Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey: A Review

For a book with an animal in the title – prompt #26 on the 2018 Reading Challenge – I chose to read Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey. I have been a fan of fantasy fiction for a really long time, yet somehow I’ve never read a book by Anne McCaffrey. I decided it was beyond time I read the work of this master of the genre.

In Dragonflight, McCaffrey first introduced readers to the world of Pern. A world where dragons are real and magical occurrences are possible. It’s the story of Lessa, the disenfranchised heir of her mountain realm. She has worked against the usurpers for years and when dragon riders arrive at her home, she sees an opportunity to reclaim what is rightfully hers. It turns out, however, that Lessa is destined for far more than ruling over a single region. She is chosen by the dragon riders for the chance to become a dragon rider herself – to ride a queen.

In this book, the dragon riders of Pern are in crisis. All but one of the dragon weyrs have been empty for centuries and the numbers within the remaining one are dwindling. It falls to Lessa and F’lar, the weyrleader, find a way to save Pern.

First published in 1968, the relationships between men and women and the roles each play in their society feels antiquated, and more than a little skewed toward male dominance. Despite her seemingly important role as rider of the queen dragon, a weyrwoman’s role in the every day functions of the weyr is limited to looking after the weyrleader, who is always a man. In fact, except for the rare queen, all dragon riders are male.

Despite all that, I enjoyed the book. I love McCaffrey’s creative mix of fantasy and science fiction elements. I’m looking forward to finishing the series.

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Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte: A Review

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë is one of those books that hits nearly all the “must read” lists. I figured I needed to read it. Someday. Well, “someday” came in 2018 when I was determined to read books by women authors and I needed a book about a villain or anti-hero for the 2018 Reading Challenge.

I’ll be honest. I dreaded this book. But it turned out, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. Brontë’s writing is excellent and compelling. I was drawn into the story in spite of myself. I’m glad I finally read this book.

Primarily the tragic story of Catherine and Heathcliff, I’m not sure this book includes a single redeemable character. Catherine could perhaps be excused to some extent given the demands of her society on young women. Heathcliff however, and nearly any man associated with him, is truly despicable. But it is this very disagreeableness that makes the story so compelling.

Bronte wrote this book in a style that I’ve seen before in other novels of her time. The narrator is relating the story as it was told to him, a retelling of a recollection. So the reader is a step removed from the action at all times, hearing everything at least second-hand rather than witnessing events as they unfold. Personally, I don’t care for this style.

Even so, I enjoyed this book in the end. It had it’s moments where I was ready to toss it aside, but overall, it is a great book, well deserving of its status as a classic.

The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz: A Review

Prompt #46 on the 2018 Reading Challenge was to read an allegory. Since I had the goal to read books written by women, I had some difficulty in finding a book that qualified. The usual suspects – The Chronicles of Narnia or Animal Farm – weren’t going to work for me. So I did some searching and found The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz on a list of books claiming to be allegories. I had previously run across this author when I was searching for women authors from all over the world.

The Queue primarily tells the story of Yehya who must get permission from The Gate for a critical medical procedure. The Gate is the symbol for the authoritarian government where Yehya lives. The line of people waiting outside for one reason or another grows and grows, yet The Gate never opens.

Abdel Aziz presents Yehya’s story through various side characters, each with their own connections to Yehya. Some, like Amani and Nagy, have a close, personal relationship with Yehya. They are outside the Queue, trying to help Yehya get what he needs. Other characters have a rather tenuous connection to Yehya. They are seeking their own help from the Queue, or they are trying to avoid entanglement with the Queue. But through all of them, this story is drawn to its inevitable conclusion.

Yehya would never admit that he was just a single, powerless man in a society where rules and restrictions were stronger than everything else, stronger than the ruler himself, stronger than the Booth and even the Gate.

This book presents a terrifyingly real look at how a totalitarian government can and will manipulate its citizens through fear, force, greed, even promises (though these last are usually left dangling and unfulfilled). And how such a government is capable of rearranging the truth to its own benefit.

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery – A Review

I read two books from this classic series for the 2018 Reading Challenge. The first book, Anne of Green Gables, I read for the book with my favorite color in the title. And I read the second book, Anne of Avonlea, for a book with characters who are twins.

In the first book, we meet Anne for the first time as she comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an aging brother and sister who have decided to adopt a child in order to help them with their property. The child was supposed to be a boy, but they get Anne instead. This misunderstanding turns out to be just the right thing for everyone involved. Full of dreams and prone to flights of fancy, Anne is a delightful, precocious child with a knack for landing in trouble.

The second book, Anne of Avonlea, continues Anne’s life after she finishes her schooling and takes on the role of teacher at the Avonlea school. Also, Marilla has taken in the twin children of her third cousin who has passed away after a prolonged illness. With these two, especially Davy, Anne gets to see some of what she put Marilla through in her own younger years. In this book, Anne faces the bittersweet changes that becoming a woman naturally bring.

I simply adore Anne. Her adventures never fail to make me smile. These books are delightful and heartwarming, even in the tragedies that must inevitably fall. These books are set on Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s, and speak of a time very different than our own now. Still, they are full of wisdom that transcends time. I look forward to reading the rest of this series when I can.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan: A Review

I have had The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan on my bookshelf for a long time. I think I picked it up at a random second hand book sale somewhere. I knew it only by its reputation, and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. When I set about putting together my list of books for 2018, knowing I wanted to focus on women authors, I determined to find a place for this book. I did that in the prompt “a best seller from the year you graduated high school.”

I really enjoyed this book. More than I thought I would, even. It’s a fascinating look into a culture I know very little about. It’s a beautiful picture of the relationship between mothers and daughters. I find it interesting how this often turbulent relationship is drawn so sharply into focus or conflict when shown against the backdrop of immigrant families. The generational differences are so much sharper than those who come from the same cultural background. Here, the American born daughters have the added conflict of a dual nature, dual culture. It’s a part of the immigrant experience I hadn’t considered before.

Tan weaves together eight lives – four pairs of mothers and daughters – into a single story that crosses generations and borders. It is written so beautifully. And I love how she frames the story with the viewpoint of the one daughter who has lost her mother. It is a very touching story of families, love and the wisdom we too often fail to see.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: A Review

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee fills prompt #31, a book mentioned in another book, on the 2018 Reading Challenge. I found it on a list, however, and not actually in a book, so I don’t know what book(s) it might be mentioned in. It was already on my list to read, so I would have found a place for it on this list somewhere.

This is the story of a black man on trial for his life. But it’s told through the eyes of the child of the defense attorney. I think this perspective shows us the gross inequities of the situation. Scout Finch sees the events of this story as it unfolds. She tells us what she sees. We hear her brother’s words, an older brother with an almost adult view on the world. We hear her father’s words, and the words of other adults around her. All of this is filtered through the innocence of a child.

While this book talks about racism and segregation, and uses words that will be offensive to many, it does so in such a way to demonstrate the ugliness of it. Lee shows her characters, particularly the children Scout and Jem, struggling to come to terms with prejudice.

Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’
That’s what I thought, too,’ he said at last, ‘when I was your age. If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike why do they go out of their way to despise each other?’

I think the choice of narrator is perfect for this story. Too often as adults, it is easy to get caught up in “this is how it always is,” where children aren’t burdened by such cultural “norms.” It is refreshing to see the world through innocent eyes. 

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor: A Review

For #43 on the 2018 Reading Challenge, I was directed to find a book being read by a stranger in a public place. I loved the idea of this prompt, though the execution wasn’t so easy. I don’t commute to work via public transportation, and I don’t often see strangers reading in public. I often see coworkers reading in the break room, but these are not strangers. And those I did manage to see out in public, I often could not see the title of the book. Finally, one day as I waited in for my appointment with the dentist, I saw someone – a stranger! – reading Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor. I was so excited!

I loved this book!

This is the story of Lazlo Strange, a boy orphaned by war and raised in a strict monastery. He has a dream – an impossible dream – of a city lost to memory, and he wants to find it again. He becomes a librarian in the largest library of his land. Here he learns all he can about this lost city. Then one day, his dream arrives at the door.

Lazlo wanted to go and find out. That was his dream, daring and magnificent: to go there, half across the world, and solve the mysteries for himself.

It was impossible, of course.

But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?

It’s the story of a strange city besieged by a relentless curse, and of the Godslayer’s attempt to rescue his city from it. It is the story of gods and magic. It is the story of unknowns, of forces and powers felt, but unseen.

There were two mysteries, actually: one old, one new. The old one opened his mind, but it was the new one that climbed inside, turned several circles, and settled in with a grunt—like a satisfied dragon in a cozy new lair. And there it would remain—the mystery, in his mind—exhaling enigma for years to come.

The writing style is magical, beautiful and compelling. I did not want to put this book down. It’s also very difficult to describe this book. The book blurb does it little justice. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in beautifully written, magical stories. I can’t wait to read book two!