Sunday, March 4, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Babylon's Ashes)

This one (#6) is the first during which I was surprised at the structure. And I only realized my surprise at the end. It's vaguely familiar, because I read almost the exact same ending in #5...

I know why they've done this. They have to tell the story of the actual war, and the evil ex-boyfriend (nice one, guys), in order to set up the next book which is clearly all about what's beyond the ring. That's right, this one has zippo on all those intriguing things you learned during #4 (on the planet Ilus), and also no sign of Miller. As much as the crew of the Rocinante (now grown to 6 people) believes they've exorcised every particle of him, I expect he'll be back in the next book (or in #8, and definitely in #9). Maybe only because I want to see Thomas Jane at the end of the TV series.

Everything else is as expected. The writing is stellar. We appreciate our protagonists more this time around because they're so happy to be back together. As expected, there is almost no splitting up of the team (well, a little bit at the end, but it's not like they're very far from each other). Plus Alex gets a love interest!

And, folks, have we forgotten the protomolecule sample?? Don't forget the protomolecule sample. I'd bet even money that it'll show up in the next novel (#7). C'mon, library book borrowers. Hurry up and finish this so I can.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Nemesis Games)

I can barely keep up with these folks, and I'm reading these as fast as I can. Not complaining, mind you! (I just added all their short stories and novellas to my reading list as well.)

Talk about taking 5 books to get to the crux of the matter. I will give nothing away (hate nothing more than spoilers), except to say that uncomfortable feeling you get every time Naomi talks about her past? Here's the reveal. And it sure is a monstrously huge one. In fact, this book does all sorts of new things, including splitting up the team for the first time. (Side point: I know what Franck and Abraham are doing there. They're making you hate that SO much that you know the team will stay together from now to the end. And there's nothing more comforting than that in this series.)

Not to say that sending all 4 protagonists to different ends of the galaxy wasn't smart. It's not that there were fewer suspenseful moments, it's that those needed to take place all over space (that's what happens when you expand your galaxy, see also: the series title!).

So, yup, I gobbled this one right up and moved on to the next. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when I finish #7. Oh, right, I have all those lovely stories and novellas to see me through til the 2018 publication of #8. Whew.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chambers, Becky (A Closed and Common Orbit)

Darn it, sophomore efforts for writers of published series have to be just about the most difficult to achieve well. I so very much loved Chambers' first one - the reason is that it was a breath of fresh air for space operas in general - but in this one, she telegraphs her points too early and too hard.

Chambers' themes are all about celebrating difference in others, instead of falling prey to the "us vs. them" (very) human mentality. I appreciate that, don't get me wrong (it's what I liked about the first novel). But in this novel, she goes out of her way to make those differences both obvious and forthright. Now, it could very well be that I'm put off by how uncomfortable she's making me feel - the new AI from the Wayfarers ship is now in her own body, and it is an extremely difficult transition - and wasn't happy with being made that uncomfortable. Or it could be that I was having a hard time trusting that Chambers would bring this story to a resolution that I could get behind. (Hey, it's fantasy, I was having some trouble thinking of alternatives in a world I don't live in.)

Regardless, while I flew through this one as quickly as before - the parts with Jane are hands-down the best, albeit also extremely unnerving - it wasn't as enjoyable. So, I'm very glad there's a third one coming out any day now because I have extremely high hopes for that one.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Carr, Caleb (The Alienist)

Surprisingly, this book is not for the faint-hearted. Why was that surprising? Because of the tone of the writing.

Carr's style is erudite, to a fault. This novel reads like an academic tome, in parts. There are sections of the book that were truly frustrating simply because something exciting had just happened. A mystery is being revealed! A horse-and-buggy chase has ensued! A discovery has been made! But Carr places pages and pages of text, usually describing the milieu of a particular part of NYC down to the very last detail, in between the initial surprise and the reveal. Sure, that builds suspense. It also means I only skim those sections because I don't care all that much about the color of that brick building, especially when I just want to know who the next murder victim is.

This book also feels a bit contrived to me. Creating a female detective is all fine and good, but don't contrive to put her in particular situations or describe how she might feel versus how the men are feeling, at certain critical junctures. Sure, it's difficult to write a book set in the past, and also place it within the zeitgeist of the current times. But, combined with Carr's specific tone, this didn't sit at all well with me.

And the reason it's not for the faint-hearted? Because of the author's developed tone and his plotting, you would expect not as much violence, not as much blood, not as much horror. It's pretty much all of those, people, so be forewarned.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Corey, James S.A. (Cibola Burn)

They are trying to do something very different for each book. I didn't expect this one to be set so very far away from the core solar system, with no opportunities for assistance within months of travel time, and (quite frankly) monsters coming at our fearless protagonists from all sides.

I'd say this one is the biggest nail-biter so far (and I've already read the next one, spoiler alert). Not to give too much away, but important stuff doing a slow slide into the upper atmosphere while everyone scrambles around trying to keep that from happening... That's pretty darn thrilling. Not to discount all the exciting things happening on the ground (even more so, at least towards the end).

It's clear that The Coreys have thought long and hard about the arc of these 9 novels, so that you get a different aspect of space opera each time, with each one leading to the next seamlessly. The only thing that disturbed me in this one was the super-long underground subway system (shades of A World Out of Time, anyone?) that seemed to work so darn... seamlessly after millennia.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saunders, George (Lincoln in the Bardo)

This book came with too many excellent recommendations. This does not discount the inevitable excellence of a book written by Saunders, especially as it pertains to taking a vastly odd premise and making it into something ultra-compelling. But, as with expectations in general, they are not met by such depth and breadth of recommendations.

As stated, Saunders is a brilliant writer. My first encounter with him was with Tenth of December, which is his forte: short stories. I can still recall several of those heartbreaking tales (think: Raymond Carver) tempered by currency (think: Kate Atkinson, sorta). And, it's certainly true that this novel could be thought of as a series of extremely short stories. It's really more of a discussion, or a series of extremely short letters.

I was certainly put off by the structure, and I would forewarn readers to be aware of this. It doesn't take too long to figure out what Saunders is managing to create, and the more comfortable you get with it, the more it reveals itself to you. At its center, this is a novel about loss and regret - in and of itself nothing new. But it isn't just the structure that makes this something different. He is also taking a true tale (you'll see real quotes from real people in certain chapters) and refactoring it to his themes. 

I would never call Saunders' work pleasant to read, because he delves into murky, uncomfortable, squishy personal areas. But I would say that I took a powerful lesson from this book, and actually found it a valuable read for the beginning of the year, in the vein of New Year's Resolutions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Woolf, Virginia (A Room of One's Own)

For some odd reason, I had conflated this essay / lecture with a story by Doris Lessing called "To Room Nineteen". (C'mon, can you blame me??) So, when I recommended that book club read it, I was actually recommending a wholeheartedly different approach to the conundrum of women and writing.

In the end, I'm glad I read Woolf's essay. As far as I know, this is an expanded version of the lecture that she gave to a group of women at Cambridge, back in the 1920s. I mean, really, can you imagine sitting for 113 pages of text, no matter how enthralling the topic? (Heck, maybe they did that back in the day. Fewer movies to watch?) The expansion allows Woolf to truly develop her theme of "men suck".

I kid, for the most part. While there is a fair amount of that palaver, in language only Woolf could get right, the main point that Woolf makes is about having enough money in life to write, which may in fact be a gender-free theme. Even in this day and age, writers go through all types of shenanigans to get enough dough to set aside time to write - and have a room of one's own to do it in. Perhaps it's still easier for men to do that, but I'm not convinced. Certainly, at the time of Woolf's writing, it was worth talking specifically about women's difficulties in this area.

I also very much appreciated her appreciation of Jane Austen as an amazing and heroic writer. I mused to my book club on why Austen has remained popular over such a long, long span of years, and we couldn't really come up with an answer, with Woolf's thesis in mind.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Achebe, Chinua (Things Fall Apart)

This was interesting to read at the same time as Homegoing. Talk about experiences based on male perspectives vs. experiences based on female perspectives...

At their cores, both books deal with African experiences with Western encroachments on the continent (such as Christianity and slavery), however Achebe's book details more African traditions and values. You learn what the gods meant to the villages and the tribes. You learn what their governmental structure was (and why it worked). You learn what was expected, specifically, of a man in that world.

The book follows one particular man, his missteps and faults, navigating his life and what he thinks is expected of it. It makes clear what happens when you don't accept changes that you have little to no control over. In that respect, I found it a valuable lesson for any reader, regardless of the community you live in.

While clearly a tragedy, and also clearly a drama, it has its elements of humor and wonder and mystery. It is, above all, male-centric, which at first was difficult to get used to (in this current climate). More importantly, it offers a view into a world that was not familiar to me (even from Gyasi's book).

Sanderson, Brandon (Oathbringer)

The long-awaited 3rd book in the Stormlight Archive series! Although, really, this wasn't THAT long a wait. I mean, the guy wrote his longest book yet (1220 pages) in 3 years (which is one year less than he took to write book 2). So, kudos to him for that.

More kudos to him for writing something worthwhile reading. This book was never a slog. Also, it did three very important things:

- Bolstered his case for why religion matters to the masses. As with any book Sanderson writes, he does not write it from the viewpoint of the Mormon faith (although maybe a teensy bit more in this one, with complicated mysteries being revealed to some extent), but instead from the viewpoint of why religion should not be discounted as a major factor in people's lives (and certainly not as an opiate or a crutch).

- Developed further his theories around forgiveness. You could put this into the same box as the first thing, but this book actually made these theories explicit. He took each of his major characters (Shallan, Dalinar, Kaladin, and to some extent Teft, Adolin, Jasnah and Szeth) and described their hardships further, why it was difficult for them to forgive themselves, and what they needed to do to get there. Plus all the reasons why it's important to forgive yourself the right way, not the wrong way (specifically, learning from your mistakes).

- Continued the story! We want to know a lot lot lot more about who the Parshmen are, who the Voidbringers are, who our protagonists' true enemies are or will be, what the storms really mean, and why the heck spren and humans can bond or not bond. He moves all those stories forward in significant ways (but the biggest mystery surrounding Urithiru remains). The book itself is not actually about the sword (Oathbringer), it's about the war (which the sword factors into). And fear not, he completes that war. Sanderson is not one to leave you hanging on a major plot point. He has 7 more books to go, and has a lot of story to tell.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Gyasi, Yaa (Homegoing)

It would have been effortless for Gyasi to have created something trite. There are many novels about the slave trade, and many novels about experiences in both Africa and America as a result of that.

First, Gyasi creates the right kind of structure - a genealogical one, which allows her to tell multiple stories across multiple generations. Then she adds one more layer to that by telling both the stories of those who remained in Africa and those who were shipped to America, and putting them side by side throughout the novel.

Don't miss the many opportunities to understand what the African experience was like (which in many stories was brand new to me), and don't miss the fresh perspectives that Gyasi brings to the American experience. Her writing is stellar; so are her insights.

It's likely you'll get to the final chapter and be ready to scoff at her conclusion, but you will know better because of the strength of her writing to that point. She may have created a somewhat mystical ending, but that downplays the power of her craft. It's not at all mystical; it's the unveiling of truth.