Young Marya Morevna has watched her sisters married off, each to a man from a different strata of Russian life. Awaiting her own husband, she is surprised when Koschei the Deathless, the mythical Tsar of Life, shows up at her door to take her away to his lands as his bride, asserting his power over her at every step. At first repelled by the land of Koschei, in which everything is alive and fountains spout blood rather than water, she soon finds herself at home as its mistress. But in her need to prove herself to Koschei’s frightening sister, Baba Yaga, Marya inadvertantly overturns the balance between Koschei and his brother the Tsar of Death and must spend many years leading Koschei’s troops in the never-ending war between the two. When, finally sick of spirit, she allows herself to be seduced away from Koschei by a seemingly uncomplicated human man, Ivan, and returns to the human world, her problems are far from over. For she has returned to the city of her birth, now renamed Leningrad, in the midst of the worst of the famine and horror of Siege of Leningrad. She must struggle for her own life, the life of Ivan, and the lives of her friends. And when Koschei comes for her once more, the power balance between the two shifts alarmingly as Marya asserts her own control over her immortal lover and husband.
Author Valente seamlessly and fascinatingly blends 20th century Russian history with Russian folklore in her most recent novel. The details of the Siege of Leningrad are painstakingly researched and painfully depicted, as is the history of political turmoil which turned St. Petersburg into Stalingrad into Leningrad, dragging its citizens unwillingly along. Those unfamiliar with the rich tradition of Russian folklore will find much of interest here as well.
After her father stakes (and loses) her tuition money on a dotcom startup, our heroine sheds her family name and takes to the blogosphere as Cassandra Devine. An aggressive, uber-caffeinated voice in the night, she unwittingly mobilizes her brethren into a battle with the “Ungreatest Generation” – their parents. The baby boomers are retiring en masse, buckling the social security system as they reach for their nine irons. Cassandra Devine is not prepared to foot the bill.
Her big idea to right the ship – offer huge tax breaks to seniors who agree to kill themselves by age 65. She enlists Senator Randolph Jepperson to get the “voluntary transitioning” bill on the floor. He wants a shot at the presidency. She wants a serious national discussion about social security reform. They both may be in over their heads as the issue goes viral.
Christopher Buckley brings his trademark wit to this irreverent comedy. The characters are eerily recognizable and the dialog lights up the pages. The author of “Thank You For Smoking” hits another national nerve. Debt and social security issues have only become more ominous since this book’s publication, making it funnier still. Or does that make it less funny?
Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors, and though I knew she also wrote under the name Megan Lindholm, I had never read Lindholm previously. This anthology is a wonderful introduction to both of the author's signature styles. Standouts in the Lindholm section include the delightfully odd tale of “The Fifth Squashed Cat,” and the first story, "A Touch of Lavender." The real standout in the Hobb section was, again, the first story, “Homecoming.” Sure to appeal to any fans of Hobb’s Liveship Traders series, “Homecoming” provides a fascinating glimpse at the early years of Rain Wilds settlements.
Over all, this is a most satisfying collection. Whether you're a Lindholm fan, a Hobb fan, or a fan of both, you will find much to enjoy here!
In a loose sequel to Bear’s alternate history-cum-mystery “New Amsterdam,” we are taken from the New World into the depths of the old. Immortal vampire detective Don Sebastien de Ulloa seeks rest and healing, both for himself and for the human members of his court, the inimitable forensic sorceress Lady Abigail Irene and the lady author, Phoebe Smith. The trio travel to the depths of Russia, to the White City of Moscow…a place Don Sebastien has not visited in many years. While he seeks respite, what he finds is only more death. Visiting an old friend, he finds instead a cooling corpse and no trace of the lady he seeks. A mystery he thought was done and gone has re-emerged from hiding, embroiling Don Sebastien and his court in the dangerous jealousies and ancient rivalries of Moscow’s vampire community.
The mystery here is hardly the point. While the motivations are realistic and the crimes dramatic, what readers will find most fascinating are Bear’s characters: the ascerbic Abigail Irene, the unprepossessing Phoebe Smith hiding unexpected depths behind her smile, and, most of all, the ancient, conflicted, and decidedly post-human Don Sebastien. Bear’s vampires definitely do not sparkle, but they captivate nonetheless.
Lori Roy’s debut novel is creepy from the start. It opens at night on a lonely road full of shadows and tumbleweeds where Celia Scott struggles to follow her husband’s disappearing truck around unfamiliar twists and turns. The plot of the novel is similarly dark and serpentine with a few twists of its own. The Scott family returns to the Midwest from Detroit to find a better life for their children and instead finds themselves mired in domestic violence and haunted by family secrets. Arthur struggles to protect his sister Ruth from her violent, alcoholic husband Ray who becomes even more sinister once he is investigated in connection with a young girl’s disappearance. What’s more, the new charges call to mind the death of another sister, Eve, years before. Many suspect Ray had something to do with Eve’s murder as well.
Although the ending may seem over-the-top to some, this dark, gothic tale of family secrets makes compelling reading. Roy develops interesting characters and keeps the plot moving. Readers will be drawn into the dual mysteries, past and present, that Roy so skillfully creates.
While it can easily be argued that the earliest forms of literature were all what today might be called fantasy –Beowulf, The Odyssey, the epic of Gilgamesh—and that the fantastic was a part of mainstream literature for a long time after—Shakespeare, anyone?—in recent decades fantasy and its younger sibling, science fiction, have been relegated to the fringes—read and loved by many, certainly, but not considered to be literary by the cognoscenti and often dismissed in favor of more realistic works. This, however, is a trend that seems to be reversing itself. The current interest in George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, prompted in part by the popular HBO miniseries based upon the books, is but one example. In addition to the public’s discovery of SF-F authors like Martin, those who have been writing in the genre for many years, there is an emerging trend of literary fiction authors turning to more speculative themes. The success of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and, more recently, Justin Cronin’s The Passage seems to have opened a door for other authors to walk through. A variety of other authors, best known for their previous works of literary fiction, have recent or forthcoming works of science fiction, fantasy, or horror.
Bohjalian, Chris. The Night Strangers
Duncan, Glen. The Last Werewolf
Jordan, Hillary. When She Woke
Koryta, Michael. The Ridge
Perotta, Tom. The Leftovers
Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story
Whitehead, Colson. Zone One
Maria Shirakawa has spent her childhood waiting, along with her mother, for her father to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Mother and daughter spent those years living in the seaside inn of Maria’s aunt and uncle, only seeing Maria’s father on the few occasions he was able to get away from his life in the city to visit. Maria grew up alongside her cousin Tsugumi, a young woman with a frail and sickly body but a vibrant and almost malicious spirit. Freed from common behavioral norms by the deep conviction that she could die at any moment, Tsugumi is rude, loud-mouthed, spoiled, and too clever by half. She can also be enchanting and mischievous when the mood strikes her. Maria is always torn between annoyance and admiration for her cousin, who is free to flirt with boys and concoct elaborate pranks and revenge schemes with an ease Maria—who is bound by a determination to be the perfect daughter for her distant father—can only admire and resent by turns. When Maria and her mother are finally able to join Maria’s father in the city and become a true family, she finds that she misses Tsugumi bitterly. When Maria’s aunt and uncle determine to sell the inn and move to another town, Maria heads back to spend one last summer with her infuriating and enchanting cousin.
Deliberately paced, with very little emphasis on plot, Goodbye, Tsugumi is a delicate character study. Some awkwardness in sentence structure can perhaps be blamed on the translation from Japanese. For those readers who enjoy quiet, lyrical works and are willing to forego action for insight.
An unusual horror novel set in the past, in a small mountain town in Idaho, Eutopia is a page turner. Jason Thistledown ends up in the strange town of Elaida, Idaho, after his mom and his town are wiped out by a strange disease. An aunt, whom he didn’t know he had, shows up in the aftermath of this catastrophe to spirit Jason away to Elaida where he falls in love and faces the strange beings who inhabit this corner of the world.
As the secrets of Elaida unfold, the book grabs your attention with twists and turns. The founder of Elaida, as it turns out, is trying to build a Eutopia where workers are treated fairly and everybody is happy and cared for. This attempt to build the perfect world involves eugenics and planned procreation with the strange Mister Juke and his ilk. There are strange mountain folk who have fallen under the spell of Mister Juke and it is up to Jason and the Doctor Andrew Waggoner to save what they can of the town when everyone begins to fall under the spell.
The book is original and very readable. If you like horror novels, this is one you are sure to enjoy.
Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut novel is the story of a foster girl, Victoria, making her way in the world once she is out of the foster care system. The story is about Victoria's relationships -- both when she is a young woman and as a child, and how she communicates with others through the Victorian language of flowers. In Victorian times, different flowers had different meanings, and in fact, the book even includes a glossary of flowers and their meanings.
I have been recommending this book to everyone I know! I could not put it down, and finished it in one day.
The Library will be hosting the author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, on September 7. For more information on this program, click here to visit our Events Calendar.
In addition, noted book discussion leader Judy Levin will be leading a discussion of this title on September 20. For more information on this program, click here to visit our Events Calendar.
In 1165, a letter purportedly written by the Christian priest-king Prester John caught the imagination of medieval Europe. Prester John’s distant kingdom, placed by some in India or “the Orient,” was described in the letter as a place of great wonder, populated by myriad strange and beautiful creatures and cultures. Though Prester John himself was Christian and had converted his subjects, he was ringed on all sides by Muslims and pagans. In Valente’s novel, she takes this medieval wonder-tale as truth, but truth told slant. In 1699, a group of monks lead by Brother Hiob search out the land of Prester John. All they discover is a small group of strange, taciturn people who guard a tree. From this tree, books sprout like fruit and Hiob is allowed to pluck three volumes which, like fruit, decay almost faster than he can read them. One volume is the journal of Prester John himself; the second is the journal of his wife, the beautiful blemmye Hagia—a woman with her face in her torso instead of a head; and the third is the memoir of the elephant-eared panoti once named Imtithal. The stories interweave, revealing that nothing about the truth of Prester John’s fabled kingdom was quite as fabulous as anyone in Europe had imagined.
Compelling, layered, dark, and intense, Valente’s fable captures some of the richness of myth and retains the power of allegory.