Some beautiful writing, and some heart-in-your-throat excellent descriptions of breaking free and breaking past and forging those cracks that'll let iSome beautiful writing, and some heart-in-your-throat excellent descriptions of breaking free and breaking past and forging those cracks that'll let in your future, and some good if not particularly deep thematic work about masculinity, but I was disappointed by the final parts of the story (the book's description on its GoodReads page mostly covers the plot of said final parts, and it's an unpleasant rush of Stuff Happening and Things Changing after so much stasis in the first parts of the book) and the flatness of the characters who were not Jason--particularly the women.
The scene with Jason and his grandfather at Evel Knievel's Snake River Canyon jump will probably rank among the best things I've read all year, though....more
I want to review this properly when I'm not in the middle of packing and moving, but in short: believe the hype (but if you don't like YA, you won't lI want to review this properly when I'm not in the middle of packing and moving, but in short: believe the hype (but if you don't like YA, you won't like this, it is very much YA), yes there are gigantic sea monsters and a teenage girl who trains them and a group of pirates who abduct her and a f/f relationship and an adorable & deadly sea monster named Bao but who seems to mostly be called "little shit" and he is basically the most important male character. The book so very smartly & so very solidly swerves away from the potential grossness of the tropes it deploys, and it very much looks at concepts like complicity and agency in nuanced ways--through a teenager's eyes.
The plot is bloody, the characters are crunchy, the treatment of issues is chewy, and the first thing I did after finishing this book was rush to the computer so I could look up when the sequel will be published....more
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
Loved this one. It deserves a better review than I have the brainspace to give it at the moment, but in short, I think it's my favorite ever renditionLoved this one. It deserves a better review than I have the brainspace to give it at the moment, but in short, I think it's my favorite ever rendition of a popular trope that I'm normally meh about (the bluestocking and the rake). There was lots of nuance and complicated self-image chewiness, and I enjoyed James's prose, which risked purple-ness in order to actually be interesting and complex....more
I was never good at the future. I grew up with girls whose chief occupation was the future--designing it, instigating it. They could talk about it wi
I was never good at the future. I grew up with girls whose chief occupation was the future--designing it, instigating it. They could talk about it with so much confidence that it sounded like the past.
My favorite kind of coming-of-age novel, full of intense longing and drowning in pretension and focusing tight on the painfully discomfiting stumbles of figuring out the borders between yourself and others, between being an object and being a subject. The prose is indulgent and reverent, not wasting a second on pretending neutrality, and in particular, I think Danler does something lovely and pluralizing with her scattered use of unattributed overheard dialogue. The book is thick with commitment to mistakes--to flailing through a new job and making missteps with coworkers, to a dully obscene amount of coke and ill-conceived romantic longings--and I wouldn't recommend it to readers with low tolerance for pretension (and okay, even average tolerances for pretension might want to to tap out). But me? I loved it.
The last pretentious coming-of-age novel I loved was Wittgenstein Jr, and I think they'd be happy shelfmates, despite the extreme differences in the two. Sweetbitter, in the biggest difference, is very conscious of gender, gendered authority, and feminization. It's very knife-edge precise and angry about it at times ("No," I said. "Nothing you do is ever embarrassing. You're not a girl."). Given the current popularity of books with "girl" or "girls" in the title, I'm pleased this book escaped that fate, especially considering our protagonist spends most of the book only known as "new girl." I can't speak to the horde of "girl"/"girls" books, but Sweetbitter pushes at the designation of "girl" and wallows in at the same time, which I think is really helpful in the work it does examining gender, gender performance, and living-inside-gender in this hardy, exoticized, fast-paced world where readers come in with, like, Anthony Bourdain (who I like, don't get me wrong!) as their source of authority. ...more
Physics, ground down to its most basic parts, was nothing more than the study of energy: where the energy was, where the energy was not, and how the
Physics, ground down to its most basic parts, was nothing more than the study of energy: where the energy was, where the energy was not, and how the energy flowed.
Humans were the same. All human interactions were nothing more than the flow of power from one to another. Whatever emotions other people professed to feel for one another--love, hate, empathy--they were nothing to that unconscious awareness of power. Crack any of those sentiments open and find inside only the dark core of a power differential informing it, defining it, giving it strength.
Slow-burning but cinematically vivid. It felt very old-fashioned, and never quite nuanced or believable enough, but there was magic in the sureness of the unfolding of everything; I think the fact I loved the last few pages, loved the emotions and uncertainties it stirred up, was what secured a three-star rating when otherwise, I found the book a little too irritating in its construction.
The book's primary downfall was how frustrating and unsatisfying it was at a character level. The vast majority of characters (aside from the hyper-intelligent trickster conman poor little rich blond boy whose feet and body are both lovingly described as pale and slender, excuse my vomit over the objectified vulnerability--and p.s. I'm sure there's a page for that archetype on TV Tropes, in the Pimpernel/Wimsey vein). But, nearly unforgivably, the POV characters were irritatingly single-minded, leaving huge blindsides to the plot machinations going on, and what avenues they chose not to consider in their attempts at problem-solving or at interrogation were never believably delineated. Like, they nonsensically both choose to dismiss the most interesting/complicated/nuanced/intelligent options of whatever they're evaluating/theorizing/working to solve--and these are two women who are supposed to be very smart--and the only reason seemed to not broaden their minds was to keep delaying the plot. I needed smarter POV characters than that. The twists were far too heavy-handed for my taste, as well, which also contributed to my feelings of OMFG BE SMARTER, THE AUTHOR KEEPS STATING THAT YOU'RE SMART, HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE WHAT'S GOING ON HERE????
But the book's plot/situation is intriguing--thieving con-men (possible terrorists?) sneak aboard a secret government spaceship, and then the ship starts losing its mind--and I found satisfaction on the plot level. And I think I'll still give the sequel a try....more
I enjoy Robinson's mysteries--one twist here had me gasping an expletive--and I enjoyed that this book was the aftermath of the book Aftermath (crimeI enjoy Robinson's mysteries--one twist here had me gasping an expletive--and I enjoyed that this book was the aftermath of the book Aftermath (crime spirals and connects, pain claws at you from the inside out and shapes you from that point on, there is no such thing as closure--which the characters touch upon). But omg he seems incapable of writing women outside of the male gaze. This goes beyond the typical women-as-objects-of-violence and pervasive sexism in the crime genre, and it translates to a disappointing failure at the craft level. And I don't get it. He seems to understand people and humanity on the level where he writes interesting and engaging mysteries, but the POVs of his women characters are utterly unconvincing & revolve primarily around men and how men perceive them. This problem has been present from the start of the series, though it's been balanced by some glimmers of insight and complexity (I thought Jenny was a well-rendered effort at the start, for example). As Annie becomes a larger character in the series, however, the failure of Robinson to create and utilize women-outside-the-male-gaze is very grating....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 relentlessly straight 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