Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

(Acquired: bookshelf)

My husband introduced me to Lois McMaster Bujold through the Vorkosigan series a few years back. He gave me a stack of books that I was blissfully working my way through, enjoying the political trickery and sheer inventiveness of the characters. Then we moved and the pile vanished. Out of sight, out of mind, sad to say. With a ""to be read"" (tbr) pile like mine, there's rarely the urge to go seek out something that got mislaid :). My youngest started in on the series though, and loved it. Right up until he reached this gap where a book was missing. Some searching found it tucked in a corner of my tbr pile, overlooked because it wasn't in a big stack. I had a bunch of newer books to read and so didn't pick it up until this week, when I couldn't quite figure out what mood I was in.

Now I'm kicking myself. I love the Vorkosigan series. It has what I favor in military, political, and diplomatic fiction combined with a self-aware, sometimes ridiculously so, character leading a cast of interesting people through amazing chaos that could collapse at any moment but somehow manages to stay afloat. This book is one of those that makes me wish I could take a year off just to read, give myself time to enjoy other people's worlds and inventions.

I read a wide variety of genres, though not as wide as some, and I've been lucky to find some fabulous authors. It means sometimes an older book falls through the cracks. You can bet though, I'm getting my stack back on the shelf, because I now have (again) someone to fill that "I don't know what I want to read" slot. Of course I also have to take the leap and try her fantasy as well. Though SF is my first love, if authors I enjoy take the plunge, I usually find myself pleased with the results.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl

(Acquired: ARC my hubby won :).)

Lynn Viehl makes it very hard to choose a favorite in the Darkyn series. Anyone who has been reading the series so far will love this book. Though it doesn't really stand on its own, this is the culmination (though not an endpoint by any means ;)) of the questions raised throughout the series. While the other books had teasers and small advances, this novel gives actual answers...okay, really the start of answers, but Alex moves her investigation of the Darkyn light years beyond where she'd been. That much I can say without spoilers, because she makes some advancement each time, but any hint to the how or exactly what she learns would give too much away.

While Evermore still stands as my favorite romance in the series, the craftwork in Twilight Fall is incredible. When I first discovered I liked Viehl's writing, I went back and bought as much of her backlist as I could find (I still haven't found the Rebecca Kelly novels, but give me time :)). Her first romance was a bit confusing to me because of the large casts and the myriad threads running through them. Even by the second, her ability to control such complexity in so small a space had improved radically. None of them remotely compare to the rich storytelling offered by Twilight Fall.

As usual, there's an Alex and Michael thread, and a separate romantic thread between Valentin and Liling. However, this book adds in at least four others that I can think of (which I'm not going to list so I guess you'll just have to read it on your own ;)), and while they appear separate and distinct, piece by piece, scene by scene, they start to twist and combine until they stand united into a stunning whole.

The ARC came with a request not to spoil a critical reveal right at the end. This isn't a problem for me since I provide reader reaction (with a bit of the writer tossed in on occasion) rather than a summary of the actual text. However, the request stayed in the back of my mind so I was on the lookout for this spoiler. Now that I've read the whole thing, though, while I think I know what Viehl meant, I'm not sure. There are at least three big reveals in this novel. Even more so, the reveals are beautifully seeded to the point that none of them jumped out at me. With the subtle clues she'd laid (and seeing them is my specialty), I expected all but one, and the one I hadn't was a matter of not putting the specific pieces in place though I knew the shape of what was probably coming.

I have enjoyed Viehl's writing for years now. Part of that enjoyment is her characters; part is the unlikely pairing of medical skills and training with fantasy or science fiction; and part is how she likes to push the envelope, to put me in situations that I'm not used to finding interesting or entertaining. The last is a love/hate thing at times, but overall the compelling characters make me accept the circumstances. Twilight Fall has one of these bleeding edge aspects, but that was not my point. My point is simple: there are a number of aspects that keep me coming back to Viehl's writing, but having started (okay with reading the backlist) at the beginning and following throughout, her growth in writing skill is just incredible.

She started the Darkyn series when already a "mature" writer so it doesn't show the weaknesses in some of her earlier works, but Twilight Fall proves she hasn't reached an end-point. Not even close. Those same skills she used in the first romance are still being fine-tuned and perfected. Some writers stagnate once they find the successful pattern. Lynn Viehl is not one of those writers. She might push me, but she's pushing herself as well. And we all benefit from the effort.

So mark your calendars. July 1, 2008. That's the publication date for Twilight Fall, just long enough for those of you who have been lagging to buy the rest of the series and catch up :D.

Note: The reading list has been updated as well.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy

(Acquired: bookstore)

This is the first of C.E. Murphy's other series, and I was forewarned it was quite different from the Walker Papers. However, everything I love about her writing, her worlds, her characters? Still in there and going strong. Seriously, there is no question that C.E. Murphy has joined my list of "I will read anything she puts out." This means that I'm behind the times on many series just because I'm a slow reader and I've found an amazing number of great authors, but she's right up there.

A very long time ago, probably in a Forward Motion chatroom, I read a snippet from Heart of Stone. I hadn't realized that until the moment that Margrit (with the absolutely lovely and telling nickname of Grit :D) learns what Alban really is. It was intriguing then, and just as intriguing now.

Heart of Stone introduces a possible world in which our legends, our haunting nightmares, are members of earlier sapient species that, while they didn't quite die out, lost the race to dominance and now hide in plain sight...sometimes literally. The story builds upon itself in such a way that just when you make one connection, you learn it's much more complicated than you could have imagined, but at the same time the clues that you've learned still work, if not in the way you expected.

I'm limited by my prohibition against spoilers...I don't know what I can say at this point without revealing something out of order just because it all clicks into place now. I've lost the innocence of that first page. I've been tainted with foreknowledge of the significance and how things come together. This book isn't simple. It's got Murphy's straightforward, clear voice--though this time in third person with multiple POVs unlike the Walker Papers--but that very clarity allows her to take you on a twisted, thorn-blocked path where things have more than one meaning and significance. It's a strong book, a strong story, and a strong world. I'd be amazed if anyone reading this book walked away disappointed. Me? I'm waiting for a shipment of books from Barnes and Noble that just so happens to have book 2 in it :).

Oh, and for those writer readers, deliberate or not, there are some lovely discussions or word usages that form inside jokes. Offhand I can remember a mention of "forward motion" that knowing Murphy's background seemed to have a layered meaning, but what really caught me was the discussion of race. Oh, did I forget to mention that? In the midst of this mystery, adventure, paranormal discovery trail, there's also a social message, or more like a social exploration of the concept of race. But mixed in there is a fascinating argument/discussion between Alban and Margrit about the meaning of the word and how it's been warped until it has almost no meaning left. It's not heavy handed in any way as to disrupt the story; it just adds another layer to Margrit's character and the crossovers between Alban's world and ours while offering up some things to think about if you are so inclined.