Monday, July 27, 2020

Sea Star Summer by Sally Partridge

Sea Star Summer by Sally Partridge is the summer vacation book I didn't realise I needed as a diversion from all the dross in my current days. Maybe it's because I grew up in a seaside town, but the ocean has special meaning for me, and Sally *gets* what this is like. Also, her love for the little South African resort town of Jeffrey's Bay, with its ephemeral summer population, shines through. Now I'd love to go visit just to see it for myself.

We meet sixteen-year-old Naomi who is awkward as all hell. I relate hard to her, because I also spent most of my my summer vacations hiding in books. So when Naomi's parents insist that they spend their summer vacation in Jeffrey's Bay, it's not exactly a dream come true for Naomi. But she has her books. So there is that.

What she doesn't expect is running into Elize, whose family is vacationing at the nearby campsite, and although Naomi and Elize are vastly different in terms of their backgrounds, the two hit it off immediately. Elize is everything Naomi isn't, and yet together the two create a special kind of magic.

But then boys. That's par for the course when you're a teenager, and the two who cross Naomi's path cause her no end of complications, but for different reasons. And of the two boys in question, we have blond surfer dude Daniel and Elize's own brother Marius, who's got a bit of a bad-boy vibe going. Honestly, Daniel is, putting it politely, a knob. Every interaction with him made me cringe. Marius was all right. I felt for him. But I'm not going to spoil the story for you.

Central to the story is Naomi's understanding of who she is, and the fact that it's okay that she may not like boys. Much of what she experiences is awkward as all hell, which I think many of us can relate to when we think back to our own first experiences in love. Naomi struggles with what is expected of her and how she thinks she should behave vs. learning to be brave to grow into who she truly is. Sea Star Summer is a sweet tale of a summer romance found when least expected, made poignant by the reminder that the time for it to play out is fleeting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook

I kept hearing about The Black Company by Glen Cook, so when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed book 1. From what I understand, it's considered a classic, and in fact one of the earliest examples that sparked off the whole GrimDark genre.

Told from the perspective of a mercenary company medic, Croaker, we see the machinations between apparent forces of light and dark play out on the stage of a series of ever-escalating battles. This is military fantasy, plain and simple, so if descriptions of tactics, death and dying, bore you silly, this is not the novel you are looking for.

What I appreciated about The Black Company is that all the characters are morally ambiguous, and we have a big story told from the perspective of someone who's on the lower decks, who is not a big decision maker or player, but nonetheless ends up playing a pivotal part.

Croaker is self aware enough to know he's not in the service of the 'good guys'. In fact, as he picks apart the entire sorry mess of the Lady vs. the Rebel, he comes to realise that everyone has blood on their hands. He's all too aware of his frailty, and stands in awe of the magics at play as the Lady turns her closest servants into undead "Taken", much as Sauron has his Nazg├╗l. He's caught in the centre, the storyteller trying to make sense of it all, and watching how a prophecy slowly unfolds, and what its ultimate repercussions will be. In fact, there's an element of existentialism in this tale, as Croaker himself philosophises about the ultimate absurdity of it all.

Cook's writing makes you work, and reads like a relatively shallow musing that doesn't dig deeper into motivations, but hurries along and leaves you in the dust if you don't try make connections. So I can see why he's not for everyone. I enjoyed the camaraderie between the characters, the things not spoken of, and that there was a gradually unfolding saga against which Croaker's small part played out. I also liked the idea that things weren't explained to me, so that I had to draw my own conclusions from this morally grey story. Our main character is unashamed by the fact that he takes his pay, does his job, and reserves his opinion for his own private moments. As for whether this makes him good or bad, it depends on which side of his bow you stand.