Atlanta Burns, by Chuck Wendig

Atlanta Burns Book Cover Atlanta Burns
Chuck Wendig
YA, thriller/crime
Skyscape
January 27 2015
e-book
381

So here's a book about a high school girl with a broken family and a troubled past, who helps fix other people's problems. It might sound a lot like Veronica Mars, except Atlanta Burns has less sass, more shotgun.

Atlanta's life is not excessively comfortable, and it doesn't help that when she tries to help out, everything just gets worse. Her friends get beat up. Or killed.  Which sucks.  Atlanta has the narrative voice of a hard-boiled noir detective, which is a well-used trope, and it works.  I can hear her southern twang clearly in my head, from the very first page.  Her somewhat reluctantly acquired friends accompany her through the rural community's white power millieu, looking to find out who's been going after gay, and hispanic, children.  Why the cops aren't doing anything about it. Where all the dogs have been disappearing.  And where can she get some more of those pills to keep from sleeping? Sleep means revisiting that whole troubled past thing, which Atlanta isn't much interested in.

Atlanta goes through a series of bad situations in bad places; enough to give kinda wussy readers a hard time. I don't mean because of a lot of gore or excessive violence or similar - but you know that thing that movies often do? Those scenes where tension is just building and you know something is about to go wrong but the scene just seems to last forever while you're in full expectation-mode?  Yeah.  Books are allowed to do that too, obviously. I hate it.  Sure, exciting reading, but, uh, I guess I'm saying it's too much excitement for me.  But you can remind me that I voluntarily read gory horror without complaining, so what this paragraph is really about is simply that the author, Chuck Wendig, is quite capable of pushing many heartbeat-hastening buttons.  (You should also be aware of Wendig's considerable internet presence, which is full of profanity and magnificent writing advice. Look it up.)

And that's a good thing.  Of course.

 (Also, look at the cover art. It's gorgeous and it absolutely matches the mood.)

I hope there'll be more Atlanta Burns stories.  And that she gets a lot of fans who'd like to make her grilled cheese sandwiches.  I totally would.

Who should read this? Anyone looking for fast-paced high school noir with a kick-ass girl protagonist.  Or, you know, someone just looking for one of those features who'll be happy to take the other as an educational bonus.

And who shouldn't? Atlanta Burns isn't given to lengthy introspection and doesn't particularly feel like bonding closely with anyone, so if you want a heroine who does those things, you'll find better matches elsewhere.   Oh, and if animal cruelty is an absolute deal breaker or trigger or whatever the appropriate tag is, for you.  (It is pretty much the most problematic thing for me to read about when my brain is sore, and I had to save parts of this book for daytime-with-coffee-brain and keep it away from bedtime-brain.)

The Donor, by Nikki Rae

The Donor Book Cover The Donor
Nikki Rae
Paranormal
self-published
October 30 2014
e-book
115

The Donor was a strange and pleasant surprise.   (One of the surprises is nicely spoiled simply by looking at the shelving on GoodReads, actually - I don't mind much, but I'm not very bothered by spoilers anyway.)

Ah. It's really hard to say much about this without giving away any of the things the story uncovers quietly, one thing at a time.  We meet a young woman, 18,  working a job instead of going to college as planned, putting all of her income into her father's medical bills.  Casey and her parents don't have much to spend. She dismisses her own headaches and nosebleeds; Getting it checked out would cost money she doesn't have.

She makes a match at a website; one that isn't like okcupid and the others, according to her work friend, "Most of these guys are loaded."

Casey travels from California to Boston to meet her match.  It seems like the only reasonable choice now, given her situation. At least there's money to be made.

This is the basic setup, and it implies a certain set of events, so clearly that of course the reader knows those expectations are not going to be met.   I could predict much of it, but that didn't detract from the reading - Casey's narration is quiet, poignant,  moving forward with heavy inevitability.

I enjoyed the read rather more than I expected to. Might recommend to others looking for a mini-tearjerker of the paranormal variety.   It is, however, all about interactions between a small cast of characters, so stay clear if you're looking for worldbuilding or thicker plotlines.

Eliza Bluebell, Delilah Dusticle, Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian adventure, by A.J. York

Delilah Dusticle, Delilah Dusticle's Transylvanian adventure, and Eliza Bluebell Book Cover Delilah Dusticle, Delilah Dusticle's Transylvanian adventure, and Eliza Bluebell
A. J. York
Children's, Middle grade fantasy
e-books

A while ago I was offered these three short books for review:  Delilah Dusticle,  Delilah Dusticle's Transylvanian Adventure,  and Eliza Bluebell, authored by A.J. York.  I was happy to accept, because middle grade fantasy is a genre with room for a lot of magic. I mean, um, not just spells-and-charms kind of magic, but... vivid colours and vast landscapes and textured descriptions. The kind of magic that never stops putting new, detailed pictures in your head.  (It's also usually the genre that gets the absolutely prettiest book covers!)  But in talking about books like these, I have to mention my handicap in being near 30 and entirely disinterested in actual children. (I just want to pilfer their library shelves.)  My reading of stories like these will be coloured by being neither a middle-grader or a middle-grader teacher or parent, et cetera.  This is just the opinion of a speculative fiction nerd. I mean, enthusiast.

Look! Delilah Dusticle's Transylvanian Adventure has a book trailer!

 

I'm treating the three books as a set,  mainly because they're each so short that reading them back to back is satisfying but not necessary.  The stories work fine independently of each other.  Delilah Dusticle is set up to be a series of unknown length - there's a third book about her planned, and I'll probably want to read it.

Because Delilah Dusticle is an awesome heroine. Her special ability? It's cleaning.  I'm daydreaming about being Delilah right now.  I can easily imagine my middle-grade self being sufficiently inspired by Delilah to at least, um, dust a bookshelf.  I've never been a cleaning prodigy, but who knows what I would have been with someone like Delilah to show me the way.  Picture the young woman with a neat bob haircut in a maid's uniform with apron, a quiver on her back for her special dusters, one hand wielding a Grumpy Sponge, the other waving at her boyfriend, the vacuum cleaner repairman.

A quiver of dusters.   Given the nature of the story and the setting/timeframe, it's really hard not to mention Mary Poppins for comparison, but I'm trying not to go there.

There is this oddity - I'm not sure I remember the last time I read a middle grade book where none of the main characters were actually children. I think this contributes to the quaint - or maybe timeless - feel of the stories.    The prose itself is quite simple and no-nonsense, which is excellent, because new events keep unfolding on every page, and the words are just, well, vehicles for projecting new, beautiful, atmospheric or action-filled images into your head.

(Yes. This is in a way true of all books, but you know what I mean.)

You can guess who Delilah meets in her Transylvanian adventure, right? Your guess would be somewhat accurate.   And he's not even the most spectacular thing in there.

Eliza Bluebell lives in the same universe as Delilah Dusticle, though they don't meet.  Eliza has some very special talents of her own, which she happily shares with the little town she visits. Her shadow is detachable and has a life of its own, and that could be quite sinister, but it's not.  Mostly it's just sticky and sugary, because Eliza's business here is pastries.  For a while, at least.

My main complaint is the length - so short! - but that is a reflection of who I am as a reader. I'm not at all sure the intended audience would even comment on it.  And complaining about the length is easily flipped into a compliment, because I really like this universe, its whimsical magic system,  and its diverse population.   It's nearly a Spirited Away kind of magic.  And it brings Diana Wynne Jones to mind, actually.  Which is good.   And one of my favourite books, The adventures of Endill Swifthas a very similar cozy-crazy tone to it. (That's unhelpful, probably, because no one else seems to have read that book...)

Make #timetoread: National Readathon Day

timetoread

You’ve noticed it’s National Readathon Day, right? Right here it’s… nearly one in the morning, so that makes it today, but, anyway, Saturday. Right.  From noon to 4pm.  This has the advantage of being a readathon I will actually be able to devote attention to, unless my right eye is not just making idle threats about a migraine. Anyway.   I have minty tea, chocolate covered almonds, and… wait, is this a grumpy unicorn or a dancing hippo pajamas kind of day?  How will I ever choose?

I made one choice already, as I pledged to devote these hours to Three parts dead by Max Gladstone.  It’s a part of my monthly challenges, and I’ve owned it for a good time now, so that’s why.  I’m repeating this to myself often and loudly to drown out the sound of other overdue-for-reviews-guilt.    What will you be reading?

City of stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of stairs Book Cover City of stairs
Robert Jackson Bennett
Fantasy
Broadway Books
September 9 2014
e-book
466

Sometimes the hyped thing lives up to, and explodes its way through, the hype.  It's true. It's the case with City of stairs. Thank you, raving voices of the internet, for shoving this book in my face. I don't think I saw a single "Best of 2014 genre fiction" list without this one on it. (That also applies to The goblin emperor, which, yes, is on the to-read list...)

Here is a novel whose characters I want to spend much more time with. I want to buy Mulaghesh some fany cigarillos. I'd like to give Shara some of my microfiber cloths for keeping her glasses clean.  (And tea. Oh, Shara, you could have all my tea.) I want to.... well, I might have made a tray of cookies for Sigrud. Insufficient cookies.  I want to go to the city of Bulikov.

This isn't helping you understand anything about the book, I think.  Okay.  Once, there were gods; Divinities.  Consequently, there was God's chosen people.   And people who were not those people.  Unfortunately.  Until they found out how to kill the gods!

That's your starting point. See?  Don't you want to know what that world is like, later on? Does it still have miracles occurring in it? How is the balance of power - if there is any balance at all? Who hates who, and who hates who the most?  Are there really no gods left?

Some reference comparisons;  What came to mind was China Miéville, for several reasons,  and some of N.K. Jemisin, maybe mostly because that's my most recent memory of a similar blend of normality/divinity.  There's also an atmosphere similarity, though - forgive this useless statement - Bulikov feels blue-tinted where the hundred thousand kingdoms felt red and coppery.

Also, reading this, I laughed a lot. And cried a bit, but my tear ducts aren't very choosy when it comes to fiction, so giggling is often better evidence of immersion. I'm kind of gratefully happy when an author tells a story of a certain calibre, but allows for a snigger and some side-eyes every once in a while.

This is to be the start of a series, but it reads just fine as a standalone. For me it was a comfort to know the story would continue, that I will get to see a certain favourite character in the spotlight again.  I will be biting my brittle nails, waiting for it to arrive.

Who should read this? Could I say everyone?  Well, not people who know themselves to be very sensitive about religion and related criticism and commentary,  perhaps.  And not readers who find their fantasy to be insufficient if it does not feature a certain amount of swords and dragons. (Although those are also in here, briefly.) I'm pretty sure this is a good pick for non-genre readers too, at least the ones who already have a foot in the magical realism camp.  Because the prose is beautiful, and the characters are always in focus, rather than the piles of world-building a lot of people find tedious. (Weirdos.)

So, yeah.  Probably ends up on a top 10 of this year's favourite reads. Safely declared even before the end of January.  Go on, 2015, you have a lot to prove now!

Three moments of flailing anticipation

I won’t begin to describe how I feel about the announcement of a new China Miéville book. Finally. I’ve been waiting ever since I tore through the last one.  I just saw Tor’s post with the cover reveal, and because this is now pinned to my nerdy heart, I just felt like I needed to stick the cover onto this blog, too.  Here. Here it is. Stare at it.

threemoments

SEE.  It exists. It is going to exist in August, at least.  This cover design is the same type as on the paperbacks I bought, and got signed, blushing furiously,  at a strangely tiny con a couple of years back. Really. I have no idea how they get these divine authors to show up. But I’ve been within arm’s reach of this one, flailed helplessly and flung fanart at him, and listened to a beautifully eloquent talk about the uncanny and… other kinds of canny.  The man can talk.  Look his talking up on youtube.  PS: It is after midnight here and I’m the tiniest bit hyper-tired.

(Regarding that Tor link – I’m pretty exited about Uprooted, too. Novik has been on my TBR for ages and ages, but I hope I find the time for His Majesty’s Dragon, first.)

(And do you know what else was revealed today that is also awesome?  The trailer for the Expanse TV series!  And that I get to go to EasterCon to do my whole expert flailing fangirl act at Seanan McGuire!)

The book of strange new things, by Michael Faber

The book of strange new things Book Cover The book of strange new things
Michael Faber
Speculative fiction
Hogarth
Oct 6 2014
e-book
512

The book of strange new things has had a lot of buzz in recent months, and appeared on a bunch of best of '14-lists.  I'm always very drawn to religion-themed science fiction - as a specific part of social science fiction, I suppose - so I knew I would read this one sooner or later,  though it ended up being as a book club read for January.

Peter is a recovered alcoholic, currently a pastor, happily married to the woman who saved him and brought him his religion.  Initially they both start on the lengthy series of interviews and tests to qualify for a religious mission on the planet Oasis, but while Peter is accepted, Bea is not.  She stays in England, while Peter is further away than he's ever been since they met.

The journey to Oasis and the community there is all arranged by the mysterious USIC.  The space travel concept is skimmed over; it is certainly fast travel, as no time is lost for Peter between Earth and Oasis, and there is a contraption through which he is able to exchange written messages with Bea - also nearly instantaneously.

The community - we don't call it a colony! - on Oasis is made out of a group of very peculiar people,  effectively demonstrating what kind of personal qualities the USIC was screening for with their interviews.  Peter is not there to preach to them, though - he's come to this planet to bring Jesus to the natives.  Actually, he's there by their very specific request.

Bea's letters from home grow increasingly distressing; Things are not going well. From natural disasters wiping out parts of the world, to the local grocery shutting down, it's all bad.   Peter, however, has a hard time conceptualizing it; He is integrating with the peaceful Oasis natives, sharing their daily rhythm, adjusting his speech and thinking to match their limited English and utter lack of other cultural references than the bible.

The novel seems to ask a lot of very interesting questions, setting up for a lot of revelations and surprises, but it fails to deliver on most.   Some readers don't feel that way at all, of course, and I speculate that it might depend on the reader's genre background - those who have little or no experience with heavy science fiction tropes like "space colonization" and "first contact" and so on,  might not be so aware of all the things I keep waiting for the novel to adress and/or acknowledge.   It's kind of like having an introspective drama take place on a construction site, and maybe mention a few bricks and a little mortar, but nothing at all about construction workers and safety gear and building and plans and... well, you understand.   In the end I just find it insufficient,  which is a feeling only strengthened by the ending.

...And the longer I've had to think about it, the less positive I feel about the novel, unfortunately.  The thing is, well. When people ask me why I abandoned the "real" literature some years back,  the very abbreviated answer is usually "I've just read effing enough about the problems of being a boring man with problems".  It leaves out a lot, and seems to imply that I don't appreciate character-centric fiction, which is not quite correct, but - yeah. I probably don't have to keep clarifying.   This book has brought that bored feeling to mind. To my mind.   Plainly,  Peter in the foreground is not interesting enough, and the world of Oasis in the background is very interesting - but out of focus. Which sucks, for me.   The book is like a panel of all the shiniest buttons, but never pushes a single one of them.

I have no doubt it will please other kinds of readers, though.

Top ten 2014 releases I didn’t read (yet!)

Time is insufficient. We know this. I cried a lot about it as I read all the best of 2014 book lists only to discover more, more, more to add to my need-crave-want-mountain of a TBR.

  1. City of stairs by Robert J. Bennett.  I’m reading this one RIGHT NOW, though. And it’s incredibly awesomespectacular, just like everyone said.
  2. The goblin emperor, by Katherine Addison. This looks like one I might want to save for when I need a happy pick-me-up.
  3. Bête, by Adam Roberts. I am, and have been since months before its release, wildly intrigued by this book’s premise. Domestic animals gain sentience, we still want to eat them?! It must be read.
  4. The mirror empire, by Kameron Hurley. Yes, yes. I have a crush on Kameron Hurley even before having read her fiction. I bought this one early. My wallet thinks I read faster than my eye muscles can really agree with.
  5. The girls at the Kingfisher club, by Genevieve Valentine. This is one I only really became aware of when reading those best of-lists in the past few weeks.  Roaring twenties / fairytale retelling? I want it injected into my fiction system immediately.
  6. The Peripheral, by William Gibson.  I… I may have ordered a signed hardback in a B&N bargain, though. It was delivered a mere week ago. So there’s that.
  7. The three, by Sarah Lotz. Horror-thriller “for fans of the Shining girls and Stephen King, Lost meets The Passage”? Oh my goodness, yes.  I keep forgetting how much I appreciate the horror bits of genre fiction.
  8. The fever, by Megan Abbott. Outbreak of illness, high school, family secrets, this one sounds a little like a The secret history with extra spicing.
  9. Being Mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end, by Atul Gawande. To me the line between science fiction and the most interesting non-fiction is pretty blurry; they’re both about astoundingly fascinating stuff.  Like medicine and its limitations.
  10. Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory.  Brain-altering drug and the collapse of civilization.

There are more. Many, many more.  These were pretty much just right off the top of my head (and the most recently added to my amz wishlist).  I got another exciting 2014 release for christmas (the Norwegian history of leprosy I’ve been all starry-eyed about for ages now),  and my order of the Locke & Key slipcase box set finally made it through, so soon I’ll get to read the last volume of that most-excellent graphic novel series, too.  (The book depository ran out of copies before expediting my first order, which led to many tears. Until they re-stocked and I tried again and I WON.)

And, yeah, I was a bit of a reckless spender over the holidays, so I’m trying to hold back a little in the coming 3-4 weeks, to re-balance my economy between the monthly paychecks.  I’m not sure it means I will at all be able to keep myself from getting Morte on release date, but I’ll feel guilty about it, at least…  as if that helps.

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and tell Book Cover Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and tell
Veronica Mars
Rob Thomas, Jennifer Graham
Mystery, thriller
Vintage
Jan 20 2015
e-book
288

If you're interested in this book, then it's probably safe to assume you already know who Veronica Mars is. You've watched the entirety of the show, you supported the kickstarter for the movie,  you read, of course, the previous book.  Veronica Mars is a private detective in a quirky noir kind of setting, with all the required noir-ish troubled history and relationships.  And I like her so much, maybe even more so now, in her adult ten-years-later incarnation, than in the TV high school years.  Which is a compliment, because she rocked my socks in that version, too.

I read Mr. Kiss and tell  in print, but I want to recommend that you get the audio - I did that for The thousand-dollar tan line, and Kristen Bell's narration really does add to the story.

The story? It's a case, of course, a mystery to be solved, a terrible crime to be unraveled, and obviously Veronica is the one doing all the unraveling. Still, the case functions mostly like a path through other events in Veronica's private life. Life in southern-californian Neptune is as we expect it to be: Will the sheriff remain corrupted, will Logan stay, whose expectations is Weevil going to act according to?  Is Veronica's dad doing okay?  And so on.

Nope. This isn't a good place in which to make your first entry into Neptune. You need to backtrack and devote a few hours to the TV show first.

To me, it feels just like having watched an episode of the show, which is all I wanted and expected from the book.  The mystery is not really terribly mysterious, mainly it provides a bit of gritty darkness and risky situations, but that's not what it's about; It's about enjoying Veronica's thought processes and spending time with the people she chooses to keep around her.   All of it with a bit of a sassy noir flare.

And it's a really quick, entertaining read, so don't pick it up when what you want is something chewy to sink your teeth into.  But you know that already, because you know Veronica Mars.  I don't have to tell you anything.  Except watch the show, if you haven't already, and you happen to be into the smart/witty/quirky kind of thing. With heinous crime sprinkled all over it.