Monday, August 18, 2014

Vonda McIntyre, 1978

Hugo Winner - 1979

Premise: Snake is a healer traveling on her first year out of training. After a heartbreaking setback, she is determined to return to her people with something worthy of the trust placed in her.

Looking at most covers of this book, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a fantasy. The first few chapters don't do much to discourage the notion, either. The full picture of the setting and the lives of the people there is only slowly revealed.

I liked Snake - her attitudes and assumptions felt right for someone caught between being highly trained and being still pretty young. I could have done with a bit less screen time for the guy crushing on her, but he was inoffensive and made a decent spearcarrier/exposition man.

I do want to mention: part of the early set up for the plot gave me a real emotional punch in the gut. It's supposed to, so that you feel Snake's own anger and despair, but if you, like me, have a particular sensitivity to cruelty to animals and an intolerance of superstition, it'll probably hit you hard as well.

I can't decide whether I liked the overall level of exposition about the world. Part of me thinks it's perfect - that we see the outlines but are left guessing about many of the deeper questions. Part of me wants to know more. We're left, though, with just this one story, just one part of one woman's story.

One thing I’m sure of: it is a lovely, surreal journey to take.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners

The Superior Spider-Man: Volume One: My Own Worst Enemy

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Superior Spider-Man: Volume One: My Own Worst Enemy
Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, et. al., 2013

Premise: Otto Octavius has finally defeated Spider-Man. Defeated him, and become him. Now resident in Peter Parker's brain, with access to his memories, what will he make of Peter's quest to balance power and responsibility? Collects Superior Spider-Man #1-5

This is one of those cases where you just have to go with the insane set-up. Don’t worry, Peter doesn’t stay completely dead for even the entire first issue. The tension between the reader’s knowledge of Otto’s internal motivations and everyone else trying to make sense of his behavior is pretty fun, although not the real story. The real story is whether this Spider-Man’s different tactics and priorities will actually do a better job of protecting the city. It’s a classic ruthlessness-vs.-belief-in-redemption story that’s common to a lot of superhero tales, but it’s very well executed here.

Oh, there’s also the side story about whether Otto will sleep with Mary Jane. (Don’t worry, the answer is no, it’s just really creepy for a while.)

Also, why anybody could fail to notice that something was seriously off...

Really, this guy’s a super-villain? Do tell.

With quite a bit of humor leavening the occasionally brutal action, this is a fun title, and I enjoyed it.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Alias Hook

Monday, July 7, 2014

Alias Hook
Lisa Jensen, 2014

New Release! I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.
Premise: The story of one James Hook, his rise, his fall, and his struggle with the reality and surreality of Neverland.

If you read, I mean really read, Peter and Wendy as an adult, you discover a curious thing. On the one hand, it is the story of a delightful adventure in a land where children’s games rule. On the other hand, it is the story of the Darlings, left bereft and terrified by the disappearance of their children. It is the story of the pirates, men casually murdered by children with no moral sense and a great deal of power. It is about the tragedy as well as the joy of childhood, the utter carelessness and amorality of children.

All that is to say that I enjoyed Alias Hook for the way the author is building on the original story. (I’ve seen a few reviewers already not take this into consideration and it bugs me. Yes, it’s inventive, but it’s impressive BECAUSE it works with the original. BECAUSE it’s NOT a full re-imagining!) For one thing, she explains and describes the fairy orgies, alluded to once in the original text! I really liked the expansion on some of the aspects of Neverland and the way it ties into wider myth-systems.

The prose is well constructed, the description in-depth without dragging. I did enjoy Hook, the reality of his situation and his grasping for something, anything to end the cycle between him and Pan.

I liked Parrish (the woman whose arrival in Neverland may be an indication that things are changing). I liked her story and her gumption.

That’s the good.

There is a great deal of flashback, and Hook’s early backstory either needed more or less time. I found it fractured and split between dull and nonsensically violent. Once all of the plot (past and present) was on Neverland, the book improved dramatically.

I have real mixed feelings about the ending. I feel like there were different/better ways certain of the characters could have gone. I fundamentally disagree with the tone of the ending, and feel that it leaves a lot of really unpleasant plot holes created by the expansion of/meta explanations for Neverland. That said, it’s… uh… romantic? Sure. That’s fine. But not satisfying. The prologue is satisfying, the resolution is thin.

Okay. To sum up: Worldbuilding is really strong, meta-plot is interesting, resolution is structurally and tonally weak.

Still strong enough for: 3 Stars - A Good Book

Unwept (The Nightbirds, #1)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Unwept (The Nightbirds, #1)
Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, 2014

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

Premise: Ellis wakes up on a train after a terrifying dream. She is sitting across from a woman with a baby, who tells her that she’s been sick, and she is going to stay with her cousin. She has no memory, only a sense that something is terribly wrong.

This is one of those books where the discovery is half the joy. You, the reader, will figure out things faster than Ellis, who doesn’t have the ability to notice references and foreshadowing. I went back and forth while reading the book over which of a few possible reveals I thought it would be, and which I wanted. While I’m not 100% on board with the final reveal, I think the world could go interesting places from here.

The setting, a tiny New England town, is perfectly creepy, and the build slow without losing tension. It helps that the book is rather short. Ellis uncovers one unnerving thing after another, while everyone around her is so happy that she’s back, and so eager to hear about her trip to the city, which of course she can’t recall.

All the details about the town and the people in it just contribute to the mystery, and just a heads up: the tone of the book takes a swing from dark fantasy into horror for the last section.

I really liked Ellis, I liked the way she tried to stand firm as everything around her fell apart, I understood her fear and confusion, I liked where she chose to push and where she chose to conserve her strength.

I wish the book had more of an ending, but this is a ‘real’ series, where you’ll have to read the next one to find out what happens…

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

All-New X-Men Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men

Monday, June 23, 2014


All-New X-Men Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men
Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, 2013

Premise: Henry McCoy, aka Beast, is struggling with his life, with his mutation, with recent events, with their place in history. He has a crazy idea. It involves time travel. It also involves the teenaged original X-men. Collects All-New X-Men #1-5

I had heard all sorts of good things about this title, and I'm happy to report that it lived up to my expectations. I should mention that while everything is explained, if you don’t already know what happened with Cyclops and the return of the Phoenix and A v X and Schism and the splitting of the X-men characters, this might not be the best jumping on point.

This is one of those times, not all that rare in comics, when something awesome and intriguing comes out of something annoying. After A v X, parts of the X part of the Marvel Universe seemed too far gone, but give that wacky starting point to a solid writer with a good idea, and suddenly you've got a story!

The writing is strong here, every character gets their moments. The art is great, I love the details around uniforms and powers.

Honestly my main problem with this volume is that it's almost all set up. It has to set up a lot, from the teen team, what's going on with Logan and Storm and Kitty at the Jean Grey School, what's going on with Scott's team. Everyone has plans and plots and emotional issues. I’m glad I read this volume, though, and I’ll look for more. I’ll look for it to be on sale (how I got this one), but I will keep an eye out.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Earthly Delights (Corinna Chapman Mysteries, Book 1)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Earthly Delights (Corinna Chapman Mysteries, Book 1)
Kerry Greenwood, 2007

Premise: Corinna left a life in the corporate world and the spouse who fit there to move into a building full of friendly eccentrics and open her own bakery. She has a routine, regular customers, and cats. Then an overdosing addict shows up on her doorstep, the women in her apartment building start receiving odd threats, and she meets a charming man who seems to be charmed by her. It’s all a bit much at once, but Corinna faces everything in life straight on.

This is the modern-day series by the author of the Phryne Fisher books. And yes, I agree with all the folks who say that, at least in this volume, it isn’t nearly as good.

The characters are fun, if often stereotypes of a sort. The setting is interesting, and the dialogue and narration is snappy.

“I believe in absolutely nothing except yeast and the inevitability of politicians…”

The beginning of this book was exactly what I needed when I opened it up. I loved getting to know Corrina: her daily routine, her world, her attitude. Somewhere along the way it all started to seem a little too easy and ring a little false, though.

The main climax was… weak. Lets just say it was supposed to be both tense and erotic, and all I could think was: really? All the psuedo-realism earlier and no one’s going to mention how insanely unsafe of a sex act that just was? Not normally unsafe, crazy unsafe. This is not the 70’s. You could die doing stupid shit like that. The explanations about the plot were more than a little hand-wavy, too.

That said, I loved the beginning, and I did enjoy most of the other sub-plots, so I will try the next one to see if it finds its feet. Also, there are recipes in the back.

3 Stars - A Good Book

The logic of the to-be-read list

Monday, May 19, 2014

I’ve been thinking lately about how books get on my radar. I usually consider reading a book for one of three reasons:

(Note, this is all regarding books by authors I’ve never tried before. Authors I follow, I already know whether I’m going to read their next one.)

One: Proximity and Pretty Covers

There have been times in my life, some not so long ago, in which the easiest way for an unknown book to end up on my list was for it to be available at my local library and have an interesting cover.

That’s how I read Recursion and Illium and By the Mountain Bound when we lived in New York. It’s why I picked up books from the middle of these series before reading the first one: Lost Fleet, Mercy Thompson, Kris Longknife, probably others. It’s why I’ve read a great deal of odd/obscure stuff from the 90’s. The Winter of the World. King of Morning, Queen of Day. It’s probably how I started on Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey. In the town where I grew up, I eventually read almost everything in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the library.

I don’t discover many books this way these days, because I have trouble finding time to browse at the library and I prefer to read on my kindle, although similar logic does sometimes apply to books found on the dollar rack, like The Price of the Stars, or books that I’m considering requesting galleys of. On Netgalley, a pretty cover and an intriguing synopsis go a long way.

Two: Research

When I started this blog, I did a lot of themed reading. I wanted to read and compare a bunch of books on a similar topic. This required some amount of thought and research, to figure out which books I wanted to read or re-read on each subject, and then to seek out those specific books.

Today, I am still doing this with my project to read all the Hugos, although I am working my way through slowly and reading lots of other things in the meantime.

Three: Recommendations and References

Subtype One: IRL

I have a mixed history with recommendations from my friends. (Don’t we all?) Orphans of Chaos was a recent notable miss, and I wasn’t too fond of Kushiel’s Dart, which was recommended by a friend, but it goes way back for me. My high school friends thought I’d like Wheel of Time. They were, shall we say, wrong.

Of course they’re not all misses. Multiple people told me that if I wanted to read military fantasy, I should read Chronicles of The Black Company. Loved it. More than one person mentioned The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in a short period and I’m still reading that series. Special shout-out to my one-time co-worker ‘Buddha’ who saw that I was reading David Weber and suggested I try Lois McMaster Bujold. THANK YOU.

So a recommendation is enough to get me to consider a book, but not a guarantee.

Subtype Two: Virtual Readers in a Virtual World

Do you know who I trust recommendations from today the most? Two women I’ve never met.

I don’t always agree with them, and I basically ignore all the YA, but I have found more great books on recommendation from The Book Smugglers than anything else. I like that they’re clear about what they like and don’t like, and they like a LOT of the same things I like. Champion of the Rose, and all of Andrea K. Host, now my favorite indie author? Read about her first there. Fortune’s Pawn, which I just read and adored? I started to keep an eye out for the series when the author was interviewed on their site. I read my first Diana Wynne Jones because of a read-along there, and found it quite intriguing. If you’ve been mentioned positively there, and then I spot your book on sale, I’ll grab it.

I mean, I even found out about Code Name: Verity on their site, and eventually pressed it on all my friends.

There are other book bloggers I follow and consider their recommendations, although I’ve been burned occasionally.

Recently, I’ve read or considered reading books that I heard about on why I might call feminist-culture sites like The Hairpin or the Toast. Books like The Thing Around Your Neck or Smile at Strangers: And Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly. It’s been interesting expanding my genres some, although I haven’t written any reviews for this site about these books.

New comics and graphic novels I most often hear about on comic news sites, or I read an excerpt on Scans Daily. I love Scans Daily.

From radar to reading

So those are all the ways I hear about a book and consider reading it. But then I have to pick a book from that messy pile to read next. First question is whether any of the books are time sensitive: from the library, or galleys with an upcoming publication date. After that, these days I like to jump around. If I’ve just read a bunch of sci-fi, I might reach for historical fantasy next. If I’ve read a lot of long books - something short, a lot of euro-centric fantasy - follow with some Octavia Butler. New books, change it up with some classics.

I have a huge to-read list, and it grows faster than it shrinks. I recently cataloged most of my books, and I have about 37 books on my kindle I haven’t read, and about 200 hard copy books. Over half of those are graphic novels, though, books I either haven’t read or can’t remember whether I’ve read. Still, a lot are novels that I bought since 2012 (see the dollar rack reference above) and haven’t read.

I probably have enough of a to-read list for now.