"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" introduces the Headless Horseman and...does little else, really. I enjoy the narrative voice, which gives it the feel of"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" introduces the Headless Horseman and...does little else, really. I enjoy the narrative voice, which gives it the feel of a story told around a campfire, but this story is really an exercise in setting, as Sleepy Hollow itself is the focus. Very detailed descriptions, good use of language, effective atmosphere, but not so much with character and plot. Ichabod Crane exists, the Headless Horseman exists, they encounter each other, that happened. It's lovely to listen to Tom Mison for an hour, though....more
Sara Amundson (@saraterror, whom you should all be following on Twitter) has been evangelizing about this book for months, yelling about how she wouldSara Amundson (@saraterror, whom you should all be following on Twitter) has been evangelizing about this book for months, yelling about how she would kill us all if we didn't read it, and I like being alive, so I decided to check it out. (Her opinion was validated by at least one other person.)
The first chapter made my eyes widen in horror so much I yelled at Sara for making me read this fucking book.
"I am where dead children go," the incredible first line, introduces us to our narrator, a vengeful ghost, doomed to roam the world killing child-killers in gruesome, grisly ways. The voice hooked me immediately: a centuries-old spirit who takes little pleasure in killing but is compelled to all the same, who observes the world without being a part of it. Rin Chupeco plays with perspective, giving her a first-person omniscient POV such that at times she describes herself—and other events—as other characters experience them. Sometimes it's confusing and feels like a violation of POV, and other times it only enhances the horror, putting us in the humans' shoes, continually reminding us that our narrator is a terrifying being. I also loved Chupeco's use of
to disorient the reader as much as
would be in the presence of a ghost. It's a stylistic touch that will undoubtedly cause some to roll their eyes, but I dug it.
One day the ghost sees half-Japanese Tark, a boy with mysterious tattoos...that almost seem alive. And so the story begins, as she attempts to understand why she is drawn to him, and his cousin, Callie, tries to understand him, period. The three of them will not leave this book unchanged.
The Girl from the Well wears its J-horror influences on its sleeve: shamefully, I have only seen American remakes of J-horror but I could recognize the tropes and imagery. Whether you feel it's derivative or an homage, Chupeco nails the horror scenes, evoking the same creepy-crawly sensations in various ways. None of the ghostly scenes feel the same; each is grotesque and horrific in its own way, making the reader struggle between wanting to turn the page because it's so viscerally engaging and not wanting to turn the page because it's so viscerally engaging.
For about two-thirds of its compact 265 pages, the book maintains an almost unbearable tension, thanks to the strength of the aforementioned horror scenes as well as the characters, especially Callie, a teacher who became my favorite character. Once it starts offering explanations and backstory, it loses some steam and that tension deflates, which is unfortunate because I do appreciate the incorporation of Japanese culture and folklore. Thankfully, however, it picks back up for a strong ending, though ultimately, the book doesn't feel entirely cohesive.
The Girl from the Well is a beautifully simple book, with a focus on familial bonds and restless spirits. It will alternately scare you and touch your heart....more
It is impossible for me to be completely objective about this book because I'm a huge Middleman fan, I contributed so much to the crowdfunding campaigIt is impossible for me to be completely objective about this book because I'm a huge Middleman fan, I contributed so much to the crowdfunding campaign that I am in the book and I participated in the live reading, and also one time Javi bought me a burrito. I still owe him a burrito.
That being said, this book is as awesome as a marmoset on crack. A wild adventure starring comic AND TV versions of Wendy Watson, PLUS Wendy's father, who had disappeared under mysterious-and-now-finally-explained circumstances? It's as gloriously fun as you'd expect, with the chyron humor, pop culture references (annotated in the back!), and pulpy, larger-than-life dialogue that only Javier Grillo-Marxuach (and his Middlewriters) can write. It's lovely to see Les McClaine's art for a little bit, but Armando Zanker takes center stage, bringing back his character designs from The Middleman: The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse (but this time Wendy is colored darker, which is nice).
This book is a gift to Middlefans, a must-own....more
Karen Memory grabbed me from the very first line: "You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway." Here was a characterKaren Memory grabbed me from the very first line: "You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway." Here was a character I already wanted to spend an entire book with if Elizabeth Bear could keep up that voice, that spunk, that verve. She does, making the first line of the book a lie: I did like what Karen had to tell me.
Karen Memery is a "seamstress" in Madame Damnable's bordello in Rapid City, which Bear describes as a combination of 19th century Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver (and the cover copy describes as the predecessor to the Seattle Underground, which is apt given the two levels of the city that require ladders to travel between). In the first chapter, we're introduced to the other members of this establishment, and it's just women, women, and more women, but better than that: black, Chinese, Indian, trans, disabled. A couple major male characters are black and Native American. It's refreshing to see such historical accuracy! Karen, as a white woman, isn't super racially aware, but she's naive and curious rather than racist, and I like how Bear makes that distinction, allowing her to make the occasional insensitive remark but not without her getting a talking-to. Also she's queer. It's like Diversity Bingo all up in here, but it all feels natural: these people have existed for all time and it's lovely to see them play major roles in stories like this.
The book wastes no time starting shit, as the legendary Merry Lee brings in Priya, a stargazer (I learned a lot of new euphemisms) rescued from the villainous Peter Bantle, who has a mechanical mind control glove (did I mention this book was steampunk?). Also streetwalkers are turning up murdered, which brings a Marshal to town.
Here's the thing about this book: I don't care much about Westerns or steampunk and the book does not spend as much time on the elements of the story that personally excite me (mind control glove! murders!) as I wanted...and I still adored the crap out of it. Karen is an immensely likable narrator, and Bear's descriptions created a world I simply enjoyed reading about, whatever was happening in it.
Here's another thing about this book: Elizabeth Bear wrote an entire book about prostitutes without writing a single sex scene. Can you imagine this book as written by a man, all male gaze-y and shit?
Karen Memory has action, romance, intrigue, adventure, and a climax so ridiculous(ly wonderful) it has to be read to be believed. I can overlook any minor flaws because it's such a delight....more
The Goblin Emperor was one of the most acclaimed books of 2014, apparently beloved by everyone who read it. The praise was overflowing! But much likeThe Goblin Emperor was one of the most acclaimed books of 2014, apparently beloved by everyone who read it. The praise was overflowing! But much like Ancillary Justice last year, it frustrated me by not winning me over.
Katherine Addison begins with a solid premise: the half-goblin Maia suddenly becomes emperor when an airship crashes and kills his father, the emperor, and all his brothers, who were all much more prepared to be emperor. Now he must navigate all these politics and his retinue, some of whom have no desire to serve him. Also by the way that airship crash was totally not an accident, so someone is probably going to try to kill him too.
The Goblin Emperor essentially has one major interesting plot...that comprises maybe 20% of the book at most. It doesn't even really start for 100 pages, and then it kind of hovers for another couple hundred pages, and it finally comes to a head in the last 100 pages. This is not a book you read for the plot. While my interest in the book always rose whenever it focused on the Plot plot, it quickly fell when it returned to the real focus of the book.
Which is, basically, being emperor. Getting dressed. Going to parties. Finding a suitable mate. Talking to potential heirs. Having lots of meetings about bridges. And so on. Clearly, many people found this incredibly interesting and engaging, thanks to the intricate, confident worldbuilding—it feels like a traditional high fantasy setting but it also feels original, if only because of the constructed language and naming conventions and such—and straightforward narrative voice that, again, recalls traditional high fantasy. Traditional high fantasy is not my jam, so the narrative voice didn't appeal to me except in its occasional moments of humor.
I did like Maia because he is a good, likable person, and I liked his struggles to maintain that goodness while ruling a country that has laws that allow for execution, for instance. But my favorite character was Csevet, his secretary, who is the character who actually gets shit done because he's Maia's trusted adviser, the one he continually turns to when making decisions. Csevet knows the rules, he knows the traditions, he knows how things will be received, and he, like Maia, is a genuinely good person. Many people love this book for being the anti-grimdark, a more hopeful, less cynical take on the genre, and I can see that. In most other fantasy books, a character like Csevet would end up betraying Maia or turning him into a puppet for his own nefarious purposes, but Csevet is 100% wonderful.
While I don't agree that goodness is boring in general, I think it is so here. It's not that there's no conflict (see above re: the plot), but there's so little that I was hardly ever engaged by what was happening on the page, not to mention that the sea of unfamiliar names and words and places confused me. As much as I wanted to care, I only occasionally did.
Although I never fell in love with The Goblin Emperor, the ending is absolutely lovely and left me with a smile on my face, so I am left with positive feelings about it....more
With I Don't Want to Kill You, Dan Wells brings the first John Cleaver trilogy to a stunning conclusion, combining the strengths of the first two bookWith I Don't Want to Kill You, Dan Wells brings the first John Cleaver trilogy to a stunning conclusion, combining the strengths of the first two books to create a gripping, emotionally engaging story that stays with you.
Wells puts John Cleaver through the ringer in this third book, beginning with a haunting prologue about a teenage girl who commits suicide: a death John can't stop, a death that calls into question his whole purpose. Why save people who are going to die anyway? Thankfully/unfortunately, it's not long before yet another serial killer pops up in Clayton, but this time John knows exactly who it is because he basically called her and told her to come get him. The problem is he doesn't know exactly who it is: Nobody could be anybody.
More than in the first two books, Wells crafts an intriguing mystery plot, as John must use all his knowledge of serial killers and dead bodies to put together the clues the police can't, since they don't know what they're really dealing with. It walks a devilish line since John has just enough information to be proactive in his investigation but not enough that he's not constantly surprised and thrown off track. It harkens back to much of what I loved about I Am Not A Serial Killer but doesn't feel like a retread at all; in fact, it's a much stronger mystery. And although I don't think he'll top the Clayton Killer as far as villains go, he has given each villain in the series a distinctly different motivation, even though they're not as well-drawn as characters.
When it comes to the good guys, however, characterization is king. Wells takes Marci, previously just the Hot Girl, and turns her into a real person (who does happen to be pretty hot). I never expected to like Marci so much from her appearances in the first two books but, as he did with Brooke in the second, he fleshes her out through dialogue and character interaction. The other star is John's mom; I have loved the mother-son relationship throughout the series. She loves her son, sociopathy and all, and he...well, if he could figure out what love is, he would probably love her. As before, he struggles with Mr. Monster, but he seems to have him mostly under control. Or does he? Have they simply become one without his realizing it?
There is no slow burn with this book. Shit gets real almost immediately and it just gets realer with every chapter until it's almost unbearable. Will John be able to stop more people from being killed? Or does he want more people to be killed so he catch his prey? Is the the prey? Also girls are weird, right? How do you deal with human beings and feelings and stuff? John Cleaver leads an interesting life.
It's been a treat to watch the writing improve with each book, and Wells's skills are in full force here, creating powerful scenes of tension and distress that blend plot, character, and theme. At one point I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room, which was a wonderful moment because it was the first time in the series I'd felt that invested. Fuck you, Dan Wells, but also congratulations?...more
John Wayne Cleaver is still not a serial killer, but he's moving ever closer, thanks to the rise of Mr. Monster, set free by the events of I Am Not AJohn Wayne Cleaver is still not a serial killer, but he's moving ever closer, thanks to the rise of Mr. Monster, set free by the events of I Am Not A Serial Killer. It's a few months later now, and there's a new serial killer in town. (Of course there is! Serial killers pop up all the time when narratively convenient in fiction.) And John wants to take him down, as long as the FBI agent sent to investigate the Clayton Killer doesn't sense his true nature.
Mr. Monster is a slower burn than the previous book, as for most of its length it doesn't strike the same balance between John's inner conflict and his outer conflict. In fact, the fact that corpses keep popping up is almost incidental, as John doesn't take as much of an active role since this time he doesn't identify the killer early on. Instead, the book focuses much more on character, deepening his relationships with the people he's connected to, especially his mother and Brooke, who acquires more of a personality here. Throughout, John is tormented by his sick desires and does his best not to indulge in them, and also there is a serial killer out there.
Once the killer is revealed, the book takes a sharp turn into darker territory, and I had mixed feelings about the direction it went. Things get a bit over-the-top, situations become much more uncomfortable, and the worldbuilding feels somewhat retcon-y. It opens up the world to many more stories, yet there was something lovely and self-contained about the first book that I appreciated, even though I knew there had to be more. Wells pulls it out in the end, though, because he writes John so well.
Overall, however, Mr. Monster is a strong successor, thought not quite as solid as I Am Not a Serial Killer. The prose has improved, more assured and confident, and John's voice remains both readable and strangely huggable. The ending promises an exciting final installment in the trilogy. Bring it on, John....more
The Silence of Six opens with a literal bang: Max Stein's best friend, Evan Baxter, hacks into a presidential debate feed and blows his head off afterThe Silence of Six opens with a literal bang: Max Stein's best friend, Evan Baxter, hacks into a presidential debate feed and blows his head off after delivering an ominous message: "What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?"
It's a great hook (though it made me uncomfortable that Evan had Asperger's and then died in the first chapter, not that his presence isn't felt throughout the entire book), and it's not long before Max falls back into the hacker life he'd recently given up and flees from the Feds. A hacker on the run from the government after a tragedy? Shades of Little Brother, for sure, but this book is more of a conspiracy thriller, keeping things moving much more swiftly.
The world of The Silence of Six mirrors our own: millions of people connect on Panjea, a Twitter-like social media platform. Net neutrality is a key issue in the election, along with Internet surveillance. An Anonymous-like hacktivist group called Dramatis Personai targets sites like Panjea for its privacy issues. Very little in the book seems far-fetched because it's about all the things we talk about on Twitter. If the hot buzzwords aren't enough, it's full of fun codes and password hints and puzzles Max has to crack as he tries to solve the mystery Evan has left for him, and they frequently involve geeky references. (I, of course, have no idea how accurate any of the hacking stuff is, but it seemed more realistic than it is in movies. No one has the reflection of green text glowing on their face.)
The book really picks up a little over a third of the way in, once Max finally gains some allies in his fight against...whoever the enemy is. What is the silence of six? Max finds out, and it's not pretty. His journey takes him far from home and right into the belly of the beast. As he and his allies discover more and more about the conspiracy, I found myself saying, "Holy shit!" right along with him.
While I did like Max's characterization as it related to his guilt over Evan's death, I kept being distracted by soccer metaphors. At first, it seemed clever, in that the fact that Max played soccer shaped how he viewed the world, but because we never actually see Max play soccer, it began to ring more and more false, an attempt to give him another dimension and perhaps focus his struggle for a non-hacker identity. We get a small baseline of what Max's life is like in the beginning, but it's clear Max is a hacker at heart, not a soccer player at heart. And while I did like Max, I really liked his hacker allies, whom I can't talk about because the reveal is too fun. Suffice it to say that their introduction is when I said out loud, "I am so in."
The Silence of Six gets more exciting as it builds, Max and Co. doing illegal things, investigating illegal things, speaking jargon (but always explaining what they're doing), and...saving the day? Maybe? If you're looking for a topical hacker conspiracy thriller, look no further!...more
The Rebirths of Tao combines the personal growth-focused The Lives of Tao and the Prophus/Genjix war-focused The Deaths of Tao to provide a satisfThe Rebirths of Tao combines the personal growth-focused The Lives of Tao and the Prophus/Genjix war-focused The Deaths of Tao to provide a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. That's the sort of statement I normally end with, and I'm moving it to the top because it's hard to discuss this book without spoiling the previous one. Deaths ended on a hell of a cliffhanger, and Rebirths follows through on those ramifications, and all they mean for Roen, Jill, Cameron, and the planet Earth.
As Deaths did, Rebirths jumps forward in time, but this time it's a decade or so, so we don't have to deal with Cameron as a child. Instead, we get to have Cameron as a teenager, and not just any teenager, of course: he's now Tao's host. Jill is running missions and being a badass, but she's also somewhat of a pariah for having told the world about Quasings, which has led to the formation of a task force dedicated to hunting them down (because that is exactly what we would do). Meanwhile, Roen, though just a regular human, is still a Prophus agent, and he's as formidable a fighter as he always was, thanks to Tao's training. It's a new status quo, and things are heating up. (Literally because the Genjix have been causing global warming.)
When I look back at the actual plot, I find that it's not a very clear narrative: at first, all the focus is on some captured Genjix agents and a defecting scientist, but really what happens is that bad things keep happening and Our Heroes have to react to them. They go on missions, they are working against the Genjix (who are working against them), there are cool fight scenes, but that's not what kept me reading. Like the other two books, it's an enjoyable read, but this one felt a little slower paced.
What held my attention was the characters, always. Roen is incredibly likable, and he has to deal with his son's coming of age, and the conflict between his pride in his progress as an agent and his jealousy that he has Tao instead of him. Jill has taken her governmental skills and become a capable leader, and I love her relationship with Roen. It's such a relief to see them as an adorable loving couple here after their estrangement in the last book. Cameron takes after his father, and his POV gives the book a YA feel sometimes, thanks to some high school scenes and a cute romance. Plus, it's fun to see Tao compare Cameron to Roen and roll his eyes. (Figuratively. I don't think Quasing have eyes.) I was less enamored of Enzo's POV this time around, as it began to feel repetitive: he's a fanatic and he's trying to gain power. It's a necessary glimpse into the Genjix strategy and tactics, and it increases the tension, but I usually wanted to get back to one of the other POVs.
The fate of the planet and humanity are at stake, and that's not small potatoes, but I was far more invested in the Tans themselves, and whether they would make it and how they would feel about each other after all the ordeals they went through. Wesley Chu has announced a new trilogy set in the same world with different characters, so I will miss these guys, but I'm looking forward to what he does in this world next....more
Although Raina Telgemeier's new graphic novel, Sisters, is billed as a "companion to Smile" and the cover plays up the connection, it stands alone,Although Raina Telgemeier's new graphic novel, Sisters, is billed as a "companion to Smile" and the cover plays up the connection, it stands alone, merely sharing the same characters (that is, Raina and her family). Combining two familiar narratives—sibling rivalry and a road trip—Telgemeier details her relationship with her sister and how it changes over the course of traveling to and from a family reunion in Colorado.
At first, the story of Raina and Amara appears fairly cliché: Raina wishes for a sister and then—gasp—discovers babies are pretty irritating and she's not getting as much attention anymore. But then Telgemeier develops them with very cute, very specific conflicts involving a shared love of drawing and a shared Being Bad at Pets. While Raina surely sees herself as the wronged party, both of them have their annoying moments and their nice moments. And then, of course, they get a little brother, complicating their relationship even further.
Meanwhile, in the present, the three siblings attempt to carve out their own niche in the van with their mother. They encounter your typical road trip issues like weather, navigation SNAFUs, car trouble, and so on, but I love how one specific plotline runs through the backstory until it pops up in the present.
Sisters doesn't have quite the depth of Smile or Drama, but its narrative is much more focused, which makes it a very swift, pleasant read. In only 200 pages, you get a good sense of the family dynamics, and Raina and Amara in particular leap off the page. I love Telgemeier's art style, and Braden Lamb's coloring complements it perfectly. Raina Telgemeier knows how to tell a story with words and pictures, and I look forward to the next one!...more