Book Review: Hild, by Nicola Griffith

Cover of "Hild"Hild is a fascinating historical fiction about Saint Hilda of Whitby.  It’s a slow-paced book but not dull.  It’s immersive.  To read the book is to step into the 600’s in Britain, where Hild survives by watching everything and everyone around her, even as she struggles to make sense of her own desires and dreams.

In this book (Griffith tentatively plans to do three), Hild goes from age three to adulthood.  During this time she become’s the king’s seer and has to navigate treacherous politics and war.  She learns to fight and she participates in battle and in ridding a region of bandits.  She learns weaving and some healing arts and the art of midwifery.  Do not read this book if you are pregnant as not all pregnancies end well and some are very, very bloody and harrowing.  She struggles with her sexuality, especially her feelings towards her foster-brother.  Above all, she watches.

Read because of the gorgeous use of language.  Here’s a sample passage:

She crunched in the grey-brown sedge on the edge of the rhyme and watched.  It might be spring half a mile away, down in the valley along the beck, but here, high on the march moor by the sea, it was a harsh, color-less world.  Here there was no greening blossom, no curve of burbling stream or round river rocks.  The rhymes ran spear-straight into the horizon, the willow beds running between them, all under a tin-grey sky.  Steel-coloured water lapped and slapped along the dirt banks, and the willow canes, not yet in leaf, rattled and shook like tally sticks.

It’s interesting to me that this book has been nominated for a Nebula Award, because the elements of fantasy are very minimal.  This is a book that is deeply based in realism.  Smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste are important to Hild personally and politically.  She can tell what’s happening inside a pregnant woman by looking at the woman’s urine and she can tell whether or not someone is pregnant in the first place by smelling them.  She knows how to deliver a painless mercy kill to a wounded man and she knows that if she plants red flowers she’ll have an advantage in trade the following year (because bees like red flowers, which means more honey, which means more mead).  Most of Hild’s prophecies come from her careful observations of the world around her.  She knows that the coming winter will be hard because she watched bird behavior, not because of mystical events.  I absolutely think this book deserves awards but I’m not sure the category of “fantasy” is accurate for it.

Anyone who is interested in the craft of writing should read at least some of this book, even if the genre isn’t interesting to them.  It was certainly interesting to me, although it moved slowly.  There’s a lot of waiting and observing, punctuated by quick, brutal action and confusing political turmoil.  I cared about hold and worried about her and I’m anxious for the sequel!

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Friday Book Club: Get Ready For Summer!

SWT-Book-ClubsWe’ve just concluded our series on humor, and we have a break in April.   But we’ll be back in May!  Here’s the summer schedule for Book Club.  You can follow Book Club online or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA!

Our theme for summer is Animals Among Us.  We’ll be reading a classic, a contemporary work of fiction, and a nonfiction book.  If you are in the Sacramento area, you’ll notice that this ties into the Sacramento Public Library Summer Reading Program, whose theme this year is “Pets”!

May:  The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Call of the Wild, first published in 1903, tells the story of Buck, a St-Bernard-Scotch Collie, who is stolen from his home with a family in California and transported to the Alaskan Gold rush to work as a sled dog.  Buck works for several different owners before being taken in by John Thorton, with whom he shares a powerful bond.  But even as his attachment to Thorton grows, he feels connected to the wilderness that surrounds him and is torn between freedom and domesticity.

Original Cover

Original Cover

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on May 18, at 2PM!

June:  The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain was published in 2008 and is told from the point of view of a dog named Enzo.  Enzo belongs to a race car driver (loosely based on the author and on one of the author’s friends).  Enzo hopes that if he lives his life properly, he will reincarnate as a human being, and he carefully studies the humans around him to prepare for what he hopes will be his future life.

the-art-of-racing-in-the-rain

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on June 22, at 2PM!

July:  Animals Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, by Temple Grandin

In this nonfiction book, published in 2005, author Temple Grandin talks about how her autism helps her see the world the way animals might see it.  Temple Grandin works with the beef and poultry industries to improve the lives and deaths of animals who are raised for human consumption.  She also works with zoos and other organizations to improve conditions for animals.  Additionally, she’s a world-renowned activist for people with autism.

Animals-in-Translation

Meet us in person at Arden Dimick Library on July 13, at 2PM!

This Week’s Arrow: Birds of Prey

Arrow Tv show logoWell, we finally got our Birds of Prey episode of Arrow and it was…OK.

Here’s some highlights:

The Island

The flashback section added nothing.  I already know Sara is capable of being ruthless.  She was an assassin, for crying out loud.  And there’s no indication that anything awful will happen to the guy she exchanges for Ollie’s life.  Plus, he’s a jerk, so it’s not like we saw Sara kill a puppy.  The only reason to have a flashback sequence was so that we could hear Slade say,  “I decapitated the engineer”.  which was, admittedly, a high point of the episode and, indeed, the entire season.

The Birds

This was a little disappointing.  Sara and Huntress fight each other which was kind of a bummer because I wanted them to team up.  Canary has some nice moments with Laurel, but I did not believe that Laurel would fail to recognize her sister, not did I believe that Sara would fail to recognize a potential weapon.  Take the bottle of bourbon with you, Laurel.  You don’t drink it – you hit people with it and then when it breaks you stab people with it, or you light it on fire and throw it.  Honestly, to have so much flammable liquid in Canary’s vicinity and not have it light up is so sad.

Look, I want Huntress, Canary, and Oracle fighting crime.  Sara and Huntress have a somewhat similar back story and Sara and Felicity have such a great friendship that I’m sort of shipping them instead of Ollie/Felicity or Ollie/Sara.  So please, give me Felicity, Huntress, and Canary fighting crime.  That’s Birds of Prey.  It’s not rocket science Hollywood.  Gimmie, now, or FACE MY WRATH.

My only hang up with this scenario is that I think having Barbara Gordon as Oracle is really important.  They could give Felicity a similar arc (she is humiliated and tortured and shot by bad guy, loses ability to walk, fights crime from wheelchair) but then Felicity would go through a period of time of being sad, and that can’t happen.  Every time Felicity makes a sad face, an angel loses his wings.  So I’m not sure how to make the Arrow Birds of Prey Spin-Off fit my Barbara Gordon as Oracle passion but somehow it must happen.

My point, and I do have one, is that this didn’t happen here, but what we did get was fine.  Lots of content about being dark and whether redemption is possible, lots of good moments between characters – it was OK.  The episode was very strong thematically and it was great to see that all these women have their own stories – they may involve Ollie, but they don’t revolve around him.

The Snark

So much snark.  This was a great episode for lines, which I almost missed because they were flying around so fast.  Felicity delivers a lengthy description of who Huntress is including a litany of violent crimes, and in the middle of this description she refers to Huntress as Ollie’s ex-girlfriend.  Sara perks up just like a Brittany Spaniel who hears a duck in the distance and says, “Old girlfriend, huh?” to which Ollie replies, “That’s what you took from that sentence?”

Felicity:  “Oh, I think if Huntress shows up you should definitely kick her ass”.  Digg’s nod of agreement deserves it’s very own Emmy.

Roy:  “Don’t call me Speedy”.

When Sara referred to Ollie as having “Baby arrows” I guffawed.

The Making of a Super-villan

It’s…prediction time!  First of all, I loved Thea’s reaction to Roy saying that they are breaking up (nope, she’s not having it).  And she just killed with her tearful breakdown when she realizes that they actually are breaking up.  But apparently neither Roy nor Ollie has ever read a comic book or seen any movie at all, ever, in their lives, because trying to protect your loved ones by having a secret identity never works.  Never, never, never.  Not one damn time.

So here’ my prediction.  There are two ways this season can end.  One is Thea survives whatever Slade has in mind and finds out that everyone, including Ollie (“The only one who never lies to me”) has lied to her.   She’ll find out about her parentage, Ollie’s crime fighting, the mirakuru – everything.  She’ll probably find out shit I don’t even know to ask about, like the combination of Ollie’s locker in high school.  Having discovered that everyone has bull-shitted her for months, she will go completely nuts and become the coolest villain ever.  She has brains and money and evil genetics and she will wander around letting people continue to think of her as a cute little sister while actually wreaking havoc on the world.  I can’t wait.

The other possibility is that Thea will die (NOOOOOOO!) which will cause Roy to lose it go all Hulk Smash and Ollie will have to fight him.  If the show wants to go super dark, Ollie will have to kill him but if they want to continue the theme of grief, healing, and redemption then Ollie will eventually calm Roy down and they will share many tears.

Also I doubt Sara is long for this world.  Please God, please let her ride off into the sunset so I can have the Birds of Prey sequel I crave.  Please don’t kill her off.  Pleeeeeeaaase!

 

 

 

Wednesday Videos: Gen X is Middle-Aged!

WednesdayVideoI have a birthday in a few days and it turns out I’m middle aged!  I have grey hair!  I have a preteen kid who thinks I’m boring!  I even have a dentist!  And you know what?  The cast of Reality Bites, the signature movie of Gen Xers, are middle-aged too!   I’m pleased to say that I can still totally rock out to “My Sharona” in a 7-11.  I still got it, baby.

Of course, being a geek, the REAL movie of my generation was Mystery Men, which, hey!  what a coincidence!  Also stars Janeane Garafalo!  Yes, Janeane, you are the voice of my generation.  Click on the link to see super powered sarcasm.

http://www.anyclip.com/movies/mystery-men/bowler-knock-out/#!quotes/

I’m gonna head out for some birthday cake and maybe a Big Gulp.  See you on the other side!

Mystery_Men_19123_Medium

Book Review: Raising Steam, by Sir Terry Pratchett

tumblr_mzcolqBAfe1qe712jo1_1280Terry Pratchett’s new Discworld book, Raising Steam, has been out in the UK for months.  Finally US readers get a crack at it as it is officially released in the US today.  Run to your bookstore!  Run, I say!

Raising Steam takes place in the fantasy world called Discworld.  This is part of a huge series of more or less stand alone books.  In each book, Pratchett takes a satirical, usually hilarious, look at some element of modern life.  My personal favorite, Maskerade, makes affectionate fun of opera and of the Phantom of the Opera.  The Truth sees Discworld get its very first newspaper.  Guards!  Guards! introduces us to the police force…and so on.  My advice on where to start is to see where your passions lie and follow that trail, although I’ve listed some specific suggestions at the end of this review.

Raising Steam sees the invention of the first locomotive.  Lord Ventari is, of course, anxious that this new invention not destabilize his realm, and he puts Moist Von Lipvig, a reformed con man who has already fixed up the postal service (Going Postal) and the bank (Making Money), in charge of making sure the railway is built, and that the railway is built in such a way as will work to the advantage of Lord Ventari.  Meanwhile, the dwarfs are experiencing civil unrest over the fact that dwarves are leaving the mines for the big city, and working with and even marrying trolls and humans.  Most of the social commentary in the book comes from the sections regarding dwarves.

I loved this book, but its tone is a little different from the earlier Discworld books, including those featuring Moist.  The humor is sharp but less laugh-out-loud in nature.  In fact there are very few sections during which I whooped with laughter, or rushed to quote a passage.  The Discworld books have always had some serious points to make, and my sense with this book and the previous book, Snuff, is that Terry Pratchett has no interest in messing around – if he has a point to make, he’s just gonna come out and make it.

Terry Pratchett has a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s which does not affect his ability to make books although he can’t actually physically write or type (he dictates them).  I haven’t noticed any problems with his more recent books in terms of writing quality.  The only difference I observe is this switch to a more serious, pointed tone – which is saying a lot, since the Discworld books have always been pointed and often quite dark, despite an overall sense that goodness and hope struggle to persist, no matter how mad the world may be.   This sense continues to pervade Raising Steam.  Pratchett’s writing seems more urgent to me in his last couple of books, but that may be less a matter of what’s happening with him and more a matter of what’s happening with me, a devoted reader who hears the clock ticking on a beloved series.

The dwarf plot and the train plot go together in a way that feels less like a natural progression of the story and more like someone trying to figure out how to connect two completely different plots and saying, “Well, we could always do this”.  Toward the end a whole new dwarf thing is introduced, which means we get all our social metaphors packaged together.  I’d sum it up as a message that inclusion and diversity are good things.  This didn’t bother me too much because as messages go I’m quite fond of the messages involved in the dwarf storyline, but it the message was a bit heavy-handed even by Discworld standards.  If you are deeply opposed to things like legalizing gay marriage, or equal opportunities for women, or racial and ethnic diversity, then you won’t like this book although I’d argue that you certainly ought to be reading it.

I don’t recommend Raising Steam as the first Discworld book you should read but I do highly recommend it overall, and if you haven’t read other Discworld books, don’t worry, you’ll catch up just fine.  I loved this book even though I missed the madcap feel of earlier installments.  If you are new to Discworld, here’s some suggestions on where to dive in:

The Color of Magic:  The very first Discworld book!  This one introduces the wizards.

Equal Rites:  Introduces my very favorite characters – the witches.

Guards!  Guards!  Meet the City Watch!

Reaper Man:  Hello, Death.

Going Postal:  Moist von Lipvig is introduced and stamp collecting is born.

My personal favorites:  Maskerade, Lords and Ladies, Carpe Jugulum, Hogsfather.  Of those four, three are about the witches so I guess there’s some bias there.  I did not read the series in order and you don’t have to either.  Just have fun with it!

Book Review: September Girls, by Bennett Madison

Cover of book, "September Girls"September Girls is a story that immerses the reader in a dream.  The narrator, a teenage boy named Sam, goes to a beach town with his father and older brother for the summer.  This town has a lot of girls, but it also has The Girls.  The Girls all work in the town, as waitresses or in the gift shops or as housekeepers in the hotels.  They are all beautiful and perfectly made-up.  They are all blond.  Sam become involved with one of the girls, Dee Dee, who turns out to be even more mysterious than girls normally are to teenage boys.

This is a story in which everything feels like a dream.  Sometimes the characters are stoned, or drunk, or both,  Sometimes they don’t know if they are dreaming or awake.  Time passes in the town, but it passes slowly, and people come and go with no set date of arrival or departure.  The narrator is crass and self-centered for much of the book, and yet the language is lyrical and lovely yet simple, especially during sections that are narrated by The Girls, like this one:

First we are alone.  First we are naked.  At first, walking is nearly impossible.  It remains difficult.  We have problems with our feet.  They are always aching.  Our shoes often have blood in them.  We are covetous of the Others’ high heels, especially the shiny, patent-leather kind.  We can only wear flats.

First we are alone.  We’re not sure how we find one another, but we do.  Then we are still alone, but in the way sardines are alone.

For much of this book I disliked the narrator and I thought he was shallow and in love with a fantasy (I was right).  But I ended up loving this book, and how as the book draws to a climax it becomes a meditation on what love is, and how we know if we are in it, and why we fall in love.  Sam’s answers might best be summed up as “I don’t know”.  But he changes a great deal during the narrative, and his feelings towards Dee Dee become less about fantasy and more about appreciating her for who she is.  It’s also a story about letting go.  I viewed the ending as a happy ending, but not everyone will.  It’s one of those bittersweet endings, but very satisfying.

September Girls has been nominated for an Andre Norton Award For Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors.  This is one of the awards given out during the Nebula Awards Ceremony.  You’ll be seeing a lot of nominees being reviewed here in the next couple of months as I’ll be attending the ceremony and I like to have read as many of the books as possible.  This book was a delight, even though it took me a while to understand why.  It’s a beautiful fairytale, and despite Dee Dee’s warnings about fairy tales, it left me feeling happy and renewed and thoughtful.

Friday Book Club: Billy Crystal Saves the World

SWT-Book-ClubsAs you know, we’re reading 700 Sundays this month, by Billy Crystal.  Billy Crystal seems like a decent human being who really likes to help people out.  One of the ways he does that is through his involvement with the USA non-profit organization Comic Relief.

Comic Relief was founded in 1986 by Bob Zmuda.  It featured a televised fundraiser on HBO with all the proceeds going to help the homeless.  This broadcast happened with new entertainers and skits every year from 1986 – 1998.  In 2006 Comic Relief did a benefit for survivors of Hurricane Katrina and in 2007 they did a benefit to save animal habitats.   Billy Crystal, Robin Willams, and Whoopi Goldberg have hosted all the shows to date.

Thanks to the efforts of Billy Crystal and others, Comic Relief USA has raised over 2.5 million dollars for charity.  Here’s a clip of Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams introducing the 1994 Comic Relief broadcast:

If you are in the Sacramento area, join us at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento at 2PM on March 23rd to talk about 700 Sundays!