Monthly Archives: July 2011
Recommended? Dear god yes. This book is incredible.
Summary: graciously provided by Goodreads
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Review: Room is told entirely from Jack’s point of view, which is an absolute stroke of genius for a book that could otherwise so easily become a melodramatic mess. I don’t think I’ve ever read a five-year-old written so convincingly. Jack is smart, curious, devious, adorable — even I liked him, and I don’t usually care for children, fictional or otherwise. Oh, and Jack is brave, incredibly brave for carrying through his Ma’s escape plan while he still only vaguely understands that there is something to escape to or from.
I’m a little afraid of giving away too much of the plot, because I read this book in three large gulps (interrupted only by food and sleep) and I remember it largely as a glorious experience of discovery. Rather like being a five-year-old, actually. Not everything discovered is good, and certainly Jack doesn’t like it all (he’s not terribly fond of wind the first time he meets it), but it’s all thrilling.
My favorite thing about Room, though, was Ma. Although she has a name and I’m sure it’s mentioned in the text, Jack thinks of her just as Ma, and, with good reason, she’s thought of herself as Ma for the past five years – five years spent in awful captivity. She’s twenty-six, but the last time she was in the world she was nineteen and just going to college. Now she’s a mother and a victim and a survivor and a celebrity, and while she doesn’t handle it all perfectly or with absolute grace, she handles it, and I think that’s really the most important part. She handles it, and she’s amazing, and (not to spoil you or anything) she and Jack are going to be okay.
For a book with such a bleak premise, Room is really amazingly uplifting and optimistic. (I shy away from that horrible word “heartwarming,” but I think it’s that too.) Don’t mistake this for a Lifetime movie; it’s plenty gritty and awful in parts. But Room is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read at all.
Recommended? Only if you’re a huge zombie completest (or if you need a quick dose of zombies – this is a fast read at less than 200 pages).
Summary: It’s 2012, and two-thirds of humanity has been wiped out by ANSD – the zombie virus. In a last-ditch attempt to find some hope for humanity’s future, the UN has organized a scientific research station on an isolated island. These are the last reports from Dr. Stanley Blum, whose fate remains unknown.
Review: I wanted to like this book. It’s a fantastic idea, a story of the zombie apocalypse told through the journals of a medical researcher. The book is framed as if you are a member of the UN commission that is going to be making recommendations based on these papers, so it includes some notes from UN officials and appendices like the journals of some of the other scientists and the text of the Treaty of Atlanta which determined that zombies are officially no longer human (and may thus be experimented on without ethical qualms). I was pleased to see that more than one person in the book mentions that, Treaty of Atlanta aside, there are plenty of ethical issues going on here, but how can you be expected to care about ethics when the future of the humanity is at stake?
And that’s the point of zombies, isn’t it? You become so terrified of turning into them that you might stop being human before they get you anyway. Of course, there’s a big difference between even shady medical research and eating the brains of anyone and everyone you come across, but.
The actual book doesn’t follow through on the excellent setup, unfortunately. Written by an epidemiologist, The Zombie Autopsies tries to give a medical explanation for the stereotypical traits of George Romer0-style zombies, but it falls short. (Which is not to slight Schlozman’s medical knowledge; I just don’t think it’s possible to give a feasible explanation for how a human body in that state of decay can remain functional.) The failed attempt at hardcore realism put me off: I prefer my creatures to be either entirely believable or just plain supernatural, and this middle ground destroys my suspension of disbelief. It’s not a bad book, by any stretch of the imagination, but once that suspension of disbelief is gone, it’s not coming back, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this.
This week’s online short fiction is a wonderful take on the old “hitchhiking ghost” urban legend by Seanan MacGuire. Rose Marshall died in 1945, and she’s walked the ghostroads ever since, those paths that lead you just between the worlds of the living and the dead. Sometimes she helps people over; sometimes she shoves them back on their side. It’s a way to get by.
I love the narration of these stories, it’s pure noir, you can just picture the gritty old black-and-white footage that these ought to be filmed in. And I love ghost stories, too — ghosts are my favorite paranormal element, much more than zombies or vampires, because they’re so versatile and yet so instantly understandable. (Rose reminds me a little of the ghosts in Cherie Priest’s Eden Moore series, although Rose is a little more “there.”)
The first story in the Sparrow Hill Road collection is “Good Girls Go To Heaven.” It’s a wonderful, creepy noir urban legend – and it’s the first of twelve! Enjoy.
Recommended? Not in particular. If you like Victorian melodrama, this might suit you better than it did me.
Summary (graciously provided by GoodReads):
Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has travelled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant’s body in a rich lady’s coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper’s grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace’s life. But Grace doesn’t know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune.
Review: I should have liked this book. It’s a story set in and around the Victorian funeral trade, a subject I find endlessly fascinating. It features the horrible treatment of “fallen” women in the Victorian age, along with characters with mental illness. There’s a certain amount of, well, melodrama in all of these aspects, but handled well I usually enjoy them.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Hooper uses an interesting device throughout the book; each chapter opens with a snippet of print, either an advertisement from a newspaper, a calling card, or something of that sort. Chosen well these could add a great deal of atmosphere to the story; in this case they were used as signposts for the plot, telegraphing plot twists so far in advance that there was only one twist I didn’t see coming as soon as the groundwork was laid. (And even that one, I threw up my hands and said, “Oh, of course!” because in a story this tidy, it couldn’t have been anything else.)
There’s a difference between tidiness and tightness in plotting. A tight plot is one where everything falls into place, not by the invisible hand of the author but because you look at the characters and their situation and can’t imagine anything else happening. A tidy plot, on the other hand, is one where everything – everything – that happens is connected and all the loose ends are tied up in a nice little bow. I hate a tidy plot; it makes the whole story seem fake. Dickens – the inevitable comparison for stories about destitute Victorian orphans – could get away with it because he wrote such huge, sprawling stories with so many characters in them, but a 200 page YA novel cannot support that kind of tidiness.
Fallen Grace could have been saved by interesting characters, but alas, Grace herself is singularly ineffectual. She spends most of the book reacting to events, and the few actions she does take are the direct result of conversations she has with someone else. I had hopes for Lily, her mentally disabled sister, but after a couple of establishing scenes from her point of view she mostly disappears from the narrative as an actor. I finished the book out of a desire to see if anything unexpected would happen, but alas, it did not. The book wasn’t painful to read, but I require more than just acceptable writing (with, admittedly, interesting historical details) in my novels.
1. It sounds like Borders is going down. This is…less than awesome news, personally and for the industry. (My roommate is one of those 11,000 people now looking for a job.) Borders has been the ugly stepchild of the big bookstores for a while, but it’s still sad to see them go.
2. A new company called Blue Ink Reviews is offering self-published authors the chance to have their books reviewed — for a fee. I am not a fan. Self-published successes, while not unheard of, are vanishingly rare, and the majority of “services” offered to self-publishing authors are really scams designed to part the desperate from their money. This sounds like another one of them. (If you’ve been thinking about self-publishing, do be sure to check out the SFWA’s Writer Beware site and make sure you’re doing it with your eyes open. Your book deserves real attention, not scammers.)
3. I have been loving the Breathing Books tumblr blog. (Books are pretty.) This shelf really caught my eye, though – incredibly nifty, although I’m afraid that’s a waste of a space that could fit a five-shelf bookcase that I simply could not afford.
4. Have you seen the Giveaway Blitz for Eve Langlais’ Delicate Freakin’ Flower? I don’t really read romance novels, but if I did, this one would be more up my alley than most. My friend the Inspector Librarian is giving away copies; go! see!
5. I have given in; I am going to read A Game of Thrones. I dislike unfinished series, and after seeing how crazy people were getting about the wait for A Dance With Dragons, I was going to just wait until the whole series was out to get into it, but I’ve been convinced. I’ll be starting sometime in the next couple of weeks — how would people feel about a read-along?
Where I got it and why: as an uncorrected proof from Tor Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thanks, guys!
Recommended? Absolutely! Particularly if you’re a fan of vikings, wolves, or telepathic animal companion stories. And especially if you read Pern as a twelve-year-old and went back to it later, and found yourself looking at it and thinking, “I’m not sure this has been very thoroughly thought out.”
Summary: For once, I think the back cover copy is better than anything I can come up with, so here you go:
In Iskryne, the war against the Trollish invasion has been won, and the lands of men are safe again…at least for a while. Isolfr and his sister, the konigenwolf Viradechtis, have established their own wolfhaell. Viradechtis has taken two mates, and so the human pack has two war leaders. And in the way of the pack, they must come to terms with each other, must become brothers instead of rivals — for Viradechtis will not be gainsaid.
She may even be prescient.
A new danger comes to Iskryne. An army of men approaches, an army that wishes to conquer and rule. The giant trellwolves and their human brothers have never hunted men before. They will need to learn, if they are to defend their homes.
Review: The Tempering of Men is the sequel to A Companion to Wolves, which came out in 2007. It picks up right where Companion left off, at the end of the trellwars, and this is the story of how the wolfcarls and their intelligent wolfish brothers and sisters learn what to do with themselves now. The wolfhaellen were formed to keep men safe from the trolls of the north, but now that the trolls are gone, is there still a purpose to the wolf-and-human packs?
Where Companion was the story of Isolfr learning how to live as part of the pack and how to become the brother of a konigenwolf, a queen wolf, Tempering follows several different characters, all of them being drawn out of their comfortable place in the pack and into new roles. Vethulf and Skjaldwulf are Isolfr’s wolfjarls, the pack’s war-leaders, still learning how to rule together; Brokkolfr is one of the only survivors of his previous pack and is learning his place (and regaining his confidence) in his new one. Between the three of them you have a great range of characters, providing very different points of view on their changing world.
Skjaldwulf is my favorite, though. He’d been in training for a poet before he bonded to a wolf, and it still shows in his sense of the dramatic and his instinct for narrative; he knows he’s in a story, and he tells it as he goes along. He’s frighteningly smart and more ambitious than he gives himself credit for. Although his moment of glory is at the AllThing, my favorite scene was his conversation with the invading Rhean captain. Skjaldwulf is not willing to see his countrymen become vassals to a foreign empire — but he knows that such an outcome would not be all bad, either. His internal tension is enthralling to see.
The cultural details, both historical and invented, are just lovely — the politics of town and wolfhaell, and of the northern and southern alfs; the godsmen and sworn-sons and city jarls. This is a huge, wonderful, complicated world, and The Tempering of Men gives you plenty of opportunity to indulge in exploring it.
Aside from its individual merits, though – of which there are plenty – the Iskryne world is a breaking down and re-imagining of the telepathic animal companion fantasy. Tempering is a little less biting in its way thanCompanion – which introduced the open mating, or what happens when the wolf bitch you’ve been telepathically bonded to goes into heat and all the dogs are willing to fight over her. Iskryne is a wonderful fantasy world, but it’s a gritty one. That doesn’t mean it’s bleak – far from it. The wolves and their men love each other with a love that is adorable to see, and in many ways Tempering is a book about the men learning to love each other as well. (…Yes, in that way, too.)
I love both Bear and Monette’s work, and with The Tempering of Men, they are continuing to work wonderfully well together. (For more examples of their collaboration, check out their short story “Boojum” in the Fast Ships, Black Sails anthology, or the many-author shared-world series Shadow Unit.) And if all goes well, there’s a third book in the Iskryne series scheduled for 2013, An Apprentice to Elves. Hurrah!
- A Companion to Wolves
- The Tempering of Men
- An Apprentice to Elves (forthcoming)
In honor of the review of The Tempering of Men that I’m hoping to post this evening, this week’s short story is by one of that novel’s co-authors, although it has nothing else in common with it at all.
“White Charles” is one of the Kyle Murchison Booth stories, which Monette has described as kind of based on the Lovecraft/Blackwood tradition of horror only with actual people in them. Booth is an archivist at the Parrington Museum, and he’s a little bit empathic and knows a little bit about ghosts and magic – and he has just enough of a sense of responsibility that when horrible things start to happen, he’s the one who has to take care of them. He’s a fragile, nervous little thing, with a core of solid steel. I love him.
In “White Charles,” the Parrington takes delivery of the remains of an old wizard’s library…and the thing that lives in it. Monette does an excellent job of capturing that creepy something-horrible-is-watching-me vibe of the best of classic horror, but she pays attention to the things they never did: people like the museum’s black caretaker, and the desires of the Thing in question. As a horror story, it’s not only properly scary, but a bit of a revelation.
There is a collection of Booth stories, The Bone Key, which which is in its second edition, but you’ll find “White Charles” at Clarkesworld Magazine online. I recommend their audio version as well, it’s spectacular.