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Myles

Books Read, Not Necessarily Well

Since May of 2010 I've written something about every book I've read.

 

Everything else, more or less, has made it on here, too.

Currently reading

The Big Book of Science Fiction
Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer
Progress: 76/1216 pages
A Modern Comedy
John Galsworthy
Progress: 309/862 pages
Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf
Masters Mashups:: From Shakespeare to Stephen King (Masters Mashups Series)
Melissa G. Wilson
Dragons of Eberron
Amber Scott, M. Alexander Jurkat, Nicolas Logue, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Keith Baker
Progress: 21/160 pages
Sharn: City of Towers
James Wyatt, Keith Baker
Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present
Neil Miller
Progress: 225/408 pages

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross - Marie Lu

Everyone plays Warcross. It is the centerpiece of the virtual reality headsets that have transformed how people interact with each other - across the globe, in public and private.

Emika Chen is a teenage hacker who tries to make ends meet with bounty hunting. Like seemingly everyone else, she is obsessed with Warcross and spends all her spare time playing. Everything changes when Emika tries out a new hack during a qualifying match for the Warcross Quidditch cup or whatever and winds up as a minor celebrity when she's caught in the act.

Her stunt lands her a job with the corporation that invented Warcross and the mysterious young CEO enlists her aid in stopping a shadowy group of terrorist hackers.

There are elements to this book that definitely do not work, but Lu creates a techno-thriller that's perfect for young readers. The blow-by-blows of the games, the intrigues on the dance-floor, and a little bit of romance enhance a surprisingly engaging plot.

Senlin Ascends (Books of Babel #1) by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel) - Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends is an independently published success on its way to the main market. I had never heard of it, but I should have! This is the first book of a series that could go in any number of directions. Bancroft infuses his novel with a rich history and background that is a perfect counterpoint to Senlin's quest. Senlin is a mild-mannered teacher who takes his new wife Marya to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. He has lectured about the history of the tower for years, but is ill-prepared for the reality of the place. Marya is lost in the crowd and Senlin must face impossible challenges to find her again. The only direction for him to go is up.

I could not break away from this book. The society, the civilizations, the infrastructure of the tower were fascinating. There are so many elements of the book that I should have found absurd, but all the little pieces worked. Fans of Neal Stephenson and Frank Herbert will love it.

Brave, (Awkward #2) by Svetlana Chmakova

Brave - Svetlana Chmakova
  Jensen is having a hard time in middle school, but the tragic fact, initially at least for the reader, is that he doesn't know it. Because he believes that sunspots are a real danger to us all, among other reasons, he's teased, tormented, and even ignored or taken for granted by his classmates.

Chmakova's story is full of humor and affectionate for its characters, and the first half of it was a great character study. As for the second part, most people won't have any issues, but I was bothered by how the plot was resolved. Brave has an important message, but I don't know if its the right way to teach compassion.

 

Over a month behind...yikes!

Spinning - Tillie Walden, Tillie Walden

Tillie Walden's Spinning is a graphic novel/memoir in the vein of Blankets or Stitches, err, with less child abuse. It chronicles the author's competitive experience with figure skating as a child, falling in love, learning how to communicate, and the changes she was undergoing and why she ultimately felt like she had to leave the sport behind.

 

Despite also being an introvert and being on the queer spectrum, the only pieces of Walden's experience that I could personally relate to were parental indifference to sports involvement. I, of course, used that as an excuse to never play any sports past 3rd grade. This is also one of the first books I can immediately tell has been created by someone younger than my generation. There's a quality to the book, not to mention the ubiquity of handheld smart electronics, that I can't pinpoint that made me feel ancient. It was a great experience.

 

This was a great find, highly recommended for any teen reader (or older) looking for a good coming of age story. Walden's storytelling transcends any pigeon-holes a bookseller may be tempted to use to categorize her book.

Lie in Wait (Canaan Crime Series) by Eric Rickstad

Lie In Wait - Eric Rickstad

In Lie in Wait a teenage girl is murdered while babysitting for a lawyer who's taken on a high-profile, highly controversial case. Set in a fictionalized version of the small town of Canaan in the far Northeastern corner of the Vermont, this is a thriller that makes great use of its setting and recent history.

In 2000 Vermont legalized civil unions for same-sex couples and there was a backlash across the state from many Vermonters who felt that their state was being "taken over" by liberal flatlanders who were moving to the state in large numbers and therefore their own concerns were being ignored. Signs were put up everywhere encouraging voters to "Take Back Vermont" and roll back the civil union legislation and many other progressive policies. The bigots did not win that time, but its hard for me to forget how many of those signs there were, and how slowly they came down.

Rickstad sets his novel in 2010 against the backdrop of gay marriage instead of civil unions. This brings the action more towards the present for the reader and perhaps ties the Take Back Vermont movement in with other, more recent, knee-jerk political movements. The truth is, in my part of the state, there wasn't nearly as much animosity or division about the same-sex marriage bill as there was about same-sex civil unions, but animosity and division make for a better novel.

The sleepy town of Canaan is rocked by the murder of a bright young girl in the home of a prominent man. Was her death a tragic quarrel with a boyfriend, a message from those opposed to the gay marriage case, or something else? Detective Sonja Test wants to make the most out of this case, there are few opportunities to investigate this level of crime, but the case belongs to the State Police and Detective North, so she has to work within his investigation. Sonja's struggles are compounded by sexism and Rickstad deftly handles that. Women have fair play here, which isn't always the case in genre novels.

I have some issues with the ending, but it was still satisfying.

My real disappointment is an editorial one. I read the paperback first edition and it is riddled with errors - character descriptions contradicting each other, sometimes on the same page; the time of day in one pivotal scene of confrontation is referred to as both the morning and the afternoon; and some small typos. I hope these have been fixed for future editions.

Nightfall by Justin Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Nightfall - Peter Kujawinski, Jake Halpern

I was going to reshelve this book and move on with my day, but the arresting cover made me turn it over and read the back. Done. Sold.

Nightfall is about 14-year-old Marin and her home, an isolated island that enjoys fourteen years of daylight. With nightfall imminent, Marin helps her family and her friend Line, who is head of his household after the death of his parents, prepare to depart the island to wait out the long night. There are some unusual rituals. The placement of furniture in specific places, the placement of knives and bizarre trophies, and a cleansing of each house. To stay behind through the long night is unthinkable. At least the adults refuse to speak of it.

There's a difficulty, however. The boats that arrive to bring the Islanders to safety come early and there are fewer of them. In the rush and confusion, the adults dismiss Marin's concern that her friend Line is missing. It dawns on her where he might be, and convinces her twin brother Kana to help her find him. They don't make it back to the boats in time.

The three of them are about to find out why the islanders leave their homes for fourteen years rather than face the night.

This was an excellent juvenile thriller/fantasy, it created a new world and brings the reader into this dangerous situation with a minimum of exposition for a mg/ya book. I could have used a little more insight into Kana's experiences (can't say more) and a little bit more to the last act of the book, but it was very satisfying nonetheless. There is a sibling book out now and a sequel possibly on the way.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding - Alexandra Bracken

This new release should appeal to the broad audience of middle-grade horror, especially if they've started to grow out of their Goosebumps collection. We have a clueless, but likeable young man who feels like an outsider and it takes being possessed by a demon and on the run for his life to start feeling like he belongs.

Prosperity Redding is a scion of the Redding Family, known for their abundant numbers and wealth. Living in the shadow of the family estate and name and frightened of his domineering grandmother, Prosper's only friend is his twin sister, whose recent popularity means she leaves him to himself these days. Outside his immediate family he is scorned and shunned.

Then, while his parents are away, Proper and his sister find their whole extended family inviting them to their grandmother's house. They are taken down to the forbidden cellar and asked to read from a book. Prosper learns a demon cursed his family centuries ago and his life may be what it takes to save the lives (and fortunes) of his family.

Prosper is rescued from his relatives and in hiding where he learns uncomfortable truths about his family's actions in the past, their consequences, and the workings of magic and other dimensions. The demon offers him everything he ever wanted, not to mention saving his life, if he makes a deal and sacrifices his soul and those of his family. Is his acceptance at his new school, in magical disguise of course, due to the influence of the demon or, when given a chance, can Prosper save his own life and his family and still be a good person?

The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce

The Afterlives: A Novel - Thomas Pierce

Another one that won't come out until January, sorry! but these are just the ones that are exciting me right now!

 

Jim Byrd died of heart failure. He was revived in time and being a young man suffered no lasting damage. After the installation of a new device to monitor his heart he makes a full recovery. What gnaws at him is the fact that he has no memories of his experience. He saw no light at the end of the tunnel and he realizes he needs to know what, if anything, happens after death.

A routine task at work leads him to a haunted house and leads him to reconnect with an old girlfriend. Following a whim he comes into contact with a haunted house and, coincidentally, an old girlfriend. Him, his father, and his girlfriend are all pulled into the mystery of this house and the larger question of life after death. Religion, technology, philosophy, love and fear intersect in The Afterlives as we follow Jim's quest for understanding. The stories of those who lived in and visited the haunted house periodically break up the story and deepen the mystery.

Thomas Pierce's writing was a pleasure to read. He tackles enormous issues with respect and genuine insight. His characters often deliver their lines and thoughts with a wry sense of humor. Once I picked the book up, I could hardly put it down. I haven't read anything like it in a long time.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood - Melissa Albert

A dark-tinged fantasy reminiscent of Neil Gaiman, the bleaker stories of Diana Wynne Jones, and John Connelly, and, and, and. And this doesn't mean it felt derivative. The Hazel Wood felt fresh as it spiraled its characters into what could have been charted territory.

Alice is 17 and for as long as she can remember bad luck has trailed her and her mother as they drove across the country, never staying long in a single place. In fact, Alice has more vivid memories of the books she read during her childhood than of anything else that has happened to them. Well, books read and the bad luck. Employment drying up, flooded basements, infestations. Whatever it was, Alice and her mother would pack up and move on. Until her grandmother, the mysterious and famous author Alice has never met, passes away. The one time Alice got her hands on a copy of her grandmother's book of dark fairy tales it was snatched out of her hands and her mother refuses to speak about it.

After receiving news of her mother's death, Alice's mother decides to settle down in Manhattan, marries, and enrolls Alice in prestigious school. Then. Suddenly. Alice comes home and finds out her mother's been kidnapped and her stepfather refuses to have anything to do with her or to help. On her own, and on the run, Alice teams up with a friend and has to solve the riddle of the Hazel Wood and save her mother. Ahead are dark secrets and the knowledge that fairy tales and fiction may not mean what Alice thought they did.

I loved the hell out of this book.

Fog, Snow, Fire, AKA the Losing Christina Trilogy

Fog, Snow, and Fire (Losing Christina, #1-3) - Caroline B. Cooney

Christina is an island girl. Her home on Burning Fog Island in Maine is a resort in the summertime, but, with only a tiny year-round population, students have to go to school on the mainland when they start 7th grade. This means boarding in a stranger's house and being away from their families, but Christina is excited to hear that the new school principal and his wife, an English teacher, are opening their colonial home to all four of the island children this year. They'll all be together, what could happen?

The Shevington's home is as beautiful as they'd heard, but they are relegated to cheerless attic rooms. The boys shrug off the inconveniences, but it quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong with the eldest island student, the brilliant, but fragile, Anya. No one wants to hear Christina when she begins to ask questions about the Shevingtons and their mysterious past, or about the other promising girls who have vanished after crossing their path.

Caroline B. Cooney is one of the founders of tween suspense, so I was thrilled to come across this omnibus of a trilogy I'd read back in middle school. Part one, The Fog, is a masterful setup, introducing the characters and making a good effort to get the reader to doubt Christina. Too soon, however, the plot creates spectacular tragic accidents and blatant cruelty that is ignored by almost every adult. Trick psychology and gas-lighting go only so far, even in a small town in Maine in the late 1980s.

 

It's also clear that Anya was heading for a fall long before she set foot in the Shevington's house. Impossibly twee.

If the reader gives in to the fun of the story, however, it is a fun ride and some of Christina's responses to the bullying and harassment she receives from fellow students and adults are inspired.

City of Stormreach

City of Stormreach - Nicolas Logue, James Desborough, C.A. Suleiman, Keith Baker

Being one of the last Eberron manuals produced, City of Stormreach fetches a high price in the secondary market. Is it worth getting the physical copy? For most people, the answer is no.

I enjoyed the additional information, this pairs nicely with a Secrets of Xen'drik. Much like the Sharn volume there is a breakdown of city districts and neighborhoods, government figures, gangs and NPC organizations. With these two books there is no reason why a game can't be entirely spent in Xen'drik.

For most DMs and players this isn't worth picking up unless you can get it for its original retail price or less. Campaign Supplements tend to be open-ended, players want to be creative after all, but the scenarios and NPCs listed in this volume were too open-ended and after awhile it felt like padding. In fact, there is little reason that this whole book couldn't have just been included with SoX in the first place.

For completists only.

Numair Chronicles, #1: Tempests and Slaughter

Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles, Book One) - Tamora Pierce

I read Pierce's The Immortals back in middle school and remember only fragments today, so I came into Tempests and Slaughter with very little to go on. I didn't even remember who Numair was.

Bearing that in mind, the book works well as a standalone coming-of-age fantasy, if a very accelerated one. Years go by in very few chapters. We have three friends: Arram Draper, our hero the future Numair, Varice, clever and beautiful, and Ozorne, a member of the imperial family. The three of them have such strong talents that they are separated from the bulk of students and have mostly private classes with the masters. Arram's schedules are included periodically to signal time passing and to give a sense of what he is studying.

This isolation from the other students except for a convenient plot bully or three made it very difficult to get a sense of the setting. I realize there are twenty-odd Tortall books so Pierce may not feel the need for much exposition, but I felt a little left out and bewildered as we see our three protagonists march forward effortlessly through their studies.

By the end of the book, the first of a trilogy, we have a sense of Arram's priorities and we get clues of Ozorne's true character. Conflicts of later books such as divine interference, the immortals, and imperial aggression and slavery are also touched on.

For established fans, there is a lot to love here. I'm just not sure that this would be rewarding to a new reader.

A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon - Piers Anthony

I was enchanted by this book when I was younger, the misogyny and pedophile vibes went right over my head (remember that Bink is supposed to be 25, even if he acts 15), but reading the book again makes me wonder what the hell is going on with this book? It was impossible for me to divorce the attitudes expressed about women by every character from the plot of A Spell for Chameleon.

Other reviewers have done a splendid job of detailing what Piers Anthony accomplishes in this book, so I won't go on about it. Just know that while the development of the setting was fun and had some humor to it - the better puns would have to wait for later on in the series - the writing is clunky, Bink is a total Mary Sue, and no woman gets out unscathed.

I've had great success re-reading some old favorites, but this is one that's better off in the foggy depths of pre-adolescent memory.

Nod - Adrian Barnes

Paul is a writer of small, erudite little books on etymology that sell just enough to get him a contract to write another. His partner Tanya makes most of the money at her 'real job' and does her best to get him interested in other people and life outside of the apartment.

One morning Paul wakes up from an unsettling dream to hear from Tanya that she hadn't slept at all. It soon comes out that almost no one can fall asleep anymore. The world rapidly falls apart after that. The news, before going black, informs Paul that in a week everyone will be insane and in a month they'll all be dead.

Nod has a great premise, and the structure, going day by day into the increasing madness of the world, was effective. Paul is set on a bizarre path and the narrative is completely his. That is where my problems with the book begin and end: the scope was too small. Limited to Paul's perspective you get insight into 'Nod' and a few others of the mad micro-societies that spring up as the world descends into madness.

I wanted an omniscient narrator to look over this strange, new world and, frankly, would have liked a little more insight into the last stages of the book. Paul is just one person and he's aware of just how limited his perspective is. Barnes consciously made the choice to frame this story the way he did, so I respect it was how he wanted it told. So these 'limitations' shouldn't have effected how much I enjoyed the book, but they did.

The White Monkey

The White Monkey - John Galsworthy A Modern Comedy - John Galsworthy
— feeling doubt

This first part of the second of three (!) trilogies concerning the Forsytes does not have the epic sweep or grandeur of The Forsyte Saga. Many of the more dynamic characters of the previous books are marginalized or not present at all, leaving us with Fleur and Michael, and her father Soames.

The plot revolves around the question of Fleur's affections. Her husband, Michael, well remembers Fleur's sudden turn-around considering his suit and knows that her love for him, if there at all, is more of convenience than passion. Will she abandon him for another? Meanwhile, he introduces the wife of a former employee to a line of work not considered 'suitable' by the world at large. Soames tests his conscience when he finds out about a scandal after being newly appointed as trustee to a financial concern.

Everything and everyone is uneasy, it seems. The writing is far cry from the more modern styles of some of Galsworthy's contemporaries, but he hits on the unease and the open acknowledgement of moral ambiguity. The cracks that were appearing when Soames reflected with horror on all the common people strolling in Hyde Park are now ravines. A person's backgrounds and connections are no guarantee of their behavior, conversation is less about information and more about affect, and Soames' eyes, as well as others, are turned up to the sky and thinking of fire raining down from the skies.

That was the single most interesting thing about the novel to me. The first World War hardly received a mention, but it plays in the minds of the characters of The White Monkey. The characters also know it is not the last war either. The advent of airplanes used in warfare and the possibility of bombs falling on London is reflected on more than once.

Overall, I liked the novel, but it was easy for me to occasionally forget about the book and move on to others for weeks at a time. These characters are worth further consideration, but they don't have the sparkle of Irene or June.

A Modern Comedy

Previous (The Forsyte Saga): To Let

Next: The Silver Spoon

Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

— feeling hypnotized
Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu - Junji Ito
J-kun appears to have it all: a thriving career, a lovely fiancee, and a brand-new house. To make everything perfect he has invited A-ko, his fiancee, to live with him. He overlooked one thing.

A-ko has a cat.

And that cat that will not come alone.

Junji Ito sets a masterfully eerie tone with the framing of each panel and the absecene of pupils or irises in A-ko's eyes. Its not secret that horror and comedy often go hand in hand, and J-kun's transformation from cat-loather to cat-lover is extremely funny and disturbing.

Junji Ito's Cat Diary is a must-read for lovers of cats and the macabre alike.