The Cold Eye (The Devil's West, Book 2)

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Cold Eye (The Devil's West, Book 2)
Laura Anne Gilman, 2017

Premise: Sequel to Silver on the Road. Isobel continues to ride the Territory in search of things to make right and in search of knowledge. She needs to know more about her own powers and position if she's to be ready for the coming storm.

It didn't take me long to sink back into this world after my long-preordered copy of this book appeared on my Kindle. I still love Isobel and her teacher Gabriel; I love this version of the West, full of bargains, new customs, and old magic.

My only complaint is that it had some weaknesses common to second installments. The Cold Eye had a central plot, but despite the power and danger of the trapped spirit involved, the book was more about getting our characters to where they would need to be (emotionally and magically) for the next parts of the larger world plot. The larger plot only advanced a little bit.

That said, I still really enjoyed this book. Isobel is growing into the powers of her bargain and finding a few more besides. She's both questioning the devil's power and reaffirming it. Gabriel is just trying to keep her alive long enough to figure it out.

I liked the creepy town they visited where people had cut themselves off from the power of the Territory. The people lived in the mix of stealing, appropriation, and ignorance that will surely characterize more settlements if the Americans come over the border in the next book.

This is another strong installment in this fantasy western, and I have high expectations for book three!

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

In the Country We Love

Monday, February 20, 2017

In the Country We Love
Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford, 2016

Premise: Actress Diane Guerrero shares her family's experiences with being undocumented in America.

When Diane Guerrero was just fourteen, her parents were deported. She was overlooked by the child welfare system and stayed with friends and neighbors until she finished high school.

There are the bones of a really fascinating, moving story here, but that isn't quite what this book ended up as.

There were parts I really liked. I found her parents' lives interesting. It was moving how hard they tried to become American citizens, although all the while the knowledge of their status stole some of the joy from their lives.

I was moved by her feeling pulled between two worlds, especially after her parents were deported. She is an American citizen, and America was her only home, and her parents both knew that and were happy for her and at the same time wanted her with them in Columbia.

All of the chapters about those topics were solid.

Diane Guerrero is a successful breakout star on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, two shows I have not seen (although the former is on my list). So I don't know whether the chapters about her working toward her acting career are more satisfying for her fans. I personally found them thin. I have known a lot of hard-working actors. She might be extraordinarily talented, but she is also extraordinarily lucky. Her family situation honestly didn't seem to slow her down much, and her only roadblocks seemed to be of her own making.

I don't know, I though much of the book was good, but by the end, I didn't understand much more than I had before (either intellectually or emotionally) about being an immigrant. It was longer than it needed to be and oddly flat in affect in parts. Possibly a better read for her fans.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Becky Chambers, 2014

Premise: Rosemary joins the crew of the Wayfarer, a long haul tunneling ship, just before their biggest job.

I have been hearing good things about this book since it came out, but I still enjoyed it far more than I anticipated! It's a delightful character-driven sci-fi story that's more about people and relationships than about action or adventure. It's like the talking, feeling parts of Star Trek, only with more realistic characters and more interesting questions about sapience and alien cultures.

All of the species on board Wayfarer are interesting, and any could probably sustain a novel on their own. Although Rosemary is initially presented as the newcomer, and therefore serves partially as the audience stand-in (the person everything can be explained to), she has her own past and secrets and character arc to handle.

The book is a true ensemble piece - no one character is really the 'main' character. There is an arc for each person (though some are small) and each made me want more about the characters without actually leaving me feeling unsatisfied.

There is a touch of romance, and it's well handled and lovely. There is a lot of weighty matter (free will, fate, genetic destiny, non-mammalian cultures) that is best handled in a light, often comedic work such as this one.

I'm a little sad that the sequel apparently follows a character I'm not as intrigued by (although I absolutely understand it if she's many people's favorite). Even so, I'll probably check it out; I'd love to return to this world and learn more.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Winning Marriage

Monday, February 6, 2017

Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - and Won
Marc Solomon, 2014, afterword 2015

Premise: The behind-the-scenes details of the fight for marriage equality from one of the key players.

Author Marc Solomon was the executive director for MassEquality from 2006 to 2009, and he then became the campaign director for the nationwide group Freedom to Marry. In short, he is uniquely qualified to tell this story.

The details in this book were fascinating; everything from the personal stories that touched the hearts of Massachusetts legislators to the internal politicking in New York to the testing that went into campaign ads and PR spending. It also includes some moments that were both big picture and largely unseen by the general public - when, how and why advocates decided to make marriage the key of the argument (rather than civil unions) as well as when, how, and why they decided to push President Obama on the issue.

I read this book partially because I wanted to read about a win for the good guys. For me, it's so hard to think back now and remember a time when marriage equality didn't seem inevitable, even if the timeline was in doubt. (Not that I'm not worried about horrible people trying to roll it back today, I just think that they are unlikely to succeed at this point; the momentum of this campaign has carried us really far.) The accounts in this book reminded me of both the (completely nonsensical) pushback and how hard so many people worked for this goal.

I do highly recommend it for a taste of how complicated the reality of national and state politics gets. This type of nuance and strategy is hard to understand without an insider tour like this one, and this is an interesting picture of one way a social movement can fight and win.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book