Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-Second Book Review: “The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin

“The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin is the second book of the Earthsea series. I normally do not gravitate towards fantasy novels. When I was first given this series by my husband, I placed it on the shelf with plans to read them someday. When the WSJ Book Club picked the first book in the series “A Wizard of Earthsea” I found myself enjoying it quite a bit and fully intended to read the rest of the series soon. All it took was three weeks at home recovering from knee surgery for me to actually pick up this series again! Warning – there are some spoilers ahead.

“The Tombs of Atuan” begins with a death. The high priestess to the Nameless Ones dies. Whenever she dies, she is reborn, and so a search begins for a girl born the same night that the high priestess died. After many months of searching, the wardens and other priestesses found Tenar. At five years old, she was taken from her home and brought to the Tombs to be Eaten. This ceremony stripped her of her name and any ties to her family, and she became Arha: the Eaten One.

Arha was an interesting character. On the one hand, she accepts what she has been told her whole life that she is the high priestess reborn, and on the other hand, she is a young girl learning about herself and the world. And instead of growing up with her family in a village, she lives the life of a high priestess in near-isolation. She was responsible for worshiping and honoring the Nameless Ones in various ceremonies and traditions, and the tediousness eventually gets to her. “Her boredom rose so strong in her sometimes that it felt like terror: it took her by the throat. Not long ago she had been driven to speak of it. She had to talk, she thought, or she would go mad. It was Manan she talked to. Pride kept her from confiding in the other girls, and caution kept her from confession to the older women, but Manan was nothing, a faithful old bellwether; it didn’t matter what she said to him.” (The Tombs of Atuan, pg 24). I like how Le Guin describes the boredom that encapsulates Arha and the struggles she faces daily as she forces herself to suppress her child-like instincts and be the high priestess.

There are moments when the serious façade that Arha wears slips. Most often this happens when she is socializing with the other priestesses at The Place, some of who are her age. “But there was something underneath Penthe’s words with which she didn’t agree, something wholly new to her, frightening to her. She had not realized how very different people were, how differently they saw life. She felt as if she had looked up and suddenly seen a whole new planet hanging huge and populous right outside the window, an entirely strange world, one in which the gods did not matter. She was scared by the solidity of Penthe’s unfaith.” (The Tombs of Atuan, pg 41). I liked this quote for several reasons. It illustrates well how Arha was raised to believe in one thing. She was told that she was the High Priestess reborn and she was told everything that she was required to do and to think. For the longest time, it never occurred to her to have an individual thought. She believed wholeheartedly in the gods and the faith and in her part of the worship, that to have someone else express doubt threw her off. She no longer was confident about everything; there was that shred of doubt that had seeded in her mind. You slowly see a change come over her where she stops being Arha and begins to rediscover Tenar.

It isn’t until about a third into the book that Gar, the Wizard from the first book, comes into the picture. It was interesting seeing him again and from such a different perspective. No one comes to the Tombs of Atuan – not even to worship, and so when the Wizard comes to the Place of the Tombs, he is not welcome. He forces light into the darkness of Arha’s world and it frightens and confuses her. He also ultimately helps her become Tenar.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Ursula K. Le Guin is a great writer and she creates a world that you love to get lost in. Her writing isn’t overly complicated, so I believe it would be accessible for a lot of people, especially those that tend to steer clear of anything labeled fantasy.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-First Book Review: “The Mask” by Taylor Stevens

“The Mask” by Taylor Stevens is the fifth novel in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. The worst part about this book is the fact that the next book in the series hasn’t been written yet. Every time I get a taste of Vanessa Michael Munroe I am completely sucked into her world. “The Mask” was no different.

At the beginning of the book Munroe arrives in Japan. Trying to recover after the ordeals that she went through in “The Catch”, Munroe is playing house with Bradford while he is working as a security consultant. Just when Munroe begins to feel at peace, Bradford is arrested for murder. Munroe is infuriated. She knows that there were things that Bradford was keeping from her and his dishonesty feels like a betrayal. But Bradford’s arrest is not something she can walk away from. In order to save Bradford, she needs to shed the girlfriend façade and once again, become the detached spy to dig into the work he was doing. Although it is a personal interest for her, she needs to be all business to save him.

Part of what makes these novels so interesting is how Munroe and Bradford are so muddled in what is right and wrong. “Given the life that Bradford had led, he wasn’t an innocent man. / War made murderers out of honest men – proclaiming guiltless by law what the conscience would later bear in shame – but there was innocence and then there was innocence, and if Bradford had targeted a kill, then the body would have disappeared and the evidence scattered and never found.” (The Mask, pg 53/54). There is no question in her mind that Bradford did not commit the murder he was arrested for, but she also acknowledges that he is not someone completely innocent. This is something that I really like about these books. Munroe knows that she is not your typical hero. She does a lot of bad things, and worse than that, she enjoys it most of the time. She is truly flawed, but at her heart she wants to do the right thing. Despite all that she has been through, she wants to help.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to everyone. Established Munroe fans would definitely enjoy reading “The Mask” as I certainly did. But Munroe is a unique character that is constantly pushed up against violence and has to retaliate, often losing herself and pushing a little too far. Killing isn’t just an instinct to Munroe when she is cornered, but something she craves. This reluctant bloodlust is part of why Munroe would not appeal to everyone. She is a dark and complex character, and she isn’t for everyone. Personally, I think Munroe is amazing and I cannot wait to read the next book.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Fiftieth Book Review: “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card was amazing. I love to read, but I so very rarely pick up anything resembling science fiction, I didn’t think this would be much different. But boy, was I wrong. I was hooked from the beginning.

When we first meet Ender, we learn he is a Third – population control is very strict and only a select few can have more than two children. This alone makes him stand out. We learn bits and pieces about the world that Ender was born into. We know that the enemies are aliens that have been named Buggers. We know he was brought into the world because his two siblings were so close to being what was needed, and so there is even more pressure on him to be perfect. What we don’t know is what the government is looking for, and what would make Ender an ideal candidate. The distrust that Ender holds for almost everyone is engrained early on. “Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.” (Ender’s Game, pg 2).

What I thought was really interesting throughout this novel was the duty that was often preached to Ender. All the terrible things that he found himself subjected to, they were all necessary to help him do what needed to be done. “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something. Maybe humanity needs me – to find what you’re good for. We might both do despicable things, Ender, but if humankind survives, then we were good tools.” (Ender’s Game, pg 35). I thought this was a curious way to look at things. We learn the soldiers that Ender joins are in training to make sure that humanity is prepared for the next time the Buggers attack. In order to make the ideal soldier, children are the test subjects and are pushed to the limit – many are pushed beyond the breaking point. And it is near impossible to know what is a test. “Ender understood more than she said. Manipulation of gravity was one thing; deception by the officers was another; but the most important message was this: the adults are the enemy, not the other armies. They do not tell us the truth.” (Ender’s Game, pg 82). Again, at Ender’s core he distrusts the adults. After everything they put him through, it isn’t all that surprising.

Ender was a fascinating character. His ability to keep going even when everything was in his way was impressive. His ability to stay cool under pressure, and most importantly (in my opinion), his ability to hold onto his humanity and the basic belief that good will triumph – that is what made him so special. “He could see Bonzo’s anger growing hot. Hot anger was bad. Ender’s anger was cold. He could use it. Bonzo’s was hot, and so it used him.” (Ender’s Game, pg 87). I liked this quote; I believe it illustrates well how wise Ender can be.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – and to all different types of readers. I am not one to pick up science fiction and I wouldn’t have picked this up if not for it being a gift. But I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. It is well written, Ender is a great character, and the science side isn’t overdone. I would especially recommend this book to other readers that don’t often, if ever, pick up science fiction. I’m eager to branch out into this genre, which for so long I bypassed. That’s how good this book was – it opened up a whole new genre to me.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Forty-Ninth Book Review: “One Shot” by Lee Child

“One Shot” by Lee Child is the ninth book in the Jack Reacher series. Despite having seen the movie that was inspired by this book (and therefore knowing most of the story before having read the book) I couldn’t put “One Shot” down. It seems to be a common problem with the Jack Reacher series.

The book starts off with a sniper taking out five people with six shots. An investigation quickly points to former military sniper James Barr. After his arrest, he gives one statement – you’ve got the wrong guy and get me Jack Reacher. After seeing this story on the news, Jack Reacher makes his way to Indiana to keep the promise he made to James Barr. To the surprise of the attorney defending Barr, Reacher explains that he is not there to clear Barr’s name, but there to make sure that he gets put away for what he did. With Reacher on the case, he realizes that things are not quite as simple as they seemed. The slam-dunk case starts to unravel. Despite coming to help put away James Barr, Reacher cannot suppress the truth.

I found the bad guys in “One Shot” to be particularly interesting. “I would once have killed to eat. And killed was the truth. Linsky had no illusions. None at all. The Zec and he were bad people made worse by experience. Their shared suffering had conferred no grace or nobility. Quite the reverse. Men in their situation inclined toward grace and nobility had died within hours. But the Zec and he had survived, like sewer rats, by abandoning inhibition, by fighting and clawing, by betraying those stronger than themselves, by dominating those weaker.” (One Shot, pg 272). I just thought this was an interesting reflection. It’s not often that someone is so honest. The Zec and Linsky made interesting antagonists.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think Lee Child does an amazing job with Jack Reacher. “One Shot” was no different. I do wish that I had read the book before seeing the movie. That was the only difference with this book over the others I’ve read – I had a general idea of where the story would go and I prefer to be surprised. But it was still a great read and I already put the next book in the series in my to-be-read pile.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Forty-Eighth Book Review: “Room” by Emma Donohue

“Room” by Emma Donoghue was a real page-turner. I added this book to my wishlist after seeing the preview for the movie. It’s funny how a lot of times I will see a trailer for a movie and think – oh, I want to go read the book that’s based on. But I’m weird, so whatever. It was a captivating novel that I could not put down.

What makes this book a fascinating read is that the story is being narrated by a five year old. We meet Jack on his fifth birthday, which is when his Ma decides that he is old enough to learn the truth – that there is a whole world outside Room. “Before I didn’t even know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it. When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.” (Room, pg 102). The way that Jack learns was very well done. His genuine curiosity and how he reacts to everything is realistic, endearing, and at times very funny. I think Emma Donoghue captured his voice well. Writing from that rare perspective created a really interesting narration.

I liked the way that we learned bits and pieces about Jack’s Ma through her either telling Jack directly, or him overhearing her talking to others later on in the novel. Stuck in the room with her son, she did a remarkable job teaching him everything she could about taking care of themselves and making life for him as normal as possible. She taught him to read and write and speak and count. The relationship between Jack and his Ma is a little odd and unquestionably codependent. It is clear that the reason that Jack’s Ma did not lose her mind being captive for all those years was because she had Jack. He became her world, just as she was his. He was the one good thing that came out of her kidnapping.

Their adjustment to life Outside was intense and at times Jack was very insightful. “When I was four I thought everything in TV was just TV, then I was five and Ma unlied about lots of it being pictures of real and Outside being totally real. Now I’m in Outside but it turns out lots of it isn’t real at all.” (Room, pg 277). I really liked this quote.

Would I recommend this book? Yes – but not to everyone. Since the book is narrated by a five year old, it is a little challenging. His thought processes are not complete and in some cases can jump around. It was very accurate to the way a five year old speaks, but it was a bit confusing. Once I got a few pages in, however, I could not put the book down. It was a really exciting read and I look forward to reading Emma Donoghue’s other works.