Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Moment of Everything : a Novel by Shelly King

moment of

The cat on the cover of this book does not even come close to the description of the cat inside the book. But that’s a minor detail. This was another one of those books that I have no idea why I put it on hold, but I did, and I enjoyed it well enough once it came, so why waste time wondering? Think Storied Life of A.J Fikry meets Bridget Jones’ Diary meets the Gen Y/Millennial equivalent of Generation X, and you’ll have a pretty good feel for this book.

Maggie, our protagonist, moved to San Francisco from South Carolina during the dot-com boom and started a company with her best friend since childhood, Dizzy, a software engineer. But the company becomes successful and is purchased by a larger company, and Maggie’s job is outsourced. Dizzy (still employed) tries everything to get Maggie “out there”, scheming to get her involved with a book group of high-powered women for the networking and nagging her to follow up on various opportunities. But Maggie is far more interested in spending her days in the decrepit used bookstore (Dragonfly Books) owned by her landlord, Hugo, where she spends all day every day reading romance novels. She knows she needs a job – her money is running out and she is growing increasingly desperate as her mother begs her to move home and get married like a good girl – but she just can’t seem to find the motivation.

Hugo gives Maggie a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to read for the book (networking) club, and inside Maggie finds love notes written in the margins by Henry and Katherine, presumably two customers of Dragonfly Books. The notes show a growing intimacy between the two and end with a proposed meeting, and Maggie is entranced – who were/are Henry and Catherine? Did they ever meet? Why did they stop writing messages in the book? In an attempt to impress one of the book club members who might be able to help her find her a job, Maggie offers to help Hugo make the Dragonfly more successful by promoting it on social media. She posts some of the notes between Henry and Catherine, and business booms so enthusiastically that Maggie eventually receives an incredibly lucrative job offer…working for another bookstore across the street that is part of a commercial chain. But in the process of working at the Dragonfly, Maggie has fallen in love with the used bookstore’s quirky charm and become fiercely loyal to its clientele. Soul searching ensues….

Oh, and there’s a cute boyfriend who she can’t fully enjoy because of past issues with her parents’ marriage, repeating conflict with a cranky employee of the Dragonfly who resents her interference, and some self-confidence problems from always playing second fiddle to Dizzy’s genius to spice things up. Oh, and a psychopathic store cat. You’ll be a little annoyed with Maggie for her habit of (repeatedly!) shooting herself in the foot (in both life and love), but you’ll root for her anyway.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

heart last

I got the new Margaret Atwood in prepub last August, and was delaying telling people about it because wasn’t out yet. But now it’s been out forever and I just forgot. Believe it or not, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped. I admit that I have ridiculously high hopes for Margaret Atwood after a lifetime of reading her books with worshipful fascination. But this one…I had previously read parts of it on Amazon (it was originally published as a series of Kindle shorts), and thought a longer, fleshed-out version it would be better than it  turned out to be. But don’t let this discourage you. Even a less than stellar Atwood is still Atwood, and the woman’s worth reading even at her worst (and I should know, I’ve read Life Before Man).

Charmaine and Stan are a married couple in a very near future North America (I’m not certain whether they are in Canada or the U.S.). The economy has gone so sour that they are living in their car, in constant danger of being murdered for their few possessions. Then Charmaine, who works in a bar where there are televisions, sees a commercial for a new planned community that is accepting applicants. She begs Stan to apply, and while he has serious concerns, he is desperate and they sign up. Their new home is based around a prison (Positron) and the community that supports the prison (Consilience). Residents are to spend one month living in a nice house in Consilience, working at jobs that support the prison, then report the following month to be the prisoners in Positron while their counterparts take their places (home and job) in Consilience. Then, they switch back the following month, and so on. 6 months a worker, 6 months a prisoner – all even and fair. It seems agreeable enough at first. Their house is clean and modern, their jobs are easy, and even being a prisoner isn’t bad for a month at a time. They are a little bored by the routine, and by the fact that they have no contact with anyone outside. Stan is particularly bothered by the fact that the TV shows and the music are cheesy, but he thinks Charmaine is happy, so he’s not complaining. But then Charmaine finds a note under the refrigerator – a sexy love note that causes her to become obsessively attracted to the man who lives in their house when they aren’t there. She leaves him a note back, an affair ensues…and then things get start getting progressively darker and darker.

All in all, I was certainly interested enough in the story, and it’s grimly funny enough to keep anyone going until the end (well, anyone who likes very dark comedy). I’m just sorry that it wasn’t more profound. Most Margaret Atwood novels keep me thinking for years afterward about Big Life Issues, but this one was more like a fun romp that I can look back on fondly but the details are already fuzzy.

Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera

Jacket

I listened to the first book of this series (Furies of Calderon) in my car. It was soooo loooooong I had to check it out twice to finish it, and I really didn’t get into it – until the last third of the book, where suddenly I began really caring what happened next. I think the problem was that it took me that long to figure out the world – the characters’ social positions, the political structure, the magic they use and how it works…it was complex and until I got it all straight, I was too confused to like it very much. But then I got to like the characters, and stuck it through to the end to see if they all made it through. I went through the second book in much the same way, but then the third grabbed me by the collar and forced me to read it in about 3 days. I had to get the actual print book because I couldn’t think of enough places to drive to listen to it. I read book 4 on my day off and started 5 yesterday (thank goodness for instant gratification ebooks) and between listening to it on my commute and reading it at home, I think I’ll need 6 (the last, alas!) by tomorrow. I would try to scale back and listen to them slowly to make them last, but it’s far, far too late for that. I must see this series through RIGHT NOW.

The basic premise: The land of Alera is loosely based on ancient Rome – the political system, naming conventions, and military strategies are all vaguely familiar (there are centurions, legionaires, etc.). But somewhere along the line, the Alerans allied themselves with “furies” – spirits of earth, air, water, and wood – to harness their natural powers. Generations later, the Alerans have sorted themselves into a pecking order with Lords (those who can command powerful furies of many types) to Citizens (who can control one or two types) to Freemen (who usually only command 1 fury) to slaves, who have little furycraft and are screwed. The story begins with Tavi, a 15-year-old orphaned boy who is a “freak” – he has no furycrafting abilities whatsoever. Despite his disability, he is extremely intelligent, and his dream is to go to the Academy and learn everything he can. He lives with his uncle and aunt on a small steadholt in the Calderon Valley, which is famous in Alera for being the site of the Marat invasion that killed the Princeps Gaius Septimus, leaving the current First Lord, Gaius Sextus, without an heir. We are also introduced to Amara, a cursor (spy) for the First Lord, who has been betrayed by a fellow cursor who is in cahoots with one of the High Lords to overthrow Gaius Sextus. She flees to the Calderon Valley, where…

Well, you can see where this is going. Aging leader with no heir, scheming lords who all want to be next in line for the throne, long animosity between the Alerans and the Marat… it’s a political field day and the battles are thick and fast and twisty. New enemies (the Cane, the Vord) and unexpected allies keep turning up in each book. The story shifts between the major characters’ perspectives – we see the story through Tavi sometimes, then throuigh Amara, then through Tavi’s aunt Isana, then later as other characters gain importance, the story shifts to them in turn.

Basically, this book is everything I hate in a fantasy –  lots of politics and a weird world that takes forever to understand, and it’s a patriarchal society to boot – but I have would up loving it. Maybe you will, too if you like epic battle stories like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, or if you share my love of brilliant protagonists who might just be insane but everyone follows them anyway. (Miles Vorkosigan, Scarlett O’Hara or Harry Dresden, anyone?) If nothing else, it’s well worth reading just to enjoy the character Kitai’s take on everything.

[I saved this post as a draft a while ago, and by now I’ve finished the series. I would be all sad but the first installment of Butcher’s latest series (The Cinder Spires series, starting with The Aeronaut’s Windlass) was released last week and I’m already on hold for it. Any day now!]