Thursday, February 24, 2011

I read this (Jan/Feb 2011)

I am stealing Jae's format, because it's good.

List of books I've read and will not be giving the full recap treatment (on in the case of the ABVH books, not anytime soon), just ... because. And I know February is not done yet, but I've got a pretty busy next four days, so let's assume I'm not going to be finishing anything on my reading list.

 - Books 9 through 19 of the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series.
They were all shit. ALL TEN OF THEM. Some I minded very slightly less than others, but the difference is pretty much negligible. Thanks for ruining my life, LKH.

- Just After Sunset, by Stephen King.
It was OK. Not my favorite group of short stories by him, and a couple that were downright snooze-fests. The last King book I read was Duma Key, which I bloody loved, and a lot of these had the same kind of setting (isolated island town in the Florida Keys), but ... I think his best stuff has that whole New England thing going for it.

Funny, yes. Fall off the chair and die funny? Not quite. If you know nothing of this book, it's an interpretation of Aesop's Fables, but like ... in Sedaris vision. All the main characters are animals, and they say some fucked up shit. It's of course highly quotable (on owls, "It's not that they were stupid. They were actively against knowledge.") You can read the book in about 40 minutes cover-to-cover, so pick it up to have over Sunday breakfast or something.

- Life From Scratch (Melissa Ford)
Um? It wasn't the worst thing I've ever read. It's a Lifetime movie in book form. It would probably give Oprah wet dreams. It's kind of like Julie & Julia meets Eat Pray Love and manages to somehow not completely choke on it's own saccharine estrogen. But hey. It was free.

Friday, February 18, 2011

After The Leaves Fall

This is a quickie, because I seriously need to tell someone that I just unwittingly read a fucking Christian novel and I feel UNCLEAN.

I downloaded this book for the same reason I download anything – it was free, and available (and still is free, I believe, if you want to subject yourself to it). I skimmed the plot summary and it seemed like a reasonably interesting story. It’s chock full of themes that have a certain resonance to me (dead parents, frequent identity crises, floundering, etc) and the first few chapters are really beautifully written. I mean, really, well done, first-time-novel-writer Nicole Baart. You hooked my cynical heart with your agonizingly poetic discussions of death and time and the human condition.

I was a full two-thirds of the way through the book before I could confirm my suspicion that this was a book inherently about god. There is NOTHING overt in the title or description on Amazon that goes HEY I’M A CHRISTIAN BOOK YOU GUYS JUST FYI. Sinister. Decidedly NOT Christ-like. I mean, it never got all preachy and weird, which I think may have been actually a point against it. I feel like if you’re going to push religion at me, please be upfront and beat me over the head with it. Do not try and sneakily slide Jesus into subtext. I have, like, a serious loathing of religious allegory. If you’re going to tell me a story, tell me a story. If you’re going to try and convert me, then give a bitch a heads up. Do not pretend you are entertaining me and then slip your Glory Hand up my fucking skirt. I did not give you permission. You are raping my brain, asshole.

Whatever. It’s a book about a girl who’s mom is a total jerk and abandons her at the tender age of 9. Then her dad gets cancer and dies when she’s 15. So she spends a lot of time meandering and wondering who she is and how she fits in with society as a whole. She has insane and unrequited love for her BFF/Neighbor Dude, which is a constant source of heartbreak and misery. She goes off to college and randomly picks Engineering as her major and realizes that Holy Fuck Engineering Is Totally Hard, and the whole thing devolves into a sort of panicky My Life Is A Failure type swan song. She hooks up with some d-bag and gets knocked up. THEN shit gets ultra, suddenly capital-G-God is everywhere, and she drops out of school to raise her bastard child with her grandmother in a farmhouse and talks a lot about her spiritual journey. The ending is abrupt and kind of badly written; which makes me believe that this author’s true talents lie in actual storytelling and not cliché’ Christian rhetoric.

The first few chapters are worth it (it’s free, for gods sake), and it does hook you so you’ll probably end up finishing it if you get that far. Just saying. You’ve been warned. At some point, Jesus will jump out from behind a rock and teabag your face.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lunatic Cafe (AB:VH Book 4)

I hope the fact that it took me over a month to write this is indicative of how little I want to write this. Honestly, I would have done it sooner, but, like, I have a life, a busy one, and it’s hard to write about shitty books when you spend most of your time juggling forty thousand spreadsheets and being elbows deep in forcemeat.* And as shitty books go, HOOBOY, this one is a doozy. I’m going to preemptively apologize for the amount of parenthetical comments I will be making. I cannae help myself, captain. I simply cannae.

On to it, then!

Upon reflection, this book is where the cast of characters begins to get absolutely ridic. Note the use of of “begins” – because it gets worse. Like, stick-my-fucking-tongue-on-the-business-end-of-a-9-volt worse. We are introduced to – count ‘em – seven reoccurring characters in this book. That’s reoccurring! That is NOT counting the periphery, characters who are introduced and then die by the end, or the already-established characters (twelve, at this point, yes, twelve). So, by the end of book FOUR OF TWENTY, there are already NINE-FUCKING-TEEN characters you mostly need to keep track of. I don’t even know how many altogether. More. A lot more. I mean, seriously? Why is that big a cast necessary, when at the end of the day, all of them are reduced to barely sentient beings who’s only real thoughts involve “I love Anita,” “I hate Anita,” “I want to have sex with Anita,” or any combination thereof. LKH’s characters are like Ikea furniture: cheap, barely functional, generically pretty, and named something stupid.

Anyway. We kick off like we do with most of her books; introduced to some dude who wants Anita to do something – professional or other, who cares. Only this dude doesn’t want zombies raised like, you know, she does -  he wants his missing werewolf wife found. There is no explanation for why this dude would go to Blake’s office with such a request at this point in the storyline, so I can only imagine it’s because her amazing magnetism is like a bug zapper for whackjobs. She’s all, fuck off, and sends him to her BFF Ronnie – let’s call her Filler, because that’s all she is, ever – who is a private dick (heh) and handles problems like missing werewolf wives (werewives?)

Later, Blake and blossoming boyfriend Richard (whom, you will be told half a million times, is HOT and ACTS LIKE A BIG BOYSCOUT and WEARS HIS HAIR BACK TO FOOL PEOPLE INTO THINKING IT’S SHORT because lord knows a ponytail is the ultimate mindfuck) take in a rousing performance of Guys And Dolls (um, really, LKH?). Richard is all “I love musicals and wear tight shirts but I’m seriously not gay,**” and Anita is all “OMG stop looking at the crowds like you’re high and they’re Funions” and at some point Jean-Claude (JC!) shows up and says JC-type stuff in Frenglish about Richard being an alpha wolf *** who needs to stop being all meh and start fighting for control of the local wolfpack, or … I don’t fucking know, the scene is so haphazardly written that it’s difficult to relay anything.

At some point during that hot mess, and following the patented LKH formula, DOLPH calls Blake and is all “I have called 20% into the novel as required with a request for you to come to this grisly crime scene and check out some shit, and I will not say goodbye before I hang up” – so she jettisons off to go wade in gore. En route, some crazy vampire bitch kicks Blake’s ass for no actual reason other than adding another unnecessary character into the fray for the later books (where she remains as useless), but I’d rather not spend any more time on that bullshit than I just did.

Crime scene, dead things, 20 pages of Blake asserting herself as a powerful woman who will persevere despite the fact that all men hate strong woman and all cops hate women in general and blah blah. Dead thing. Killed by shapeshifter. Homigod.

And because this day (yes, day, this is one day) apparently has 94 hours ****, Blake goes home and runs into a sniveling reporter werewolf (whom in my head is the nerdy pharmacist from Family Guy) that Richard The Boyfriend was all throwing down with the leader werewolf, but because of his inherent boyscout nature (see) wouldn’t kill him and now shit is hitting the fan, or something, and leader werewolf is all GET ME ANITA BLAKE BECAUSE SHE IS SOMEHOW RELEVANT TO THIS.

You know what? I can’t finish this recap in this vein. Too much happens, and none of it is actually interesting. It’s all, like, foundation work for things that matter (as much as anything ever matters) later.

Here are some key points:

-          We meet the werewolf pack and its cast of MANY characters. We find out that many of them are completely fucked up in a BDSM-Goes-Ultra-And-Lands-In-A-Pile-Of-Snuff way, and many are not. Jason & Raina show up, who are kind of relevant later, in the patented LKH way of making someone relevant but still totally unnecessary.
-          We are continuously treated to Richard whining about how much his life sucks
-          Anita is still a prude and is not putting out.
-          Edward/Robocop kills stuff. And enjoys it.
-          There’s a fucking traitorous wereswan. That’s right. I said WERESWAN. As in, A DUDE WHO TURNS INTO A SWAN.
-          Blake decides that she will just have to start dating JC along with Richard, because JC threatened to kill Richard otherwise. Which? Really? This is the premise of your relationship? And you’re not spending every moment of your dates in sheer fucking terror? To say nothing of how agreeing to this ultimatum is essentially against every single character trait we have been made to believe to this point? What’s that you say, LKH? Oh! THAT’S HOW YOU ROLL.

Anyway, the story ends with some nasty jerk cops (see above, you know, the ones that hate women) who hired the wereswan to send them shapeshifters to hunt, and because the wereswan is a dick (wouldn’t you be?), he was all “sure” and proceeded to be the ringleader of some bizarre were-poaching ring. And all the REALLY bad guys die at the end and all the kind-of bad guys live to see another shitty book.

Ta da!

I’m not linking this trash. If you want it badly enough, you know how to search Amazon.

*I am taking EVERY opportunity to say “elbows deep in forcemeat”  - how do you NOT?
** "No seriously, wait til later when gay stuff happens and I turn into CRAZY BIGOT RAGE RICHARD"
*** My thoughts: if you can change into a wolf at will and kill things, it is implied you are about as alpha as you are ever going to get
**** Or it exists in a tardis, and is larger on the inside than it is on the outside (snare drum, and there, I just won a bet about not being able to knowledgably reference TV shows I don’t watch; in your face, pal)

In All Seriousness [Living Dead Girl]

This story is seriously fucked up. The last time I recall being emotionally disturbed by a book was in October when I read Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Living Dead Girl is way more shocking. (On all accounts, Stolen is also a pretty fucked up book, but I was more disturbed by my reaction to the ending than by the actual story itself. I may re-read and talk about it in future, but we'll see.)

Living Dead Girl, narrated mostly in 1st person, is about Alice. Alice is a 15 year old girl living with a man named Ray. When she was 10, Ray abducted her during a school trip. For the past 5 years, he has been mentally and physically abusing Alice. He takes her real name, starves her, sexually abuses her, beats her and breaks her mind. All she wants is to leave him (either bodily or through death), but he threatens to kill the family he took her from if she ever tries to go. Now that her body no longer resembles that of a child, Alice knows that her time with Ray is coming to an end because she is not the first girl he has taken. She has been so broken by Ray that she will do anything he wants to make him leave her alone. What he wants is almost more horrific than what he has already done to her.

Living Dead Girl is nominally YA Fiction. I know that Elizabeth Scott is a YA author but I do wonder if it was classified as YA only because the narrator is a 15 year old girl. It's not mis-categorized precisely, but it's so intense that if I had read this in my teens, I would have been crying for a week. Young people are way more resilient than they are often given credit for, but honestly, this story was so distressing that I could barely sleep after reading it. I felt (and still feel) a little nauseated and weepy. I don't regret reading it, but I do think it will live in my head a lot longer than I want it to.

The weird thing is that the writing is so spare that it's almost euphemistic. Because it's so simple, it drives home the fact that Alice, despite everything that has been done to her, is still very much a child. She has not been in school for 5 years and as a result, still has a child's grasp of language. Alice's desperation and hopelessness is so much more because she isn't dressing things up with fancy words. She is simply telling her life as she experiences it.

I say read it. It's not a happy story and there are no heroes but it is powerful. I've written and re-written this because I keep getting swept away by the horror of Alice's story and losing sight of what Elizabeth Scott is saying: That the easy part is telling victims that they didn't try hard enough. The hard part is that we have to listen even when someone doesn't (or can't) use words to ask for help. That we have to look and not be so caught up in our own shit that we can't see other people.

I haven't read anything else by Elizabeth Scott, but from what I've seen, this book is drastically different from her other work. I'm grateful for that because I'd like to read her other books and if they were anything like this one, I wouldn't be able to. I need something happier to soothe my heart. Ideally, something with rainbows, unicorns, and elves. And maybe a dragon or two.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In the Country of the Young

After I finished reading this, I wasn't sure if I was going to cry or cheer. I was reading a UF book and put it down for this and going back to it immediately after felt kind of irreverent. This is not meant to be a slight against Zoe Archer because I'm really enjoying Scoundrel, but the tone of the 2 books is so vastly different that I'm torn. Which is weird because In the Country of the Young is essentially a ghost story with boners and Scoundrel is a magic story with boners. So, superficially they aren't really that different.

In the Country of the Young is set on a fictional island off the coast of Maine called Tiranogue. More than a century ago, an Irish emigrant shipped wrecked off the coast of this island. Amongst many others, a very young girl died unnoticed and alone. In the present, Oisin MacDara is an artist known for romancing the local ladies (seducing is a better descriptor but it has some negative connotations that I don't like) and being a weird recluse. One day he notices that he is being visited by a ghost (the ghost of the young girl who died, this is established very early and takes nothing away from the suspense of the story, shut up). Oisin had the second sight as a young child so being haunted is not alarming to him. His notice of Aisling somehow enables her to become corporeal and she basically moves herself in. As she continues to live with him, both of them are changed and touched in ways that neither can predict.

The story is beautifully written, disturbing, sometimes uncomfortable, impossibly sad, and incredibly hopeful. The story moves back and forth through present time and past recollections and each aspect of their past flavors their interactions with each other and the secondary characters. Oisin's twin sister died when they were young and his longing for her seems palpable. Aisling's brother died on the trip from Ireland and her memories show him as the only person in her world who cared for her. Each time parts of their individual history are revealed, the relationship between Oisin and Aisling seems to rebuild itself from the ground up. And while there is a fair amount of sex in the book, it never seems to be there just to titillate. Sex is just part of the way Oisin learned to interact with the world. And it's descriptive, but not graphic.

So yeah, read it, it's weird and beautiful (and short).

I read this

Here's what I read in January. I'm sure I missed a couple but you don't care.

Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks: I HATE YOU (Literary Fiction, I don't care)

The Spirit Lens , Book 1 of The Collegia Magica by Carol Berg: Slow start, but otherwise really intriguing. It took 2 weeks to finish the first 100 pages and then I glommed the next 300 pages in 2 days. (Fantasy)

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier: OH YES (YA Fantasy, anthology)

The Iron Duke, Book 1 of The Iron Seas by Meljean Brook: Yes with disclaimers (Paranormal Romance? Fantasy with boners? I don't know)

Fledgling by Octavia Butler: Despite reading a lot of UF, I am generally reluctant to read vampire books, at least to start, but this book is seriously excellent. If Octavia Butler hadn't died, I would write her a letter demanding more. (Urban Fantasy)

The Butterfly Revolution by William Butler: Why not, it's interesting AND short. (YA Fiction)

Midsummer Magic, Book 1 of the Magic Trilogy by Catherine Coulter: No, don't bother, this is what people think of when they think of old school romance novels but with less rape. (Romance)

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie: Dear Jenny, I love you very much. This book is awesomely entertaining plus hot sex. Thanks. (Romance)

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen: I HATE YOU MORE (Literary Fiction, fuck you)

Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, and Circus of the Damned, Books 1, 2, and 3 of AB:VH by Laurell K. Hamilton: see here, here, and here (Urban Fantasy)

Immortal Warrior and Immortal Champion, Books 1 and 3 of The Immortal Brotherhood by Lisa Hendrix: Yes. Magic, ye olden tymes, shape shifters, plus hot sex. (Paranormal Romance)

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, Book 1 of Strangely Beautiful by Leanna Renee Hieber: Snooze. Don't bother. (Paranormal Romance, time for a nap)

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson: Read this. I can't do this justice in quick form. Maureen Johnson is one of my top 3 YA authors, I have read all of her full length novels and I love them all and CRAPFTS. (YA Fiction)

Boneshaker, Book 1 of the Clockwork Century by Cherie Priest: Yes but not YES. It was satisfying but not quite. Hopefully, Dreadnought will be better. (Sci-fi)

Siren's Call, Book 1 of Dark Tides by Devyn Quinn: I couldn't finish this. I may have thrown it across the room in disgust. Mermaids and Atlantis and the True Love/Fate/Mate trifecta? No thanks. I've read Atlantis books that were awesome, but this doesn't even swim close. (Paranormal Romance, fuck no)

Shadow Heart, Book 4 of Shadow March by Tad Williams: Yes and thank god it's over. I really enjoyed all 4 books, but I'm not sure I'm happy with the ending. (Fantasy)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Zombie-OMG [Zombies vs. Unicorns]

Duh. Team Zombie. DUH. I like unicorns in all of their variations, even the rainbow farting ones, but TEAM ZOMBIE. No question.

Zombies vs. Unicorns has stories from: Garth Nix, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Naomi Novik, Carrie Ryan, Maureen Johnson, Diana Peterfreund, Scott Westerfield, Meg Cabot, Cassandra Clare, Kathleen Duey, and Libba Bray. The anthology is edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix
Meh. It's got zombies AND unicorns but it's too short. Yes, I know it's called a short story for a reason. This is why I don't like short stories. I've read some of his other YA stuff though and it's really good.

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Yeh. Zombie romance? Yes please. I've never read her other stuff, but I'm going to.

Purity Test by Naomi Novik
Meh. I liked it but? It was funny but? I had to look this one up because I honestly couldn't remember what it was about. HOWEVER, I love the fuck out of her Temeraire series. That one is regular Fantasy for adults. Or for people who like dragons. No, those are not mutually exclusive terms.

Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan
YEH! Abrupt ending, but more please. She has a series called The Forest of Hands and Teeth wherein this short story is set and it has jumped to sort-of-the-top of my TBR list. My TBR list has more than 300 books on it, so this sounds a lot less awesome than it is.

A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan
Uhh? I liked it? But it's creepy and kind of gross. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it but it was a good story. Her book Tender Morsels is also sort-of-near-the-top of my TBR list. But honestly, I added it because of the dust-up over at Bitch Magazine.

The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson
Meh. I REALLY wanted to love this one. Maureen Johnson is one of my favorite YA authors. This is the only story of hers that I have ever felt ambivalent about. I'M SORRY MAUREEN, I LOVE YOU.

The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund
Yeh. More please. This one is also based in a series/alternaverse that I would like to read more about.

Inoculata by Scott Westerfield
Yeh. Oh YEH. His stuff has been on my list for awhile, but I keep getting distracted by shiny things. But now, for REAL, Leviathan is coming up soon.

Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot
Yeh. This is the one with the rainbow farting unicorn. She wrote The Princess Diaries, but I won't hold it against her.

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare
Uhh? It was a little short. But on the other hand, I think if it had been longer or traversed a longer timeline, it would have been a little too creepy venturing into OH GOD NO. But her other stuff equals win. I've read most of it.

The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey
Yeh. This story is really dark. Also, unicorns? Not so fluffy here.

Prom Night by Libba Bray
YEH. This may actually be my favorite. This one is really dark too. I've only read a couple of her short stories, but she's also on my list.

In spite of the dingers, as a whole, I say HELL YES. The stories are funny or gross or creepy or romantic or a combination of all that plus some other adjectives. Plus, the book itself is awesome looking (I borrowed this from the library because the Kindle version just doesn't do it justice). And you would think that with such a narrow theme that the stories would kind of meld together but YOU WOULD BE WRONG. And even when they start in familiar places, they move into something unexpected. I'm going to go read it again.

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier