needs more demons?

irreverent opinions on books

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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

E. Nesbit: Five Children and It

06 May 2014 · No Comments

I learned about E. Nesbit and Five Children and It from Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, which predisposed me to wonder if the reason I didn’t know Nesbit’s name while I did know the names Baum, Barrie, Lofting, Grahame, etc. was rooted in sexism. (Then again, I did know the names Travers and Norton.) After reading it, I’m a bit less inclined to cry foul — Nesbit’s book is just a little more rooted in its time, place, and class structure than its peers/approximate contemporaries. Although it undercuts several racial/cultural stereotypes it also gives them a lot of airtime, and in unexpurgated form it has some language that’s no longer appropriate in a children’s book. It all adds up to a book that’s less than welcoming to a modern young audience without either some judicious editing or some careful context setting. That’s a shame, because Five Children and It has quite a lot going for it. There’s a quite unusual magical critter, the menace of which is only gradually revealed. This oddly and intriguingly juxtaposes with a series of comic wish-gone-wrong episodes. Nesbit’s voice is drily witty, and she’s quite careful to narrate from the perspective of her young protagonists. (And really, we make a lot of historical allowances for all those other books, too.)

→ No CommentsTags: children's · f-title · fantasy · n-author

The Girl Who Would Be King

16 Mar 2014 · No Comments

The Girl Who Would be King uses alternating first-person narration to tell the stories of two young women who discover that they have unusual abilities, their struggles to understand and adapt to them, and the conflict those struggles eventually draw them into. Along the way Bonnie and Lola become, more or less, a superhero and a supervillain.

There’s a lot I really liked about this novel. I’m a fan of reversing the stereotypical gender dynamic of most comic books: men are reduced to sidekick and love-interest roles. Thompson strives for emotional realism in her characters. I didn’t always find the results believable, but I certainly found Lola memorably creepy. The backstory is eventually revealed to have a mythological underpinning with some novelty to it.

Thompson’s prose isn’t showy or particularly inventive, but it’s generally clear and fairly lean, the sort of move-the-story along that’s appropriate for a very plot-driven book, and rather easy to undervalue.

I didn’t find the ending satisfying either in emotional terms or on a thematic level — it felt a bit arbitrary (and maybe calculated to leave room for a possible sequel). But I had a lot of fun reading it, and I would read more from Thompson.

→ No CommentsTags: fantasy · g-title · t-author · young adult