His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1)

His Majesty's Dragon

Naomi Novik stole my heart away with Uprooted. It was one of my first ever reviews on this site. Her writing was evocative and fresh and kept me hooked from chapter to chapter. Reading her book was like being welcomed into a new universe by an old friend and I had to stay to hear all her stories because I LOVE her stories!

When I began reading His Majesty’s Dragon, I gave an inward sigh because the writing style and language was reminiscent of very stilted and suffocating movies like Master and Commander. The height of propriety, every word has a place, every statement is backed by deep consideration for tradition and expectations, and everyone’s station is life is set. Think honor and duty above all else.

Imagine my surprise when I sank into this language and writing like I was being cuddled by the most comfortable chair, covered in blankets, with a hot beverage, watching the snow fall softly outside as my best friend told me the story of his old war days riding on a dragon against Napoleon. It was a story I didn’t realize I wanted to hear that I couldn’t get enough of as I moved through the chapters falling in love with character after character. Angels, I cried openly during one particular part because by the time I reached that point in the narrative everyone involved was someone I loved and I could not stand to see them hurt or in pain.

An English naval vessel captures a dragon egg from a French ship, and when it hatches before they can reach land Laurence, the English captain, moves forward to harness the dragon to ensure that it flies for England. His deep sense of duty drives him to act for the good of his country, but out of this action grows one of the deepest friendships and loves that I have read about in a very long time. He names the dragon Temeraire and they plan to enter the aerial Corps once the ship makes land.

Now the traditional military branches view the Corps as ‘lesser than’. It’s seen as a rougher life. People who enter the Corps traditionally don’t marry, they aren’t involved in the typical English social circles or ladders anymore. Their only duty is for England, the Corps, and the dragon to whom they are bound from the hatching. This kind of isolation gives most people the vapors, and Laurence, having been fed a steady diet of this misinformation, enters this new world with some nervousness. He soon discovers that the people who are involved with the Corps are just as smart, honorable, and duty bound as any other part of society that he has experienced thus far.

Temeraire is a very different dragon from those typically used in the Corps. Laurence speaks with dragon scholars and they believe him to be an Imperial breed from mainland China, sent as a gift to Napoleon but intercepted by England. Temeraire is disappointed because he cannot breathe fire or spit acid like some of the other dragons, and you get to watch him grow and eat and develop throughout the book to finally reach his full growth and abilities to reveal an identity even bigger than they initially thought. He loves for Laurence to read to him, and he knows both English and French, having heard them both spoken while he was still in the egg. In this book dragons speak with humans and it is so entertaining to see them as equal participants in the process instead of simply being beasts of burden.

Novik asks us to consider relationships in this first book of the series. Abusive relationships, especially ones that you cannot escape. What is kindness in the face of such inescapable bonds? How do we balance duty to our country and duty to each other? When is love the greatest duty that we hold? What is consent? YES CONSENT.

Honestly the most comforting aspect of this novel, and what creates the most tension, are the moments where the riders consider their dragons as equal partners and ask their input before doing things and when they do not. For example, Laurence insists on removing Temeraire’s harness at the end of exercise and washes his dragon after he eats and trains because Temeraire asks for it. Because it makes Temeraire comfortable. And what’s really excellent is that these simple acts of consideration and kindness spread to the other dragons, creating a community of deeper companionship among the members of the Corps. The lengths to which people consider the needs and comfort of others in this novel, both people and dragons alike, will renew your hope that such a society might be possible in our dragonless world.

Naomi Novik has written a novel in the traditionally formal style of an old naval story that will capture your imagination and your heart, making you wish for your own dragon as a partner. Please go read this book. You will be better for having read it and I would not lead you wrong. Go get you some.

Kill the Farm Boy

Kill the Farm Boy

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #2)

When I began reading this new release that I grabbed on a whim at the library, it was a really fun start. A nobody that cleans up dung on his family’s farm is chosen by an ugly, drunk pixie to be a Chosen One and he sets off with the goat that the same pixie gave the gift of speech to in order to exact revenge on the lord that killed his brother. There is an aspiring dark lord and even a large woman in a chain mail bikini – and it was when I reached this point that I remembered I had seen this before.

In the spring of this year (2018) I attempted to read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, but put it down after the second book. I love the silliness, but in books like these it tends to get stuck on level 10 and never deviate, creating a situation where you get bored even though the setup is silly and bucking the tradition. There’s no give and take or normal versus silly – you just go from zero to sixty silliness per hour, the authors don’t let up on the gas, and it’s tiresome.

Sorry for the short review, but I didn’t read very much of the book and so I don’t want to mess with your opinion too much. If you like the Discworld books you will LOVE this novel. It’s just not for me. It’s too much and trying too hard all at once and my brain shuts down. But you might like it, so give it a try.

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

Ka Dar Oakley

On my way home from my ultrasound last week I stopped at the library to check on a book that hadn’t been checked back in properly and decided to also browse the shelves. I grabbed two or three books and one of them was KA: Dar Oakley and the Ruin of Ymr off the New Releases shelf. I’m a sucker for crows and also for good cover art so I took it even though I had never read anything by this author before. I figured it was worth a try.

The gist is that the main character, a crow without a name, comes to make a connection with a tribe of people that lives near his family’s nesting location. He learns the language of the people and he teaches the one girl the language of Ka and they come to be friends. Something happens to her and he travels to what we are led to believe is the land of the dead to bring her back to be the new leader of her tribe.

This book was interesting at first because it was dark and so different from anything I had ever read. It’s presented like a Plato’s Cave awakening – we slowly see the crow becoming less of a crow and more of a human. It’s a really cool concept.

The problem was that it was SOOOOOOOOOOO boring. I managed to get to about 25% through (page 100 or so, it’s 441 pages long) and I gave myself permission to stop. The reason it was boring is that the storyline is so slow. Four whole pages are given over to describing his mother and father building a nest and how a rival crow tries to fuck his mom but his dad manages to chase him off and then he watches his dad fuck his mom multiple times to make sure the brood is his and…well…I just wasn’t seeing any payoff anytime soon. So back to the library it went.

Now usually I would cushion the blow of an unfinished review with a statement about how it just wasn’t for me but you might like it because it seems really popular, but I haven’t heard of this book before now, nor the author (who is also from Maine originally), and I feel comfortable letting you know that you can probably safely avoid it. Skip it. Do it for me and do it for yourself.

 

Damn Fine Story

Damn Fine Story

On Writing by Stephen King

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’m a music educator turned math educator who almost became an accountant. I’m 35 years old but I feel 85 if you factor in how done I am with everything. I start over more than I continue and I can’t seem to find a place where I am happy.

But last November I started thinking about what makes me happy, and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017. I discovered I had a story that could be a series that could be something I actually would enjoy making out of my brain hole. I have read so many books that I figured I could put some of what I’ve read to use in framing my own story.

Problem is that it’s intimidating out here for a bitch without an MFA. I have writing skills that have seen me through a bachelors, masters, and two years of a doctorate, but the Master of Fine Arts is not part of my experience. So dipping my toe into the same Twitter as Stephen King and Chuck Wendig sometimes creates a situation when I feel like a 100% imposter. These people are in the game, they define the game, and I’m just armchair quarterbacking the game.

That’s not stopping me though. I’m writing a goddamn book. And the longer I dabble in writer Twitter, the more I see that people of all shapes, sizes, and professions are writing books. There’s self-publishing and traditional publishing and small press publishing and everything in between – there’s something that’s right for everyone.

Still, I’m starting at ground level, so I can’t necessarily think about the publication step of things, I have to take things one step at a time. And the first step is to finish this damn first draft. Part of this is understanding the kind of book I’m writing and keeping to as many of the norms as I can muster. Reading craft books about outlining and structure and building character arcs will help me with that, especially in the editing and revising stages. I’m a good learner. So I’m always open to learning structure and procedure and I love reading so I’m just going to absorb everything.

Yet, with all the professional and procedural advice I’ve received and read, I still need to hear that any Joe Schmo with a story and a dream can write a book. This explains why I responded so well to On Writing, and just recently to Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.

There’s writing advice sure, but the bulk of these books exists to give you a picture of normal people telling stories that other people might like. These books exist to give permission to writers to be writers if they want to be. I don’t mean that we have to approach these authors to receive permission, it’s that reading these books will make your imposter syndrome disappear. They will make you feel as though you can join the club of writers. You may wear the jacket, sit in that area of the plane, be seated in the nice part of the steak restaurant.

Chuck’s writing is quirky, brash, and will keep you on your toes. You will immediately love him like a fun uncle (funcle?) who teaches you to swear. He’s engaging and makes you want to join in and immediately start writing something! Anything! This is cool, I can do this!

This craft book is inspirational, down to earth, and reminds us all that storytelling is as old as the human race. It’s programmed into our DNA, we are programmed for story. So why not try to tell one yourself? You might be surprised what comes out. If you’re currently writing a book or considering writing one, you should make Wendig’s “how to” one of the first books you buy. Go get you some.

In Winter’s Kitchen

In Winter's Kitchen

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s like listening to podcasts or audiobooks, reading nonfiction puts me to sleep. I blame all the articles and books I had to read in my masters and doctoral programs. Nonfiction is like I’m making myself take a class in something that I also have to teach myself and sometimes I’m tempted to highlight what I’m reading but I CAN’T IT’S A LIBRARY BOOK AMANDA GET IT TOGETHER.

If I’m being honest with you I bought this book thinking it was fiction. I am a sucker for a book with food at the center. One of my favorite books from the first year of this blog was Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. He blurbed In Winter’s Kitchen, so I didn’t ask questions, I just bought it. Let me be very clear that I have no regrets.

Beth Dooley begins her local food/memoir tome by describing the first Thanksgiving that she hosted for her family away from their traditional New Jersey home. She attempts to make the meal only from the ingredients that she obtains from either the local farmer’s market or local farmers and makes a total mess of things. The bird is too small and dried out, the potatoes aren’t quite right for the sweet potato dish, and she uses this intial food illiteracy to launch into a series of chapters that focus on individual parts of the meal: potatoes, wild rice, turkeys, apples. Each chapter introduces us to a food source and shows us the reality of being a local or organic farmer in that industry.

You’ll make cheese by hand, harvest wild rice with beaters, and slaughter turkeys in a schoolyard. I was shocked at how many different kinds of apples there are as well as how many there used to be, and it being one of my favorite fruits meant that I wanted to immediately fly to Minnesota and demand 5 kinds I’ve never had before. I was most surprised by the corn chapter. Even though I knew how plants are pollinated and grown, I hadn’t had the time to consider how a GMO field’s pollen would be blown far enough to infect and alter the organic crops grown by locals, which means they would no longer be able to label their produce organic through no fault of their own.

As I moved through this book I felt my poor self competing with my progressive self. I appreciate the need for local and organic farming. There is nothing better than an excellent farmer’s market or driving to a local orchard or dairy farm to get your food. You feel connected to your community and often the food just tastes better. I hate that here in Florida there isn’t a decent farmer’s market to go to.

But then the reality that there are BILLIONS of people in this world to feed and that the US provides pretty large percentages of the world’s food supply in certain areas reminds me that large scale farming and creating crops that are resistant to pests is so important to making sure that people have enough to eat. In addition to quantity, we also want to make that food affordable, and buying small scale from local growers is not necessarily cost effective.

The question I kept coming back to while I was reading, and keep coming back to whenever this conversation comes up, is is a balance possible? Can we find a way to separate large scale growing and local production while maintaining soil and environmental health and sustainability? The only answers I could find included a shift in the Farm Bill that provides funding to farmers to support the shift to organic, and increased regulation in zoning commercial farms to avoid cross-pollination with local and organic crops. But I would like you to think about the likelihood of either of those things passing within our current political reality and then think about whether we’ll have a solution soon.

Recently a climate change report was released by the United Nations that outlines a dire future if we don’t get things under control in the next ten years, but the people who run the American government refuse to believe in climate change and continue to fund and encourage the expansion of the fossil fuel industries because they are able to line their pockets in return. If we can’t manage to make big changes to save our existence on a large scale, how are we going to prioritize sustainability on a small scale here at home? Anyone with the power to make any kind of change just turns away and laughs all the way to the bank.

Sorry, that got bleak there for a second, but the concern and question is ever present in this book. Woven among the concern is the warm comfort of good food and home cooked meals. Families passing down knowledge from generation to generation to create a tradition of raising food and sharing that tradition with their communities, to the point that they become a linchpin in the local economy. That closeness of family and tradition warmed my cold, angry heart and made me wish I had those kinds of traditions for myself. My kingdom for a decent farmer’s market!

Dooley brings it all back together at the end with another Thanksgiving dinner, but a more successful one now that she has obtained all the knowledge necessary to handle these local offerings with care. You can almost smell the chestnut stuffing, taste the cranberry jelly, and see the marshmallows melting over the sweet potatoes. Her preparation of the meal seems less stressed and harried than how she opened the book, and pleasure is laid over all her efforts.

This was an enjoyable, delicious, and informative read. If you like to read about food take my advice and seek this book out. If I enjoyed it and made it all the way through, you can too. Go get you some.

Hero at the Fall (Rebel of the Sands #3)

Hero at the Fall

Rebel of the Sands (#1)
Traitor to the Throne (#2)

Amani is caught behind the Sultan’s fiery dome with the rest of her small army. Ahmed and their other leaders have been captured and transported outside of the city, and out of reach of their rescue efforts. She, Jin, and the rest must find a way out of the city without being burned by the dome, reunite with their leaders, rekindle the rebellion, and march on the city to dethrone the Sultan.

Amani is still having trouble with her sand powers after being attacked and operated on by the Sultan in Traitor to the Throne. She can use them, but it causes pain in her side which limits how much power she can access and for how long. Luckily she has no problem using a gun, and her skills get them out of quite a few scrapes.

In this book, the Djinni play a much larger role. We meet an ancient Djinni that has been imprisoned by his kin, and because Amani frees him he agrees to help her find and free her friends and to help their rebellion succeed. She kind of knows that he must have ulterior motives, as all Djinni tend to do, but her need to see Ahmed through to the throne is greater than her suspicions.

I waited a very long time to read this book after finishing Traitor to the Throne in March of this year (2018), but the story has been so wonderfully and vividly told all along that picking it up after that long of a break was not a problem at all.  Hamilton continues with the political complexity – this isn’t just a barge in and take over rebellion. Ahmed has concerns and worries, and takes the time to consider how things will change and what should stay the same once they remove the Sultan from power. He consults with all members of his leadership team to make sure he’s making the right choices. This is a compelling theme in this trilogy and is missing from many other “save the world” type narratives.

Along those same lines I was glad to see Amani let go of her guilt. Her understanding that their efforts will have costs and consequences was another welcome addition to the story. Constant character moaning about how everything is their fault and how people wouldn’t be dead if they hadn’t made the decision they made is so fucking tedious. It’s necessary for a bit, especially considering that these characters are just kids and would need to wrestle with these realities, but after enough people die you come to the realization that this is just the way things are and you can either accept them, or make sure that the people who have paid the price of rebellion haven’t died for nothing. In this way each character is given agency, which makes the story even more powerful when one of them dies or chooses to sacrifice themselves. I refuse to give away who those characters are but this book will make you cry if you don’t like goodbyes.

The ending was a little Deus Ex Machina for my tastes but it wasn’t so outrageous that I didn’t enjoy it. One of the final scenes had me sobbing in bed (I have been getting most of my reading done right before I go to sleep). It’s been a long time since a book has moved me so much emotionally. I loved every character by the end and I wanted them all to be okay and have good lives after everything was over. By the end, it was like they were all family.

I strongly recommend this trilogy. It has the perfect combination of fun and complexity to keep you reading as well as make an impression so you’ll want to come back and read them again. I’m adding them to my “must own” Amazon list. Go get you some.

Bright We Burn (The Conqueror’s Saga #3)

Bright We Burn

And I Darken (#1)

Now I Rise (#2)

Just in case someone is happening on this review in the future, I feel like it is relevant to mention that I am reading this book, and writing this review, the week of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing. I’m writing this review the day after Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual assault that she experienced at the hands of Kavanaugh. Today they are voting to move him out of committee and tomorrow will be the confirmation vote in the Senate.

Reading this book quite literally soothed my soul this week. I ordered a signed copy which arrived soon after its July 5th publication date, but I kept putting off reading it. First it was because I was in the middle of other things, then I decided I didn’t want to read the signed copy, and so I put the copy at the library on hold. It just became available last week and I picked it up and began reading it over the weekend. Just before all these real world events began unfolding and deepening my rage stores.

This book is very violent, and yet it was so relaxing. Lada Dracul has taken over Wallachia and as prince she has decided that she is not going to be a vassal state to Sultan Mehmed anymore. In the first 100 pages she murders twenty-five thousand people and my pulse was so calm and steady. She did it out of revenge, to send a message, and to pay back the deaths of her own people tenfold. There is no reasoning with her – she has one goal and she will see it achieved. It was beautiful.

The context within which I was reading this book removed all sympathy I have for Radu or Mehmed. My heart was only for Lada. I wanted more blood, more destruction, more suffering heaped upon the men and the systems that would hold her back and prevent her from being the prince and dragon of her country. Every success for her was something I experienced as though it was my own. Her perseverance through capture, her absolute brutality, all of it made me feel like it was possible to seek justice at all costs and experience the fulfillment of success along the way.

She does suffer losses, but we rarely see a vulnerable Lada – when something is taken from her, she takes three things from the person who would dare to steal from the dragon of Wallachia. Justice, revenge, and consequences that were lofty enough to be impressive as well as deterrents. I was cheering the entire time.

Some of the people she kills simply got in the way, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths as named, secondary characters might have made me sad before, but honestly they didn’t touch me. I didn’t have the space for mercy this week. My mind and soul only wanted justice, and in its absence, revenge.

This series is brilliant. I have never read anything like it. Every book was a triumph, the story gorgeously told, the characters are developed with depth and care. I demand that you read every book in this trilogy. If you are a woman who is furious in our current times, you must read this trilogy. Take refuge in these stories. They will bolster you and build you up. Let Kiersten White spin you a tale of a woman who will control her own destiny or die trying. GO GET THESE BOOKS.