I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog since getting hooked on GoodReads. If you particularly care to subscribe, you can read my GoodReads RSS feed; for now, here’s what I read in July!
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 1:17:36 PM
author: Garth Nix
average rating: 4.28
book published: 2003
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
A delicate, magical book; a book that manages to truly evoke a sense of the numinous while being grounded in the earthy details of life, with beautiful writing.
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:47:46 AM
author: Elizabeth Bear
average rating: 4.17
book published: 2008
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age books have this much in common: heartbreaking, intense, complicated personal relationships, and politics that go way over my head. My solution is to read for the personal relationships and shrug off the politics, though that won’t work for everybody.
This book focuses on Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and on the Elizabethan reign, which is being subtly supported both by the magic in plays and verse and by the faerie realm. Marlowe is killed early in the book – or thought killed, anyway, and taken to faerie, where he is drawn into a tangle of politics and relationships; Shakespeare, meanwhile, is called upon to support Elizabeth’s reign with his plays and in other ways.
The book’s great strength is in how Marlowe and Shakespeare feel completely like real people, complex and multi-dimensional and sympathetic but flawed. I have the urge to give Marlowe a hug and some hot chocolate, not that it would help! Bear also knows how to write sex scenes that are intimate and revealing but not mechanical, perhaps better in this book than in any other of hers – which always comes as a pleasant surprise when I read so much YA…
Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:36:13 AM
author: Jamie Martinez Wood
average rating: 3.67
book published: 2008
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
I loved the premise of three Latina girls from wildly different backgrounds coming together, becoming friends, studying magic and conquering their own personal challenges. There’s hippie girl Fern, who has her first serious crush on a boy but is nervous about pursuing him; rich Marina, who has a complicated relationship with her mother and her heritage; and Xochitl, a recent immigrant from Mexico still reeling from the death of her twin sister.
The book ended up not working for me, though, because the prose is just too clunky. Emotions are a little too bluntly stated, lumps of background information stick out, and a lot of the plot and characterization sticks closely to predictable templates.
Also, it may just be my own personal issue with things that are new-agey, but it’s a book that may induce eye-rolling in people who are skeptical regarding new-agey things.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 3:42:48 PM
author: Ken Kesey
average rating: 4.24
book published: 1960
date added: 07/22/08
It’s hard to dislike a book that has a lot of lovely writing, a clear sense of structure and story, and quite a few good bits in it.
It’s hard to like a book that expects me to seriously believe that the world is ruled by an evil matriarchy.
At that point it’s hard for me to have any response other than “Aaaaaaaargh.”
Thursday, July 03, 2008, 3:57:54 PM
author: Sharon G. Flake
average rating: 3.99
book published: 2000
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/03/08
Maleeka is dealing with poverty, peer pressure, teasing, and the hideous clothes her mother sews – which also provide the only relief her mother finds after the death of Maleeka’s father.
Sharon Flake is super popular among the preteen/young teen girls I see at the library, and I can see why. It’s all too easy to be sensationalistic or condescending or didactic when writing about inner-city children, and this book is none of those; it feels honest and real in a rather low-key kind of way.
While I didn’t feel like it was quite polished enough or crafted enough that I really loved it, it’s definitely a good solid book.
Nine short stories of magical realism, stories that shift effortlessly from fairy-tale mode to a much more naturalistic mode to surreal absurdity.
The thing about these stories–the frustrating, beautiful thing–is that they are not merely hard to understand. They resist all efforts to understand them. They hint at the feeling that, oh, if only you were smart enough, if only you spent enough time decoding the symbolism and the turns of phrase, everything would suddenly become bright-clear and revelatory, and then they dismiss that idea–directly or more subtly. These are stories about the ways in which stories satisfy or don’t satisfy, make you comfortable or uncomfortable, and it’s no surprise that the stories themselves are unsatisfactory and uncomfortable. And it’s not even a bad thing.
I don’t know any other writer who evokes so well the way I feel about stories, a mix of absurd devotion and intense suspicion of that devotion. Kurt Vonnegut, perhaps. And they evoke, too, the absurdity and magic and meaningfulness and meaninglessness of contemporary life, in a way that doesn’t feel bleak or depressing–Link makes me feel like both her stories, and the world, are complicated, weird, and incomprehensible, but they aren’t things that need to be understood.
I wonder how many little girls had their little-girl-daydreams in shades of green and blue instead of pink: living all alone in the wilderness (albeit a wilderness with hot running water and central heating) with a menagerie of owls, wolves, foxes, hares, crows, and so forth to talk to and take care of. Certainly I was among them. And certainly the Little Fur books were written precisely for that demographic.
Little Fur is half elf and half troll, and she lives all alone in the wilderness and acts as a healer to the creatures who show up in her forest. It’s a modern day setting, with humans and cars and churches and gas stations, but magic keeps the humans from ever being aware of magic, or of Little Fur. This book, third in the series, has her questing after her lost cat Ginger; following an owl’s advice, she frees a wolf from the city zoo and ventures in search of a wolf pack known as the Mystery.
When I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, I was almost uncomfortable at how brazenly the movie pandered to its target audience. I was the target audience, and I loved the movie, and yet – I wanted for it to once cut against the grain of “What does the audience want?” I suppose I feel the same way about this book. It’s too eager to please me, too daydreamy; I want it to be more cantankerous. That feeling is only enhanced by the illustrations, which are charmingly like what my friends were drawing in fifth grade, and the dialogue – when it tries to be Deep and Serious – does in fact sound like a fifth grader trying to be Deep and Serious.
It’s an enjoyable adventure and a deeply charming book, but the fondness I have for it is more a fondness for my childhood daydreams than anything to do with literary value.
Aislinn – it’s pronounced Ashlyn – has always seen faeries, like her mother and grandmother; she has always known the rules for dealing with faeries. Don’t. Don’t let them know that you notice them. Don’t have anything to do with them. She lives in an industrial city full of cold iron and has a best-friend-guy who lives in two abandoned train cars. However, when the Summer King starts stalking her, thinking that she could be the Summer Queen who’ll break the bindings on his power, following those rules suddenly gets a lot more complicated.
Gosh, I liked this one. It’s the kind of urban fantasy that’s fluffy comfort reading, and maybe doesn’t work at a level above fluffy comfort reading, but it does what it does really well and doesn’t make me want to hit the author over the head with some Betty Friedan. (The author has taught gender studies at the university level, so that’s not so surprising!) It manages to be awesomely romantic while sidestepping all of the dumb cliches, and Aislinn is bold and smart and self-sufficient, and she’s able to take on all the frightening things she has to take on with –not recklessness, but hard-nosed common sense. And I really enjoyed the politics of the faerie court – they were interesting without being tangled and complicated. (Tangled and complicated is good, but simple done well is good too.)
The ending was perfect; I wonder if it wasn’t maybe a bit TOO perfect, but still. It’s a really fast-paced book, almost all plot, and I sort of wish that it had taken more time to explore Aislinn’s life in non-faery-related aspects… basically, though, this is the kind of book that I wish Twilight had been.
I think that Reisz has the potential to be a great writer.
Tripping to Somewhere was one of those books that’s flawed in ways that make it, for me, more exciting and more interesting than a lot of books that are technically better constructed. So I was half-excited when I saw Unleashed on the processing shelf – I didn’t even know he had a new book coming out. And a werewolf book at that!
Misty is a poor, biracial girl who has discovered the one ray of light in her dead-end life: magic mushrooms. Mushrooms that allow her and her friends to transform into wolves. Daniel is a little better off, by no means rich, but his family has scrimped and saved to allow him to get a college admissions counselor. He ends up bowing to family pressure and getting a fake ADHD diagnosis to get more time on the SATs and – eventually – admission to Cornell. They meet, strike up a romance, and soon Daniel is part of Misty’s wolf pack, torn between the freedom he finds there and the life his parents have planned for him.
There are a lot of fascinating themes and ideas here. There’s the decay in Birmingham, Alabama, the “rot-eater god” of the magic mushrooms, which is resonant and beautifully depicted. And there’s the conflict between wildness and civilization – which is much clunkier, I thought. The idea that the majority of people are shallow, civilized, boring and bored, is a dumb high-school conceit. It’s an utter cop-out. You can’t dismiss the majority of humanity as “hand-lickers” that easily.
Generally, the book is weighed down by lumps of exposition, way too much telling instead of showing, way too little subtlety. And it lacks the crazy, reckless energy that redeemed many of the faults of Tripping to Somewhere. Still, it did show flashes of brilliance. Still, I think Reisz will be a great writer someday.
Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s long-running anthology of the year’s best fantasy and horror has been, for me, one of the most reliable sources for really good fantasy fiction. For the last couple of years, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have taken over the fantasy side from Terri Windling, and I’m happy to say that they keep up the anthology’s high standards.
If you happen to like the editors’ taste in stories.
You can’t quite take this for granted. The stories in this collection lean heavily towards the literary/slipstream/weird edge of the genre, and I think fans of traditional epic fantasy might not find much to suit their tastes. But there’s still a tremendous amount of variety in plot, setting, and style; you can read it almost straight through without getting a sense that the stories are all alike.
I enjoyed nearly all of the fantasy, and appreciated most of the horror. I don’t really read horror, but some of the stories are superb.
In “First Kisses from Beyond the Grave,” the hero ends up going to the same high school as his dead best friend, a high school for the dead; it takes some tired elements and turns them into something unexpectedly tender. “Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery” is silly, wacky, but with a human heart inside. “The Night Whiskey” is gorgeous, haunting, a juxtaposition of nostalgia and anxiety. “Another Word for Map is Faith” has an absolutely startling premise and runs with it; it’s about cartography, but don’t let that scare you off. “A Siege of Cranes” and “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire” are two of the stories that fit more closely, perhaps, with the traditional boundaries of genre fantasy–but both stories are way at the far-out inventive edge, and Ysabeau Wilce’s writing in the latter makes me think I should’ve picked up Flora Segunda months ago. “Halfway House” and “Drowning Palmer” are two more standouts in a collection that, really, is almost all standouts.