Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

I can’t believe it took me this long to find Walter Mosley. As a lover of mystery and detective fiction I’m a little embarrassed about the oversight.

I’d heard the name before, mostly dropped in podcasts or conversations about books in an offhand “I’m not going to recommend anything by Mosley, because obviously everybody who is anybody knows about him and has read everything that he’s written already” sort of a way. And instead of asking about him I would, desperate as always to seem cool and in the know, nod my head and say ” yeah, obviously” and then change the subject as quickly as I could. The first few times I didn’t really think anything of it, there’s authors that people name drop a bunch that I have no time for (reading Charles Dickens makes me want to claw my eyes out and Jane Austen can suck a lemon) but eventually I heard it enough that I started to keep my peepers peeled. And holy shit am I ever glad I did.

This is quite possibly the best first novel in a detective series I’ve ever read. The mystery itself is tight and well-plotted, with a decent twist that I didn’t see coming (although the impact of the reveal has probably changed over the last few decades since the book was released. I was surprised, but by its very nature it doesn’t mean what it used to mean), but it’s the world, and the people in it, that really set this book apart. I don’t know anything about Walter Mosley, where’s he’s lived or what his life has been like, but he has to have pulled some of these people and places from his own experience. The settings are so specific and lived in, the people and their relationships to one another so complex and interesting and real, that they can’t be made up from whole cloth. I won’t believe it.

And all this centers around the main character, Easy Rawlins (which, by the by, what a name), who is the perfect down on his luck detective. He’s a good guy, generally, but he’s not perfect. Yeah, he takes money for things and regrets it, and sometimes he gets involved with women when he knows he shouldn’t, but overall he’s a pretty decent dude. He’s tough as nails and he doesn’t take shit, but he doesn’t hurt people when he doesn’t have to. Easy is a hell of a creation, and a great character to rest a series on.

Recommended for anybody and everybody that likes mysteries, noirish fiction set in the post-war era, and detectives novels with some subtle (and some not so subtle) social commentary mixed in.

VBR

 

 

 

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Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Well howdy there friends! It’s been a little while. How have you been? How’s your life? Now that I’m finally done organizing bachelorette parties and almost balling while trying to give speeches and drinking my body weight in fermented, tasty beverages, we can finally get back to the thing that brought us all here: delightful, delicious, wonderful books.

Or, you know, this one.

Now before we get into the review I want to make clear that there are things that I did really like about this novel. Pollock is a hell of a writer, and even when I wasn’t having any fun, I was still burning through it, pulled from one situation to the next to see where it lead. That’s enough, in my opinion, to classify this as a good book, even if it’s not a particularly enjoyable one.

Unfortunately, you can be the wordsmith of our age, writing the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, but if your character work is lacking, you’re going to lose me. The reason that I read is to experience other people’s lives, to slide myself into the brain of someone else. It’s why I’m here. And I’m not against doing that with a vile person every now and again, but…they have to feel real. I have to buy it. Every character in this book was a caricature. All of them the vilest, slimiest, most self-serving pieces of trash that humanity could come up with. So over the top in their quirky grossness that they didn’t even really seem human anymore. The first time he introduced a couple of them I was intrigued, the second time a little wary, and by the fourth or fifth just tired of it. If they weren’t dumb and vile to their bones they were evil. If they were neither, if there was a single ounce of goodness in them, then they were pathetic and doomed to suffer. It was just an unending slog of sadness and pain, with nowhere to look for redemption of any kind.

Maybe that’s the crux of this whole thing. No redemption for anybody. And yes, I know, not every story needs it, not everybody needs to find absolution, but I don’t feel like there was a single satisfying character arc in this whole book. Shitty people kept being shitty till they died from it, nobody got any better, nobody learned any lessons, nobody did anything at all, except for damage and wound and die. Even the main character, the one I think you’re supposed to relate to the most, doesn’t change much. After the first thirty or so pages he grows into a man who uses violence to solve his problems, and that’s where he stays until the end. And he is better than the others, but he’s not good. He’s motivated by a slightly more moral viewpoint than almost anybody else in the novel, but he’s still brutal. He may not want to kill, but when he’s backed into a situation where he feels like he has to, he does. Over and over again. To the point where it’s tiresome, where I didn’t see what the author was trying to say, if he was trying to say anything at all.

I’d recommend this book for people who like southern gothics that tend towards the gritty and filthy and violent, people who like their characters as gross and mean and pathetic as they can get them, and anyone who doesn’t mind a story where the morale is “people are shitty and will probably try and kill you”.

VBR

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik (Temeraire Wrap Up)

Ugh, you gals, I finalllllllllllllllllly did it!

Sorry that took so long! It’s partly because this was one big-ass series (9 books), and partly because during the last week I got a weird stomach flu that kept me from doing anything other than throwing up and ruining my best friend’s birthday. But I’m here! I did it! Yay me!

This series was great. I loved it from the first book, but early on there were a few problems that I wasn’t really sure how she was going to address. How do you make somebody root for colonial England, knowing what they’ve done? How do you then set them against Napoleon, when he’s treating his dragons better than those he’s fighting? How do you reconcile what you know about the world, with the belief system that your main character is going to have because of the time and place that he came from? This was set in a pretty savage part of human history, right in the thick of European colonialism, a time and place with countless political sticky wickets to get stuck in.

And honestly? I think Naomi Novik did about as good of a job as a person could do. She skillfully separates your sympathy from the government that’s fighting the war to the people fighting it, by pitting them against each other whenever the government does something immoral (like still supporting the slave trade, or deliberately spreading a disease among the rest of the dragons in the world, to give British aerial forces superiority) and showing them as being as foul and self-serving as they were (and are, and have always been). By the end of the books Will seems to have completely transferred his sense of duty from said government, the thing he used to look up to, to just the general good of the world. He does what needs to be done, no matter where that is or who it’s for. He makes it easy to cheer for him.

I spent some time on Will’s (the main character, other than Temeraire) personal growth in the last post, so I won’t go on and on about it here. Suffice it to say that he continually learns his way past his problematic English ideas about women, and doesn’t seem to really have any problem with racism or homophobia (to be fair, he does get hellllla uncomfortable when one of the party tells him that he’s gay, but I felt it was more his upper-crusty British mortification at somebody having to reveal anything personal about themselves to him, especially about sex, than it was homophobia). He’s a good character, easy to love and stand behind.

As for Napoleon, even though he does seem to have some good points about the treatment of dragons (who in this universe are intelligent and feeling creatures), she makes it pretty clear that his motives are selfish and that he’d do anything to get the supremacy that he craves. The sheer amount of bodies he climbs over to get what he wants solves the problem of connecting with him too much pretty neatly, though Naomi still manages to write him in a way where I didn’t hate him. I still understood him and why he was doing what he did. I had some sympathy for him, just not a lot.

One of the other things that I really, really dug about these books was getting to see how Novik had imagined our world would be changed by having these big, hulking, thinking weapons in it. Because dragons were everywhere, the invention of cannons as effective means of waging war didn’t knock askew the balance of power the way that they did in our world (it was actually more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this blog post from completely getting away from me). I’ve always wondered what the world would have looked like if British (and other European) people hadn’t fucked it so hard, if they’d left American and African cultures to develop unmolested. Novik takes a run at what that would look like and it’s great, smart and well thought out. About as good as anybody not within those cultures themselves could’ve done. It scratched a fiction itch I’ve had for a long time. Plus it was just satisfying to see the English try and do all the shitty things that they’d done throughout our history, but fail miserably.

As much as I loved the books, I do have one bone to pick with Naomi Novik, and it’s this: Tenzin and Will. Are you kidding me? You spent the whole series building this beautiful relationship between the two, where they depended on and anchored one another, where they understood and cared for each other (Tenzin was the one that stopped Will from compromising himself morally when he was in despair over being branded a traitor. And when Will lost his memory, seeing Tenzin was the thing that brought it back. Not Temeraire, not his essentially adopted daughter, not his friends. Tenzin) and in the end…nothing. Well, not nothing. They built a wonderful life long friendship blah blah blah. But I was expecting, hoping for, more. It would have been nice to finally get a relationship in fiction between two masculine, heroic characters that generally identify as straight (if you, like me, are looking for varying representation of LGBTQ people in fiction, hit up Black Sails. It’s way, way better than it’s lousy first season would have you believe), and it really seemed like that’s what she was building up to, and then just…nope. I know you can’t always get what you want, but I really, really wanted this and was super disappointed when it didn’t happen.

Okay! I recommend this series for alternate history nerds, dragon lovers (I feel like that might mean something weirder than I meant it to. No judgement!), and anybody who likes long-ass, satisfying, well written, well-thought out fantasy series. Novik put a boatload of work into these books, and it shows. It’s been a while since I liked a series this much.  Just more gays next time please!

VBR

 

Ps. I did have one more tiny quibble that I just can’t bring myself to leave without mentioning. In one of the books Will loses his memory, which is a story trope that I haaaaaaaaaaate, and one that went on for a lot longer than it should have. I’m not really sure why she included it. The story doesn’t seem like it would’ve changed that much if he’d known who he was all along. I kind of held out hope that it was to set up how important Tenzin had become to him, but that ended up being nothing so…yeah. Not really what that was about, but it wasn’t for me. If you’re like me and you hate that kind of thing, be warned, it’s a big portion of one of the biggest books. Other than that though, dive in!

 

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

I know, I know, I know. You’re tired of hearing about Game of Thrones. Trust me, I am too. Twitter has nothing else to talk about and my Facebook feed has been clogged with review posts and spoiler posts and theory posts. Hostelworld even sent me an email to let me know about the “Game of Thrones locations” that were on sale. It’s reaching Star Wars-esque levels of cultural saturation (I went into a grocery store one time during the Force Awakens madness and, I shit you not, saw a Star Wars themed bag of oranges. I mean, just…what?), and I bet you’d all rather read about something, anything, else.

BUT! Here we are. And despite the super cool dude persona I’ve been cultivating by bucking all the trends, seeing the Game of Thrones-y stuff out there has reminded me of how much I love the Song of Ice and Fire books, and why.

These novels are essentially famous for two things: their extremity and their bleakness (three, I guess, if you count the world building, which is bananas good and in depth). They’re hella violent, chock full of sex (mostly not of the romantic, vanilla variety), and filled to the brim with terrible people doing horrible things. Nothing ever goes right for anybody and whenever it does seem like everything might, finally, work out, somebody does something selfish or terrible and everything falls to pieces again. The thing that people don’t often talk about though, is why these books are so brutal and bleak, and what it means.

Brace yourselves, I’m about to get very mildly controversial: George R.R. Martin has written one of the best long-form anti-war series of all time. The world he built is harsh and unfair, yes, but that’s because it’s a world at war. There’s constant commentary about how badly the common people are used for the personal ambitions of the rich and powerful, how little violence solves, how futile and fleeting and empty conquest or power can be. The countryside of Westeros is cracked and fractured, its people broken and hungry, and for what? The leaders who have used that blood to buy them power rarely hold it for long, and when they do they usually find that it’s not exactly what they were expecting. More often than not they meet an end that’s even more undignified and bloody than the people they stepped on to get to their crowns. The horrors he depicts in his series aren’t just for shock value or to serve as a counter-weight to the lighter, fluffier fantasy fare that was popular when this series first arrived, they’re meant to convey his genuine disgust at warfare and the way it had often been treated in fantasy up until that point.

Which leads me to my next point about this series. There have been some accusations levied against the books and their treatment of women as misogynistic. Now before I embark on the sticky wicket that is trying to explain why I don’t think those accusations are entirely fair (with one notable exception), I’m going to acknowledge straight off the bat that what I think doesn’t really matter. If you’re wounded by something, or offended by something, somebody telling you that it’s neither dangerous nor offensive doesn’t really mean anything. The fact that you pulled it out of the text is evidence enough that it was there, somewhere. You get from a story what you get from it, and I can’t, and wouldn’t really want, to change that. I just have a different interpretation of it, and since this blog is my own personal exercise in self-indulgent word spewage, that’s what you’re about to read. Unless, you know, you don’t want to. You’re an adult and the internet is filled with other places to read things. But, if you do stick around and just disagree, please, counter-interpretations in the comments! I’m interested in hearing about the different ways people see and think about things. Just nothing using scenes from the show as a basis for your arguments please. They’ve made some choices there that are different from the novels, ones that I feel absolutely no desire to defend.

Truly awful, terrible things happen to women in these books. They’re beaten, they’re raped, they’re murdered. They’re caged and kept and traded in marriages for political advantage. And while I agree that the behaviour towards women in the books is misogynistic and gross as hell, I don’t think the books themselves are. Those acts are never framed as a positive or (again with one exception, which I’ll get to at the end) used to titillate. The people who commit the acts are depicted as the monsters that they are, and often meet ends that are as cruel as they deserve. The treatment of women by patriarchal societies in wartime (and, you know, always) is one of vilest parts of human history. It’s not pleasant to read about, and I totally get it if it’s inclusion in the books makes you just not want to bother with them at all, but it does fit with the theme of the novels. He’s shining a light on all the ugly parts of war, even the hardest ones to look at, to strip away the nobility and glory and honor that normally gets heaped on them by the genre. At least, that’s what I think (and hope) he’s trying to do. Do I think he always pulls it off perfectly? Hell, no. Our introduction to Dany in the first novel is a particularly bad example. I read something by him a little while ago pushing back against the criticisms of his books by saying that Dany’s wedding night was handled better in the novels than in the show because Drogo asks permission before they sleep together, sort of, but…no. Dany’s a child, around thirteen years old, and Drogo is a grown ass man, which, no matter how you frame it, is pretty fucking gross. Not to mention that she’s in a strange environment, surrounded by only him and his people, with no friends or support, no idea what would happen if she displeased him. That, in no way shape or form, is a situation which is conducive to consent. Plus, the writing of that scene is really…ooky. It’s a major mistep, but not representative of the books on a whole.

There’s also just a ton of strong, badass ladies in his books that either use the rules of the patriarchal system that they’re trapped in to their advantage, or just disregard them completely. Cersei may be vile and short-sighted, cruel and self-centred, but she’s a force of nature. Arya and Brienne are some of my all-time favourite characters, in any stories, and Sansa gets far less credit than she deserves.

Anywhoodle! Just to wrap this up I’ll say that while I loved all these books, and think they’re all definitely worth reading, the first is still probably my favourite. It was so different from anything that I’d read at the time, so completely new, and the ending of the Ned Stark storyline is still, to this day, one of the most bold, surprising things I’ve read in a fantasy series.

Recommended if you like your fantasies big and sprawling and complex, if don’t mind watching people you’ve grown attached to fail and probably die, and if you’re not put off by whole paragraphs devoted to the description of various types of glazed meats.

 

VBR

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This book holds such a weird and conflicted place in my heart.

I read it when I was really, really young. Probably too young, but I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was like nine and read A Game of Thrones when I was around eleven, so that ship had pretty much sailed (and just as a by the by, nothing to do with my parents. I was a particularly determined and underhanded kid, and though they were pretty liberal with the art they allowed me to consume, there were a few things I never gave them the opportunity to object to).

This novel (and the series that followed) had a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first hard scifi book I’d ever read. The first to treat intelligent children not just like they matter, but like they’re useful, dangerous even (which seems a little strange to frame as a positive, I know, but treating somebody like a threat is, in a weird way, an acknowledgement of their capability. I was a clever kid who was tired of being treated like a child, and something about this really got to me). It was also the first genre book series I’d encountered with themes of pacifism and anti-warmongering at its core, along with some pretty strong messages about the dangers of othering people you don’t understand, how much fear that can generate, and how easily that fear can turn to hate. This series helped to shape not only my taste in fiction and art, but also my idea of the adult that I wanted to grow up to be.

One of the perks of getting at this so young was that I was able to read it and love it, the whole series, without having much of a chance to encounter or care about the author’s personal politics. At that point I didn’t even know what my own were, and if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have really understood what you meant. Besides, I’d never been the type who worships the maker of the art. It’s the art itself that I’d always been interested in. That’s where all the swords and laser beams and forbidden, sweaty love is. Author’s names weren’t much more than a helpful reference tool for me to find more books that I wanted to read.

It was only years later (like a decade and a half actually), after several rereads of the series and numerous recommendations to people, that I heard anything about it. It was just an offhand comment on a podcast of some kind, and I didn’t really think anything of it. Then I heard something else. Then again. And eventually I was compelled to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t really ever done. I turned to Lord Google (All Hail its Knowledge and Supreme Benevolence) for some info on a guy I had kind of assumed was a collection of monkeys and typewriters. And it broke my heart.

How could somebody that wrote about peace and compassion, about overcoming prejudice by trying to understand the things you fear, support such hateful, awful garbage? He was one of the first people to teach me that love and life is complicated, but that compassion and community, relationships, are the things that make life worth living, and we should take them where we can. Unless you’re gay and you want to get married, I guess. A man can love a female voiced A.I. (which…it’s a computer program. You can name it Jane and give it a lady’s voice and that still doesn’t mean it’s a woman), but he can’t love another man, another human being? I don’t get it.

At first learning this didn’t really change the way I interacted with the series itself. Death of the author, right?* No matter what he espoused in his personal life, it didn’t change the message that I got from his book, the lessons it taught me, the positive impact it had. And most of the people I know who read it got a lot of the same things from it that I did, so the book itself is a net good, right? Even if the man isn’t.

But…it’s not that simple. It would be great if we could interact with the art we love without having to worry about the person who made it, but we can’t. By purchasing the book (I’ve repurchased it at least three or four times), and reading it, raving about it, telling people in my life to do the same, I’m contributing to something. Yes, the book itself has a positive message, but the money that I, and all the people I convinced to buy it, spent isn’t getting thrown down a well. That money, or a portion of it anyways, is going to Orson Scott Card, and he’s using it to fight against people like me being able to get married. That’s super fucked up.

When you buy art you’re not just supporting the creation of more art like it (although you are doing that), you’re providing power and a platform to the person who’s creating it. I know you can’t be checking every single thing that you consume (is every actor in every television show I watch a good person? Is the CEO of the company that makes the plastic that houses the grape tomatoes I like a SJW?), but I think it’s well past the time where we acknowledge that who we give our money to matters. So let’s try our best not to give it to dick bags like this, okay?

Recommended for sexually confused, politcally oblivious pre-teens with low self-esteem, and…um…people who didn’t read the review I just wrote, I guess?

VBR

Ps. Honestly, if you decide to just keep ignoring authors (or musicians or directors or whatever) and reading books, I really don’t blame you. I still don’t look into every author that I read (I would never get ANYTHING done. I mean…I don’t really get that much done now. But even less. I would get EVEN LESS STUFF DONE), and anybody that says that they do is either lying or doesn’t read as much as we do. Just know that if you’re not careful, you might one day realize you’ve been contributing to something that really doesn’t sit well with you and that’s (trust me) a really ooky feeling.

 

*For those of you who haven’t  heard this saying before, this isn’t me threatening to kill Orson Scott Card. It’s just a saying among readers which means that what the author thinks about his work, what he was trying to convey, isn’t as important as the message that you pulled out of it while reading it. Once they put their art out into the world, their opinion about what it means becomes irrelevant.

 

 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

What a fun, light little gem of a Western.

I’m not really sure where my deep and abiding love of the genre comes from. I didn’t read any as a kid and basically refused to watch the old John Wayne (or should I say, Marion Mitchell Morrison) movies, though I had a few friends who were obsessed with them (I was a picky kid with weird tastes and didn’t like the look of anything old fashioned). But as an adult, there’s few things I like to lose myself in more.

There’s something about the aesthetic, the setting, the very bad bad guys and the reluctant, also sort of bad good guys, that really tickles me. There’s also something in the atmosphere of constant hardship in Westerns. Most books have struggle in them, but there’s something about the griminess and the poverty and the lack of technology that I find really appealing. People don’t have magic, or gadgets that might as well be, to solve their problems. There’s no super powers. In order to overcome their obstacles they have to think around them, and that’s something that always, always appeals to me.

This is a really solid example of that. The main characters are a crotchety old man and the stubborn, clever, brave young girl he’s reluctantly convinced to help. If that sounds a little True Grit-y to you, well, it is, sort of. But it’s also different. The mission at the centre of the story is a little more…morally complicated than in the Portis classic, and one that I found more interesting than simple revenge (though I am a sucker for a plain old revenge story).

I don’t normally do story details, but this one is a bit hard to talk about without some reference points. The young woman he’s ferrying across the country had been captured by Native Americans at a young age and raised among them as one of their own. For all she knows and believes, she’s a part of their tribe. When she’s “rescued” by the settlers in the region and sent with Captain Kidd to live among relations she doesn’t really remember, she feels like she’s been stolen from her family. She fights and tries to escape and wants to go back. That’s a complicated, twisty, interesting idea, and my only real complaint about the novel is that it doesn’t follow that thread all the way down. That moral tangle is the centre of her book, and she touches on it and there’s a conclusion to it, sort of, but…I guess it just never really got there for me. I still enjoyed it, a bunch, but I felt like some parts of it were left a little unresolved.

Recommended for people who like historical fiction, Westerns, and prickly, but loveable, old men.

VBR

 

Ps. I have an itch I need scratched by somebody with some gun know-how. There was one action scene in the novel where the characters used their wits and some dimes to get themselves out of trouble and I bought it at the time, but thinking back on that…is that how that would work? I know nooooothing about guns and if any of ya have any smarts in that department, I’d appreciate the clarification. Thanks in advance! 🙂

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Everybody, I have a confession to make. I’ve done a stupid.

On the last day of my trip I started a big, honking fantasy series and now I’m in so deep I don’t think there’s going to be anything else that I’m going to read until I’m done. And while the series is great, and I’m going to give it a little write up here, they’re not different enough from one another to give them each their own blog. The good news, it’s been about a week and I’m four books through, so we’re moving at a decent clip. The bad news, there’s six more books to go. So we’re probably going to be pulling from the backlist to write things about over the next little while.

You gals, this series is everything my hearts been wanting for the past few months. I’ve been reading lots of really good books over the last little while, but a few of them have been on the heavier side (which I like! I love, actually. I just like to intersperse my heavy, serious reads with some lighter, fluffier fare). I hadn’t actually realized until I picked these up how long it’s been since I’ve read a big, fun fantasy series. I can’t even remember the last time I latched onto one and burned my way through it (maybe the Dresden Files? Which itself is a series with great world building, okay writing, and some well-meaning, if not always well-executed, politics). It’s a thing I used to do a lot more when I was younger and didn’t have as many obligations eating up my time, dive into a world and lose yourself there for a few thousand pages, and I’ve missed it.

There’s so many things about this book that speak directly to me. I was raised in a fairly WASP-y environment (I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child without saying “I’ve had ample sufficiency.” For real) and the stuffy, buttoned-up, very slightly before Victorian-era main character just…delights me. I love how proper and concerned with formality he is (he notices when people aren’t wearing their full dress coats and neck clothes, even when they’re in tropical environments, and does his best not to look down his nose at them because he’s a god damn gentleman). He also does that thing I remember, oh so fondly, from my childhood, where the angrier you get, the colder and more polite you become. Mmmm…childhood memories.

Now, because of the time frame and the place, his concern with respectability and his upper-crusty British-ness does lend itself to some…old-fashioned (sexist!) ideas about things, but Novik is aware of it, and addresses it pretty cleverly. She’s created a society in England at the time, The Aviators (people who’ve bonded with dragons) who, from necessity, have a more liberal viewpoint than most of the rest of the world. They don’t discriminate based on gender, babies out of wedlock are no big deal, they don’t bother overly much with status and the layers of planning and propriety that seem to go into every conversation because of it. By dropping her suuuuuuper British character among them, she gives him a means and a reason to learn, which he is both capable of and willing to do. You get to see that he’s a pretty good guy, and mostly just a product of his environment, constantly course correcting as he adjusts his ideas about what the right things to do are. Plus it’s just fun to watch him unwind a little (not a lot) over the course of the books.

And the dragons are great! Funny, likeable, smart. It’s a really good, fairly original take on the creatures, and Novik uses their intelligence and the weird position they hold in British society to make some smart social commentary. A lot of that comes from the main dragon character Temeraire, who acts as a good surrogate for the author. He’s smart and opinionated and gives a lot of kickback on the shitty thinking of the time, allowing the author to slip in her own opinions about some of the less appealing aspects of British society.

I’d recommend this series for lovers of fantasy (though don’t go in expecting high fantasy. Dragons are the only fantastical element), adventure, and people who like a little flavour in their historical lit (Novik seems to have done a buuunnncccchhhh of research for these books. I’m no expert, so everything she says could be completely and totally wrong and I wouldn’t know, but it feels authentic enough). Also recommended if, like me, stiff, emotionally unavailable British gentlemen make you purr like a cat.

With the Sincerest and Most Deeply Felt Affection,

Yours,

VBR

 

 

No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I knew my wild hot streak of incredible books wasn’t going to last forever, but I never would’ve imagined it would be Marquez that would end it.
I don’t think I had overly high expectations for it either. I know that sometimes authors of great novels don’t necessarily make authors of great short stories. They’re different mediums and they require the use of different skills. But as a lover of short stories and Marquez alike, I thought that I’d at least like this. Instead I found it really, really tedious to get through. The characters were flat and the stories were uninteresting, slices of life that had so little to say that I’m not sure what motivated him to write them in the first place. For the most part they were just pretty flavourless and forgettable, but one story, I think it was called One Sunday Afternoon (or something along those lines. It’s been reburied into my suitcase and I’m not willing to go digging around to get it out), was so boring and so pointless that it pushed my mild unenjoyment of the collection into actual dislike.
Anyways, I’m not going to belabor the point. I read these stories, didn’t like them, but I’ll get over it. And don’t let this dissuade you from going out and checking out Marquez. His novels are fantastic. Just maybe give this one a miss. Or not, I didn’t get much from it, but you might. Books are like that.

VBR

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