The Beautiful Ones, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 24th October 2017
I wasn’t a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, though I liked it well enough, but I wanted to give more of her work a try. I wasn’t disappointed! The Beautiful Ones is a sort of Heyer-esque romance, only with magic as well — maybe Austen. You get the vague idea. It’s alternate universe, but there’s enough parallels that I just sort of nodded and accepted it as our-world-but-with-different-names. I’d have loved more world building about that, but it might have taken away from the character study and the romance, so I’m not too disappointed.
The characters, well. I spent a fair amount of time wanting to shake them into being sensible and communicating properly, but I enjoyed them and rooted for them — except of course for Valerie, who I didn’t quite hate (Moreno-Garcia does a reasonably good job of pointing out why she is the way she is), but who definitely isn’t a character to love. I found the lengths she ended up going to a bit unconvincing and unpleasant — sucks that it’s a guy who at the end decides to do the decent thing and come clean, and Valerie ends up being pretty irredeemable.
If you don’t like romance and novels of manners, this probably won’t appeal; if you do, then I recommend it. Even if you’re not so much into fantasy, really; that aspect is relatively slight.
Taste of Marrow, Sarah Gailey
Received to review; publication date 12th September 2017
Yay! More of Hero!
In a sense, I didn’t like this quite as much as the first story — because there’s a lot of dark stuff going on; Houndstooth is totally blinded in his search for Hero, and he doesn’t mind what he does (or who he does it to) along the way. In parallel, Adelia and Hero have to deal with Adelia’s baby being kidnapped, and Adelia doesn’t mind what she does (or who she does it to) along the way. That does give us some interesting development for Hero, as they try to help Adelia despite their usual tendency to stay in the background and the fact that Adelia tried to kill them. But mostly, I just wanted the old band back together again already.
The end of the book delivers on that, and was pretty much exactly what I wanted. I’d love to see more of these characters, together, with their hippos, and going on capers that don’t involve death, dismemberment, torture and bereavement.
In other words, hi Sarah Gailey, I am 10,000% here for Hero and Houndstooth setting up home, occasionally going on a riverboat to steal some shit or protect some hippos when they get bored.
First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
Received to review via Netgalley
I didn’t have high hopes for this, I admit, but what people said about it made it sound like some light fun.
Guys, this needs to come with trigger warnings. This review needs a trigger warning because it describes the problematic stuff. It opens with the main character having a sexy dream. Only it’s not just a dream: there’s some kind of supernatural agent behind it and it is actually a person who she knows. Okay… I’m a little dubious about the consent here because it sounds like he just jumps into her dreams and goes at it, but I’ll hold off. It’s clear she thinks she knows who the guy is and that she’s more or less okay with him having sex with her.
That’s fine, but I’m not along for the ride because it’s revealed later that they’ve met once before. She tried to help him in a situation which appeared to be horrific abuse, and he pinned her against a wall and groped her while asking if she’d ever been raped (read the scene quoted here).
THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. THIS IS NOT LIGHT FUN. I DO NOT WANT TO BE HERE.
Now, I’m not judging people who find bad boys sexy or whatever, and maybe somehow all that is dealt with. But it didn’t look like it was being dealt with, and I was very uncomfortable.
Given the importance of sex and who likes whom to the apparent plot (which is otherwise jerky and felt oddly paced), it’s perhaps not a surprise I didn’t get along with it in other ways either, but… yeesh. At the very least, I’m shocked no one I know has brought up that aspect of the plot/characterisation/pile of problematicness before.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I’m sorry. I don’t get it. I think I might’ve loved it if I read it at a formative age, but the basic concepts of fighting a great evil (and even some of the relationships between characters) reminded me mostly of The Dark is Rising, which I’m afraid has first place in my heart. I didn’t get the sense of wonder and fascination that I think it could’ve invoked, encountered at the right time, and I just felt rather impatient with the protagonists.
I’m not sure if I’ll read the other books or not – I know that if I’d gone on Over Sea, Under Stone alone, I’d never have finished Susan Cooper’s series. On the other hand, I just don’t enjoy the half fantastical, half scientific backdrop, and part of the reason I didn’t connect with the characters was because I couldn’t pin them down – one minute they seem painfully young and naïve, and the next I seem to be expected to root for a romance between them.
Really, it reminds me of so many other books — The Wizard of Oz, The Railway Children, The Dark is Rising, Little Women… It never quite became its own story for me.
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, Angela Saini
There’s a lot of science (and pseudo-science) out there about gender differences and how they affect the way we think. Intelligent people, male and female, often disagree about what exactly it all means, and how evolution has selected for male promiscuity, female passivity, and a host of other stereotypes about the sexes.
Saini has a go at untangling some of this, discussing inherent bias in the researchers looking at this kind of thing, and alternate models that are available for understanding gender differences. She’s definitely successful at making the conversation more complex. For example, a lot of theories have rested on similarities between humans and their close relatives, chimpanzees. Saini points out that other research has shown that bonobos are equally closely related to us, and they have an entirely different social structure.
It seems that easy answers aren’t available, but there are many theories, with supporting evidence, that suggest women have been equally important in forming the human race. That would be my belief, simply because (as Saini points out) pregnancy and childbirth are definitely an important point at which selection will act, particularly in humans where we seem to be dependent on having other support.
An interesting read, but nothing that I think is revolutionary or likely to convince people that male and female brains aren’t physically different in structure. Note: if you think of gender as being a spectrum rather than a binary, be aware that this book definitely treats it as a binary with two distinct sexes. It doesn’t touch on transgender men/women at all.
Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor
The title pretty aptly describes the book. It is a fun romp, as others have described, but I seriously think the writing needs tightening up — the plot jerks ahead with little sense of time passing (all of a sudden, two characters have known each other for five years — since when?! I thought they met a couple of months ago!) and there doesn’t seem to be a comfortable ending. It sort of goes, “Oh, and another thing.” And a couple of events rely on sexual assault, which… jdnsjgn. The author deals reasonably well with the character’s feelings afterwards, but it’s used twice as a vehicle for “this guy is really nasty, and oh the plot is moving”. Not my favourite trope, by far.
Also, also, the love interest once yells at the main character for very little reason except that someone told him she lost his baby, when she wasn’t intending to tell him she’d ever been (briefly) pregnant. He loses it and calls her a slut, etc, as do other people in the building. It’s more or less out of nowhere and out of character — and she forgives him with shocking ease.
It just didn’t quite come together for me, and honestly at times I wondered if I was reading the same book as other people. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the series.
Jhereg, Steven Brust
Ages ago, I read Jo Walton’s reviews of the Vlad Taltos books and resolved to read them immediately. I did pick up this first book, but after that failed to carry on, even though the first book is good and Jo’s reviews fascinating. There’s a lot going on in this world, and I really want to read more of the books to get a better grasp on it. In the meantime, Vlad Taltos himself is snarky, moderately capable, and definitely capable of getting himself into trouble. A winning combination – even without Looish, his jhereg companion.
It’s a fun beginning, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered (and sometimes even barely posed). This time, I mean it; I’ve gotta get on and read the rest!
The Lost City of Z, David Grann
I’ve been meaning to read The Lost City of Z for ages, especially since I read Douglas Preston’s The Lost City of the Monkey God. I’m not here for the exotic diseases and epic endurance of hacking through the jungle, though: I’m interested in the archaeology, and the resolution of the mysteries. Where are these cities, and did they exist at all? The Lost City of Z is interesting in terms of the exotic diseases, larger than life explorers and hacking through the jungle, along with some history of that drive to explore, and less so in actually finding the archaeology. It’s mostly focused on figuring out what happened to Percy Fawcett and his son on their final attempt at finding Z, as well as tracing their lives up to that point; less interesting to me, though it has its moments.
The last chapter, in which an archaeologist who lives in the Amazon actually explains where he thinks the great vanished cities are, is the most interesting to me. There’s echoes of the ritual landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury in his description of the palisade walls and ditches dug around the settlement — combined with the power of the jungle just reaching up and strangling all those remaining signs. That’s the book I find I really want, written by a Francis Pryor or Mike Parker Pearson of the Amazon.
How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson
How We Got to Now is a reasonably entertaining and easy to read survey of six topics which shaped the world we live in now, in various ways. The main benefit is that Johnson tries to look across disciplines and from different angles, and tries to capture the whole of the picture. The six topics he picked make sense: glass, (artificial) cold, (the understanding of) sound, hygiene, time (and the accuracy thereof) and (artificial) light — they’re summarised under six headings: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, light. That does sound a little odd with the title, since sound is hardly something we invented. Nonetheless, he makes good points about the way science and technology surrounding those topics has made our modern lives what they are.
Not world-shattering, but entertaining enough!
The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
I struggled a bit with this book, which surprised me. It’s not the fairytale-like narration, because that worked for me, nor the choice of setting (semi-historical Russia), or the characters, or the choice of fairytales to invoke. Perhaps it’s just that I felt I knew where it was going and how it would unfold, and I am so very tired of stories all about taming a wild young woman who doesn’t belong among her people.
It’s well written, and I enjoyed the Russian flavour – probably helped by the fact that I don’t know Russian well at all, so the words chosen to give a flavour didn’t contradict each other in the way they were Romanised or used. I do enjoy Vasya and her determination, her basic goodness, her love for her family and duty to the people who, unknowingly, relied upon her. I enjoyed the little snippets that joined it to history.
I just… didn’t quite click with it in some way I can’t put my finger on. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably pick up the second book to see how I get into that, but… something didn’t work for me.