Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Anticipation Interrupted

There's so much exciting stuff coming out this year, and I've been trying to put this post together forever, but it's a darned moving target out there.  Release dates come and go and then it turns out that the Kindle release date isn't for months, or the date has moved, or something else.  So this is sadly in no particular order, and it might be that some of these aren't even coming soon anymore.

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey, is somewhere between highly anticipated and well-reviewed, depending on which side of the pond you're looking at and what format you're looking for.  But there's an extended free preview for the Kindle, and holy crap, it was good.  Creepy and meticulous and just incredible.  I can't wait.

Terry Pratchett's newest Discworld novel, Raising Steam, will follow my favorite character, Moist von Lipwig, on his next adventure. I don't even have a very clear idea of what's going to happen here--some kind of power plant, presumably?--but I hardly care.  Moist can charm his way out of...into....well, my wit abandons me, but he can do anything and I want to watch him do it.  Maybe you already read this; it is out in print, just not on the Kindle yet.  For some reason, I'm waiting.

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue is not a promising title, but Tom Angleberger has kind of backed himself into a corner with the structure of the series.  The last book was a cliffhanger, so I am completely hooked and absolutely can't wait to watch the kids of McQuarry elementary take on the awful FUNTIME test review system.  Go Dwight!

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor.  Guys, I can't even.  I just cannot.  I lovelovelove this series and cannot wait to follow Karou to the end.  (Akiva I can take or leave.  I'm following Karou and Zuzana to the ends of the earth.)

Two words.  Rainbow Rowell.  She's having a much-deserved moment, having come out with All the Books right in a row.  I'm not sure if they're as great as they feel like they are, but I am all full of the warm fuzzy feelings when I read them.  Cannot wait for the new one, Landline.

They just keep coming and coming: Jo Walton's got a new one coming up, My Real Children.  I know nothing about this except that Jo Walton does amazing things. Different things every time.  Can't wait to see what's up next.

There's more: a new volume of Buffy, the last book in the Paradox trilogy (I'm right in the middle of Honor's Knight, very good stuff), a Veronica Mars spinoff novel.  All this between now and the end of the summer.  I'm salivating.  Unfortunately, I'm having a really hard time keeping track of when all these books are coming out, but luckily, I've got more than enough to keep me busy, both bookwise and otherwise.  It's gonna be a good spring!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Worldbuilding 101

Andrea 's Stray is a hard book to explain.  It breaks so many rules of storytelling, with lots of telling instead of showing, character soup, and a few elements I couldn't follow (what are the Ddura again?).  But all that is kind of irrelevant, when I just kept reading and reading because I wanted to know what happened.

Cass, our narrator, is awesome.  She's practical and level-headed.  When she finds herself suddenly in a strange and unfamiliar world after walking through a wormhole on the way home from school, she is as confused as any of us would be.  But she's also got the same theories any of us would come up with, because she's watched enough Star Trek and Doctor Who to make some guesses.  When she's faced with a tough moral dilemma and picks the tough but virtuous course, she blames the Scooby Gang (both the ones with the Mystery Machine and the ones with the stakes) for putting her in a position where she knows she needs to do the hard but right thing.

The book is Cass's journal, and it does a better job of reading like a journal than almost any book I've read.  One could look at this as a weakness, because it's a very direct, matter-of-fact recounting of events.  But it's very much like having someone tell you a story--you don't want flowery descriptions, you want to know what happened next.  And because Cass is learning everything as she goes, she explains it all to us.

So when she's rescued from the uninhabited world she wandered into and taken to a city, there's a lot of infodumping.  But think what an infodump it would be, to learn the history of a world that travels between dimensions.  And honestly, the backstory is complicated enough that I think if I had to learn it gradually, I would never have been able to hold it all.  As it is, plenty of it sailed over my head--I just retained enough to follow the monster fights.

But the main story of the book is how Cass is discovered, in this society of psychic powers, to be able to strengthen the powers of anyone who touches her.  She's recruited to help the Setari (psychic space ninjas, as she calls them) protect the world from the creatures that live between dimensions.  Apparently interdimensional travel has its dangers, which no one realized until it was too late.

What are spaces, and pillars, and Lanterans?  I don't know.  No clue.  But I don't care.  I caught enough to keep reading, and what I know is that Cass is part of this team now, and that she's making friends, slowly but surely, and convincing the bureaucracy that she's intelligent and can be an ally, and that she's looking for a way home and coming to terms with her place in this new society. 

Cass is one of the most mentally and emotionally strong characters I've read in a while.  She's surrounded by people who can kick all kinds of butt, but she keeps her head on her shoulders in a way that just keeps me cheering for her, time and again.  I can't wait to read the next book!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Linden, thank you SO much for this recommendation; I fell hard for Meg Howrey's The Cranes Dance. I'm going to run out and get her other books, but I think this one will be hard to beat, because it's full of details from the world of professional ballet.  Insider bits make any story that much more fascinating.

I was completely won over in the first chapter, when the narrator, Kate Crane, takes you through a production of Swan Lake.  Now, this is the one ballet I've ever seen performed (no, I've never even seen The Nutcracker), and I've read a novelization of the story, and I still barely know what happens in it.  Kate has a wonderfully wry voice as she explains, for the vast majority of the world that does not follow ballet, all the comings and goings, and the long dancy bits.

Kate's wry voice is really the core of this story.  Ballet, as I think most people know by now, is hard, physically taxing work in a fiercely competitive environment that is judged by exacting standards.  Kate is near the top of this world, in a very comfortable place within it, but it's consumed her whole life, and her sister's, and she's split between wondering if it's worth it and wondering what that even means.

The competition here is not made melodramatic--there's no catfighting or backstabbing.  But there are only so many excellent roles to go around, and there are more gifted dancers who have given their whole lives for this goal than there are places.  Everyone is good, but everyone wants things that not everyone can have.

Kate is a powerful dancer, but her sister Gwen is in a class by herself,  Gwen's emotional struggles,  her  mental health, and her break from ballet are pivotal to the story, though Gwen herself is mostly not present.  Kate is a sister without a sister, and it leaves her adrift.

I'm not describing this well, but let me say that Kate's day to day life, the sharp, witty view she brings to everything in her life, even as she's questioning it all, is really the driving force of the story.  Kate has everything she's worked for, and somehow it feels both right and wrong to her at the same time.  This dissonance, and her blunt, smart, wry observations about it, make this the most readable book I've read in a long time.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Moments

I had two excellent moments this week that I wanted to share--the kind of thing that just makes your day.

I stopped at the library on my way to work to pick up a reserve I had waiting, and when I got there they were unloading the next batch of reserve deliveries.  While the librarian was pulling my book off the shelf, I was scanning the stacks of books that have just arrived.  Right there on top, my next book!  And when I asked for it, they asked me if I had anything else waiting, and so I walked out with three exciting new arrivals!

(For the curious: Fairest: In All the Land, Angel & Faith vol. 4, and Season 2 of Veronica Mars)

Anecdote 2. Warning: ARC bragging ahead.

So I told you recently how much I loved loved loved Fortune's Pawn, by Rachel Bach. The day I finished it, I also got the ARC to the sequel from Netgalley.  Honor's Knight is waiting for me on my Kindle, and I'm so incredibly excited I can't even tell you. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Space Opera!

I'm probably misusing the term, but this book is awesome in an old-fashioned sci-fi way, and it reminds me (unreasonably) of the Vorkosigan Saga, which brings the term to mind.  But space opera is sweeping and epic--so far, Devi's story only hints at the Big Politics out there.

Backing up: Fortune's Pawn, by Rachel Bach is so great I want to squee.  I swallowed the thing in just a couple of bites.  Like I said, there aren't a lot of ways in which it is actually like the Miles books, except for that feeling I get when I'm reading them.  That sort of awesomely competent character in over their head but about to come out on top.

Devi Morris is a mercenary from the world Paradox, and a damned good one.  In fact, she's risen about as high as she can go in her outfit, and has her eyes on the elite Devestator squad.  But they don't take you without years of experience--or a few months on a crazy, high-risk ship like The Glorious Fool.  So Devi packs her Iron Man-style armor and saddles up to make  her name.

There she meets Rupert, the mysterious and sexy cook; Cotter, her meatheaded fellow security officer; Basil, the snooty navigator from an avian race; Nova, a sweet, dreamy girl whose kooky religion may actually give her powers; Hyrek, the ship's doctor, whose lizard-like alien race literally eats humans for breakfast; and Ren, the captain's strange, blank-faced daughter.  This ensemble cast is why you will love this book--Hyrek has a wicked sense of humor, even though Devi's first instinct is to kill him.  Basil is a complete snob, but he is paternally protective of Nova, who becomes a good friend to Devi.

And then there's Rupert.  After an initial urge to bed him, Devi realizes there's more to him than meets the eye, and she can't figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  As they get closer and Devi fights off the first of a really remarkable number of attacks on the ship, she realizes that there's more going on here than meets the eye. 

I will admit that this book is mostly setup.  There's a lot of mystery, and a good deal of it gets explained at the end, but you wouldn't call the end of this book "closure."  I mean, it ends--it's not a cliffhanger--but if the sequel wasn't out there waiting for you, you might be annoyed.

I don't know if I can explain what I liked about this.  I loved the world building.  I loved Devi.  I loved that she started right out trying to get Rupert into bed, but then backed off when she realized he was something more than a simple cook.  I loved the ragtag crew (and yes, the Firefly comparisons others have made are apt--loveable!  I love them!).  I loved the immediate sense of trust I felt--again, Vorkosigan-like, I knew that my protagonist was good at her job, and I would not have to rely on her doing anything stupid (or at least not the kind of stupid that people do just to move the plot of a novel along). 

I can't explain it.  It's just really, really, REALLY good.  Thumbs all the way up.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

All the Whimsy

More comics!  Two ARCs I received ages ago, then lost in the Great Laptop Crash.  But these books were irresistible--I went out and got my hands on them anyway, and my week has been full of whimsy.

The Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell, is a dream and a chuckle.  I'm seeing bits of my life in everything I read and watch and see these days, and this mopey monster is no exception.  Low grade depression has rarely been so charming.

Every village has a monster--to keep them on their toes, wreak a little havoc, show any invaders who's boss.  But the town of Stoker-on-Avon has a problem: their monster, Rayburn, is not much of a monster.  He mopes, never rampages, and can't seem to get up a good roar.  The village elders send a discredited gentleman scientist to sort him out, and he and his saucy newsboy sidekick attempt to show Rayburn that he really is a very good monster.

I don't know if I can really explain how much I enjoyed this book.  The newsboy's extras are more up to date than my news feed, the monsters have trading cards and souvenir stuffed animals, and everyone's just rather jolly.  Even poor depressed Rayburn is polite an apologetic about his shortcomings.  I loved the warmheartedness of everyone in this book--it's about friends taking care of each other, and all the new and old friends who rally around Rayburn just made my heart swell up.  It's really a very sweet book about mild depression.  Who knew?

Bandette, Volume One: Presto, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, is one of the Frenchest things I've ever read.  The watercolor-style painting is lovely and reminds me to those reproductions of French posters that everyone had in the kitchen of their second apartment after college.  The book is populated by detective inspectors, ballet students, and a criminals wearing masks and zipping around on mopeds.  It's like a dream of what a heist movie should be, starring Audrey Hepburn as Bandette.

The absolute charm of it mostly makes up for the fact that it's a fairly thin confection--there is plenty of conflict, but our heroine and all of her friends are brave, smart, sassy, talented, loyal, and good.  The police officer who both chases her and enlists her help is curmudgeonly but warm-hearted.  The bad guys are all absolutely wicked, but most of the thieves here are full of honor.  So there isn't much character development, no depths or angles here.  Just a delightful bite of cotton candy.

If it was a 300 page novel, I might not think this charm was worth it.  But in the a slim comic with winsome art, I'll be reading the next one, and rewatching How to Steal a Million very soon.