While a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both bookWhile a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both books, McBride consciously wades in among the links of American Mythology and tugs those chains hard. He may destabilize those myths, but he doesn't break them. And he's not trying to. The movements he makes with the stories he tells, it's all to get a better idea of the shape and strength of these myths. Here, he focuses in on the collectivity of the dream of freedom.
This is so well-paced. I just kept reading, my attention never getting distracted because there was always something interesting to follow. Characters were brilliantly clear, intensely motivated. Even when Liz, the Dreamer, was motivated to go nowhere…that was some intense motivation and stubbornness. There wasn't often a lot of subtlety, and there was definitely some melodrama and sentimentality. The writing verged from beautiful to overwrought, and almost never understated. But whenever I found some reading time, I was really excited about getting back to this book, because it was so engrossing and so competent. Its use of place, and travel through place, and character-revelations through character-interactions, were all the sorts of things I enjoyed in The Good Lord Bird, but its construction--the multiple viewpoints of protagonists and antagonists & their games of cat and mouse, the writing style, the rather delicate and protected heroine at the center, the depictions of resistance and complicity--made me think readers who liked All the Light We Cannot See might also like this book, despite the different time periods and settings. (Also, this book is better, even if it does share similar flaws.)
Finally: how is this not a movie yet, omg. ...more
This was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listeThis was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listening; I can read faster than I can listen, and I was too engrossed to slow down. It was both an entertaining read and an intellectually textured one, though the book ends with choked-up grief over passing, and that feeling overwhelmed everything for me. I'd recommend it to readers who want to expand on Boy, Snow, Bird or to follow up on A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America, books that look critically at what is lost by passing....more
This review is purposely vague, in order to avoid spoilers for the first book in this sequence (also, don't read the summary of this book if don't wanThis review is purposely vague, in order to avoid spoilers for the first book in this sequence (also, don't read the summary of this book if don't want spoilers!), BUT I think it's possible--if not exactly recommended--to read this book first, before Europe in Autumn: events in the books coincide, eventually, and the books take on the same problems from different angles.
ANYWAY. This series is appealing for how it so gamely incorporates both low-tech and high-tech espionage, and for its deep understanding of power and powerlessness in political actors. There's a submersive quality in the world-building that reminded me a lot of the Southern Reach trilogy: questions are only answered in their own time, and the details that build up end up being more than just the sum of their parts.
Borders are paramount in this world that Hutchinson has built, and reading this in the final days before the UK's EU referendum, I paid close attention to the dazzling kaleidoscopic array of geopolitical speculation that Hutchinson plays with. (Also, he plays with Eurovision, jsyk.) In a very good way, this series reflects a vital component of the kind of science fiction I find most compelling: it's very much a product of its time. It couldn't have been written at any other time but NOW, and in doing so, it forces questions about consequences of the choices we make: the borders we choose to cross, the borders we defend (and who we're defending against), the borders we build, the borders we tear down. Hutchinson doesn't answer these questions and isn't explicitly/overtly/didacticly partisan in his approach. (Though, yes, I smiled wryly at the characters' surprise that the Americans didn't react to a paradigm-breaking development in geopolitical relations with a preemptive nuclear strike. Thanks for the optimism, Hutchinson!)...more
Had she gone too far? Or did she need to go further still? "Well, then," Bella said, and began to sing "Do Re Mi" v
There was still an uneasy silence.
Had she gone too far? Or did she need to go further still? "Well, then," Bella said, and began to sing "Do Re Mi" very softly.
Super fluffy, though with just enough character development and emotional depth to be satisfying. Bella knew from the start, and eventually called Hugh out on, how awful his "please be my unsuitable fake girlfriend for a weekend" plan was. I love the fake dating trope, but only when authors can salvage something real and trustworthy from the ridiculousness--and I will read ALL the fake dating / fake engagement books Kate Hardy ever wants to write, because she makes it work. While this isn't my favorite book by Hardy, I loved the artsy, vivacious, bold, knows-her-worth Bella so much that she merited bumping this book from three stars to four. ...more
When I wake the next morning, my dream is so close, I can smell the overripe fruit at the edge of it. It's a recurring dream about a bowl of fruit th
When I wake the next morning, my dream is so close, I can smell the overripe fruit at the edge of it. It's a recurring dream about a bowl of fruit that's on the verge of rotting. When the bowl appears, I realise I ignored it for weeks and now it's too late. There's no story in this dream, just a thick dark sense that I've wasted things, and this sense lingers in my stomach when I wake, like a kick wrapped in spinach.
Vivian, whose parents thought she was a changeling, now spends her her days as an adult traveling through Dublin in search of where she belongs: "My legs are too excited to sit down and the day hasn't yet been emptied of light, so I decide to visit my thin places--places in which non-humans might live, potential gateways to the world I came from. My parents used force to try and shunt me back to this Otherworld; I will use willing."
Lally's prose and character work are top-notch: so many amazing turns of phrase, so much subtle sadness and disconnect and fear in how Vivian interacts with this world. I'm sure the word "quirky" has been used to describe Vivian or this book's tone, but I didn't find it some cute, fetishized whimsy; the book's darkness was stark because Vivian's understanding of it seemed so ambiguous, and I spent so much of the book anxious for her and heartbroken by her lonesome attempts at understanding the world. The maps she makes bring her no closer to knowing where she is or how to get where she needs to go. I loved the ending, loved the understated swell of Vivian's character arc....more
It's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy aIt's a tale as old as time: someone is wagered and won in a game of chance. It's a romance trope I love, though I can see why some readers might shy away from it, given the implied lack of agency. Thoughtful writing and thoughtful twists make it work for me, and there's so much emotional chewiness at work in this trope that I'm not surprised it's such a favorite: there's rescue fantasy, there's competence porn (skillful at cards/dice/whatever, or skillful at elegantly cheating at the same), there's a tangling and untangling of complicated desires, there's obligatory intimacy, and there are exciting hijinks going on around the protagonists. It's a hold-your-breath, don't-know-what-to-hope-for but I-can't-wait-to-see-fate-unfurl-here kind of trope. Maybe best of all, it highlights the internal workings at love and romance: that there is so much at risk in falling in love, and that love entails giving and taking irreplaceable pieces of one another.
Rose Lerner's elegant "All or Nothing" centers around understanding and owning complicated desires. The characters felt like real people, with appealing messiness and well-developed strengths and weaknesses, and it was so rewarding to watch Simon and Maggie fall into a partnership, then intimacy, and then love. I liked how attentive Lerner was to what it feels like to live outside the straight white context of what Romancelandia Regency usually looks like (but is certainly not limited to!), and the interesting ways disconnections and connections can be made. Also? I thought this was ridiculously hot, the kind of hot where the sex scenes (and any scenes with sexiness, really) hinged acutely on the characters and their personalities and desires. There was no trace of genericness anywhere. My only complaint about the novella was that the writing style was a little too florid and metaphor-heavy for me at times, but I'd still probably be tempted to rate this novella five stars on its own.
Jeanne Lin's well-paced "The Liar's Dice" was my draw to this anthology. I love her Tang Dynasty romances, and I think she's excellent at shorter-length romances. I'm the world's pickiest person when it comes to first-person single-POV romances, but Lin's craftsmanship is superb: those moments with subtle hints at Gao's tension and inner turmoil, and Wei-wei's obliviousness or misreading of them, were so beautifully executed that it was actually a fun experience to await Wei-wei coming to understand him and her feelings for him--and his feelings for her. I still haven't read second Lotus Palace book (this novella is set after it), but that didn't hinder my enjoyment of this book. Wei-wei--Bai Huang's scholarly little sister who does what she can to keep her family protected--was a delightful heroine, even though I am generally of the belief that, if you find a dead body/witnesses a murder, you should leave the investigation to the professionals, even if you are worried about whether your once feckless brother has drifted from the straight-and-narrow again. I know that means we wouldn't have gotten a story out of this, BUT STILL. Don't investigate murders if you're not a professional!!
I skipped Isabel Cooper's novella, "Raising the Stakes," having bounced off her writing before and knowing my own tastes. The setting was intriguing, but "elven warrior" and "fairy powers" are hugely unappealing elements to me.
Molly O'Keefe's exquisitely angsty "Redeemed" was so difficult but so gorgeous. Tackling the difficult aspect first: both protagonists are struggling with addiction/addiction recovery, she's being held captive by a villain, both are haunted by the Civil War, nearly everything about everyone's life is harsh, and I found this sooo bleak (though it has a happy ending, and a particularly awesome one, at that!). Darker than I usually want from my romances, in other words. But I'm so glad I read it, because it was so vividly gorgeous. Like, I want gif sets of so many of these scenes! They were rendered so eloquently and with such evocative emotion, that in a couple years, my spaghetti-strainer of a memory will probably have convinced me that it'd had been some TV show or movie when I'm remembering the scene where she's in the bird cage, and he sees her shame at him seeing her like this, and then he waits at the top of the staircase until she meets his gaze, and then he bows to her, the only thing he can do to recognize in her the dignity others want to deny her, and ALL I WANTED WAS THEM TO KISS ALREADY OKAY?
Ending the anthology is master plotter Joanna Bourne's sparkling "Gideon and the Den of Thieves." I've only read the first book in this series, quite a few years ago, but I think this would be an excellent place to start, given that it seems to be set earlier than all the full-length novels. Anyway, Bourne excels at writing smart, strategic characters and putting them in stories full of stratagems and complicated moves, and what I liked best was that Aimee remained competent from start to finish. Shameless scene-stealer Hawker drives a lot of this story, but I found the romance between Aimee and Gideon satisfying and believable. I had a couple things I didn't really like (the colonialist shit--like, I'm sorry, but I have zero faith in a romance novel hero's affected honor and attempts to reassure that his fortunes-made-in-the-East was all due to legitimate business; the highlighting of the heroine's unbelievably-kept-virginity, which I didn't like in The Spymaster's Lady, either, though in this book, there was some nuance and doubt), but overall, it made me realize I need to read more Bourne, and soon.
This is an excellent, very evenly high-quality anthology, and immensely satisfying in how the novellas played with the "gambled away" trope.
FTC Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book....more
Unfurls slowly but steadily. Hutchinson's elegant style in constructing this book, in constructing this world, made this a rewarding and thoughtful reUnfurls slowly but steadily. Hutchinson's elegant style in constructing this book, in constructing this world, made this a rewarding and thoughtful read that holds up its own among both spy thrillers and science fiction novels. It's obscure when it needs to be, and witty but not over-indulgently so. This is science fiction among multiple axes of science, and I was particularly pleased it was, very prominently, political science fiction....more
Charlie is the most cinnamon roll-y cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll, seriously. I was just about dying from adorableness. His "You don't deserve mCharlie is the most cinnamon roll-y cinnamon roll to ever cinnamon roll, seriously. I was just about dying from adorableness. His "You don't deserve me" speech at the blackest moment of the book was heartrending because I could understand both his and Emma's positions, and I may have teared up at a few points during the book anyway, but I also laughed out loud multiple times.
Why does Amy Vastine only have so few books out? And how fast am I going to blow through them all??...more
A fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Cavendish. There's not a lot of intimacy or psychologizing"Reading it back, I realized I believed it."
A fictionalized account of the life of Margaret Cavendish. There's not a lot of intimacy or psychologizing: this is a theme book (or a pretty language book), not an events-and-plot book. It's a story about finding (and creating) worlds within and without yourself, and about the craving for agency and recognition, and about female ambition. I knew very little about Margaret Cavendish prior to reading this, and what I knew was basically just The Blazing World's place as an early piece of SFF, but I don't think knowing anything about her is necessary for enjoying this book.
I loved the dreamy prose: fussy and carefully curated, but still ornate. Dutton kept creating these gorgeous kaleidoscopes of impressions in single sentences and short paragraphs, sliding from beautiful to grimy in an elegant fashion. It suited the subject matter well. I have mixed feelings about the switch from first-person to third; I can kinda grasp reasons for the switch, but I feel like I should have been hit harder by it (as I was with the switch in Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, for example). I did think the distance helped bring across the sense of frustration Margaret felt during this time of her life, but maaaybe that was just me frustrated by wanting that first-person voice back.
Margaret's characterization as shy and awkward really made this book for me: those traits were portrayed believably, and it was so compelling to watch her struggle with both the lack of recognition and the out-of-control spiral of her notoriety. It's not a dynamic that I often see depicted with a lot of nuance, and I loved how Dutton handled it. I believed in all her unstudied social fumbles and in her untamed need to live outside herself ("[t]o live as nature does, in many ages, in many brains") that burst through at inopportune times and in the lostness she felt in her own self:
"Do you think you are Cleopatra?" he asks.
Margaret bristles. She fingers the mask. "I had rather appear worse in singularity," she says, "than better in the mode."
"Do not quote to me from your books," he snaps.
The driver flicks his whip.
Margaret says nothing. She replaces the mask. The black bead rattles her teeth. Yet despite her continuing silence, she does see what she's done, sees it clearly, but from way down in, as if there is another masks she wears beneath the mask that she has on. She is a monster, she thinks, and hateful, after everything he's done.
Twenty years ago, Breq was still the Artificial Intelligence that ran a massive troop carrier, the JustiSolidly fun and thought-provoking space opera.
Twenty years ago, Breq was still the Artificial Intelligence that ran a massive troop carrier, the Justice of Torren. Now, she's the sole remaining segment of that AI, and here on an icy, hostile planet, she's outside of the empire's gaze as she stolidly progresses on a secret mission of her own. But then she discovers the dying body of someone she used to know--someone who had once served as her lieutenant, a couple thousand years ago, and then was present for a pivotal point in history before disappearing. Someone who shouldn't be alive still, someone who shouldn't be on this planet, and someone who is going to make Breq's mission very much harder.
Aside from the initial friction of juggling names and worldbuilding cues in my mind (which lasted a couple chapters, for me), this was a rather deliciously effortless reading experience. Leckie uses a really neat technique of often writing in something like first-person omniscient POV, given the nature of the multi-bodied AIs, and there was zero laboriousness to following along and enjoying watching that technique at work. Everything Leckie did with fractured selfhood was intriguing and exciting and thoughtful, and that filtered down to all of her other themes and plotlines, especially dealing with empire unity and colonization. GOOD STUFF.
The gender stuff ("she" and other "female" identified words as the default person linguistic signifier, namely) was less radical than I expected it'd be. It still relentlessly assumed a binary gender system and left no space for nongenderedness. But I liked the confrontational experience of all those female linguistic signifiers. ...more
So, the thing is I finally worked up the nerve and the interest to read A Little Life, but the library holds on both the physical and ebook copies werSo, the thing is I finally worked up the nerve and the interest to read A Little Life, but the library holds on both the physical and ebook copies were in the triple digits, so I thought, "Well, this one is also supposed to be relentlessly bleak, too, and the landscape-of-all-men-all-the-time in ALL is one of the reasons I didn't feel motivated to read it, so I'll read this one instead."
And long story short, I read this one instead and now I'm flattened by the relentless and graceless grimness, and I don't think I have the emotional wherewithal to read anything about this intense about childhood sexual abuse in the near future. Sorry, ALL. Maybe in another decade.
My enjoyment and appreciation for this book probably stems from the fact that the language really worked for me. I struggled a bit through the first chapter, but then it all just clicked. I loved the sentences with their inside-out formations, the excessive fragmentation, the blurring of subjects, and the disarmingly steady coherence of those sudden bursts of hymns and liturgy and scripture. I felt the words, held it all in my head and in my chest. At times, it didn't feel like my eyes were involved in processing this book--I wasn't reading sentences, I was just absorbing everything. It was a very experiential read for me, which is what I assume McBride was after, so in that, I was an ideal reader (experiencer).
But content-wise? So very, very bleak. A searing approach to sex, and there's a lot to think about and mull over in regard to gender. ...more
This is some smart, funny chick lit (not a romance novel, though (view spoiler)[it has a happy ending (hide spoiler)]), unafraid to be a bit twisted aThis is some smart, funny chick lit (not a romance novel, though (view spoiler)[it has a happy ending (hide spoiler)]), unafraid to be a bit twisted and a bit unreal (this is set mostly in L.A., after all) in pursuing its commitment to its characters. I read this in a series of quick gulps, each plot twist and emotional sea-change making me want to read faster.
It's particularly bright and agile about identity--race and color in particular--and just about brilliant about high school archetypes and about the narratives we use to try to make sense of ourselves and to tame/control/understand our ideas of love. Readers wanting a martyred, able-to-pick-up-the-pieces-in-healthy-ways Cinderella/Molly Ringwald of a heroine might be disappointed, but I enjoyed Davie's complexity and complicity immensely. How is this not a movie yet?
This does have some unfortunate language usage: a slur about transgender people is used at one point, and the term "crazy" is pointedly used throughout the narrative in ways that doesn't explicitly map onto mental illness (a repeated meme, for example, is "Invitation to Crazy.") I point this out because while this book is great at looking at the identity issues it does look at, it may fall short in other ways.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Enjoyable. I especially liked Nyree, with her determination (and hard work to back it up, not just wishful thinking) and her assertiveness. Dale's strEnjoyable. I especially liked Nyree, with her determination (and hard work to back it up, not just wishful thinking) and her assertiveness. Dale's struggle with believing he wasn't good enough--and the circumstances behind that--was also movingly depicted.
I really dislike the presence of overprotective brothers in romance novels (guess whose sexuality does not fall under your purview, men? well, no one's except your own, actually, but that definitely means you do not control or oversee the sex lives--or lives in general--of the women you're related to!), but Rochon made it work in this context, not just because Nyree solidly rejected it, but also because the way her brothers--and not just themselves, but also their status in her family, in her community--controlled and affected her life negatively--was portrayed in a nuanced and effective way....more