Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Voice of Crow

by Jeri Smith-Ready
My wife and I couldn't wait to read Voice of Crow. The book takes up where Eyes of Crow left off, evolving from a coming-of-age story into a more expansive tale that follows many characters and many twists. The fragile happy ending that Rhia, Marek and others earn in the first book comes under threat as they face inevitable internal and external conflicts following their battle with the Descendants.

Smith-Ready introduces new levels of complexities, including prisoners of war on both sides and a journey into the very heart of enemy territory. As the Asermons and Kalindons learn first-hand about the strange land to the south, there's a growing sense that the Ilion attack may have only been the beginning.

Voice of Crow introduces some wonderful new characters and relationships while continuing to follow those we grew to love in the first book. Smith-Ready does a marvelous job of keeping the characters real, while adding depth and scope to the story. Part of that depth comes from including some characters who don't fit perfectly into their given societies, and we were impressed with the book's skillful and sympathetic exploration of issues like homosexuality, disability and post-traumatic stress disorder. We can't say more, for fear of giving away surprises. Great stuff!

Monday, October 29, 2007


by Richard K. Morgan
A few years ago, I attended a talk by Richard Wrangham about the origins of human violence. He proposed the idea that we humans had been domesticating ourselves, over tens of thousands of years, much the way a group of wolves domesticated themselves into dogs. Richard K. Morgan seems to have latched onto this idea, and it led to his latest novel, Thirteen, taking place in a world dealing with the fallout of rampant genetic modification. Turns out that mucking about with human DNA maybe wasn't such a great idea, and most of the products of those experiments have either been killed off or relegated to the margins of society. Carl Marsalis, whose genetic modifications were sponsored by the military, is a "thirteen," created to be a throwback, undoing thousands of years of human domestication. This doesn't make him an evil person, but he has no compulsion to fit into society, and no hesitation about using violence to solve problems. This doesn't endear him to many human beings, most of whom either want to see him dead or to use him for their own purposes. Towards the beginning of the book, he's sprung out of a Florida jail to help hunt down a serial killer -- another thirteen. I don't read a lot of books that are this action-packed and suspenseful. A great ride, with a thoughtful premise.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan
For many of us who grew up in the USA, it's not easy to imagine the immigrant experience. When we travel the world, we often see signs in English, posters for American movies, American restaurants or at least American foods. Shaun Tan, whose parents immigrated from Malaysia to Australia, has created a beautiful analogy in his new graphic novel, The Arrival. Using no words, but 120 pages of breathtaking pencil drawings, Tan creates a world completely foreign to the reader, and brings his hopeful immigrant into it. The writing is unfamiliar, but that's just the beginning. The city, the birds and animals, the food, the local customs, everything the immigrant encounters is strange, daunting, but also wondrous. We watch as he slowly makes his way, registering with the state, finding shelter, finding work, making friends, saving money to send home to his own family, in hopes that they will soon join him. It's an old and universal story, but Tan has brought it home beautifully.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz
What first grabbed me about Diaz' novel was the voice. This is the voice of a friend of yours, telling you about a friend of his. It's immediate, slangy, spanglish, and full of sci-fi references. Besides the voice, you learn little about the narrator until later in the story; all you know is that he can spin a great story, and that he loved Oscar Wao. Oscar is a 400-pound sci-fi fan from the Dominician Republic, living in New Jersey with his mom and sister. Though Dominican men have a reputation as being especially good with "the ladies," Oscar is a hopeless case, as his friends and family often remind him, unless he changes his ways. Years go by, and he still hasn't had his first kiss. As the novel delves into the family history, you start to understand that maybe there's something more sinister at work. Could Oscar just be the latest victim of the family curse? How could Dominicans, who live on the first place Christopher Columbus set foot on in the Americas, NOT believe in curses? How could Oscar's family, who barely survived one of the bloodiest dictatorships in history, start a new life, scot-free? The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, with its mix of hipster style and melancholic magic realism, knocked me out.