I'm pretty pleased with my books this week!
Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon
Genre: crossgenre fantasy/historical fiction
Lord John Grey is on a mission to track down spies and traitors threatening the Crown. He’s furious when his brother enlists Jamie Fraser to help him translate secret documents. Fraser, Scottish laird and prisoner of the English after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, has as much reason to hinder their cause as to help them. Also, things didn’t end well the last time Fraser and Grey met.I finished Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner, and it didn't disappoint. I adore Lord John Grey himself (especially as a secondary character in the Outlander series), but must admit I've been ambivalent about the series on his own life. Unlike the Outlander books, the Lord John books are mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes (for lack of a better comparison), and they've always left me vaguely puzzled when I got to the end and couldn't figure out all the jumps made to solve whatever he'd been sent out to handle. I loved being steeped in Gabaldon's rich descriptions of the Georgian era, but the plots I could take or leave.
Until now. The Scottish Prisoner is by far my favorite of the Lord John books. It's also a bit more...I believe the term we use in the USA is "explicit"... than I recall the others being, but I doubt blushing's ever killed anyone, so I'll be all right. They're supposed to be standalones, but involve a lot of names, relationships, and backstory. Hard to say how difficult the background details are to keep straight, since I've read all the previous books.
The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu
Genre: Historical fiction
I'm not sure how I found this book. I may have clicked on an ad, or it might have been recommended on Goodreads or Amazon or something. The writing is so lush, the beginning so fairy-tale like, I thought I was reading something like Laini Taylor's Lips Touch.
It starts out with a dreamy girl sneaking out of her house against her parents' wishes, to consult the fortune teller in the woods just like all her friends have done. I was instantly enthralled.
And then someone mentioned the Nazis.
I'm still reading, but now I'm tense, with my shoulders hunched up around my ears, waiting for something horrible to happen. I went through a phase in high school where I read stacks of books about WWII. I got a good education in man's cruelty to man. It boggles the mind that people could do such horrible things to other people they knew, and have continued to do so, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, in Sudan, in Syria, everywhere. One person hurting another in secret is bad enough. Large groups hurting other large groups, out in the open...we should know better by now. We should be able to talk each other into doing the right thing. But we don't, and it's really depressing. So The Silence of Trees is gorgeously written, but I may finding it too sad to finish. We'll see.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
I mentioned Lips Touch: Three Times, a book of short stories, magical in content and effect. But until I heard Laini read a short story at the Sirens Conference, I hadn't realized just how much her writing makes me swoon.
Sometimes you can feel how hard a writer worked to come up with a brilliant description or metaphor. But Laini's writing is so right and so effortless, which is of course incredibly hard to accomplish. For instance:
Page 29 He looked like an escapee from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
Page 121 "There, there," he said, his voice ringing hollow of compassion. "He can't see it. It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry 'Monster!' and looked behind him."
Page 258 She had the dead eyes of a jihadist.
Laini looks like she belongs in one of her stories, with pink hair and a sweet smile. She spins magic and longing and anticipation into exquisite tales. It seems like an odd choice even to me, but I would describe her writing as "fearless". Such naked hope and unabashed wistfulness, building into either delight or crushing disappointment over and over, and no warning of which one's coming. I think the depth of longing her characters embody isn't something adults are comfortable admitting to feeling. Which is probably why her books touch us so deeply. And why her books are sold as YA.
For a proper review of the book, read Rachel Hanley's take.
So that's this week's selection. What are you reading?