Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Title: Deathless
Themes: love, power, humanity, war, death

Plot: From Amazon

Twentieth-century Russian history provides a background for Valente's lush reimagining of folkloric villain Koschei the Deathless and his dalliance with Marya Morevna, a clever but troubled young woman. After Koschei sweeps Marya away from her family's home in St. Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad, Baba Yaga assigns her three tasks that will make her worthy of marrying Koschei. As she spends more time in Koschei's Country of Life, Marya starts to become too much like her unearthly lover, until naïve Ivan Nikolayevich helps her regain her humanity (as well as the sympathy of the reader). Valente's lush language and imagery add to the magic and fundamentally Russian nature of the story, drawing pointed parallels between the Soviet Union's turmoil and the endless war between Koschei and his brother, Viy. Readers used to the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault will find this tale peculiar but enchanting.

My Thoughts: Reading Deathless was a revelation for me. It was my first Valente (certainly not my last) and it shocked me. I devoured this disturbing, sensual, and beautiful re-imagined folktale. I can't say that there is a single likable character in the whole novel...with a cast ranging from humans, spirits, demi-gods (??), and seasons. But they are compelling. The imagery alone is fantastic-Marya lives in a human world full of twelve mothers, red scarves, and house spirits. Then she is transported (it's a long trip including trials and feasts which is an unnerving and delightful sequence in itself) to the land of Life which is populated by spirits, living architecture, and the unending struggle against Death and his kingdom.

In addition to the bold and bizarre world-building, Marya enters into marriage with Life, who puts on skin to please her. The exploration of an open marriage and bdsm is intriguing though certainly not the main focus of the novel. This melding of Russian folklore is truly about war and loss and that all things End. I'm still not sure if I want to read all the fantastic elements of the story as an escapist fantasy from the realities of starving during a crumbling regime in mid-century Russia or as a wonderful surrealist dark fiction.

Rating: ****1/2
The only reason this doesn't have five stars is because I know this dark magical realism thing doesn't appeal to everyone. 

Similar Books: Amazon recommends Gregory Maguire and Neil Gaiman and similar authors...but I am forced to disagree. Neither gets as grimy, dirty, dark, and transcendent as Valente does in Deathless. With that said, I really can't think of any similar reads off the top of my head. Oops.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Best of 2015

God I'm inconsistent.
Well here's a list. I do enjoy lists.

Best Books of 2015
1. Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (is it overthetop to say lifechanging? these books haunt me. I was consumed by them when I read them in January...and am still obsessed now).
2. Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (enjoyed every step of the way)
3. Vicious by V. E. Schwab (loved this spin on heroes/villains and the nemesis!)
4. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (Valente has stolen my heart this year, can't wait to read more)


Honorable Mentions
1. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (so good. Did do a mini review of this!)
2. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (Why did I only discover Le Guin this year?)
3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (unexpected love but how could I resist a friendship/love story between a clay golem and a trapped jinni as immigrants during turn of the century New York?)
4. Skullcrack City by Jeremy Robert Johnson (surreal New Weird madness. Love)
5. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (fun read!)

* I did read Station Eleven and Ready Player One this year but found them just okay-good books but after the hype machine I was underwhelmed. I would recommend Station Eleven. Ready Player One only if you love the 1980s.

Notable Media
1. Rediscovered the music of my high school years...why hello My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and Panic! At the Disco...I do still love you.
2. Rock bands with female vocalists-Halestorm, In This Moment, and The Pretty Reckless. 
3. Gin Wigmore and July Talk. I don't know why...but loving those raspy vocals.

1. The Song of the Sea. Amazing. I cried.

1. Once Upon a Time. For real this time.
2. The X Files. Holy shit I'm ready for you January.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

I really question the YA branding of Tender Morsels. That thought aside: brilliant, heartbreaking, beautiful, bittersweet re-imagining of Snow White and Rose Red, though the beginning also hints at some Donkeyskin themes (incest, rape) and the ending hints at a more Sleeping Beauty Evil Queen theme (a mother's jealousy). I wouldn't say this is an easy read, but it is certainly powerful and lyrical.

The Fifties by David Halberstam

An epic book that hopes to cover the whole of the American experience during the 1950s. Topics range from integration in schools/sports/etc. to Marilyn Monroe to Kennedy and Nixon's televised debate to the A bomb to Westinghouse commercials. I won't lie, this has taken me about 6 months to finish because it is not a book to sit and devour. I did find it a nice general overview of the period, obviously it could never go too in depth due to its scope. It was interesting and well written.

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

I read this for the promise of a "fairy tale mash up" and was happy to find Bluebeard as the main story. It's YA so of course insta-love ensues (must be hard to fall FOR SERIOUS in love successively with two guys, who happen to be brothers, within a week....) as well as really illogical decisions. While it was a quick read and it wasn't overly offending, I probably won't read any further books in the series just because of the sheer stupidity of ALL the this was kids these days are reading?

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

I found this to be a nice middle ground between Tender Morsels and Kill Me Softly....more YA then Tender Morsels with a dash of that instalove and completely illogical decision making, but also bittersweet, brutal, and lyrical. I immediately thought of Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island. The alliance between a Pacific Islander harpoon boy and a sea witch in the 1860s turns to romance which leads to tragedy. Quite good.

Best Reads of 2014

2014 was a new low for me, with only 71 books completed. However, I can still do a Top (10? 5?) Eight List!

1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
2. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
3. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
4. Throne of Glass & Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
5. Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz
6. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
7. Jackaby by William Ritter
8. Cards of Grief by Jane Yolen