is doing, I started to enjoy myself more.

 

"On Turpentine Lane" is an odd mix of ingredients that never quite come together convincingly. Crises are triggered around apparent financial improprieties at work, mysterious deaths in the heroines house and a mid-life crisis separation between her parents. These crises stand side by side like plates spinning on poles rather than building to anything. There is no character development to speak of but there is a slow, sometimes enjoyable slide towards happy-ever-afterdom.

 

I never did get to feel any empathy for the heroine but my reflex-animosity for her lessened as I understood her family dynamic.

 

"On Turpentine Lane" was well-executed entertainment that I'm now certain I'm not the target demographic for.

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review 2018-12-09 23:32
Book for Door 14 Hanukkah - "Binti Home" - love the writing - hate this publishing trend.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Let me start with a complaint so I can get it out of my system. I hate this emerging practice in Science Fiction to slice novels up into novellas and drip feed them to us.

I hated it with Murderbot and I hate it with Binti.

 

I was blown away by the first novella, "Binti" It deserved the Nebula and Hugo awards it won. It was a startlingly innovative novella about identity, about us and other, about fear and harmony, about how defining what it means to be alien also defines what it means to be human. "Binti" worked as a standalone, self-contained story.

 

It took two more years for "Binti Home" to reach us and, very disappointingly, it does not work as a self-contained novella. It's a sequel, so it can't be standalone but I did expect it to be self-contained. What I got is the second act in a three-act play.

 

It turns out it's a very good second act in what I'm sure will be an excellent novel but I wish the publishers had had the integrity to wait until the whole book was ready before publishing it. 

 

Ok, complaint over. 

 

There are lots of good things in this middle act of Binti's story.

 

It retains the freshness of the original novella. It doesn't reprise any of the previous action but carries straight on from where "Binti" finished.

 

It keeps the humour as well as the drama of the previous events and uses both to explore being alien. Here's what happens when Binti persuades Okuwu, an alien shaped like a massive jellyfish that moves through air rather than water an is always referred to as "it" to put cover its tentacles with  otjize, a mix of mud and oil that Himba women cover themselves with:

Covering them with so much otjize,Okwu told me, made it feel a little intoxicated.

 

“Everything is . . . happy,” it had said, sounding perplexed about this state.

 

“Good,” I said, grinning. “That way, you won’t be so grumpy when you meet everyone. Khoush like politeness and the Himba expect a sunny disposition.”

 

“ I will wash this off soon,” it said. “It’s not good to feel this pleased with life.”

"Binti Home" explores the issue of self and other from a new angle by following Binti's own physical and spiritual evolution from the Himba tribal girl she thought herself to be into something other and more than that.

 
When Binti returns home to restore her sense of identity as a Himba woman she is instead forced to confront the prejudices that shape her view of her homeworld and prevent her from seeing herself clearly. Binti's skill as a "harmonizer" is tested when she finds that it's her rapidly changing self that she needs to harmonize.
 

The tension builds. Revelations are made. Threats are introduced. Then the novella ends. Well, actually, it just stops.

 

So I'm going to stop as well. I have to go and read the third act, "The Night Masquerade", which I've just downloaded from the Kindle Store for the princely sum of £2.63.

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text 2018-12-08 17:39
Reading progress update: I've read 28%. - happy aliens who aren't happy about it.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

One of the things I like about Binti is the exploration of what "Alien" really means and the discovery, along the way, of what "human" really means.

 

Binti is a young tribal woman whose tribe covers their skin with otjize,a mix of mud and oil that maintains their link to their land on Earth. 

 

Binti has persuaded Okwu, an alien shaped like a large Jelly Fish but moving through air rather than water and always referred to as "it", to put some on its tentacles. Here's how Binti describe Okwu's reaction:

 

Covering them with so much otjize, Okwu told me, made it feel a little intoxicated. 

 

“Everything is . . . happy,” it had said, sounding perplexed about this state. 

 

“Good,” I said, grinning. “That way, you won’t be so grumpy when you meet everyone. Khoush like politeness and the Himba expect a sunny disposition.”

 

“ I will wash this off soon,” it said. “It’s not good to feel this pleased with life.”

 

 

Okwu sounds like some of my French colleagues. Happiness is very nice as a temporary phenomenon, particularly when it arrives unexpectedly and without effort, but its meant to be transitory and pursuing it is pointless.

 

 

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text 2018-12-08 00:26
Reading progress update: I've read 20%.
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Like the Murderbot stories, Binti was released as a series of novellas, three, in this case, that really equal one novel.

 

I was blown away by the first one, "Binti" and immediately bought the sequel, "Binti Home".

 

I then stupidly let it languish in my TBR pile.

 

I've dug it out for the Hanuka Door of the 24 Festive Tasks challenge because it's the second book in a series.

 

I'm having to run hard to keep up at the beginning of the second novella and I now wish I'd read them back to back.

 

Still, so far the freshness of the original Binti novella is still present and I'm intrigued to see where Binti will go next.

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