Book Review: Beware the Wild

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This book pulled me and didn’t let me go, much like mud in the swamp at the heart of the story. Sterling Saucier (pronounced SO-shur) was a great character. I felt her worries, her sense of urgency, her confusion as she tried to hold on to the memory of her brother and deal with a whole new set of memories, of a sister, which shouldn’t have been in her mind. She struggles against feelings for this sister, all while knowing that she shouldn’t have these memories of her.

Sterling’s mission seems clear – get her brother back from the swamp, set things right again. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. All magic comes with a price, and the magic of the Shine is no exception. Sterling has to find a way to get Phin back without losing herself, or anyone else, to the Shine. She has to deal with a town that denies the existence of the Shine, that fears the swamp and fences it away without ever daring to talk about or even think about why. There’s power in memory, power in fear, and power in where things (and people) are from. Sterling has to figure out how to work with all of that in her efforts to save her brother, and the one thing she can’t evade is the cost of the Shine.

Sterling has a cast of other great characters around her. There’s Candy, her best friend and the undeniable leader of the group; there’s Heath, who understands what she’s dealing with; and though he isn’t there, her memories of Phin make feel her attachment to him. Even Lenora May turns out to be more complicated than she seems at first. The only character who really falls flat is Abigail. We’re told she’s black and Lesbian, but we don’t get any real sense of her a person. It feels like she’s there to check some box and that’s it.

All in all this was a great read and I look forward to meeting the author at Midwest Writers Workshop later this year!

My Favorite Tale of Revenge

I have enjoyed various versions of The Count of Monte Cristo since I was in high school.  It began, not with Dumas’s novel, but with an old movie version starring Richard Chamberlain.  It was part of a double-feature one Friday night on TNT or TBS.  My parents remembered it and recorded it (along with another favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel).  My father liked the sword-play and that is most of what I remember about Chamberlain’s version.

In college the University theater did a production of the story, adapted by one of the faculty.  The student performers were joined by one professional actor, brought in to play Edmond.  I went with a friend and we both fell for the actor at once.  Going back stage to meet him was a thrill.

I hadn’t thought of the story for some time, until I came across the 2002 movie version.  The cast list alone made me gape:  Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Luis Guzman, and Herny Cavill (with such a baby face you’ll hardly recognize him).  How was this not a run-away hit?  Somehow it wasn’t, but it is most definitely my favorite adaptation of the tale.

You probably know the story.  Edmond Dantes is betrayed by his best friend, Fernand Mondego.  He goes to prison for 13 years.  His fiancee is told that he’s dead.  His father hangs himself.  His boss winds up swindled out of his business.  Edmond, in the meantime, suffers beatings and near starvation.  He also meets a fellow prisoner who, as they attempt to tunnel to freedom, teaches him to read and write, mathematics, economics, philosophy, and fighting.  With his dying breath the man tells him where a treasure is.  He urges him to use it for good, but Edmond says no, he will use it for his revenge.

In Dumas’s novel, the revenge plot becomes convoluted.  Here it is simplified and straight forward.  It is my favorite part of the tale.  Edmond plays his enemies like violins, using their own greed and lust for power against them.  He sets the traps but they enter them willingly.  They bring about their own destruction.  There is justice in what befalls them.  Everything goes perfectly, save one thing.  Mercedes, the woman Edmond was to marry, is not so easy to deal with.  He wants to hate her.  She married his best friend, the chief architect of all his suffering, and yet he cannot.  His henchman urges him to take his treasure and Mercedes and to leave – to give up his revenge and go find happiness.  Edmond refuses, at least at first.  Here again we deviated from Dumas.  Mercedes doesn’t slink away to live in a convent.  She confronts Edmond, tells her side of the story, and he realizes that it will not enough to destroy the men who hurt him.  He wants the chance at happiness with her.

In Dumas’s tale Edmond has a single-minded quest for revenge.  In this film version, the story becomes about more than just pursuing revenge.  Edmond lost his way in the prison, but in the end he is able to find it again.  He started out on a quest for vengeance but in the end he finds a chance for redemption and he chooses that.  Of course, Fernand being the petty man that he is, he can’t let Edmond go and there must be a final confrontation (with swords, naturally, because Dumas did write the original tale).

It’s a fun tale, with great visual spectacle, an amazing cast, and a highly satisfying conclusion.  If you haven’t seen this version, I highly recommend it.  As I said, it is my favorite.  Besides, look at that cast!

Book Review: The Icarus Hunt

Five out of five stars on Goodreads

As I got closer and closer to the end of this book, I became more and more torn. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but at the same time I didn’t want the book to end. I loved the world Zahn created, loved the characters of Jordan and Ixil (and Pix and Pax) and I didn’t want to leave them. I went to Zahn’s Goodreads page, hoping he had written more with these guys, but he hasn’t, so I knew when I reached the end, that would be it (except for re-reads).
Zahn plunks you down in a wholly-crafted world of space travel, bars on far-off planets with disreputable mixes of humans and aliens, space craft hauling cargo, and a mix of humans and aliens crewing them. It’s a familiar world – lots of sci-fi novels take place in similar ones – but it’s great atmosphere. We learn more about the politics of this world as the story goes on, just as we should (those play a key role in the action). We don’t get bogged down in the science part – Zahn doesn’t lose sight that this is fiction. This is a good old fashioned space opera and thus it is our characters who matter most. Zahn creates good ones, ones you like and enjoy rooting for (or against).
Jordan McKell might remind you a bit of Han Solo. He’s a spaceship pilot, former military now turned smuggler, but there’s more to him than that. Ixil is his partner, an Iguana-faced alien with two symbiotic critters, similar to ferrets, that perch on his shoulders when they aren’t being sent off to scout or stand guard (or when they haven’t spotted some good food nearby).
Ixil and Jordan have each others’ backs, and that is good because they’re part of a crew of strangers hauling, taking a bizarre spacecraft from a far-flung world to Earth. Their boss failed to show for lift-off, their cargo hold is sealed so they don’t know what they’re hauling, and at their first maintenance stop their mechanic is killed in what may or may not have been an accident. Add to the mix a criminal underworld boss, another mysterious man of power, and a race of aliens who control most shipping who are showing a great deal of interest in the ship, and it’s going to be all Jordan and Ixil can manage to fulfill their contract to deliver the Icarus to Earth while staying alive. It makes for a great page-turner and a fun read!

Book Review: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The faculty list for Midwest Writer’s Workshop came out a few weeks ago so I am trying to read something from each of the faculty (if I haven’t already).  First up, Amy Reichert’s The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.  I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

First, let me warn you. Reading this book will make you hungry! Food is an extremely important part of the story, and both Lou and Al are foodies so there are descriptions galore of some amazing-sounding foods. Consider yourself warned.

This reads like a rom-com movie, which means there are more than a few cliches. However, that’s not meant as a criticism. There are certain cliches which are fairly inevitable for the rom-com genre and they are not only expected, but welcomed. We have the woman-pulled-off-balance-into-the-man moment, a dance in the rain, misunderstandings which threaten to ruin everything, and a wise older couple to help guide our love-lorn characters. These are all enjoyable moments (well, the misunderstandings are painful, but that’s because you can see how this is going to hurt the characters and you like them). I especially love the older couple. They are sweet without being cloying. Reichert’s voice was enjoyable, and I loved Lou, Al, Sue, Harley, and John.

If I have one criticism, it is of the way Lou’s ex is handled. When we first meet Devlin, I assume he is a well-meaning but clueless guy. The real issue between them seems to be that they want different things from their lives and aren’t communicating well. Devlin sees working in restaurants as a thankless, difficult job. His mother did it to support him and help him pursue his education. He doesn’t understand that for Lou is this a labor of love, not just a job. Lou doesn’t do much to dissuade him of that notion. That alone is reason enough for them to not get back together. There was no need for Devlin to be made into a full-on villain. Lou could have found her strength and confidence without that, and the rest of the story would have worked as well. That was one cliche too many for me.

All in all this was an enjoyable read and definitely left me hungry, for good food and for more from this author.