This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet, book 1), by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006, was an Indonesian author and political prisoner. He protested first against the treatment of the native Indonesians by their Dutch colonizers, then the World War II occupation of Indonesia by the Japanese, and then against the authoritarian regimes that replaced them. His political beliefs — which tended towards the socialist end of the spectrum — were not popular, and when his writing seemed to criticize the regime in power more directly, he ended up imprisoned. Many of his works, including this one, the first volume of the Buru Quartet, were written (or composed) while he was either in prison or under house arrest. This one was recited orally to fellow prisoners prior to being written down and smuggled out for publication.

Minke (which, I believe, is Dutch for “monk,” and a nickname) is a young man just before the turn of the 20th century, towards the end of his schooling, when, on a random invitation from a friend, he meets the most famous concubine in Indonesia and her family. Nyai Ontsoroh has been running a business empire for years, and she has been teaching her daughter Annelies — who is, of course, half Indonesian, half Dutch — how to run a business herself. Minke himself is entirely Indonesian and the son of a man with some political power, but he attends the Dutch school in a different town. There are all sorts of racial tensions going on, because Minke has fallen in love with Annelies and her with him, and she is considered significantly too good for him, being half Dutch — although she is the daughter of a concubine, which complicates things. How will their love survive?

Just as a warning and a reminder, there are spoilers after the cut, and some rather frank discussion of unsavory topics. Continue reading This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet, book 1), by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Dead Man Walking (Dante Valentine, book 2), by Lilith Saintcrow

Apparently, yes, it’s her real name. It’s almost as if her parents wanted her to write Gothy urban fantasy. (I wish my parents had wanted me to write Gothy urban fantasy.) She has a pretty impressive website and a large back catalog, including a novel (related to this one) serialized on her website. (That novel is adults-only, it should be mentioned, and entitled Selene.) Prior to this, I’d reviewed the first book in this series (here), the first book in a different series (the Watchers; here), and her lone experiment in high fantasy (to my knowledge; here). All of the books feature incredibly strong female characters with significant past hurts, and all have quite innovative settings and uses of magic.

Since this is the second book, I’ll cut here. Continue reading Dead Man Walking (Dante Valentine, book 2), by Lilith Saintcrow

The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry

Like so many authors, Julie Berry was a reader as a child, but she grew up on a farm, so there were also many things to do — play with the pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, cats, and dogs; catch minnows, crawdads (crayfish for the northerners), frogs, and turtles; and probably muck out stables and other icky chores, but she described it as “[h]eaven.” The youngest of seven children, she’s now got four sons of her own, a husband, a cat, a B.S. in communications from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an M.F.A. from the Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and a published novel — this one.

Our heroine, Lucinda Chapdelaine, is the daughter of wealthy merchants — or was, until they passed away under odd circumstances. Now she’s an assistant in her uncle’s jewelry shop; well, essentially the slave of her aunt, who works her to the bone, abuses her, and tells Lucinda that she should be grateful for all that they’ve done since her parents died and left her with nothing. One day a mysterious woman comes into the shop, and asks to have Lucinda’s uncle reset a jewel for her. It’s actually a very large pearl, and it sets off an odd series of events that turn Lucinda’s life completely upside down. Who is the mysterious woman? Why do so many people want the pearl? And will her life ever settle down? Continue reading The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry

The Skylark, by Peter Straub

Peter Straub is a Wisconsinite; he was born and raised in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his undergraduate education. He has a master’s degree from Columbia University, and at least started a Ph.D. in Dublin. He’s apparently a famous writer of poetry and horror novels; the latter have won him several Bram Stoker awards, as well as leading to several collaborations and a friendship with Stephen King. Later this year, his novel The Dark Matter will be published; as well will this novel, which is actually the same book. The Skylark is the mostly-unedited, 200-manuscript-pages-longer version, which Mr. Straub wanted preserved, so Subterranean Press is doing so.

In the mid-1960s, a group of high school friends fall under the influence of a magician-philosopher-charlatan named Spencer Mallon. The influence ends abruptly a few months later when something horrific happens, but nobody can quite determine what actually occurred. The fifth member of the group, who was not involved but was still friends with the bunch, is a famous writer, and while trying to write his memoirs, gets stuck dead at the point when the ‘something horrific’ happened. More than anything, he needs to find out what that event was, and so he finds his old friends, to figure his past out. Continue reading The Skylark, by Peter Straub

Virtually His, by Gennita Low

Gennita Low is unusual among authors in that not only does she have a day job — she runs her own roofing company — but it’s sort of a working-class day job, and she celebrates it. Her blog is at rooferauthor.blogspot.com, and she doesn’t pretend she’s just doing it until she can write full-time, as so many other authors do. A student of languages, she apparently yells at her employees in Chinese and Malay, and is learning German and Russian in her spare time. (What spare time?) She got her start in publishing by entering a lot of contests, and even being a finalist in a good deal of them. She writes primarily in the romantic suspense genre, but she includes some science-fictional themes in her works.

Elena Rostova — now Helen Roston — was a Russian orphan, but she joined the military and eventually was selected as the best candidate for a top-secret experiment, in making a supersoldier-spy. One of her primary qualifications was that she has psychic abilities. The supersoldier part included intense physical and mental training, and the spy part included virtual reality and clairvoyant training — which they call bilocation. Her mentor in this is a man she doesn’t meet; in the virtual-reality world where they see each other, she has designed his avatar. They are very attracted to each other, but will she ever find out his real-world identity? And will the experiment that is her life succeed? Continue reading Virtually His, by Gennita Low

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper, book 2), by Tamora Pierce

I started reading Tamora Pierce’s books in sixth grade; apparently that was long enough ago that she’d only published five books. Now she’s up over twenty-five and of course I’ve read ’em all. She has two major series, disinfection the one set in Tortall that started with the Alanna (Song of the Lioness) books (and continued through Daine [the Immortals quartet], Keladry [the Protector of the Small quartet], and Aly [the Trickster duology]), and the ones called the Circle books, set in a different world and intended for a slightly younger audience. She lives in upstate New York with several cats and a husband (hers, fortunately), and has also experimented with audio-first books (like this one) and comics.

Yes, this is the second book in the series, and no, I didn’t review the first one (Terrier), although I certainly read it. They’re part of the Tortall series, although set a couple hundred years before the other books. Beka Cooper, the main character, is an ancestor of George Cooper, the King of the Rogue and a major character in the Alanna books. Rather than being a Rogue, though, Beka is a Dog (well, a Dog-in-training in the first volume): one of the Lord Provost’s police force, trained to keep the peace and investigate crimes. Beka has already gained a reputation as being persistent and a straight arrow before the first book finishes, and in this second volume, where she is investigating counterfeiters in Corus and Port Caynn, it’s only intensified. Continue reading Bloodhound (Beka Cooper, book 2), by Tamora Pierce

Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women, edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah was born in Ghana, viagra 60mg and emigrated with her family at the age of six, in the mid-1970s. Her full-length memoir, Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey through Depression, was published in 1998 and immediately hailed as groundbreaking, being that it was the first work published by an African-American person dealing with depression. Since then, in addition to her writing career, she has been an advocate for mental health education, especially for Black women. Ms. Danquah has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College and has been published in a rather impressive list of magazines, journals, and newspapers. In addition to that, she has edited two collections (this one and Becoming American) and has written quite a bit of fiction.

This is, as the title says, a collection of new fiction and memoir by Black women (published since 1990; capitalization is the editor’s). It includes, as Ms. Danquah says in the introduction, younger authors: generally under 40 at the time of publication. The table of contents is fairly long and complicated, since many of the works are excerpts from longer pieces, so I will provide a link to the Google Books version of it: here. I had not heard of any of the authors prior to reading this volume, partly because the women included are all younger than the Alice Walker-Toni Morrison-Maya Angelou-Gloria Naylor bunch. Many of them were born after Dr. King was assassinated, and all of them have received acclaim as writers from many different sources. Continue reading Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women, edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is everyone’s darling right now. Not only have his last two movies (Coraline and Stardust) done fairly well, viagra order but he won the Newbery Award just recently for The Graveyard Book, link a novel about a toddler who runs into a graveyard to escape being murdered with the rest of his family, and is raised by the denizens there. (No, really, it is a children’s book. For more commentary, see The Colbert Report.) Anyway, Mr. Gaiman has also written a handful of books for adults and children, as well as the amazing comic series Sandman, and the scripts or translations for several movies. He’s also got a very popular blog, and now a Twitter.

M is for Magic is a collection of his already-published stories that he put together for children; the title, as he says in the introduction, is after Ray Bradbury’s similarly-collected (already published and picked for children later) works with titles such as R is for Rocket and S is for Space. The titles include “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” “Troll Bridge,” “Don’t Ask Jack,” “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge,” “October in the Chair,” “Chivalry,” “The Price,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Sunbird,” as well as “The Witch’s Headstone,” which is an excerpt from The Graveyard Book. Continue reading M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman

Collected Stories, by Lewis Shiner

Ahh, tooth Lewis Shiner. The man who convinced me that I never want to move to Durham, gynecologist NC (the same way that Slumdog Millionaire made me not want to visit India). Born in Eugene, OR in 1950, he moved around a lot as a kid, and read science fiction and adventure novels. One of Bob Dylan’s first few “Dylan Goes Electric” concerts changed his life utterly, and he became involved in music, which would turn out to be a lifelong love and the inspiration for many of his tales. After a degree in English from SMU, he started writing more and more and although his path wasn’t straightforward (there was some technical writing in there, as well as computer programming and car trouble), eventually he was regularly selling detective fiction and science fiction to short-story magazines. His first novel, Frontera, was a finalist for a couple of major awards, and he has written five since.

This collection of short stories includes apparently 41 of his biggest and best tales, ranging from one of his first published works (“Deep Without Pity”) to three stories that had web debuts within the last couple years (“Straws,” “Golfing Vietnam,” “Fear Itself”). The tales range from a couple of punk westerns, a few pulp-type stories, straight-up science fiction, ultra-short literary fiction, a few that were intended for men’s magazines, and, of course, a few tales about rock ‘n’ roll. I won’t list all 41 titles, as that would take too much time, but interested readers can haunt the Sub Press website until they post the table of contents. This book will be published at the end of November this year. Continue reading Collected Stories, by Lewis Shiner

Watchtower (Chronicles of Tornor, book 1), by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Elizabeth A. Lynn is apparently openly lesbian and born in 1946. This book won the World Fantasy Award in 1980, buy originally published the year before, about it and the author has a sixth-degree black belt in aikido. She lives in San Francisco, and either teaches or taught martial arts. That’s about all the information that I can find on her. She appears to have written several other books and series, and a couple of the hallmarks of her work (according to the internet) are strong women, same-sex relationships, extreme violence, and sparse prose. She seems to have been one of the first authors to introduce same-sex relationships into speculative fiction.

Watchtower starts with a battle; Cor Istor takes over Tornor Keep with his army, on a quest to take over the entire land, and kills the entire royal family except for Errel, the only son. Ryke, one of the commanders, is spared as well, to feed Cor Istor information on the land and how to deal with it. A pair of messengers come from another local keepholder, and they help Ryke and his prince escape. Soon they find themselves traveling to Vanima, where it’s apparently summer all the time and those who live there learn how to fight bare-handed without killing. Will Errel ever get his keep back? Continue reading Watchtower (Chronicles of Tornor, book 1), by Elizabeth A. Lynn