Thursday, December 22, 2011

REVIEW: Red Gods, Twin-Bred, and The Last Nude

Unfortunately, due to some other projects that are currently monopolizing my time, I’m afraid that I've been unable to properly dedicate myself to the blog over the past month. I feel bad, especially for those authors who are patiently (I hope) awaiting reviews, but when life seems to be all about feast or famine, you have to capitalize on the opportunities to feast.

Hopefully I won't be doing to many of these quick review articles, but right now it's the only way I can share these wonderful reads with you all. Enjoy!

Red Gods by James A. Finan: Normally, I'm not a fan of 'experience' novels (i.e. stories pasted together from multiple sources/mediums), but Finan makes it work, including everything from flashbacks, to journal entries, to magazine articles, to old folk songs. It helps that the story itself is so interesting, with a group of elite mercenaries sent into the snowbound countryside to discover who (or what) killed the residents of Fernby Lakes.

This is a very graphic novel, centred around sinister forces that have no regard for polite sensibilities. The mercenaries themselves are a dark bunch, authentic comrades in arms, as opposed to the 'friendly' gangs so common in these kinds of stories. The book is wonderfully well written, and Finan manages (for the most part) to successfully manage the different voices quite well. There's just enough humor to relieve the dreary horror, but not so much that it becomes campy.

Twin-Bred by Karen A. Wyle: Wyle offers us an interesting twist on the alien contact genre, putting Humans on another planet, but in a situation where their own impatience/intolerance makes war a seeming inevitability. In order to ward off that conflict, Mara Cadell comes up with the radical proposal of intentionally developing fraternal twins, one human and one Tofa, in order to create a bond. Of course, such a bond is only as good as the intentions behind it, and when the government believes in knowing the enemy . . . well, you can imagine the consequences.

This is a really well-written classic science fiction novel, thoughtful and full of ideas. The aliens here are truly alien, similar enough to humanity that we can relate, but unique enough that we never shake the novelty of them. Smartly, considering the potentially huge scope of the ideas being explored, Wyle draws us into the story on an intimate level, focusing primarily on the development of one set of twins. There are a lot of characters, and some frequent changes in point of view, but the different voices are distinct enough that you never get lost in the narrative. As for the setting, the alienness of Tofa is subtle, almost masked by human intervention, but quite remarkable when it comes through.

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery: While not a book I would have been likely to stumble across on my own, I'm deeply indebted to G.P. Putnam's Sons / Riverhead for providing me with the opportunity for an early read. Here we have a fictional romance between two historical women, Tamara de Lempicka (artist) and Rafaela (model/muse), set in that uneasy period between WWI and WWII.

Although I knew nothing about Tamara coming into the story, and even less about art, her history is absolutely fascinating. I suspect the story might carry a bit more weight for those who are familiar with her work, and who can debate the 'was she/wasn't she' lesbian aspect, but I can attest to the fact that ignorance doesn't in any way take away from the read.

What really drew me into the story was the way in which Avery explores all aspects of Tamara's life, really getting into the dark side of how such passion can impact familial and professional relationships. This is not a happy-go-lucky tale of lazy lovers, content to pose and paint the day away, but of two women consumed by their work. Tamara comes across as a selfish, petty, arrogant woman, but rather than turn me off, I found her contrast to the sweet, sensitive, vulnerable Rafaela compelling.

If I had one issue with the book, it's with the brevity of the scenes. I like to get lost in a story, to emerge from a thirty or forty page chapter, and be shocked to find that it's gotten dark outside. The chapters here are often comprised of single page or even half-page scenes that work from an artistic perspective (as if each scene were an individual brush stroke), but it's just not my style.

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