You know, I spent a lot of time wishing this novel was better written (less show, more tell, complex sentence structure!) and yet I still really loved...moreYou know, I spent a lot of time wishing this novel was better written (less show, more tell, complex sentence structure!) and yet I still really loved it. The characterizations were spot on. Veronica's inner voice was exactly right; the dialogue was right; the scenery; the pace... just perfect.
And the story itself was very emotionally compelling. I'm a bit surprised it wasn't the movie's plot, as it really resonated a lot more (maybe they were afraid of alienating newbies? except that the movie really felt like one long extended episode).
Finely plotted enough to keep me turning the pages. I thought the author very interesting for mixing three tonal styles in his writing: non-fiction hi...moreFinely plotted enough to keep me turning the pages. I thought the author very interesting for mixing three tonal styles in his writing: non-fiction history essays, first person diary entries, and third person narration. It didn't always work. Sometimes the transition between them was a bit jarring. Sometimes, the third person veered into the historical voice, so that I was being told the same facts two or three times. I never felt part of the story-- because of the insistence on factual exposition, the book very much separates the modern reader from the characters and story (unlike, say, Connie Willis, who manages to explain history while fully engaging the reader). However, the detail, the mystery, the race against a madman, those were fun.(less)
Whoa. Whoa. I could not stop reading this book. Sometimes, I even got all sweaty and anxious while reading. Everything is horrifying and completely en...moreWhoa. Whoa. I could not stop reading this book. Sometimes, I even got all sweaty and anxious while reading. Everything is horrifying and completely enthralling.(less)
I give Mr. Shivers a solid three stars. For the first half, the book was a four or even five star read. I was engrossed and captivated, definitely sta...moreI give Mr. Shivers a solid three stars. For the first half, the book was a four or even five star read. I was engrossed and captivated, definitely stayed up too late the first night reading it. The setting was incredible-- Depression-era hobos, Hoover towns, and railroads coming to life in a very powerful way. The dialog complemented so nicely as well. Sparse and dry, the characters always hinting at secretive depths but not revealing them just for the sake of exposition. And the plot felt good and twisty, just the right hints of menance and violence in the beginning to make me believe I had a real thriller on my hands.
But through the middle and into the second half, it just didn't pick up for me. It got more violent, yes. Worse things happened. However, as the story became more literally visceral, the mystery became more fantastical. As more and more of the depth and brutality of Shivers was revealed to be supernatural in nature-- I disengaged.
It became apparent that the story I was reading was much more symbolic and allegorical than I expected. Allow me to be clear, Bennett didn't just throw in some dues ex machina magic as a convenience. The plot remained fairly taut throughout, although I do think the characters remained curiously flat as the story unfolded. In fact, while I was reading, I wasn't actually sure why I was so dissatisfied with how things were turning out.
Thinking about it, though, it was oddly disappointing to have so much horrific, senseless violence attributed to a supernatural cause. A supernatural, ever-repeating, cyclical cause, at that. Everyone is sort of off the moral hook, if you will-- who can be blamed, when all of the death we've been talking about is actually capital-D Death? Who is responsible, in the end, when this story is actually just one part of an ever-repeating struggle, played throughout the ages? Instead of drawing back the curtain to reveal the great unknown magic behind human history, I instead felt robbed of agency.
The fantastical elements that Bennett revealed were not new enough, or twisted around enough, to be interesting. I have read so many retold myths and fairy tales that old crones in the woods, blind fortunetellers, warning of "three" things - man, it's old hat. If you are going to re-use the symbols, you've got to do it in a way that is so powerful as to overpass the symbol's own cliched nature. I suspect that if characterization had been as strong as plot, this would not have been an issue.
Lastly, I can't escape the idea that the black characters in the story served as little more than plot devices. If Connelly, the main character, was flat, then Peachy was paper thin. The only thing necessary for Peachy was to be killed, so that Connelly would act on it. Some of the black characters were so tied to the symbolism as to be route. Their descriptions occasionally felt fetishistic. It was glaring, and sad, and disappointed me. (less)
I found Tash Fairbanks’ Fearful Symmetry completely by chance while browsing books o...moreRewview originally publised to the Lesbrary @ http://lesbrary.com/
I found Tash Fairbanks’ Fearful Symmetry completely by chance while browsing books on Paperbackswap.com. It is an enjoyable, engrossing read. Unfortunately, I can’t find any other fiction novels from this author.
A coastal town in England is in the grips of hysteria– a teenager claims to find a fetus with the head of a goat and body of a human in the woods near the genetic lab. A reporter looking to get back at her scientist mother writes incendiary, shocking articles making barely factual claims against her mother’s genetics lab and the local women’s clinic. A day or two later, a local disabled girl is found murdered on the lab’s grounds. The town church immediately begins rallying against the obvious satanic influence of liberals and feminists, things are made worse when scientists at the lab claim they are actually trying to find and cure the gene for homosexuality. Sam Carter, private investigator (and recent returnee to sobriety after a bad breakup), is asked by the murdered girl’s mother to investigate.
It’s a lengthy read, divided into short chapters that tend to focus on just one or two characters at a time. Sam Carter is the central element to the novel, but does not necessarily get the most page time. Fairbanks surrounds her with characters just as well-developed and fleshed out, that each own part of the mystery and are important to its denouement.
For being over 20 years old, the story is fairly fresh and vivid. The power of shock journalism, the infighting between different social progressive groups (factions within factions of lesbians, feminists, disability rights groups, etc.), the religious hysteria and manipulation; all of it was very familiar to me as a modern reader. Refreshingly, when characters discuss these social issues, it didn’t read as dry or boring exposition, it felt organic to the conversation and plot.
Overall, I thought this was a great mystery novel, and was disappointed to learn that I won’t be able to read the further adventures of Sam Carter.(less)
Butch Fatale is a Los Angeles-based private dick just barely scraping by on whatever cases come her way. While hav...moreOriginally published on The Lesbrary
Butch Fatale is a Los Angeles-based private dick just barely scraping by on whatever cases come her way. While having sex with an old friend (like you do), a new case walks in the door– another butch is looking for her missing ex-girlfriend, Angie. Butch suspects Angie is just another fallen ex-junkie, but decides to follow the leads where they may take her. As it turns out, straight into trouble– Armenian gangsters, high-priced escort services, murder, mayhem, etc. And a lot more sex.
Faust has written an odd book that reads as both a tribute and a farcical take on the classic mystery pulps of yore. I can’t say it worked for me, but I think there is definitely a niche out there for interested readers. As a devoted fan of romance novels, I was surprised to find myself thinking the sex gratuitous and overly-explict. The first third of the book read like the filler plot in a porno and I was frustrated by the lack of a concrete story. The sex scenes were not there to develop characters or plot and so I found them more distracting then titillating.
Once the mystery started to unravel, however, the story picked up and I enjoyed it. When Faust lets Butch do her mystery-solving thing, both the writing and the character shine. I also liked Faust’s command of setting– modern day LA became a seedy, rich setting for a classic noir tale.
Except that as the story continued into the final third, Butch got lucky one too many times for me. A common trope in pulp fiction is the literally down-trodden hero– so beat upon as to almost not function, yet also somehow able to save the day with his wits and his luck. Butch got so lucky, so often, that I stopped believing she was good at her job. A couple of promising scenes were utterly wasted when Butch took so long telling me about all of the mental connections she was making and clues she was putting together to beat the bad guy instead of just throwing the right punch at the right moment.
I also wasn’t really sure who this book was written for– a queer reader? Pulp afficionados? Straight men? There were a few inside jokes I adored, like the character named Brink Bannon (Ann Bannon wrote the classic Beebo Brinker lesbian pulp novels). But other times, Butch’s narrative voice veered into a preachy tone that rang false for a book written for queer audiences. And the way Butch sexualizes every single woman she comes across made me rather uncomfortable– I wasn’t participating in it and it never hooked me, as a queer reader.(less)
When I picked up Crooked, I was looking for something that could stand up to the decreasing ability of my brain to pay attention on a 7-8 hour flight....moreWhen I picked up Crooked, I was looking for something that could stand up to the decreasing ability of my brain to pay attention on a 7-8 hour flight. Certain aspects of Crooked seemed to fit this criteria— mainly, I was promised:
- “dark, demented fiction debut” - “absurdist catalog of fetish porn and depravity” - “Not for the faint of heart” - “scatological brilliance”
via all of the editorial comments from the first page.
However, on the long and boring bus ride to Dulles, sitting next to some painfully young European kids headed home after their internships/semeters abroad (Yes! Twenty-something Europeans are just as dumb as tweny-something Americans!), I realized…
Inescapable Truth #345: No matter the content, a poorly written book is still poorly written.
So sure, the Chief of Staff is a heroin addict. And yeah, there is a rat that pees on stuff on purpose. There are deviant sex acts and and mindless violence and conspiratorial coincidences; all sortsa crap like that. Warren Ellis just warrenellis-es all over this book.
But is it good? Not really. The main character narrates in the first person past tense, from a sort of indistinct future point. Except for when he breaks the time/space continuum and changes tense or tone, abruptly and confusingly. Booooooo! And also: cough cough writing101 cough.
The perversions are all presented in long & boring expositions. The third or fourth time a character shows up to regale me with sicko tales that also read as mini-editorials on the current state of American culture? I got it. Warren Ellis Has A Point To Make! And yet, oddly enough, for someone so willing to lovingly describe the deviant behavior of others, Ellis fades-to-black on all the love/sex scenes with his main characters. I found this rather prudish. And kind of ridiculous.
Perhaps if I had not read some other, really great neo-noir, then Crooked Little Vein would have stood out for me. Perhaps if Charlie Huston had not written a series of books that were shocking, violent, perverse, insane, and ALSO well-written, and ALSO, amazingly! lovely, Warren Ellis would have had a chance.
So when it came time to pack for my trip back, I would have kept this book for you, my dear Madthoughts… But I had a lot of chocolate to bring back. And new purses. And my suitcase was getting heavier and heavier…
3 of 5 stars, for being readable enough for me to finish it.(less)
Lavie Tidhar gives good setting. His descriptions of a Steampunk Victorian Age, ruled by Lizards, populated with historical and literary minor charact...moreLavie Tidhar gives good setting. His descriptions of a Steampunk Victorian Age, ruled by Lizards, populated with historical and literary minor characters— Sherlock Holmes and his gang, a Lizard Queen Victoria, a nicely creepy Dr. Frankenstein — it’s all done very well. Totally enjoyable.
But does he write good story? Kinda. In The Bookman, the poet Orphan finds himself at the center of a vast conspiracy and is dragged all around the globe, beat up, and almost killed, numerous times. In Camera Obscura, the main difference seems to be that it is a woman, Milady, who is beat up, conspired against, etc.
Well ok, there is a second difference. Milady is also supposed to be a police woman, carrying a big gun and intimidating all of the criminals in Paris— unlike our somewhat nebbish everyman, Orphan.
But Milady, she is a badass with a big gun from the page one. She’s not drawn into conspiracy, she’s a conspirator! Employed by the Quiet Council, the shady cabal of automatons ruling France, Milady just swaggers all over town, covering up crimes, collecting clues, fingering her gun in menacing ways… Once the story gets going, however, Milady starts to get beat up, a lot.
And every time she is conspired against, beat on, horrifyingly tortured, etc., not only was I reminded a little too closely of Orphan’s woes, but I also started to doubt her verisimilitude as originally described. Her truthfulness as a person began to ring false the worse the story treated her.
I’m all for the noir style beat down of the protagonist. Bring em low, I say! Bring em down to my filthy, violent level!
…But by every villain that shows up? With every new twist of the plot? All the while also telling me just how tough and smart she is, always hinting at some dark past filled with clever and crafty misdeeds? In a fantasy England populated by walking and talking man-sized lizards, whales that roam the Thames, and a real, live Captain Nemo? It’s one unbelievable thing too many.
I give the Bookman three stars for being inventive and fun. Camera Obscura, however, gets two. Don’t piss on my leg (or beat up your so-called tough female heroine until she is unrecognizable) and tell me it’s raining. And seriously? Don’t make me read the same book twice. (less)
I cannot adequately explain the joy, the incredible sense of pleasure, I derived from reading this book. Even as the book’s plot unraveled a bit at the end, I enjoyed every moment of reading Nairne Holtz’s Skin Beneath. The first paragraph:
Sam unlocks the mailbox in the lobby of her building, takes out a single envelope, opens the back flap to discover a postcard inside. She reads the words on the postcard: “Your sister died while investigating a political conspiracy. Coincidence? How often do women kill themselves with a gun? Think about it.”
What an opening, right? First, the sentence is not a fluke– the entire novel occurs in present tense. Which is just… amazing. In a lesser writer’s hands, it could have come across as gimmicky, or even intrusive. It was a little mesmerizing, instead, to experience the events of a book at the same time as the protagonist. And secondly, the subject matter! A dead sister! A conspiracy! Holtz not only writes well, she also imagines a great plot.(less)
Zoo City is a decent novel, with a lot of great, shiny moments, and also a lot of weaknesses. It’s neo-noir fantasy— a detective story set in an alter...moreZoo City is a decent novel, with a lot of great, shiny moments, and also a lot of weaknesses. It’s neo-noir fantasy— a detective story set in an alternate now. Populated with interesting, fascinating characters, the mystery is badly plotted and the fantasy worldbuilding left with gaping, unexplained holes.
Beukes really shines in her location. Johannesburg, I place I have never been and will likely never go, felt real— rooted and intense. I loved the way Beukes captured the language of the people and the feel of the city. I also loved the way Beukes incorporated non-narrative devices to build her world: snippets of news articles, documentary reviews, etc., that provided immediate shortcuts into this alterna-world. For someone used to short bursts of information via internet sources, it was immediate and accessible.
4 of 5 stars. Weaknesses aside, I would recommend this to most mystery fans looking to branch out, most “new weird” fans looking for new authors, and most uh, everybody else.(less)
There is something about a Pelecanos book that is like sitting in a classroom, making dreamy eyes at your favorite professor as he lectures about your...moreThere is something about a Pelecanos book that is like sitting in a classroom, making dreamy eyes at your favorite professor as he lectures about your favorite topic while you wear your favorite clothes on your favorite day of the best year of your life.
Not that Pelecanos is expository. Or dry. Or anything remotely like listening to a lecture, in the slightest.
But reading him, I learn. I learn so much about Washington, DC. About people. About crime and violence and struggling and living.
Drama City is nominally about Lorenzo Brown, ex-offender, now working for the Humane Society, and Rachel Lopez, his parol officer. Lorenzo and Rachel gets caught up in the spiraling violence between two local gangs— one led by Lorenzo’s longtime friend, the man he went to prison for, Nigel.
But, not to spoil this book before you read it (and you really, really should read it), the violence, the mayhem which the book blurb makes you think is the whole plot? Doesn’t happen almost until the last quarter of the book. What you really get with Pelecanos is a story about a whole city, how it is now, how it was, how people end up where they are, and why.
It’s a slow book, with a whole host of secondary characters and sub plots. I never got confused though, never got lost. Each new person or story was interesting, fascinating. Sometimes I felt a little voyeuristic- middle class suburban white girl peeking in on a predominantly black, inner-city experience. But that is my hang-up, not something the book imposed on me. I felt no judgement in the text, nor was there a sense of Pelecanos distancing the reader from the characters in order to teach some greater moral lesson.
I honestly do not know if these books would resonate with me as much if I didn’t live in DC. It is something amazing to read a book set on my streets, in my neighborhood even, that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the President and Secret Service foiling terrorist hijackers by landing Air Force one on the tip of the Washington Monument. And even though this is a crime book, the next time someone looks at me askance for living in the “murder capital of the United States” (actually, it’s DETROIT) or makes a joke about crack-smoking mayors, I’m gonna hand them this book.
Here, here is my city. Here is the heat in summer, and the smells, and the noise, and yes the terrible violence, the corruption, the loss. But here too are the people in my city, good and bad, and in all the choices they make, see the profundity of average life.
This book blends elements of horror and noir-mystery to build something reminiscent of the best gothic fiction -- surreal and hypnotic, but disturbing...moreThis book blends elements of horror and noir-mystery to build something reminiscent of the best gothic fiction -- surreal and hypnotic, but disturbingly realistic. Its a page turner and also quite literary and complex. (less)