The Man Who Invented Christmas (crosspost)

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holidays Spirits
Les Standiford, 2008

Premise: The story behind the story of A Christmas Carol.

This historical Christmas book included both some really interesting parts and a few things that I've read a dozen times by now. Overall it was pretty enjoyable. If you are a literary type and you want to read only one Christmas history, this would be a great choice.

Read the whole review on Mainlining Christmas


Monday, November 20, 2017

Seanan McGuire, 2014

Premise: Fairy tales don't stay on the page, but only the agents from one secret organization are protecting the public from their dangerous impact.

Does police procedural/urban fantasy/fairy tale sound like the best mash-up genre? Then this is the book for you.

I really liked the world, although I'm hoping there's more about how "the narrative" interacts with "the real world" in the sequel. The short premise is that fairy tales are real, and anyone who skirts too close to an archetype (abusive stepparents, etc.) can be effectively controlled by it, driven to carry out the tale.

All of the main characters have narrowly avoided being drawn in or found a way to cope with fairy tales in their lives. For example, the first thing we learn about the main character, Henrietta "Henry" Marchen, is that she hangs netting over her windows in an attempt to prevent bluebirds from smashing into them trying to reach her not-quite-a-Snow-White self.

Henry is very much a Seanan McGuire heroine: tough, snarky, protective of others, constantly pissed off. What can I say, I'm fond of the type. All the characters are complicated and wounded by their work and their world.

Also like most of McGuire's work, the book features romance in only sensible amounts and solid LGBTQ representation.

The biggest flaw was pretty minor: it was initially written and released as a Kindle Serial, and it does show around the edges. The characters and world get a quick reintroduction/recap near the start of each of the early chapters. The chapters in question could stand alone as linked short stories (that's actually what I assumed was going on the first time I noticed it), so it's not too distracting.

Plotwise, that also means that the book is structured more like the episodes of a television season or a comic arc: each chapter with a small resolution, but all building to the finale. There's a bit of a red herring in the chapter right before the climax which I am optimistic is explored in the sequel.

Overall, a fun, fast read that is recommended for anyone who likes unique fantasy and/or fairy tale retellings.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Sins of the Cities (An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, An Unsuitable Heir)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sins of the Cities (An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, An Unsuitable Heir)
K. J. Charles, 2017

Premise: A lodging-keeper, a taxidermist, a crusading journalist, a scheming medium, an enquiry agent, and an acrobat. Six people find romance after being brought together in London by lies and murder.

I'm quite a fan of this author's period romances, and these are particularly nice. I like the balance between romance, sex, and action.

I don't read enough romance to know whether this is common, but I also really like the way this trilogy solves the potential contradiction of writing a romance series. Each book ends with its requisite happy ending, but each features a different couple in a set of interlocking stories. The background story (involving a secret marriage, blackmail, and murder), which affects each of the three couples differently, isn't solved until the third book.

This series also features a high number of untraditional traits in the leads, even for LGBT romance.

Clem (book one) is a half-Indian byblow of a prominent British family, and he also appears to be very mildly autistic. Of course they don't have a word or a definition for it in 1873, but his eventual lover is happy to work around his difficulties with crowds and inability with hints.

The third book features a really interesting portrayal of a nonbinary lead, although I wish the non-romance plot of that one had been a bit more interesting.

Overall I enjoyed all three books.

4 Stars - Very Good Books

Bird Box

Monday, November 6, 2017

Bird Box
Josh Malerman, 2014

Premise: Malorie is finally bringing the children to what she hopes is safety. The only problem is, she can't look.

I remember there being a good amount of buzz for this book early on, and then some backlash. So I know I'm not saying anything new when I say this book was rather disappointing.

The idea is intriguing. Something mysterious is causing people to go mad, and you can only protect yourself by not looking, so people are barricading themselves in buildings and learning to navigate by sound. The book is intercut between Malorie's journey trying to bring two young children to possible safety, with all of them blindfolded, and how she came to be alone in a house with two children.

The story is interesting and tense, but not especially scary until near the end. Of course this leads to a situation in which humans are worse to each other than the monsters are and some sections that were unnecessarily gross in my opinion.

I understand that it's sort of the point, but as a genre fan, I can't accept getting zero explanation of what is actually going on. The book doesn't care what was going on, it only cares about the extraordinary things people will do out of desperation.

I understand that, but I found it fundamentally unsatisfying.

2 Stars - An Okay Book