Monday, June 27, 2011

East - Edith Pattou

This is a great example of titles and cover art being important. This is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, "East of the Sun, and West of the Moon", which is totally clear from the cover. It jumped out at me as I walked past it in the library and I'm really glad it did!

This is a wonderfully told story, totally satisfying and incorporates the original story beautifully with lots of extra details. My favorite bit is the superstition about birth direction (the direction in which your mother is facing when you are born) affecting personality, and how seriously (or not) various characters take it. Now that I'm thinking about it, Elli is an East - which works nicely, because her name begins with E, as it should.

Rose is the main character of this story, and she is one of the narrators. The other two main narrators are her father and her brother Neddy who she is very close to. There are also a few chapters narrated by either the Troll Queen or the White Bear. In the first case it gives you a nice glimpse into the workings of troll society, and let you understand why the White Bear was enchanted in the first place - which just wouldn't make sense without the Troll Queen's narration. The White Bear's chapters are also fascinating because they really emphasize that his thoughts are not entirely human thoughts - he really is a white bear.

My favorite bit here was the ending. Rose and the White Bear are in love with one another, she has just completed a dangerous quest to rescue him, and yet they don't just rush into one another's arms. Their relationship needs to be redefined now that he is human again. I also love that while her quest to find the White Bear is extraordinary, rescuing him is not just as simple as finding him.

This is a great fairy tale, and also a great retelling of it. And thanks to LibraryThing I've now got a couple more retellings of it on hold!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Inheritance - Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb

Megan Lindholm & Robin Hobb are the same person, but with very different writing styles. I'm pretty much in love with both of them, so it shouldn't be too surprising that I totally loved this book, but I'm not always a fan of short stories. I had only read their novels, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find that all of these stories were gripping and wonderful. These stories were all long enough to let me actually feel involved with the main characters, and while they didn't all have happy endings, they were all very satisfying. I couldn't manage to read it all in one sitting, I had to take breaks between stories to process what I'd been reading.

Here's a breakdown of each story so I can remember them!

A Touch of Lavender - Aliens, addiction, abandonment, love in all its many varieties. I didn't really 'get' this story, I don't fully understand why it ends the way it does, but I really loved it while I was reading it. Billy's relationships - with his mother, with his sister, but especially with Lavender. What it can mean to a child when someone is really there for them, and listens and cares about them.

Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man - Magic isn't always what you expect it to be. And life doesn't always deliver what you want. But you're allowed to enjoy the good bits, and

Cut - A fabulous and chilling take on circumcision and female genital mutilation. It really has me thinking about parenthood and responsibility. At what point do we have to let our children go out and make their own mistakes?

The Fifth Squashed Cat - This is a really weird little story, but I enjoyed it. It is easy to feel superior when you're smart, but it doesn't always get you what you want. And people don't always appreciate your smug little feeling of superiority.

Strays - This is about stray cats, and a stray child. And more obliquely about when it is possible to help someone and when it isn't.

Finis - This one is really short, the POV character isn't really involved in the story at all, the main character only puts in a brief appearance, and most of the story takes place offstage. But it is great and it is fun rather than frustrating to figure out what is going on here.

Drum Machine - Dystopian future where you select your progeny from a list of officially approved prototypes who will be psychologically compatible and not prove unduly challenging to raise. In order to highlight the issues with this particular dystopia there is a little story running through the background about the difference between scripted and spontaneous music - and helps you see what has led to this particular future.

Homecoming - The first Rain Wilds settlers and their struggle to survive. Carillion is an artist, and aristocrat, and a mother who has been thrust into a horrible situation. It would be really easy for her to simply abdicate all responsibility, and in fact that is what she does initially, but watching her evolve as a person and put her own unique abilities to use solving problems is great. It is a scary story, hard to see how any good can come of this, but watching them fall in love with the Rain Wilds has made me want to go back and re-read Liveship Traders, and very excited about the new series.

The Inheritance - Shortest of the three Hobb stories. Set in Bingtown as the granddaughter of a Trader reclaims her inheritance - which isn't quite what she was expecting it to be.

Cat's Meat - The best story of the bunch in my opinion, although that's possibly only because I read it last. Set in the Farseer universe. The main character is almost totally powerless when her son's father shows up again after abandoning them years ago. She has to choose between fighting back (which is likely to have an immediate and disastrous outcome) and running away (also likely to be a disaster) and discovers a rather unexpected ally in her pet cat.