needs more demons?

irreverent opinions on books

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Courtney Milan: After the Wedding

03 May 2018 · No Comments

I very much appreciate how Courtney Milan inverts and subverts familiar romance tropes, and “After the Wedding” is no exception: it literally starts with a wedding, in which the principals are forced at gunpoint to marry, and their efforts to obtain an annulment, coupled with their inconveniently increasing mutual attraction, drive much of the plot. The setting is England, shortly after the U.S. Civil War; the man in the forced marriage is black, the woman is not, and neither of them are exactly what they first appear to be (although Milan plays fair with the reader, introducing her protagonist as “Lady” Camilla Worth) and establishing details of Adrian Hunter’s parentage in his introduction as well).

I found so much to love about this book – Camilla’s indignation on the part of women whose petitions for annulments were unfairly denied, the details of Adrian’s business venture, the large and diverse cast of bit players.

I did have to adjust my expectations a bit in one regard: Camilla and Adrian are both viewpoint characters, and both have complicated thoughts about choices they either made or were not able to make. The noun “choice” and the verb “choose” are both important to their inner monologues, and that initially struck me as a bit repetitive before I realized that their attitudes about choices were shifting subtly as the novel progressed.

(Disclosure: I was provided an ARC of this novel.)

→ No CommentsTags: a-title · historical · m-author · romance

Alyssa Cole: A Princess in Theory

03 May 2018 · No Comments

When Naledi gets exaggeratedly polite emails about being a long-lost royal bride of an African nation she very reasonably assumes they’re a phishing/identity theft attempt, but it’s all true, and “A Princess in Theory” unspools like a modern take on a classic screwball comedies, with assumed identities, disastrous coincidences, palace intrigue, and even a bit of skullduggery. It made me laugh out loud frequently. I don’t usually cast books in my head, but the dynamic between Prince Thabiso and his assistant Likotsi put me in mind of T’Challa and Okoye in Black Panther, and then it was hard for me to shake images of Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira in the roles. Minor quibble that the resolution of the mystery element felt a bit rushed but I still enjoyed the book thoroughly. This is my first exposure to Cole, but I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in the series.

→ No CommentsTags: c-author · p-title · romance

Leigh Jenkins: Catherine the Inquisitor

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

Interesting, if not always compelling, alternate Tudor history tale. sometimes felt like Jenkins was more ingested in showing off research than telling a story, but I still had some problems maintaining suspension of disbelief. Narrator Henry’s voice convinced me, but he’s a bit dry.

→ No CommentsTags: c-title · historical · j-author · science fiction

Steven Erikson: Willful Child

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

I thought this started out very strong, but even though its episodic, aimless nature is explicitly part of the point, I was ready for it to be over well before it was.

→ No CommentsTags: e-author · satire · science fiction · w-title

Jennifer Weiner: The Guy Not Taken

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

I liked this short story collection much better than “Good in Bed.”

→ No CommentsTags: g-title · short stories · w-author

Jonathan Howard: Carter & Lovecraft

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

Entertaining collision of hardboiled PI and Lovecraft ’s Mythos, with a dash of a metaphysics/ metatextualism. Already impatient for sequel.

→ No CommentsTags: c-title · fantasy · h-author · horror

Sara Benincasa: DC Trip

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

liked this better after I stopped worrying about the geographical inaccuracies and just went with the full-on zany. the framing device didn’t work for me, and some of the backstory digressions seemed a bit OTT, but I did like the alternating chapters from the kids’ perspectives and the chaperones’ perspectives. sweet (if a bit raunchy) and very silly. could easily see this being optioned for film.

→ No CommentsTags: b-author · comic · d-title · romance

Holly Messinger: The Curse of Jacob Tracy

11 Jan 2016 · No Comments

Reminds me almost equally of TV’s Deadwood and Angel – impressively researched post-Civil War setting with a complex supernatural ecosystem in a series of nearly self-contained novellas that gradually advance a larger plot. Novel finds some degree of closure, but more seems indicated, and I’m eager for follow-on.

→ No CommentsTags: c-title · fantasy · historical · horror · m-author

Naomi Mitchison: Travel Light

07 May 2014 · No Comments

“Travel light” is an exhortation protagonist Halla hears at one point in this singular slim book; it’s a tactic that enables her to travel farther and faster than she otherwise might, not being unduly burdened. It’s also a tactic the book itself employs, moving from what at first seems to be a fairy tale that might employ familiar tropes — wicked stepmothers, and such — into several quite different things, not burdened with the notion that it needs to keep an easily described shape. I wouldn’t exactly say that the novel grows more sophisticated as Halla trades innocence for age and wisdom — for one thing, that implies it’s relatively unsophisticated at the outset, itself a gross simplification. But I’d argue that the novel has little truck with linear progressions of any sort. How does the book go from being a girl-raised-by-animals story to a not completely unsatirical socio-political tale set in a mildly fantastic Constantinople? It travels light.

This was my introduction to Naomi Mitchison; I’ll certainly seek out more.

→ No CommentsTags: fantasy · historical · m-author · t-title

John Green: The Fault in Our Stars

06 May 2014 · No Comments

I read The Fault in Our Stars with no clear idea of what it was about, because several people whose judgment I trusted said I really ought to. If I had known what it was about, I doubt I would’ve read it, because the bones of the plot sound maudlin, heavy-handed, and more than a little trite. It’s just been made into a movie, and I’m finding it hard to see how the singular presence and voice of Hazel Grace — which is most of what lifts this novel far above the maudlin, heavy-handed and trite — could possibly be translated to film without losing everything that makes the book so very good. But yeah, it’s about teens with cancer, and an improbable collision with a dissolute writer, and it defies every preconception those facts could give you. I’m very glad my prejudices didn’t keep me from reading it.

It’s also set some tongues to wagging about the merits of “Young Adult” as a marketing category (or, God help us, as a “genre”) and what gets tarred with the “romance” brush and what doesn’t, and the disparate treatment of/respect for male vs. female authors. My thunk, for what it’s worth, is that YA is a fine way to identify books with youthful protagonists, so that anyone with a particular inclination for or desire to avoid young protagonists has a way to do so. The rest of us can just read the books we want to, on bases like whether they sound interesting or maybe have something to teach us. Differing respect for male vs. female authors I find abominable, but I’m not nearly as tetchy about the notion that ambition to something beyond escapism has some intrinsic worth, when considering books that “succeed” equally well on their own terms. So to my mind The Fault in Our Stars is YA only in some strict technical (and possibly useless) sense. It has serious thematic heft, a (deceptively) complex narrative structure and incidentally its vocabulary sent me scrambling for a dictionary a time or two, which, no false modesty, does not happen often.

→ No CommentsTags: f-title · fiction · g-author