Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

A few days ago I posted about my writing accomplishments in February. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, (and at some point I’ll write about this year’s unique challenges in an upcoming post. For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing as the second month of the year has come to an end:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Black Knight: The Fall of Dane Whitman Volume 1, by Frank Tieri, Luca Pizzari and Kev Walker.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Marvel Comics’ Black Knight character, but this latest graphic novel collection felt like it just repeated story beats for the character we’ve already seen when he was an active member of The Avengers and Excalibur.
  2. Lightspeed Magazine #81 (February, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. Another fine selection of original and reprint SF and fantasy shorts. This month’s favorites for me were A. Merc Rustad’s “Later, Let’s Tear Up The Inner Sanctum,” Seanan McGuire’s “Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare,” Brian Stableford’s “The Elixir of Youth,” and Ashok Banker’s “The Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang.”
  3. Full of Briars, by Seanan McGuire. Another novella in McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series, this one narrated by Quentin Sollys, Toby’s squire, who harbors a few secrets of his own. I loved that this was a quiet, “day in the life” type story, something rare in the Daye-verse, and I loved Quentin’s voice — totally his own but with hints of Toby’s influence.
  4. Ghost Girl in the Corner (A Shadowshaper novella), by Daniel Jose Older.  Focusing on a few of the supporting characters from the Shadowshaper novel, Older gives us a missing girl / dead girl pair of mysteries (with satisfactory “fair play” solutions) and further insight into how the Shadowshaper world works.
  5. Sinner Man, by Lawrence Block. Block’s first crime novel, long out of print since it was first published under a pseudonym, is classic noir Block: the main characters may be unlikeable, but you have to find out how it all comes out. (Reviewed Here on my Blog)
  6. Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Matthew David Goodwin.  An excellent collection of genre stories by writers of Latin descent or from Latin American countries, including Daniel Jose Older, Junot Diaz, and Sabrina Vourvoulias. (Reviewed Here on my Blog)
  7. Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. The second installment of the graphic novel series expands the mythology and ups the stakes for the characters in intriguing and disturbing ways.
  8. Undertow, by Jordan L. Hawk. This novella set in Hawk’s “Whyborne and Griffin” Lovecraftian universe shifts the focus to two supporting characters: secretary Maggie Parkhurst and Whyborne’s Ketoi twin sister. Still the same fun adventure, Lovecraftian worldbuilding and same-sex romance Hawk always expertly delivers.
  9. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman solidly and smoothly retells the Norse myths that influenced him, often with the voice one would expect to hear if the tale were being told around a campfire on a cold winter’s night.
  10. The Prisoner of Hell Gate, by Dana I. Wolff.  I picked this up because as a kid born in Queens NY and growing up just north, the Hell Gate bridge scared the hell out of me, and the idea of that part of the river combined with the story of Typhoid Mary into a kind of literary slasher-flick intrigued me. It didn’t really work for me though, despite some interesting character moments and the tying-in of other East River tragedies.

So: ten books read in February, and Goodreads tells me I’m still on track for the year.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but I more than made up for it in February. here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

  1. “Optimistic People” by Chris Drangle, from One Story magazine for December 31, 2016. Two teens get caught up with a drifter when they rescue him from being buried alive. Really great character work.
  2. “We Blazed” by David Farland, from an ebook perk via a Kickstarter reward. Cool world-building mixes fantasy and SF.
  3. “Starship Day” by Ian R. MacLeod, from Lightspeed Magazine #31. Hearbreaking.
  4. “Later, Let’s Tear Up The Inner Sanctum” by A. Merc Rustad. Fantastic super-hero world-building.
  5. “Lady Antheia’s Guide To Horitcultural Warfare” by Seanan McGuire. Disturbing and Victorian and also a bit funny.
  6. “The Last Garden” by Jack Skillingstead
  7. “Probably Still The Chosen One” by Kelly Barnhill
  8. “The Memorial Page” by K.J. Bishop
  9. “Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang” by Ashok Banker. Violent and creative mix of SF, westerns and bible-thumping.
  10. “The Elixir of Youth” by Brian Stableford. A retelling of The Prodigal Son takes a very dark turn.
  11. “Taklamakan” by Bruce Sterling.
  12. “Mortensen’s Muse” by Orrin Grey, from Children of Lovecraft.
  13. “Oblivion Mode” by Laird Barron, from Children of Lovecraft.
  14. “The Devil’s Apprentice” by Premee Mohamed, from No Shit, There I Was!
  15. “Blush Response” by E. Catherine Tobler, from No Shit, There I Was! Loved the noir-ish world-building of this story of enforcers and “shine girls.”
  16.  “Full of Briars” by Seanan McGuire. The above-reviewed Quentin Sollys novella.
  17. “Ghost Girl in the Corner” by Daniel Jose Older. The above-reviewed Shadowshaper novella.
  18. “The Road to Nyer” by Kathleen Alcala, from Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Speculative Fiction. A wonderful, ethereal, haunting ghost story.
  19. “Code 51” by Pablo Brescia.
  20. “Uninformed” by Pedro Zagitt.
  21. “Circular Photography” by Pedro Zagitt. Amazing detail that stayed with me long after this bit of flash fiction was over.
  22. “Sin Embargo” by Sabrina Vourvoulias. Words, and translations, mean everything.
  23. “Accursed Lineage” by Daina Chaviano.
  24. “Coconauts in Space” by Adal.
  25. “Cowboy Medium” by Ana Castillo.
  26. “Flying Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails” by Ernest Hogan. Music-infused prose.
  27. “Monstro” by Junot Diaz.
  28. “Room For Rent” by Richie Narvaez.
  29. “Artificial” by Edmundo Paz Soldan.
  30. “Through the Right Ventricle” by Steve Castro.
  31. “Two Unique Souls” by Steve Castro
  32. “Caridad” by Alex Hernandez
  33. “Difficult At Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado. Hearbreaking.
  34. “Death of a Businessman” by Giannina Braschi
  35. “Burial of the Sardine” by Giannina Braschi
  36. “Entanglements” by Carlos Hernandez
  37. “The Drain” by Alejandra Sanchez.
  38. “Red Feather and Bone” by Daniel Jose Older
  39. “A Science Fiction” by Carl Marcum
  40. “Scifi-Kill” by Carl Marcum
  41. “Traditions” by Marcos S. Gonsalez
  42. “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” by Lucas Schaefer, from One Story magazine for February 21, 2017. Told entirely in quoted interviews from those who saw or were part of the title boxing match between a stellar woman boxer and an obvious male patsy.

So: forty-two short stories for February, which was more than one-per-day and which put me ahead of target (February 28th was the 59th day of the year).

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Book Review: Sinner Man

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Book: Sinner Man

Author: Lawrence Block

ISBN: 9781785650017

Price: $9.95 (paperback) (also available in hardcover, e-book and audio)

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Synopsis: To escape punishment for a murder  he didn’t mean to commit, insurance man Don Barshter has to take on a new identity: Nathaniel Crowley, ferocious up-and-comer in the Buffalo, New York mob. But can he find safety in the skin of another man … a worse man … a sinner man?

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts:  The story behind the novel is as interesting as the novel itself: this was the first crime novel Block wrote. It was published under a pseudonym and then forgotten for fifty years. The author conducted an extensive search for the book he vaguely remembered writing but not publishing, and now that it’s found Hard Case Crime has brought it out in a handsome hardcover as well as affordable paperback and ebook editions.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Block’s work, whether he’s writing hard-boiled crime / noir, as here or the more cozy mysteries featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr or anything in between. This book has everything the fans of Block’s noir work have come to expect: a lead character you want to like but can’t approve of; a female lead who is more than capable of holding her own despite, or perhaps because of, the men who use her; and dialogue that’s rich in patter and short on soliloquies.

Also as expected of Block when he’s written full-on noir like this: the book gets off to a hot, fast start (with the accidental murder the synopsis describes), slows down for some character building in the middle (as Barshter/Crowley becomes a part of the mob scene), then punches into high gear in the final pages with an intensity that really leaves you wondering who, if anyone, will come out of this thing alive.

I’ll be clear: Donald Barshter isn’t likeable even before he accidentally murders his wife and decides to go on the run rather than face justice. He’s even less likeable as he worms his way into a situation in which the reader knows, if not Don/Nate himself, that he’s in over his head. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting to know how it all turns out, wanting to know if in fact the law from back home will catch up to our “sinner man” or not. There were a few times throughout the book when I thought “Block could end it here, and I’d be satisfied.” But the author teases out the exact moment the other shoe will drop several times, and never in exactly the same way — building the suspense to a low rolling boil.

This is one of Block’s books that I could easily see Alfred Hitchcock adapting back in the day, if he’d been aware of the story. I pictured Tippi Hedren as Anne several times while reading.

And of course, because it’s a Hard Case Crime book, there’s a cover by Michael Koelsch that would be equally at home on Double Indemnity.

I’m definitely glad this lost early novel of Block’s was found and brought back into print. It’s a fun, suspenseful ride even if you don’t like the main character.

 

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As a way of perhaps easing myself back into blogging and doing interviews with creative folks again, I thought I’d start posting occasional book or short story reviews here that go into more depth than my planned monthly reports.

LATIN@ RISING: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy

ISBN: 978-609405243

Publisher: Wings Press

Edited by Matthew David Goodwin

Introduction by Frederick Luis Aldama

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts: There are only so many books one can read in a year. My limit seems to be about 100, which barely scratches the surface of my “to be read” pile(s). So I rely on short story anthologies and magazines to introduce me to authors I’ve never heard of, to help expand the range, depth, and breadth of my reading experience. The Kickstarter for Latin@ Rising was brought to my attention through Twitter, by one of the authors involved whose work I was already familiar with. I’m glad I did.

I was familiar with the work of a relative handful of the authors between these covers (Junot Diaz, Daniel Jose Older, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Carmen Maria Machado — four out of twenty!). So the Table of Contents alone helped me to realize just how woefully under-read I am in the realm of Latin@ speculative fiction. There are a lot of authors in this anthology with whom I was not previously familiar, many of whom I suspect I *should* have at least heard of by name. Thankfully, this book came along to help me become a little bit more well-read in this realm.

The stories range in length from flash fiction to almost novelette length, plus a few poems and something akin to a photo-essay, so there’s something for every attention span. The authors are male and female, straight and queer (various values thereof). There’s science fiction and fantasy and magical realism and some stories that don’t fit neatly into any one category. Many are rooted in our real world or variations of same, some take place farther afield.

Junot Diaz’s “Monstro” posits a fungal/viral outbreak on the Dominican/Haitian island, drawing a picture of the complicated relationship between not just the two nations but between lighter- and darker- skinned natives. And he manages to sandwich a tale of unrequited love in there, too, with language that is practical and lyrical at the same time.

I can’t review every story in the book in this post, so let me concentrate on the four authors I already knew and a few of those I’m interested in becoming more familiar with:

Daniel Jose Older fills in a bit of the back-story of his Bone Street Rhumba urban fantasy trilogy in “Red Feather and Bone,” sending Carlos Delacruz on a bird-watching mission with lasting repercussions. I’ve always found Daniel’s writing to be musical, each novel in the Bone Street Rhumba series a mash-up playlist of sonic influences, and this story is no exception.

In the almost novella-length “Sin Embargo,” Sabrina Vourvoulias takes the tricks of translation and uses all of them to comment on how easy it is to misunderstand someone’s history and intent when you don’t understand which meaning of a given word they intend. The story also touches heavily on the lingering impact of the Guatemalan “dirty wars” of the 1980s, and how those who grow up in war zones never really leave.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult At Parties” broke my heart a few dozen times. I loved the way she makes the reader feel intimately connected and yet distanced and removed through use of perspective and detail. My reading experience mirrored, I think, what the main character is feeling (or not feeling). The speculative element is very subtly woven in. (Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary for this one, as the main character is a rape survivor trying to find her way back to “normal.”)

Alex Hernandez’ “Caridad” explores a world where technology allows family members to be permanently “psychically” connected to a single member who has ability to processes everyone’s experiences and opinions into a cohesive whole. Family loyalty versus wanting to be your own person is always a potent theme, and Hernandez makes it real and raw without being cloying or simplistic.  I also loved Marcos Santiago Gonsalez’ “Traditions,” which treads some of the same ground as Hernandez, in terms of family loyalty and who will carry on magickal traditions in an advancing technological society. Both of these stories have endearing teen female lead characters.

The joys and pressures of family and history also inform Kathleen Alcala’s “The Road to Nyer” and Diana Chaviano’s “Accursed Lineage,” two very different and equally effective ghost stories. Each author explores how much we understand (or don’t) that our family history, traditions and interactions affect our view of the world around us. Alcala’s story has a bit of the wistful about it, with some amazing sensory detail. Chaviano’s is also full of very different sensory detail and very definitely the scarier of the two. Also impressive is how both authors manage to keep the heaviest violence in their stories “off-screen” and yet manage to make us feel every punch, kick or fall.

And I can’t end the review without mentioning the really unique bit of alternate history about the Moon Landing by ADAL, the “photo-essay” (for lack of a better term) I mentioned earlier. The story has a ton of impact, with a bit of humor, using very few words. Speculative fiction, after all, is not limited to the printed word, and ADAL shows us that the way a story is told can be as important as the story itself.

The stories that I enjoyed the most may not be the same ones you would enjoy most. That’s the great thing about multi-author anthologies: something for everyone, and your mileage may vary. But I highly recommend checking out Latin@ Rising. The variety of voices, all grounded in what is unique and shared about the Latin@ experience, is well worth listening to.

 

 

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A couple of folks have asked, so I’m finally putting together my wrap-up post for 2016: what I wrote, what was published, and what I read.

 

WRITING

Not much to report on this front. 2016 was not my most consistent year for creating new content. I didn’t blog much, and I didn’t really track how much writing I was doing, other than knowing that there were a majority of months where I didn’t write or edit at all. I finished a couple of stories, including “Chasing May” which sold to the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys from Hadrosaur Productions. I sent out a few attempts at getting reprints sold, as well, but not much came of that. (Admittedly, I didn’t make the strongest effort I could possibly have made.)

 

PUBLISHING

2016 saw the release of three anthologies with my work included:

  • “Threshold” appeared in One Thousand Words For War from CBAY Books
  • “Stress Cracks” appeared in Galactic Games from Baen (My first professional-rate story sale!)
  • “Yeti” appeared in Robbed of Sleep, Volume 4 from Troy Blackford.

I also sold one story, the aforementioned “Chasing May,” which releases in just a few weeks from this writing.

 

READING

I set myself a variety of reading challenges in 2016. I managed to complete a few of them.

On Goodreads, I challenged myself to read 100 books. I read 105.

Here’s the breakdown of what I read:

  • Fiction: 97 books
    • 4 anthologies
      • 1 noir
      • 2 horror
      • 1 fantasy
    • 1 single-author collection (1 urban fantasy)
    • 17 graphic novels
      • 11 super-hero
      • 4 YA adventure
      • 1 YA comedy
      • 1 comic strip collection
    • 12 magazines (all issues of Lightspeed magazine)
    • 43 novels
      • 1 crime
      • 1 mystery
      • 1 noir
      • 1  Fantasy
      • 1 historical fiction
      • 1  historical fantasy
      • 2  historical romance
      • 3  historical urban fantasy
      • 3  alternate history
      • 3 horror
      • 1 literary
      • 4  pulp adventure
      • 2 science fiction
      • 13 urban fantasy
      • 1 YA urban fantasy
      • 1 YA science fiction
    • 8 novellas
      • 2 horror
      • 3 fantasy
      • 1 science fiction
      • 1 urban fantasy
      • 1 mystery
    • 1 picture book
    • 1 playscript
    • 10 short stories published as stand-alone ebooks
      • 4 urban fantasy
      • 3 mystery
      • 1 modern romance
      • 1 thriller
      • 1 historical fantasy
  • Non-Fiction: 8 books
    • 5 Memoir/biography
    • 2 History
    • 1 Writing Advice

Other Book Stats:

# of Authors/Editors: 86 (including graphic novel artists); 34 of these were female authors. (I didn’t do a good job of tracking other sub-group metrics, such as writers of color, queer writers, etc. I’m going to make a better effort this year.)

Shortest Book Read: 20 pages (Forbid the Sea by Seanan McGuire)

Longest Book Read: 496 (Feedback by Mira Grant)

(Interesting that the shortest and longest read were by the same author, albeit one under a pen-name.)

Total # of pages read: 24064

Average # of pages per book: 229

Format Summary:

  • 4 audiobooks
  • 28 ebooks (5 Nook, 23 Kindle)
  • 73 print
    • 17 hardcovers
    • 56 softcovers

 

On my Livejournal, I challenged myself to read 365 short stories (1 per day, basically), but I only managed 198 this year. I did not read as many anthologies or single-author collections cover-to-cover as I have in previous years.

Those 198 stories appeared in:

  • 5 Magazines
    • Asimov’s
    • Cemetary Dance
    • Daily Science Fiction
    • Disturbed Digest
    • Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
    • Lightspeed Magazine
    • One Story
    • One Teen Story
    • The Dark
    • The Strand
    • Three Slices
    • Unbound
  • 10 Anthologies
    • Candle in the Attic
    • Clockwork Phoenix 5
    • Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
    • Dark and Dangerous Things III
    • Ghost in the Cogs
    • In Sunlight or in Shadow (Stories based on the paintings of Edward Hopper)
    • Robbed of Sleep Vol 4
    • Shattered Shields
  • 1 Single-Author Collection
    • Two Tales of the Iron Druid by Kevin Hearne
  • 8 Stand-alone (self-pubbed or publisher-pubbed in e-format)
    • Seanan McGuire (mostly from her website)
    • Jordan L. Hawk (email newsletter)
    • Lawrence Block (purchased in e-format via Amazon)

Those 198 stories were written by 166 different authors. 82 of those were women (again, didn’t do a good job of tracking any other author-identifying metrics). The work was published by 26 different editors, roughly (there were a few for whom I’m not sure who the editor was / who to credit).

 

So there you have it: my writing, publishing and reading, by the numbers, for 2016. (I was going to include other media consumed, like music, movies, and television, but I didn’t do as good of a job compiling those numbers in 2016. Oh well!)

 

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Yesterday I posted about my writing accomplishments in January. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, and I’ll write about this year’s challenges in an upcoming post. (I also need to write up a post about how I did with my reading challenges for 2016, but first I have to find the word doc in which I crunched all those numbers…) For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Locke and Key Vol 1.: Welcome To Lovecraft, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while, and finally got around to it because my nephew Brandon forced it into my hands during a December visit. I’m glad he did. Really enjoyed the set-up, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon.
  2. Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rhumba #3) by Daniel Jose Older.  I love urban fantasy. If you love urban fantasy, and you’re not reading Older’s NYC-set story of ghosts, magic, and political machinations … well, why not? This third book closes out the Rhumba series, but I’m sure Older isn’t done with these characters or this world. And his writing has a musicality to it I can’t remember feeling with anything else I’ve read.
  3. Lily, by Michael Thomas Ford, with illustrations by Staven Andersen.  Classic fairy-tale tropes (Baba Yaga, hidden villages, a girl with a power she doesn’t understand, adults who try to suppress that power) come together in a modern setting. Some types of stories stay true no matter when they’re set, and Ford does a great job of balancing the fantastical with modern realities. And Andersen’s illustrations are disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
  4. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. McGuire publishes a lot of stand-alone short stories from her various fictional series worlds on her website and her Patreon page. This one details how two secondary characters from the October Daye series, Patrick and Dianda, first met. It takes place prior to book one of the series but is probably best read after book 9. And what a meet-cute it is.
  5. Lightspeed Magazine #80 (January, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. I’m the proofreader for the Kindle ebook edition of Lightspeed, so it’s the one magazine I read front-to-back every month. The eight stories and one novella in each issue also account for 9 of the short stories I read every month. (See below for brief thoughts on those.)
  6. Lumberjanes Volume 5: Band Together, by Shannon Waters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Carolyn Nowak.  My good friends Kay Holt and Bart Leib introduced me to the Lumberjanes collected volumes on a visit to Boston last year, and I’ve eagerly awaited each new volume (since I don’t buy individual monthly comics anymore for a variety of reasons). I love the characters, the mystery, and the pacing. I have to admit that the change to the art in the run of issues collected here didn’t quite work for me: some of the characters barely looked like themselves for me. The art’s not bad, it just took some getting used to. But the story is a lot of fun.
  7. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire. Another short story in McGuire’s October Daye universe, this time telling a tale of romance and secrets involving everyone’s favorite sea-witch, The Luideag. I know, I know: “romance” and “the Luideag” are not words one expects to hear in the same sentence. Best read after book five of the October Daye series.
  8. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. A new novella from McGuire that doesn’t seem to connect to any of her other existing series (although I can see it connecting to her novel Sparrow Hill Road in some ways). There’s some great world-building around a main character whose voice clicked with me right away, making me want to know more about her and the characters around her. A very satisfying “done in one” story.

So: eight books read in January, and Goodreads tells me that means I’m “on track” for my yearly goal.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too:

The first 9 stories come from the January 2017 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. The first 8 are available to read for free on the magazine’s website, while the 9th story is only available as part of the ebook edition.

  1. Rate of Change by James S.A. Corey. A look at a future where brain/spinal transplants have become the norm — how does that affect our basic humanity.
  2. The Whole Crew Hates Me by Adam-Troy Castro. First person narrative about why the title of the story may be true. As soon as I finished reading it, I thought “man, this would make a fantastic acting monologue!” Great, is-he-paranoid-or-not voice.
  3. Tracker by Mary Rosenblum. Intriguing future (?) world where seeming gods control the weather, population, etc., and the title character is trapped in the middle of a power struggle.
  4. Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer. What happens when your husband is replaced by an alien intelligence just as you’re getting ready to divorce him. There’s a bit of comedy and tragedy mixed together here.
  5. Seven Salt Tears by Kat Howard. Another moving, very personal story from Howard, this one about how childhood stories involving the ocean impact a woman’s life.
  6. Daddy Long-Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford. I read this one years ago, was completely creeped out by it, and am happy to say the reread was just as creepy. Urban legend about a boy whose brain is infested by a spider.
  7. The West Topeka Triangle by Jeremiah Tolbert. This one really brought back middle school memories, even though I didn’t grow up anywhere near Kansas nor in any urban setting. I love that lingering question as to whether anything supernatural is really happening, a tone Tolbert expertly keeps up throughout the story.
  8. Nine by Kima Jones. Fantasy trappings on a real-world setting: Tanner, Jessie and Flo run a motel for blacks moving west after the Civil War, but even the three proprietors are running from something that seems destined to catch up with them. Heart-breaking and full of love at the same time.
  9. Awakening by Judith Berman. Aleya wakes in a dungeon full of corpses, unsure how she got there. This story takes more twists than a D&D campaign, and each one is layered brilliantly onto the previous. It kept me guessing throughout as to how it would end.
  10. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, a really cute story about how Patrick and Dianda met. It has the feel of a screwball rom-com.
  11. Stage of Fools by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) A story of Tybalt, the King of Cats, during his days in London, long before Toby Daye was even born. The first of three connected stories about how Tybalt re-opened his court after a long period of being alone.
  12. The Voice of Lions by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) The second connected story about Tybalt reopening his court in London, with some interesting political intrigue thrown in.
  13. Lunching with the Sphinxes by Richard Bowes. (from Grendelsong magazine, issue #2). A story set in Bowes’ Big Arena (NYC) future-history. Political intrigue from the perspective of a person who never thought she’d be a politician. I’d not read this when it first came out, but it seems a bit prescient in light of recent political events here in the US.
  14. Singing Wings by Keffy R.M. Kehrli. (from Fireside magazine #27). Aduaa is about to go through her species’ natural transformation, which means saying goodbye to those she’ll no longer be able to interact with. Kehrli really sucker-punches you with a depth of emotion we all recognize when life forces us to move on.
  15. Bones at the Door by John Wiswell (from Fireside magazine #27). Mandy starts discovering animal bones left at her front door, which leads to life changes she never could have expected. Eerie and disturbing.
  16. The Closest Thing To Animals by Sofia Samatar (from Fireside magazine #27). The narrator discloses a history of  her failing relationships in a city closed off from the rest of the world due to a plague that doesn’t kill. Great world-building, interesting story structure.
  17. The Acts of Hares by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page). The third of the connected Tybalt stories, this one about how he finally finds that last reason to re-open his court to other cats, putting him further on the road to being the Tybalt we know in the current Toby Daye books.
  18. Beks and the Second Note by Bruce Arthurs. (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine). Appearances are deceiving and not every case is as simple as it seems, as Detective Beks discovers investing a case of a good gun-carrying citizen killing a bank robber.
  19. Whatever It Takes by Lawrence Block (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine)  An old, previously-unpublished Block tale of a group of cops trying to get a man to turn informant against a big time, almost-untouchable gangster, and the lengths to which they’ll go. The dialogue-heavy story structure makes it an even more fun read.
  20. Through This House by Seanan McGuire (from the anthology Home Improvement: Undead Edition). Another story set in McGuire’s Toby Daye universe, but in modern times compared to the others read this month. Toby, May, Quentin and Danny must figure out how to reopen the sealed fairie Knowe of Goldengreen before it kills them. It’s  bit of a haunted house adventure, with all the creeping shadows and jump-scares one would expect.
  21. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, this one is set prior to the first novel of the Toby Daye series and doesn’t involve Toby herself. But it’s a great love story, slowly and carefully told.

So: 21 stories read in January, which means I’m 10 stories behind on my “read 365 stories this year” goal. But I suspect I’ll be catching up soon. One of my problems is I keep buying short story anthologies and then setting them aside for when I have time to read “the whole thing.” Which rarely seems to happen. So I’m making a sub-challenge for myself that each time I buy a new anthology, I will read at least one story the day I buy it. That might help with this a bit.

 

Clearly, between books and stories this has been a Seanan McGuire heavy month. She is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been working towards finally reading all of the stories connected to her main novel series. So there’ll be another batch of McGuire reviews in the wrap-up post for February’s reading as well.

 

 

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For the past two years, I’ve taken part in RoofBeam Reader’s “TBR Challenge.”

For 2011, I posted the list of titles I intended to read here on LJ. Of the 12 (plus 2 alternates), I managed to finish 4.
For 2012, I posted the list of titles I intended to read on my website. Of the 12 (plus 2 alternates), I managed to finish two.

For 2013, I’m attempting to participate again. You’ll see some of the same titles from previous years making it onto this list, but I also tried to pick some new titles. Maybe the third year is the charm, yes? I’m once again listing the rules and titles here and will mirror this post onto my livejournal.

In Adam’s own words:

The Goal To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list fo AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2012 or later (any book published in the year 2011 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates) Caveat: two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

My choices this year are:

1. The Valley of Fear, a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
2. Call For The Dead, the first Smiley novel by John LeCarre
3. Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block
4. Blind Fall by Christopher Rice
5. Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher
6. Without You by Anthony Rapp
7. Poisoning For Profit: The Mafia and Toxic Waste in America by Alan A. Block and Frank R. Scarpitti
8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
9. Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours by Jim Butcher Completed January 7, 2013
10. Hounded, the first Atticus O’Sullivan book, by Kevin Hearne
11. Second Thoughts by Steve Berman
12. Storm of Swords, the 3rd “Song of Ice and Fire” book by George RR Martin

and the two alternates:

13. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
14. The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCullers

Of course, I am under no requirement to read them in this precise order.  I’ll keep coming back and updating the list as I read the books, crossing them out and changing the color of the text. Four of these books will also help me with my on-going challenge to read more non-fiction.

This is the only official reading challenge I’m giving myself this year, seeing that I want to concentrate more on my own writing and also be a better contributor to my office book club. And of course, I’m proofreading the ebook editions of each issue of LIGHTSPEED magazine, which takes up some reading time each month.

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Green by Jay Lake, isbn 9780765321855, 368 pages, Tor, $26.95

I’ve read several of Jay Lake’s short stories. What I usually like about his work is how the sense of place and the sense of character are equally important, how neither aspect overwhelms the other, and how both combine to move the plot forward.  Green is the first of Lake’s novels that I’ve read, and I’m glad I chose it to start off with because it has the exact same qualities I’ve enjoyed in his short fiction.

Green is the story of a girl taken from her home at an early age and raised through her early teens in The Pomegranate Court, where she is trained to be a Great Lady. If she succeeds in her training, she’ll become a favored toy of the Duke of Copper Downs; if she fails, she’ll be sold off to some outlying lord’s manor to be used however that lord sees fit. Throughout her education, she has no real name, simply being called “Girl,” and no real friends amongst her teachers except for Federo, the man who took her from her home, and The Dancing Mistress, a mysterious member of a feline race who teaches Girl more than just dancing. It seems as though Federo and the Dancing Mistress are preparing her for something, but can she trust them?  She is eventually given the name Emerald in the court, but chooses to call herself Green.

There is far more to the story than that, of course, but I prefer to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible.

I described Green, when I was about halfway through the book, to a friend by saying it was “languid, but not slow.” One of the things that amazes me about the book is that it covers, in 368 pages, three distinct phases of Green’s life (in fact, several times I found myself thinking that in the hands of another high fantasy author, each section of this book would have been a 400-500 page book of its own). So the pace of the book cannot be said to be “slow.” And yet, Green’s voice as she narrates is melancholic, languid, pining for what she thinks she has lost. Lake takes the old “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” trope and really drives home, through Green, the fact that we never really understand what life is like for others when the only lens we have to view it through is that of our own experiences. Green repeatedly finds herself confronted with how her life might have been different, and each time it happens there is the potential for her to change her thoughts — and yet, like most normal people, she retains her anger and her wish for something different despite all evidence that the life she was handed is in some ways better than the life she would have left had Federo never found her.  Of course, it’s not that simple, and I think in the end the best we can say is that Green’s life would have been brutal and dangerous either way.

So the book may feel languid, thanks to Green’s voice, but it is not at all slow. Events happen, and in the nature of the world, we don’t always know the outcome because we’re getting the story from Green’s point of view completely and she is not a narrator who tells the story out of order. If she were, that great languid quality of her voice would be lost. Because she is a child of two societies (continents? they are separated by a vast sea), it is inevitable that Green will journey back to the land of her birth, just as it is inevitable she will return to Copper Downs to finish what was started. The reader can sense this inevitability, but Green herself drops very few hints at it.  When Green leaves for Kalimpura, I did have a momentary thought of “that’s it? Lake is just leaving this whole plot thread hanging to go off in search of a completely different story?” That momentary thought is to Lake’s credit. It shows that I was caught up, perhaps more than I thought at the time, in what Federo and the Dancing Mistress were really up to with Green. It shows that a jarring, but perfectly logical, change of scene and storyline, was exactly what the book needed, and more importantly it was exactly what Green needed.  It proves, as I said earlier, that events happen and sometimes we are not privy to the outcome. Especially in the type of world in which Green lives. There is no internet, no cell phone service, not even a magical approximation of those things. So when Green is out of touch with what is going on in Copper Downs, so are we. Even when she hints, from whenever in her life she is narrating this, that there were events going on that she had no awareness of … she still doesn’t tell us what those events were. She perfectly replicates the insular life she lead.

I feel a bit like I’m rambling. I haven’t addressed the other characters. It is hard, in a first-person narrated tale, for the reader to get a sense of other characters’ inner lives except through the viewpoint of the narrator. Still, perhaps because of Green’s own fascination, I find myself hoping that sooner or later Lake will write a story from The Dancing Mistress’ point of view. Or from Federo’s, or Septio’s, or any of the Lily Blades we meet in the course of the book. They all strike me as interesting characters, and I know it’s not unheard of for Jay Lake to write novellas and shorts that add depth to the worlds he’s created.

I also haven’t addressed that sense of place. There are two major locations for this book: the city of Copper Downs, where Green is effectively raised, and the city of Kalimpura, where she furthers her education.  Lake does a great job of showing us the differences in the societies Green inhabits by describing the differences in the cities she encounters. Copper Downs feels very European, Kalimpura very Asiatic. Those are gross simplifications, but they’ll do for the review. Green’s two societies don’t war with each other — they trade (although even that is implied to be limited) and otherwise co-exist across a vast sea. But they are almost ideologically at odds with each other simply in the way they are structured. And that, of course, feeds into the primary problem for our main character, as she tries to figure out who she really is, and who she wants to be.

I highly recommend Green as an example of what High Fantasy can be. It doesn’t all have to be over-written and bloated. It doesn’t all have to feature a cast of thousands that are difficult to keep track of.  In Green, Jay Lake gives us an intriguing fantasy world with political and social depth and a main character worth following through multiple adventures.  He also gives us a book that feels complete in and of itself. I know he’s already at work on at least one sequel, but you can read Green and feel like you’ve gotten a full story with nothing lingering forcing you to read a second or third book.

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