I enjoyed these three fantasy novellas, set in the World of the Five Gods. The first book in the loosely connected series is The Curse of Chalion, but the Penric novellas are a good place to start.
Lord Penric is the younger son of a minor noble, and is on the way to his betrothal to a cheesemaker’s daughter when he stops to help an elderly lady who’s fallen ill. She is a temple divine and when she dies, her demon unexpectedly transfers to Penric. Penric names the demon Desdemona, and her previous hosts, all female, tell him amazing stories. No one expects the demon to be allowed to stay with young, untrained Penric, except the reader. Penric has always wanted to go to university, and is happy to get the education he needs for his new station in life, and gradually learns to cope with the demon.
Penric and the Shaman
Several years later, Penric’s education is complete, and he is sent on a mission to help locate Inglis, a runaway shaman accused of murder. There are magical dogs, an avalanche, and adventures in the mountains and a small town. This is the shortest of the novellas. Penric is learning to use Desdemona’s powers when necessary, but there are consequences, so he must get creative.
In Penric’s Mission, Penric is an agent for the Duke of Adria. He is travelling by sea to Cedonia, home of an earlier host of Desdemona, to meet with a young general. Instead, Penric is imprisoned, and General Arisaydia is arrested and badly injured. Using Desdemona’s skills, Penric escapes, and finds that the general has been released to the care of his widowed sister, Nikys. Penric uses his healing skills, and the trio have a cross country adventure escaping their enemies, and Penric gets to battle another wizard. This story was great fun, and I liked the possibility of a future romance with Nikys. So far, Penric’s Mission is only available as an ebook.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré
For a book in which only the first and last chapters are action scenes, this award-winning spy novel has a big impact. Alec Leamas, 50, has just lost his last operative from East Berlin, and is called home by MI6 to London. He is given the option of retirement or one last revenge mission, to take down Mundt, who had his operatives killed. Deep under cover, Leamas takes to drink, works in a psychic library, has an affair with coworker Liz, punches a grocer, and ends up in jail. Afterward, he pretends to defect and spill his secrets for $15,000. Handed on from contact to contact, he tells all in Holland, then is sent with Fiedler to East Berlin. He is arrested, beaten up, then asked to testify against Mundt, who’d ordered his arrest. But MI6 has slipped up, contacting Liz, who just happens to be a communist, and paying Leamas’ outstanding bills. Twist after plot twist, with lots of suspense and deceit, neither the reader nor Leamas are sure in the end which is the right side. First published in the U.S. in 1964, awarded the Edgar and the Gold Dagger, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was made into a 1965 movie with Richard Burton as Leamas that also won an Edgar. This year, a TV mini-series based on the book will be released. Le Carré, writing under a pseudonym, taught at Eton before spending five years with the British Foreign Service, and has just published a memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. This very bleak look at the Cold War is still a terrific read.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
An elegantly written first novel about ordinary people struggling to find their new normal after the war in 1947 Tokyo. This book is narrated by several people starting over, all connected by two school girls, Aya Shimamura and Fumi Tanaka. Fumi, whose father used to run a small bookshop, misses her older sister Sumiko, and wants Aya’s help in finding her. Sumiko is a dance hall girl, who has been bringing extra food and money home to the family. Aya is Japanese Canadian. She spent the war in a Canadian internment camp, and as her family is no longer welcome in Vancouver, they’ve returned to Japan. Their teacher Kondo moonlights as a letter writer for young Japanese women trying to stay in contact with their American GI boyfriends. Matt Matsumoto, Japanese American, is working with the American Army of Occupation, where he translates letters sent to General MacArthur. Aya and Fumi get lost one night, and Aya’s father asks Kondo to help find them. The author is a Japanese Canadian librarian, and she was inspired by a book of actual letters sent to General MacArthur by the Japanese people. Appealing characters, a truly unique setting, and a poignant, heartwarming plot made me sorry to finish this book.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The reader meets the eclectic crew of the spaceship Wayfarer through the eyes of new records clerk Rosemary Harper, who’s always lived on Mars. Wayfarer tunnels through space to anchor new wormholes, and the crew spend a lot of time together, except for the aging navigator pair and the algae tech, who’s a workaholic. This is an engaging story, like a lighter Firefly or Voyager episode, which I really enjoyed reading. The crew have adventures and help save the day, but it’s really about getting to know the appealing human, alien, and artificial intelligence personalities on the ship. I’m looking forward to reading A Closed and Common Orbit, to be published in March.
The Corner Shop by Elizabeth Cadell
When Lucille Abbey travels to Hampshire to find out why three of her best employees have left the job of private secretary to Professor Hallam, she finds that the cottage is at the top of a steep hill, lacks basic amenities, and that the professor is quite unreasonable. Lucille can handle the job, the cottage, and the professor, but is soon off to Paris for a “vacation”, running her aunt’s small shop while she’s away. It becomes apparent that Lucille’s aunt is dishonest, and acquaintances from London and Hampshire keep turning up in Paris. A charming, pleasant read, with some mystery and a little romance. This book was published in 1967, and is a bit dated. Why am I reading and reviewing it now? I have enjoyed other books by Elizabeth Cadell in the past, but I’m currently looking to read and review books that were popular 50 years ago, as the Woodridge Public Library is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. Information on special events can be found on the library’s website. The library owns 15 novels by Elizabeth Cadell, and she’s always a good choice if you’re looking for a light, gentle read.
Happy New Year!
In January, the Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet at 10am on January 17 to discuss The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman, a biographical novel about Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, and his parents, set on the island of St. Thomas and in Paris. Here’s my review.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group will discuss a memoir, Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found, by Rebecca Alexander. They will meet at 7 pm on January 24. When she was 19, Rebecca learned that she was gradually going deaf and blind. Undaunted, Rebecca became a psychotherapist, a spin instructor, and since finishing her memoir, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here’s my recent review.
The Crime Readers will be discussing The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney at 7 pm on Thursday, January 19, at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. The Crime Readers is co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library. Meet for optional dinner at 6 pm. Their selection is an award-winning historical novel set in the winter of 1867, on the Canadian frontier.
Copies of all three books are available at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.
Updraft by Fran Wilde
Kirit Densira lives in a remarkable world, high above the clouds, in towers made of living, growing bone. She is ready for her wing test, and hopes to be her mother’s apprentice. Ezarit is a trader who soars between towers. Kirit’s curiosity puts her in danger, and causes heavy penalties for her and her wing brother Nat. Kirit’s harsh singing voice may be surprisingly useful, and the Singers of the Spire want her to join them, but it’s hard to know who to trust. Full of adventure and intrigue, soaring heights and monsters in a suspenseful and compelling fantasy. I really enjoyed Kirit’s story, and look forward to reading about Nat in Cloudbound. I think fans of Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy, which begins with Dragonsong, would enjoy Updraft, which won the Andre Norton award.