Summer Reading: Pairs Event

In which I pair three books read this summer with three books read before this summer that have similar themes but are in some way opposite. It’s a scientific process, people.

IMG_4256Summer Reading: The Gracekeepers,* by Kirsty Logan, takes place in a watery future world (I haven’t seen Waterworld, so I can’t tell you how it compares. Sorry about that). All land is inhabited by landlockers, who jealously guard their island holdings; some of them have returned to earth worship. Everyone else lives at sea. These damplings include scavengers, revivalists who live on converted cruise ships (no pun intended there), messengers, and the crew of the Excalibur, a tiny floating circus. North is the circus’s bear girl, who, like her parents before her, dances with a bear to entertain landlockers in the hope of earning dinner. One night a storm sends the circus crew into the path of Callanish, a gracekeeper—a person in charge of arranging damplings’ burials at sea. North and Callanish exchange secrets and part ways, but they can’t stop wondering about each other, and about the possibility that there’s a way to be of both the land and the sea.

The main characters aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked, but The Gracekeepers is worth picking up for the atmosphere, the world-building, and the supporting characters.

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Pair it with: Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water,* another novel set in the future after some kind of environmental disaster—though this time, one that causes a scarcity of water. Memory of Water also features a pair of young women trying to make the best of a dangerous existence while hiding secrets.

IMG_3428Summer Reading: Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country is a hilarious tour through Australia. He talks to almost invariably friendly Australians, gets quite drunk and draws naughty cartoons on a napkin, lists the continent’s unrelentingly deadly wildlife, and doesn’t see too many kangaroos, among other exploits. I can’t say the book makes me want to visit Australia—though Mr. Bryson enthusiastically hopes that you will—but it definitely made me want to visit with Bill Bryson. The book’s one drawback: Mr. Bryson’s failure to write significantly or at any length about Australia’s Aboriginal population; as far as I could tell, he did not speak with a single Aboriginal person.

Still, if you’re one of the people who’s just discovering Mr. Bryson thanks to the press surrounding the upcoming movie version of A Walk in the Woods (which I highly recommend), I recommend reading this one.

photo 3Pair it with: A very different take on Australia, by an Australian. Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda* is a book with teeth, and a lot more anger than laughs. As I wrote in my review, “Danny is an teenage Australian swimmer who dreams of making it to the Olympics; thankfully, there’s no swelling inspirational music in this tightly-plotted, intricately structured novel.”

FullSizeRenderSummer Reading: Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon is a circular perambulation through the odd origins of English words. You could pick up the book, flip to any page, and have yourself a laugh reading any entry, but each entry connects in some way to its predecessor and successor, so I think it’d be more entertaining to read it start to (sort of) finish. Mr. Forsyth is the man behind the popular blog The Inky Fool, and The Etymologicon draws heavily from the blog’s content. Though it’s erudite and full of arcane trivia (Starbucks gets its name from the Pequod‘s first mate, whose name was drawn from a prominent whaling family, but the name itself came from a Viking word for an English stream. Really.), but also surprisingly snarky and scatological. Highly entertaining. But what else would you expect from an author whose biography begins, “Mark Forysth is a writer, journalist, proofreader, ghostwriter, and pedant”?

photo (34)Pair it with:  Erin Moore’s That’s Not English,* which I called “a beach read for nerds” in my review. Like The Etymologicon, it’s a funny read about words, but it’s less about etymology than it is about culture.

What bookish pairings have you found this summer, Dear Readers?

*I received a copy of these books from the publishers for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my reviews.

Writer to Watch: Anne Leonard

Recently, I had the unusual experience of reading a book that didn’t really work for me as a whole, but that also ensured I’ll read the author’s next book.

photo (86)The author is Anne Leonard, and the book is Moth and Spark*.  Here’s the summary from Ms. Leonard’s website:

For three years, Prince Corin of Caithen has been waiting nervously for the Sarian army in the east to invade his kingdom. Now it is finally happening. But there are gaps in his memory and blank spots in his mind, his father is keeping secrets, and the Emperor’s dragons appear to be spying. The Empire which should protect Caithen may even be allied with the Sarians. If all that weren’t enough, the pressure is on for him to get married.

While Corin faces a world gone awry, Tam, the commoner daughter of a respected doctor, arrives at court as the guest of her sister-in-law. It is the season for making matches, but Tam has not come husband-hunting; she is insatiably curious about the court instead. Trying to control her impertinent attitude seems like enough of a challenge – until she begins having visions.

Chance leads Tam and Corin into meeting, and Tam is swiftly pulled into Corin’s life of war and politics. While they are falling into forbidden love, they learn there is another player in the war: the dragons themselves. Seeking to break free of their slavery, the dragons intend to use Corin and Tam as their tools. And the dragons demand whatever it takes, without regard for love or life or loyalty.

When I picked up the book, I had just finished Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State (review coming next week), and I needed a bit of a breather. I was expecting a literary-but-light read with plenty of escapism (see: dragons).  Moth and Spark confounded those expectations, since it is, at heart, a novel about court intrigue, through the lens of an accelerated Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy relationship. Yes, there were a few dragons, but not as many as you’d think, given the description of the book. The long middle section, which takes place at court, is quite tense.

Essentially, there’s so much going that the action sometimes felt truncated, and opportunities to elaborate on the culture, customs, and history of the world Ms. Leonard created simply passed by. Much as I love a standalone book, particularly in SF/F, I think Moth and Spark could have been and perhaps should have been three books: one that followed Tam and Corin in parallel, ending with their meeting; one about the intrigues at court and in the capital city; and one in the world at war.

It’s this sense of missed richness that makes me think Anne Leonard is a writer to watch. The Tam/Corin relationship is drawn from Jane Austen, as Ms. Leonard takes care to point out (though, for my taste, Tam is so perfect that she’s often annoying; “impertinence” is not something a character needs to overcome). The court politics and factions had some Dune-like overtones. The setting was a nice mix of the medieval and Victorian periods, with a few Gothic touches. The fantasy elements of the novel owe debts to Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, Greek mythology, and Tolkien (just a bit). It’s an unusual writer who can draw so many disparate threads together, and that’s why I’m looking forward to Anne Leonard’s next book.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.