Tuesday, January 19, 2021

WILD SEED


 Wild Seed, Octavia Butler, Doubleday Books, 1980, 253 pp

This is the last book I read in 2020, for The Tinies reading group. We have not yet met to discuss it because one of us is ill (not COVID thank goodness) so I can't report on what they thought. I found it a tricky book to review because it contains multitudes but here goes.

Wild Seed is one in a series called Seed To Harvest. This book in that series is a somewhat alternate history beginning in Africa in 1690. Slavers are industriously capturing natives and shipping them off to America. Anyanwu is a healer, a shapeshifter, and is 300 years old. She does her best to protect her village from the slavers.

Doro comes upon that village. He had been inspecting what he calls his seed villages. What is a seed village? It is the crux of the whole story. Doro is over 1000 years old. When a body he inhabits becomes old or less useful, he jumps into another one after killing the previous owner. Just to give you some idea of the character. 

Doro has been engaged in a centuries long project to breed people of his race, developing individuals with superior powers and traits. He has brought many of these people to the New World, not as slaves but as almost mystical beings who can fight the powers of oppression.

Upon meeting Anyanwu, he recognizes her special powers and wants to use her to breed more people with such powers and add them to his groups. He also is aware that she is what he calls a wild seed and will need careful handling. So begins a power struggle between the two. Doro may be ruthless but Anyanwu is in some ways the stronger of the two because she has certain characteristics that he is lacking.

To America they go. Two hundred years go by bringing the story to 1840, before the Civil War but during the beginnings of Abolition. Doro and Anyanwu remain locked in their struggle. He demands complete obedience, she refuses to submit fully. She bears many children and suffers many tragic losses but fills a role that Doro cannot: healer, mother and a bit of a check on Doro's power.

The extremes of fantasy and the levels of violence in this tale of visionaries and psychics ride on a knife-edge of madness. It could be too much for some readers. I was fascinated and could not look away. Anyanwu is a heroine of mythic proportions and I had to know if she would survive under Doro or if she would escape.

A word about this series: I read Wild Seed in a 4 book collection, Seed To Harvest. The books in the collection are not arranged in order of publication. I searched for the reason. This collection was published just a year after Butler's death. Some sources say that she wanted the series released in the chronological order of the story, even though she wrote that chronology out of order. Originally the series was called the Patternist Series after the first published book, called Patternmaster. That novel is the last in Seed To Harvest.

From what I could find, readers are divided on the issue of whether to read the 4 books in publication order or chronological. Since I have seen this kind of thing happen with other science fiction series, I decided to go with the chronological option as presented in the collection. I will keep you posted as I read the other three books.

It looks like the four novels get into even wilder scenarios including a far future cosmic invasion! Can't wait!!

Friday, January 15, 2021

JANUARY READING GROUP UPDATE


 I am a bit late posting this but since none of my groups have met yet this month, here goes. Only three meetings. One is on Martin Luther King Day, another is on Inauguration Day and the last is after all the excitement and distraught horrible stuff is hopefully in the past. What a January we are having.

One Book At A Time:

I read this last year but it is a great book to discuss on Martin Luther King Day.

Carol's Group:

I am reading this now and I can tell you that is is astounding. 

Bookie Babes:

I have not read any of the books in this series and it is #9, but I look forward to a wintry read featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope because I have heard good things about the series.



We are all still meeting on Zoom. Are any of your reading groups meeting this month? If so, what will you be discussing? Have you read any of these books?

Here is hoping February will see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

WATER, WASTED

 


Water, Wasted, Alex Branson, Rare Bird Books, 2020, 283 pp

The final Nervous Breakdown Book Club selection of 2020 is possibly the weirdest novel I have ever read, but there was a lot I liked about it. As in Lord The One You Love Is Sick, it is set in a small town, this time in Missouri, right on the Missouri River.

The author grew up in Missouri, he likes to work for nonprofits that actually help people, and he runs an unusual podcast where every episode is the first episode without any sequels, or something like that. 

Central to the story are a middle-aged divorced couple, Barrett and Amelia, who lost their only child, a daughter named Edi. That loss destroyed their marriage leaving them each to become rather isolated eccentrics. The violent death of a teenage boy touches both of them in different ways but prompts them to reconnect and reflect on Edi's passing. 

Several other odd characters of the town turn out to have their own connections to Barrett, including an involved story concerning lots of dogs, a talking goat, a Bigfoot-like entity that ravages the countryside, and a G-man (supposedly a government agent who acts more like an alien.)

The story circles around, back into the past, and through many instances of the Missouri River flooding. During her short life, Edi wrote several fantasy books in which the goat, Bigfoot and the G-man figured. When these entities show up in town, Barrett and Amelia read Edi's books for the first time, trying to make sense of it all. What did she know and was it connected with her death?

I only recommend the novel to those who truly love the weird. It is like China Mieville decided to write a story set in small town America. I can't quite explain why I liked it, but I did. It made me think of some of the people and ideas that seem to have taken over our country in recent years and wonder if they didn't come out of a speculative genre or some parallel universe.

Thanks once again to another Los Angeles based indie publisher, Rare Bird Books, and to The Nervous Breakdown for sending the book out. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

LORD THE ONE YOU LOVE IS SICK


 Lord The One You Love Is Sick, Kasey Thornton, Ig Publishing, 2020, 229 pp

In the November, 2020, selection of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club, from indie publisher Ig, a slice of life plays out in a small North Carolina town. It is an enlightening read in terms of the supposed conflict between Red states and Blue states. I say supposed because it is my belief that Red vs Blue is a political construct that smothers the actual complexity of American lives.

Kasey Thornton grew up in a town similar to the one she writes about. She still lives in that community. She put this debut novel together by collecting the stories she had written about life in her town. The book reads like a novel, at least it did for me.

After the fatal heroine overdose of his best friend, Dale's life becomes almost impossible. He feels guilty for abandoning his friend, he is training to be a cop, and his marriage is on shaky ground. As all of this plays out, other residents of the town come into the story.

The drugs, the poverty, the vanishing economy, and all the secrets held combine into an explosive mix. The adults are facing down cancer, diabetes, mental illness; the kids are living with instability or abuse; the women are trying, and often failing, to stand by their men.

Yet there are strong religious beliefs and codes of behavior that include not facing reality. I have found this conundrum in much of Southern fiction: Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Jesmyn Ward, Carson McCullers and more.

These issues and conflicts are probably present in any community. The title here comes from the Gospel of John in the story of Lazurus. When he falls ill, his sisters Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus: "Lord, the one you love is sick." If you were raised on the Gospels you know the rest.

Even Jesus had a secret plan.

Friday, January 08, 2021

BOOKS READ IN DECEMBER


 Remember December? It ended only 8 days ago. Sorry I have been missing for a few days but we all have our reasons. So, anticlimactic as it is, but for the record, here are the books I read in that far away month.

Stats: 10 books read. 10 fiction. 5 written by women. 1 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 1 speculative.

Places I went: Mexico, United States, Spain, Great Britain, Africa.

Authors new to me: Joseph Di Prisco, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Kevin Barry, Nick Flynn, Amy Shearn, Alex Branson.

Favorites: Night Boat To Tangier, Unseen City, Wild Seed.











I am a bit more caught up on reviews than usual. All but the last four of these have been posted.

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading now that is getting you through?

Saturday, January 02, 2021

TOP 25 FAVORITE BOOKS READ IN 2020


 I had a year of great reading. I had set a lower goal than usual to give myself time to read some LONG books and I did do that. 
I read 122 books with an average length of 366 pages.
I read 44674 pages with an average of 122 pages a day. I think this is my most satisfying statistic since I always hope to read 100 pages a day. It looks like I nailed that one!

This year I decided to determine my top favorites by listing out all the books I noted as 5 star books on Goodreads. I got 46! It would seem either I am getting better at choosing books or books are getting better overall. Win-win, I would say.

I narrowed it down to 25 but added a few more at the bottom. For once I managed to get all of these reviewed on the blog and that is perhaps my best achievement. After all my wingeing last January, I figured out how to keep the blog going plus work on my writing. Of course, I was stuck at home for 9 months of the year so I should not brag.

In alphabetical order by title here are my favorites:

August Is A Wicked Month, Edna O'Brien
Barn 8, Deb Olin Unferth
Bellefleur, Joyce Carol Oates
Cantoras, Carolina De Robertis
The Glass Hotel, Emily St John Mandel
Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell
How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee
In the Country of Women, Susan Straight
The Keepers of the House, Shirley Anne Grau
Lilith's Brood Trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago), Octavia E Butler
A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende
Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry
Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars, Joyce Carol Oates
The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
Piranesi, Susannah Clarke
The Reckless Oath We Made, Bryn Greenwood
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The Sweetest Fruits, Monique Truong
Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi
Unseen City, Amy Shearn
Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Women of Copper Country, Mary Doria Russell
Your House Will Pay, Steph Cha

Extras:
One of my goals for the year was to get caught up on all Neal Stephenson books I had not yet read. I still have one to go but I loved the ones I read 5 stars worth.
Quicksilver, The Confusion, System of the World, Anathem, and Reamde.

I cannot leave out The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Sadly we lost him this year so I add this one in his honor.

I have enjoyed reading all the year end lists from the bloggers I follow. We are mighty readers!

A huge thank you to all who follow me here with extra thanks for all who comment. Due to my reading groups on Zoom and all of you, I never felt too lonely this year. 

Happy New Year! Happy Reading! Happy Blogging Days Ahead!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

UNSEEN CITY


 Unseen City, Amy Shearn, Red Hen Press, 2020, 266 pp

This will be my last review for 2020. I had two more I wanted to post but life got in the way. Next up will be my Top Favorite Reads, my Books Read in December, etc.

The September, 2020 pick of the Nervous Breakdown Book Club was published by an Indie press from my very own city!

I loved Unseen City from the first sentence to the last. Meg Rhys, the main character, is a 40 year old woman who self-identifies as a spinster librarian. She likes men and sex but does not want a husband or to be a wife. All her heroes had resisted wifehood from Jane Austen to Emily Dickinson.

Meg lost her younger sister to a hit and run on the streets of New York but that sister visits her as a ghost in the evenings after work. Besides her cat and books, her passion is contained in the shelves of the Brooklyn Collection, on the second floor of the Brooklyn Central Library where she works; where she has amassed a wealth of understanding about Brooklyn from its 18th century farmlands to it gentrification in the 21st.

However, a man does finally penetrate her spinsterhood. Ellis turns up at the Brooklyn Collection needing a history of the ancient Brooklyn house his family hopes to renovate and sell. This house has a ghost also! Her name is Iris, her story lurks beneath Meg's story and like magic the author ties them together.

Everything I love about novels is encapsulated in Unseen City. The rhythms of the prose, the believability of every character, the layers of history, the accuracy of its present time scenes.

I feel like I will from now on be aware that my house, my property, my town within my city, has all those layers of history beneath it. I think a smart combination of agent, publisher, editor and marketer could have made this novel a bestseller, but that did not happen. So now it is up to readers who tell other readers: READ THIS!!

Thanks to Red Hen Press for putting the book into the world and to TNB for putting it in my hands.