Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: Lythande by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Lythande is a collection of stories from Marion Zimmer Bradley about the sorceror of that name, the mysterious cloaked Pilgrim-Adept who kept her sex a deadly secret, and engaged in various adventures as she waited for the end of the world. While I suspect some people won't care for it, I adore 'proper' fantasy, so I loved these stories.

This is just a review of the 1986 anthology (there were several other short stories written after this book was published - read a 'full' overview of Lythande here). The first story was written for the Thieves World anthology, after which the author withdrew from the project, and the last one was written as part of the Thieves World by another author. The middle four are miscellaneous short stories that she wrote for other anthologies and projects. While these stories are in no particular chronological order, some of the later stories do follow on from events in this book. As such, I recommend starting with the anthology, if you can get your hands on it (it is very much out of print, though still available second hand). Many, but not all, of the stories are available as eBooks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

YA Book review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is a young adult book told by 17 year old Micah, about her boyfriend's death, and the increasingly complicated, unbelievable and finally, outright scary circumstances around it.

The reason I picked up Liar was because apart from it looking generally interesting, it was tentatively thrown out as a lesbian YA book. So I'll address that bit first.

It's not, really. It is a book that touches on transgenderism and 'presenting' in the wrong body, but whether the entire story is a metaphor or just some interesting moments that are no more relevant than the many other interesting moments, will depend entirely on the reader (and the essay question, as I see this book getting analysed to death!).

It is a book that features two moments of bisexual girl-girl desire, but it is unclear whether it is in two directions, whether either girl is ever generally interested in other girls, or whether it was a 'caught up in the moment, and the connection and the hormones' sort of situation (or a flexible sexuality one). Personally, I read it as our narrator being genuinely attracted, but our narrator is unreliable. And doesn't tend to give context to that sort of thing. But the entire story is about her and the boy she loves. Though he's dead from the beginning. I wouldn't call it lesbian fiction. I would call it interesting, and worth including on LGBTQ reading lists.

Micah, our narrator, is a skinny, loner girl with a terrible secret and some odd medical issues and abilities, which have shadowed her whole life, and her family's. They are a line of liars. Her one skill is her running, and she bonded with Zach over that. When she loses him, her world starts to fall apart.

The story unfolds with her boyfriend, Zach, missing. Nobody knows how or why, and speculation runs riot at school, until they find out that he's dead. For the first half of the book, we get Micah's grief, unfolding secrets about where she was and what she was doing, and her past, as she tells us something, then has to say a bit later on that, actually, it was this less believable or more incriminating thing, but I obviously couldn't tell you that earlier. Most of it is set at school, with unfolding gossip and politics and even some racism (Micah is a half breed, in her own words, not fitting in with anyone, not even 'other' people of colour).

Micah takes birth control pills, initially because she allegedly suffers from suffers from excessively heavy bleeding and pain during her periods, which could be a fascinating area of discussion around bleeding disorders, or endometriosis (and not something the average teen character suffers from). There are a couple of moments of horrible violence, and it does turn into quite a thriller, but it's perfectly fine for teens (15 is probably the target audience).

It is a good book. It is easy to read, and interesting, the lies make sense and the overt ones generally stand out enough to also make sense when they are revealed as lies. The whole thing could be a fantastical story, but then so are all stories. By accepting the final underlying story on faith (although being suspicious of some of what Micah told us later), I was able to remain invested enough to enjoy it.

The problem, the really big problem, with reviewing Liar is that it is told by a classic unreliable narrator, twists revealed as you go, type of story. Even an accurate summary gives away half the plot. Actually, most of the plot is in the storytelling, and the retelling and the reveals, not the actual story.

If you know you like interesting, easy to read, urban fantasy/thriller/unreliably yet charmingly narrator, high school drama books featuring loner nonconformists with hints of race and gender issues, then you should very much enjoy Liar. 

But I hate picking up books with no idea, literally no idea, what kind of book it is, and I know that some people will only be reading reviews to decide if they want to buy it for someone else, so I'll provide some summary.  And THAT is going under the cut and under a space. And while I'm giving away some of the twists, I'm not guaranteeing that it's all of them, or even the biggest or the most reliable revelations.

(the last part is spoiler free space, so clicking the comments link is safe).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review: Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller

I picked up Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller on a whim last week, and to my delight, it was not the boring, circumspect novel I was expecting, but a fun and sexy romp across colonial norms, with two delightful and distinctive (if often frustrating and less than perfect) women. Set in a Puritanical farming community in early 19th century New England, it follows the romance and quest for a home of two women, the painter Patience White, and the farmer, Sarah Dowling. It is fairly unique in early lesbian fiction in its positive outlook and outcome, and the sheer joy and life that bubbles out of its pages, with the women ending up in a classic Boston Marriage.

Both women are somewhat unique and not entirely respectable, by their society's standards. They live near each other, but don't cross paths until Sarah comes to deliver some wood in the winter of 1816; Patience's scandalised sister in law takes one look at Sarah's trousers and won't let her in, so Patience, curiousity afire, does so instead and finds her heart and loins captured by this tall and graceful woman. Straightforward Sarah is equally enamoured of plump, redheaded Patience.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

YA Book Review: Pretend You Love Me (Far From Xanadu) by Julie Anne Peters

Pretend You Love Me, orginally published as Far From Xanadu, is another lesbian coming out book from Julie Anne Peters (who has, so far, done pretty well in this category).

Set in tiny Coalton, Kansas, it's different from the normal coming out offerings. Our protagonist isn't an overly thoughtful, smart, sensitive girl. She's a rural hick, a jock, with a dysfunctional home life, no real experience of the world, with two competing dreams; famous softball player, or singlehanded saviour of her family's local plumbing business. She spends most of the book deluding herself over a straight girl, but comes out of it the better for it.

This is a book as much about living in a small town and figuring out what to do with your life, and going for your dreams, as it is about being gay. Sure, being gay makes the small town thing a bit harder by severely limiting the available dating pool and that's a pretty big theme throughout the book. Somewhat unusually for lesbian YA, the book has a nice major subplot involving her gay friend's own romance.

We meet 16 year old Mike Szabo and get an introduction to her life; her dad committed suicide a couple of years back when she was fourteen, her brother Darryl is a terminal loser (in his twenties and obviously having just a tough a time of it as she is, though Mike doesn't see that) and her mother is a obese, terminally depressed woman who hasn't spoken to Mike for two years. And then Mike goes to school (which she has never missed a day of, to give you an idea of what she's like), and new girl Xanadu swishes in and hits her in the hormones harder than Mike hits the ball in softball. And that's pretty hard. From that moment on, poor Mike is basically a drooling idiot for completely straight Xanadu, who leads her on like crazy.