Cloudbound

January 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cloudboundCloudbound by Fran Wilde

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There are a lot of things Wilde does right with Cloudbound. For one, the first couple of chapters serve as a nice summary of what happened in Updraft, the first book in this trilogy, which is useful, since I last read that book over a year ago. Like that book, Cloudbound also wraps the story around some fascinating ideas and themes, which help to elevate what is, to me, a mediocre story, to something a little more interesting.

The book picks up a few months after the events of Updraft, and this time Wilde shifts the narration from Kirit to Nat, one of her oldest friends who wound up fighting her to help save the towers. To say their relationship is strained is being generous; there’s a tremendous loss of trust between the two, and it drives their characters for the bulk of the book. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t spring to life for me. Kirit is mostly a background character, with the focus shifting back to the troubles between the Spire and the towers, neither to which she belongs. She’s an outcast, despite her role in bringing the corruption to the towers’ attention, so she gets very little page-time in the book.

I don’t find fault with Wilde shifting attention from one character to another. There are a lot of people in her Bone Universe, and it helps broaden the universe to show that it takes more than one hero to keep that world going. It’s just that none of the other characters are as interesting as Kirit. She does a good job of creating a diverse cast of characters, and gives them proper motivations, but I couldn’t get interested in them.

The other weird thing about the story is that it ought to have engaged me. Plot-wise, it was interesting, and expanded on what the Bone Universe is, but somehow I felt disconnected with it all. It reminded me a lot of the Craft Sequence, in that the narrative itself couldn’t engage me, despite the wealth of great ideas within.  I also noticed how Wilde uses sentence fragments a lot, I’m guessing for effect. Or because she felt it provided a narrative punch. (Yes, that’s my attempt to show how she was using them.) For me, they were more distracting than anything else.

I’m not sure if reading Updraft would have made me more aware of these issues, since I listened to the audio production for that book. I get the feeling the sentence fragments would have been less obvious, but I’m not sure about the rest. I do know that I remember pieces of Updraft fairly vividly; time will tell if Cloudbound will stay with me as well.

As I was reading this book, I figured I might have been done with the series, but then she went and ended the story the way she did, and I get the feeling I’ll be back around for book three. I know it’s already out, but the stories didn’t strike me as good enough to buy the books in hardcover, so I’ll likely wait until the paperback is released to get caught up. If my library carried a copy, I’d get it from there, but as it is, I don’t mind waiting. I have a lot of other books I’m more interested in reading right now, anyway.

Started: October 19, 2017
Finished: October 27, 2017

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The Godsend

January 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

godsendThe Godsend by Bernard Taylor

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I hate reading an author’s works out of order. Aside from the fact that I lose seeing the author develop a style through his works, it also means I take a step backward, as few writers write their best books first. In the case of The Godsend, I found a fine book, full of claustrophobic horror, slowly-mounting tension, and a narrator who may or may not be reliable, but I also found a book that isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s follow-up, Sweetheart, Sweetheart.

The Godsend is about a couple with four young children who meet and befriend a pregnant woman they meet at a lake. During a visit to their home, she goes into labor and has her baby before stealing off in the middle of the night, leaving her daughter behind. Efforts to find her go nowhere, and after a length of time, the couple adopts the baby. Shortly thereafter, things begin to go downhill.

Published in 1976, The Godsend came out during the craze that followed The Exorcist, where every author was trying his or her hand at the possessed-child horror genre. This isn’t a genre with which I have a lot of familiarity, but The Godsend stands out by not being a typical possessed-child horror novel. It plays with the tropes of the genre, using the expectations of the reader to build tension. The story winds up being quieter than one would expect, based on its cover and summary, but it’s clear that it’s intentional.

Taylor suggests there’s something not right with their adopted daughter. She’s preternaturally smart, strong, and clever, which doesn’t just raise his alarms, but also raises the reader’s. The thing is, the story is told in the first person from the father’s perspective, so it’s hard to tell if we’re seeing what actually happened, or if we’re only seeing things through his own interpretation of events. The story begins with him telling us about their adopted daughter from some point in the future, so how he recalls the events could be skewed. The question is, if he isn’t a reliable narrator, then how do we interpret the terrible things that happen in this story?

The Godsend is unsettling, in that it forces you to ask uncomfortable questions. It uses ideas and themes that aren’t new to the genre, but Taylor combines them in a unique way, and tells a wildly readable, engaging story to boot. I can see why Sweetheart, Sweetheart is considered his best work, but it would be a disservice to The Godsend to overlook it by comparison.

Started: 10-27-2017
Finished: 10-31-2017

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The Fold

January 17, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

foldThe Fold by Peter Clines

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I bought this book around when it came out. I didn’t get to it right away, and I heard a handful of folks talk about how it wasn’t very good. Disappointed (I loved 14), I set it aside to get to it whenever. Jump ahead two years, and I get a text from a friend: “How is it you haven’t read The Fold yet? Didn’t you love 14?” So here we are.

I think I understand why I heard the poor reviews from other readers: They hadn’t read 14 before. It had been long enough since I read the book that I didn’t realize the two books were connected until I did a search for Aleksander Koturovic to see if there was some historical connection, and saw he had been a key character in 14. From there, I started doing some more research, and yep, they’re connected. The Fold isn’t a sequel or even a prequel, but it’s set in the same universe as 14, and finding the connections was half the fun of the book.

The other half of the fun was the story itself. The characters are vivid and likable, the plot is engaging, and the style is easy. It flows like a river across a flat stone, which was refreshing, considering that my last two non-Star Wars reads have felt dull and lifeless. I saw that I wrote about feeling giddy while reading 14, and I had that same feeling here. It reminds me that I haven’t read the Ex-Heroes series yet, even though all five books are waiting for me at home.

14 was one of those books where I told people to read it, without knowing anything about it. The Fold is another of those books, but now that I’ve told you it’s related to 14, I suppose that’s a spoiler of its own. If you haven’t read 14, go do that, and then come back to The Fold. If you have, then I have to ask you what my friend asked me: “How is it you haven’t read The Fold yet?”

Started: October 24, 2017
Finished: October 27, 2017

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The Murders of Molly Southbourne

January 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

murdersThe Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

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Molly Southbourne was taught four simple rules from a very young age:

If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight.
Don’t bleed.
If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach.
If you find a hole, find your parents.

The reason is also simple: Whenever she bleeds, she creates a perfect, murderous duplicate of herself.

It’s tempting to go deeper into that premise, but to do so takes away the joy of discovering this odd, compelling story. Thompson thought it through, from beginning to end, and tells us exactly what it would be like to grow up with this sort of affliction. By all rights, the story should read like a clinical report on her condition, but Thompson frames everything through the eyes of Molly herself, and makes it come alive. It’s not that we learn about her affliction; it’s that we learn about Molly.

The only tripping point in the story is near the end, when Thompson attempts to explain Molly’s affliction. He also attempts to make the story into something larger, using a framing device around Molly’s story, which only gets in the way. I understand this is the first book in a series, which is disappointing, since it’s hard to see what else Thompson would have to say about Molly. This novella feels self-contained, with questions left to be answered, without them having to be answered. That’s not to say I won’t read the next book in the series, but by itself, this story is fantastic.

A word of advice: Start this book when you have the time to finish it. It will suck you in like a Dyson, and nothing short of your house catching fire will take you away from it. Before this novella, I had never heard of Tade Thompson; afterward, I was adding his other books to my must-read list. It’s an incredible read.

Started: October 24, 2017
Finished: October 24, 2017

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The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

January 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

lambThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

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I think it’s fantastic that Tor.com Publishing has put a focus on underrepresented groups as writers and as characters in their publications. It brings to focus people who have been kept in the background, who have been forced to keep secrets, and the more we read the books with those characters, by those writers, the more we grow to accept them. The sooner this can happen, the better.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion features a variety of characters, including trans characters and gay characters, and uses them to tell a story about a vindictive spirit that preys on the hunters. The story is set in a commune called Freedom, Iowa, where a group of anarchists have created an idyllic place where all of those who have been cast aside by society can live. Our narrator enters the town in search of answers regarding a friend who had lived there before going off to commit suicide, and what she finds, along with an open market where people can take the food they need, open gardens where everyone contributes, and the freedom to make choices outside of societal expectations, is a blood-red, three-horned deer that kills and eats the hearts of predators. Unfortunately, that includes humans.

This is a novella with something to say, and Killjoy doesn’t shy away from saying it, loudly and clearly. It reads more like a treatise on anarchy than it does a fairy tale, and Killjoy highlights the pitfalls of such a society as much as the benefits. It’s a story that bleeds its meaning through the plot, and while I’ve enjoyed that kind of story in the past (Laurie Penny’s contribution to this line of novellas was particularly good), here I found myself less interested. Part of me feels too old to get behind the idea of a commune. They appealed more when I was younger, but now I see the reality of them, where one person with a desire for power can easily corrupt the system and destroy it for everyone else.

The story moves quickly. It feels like Killjoy is more focused on her treatise than the story, so characterization isn’t as strong as it could be. They waver between good and bad, which could be another point of the story, but it’s hard to get invested in the story since they don’t feel realized. Killjoy is a good writer, and creates a good story, but it doesn’t sing like it could with better characters. Had it been a longer work, with more time to develop the characters, maybe it could have been more impactful.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion isn’t a bad book, but I’m afraid people will finish it wanting more, but not in an “I can’t wait for the sequel!” kind of way. It doesn’t feel unfinished, but neither does it feel incomplete. It just feels rushed, which is a shame, since the message and the plot feel substantial. I understand this is the first in a series, so maybe that will come. As it is, though, I’m not convinced I’ll be reading the next installment.

Started: October 23, 2017
Finished: October 24, 2017

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Mapping the Interior

January 12, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

mappingMapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

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I keep hearing a lot of good about Stephen Graham Jones. He’s considered to be one of the “new horror” authors creating a buzz, and since I’ve touched on John Langan, David Nickel, and Laird Barron, I figured it was time to touch on Jones, too. He’s written a bunch of stuff, though, so I started with Mapping the Interior, since it’s newer, and since it’s short.

The story is about a young Native American boy who sees his dead father walking through his house one night. From there, he begins an investigation, one which doesn’t just answer his questions about his father, who died when he was four, but also raises new questions about himself. The story has a focus on Native American culture, but shies away from using that as the source of the horror. This is refreshing, since older horror uses Native Americans as tropes instead of characters, and it certainly helps that Jones is himself Native American.

Jones’ imagery is fascinating. He creates a sense of disquiet through the events. The narrator’s father becomes more and more substantial as the story progresses, and the ways he interacts with the physical world make him more unnatural than if he were just a ghost. Jones avoids the tropes of the genre, and writes in a style that leaves the reader feeling a little out of sorts. He works hard to make the story effective, and it pays off.

Part ghost story, part coming-of-age story, and part surreal look at the world around us, Mapping the Interior is a cerebral horror novella that keeps you reading. It’s engaging and thoughtful, eerie and unsettling, and doesn’t rely on easy answers or conclusions. I feel like I’ve only just touched on what the novella has to say, and I can see myself revisiting it in a few years’ time to see what else I can discover in the story.

Started: October 21, 2017
Finished: October 23, 2017

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The Red Threads of Fortune

January 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threadsThe Red Threads of Fortune by J.Y. Yang

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Rumor has it, you can read the two books in Yang’s Tensorate series in any order. Based on that rumor, I picked the order in which Goodreads has the books ordered in the series and started there, with The Black Tides of Heaven. I made the right choice, because if I had started with The Red Threads of Fortune, (a) I would have been lost, and (b) I’m not sure I would have continued with the series.

The focus of Tides was on Akeha and Mokoya, twin children of the Protector, and their early life. Threads shifts away from the twins to a degree, showing us what they’re like as adults. By now, the characters have grown into the different personalities they became at the end of Tides, and have moved on to life, not without each other, but at least focused away from them. The main focus of Threads is Mokoya, as she hunts a rogue naga that threatens the city where she lives.

Threads is less interesting, since it shifts its focus away from the relationships. The character Mokoya is now isn’t as sympathetic as the one she was in Tides, and what relationships she does have in the novella feel more forced. Her development feels authentic, but where she goes in this book with that development simply isn’t as interesting. The story does have more of a plot than the previous book, but when Yang writes the first book to focus on character, it’s jarring to then shift over to a book that’s primarily plot.

How much you like this book may depend on where you start with the two books. Chronologically, Tides comes before Threads, and gives us more insight into the characters than the latter book. Those readers who start with Threads, though, might be disappointed by the shift from plot to character, but I still feel like they would be confused by events in Tides. Yang is still a strong writer, and I’m in it for their next two books, but I’m hoping the attention will shift back to the characters and their relationships for those books.

Started: October 16, 2017
Finished: October 20, 2017

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Episode IV: A New Hope

January 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

hopeEpisode IV: A New Hope by George Lucas

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I’ve watched Star Wars at least thirty times. I know the story backward and forward. I’ve even listened to the audio play produced for NPR, which uses some of the unused material from the script. That material is included in the novelization, which makes sense, given that the book was published a few months before the movie was released. The problem is that this novelization doesn’t bring anything new to the Star Wars experience for me.

The good news is that it has a lot to offer folks who are just getting into the expanded universe. That new material isn’t necessary, but it gives us more context into the character of Luke, the long reach of the Empire, and the importance of the Rebellion. What it doesn’t give us is insight into any of the characters. Lucas doesn’t give us much in the way of the characters, narratively; what we know about them is what we see in the movies, through their facial expressions and reactions, through their excitement and passion. Written out, a lot of that is missing.

This isn’t the first novelization I’ve read in the EU, so I know this isn’t the fault of Lucas, necessarily. Other writers were able to capture the characters and make them lively; here, they feel flat and listless. Even when Luke sees Obi-Wan cut down by Vader (uh, spoiler), he reacts in the way one would expect, but then he’s on to the next thing. Granted, this is how the movie approaches the scene, too, but here it feels even worse, since Foster doesn’t show us enough of his response to believe it.

(Oh, yeah, this book was actually written by Alan Dean Foster. This is about as much of a secret as Joe Hill being Stephen King’s son, but there it is, just to avoid confusion.)

It’s also interesting to see the differences between the story and the final cut of the movie. The dialogue is different enough that people who really know the movie are going to find some unexpected turns of phrase, but it’s also weird that in the novel, Luke is Blue Five instead of Red Five. It’s nothing that breaks the story, but “Red Five, standing by” is one of the most iconic lines from the movie, so it’s hard not to have a “Wha?” moment. What’s cool is the prologue, where Foster expands on the Empire, giving us a bit of history and context into the past. He names Palpatine and summarizes the fall of the Republic. According to legend, this was backstory written by Foster, since Lucas didn’t have a firm idea of what the history would be, but when it came time to write that history for the prequels, he used a bit of those ideas on which to hang his story.

So, the novelization isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either. Foster’s style is a bit too dry for me, but the story doesn’t feel like a seventies story, nor is it as listless as the Lando Calrissian novels by L. Neil Smith. It’s just not a novel that sings, and while I haven’t seen as many of those in the EU, I feel like the first book in the Star Wars universe would have a bit more meat to it than this one did.

Started: October 16, 2017
Finished: October 19, 2017

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Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm

January 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

unicornPhoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm by Dana Simpson

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I discovered the comic strip Phoebe and Her Unicorn over two years ago. It’s fantastic. It’s about a precocious young girl who befriends a unicorn, and how they become best friends. It’s about a lot more than that (friendship, diversity, acceptance, and family), but the relationship between Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (no kidding) is the real draw. There’s a sincerity and maturity about the strip that reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes, but with much less snark.

The Magic Storm is the sixth book featuring the characters, but the first five were collections of the strips. I don’t usually record or review those, since there’s not as much narrative structure to a strip (save for the few extended storylines), but this book is the first self-contained, extended story featuring Phoebe and Marigold. It also features the other main characters (Phoebe’s parents, her friend Max, and her frenemy Dakota), as well as introducing a couple of new characters. It’s probably not the best place to start with the strip, since the background between Phoebe and Dakota is better developed through the strip, but all that means is you get to read the first five books. (Trust me: This is a Good Thing™.)

The story opens with Marigold sensing something strange about her magic, while at the same time Phoebe is receiving severe weather alerts on her phone. The two, of course, are related, and it takes the two of them working together with their friends and the goblins to determine the source of the problem. It’s peppered with the lighthearted humor of the strips, and shows the positivity of the relationships of the characters. There’s a particular feel to the strip, and Simpson has captured that same feel here.

The Magic Storm isn’t the most tightly plotted story, but it’s intended for younger kids, and the lessons of the story are important ones. Given the choice between strip collections or self-contained stories, I would likely choose the strip collections, but if Simpson wants to keep telling these tales, I will keep reading them. Any chance to revisit the charm of her characters is one to take.

Started: October 18, 2017
Finished: October 18, 2017

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The Black Tides of Heaven

January 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

tidesThe Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

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I’m a sucker for a novella, and for a novella that’s getting lots of positive buzz. Tor.com is doing a great job with them (and with promoting the non-male, non-cis, non-white authors and stories), so it was a no-brainer that I would be reading Yang’s contributions to the line. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Black Tides of Heaven is a book that pairs with The Red Threads of Fortune, and I waffled over which to read first. In the end, I decided to follow the series as Goodreads had cataloged it, so Tides it was. It introduces us to a handful of characters, like the Protector (think Mommy Dearest with wizarding powers and a ruthlessness that would make Cersei Lannister sit up and pay attention) and Head Abbott Sung (Atticus Finch with magical powers), but the two main characters are the twins, Mokoya and Akeha, who are birthed by the Protector to honor a debt she owed the Head Abbott, and also to manipulate it so he didn’t get what he expected out of the deal. At the age of six, the twins are adopted into the Grand Monastery and are taught how to use the Tensorate magics.

Yang is a talented wordsmith. They create scenes effortlessly, imbibing them with all the senses to ensure you feel immersed in their world. Their characterization is deft, as they develop the twins to be more complex than first appearances would suggest. The Head Abbott and the Protector run the risk of being cliches, but Yang adds a few twists and turns to their development to keep you guessing. The story develops out of the relationships among all these characters, so the plot feels natural, and no development ever feels forced. The characters in their world are born sexless and adopt a male or female persona whenever they feel comfortable, so “they” is used to refer to single persons, as well as groups. It takes some adjusting to flow with the story, but this is more a limit to the English language, and not a problem with how Yang tells the story.

My only complaint about the story is that it feels rushed. The first half of the book takes its time to show and reveal the characters, but the second half feels like Yang was rushing to get to the end and still be able to call the book a novella. As I mentioned, the development isn’t forced, so nothing strikes me as Yang cheating the reader, but I would have liked more time spent with the characters as they make their significant decisions. The good news is Yang doesn’t sacrifice the emotion of their story, but since they develop the characters so well, that’s no surprise.

Yang’s style has shades of Sanderson in it, but their voice is all their own. The good news about this novella is it’s the first of four, and I can move straight into the second one. I’ll be paying attention to Yang’s future books, and I know I’ll be reading the second pair of books as soon as they’re released.

Started: October 12, 2017
Finished: October 16, 2017

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