Monday, September 26, 2016

Peter S. Beagle, 2016

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Abe and Joanna like their life. He’s retired, she’s finishing out her career. She has her place in Seattle, but they spend plenty of time at his place on Gardner Island. It’s a quiet, normal life until they meet Lioness.

This is not the first book I’ve read set in Seattle since moving here, but it is the most evocative. The city and Puget Sound are beautifully and accurately described.

The descriptions are the best part of this book, and they are truly lovely. The picture of the places, the feelings, the people, are all gorgeously nuanced.

Lioness is a mysterious young woman who appears working at a restaurant on the island. People are drawn to her, trust her without thinking. Mysterious things happen around her, flowers bloom, animals and children react to her. Joanna’s grown daughter Lily is immediately in love.

It’s a melancholy, thoughtful book about the effect impossible, mythic beings have on normal people. It’s about going after what you want, and what you give up when you do.

It is lovely, and it has a very boring reveal in it.

It’s unfortunate, really, because I do like the book and I think it’s very good, but I just found the reveal of who Lioness is… boring.

It’s still lovely, and it has possibly the best description I’ve found about how I feel about walking through crowds.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Feed (Newsflesh Book 1)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Feed (Newsflesh Book 1)
Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire), 2010

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a horror book

Premise: Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy are too young to remember a world without zombies. Their job: to go out and report on it.

This has been the summer of Seanan McGuire for me, as I try a little bit of everything. Here writing as Mira Grant, she’s presenting a sci-fi horror story in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak. Society changed forever, but there are still politics and conspiracies and news.

And there are bloggers.

The three main characters: Georgia, the narrator, her brother Shaun, and their friend Buffy are a blogging team that goes into dangerous territory and reports on what they find. They are part of a community providing both news and entertainment to a population mostly hiding in fortified homes and enclaves.

The story follows them as they get a huge opportunity: follow a presidential hopeful around. They jump at the chance and follow the story, even as things get more and more dangerous.

My main complaint was with the build-up to the final climax. There was a lot of off-screen information gathering and otherwise hand-wavy explanation, and I didn’t fully understand the catalyst for the climax, even when it was explained. The villain is too obvious, although the resolution worked well for me.

That said, I loved the style enough to offset my minor complaints. Georgia’s narrative voice was just right for the world and the story, and the interspersed online posts were just enough foreshadowing and additional character development. The author’s extensive research showed through all the careful nuances of the world. I really liked all the little details about human behavior changes or law changes based on the presence of the zombie virus.

Overall, a solid story that punched me in the feelings. (It’s a zombie story, you know not everyone gets out alive.)

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life

Monday, September 12, 2016

Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life
Edited by Liesa Mignogna, 2016

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a collection of essays

Premise: 22 authors write about their relationships with comics and superheroes.

Happily or unhappily, the worst piece in this collection is the first. I was so dismayed to read a pale, pathetic piece about how Batman inspired some well-off guy I’m not familiar with to be a writer. There’s a better piece later in the book with the same thrust - superheroes inspired me to be creative.

And that’s fine.

But boring.

The second piece is a raw, passionate, beautifully written essay from a woman whose rage causes her to connect viscerally with the Hulk, and how she eventually walks away from an abusive, toxic family life.

The essays are overall interesting and often funny, but there is a bright line between the ones that are about the creative process, or even one I quite liked about a love for Spider-Man and a love for Manhattan, and the ones where connection to a heroic story may have literally saved someone’s life.

My favorites also include one about Iron Man and heart defects, one about emotional distance and Rogue, a sweet ode to the lovability of Nightcrawler (again, in the face of childhood abuse), and a piece connecting Thor’s unique place in Marvel to the experience of being different from the other kids.

The weakest (besides the first) are the reprints of earlier pieces by Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult. The third piece that wasn’t original to this volume is by Brad Meltzer, and it’s actually a cute and very geeky exploration of the impact of reading a specific storyline as a kid.

Overall, this was fine to read in chunks, and the parts which were good were VERY good. It does suffer from being a compilation, though, because it’s so uneven.

3 Stars - a Good Book

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, Book 1)
Seanan McGuire, 2009

Premise: Half-faerie Toby Daye has been trapped by a spell for 14 years while the world went on without her. When an acquaintance calls her for help, her first response is “no,” but Countess Winterrose is not taking no for an answer, and Toby needs help whether she wants it or not.

I have been interested in reading more by McGuire since I saw her speak at Emerald City Comic Con, so I’m diving into her urban fantasy series with the first book. This was a really solid read.

I really liked the world a lot: the various courts and aspects of faerie society. There’s no info-dumping, you just glimpse the edges of much larger subjects as they arise. There is one scene that deals with a formal presentation to a ruler, and the writing for that is incredibly beautiful.

I liked Toby (October); she isn’t unique among paranormal/urban fantasy heroines, but she’s snarky and tough and fun to follow around.

My favorite aspect of the book actually is a bit of a spoiler, but I really want to address it. In non-spoiler terms: a common element in many urban fantasy stories is heavily subverted here, giving the book more emotional weight and resonance.

[Spoilers:::: After the prologue, Toby is alone, like many modern heroines - the world seems against her, dark and menacing. But when she’s forced to go to various characters for help, no one is angry with her. Everyone she goes to is either happy to see her, cares that she’s alright, or at least means her no harm. (Okay, one turns out to be the villain, but that’s another part of the story.) There is a whole society of people who are willing to reach out to her, if she’ll only reach out to them. It was a really moving portrayal of how someone can succumb to depression and self-loathing and not even notice until things change, and it’s never directly addressed in the text. :::::End Spoilers]

The villain and all of the minor characters are intriguing and unique. When I’m sad about a minor character’s death because I think the character has potential for more, that’s a positive sign about the writing.

While it doesn’t tread exceptionally new ground, this is an enjoyable start to a series, and a world I’d like to visit again soon.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers, Book 3)

Monday, August 29, 2016

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished (Heartstrikers, Book 3)
Rachel Aaron, 2016

Premise: Julius is on top for the moment, but political turmoil in a dragon clan brings out a lot of opportunists. Sequel to Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another.

Oof. I was so looking forward to this book, that I think it really suffered from my heightened expectations. It’s not bad, per se, it’s just not what I wanted.

It’s still well written, in an interesting world. I liked the new characters and the new things we learned about established characters. But I also got two things I wasn’t expecting from this author: realism over story and book six syndrome.

In the first case, the book is bogged down by a lot of machinations and conversations and plot points that don’t really progress the bigger plot enough. I felt like a number of the twists and happenings weren’t essential, even though they were things that would have happened in ‘reality,’ given the set-up as it was.

It isn’t a lack of action, it’s the presence of repetitive action: this person says or does something very similar to the last three attacks/arguments/etc.

I also didn't know, going into this book, that it is not the end of the story. In fact, this book is more of a cliffhanger than books one or two. So I had one problem, which was that for some reason I was expecting a trilogy, and it’s annoying that I still have to wait to get to the actual end. The other problem was the aforementioned book six syndrome.

I call it that because it’s more likely in long series. (See: Song of Susannah, Half-Blood Prince) It’s when the penultimate book in a series is spent lining up all the characters to where they need to be for the end of the plot (or the next part of the plot, if the next book isn't the last). It’s sometimes necessary action, but it leaves the book in question thin and frustrating.

I’ll still turn in for part four, because I do really like this world, I love the characters, and I trust the author, and maybe I'll like this volume better on some future reread, but for now I’m a little disappointed in it.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Monday, August 22, 2016

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
Julia Serano, 2007, 2016 (new edition)

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

Premise: Scholarship and personal perspective on the interrelationship between attitudes around femininity and discrimination against trans women.

I borrowed this book from the library and got only a few chapters in before I decided that I had to buy my own copy so I could highlight all the best passages.

I’ve been looking for a book like this, one that articulates so clearly the need to empower femininity. In feminist and liberal spaces, we already question the idea that women can be equal to men only if they act like men (but not too much like men). Yet somehow many of us tend to miss that so much of this attitude can be connected to dismissing girls, along with denigrating traditionally feminine attitudes, interests, and practices.

Getting a fantastic analysis of issues facing the transgender population is just icing on the feminism cake. Serano uses her personal experiences, her conversations with others in the trans, queer, and lesbian communities, and extensive scholarship to explore the many facets of gender and types of sexism.

This book was originally written in 2007, so some of the terminology she uses is not what is most common today, and some of the issues are already changing. These elements are acknowledged in the preface to the 2016 edition.

Some of the most enlightening chapters for me explored the sexism inherent in most media representation of trans women and the double-bind in terms of gender expression that faced (and may still face) those seeking to transition.

Serano’s personal account explores the nuanced possibilities surrounding how much our gender expressions and sexual selves are shaped by hormones, intrinsic inclinations, and/or socialization. Overall her book is impressive in stating a firm, strong position for holding a nuanced, subtle view of gender and sex.

The only criticism I have is that a few of the chapters late in the book are jarringly different in tone. They aren’t bad, just different than the rest.

The book begins and ends with the call to empower femininity and for those who consider themselves feminists to dismantle attitudes which damage all feminine people - whether those feminine people consider themselves male or female or other.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Every Heart a Doorway

Monday, August 15, 2016

Every Heart a Doorway
Seanan McGuire, 2016

Premise: Nancy found the place she belonged. The place she loved more than anything. But she isn’t there anymore, and her parents have sent her to this school, because they don’t believe her when she tells them where she’s been.

This fantasy-horror novella is lovely, both heartbreaking and uplifting. The story is about outsiders and belonging, about ideas of good and bad, about compassion and fanaticism. All in under 200 pages.

Eleanor West runs a school for children who have returned from journeying in other realms. These latter-day kin to Alice and Dorothy don’t want to adjust to “real” life, they want to go back to the fairylands and underworlds.

Each character is intriguing; they each have a reason they went traveling and were changed by their experiences. The ideas and abilities that followed them back to Earth are only part of what makes them different. Nancy can go still as a statue and subsist on little food due to her travels, but she was out of place in the world before she ever left it.

We mainly follow those students who came through darker, more dangerous worlds, although every glimpse we get of any of the kids’ experiences is fascinating. The inciting plot is violent and gruesome, hence why these kids are the best-suited to handle it.

I’ve been dancing around it, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention that Every Heart a Doorway features LGBTQA representation in a delightfully matter-of-fact style.

It’s overall a wonderful read, and while it’s the right length for this story, I would love more in this world.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book