Sweetly weird and strangely hopeful, especially considering that this is a story about hell and artificial intelligence and a naive girl who is alwaysSweetly weird and strangely hopeful, especially considering that this is a story about hell and artificial intelligence and a naive girl who is always the last to figure things out. I think it's my favorite thing I've read so far by Zen Cho--though I've loved it all....more
Two outcasts: one a budding witch, one a budding tech genius. One fated future: their continued existence and intertwined lives will lead to the destrTwo outcasts: one a budding witch, one a budding tech genius. One fated future: their continued existence and intertwined lives will lead to the destruction of the world.
I've bounced off Anders's short fiction before, and I bounced off a lot of this book, too, due to personal tastes. I found so many of the details so obnoxiously twee and grating, and I am generally uninterested in magic assholes or tech assholes, and I found the characters, even Patricia and Laurence, to be too shallow and undynamic for my tastes.
But I liked quite a bit, including the see-saw uneven tone, which I found charming and kept me on my toes. I really and especially liked the beginning portion of the book, covering the two children's childhoods, which struck me as very Lemony Snicket-y: bleak and melodramatic, one-dimensional adult authority figures and irredeemably awful peers, plus their middle school guidance counselor is actually a trained assassin who experienced a vision of how Patricia and Laurence will lead to global destruction, but since his guild has outlawed the killing of children, his hands are tied, professionally, and he has to try to stop them in more underhanded ways. The bitter laughs, the unrealistic and screaming unfairness woven into all the forces shaping Patricia's and Laurence's childhoods...I thought that was all unique, interesting, and compelling. I enjoyed reading that first section so much. The rest of the book, though, not so much. At least not until that ending, which I really liked: firm with just enough ambiguity and hope for the future.
And I loved the birds. Especially in that last chapter.
But I wanted something deeper, thematically. I'm not saying, "Bleh, love, who cares?" but...I guess I was hoping for something more emotionally or intellectually complicated. Or at least characters with more depth. ...more
Chiang is the sort of writer where, when there's a story of his I don't "get" or like, I still look forward to reading what other readers/reviewers goChiang is the sort of writer where, when there's a story of his I don't "get" or like, I still look forward to reading what other readers/reviewers got out of said story. So thanks, Goodreads reviewers, for all the interesting commentary on "Understand," which I had found dull, despite my affection for the term "gestalt."
Most of Chiang's stories I like, though, and a lot of them I love. They're elegant and provoking and deeply developed. They reward rereading, which was great, because I wanted to read this collection in order to reread "Story of Your Life" before (and, as it turns out, again after) seeing Arrival. (The film was beautiful and affirming and did the original story credit while still being its own lovely separate experience.) In addition to the wise and graceful "Story of Your Life," the story "Hell Is the Absence of God" is another longtime SFF favorite of mine, and it was good to revisit almost a decade after I first read it, when the world seems even more Old Testament than ever.
The idea of certainty, and how that affects human behavior, is one of the things that interests me most in Chiang's work: predestination and free will, what-if-God-were-an-objective-truth, what self-delusions are necessary in order for us to function as we have before, how we weird humans unravel when a switch is flipped from uncertainty to certainty. He explores this in a lot of these stories, and I really enjoyed how they illuminated each other that way. (Throw "What's Expected of Us" into the mix, too, though it's a later story.)
ANYWAY. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single-author short story collection that operates on this high of a level both on knowledge & interest in science/speculation and on knowledge & interest in the human condition in all its complexities, and that is this easy and accessible to read. The two aforementioned favorite stories were, I thought, the strongest in the book, but there was brilliance in each story.
This is one of those "I mean, it's good, but I didn't LIKE it" two-star ratings. This is Link's debut collection of stories, and while she's always haThis is one of those "I mean, it's good, but I didn't LIKE it" two-star ratings. This is Link's debut collection of stories, and while she's always had amazing ideas, her execution skills have grown a lot, given how smooth and sharp--and a lot more varied--Get in Trouble is. Anyway, "The Specialist's Hat" is wonderful and a couple of the other stories were also good, but there was a pervading sameness to most of these stories....more
I love Aimee Bender's work. Love. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was my first favorite adult book, I believe; I discovered it as a high school sophomI love Aimee Bender's work. Love. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was my first favorite adult book, I believe; I discovered it as a high school sophomore and reread it obsessively (I have "The Rememberer" very close to memorized, still), and her work has majorly influenced my literay tastes for a long time now. Her stories and her imagery and her depiction of all our weird & sad & sweet human desires (and the strange places those desires take us) and the fierce momentum & scattered humor of her sentences, that's all part of my reading-and-writing bloodstream.
So I was an ideal reader for this collection, and I don't quite know how to explain her style, its limitations and its acrobatic expertise, in a detached way. Anyway, the stories in The Color Master are real world fairy tales, where both the literal and the metaphorical are murky but hit hard. She does whimsy like I like whimsy: disconcerting and enchanting in equal measure. She writes family relationships and romantic/sexual relationships with equal care, and there's a whole-ness to her work that gives even the smallest little interactions an evocative depth.
My very favorite story in this collection was the final one, "The Devourings," about a human woman, her ogre husband, and the time that he unintentionally eats all six of their children after being tricked into it by a plucky human girl. It's a turned-inside-out fairy tale, because we don't care, not even a little a bit, about the clever girl who tricked the monster and saved herself: we follow the grief and the survival of the woman and her ogre husband, and we see their fantasy world with both the logic of the fantastic or the stark realness of what it means to survive after the unimaginable. It's a beautiful, brutal jewel of a story....more
Hey so apparently Code Name Verity wasn't Elizabeth Wein's first rodeo on the emotional brutality circuit. The Winter Prince is just as ruthlessly preHey so apparently Code Name Verity wasn't Elizabeth Wein's first rodeo on the emotional brutality circuit. The Winter Prince is just as ruthlessly precise in its restrained depiction of wild and complicated feelings under stressful situations. And, okay, I feel like that description is something that only makes sense to me, but the beauty in Wein's writing is in that contradictory dynamic: careful narrators committed to truth, and all sorts of hard love blooming underneath the surface of that narrative. That hard love seeps to the surface in ways that feel like punches to the gut.
The Arthurian mythology isn't really my thing, and prior to reading this book, I couldn't recall anything about who Medraut was, but I found the story easy to follow, easy to enjoy. The characters were fully inhabited, not just placeholders falling into particular roles or fates. The climactic scenes tore my heart out, but I wished for an ending that left more resolved, that lingered more on the changes that had occurred in the relationships--though I understood clearly just how exhausted the characters were and how they deserved to get ushered off the page and sleep for a few days. But my feelings re: the ending don't diminish the story at all: there are four more books after this AND the series moves off to the Aksumite Empire next, so I'm a happy reader....more
We have had Aunt Maria ever since Dad died. If that sounds as if we have the plague, that is what I mean.
Creepy and gloomy. Neither the plot nor the w
We have had Aunt Maria ever since Dad died. If that sounds as if we have the plague, that is what I mean.
Creepy and gloomy. Neither the plot nor the worldbuilding cohered for me, but I liked the relationships between Mig and her brother Chris and her mother, and the sickly sweet Aunt Maria was a despicable if flat villain....more
So God's an irresponsible teenage layabout named Bob, and unfortunately for all of Earth, he's fallen headfirst into a combo of lust & love for yoSo God's an irresponsible teenage layabout named Bob, and unfortunately for all of Earth, he's fallen headfirst into a combo of lust & love for young zookeeper named Lucy. Chaos ensues.
The premise sounds full of landmines of unenjoyability, but Meg Rosoff's earned my trust with two other books, How I Live Now and Picture Me Gone. This comic romp is a very different story, something that Vonnegut or Adams might appreciate, but it's also quite thoughtful about issues of faith, mortality, and the relationship between humans and God. There's even a strand of sweetness, particularly anytime Eck (a penguin-esque creature, the last of his kind, and under extreme threat of being eaten very shortly) was on page and ruminating about death and life. There is approximately zero theological coherence, and I wasn't happy with the way some of the story strands turned out, but overall, it was an interesting read....more
I wish I hadn't waited so long to read this. One of my favorite aspects of Laura Bickle's previous series (the adult urban fantasy series with Anya KaI wish I hadn't waited so long to read this. One of my favorite aspects of Laura Bickle's previous series (the adult urban fantasy series with Anya Kalinczyk, psychic arson investigator) was the way she incorporated faith, spirituality, and mythology into her worldbuilding, character development, and plot. I should have known that she'd hit a proverbial home run by zooming in on an Amish community during the vampire apocalypse. There's a good mix of thematic meditation--lots of interesting thoughts about evil and power--and slightly frightening (I'm a wimp, okay) action scenes with strong emotional resonance. Also, one of the book's major strengths, for me, was Katie: she's an appealing, down-to-earth, thoughtful protagonist....more
While the past four years have been a bit of a wait, it's a lovely experience to wait so long for a next book in a series, to fall right back into theWhile the past four years have been a bit of a wait, it's a lovely experience to wait so long for a next book in a series, to fall right back into the world without a hitch, and to have it be a very good book besides.
I find this series calming. The primary characteristic of protagonist Katie is that she's practical. Sometimes boringly sensible, and sometimes quite unemotional--the narration sometimes throws me because there is no mention of her emotions during some scenes, like when she was being attacked. Someone's choking her, and her narration focuses on her sequence of actions, no references to panic, dread, fear, etc. I also find this series rather chaste, with a few scattered swear words, and I can quite understand how this series might have struggled to find a genre to fit into; Katie is too sensible for a chick lit novel, and her world is too cutesy (without being very whimsical; remember the practicality?) to fit in among most urban fantasy series. But it's a combination that works, as unmarketable as it may be, and I quite enjoy the mix of magical and mundane that Swendson pulls off.
This installment is the fifth in the series and not likely a good place for new readers, as it basically wraps up the major arc of the past five books. There are a lot of cute character moments and great interactions (Katie and office nemesis Kim become allies! Ethan's well-stocked car of wonders is a well-stocked car of wonders! Gemma and Marcia assist Katie with a secret mission! Owen's trained dragons make a reappearance!), some momentum for Katie and Owen's relationship, (view spoiler)[Nita, one of my favorite minor characters, moves to NYC and joins in the adventures--without knowing that there's magic involved, (hide spoiler)] and the book ends with some big changes for some major characters. The plot's a bit clunky at times and, when ridiculous decisions are made, at least Katie realizes they're foolish (even if she can't convince other people), but that can still be frustrating to read. And even if Owen's backstory was pretty obvious for the past couple of books, there was a couple nice twists to it. Overall, it was a very pleasant, fun read, and even if the major plot that hasn't been wrapped up (the Phillip stuff, mostly) isn't my most favorite of subplots, I still see how there's a lot of room to play and grow in this universe, and I look forward to seeing what's next for Katie....more
Some thoughtful and neat twists on the paranormal world and its inhabitants, but the story is weakly plotted and flatly written, and the romance aspecSome thoughtful and neat twists on the paranormal world and its inhabitants, but the story is weakly plotted and flatly written, and the romance aspect is unengaging.
I saw an ad for this book on a romance novel blog months ago and clicked on it eagerly simply because of the heroine's attire on the cover: she's wearing a collared, button-down shirt and a pencil skirt. Have you seen what paranormal heroines usually wear on covers? It's all tight leather pants and tank tops and black black black. And, if anything, this tips off the reader that Natalya is not your ordinary paranormal heroine.
The most prominent difference is that Natalya has OCD and it impacts her life, her relationships, and her status as a werewolf. A lot of reviews and blurbs include patronizing claims like calling Natalya lovably quirky or adorably neurotic (seriously? SERIOUSLY?), which made me wary, but I thought the book treated Natalya's OCD with seriousness and didn't play it for laughs or for "cuteness" or to turn Natalya into a victim needing rescuing. Which was awesome. On the other hand, the overeating habits of Aggie, Natalia's best friend who is a werewolf with an eating disorder, were sometimes a subject of amusement, which did make me wince, but on the other hand, Aggie was also treated as more than just her eating habits and portrayed as extremely sympathetic, and the book spends time showing how Aggie and Natalya are actually friends and do care greatly about each other.
Plus, Natalya goes to group therapy for paranormal creatures wrestling with various aspects of mental health, and while I think that thread of the plot culminated in a way that was oversentimental and unbelievable, it was a really neat thing to portray, and the supportive friendships born out of that therapy group were sweet. Lots of kindness and humanity in showing how people (or werewolves, mermaids, wizards, trolls, deities, muses, etc.) can fall through the cracks and how they work hard, really hard, to pull themselves out.
The actual story, however, was frustrating. The worldbuilding and the characters were so neat, but the skeleton underneath, the vehicle of the book, was so listless. :/
First, Natalya's mooning over Thorn came across as pretty pathetic. (I just want to make that clear that when I call her feelings pathetic, I'm not referring to her OCD at all, which years ago was exacerbated by his abandonment of her; it's her current "I looooove him and he sneaks into my room like a creepy Edward Cullen and makes me feel safe because he does that and I looooove him but cannot be with him" feelings that I'm rolling my eyes at.) He came across as nothing more than a generic alpha werewolf with ~feeeeelings~ for the ex he wronged. No personality. No humor. Just tons of stated attraction. Bleh. It was desperately difficult to see what Natalya might have seen in him, or to even find him interesting when he showed up on the page. At the same time, the other love interest, fellow group-therapy attendee Nick, had slightly more personality but was also fairly bland. In comparison to all the female characters who show up practically bursting with personality and history (Natalya, Aggie, all of Natalya's older female relatives, Heidi the mermaid and Abby the muse, Karey the pregnant nymph), the main male characters weren't interesting at all. The minor male characters (Natalya's goblin boss, her creepy necromancer coworker with whom she goes on one very memorable date) were more engaging than the two love interests! It was as if in trying to make the male leads inoffensive and likeable to a vast number of readers, they lost the ability to have any sort of interesting angles or personality. This is a pretty common complaint I have with paranormal romances, though, so more devoted fans of the genre probably wouldn't mind the way I did.
Second, the plot was just...meh. When a rival pack is encroaching on Natalya's former pack's area, they particularly target Natalya, and no one knows why, least of all Natalya. The reason why was so clumsily handled that I set aside the book and almost didn't finish the last few pages. (view spoiler)[The event that put Natalya on their target list was that she killed the pack leader's son five years back when, during a search for a missing local girl, she discovered he attacked/kidnapped/abused her. A slight reference to this event was mentioned once, in a couple sentences, near the beginning of the book, but not to the fact that Natalya quietly murdered the man. From then until a confrontation with the rival pack leader, there is no mention of this event AT ALL, and here we are, in Natalya's first-person POV, getting all the details of all her feelings and thoughts and ~memories of Thorn~ but oh, not a single reference to how she killed a guy before. I would have thought that murdering someone would be a pivotal event in one's life, but a) it wasn't referenced or alluded to at all in Natalya's thoughts, b) there was no indication that she had suppressed memories of the event, and c) the trauma didn't manifest in any expressions of unusual mental health; all of Natalya's mental disorder manifestations were unrelated and more closely connected as coping techniques for Thorn's abandonment than the whole killed-a-guy thing. (hide spoiler)] It wasn't cohesive, it wasn't organic, and it wasn't believable. Other unbelievable things: there was no indication that Natalya's former pack, or werewolves in general, were good for anything other than group barbeques and breeding. Compared to the dimension Madison gave to the paranormal world in other senses, this lack of detail of what it meant to be a werewolf or a pack member felt oddly jarring.
Third, little things in the writing style irritated me. Some of the things Natalya said made no logical sense or contradicted herself.
Example: Natalya and Thorn discover that her male relatives, camping out in a forest to find a missing pack member, had their camp infiltrated and seized by the rival pack. They're sneaking upon the camp and Natalya thinks, "For once I was proud of my uncles--they'd picked a position that we could approach from downwind." Am I missing something? Why should she be proud? Sure, that location makes it convenient for her and Thorn's stealth approach, but it was also kinda what let the rival pack sneak up on them, too. Don't be proud of them for their stupid mistake, Natalya.
Another example: Natalya remembers a painful piece of Aggie's family history, how Aggie's mother was used as a breeder. She says, "Aggie had never let me forget that fact during camp. While everyone else opened up about their problems, Aggie was too embarrassed to talk about the dirty little secret among the more affluent packs--the practice of forced breeding for the high-ranking females." How did Aggie never let Natalya forget if she was too embarrassed to talk about it? Am I missing something, because isn't that a contradiction? There's no follow up sentences about how it was a secret Aggie told Natalya once in complete confidence, etc., just two sentences that didn't make sense together.
And a third example of jarring inconsistency in the writing: "Why did every guy--the ones who knew I was a werewolf, that is--assume that when I said it was that time of the month that I meant a woman's monthly cycle? Well, it wasn't as if I mentioned the subject very often. When I said it to Bill, he simply nodded and replied, 'So that's why Mrs. Ferguson kept sniffing the other customers.'" If, quote "every guy" made the menstrual cycle assumption, IT'S A CONTRADICTION for Bill to have not. I...just...ack. Same paragraph, contradictory sentences. Why should I assume that "every guy" was an exaggeration? Why couldn't it just have been "nearly every guy"? When I'm arguing about minor words in your prose, you can guess I've been yanked out of the story world.
Anyway, the writing often felt careless like that and made me lose trust in the story. There are other examples, but those are some of the ones that irritated me the most.
Overall, there was a lot to like, but a lot to find irritating and unengaging. I think many paranormal romance readers looking for a not-so-high-octane series with fresh ideas about worldbuilding and characters would be pleased by this book....more
Down-to-earth widow Norah works as the chaperone to her glamorous, silent film star sister-in-law. Mostly this entails looking after Christine's trioDown-to-earth widow Norah works as the chaperone to her glamorous, silent film star sister-in-law. Mostly this entails looking after Christine's trio of Pekes and ensuring Christine arrives places on time, but when Christine's stunt double is the victim of a violent murder on a night when Norah experiences some creepy horror herself, surreal Hollywood gets even stranger.
The 1923 Hollywood setting had me swooning; I pretty much ate up every detail about film-making, about the brutal lifestyle, about the power struggles, about the personalities. The characters, even the minor ones, were vibrant presences, easy to remember who was who without needless caricatures.
The tone/genre of the book enthralled me as well. The horror is slowly, elegantly revealed; not just the supernatural horror driving the book's plot, but the very human horror in Norah's backstory, and the very human horrors of doubts and insecurities that keep Christine up at night. It's a mixture of subtlety and over-the-top craziness that really worked for me.
I wasn't really wild about the MYSTERIOUS EXOTIC CHINESE MYSTERY RAT GOD angle. There was depth depicted to Chinese-American culture, and there was narrative acknowledgement of whites appropriating and misinterpreting that culture in awful ways, and acknowledgement of whites treating Chinese-Americans awfully, and the white protagonists of the book all treated the prominent Chinese characters as people. Which was ALL GOOD. But I wasn't completely at ease with the mythology being used and exoticized, even if the narrative was generally lucid and thoughtful about what it was doing.
Also, for fellow dog lovers, the dogs in this book are awesome and awesome characters with dog personalities and come out safe at the book's ending....more
Gene is a non-vampire ("heper") in a world of vampires, and he lives among them only by disguising himself as one of them. It's highly dangerous, andGene is a non-vampire ("heper") in a world of vampires, and he lives among them only by disguising himself as one of them. It's highly dangerous, and if he slips up even the slightest--forgets to shave, starts to sweat, gets a papercut--the nearest vampires will devour him without a moment's hesitation. Gene's typical m.o. is to lay low and be unremarkable, but when the government drafts him into a celebrity-making ritual hunt to kill and eat the last known remaining hepers, he finds his ruse harder and harder to keep up.
It's a book full of tension (in most scenes, Gene comes perilously close to outing himself) and a few scattered cool world-building pieces (I think the wrist-scratching is funny, and the story of the little heper girl who goes to kindergarten out of loneliness and then gets discovered during naptime, when all the actual vampire five-year-olds fly themselves up to the ceiling to sleep upside down and she remains on the ground, still clutching her teddy bear [spoiler alert: her teacher is the first to start eating her], THAT will stick with me long after the rest of the book). However, the world-building is pretty much slim to non-existent. Any questions you might have about how this world works? Do not get answered. Sigh. I was mentally arguing with nonsensical and inconsistent ideas/concepts on nearly every page, characters who were stupid (evil antagonist: "HERE, LET ME MONOLOGUE"; underlings: "HERE, UPON THE SLIGHTEST PUSH FROM YOU, LET ME TELL YOU ALL THE SECRETS OF OUR SECURITY SYSTEMS THAT AREN'T REALLY SECURE AND AREN'T REALLY SYSTEMS"), and really clumsily handled tropes and info-dumps. The writing is mostly stilted, but a few of the action scenes are quite well-written.
Oh, yeah, and young female virgin hepers are the most irresistible! Vampires go slobbering crazy upon seeing them even on video screens. Lovely. (Sarcasm.) I'll take less unreflexive reproduction of real-world sexism in the next dystopian YA I read, thanks. Young women being the most savory of all is mentioned a few times, but the only time "virgin" is specified is when the hero's fellow heper love interest is in danger from being bitten, shortly after they have a fade-to-black cuddle session. You know, just in case anyone was worried that they had sex somewhere in between all those boring sentences.
Also: first in a trilogy alert, ends on a cliffhanger, and I wish there were more complete-in-a-single-volume paranormal YA out there. I'm not interested in reading more of this, but I'll be on a lookout for spoilers because I did end up caring enough to want to know about the fates of some of the characters....more
In between a three and a four, and I chose three because I don't think I'd reread it. It was enjoyable, and it concluded well, but it wasn't my favoriIn between a three and a four, and I chose three because I don't think I'd reread it. It was enjoyable, and it concluded well, but it wasn't my favorite of the series.
After a slow start, this final installment of the Parasol Protectorate original series does a good job of delivering further character and worldbuilding insights (Biffy, being a character who crosses the various paranormal subcultures, was a treat to read, and so I'm glad he had a major subplot in this book) and delivering delightful prose and antics. However, the plot was often muddled (and relied again too much on the old "...and then Alexia gets attacked!" plot strategy) and too many characters obscured: seriously, I love that Madame Lefoux is such a complex woman, but I would've liked to know how she thought her allegiances shook out; Felicity Loontwill arrived on the scene to drop a plot bomb that felt randomly deployed rather than strategically deployed; and Sidheag Maccon was too two-dimensional antagonist-y. However, Professor Lyall and Biffy both grapple with big consequences of choices, lacks-of-choices, lies, and changes, and Ivy and Mr. Ivy are funny and loyal and--even Alexia gives them props for it--progressive. It's a big cast, so I can understand many characters getting the shaft, but I wish it were otherwise. Additionally, I was wary of the book's setting, because "westerners traipsing through Egypt on a grand adventure" isn't a story I'm interested in, but I only winced a couple times.
One thing I really appreciated with this book (and this series) is the motherhood angle. With women being foremost among the protagonists in this genre, and motherhood being a fairly prevalent condition among women, it's surprising how infrequently I come across it in series. (Or it happens at the end of the series, at the end of the character's adventures, presented as part of the HEA reward, not something ongoing in their lives.) But in the Parasol Protectorate series, we have the main protagonist and two other main characters who are mothers, and they're kind out of there kicking ass and having careers (!) and pursuing their scientific and artistic interests and feeling varying degrees of motherly feelings but also caring for their kids (with the help of nursemaids and vampire drones, but well!).
My least favorite part of the series is the romance between Maccon and Alexia, but that was only a minor focus of this one. I'm satisfied with their ending, and I was quite swayed by the little family unit they've created with their daughter.
I'll miss this set of characters, but with two spin-off series coming out in the next couple of years, I'm quite pleased to know that this very fun world will still be expanded....more