Saturday Shorts: “White Charles” by Sarah Monette

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.

Edgar Bergen should play Kyle Murchison Booth. Someday, when I have a time machine, I will make this happen.

“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.

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The Friday Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Another Friday, another Book Blogger Hop (hosted by Crazy For Books)! The Hop is a weekend-long event for book bloggers (and their readers) to get together, talk about books, and meet some new blogs. Click on the logo above for the full list of rules.

This week’s question is: How/Where do you get your books? Do you buy them or go to the library? Is there a certain website you use like paperbackswap? (I love this question – I try to answer it in every review I write, because I think it’s fun to see where people find things.)

  • The vast, vast majority of the books I read and review come from the library. I’m on a book buying hiatus of sorts right now, due to my lack of steady income and complete lack of anywhere to put more books. But I’ve always been a heavy library user, and I like to try books out before I add them to my mountain of a personal library, so my first reaction upon hearing of a new book or writer I think I might like is to check the catalog.

(I was thrilled to see how many other people also get many of their books from the library – remember, guys, to support your local libraries not just with use but also with votes whenever it comes up. Library budgets are getting hit hard in this economy, and they need your help.)

  • Next most frequent is probably my local used bookstores, most often The Frugal Muse. The Muse is great, they offer good prices when buying back and selling books, they have really extensive collections, and they’ll order books that they don’t have in stock. I love them a lot, and whenever I need to get rid of books, I turn them around in here.
  • Now that I have my Nook, I’ve built up a stash of ebooks, too. The first thing I did when I got the shipping notification was go to Project Gutenberg and start downloading. Complete Works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen…and also the more obscure public-domain authors I like, like Elizabeth Gaskell and Baroness Orczy. (You can’t even find most of the Scarlet Pimpernel books in print any more, but here they are, in all their pulpy glory.) I’m also stocking up on egalleys from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster. NetGalley is particularly great if you want to get in on reviewing brand new or unpublished books but you’re a new blog without a ton of followers – although it sometimes takes a while, I’ve gotten a copy of every book I’ve requested so far.
  • Finally, now that my blog is taking off a little, I’m reading a few books sent to me from publishers or for book tours. I’m just finishing up The Tempering of Men by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, which Tor publicity was kind enough to send me when I gushed at them about how much I loved A Companion to Wolves. It never hurts to ask.

I am so glad I have a chance to be sociable this weekend – I’ll see you around!

Hot Off the Press: Review of Embassytown by China Miéville

Embassytown by China MiévilleWhere I got it and why: From the library, as soon as I heard it was out. I love China Miéville.

Recommended? Absolutely. I didn’t like it as much as I liked Kraken – I adored Kraken – but like any good Miéville book, this positively blows the top off your head.

Summary: Avice Brenner Cho grew up in Embassytown, a small settlement tucked in the corner of a large alien city, out on the edge of known space. The aliens – the Hosts – can speak no lies, and know no symbolic language: everything they say must be true. When she was a girl, she was made into a simile, so that the Hosts could talk about things that are like the girl who was hurt in the darkness and ate what was given to her. Then she became an immerser, a sailor of that vast unknown that allows travel between distant worlds. When she married a linguist, she went back home to Embassytown.

Now that she’s an immerser, she’s a person of some little importance. She makes friends with the Ambassadors, the only people who can speak with the Hosts. But when their colony’s home world sends out a new kind of Ambassador…well, they had no idea how badly it could go.

Review: Well, China Miéville’s done it again, yet another ridiculously original, mindbending book about the possibilities inherent in the things we use every day. This time it’s language: words and similes and metaphors, communication and understanding. And, ultimately, fiction, that miraculous act of telling truth with lies.

Embassytown reminded me much more of the Bas-Lag books than the newer this-world Kraken or The City & The City. Perhaps it’s just that it’s set on an alien world, with fantastical alien creatures, but I think it’s also that Embassytown is a little more allegorical than Miéville has been lately. This is not a criticism, by the way; it’s definitely not one of those annoying allegories that makes you roll your eyes and wonder what the point of all that was. No, this is more subtle, with lots of twisty turns and plenty of opportunities for alternative interpretations. But it’s hard not to start drawing parallels when you’ve got a story about a war started by political maneuvering by people who clearly had no idea at all about the situation on the ground.

There’s a time jump in the middle of the book that really threw me off, a section that skims over some fairly important events, but aside from that the pacing is excellent, with a nice long introduction to get you accustomed to the world and its people before it starts throwing things at your head. I found that the balance of exposition was just right – the narrative will go along cheerfully without you, letting you scramble to keep up with new characters and ideas, and just when you start to feel overloaded, there’s a chapter’s worth of explanation. This makes the first few chapters kind of tough going, but hold on, it will all make sense soon.

By the end of the book, I was reminded of a comment Jo Walton made on her reviews of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, that they were like Tolkein in that very few people will create a fantasy universe only to destroy the unique magic in it. Embassytown does something of the same thing, although in a very different way, and with very little patience for the melancholy that goes along with the way Tolkein does such things. The world changes in Embassytown, permanently and certainly, and no one really knows whether or not that’s a good thing. It is simply a thing that is.

Embassytown by China Miéville was published on May 17, 2011 by Del Ray. Find it on: Goodreads, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday Recap (#8)

Well, between the Discworld con and annoying obligations like the paying day-job, this has been a slow blog week. Nonetheless —

Reviewed: The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham (which finishes off the Long Price Quartet); “The Prince & The Sea” by Emily Carroll

Discussing: genre favorites in the first monthly Meet & Greet, which is a roaring success. Thank you everyone for stopping by — and if you haven’t yet, we’re still listening!

And don’t forget: my Discworld con report. I cannot express how much fun I had. Fans are My People, and hanging out with a thousand of them all weekend was amazing.

In other blog news: The migration has begun! That’s right, I took the plunge and purchased my own domain. WordPress is a great application — but wordpress.com only provides a fraction of the features and options available, and I’m enough of a tech nerd to want a bigger sandbox to play in. Your part in the migration, dear readers, will be very small: update your links and your RSS feeds and you will be all taken care of. I’m setting August 1st as the tentative date upon which theHopefulLibrarian.com will be fully up and running.

I Aten’t Dead (I was at the North American Discworld Convention)

I attended my very first fan con over the weekend (I went to ALA last summer, but that doesn’t seem to count), and it was amazing, I want to do it again. But maybe not for a few more months. I think I need some time to recover.

NADWCon logoI went to the North American Discworld Convention as an assistant to my friend Raven, who took most of her shop Ravenworks over to the con to vend as the only costumer there. We shared a room with Amanda of Mad Hattery and had way too much fun sending people back and forth across the room. “Buy a fantastic hat and get a costume to wear with it!” “Get an amazing dress and an amazing hat to match!” We dressed so many gorgeous people in so many gorgeous clothes. It was glorious.

I was too busy dressing people most of the time to get to see panels, but I did pop in for the two big ones. I managed to make it over to catch all but the first few minutes of the reading from Snuff, the new Discworld book due out in October 2011. From the bits I heard, it sounds very much like English cozy country mystery with Vimes. Vimes in the country! Vimes as a country lord! Solving crime! I am in love with it already. (I wish I could remember enough of the Discworld’s Newton-apple tree story to recreate it, but alas, I can only tell you to look forward to it come October.)

Saturday we were swamped with customers and I didn’t get to see anything — anything, that is, but the amazing costumes moving through. I saw several excellent Granny Weatherwaxes, more than one lovely goddess Anoia, the very best (and definitely tallest) Death I have ever seen, a Dibbler with a tray of sausages (named meats extra), a truly dedicated Death of Rats, and many small Feegles. Ten year olds are perfect Feegles. Throughout the weekend, we contributed a couple of Dukes, a small Lord Vetinari, a vampiress (Black Ribbon, I hope), several wizards, and more than one Assassin to the throng. (Only appropriate: to get into the spirit of the thing, we dressed as Assassins and displayed our special dispensation from Lord Vetinari, allowing us to pose as merchants selling our wares in order to gather information about our potential targets. We were very polite and did not inhume anyone all weekend.)

Dangerous Beans

Dangerous Beans, advocating for rat rights at the Discworld con

On Sunday we had a slow day, still equivalent to a good vending day anywhere else we’ve ever been, but slow enough that I could stand in the doorway and listen to the Good Omens panel. Although he wasn’t on the program, Neil Gaiman showed up, and he and Sir Terry spent two solid hours telling stories and jokes and generally being wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the story they told about auctioning the book to publishers when it was finished — as the bids grew higher and higher, Neil said he got more and more excited, and Terry admitted to being underneath the bed, holding on to the floor. <3 I am reassured by the news that, although it is not the same production company, it is largely the same people making the Good Omens miniseries as made the spectacular Hogfather. This is going to be good, folks. Also, I think I need to reread Good Omens.

Although the con was still running today, I was not; after three ten- to twelve-hour days (taking into account not only the vending but the frantic trips across town to the storefront and the suppliers to restock) I need a day off before I go back to the day job. But I’m pretty sure I had the best first con experience I could ever have hoped for, and oh, I will be doing it again. Hopefully next year, in Birmingham.

Saturday (oops, Sunday) Shorts: The Prince & The Sea

The Prince and the Sea by Emily CarrollSince I completely forgot what day it was (con will do that to you: North American Discworld con report coming tomorrow), a very short Saturday Short for this week, posted late Sunday evening.

The Prince and the Sea is a delightful (and, be warned, very dark) little illustrated poem about a prince and his mermaid love by Emily Carroll that I discovered last week while browsing the web. It’s so small that to say much more about it would spoil it, so take a few minutes to enjoy.

If you have a Decemberists album to put on in the background while you read, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” or “Shanty for The Arethusa” would be perfect accompaniments.

New to Me: Review of The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham

The Price of Spring by Daniel AbrahamWhere I got it and why: From the library, for alas, I still cannot find a copy of this locally. (I’ll just have to order it, I suppose…) The final book in Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet.

Recommended: Oh god yes. A spectacular ending to a spectacular series. You want to read this.

Review: Once again, it cannot be avoided, there will be SPOILERS for this and previous books in this review.

It is fifteen years since the end of the world. The Emperor Otah Machi has been fighting for the survival of his people, and negotiations with Galt are finally going smoothly. With luck, marriages between Galtic women and Khaiate men will be commencing, initiated by the marriage of the Emperor’s son Danat to Ana, the daughter of one of the Galtic High Council. But Otah’s daughter Eiah can’t support his plan — she thinks he’s throwing away a whole generation of women just because they can’t bear children. She’s turned to her Uncle Maati, who is convinced that with female students, he can rewrite the grammar and bind a new andat, one who can restore the world to the way it used to be.

He’s wrong. Nothing will ever be the way it used to be.

They say that good versus evil is a fine basis for a plot, but if you really want to wrench people’s hearts, try good versus good. This book isn’t quite to that level, but it’s close. The Price of Spring alternates between Otah’s and Maati’s points of view, giving the reader plenty of opportunity to compare their diametrically opposed and equally stupid plans. Otah thinks he can just move on without healing any of the wounds caused by the war; Maati thinks he can make the war never have happened. You can see the end from here, and it doesn’t look pretty.

That problem I was having with the earlier books in the series where I’d put it down and forget about it for a week? Not happening here. The pace in this one is perfect, steady and almost doom-laden. Every note I wrote in Goodreads as I updated (and several more that I didn’t bother to type in) was some variation on “Really, Maati, you didn’t see that coming?” And while Otah’s plan for the future is clearly more than a little short-sighted, Maati’s has all the fascination of a train wreck. It’s skillfully executed; you can tell that Abraham has been improving throughout this series, which is always good to see.

There are still two things that bother me about this series, which unfortunately wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so well-written. First of all, this is a wonderfully-realized, complex world, with several cultures, plenty of variation within those cultures, and all kinds of people within them. And every one of them is straight. Oh, there is finally a mention in this book of someone who might possibly have been less than straight at one point in the past, but that’s it. With such a detailed world, the omission starts to seem glaring.

The other problem I have is with the female characters. They’re great characters, don’t get me wrong – I love Eiah, and the mad poet Vanjit is a fascinating character. The problem I have is more with the overall shape of the story: with one possible exception, there are no female characters who succeed at anything. Anything other than marriage, that is. Idaan tried to take over the throne in A Betrayal in Winter, but was caught and cast out; now she is happily married to Cehmai. Kiyan does a fine job of managing the city in An Autumn War, but that was something she did out of necessity, not a goal of her own. Despite her business success, Liat is portrayed as incredibly unhappy. And then, of course, Vanjit becomes the first female poet and goes mad. It’s a slightly depressing pattern. I do often complain that fantasy is annoyingly unrealistic in its treatment of women, usually preferring to pretend to equality rather than dealing with any issues with the lack of gender equality, but I don’t think the alternative is to leave women with nowhere to go.

Despite these small complaints, I found The Price of Spring a wonderful, satisfying conclusion to an incredible series. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy with strong, interesting characters and well-rounded worldbuilding. If you’d like to see someone else’s take on the series, check out Jo Walton’s reviews at Tor.com.

Series: The Long Price Quartet

Meet & Greet: What’s your favorite genre?

As I was thinking about ways to add to my blog, I thought about what I like in the blogs I read. And one of the things I like the most is when there’s a good group of commenters, a sense of community, a feeling that this isn’t just a place for one person to pontificate but for a bunch of people to hang out. So, I figured, what better way to encourage that than to stage a meet & greet?

So, everybody out there, drop in and say hello! Introduce yourself, post a link to your blog if you have one, or post a link to anything else you want to if you don’t. I know you’re out there… Rather than put all the pressure on you, though, I thought I’d offer a topic of discussion to get things going. If this goes well, I’d like to make this a monthly feature, so we always have something new to discuss.

Posting my list of summer anthro reads made me think once again about my ongoing complaint that “popular anthropology” doesn’t really exist any more. It’s definitely a topic, and sometimes people write about it, but it’s not the kind of genre they print on book jackets and shelve all together in the store. So I’d like to know — What is your favorite genre? And is it something you can always find, like epic fantasy or Edwardian romance, or something you have to put together on your own, like popular anthropology or  clockpunk or historical gay naval officer romance?

Tuesday Recap (#7)

My weekly summary of my blog activity.

It’s been a busy week! Aside from all the blogging I’ve been doing, I spent the weekend helping out a friend run her booth at a festival — and this week I’ll be with her again for the North American Discworld Convention! If you’ll be there, drop me a note, I’d love to meet people in person. I’ll be at the Ravenworks booth most of the time, but I hope to be able to pop out for the Good Omens panel and Sir Terry’s readings, if possible. And yes, of course I’ll report back!

Also Read: Dead by Sunset by Ann Rule. I love Ann Rule books. I am fascinated by true crime stories — I think it’s part of my general anthropological interest. In order to understand something well, you have to understand its failure state, and well, there isn’t much more of a failure state than the kind of people who show up in true crime stories. But Ann Rule is my favorite true crime writer, because of her unrelenting empathy. She never blames the victims for what happened to them, and she does her best to show you how they ended up in such a position. She even does a fairly decent job of treating the murderers as human beings, trying to understand why they might have turned out as they did. I’ve read plenty of true crime that can’t do either, and it bothers me. I’ll stick to Ann Rule, for the most part.

Reviewed: An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham; Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy.

Also Posted: A couple of summer reading lists, for fantasy novels and for popular anthropology. Hey, I’m doing my best to get everyone else obsessed with my favorite things, too!

New Feature: I also posted the first of a new feature, Saturday Shorts, where I’ll link to short stories found across the internet. I started out with an old favorite, Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Mountains of Mourning,” but next week I’ll start in with new fiction. New! Free! What could be better than that?

 

New to Me: Review of Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

Looking for JJ by Anne CassidyWhere I got it and why: I needed some good storytelling, and when I want just plain storytelling I always turn to YA. I pulled a couple of books from The List to request from the library, and this was one of them. (I’m sure I heard of it originally from a book blog, but I just can’t remember which one…)

Recommended? Yes, particularly if you like true crime (which this book has much more in common with than a murder mystery, although it is a novel)

Review: Six years ago, ten year old Jennifer Jones killed her best friend. Now Alice Tully is trying to build a new life for herself. She’s got a job at a coffee shop, a boyfriend, and a good shot at normality, but will she get to keep any of it?

This book has the least convoluted plot but the most interesting structure of anything I’ve read recently. The story itself is straightforward, an excruciatingly sympathetic portrayal of a young woman who had killed someone when she was only a child, and how she attempts to deal with that and the normal problems of adolescence. We’re introduced to Alice Tully first, and as her past slowly begins to creep up on her, we flash back in more and more extensive detail to her childhood and the terrible event that defines her life.

Within the first couple of chapters I realized that this book is actually a fictionalization of the famous case of Mary Bell, which I read about earlier this year in Gitta Sereny’s incomparable Cries Unheard. Cassidy changed some details for her YA novel, which I was originally a little annoyed by, since I do think some of them are substantial to the meaning of the case – the victim being much younger versus roughly the same age, the degree of abuse the girl suffered in her home life – but then I realized that what Cassidy did was tone it down to the point where it was actually readable. I know I found Cries Unheard to be extremely tough going, and on reflection I can’t imagine some of those things being included in any novel, never mind a YA novel.

As you have probably concluded by now, Looking for JJ is one of those YA novels people have been complaining about lately, one of those things saturated with darkness. But it’s saturated with something else, too – empathy. This is a story about someone who has done something horrible and knows it, about coming to terms with that and learning how to move on even though she can never forget or atone. It’s also a story about learning how and why she could have done such a thing, and doing her best to make sure she would never do something like that again, even though that means making impossibly hard choices. It’s incredibly grown-up stuff, but as the fact that it’s based on a true story makes obvious, it’s not stuff that only grown-ups have to deal with.

I found this not only a good read, but an important book, the kind of book that librarians ought to keep on the YA shelves because there might be a kid out there who needs it. Looking for JJ is not trying to prove anything, it has no secret agenda or ultimately uplifting message, but it’s a book full of compassion for damaged people. It is an example of the best of what dark YA can do.

 

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