Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Review - Cassandra Clare's The Clockwork Angel

The Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices Book 1) by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: August 31st, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

After her Aunt's death Tessa Gray has only one place to turn, her brother Nathaniel. Penniless in New York her brother sends her a lifeline in the form of a steamer ticket to join him in London. But things don't feel right when she arrives in England. Instead of finding her brother eagerly waiting on the docks she is met by the eerie Dark Sisters who show "proof" that her brother had indeed sent them. She soon begins to doubt this as she is imprisoned by the two sisters for weeks and forced to undergo horrific changes while they also claim to hold her brother captive. It turns out that Tessa has a gift. An unwanted gift. Given an object that belongs to someone she can turn into them. She can even get a glimpse of their mind. Or, as is often the case with the Dark Sisters choices, their last minutes on Earth. The change is horrific and just the fact that she can do it makes Tessa question all that she's ever known. She has spent her life living in books, is this someone else's story? Or is she trapped in her own nightmare where she will marry a mysterious figure called the Magister? Then one night an angel appears in the form of Will Herondale. Will and his compatriots rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters. Realizing that it wasn't all a dream, Tessa must face this new shadow world.

The truth is that Will is literally an angel, one of the Nephilim, a Shadowhunter. He takes Tessa to the London Institute where she will be safe. The Institute is run by Charlotte Branwell and her husband Henry, with Will, Jem, and Jessamine as their wards. They explain the shadow world to Tessa and about it's inhabitants, the Downworlders, such as the Dark Sisters who are warlocks, and others, such as werewolves and vampires. The stuff of penny dreadfuls made real. They found Tessa while investigating a mysterious death of a mundane, what they call regular humans. The truth is they have no idea what Tessa is. Her powers have never been seen outside a warlock, yet she has no markings of one. They agree to offer her safe harbor and help her find her brother, because he wasn't being held in the Dark Sisters house like Tessa or they would have found him. Tessa, besides being shocked by all that she's learned, is almost more shocked by their generosity; she was sure she had just traded one prison for another. But once the investigation is underway things are more complicated than they could have imagined. Vampires breaking truces, automatons wreaking havoc, and who really is the mysterious Magister and why does he want Tessa?

After forcing myself to finish The Mortal Instruments series I honestly didn't know if I had it in me to ever pick up something written by Cassandra Clare again. I am seriously still in awe how anyone could have liked such a badly written series and I am continually surprised that it hasn't come up on charges of plagiarism. Seriously, Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling's lawyers need to get on this eventually right? Please tell me Clare doesn't get away with it in the end! But here's the catch. Before I'd even started reading The Mortal Instruments I had already bought The Infernal Devices because of the Steampunk aspect. So this left me in a major quandary. I was stuck with this series of books I wanted to sell (in fact this one is a signed first edition!) BUT I have this serious problem wherein I can not sell a book I've bought without reading it. Yes, I knew the chances of it surprising me and actually being good were almost at zero. But the fact remained I own The Infernal Devices and therefore they MUST be read. And that's what Backlog Bonanza is all about! Not just posting reviews that have been left by the wayside, but getting to those books I have been putting off. Books like The Clockwork Angel.

So what can I say about The Clockwork Angel? Well, it seemed awfully familiar. It's been two years since I slogged my way through The Mortal Instruments so I had to do a bit of brushing up, thank you fan wikis, and I was right in the familiarity of the plot. The best thing I can say is that at least she's ripping off her own material now with a side of Rosemary's Baby... Pandemonium Club starts it all, check. Loved one kidnapped, check. Rescue from evil doers and brought to the Institute, check. Party where we meet Magnus Bane, check. Angsty pretty boys, check. It has all happened before and it will happen again. Especially in the world of Cassandra Clare. Just throw in a few, a very few, Victorian trappings and it's another bestseller. Apparently. I think I could have handled the familiarity, because as I said, at least she's ripping herself off, if it wasn't for the predictability. I mean, seriously people, a monkey with rudimentary crime fighting skills could have solved this in three seconds flat. In fact, I think that monkey might be far more entertaining. Each and every big reveal and plot twist was obvious hundreds of pages in advance. At times I almost started tuning out because it was just all so expected. Were there really supposed to be any surprises? Because seriously, no, there weren't. This is formulaic writing in a voice that is so flat it doesn't seem real, just words on a page.

I mean, literally almost nothing happens. Hundreds of pages of words and more words. Oh, and the poetry quotes before chapters? What. The. Hell. OK, so, thing about me, I'm not the biggest fan of poetry quote before chapters. At the beginning of books they're OK, but there's something about them being at the start of chapters that gets under my skin. Unless they really perfectly resonate with what is going on it that chapter they just come off as pretentious. Here, given the writing style; the lack of voice coupled with the fact that Clare can barely form a grammatically correct sentence the pretension is oozing off the page. With Tessa's love and continuous mentioning of Dickens, I mean it's seriously like beating a dead horse here, I started to wonder... how deep does Clare's pretensions go? Does she actually think of herself as a modern day Dickens? Does she think that her books will stand the test of time? Stephen King has admitted that he knows his books won't be remembered, so how exactly will Clare's? I mean, the minimal plot and lots of padding out the pages is Dickensian. But the thing about Dickens that I don't think Clare gets is that he could really write. I mean REALLY write. Perhaps I should add delusional to her pretensions?

Going back to the whole this is just City of Bones with a Victorian veneer, it's not even a very good veneer. Here's some fog, here's some old streets, here's some outmoded ways of thinking, that's all you're getting. In fact, it seemed that it fell to Tessa and to an extent Jessamine to keep reminding us we where in Victorian England, not "Modern Day" New York. It was almost laughable the cliches coming out of Tessa, "Women can't wear pants!" "Women don't do that!" "What do you mean Charlotte runs the institute? She's a woman!" Seriously!?! How about working this into the plot in some way versus just blurting these weird retro and sexist phrases randomly. Oh wait, that would mean the book has to have a plot... doh. It seriously scares me to think that there are perhaps millennials out there at this minute who think that this is what Victorian England was like. It's almost as fantastical as a world with Shadowhunters! As for the "Steampunk" aspect of this book. Adding a few automatons doesn't allow you the Steampunk designation. Cause here's the thing, Steapmunk is about worldbuilding and alternate history and getting lost in "what ifs." Sure, people latch onto the gadgetry, but it's about the story in the end. Something Clare clearly can not comprehend. On may levels.

So, of course, to entertain myself I started thinking about what this book could have been versus what it was. Tessa barely touches on the idea of if she can turn into anyone then who exactly is she. It's mentioned in passing but that's about it. Yet here is the one flash of light that could have grown into a book about identity and who we are inside. That who we are outside isn't who we really are. Tessa has been thrown into this shadow world and everything has been thrown into question. Is she really human? Did she really know the world before? Does her brother really love her? Who are her friends? Who is she? All these questions need answering and yet... These are all questions we have to answer for ourselves in life and the target audience of young adults is when we really start to think about them. This book could have been so much more. It could have been a journey about finding yourself in a world that is strange and disconcerting. Instead it was a badly plotted generic book that was more interested in making eyes at the cute yet troubled boy than exploring the depths of the girl who was making the eyes. I hope that perhaps the next book in the series which I will be forcing myself to read will answer these questions, but I now have a lot of experience with Clare and my guess is that it will not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review - Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

What if Grisha could be more powerful? Not to just have their powers amplified but to have them changed. Magnified to a degree that the world itself changes before their eyes and anything is possible. Of course, such a discovery would be desired by the wealthy and the powerful, and especially the military. Bo Yul-Bayur is a chemist who accidentally created Jurda Parem from the common stimulant Jurda. While fatal to Non-Grisha, to Grisha it does all this and more, including making the user an addict after one dose. Afraid of what he has created he attempts to seek asylum in Kerch but is captured by the Drüskelle and taken to the Fjerdan capital of Djerholm and imprisoned in the impenetrable Ice Court. Who knows what the Fjerdan's will do with this technology, seeing as they have been carrying out pogroms on the Grisha "Witches" for as long as anyone can remember. This is where Kaz Brekker comes in. Kaz is the lieutenant of The Dregs and is known as the man who gets things done. So when Mr. Jan Van Eck needs someone to break Bo Yul-Bayur out of the Ice Court he turns to Kaz with the offer of a lifetime. The score from this impossible heist could set him and his crew up for the rest of their lives.

Kaz recruits Inej, the "wraith", Jesper, a born sharpshooter, Wylan, for his demolition skills and the fact that if need be he is Van Eck's son and could be used as a hostage, and Nina, because she's a Grisha who is a Ravkan Heartrender. But more importantly, Nina has a connection to someone who intimately knows Kerch and the Ice Court, former Drüskelle Matthias Helvar. Matthias is in prison because of something Nina said and she's been trying to make it up to him ever since, and breaking him out of prison for a big payday should make them even. Of course their master plan involves sending themselves to prison in Kerch, but at least it will be a change of scene from Hellgate. The improbability and complexity of their plan could go wrong at a million different places, yet it doesn't take them long to be enjoying the hospitality of the Ice Court's prison. This band of thieves will do whatever it takes to get their payday, and whatever obstacles, even those of their own making, must be overcome. They are all good at thinking on their feet, they wouldn't have survived in Ketterdam with all the rival gangs and dangerous alleys if they weren't. But is the payout really worth the risks? And when all is said and done, will they get that payout?

When I finished the Grisha Trilogy I was bereft. I had come to know and love these characters so deeply that I just didn't want to let go. But I could also see that their story was told. It was over and that was that. The light at the end of the tunnel was that Leigh Bardugo was working on a new duology set in the Grishaverse called The Dregs. Eventually retitled Six of Crows with the most amazing cover art I'd seen in recent years I couldn't wait until this book was released and was giving anyone I knew who was lucky enough to get an ARC the side-eye for weeks. OK, months, but you get it, I know you do. I wanted to be back in that world. I didn't care if it was a new country or a new cast of characters, I just wanted more of this wondrous land. And yet, when the time came, I just wasn't swept away. I think of all my book blogging and reading buddies I was the only one who didn't hail it as the best book of last year. In fact, it was nowhere near my top ten. There's even a part of me, looking back, that wonders if three stars was generous. The worldbuilding was still there, and still perfect. Yes it's a little darker, but the void of The Darkling needed to be filled somehow. Yet I just couldn't connect. This heist I had been waiting so long for suddenly didn't seem worth the wait.

The initial problem I faced was there were too many characters given to us too soon. We have six main characters and all their baggage to deal with while certain elements of their backstories are drawn out to excruciating levels with us not finding out answers until the last few pages. To keep this in perspective, A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, has only eight narrators in a behemoth book of teeny tiny print; and we're barely scratching the surface in that book. To expect THIS book to do more with less seems ludicrous. Also confusing. I need a little time to sink into the narrative of a book, have one character lead me into the world and acclimatise me to the environment before being smacked in the face with the whole gang. There's a reason Ocean's Eleven starts with just Danny Ocean and slowly introduces new characters in little vignettes before having the whole crew together. I think for a book SO like Ocean's Eleven: Ketterdam perhaps the basic framework of a heist film or book could have been better utilized. Instead of starting with the small heist at The Exchange start even smaller and then go bigger.

Yet for a book with six main characters I found one thing very very odd. The exclusion of Wylan Van Eck as a narrator. Six characters but only five POVs!?! That just doesn't add up. I mean yes, there are initially too many characters in this book until you finally get to know them, but then why eliminate a certain one? Why was Wylan left out? Yes, part of it could have been to do with the end twist, but, well, just don't have his POV near the end. Because eliminating him entirely versus just eliminating him for a section makes more sense. There's an imbalance in the book created by this omission. It seriously doesn't make sense to me that we never get Wylan's POV. Especially with his connection to the man who hired Kaz and the crew you'd think Wylan's input would be vital, but instead it's left to other characters to tell Wylan's story. Then there's the whole insulting aspect to this. Wylan is dyslectic and can't read or write. To not have his voice heard when he can't write his own story, WTH! It's just adding insult to injury. I can only hope that Wylan has a say in Crooked Kingdom, but I'm not really keeping my fingers crossed. Kaz's nemesis got a POV at the end of this book and still, no Wylan.

My main problem with the book though was the "problem" with the women. Some people might be saying, how can you have a problem with Inej and Nina when they kick ass and take names? My problem is rooted in the fact that once you look past all their strength their character arcs are oddly stereotypical. At times I thought I was having some sort of out of body experience where this book wasn't written by the writer of the Grisha series populated with strong women and a kick ass female in her own right, but a man who just wrote the typical subjugation line of women in science fiction and fantasy as sex objects and bargaining chips. Inej and Nina spend the entire book showing they are more than what Ketterdam tried to make them in the brothels. They are strong and fierce warriors with love in their hearts. And then all of a sudden they're dressing up as whores to sneak into the Ice Court and ending up as prisoners that only the big brave men can rescue. Excuse me? So all their growth, all their development was for naught? Because they just ended up back at the beginning, victims that need saving? This isn't a just fate for them. This is a cliched, hackneyed fate. They deserve better. I deserve better as a reader!

Though in the end I think the biggest letdown is that Six of Crows just shows us the futility of it all. From the very beginning Kaz's crew are given this impossible task, one at which they could fail at any second, but deep down you know they are going to succeed. But in succeeding they fail. And somehow I knew this. I just knew that they'd make it to the end and yet they'd fail. I don't know if it's all the heist movies I've watched over the years, but somehow I knew it would be like that bus dangling over the precipice at the end of The Italian Job, all that work wouldn't really be worth it in the end. We were left hanging, waiting for the second book. And yes, I'm going to read Crooked Kingdom, but I don't have the excitement anymore. I have a determined resignation. I have no hopes for this book, well, minor hopes that I have a feeling will be quashed quite quickly. Six of Crows was a disservice to the readers. We read a book whose narrative didn't matter. It was nulled and voided at the end and makes you wonder, why then did I bother to read it? Yes, we got to know these characters and to care for them, but it took a long time for that to happen and then it was like everything that had been built between the reader and the story was washed away. I also know that my voice is one small voice among the countless that are lauding this book. Yes, this is just my opinion, but I think a valid one. Leigh Bardugo created a world that I love and then diminished it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Associates of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the very first time, famous associates of the Great Detective – clients, colleagues, and of course, villains – tell their own stories in this collection of brand-new adventures. Follow Inspector Lestrade as he and Sherlock Holmes pursue a killer to rival Jack the Ripper; sit with Mycroft Holmes as he solves a case from the comfort of the Diogenes Club; take a drink with Irene Adler and Dr Watson in a Parisian café; and join Colonel Sebastian Moran on the hunt for a supposedly mythical creature…"

My friend George has a new Sherlock Holmes Anthology he edited out this week... which means you better go buy it if you're my friend. 

The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Published by: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 592 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The hidden life of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous adversary is reimagined and revealed by the finest crime writers today.

Some of literature’s greatest supervillains have also become its most intriguing antiheroes—Dracula, Hannibal Lecter, Lord Voldemort, and Norman Bates—figures that capture our imagination. Perhaps the greatest of these is Professor James Moriarty. Fiercely intelligent and a relentless schemer, Professor Moriarty is the perfect foil to the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, whose crime-solving acumen could only be as brilliant as Moriarty’s cunning.

While “the Napoleon of crime” appeared in only two of Conan Doyle’s original stories, Moriarty’s enigma is finally revealed in this diverse anthology of thirty-seven new Moriarty stories, reimagined and retold by leading crime writers such as Martin Edwards, Jürgen Ehlers, Barbara Nadel, L. C. Tyler, Michael Gregorio, Alison Joseph and Peter Guttridge. In these intelligent, compelling stories—some frightening and others humorous—Moriarty is brought back vividly to new life, not simply as an incarnation of pure evil but also as a fallible human being with personality, motivations, and subtle shades of humanity.

Filling the gaps of the Conan Doyle canon, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty is a must-read for any fan of the Sherlock Holmes’s legacy.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fiction—novels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home."

I'm throwing this book out there because of the coincidence of two Doyle inspired books out this week... I know which one I'm most interested, but if they did have a crossover with Voldemort on Moriarty... just saying...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Book Review - Richelle Mead's The Glittering Court

The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
Published by: Razorbill
Publication Date: April 5th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Lady Elizabeth Witmore, the Countess of Rothford, can't stand her life. Orphaned and raised by her grandmother on their ever diminishing funds she is being forced into a marriage with a distant cousin who has a very overbearing mother. Her household is being scattered and she is surprised to find out that one of her maids, Ada, has been approached by The Glittering Court. The Glittering Court is in essence a mail-order bride service for those wealthy men who have a pioneering spirit and have relocated to the New World, Adoria. The Court spends a year training the girls in all the skills Elizabeth has had drilled into her since birth and then they are sent to Adoria where hopefully a bidding war will ensue. The Court makes money and the girls are given a chance at a life they could never have dreamt of. Though Ada seems oddly reluctant. She'd far rather go home to her family's dairy than go to Adoria. Which gives Lady Elizabeth an idea. She will take Ada's place. The idea formed in her mind has to be acted on quickly. The Court is picking up Ada that night. Elizabeth quickly sends Ada off to the dairy of her dreams and feigns a headache. As soon as she is alone she dons Ada's clothes and leaves her house as Adelaide, leaving "Lady Elizabeth" behind.

The first hurdle happens almost immediately. Cedric Thorn, whom Ada and Elizabeth met that afternoon, is in the carriage and soon the alarm is raised for a missing Countess. But Cedric keeps her secret and when they arrive at the manor where "Adelaide" will be taught they reach an agreement, Cedric explaining how she mustn't excel, she must reign in all that is natural to her, and he won't tell anyone who she really is. Over the following months she feels freer than she ever has before. She has real friends in her roommates Mira and Tamsin. She has a future that is of her own making. But soon her heart starts to betray her. She's falling for Cedric and he's the number one person she shouldn't be falling for. As it turns out Cedric himself has secrets, and their bond grows stronger through the sharing of their true selves. Yet if anything, this friendship doesn't dampen "Adelaide's" desire to succeed, she throws caution to the wind and becomes the diamond in the crown of the Court. This might not have been the wisest plan, making herself so visible, but it affords her the greatest leeway in choosing a husband as well as helping to protect Cedric's big secret. Yet truth will out and soon life in the New World is more dangerous than just worrying about the natives.

When I was listening to the buzz surrounding this book I was all like, yeah, Elizabethan YA awesomeness, I'm so there! And yes, there's Elizabethan, but there's also Jamestown and Salem and the California Gold Rush and Braveheart and and and... there was too much and. The Glittering Court felt like a book with a multiple personality disorder, or to be more accurate a multiple period disorder. Richelle Mead clearly didn't know what time period she wanted to emulate so instead of forging the story's own unique blend she borrowed liberally from all these different periods. The key problem is this lack of integration. When the book is Elizabethan it's obviously Elizabethan, when the book is Salem it's obviously Salem. These abrupt shifts in period are jarring and take you out of the story. You never once get a true feeling for the world of Osfrid and Adoria, they are just aspects of our own past that aren't filtered through the narrative but clumsily transitioned to from one to the other. Each time period feels uniquely of it's own time never merging the story into a cohesive whole. Therefore the narrative never has a chance to be anything other than a clumsily told story that could have been so much more but instead is so much "other" that it never had a chance to be itself.

While these period shifts became more and more jarring I was surprised that I actually latched onto one of them. For a short while the book actually captured my attention. After Adelaide and Cedric have declared their love for each other and been ostracized from Adorian Society they try to make it panning for gold. This is obviously the California Gold Rush/Oregon Trail period of the book and totally not the Elizabethan book I had signed on for, but somehow it worked. By stripping the narrative of all the extraneous characters and customs and eras, by stripping it down to the bare minimum, all of a sudden I liked it. The book no longer had these multiple periods fighting for dominance and it proves 100% that if Mead had forged her own unique and simpler path then perhaps this book could have worked. Adelaide and Cedric panning for gold was delightful. For the first time you really felt their connection. Their relationship was no longer a plot contrivance and the HEA we were working towards. It was no longer them being thrown together, it was them coming together and forging their future. Plus, seeing the two of them outside their comfort zone and dealing with new challenges and everything this new environment threw at them was priceless. Cedric's lack of carpentry skills is truly a highlight of this book.

But this one little slice of the book didn't make up for how predictable and just plan meh it was overall. Literally each and every single "twist" was seen coming so far in advance it was like Mead was telegraphing the punches to come. Semaphore anyone? I mean as soon as I heard they had to sail to Adoria I'm all, shipwreck! And of course there is. But by that point I was all shipwreck fake out, and of course that was the case again. If I hadn't been trying to force myself to finish this book I might have been laughing at the book, instead I was groaning. I mean, seriously, the country they sail across the Sunset Sea to is Adoria!?! Horrid saccharine backlash, teeth aching from the sweetness. If at some point in your book about mail-order brides there is an attempted rape, perhaps tone down the Disney Princess vibe? The closest example to what this book reminds me of is the TV show Reign. Because despite being ostensibly about Mary Queen of Scots, it has modern pop music and dresses that sometimes look like they were designed by Dior. This combination of the Elizabethan time period and Gossip Girl works because of one key element, they know they are camp and play it up to the hilt and therefore it is fun. This lack of self-awareness, this inability to see what The Glittering Court really is it's downfall.

Yet even if Mead had camped it up or bothered to do some worldbuilding the book still couldn't have worked because of Elizabeth/Adelaide. I have so many issues with the lead I just want to smack her. Some of her faults could be blamed on her upbringing but keep in mind, she's fictional! So her tunnel vision, her self-absorbed, self-centered ways don't come off as quirks or obstacles to overcome, they just come across as annoying. Even when she's "helping" others it's really only to help herself. Oh, and her grief over her lost friend? Um... that seemed like self-indulgent whinging. Yes, there's pain, but she freakin' caused it by being so self-centered. If she had been a little self-sacrificing, perhaps she could have been redeemable, but even working the gold claim with Cedric is just so she can get Cedric. Every. Single. Thing. She. Does. Is. For. Herself. The ONLY aspect of her personality that I found interesting was her ability to forge artwork. This could have led somewhere, but instead it is a contrived plot device used as the deus ex machina. Imagine if this ability to mimic was used as a commentary on "Adelaide" herself? A girl who could be the perfect society woman, who could mimic what all the others did and in fact surpass them but in the end could never be unique. Now that would have added some depth to this book.

Yet, with a book titled The Glittering Court I should have realized it would all be surface, no depth. The old saying all that glitters isn't gold, just points out this is all glitter, the kind that rubs off onto your hands and gets everywhere. Because time and time again there were opportunities for depth, and time and time again they were pushed aside, and have resulted in a major plot hole. The central conceit of the book comes down to the feasibility of an actual "Glittering Court." Does this idea for fantastical Elizabethan mail-order brides seem possible? Well yes and no. Yes, what we've seen of it seems to work, but no because what about the previous brides? THIS is the plot hole. The previous members of the "Court" are mentioned ONCE in passing. Aiana is mentioned as an employee of the Court who checks up on the previous wives. But why is this the only mention of them? Don't you think that perhaps a goodly portion of these women are probably living in the main town in Adoria? Why don't we meet any of them? Don't you think that they could sell us, the readers, as well as the hesitant girls on accepting marriage proposals and the viability and success of this operation? But no, that's too much thinking for this book. Perhaps it will be addressed in a later volume. A volume which I won't be reading.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Young Adult

Ah, YA. I remember when you used to be a very small section near the Children's books and then slowly rose claiming more and more shelf space in bookstores until you were victorious and practically the entire second floor of Borders. In fact some of my favorite books and indeed many of my favorite series that I currently read are YA. I can't describe how fascinating it was to have watched this development. I think it's akin to when teenagers became a word back in the late thirties. They were always there, always present, but not quite fully formed because there wasn't a brand, a label that explained exactly what they were. And then one day, they were teenagers. And then one day, there were books for teenagers. And then a little while later, there was YA. Books written just for these young adults, but really, there are a lot of adults that read them to, because books and book genres shouldn't define your reading habits or shame you. OK, so that might have gotten a little ranty, but the truth is, YA books are so well written that most authors are fighting to release books in this genre. In fact, just a two summers ago I reveled in reading YA series for that whole summer. I read books by authors I hope never to read again, but I also found authors that I love so much I'm now a convert to anything they write. Therefore when looking at this current summer I realized I couldn't skip a YA section. There are just too many YA books out there that I want to read and not enough time! So I hope you'll join me with these final four books to end Backlog Bonanza with a bang.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 16th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ghost Talkers: a new novel from beloved fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal featuring the mysterious spirit corps and their heroic work in World War I.

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.

Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.

Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she's just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…"

I have been DYING to read this book since last year, and look it comes out three days after my birthday? Happy birthday to me!

The Edge of the Light by Elizabeth George
Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 16th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The climactic final installment of New York Times bestseller Elizabeth George's award-winning saga.

Seth Darrow is a straightforward guy, and he likes life to be simple. Lately, it’s been anything but.

Since his beloved grandfather’s stroke, Seth has been focused on getting Grand home again, before his aunt can take advantage of the situation to get her hands on Grand’s valuable real estate. Seth would also like to get his relationship with Prynne on solid ground. He loves her, but can he believe she has her drug use under control?

Meanwhile, things are complicated for the other Whidbey Island friends. Derric has found Rejoice, the sister he left behind in Uganda, but no one – including Rejoice – knows she is his sister. Jenn is discovering feelings for her teammate Cynthia, feelings her born-again Christian mother would never find acceptable. And Becca, hiding under a false identity since her arrival on the island, is concealing the biggest secret of all.

In the final book of the Whidbey Island saga, events build to an astonishing climax as secrets are revealed, hearts are broken, and lives are changed forever."

Perhaps I'll finally pick up the first book... it's around here somewhere...

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Published by: Gallery Books
Publication Date: August 16th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.

In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is—a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend—an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably—but only because it’s over."

Can I want a book just because I love the title so much?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review - James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 592 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Little does Julie Mao realize that when The Scopuli was taken it would sent in motion a chain of events that will forever change the solar system. Jim Holden and his crew make their living as ice miners. Their ship, The Canterbury, receives a distress call from The Scopuli and they go to investigate it. Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex, and Shed board The Knight to go get a closer look. The Scopuli is derelict. No signs of any life. No signs of Julie. But Holden knows something is wrong, so they head back to The Knight and that's when The Canterbury is blown out of the sky. The Canterbury, the rest of their crew, gone in an instant, by what Holden assumes is a stealth ship belonging to Mars. In his rage at such senseless waste Holden broadcasts the destruction of The Canterbury to the whole solar system, not caring if this triggers a war between Earth and Mars. Not caring about any ramifications, just hoping for justice for the friends he lost. But Holden hasn't quite connected the dots. The five of them should have died on The Canterbury because whatever they found on The Scopuli is worth killing for. He's determined to find out exactly what it all means, damn the consequences.

Detective Miller has been taken off his usual beat on Ceres. His higher ups have given him the case of a missing girl to be investigated as a favor to her wealthy Lunar family. The girl is Julie Mao. She was a decorated pinnace pilot who gave it all up. She became active in politics and moved to Ceres and joined the OPA. The Outer Planets Alliance is a thorn in the side of Detective Miller, but a thorn he can deal with. He understands their desire to not be controlled by Earth. People on Earth can't comprehend what it's like out in the belt so why should they be allowed any say? Of course they're also the ones who call the OPA terrorists. But none of that matters to Miller, he is consumed with the disappearance of Julie. He might not be the best at his job, and he might drink a little too much, but he's also like a dog with a bone, he will figure out what happened to Julie, even after his boss demands he drop the case. But it's too late for Holden, he's a man possessed by Julie. He must find Julie even at the cost of his sanity. It's not long before he learns about The Scopuli and realizes that Holden might be the only one who can answer his questions. But when they finally meet at Eros Station things are much more complicated than either of them imagined and everything is about to change.

It's rare that I pick up a straight up science fiction book. Usually there's some kind of aspect that draws me to the book, a favorite author like Douglas Adams wrote it or it's Star Wars. So out and out science fiction usually gets pushed aside for books with more paranormal elements, thus pushing them into the fantasy end of the spectrum. Leviathan Wakes was actually a book that was thrown in the hat for book club and I can honestly say that when it arrived from Amazon it's heft made me a little hesitant to dive in. Yet I was quickly sucked in, even preaching to other members of my book club that it was a surprisingly fast read that overcomes it's flaws. Because Leviathan Wakes does suffer from a typical science fiction problem, it wants to be the pinnacle of science fiction and to that extent it incorporates so much of everything that has come before it's hard to really laud it on it's own merits. Yes, it stands on it's own, but so much is borrowed or re-interpreted that it's sometimes hard to let it stand alone. You can't help thinking what else it reminds you of. Here's a little Firefly, here's a little Battlestar Galactica, here's a little Doctor Who, here's a little Red Dwarf, here's a little Bladerunner. Each and every one of these instances pulls you out of the book. I can almost forgive Fred Johnson being Yaphet Kotto from Alien, but when Kaylee literally walks onto Holden's ship, well, that's a step too far.

Yet of ALL the references crammed in the most obvious is Bladerunner. Because Detective Miller is just Rick Deckard under another name and without the whole is he, isn't he a replicant controversy. Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I'm just saying it's a thing. It's actually the Noir aspect of this book that is a little divisive, not the Bladerunner homage. And it's not among readers but among the story itself. It's hard to get a Noir story right. You have to have just the right amount of hard drinking, bitterness, and delusions, which Miller does have. But the problem is balancing Miller's plot with Holden's plot. While they do eventually connect and Holden's plot has a mystery at it's center, it is in no way Noir. And when the two storylines merge, the Noir aspect is sacrificed to the bigger storyline. So then why do it at all in the first place if you're going to eventually ditch it? I just feel that this dichotomy between the two narrators should have been thought out more in advance. Yes, it's good to have two very distinct narrators, but they shouldn't feel like they inhabit two different genres. A book needs to be some sort of cohesive whole to work and the styles of these two characters seem to be constantly fighting. In fact I wonder if perhaps this book was written more like the letter game, seeing as James S.A. Corey is actually two people. That might account for the two narrative styles being at such odds. They really needed an editor to fix this.

But then Leviathan Wakes needed an editor in general. There are long sections of the book that could have been excised and the story would have still have been successfully conveyed. This book clocks in at almost six hundred pages and probably two hundred pages could have been omitted. Two hundred pages of battles in spaceship corridors and hiding in spaceship corridors and just hanging in spaceship corridors. And the Amos/Alex thing should have been fixed, because their names are too similar. Oh, and internal monologues! Yes, I know Noir needs these, but as I've already said, the Noir was sacrificed so why not sacrifice a few of these monologues? Oh, and don't think the irony is lost on me that half of James S.A. Corey, the Ty Franck half, is the assistant to George R. R. Martin, an author known for mighty tomes that could use a little tightening up. The extra irony is that he claims he doesn't want to write like his boss... um, ok, so you've totally failed there. But where the editing could have really been used is in the space politics. Yes, I get that with the conflict between Mars and Earth politics have to be included, to an extent, but please, as I've said time and time again, don't bog down your book with politics I don't care about. Contain what needs to be contained and omit the rest. I get too much of regular politics, I don't need to add space politics to this as well. In fact this was a flaw that always grated on me with Battlestar Galactica, too much politics! There's only so much I can take and only so much needed. So bring on the editor!

Though the faults of the book don't take away from the fact that in the end it was still enjoyable and I look forward to reading Caliban's War. The reason for this is that James S.A. Corey has created a believable future. Sometimes when writers imagine the future and how our future will look like in outer space it's just ludicrously wrong. They think too big, too broad, too many aliens. Instead mankind has had about two hundred years in outer space and human genetics, language, and politics are shifting, but not radically, instead at a normal pace that we can see as possible. Outer planets resent the control exerted by Earth, we still can't go beyond our own galaxy to the far reaches of the universe. Mining the other planets for ice to have enough water is big business. These little things like survival and control are big concerns. As for humans themselves, it's interesting to read about what would hypothetically happen to people born outside the confines of gravity, known here as Belters. How it would effect not just their genetic makeup but how their bones would be effected. They are taller and thinner because of this lack of gravity. Reproduction is more difficult. They've developed sign language from the necessity of spacesuits, and therefore their own linguistic mutations with the Belter patois. They are also viewed as different and therefore racial tensions erupt. But this is all believable. This could happen. This might happen. This makes me really need to start the next book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review - Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

The famous actor Arthur Leander died on the last night of the old world. He wasn't one to suffer like those in the ER on that snowy night in Toronto hailing the arrival of the Georgian Flu which would kill all but one in two hundred people. Arthur had a fatal heart attack onstage during his star performance in King Lear. He'd never know of the horrors that came after or of how he was a tenuous link between some of the survivors. He was blissfully ignorant of what was to come. Twenty years later Kirsten Raymonde is touring around what used to be Michigan with the Traveling Symphony. When she was a young girl she was in a production of King Lear with the great Arthur Leander. Now she is in a troupe that specializes in bringing Shakespeare to the various outposts of remaining civilization. The troupe tried other playwrights, but people seem to want what was best of the old world, and Shakespeare and classical music remind them of that. While Kirsten herself was too young to remember what was lost from the world before or even the first year after the collapse, she scours abandoned houses for mentions of the great actor who was kind to her and who gave her her most prized possessions, two issues of the comic Station Eleven.

To understand how lives have played out in this new world, we must go back to the previous world. The world where Arthur's first wife was working on a comic, a world where his second wife was conspiciously present at a vapid dinner party celebrating Arthur's wedding anniversary to his first wife. The birth of Arthur's son while Arthur was already moving on to wife number three. Arthur's oldest friend betraying him while his dearest friend Clark will live long past Arthur's death. Each and every step and decision plays a role in a world that Arthur could never imagine and which he will never live to see. A world where an airport is a sanctuary, where survival is insufficient, and where Shakespeare brings people hope. A world that is at one and the same time embracing the past while trying to forge a future. A world that is dangerous to live in. A world where a prophet could spell destruction and ruin for people who only wish to live as they choose. Every moment could be these people's last, yet their survived the end of the world so they must try to rebuild it. To move forward, no matter the cost.

The irony isn't lost on me that a book that touts the credo from Star Trek that "survival is insufficient" is literally only about survival, and I really hope it wasn't lost on the author. There are many ways in which Station Eleven differs from your typical post-apocalyptic story, but the lofty ideals of the book might be the biggest difference. It wants so much to be different, to show that art is needed for sanity and survival, yet in the end all the Traveling Symphony's journey boils down to is surviving to the next day, the next outpost of civilization. If it wasn't for this dichotomy between the book's ideals and what the book actually represents I think it would have worked better. Station Eleven is an intriguing mood piece that embraces different ways of storytelling, from lists to dialogue to interviews, slipping through time and the character's timelines to create a vibrant world which in no way embraces the ideals of that Star Trek quote. It just feels so shoehorned in. Like Emily St. John Mandel heard that line of dialogue and jumped off from there, forgetting that the story and this motto should actually connect. And it's not that I don't fully embrace the idea that we need more to survive, it's just that Station Eleven, boiled down to it's essence, is only about surviving, nothing more. The book might have lofty ideals, but in the end it's a post-apocalyptic story, and those are all about survival.

Aside from this quibble I liked that the narrative wasn't your typical post-apocalyptic story. Post-apocalyptic stories tend to fall into two categories, one is that the apocalypse has just happened and our hero or heroine has to survive the initial destruction of the world to help rebuild it in some nebulous future. The second is that the apocalypse happened generations ago and our hero or heroine is living under a not ideal future regime, in other words, think The Hunger Games. Here we see the initial outbreak, but then we flash forward. Not to some "Hunger Games" world but to a more pioneer world, where the old world isn't long gone, but the new world hasn't fully been formed yet. It's not just about getting from day to day, but also trying to come to terms with the life they now have while still clinging to memories of the past. This, coupled with the flashbacks to the world before the flu, makes this a more intimate and personal story. It's not so much what happened to the world but what happened to these people. What happened to these characters who were connected to Arthur and how they survived in this new world. I can't help thinking about when asked what she most missed of the old world Kirsten won't answer, because it's too personal, and that, right there is why this book works. It's about these people.

Yet by spending so much time with these people and with their pasts we don't get any sense of what the future holds. Perhaps we could say that "survival is insufficient" should be the outlook going forward. All we see is them coping, surviving day to day, year to year, without any real forward momentum. The Traveling Symphony and how they are continually stuck touring one route, year in, year out, kind of symbolizes humanity at it's current stage. They have found a comfortable routine and now don't deviate from it. Yes, their might be risk venturing off the accustomed path, but humanity is stagnating. They aren't trying to fix the world, they're just living in it. My mind kept getting stuck on questions like why don't people try to do this that or the other. Why can't they have electricity? Get some smart people together, congregate in a large community, and FIGURE IT OUT! Twenty years and they have grown lazy. Sure, the author tries to romanticize the situation a bit with the Traveling Symphony harking back to days gone by when troupes traveled the countryside bringing culture to the masses and how Shakespeare himself lived in a plague ridden time. Yes, these are interesting comparisons, but also remember people in Shakespeare's time were trying to better themselves, to move forward, not live in the past and not move on. The only flicker of hope happens in the last few pages; while personally I could have done with the hope a little earlier.

And, of course, because this is a post-apocalyptic story the Big Bad has to be a Prophet who has multiple wives and runs off anyone who doesn't play by his rules. This is Stephen King 101 people. Think of The Stand. This Prophet is the main reason this book is problematic to me. Yes, I can look beyond the lack of hope, I can look beyond the disconnect between the message and what really happens, but I can't look beyond cliched characters that bog down the narrative. This character should have been spooky, terrifying, someone to run from. Instead he's meh. It's not just that his beliefs are bog standard for any post-apocalyptic Prophet, it's that he's predictable. The least you can do with going with a cliche is embrace it. Go all out! Make him over the top, someone so big for their britches that the megalomania carries the character on a wave of crazy through his predictability. Instead I just hoped for him to have as little time on the page as possible. As for his back story... well, if you didn't figure out who he was about two seconds into his first mysterious reveal, aka what he named his dog, there might not be any hope for you. Now I'm not going to spoil this reveal for you, because that is truly cruel, but the predictability of who he is and how he got this way, well, it quite literally smacked this book down a few stars. In fact it made the whole back end of the book slide from a pretty original story into predictable meh.

But in the end what did I expect from a story where the lynchpin is a dislikable actor? Yes, we could go on one of those endless debates about how there are antiheroes and antiheroines, and that characters don't need to be likable, yeah yeah, the Vanity Fair of it all; but I'll always come to the same conclusion, sure, they don't need to be likable, but they at least have to be fascinating. For some people, aka, the people who love to watch Entertainment Tonight and read People and think TMZ is the best news out there might take glee in having an actor, even a fictitious one, be the lynchpin to a story. Because they like celebrity gossip and dishing dirt. But for me celebrity in and of itself doesn't make a character interesting. In fact all Arthur's cheating and his storytelling about his home island made me just want to smack him for his pretensions. The more I learned about him the more I disliked him. I honestly can not see the draw to him. Telling us over and over what a great actor he is doesn't make it so. Making him your lynchpin in a story without fully investing the time to make him fascinating makes your narrative weak. Station Eleven started out so strong, with memorable visuals and interesting developments, like the comic book, but it kept falling off in quality till it ended with a whimper. Much like what the dog Luli would do if reprimanded.

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