Entries in books (245)

Thursday
Sep052019

The Lost Coast

I wish I had read this book a lot sooner (like the day after I finished Wanderers) because it was such a palate cleanser for basically everything and a real uplifting book to read. I binged through it in a couple of days. It's like the 90s film The Craft but with queer witches in California.

So, it's basically like the author wrote this book for teenage me and I think I love everything about it. The atmosphere, the characters, the unashamed queerness, THE TREES. I haven't been to Northern California where these particular redwoods are, but if you know anything about me, you know I'm obsessed with their cousins the giant sequoias.

The book follows a coven of witches as they admit a new member and try to discover what's afflicting one of their other members. It's told from first person POV of the newest witch, Danny, and then told through omniscient POV of the coven as a whole and also from the POV of the forest. I really liked how the coven perspectives got a little less hivemind and a little more individual and close perspective as the book goes on and you get to know more about the characters.

Danny, the MC, is a "dowser": a witch whose power is to find things. She's also a late bloomer when it comes to her bisexuality. So I have a LOT in common with Danny. My spouse figured out I was bi/pan before I did! And I've also been especially blessed at finding things. My daughter says it's my superpower.

Every witch in this coven has a different specialty, making it a great ensemble as they solve the mystery of their friend the water witch. They learn more about each other and their own powers while surrounded by this magic forest and the unknown threat of whatever is killing the people on the periphery of their lives.

Anyway, did I mention there's a magic forest and giant trees? I read this book based on that alone because I am that kind of tree-hugging hippie. But the book didn't disappoint for a second and the book was fantastic. The mom in me would have liked a little more between Danny and her mom right at the end there, even like one more line, but it's still a fantastic read and I want a whole series of these witches solving mysteries in the forest.

And just for fun here's a pic of a giant tree from my trip to California last summer. (This is the largest tree by volume in the world, General Sherman, and those little specks at the bottom where the fence is are people)

Tuesday
Jul092019

Wanderers

Okay, this book ate my life but I finally got it read and honestly the comparisons to Stephen King's The Stand are absolutely valid, but this is somehow more disturbing because of how fucking plausible it is. (Also I can't review a Wendig novel without f-bombs, so look away if that's not for you.) The story gets really dark and I don't have anxiety but this sure made me anxious. So make sure you're in a good headspace before you start reading.

Anyway, the book is hard to talk about without spoilers because plot twists start coming fast and furious not far into the story. So I'm going to talk briefly about what it's about, and recommend now that you read it if The Stand was your jam or you like pandemic apocalypse books. Especially if you're looking for a reasonably diverse cast. It could have been queerer, more disabled, and maybe a little browner, but it was still pretty good on that front.

So it starts with a spreading affliction that causes people to walk. Like they're sleepwalking. But they explode if you try to stop them. They become known as the flock and the people — their friends and loved ones — who stay with them are called shepherds. The story is told primarily through four POVs: a teenager whose younger sister is a walker, a disgraced scientist formerly with the CDC, a nearly-washed up rock star, and a far-right radio host. Benji the scientist and Shana the teen are the two main characters who reveal the bulk of the story.

The book was super compelling at first, waiting to see how these POVs would interact and come together, and also as the mystery of the sleepwaker affliction unfolded. That whole thing is incredibly haunting (and terrifying in its plausibility) and more and more keeps being revealed on that front right up until the end.

But then the book changes tone and things become bleak and grim around the midway point. It was hard for me to keep reading after that, and the end didn't leave me wholly satisfied, though it wasn't necessarily a bad ending.

That's about all I can say without spoilers. The following will be spoiler-laden so look away if that's not your thing.

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So my favourite character in the whole book was Arav. I don't know why but my head canon for him is basically Bobak Ferdowsi, and the character is just like this precious cinnamon bun. And I was SO MAD when he got sick, and when it became apparent he wasn't going to get better. I'm glad that he at least went down in a blaze of glory. And that specific blaze was fucking magnificent, especially since it was a tactic I was screaming at the characters to use for at least 3 chapters.

While I get why we never learn about Pete's fate, I fucking want to know.

Black Swan can go fuck itself.

The fact that no one tried to put the walkers on a treadmill is a truly missed opportunity.

I loved the little nods connecting this book to Wendig's other works, including the Miriam Black series. I like to think she road this out in Hawaii.

And I really didn't like that the Nazis basically won. I guess it's a warning for America (and the rest of the world should America fall all the way), but it also feels like it's too little too late. Ozark Stover is already out there somewhere. Dozens of Ozark Stovers are already out there. And that, I think, more than White Mask or the sleepwalkers or Black Swan's horrifying deception and actions, is the scariest part of the book.

The end doesn't really address what happens to the Nazis. I mean, sure, most of them die. But even if 1% of them live, as the book suggests, that's still too many. And did Marcy get to keep Ozark's tank? Because I need to see that.

I absolutely and utterly loathed Matt's character because, like Ozark, there are just so godsdamn many assholes like that out in the world. Not necessarily evil, but willfully blind. Complacent and complicit. I wanted him to die right up until the end. Because the only thing better than him dying was what he got. Though I was pleased that he was the one who put an end to Ozark.

And the description of the "yeti" thing from Pete's POV was exactly the bit of levity that book and that scene and that ending really fucking needed. Especially when it came on the heels of Arav's brilliant sacrifice.

Okay, and one last thing that REALLY pissed me off was the chapter where Benji goes to Vegas. That was an utter waste of time and story and (to me) a very obvious contrivance to set up the final showdown. It existed ONLY so Ozark would know where the flock was. And I did not buy that Benji would be so careless out in public after what happened on the bridge in California. I do not believe he would leave his gun like that. I literally threw the book at the end of that chapter. I nearly quit reading right fucking there.

Anyway, that's why the book made me angry and why I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would. I LOVED The Stand, and I actually like that Wendig's book doesn't go down the route of supernatural good vs evil nonsense. I like that absolutely all of the horrors were of humanity's own making. That's also what makes this scarier. Plausible. And that's probably why you should be in a good emotional/mental state before you read this book.

Oh, and if it's the sort of thing you need, no dogs were explicitly harmed in the book, but horses were. There is mention of child death though it happens offscreen. And basically the whole world dies (people).

Tuesday
Jul022019

Five Unicorn Flush

This is the second book in the Space Unicorn series and it definitely lives up to its predecessor, Space Unicorn Blues.

This book is zany and dark and fraught and hilarious. It's got the same diverse cast you love to hate and hate to love, with a few new additions and some definite surprises. It's very much like the first book, but with a little more heart.

Still plenty of jokes! And this time no one misgenders Ricky Tang, so that was rad. There's very little set within actual Reason Space and all its lack of reason or empathy. And the few scenes on the Reason ship are hilarious and subversive.

So the bala have their own happy planet now, except it's not so happy and they know the Reason will find them soon. They just have no idea how soon. And they don't have time to both set up their civilization and properly defend themselves, nor can they decide which to prioritize.

Jenny Perata is desperately trying to find the bala and her wife who is with them. But her search for a bit of unicorn horn to power her FTL ship takes her into the ugliest depths of space travel and yields some unexpected gains, including an alien parasite.

My only complaint about this book is that there's not more. And also that the copy I have doesn't appear to be edited. Possibly not at all, and definitely not copy edited. I've heard a couple of horror stories of managing editors sending the wrong file to the printer and not realizing until it was too late, and I suspect this is one of those. Which means the ebook and later printings should be fine.

But despite a lot of jarring formatting errors and spelling mistakes/typos, this book is still super awesome. I really hope there's another book on the way!

Wednesday
Jun192019

The Geek Feminist Revolution

While there isn't a single author who is an insta-buy for me (mostly because so many authors write in a variety of genres, some of which are genres I'm "meh" about), Kameron Hurley is one of the few who's pretty close. And while non-fiction is a genre I'm "meh" about, I've always enjoyed reading Kameron's essays.

So this book is a collection of essays on geekery, being a woman in hostile geek spaces, revolution/resistance, and the intersection of all three. Most of it is preaching to the choir and sometimes she's a little on the nose, but all of these essays are excellent and worth reading. Even if I was just nodding my head through the whole thing. I've been audience to a lot of what she talks about.

But there's a lot of great writing advice and publishing advice and a few things that were new to me. It was really interesting to see her talking about how her day job has influenced her fiction writing and made her a better writer. My favourite part, though, was how she took apart shitty old tropes and offered so many fascinating ways to make them fresh and new.

How to tell the same stories about new people.

And it's made me excited to start some new projects, to deconstruct the same old tropes and assumptions that get written into stories and to try something new. To make sure I'm not spreading bad stories about llamas.

I'm sure it will have plenty of inspiration and learning opportunities for others, even if you're not a writer. Highly recommend this book!

Monday
Jun102019

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

This is another cute kids book I read with my daughter, and it's a lot of fun and super well-written right up until it falls flat on its face with a gimmicky cliffhanger ending. The author tries to hang a lantern on the ending, but it's still a cheap gimmick that takes away from an otherwise excellent book.

So, this first book sees no-nonsense Sebastian thrown into absolute nonsense when a pig in a teeny hat enters his life. His begrudging involvement with The Explorers Society introduces him to Evie who has some very big problems, including some terrible men trying to kill her.

Sebastian has just discovered the first clues to unravelling the mystery of all the trouble Evie is in. The two become fast friends as they search their home city for exiled members of the Society who can help them out of the trouble they're in, and maybe rescue Evie's grandfather, who is her only surviving relative. They might even save the world.

The story is full of danger and whimsy and friendship with a heartfelt, well-written style that is fast-paced and zany. I enjoyed it and my daughter loved it. The only failing mark is the cliffhanger, which is just so out of place and also so unnecessary. This book is excellent and leaves enough questions unanswered to propel readers into the next book. I really wish the author had trusted the story and not ended with a gimmick.