Book Reviews

Rules of Book Reviewdom

I’ve read several articles on blog book reviewing and opinions vary. A lot of folks notice how blogs usually rave about books, so honesty becomes suspect. Yesterday I read an article on blog ethics and that reminded me, I’ve never stated my Book Review Policy, so I thought I’d lay out Vic’s Rules of Book Reviewdom:

1. Never be snarky. I know there are reviewers who do this, but I’m not one of them. I know how much insensitive comments hurt and I try not to make them – at least not in print!

2. Always be honest. If there is an aspect of the book I believe could have been stronger, I will say so. See rule #1 on how I do that.

3. If I did not enjoy the book, I will not review it on this blog. Life is short. I have been asked to do reviews of self-published books and many times, they’re works that weren’t ready for print. Since I have (thus far) been asked to do them through a different blog that I do not run, I work within all of my rules but this one. I write the best review I can and try to dwell on the positives more than on the negatives. But on this blog, you’re only going to see reviews of books I enjoyed. The level of my enjoyment can fluctuate, of course. LOL

4. If I personally know the author or (the Lord could be so kind) am paid by the author for the review, I will let you know. Ethically, I think that’s fair. Again, see rules #2 and #3 to know how I review books. You don’t get a free ride just because you paid me gazillions (of pennies) or because you know me.

Have I left out anything? Any questions? Buehller?

And the Winner Is…

Straight from the hands of my four-year-old who loves picking out pieces of paper for my contest winners, the winner is…

Jeannie Lin! Jeannie, if you would contact me off line with your address, I’ll be delighted to send you “A Wild Light.”

Thanks to both of you for playing!

Book Review: "Under Heaven"

Under HeavenTo honor his deceased father, a general who led imperial forces in their last great war, Shen Tai has spent two years alone at a battle site by a mountain lake, burying the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir. When a voice falls silent he knows that a ghost has been laid to rest.

One morning he learns that his vigil has been noticed at the highest level: the court of their one-time enemy is pleased to bestow on him two hundred and fifty coveted western horses. The Heavenly Horses are an overwhelming gift. They exalt Tai, and could bring him great power – or have him killed before he ever leaves the mountains, let alone reaches the imperial city.

Before he leaves the lake, he is threatened and a friend, murdered. Then things get more difficult as Tai hires a female body guard who annoys and attracts him, is tempted and threatened by local magistrates and entwines himself in an Empire-shaking rebellion. “Under Heaven” is the story of Tai’s journey home to his former life and all the unrest entailed there; it is a tale filled with love, loyalty and secret machinations.

The novel is set in an alternative world’s version of the Tang Dynasty during the An Lushan Rebellion (circa 755-763 A.D.) and is Kay’s first foray beyond a European setting. He does a memorable job. There are no jarring moments of modernism or western thought. He did a few atypical things, including a list of names due to the wide cast of characters. He also draws out the ending more than his norm, using it to tie up the various characters’ stories and leaving little ambiguity to the novel’s conclusion. This book has all of the characters and lovely language of a typical Kay novel, but strikes a balance between the plot’s strengths and Kay’s characterizations. Although he’s had stronger characters in previous novels, the denizens of Kitai were real individuals whom I cared for, identified with and plan on re-visiting soon.

For instance, the following extraordinary moment of characterization evokes young love, and the creation of life-long friendships within five sentences:

She shook her golden hair and gave him a look he knew well by then. I am enamoured of an idiot who will never amount to anything was, more or less, the import of the glance.

Tai found it amusing, sometimes said so. She found his saying so a cause of more extreme irritation. This, too, amused him, and she knew it.

For a moment after reading that passage, I flashed back to college. My (future) husband said something intended to exasperate and I responded with this exact look, or perhaps with a comment designed to make him laugh. Remembering that, I became Tai’s lover in this scene. That’s where Kay’s greatest skill lies; he doesn’t write fiction. He writes about us. Throughout his novels, Guy Gavriel Kay enlarges our foibles, failings, successes and courage into an enormous ongoing scene – a tapestry we love examining to find where he put us this time.

A fan asked me recently, “Am I going to hate him for being so good? Am I going to be inspired?” My response: “Was there ever any doubt?”

At the first viewing, one is dazzled by the audacity and beauty of “Under Heaven,” but like so many works of great art, it cannot be consumed in one sitting or in one reading. The reader will need to view it many times before appreciating the depth of craftsmanship. I expect to find the book grows in power upon a second and third reading.

“Under Heaven” is an adult novel, but is accessible to mature young adult readers. It was released April 27th by Roc.

New Interview with Laura Manivong and Upcoming Events

I just discovered Christina Farley at Chocolate For Inspiration also has a wonderful interview with Laura Manivong. Check it out and win a free copy of “Escaping the Tiger!”

I look forward to attending yet another library event this Saturday, this time to speak with Christine Taylor-Butler about her book, Sacred Mountain: Everest. I promise to post a review and interview as soon as I can.

But before that, I will (finally) post the book review I got so excited about three months ago.
“Under Heaven” is now available. Thanks to the generosity of the author, Guy Gavriel Kay, I will also post two interviews next week. More later. ;D

Children’s Literature Links and Reviews

I’ve done some surfing recently and found several links that might be of use to those of you who write or are interested in reading juvenile works with Asian and/or multi-cultural leanings.

Stacy Whitman has an incredible list of multi-cultural reads (mostly juvenile literature, although not entirely) and I’m going to have to read a whole lot more just to play catch up! Check it out.

Tu Publishing is pleased to announce that we will be officially open for submissions from writers on Jan. 1, 2010. We are a small press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults. We are specifically looking for novels for readers ages 8 to 18. (Though we intend to expand to chapter books in the future, we are not looking for them at this time.) We are a royalty-paying (on retail) publishing company.

Chasing Ray seems to be a site dedicated to reviews of children’s literature and the above link page is all about books with Asian settings. He’s also done a review of “Shine, Coconut Moon.”

Cynthiea Leitich’s site brims with links to children’s resources both educational and fictional. It’s an amazing site if you’re a writer/reader of juvenile material with Asian leanings.

I plan on posting all of these links on my sidebar for future readers, but they’re so good I also wanted to draw attention to them. Enjoy!