One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire (Book 5 in the Toby Day series-do I really need to tell you to do it in order?)
Okay, so I got this at Barnes and Noble and paid full price. But still. Soooo worth it. The author’s previous publishing schedule as been 1 book/6mo, but as of this release they’re going to 1 a year. What I found the most surprising is that while I eagerly anticipate Ashes of Honor, this entry ENDED so firmly that I can be patient. Hell, I may even need the breather. This book wraps a lot of dangling plot threads, moves characters and over arching plots forward believably, and proves yet again that in McGuire’s world, no character is safe and death is forever. This is far and away the most adult book in the series. It also seems to catwalk along the line between the easy read of most Urban Fantasy and the depth and lyricism of more heavy weight literature. For instance, I typically read at 100+ pages an hour for most UF/PNR, but at fewer than 75 for denser specimens (i.e. the Carrol, Harrison & Murphy below.) I was closer to 75 with this, but it still kept me up and turning pages until 2am.
If you haven’t met Toby, go now and introduce yourself. She’s not like anyone else you’ve known. Promise.
The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carrol*
Carrol is the Tom Waits of literature. (Weirdly two days after I wrote this initially, Tom guest posted on Carrol’s blog, which is worth following.) What I mean is that once read, typically people fall rapidly in love or loathing. Carrol struggles with endings. I mean, seriously struggles. Sisyphus-style struggles. You learn to cope or bail screaming. If you’re already a fan, this review is years too late. Sorry. If you loathe him a priori, I doubt I’m the thing that flips you. If, however, you’ve never come across him, think about setting aside some time. The reason people sing the man’s praises is not just his turn of phrase, which is remarkable, or his plot ideas, which are jaw dropping, but the fact that he simply sees the world differently than anyone else ever. He writes books that make me look at the world, my life and the events in it, both small and large, in a different light. This is actually a pretty accessible book to start with. The plot works better than Marriage of Sticks and the ending is less irritating than The Wooden Sea. It still gets the minus for the ending-of course-but it is worth the journey. Some things out value the cost.
*Fringe fans, Land of Laughs, the book Peter forces Markham to pay better for, is Carrol’s premier novel and also fabulous. The series writers owe a few ideas to him, including what heaven might look like w/o lame harps a la Sound of Music. Oddly enough, as I saw the show out of order, I’d wondered if they stole that bit from White Apples before seeing the author get a shout out.
The Course of the Heart by M John Harrison
B+I spotted this in Barnes and Noble when it came out, eons ago-or at least 2006-but didn’t pick it up. Since then I’ve looked high and low, only to stumble on it in the melee of genre condensation* at the close out sale. This isn’t Light. With Harrison, I typically suspect that I’m simply not smart enough to keep up in at least three places per book. And considering my IQ and education, damn. His writing here is reflexive, cyclical and damn near hallucinogenic. Images and phrases reoccur like early summer lightening bugs, a flashing pattern I can never quite discern. That’s the good bit. The less good truth is that the book was written in the 90’s and shows it. The leads are all academics who’ve read books you’ve never heard of** 12 times in their youth and don’t seem to go to their jobs. The plot reminds me of a number of others, Uncertain Places, that Elisabeth Hand novel whose title I cannot remember right now, White Apples to a degree, Indigo, Little Big even, and Pam Dean’s Tam Lin. For those wanting to mention Palimpsest, please recall that this one predates, and thus it must resemble this simply by virtue of Heart having been first. The “crap we did in college came back to bite us” angle is common like fairy shit, as is the overeducated college demi-magic experience. Which, The Secret History did do bestest. But still. It’s a slim book that really is bigger on the inside, and it’s a nice way to savor a sunny afternoon and a few pots of tea.
*Yes, this IS the word I want. I like the image of books appearing from nothing, pulled like water out of cooling air in the shift of emptying out a bookstore.
**I kinda hope some of them are made up. Not just because this would make me feel better, but because it would add a layer of funny to the book and seems the sort of thing he’d code in for those willing to Google. Wait, no Google in the 90’s. Never mind then. Sigh.
Napier’s Bones Derryl MurpyB
Just when I’d decided that all good things are being published by Night Shade, along comes CZP, the world’s smallest and weirdest indi imprint. At first I thought they just did horror, but last year almost all the trade papers I was tempted to blow full cover on were by them. Murphy’s seems like an odd pick for me, as I’m math retarded, but I try to support new ideas with money, so . . . The trick here is the supposition that Math=Magic. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it’s the first t time I’ve seen it as the predicate for an entire novel. Perhaps due to the challenging nature of his premise, Murphy keeps the prose simple and direct. This is a very good thing. While one might think that SF/Fantasy readers are by definition geekier than the rest of the world, the truth is still that almost everyone is defeated by figuring out a 20% tip, let alone calc 5. So don’t be put off by the math angle; if I can follow it, anyone can. I can barely add most days. There are some struggles with pacing, and with tying everything down in a manner that gels, but overall it’s a satisfactory read that also makes you feel better about yourself. I read math good!
The first novel is pretty awkward. I know there are a lot of positive reviews at the front of it, but honestly, much of the book is riddled with 1st novel flaws. Character shifts come out of the blue, & the Hand of the Author is super visible in the plot. But. It only took me from 10 till 1am to read it, with watching the news in between, & I did want to finish. Nothing earth shatteringly original or game changing, but still basically enjoyable. The second is better. The plot makes more sense, but lord does it still scream BECAUSE THE AUTHOR SAYS SO, with whip lash inducing wrap ups and dialogue that feels forced. Sometimes acknowledging the elephant in the room is all meta and cool and sometimes it just serves to remind me that you’re not Joss Whedon, and yeah, doing it wrong. This is a case of the latter. A lot of it left me feeling like it tried to do too much too fast with too little control. That having been said, I’ll still pick up the next one, but since Borders will be gone by then, it will be at the used book store.
Under Wraps by Hannah Jayne
CThis is Not an Endorsement: Pick up this book if you find it used. Why pick it up if I don’t think it’s particularly good? The villain (whom you will spot in his/her very first appearance) wears a snuggie in the climax. And they talk about it. It is awesome. The rest of it, not so much. 1. I’m over angels, fallen or otherwise. Bleech. 2. The attraction between leads is so forced I almost stopped reading at chapter three. 3. The plot tends to careen wildly, less in a fun way and more in a WTF way. However, the characters in general are fun; I did enjoy the sense of humour (nephew Vlad was a nice touch, and done nicely) and it’s a fast read. The author may find a grove on the next go round, or jump off the wrong end of the PNR believability cliff. I may pick up the second book used just to see.
A Brush of Darkness* by Alison Pang
D+I picked this up because I thought it might be the next Sookie Stackhouse. Fun, a little silly, a little girlie, a little ghoulish on the edges. It was . . .not. The horny unicorn is underutilized. The oversexed succubus is overplayed and the whole thing feels half baked. Especially at the beginning, the plot seems to move forward in a way the makes no sense and bears even less connection to any/all preceding events. There is a strong resemblance to chicks in 70’s horror flicks “Why are you going into that basement? Are you trying to die?” Character interactions are utterly unbelievable and inherently stupid, and let’s talk about the weird rape/dream scene? WTF was that? What on earth was the purpose, other than to put an icky obstacle between the romantic leads? Gross. Is it the worst thing I’ve ever read? No. Will I buy the sequel? Unlikely. Do I recommend that you buy it? Sigh. If you find it in a discount bin, or at a used bookstore, maybe. If your thing is senseless sex, poor plotting, & sad attempts at screwball comedy that go nowhere, knock yourself out.
*Both of these books contain bizarre rape hallucinations. What is going on with PNR that this is a thing? I am deeply uncomfortable with this being a thing, let alone a thing handled so poorly as by these two. Yeeck.
A note on Grading: on my Scale A=I might buy the hardback; B=pay cover price; C=get it used or from the bargain bin; D=used if you’re in to self flagellation; F=what, are you stupid?