An unusual first contact story set in the 19th century Adirondacks. I found this interesting, but not fascinating; it didn’t blow me away. But if you’An unusual first contact story set in the 19th century Adirondacks. I found this interesting, but not fascinating; it didn’t blow me away. But if you’re looking for an atypical bit of sci-fi, this is worth picking up.
How’s that for a small and utterly unremarkable review?...more
Fascinating and frustrating alt-Victorian fantasy, à la Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…except really nothing like that at all. Beckett uses two ofFascinating and frustrating alt-Victorian fantasy, à la Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…except really nothing like that at all. Beckett uses two of the most famous 19th century novels, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, as a jumping off point for an epic fantasy set in an alternate England in which magic is a common-enough aspiration for lords, but which cannot be (or is forbidden to be?) performed by women. There are some very cool ideas at play here—I love the eerie touch that in this world, days and nights vary wildly in length, leaving room for an extra allotment of time to spend cloaked in unpredictable darkness—but at times Beckett leans too heavily on the works he is paying tribute to.
This is especially true in the middle, Bronte-inspired section; where in the earlier parts of the novel, the characters of Ivy and Rafferdy were clearly the Elizabeth and Darcy stand-ins, at least they had their own personalities and their own relationship that was allowed to develop naturally. When Ivy travels to Heathcrest (har. Get it?) and becomes acquainted with Mr. Quent, their relationship is pretty much glossed over; I think we’re supposed to assume they fall in love because Jane and Mr. Rochester do. Nevertheless, the overall mystery—seriously, what is up with magic in this place?—is compelling…and frustratingly, not to be resolved in this volume. So I will definitely be picking up the sequel, first and foremost to find out what the hell is going on, but also because I genuinely like and care about what happens to the characters.
Also, if Garritt does not turn out to be gay for his new actor friend, I will eat my hat. Or, not owning a hat, I will go out and buy one, then eat it. Srsly....more
The final book in the Small Change trilogy. It’s now the 1960s in Walton’s alternate and deeply disturbing Britain. Carmichael is now the head of theThe final book in the Small Change trilogy. It’s now the 1960s in Walton’s alternate and deeply disturbing Britain. Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, England’s answer to the Gestapo; he’s also heading up a resistance organization on the sly. His 3rd person POV alternates with the 1st person observations of his adopted niece, Elvira, who despite coming across as much sharper than either Lucy or Viola, the previous two books’ narrators, is very obviously and distressingly a product of her times—a bright little fascist-in-training, in other words. There isn’t a murder mystery at the core of this book, as there was with the two previous, but with all the political maneuverings going on, and the truly dire circumstances the characters find themselves in, there’s more than enough happening to keep the plot breathlessly suspenseful. Rarely have I read a series of books where I felt there was more at stake.
This unfortunately leaves Walton very few options when it comes to wrapping things up. There’s the 1984 route, or… I was truthfully very relieved that she didn’t go Orwell-bleak—I’m not sure I could have handled it; nevertheless, I did find the climax a bit too abrupt, too easy in some respects. However, that doesn’t make this trilogy any less of a worthwhile read. All three books are heartbreaking, chilling, and suspenseful. I heartily recommend them....more
In a way, I really do only have myself to blame here. There’s no logical reason that I would start reading a book like this actuallyWhy, self, why? :(
In a way, I really do only have myself to blame here. There’s no logical reason that I would start reading a book like this actually expecting to like it. But I got so much giddy stupid pleasure out of the BBC’s Lost in Austen, I got greedy and went looking for more. Which means I badly need my own version of the personal opera singer from Scrubs: “MISTAKE!”
The writing here isn’t appallingly awful, but the characterization more than makes up for it. Or whatever the opposite of making up for it is. Not only does Cready butcher Austen’s characters—seriously, did she even read Pride and Prejudice? She seems to think Elizabeth Bennet has only two sisters as opposed to four (poor Mary and Kitty, forgotten again!)—she can’t even do justice to her own. Her bad guys are ridiculously, implausibly vile—idiotic caricatures. She can’t seem to decide if her hero is a proper, prudish, scholarly type or an ass-spanking sex fiend. (Not that I would be opposed to a character who’s both, but this dude rotates on a dime with no explanation. Where’s the fun in that?) And her heroine is named Flip. Flip. Need I say more?
Well, I could—unsurprisingly, I could go on ranting forever. But I’ve probably already wasted enough time on this foolishness....more
Well, it’s been two months, so the burning hatred I felt for this book when I first put it down has faded somewhat. It remains, however, idiotic and nWell, it’s been two months, so the burning hatred I felt for this book when I first put it down has faded somewhat. It remains, however, idiotic and nonsensical even in memory. Courtney Stone, a modern-day Angeleno and the supposed Jane Austen addict of the title, miraculously finds herself transported back not only to Austen’s England, but into the life—and body—of a woman named Jane Mansfield (yup). Despite having supposedly read all of Austen’s books multiple times, Courtney seems shocked—shocked!—by almost every aspect of Regency life—basic stuff that even I am familiar with, despite being only a Casual Jane Austen Reader at Best. Courtney also frequently mentions the fact that she is a feminist, but all her goals and aspirations in life seem to involve finding a man. Plus she’s whiny. Basically, I spent most of the book wanting to punch her in the neck, which doesn’t make her a terribly good protagonist for a bit of fluff like this.
The ending of the book is also a vortex of bad ideas, poorly executed. What a waste of time....more
Part of the 33 1/3 series, which involves writers exploring favorite albums at great depth, Pernice’s effort was at the time of its writing (and, I bePart of the 33 1/3 series, which involves writers exploring favorite albums at great depth, Pernice’s effort was at the time of its writing (and, I believe, still is) the only entry that’s fiction. However, that’s the only way in which it is unique. This is a very, very average coming of age story; the protagonist is almost exactly like every other teenage protagonist who can’t get laid and who thinks his privileged white suburban life is omg so hard—the only thing different about him, I guess, is that he really really likes The Smiths.
Pernice does manage to engender some sympathy for his protagonist, in spite of mediocre writing and a puzzling opening that’s set in the present (as opposed to 1985), but just when the narrative seems like it’s starting to go somewhere…it ends. Sigh.
Am I alone in thinking that a novel based on the music of The Smiths should really involve a confused gay protagonist and lots of homosexual longing? And maybe a dash of Morrissey’s wickedly sharp humor, and not just his angst? Let’s have less “How Soon Is Now” and more “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Yeah: The Queen Is Dead by Trin—look for it in bookstores, probably never....more
A book of vignettes, each 240 words long, consisting of the thoughts that pass through the minds of characters both historical and imaginary in the miA book of vignettes, each 240 words long, consisting of the thoughts that pass through the minds of characters both historical and imaginary in the minute and a half left of life after they are beheaded. The concept seems gimmicky, and it is, a little—but it’s also, beautifully, beautifully done. I’m a sucker for stream-of-consciousness when it’s done well, and Butler is marvelous at it. He captures voice after voice, experience after experience, emotion after emotion: humanity, in all its beauty, tragedy, and variety. I was quite moved.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it....more
This is a brilliant book. Truly, truly brilliant—full of important ideas and hard truths about slavery and freedom, and about the essential core of whThis is a brilliant book. Truly, truly brilliant—full of important ideas and hard truths about slavery and freedom, and about the essential core of what America was built on, and for. Furthermore, it’s incredibly well-written, with not one but several unique narrative voices, and a wonderful flair for subtle, chilling symbolism.
It is also so fucking painful I could barely get through it.
The reality of Octavian’s situation—as slave, as experiment—is so brutal that I had to force myself to keep reading. I just wanted it to stop. I don’t think this makes this book any less of an achievement on Anderson’s part, but god does it scare me when I think about reading the sequel or recommending this book to other people.
I did, however, tell the Los Angeles Public Library that I thought its decision to shelve this book under fantasy was either idiotic or offensive. We may like to pretend these things aren’t part of our history—or at least don’t really like to think about them, as my shuddery reaction surely indicates—but it’s important, every once in a while, to be reminded. Anderson does that, not just intellectually, but emotionally. It’s commendable....more
Another fabulous addition to this series. This one didn’t quite blow me away as much as the last one (oh god, that ending! Still not over it), but it’Another fabulous addition to this series. This one didn’t quite blow me away as much as the last one (oh god, that ending! Still not over it), but it’s really excellent—and dark in a way I appreciate. My one wish is that after her fabulous introduction, Novik had managed to do even more with Perscitia; I’m worried that, considering the way this volume ends, she won’t be in the next one much. Moar Perscitia, plz!...more
I love the Regeneration trilogy so much, but I just can’t get into Barker’s other work. Her latest novel struck me as weirdly unfocused: the first haI love the Regeneration trilogy so much, but I just can’t get into Barker’s other work. Her latest novel struck me as weirdly unfocused: the first half follows Paul through art school and various romantic assignations, including a quasi love triangle thing; I didn’t find it particularly compelling. Even after Paul goes to war as an ambulance driver and hospital worker, I couldn’t latch on—I was never at all invested or even particularly interested in Paul and Elinor as a couple, and I felt at times that I was reading the notes for the novel, instead of the finished thing. At one point, for example, Paul thinks about how much he’d come to love a fallen comrade, and all I could think was—what? When did that happen? We’re never shown, and I found it frustrating that so much of the action—the emotional action, even—was taking place off screen.
I don’t know. The Regeneration books are still really, incredibly good. This just...isn’t....more
A cool idea—an international naval fleet from 2021 is transported back in time to the Battle of Midway in WWII—is made dull by being a zillion pages lA cool idea—an international naval fleet from 2021 is transported back in time to the Battle of Midway in WWII—is made dull by being a zillion pages long and full of stock characters and constant POV shifts. This is another “Man” book—overly lengthy and much more interested in the technical specifications than in the people. It’s the first volume of a trilogy, but I found it such a slog that I definitely won’t be continuing....more
Andrew, proud member of the Brotherhood of Philander, a private London society for men who enjoy the company of other men (*wink wink, nudge nudge*) dAndrew, proud member of the Brotherhood of Philander, a private London society for men who enjoy the company of other men (*wink wink, nudge nudge*) decides it’s time to do his duty and provide an heir, so he enters into a marriage of convenience with Phyllida, a poor country virgin (and anonymous writer of gothic romances). They both agree to conduct the marriage on terms of absolute honesty—so Phyllida knows that Andrew likes the manmeat, and Andrew knows that Phyllida’s joy in life has so far been the pen rather than the penis. However, attraction blooms, scandal looms, and really lame-ass spies abound.
I’ve spent quite a while trying to figure out how to explain why this book didn’t work for me. I think I’m gonna just go with a list:
1. I didn’t believe it. The Regency England Herendeen creates never felt real to me. It was like a copy of a copy of a copy—like she’d read a lot of other Regency romances and tried to recreate them, rather than the actual period. The characters’ reactions and decision-making seemed bizarre to me, too—like she was trying to make them (especially Andrew) seem incredibly clever and devious, Dangerous Liaisons-style. Instead they just seemed kind of thick. And weird.
Which brings me to:
2. I didn’t like any of the characters. They’re all kind of whiny. Or dickish. Or whiny dicks. I never really cared what happened to them; instead, I kept reading out of a vague desire to discover which way their private parts would ultimately end up aligned.
3. It’s incredibly insular. Herendeen tries to stretch the plot beyond the bedroom by including all these spy shenanigans that are also, apparently, supposed to tie in in some way with the Napoleonic wars; however, it’s more complicated and confusing than suspenseful. The same can be said of the supposed danger Andrew faces of being exposed, or disgraced among the ton; since almost all the characters we meet are in some way associated with the Brotherhood, it never feels like what Andrew and Phyllida are up to is all that unusual. In Herendeen’s Regency England, everyone, it would seem, is either a) gay, b) related to a gay person and cool with it, c) married to a gay person and cool with it. I don’t buy that much grooviness in the 19th Century; I almost doubt that you’d find it today. Andrew and Phyllida are even introduced to another long-term triumvirate: husband, wife, and husband (and wife’s!) live-in lover. What’s so special or exciting about what the protagonists are doing, then? Herendeen takes all the excitement out of her premise by making it seem ordinary.
4. It’s just not that funny. For example, there’s a long sequence in which Andrew becomes convinced that his wife is actually the author of Sense and Sensibility instead of the gothic bodice-ripper she’s actually responsible for. Along with not helping to cure me of the notion that Andrew is a MORON, this subplot wasn’t amusing so much as embarrassing and cringe-worthy.
5. It ain’t all that sexy, either. There were weeping cocks. And also a lot of Andrew calling Phyllida a slut, which I guess could be construed as hot dirty talk in certain contexts, but not when he actually seems to mean it—when he’s previously insinuated that he thinks her mother is a dirty whore. And to top it all off, the husband/wife/husband’s lover threesome I was hoping for never materialized. The final arrangement seems like a sweet deal for Andrew, but not so much for his partners. Pooh.
I think I’m learning that the things I get from fanfic—notably, quality boysex—are not things I can expect to find in published, acceptable-to-read-on-the-bus books. Why? I have no idea. However, the publication of Phyllida—regardless of how little I liked it—does seem like a good sign in terms of publishers realizing that there is a market for this sort of thing. Now, if only some of my favorite fic authors could write it!...more
Willie Upton returns in disgrace to her hometown of Templeton, New York (a very thinly disguised Cooperstown) and starts trying to unravel a family myWillie Upton returns in disgrace to her hometown of Templeton, New York (a very thinly disguised Cooperstown) and starts trying to unravel a family mystery that, seeing as Willie is a descendant of Marmaduke Temple, the founder of the town, is intimately intertwined with the history of the entire community.
I really thought I was going to like this book. History and mystery and research! Weird, magical realism touches like the discovery of a monster in the lake! Multiple points of view, including samples of “historical documents”! And yet—I never believed in it: not the community, and not the characters. We’re told Willie is brilliant, and yet she not only goes about her investigation in a frustratingly slow way, she fails at basic math. (Not to mention becomes convinced she’s pregnant and yet NEVER GOES TO A DOCTOR OR TAKES A PREGNANCY TEST.) There are a slew of other ridiculous details the reader is expected to swallow, too: I mean, I will accept a prehistoric sea monster living in upstate New York (Champ is TOTALLY REAL, yo), but I simply cannot believe in a character named Ezekiel Felcher. Yes, FELCHER.
There’s also just something about the narrative that simply…lacks energy. Unlike the similarly-constructed The Rotters’ Club, which practically cracks and sparks off its pages, The Monsters of Templeton just sort of lies there. I felt no zip, no kineticism—no joy. Groff says in the forward that she’s in a sense writing a love letter to her town, but I never really felt that love. I can all-too-easily get caught up in small-town nostalgia—I grew up in one, and the right combination of words or sounds or smells can instantly make me forget all the bad things and remember instead some Ray Bradbury-esque version of the village green, the waterfall over the river, the old mill buildings, the big white church spire. But none of that was here. I got no sense of the layout or the character of the town at all.
Instead, I got Ezekiel Felcher. Yes, FELCHER. Excuse me while I fail to get over that....more
In which time travel and Jesus are combined in a somewhat interesting way—yes, the one you’re thinking; or at least, the one my mind leapt to, withoutIn which time travel and Jesus are combined in a somewhat interesting way—yes, the one you’re thinking; or at least, the one my mind leapt to, without actually being told. Anyway, it’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure the story used to convey the idea is the best it could have possibly been. I sympathize with this problem, as it’s one I have all the time with my own writing. However, I feel less than sympathetic toward Karl, this novel’s protagonist, who’s a whiny little bitch; and toward Moorcock, for the way he writes women. Combining Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene into one woman is sort of an interesting idea, but once again, the execution just leaves us with a character who’s a nasty ho. And then there’s Karl’s girlfriend, who ditches him in favor of another woman…who could blame her, honestly? Man, this book leaves you with a dim outlook on humanity. Which I guess could be the point, in a watch-me-drip-with-irony sort of way. But I think it makes for a rather shallow, sallow reading experience....more
One of those family sagas full of stifling drawing rooms and deep secrets. This book had some interesting aspects to it: the historical facts about meOne of those family sagas full of stifling drawing rooms and deep secrets. This book had some interesting aspects to it: the historical facts about mental institutions and what women could be put away for were incredibly chilling, and the parts of the story told in stream-of-consciousness by a woman with Alzheimer’s were different and well done. The rest felt kind of paint-by-numbers, though: abuse! secret babies! quasi-incestuous stuff! Is this a serious literary novel or a vintage bodice-ripper? (Answer: it’s a serious literary novel because it’s partly told in stream-of-consciousness by a character with Alzheimer’s and has an unhappy ending). The whole, I felt, added up to less than the sum of its parts....more
While Willig definitely displays some wit, this book is hampered by a dull, clichéd romantic plot. I don’t mind—and can even really like—older man/youWhile Willig definitely displays some wit, this book is hampered by a dull, clichéd romantic plot. I don’t mind—and can even really like—older man/younger woman romances, but not when the man seems like a MAN, and the woman like a silly, flighty girl. Then it’s icky. And there was a bit too much of that ickiness here (even though the characters are, I think, actually less than ten years apart in age!), coupled with a mystery that’s just not very mysterious. This is supposed to be a fun, light-hearted romp—which is the sort of thing I love! But it’s just not that clever or different, and ultimately, not that much fun....more
Chabon does a big ol’ adventure novel pastiche, down to the convoluted prose that had me making squinty faces at the page and backtracking a number ofChabon does a big ol’ adventure novel pastiche, down to the convoluted prose that had me making squinty faces at the page and backtracking a number of times. If you can wade through that, there’s a nice friendship to be found between the two leads, and a bunch of pulp clichés that are quiet enjoyable to encounter. In general, the book’s a fun read of the type I might hope to find in one of the houses on Lake Caspian we sometimes used to rent for a week in the summer, and would flip through dangling my feet off the dock; I don’t really remember the titles or plots of any of those books, though, so…draw your own conclusions....more
This was fabulous. One of those books that utterly and completely wraps you up in its world, engulfing you like a thick, dark cloak. This particular wThis was fabulous. One of those books that utterly and completely wraps you up in its world, engulfing you like a thick, dark cloak. This particular world involves witness protection, the mob, and the 1980 presidential election, and it’s populated by fantastic characters and told with a vibrant narrative voice. It’s got themes of redemption, too, which I can never resist. In short, it’s one of those rare books that honestly feels unique. I’m looking forward to checking out Walter’s other work....more
A historical mystery set in Canada, and featuring what are essentially the precursors to Mounties and gay characters. I really thought I was going toA historical mystery set in Canada, and featuring what are essentially the precursors to Mounties and gay characters. I really thought I was going to like this book. Instead, I struggled to keep up with its meandering pace and mostly unsympathetic characters, only to be confronted by a conclusion that just cuts out like the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” I know that sort of thing is supposed to be arty and true-to-life, but is a little bit of closure so much to ask? Several plot threads are completely abandoned, dropped five or ten or fifteen pages from the end and never picked up again. Blargh. Forgive me, but I was reading to find out what happens, not to…I don’t know, muse on how mostly things suck and it’s very cold in Canada....more
Sort of like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, steampunk-style. In this revision, Alice Liddell was really Princess Alyss of Wonderland, who was forcSort of like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, steampunk-style. In this revision, Alice Liddell was really Princess Alyss of Wonderland, who was forced to flee to 19th Century England when her aunt Redd staged a bloody coup. I quite enjoyed the set-up before Alyss goes into exile, and the parts with her adjusting to her very different life in England and how it changes her. The glimpses of Wonderland technology and the background characters are fun—General Doppelganger who splits into Generals Doppel and Ganger when threatened or agitated; Hatter Madigan, Alyss’ deadly bodyguard, who keeps blades in all sorts of places. For the first two-thirds of the book, the pace was quick; the writing, while far from stellar, seemed vibrant and punchy; and the whole thing felt quite creative for a necessarily derivative work.
The last third, however, comprising Alyss’ return to Wonderland and her confrontation with Queen Redd, kind of fell apart. The pace slows, and there are quite a few not-terribly-exciting battles. Worse, Beddor abandons creativity and lifts a long sequence not from Lewis Carroll, but from George Lucas. Y’see, Alyss has to prepare herself to face Redd, so she enters a maze and is confronted with visions. She sees her aunt and is warned by the spirit of her dead mother not to attack with weapons—for they are practitioners of White Imagination, see, and anger leads to Dark Imagination!—but Alyss, enraged, beheads Redd, and then sees in the mirror—gasp!—Redd’s face instead of her own! Yeah, I bet Yoda was pissed.
Entertaining enough for my bus ride, but nothing very special. I’ll probably read the next book in the series if I stumble across it, but I won’t put too much effort into hunting it down....more
The fourth in the Temeraire series, and the one I've enjoyed the most since the introductory book. Which is to say, a lot. This one felt more tightlyThe fourth in the Temeraire series, and the one I've enjoyed the most since the introductory book. Which is to say, a lot. This one felt more tightly structured than the last, with the disease plot as a brilliantly chosen and terrifying centerpiece. I've never had a dragon, obviously, but the idea of losing one made me ache almost as much as the thought of losing one's daemon in His Dark Materials. The African setting really came alive; I love how we're getting to see how different cultures around the world have responded and adapted to dragons. And the ending...damn. Like a slap, that was—and a higher compliment than that I have difficulty conceiving. ;-)
If you're not reading this series, you really should be; I can't wait for the next book. And if you haven't been reading it, just think how lucky you are: you now have four wonderful novels to tide you over until the next one comes out. I'm envious!
I also have to add that I really enjoy the fact that, due to the wonders of the alphabet and the particular books I happen to have in my collection, Naomi Novik ends up shelved right next to Patrick O'Brian. It was meant to be! Though I better be careful not to buy any, say, Joyce Carol Oates. Don't you try anything, Joyce!...more