Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Whole New World

I don't even remember when I started reading 52 Book Minimum, and we have very dissimilar taste in books, but I actually kind of love reading book reviews for books that I'm never going to read, and I love people who take the time to fill their reviews with gifs.  So, despite the fact that she doesn't like Squirrel Girl, I continue to read her blog all the damned time.  I don't usually add to my to-read from there, though, because she reads a lot of, as she puts it, porn.

But I was recovering from the Death Flu and I read her review of The Wingman by Natasha Anders, which was glowing, and which ended with the point that it was available to Read Now on Netgalley, and here we are.  I read the porn. I am a reader of porn. Your finer contemporary erotic romance.

Nah, I'm just kidding. I mean, I'll admit that I usually get my porn from fanfic, because I don't have to worry about anyone making me care about their characters.  But as promised, this book was adorable.  Daisy is so likeable, and her sense of herself as the not-attractive one is really well-told.  She's the "other sister"--not the pretty one, not the cute one--and in their small town, that kind of thing sticks.  Mason would normally never look twice at her, but when his brother wants to chat up  her sister, he agrees to play you-know-what.

So, here's the thing--being hit on by the wingman is not by definition a bad thing.  I mean, sure, a guy who isn't actually attracted to you  was chatting you up, so maybe it's...dishonest, a little? But no, even that, you had a conversation with someone who didn't want to take you home--that's not inherently gross.  I will admit, however, that the way it went down was uncool, so it makes sense that Mason feels like a heel and Daisy feels like he owes her one, and sexy hijinks ensue.

There was a decent amount of the usual stuff that makes romances eye-rolly--Mason is ex-military and pretty fond of barking orders, and I'm sorry but boundaries are not a starting place for flirtatious negotiations--but overall this was really about two people who realize they like each other and become more attracted to each other as they get to know each other.  How about that, huh?

In sum, everything that Kelly said in her review, and please enjoy this picture of Daisy's dog, Peaches.

(I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley for honest review.)

Saturday, January 28, 2017


Naturally, right after an author tweets something incredibly flattering and links my review, I immediately come down with the flu and can't post for a week. All of my descriptions for how sick I was sound like hyperbole--I was barely able to get out of bed, I kind of felt like I was dying. But yeah, the flu is not a joke--I had chills and the doctor gave me IV fluids and even after I was feeling better, I could only read for half an hour at a time before my head would loll back.

But!  Here I am, in between naps, back in action. I've read so many books in the past month that I want to write about, it's a bit overwhelming, but I'm also trying to decide whether to finish an ARC that I'm not that into, just because I want to talk about why I'm not that into it.  I generally try not to review advance copies unless I finish them, since it seems unfair--especially if the book seems mostly okay, just not for me.  But I really want to discuss this one.  I'm pretty sure, by my own personal ethical system, that means I have to finish the book.

Anyway, I hope to get back on my normal posting schedule this week, but I wanted to say hi and that I'm wheezing but surviving over here. And I'm reading the cheesiest romance novel, an incredible sci fi novel, and a Terry Pratchett novel, so life is, overall, not too bad.

I hope you can say the same!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Long-Awaited Ursula Vernon Post

I have been promising a post about Ursula Vernon for so long I almost don't know how to write it.  And I keep mentioning how much I like her books, but I never get around to laying it all out there.  Well, this week I finished her novel Nine Goblins, and it's time to babble on appreciatively.

But let's start at the beginning--Danny Dragonbreath. The library website kept putting that series in front of my face, and it seemed about age appropriate for my son, so we started reading them. They are the MOST fun. Danny is brave and loyal and tricky and just an ordinary kid, and with his best friend Wendell, he has adventures all over the place. No one believes he's a real dragon, because he can't quite breathe fire yet, but he can save the school from a scourge of were-wieners or visit his great grandfather in mythical Japan (It's a really good bus system.)

It's not perfect--there are some stereotypes, like Wendell, the genius who is frightened of and allergic to everything, and Danny's skepticism of girls in general (which gets much better over the course of the series). I admit those slowed me down a bit at first, especially since my son wasn't at all skeptical of girls when we read this and I didn't want him getting ideas.  But ultimately, they're just so off-the-wall and wacky, I can't pass them up.

When we'd plowed through all eleven Dragonbreath books, we started on Hamster Princess, which is about Harriet Hamsterbone, an incredible princess who spent her childhood invulnerable due to a curse and consequently learned to be a seriously badass hero.  There are only three Harriet books so far, but they are just as much fun--maybe moreso, with her battle quail and her cliff diving hobby and fearless swords-hamster-ship.

At about this point, Ursula Vernon wrote a book called The Seventh Bride, published under the name T. Kingfisher, which is the name that she uses for her non-kids work.  This book got some buzz, but I didn't realize it was the same author until months after I'd read it.  The only word for this book is charming--the story is loosely Bluebeardish, but between the hedgehog sidekick and the mysterious Clock Wife, it's the small, rich details of a mundane magical world that make the book shine.

The last time I really meant to write an Ursula Vernon review, though, was when I was reading Digger, a comic she originally published on the web, about a hard-bitten wombat who gets lost and tunnels her way into a land far from anything she knows.  Digger just wants to get home, but she finds herself embroiled in local drama. Between the mysterious source of her impossible tunnel, a talking statue of the god Ganesh, a fanatical order of veiled priests, an aggressive tribe of fierce warrior hyenas, and a simple child made of shadows, Digger has a lot to sort out if she's going to find her way home.

What makes Digger so great, though, is how this complicated, high-fantasy setting and plot are carried out around such pragmatic, mundane characters.  Digger has no interest in making enemies or solving mysteries, but she is very interested in doing the right thing, which drags her into the middle of a million situations.  Eventually, the world needs saving, and who's going to step up? That's right--always a wombat.

I'm not doing this justice; I don't think I can.  She's just so matter-of-fact, whether she's fighting a hoard of hyenas or befriending an outcast, politely drinking warrior tea (blech) or patiently explaining to the Shadowchild that you shouldn't eat anything that can talk (CAN YOU TALK, TOMATO? CAN YOU?), you just want Digger on your side. I read this to my son, and though I think a lot of it went over his head, he loved it, too.

This week, though, I read Nine Goblins, a short novel from a few years ago--again, T. Kingfisher--about a troop of goblins who get magically yanked from a battlefield by an errant wizard.  Miles from the front and in enemy territory, the motley band just wants to find their way safely home, but end up facing bigger dangers than they're ready for.

This book. This book. Okay, so there are two big things to say about it. The first--the obvious one--is that this is more like reading Terry Pratchett than anything I've ever read by anyone who was not Terry Pratchett. Except for those Pratchett moments where the narrator backs off to explicitly state grand facts about the way the world works that both fit perfectly in the story and are true on a very deep level (RIP, Sir Terry, you were a great gift to the world), this book had all the charm, wit, warmth and weirdness that made Discworld so incredible.  I thought this from the beginning, and then when I went to review it on Goodreads, I saw that everyone else thought it, too.  It's full of mostly good people doing mostly their best, even the ones who are causing trouble (mostly).

But there is another thing that was going on when I was reading this, which is that I was simultaneously rereading Siderea's essay on kingship in the first section of Watership Down. I read this essay before and loved it, and it came to mind because the Jennys at the Reading the End podcast might do a WD reread this year. So I went back and read the essay, and I happened to be reading Nine Goblins, too.

And guys, kingship. Reading that essay about what leadership means and watching Sargent Nessilka lead her strange and really barely all-there team through this adventure made my heart swell.  The essay was dissecting Nessilka's leadership--caring (valuing your team) and daring (taking the big risks); making the decision just because someone has to, even if you're likely to be wrong, gambling when you have to--it's all here.  Especially the caring and daring--she doesn't want to go into the abandoned house, but neither does anyone else, so she does it.  But the best part--maybe my favorite thing in the book--is her fatalistic, fed-up caring. So one member of the team, Blanchett, has had a bit of a rough time.  At this point, he carries around a teddy bear, and speaks mostly when translating for the bear. Nessilka respectfully addresses the bear as necessary--and, to be honest, the bear is one of the most valuable members of the team.  At one point she leaves him in charge.

I cannot tell you how much this book meant to me.  It made my heart swell.  I've bought all Ursula Vernon's other T. Kingfisher books now, and I can't wait to read them.  I also sponsor her Patreon (Siderea of the above essay, too, by the way; I should do a post on my Patreon account, because I love it). And I want more.

God, I haven't even mentioned the illustrations!  Digger is a comic, of course, and her kids' books are part comic. I love her illustration and I'm trying to pick a print from her store.  I want a troll--her trolls are the best.  And I left out Castle Hangnail! One of the best books I read last year, straight up.  Also illustrated.  Also for kids.

I'm sorry, this has gone on forever.  It's years of pent up fanhood.  But the point of this is that you should read Harriet Hamsterbone and Danny Dragonbreath to your kids, and Nine Goblins for yourself (and your older kids; there's nothing inappropriate there, though my eight-year-old found it too confusing to listen to). And read some of her online stories. And if you see her on the street, you should give her a hug.  Maybe ask first. Tell her it's from me. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dread, Both Existential and Immediate

I don't think I've ever felt such a protracted sense of dread when reading a book.  Emotionally, it was like the most tense parts of a Hitchcock movie strung together for 300 pages, even though there are no more moments of high drama in My Sister Rosa than in any other psychological thriller--if that's what you could call this.

Justine Larbalestier has written some dark books (Liar) and some distant characters (Magic or Madness), but Rosa is a whole other thing. This book is creepy, but not in a horror novel way.  It's about Che, the 17-year-old son of a globe-trotting, super-cool couple who's just moved to New York with his family to pursue his parents' latest business venture.  But what it's really about is, as advertised, Che's sister Rosa.  Because Rosa is a psychopath, and Che seems to be the only one who knows it.

When she was little, they recognized she was not typical and she saw doctors and therapists.  But she didn't like that, and she learned the right things to say, and they declared her fine.  Now, Rosa is the perfect little adorable girl--to everyone except her brother.  She trusts him. She tells him things. She asks him questions.

And Che, god bless him, tries to keep her in check.  He extracts promises about what she won't do. He watches her, and he answers her questions about how to be normal. And he loves her, and also he hates her.

Che lives in such a state of hyperawareness of Rosa that I started to get really twitchy halfway through this book.  The family doesn't have much money, but they live well because the parents work for their best friends, who are incredibly wealthy.  Che's father's family tree is full of violent, arrogant people, so he knows where Rosa comes from, and he understands the risk.  But his parents won't listen to his concerns--they are hardly around--and he doesn't know what he could do to stop her if Rosa decided to do something awful.

As Che settles into New York and he begins to make friends, he watches Rosa make friends with a sense of dread. Again, just so much dread.  And all justified.  It's always on the horizon, always ominous, but so rarely does anything actually bad happen.  Rosa does what works for her, and keeping off the radar is part of what works for her.  But she's a very smart girl, and very curious, and....ooooh, it's just really creepy.

Honestly, I took a page from Jenny and read the ending when I was about a third of the way through the book, because it seemed like there was no way this could end well.  And I will say, it's not exactly a "happy" ending.  It's maybe kind of--cathartic? Like, things are all okay, but the tension that builds and builds and builds over the course of the book is definitely addressed.

Che is just a guy, going to the gym, falling for a girl, navigating a new city--and waiting for his sister to maybe murder someone.  I am going to be shaking off this dread for days to come.  Excellent and creepy as hell.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Impending Possession

Excellent title: The Impending Possession of Scarlet Wakebridge-Rosé. I liked it SLIGHTLY better before I noticed the accent mark on "Rosé;" I think it scans better without that emphasis, but that is neither here nor there.

Scarlet is haunted, and she's trying to figure out why, how, by what.  There's a presence hovering around the corners of her life, a shadowy, threatening figure. Her work is suffering, her marriage is on the rocks, and her relationship with her teenage daughter isn't doing much better. She's desperate to figure out what it is and get rid of it, and when psychiatrists can't help her, she finds herself in church. She's a lesbian who was raised Catholic but hasn't been to church in years, but she has nowhere else to turn.

At church she meets Father Angelo, an exorcist with the requisite Haunted Past. She doesn't tell him about her problem at first, but his assistant Kelton realizes that Scarlet has some ability to detect powers and recruits her to help with the exorcisms. Eventually they hook up with Dante, Father Angelo's first supernatural tutor, and they try to help Scarlet sort out her demon problem.

I got this book from Netgalley for an honest review, but if I hadn't, I probably wouldn't have finished it.  It felt like a stretched out short story, and none of the characters was very likeable.  With Scarlet, the implication is that the demon that's been haunting her has been interfering with her emotions and that's why she's been fighting so much with her wife and daughter, but that's hard to tell, since she seems to pride herself on being a hardass workaholic in the best of times.  Kelton is a one-note homophobe who is almost a caricature of a villain--which is weird, since he's supposed to be, technically, a "good guy."  Father Angelo's got a dark past, but he appears to have spent 30 years not thinking for himself at all, which comes across as very weird given that he's an exorcist.

The characters kind of thump along from one scene to the next; information about the demon unfolds, and there are past life regressions, and some of the demon logic doesn't make a lot of clear sense to me. Like, if a demon threatens you into saying some words in another language, does that count as promising something of your own free will?

This felt kind of like an early draft of something that could have been much better, if a lot of motivations had been sharpened up, and if all the characters' "humanizing" flaws had been balanced with humanizing virtues as well.

Great title, though. A long, kind of complicated title is a bold choice and almost always worth it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Always Forward

Hello! I have been lounging through my vacation and reading like a fiend and consuming SO MANY best-of lists and end-of-year blog posts (I LOVE THEM) and just taking it easy.  But the reading like a fiend has combined with the best-of lists to make me feel guilty about never quite being ready to do a best-of list at the end of the year.

So, to fend off the guilt and yet participate in this listy time of year, AND to partake of the New Year spirit in non-binding resolution style, I bring you:

The Top 10 Books Even I Can't Believe I Haven't Read Yet

1) The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. This one almost doesn't count, because I just started it, but I loved the Inheritance trilogy and so very many people have loved this, I have no doubt it's going to blow my mind.  And it's our pick for work book club this month, which I think is going to challenge us and give us a nice meaty conversation. So look just getting started and already something is half checked off!

2) Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear. I wanted to read this well before it came out--butt kicking old West magic steampunk ladies of the night. Whenever I see the cover I get tingles.

3) Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone.  This one I think I've waited for because the plot--investigating the death of a god--sounded a little too much like a couple of others that I've read and loved. I know it will be very different from City of Stairs and The Broken Kingdoms, but I definitely needed to leave some space between one reading and the next. But this is the year!

4) The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater. I'm trying not to fill this list up with sequels, because I am behind on so many of my favorite series. But this is one that I think I have to get on top of, because the first one snuck in under my radar and went from "okay, I'm reading and enjoying this" to "this book is having a profound impact on my understanding of human beings" almost while I wasn't looking. So yeah, this one makes the cut.

5) Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. The only Patchett I've read was State of Wonder, and I loved it.  This is the one that everyone talks about, and the Jennies (Jennys?) mentioned it in their gift recommendation podcast a few weeks ago.  But really, what happened was that Brenda sat down with my Kindle and sorted through the 400-something books on there, bumping the ones she couldn't believe I hadn't read to the top. On this one she and I entirely agree.

6) Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge. People have been telling me to read Frances Hardinge forever, and I finally read Cuckoo Song a while back and they were right.  But this is the one they keep selling me on, and this is the one I want to read, and this is the one that I just got from Netgalley, so no excuses!

7) A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab. Elizabeth read ONE V.E. Schwab book and became a "buy this author's books automatically" fan.  This is enough for me. I have to read one; it was this or Vicious, and lord knows I love a good trilogy.

8) Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson.  I liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns much more than such a straightforward, standard YA fantasy trilogy seemed to deserve.  It was compelling, and it was tight, and I loved the setting and the main character's determination to become less of a hot mess than she was at the beginning of the book.  Add that craftsmanship to the Western setting of this one and I've been meaning to read it for ages.  Apparently it's the year of the old West for me!

9) Feed, by Mira Grant.  I am SO far behind on this one.  She's started a follow-up series to the completed series that everyone read a million years ago.  But I was off zombies for a while there.  I think I'm ready to dive back in by jumping back to the best I can find.

10) Behind the Throne, by K.B. Wagers.  I was a quarter of an inch from picking this book up when a dozen other reading obligations landed on me and I was beckoned away.  But I will come back, because I need to read about a super-competent spaceship captain who has to go into politics.  I love it when people who are not meant to be in politics have to go into politics.  Best books ever.

Honorable mentions will all go to series in which I'm shamefully far behind--I have read not even a third of the Vorkosigan saga; I am at least three books behind on Dr. Siri Paiboun; Sharon Shinn's Elementals series has two more books out, and I've never even picked up Mystic and Rider (which was another one Brenda pushed to the front of my Kindle); Ursula Vernon has a bunch of books as T. Kingfisher that I haven't read yet. As I flip through my Kindle, the list goes on and on and on.

But I will leave it here, because this is a good solid approach to January.  And hey, I'm two full chapters into The Fifth Season.  Progress already!