I haven’t posted a new review in awhile, but I have been busy reading. Some of the books I’m working on require a lot of attention, such as 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (mainly because there is a lot of extraneous prose to wade through), while others allow me to dip in and out pretty easily, such as Colum McCann’s forthcoming novel TransAtlantic. I’ve decided to post some half-reviews, reviews of what I’ve read so far.
On TransAtlantic* by Colum McCann:
I am new to McCann’s fiction. His style is arresting for its lyrical beauty and ability to conjure vivid self-contained moments and haunting images.
TransAtlantic seems to deal specifically with Americans in Ireland or the Irish in America. Like I said, I haven’t read the whole thing yet, so I’m not sure if that will remain consistent. Thus far I’ve encountered two pilots from America about to make the first journey by plane across the Atlantic Ocean, Frederick Douglass on his lecture tour in Ireland, and an American senator dealing with the Irish conflict of the 90s. Even though the POV is 3rd person, McCann follows his characters closely and creates a unique voice for each. My favorite so far is the section with Frederick Douglass, a man who spoke out against slavery but could not imagine the horrors of the Irish potato famine, even as it was happening all around him.
This novel is beautiful and haunting. Each time I put it down, the images McCann creates stay with me and make me want to pick it right back up again. Although I have not finished it, I would highly recommend it.
*This is a NetGalley review copy.
After signing up for the Worlds Without Ends Women of Genre Fiction year long reading challenge, I had to choose who I wanted to read and what I wanted to read by them. Conveniently, the website had a list of authors and their books. I tried to choose authors I hadn’t heard of or read before. Among these was Hiromi Goto. I chose her young adult novel Half World, which tells the story of Melanie Tamaki, her ill-fated mother, and Melanie’s quest to reunite the Three Realms.
Melanie hasn’t had an easy time of life. She is fat, does poorly in school, and has a drunk for a mother. For these reasons, she is frequently bullied by her peers. After running away from the torment one day, Melanie returns home to discover that her mother has seemingly abandoned her. The truth is far more sinister, and thus begins Melanie’s epic quest to Half World to save her mother from the deranged Mr. Glueskin.
Half World is much like limbo, where people constantly relive the trauma of their death. Because the inhabitants of Half World have relived this trauma over and over for thousands of years (since the three Realms were initially separated) many of them have become mad, twisted creatures, frequently compared to Hieronymous Bosch’s famous creatures in the Hell panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. As it soon becomes clear, Melanie must not only save her mother, but also reunite the three Realms and restore balance to the universe.
The Realm of Half World, for all its gruesomeness, sounds fascinating. Readers have already drawn apt comparisons to Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, and China Mievelle, so I won’t drag that out. What’s a little disappointing about Half World is that we get to see so very little of it. Melanie lands right where she needs to be (a hotel that reminded me of Sartre’s hell) and never explores the half-built mishmash of the city and its twisted inhabitants. This is a much more straight-forward hero quest novel than anything else, and as such it steams along nicely. Because Melanie always get some form of help right when she needs it, we’re never really worried for her safety. She is a sympathetic character and her growth and ability to face her fears gives her some depth, possibly enough to be relatable to her intended audience. The prose is likewise straightforward, almost plain, and sometimes a little to wordy and repetitive. But the story clips along at a fast enough pace that casual readers probably won’t care too much.
Unfortunately, what interested me most about this novel was not its characters, but its world, which was only barely sketched in. What we do get is quite vivid; Goto’s world building is good, if only briefly done. Goodreads has a #1 listed after the title, so perhaps the author will return to it, or the two other Realms, in future installments. I’m just not sure if I’ll be bothered to read them.
Sever, the conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy simmers slowly and then fizzles out to a completely unsatisfying ending to what could have been a much more interesting “dystopian” trilogy. I use dystopian in quotes here, because in general, for something to be considered dystopian, it has to deal with political systems, or at the very least, power structures in society. DeStefano ditches most of this in favor of exploring weepy, sleepy, indecisive Rhine’s thought process for constantly oscillating between running away from and going back to her opulent prison, where the evil Headmaster Vaughn reigns supreme.
For reasons that never really gel with his established character, Vaughn allows Rhine to be released from the hospital after she escaped his basement of horrors and cut a tracking device out of her thigh. The still oblivious Linden and child-wife/mother Cecily inexplicably go with her and help her out, sort of. Linden takes her to his heretofore unmentioned uncle, whom he has secretly been hanging out with since his uncle’s exile from the Mansion 10 years earlier. Apparently it’s no secret to Vaughn, who shows up not long after and tries to get everyone to come back home with him. I really can’t remember how many times everyone went home and then left and then went back. The motives and or reasons for this don’t really make much sense either, given what a terrible prison we’ve previously been told it is. I also can’t remember why anything about the characters is remotely important or worth the hours it took me to read this book.
Part of the reason there’s so much going back and forth is that there’s really nothing else going on in the novel. Rhine’s journey to find first Gabriel (who gets mentioned now and again solely so that the reader won’t forget him) and then her brother is constantly delayed because of all the back and forth, and because this is just a lazy and sloppy excuse for a novel. The term “chemical garden” first gets mentioned more than half way through the book, and we don’t really find out what it even means until the last 50 pages, and even then it’s dealt with in a rather off-handed manner. It’s not until the last 10 or 20 pages that anything even remotely interesting happens, and even so the novel just fizzles out and dies, like all the characters who pose a problem to the novel’s attempted neat but ultimately sloppy resolution. Major spoiler alert: no one leaves the mansion and they all live happily ever after.
Oh yeah, Vaughn really wasn’t such a bad guy; he really was only trying to help, in his demented way. Oh wait, he really is an evil bastard and deserves to die. End of the only character who gave this overly long, overly angsty novel any steam. By the end of it, I didn’t care about Rhine, her brother, either of her lovers, or anyone else really, except Reed, Linden’s uncle. But he was just a necessary foil to Vaughn and is only barely sketched in.
On the whole, this a shite excuse for a teen dystopian novel, and especially a trilogy-ending one. Don’t bother with it and read Marie Lu’s newest, Prodigy, instead. It’s still got plenty of angst and a love triangle, but at least decisions are made and actions are taken (in other words, there’s a plot). Plus, explosions and government collapse. Now that’s what dystopian novels are all about.
The wonderful website Worlds Without End (which I just discovered, btw) is hosting a year long Women of Genre Fiction Challenge. They have already aggregated a list of women authors and their books, so choosing who and what you want to read is super easy. All you have to do is register on their website, go to the challenge page, and then click check the 12 authors you want to read over the course of the year. They’re doing one book by one of your chosen authors per month. If you review the book and post a link to your review, you’ll be entered into a drawing for Amazon gift cards. This seems like a great, low-key challenge, and the fact that they already have a list for you to choose from is nice. I’m sure not every female author in genre fiction is represented, but there is a decent mix and I’m especially happy they included women of color. I’ve decided to read the following authors (but I haven’t decided on what books yet):
- Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Poppy Z. Brite
- Octavia E. Butler
- Angela Carter
- C.J. Cherryh
- Tananarive Due
- Hiromi Goto
- Naolo Hopkinson
- Caitlín R. Kiernan
- Ursula K. Le Guin
- Karen Lord
- Bharati Mukherjee
On the whole this seems like a great website for genre fiction, in particular SF/F and I’m glad they decided to follow me on twitter! Click on the badge above and check them out!
As a former academic and general lover of the written word, I was stunned and terribly excited to read an article in the latest New York Review of Books (vol. LX, no. 7) that the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) would be launching its website today (04/18/13) at noon. For those of you who’ve never heard of this and have no idea why it’s so cool, let me explain. Here is the DLPA’s own mission statement and description, taken from the DPLA wiki:
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) will make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all. The DPLA’s primary focus is on making available materials from the United States. By adhering to the fundamental principle of free and universal access to knowledge, it will promote education in the broadest sense of the term. That is, it will function as an online library for students of all ages, from grades K-12 to postdoctoral researchers and anyone seeking self-instruction; it will be a deep resource for community colleges, vocational schools, colleges, universities, and adult education programs; it will supplement the services of public libraries in every corner of the country; and it will satisfy other needs as well—the need for data related to employment, for practical information of all kinds, and for enrichment in the use of leisure.
Basically, it’s what Google Book Search could have been, if it had remained a free program open to all. However, in an article printed in the NYRB, Robert Darnton, a member of the board of directors, writes that
The DPLA was not designed to replace Google Book Search; in fact, the designing had begun long before the court’s decision [to strike down Google's earlier settlement with copyright holders]. But the DPLA took inspiration from Google’s bold attempt to digitize entire libraries, and it still hopes to win Google over as an ally in working for the public good.
Darnton also states that this idea is largely utopian in nature: free access to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world to what could be the largest aggregate of manuscript and digitized print materials in the world. Sounds like utopia to me. But things like this only work if enough people and enough organizations with digital manuscript libraries join. The list of current partners, which includes Harvard, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian, is impressive. Now of course, not all of the holdings of these libraries and museums will be made available, at least not at launch. But the Board has high hopes, global hopes. The biggest challenge will be for schools to figure out how to make the best use of this wealth of material, and I sincerely hope they figure that out soon.
I saw this title on some best of 2013 list somewhere and decided to check it out from the library. I’m glad I can return it.
I generally don’t read in the mystery genre, nor do I read much by Dutch authors. Koch kind of rode the Larsson train into American crime fiction, from what I understand, or pre-dated it, but barely. Yet I don’t feel like this is really a crime novel in the typical sense as it’s explained directly what happened and who did it by the middle of the novel. The only mystery is what anybody is going to do about it. This is more of a character drama, and less takes place at the eponymous dinner than one might hope. I expected, based off the jacket copy, a tightly packed satire of manners at a dinner where every word has significance or double meaning. I was expecting that, gradually, the acid behind the words would be explained, culminating in the great reveal at the end of the dinner.
I guess that’s what I get for expecting to read what the jacket describes (I really should know better by now). There is a dinner, and there are cutting words and meaningful looks and glances exchanged, but it’s not quite up to The Dowager’s snuff (see Downton Abbey). Instead, through the eyes of what becomes an increasingly unsympathetic narrator (Paul), we are given to understand that something happened, something bad, that involved his son and his brother’s biological son (the brother has an adopted son as well, who will make brief appearances). The dinner was called for and arranged, to Paul’s great annoyance, by his brother, Serge and Serge’s wife Babette (for reals). This is the overarching frame for the narrative, which is broken into sections by meal course. Accordingly, the main course is when we learn exactly what that bad thing that happened was, and the apertif is the aftermath of those actions.
But the bulk of the narrative is taken up with Paul’s flashbacks to different times where Serge was an asshole, where Paul was an asshole, when Paul’s life almost fell apart due to his wife Claire’s unexpected illness, when he thinks about the father that he could have, and probably should have, been. Paul has his own issues, which he sort of talks about, hints at, somewhat reveals, yet never fully deals with. If he had, perhaps, nothing would have happened with his son. Legacy is part of the question of the book: a father’s legacy to his son, both inherited and taught. But it’s really only the reader who sees this. While Paul is certainly capable of analyzing (and explaining) the most minute facial tic of his wife or his brother, he is not very capable of analyzing his own behavior or actions.
If we’re calling this a mystery or crime novel (and I’m not married to the idea that we are), the biggest reveal is Paul and Claire’s true character. It is slow and accumulative, and told through Paul’s eyes, and therefore not completely trust-worthy. Paul is not a traditional unreliable narrator, but as the novel progressed, I found myself wanting to get farther and farther away from him because I didn’t like where he was going. I suppose that that is the best thing about the novel; initially we are wholly sympathetic to Paul and his wife and their son, but over the course of dinner (narrative time), his crazy becomes increasingly more apparent. Yet his crazy is not outlandish at all, and his actions, on the one hand, are somewhat understandable (which is part of why they’re horrible too). On the other, they are also if not ethically reprehensible, then incredibly lazy and cowardly. Yes, I am passing judgement here; the reader is clearly invited to. Other readers might judge differently.
Overall, the book was compelling; I finished it in a couple of days. It stayed with me after I finished, but it left a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, and like I said, I’m glad I can take it back to the library. This is really my first foray into crime fiction from the Great North, and one day I might come back to it. But right now, I think I’ll stick to my historical fiction.
I came across this title on i09 and decided to check it out from the library. What a refreshing read in teen fiction! It appears to be a stand-alone, for one thing, it’s based in non-Western mythos, and the characters are POC! (I just used exclamation points, twice! That’s how excited I am.) I was just bitching about the lack of all of this in epic fantasy on Kate Elliot’s livejournal page. While I don’t think Durst’s book qualifies as epic fantasy, it does breathe some much needed new life into teen fantasy (while the cover does show a girl in a corset, which doesn’t seem too logical for a member of a desert tribe, at least it’s not a girl in a prom dress).
Vessel tells the story of Liyanna, a young woman who has been divinely chosen to be the vessel for her tribe’s goddess, Bayla. When Bayla doesn’t fill her vessel, Liyanna is cast out and left on her own, until (of course) a handsome dude walks in from a dust storm. Korbyn is the vessel for the trickster god and he has come on a mission to find all of the vessels whose gods did not come to them. Thus begins the main action and quest of the novel. Each tribe presents a new challenge, and each unfulfilled vessel a new voice to the cast. Unfortunately, one of the last is one of the best, and we don’t get to hear her for very long. After collecting all five of the vessels, the group sets out to hunt down the missing gods and goddesses. Eventually, a Host-like (I think, if I understand the premise of that book right (no, I have NOT read it)) love triangle develops and the resolution of that is also the resolution of the novel.
The freshness of the novel and its mythology (which was coherent, cognent, and compelling) may have overshadowed some of its defects while reading it. Chief among these are the rapid pace of the plot and the character development. The latter was adequate, but it could have been much better and in turn made this a much deeper novel than it was. Durst’s writing was good, even lovely at times, and her depictions of the desert put me in mind of Nnendi Okorafor (if you haven’t read her yet, WTFN?). While Durst aspired to that level of story-telling, she fell short, mainly because she seemed to focus more on plot than on her characters. This is odd, since her plot is to collect characters, essentially.
On the whole, I really enjoyed Vessel and would highly recommend it if you’re a bit tired of the normal teen fantasy fare.