Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Book

I don't read a lot of holiday themed books--I enjoy the holidays a lot, but that enjoyment feels very personal to me, and I don't really relate to the generic heartwarming thing that go into holiday-focused stories.  What feels universal is the stress, which I also feel, and which drives me so far, far away from wanting to read about it.  Let's not talk about all the holiday things I haven't done yet.

And book club never meets in December.  We tried this year, though!  And we picked Wishin' and Hopin', by Wally Lamb,

Yeah...not so much.  This book is the literary equivalent of the movie A Christmas Story, which I hate.  It's for people who are nostalgic for the '50s (to the extent that they extended into the '60s).  It's a great book to give to your father-in-law if he's a certain type of father-in-law.  My dad might like it, because it's about nostalgia for being a ten-year-old boy in an innocent world (and the world is innocent--there's only one black kid at this Catholic school in Connecticut, but he seems to suffer no prejudice.  The Russian girl gets a lot, but she can take it.)

It's also like a grown-up's version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which there doesn't need to be.  I mean, aside from a couple of dirty jokes that the narrator doesn't understand, there's nothing here that's any more complicated than in that kids book. 

So, yeah.  It's not that the book wasn't well-written, or amusing, but that there was no substance to it, and that the point of it is that life was pretty good back then, though maybe the nuns were stricter than they needed to be.  Big ball of meh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Godling Watch

You may recall that I loved N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy.  It's come out as an omnibus (I also love omnibi!), and to with it we have a new novella set in that world: The Awakened Kingdom.  Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy.

As I mentioned, I loved these books.  They're complex but comprehensible, and they deal with some really intricate stuff--how would gods living incarnate interact with human beings?--without getting too abstract or too preachy.  Each book was close enough that they felt very cohesive as a trilogy, but they were not exactly sequels--not only were the main characters different, but they told about the same overarching world events from very different points of view, which prevented any of the standard trilogy things from happening (weak second book, awkward segues between them, etc.).

This novella also takes place quite a long time after the original series, and the narrator is a new godling, just born.  In fact, the language, attitudes, and behavior of the narrator change dramatically over the course of the book, as her vocabulary and understanding of the world increases; I can see how the beginning would be distracting, because the voice is so childish.  I didn't find it to be distracting, though--I actually thought the balance between vocabulary and understanding was quite artfully done, so there's that.

The newest godling, Schill, travels to the land where Yeine was born, hundreds of years after she became one of the Three, to learn more about mortals and to find her nature.  (This story is all about finding your nature.  You might say this theme was laid down a little heavy-handedly.)  She finds the land of Darre has become an oppressive matriarchy, with the rights of men severely curtailed and their humanity constantly questioned. 

This, too, might be seen as heavy-handed; some of these scenes appear almost exaggerated, with men being ignored and their beauty being discussed and their inability to be rational debated and women treating them roughly.  At first I thought some of these scenes were clunky, but if you twist them and rewrite them so the women are wearing carefully described robes and behaving modestly and the men are lecturing them, you realize that it's actually not heavyhanded at all--neither the behavior nor the writing.  If the roles were reversed, I wouldn't have noticed that the scene existed. 

This is pretty powerful, and if you came to me with the argument that this is an Issue book, I wouldn't be able to tell you you're wrong.  But because of Jemisin's care with character, because of her gorgeous depiction of cultures and subcultures and politics (national and familial), because of Shill's childlike straightforwardness and fast-developing wisdom, it's a lot more than that. 

I think the only criticism that I would actually level is that the book is structured into two halves, really, and the first one didn't have much at stake.  In the first half our narrator is born, and tries to find her place, and realizes all the impediments to this that she faces.  And it's interesting, and we like her and want her to succeed, but there's no risk, no tension, and no stakes.  The first half mostly takes place in the gods' realm, where time doesn't mean much, and power is so real and visible that it's not really something anyone is struggling with.  So while I loved the world- and character building going on here, it felt kind of weak to me.

When Shill's travels bring her to Darre, we being to get entangled in mortal politics, and we meet Eino, and things begin to feel more urgent, because there are now lives at stake.  Query Shark is always telling me that it's all about stakes, and it's true that without them, there's tension missing. 

As for the end--it fit with the story, and it was satisfying on some levels, but on others, it was a little out of left field.  I feel like Shill's path was perfect, but Eino--I think I needed Eino's story to fit together a little more tightly.

But reading about Yeine and Itempas and Naha and their children and their world--it's always a delight.  It's not without flaws, but it was a pleasure to read, and I can't ask for a lot more than that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Under the Skin Before the End

That's an odd title for a post.  Let me clarify right away: this book, Under the Skin, by Michel Faber, is crazy and weird and fascinating, and I'm almost to the end but I want to talk about it SO MUCH.  I know myself; I need to write the post before I get to the end or there is no chance that I will say all the things I want to say. Therefore, this post.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that there's a reveal, kind of.  I mean, it's not a twist ending, but when the book opens, you don't quite know what's going on, and that's a huge part of the experience of the book.  So I'm going to talk about the book in two stages; in the second half, there will be spoilers.  I'll warn you when that happens.

As the book opens, Isserly is driving around rural Scotland hoping to pick up a hitchhiker. She's pretty anxious about it, actually--stressed, excited.  She wants one with broad shoulders.  She's got a system.  She's done this before.

Already, something is clearly a bit off.  At this point, you're intrigued in a horribly voyeuristic kind of way.  Does she have some sort of sexual compulsion?  Is she an axe-murderer?  You're pretty sure it's one of those.  You're looking for clues--how she pictures them, what she's looking for, the subtleties of the language.  The narrator is third person, but we're tight inside her thoughts, but this is just a normal day for her, so there's no explanation.  We're looking for clues.

Gradually, across dozens of pages, multiple scenes, I started to have suspicions.  I can honestly say there was no one moment when I knew what was going on.  Suspicion grew to a firm theory grew to real comprehension.  This reveal, this uncertainty, looks easy, but has to have been incredibly tricky to craft.

Okay, before we go to the spoilery part, let me just say that I just looked this up and realized that this author wrote The Crimson Petal and the White, which I've never read but have heard of.  This is fascinating to me, though I'm not sure why, or what it means.

One other thing before you stop reading (which you should because of the spoilers): they made this a movie, with Scarlett Johansson.  I have no idea how they did that.  It looks very stylish, which actually bugs me, because the book is not stylist.  It's very naturally written, very simple in its use of language, structure, everything.  This is deceptive about it, but it's also what allows it to get at the ideas it's trying to get at--style would take away from the real human core of this, and so I cannot see how the movie could do the ideas justice.  And the plot is kind of meaningless without the ideas.

Anyway, fair warning: you do NOT want to read the rest of this post if you are interested in the book.  Actually, you know what?  Go read the book and the come back to the post.  Because the unfolding is really half of the thing.

Here we go.

Time to leave.


So this book is about what makes us human, what makes one a person instead of a creature.  You could look at it from an overly simplistic point of view and say it's about animal rights and vegetarianism, but I don't think that's really the point.  I mean, all those points are contained in the actual main point here, which is that we define what life is worth, what an entity is worth, by some yardstick that we hold for what humanity is.

I'm not explaining this well.  But it's complicated to explain, which is why it kind of takes a novel to do.  Isserly's attitude toward vodsels made me think of colonialism, and the notion that "we" are civilized and "they" are barbarians, because of some arbitrary list of things that we have and they don't.  (I'm picturing an Englishman in a uniform with a walrus mustache mansplaining this to a lady with a parasol, FYI.)  So we have monogamy and corsets and chairs, so we are civilized, but they have none of these things, and so are savages.  And this is nonsensical, right?  Completely ludicrous.

But.  But then you go from the civilized/savage spectrum to the human/inhuman one.  This is a line that has always been blurred in the minds of people who are invested in the former spectrum.  (Note: I am working pretty hard not to start talking about race and social justice, because I am not currently coherent on the subject.  But if you notice how those topics relate to this review, rest assured that this is very much on my mind as I write this.)  And you can approach it from another point of view: what makes an animal--an intelligent social animal, like a gorilla or a dolphin--less a person than a human?

I think that most of us would end up saying language.  I don't know enough about animals to say whether this should change our thinking about dolphins, gorillas, or prairie dogs, but I do know that this book puts the question front and center. Isserly speaks the vodsel language, but it doesn't change her feelings.  But she hides the fact of that language from the soft-hearted Amliss Vess--the perfect picture of a rich kid liberal--because she knows it means something.

There is so much going on here, and it's late and I can't write much more.  But there are issues of class--being forced into the underground Estates, spending most of your income on your oxygen and water rations, and never seeing the sky; physicality--how much of who you are is your body, and when beauty doesn't fulfill its promises, and how looking different separates you (and here I'm thinking about the movie Avatar and the book Eva); freedom--what would you give up, what would you do, if your choices were the Estates or the Scottish coast? 

It's not even that I want to talk about the book, but that the book makes me want to talk about all these things, about what makes us human, and about what makes life worth living.  This is why I have a blog.  But even if you haven't read it, if you want to have a drink and talk about the meaning of humanity, please let me know.  I'm all in.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Kieron Gillen Round Up

Who is Kieron Gillen, you ask?  I did, too, when I started reading The Wicked + The Divine. Turns out, though, that I had two of his books from Netgalley, both just because they looked interesting.  (I'm kind of a Netgalley addict.  It can be a real problem for me.)  Anyway, they're very different and really good, and I think together they make a pretty good primer on KIeron Gillen, Comics Writer.

The Wicked + The Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie Mckelvie, is a recent publication; the comic is on something like its seventh or eighth issue, and the first collection is just coming out.  There's something very up my alley about this one.

This is a book about pop stars, fame, and the cult of celebrity--literally. Once every century or so, twelve gods take human form.  They actually take it--each one inhabits a living person, usually a young adult, and those people live for a short period as the god (two years, I think?) and then die.  It's a high price and a crazy ride, and it comes with adoring fans, two sets of memories (human and god), and adoring fans.

The main character is Laura, a girl who is a kind of groupie, and she takes up with Lucifer (who embodies a crisply classy woman).  But things get complicated when assassins pop up, Lucifer is accused of murder, and the gods are turning on each other.  Their relationships are complicated, their personalities intense, and their motives vague.  Laura's trying to track down who's setting Lucifer up, and getting in deeper and deeper with these rock star immortals.

So I like Laura a lot--I mean, she's kind of an annoying teenager, but she's supposed to be, and you can see her trying to be more grown up, but not quite able.  And Lucifer is amazing--all the gods, really, are incredibly charismatic, even on the page.  In the story, they have a powerful, indefinable draw for people, but even as simple characters, each one just projects such personal competence, such perfect themself-ness (what is the word I want?) that they are intriguing.  Amaratsu is good, and loving, and friendly.  Lucifer is funny, and cynical, and razor sharp.  Baal is about power; the Morrigan is about madness. 

Okay, here's the flaw--there are way too many of them.  Very few of the names are familiar, and several are long and contain many of the same letters.  I'm supposed to be following conversations about the personal politics of characters I haven't seen or met, can't even quite pronounce, and don't know anything about.  I'm confused, is what I'm saying.  I'm able to keep going anyway, and the bigger plot points make sense even if you don't follow it, but it's kind of frustrating that I can't quite follow it.  I'm holding out a lot of hope that more volumes will give me more room to learn the characters.

Three, by Kieron Gillen, Ryan Kelly, and Jordie Bellaire, has some of the same issues, especially the shallow one of everyone's names being complicated and hard to remember (place names, too).  That's because it takes place in Sparta.  There's an added layer here that The Wicked + The Divine didn't have, though, which is that all these Spartans look exactly alike--same hair, similar faces, same EXACT armor.  So yeah, it's not entirely my slow-wittedness that keeps em from telling them apart.

There's also a lot of history to learn here, and since this is kind of a side story that takes place during 300, it's a very different view of Sparta.  So much of the story revolves around history, though, that there's a certain amount of info-dumping that goes on, and I think the story that's here would have benefited a bit from being spread out more, so it could focus more on the people involved, instead of making them game pieces that illustrate their time and place.

Helots are lower than slaves--if you ever wondered how you can have a society that's ALL WARRIORS ALL THE TIME, it's because there are helots doing everything else.  They're considered inhuman; periodically strong helots are slaughtered just to keep them from rebellion.  Anyway, there is a massacre, and three helots end up on the run, while a troop of 300 Spartans is sent to chase them down and administer justice.

The story of the three runaways is great, and I wish I'd had a little more time with them.  Things felt a bit rushed, and what could have been subtle was painted in broader strokes.  The stories of the Spartans who follow them are probably more interesting, but this is where I got confused--there are two kings of Sparta, apparently?  And they answer to some other body? There's some political stuff that means an important guy ends up going after them; he's clearly got a complicated life thing going on, and I followed none of it, and I'm disappointed because I think it would have been worth it.

So, yes, this was a very good story that would have been better for a deeper, more robust telling, and for a chance to build the world more gradually.  Or maybe it would have been better for my having seen the movie 300.  That could be it.

I'm definitely going to read volume 2 of The Wicked + The Divine, though.  

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Christmas for Your Budding Bookworm

Bookworm or geek!  We're building a geek here.  I don't imagine you need toy recommendations--my son found a toy catalog in the mail and meticulously circled 95% of the items in it.  Toy ideas are easy.

But books!  The problem is that to find good books, you have to have read the books, and who has time to go around reading kids' books ahead of reading them to the kid?  So here are some ideas for books your kid might enjoy if they're anything at all like mine--which is to say, 5 or 6 years old and loving a big adventure story.

Adam's way into all things superhero.  Marvel, DC, you name it.  It's not always easy to stay age appropriate in this realm, but there is some good stuff out there.

Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco.  Volume 1 is called Welcome to the Treehouse, but they are all wonderful.  All the sidekicks of the DC universe--Robin, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Supergirl, Speedy, Raven--all hang out in a treehouse and go to a school where benign supervillains are the teachers.  There's nothing scary here--it's all about adventures of being a kid.

Calling All Super Friends, by Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela, and Stewart McKenny. This is the first in another series--the grown up DC heroes face some kid-appropriate baddies, like Kanjar Ro and his gong that turns all people into animals!  (Spoiler: the Super Pets save the day in that one.)

Power Pack, by Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru. Volume 1, The Kids Are All Right. Adam loves this stuff, tells me all the jokes right after.  The four pre-teen superheroes team up with Marvel favorites for kid-friendly adventures.  This one you might want to look at if you're worried about scariness levels--they have real adventures.  But it's definitely going to be the best Wolverine comic for a six year old, I'll tell you that.

Other Comics
Superheroes are Mike's domain; other comics are more my thing.  These are my absolute favorites; Amulet I actually started reading by myself, and Adam ended up looking over my shoulder till we were reading it together.

Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi.  If you don't have a kid, put this one on your own wish list. Emily discovers she's a Stonekeeper, which gives her special powers but also demands great sacrifices.  She faces adventures with her brother Navin by her side, along with an amazing cast of robots, anthropomorphic animals, and sometimes their mom.  It's grand and epic and gorgeous.  So far there are six volumes in what I've heard will be a nine-volume series.

Zita the Space Girl, by Bet Hatke.  An absolute freaking delight.  Zita is friendly and impulsive and so, so brave, and when her friend Joseph is in trouble, she dives into a wormhole to rescue him and finds herself on a strange world of creatures and robots.  She gains allies and has adventures!  There are some scary bits, but mostly it's girl power and robots.

Missile Mouse, by Jake Parker.  The only drawback here is that there are only two volumes--this is some rip-roaring adventure, with a galactic superspy named Missile Mouse who gets himself into all kinds of trouble, and out again.  This one, unlike the others mentioned above, is very much a shoot-em-up, and there are laser blasters everywhere--but, of course, only in the best possible way.

Picture Books
This is the category that's easiest to give if you don't know kids, or don't know the particular kids you're giving to very well.  These choices are guaranteed winners--gorgeous, adorable, fun books that I promise the kid will love.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures, by Ben Hatke.  By the author of Zita the Spacegirl, this is an adorable book about a girl who, when she's lonely, puts out a sign to invite lost creatures into her  house.  The creatures are adorable, their problems are charming, and I just want it to have a dozen more pages of illustrations.

Max's Castle, by Kate Banks.  This was a recent library find, and a lucky one.  Max and his brothers build a castle out of their alphabet blocks, and everything that happens in the castle is made up of letters, from the DRAGONS to (with a few blocks rearranged) the DUNGEON.  They get in trouble and out of it with their alphabet blocks (they turn a dangerous SPEAR into some delicious PEARS), and my beginning reader had a great time seeing the connections of the sounds.  Definitely one for kids who are sounding things out.

Elephant and Piggie, by Mo Willems. There are a dozen of these books, and they're all hilarious.  They're easy to read and the drawings are so simple, but there is SO MUCH emotional complexity in there, and the reading becomes a delightful performance.  Most of them make me laugh out loud, but Adam's current favorite is A Big Guy Took My Ball.  I like We Are in a Book! because it's so meta, and I think There Is a Bird on Your Head! is my favorite, but I Am Invited to a Party gets quoted the most often around our house (we must be ready!).

Whew!  This barely scratches the surface; there are runners-up in all these categories, including Superman Family Adventures, by Art Baltazar and Franco (by the team that brought you Tiny Titans); Bone, by Jeff Smith (I recommend the colorized version); and anything else by Mo Willems, especially Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator!  Plus I didn't even get into chapter books, since we've had somewhat uneven results there--though I highly recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin.

So go forth and buy books for children!  Buy them by the pile--parents love gifts that are quiet and don't need batteries or take up a lot of room.  Enjoy the giving season!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Memory Lane

I don't get to do much rereading; it used to be one of my favorite things, but now that they've invented the internet, I know way more about what's coming out ahead of time, and now that I have an e-reader, I get my hands on things fast, and there's just no stopping me.

But Open Road Media has rereleased Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, and they generously gave me a review copy.  I've wanted to reread this specific book for a while; I had pulled my paperback out of wherever it was hiding and put it on my "active" shelf.  Synchronicity.

Have you read this book? I remember loving it, and finding it a little confusing, but that was true of a lot of things I read as a teenager.  Since then, I've read a lot more Robin McKinley and developed a very clear sense of her writing style--it's very high fantasy, with archaic sentence construction and a great deal of royal formality.  There is a lot more explanation of what takes place than there is dialog or scenes unfolding; it is as if the author is writing you a letter explaining what happened, in plenty of detail and appropriately paced, but with circumstances often explained in summary.

This sounds bad; it's not.  She pulls it off.  A full 80% of this book was absolutely wonderful as I'd remembered it.  And the confusing part...was still confusing.

But now I understand why it's confusing, and I can explain it.  The first half of the book is about Aerin not fitting in.  She's the king's daughter, but she's different from her family--her mother was a foreigner, a witch-woman, and Aerin shows no sign of the powers that run in the royal family.  She has only one friend, her older cousin Tor, and she's tormented by her other cousins.  She spends a lot of time with her father's old out-to-pasture horse, and reading.

She starts to find a place for herself when she makes herself a dragon-killer--though the only dragons that are still in the kingdom of Damar are small, they're dangerous, and she learns to fight them and finally become useful.  But when the Great Dragon awakes--unheard of for hundreds of years--she is overmatched.

So that's the first half of the book, and it's sooooo good.  It's about insecurity, and how it can keep you separate from people who love and cherish you, and it's about finding yourself, and it's full of good details about how Aerin struggles to shape a life that fits both her and the world she belongs to but doesn't belong to.

Then the book changes, and she goes on a quest.  And she learns more about herself, and that maybe there are other places where she might fit, and that's excellent.

And then.  And then there's this weird interlude where she has to face a Big Bad Guy, and this part reads like an odd fairy tale, and I could nitpick why this part bothered me, but mostly it's because it comes out of nowhere and is like a long dream sequence, which really removes a lot of the menace and immediacy.  The bare facts of the incident are effective, but I found it more confusing than anything else, almost like a page that tied in from another book and had to read a certain way to match the facts.

And then, after this, we go back to the story we were reading, where the two parts of Aerin--the one that belongs to Damar and the one that does not--have to find a way to live with each other, and to find a life that works for her.

So you've got more than half of a very good book, a weird little fourth act, and then a really lovely, satisfying ending.  And it's enough--I love this book, and I love Aerin and Tor and Luthe and Arlberth and Teka and Talat, and I love to hate Galenna.  It's beautiful, and if it's still a little confusing, I would take twice the confusion for another dozen pages, for an epilogue one hundred years later.

Which is probably why I now need to go reread The Blue Sword.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Round Up!

Too much good reading leads to too little blogging.  We'll start with what Mrs. Levitt (my fourth grade teacher) used to call a "Mustard Catch-Up Day."  Here so here are a couple of weeks worth of reviews, quick and dirty.

Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle.  This has been on prize lists, and it's by the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, so it's been talked about.  I went into it knowing almost nothing (including only knowing one Mountain Goats song ("This Year")).  The title is evocative, but in that I found it quite misleading.  The blurb makes it sound mysterious and action packed, and while you could call it the former, it's not really the latter.  What it is, big-time, is absorbing.  It's one of those books that is composed mostly of little moments, but with just enough of a mystery to draw you onward.

It's basically the life of a guy whose face was destroyed because of something he did a long time ago.  So his life is a very carefully constructed thing, on two levels: basic medical necessity and massive disfigurement.  He makes his living by writing games, which people pay to play by mail, and the games bring him into contact with people, causing their lives to touch in these small, specific ways.  The story is mostly told backwards, where we start out knowing that there are Things that have happened, and they are gradually unveiled.

The cover copy makes it sound like it's about these mysteries, these what happened and why questions, but really, that's not a good way to put it.  I mean, these things are the source of the curiosity and fascination that keep you reading, but the revelations aren't any kind of twist--you've seen the aftermath of each incident in so much detail that the thing itself, when you arrive at it, is almost anticlimactic.  It was remarkably powerful, though, and the points it's making about cause and effect--how the effect can have a lot more meaning than the cause, and how inevitable things look in hindsight, and how many decisions we make that only make sense in the moment but not really from any vantage point with perspective--are hypnotic and intriguing.  Not usually my kind of book, but I really enjoyed it.

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel, by Anya Ulinich.  This was probably the wordiest graphic novel I've ever read, and maybe the most time consuming one.  Lena Finkle is in her late 30s when she divorces her husband; she's a New Yorker and the mother of two teenaged girls, and when she was in her late teens she emigrated with her family from Russia.  The book is about the year after her divorce, and it's about being a Russian woman in America, and how that affects her views on dating and her relationships with men.  And there's a LOT of ground to cover.

She's only ever slept with three men (her first boyfriend, her husband, and an old flame from Russia) when she enters the dating scene.  She does it almost scientifically, as a way to determine whether what she's feeling for her recently reunited Russian boyfriend is going to last.  I'll admit, I was expecting more humorous OK Cupid stories than I got here--there were funny ones, but really it was about wrestling with the different parts of herself--the Russian immigrant part, that keeps telling her that if she's not starving, her problems don't count; her very straightforward nature, which doesn't always mesh well with the dating scene; the part that feels rejected when she rationally shouldn't care.  All the parts you expect to come out of the woodwork on the dating scene.

It's an in-depth examination of a woman's interior life, and I think the lens of her Russian heritage and immigrant experience is a very interesting one.  It simultaneously made the character harder to relate to by making her very different from me and kept her intriguing, seeing what her internal voices will come up with next.  It was a rich, dense book; I admired it very much, and I think I liked it.

Texts from Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg.  You have to read this book.  I give you no options.  It's so, so, so funny.  Because characters in books are often crazy, and if you look at them from the point of view of a normal person, their behavior gets even weirder.  If you are bookish, you must read this.  It doesn't matter if you've read the source material; even without knowing the specific books, you get the point, the satire. Oh, god, it's so funny.  If you want the taste, look at Mallory Ortberg's "Women who Want to be Alone in Western Art."  It will very much give you the flavor of this.

You should also watch the video of her reading her poem, "Male Novelist Jokes," because it's so damned funny.  And, because I can't seem to speak coherently about this book, you should read this review by Sarah Mesle, which is the one that actually convinced me to read the book.  I'm not sure if most of the "characters" here are women, but the humor does come from the characters' grandiosity, and the dichotomy the reviewer sets up between Genius and its unwilling audience is dead on.  This stuff is smart, is what I'm saying.

Seconds, by Bryan Lee O'Malley.  See, now I understand why I couldn't read Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, even though I loved the movie.  It's because Scott Pilgrim is a complete and total ass, and without Michael Cera's bumbling charm, all that comes across is his assiness.  I never got beyond the first few pages, because Scott is so hateable, and in the book I couldn't find a way to love him, too.

Katie is different--she's more likeable.  I think her vulnerability comes across more clearly than Scott's--she's a big-mouth and bossy and everything (I've watched enough Top Chef to know that this is what it takes to run a restaurant), but she's also insecure, especially around her ex, and nervous about all the new ventures she's taking on.

The premise here is that Katie's running her old restaurant and starting a new one, running into her old flame and nursing a friends-with-benefits thing with someone else, etc.  She's reaching for big things and trying to make sure things come out just the way she wants them.  And then she discovers a magic that lets her change the past.  And, as you can imagine, this is great for a while, and then there are some not-so-great results.

Like I said, I didn't hate Katie, but I didn't love her, either; I kind of liked the book in spite of her.  Watching her get greedy was really painful, but most of the book was well-balanced, between the temptation of this amazing magical thing and the not-unexpected lessons to take away from it.  So overall, I really enjoyed this book.  My only big criticism is that I felt like the end did not fit very well with the rest of the story.  It got very trippy and bizarre, which, hey, magic and messing with spacetime, so okay, but the trippy bizarreness was also somehow tied to this other piece of magic--this "house spirit" thing.  And I thought that was kind of out of nowhere, as though the direct line between messing compulsively with space and time and crazy mixed up consequences wasn't clear, and there needed to be some sort of malevolent someone messing things up.  It actually took away, in my mind, from the fact that everything that happened was an actual consequence of Katie's own actions.

These are not actually short reviews.  This is really just four reviews in one blog post.  I feel like I'm showing my hand; what the heck am I going to write about on Wednesday?  Oh, well.  I guess there are always more books!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Detective with an Ugly Hat

Jackaby!  How can I review this book?  How can I explain it?

Okay, let's start with the obvious, the superficial, and the required.  It's by William Ritter, his first book.  I received a review copy from Netgalley. It's an historical detective novel about a supernatural detective.  Our narrator is Abigail Rook, who ran away from home to have Adventures but found they are not just lying about waiting for people to pass by.  She finds herself unemployed in New Fiddleham, New England, in need of work and reluctant to go home to be a good girl on her family's estate.  Miss Rook happens into a job as an assistant to an unorthodox investigator and finds herself caught up in a series of mysterious murders.

Okay, next let's go with the overall impression: charming.  Light for a murder story, fluffy for a supernatural story in historical New England.  Jackaby is an oddball, absentminded professor type in the way of Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who, and Abigail is determined to be his Watson/Companion.  The premise is adorable, Abigail is just the kind of smart-girl-escapes-boarding-school you want from your story.

There are flaws, though.  And I'm afraid there are kind of a lot of them.  But they're all kind of superficial! Like, the characters sometimes lapse into modern speech, and when a character explains a sequence of events to the detective, they start to sound a lot more like the narrator of a book than a person talking.  And there are less linguistic bits, like how Miss Rook develops an instant (like, absolutely instant) liking for a certain young man that is made more of than it really deserves.  And how everyone is talking all the time about what a proper young lady should and shouldn't do, but Abigail is determined to Go Her Own Way!

And Jackaby himself, who is not quite the genius you quite want him to be.  He's like Doctor Who if you removed the Sherlock Holmes from him and just left a kind of ADD guy who has a LOT of institutional knowledge about the supernatural.  He's a Great Man, but I'm not sure he deserves the title.

BUT.  All this, and I really enjoyed it.  I was taking notes on the things that annoyed me, and I was charmed.  There are many clever moments, many pleasant little notes where Abigail makes friends with a ghost or debates with Jackaby the merits of throwing books when one needs a projectile.  There's the toad you shouldn't stare at, and the duck who keeps the archives.  Abigail's determination to be game for anything is really endearing, even when her yearning for Adventure starts to wear on you (how many dead bodies do you look at before you start to get a more balanced notion of Adventure?).

I think my overall impression of the book is that it's a great book written by a very young writer who's still ironing out the kinks.  You can see where there's a series being set up here, though there are no loose ends or cliffhangers to annoy you.  And you know what?  I guarantee you I'll read the next one in the series, and I'd bet cash money that the first three or five books William Ritter writes will get better and better, and in a year or two, he's going to be a favorite. 

So, Jackaby.  There it is.  I thought I was going to say I didn't like it, but the truth is that, for all its flaws, I kind of loved it.  Go figure.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend & Comic Sads

Huge weekend.  Birthday parties and pre-Thanksgiving family things and out of town visits and so many presents.

There will be posts, I promise.  One will be all the books I really, really want to read absolutely next (spoilers: they are legion).  There will be reviews (possibly brief ones) of Wolf in White Van, Texts from Jane Eyre, Birthmarked, and Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel.  I'll talk about the book I'm reading now, Jackaby

Today, though, I'm just going to mention this briefly, because I think it's important.  I've been running around telling everyone to read Rat Queens, which I maintain is an amazing book.  Last week, it came out that the artist, Roc Upchurch, was arrested for beating his (estranged) wife.  I found out when Aarti posted about it, and I was absolutely heartbroken.  Like, shattered.  I had already been incredibly surprised and impressed that male artists were making a book about such cool women, and I felt like the rug was yanked out from under me.

Here's the article Aarti linked to originally, which contains more useful links.  I think the worst part is that his response to the whole thing was basically, "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have lost my temper."  As though it were perfectly reasonable to desire to strangle someone, as though everyone went around actively controlling impulses to actually throttle people.  The fact that he's not even paying lip service to the ideas that this kind of violence is totally unacceptable is baffling to me--like he doesn't even get what he did wrong.

Anyway, then the writer, Kurt Wiebe, announced that Rat Queens would continue without Upchurch.  I'm glad, and I will admit I was saying to myself, "It's only the artist.  The writer didn't do this thing," even though Upchurch is credited as co-creator.  Anyway, I'm glad he did that, and I thought his statement was actually quite touching, and showed a lot of compassion even for his messed up friend and colleague, whom he clearly cares a lot about.  I think that balance, the fact that Very Bad People are not, for the most part, Very Bad all the time, is am important thing to remember and what makes these moments so hard.

So I give Wiebe full credit.  But there's a part of me that is totally thinking, "Well, the whole success of this thing was based on its appeal to feminist geeks.  The property is worth NOTHING if Upchurch stays attached now.  It's the only move that might even remotely allow Rat Queens to continue to exist."  I don't want to take away from this choice, and the fact that he parted ways with his co-creator because of this.  But it was the only move to make, and part of me wishes I believed with more clarity that the reasoning was a moral stance and not a business decision.

Anyway, this is a complete bummer and I'm not an analyst, but I'm going to be following this story around the internet, and as someone who's been singing the praises of this project, I just wanted to say how sad I am, and how grateful I am that this action was taken, and that I continue to support and follow this book. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Magical Magicalism

I had never heard of Kelly Link until her name appeared before me on Netgalley.  But she's a writer of short stories, and short stories are Not My Thing, so I pretty much passed the book by.

Then her name suddenly started appearing everywhere (well, at least some somewheres), and I got curious, and I went back to Netgalley and asked politely for a review copy of Get in Trouble, her newest collection.  And Netgalley (well, Random House, via Netgalley) generously let me have a copy with the intent of my providing a fair and balanced review, and I began to read.

I had no idea what to expect.

It started out easy, with a story told in a linear fashion, one with characters operating in a recognizable world, albeit with fantastical elements.  "The Summer People" is about a high school girl, mostly on her own, who keeps house for those other folks.  But she does more than make beds, and the magic that unfolds is lovely--this story made me so happy and I fell in love right away.

This is the point where I emailed Brenda and asked if she'd heard of Kelly Link (because I hadn't).  She said yeah, but magical realism wasn't her thing.  I was surprised, because that's not what the first story was.  I started the next one.

Okay, this is a little odder.  "I Can See Right Through You" is a trickier story--plunks you down in the middle, with a lot of names and not much to get a grip on.  The time jumps around, a lot, and the main character is called "the demon lover."  I got about eight pages in before I got who was who, and then I went back to the beginning and started again.  This time, it was easier.  It's the story of an actor who got famous playing a young, hot vampire, but who's getting a little older now, and whose personal life is falling apart.  He's trying to get himself together by visiting his ex and oldest friend, who played his human lover in that first, definitive role.  It's about getting older, and trying to hold onto the things that are real, and yeah, that's magical realism.

Then we go back to straightforward, with some humor, where a teenaged girl gets off the bus in New York to meet a man she's been chatting with online.  He's in his 30s, and he thinks she is, too, and most of the story takes place in a hotel where there is a dentist convention AND a superhero convention (actual superheroes, not comics or cosplay) at the same hotel.  It's about adolescence and not belonging and painful discoveries, and it's sweet and funny and yeah, there are superheroes, but mostly it's just fun in the way a "meeting someone from the internet and it all goes horribly wrong" stories can be.

By now, I'm settled in a bit, and I can see where the magical realism is.  I can also see that her thing is to plunge you into a new world without only small clues--not just a world of the future or an alternate now, but a cast of characters with a history that they hint at.  Each story starts in the middle of things, and for most of them, I ended up flipping back to the beginning once I figured out who the characters were, what the terminology meant, and where things were going.

All of these are facts, I'm realizing now.  Yes, this is the story of reading the book--what did you think of it?  Did you like it?  Yes, a lot, actually.  I found these stories challenging, but worth it.  I found them all very different from each other, which is not often how I feel about a collection by a single author and which is amazing.  I found them daring, both emotionally and in form.  I found them exciting, with characters I wanted to know more about and mysteries or action I wanted to follow to the end.

Do I recommend it?  Yes.  Very highly, actually.  I'm not a short story person, but if more were like this, I might be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Quick and dirty, because I'm backlogged!

I read K.J. Parker's novella Blue and Gold because of this post at Reading the End, and now I'm going to read the rest of K.J. Parker because while it doesn't actually read like Miles Vorkosigan--the world and story and storytelling are all different, and the character is a completely different person--it's all about a narrator who has many hands against him, but is super freaking clever.  (I know that invoking Miles is a very big deal, and I don't want to overuse this.  I repeat that the book is nothing like those books, but the character's appeal is, like Miles', in his extreme competence.)

And he's maybe not a very good person; it gets harder to decide as the story goes on.  Oh, it was so good, thank you, Jenny!  (Also, a bunch of Parker's work is available on the Kindle in convenient omnibus form.  I own this now.)

I read Drew Weing's Set to Sea because I've been enjoying his webcomic, The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo.  Honestly, there isn't a lot to say about it, except that it's kind of a lovely little book with a very simple story about a man who wants to be a poet but is impressed as a sailor.  The moral is kind of about living the life you have, and how that can lead to the life you dream of.  I wish I had more to say about it--the format, with one drawing per page, makes it a very short story, but the art and the broad-strokes rendition of a life at sea made it really appealing.  I don't know--not perfect for everyone, but a nice little volume.

I was about to put in a few kids' comics and books that I've read recently, but I think I might do a Christmas suggestion list next week, so we'll save that up, shall we?  Because who doesn't have a seven year old who needs some comics for Christmas?  And there are only so many volumes of Zita the Spacegirl and Amulet out there.

So let's polish this off with another novella, Ajax Penumbra 1969, by Robin Sloan.  This is a companion--you might even say a prequel--to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which we read for book club a while back

I'm going to start by pointing out my annoyance at having Ajax Penumbra clearly defined as being of Spanish descent, because I had always pictured him as Southeast Asian.  So that was kind of a bummer.  Really, this is a charming adventure about searching for a lost tome, and the adventure part is a really fun romp.

But after reading Bookstore, the similarities here actually kind of weakened the whole thing.  First, what really jumped out at me here is the fact that books are kind of a fetish object in this whole series.  These are people who love and study and hunt down books, but they mostly don't read them.  They're about books as objects, not about the ideas and people and lives that are within them, so that the meaning of it is kind of lost.  When I revel in the sheer pleasure of a big pile of books, I'm thinking about reading them; I don't think Robin Sloan is.

Also, somehow Ajax has a computer genius best friend, just like what's-his-name in Bookstore.  It worked really well in that one, with Google culture and the web as an information source thing.  But here, it's big punchcard machines and again, it's kind of weird to work them in.  But at least they're addressed for what they are--it's not just about having a computer--it's about the data you can hold and process in them, and then the real things you can do with that data, like build tunnels under cities and figure out how many people will be riding on the train on a certain Tuesday three years from now.

Anyway, I'm complaining, but really, as I said, it's mostly a treasure hunt romp.  And it's short, and if you liked Mr. Penumbra's Bookstore, then Ajax Penumbra is charming and worth the brief reading time.

There!  A month around the edges of my reading, all in one post.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Retail Hell

I haven't read enough horror novels to speak to how they compare to each other, or whether the author is doing something mind-blowing vs. old hat.  As the poet says, I don't know much, but I know what I like.

Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix, is something I like.  It actually kind of reminds me of the movie The Descent, in that it starts out as one kind of story and turns into another one.  At first, it's about the horror of retail, the petty indignities and frustrations of working a low-paying job for a big corporation.  This is the cave part of The Descent, when you're watching a good movie about spelunking.

There are hints at what's coming, but you're fully halfway through the book before things truly go to Hell.  When they do, we spin around and now, instead of a creepy, ominous night in a store with some scary stuff going down, reality quite suddenly bends itself backward and you're reading John Dies at the End

So Amy is a struggling drone at Orsk, which is most certainly not Ikea, oh no, no way.  She's afraid she's about to be fired, but when her boss asks her and a coworker to spend the night in the store to try to catch the vandals who are causing problems, she jumps at the overtime.

So Basil, Amy, and Ruth Ann spend the night at Orsk, and creepy stuff happens, and they are joined by Matt and Trinity, who are sure that the store is haunted, and creepy things happen, and it turns out that the store is built on a graveyard or an insane asylum or something and WHOA MY GOD THERE IS ANOTHER REALITY BEHIND THE WALLS. 

So the horror part of it is probably just good, solid standard horror writing--I haven't read a lot of it and can't speak to it in comparison with other things.  What I loved about it was the juxtaposition of Ikea--sorry, Orsk--and the big-box, clean and manageable reality with the dark, inexplicable stuff.  Even before it gets all horror, the difference between the showroom floor and the break room is worth reading about, and Amy's journey from struggling to focused is worth watching. 

I also loved how the group of employees showed a range of relationships of people with work--Basil LOVES Orsk, and while he may take it too far, you come to like it about him.  Ruth Ann and Matt and Trinity--they all have their own reasons for being there, and I think that's my favorite part of the book.

In fact, I feel like the resolution to the real supernatural part is kind of a letdown, not because it's not what it should be--it's just the right ending--but because it happens so suddenly.  It's all unfolding, and then the action (and Amy's change of heart, etc) just wrap up all of a sudden.  The coda was way longer than the meaty part of the climax, which is pretty much my only complaint here.

So: profound, no, but fun?  Hell yes.  Emphasis on "hell."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nope, Sorry

I'm a very sad specimen.  I'm out of NaNo completely, and I still didn't manage to write a post for tonight.  But I've read several very good books this week, so I will definitely be back with reviews in the next day or two.

In the meantime, have a gorgeous library--Canada's Library of Parliament. 

(Or really, a bunch of them, via this post.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

The City in the City

Okay, NaNo is going very poorly and I may have dropped out.  At least I'm way behind, but we'll see what happens.  In the meantime, let's get a blog post in so I'm not just doing nothing shall we?

The Walled City is a new novel by Ryan Graudin that I got from Netgalley for review.  It sounded fairly interesting to me, and then other people put it on their lists of things that looked interesting, so I read it, and I really loved it, and it was so good.  There are so many ways this book could have been put-downable and forgettable, but instead it kept me turning pages.

There are three viewpoint characters in this book--I know, very hard to pull off.  Mei Yee was sold by her parents and brought to a brothel--I know, so easy to do wrong.  She was brought to the walled city--a lawless island within the greater, well-run city--and kept imprisoned there.  Jin Ling, her sister, disguised herself as a boy and left home to search for her; she's been living on the streets in the Walled City fighting to keep alive and searching every brothel to find her sister, until finally there's only one left--the headquarters of the Brotherhood, the gang that controls the city.

Dai, meanwhile, has been trapped within the city for nearly two years, and he has a deadline coming--two weeks to fulfill a promise and make it out.  He needs help--a fast runner like Jin.  Jin and Dai will use each other to get closer to the brotherhood, and all three lives hang in the balance.

The idea of the walled city--a densely packed, completely ungoverned urban block within the city, is based on Kowloon's Walled City, which really existed.  Essentially, when the true city's government changed hands, the area's status as a fort meant its jurisdiction didn't follow, and eventually it was run entirely by gangs. 

But the thing that kind of blew me away about this book was that I really through I was reading a fantasy novel, right up until the first glimpse outside, which doesn't come until about a quarter of the way through the book.  Street urchins, prostitutes, gangs--timeless, I guess is the word?  The first time a taxi showed up, I had to flip back through to try to establish why I was so surprised.

I consider this a great thing, to find a book with the feel of fantasy--infinite possibilities, characters who could be anything, a world to learn as I went along--with a very different structure around it.  Maybe it's just that the setting is so unfamiliar, in another part of the world.  Anyway, it was lovely, and that kept me reading. 

The different women in this book are fascinating, and each one--not just Jin and Mei Yee, but the other girls at the brothel, the madam, even the rich lady and the servant at the fancy house near the end--had their own characterization, motivations, and believable internal selves.  It's true of the male characters, too, from the government agent who doesn't actually care much about many people, to the individual urchins who are not just a faceless pack.  Thinking about it now, this was the coolest part of the book.  It extended to the narrators, too, in that each one had a completely distinct voice--Mei Yee's was dreamy and poetic, Jin Ling's fiercely practical, Dai's wistful and intelligent and so sad.

I want to go on about the things I liked--how the coincidences fit together without being off-putting, how Mei Yee really develops as a character despite being so confined throughout the story, how Jin really grows up during the story--but really, it's not so much that these things were Huge Moments Of Awesomeness so much as the book was just a compelling, enjoyable, smart story that kept me reading. 

If I have a complaint, it's that things wrap up a little too pat, but I'm a sucker for that kind of neat and tidy ending, and while I can intellectually appreciate a complicated, messy, not-perfect conclusion, I would rather my heroes walk smiling into the sunset. 

All thumbs up for this one.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Can't Blog, Writing

Even that only sort of.  Back went out.  I'm a bit behind on NaNo words.  But I finished a couple of great books this week, so hopefully I'll catch up with the blog this weekend!

Oh, and don't read a book about the inevitability of physical decay, even an excellent one (Atul Gawande's Being Mortal) when your back is so far out that you cannot quite get up off the couch.  It is disheartening, to say the least.  That one will have to wait till I can tie my own shoes again.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Emotional Lives of Men

Our book club in general agreed that Sayed Kashua's Second Person Singular was in many ways a book more respected than loved.  There are two storylines; one started strongish but then just kept repeating itself; the other started sooooo slowly and didn't pick up till the second half of the book.

Usually I do a reader's guide (or, let's admit, my thoughts in question form) for a book club book, but it's November and I'm on a time line here, so I'll just toss in a bunch of random thoughts.

This is essentially a book about what it means to be an Arab--particularly an Arab man--in Israel.  It covers a lot of ground in that respect, following two main characters in very different lives.  But since this is a translation of a book that was initially published in the author's home country of Israel, I know that Americans aren't explicitly the audience.  A book meant to tell its reader about a different culture is very different from a book meant to provide insight into the reader's own culture.

This meant that, as an American reader, there were definitely references that went over my head.  Racism and class/status are very big themes here--white Israeli vs. Arab, Jewish vs. Muslim vs. Christian, the professional class vs. the working class vs. students, city dwellers vs. villagers, conservatives vs. progressives.  I could tell that there were all kinds of signifiers flying around, but I couldn't tell what they meant.  I don't think that was very damaging to the experience of reading, but not knowing was sometimes frustrating--when, for example, there are explanations about going from one neighborhood to another, I can't tell if they're innocuous local color, or if they're the equivalent of going from Madison Avenue to Greenwich Village--any American reading a novel would understand at least the broadest implications of those neighborhoods.

So the plot: we have two stories.  In one, a well-to-do Arab lawyer goes about his well-to-do life.  There are scene setting details, and he's established as being basically the definition of bourgeois: very concerned with status, feeling his cultural shortcomings, both very self-satisfied and vaguely dissatisfied.  One day he buys a used book, and when he opens it, he finds a note from his wife--"I waited but you didn't come; last night was wonderful."  This sends him into an obsessive spiral of rage and fear and investigation--every manly, patriarchal bone in his body, including many that he didn't know he had, is fired up.

The other story begins with a social worker--socially awkward, melancholy, aimless in life.  We figure out eventually that he's the one the note was written to, but really, this just follows his life over several years, explaining how the note got into that book and that used book shop.  Unlike the lawyer, who spends the entire book over the course of one weekend, wrestling with the desire to murder his wife, not much happens to this social worker (Amir is his name, we eventually learn).  He provides a broader slice of Arabic-Israeli life: visits to his mother's village, unhappiness in his job, the poor housing and hustling poverty of young educated people.  Eventually he takes a job as a caretaker for a Jewish young man in a vegetative state, and drifts into a withdrawn isolation and passivity.  The rest of his story is the focus of the last half of the book, and while it's probably the most interesting part of the whole thing, I don't feel like I can give it away.

But anyway, it's a slow book, about observed details in these lifestyles.  I found the lawyer's completely irrational obsession with his wife's supposed unfaithfulness to be interesting in a "watching a train wreck" kind of way.  At first, he seems just kind of a yuppie tool, but as soon as he reads this note, he goes INSANE, strongly considers killing her, then decides that maybe he should let her relatives do it, but what if they won't, etc. etc.  Then there's an investigation procedural, in which a savvy lawyer uses the tools he has to figure out the details of her "infidelity."  It's not uninteresting, but it doesn't really build--he goes from zero to nuts and stays ramped up at nuts, running around in circles.

The other story starts out with a torpor that only comes from reading a story about a depressed guy, and it stays that way for WAY too long.  It wasn't a very long book, and many of the details of Amir's life are interesting, but for a long time it's about him being aimless and sad.  And there's an island in the middle of the book where Amir's story hasn't picked up and the lawyer's has leveled out at crazytown, and you don't like either of them and aren't really rooting for them and don't really care what  happens that makes the book kind of weak, even though, by the end, I was rooting for Amir and wanted to know what was going to happen to him.

Finally, I have to add this, even though I'm the only one in book club who noted it: to the extent that the book addresses women (and the infidelity storyline makes it a not-insignificant thing, even though the book is about Manhood), there's a level on which its take is that Arab culture's attitudes toward women are damaging to men.  The lawyer vacillates between condescending, hateful, and idealizing.  At first, this put me off entirely; eventually I came to realize that the author was making a point about how crazy and unhealthy he was, so okay, the author doesn't believe these things.  But when you come back around to these things as commentary on society, I just can't let go of the idea that there's a "poor men" element to the perception of sexism in Arab society.  And that makes me roll my eyes a bit--ooh, look how hard it is to have to deal with my complicated feelings about women.  Try being your wife in this situation, buddy.

(Please note that I say "Arab society" because, while some of the Arabs here are Muslim and some Christian, of varying degrees of piety, most or all of the attitudes displayed appeared to be much more social and cultural than religious.)

Anyway, that's my take on this book.  I thought I was hating it, but in the end I just hated most of the characters.  So it was....okay? I respected it.  I maybe even admired it a little.  But I didn't really relate to the humanity in it.  Hmph.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Works in Progress

I am reading so many, many books right now, most of them really enjoyable.  But it means I haven't finished anything in a while, so here are a few opinions-in-progress.

I'm reading Sayed Kashua's Second Person Singular for book club, and I hated the beginning and am enjoying it a bit more now.  I think the key problem is that I hated the protagonist for the first part.  God, I don't think I've ever hated someone for being bourgeoisie before, but there it is.  And I keep in mind that it's another country--the book is about Arabs living in Israel--and there's a lot going on, but I think that a combination of not fully grasping a very complex culture and the fact that yeah, this first character's kind of a casually misogynistic, materialistic yuppie jerk and yeah, I hated it.

Part two has a different narrator, which also has its moments of discomfort, but which so far is much more likeable.  So I hold out hope for the book.  But I have to say, books that are about and from the point of view of men that are about how women, acting like women, mess up their lives--I'm sorry, but I'm just done with it.

Because of book club, I'm spending the most time on that one, but there are some other serious winners pulling me this way and that.  The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin, is an ARC that I got, and I'll have a real review when I get more than halfway through it, but it's really great.  It's got the feel of fantasy--urchins living in the poor part of the city trying to find what they need--a better life, freedom, family.

Only, I don't think it's fantasy.  The "real world" outside their poor enclave is, I think, the modern world.  There's no magic.  It's just a story of poverty and bravery and harsh conditions, and connections and all kinds of other great things.

I also just got Being Mortal from the library, which is Atul Gawande's newest book about the place of medicine in society and life.  Better and Complications are both excellent books that I highly recommend (as is The Checklist Manifesto, which is small and mostly a manifesto but compelling!), and I've only just started this but I can already tell that it has that soothing, logical, human touch that makes Atul Gawande's writing such a pleasure to read. 

What else?  So much.  So, so much.  Another ARC, this one of short stories by Kelly Link called Get in Trouble.  As not-really-a-short-story-reader, I'll say that it's pretty great.  Two audiobooks--because the excellent performance of Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests was killing me with the tension, so I switched over to a YA fantasy that I was only half interested in but that keeps coming up, BirthmarkedIt's fine--not great, maybe not even very good, but fine.  I mean--I don't know.  It's probably the weakest one on the docket right now.

All very exciting.  In other news, I think November is going to be following the two posts per week schedule that I followed this week--Tuesday/Thursday--so that I can keep up with NaNoWriMo.  I might have little update posts in between (heck, my real posts might be all about NaNo!), but I'd like to try to blog at least a little along the way.

Plus, I'm already so backed up on books I'm INCREDIBLY! EXCITED! TO READ! that I'm going to need to post those really soon.  Because the notion that I might forget to squirm with excitement about reading more Miles Vorkosigan books causes me genuine bouts of anxiety!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yet More Comics

 Okay, first the good news, then the bad news.  To wit:

Rat Queens, where have you been all my life? This comic is amazing, and while I'm excited to get in on the ground floor, I'm also in agony that there isn't a whole backlog of them to go through before I have to start twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the newest issue. 

The cover blurb gives you the run down--it's your standard team of adventurers: an elf mage with some great tattoos, an atheist human cleric, a dwarf fighter (shaving your beard used to be a statement, not just a fad), and a smidgen thief who's kind of a hobbit and kind of a hippie and very much into magic mushrooms if you know what I mean.  These ladies are looking for trouble, but when it comes in the form of a bar brawl, their community service assignment ends up to be closer to fatal than is really reasonable for a misdemeanor, and the Rat Queens have to figure out who's out to get them.

This book is so funny, and so smart, and so modern, and yet so true to your classic D&D lifestyle.  The characters are so likeable, and they have each other's backs, and they all have complicated families but they have each other and that's all they need.  The world is charming and scary and fascinating.  The men are hunks and everyone is just so likeable and I want to read this book again and again and again.

Finally, I'll point out that the first volume as linked to above is only about $7 and well worth it.  Hell, I'm pretty sure I'm going to buy myself a copy, AFTER I already read it.  That good.  Go read this book now.

Ah, but the bad news.

I Was the Cat, by Paul Tobin, is an ARC I got kind of an age ago from Netgalley.  It's kind of promising premise, but it's execution is really awkward.  It's like Forrest Gump if Forrest Gump was evil. And immortal. And a cat.

So this news blogger whose last name is Breaking (because her blog is Breaking News, get it?) and whose first name is maybe Alison?  I've forgotten since yesterday.  Anyway, she's been hired to ghostwrite someone's memoirs, and her friend accompanies her to make sure it's not an axe murderer.  Turns out it's a talking cat, and we spend some time with our heroines being all "OMG a talking cat!" 

Now, I love a good hypothetical--seriously, if you ACTUALLY met a talking cat, how would you react?  But this is not about subtleties of how your entire worldview shifts when the nature of reality and the definition of "possible" are opened up.  This is about OMG a talking cat!!!

So then we get them listening to Salem's--I mean Burma's life story.  His lives, really--presumably  nine of them, though I didn't count.  He explains that his whole lifespan has been about trying to take over the world, and then he talks about all the different powerful leaders he knew (famous and not) and how he was the brains behind their attempts to take over the world.  And the girls giggle and are all like, "oh, you cute talking kitty with your monomaniacal ways!"

And in between these bits, we get glimpses of Burma's business dealings, which involve food carts in London and owning hospitals and threatening and maybe killing people?  He's totally trying to take over the world now!  OMG!  What will happen?  Do we care?  Do the girls care? 

Nope.  It's like there was a good idea for a story here but nobody wrote it.  "Something interesting about Napolean here" is practically written in the caption box under the pictures. 

So yeah, skip this one.  Even if you love cats.  Or want to take over the world.  May I suggest Lolcats and The Art of War, respectively?