Meg Elison is a friend of a friend, and when I saw that she'd published a book, I thought, good for her. When I saw that it had been nominated for a PMeg Elison is a friend of a friend, and when I saw that she'd published a book, I thought, good for her. When I saw that it had been nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award, I thought, REALLY good for her, now I've definitely got to read this thing.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife chronicles the perilous adventures of the titular unnamed midwife, who, in fact, goes by many different names throughout the course of the book for, lo, the world has ended and no one is safe. A plague hits, and it disproportionally targets women, especially mothers. Babies don't survive, either: the human race is toast. The setup is like a reverse Y: The Last Man: the midwife is not the last woman, but whereas she was only treated like a minority before, now she really is one.
A strange man tries to rape her on page 5.
Understandably, she disguises herself as a man in order to survive, and I loved the little bits where she has to remind herself to act "manly," whatever that means, right. She becomes a crusader for women, trying to secretly deliver them birth control so that they don't have rape babies that kill them. The only person she can really trust, however, is herself; she meets up with strangers and forms attachments that quickly sour. While the premise lends itself to a lot of victimization of women, there's room for empowerment as well, and the way this male-dominated world brings women together reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale. The midwife wanders the landscape, looking for shelter, and maybe even companionship. The touch of a man or woman will do. The general thrust of the plot is like The Walking Dead without zombies. Make no mistake, this book is bleak and depressing as fuck: I can recall exactly two moments where the book gave me positive emotions. Okay, maybe three. I could definitely count them on one hand.
Elison tells the story through a combination of people's journals, a third-person limited narrative for the midwife, and the occasional third-person omniscient POV to provide context for the rest of the world or to close off stories of characters the midwife encounters. It's a bit messy, not having a consistent voice, and I found it vexing that the midwife's first-person thoughts were not italicized, making it sometimes hard to distinguish them from the third-person POV. Especially because I like her and her thoughts. Her own journals are a bit manic and difficult to decipher as well; she uses = signs in an almost haphazard manner. But I wanted her to be successful, whatever that meant to her. It's not clear what her ultimate goal is besides "Find somewhere safe to live out the rest of her days," which, after all, is the only goal you can have after the apocalypse, I guess. That can make the plot seem meandering, but it finds more focus in the latter half. I was always more engaged in the story when she interacted with other people for an extended period of time. When she was alone, I was antsy and uncomfortable, which, to be fair, so was she.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is a rare bird, a feminist post-apocalyptic tale with a queer heroine who, as we can tell from the title and prologue, passes into legend. Early on, the midwife tosses off a beautiful, sad metaphor that explains why she would be the hero of this story. She is a midwife, and with no more babies to deliver, it is this new world, this new life after plague, that she must help bring into being....more
Daniel José Older introduced his Bone Street Rumba universe and inbetweener Carlos Delacruz in his short story collection Salsa Nocturna (which I havDaniel José Older introduced his Bone Street Rumba universe and inbetweener Carlos Delacruz in his short story collection Salsa Nocturna (which I have not read...yet), and he wastes no time plunging the reader into the world with his debut urban fantasy novel, Half-Resurrection Blues. I felt at a slight disadvantage not being familiar with the world already, but the general concept becomes clear quickly: Carlos Delacruz is neither alive nor dead, and Brooklyn is full of ghosts and shit.
I knew I would like the book from the third page, which includes the line "See, the dead are good for coming up with some last-minute oh-and-by-the-way type shit." That line immediately sold me on Carlos as a guy frustrated with his employers, who happen to be dead, as do most of the people he hangs out with, like a couple spectral agents named Riley and Dro, whom he meets in bars where they invisibly sip drinks. While it's not a comic novel by any means, Older injects just enough lightness to keep things fun, occasionally making me laugh out loud. It's a casual, accessible voice ("Can't even roll my eyes far enough back into my flesh-and-blood head to express how out of line that shit is") that nevertheless has its more ~*literary*~ moments ("The twisted universe has conspired to give me this moment and this night and those eyes looking back at mine, all amid the hurricane of infestations and betrayals and possibly imminent doom, and I will take what's mine").
By restricting his setting to a specific borough, Older can concentrate its power, and the Brooklyn in this book feels like one you could navigate by reading, with street names and landmarks I'm sure are fairly accurate to its real-life counterpart. Unlike some urban fantasies that are set in bigger cities where the characters traverse all over the place, Half-Resurrection Blues takes place in a slice of Brooklyn that fits in a two-page map. The "urban" in urban fantasy is an important component, and I like when all the details and vivid descriptions make me feel like I'm actually there, rather than some amorphous concept of "New York." Adding to this verisimilitude is the diverse population; in fact, very few of the characters in the book are white. Most of the white people are hipster extras.
While I can probably attribute some of my confusion to sleepiness and my own emotional state, I started to lose the plot about halfway through, as Carlos kept going from character to character to get information, and the focus of the story kept shifting. I appreciated how it all tied together but it ended up feeling overly complex. It's fairly dense, and things are always happening, which I generally like, when I can keep track of what's happening and how it connects to what else is happening. Also I was disappointed that the one major female character is basically just a love interest—which I've seen in first novels before, and then the subsequent books are better about it—though there are a couple good female supporting characters, most notably Mama Esther, a powerful ghost. There are a lot of ghosts in this book. Seriously, I think there are more dead characters than alive characters in this book, even if I count Carlos as "alive" to give humans an advantage.
Half-Resurrection Blues has delightfully profane, electric prose, a likable protagonist, and a vivid urban setting. Also lots of ghosts and spirits and shit, I really cannot overstate how many dead things are in this book....more
I discovered Shelly Oria at Writers with Drinks, where she read from "My Wife in Converse" and made nearly every line laugh-out-loud hilarious with heI discovered Shelly Oria at Writers with Drinks, where she read from "My Wife in Converse" and made nearly every line laugh-out-loud hilarious with her delivery, savoring each quirky observation ("He was a man in his sixties trying hard to look French. He smelled like years of garlic.") or cutting mundanity ("She looked at me like I had something on my face, but I knew that I didn't."). I flipped through the book and found deliciously witty lines in "Fully Zipped" ("As I enter the fitting room, the woman says, My name is Andy, if you need anything. What is your name if I don't need anything? I ask.") that convinced me to pick up the book.
New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 mostly delivers on the promise of its title in that it features depictions of life in New York and Tel Aviv, featuring Israeli characters in Israel as well as Israelis in New York. Since literary fiction is usually Fiction About White People, it was nice to get this perspective. Oria portrays the minute details of Israeli life likely unfamiliar to most Americans, discusses the awkwardness of racial identity when it comes to the political situation, and examines the peculiarities of expressing oneself in Hebrew. In addition, the stories feature many queer characters; the first story is about a polyamorous trio and some first-person stories that focused on relationships with women broke my heteronormative goggles when I realized the narrator was a woman. Since literary fiction is usually Fiction About Straight People, it was nice to get this perspective.
Unfortunately, only a handful of stories truly grabbed me, usually because of their unusual structure. In "Wait," a woman instructs the man she left how to interact with the woman after her, and she is completely aware she has no right to do this, which makes her simultaneously sympathetic and shrewish. "Documentation" documents a relationship through numbered kisses, and it's heartbreaking ("Kiss #288 gives me false hope, which, without the perspective of time, appears simply as hope."). The aforementioned "Fully Zipped" follows a woman in various fitting rooms, trying to make a human connection as well as a sartorial one. "The Beginning of a Plan" delves into a magical realist science fiction, with "time-stops" where, uh, time stops. Everywhere. Occasionally. The concept drew me in more than the story, though.
Which gets to the heart of the issue. Maybe it's because I've been reading SFF short fiction all year and I haven't been reading much litfic lately, but even when I liked elements of a story and felt for the characters—thanks to the language—I rarely felt satisifed at the end. Did anything really happen? How am I supposed to feel? That's a strange image, what does it mean? The stories have no clear plot; rather, they generally follow a relationship, maybe from its inception to its dissolution (which can be a plot), or, like in "The Thing About Sophia," take us on a trip through a week in the life of a relationship, give us a snapshot. The book feels like a lot of snapshots. Lovely snapshots, to be sure, but they all washed over me without leaving a permanent impression.
I enjoyed many parts of New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, but as a whole, I didn't connect with it....more
In this absolutely delightful historical romance novella, Jade Yeo meets a caddish author whose book she scathingly reviewed, and he acts caddishly, lIn this absolutely delightful historical romance novella, Jade Yeo meets a caddish author whose book she scathingly reviewed, and he acts caddishly, leading to the greatest sex scene I have ever read. Meanwhile she wrestles with how she feels about her friend/colleague, Ravi. I'm no romance connoisseur, but the plot itself seems to follow common tropes for the most part, though it takes some unexpected turns. The reason I love this novella is because Jade Yeo is a wonderfully witty, charmingly naive, refreshingly honest heroine. Her diary entries are full of laugh-out-loud lines and heartfelt observations about the nature of love. I was disappointed when the story ended because I could have spent so much more time with her....more
Tina Fey IS Tina Fey in Tina Fey's Bossypants, the audiobook of the memoir of the life of Tina Fey, covering everything from her birth to her inevitabTina Fey IS Tina Fey in Tina Fey's Bossypants, the audiobook of the memoir of the life of Tina Fey, covering everything from her birth to her inevitable death. Okay, only some of that is true. Mostly the parts about Tina Fey.
Bossypants offers a behind-the-scenes look at Tina Fey's career and minor glimpses into her personal life, with a very casual voice. It's sort of like you and Tina are at the bar and she's giving you an impromptu PowerPoint presentation about herself. A hilarious PowerPoint presentation. Here's the thing: Bossypants doesn't quite hold together as a memoir. There's very little narrative coherence, if any, and although Fey attempts to weave the "Bossypants" theme throughout the book, it comes off as the token effort it probably was. As a series of anecdotes and observations about being a woman in comedy, however, it's rather excellent and very, very funny.
Fey is frank (not Frank, she's Tina) throughout, acknowledging her own bad behavior and calling out other people's, though she's politic with her colleagues and bosses, of course. This isn't a book of exposés, though you will maybe learn what Sylvester Stallone smells like. She's hardest on herself, however, charmingly self-deprecating about her looks, her acting, her show, basically everything.
As an audiobook experience, Bossypants gets two ears wide open, especially since the self-referential text is modified to reflect the fact that it's an audiobook—in fact, one CD change is timed perfectly with a suggested break. Although you miss out on the pictures in the book, Fey tells you to check them out in a PDF included on the final disc. Plus there is at least one brilliant audiobook-only joke. It's no surprise that Tina Fey delivers her own words so well, but she's wonderful, and the audiobook contains plenty of bits that take advantage of the format (her Stallone impression, sound effects, the audio for an entire SNL sketch, etc) that it's worth listening to even if you've read the book.
For fans of Tina Fey and/or 30 Rock, Bossypants is a delight, and if you're not a fan of Tina Fey before reading—or especially listening—you will be after....more
The Rift concludes fairly satisfactorily, though I wish it had delved a little more into the relationship between Toph and her father. They do have aThe Rift concludes fairly satisfactorily, though I wish it had delved a little more into the relationship between Toph and her father. They do have a great scene together, however. I enjoyed Toph's metalbending students as well. One of the most interesting aspects of this installment is how it examines the balance between the spirit world and the mortal world, which Korra has been doing as well. With The Rift, Gene Luen Yang balanced a story of personal growth with a story of societal growth....more
Chuck Wendig describes Atlanta Burns as "Winter's Bone meets Veronica Mars" and it's an apt description. Atlanta Burns is essentially Veronica Mars onChuck Wendig describes Atlanta Burns as "Winter's Bone meets Veronica Mars" and it's an apt description. Atlanta Burns is essentially Veronica Mars on Adderall with a shotgun, transplanted to "Pennsyltucky," the rural hicksville in the middle of Pennsylvania (this is where the Winter's Bone "Ozark noir" comparison comes in, though the book is more suburban than country). It's similar enough to be comforting but different enough not to be distracting.
Atlanta Burns is a teenage redhead with a shotgun and a reputation: she used that shotgun, once. And she's not afraid to use it again. When she saves a Venezuelan kid named Shane from some bullies, she finds a new mission: seek justice for the bullied who receive none from the justice system or society itself. Make the bullies pay. Also, make the bullied pay. She's really poor, okay.
Like Miriam Black, another of Wendig's heroines, Atlanta is a foul-mouthed girl with trauma in her past and trouble in her future. She's tough but vulnerable (Wendig effectively conveys her PTSD with her constant sensory flashbacks to that night she used the shotgun), and she's easily likable through the prickliness.
I don't know how many times I can praise Wendig's prose, but the man is a fucking master of the third-person present noir style. The words feel supercharged with energy and creative metaphor, and while we're mostly third-person-limited, there are moments where an omniscient narrator shines through, adding some wryness to the proceedings by knowing things Miriam doesn't (and informing the reader of such). Also who the fuck else would describe Atlanta's legs as "getaway-sticks."
Although the book is YA, it's not your neutered family-friendly YA: this is closer to the original R-rated conception of Veronica Mars. F-bombs abound, and there are trigger warnings for sexual assault, animal cruelty, violent homophobia and racism, and probably some other things. The book is sometimes difficult to read because Wendig does not sugarcoat the world Atlanta lives in—which reflects the world we live in—but it's difficult to put down because things don't stop happening.
Atlanta Burns is a re-edited version of the novella Shotgun Gravy and the novel Bait Dog, and while they are clearly two distinct stories, characters do recur. From a pacing and plot standpoint, though, it doesn't feel like one long book, which is fine since I knew it wasn't: basically you get an introduction to the character followed by the main event. By the end, you'll be ready for Atlanta Burns to take on all the bullies of the world and show them who's boss (spoilers, it's her)....more
Mallory Ortberg, National Treasure, takes the piss out of your favorite literary figures, real and fictional, in this hilarious book whose hilarity wiMallory Ortberg, National Treasure, takes the piss out of your favorite literary figures, real and fictional, in this hilarious book whose hilarity will largely depend on how familiar you are with the works being skewered. Any English major will likely have done the required background reading already, and this English major laughed quite a bit. Ortberg imagines text conversations between various characters as well as famous writers and their incredibly patient friends. The genius lies in how she ratchets up the absurdity, pulling elements out of great art that, when seen from another perspective, are patently ridiculous (see also: Ryan North). The general idea never wears thin, though some efforts are more successful than others: a multi-part Hamlet falls surprisingly flat (perhaps because "Dirtbag Hamlet" is much funnier, perhaps because it doesn't evolve past the one joke), but a multi-part Daisy Miller manages to take one joke and make it funny every single time. But apart from a few misses, this is a delightful book—with fun illustrations by Madeline Gobbo—that makes you laugh and makes you think....more
A new novella set after The Inheritance Trilogy is cause for celebration, and The Awakened Kingdom delivers. This time our narrator is Shill, a newlyA new novella set after The Inheritance Trilogy is cause for celebration, and The Awakened Kingdom delivers. This time our narrator is Shill, a newly born Trickster god who is completely adorable because she is basically a child with godlike powers who doesn't really know how to use them. Sometimes she kills people. Uh, oops. Her narrative voice is completely endearing and engaging, and I was instantly drawn to her struggle to understand who she was and find her place in the cosmology. As usual, the god befriends a mortal, Eino, who is essentially a Men's Rights Activist in a society where men actually are a marginalized group. N.K. Jemisin delves even deeper into the matriarchal Darren society, exploring the gender dynamics of our own world by flipping them on their head in her fantasy world. I got a bit lost in the power struggles of Eino's story, and I was much more interested in Shill, but their stories are, of course, connected, leading to a satisfying/bewildering climax. In conclusion, SHILL IS THE CUTEST....more
Moxyland, Lauren Beukes's debut novel, does not have the intriguing fantastical elements of Zoo City or the heartstopping suspense of The Shining GiMoxyland, Lauren Beukes's debut novel, does not have the intriguing fantastical elements of Zoo City or the heartstopping suspense of The Shining Girls, but it does have a terrifying vision of the future, a cyberpunk dystopia where technology is pervasive and used by the government to control its citizens. We see the world of Moxyland through four characters whose lives become intertwined since they are characters in a book.
Kendra, the most likable character in the book, is a photographer known for her retro use of film. She injects herself with nanobots and becomes "branded," a "sponsorbaby" for a corporation, and gets hooked on a soft drink called Ghost, and I modified that description from Wikipedia because it is not a sentence I could have constructed on my own, as I did not understand how the various pieces fit together. I felt almost sorry for her, that she got caught up in the revolution and terrorism that the other characters engage in: she just wants to take pictures, man! It's her art.
Lerato works at Communique and she's got it made, except for her annoying roommate, Jane. But she uses her privileged position to aid revolutionaries.
Tendeka is one of those revolutionaries! He wants the government to stop being such assholes, but he doesn't want to, like, be a terrorist, though. Which is what the mysterious skyward*, whom he takes orders from, seems to want him to do.
Toby has the most distinctive voice but is also the most execrable character, by far, a misogynist scumbag who revels in causing trouble for the purposes of making his vlog interesting. Also, his vlog is called "Diary of a Cunt," so that tells you all need to know about ol' Toby.
For the vast majority of this book, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. Even having finished it, I find it hard to describe the characters, the world, and the plot because I could never get a handle on them. Because it's all first-person, the characters do not explain details to the reader because the world and the terms are familiar to them. There's a lot of cool technology, and I caught on to some of it through context clues, but it made it hard for me to feel comfortable in the world and follow the story. I couldn't connect to the characters because so much of what they were saying didn't make sense to me.
That being said, I love interconnected narratives, so I enjoyed watching the characters' paths cross in unexpected ways. Even if I couldn't get a picture of the whole world, the impressions were vivid, the atmosphere came through. I got a sense of the characters and their place in the world. It's about two-thirds of the way through that the narrative really seems to kick into gear, and it does lead to some good payoffs, but it's still ultimately unsatisfying as a story because it doesn't really have a clear shape to me.
Moxyland is a trip, and it's worth it for the eerie similarities to the present (in a bonus section, Beukes describes how plausible much of what she describes is, as well as the historical context of apartheid that inspired a lot of the dystopian elements), but be prepared to read closely and do a lot of your own synthesis of information....more
Patrick Rothfuss is upfront about the fact that The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not your typical story. In his own words: "It doesn't do the thingPatrick Rothfuss is upfront about the fact that The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not your typical story. In his own words: "It doesn't do the things a story is supposed to do. A story should have dialogue, action, conflict. A story should have more than one character. I've written a thirty-thousand-word vignette!" And of course, he nails everything that frustrated me about the book. Slow Regard follows Auri in the week before one of Kvothe's visits as she looks for the proper gift for him. The entire book is her finding objects and putting them in their place. Cleaning. Making soap. And so on. Now I do love the way we relate to inanimate objects (I wrote a short play about it), but that core never drew me in. Auri's POV is fascinating, though, and I was impressed with Rothfuss's ability to portray her unique view of the world. There's some lovely language, and some heartbreaking moments of self-reflection, and I do feel like I have a better sense of Auri—a character I already liked—now than I did before. But I also feel like it all could have been accomplished in a shorter, more vignette-y form....more
"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
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
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, mAlthough 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
I discovered Sara Benincasa on Twitter and found her funny, refreshing, and approachable. When I found out she was coming to San Francisco, I figuredI discovered Sara Benincasa on Twitter and found her funny, refreshing, and approachable. When I found out she was coming to San Francisco, I figured I'd get her to sign that same sense of humor and personality in book form.
Agorafabulous!, as its excellent title suggests, details Sara Benincasa's struggles with her agoraphobia, which manifested as terribly inconvenient panic attacks and peeing into bowls to keep from leaving her dorm room. Each chapter focuses on a new setting or theme, taking us through different phases of her life and how her panic attacks affect it—or don't! Sometimes you just need to tell the story of how you survived working for a really angry hippie.
The book developed out of a one-woman show, and it's easy to see each chapter as one long monologue, a story being told to the audience. The language is frank, honest, and conversational, but it's far more than transcription. Every chapter weaves through just the right beats, pulling the story forward while bringing in ancillary detail from the past when appropriate. It's very readable and structurally sound.
Like Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, the book gives devastating insight into mental illness with wry, black humor. From her current perspective, Benincasa is able to describe what went through her mind as well as acknowledge how irrational it all was—they don't call it crazy for nothing. It's important to talk about mental illness and remove the stigma, and she never lets her condition define her: after the first few harrowing chapters, she can at times have what could be considered a "normal" life. But she also doesn't paint herself as "cured" either, as the panic attacks are always there, lying in wait, ready to break through a fault in the defenses of drugs and therapy. Spoilers, she's a successful comedian and author now, so we know she gets a happy ending, but her life isn't over when the book ends.
Agorafabulous! is funny but full of gut punches, and I was rooting for little Sara the whole way through....more
Where to even begin with this book? The title itself, which evokes not one but two massive cultures. Kameron Hurley has constructed a complex world where a formerly enslaved people now live independently—though their people continue to be enslaved on the other side of the continent—where gifted individuals call on the power of stars in ascension to perform powerful magic, where swords come out of people's fucking wrists, where sentient plants fucking attack warriors, where women of color of all ages are cast in diverse roles with agency (I know, right, like that's even weirder than the sentient plants)...and she's doubled it. A whole other world with mirror versions of everyone. Hurley gets across this basic concept in the harrowing, extremely fucked-up prologue that did not even prepare me for the story she intended to tell.
The Mirror Empire follows several characters, some major and some minor, and it's sometimes difficult to determine how important a character is to the overall narrative—are they merely there to provide a relevant POV or are we supposed to be invested in their character growth?—but certainly a few prove to be the central figures in this epic fantasy. Lilia, who is hilariously defined in the glossary as nothing more than a "scullery maid in the Temple of Oma," has many questions about her past, and she won't let anything get in her way: even though she doesn't have much in common personality-wise with Lyra Belacqua or Arya Stark, she does share their resilience and cleverness, and, predictably, she was my favorite character, as I'm usually drawn to the teenagers in a world full of adults. Ahkio is next in line to be ruler of his people, except he knows no one actually wants him to rule them, and if it comes to that, he's going to have to make some tough decisions. Zezili supplies the Villain POV, a brutal warlord who slaughters literally hundreds in the name of her Empress. But she seems to really love her dullard husband, so maybe she's not all that bad? I loved that even though this is the first book in a trilogy, even in this book, these three characters have quite a journey: to think it's only just begun!
Gender and sexuality are being explored more and more in SFF today, and Hurley's world challenges our standard conceptions of what is "normal." One culture has five different gender pronouns. One character is intersex, changing from male to female (with accompanying change in pronoun). One character is explicitly non-binary, using "ze" and "hir." Polyamory and bisexuality are common and accepted practices. The book is about none of these things, really, although in a book about mirror selves, where the duality of personality is inherently an issue, breaking apart the gender binary seems appropriate.
There is a lot going on in this book, with different factions working at cross-purposes, with characters seeking information in old books and coded messages, with the fate of nations and worlds at stake. It's easy to get lost, as things just keep happening, but it's never distressingly incoherent, thankfully. You just have to trust that eventually things will become clear, and Hurley scatters a few Big Reveals and the occasional short recap to keep the reader apprised of What's Going On. The book had me audibly cursing multiple times, either because something horrible had happened or something awesome was happening. Sometimes at the same time.
—We interrupt this review to inform you that in this book Kameron Hurley kills 847 people in one sentence.—
The Mirror Empire unfairly ends on several cliffhangers, but they're in the vein of HOLY CRAP WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN WITH THIS CHARACTER NOW, and they only make me more excited for the next book. This book kind of has a climax (like everything else in this book, it is fucked up), but it functions much better as a satisfying introduction to the world and the characters than as its own narrative. It's a fascinating, dangerous world(s), and I anticipate things are only getting more fucked up from here....more