Thursday, 17 August 2017

Waking Gods

Finished August 13
Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second book in the series that started with Sleeping Gods. The novel opens with the appearance of a second giant robot, this one appearing out of thin air in the middle of a park in London, England. There is debate about how to handle it while the powers that control the first robot, dubbed Themis, work to transport it to England.
The powers that want to approach the robot with a show of force win out, and things do not go well. The robot has powers to shield itself from harm and the resulting reciprocative attack by the robot is a deadly one. By the time Themis gets there, they know what they are up against, but aren't sure at first what to do. An idea by the pilots works, and things calm down.
Back at the base, when Themis suddenly disappears with Vincent inside, no one is sure what to think. When more robots begin to appear at cities around the world, things begin to look very dark for humankind, and a new weapon is brought to bear by one of the robots, resulting in more questions.
This book takes us further into the ideas debated in the first novel, with the mysterious consultant appearing to give encouragement to the Earth Defense Corps leaders.
But the ending, now that will have you on the edge of your chair, and eager for the next book.

The Stockholm Octavo

Finished August 12
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

This historical novel is set in the 1790s in Stockholm, Sweden. The narrator is Emil Larsson, a young man, who has worked hard to raise himself to the level of a secretaire in the government. His position is in the Customs and Excise office, and he has a sideline in reselling confiscated goods. He has come to his position through hard work, and hard play, teaching himself to be a skilled card player, and betting wisely, gaining the money to buy his position.
Now his Superior has decided that all the secretaires should be married, and Emil is one of the few who has no wife or fiance. Emil's favourite place to go to play cards is the house of Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, an older widow, who both runs a gaming parlour, and is a fortune-teller. She doesn't always use cards in her prognostications, but fairly often. When Emil is next at her house playing cards, she approaches him, and says she's had a vision for him concerning love and connection. She would like to lay an octavo for him, but first she must explain the rules around it. The cards serve as a guide to realizing the vision. Eight nights in a row she will lay cards until a card makes itself known as one of the Octavo. Laying the cards helps to identify who the people are in each role, and can then make it possible to manipulate them so the vision goes in the direction the seeker wishes. The seeker, in this case Emil, must swear an oath to complete the laying. Then he must work to identify who the people are in each role. The roles are: The Companion; The Prisoner; The Teacher; The Courier; The Trickster; The Magpie; The Prize; and The Key.
Along with this plot line, there is also one of royal intrigue. The King, Gustav has recently changed the law to give commoners rights and privileges previously reserved for the nobility. This has caused some of the nobility to rebel by refusing to sign the law, and be imprisoned for that rebellion. The group refers to themselves as the Patriots. Once released, they take their rebellion less openly, and choose the king's younger brother, Duke Karl as their leader. Duke Karl is a weak man, easily influenced by the flattering idea of becoming king. One woman in particular, the widow of one of the rebels, is determined to see the plot through. Her name is the Uzanne, and she has power beyond most women.
Another big theme to this novel is the use of the folding fan. A recent addition to the town's merchants is a skilled fanmaker, Christian Norden. He studied fanmaking in France and married a French woman, but with the growing unrest in France, they came to Christian's home country to make a new start. The Uzanne is a big collector of fans and uses them to get what she wants, whether it be a man or something else. She has some lovely and special fans in her collection and one of them plays a large role in this novel.
There is a lot going on here, and as Emil gradually identifies the people who have roles in his Octavo, we also see the plots developing. Some things, I could guess at ahead of time, but others took me by surprise. A very different and interesting novel.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead

Finished August 11
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

The stories in this collection are from the past and the present, from America and Europe, from male and female narrators. The range of Benz is quite wide and she displays it well here.
West of the Known is a story of the Wild West, of an outlaw brother come to free his young sister from a difficult life, but things don't always turn out how the characters expect, and this one has some interesting twists and turns.
Adela is a story within a story. It is written as an anonymous tale from the early 1800s, with plenty of footnotes to explain the story's origins. A tale of a woman whose settled life is unsettled by two young boys, eager for an adventure and romance. This is a story that raises questions. Why did she tell them her secrets? one wonders. A story filled with regrets.
Accidental is a story set in the modern day, a tale of a woman whose lives a difficult life. Her parents split up young and she lived mostly with her mother. Now, her mother is dying and she's trying to fulfil one of her last wishes. Her trip takes her back to the past in other ways, uniting her with not only her father, but other men from her past as well.
The Diplomat's Daughter is a tale of a woman who grew up as the daughter of an American diplomat, but who found herself living a different life after a military attack on a refugee camp she was volunteering at.
The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas is another story within a story. Presented as a memoir published in London in 1840 by an American slave woman, it tells the tale of a woman rescued from slavery to become a literary star and poet in her own right, who finds that her life is not what she thought.
James III has a twelve-year-old boy finding life difficult with his mother, step-father, and half-brother. As we meet him, he is on the run, beaten, bleeding and shoeless, when befriended by a young black man at the train platform. Overwhelmed by his situation, the boy looks to extended family and his new acquaintance to move forward with his life.
Snake Doctors is a story of a man who learns of his grandfather's death, not realizing that he'd been still alive. A letter of confession his grandfather left leaves more questions than it answers, sending him on a search for the truth.
The Mourners is another story more historical. As the story begins, a man is dying, and his wife is tending to him, trying to do the best she can by him. She is not the woman his family would have picked for him, and the marriage has brought children, but also had children taken from it. Some months after his death, the woman's father asks for her to come to him urgently, and she finds that her father is once again trying to use her to his own ends. A story with a surprising ending.
Recognition bring a young man historian to an archeological site of the end of a failed community. He has written much theory about this community, and now finds himself asked to comment on the findings there. But a woman who may or may not be someone he knows has her own agenda.
That We May Be All One Sheepefolde is a story from the sixteenth century narrated by a young monk, taken into the order as an orphan and finding a home there. As Henry VIII dismantles the monasteries and takes their lands and possessions for himself, the narrator finds his life uprooted and his loyalties torn.
These are all stories with interesting plots and characters, ones that surprise but also feel like one should have known they were coming. Very good writing.

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Finished August 7
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper

This novel begins with Rose Martin watching her young daughter Antoinette sleeping. She loves her deeply, but worries over her. We get the sense that something isn't right with the child. We next see ten-year-old Antoinette on her own, leaving the farmhouse to go out to the field of flowers beyond. We see that she responds to nature, but has difficulty moving, and is unable to talk. They live at the home that Rose and her sister Lily grew up on, at a farm near a small town called Redbud, in central Kentucky, near Lexington. The farm is a commercial flower farm.
Rose's sister Lily lives a couple of hours away in Covington, Kentucky, the north end of the state. She works for an insurance company there. Not far, but she hasn't talked to her sister in years, Not since shortly after their parents died, and Rose asked Lily to stay at the farm and help. Lily felt then that staying was a challenge that she wasn't up to, and Rose resented her for that decision. Both women have wanted to reach out many times since then, but neither has the courage.
So when Lily gets a call from Rose, once again asking her to come home, and tells her of her own failing health, Lily goes. She is still wary, afraid of the way she begins to act when she is around her young niece. She is very surprised to find that their neighbor, Seth, a man that Lily once thought she had a future with, is back in Redbud and working at the farm. Lily never really got over Seth, and thus the homecoming is even more emotional that she guessed. As she gets to know Antoinette, she finds that she can relate to the young girl, but when she discovers that Antoinette has healing powers of some sort, she is upset that neither her sister nor Seth has told her. As she learns more, she understands the situation better, and begins to find her place again there.
Lily's neighbor from Covington, Will, a young doctor who is a good friend, has followed Lily south, and shows up unexpectedly. Will has strong feelings for Lily, but also is a sensitive and observant man, and he begins to notice Antoinette's abilities fairly quickly. He also notices something else about them that no one else has, something that makes a big difference.
This is a story of love, of families, of how it feels to be "different," of the sacrifices that people will make for love. It is a story of a woman who comes to accept herself as she is, rather than fighting against her impulses. A story of two sisters who care deeply for each other.

Winter Child

Finished August 6
Winter Child by Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

This poetic novel takes us through the life of a man from his birth, all from the viewpoint of his mother. His was a difficult birth, and he nearly died. Again and again over the years, many events come close to ending his life, but manages to survive.
His mother has felt from the first that he would be her weakness, her worry, the one she had to always watch out for. Not that he has lived his life that way. He has taken many risks, and laughed at the dangers, but for her it is a lifetime of waiting for what she knows is coming for him. We see how they change over time and he gets older and more independent, living a life away from her.
The memories of the man's life and the mother's own life are told sometimes from her, and sometimes as if watching it from outside. They don't come in order, but are jumbled and come at random, one from the present, one from years before.
The language here is wonderful, evocative of the emotions of the characters. I always love novels written by poets as the writing always flows so nicely, and the descriptions make things come to life.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Blacksmith

Finished August 6
The Blacksmith by Jenny Maxwell

This was a reread of a book I read a couple decades ago. It really stuck in my mind then, and I decided to do an interlibrary loan of it to refresh my memory. It's the first in a series, and features a girl turning into a woman. Ann is the younger of two sisters, raised by a single mom. She is constantly being made to feel a disappointment to her mother for not being feminine, graceful, and pretty, all things her older sister, Glory, definitely is. Despite this, the sisters are close and supportive of each other.
Luckily her absent father's brother Henry and his wife have taken an interest in Ann, and she spends a lot of time at their home in the country, especially with his uncle at his blacksmith shop. As a teen, her mother limited her time there, but she is elated to find that her uncle has left her the property including the house and the shop in his will, ensuring that she will not be coerced into selling it.
Ann is able to get a base education in metalwork and an apprenticeship in blacksmithing, renting out the property until she is able to take on the job of a smith herself. She is a tall, strong woman, ideal physically for this job.
One of the inclusions in her property is an old right of way through the neighbouring estate, allowing her to ride a horse through whenever she wants, and her father's other brother, John, a lawyer, makes sure she uses this right from the beginning of her use of the property, so as not to lose it. With the property vacant, this is no issue, but soon the property is sold and a group called the Children of God moves in. They try to limit her access, but Ann keeps insisting on her rights, and gaining them back. Their attitude and secrecy however mean that they do not give up easily, and Ann is soon questioning just how far they will go to keep her off their land.
This is a book of a woman who lacks confidence in many areas of her life, but has one thing, her profession, that she knows she is good at. She works on her own terms and this gives her the strength to do what she needs to do to stand her ground. It has suspense, great characters, and a good plot line. I enjoyed this read just as much as my first.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Firing Lines

Finished August 4
Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War by Debbie Marshall

This book looks at three female Canadian journalists that covered WWI on the ground in France. The book is organized into three parts. Part one gives us background on each woman individually, their history, and how they ended up reporting on the war. The second part covers the war more or less chronologically, with the women's reports intermingled in each topical chapter. The third part looks at each woman's life individually after the war. They weren't the only female reporters during the war, but they each came from a different background, with a different outlook about what was happening, and they supported each other professionally.
Beatrice Nasmyth was the youngest of the women, twenty-nine as she went to Europe in 1914. She was a strong believer in women's rights, particularly of the right to vote.  Her cousins, Arthur and Clifford Sifton were active politicians in Canada both federally and provincially and supporters of women's rights. She was a charter member of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club and a friend of the poet Pauline Johnson. She was based in London during the war, but told a variety of stories that grew her own views on Canadian identity, making her reassess some of her earlier actions against immigrants of other races.
Mary McLeod Moore was in her early forties as the war began, with more than a decade of journalism experience behind her, already based in London. She'd been writing occasionally for Saturday Night Magazine since 1910, beginning a regular column for them in 1912 called London Letters. Her father was a military officer, and she had been given a strong education. With her journalist reputation strong, she was in a good place and position to report on the events of the war.
Elizabeth Montizambert was thirty-nine and living in Paris before the war began, and that gave her an advantage over others. Elizabeth was born into a wealthy family of self-made entrepreneurs, leaders of New France, and professionals. University-educated, well-travelled, with many friends who were artists and writers, Elizabeth had begun writing for the Montreal Gazette in 1912 covering Paris art, culture, society, and fashion. As the war begun, her columns made the transition to life in a city facing the challenges of war.
Seeing the reports from the women's own experiences and their interviews with those closer to the action was fascinating, These were women eager to let others know what was really going on, sometimes sending their stories through private hands in order to avoid the military censors. Their unique angle on the experiences of war, in London, Paris, and nearer the front lines awakened their readers back home to the reality of what was happening.
This is an important book in our country's history, showing Canadian women's take on the events in the war that gave Canada an identity outside of a British colony.