Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another

Why do I keep reading Stephen King? Why? I have catalogued my problems with him many times before, but I keep coming back.  I blame The Colorado Kid, which I liked even after I'd started to realize what was wrong with Stephen King.

Gwendy's Button Box is another novella, and it's definitely tightly written, which is excellent.  It was apparently begun by King, but he wasn't inclined to finish it, so it was finished/cowritten by Richard T. Chizmar, about whom I knew nothing.  Apparently he's primarily a short story writer, which is not usually my thing (though horror stories are much more up my alley than literary ones).  I can see how the ending isn't very King, but other than that, it's quite cohesive as a story.

Gwendy is 12 when she meets a strange man in the park who gives her a box.  It's got buttons on it and a couple of levers.  The box has strange powers that he doesn't explain well, and dispenses gifts that seem straightforward but aren't.  And then he is gone, and Gwendy is the owner of the button box, and we follow her for the next ten years.

Some of the moments that King does--an old man connecting with a teenager, a kid's life woven into the fabric of her town--are lovely; he's so very good at his job.  The hallmarks of his storytelling are all here.

Including this girl. Gwendy is a likeable character, a good person but not perfect (except, of course when she is, but no spoilers). But when Stephen King starts writing women, I should know better.  I wasn't on the alert for it here, so I ended up getting frustrated when he talked about how Gwendy was too embarrassed to be seen in public in a bathing suit--even a one piece--until she got hot.  There is no relationship with her body that isn't about being looked at by men, either desirably or undesirably--even though she's a track star, even though she's a soccer player, even in memories of childhood before boys were a thing.

The bad guy in the book is a creep in her class who is clearly evil by virtue of his teeth and his smell, who touches her inappropriately and who she slaps away ineffectually.  Maybe that's supposed to be a 1970s thing, but when the creepiest guy in your class, whom you've never spoken to outside of school, pulls up in front of your house to leer at you and ask you to go driving with him, and you're Gwendy the gorgeous straight-A athlete, you don't make up excuses.  You tell him to go away.  Maybe you do it nicely, because you're not a jerk, or maybe you do it meanly, because he's a creeper, but you do not act like you owe him something.  There are times when that exchange happens--on a date you agreed to go on; on a deserted street; places where the creep has the upper hand.

This wasn't a characterization choice; she is not meek at all.  It's just a lack of knowledge of what to do with a female character, and a need to set her up to be assaulted later.  It wasn't anywhere near the worst feminist WTF I've had even this month, but sigh.  Just, sigh. Oh, Stephen King.  I'm still trying.

Read for R.I.P. - Readers Imbibing Peril!  I love the fall!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Odd & True

I have been eager to read a Cat Winters book for ages. Each one sounds so interesting--historical YA fiction set in the Pacific Northwest! Diverse characters and fantasy elements! But the pile gets bigger and best laid plans and so on. When Odd and True showed up on Netgalley though--sisters fighting monsters!--I figured, here's my chance.

My expectations based on the cover copy were of a bit of a rip-roaring adventure, but the book was actually very much about the relationship between the sisters and how two different people can live in the same family and have completely different experiences.  It's also about the stories we tell ourselves and the power they have over us.

The story is told from two points of view, in two timelines.  Tru's story begins on her fifteenth birthday in 1909, when her sister, who has been gone for two years, climbs through her window and asks her to run away with her. Tru isn't sure why their aunt sent Od away, but she's sent letters from the circus, and she tells Tru now that she's been making a living as a monster hunter, just as their mother and grandmother had done in all the tales Od told her sister through the years.

She begs Tru to run away with her, but Tru is doubtful. Because of childhood polio, she walks with a brace and a heavy limp; making her way in the world promises to be hard. But the tea leaves her sister taught her to read years ago have been showing her monsters--maybe it's her duty to fight them?

Odette's story starts in childhood, on the night her sister Trudchen is born.  We see all the stories that she's told her sister, but we see them as they really happened, with the drama and flourishes stripped away--living with their mother in a remote California canyon, visited occasionally by a charming but absent father and their loving uncle Magnus.

Tru is never quite sure whether Od's stories are true or invented, or whether Od herself believes them or not, is the core mystery of the novel, and I found myself wavering back and forth.  Even as I learned more and more of Od's own story, and as Tru tries to get more information out of her sister, my guess--is Od making this up? is she imagining things?--kept changing.

Tru is such a lovely character. She's practical and realistic, and combined with her physical limitations--she can't walk fast or for very long and is in pain most of the time--this makes her very doubtful of Od's plans.  But Tru is so brave and determined that nothing stops her.

And the loyalty of these sisters, in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds--natural and supernatural--is absolutely the core of what made this book such a pleasure.  It's what I always hoped I'd find when I finally picked up a Cat Winters book. Time to go start another one!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Red

There is no one but Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to blame for the 500% increase in romance novels on my Kindle.  The problem with breaking in a new genre is that you don't know how to find the gems; I'm good at finding the right fantasy and sci fi books for me, but I never had the context for romance before.

But now, I have a neverending supply of romance novels highly rated by smart feminists with good taste, and I am rolling in it.

This is where I read this review of The Red, by Tiffany Reisz. I don't know that I've ever read published erotica before; there's plenty of that in fanfic, whether you're looking for it or not. But the review was glowing, and I was curious, and the book was on Netgalley, so now I'm reviewing erotica, which....does that change the rating on this blog?

I have specific critiques that would get kind of X-rated, so let's skip that.  I'll say that I really liked the structure, how the protagonist and her lover came to an agreement--a sexual relationship for a year that includes whatever he wants, in exchange for enough money to save her art gallery (called, titularly, The Red), delivered in the form of art. I loved how much pleasure the deal gave her, and the balance between Malcolm's demanding dominance and his desire to bring her happiness.

My main complaint came toward the end, so I'll be vague for spoilery reasons: I found the relationship at the end to be way TOO alpha-male takes what he wants. I think the book tried to pull off a switch where my goodwill was transferred from one situation to another, and the switch didn't quite work for me.

But we're talking last-ten-pages quibbles. If what you're looking for is a fun, sexy story that's a little bit fantasy and a little bit kinky, this is a really nice starting place.  It reminded me of the things I like about sexy fanfic, but it managed to do those things while getting me invested in characters I've never met before, which I think is pretty impressive.

There. I reviewed erotica. But I think, new rule: no Netgalley requests that I'd be embarrassed to talk to my coworkers about!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

R.I.P. XII: My List

My last RIP post was mostly about books I've read and(/or) recommended.  But one of the most fun things about reading is planning--I can plan to read a hundred books in a week, even if I can only read about two.  So: of all the scary books I want to read, which ones are in the line-up for this fall?


Well, after being reminded of how excellent Grady Hendrix is, I got all excited about a book from his backlist called Satan Loves You, which for some reason I could only get in paperback. So now I have this physical book on my shelf, which is just kind of...weird. Almost spooky.  On the list it goes!

Ooh, I've been wanting to read Gwendy's Button Box, because I have mostly given up on Stephen King novels, but I'll still give a story or novella a shot.  Bloat is my problem with King, so this is a good chance to avoid that. And there's a coauthor named Richard Chizmar about whom I know nothing. But I found a copy at the library, so here we go.

I've been meaning to read Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, and this seems like the perfect time!  Brenda really liked it, and it's a Lovecraftian story that centers on race, which I think is always going to be really interesting (and probably my favorite approach to Lovecraft, because of the bone-deep squick that is his own approach to race).

Also The Deep, because Nick Cutter is a horror novelist I've heard I should definitely try. Also, to paraphrase my summary of Dept.H: horror in a deep sea science lab.  What's not to love?

Is my list too long yet?  Well, let's throw two more on, because I have Stephanie Kuehn's When I Am Through with You out from the library, and I've got a Netgalley advance copy of something called Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda.  I've started the latter, and the beginning is so heavy-handed that the book is either awful or it's going to be OFF THE RAILS, and my money is strongly on the latter, in the best of all possible ways.  As for the former, Kuehn is always creepy, in an unreliable-narrator-may-be-a-monster kind of way.

God, I'm so excited to get started.  Bring on RIP!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Less Reviewy Than I Intended

I'm so many weeks behind on reviewing that I probably won't be able to catch up. I think September's going to be a crazy one for me: the Friends of the Library is having a big book sale! And I'm on the committee to plan their big event in November! And I'm starting a new job! And leaving my old one that I love but it's time to move on! And my college friends are coming to town! And I have a lot of theater tickets!

It's all going to be fine--great, in fact! Many big and exciting things! But blogging has been falling by the wayside and I think if I do a post a week I'm going to be doing as well as I can hope.

So, because I'm nothing if not an obsessive completist, here's a list of the books I will not be reviewing in the near future.

The Spindlers, by Lauren Oliver.  I read this one out loud to my eight year old and he liked it a lot, but I felt that there wasn't much there.  The main character sets out to save her brother and travels through a magical world, but after setting off, pretty much nothing that happens in the book is something she did.  Even the trouble she gets into is mostly accidental, and the number of random passers-by who save her is kind of exhausting.  I was much more fond of her bewigged talking rat companion.

Dept.H: After the Flood, by Matt and Sharlene Kindt.  A murder mystery on a flooding submersible research station while a virus levels the outside world.  It's like someone wrote the comic from Station Eleven.  I don't love the art--it's a little too hard to parse--but the story is amazing. Warning: cliffhangers!

Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace.  This is the first novella in the Sin du Jour series, and I desperately hope that I get a chance to review the whole series someday.  This was just great--dark and light and funny and grim and full of monsters and demonic chickens.

Star Scouts, by Mike Lawrence.  Another kids book, this one about a girl who is lonely in her new town till she accidentally gets beamed aboard a spaceship by an overeager scout collecting samples for a merit badge.  She ends up joining the scout troop and having great adventures at a summer camp that's not *exactly* what her dad pictured when he told her to go make friends.

Buy not to worry; there are plenty of upcoming reviews, as well as reading planning posts (my favorite posts!). I have a small backlog of review copies to cover, and I really want to talk about Lindy West's Shrill, though I'm not sure I'll be able to add anything insightful on a book so full of insight.

So, forgive my flurry of absences and batten down the hatches of September.  Because in two weeks, I'm going to work in a library!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Readers Imbibing Peril, XII!

Fall is here, and in addition to all the extra back-to-school shenanigans that are going on in my life (about which much more later), it is also time for scary books!  Once again this year, I'm hoping to participate in the awesome (and thankfully loose) reading challenge, Readers Imbibing Peril!

R.I.P. is in its twelfth year, though it recently switched hosts.  I want to thank Andi at Estella's Revenge and Heather at My Capricious Life for hosting, and Jenny at Reading the End (as always) for bringing it to my attention. The challenge is basically "read some scary books in September and October," which, okay, I'm on that.  Also, "watch some scary movies" and maybe "do other scary things that you enjoy." This is the kind of challenge I can get behind.

Since I haven't thought yet about what I'm going to read for the challenge, I'm going to start this adventure off with a short list that I recently shared with a friend and horror fan who was looking for something to read on a family vacation.  Horror that trends toward fun and wacky, rather than straight-up dark.

My Best Friend's Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix.  The author of Horrorstor brings us this story of being a teenager in the '80s, and demons.  It is heartwarming and horrifying.  I love Grady Hendrix.

This Book Is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It), by David Wong.  Sequel to John Dies at the End, I'll admit I haven't read this one yet, but I'm excited to, because of how insane--completely insane--the first book was.

14, by Peter Clines.  Also recommending The Fold, which is kind of a companion book, but barely.  Both very good; I think I liked 14 better for its ensemble cast of gentle misfits.

We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory, because I will never stop talking about this book. Group therapy for survivors of horror movies.

Locke &; Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  An amazing series of graphic novels that tell a carefully crafted, absolutely horrifying story.  This series is built like a Swiss watch, only terrifying.

I will update more when I decide what I'm going to start by reading, but I wanted to get a post up and get rolling.  Bring on the fall!



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Quick Takes: What Is Possible?

It's a summer of impulse books from the YA display!

The Possible, by Tara Altebrando, is about a teenager whose life is being featured on a podcast that is kind of like Serial.  "The Possible" is the name of the podcast, and the teenager, Kaylee, is the biological daughter of a convicted murderer.

Mostly this doesn't affect Kaylee's life.  She lives with her adoptive parents and has pretty much a normal life.  She knows that her biological mother is in prison for killing her baby brother--she testified at the trial as a small child--but it's an old memory that she hasn't thought about in years until the reporter shows up.

Her adoptive parents are against her getting involved, but Kaylee starts looking into the rest of the story, the parts that her childhood memories have nothing to do with. She learns that her birth mother Crystal had been a notorious teen psychic when she was young.  It had been a national sensation, people trying to prove or disprove her powers. As Kaylee tries to sort through who her mother was, she decides to get work with the podcast creator to try to figure out the past.

This one kept me turning the pages--I appear to be all in for YA these days.  Kaylee tends to get what she wants, and she's kind of a brat as a result. And maybe, just maybe, she has some powers of her own.  But her investigation into Crystal's past keeps her life turning in circles around her, and my loyalties changed every few pages throughout the book. 

The most interesting part of the story, though, was how it traced what it's like to be a feature of a story like this.  She cooperates with the reporter, but she only knows her part of the story, and as she listens to the radio show each week (like Serial, the reporting happens in real time between episodes), the story ends up much bigger than she expects, and she's not always on the same side as the storytellers. 

Watching the narrative of Kaylee's life unfold with so little control for her is the best part of the book.  It actually reminded me in some ways of Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, in that the main character is a self-centered jerk who you still root for, and you're grateful as they develop some self-awareness over the course of the novel.

There's a final "showdown" that is so silly as to be unbelievable, but it's darned cathartic so I'll let it slide.  This book is definitely for YA readers; the growing up that happens here is real and pretty touching.