Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: This book is volume 4 in a projected 5-volume military fantasy series set in a world similar to Europe in the Napoleonic era. In previous books, the more "fantastic" elements of the story (mostly people who have gained powers by speaking the names of various demons) have balanced themselves with the reality of life on the march in a large army. This volume ratchets up the magical action, however, as tactical genius Janus bet Vhalnich sends his army to defeat the "Priests of the Black" he believes have been threatening the world from the shadows. But their country is not so easily taken, and even within Janus's army, not everyone is sure he's trustworthy - not even his own Queen.

What I Thought: In previous volumes of this series, I'd figured out fairly quickly that Wexler was retelling French history in a fantasy world: previous plot points include a brilliant general, a domestic Reign of Terror, and an immensely successful campaign against a desert country. The previous volume had also ended with Janus assuming more power than any general had in his nation's history. I thought, therefore, that I knew where this story was going.

But if a story draws its cues from actual history, it's easy to surprise the audience by diverging from that history. That's exactly what happens here. And it's excellent.

With The Guns of Empire, Wexler takes his story completely on its own path, making clever use of the magical elements that separate his world from ours. He's already toyed with history in various ways - his Queen character is unlike anyone in the French aristocracy, and not just because she happens to be immortal - but here he both nods to historical fact (do not invade Russia in the winter, for example) and points out all the ways magic subverts it (if they have demons on their side, it does not matter what time of year you invade Russia). Wexler using my expectations against me made reading this book a delight.

He also ties up most of the subplots he's included in previous books so that the final volume can focus on the main conflict. While this does make this book serve as setup for the finale, it's also very satisfying. Like George R.R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire, Wexler switches between multiple characters' points of view when telling his story. Each of those characters has their own story and motivations and desires, and in The Guns of Empire, many of those stories are concluded (though not necessarily with death). Having followed these characters through several long volumes, I was happy to see their stories resolved. Wexler is very good at creating flawed people it's still easy to root for, with an emphasis on talented yet complicated female characters.

His best character, however, is absolutely Winter Ihernglass, the young woman who'd disguised herself as a man to join the army and now serves as one of Janus's generals. She's also the closest thing this series has to an actual main character, and so it's fitting that of all the stories in this series, hers is the one most closely tied to the conflict he's set up for Book 5. She also, I was happy to note, gets to start a new romance in this book - normally I don't really care for too much romance, but Winter prefers women. A lesbian whose previous relationship ends badly, and then is allowed the chance to be happy with someone new, is a rare duck indeed in fiction (unfortunately). I am rooting for Winter to save the world, get the girl, and maybe finally let her old flame go. They care for each other, but they just aren't compatible anymore.

If Wexler manages to bend history to his will some more in the meantime, however, I will not say no.

Readalikes: Cold Iron by Stina Leicht, for more "flintlock fantasy"

Or look this book up on NoveList!


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: José Beltrán

What I Read: Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Leah was one of the first hearing children who attended the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, New York. She felt she had missed the boat to belonging to the deaf. “I’m so hearing,” she lamented. She so wanted to share in their intimacy. Her parents were engrossed in the school: her Jewish father, Oscar, was principal then director and her Protestant mother was a nursery school teacher. Oscar was a CODA (hearing child of deaf adults).

Leah’s family was also a cultural microcosm of religions, races, hearing, and deaf. Her parents were hearing. Her grandparents Sam and Fanny Cohen were deaf. Had Sam’s deafness been detected at Ellis Island, he would not have been allowed to enter the USA. In 1916 they were called Deaf-Mutes, more familiarly Deaf Dumb. The insensitivity of the past is erased as cultures and societies evolve. The personal tragedy of the Cohen family was that the hospital did not provide an interpreter to Sam or his wife Fanny, or allow their bicultural son to communicate with the doctors after Sam’s heart attack.

What I Thought: “Train go sorry” is a Deaf idiom for “missing the boat, missed connections, lost opportunities”. This book is an impassioned plea for the civil rights of Deaf culture. The Deaf should be the ones to decide what is best for them instead of being expected to conform to hearing culture or communicating like hearing people. About 1 in 20 Americans are Deaf or hard of hearing (deaf). There are over 4 million Deaf people in the United States. Sign language is used by about 70 million people worldwide and is the fourth most used language. ASL is accepted by many schools for fulfillment of foreign language requirements.

Still many Deaf people feel isolated! Deaf Melissa testified that she had first attended a hearing school then transferred to a deaf school. At the hearing school she was isolated, shy, and passive, unable to participate. In the deaf school, her participation soared as cheerleader, peer counselor, choreographer, and as the lead in the Deaf school play.

The Deaf like all people yearn for connection. But they find themselves confined to the small world of those who know ASL. You can make the world of the Deaf larger by learning ASL. The Yuma County Library District have books and DVDs for learning ASL. Look at the eyes! Use peripheral vision for the hands. Join a Deaf Club!

Readalikes: Deaf Again, Children of a Lesser God, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community, When the Mind Hears

Or look this book up on NoveList!


Thursday, September 8, 2016

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Elia Juarez

What I Read: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: This book really tells two separate but intertwined stories. The first is a murder mystery, while the second tells the story of the earliest days of the Mormon church in the United States.

The murder mystery goes like this: a young man who was raised in a Fundamentalist Mormon family that practices polygamy is kicked out of his home as a child. Many years later, as an adult, he learns that his mother (who is wife #19 of MANY) has been arrested for the murder of his father, and he must decide whether he wants to return home to help her.

At the same time, we slowly learn the story of Anne Eliza Young, one of famed prophet Ann Eliza Young, who was also a 19th wife. Through her eyes, we learn about the beginnings of the church in America, and get some background on why the polygamist practices of the fundamentalists, were outlawed by the mainstream church.

What I Thought: I found the book to be interesting and engrossing, but I found myself getting much more sucked in by the Anne Eliza Young side of the story, and not as much by the modern-day mystery of the murder. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I tend to read a lot of historical fiction, or maybe it’s because I knew so little about the history of the Mormon church before I started this book, but I found myself wanting to rush through the chapters set in the present to return to the 1800s and Anne Eliza’s story.

The wrap-up of the murder mystery also seemed a bit rushed to me.

Still, I definitely enjoyed the book and would most certainly recommend it.

Readalikes: The Sister Wife by Dianne Noble, Wife No. 19 by Anne Eliza Young

Or look this book up on NoveList!


Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Grand Tour by Rich Kienzle

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: The Grand Tour: the Life and Music of George Jones by Rich Kienzle

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: When George Jones died in 2013 at the age of 81, he was widely acclaimed as the greatest country music singer ever.  More importantly, in his later years he had finally conquered most of his personal demons and addictions with the loving support of his wife Nancy Sepulvado.  George Jones’ recovery did not come easily, however.  His life story is full of the pathos and melodrama of his greatest songs, and Rich Kienzle recounts these personal struggles in the context of Jones’ legendary musical career.  Alcoholism destroyed the first two marriages, while the infamous third marriage to singer Tammy Wynette had the added burdens of Jones’ cocaine habit and Wynette’s personal and physical problems.  Due to poor financial management—including several attempts at establishing country music theme parks—Jones faced financial ruin on numerous occasions.  At the darkest point in the late 1970s, Jones was living in his car and was unable to get concert bookings due to his “No Show Jones” reputation.  Astonishingly, he recorded his masterpiece, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” during this period of his life.

What I Thought: I have read numerous articles and liner notes by Rich Kienzle, so I approached this book with an appreciation for the author’s expertise and critical acumen.  The temptation in writing a George Jones biography is to dwell on the well-known sordid and sensational episodes, such as the time he rode his lawn mower to the liquor store after his second wife took away his car keys.  Kienzle shares this story and other painful, unflattering ones, but he balances these with his masterful descriptions of George Jones’ music.  By tracing Jones’ long recording career with numerous record companies and producers, Kienzle does an admirable job of explaining why so many of Jones’ peers rank him as the greatest county singer.  Detailed explanations are given of specific songs, songwriters, session musicians, and duet partners.  These sections of the book were particularly enlightening to me—and they even prompted me to go back and give a fresh listen to the great music of George Jones.

Readalikes: He Stopped Loving Her Today : George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-much Totally True story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time by Jack Isenhour; Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen by Jimmy McDonough

Or look this book up on NoveList!