Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Meyer's Winter

Winter by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: November 10th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 832 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Kidnapping Kai on his wedding day was basically a declaration of war against Queen Levana. But Kai needed to know the whole truth about Levana, and more importantly, about Cinder; that she is Princess Selene, the true ruler of Luna. The rebels, Cinder, Iko, Cress, Thorne, and Wolf, need to get to Luna to broadcast Cinder's identity, foment a rebellion, and rescue Scarlet. After their plan is formed they return Kai to his now decimated palace where he declares his continued allegiance to the alliance with Luna and his desire to still marry Levana. The wedding is rescheduled for ten days later. In Artemesia, the capital of Luna. Just as they had planned. They are going to use Kai's ship as a Trojan Horse and sneak right into the capital. Levana had thought of this outcome and was prepared, but so had Cinder and her friends, enough distractions and they have escaped Levana's grasp once more. Winter has also escaped Levana's grasp, with the help of her guard Jacin and Scarlet, her death was faked and they were able to escape the capital. The two groups meet at Wolf's mother's house in the outer sectors. Maha Kesley offers them shelter, but they know any illusion of safety won't be long lived.

They are now not just outlaws but have an entire moon's worth of soldiers actively hunting them. As rebellion begins to take hold Cinder and Wolf are captured by Levana. But with Winter using her natural charisma to enlist help for Cinder out in the outer sectors there is still hope. What's more, by putting Cinder on trial Levana made a major mistake. Cinder was able to capture Levana's true face. Using her cybernetics Cinder was able to document not just Levana's biggest secret but the travesty of her own trial. Escaping from certain death once again the rebels marshal their forces and plot their final assault. They need to attack the palace head on with their forces from the other sectors, forces that Levana has tried to kill by releasing the letumosis virus. If Levana thinks that victory will be that easy, she is sadly mistaken. Using stealth and forces within the palace as well as those without Levana just might be defeated. But in the end it will come down to just Levana and Cinder in a room. One will be victorious and the other will be dead. Can Cinder get her happily ever after for herself and her friends or was it all just a glamour?

The Lunar Chronicles for me has been a ride of smooth freshly paved concrete and Illinois highways that peter out into dirt roads. There was the perfection that was Cress and the low point of Scarlet. But through it all it has been an overall enjoyable ride. The end of the journey was just a little bumpier than I would have liked. Winter was overlong and many chapters felt like the wheels where just spinning and there was no forward momentum. I'm not saying I wasn't satisfied by the ending, everyone ended up exactly where they should, it was just rough getting there. There was just too much toing and froing. They're in the palace, they're out of the palace, they're captured, they're free, they're in danger, they're safe. Over and over and over again. Exactly how many times do you have to break into a palace only to have to break out again only to have to break in again in one book? Many many times if Winter is the benchmark and with many different subsets of characters. There's literally only so much stalling I can take, which is exactly what every setback felt like. Stalling. It's like Meyer didn't want the end to happen too quickly so she threw in so many obstacles it was almost laughable. This ending was a long time coming. At times it felt like it wasn't going to come at all.

Also, while I admit that everyone ended up where they should, perhaps there should have been some repercussions? Yes, yes, I know this is a retelling of a Fairy Tale so a Fairy Tale HEA is expected, but wouldn't there have been more weight to the story if not everyone got an HEA? In particular I'm thinking about Wolf and his non-transformation transformation. When Wolf and Cinder are captured Wolf is forcibly turned back into one of the Queen's Guards. But more than that he's not just reprogrammed, he's remade into an even more wolfy mutant wolf solider. Snout elongated, mouth widened, my grandmother what big teeth you have, the whole Big Bad Wolf makeover. All that bio-engineering to make him not the Wolf Scarlet and the rest of them knew and loved. It is stressed over and over again that Wolf has been changed so dramatically that he is no longer who he was but just one look at Scarlet and it's all fine!?! It's like all that extensive surgery actually didn't change his appearance much at all. Say what!?! Pages and pages about how he's different and then it's all fixed with a kiss. This is the most Fairy Tale aspect of the entire book and I think that if some reality had been brought to bear just in this one instance the book would have been elevated. Wolf and Scarlet die for the cause? That makes much more sense.

But overall there were a lot of things that just didn't make sense as this series drew to a close. Not just the repetitive nature of the story or the fact that EVERY SINGLE PERSON gets an HEA, but there's The Hunger Games aspect. What I have loved about The Lunar Chronicles is that it took stories that were well known and loved and gave them an entirely new spin. Cinderella is a cyborg but also a space princess! How much more out of the box and original is that? And then when we meet all the wealthy residents of Artemesia they're just extras from The Hunger Games who happened to also be residents of The Capital, in that series and this. Um, what!?! This really just threw me for a loop. I've always touted this series as inventive and original and then in the entire structure of Luna it became a rip-off of another dystopian series. Instead of districts we have sectors, many devoted to the same purposes as those in The Hunger Games. Oh, and the Capital residents, glamours and gaudy clothing and wild looks aplenty. I seriously thought that Caesar Flickerman was going to do a play-by-play of Levana and Kai's wedding. And what baffled me most of all? This wasn't the Luna that we saw in Fairest! This is an entirely new and entirely derivative Luna! WTH people! I just couldn't get beyond this and I still can't. Why, just why!?!

And in the end, the saddest thing of all was that my predictions for the character Winter came true. When Scarlet came out I bemoaned the fact that with all the new characters being added in each volume that by the time we got to Winter's story she would be entirely sidelined. And she was. And this just makes me pissed. Why? Because this book is overly long and filled with all this unnecessary padding and somewhere, deep down in its heart, is this amazing story that is only Winter's. The way Meyer has updated the story of Snow White is exquisite, from the fake death in the menagerie to Levana handing her the apple dosed with the letumosis virus, each and every aspect of this book that is only Winter's story is perfection. There's an elegance and a sadness to her story that captures the bittersweet nature of looking back on Fairy Tales when you think you've outgrown them. The way she doesn't use her power because it's against her core beliefs but is making her insane, the natural charisma that makes the Lunar people drawn to her. I just wanted a book about Winter. No one else. She deserved her own story. She has spent her life in the shadows, tortured by Levana, the least she deserved was not to have the new Queen, Cinder, do the same thing. But such is life. No one, not even fictional characters I have come to love, get what they deserve.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes. Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.

And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.

Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.

The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.

For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny pulls back the layers to reveal a brilliant and emotionally powerful truth in her latest spellbinding novel."

An already good series with a mysterious map thrown in? Yes please!

Murder at Rough Point by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In glittering Newport, Rhode Island, at the close of the nineteenth century, status is everything. But despite being a poorer relation to the venerable Vanderbilts, Emma Cross has shaped her own identity—as a reporter and a sleuth.

Fancies and Fashion reporter Emma Cross is sent by the Newport Observer to cover an elite house party at Rough Point, the “cottage” owned by her distant cousin Frederick Vanderbilt, which has been rented as a retreat for artists. To her surprise, the illustrious guests include her estranged Bohemian parents—recently returned from Europe—as well as a variety of notable artists, including author Edith Wharton.

But when one of the artists—an English baronet—is discovered dead at the bottom of a cliff, Rough Point becomes anything but a house of mirth. After a second guest is found murdered, no one is above suspicion—including Emma’s parents.

Even as Newport police detective Jesse Whyte searches for a killer in their midst, Emma tries to draw her own conclusions—with the help of Mrs. Wharton. But with so many sketchy suspects, she’ll need to canvas the crime scenes carefully, before the cunning culprit takes her out of the picture next…"

Just everything and Edith Wharton too!

A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lonesome Lily turned Scandalous Siren.

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate . . . until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke.

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town.

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love . . . and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much . . ."

Sarah MacLean goes Outlander?

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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Monsoon Summer by Julia Gregson
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"By the award-winning author of East of the Sun, an epic love story moving from England to India, about the forbidden love between a young Indian doctor and an English midwife.

Oxfordshire, 1947. Kit Smallwood, hiding a painful secret and exhausted from nursing soldiers during the Second World War, escapes to Wickam Farm where her friend is setting up a charity sending midwives to the Moonstone Home in South India.

Then Kit meets Anto, an Indian doctor finishing his medical training at Oxford. But Kit’s light skinned mother is in fact Anglo-Indian with secrets of her own, and Anto is everything she does not want for her daughter.

Despite the threat of estrangement, Kit is excited for the future, hungry for adventure, and deeply in love. She and Anto secretly marry and set off for South India—where Kit plans to run the maternity hospital she’s helped from afar.

But Kit’s life in India does not turn out as she imagined. Anto’s large, traditional family wanted him to marry an Indian bride and find it hard to accept Kit. Their relationship under immense strain, Kit’s job is also fraught with tension as they both face a newly independent India, where riots have left millions dead and there is deep-rooted suspicion of the English. In a rapidly changing world, Kit’s naiveté is to land her in a frightening and dangerous situation...

Based on true accounts of European midwives in India, Monsoon Summer is a powerful story of secrets, the nature of home, the comforts and frustrations of family, and how far we’ll go to be with those we love."

The time period, the subject matter, this book has everything going for it.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A thriller of war that never was—of survival in an impossible city—of surreal cataclysm. In The Last Days of New Paris, China Miéville entwines true historical events and people with his daring, uniquely imaginative brand of fiction, reconfiguring history and art into something new.

“Beauty will be convulsive. . . .”

1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer—and occult disciple—Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including Surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.

1950. A lone Surrealist fighter, Thibaut, walks a new, hallucinogenic Paris, where Nazis and the Resistance are trapped in unending conflict, and the streets are stalked by living images and texts—and by the forces of Hell. To escape the city, he must join forces with Sam, an American photographer intent on recording the ruins, and make common cause with a powerful, enigmatic figure of chance and rebellion: the exquisite corpse.

But Sam is being hunted. And new secrets will emerge that will test all their loyalties—to each other, to Paris old and new, and to reality itself."

This sounds... odd. But I like odd, so it could work.

Cold Hand in Mine by Robert Aickman
Published by: Faber and Faber
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cold Hand in Mine was first published in the U.K. in 1975 and in the U.S. in 1977. The story 'Pages from a Young Girl's Journal' won the Aickman World Fantasy Award in 1975. It was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1973 before appearing in this collection.

Cold Hand in Mine stands as one of Aickman's best collections and contains eight stories that show off his powers as a 'strange story' writer to the full, being more ambiguous than standard ghost stories. Throughout the stories the reader is introduced to a variety of characters, from a man who spends the night in a Hospice to a German aristocrat and a woman who sees an image of her own soul. There is also a nod to the conventional vampire story ('Pages from a Young Girl's Journal') but all the stories remain unconventional and inconclusive, which perhaps makes them all the more startling and intriguing."

I admit I've never heard of Robert Aickman, but the cover and the description sound like a British Shirley Jackson. So if I wasn't already sold, the fact that Reece Shearsmith wrote the into, well, now I would be. 

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: August 2nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author behind the upcoming Starz original series The White Princess, a gripping new Tudor story featuring King Henry VIII's sisters Mary and Margaret, along with Katherine of Aragon, vividly revealing the pivotal roles the three queens played in Henry VIII's kingdom.

As sisters they share an everlasting bond; As queens they can break each other’s hearts.

When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a sisterhood unique in all the world. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.

United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other. Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss, and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king."

I admit my love of The White Queen miniseries did reignite my love of Gregory... but now hearing about all the re-casting for The White Princess... well, not as excited as I was. So here's your obligatory Gregory for the year.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review - Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Published by: Pocket
Publication Date: 1987
Format: Paperback, 306 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Richard MacDuff is overworked. He's a computer geek for the genius Gordon Way. He has so much work in fact that instead of doing it he spends all his time trying to figure out how his new couch got wedged in his stairwell. It's a physical impossibility. Another side affect of being overworked is forgetting to pick up his girlfriend, Susan, Gordon's sister, for their dinner engagement with Richard's old professor, Reg Chronotis. Reg's dinner is far from relaxing, seeing as there's a horse in Reg's bathroom after dinner and on his way home Richard sees the ghost of his boss, whom was killed in a freak accident just a short while earlier. Upon getting home Richard freaks out and breaks into Susan's apartment to steal her answering machine's tape which might incriminate him by scaling the outside of her building. In other words, he totally overreacts. He is caught out in this by a very odd old classmate of his, now going by the name of Dirk Gently.

The fact is, everything has gone to hell in a hand basket and Richard turns to the basket case Dirk to help him out. Yet Dirk doesn't investigate things in a normal manner. He's a holistic detective, meaning, he'll follow up on things that strike his interest that may seem totally unrelated to the job at hand. But Dirk is convinced that because of everything's interconnectivity, it will all work out, he's very new age is Dirk. By working with the old adage of Sherlock Holmes; "once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth," leads the duo to a time machine, ghosts of long dead aliens inhabiting people, and the answer as to how Richard's couch ended up defying the laws of physics. There might have been a temporary door where there shouldn't have been. But that's the least of their worries.

The first time I read this I was on a train. This was my first big trip from home without the family and I was going to California with my two best friends. I was in the midst of Douglas Adams worship. I had always known who he was but I was never much of a pleasure reader when in High School. That all changed once I left High School. I devoured the who Hitchhiker's Trilogy, all five books, as fast as I could. I thought, traveling away from home without the parents was a new adventure and I'd re-read the first Hitchhiker's book. It was this whole journey theme I thought was appropriate at the time. I can at least confirm that trying to bathe in a train sink does make you abundantly aware of needing to know where your towel is. Yet I never got around to re-reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, instead I picked up a new to me Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. From LA to Chicago, for 57 hours I just devoured the book, blind to the dusty winter landscape outside the windows.

Re-reading the book years later I realize I remembered next to nothing of the plot. Really, if someone where to ask me, before now, what happened in the book I would have said it has something to do with Dodos, I think, and Dirk doesn't show up till half-way into the book. Shameful that I could remember so little. Though there's this weird problem I seem to have that anything I read on a train I can't retain. Yes, I'm totally blaming Amtrak for my failing faculties. Yet I could have rattled on and on about the history of the book and how it was originally a Doctor Who episode that was only partially filmed and those scenes were later used in another episode but the original conceit then became this book and now there is a book about the Doctor Who episode, it is all very wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, and I'm sure Douglas would love that. Even my book, which I bought way before his death, says "The Dazzling Bestseller by the Author of The Salmon of Doubt." The Salmon of Doubt came out in 2002 and this paperback is from 1988... so could someone please explain that to me?

Anyway, out of the time vortex, the reason I picked this up again was because there is, or was, a tv show based on the books. It was awesome but, now since the idiots at Channel 4 have cancelled it, it's now past tense referenced, but isn't Channel 4 only online now anyway? So Channel 4 is kind of past tense itself. There where three episodes including the pilot. All about an hour with Steve Managan as Dirk, who most people will probably know from the Matt LeBlanc show Episodes. The show was so marvelous and loony and perfect, the pilot with the cat made me cry and cry, that, obviously, before I knew it was cancelled. Of course, in the way of the world of Douglas Adams where his work is constantly being re-interpreted we are on the cusp of an American version of Dirk produced by IDW staring the lovely Samuel Barnett. But who knows how that will turn out. Eight episode and then cancelled? The new series points to the fact that the world, and in particular me, need more Dirk immediately. Also I never did get around to reading the sequel (still haven't) and as I've said, I remembered nothing of the book,

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is everything that is wonderful about Adams, blending absurd aliens with classical poetry. Past, present, and future all commingling with an element of the supernatural while still being hilariously funny. In other words, if there was one writer whose work embodied the essence of Doctor Who it would be Douglas Adams. It wasn't just that he wrote for the show, he had a comedic understanding of the pitfalls of time travel wherein a missing cat case that Dirk was working on ends up being irrelevant because in the new timeline they've created the cat never went walkabout. I wish they hadn't cancelled the show and I wish Adams was still alive to write more about Dirk and his adventures... but at least I still have the next book to look forward too... it's time for The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Though perhaps I'll go back and re-read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency again... I seem to have a recurring problem of never quite remembering the whole plot. Could this be some wibbly wobbly, timey wimey of Adams's own making wherein I will forever be re-reading his books? I won't object if it is.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review - Claudia Gray's Bloodline

Bloodline by Claudia Gray
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: August 30th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Leia Organa has had enough of government work which takes up all her time and accomplishes nothing. When the Rebellion defeated the Empire and created the New Republic she harbored hopes of all the Galactic Senate could do. Decades later as the Senate is divided between the Populists like her, who favor individual rule, and the Centrists, who long for system wide control, the only time they can come together and accomplish anything is in celebration of the old war heroes, like her adoptive father, Bail Organa. Seeing his statue erected on Hosnian Prime Leia comes to the startling decision that she will leave the Senate. She never sees Han, and as for her son Ben and her brother Luke, she doesn't even know where they are. Han likes the idea of the two of them traveling the galaxy together, but he knows Leia too well and knows that politics and action are in her blood; she just needs a challenge. That challenge arrives when a Twi'lek Senator from Ryloth comes before the Senate begging for help against a new Nikto crime cartel. The Nikto, lead by Rinnrivin Di, are filling the void left by the collapse of the Hutt's criminal empire. The Twi'lek Senator begs for the Senate to do what they promised, stop the proliferation of crime.

Leia sees this as a worthy cause and it could be her legacy for when she announces her retirement. But then due to the opposition's suspicions of the Populists she is saddled with a young blood Centrist, Ransolm Casterfo, who seems to be an admirer of the very Empire Leia almost gave her life to defeat. But investigating Rinnrivin Di brings the two together and they realize that despite their differences, they actually have a lot in common and each has traits the other admires. But while they are bridging party lines and bonding their investigation is bringing to light startling discoveries. The Nikto cartel is being funded by a major player. Could it be the remnants of the old Empire? Or a group calling themselves the Amaxine Warriors who seem to be amassing large stores of weapons and troops in the far reaches of the galaxy? Or could the villain be far closer to home? With such unrest in the Senate and a terrifying new move to have a First Senator, a move Palpatine himself would have approved, whomever is moving against the New Republic has the perfect cover and it's up to Leia to unmask them.

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan is THE BOOK that made me a reader. Hands down. It continued the most important story of my childhood, that of the original Star Wars trilogy. When Disney came in and basically redacted the entire Expanded Universe I was sad because I felt that between this radical move and the three prequels I was no longer invested in the Star Wars Universe. And let's face it, The Force Awakens didn't awaken anything in me, being nothing more than a predictable rehash of A New Hope, which is easily the weakest of the original trilogy, or should I say the only Star Wars films that count? I remember a time when just even logging into my Star Wars Galaxies account brought me joy, not to do missions or kill Rancors, which is a ticket to an early grave, but just to walk the worlds and be a part of that universe. When reading a review of Bloodline and how it was written to bridge the gap between the original trilogy and the current film I felt, for the first time, in a long time, a new hope kindling in me. Perhaps this book would address the issues I felt were glossed over in The Force Awakens. Perhaps THIS is what I had been looking for. Of course to put this much pressure on one book with all my expectations isn't wise, yet I still did it.

Bloodline isn't the book that I expected it to be. If you, like me, were looking for the book that would tell you what went wrong with Han and Leia's happily ever after and what exactly turned Ben to the dark side, you're not going to find it here. Han and Leia are still happy, though often apart. If the book could be said to have a glaring plot hole it would be this unexplained scattering of Han and Leia's family. It is inferred that Leia has to have her politics while Han has to have his freedom with his races so to stay happy they are often apart, while Ben is apparently off doing the Jedi thing with Luke. Nothing is ever said outright as to how their family unit reached this point after several decades. Leia just bemoans the fact that it has to be this way. But why? Why does it have to be this way? And right there is your plot hole. We are to just accept that this is the only way their lives could have played out are we? Why is Leia's alienation from her family necessary? And isn't it possible that this alienation is what drove Ben to the dark side? In fact with her staff and colleagues Leia forms a new surrogate family unit and I can't help but think she brought on Ben's defection because of her blithe abandonment of him. But again, this is all inferred from what was never said.

And while Bloodline isn't the book I expected I was won over in the end. We were treated to a rare and intriguing glimpse as to how the Resistance started and how the Empire went about rebuilding to become The First Order. At the beginning of The Force Awakens everything is already in place. Leia is running the Resistance, The First Order is about to make it's presence felt, and it was already a done deal. But it takes a lot to get from singing Ewoks to another war where the Jedi are once again shrouded in myth. A lot had to happen, and while that "lot" didn't happen to feature Ben or Leia and Han going their separate ways we still saw so much. The building of armaments, the funneling of money, the supposedly good senators going to the bad and wanting the days of the Empire back. At the close of this book I felt that despite not having much of what I wanted, it was what I needed. I saw how things fit together in the bigger Star Wars universe. And as this book drew to a close I felt that it was just the beginning. There was a sad inevitability of loss pervading the book, but that just brought us to the beginning of the next chapter, the next story, which happens to be The Force Awakens. For the first time since I saw it in theaters, I thought I just might want to watch it again.

For how much this book won me over I should be very clear that it won me over in THE END, not in the beginning or not even really in the middle. It took quite awhile for me to connect to this book. The reason is simple. Politics. Right now in the US and in fact all over the world politics are crazy. And I mean legitimately capable of being certified and locked away for many many years. Therefore to have this book start out so politics heavy with Leia's work in the Galactic Senate, well, if I really am trying to avoid real politics in order to preserve my own sanity, you can imagine how I feel about reading about non-existent politics. I was having horrible flashbacks to the prequels and all the senators and even freakin' E.T. in those weird pods. Despite having seen The Revenge of the Sith only once I can still remember the horribly written line of dialogue uttered by Padmé "so this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause." I actually groaned aloud at that trite line. So to be right back in the Galactic Senate, even in a "new" form, to be there with memories of cheesy dialogue and ineffectual politics where freakin' Jar Jar could sway the course of events, well, I wasn't pleased. Give me anything but politics and I'm a happy camper.

So it was interesting to see when the shift happened in me from not wanting to pick the book up to not being able to put it down. Because even if the politics bored me, every time I did pick up the book I enjoyed it. Yet it was the "human" connection that made this book work and made me want to keep reading and not needing that reminder every time that I was reading a good book. All the individual characters found places in my heart. From the complex Ransolm Casterfo, to Leia's aid, Greer Sonnel, and her mysterious illness, even to the nefarious Rinnrivin Di, they all captivated me. Once I realized that I was hypothesizing about what exactly was wrong with Greer I knew I was a goner. To care that much that you don't just want but NEED to know if a character has a legitimate health issue, then you're hooked. And right here, this connection, I think that's what I missed in The Force Awakens. I could not care less about Rey. Where she came from, who exactly she is. There's nothing there but a Keira Knightley clone with about the same level of acting skills. She doesn't interest me, and to have a principal character that you're indifferent to? It's a failure before you've even begun. Whereas to have your expectations turned on you, to not care about Ransolm Casterfo to get to a point where it pains you that he isn't around... now that is how you tell a proper story and make a memorable Star Wars story to boot.

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