The Damiano Trilogy (previously published as A Trio for Lute)

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Damiano Trilogy (previously published as A Trio for Lute)
R.A. MacAvoy, originally published in three volumes, 1984

Premise: Damiano Delstrego is a witch by heritage and a musician by choice, although few musicians, even those with second sight, have an Archangel for a lute teacher. Damiano and Raphael face tribulations, hard choices, and danger (both human and demonic) across Renaissance Italy.

I loved this series (originally published as three slim volumes: Damiano, Damiano's Lute, and Raphael) in high school, and I've been meaning to reread it literally for years. I even reread the first book back in 2014, but then got distracted by other, newer works.

Honestly, I finally reread it this summer because after I fell hard into fan content for Good Omens after the Amazon miniseries came out, I was reminded of the first book I loved about an angel interfering with humanity.

Going back to it is... odd. I still think it's quite good. The writing is lovely, the world is intriguing - including the coexistence of celestial powers and multiple human types of magic that might or might not have a heavenly/hellish source.

However, what I remembered about it were these evocative images such as Damiano facing Satan in his palace, Raphael mantling giant wings over his protege, the powerful way the magic was described, and the existential anguish and triumph in the final volume.

And the series has all that, but it's much more a solid fantasy novel and much less a poetic experience than I remembered. Especially the third part. I still really liked it, but I was prepared for something much darker and more transcendental than I got. Plus there's a dragon in it. I didn't remember the dragon at ALL, but he's a major factor in the plot.

Where this series excels is the way actual religious and historical elements are blended with fantasy. Christianity is treated similarly to many religions in fantasy novels, with perhaps a bit more power. Damiano is facing the political and ecclesiastical powers fighting for control of the Italian city-states, and his character is very grounded in the time and place he comes from. Another major character is from what is now Finland, and she might as well be from Fairyland for all she has in common with the Italians. But she at least is mortal, while Raphael sympathizes with his human friends, but cannot understand them, not really.

I might be a smidge disappointed to let go of what I remembered this series being, but what it is is still great.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Side Note: The Open Road Media Kindle version of this trilogy has the WORST OCR I've suffered through in a while. Avoid if possible.

A Conspiracy of Truths

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Conspiracy of Truths
Alexandra Rowland, 2018

Premise: A collector of stories is in prison, accused of witchcraft. What he tells his captors could not only determine his fate, but the fate of the nation.

I had seen some positive reviews for this book, so I picked it up when it was cheap. Unfortunately, it didn’t fully work for me.

It’s well written, and many of the stories that pepper the narrative are intriguing. The idea of a person dismantling a government by telling the right stories is cool, but despite his admitted role, Chant seems more swept along by events than anything else. The one huge thing he does has little to do with storytelling and more to do with networking. Alternate family structures and homosexual and bisexual characters are seen as normal, which was nice, but this didn’t really affect the plot, just added interesting flavor. The gimmick/twist that the first-person narrative is, in fact, being told to an actual character other than the reader is cute, but I felt it was introduced at a time that made the end of the plot too obvious.

It might have just been the wrong time for me to read this book. My reading time these days is extremely broken up, often at odd times of my sleep-deprived new-parent schedule. Maybe because of this, I never did learn to keep all the characters in this story straight, so a lot of the political maneuvering just read as fantasy name salad.

The narration was interesting enough to keep reading though, and the pace and characterizations really took on more life in the last quarter. I feel like there were many interesting things in this world that were only vaguely alluded to in this book.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, Book 3)

Monday, September 16, 2019

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, Book 3)
Seanan McGuire, 2018

Premise: Cora is a new student at the Home for Wayward Children - the school and refuge for those young souls who traveled to other worlds and came back to Earth despite it no longer being their home. Sequel to Every Heart a Doorway.

When is novella three a sequel to novella one? When novella two is a prequel. Beneath the Sugar Sky picks up plot threads from the first novella with mixed results, in my opinion. I still love the characters and the world(s), but I found the pace of this one much less compelling. It meanders, introducing characters and ideas and then moving on, almost a travelogue with a goal more than a quest.

Cora is a great character, but she is underserved by the plot hinging so directly on previous events that she wasn't present for. It makes her feel like an extra in a story told largely from her perspective.

Again, I still really enjoyed this read, but I wasn't nearly as blown away by this installment.

3 Stars - A Good Book (with great moments)

Books About Being a Working Mom

Monday, September 9, 2019

As my maternity leave winds down, I find myself impatient with long fiction and more compelled to seek out books that might help me navigate this new aspect of my life.

Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Motherhood
Allyson Downey, 2016

Even though I read this book late, and thus skimmed through chapters that no longer applied to me, I’m glad I found this one. From information about planning to take leave and being pregnant at work to discussing the division of household chores and balancing work and childcare, this book is full of concrete advice delivered with good humor.

It covers the bases without getting too far into the weeds in a style that’s breezy enough to read when somewhat sleep-deprived. The narration is peppered with personal anecdotes, examples, and quotes. It’s definitely targeted to white-collar office workers, but that works for me.

My favorite part of this book might be a brief section about research into “mommy brain.” The takeaway: sleep deprivation is real, busyness and shifting priorities are real, but the cultural idea that pregnancy causes memory loss, etc. causes many pregnant and postpartum people to perceive that they have lost much more function than is actually borne out in research.

The further reading section looks to be full of interesting titles too.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Work. Pump. Repeat. The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work
Jessica Shortall, 2015

This short, targeted text is exactly the kind of practical, friendly manual that this topic needs. I found it at just the right time, too, when I was having trouble with feeding and low-key panicking about being ready to go back to work.

The section on pump technology is already a little bit out of date in terms of brands and models, but I already had all my equipment in hand, so that didn’t make a difference to me.

After reading this book, I feel both ready to take on pumping for a while and ready to adjust the plan depending on how it goes. After slogging through so much advice online or in other books that seemed only for stay-at-home moms or breastfeed-or-die die-hards, I loved so many parts of this book. The funny-sad stories of the lengths people go through to feed their child breastmilk; the section on when and how many people balance pumping with supplementing; and especially the section on keeping perspective and dealing with your emotional reactions and pressure from others.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, Book 2)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, Book 2)
Martha Wells, 2018

Premise: The continuing adventures of a security unit with free will. When your actions and your memory can be controlled by outside forces, how do you understand your own past?
Sequel to All Systems Red.

While not quite as instantly charming as the first novella, this opens up the world and expands the plot. Murderbot is still a delightful narrator, and in this one, it gets to interact with other AIs and other constructs, as well as humans.

The two main plots (Murderbot investigating an event from its past and a cover mission pretending to be a human security specialist) trip along briskly, neither dragging nor moving too fast. The novella is just the right length for the plot, although I look forward to reading the four novellas in one go at some point.

4 stars - A Very Good Book