Thursday, March 05, 2015

Review: A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly

Purchased this on Tuesday and finished it last night, which is pretty fast for me these days.  I have other books with markers in them (I always have books with markers in them) but this one pushed to the head of the line as soon as I read through the first chapter.

I am also going to be super paranoid as I type this, because I'm going to make mention of typos and formatting problems, which means a Karma Boomerang could be heading for me at this very moment.  I've already caught myself typing "eff" instead of "egg" three times now.

There are tropes in paranormal mystery books -- kick-ass main characters (if female, she's sexy enough that at least 3 of every 5 guys she meets wants to sleep with her), a settled magic system, and the main character gets beat up at least once.  Secondary characters require rescuing or, if the author is going against trope, rescue the main character.  Bad guys are destroyed in the end, but (in a series) some sort of darkness will follow the main character until the next book, upping the stakes each time.

Connolly pretty much looked at the tropes and said "Fuck that noise".  This time, there's little to no kick-assery, magic is the vague and hard-to-wrap-your-head-around thing I've always suspected it to be, and the lead character is a little old lady (but not Miss Marple).  Marly Jacobs  (maybe I'm attached to her because we share an initial and a name?) is trying to keep things peaceful in Seattle, trying to get all the magical folk living along the non-magical in acceptable ways.  Connolly managed to create this by showing, not telling (remember when the teacher told you about that in creative writing?) and building up the explanations a little at a time while things are going on.  Best of all, I didn't have a clue as to the actual bad guy until the reveal (loved the "clue").  Oh, and a nice Godzilla/Pacific Rim Monster Stomp to spice it all up.

I enjoy a good Monster Stomp.  Extra Points for that.

I read this in the B&N Nook e-book version, and there were technical problems -- small ones, but when I hit them, I had to stop, look it over, and then re-enter the book.  Typos I can handle -- I don't like them, and I bemoan the economic reasons that have removed proofreaders from the editing path (even the best copy editor can miss things).  A few moments of questionable editing, like an empty room that, in the next sentence, was full of furniture, and some problems with confusing dialog attribution, made me stop and thing "WTF?"  However, the story and the characters were strong enough that I could take a breath and keep going.  I have run into such in weaker books and just stopped reading.

Best of all, this is set up nicely for a series I would read as the books come out.  I liked the characters, the world, and the premise.  I want more.  Hell, I'll even offer to proofread just so I can get the book first (haha, not joking at all).

I now await the Boomerang.

Book Riot challenge met: a book published this year

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Review: The Maxx issues 1-16

The Maxx by Sam Kieth

I remember many years ago, catching the animated version of The Maxx on -- I think it was MTV -- and being both fascinated and confused.  I think I looked through a few issues of the comic.  I might even own some, tucked into storage somewhere.  It's been a long time.  I can't remember those details.

But I remember my fascination with this weird, deeply weird, and complex world.  That lasts.

So, I had the chance recently to read the first 16 issues of the comic (I'll be picking up more since they are being re-released in a newly colored e-book version).  I will have to read them again.  I am going to read them again.

It's a comic full of questions and few answers, perhaps another version of that adolescent tendency to be obscure in an attempt to be "deep" and "significant".  However, it works.  These questions are not just questions of characters and plot and "what is that?"  We question reality here.  We question identity.  We ask "what is everyone's trauma?" and "how does anyone deal with the awfulness we inflict on each other?"  Legitimate, if thorny and painful, questions.  Questions for which there are no easy, or perhaps any, answers.

Good job.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

For a book I anticipated so much that I pre-ordered it, I took a very long time to finish reading it.  Now, at least half of that is just me and how my brain works, but half of it was certainly with the book.

This book is work to read.  It isn't bad work, or very difficult work, but it is thinky-thing work.  There are still the obstacles from the first book -- the handling of gendered language, for one thing, and the nonspecificity of characters' physical attributes. The main character, Breq, where our point of view lies, doesn't notice these things because they are not necessarily important, either personally or culturally.  For me, this is both fascinating and disconnecting.  So, I have to work around that.  It is good work to do.

There is also the "mystery" of the book, the questions it poses and then attempts to answer.  In the first book, Ancillary Justice, the reader shared ignorance with the main character -- we didn't know what Breq didn't know, and we discovered along with Breq.  This time, however, Breq knows more, but we aren't in on it.  Sometimes that got a bit oppressive for me, and I was frequently trying to catch up.  That was work I didn't enjoy so much, because I felt distracted from what I enjoyed in the first book -- how the world was constructed and how Breq dealt with it.  The conflicts in this book felt a little pulled from the air, although I strongly suspect they connect more to what will happen in the next book.  This book leans in two directions and didn't quite stand up on its own, which, again, I think is not unusual in the middle book of three.

Perhaps that is what made this slower reading -- this is the middle book of three that will tell a complete and complex story, and on this book's shoulders are all the duties of connecting the big events that started things with the big events that will end things.  That's hard work for an author.  I don't think Leckie failed on this -- I see paths, I see connection lines -- but that the particular style that worked to bring Breq to a distinct goal in the first book don't work as well here, but she has to use it because doing otherwise would tear everything apart.  Instead of letting me in on the story, it held me a bit at a distance so as not to "spoil" things.  Leckie also doesn't use the typical "clues" of series books:  very little dropping the events of the past in as references, or standing at some future point looking back to foreshadow other things.  I'm a series reader, so I'm familiar with those tropes. They aren't here, or are subtle, and while I think that is a positive for the trilogy, it creates some problems and I noticed the bumps, which I think slowed my reading.

I did enjoy some of the games Leckie is playing with gender this time, though.  Again, the language creates in the mind of this Western reader the vague idea that the world is peopled only with females, although this isn't actually true (the Penis festival underlined this idea nicely).  One secondary character is depicted as a sexual predator and abuser.  We do not know this character's gender at all, but we know that at least one victim was male or at least distinguished as being a "brother" to another character.  This subtle bit of plot casts shade on the idea that only men are predators and abusers who seek power over others (a typical male role) while not doing a "See?  Women can, too!" thing.  It just batted at the stereotypes, knocked them around, and made me think about them differently.  That's a successful action for a book to create.  Leckie is very good at poking at the stereotypes typical in science fiction without making an issue of her poking.

Of course, I have the next book, Ancillary Mercy, on pre-order.  I also intend to hunt down some of her short fiction (perhaps she has a collection?)  Leckie is well worth reading, even if her writing makes me work.  Maybe because her writing makes me work.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review -- Jack Strong

Jack Strong by Walter Mosley

Long short story or short novella, I'm not sure what should be the technical term.  Too short for me, really.  I got to the end and wanted more.  I can't complain, though.  The e-book was a gift and I enjoyed it.

Well, maybe not "enjoyed".  That's far too vague and mealy a word.  This is a scattered story told by a scattered protagonist, a protagonist who doesn't know what's going on, who or what he is, or why he's going through what he's going through.  Everything is a discovery, even when he "knows" what's happening in the moment, and which of the many people inside him is doing whatever he is doing.

This makes for a complicated reading experience.  I handle books like this by taking my brain out of gear and just riding where the author takes me without being very critical or doing much back-seat driving.  I was lucky that this time, despite the rugged road and the hairpin turns, Mosley is an expert driver who didn't wreck the story.

Yeah, that's a better metaphor.  This was a drive in the dark on a road I didn't know.  I couldn't even make guesses, and that was fun. The real negative was that the ride stopped at some lonely truck stop in the middle of nowhere.  It was certainly a different place than the one where I'd started, and I had an inkling that the ultimate destination would be interesting, but I wasn't there yet.  Part of me wonders if Mosley did this because he intends a series of short stories and part of me wonders if he just ran out of steam with his cool idea.  And there's a teeny bit that can't help sneering and wondering if this was intended to be "Art", that "let the reader..." stuff popular with a lot of young artists who are feeling very clever (more clever than their audience).  I haven't read any other Mosley writing, but that's not his reputation, so maybe that teeny bit is just some rising snark.  I have Blue Light on my wish list and am eying the Easy Rawlings series.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Found Something

Aigh.  Fighting through a cold, reading manga and not finishing anything.  That's ok.  I found something -- someone -- I am enjoying despite blurry eyes and woozy head.

Grant Snider -- Incidental Comics

I'm adding him to my list over there so I don't forget after the germs are evicted.  Germs can carry stuff away with them like looting invaders.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Drug & Drop V1 (Manga)

Drug & Drop V1 by CLAMP

I went through my manga phase about 6 years ago, and among my favorites (in fact, I'd say my absolute favorite) was Legal Drug, a CLAMP Manga published by the now defunct Tokyo Pop, that, unfortunately, stopped before it was finished as the creators concentrated on other projects.  It languished for years, and while I was able to read one or two issues that weren't released in the US online, it just wasn't the same.  I figured it was my curse come into another medium (the curse that dictates any TV show I really love will be canceled before it is finished -- if the show is very popular and I stop watching, it might wobble, suffer scheduling changes, drift around, and generally have problems, but it might survive.  Most do not.  That's a different post.)

However, at long last the manga continues.  I've awaited this issue of the new version for months and I devoured it upon arrival in my mailbox.

I haven't quite figured out why I enjoy this particular story so much.  Yes, pretty, pretty boys and lots of suggested homoeroticism (yaoi goodness) but that isn't really the big point of reading these.  The art is beautiful, as is usual with a CLAMP title, but I've resisted a lot of their more popular stories.  I just like this one -- the mystery of the story, the tiny drops of information, the "saying things without saying things", the resistance the characters have to the ties that bind them together -- that's got me snagged.  I've sampled a lot of manga that just didn't catch me like this one has.

I'm excited that another edition of the story will be showing up in May (yes, I pre-order) and I have high hopes that CLAMP will give this story the full execution and proper ending it deserves.  If they could haul Tokyo Babylon to its end (a title I didn't enjoy nearly as much and, in fact, found pretty frustrating), certainly they can do it with this much superior story.

This title also fulfills three of the Book Riot challenges I took:

  •  a book that takes place in Asia
  •  a book originally written in a different language
  •  a graphic novel/comic collection.

My copies of Legal Drug are in storage, but I just found an Omnibus ebook edition which I will pick up so I can re-read the original story without digging through boxes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

My first book of 2015 was a book about books.  I have several such books in my library now.  The "book about books" is becoming a favorite genre of mine.

This is also an autobiography of sorts, since the author includes all manner of detail about his life, his past, and his imagined future, since books are tightly entwined with his life -- much the way books are entwined in the life of any enthusiastic reader.  The books we read shape us, and our lives shape our experience and memory of the books.

The first book Miller records reading is one with which I am familiar: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.  He seems to be as fascinated and confused as I was (and still am) about this Russian classic, not quite getting all the jokes and pokes but getting something from it nevertheless.  Miller spares us deep, insightful analysis of what he reads and instead gifts us with something a bit more concrete -- how what he reads, and the very act of reading, affects his life. I found myself identifying quite a bit with Mr. Miller, especially with the difficulties he faced in just managing to read, to keep his mind concentrated, to find time, and to avoid all the many distractions available.  Like I am attempting, he kept for a while a blog about his reading, but he found that keeping up with the blog was detracting from his reading, even preventing him from fully grasping the book. (I don't think I'll have this problem, as my whole purpose in keeping a blog is mostly to talk to myself while allowing other people a peek into my head and a chance to converse if so moved.)

He also spends some time discussing and dealing with the huge "library" that is the Internet, and everything that is available via means legal and illegal.  I had one takeaway quote that I think is worth remembering and perhaps making into a quote poster:

The Internet is the greatest library in the universe: unfortunately someone has removed all the "no talking" signs.

If there is a single biggest block to my reading, it would be the Internet.  However, I'm trying to use it to make myself read.  I'm making myself publicly accountable and even getting friends interested and involved in my reading.  A sprinkling of guilt might be the encouragement I need to keep this up.

As is true of any book about books, Miller includes book lists.  Three, in fact, listing books he read, books that have influenced him, and books he intends to read.  I'll say that I find him hugely ambitious, but he has given me a reason to attempt some Tolstoy, among other members of the Great Western Canon..  War and Peace might one day sneak onto my reading list, although I'm holding out against Moby Dick.

CHALLENGE MET: Read A biography/autobiography by someone I don't know

Monday, January 05, 2015

Will You Take the Challenge?

Jammies at Curmudgeonette posted about BOOK RIOT on our favorite social media network.  I took a look and decided I like the idea of "reading harder".  So, I went through the list of challenges and picked out some I would accept for myself.  My goal is to find books that meet these challenges from among those I have lining those 10 shelves in my office.  So, this year I will read

  • A book written by someone under the age of 25
  • A book written by someone over the age of 65
  • A collection of short stories
  • A book published by an indie press
  • A book that takes place in Asia
  • A book by an author from Africa
  • A book by or about someone from an indigenous culture
  • A microhistory
  • A YA novel
  • An SF novel
  • A Romance novel
  • A National Book Award/Man Booker Prize/Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade (2000-2010)
  • A retelling of a Classic tale
  • A book originally written in a different language
  • A graphic novel or comics collection
  • A guilty pleasure
  • A book published before 1850
  • A book published this year (2015)
  • A self-improvement book
I've added a couple of challenges myself
  • A biography/autobiography by someone I don't know
  • A book by or about an LGBTQ person
  • A book by a person of color
  • A book with a person of color as the main character
Some of the books I read I think will fall under more than one challenge. 

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Purely Wishful Thinking

I do have a lot of books.  A lot of this is because, yes, I just love books and I see all kinds of books I want to read.  The last 3 or 4 years, though, due to The Crazy, reading has been well nigh impossible.  In part it is because I now need glasses to read comfortably (depending on the book -- typeface makes all the difference) and in part it is because my brain won't settle down to the activity of reading.  Each year I'd make promises to read books and each year it would be just too hard to read much.

I think I'm over that now, or I am at least relearning how to read.  Plenty of distractions exist, of course, and I'm not out of the woods as far as being easily distractible, but I'm working on it.

I've finished sorting and shelving books now.  I'm down to the bottom two shelves which are, frankly, books I'm not likely to read this year, but I could very easily pull one out and read it (in fact, there are 5 down there I MUST pull out and read because they aren't mine, but so far...)  Reading is, in fact, something of a mood influenced activity for me.  I can intend to read a particular book all I want, but if my brain, my mood, my energy level, my chakras, my stars, and my aura aren't all lined up properly, it won't work.  I will wander off.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Yet More Ambitions aka Wishful Thinking

The purging and rearranging of the shelves continues because it's still raining outside and I slept much too late, so I have limited ambitions.

This shelf -- shelf #3 -- is of books that, yeah, sure, I do want to read them but this year looks dodgy.  Of course, I MIGHT read a couple of them.  It's POSSIBLE.  But it isn't likely.  Still, they are on the shelf.