The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
A fantasy novel set in an alternate version of the American West, this sequel to Silver on the Road lives up to the promise of the first book. Teen Isobel and her mentor Gabriel, along with two horses and a mule, are traveling through the Territory, as Isobel learns the land, the people, and her new role as Left Hand for the Master of the Territory. Alone temporarily, Isobel comes upon a field of slaughtered bison, and promises to remember them. Small animals and birds are strangely absent, and it’s as if the land is poisoned. Gabriel can sense water, but neither can sense the main road for a while, and then the earthquakes begin. Something is very wrong, and it’s Isobel’s charge to investigate. They find a Marshall who’s arrested two scouts from east of the Mississippi, probably sent by President Jefferson. They are accused of encouraging a group of magicians to work together to trap a spirit. Isobel and Gabriel, with the remaining magicians, join the Marshall in a journey to a small, warded town for a trial. Although Isobel seems more mature than most 16-year-olds, it’s fascinating seeing the Territory through her eyes. The writing is compelling, the characters fully realized, and I kept turning the pages to find out what happens next, while dreading what they might encounter. Clearly, Isobel and Gabriel are living in an unsettled and unpredictable time, and there are likely several more adventures ahead for them. Here’s my review of Silver on the Road, which I suggest reading first.
At 10 a.m. on February 21, the Tuesday Morning Book Group is discussing Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, a humorous memoir of a copy editor at the New Yorker magazine. Dictionaries, grammar, editing, pencils, and life at the New Yorker are all discussed. My earlier review of the book is here.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group is meeting at 7 p.m. on February 28 to discuss The Miniaturist, a historical novel by Jessie Burton. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, a suspenseful story of love, secrets, and an unexpectedly dangerous city. Here’s my earlier review.
The Crime Readers are talking about The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty. They are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien at 7 pm on Thursday, February 16, with optional dinner at 6 pm. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of the books will be available at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk. Happy Reading!
How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman
I enjoy reading about daily life in other times and places, learning about how ordinary people lived, worked, and ate, but without the wars, politics, and royalty that fill many history textbooks. Ruth Goodman is a historian and a re-enactor, and spent months living like a Tudor for the British television series Tudor Monastery Farm, and worked as an advisor for the Wolf Hall miniseries. She also did a lot of research, looking at wills and household inventories of the Tudor era, as well as researching homes, furniture, food, and clothing. I enjoyed the descriptions of making cheese, bread, and ale, and what it was like to sleep on a rush strewn floor or a rope-strung bed with a mattress and bed curtains. Hour by hour, she goes through the activities of life, from sleeping, waking, bathing (or not), dressing, work including apprenticeships, school, religion, and social life, as well as food and drink. Ploughing and tending the fields she learned by doing, as well as different dance styles, making and caring for elaborate ruffs, and more. Fans of the Tudors, Wolf Hall, or history buffs are sure to enjoy, and readers will learn whether it’s more important to change your linen undergarments or to take a bath. A few recipes are included.
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.