Wizardry & Wild Romance – Michael Moorcock ~ read
Read (No review) – I am too close to the author and his work to give a fair critical assessment of this book. Although I will say it’s completely excellent and offers great insight into his process.
Publisher’s Blurb: River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around—and a glad picture for our turbulent times.
I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review. Thank you Alexander Watson!
Alexander Watson’s writing is elegant and the story of River Queens is so compelling I’m having a hard time finding my objectivity. I want to write a fair review without seeming to shill for him. But damn this book was good. It’s one of the better ones I’ve read over the summer.
The book releases mid-October, they haven’t even gotten this one out yet and I’m already asking what he’s working on next. That’s how much I want him to succeed and keep writing great books so I can keep reading them.
When I was in 6th grade, my family lived in Hannibal, MO. The three things which stand out in my mind all these decades later are the mannequin of Becky Thatcher with ankle long blonde braids, the address at which we lived, and the Mississip’.
We were a nomadic family and so were only in Hannibal for one school year. But the impression that big brown river made on me stays, and makes me homesick for a place I’ve overly romanticized in my childhood memories.
Which is to say, I can relate in some small way to the call of the river. And that is what Alexander and Dale, their spotted dog Doris Faye, and a left for dead 1955 forty-five foot Chris-Craft Corsair answer.
It starts in Texas where Alexander finds the wooden yacht, and ends with a refurbished beauty which they sail to Betty Jane’s home berth in Cleveland.
I was smitten pretty early on. A gay couple is gonna fix up their boat and sail it into unknown territory. In the South. They are going to sail right into the belly of unallayed bigotry, and count on the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.
I knew it was going to be good when Watson relates the story of finding The King & I (later renamed Betty Jane). The man who handles the transaction for the boat tells them, “They think wood boats just sink or break apart … for no reason. That’s bull. They fail ’cause somebody quit lovin’ ’em.”
This is a hard life they’re putting themselves into, and it becomes apparent they have enough love for all concerned. Alexander and Dale go into this knowing it’s going to be one of the hardest things they’ve ever done, and they do it anyway. And they keep doing it, even when it gets harder than anyone could have expected.
Watson does not sugar coat anything. Nor does he dwell on the difficulties. He writes about it all. And there are some heartbreaking moments in this book.
Awkward’s in there too. One that had I been within earshot, I’m not sure I could have looked either of them in the eye afterwards. Watson doesn’t flinch in the telling. Their loud argument has a good reason to be in the story, it’s not there as some sort of nod to, “See? We’re just like straight couples, we argue too.” Nothing in this book is done to make anyone feel Alexander and Dale are other than what they are.
And they are two men who love each other fiercely and work together to rebuild this boat and fulfill their dream. The people they meet along the way, for the most part, are polite and helpful. River folk in the South are friendly and say, “See ya down the river.”
Even when they question what two ho-mo-sex-u-als are doing in their river. And there are several encounters that make me wince for the state of grace which cannot allow people to just be people.
Gods and goddesses what adventures these two have. It makes me want to pay for adult beverages while they regale me with tales and tell me how they got through heartbreaking death, horrifying weather, and the sweltering humidity of life on a boat on a river.
There’s not a whole lot wrong with the way this book is written. It’s elegant in a way that so few books these days are. It’s evident Watson worked hard, and lovingly, on River Queens, but it doesn’t read like hard work at all. It reads smoothly, like a lazy day on the river when all is right with the world.
I am grateful Alexander Watson reached out to me and asked I read his book. And I look forward to reading more of his writing as it becomes available. The country could use a few more gentlemanly intrepid travelers.
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures: Wrinkle – Wind – Swiftly – Waters
Publisher’s Blurb: Madeleine L’Engle’s classic middle-grade series, A Wrinkle In Time, follows the lives of Meg Murry, her youngest brother Charles Wallace Murry, their friend Calvin O’Keefe, and her twin brothers Sandy and Dennys Murry. Beginning with A Wrinkle In Time, each novel features the characters encountering other-worldly beings and evil forces they have to defeat in order to save the world. The characters travel through time and space and even into Charles Wallace’s body in this beloved series that blends science fiction and fantasy.
A Wrinkle in Time
For a teenage girl, a misfit herself living in the midst of a tumultuous dysfunctional family, A Wrinkle in Time was a gift. What I saw at the time was the love of the family for each other, that I was enough like Meg to make me feel a little less alone. Over the years, I remembered Meg, and her glasses, and the Mrs. W’s who swooped in and took her on a quest to find her father.
Now, in 2018, on my second reading I notice how I’ve changed. The book I remember hasn’t aged well but the portrayal of love, family, and a place for all misfits still resonates.
That longing to fit in never goes away. But I’m a long way from the girl who sat on the floor in her closet and read, longing to fit in anywhere. I no longer strive to fit in. I love and accept who I am and often revel in the weird quirks I have which make others look at me quizzically. It is not I who doesn’t fit in, it’s them.
Many Waters is a time travel fantasy story about the time just before the rains fall on Noah’s ark. The title is a reference to the biblical verse Song of Solomon 8:7, “Many waters cannot quench love.” It’s both a reference to God’s love for his people, and the love of the Murry twins and one of the characters have for each other.
Sandy and Dennys are described in A Wrinkle in Time as “ordinary.” And they are, especially compared to the rest of the Murry family. Extraordinary things happen to the twins in Many Waters, but their reactions are strangely ordinary.
While illicitly playing on their father’s computer, the boys wish to be in a place that’s warmer and less humid than their New England winter. Zip, zap, zere, their wish is granted, and they appear in the desert in what is now Eastern Turkey.
Always logical and practical, despite the adventures of Meg and Charles Wallace, they try to reason their way out of their predicament. Surrounded by short humans (a point L’Engle makes repeatedly) who are characters from the Bible, seraphim and nephilim and, magical unicorns, Sandy and Dennys behave as though none of this extraordinary.
No matter, I was able to provide the sense of wonder for them. Many Waters isn’t a strong story, nor does it add to the quartet, but I found it fascinating. The bible only says God told Noah to build an ark, and that while following this directive, Noah was ridiculed by his neighbors.
What L’Engle does here is flesh the story out and explores one possibility of the events which led to the Flood. I could buy into all of it, except the unicorns. Really?
Magical unicorns who transport people across the desert and through time? In the Bible? One would think that a suspension of disbelief which includes time travel, angels and God talking to humans, unicorns would be just another magical element to accept. I couldn’t. The unicorns felt like a forced explanation of how Sandy and Dennys got from their cozy home to the desert in another time and place. And the emphasis on the boys being virgins … just, no.
There’s a theory in Literature Criticism I’m just learning about called Reader-Response, which basically posits that a reader brings all their experiences with them to the book, and those experiences are how the text gets interpreted.
This definitely applied to my reading of Many Waters, because all my reading of ancient religions played a part in my interpretation of the book. I was able to overlook the many faults of the story and find wonder in this imagining of Noah’s world. It probably would have worked better if L’Engle had just left the twins at home.
The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole ~ read
The Queen of Crows – Myke Cole ~ Read
Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Torch
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture
Publisher’s Blurb: Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.
“This isn’t about what this is,” said Mr. Nancy. “It’s about what people think it is. It’s all imaginary anyway. That’s why it’s important. People only fight over imaginary things.” (p. 427)
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has a simple premise. The old gods are dying as people forget them and create new ones. As simple as that may sound, the story is rich and complex, exploring the relationship of people to their gods, and of the gods to their people.
Shadow Moon gets out of jail early to take care of his wife’s affairs after she and his best friend die in a car accident. We later find out they were having an affair. Shadow accepts this news numbly and spends the rest of the story allowing events to move him along.
On the plane home, he meets the persistent Mr. Wednesday, a somewhat shabby old man who keeps offering Shadow a job. When Shadow finally accepts, he’s told that he’s expected to just do whatever Mr. Wednesday tells him to do.
Mr. Wednesday, later revealed as Odin, is recruiting the old gods to a final battle with the new gods (Media, Technology, Drugs, etc.). One of those meetings is with Mad Sweeney, an Irish leprechaun. Mad Sweeney teaches Shadow how to retrieve gold coins from thin air. It is one of these coins which Shadow places in his wife’s coffin as she is buried. The coin brings Laura to life, and she follows Shadow on his adventures, offering a Greek chorus commentary along the way.
The final battle occurs when Shadow Moon offers himself as sacrifice after Wednesday is killed. Shadow is hung from the Tree of Life (Yggdrasil) for nine days and nights. During the tasks Shadow performs on his vigil, he learns that Mr. Wednesday and his former cell mate Low-Key Lyesmith (Odin’s son, Loki) have been playing a long two-man con meant to generate an all out battle between gods so the old gods would die in Odin’s name, making him powerful once again.
Shadow returns to the battlefield, explaining this to the gods, who all disappear.
And yes, of course, I have oversimplified the story. American Gods is nearly 600 pages long. In preparing for this review, I visited many websites which go into the story, the characters, the symbolism, etc. more deeply than I do.
I’ve been interested in ancient religions for quite some time. Finding authors who give the gods a different spin is really entertaining. Richard Kadrey does it to great effect in his Sandman Slim series. Kevin Hearne with his Iron Druid Chronicles. American Gods is top of the heap for me.
Having read it twice, and expecting to read it many more times, the surprises of the familiar never stopped. And as with all good stories, I just followed along. Or, as Shadow Moon says,
I feel like I’m in a world with its own sense of logic. Its own rules. Like when you’re in a dream, and you know there are rules you mustn’t break. Even if you don’t know what they mean. I’m just going along with it …” (p. 90)
It’s not necessary to be familiar with all the gods to enjoy this story. There were many I didn’t know, like the Slavic god Czernobog and his relatives the Zorya Sisters, the story never faltered. Mr. Wednesday was up to something and he was involving everyone he ever once knew.
The concept of people creating their gods and bringing them from their home land to a new land is intriguing. It seems obvious to me now. Even the Christians did it. But we often overlook the diversity of the United States, missing the stories of so many who have come in the hope of a better life.
Of course we brought our gods with us. The gods are the familiar, the tether which we hold on to as we try to make sense of the unfamiliar surrounding us. This idea shouldn’t be new, nor should it be shocking.
If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all …
Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. (p. 508)
Neil Gaiman uses this idea in American Gods, to illustrate how each of us has a story, and it’s often different from our neighbor’s story. New gods shove their way in, pushing the old gods aside. This is one of the most fascinating themes in the book. How does your god differ from mine? Is mine a new god, or an old one? And have I morphed mine into something different in order to survive the times in which I live?
This is the beauty of Gaiman’s work. He touches on these ideas in all his books. And American Gods focuses on it with charm and wit.
Publisher’s Blurb:The story starts from modern-day Brooklyn. sixteen-year- old John Palmieri is living an average life until one day he is hit by a bus and wakes up as Raj Scindia, a prince in India, in 1958.
Suddenly, he finds himself with riches and power beyond his wildest fantasies. Brooklyn is readily forgotten. He makes out with his hot teacher; he tells about the future; his new life becomes a constant stream of debauchery till he meets “the one”.
I received a copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review. Thank you Ricardo!
Listening to his iPod, riding fast because he’s late, John gets distracted by the girl he likes and gets in an accident with the school bus. When he comes to, he’s no longer in contemporary Brooklyn, he’s in 1958 India and is the Maharaja Kumar (son of) the Maharaja (governor).
This is the beginning of Alexanders imaginative tale of a world in which the Beatles don’t exist and John creates the Indian version to gain fame, and the attention of the girl he loves.
It’s not a deep story. Teenage boy discovers he is wealthy beyond his wildest dreams and takes advantage, becoming a bit of an arrogant pig at first. This is not unexpected, after all, if you woke up in a strange time and place to discover that you could have whatever you wanted due to the social class you were born into, wouldn’t you act the same way?
John discovers that not only is he wealthy and comes from a powerful family, he’s not really expected to study in school. In fact, his doppelganger has quite the reputation, including an affair with one of his teachers.
Then he meets Ankita, and everything changes. He forms the Beetos with his friends to gain her attention and then prove himself worthy of her to her father. Using his memories of the songs he listened to on his iPod, they write songs and gain a following. They become very famous, and wealthy, but it doesn’t bring John the peaceful life with Ankita he expected.
To Beatles fans, there are many familiar moments in Bollywood Invasion. The most chilling is Alexanders’ retelling of John Lennon’s assassination. Mark Chapman isn’t the only one looking to ease his pain.
As John comes back to his own time and place, he thinks he’s just had a bad dream and hurries off to school where a new girl joins their class, and her name is distinctly familiar.
Ricardo Alexanders’ writing style is earnest. This story means a lot to him, as do the Beatles. It’s an interesting idea of setting them and their origin story in India. There are many, many details about the trajectory of the Bee-tos which come straight from Beatle history. Some of them can be quite unsavory, but none of us should flinch from them. Especially because, at its heart, Bollywood Invasion is a love story, in which Ricardo Alexanders explores what it means to want to become a better person for the one you love. It’s a detail worth exploring.
The Forever Watch – David Ramirez ~ Read