Cuckoo song, by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo song Book Cover Cuckoo song
Frances Hardinge
Fantasy, horror, middle grade, historical
Amulet books
12 May 2015
e-book
420

Cuckoo song is the second novel I've read by Frances Hardinge, and she has definitely secured a spot on my "I will pay attention to anything with this name on it"-list.   Her magic is deep and colourful and terrifying, her worlds vast and unknown but made comprehensible through vivid, earthy characters.  There's more than a little taste of Diana Wynne Jones, which is a great thing.  I find it in the way stories may seem to be about fantastic and unreal things, but sneakily turn out to be about identity, and family, and making choices about those things.  To the adult reader's relief, being young while making these choices always feels like an optional trait.

So it is with Cuckoo song.  You start reading it having already seen the broken doll's face on the cover, so you're not terribly surprised to find something scary right at the start.  Triss Crescent has been in an accident, or so she's told, but she cannot remember it.  Something... something is wrong.

I can't talk about the plot without really giving away a lot of the stuff that explains the eerie mood that gets you into this book.  It unfolds and expands effortlessly, and you'll read fast to find out how things will end for Triss,  her sister Pen, her parents' grief for her dead brother Sebastian,  Sebastian's girlfriend Violet,  and the rest of the cast.

The story is set in a post-first world war England where jazz is new and some women have started working,  while at the same time people like the Crescents keep cooks and governesses and have a long list of places it would be entirely inappropriate for an person of good standing to be seen.   This makes a lovely and textured backdrop, providing cues for the main plot,  and the scents of tea houses and mothers' medicine cabinets, and piles of fabric in tailors' shops.

I would recommend Cuckoo song to everyone I know who loves Neil Gaiman, or the aforementioned Diana Wynne Jones, or even some Tim Burton films.  People who have been Roald Dahl's Mathilda, or, for that matter, Harry Potter. Everyone with some degree of addiction to the sweet taste of a well-written choosing-identity middle grade story.  (It's not entirely the same as the bildungsroman or coming-of-age, I think!)

I'm about to go put every other Frances Hardinge book that I haven't read yet on my wishlist.   (I've seen reviews of The lie tree recently that caught my interest, so that's probably where I'll start!)

Oh, and should I avoid recommending this to anyone? Only adamant shunners of the relevent genres.  I mean, I'm a grump with a pretty keen sense of when a middle-grade story just isn't big enough to cover more than the intended target age group,  and I had no issues with this one.

Apex, by Ramez Naam

Apex Book Cover Apex
Nexus #3
Ramez Naam
Science fiction
Angry robot
May 5 2015
e-book
725

Ramez Naam's Apex is the last part of the Nexus trilogy, following the novels Nexus and Crux.  It doesn't do well as a stand-alone, so if you're going to dive into this - and you should! - then you ought to go back and start at the beginning.

But if you've been through the first two volumes? I'm pretty sure you're hungry to see what comes next.  In fact, you've probably read it already, because I was somewhat delayed, and it's been out for days.

Nexus is - oh, it's a drug. But then it's also technology. It can be a permanent installation in the human brain, enabling direct mind-to-mind contact.  Group thinking. Indeed, hiveminds.  It can change the world for alzheimer's patients or people with autism.  It can accomodate all the greatest human virtues; not only make people smarter, but kinder, more compassionate.

But nexus is not, in this world, legal. As with any illegal substance, it's all too easy for malicious agents to corrupt the product, without immediate repercussions.  Diluted drugs are bad enough - the tech in your brain? It can be hacked.

Yeah.

Meanwhile, the world is hunting you, jailing you, punishing you, no matter what your reasons for employing nexus might be.  You're a criminal. You are, in fact, posthuman.  And posthumans? They don't have, well, human rights.

A character tries to reason with a politician, talking about homo sapiens and neanderthals and how it all turned out okay in the end, forgetting how even a neanderthal would likely frown mightily at you if you'd outlined the future of his species for him.

But nexus is just one of the new gamechangers, of course.  How about a successfully uploaded, digital human mind?

(Successful? What does that mean, anyway?)

An army of thoroughly physically enhanced clones?

How about the bunch of kids who created the strain of nexus with only the best of intentions - the ones partying inside each other's minds, dreaming of the better future, not at all prepared for violent political reactions; torture, concentration camps,  a whole new war on terror-

...

Apex is a great ending to a great trilogy, and I've been very happy to read all of it.  The books are dense with the kind of stuff that puts me into a lasting "Oh, cool!"-mode. I only wish the characters, overall, were a little more clearly drawn, a little deeper.   I don't mean they're inadequate, exactly, I even cried a little when I thought my favourite(!) dropped out of the story,  but...  but I didn't get to feel attached to many of the POVs, and that can be a little problematic through several hundred pages.

It's not a big enough problem that I'd hesitate even a moment to recommend these books to people interested in science fiction where the focus is solidly on technology's effect on society (psychological, political, philosophical!).  Really.  I think these books present a great list of questions to consider - perhaps some of the issues discussed are not entirely immediate-near-future, but some of them certainly are.   Naam has included afterwords for each of the novels in which he points to real, current technology reflected in the books,  which is awesome.   He's also written a couple of non-fiction books about the same topics,  both of which I'm definitely interested in reading!  ( More than human: Embracing the promise of biological enhancement truly is the most tempting title I've seen in a while...!)

Oh- there was a twitter hashtag too, asking "With nexus, whose mind would you most like to link to?"  - Which is a tough one. I think I'd like to shake mind-hands with a theoretical mathematician. It'd be the best kind of thrill to suddenly be inside of that particular skillset.   Or knowledge base, or, uh, whatever.  I would definitely choose that.   Meanwhile, though, without nexus or its equivalent, I'll just congratulate myself on still being able to work out stuff like "eight times seven?!" without a calculator. Yeah. Great job.    (Hey, when I say theoretical mathematician? Maybe I mean chaos theory. Maybe I mean Dr Ian Malcolm. Maybe I mean a velociraptor.)

Readathon ending and birthday binging

Ha. As is the case with every single readathon I join, I feel like it hit a week in which I was completely out of the reading loop.  But I’ve read about a thousand pages, which is really not a poor score, if I were keeping score, which I’m obviously not, because… no one’s handing out points or punishments anyway? Silly thinkflaws.

One of the things I’ve read was the 50 page preview of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted that was posted on Scribd.  I loved it, and I’d say almost for certain I’d continue it immediately upon release in two days, but it shares release date with Stephenson’s Seveneves! I don’t know how I’m supposed to choose.  And I still have a few scheduled reads to get through this month.  Anyway, Uprooted was easily added to the pile of kindle birthday presents I’ve been getting for myself today. Because I’m old and stuff.    Here’s the full list of the books I deserve for the grand achievement of continuous existence for three decades:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  • Memory of water by Emmi Itäranta
  • Vermilion by Molly Tanzer

Those are it, so far. Clearly insufficient. I must add to it. Just having a weird moment of “No rush, I guess?”.   I have a Norwegian e-library book to read and I’m a few hundred pages into Naam’s Apex, which is great.  I would have liked to choose to spend my birthday going to the cinema for Mad Max, but this day happens to also be an inconvenient constitution kind of day, which means other entertainment venues are closed, and people like me stay at home and order Domino’s and watch netflix.  Or play animal crossing. Whatever.

Okay.

Glancing at my amazon wish list…

Oh, dear. Nemesis games is out in just a couple of weeks? To the pre-order-mobile, then! I love the Expanse universe so much – I raved about it until my boyfriend got into it too, and now we’re both very anxiously anticipating the TV series.  It has a lot to live up to, I guess, because I compared the first book to, like, third season Babylon 5. Just awesome space opera pathos with clear characters and strong character interactions – I know a lot of people might think Firefly a better comparison.  Amos is one of my favourite characters ever. I’ve been a bit ARC-fatigued lately and I really can’t think of anything more refreshing right now than another installment of this series.  So there.  Ordered!

It’s past midnight, too! Happy not-birthday, me!

Readathon: Character face-off

I’m always stumped when there are questions about favourite books and characters and stuff, because… it’s kind of fluid stuff, to me, maybe? I always have to think hard.  Unless…

…Okay.  I know.  For the character face-off, these two will go to battle:

Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s cat (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld)

vs

Mister, Harry Dresden’s cat (Jim Butcher’s Dresden files)

See? I like cats. Cats are favourites, no matter the context.  These two are large cats.

Let’s have a look at them, then.

Contestant #1:  Greebo

WHO:  A cranky, grey, one-eyed tomcat.

Greebo had spent an irritating two minutes in that box. Technically, a cat locked in a box may be alive or it may be dead. You never know until you look. In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.

CONS: A certain inferiority complex regarding Granny Weatherwax’s white kitten.  Greebo might possibly be a demon, according to Nanny Ogg, but she will insist he’s just a sweet kitten, even so.

PROS: Due to a magic mishap, Greebo’s phenotype is unstable and he has morphed into a human on a few occasions. I don’t want to hang out with the human as much as I want to hang out with the cat, but he’s pretty awesome.

 

Contestant #2: Mister

WHO:  30 pounds of grey cat, adopted by the wizard Harry Dresden. Has no tail. Likes to smash his full weight against unsuspecting human knees.

CONS: Uh. For a while he had to tolerate sharing his domain with a large temple dog.  Also, not nearly enough stage time in the books.

PROS: When Harry Dresden uses his wizard’s sight on someone, he usually sees something very different from what normal sight would provide. However, Mister is unique: He is exactly the same no matter what sight is employed.    Also, he sometimes works as a vessel for Bob the spirit.

CATFIGHT!

Um, yeah.

WINNER:

You know what? NO ONE can win this.  If these cats were going to face off for some reason, and their humans found out? Those are crazy magic-wielding humans. It’d be instant apocalypse. Instant interdimensional or intergalactic apocalypse! (Depending on where exactly the Discworld is relating to Chicago, of course.)   Imagine those two armies – Mister, flanked by Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy and vampires and council wizards and holy knights and probably mafioso Marcone for some reason,   facing off against Greebo, Nanny Ogg, and Granny Weatherwax, because Granny would come just to disapprove of things, and she would disapprove, and the world would END.

You know?

So let’s pretend the two megacats just for some reason shared a basked and some catnip instead, and spent the evening grooming each other lazily.  The real winner is the person who owns the youtube channel they’re on.

I could totally get hours of daydreams out of this.

(I grew up around cats like these. I was raised by a ginger-furred Greebo, who tried to kill me until he decided he could use me.  It was a happy relationship.  The current Mister in my life lives with my parents, is only about half the weight of Dresden’s cat, but that’s heavy enough to knock me over when he decides I’m the one person in the world who is considered headbuttable.  Okay. I just talked about cats. This keeps happening.)

 

Dreams of shreds and tatters, by Amanda Downum

Dreams of shreds and tatters Book Cover Dreams of shreds and tatters
Amanda Downum
Horror, Fantasy
Solaris
12 May 2015
e-book
384

The blurb said "Lovecraftian urban fantasy", and the cover is beautiful. More than enough for me to choose to spend time with a book.   However...

Dreams of shreds and tatters didn't really work for me.  It doesn't have a lot of plot, but what little there is, begins and ends with a painting.  This story is, in many ways, more like a painting than a novel.  It has, um,  /interesting brushwork,  and beautiful colours, and threatening shapes half-hidden in the dark.  It does a very good job of giving you thoughts about things that could be hiding in the dark.   But... it's unmoving.  It's still.

And I don't normally read novels when I want the kind of experience I'd rather have from visual art.

I'm not sure if the text does itself any favours by explicitly quoting Portishead lyrics, which are like batsignals beamed directly into the brain of anyone who was a mopey mop over a decade ago, because it makes it too easy to say "Yes, this book is just... like that Portishead album."   A drizzle of "The crow"-feelings in there, too.

This is a pretty short read and I'm sure it will appeal to someone in the mood for lyrical weird (is this a separate genre tag, yet? Lyrical weird?) -  It was just not right for me.  It could have worked if I got the chance to know the characters better, if there was, um, a story in the foreground,  but this, again, is me wishing for a completely different book than the one at hand.

I might recommend it to some of those people who got obsessed with The king in yellow while watching True Detective.  Or someone who's curious to know what it would look like if  Kadrey's Sandman slim and Cat Valente's Palimpsest hooked up and had a book baby.

Readathon: Bookish survey

I had forgotten the read-a-thon started today! But then I remembered!  And here I am, doing today’s challenge, which is a bookish survey.

1. How do you organize your shelves?

…I don’t!  I just don’t have room for organization.  Not in my book shelves, at least.  I have a huge digital book collection which is also left mostly unorganized – all I really do is sort them into “finished reads” as I go along. To me, organization is much less of a necessity when you have a decent search function.  Of course, if I couldn’t just type a part of a title or author’s name and press find it for me please and watch the magic happen, I’d have to employ some organization scheme – but, well. I live in the future! Yay, future.

imissyou2. What is one of your favorite book that’s not in one of your favorite genres?

Huh.  Two titles come to mind – they’re both realistic YA fiction, which makes me wonder if maybe that’s a genre I like better than I think I do, but… I’m running with it.

jellicoeThere’s On the Jellicoe road by Melina Marchetta,  which has stayed in my head since I read it, re-appearing every once in a while to say hello, yes, story still here.  Kinda like the movie Now and then, which has a few similar traits, being a coming-of-age friendship type of thing.  I watched that movie eating popcorn with a school friend and her mom,  and I read the book by myself in my bed as an adult, but, uh, I remember both of these times as lovely because of story immersion. So that’s… that.

The other book is I miss you, I miss you! by Peter Pohl and Kinna Gieth.  It’s about teenaged twin sisters, who aren’t exactly best friends, and that would be okay, except Cilla gets hit by that car and dies, while Tina lives.   This Swedish book came my way through a book club when I was… younger than the main characters, so, basically, a hundred years ago.  I’ve only ever read it in Norwegian, but I expect it to be exactly as heartbreaking in English.

My gut reaction to the genre “realistic YA” is, I admit,  “embarrassing and likely not terribly interesting to me”.  In the hands of the right kind of writer, though, I believe any genre can impress me.

 

3. What is the last 5 star book you read?

Rolling in the deep by Mira Grant. I’m such a fangirl.  And it’s a perfect silly-horror with deep ocean creepiness, which is always delightful.

 

4. What book are you most excited to read during the read-a-thon?

I’m going to finish my currents, and then I’m biting into Ramez Naam’s Apex.  In recent weeks I’ve read Nexus and Crux, and I’m very, very impatient to see how this goes.  I’m also pretty excited to read this big, tasty book about the black death. Mmm, plague.

5. What book do you recommend the most?

That is such an impossible question, because it depends entirely on who I’m making a recommendation to.   But two recs I often make to a lot of people are Charles Stross’ The Laundry series,  because they’re clever and funny books that are perhaps especially amusing to programmers and IT people (but that doesn’t exclude other kinds of people) –  and Peter Watts’ Blindsight and Echopraxia.  Those two books are… so dense, so packed with intensely interesting things, and so glittery dark,  it’s just hard to say anything coherent about without a lot of arm-flailing.  And to non-fic pop sciencey kind of readers, I often mention The storytelling animal,  which is a crazy and inspiring and educational book.

So there. I was interrupted while writing this. An episode of Daredevil and a coffee mocha happened to me.  When I say mocha I mean “One regular coffee pod with two heaping teaspoons of pure cacao powder, a glug of full-fat cream, and some vanilla stevia. It was delicious.  And Daredevil is a lot better in the second-to-last episode than it was in the second one. Just saying.  Now I go try to finish reading Dreams of shreds and tatters even though I’d really much rather read Crowley’s Little, big.  Life is hard.

 

Stacking the shelves – Buried giants and apocalyptic anthologies

Oh, man, my eyes hurt. Maybe the whole sinus-jaw-mess of things. I’m not even looking at the screen right now, just squinting and waiting for the hot shower and caffeine and everything to do their jobs and grant me access to my face.

It’s springtime, I guess!

And I’m doing my first stacking the shelves-post, because… because I like reading them when other people cause them to pop up in my bloglovin feed.

Um, yeah.   Kindle purchases this week:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s The buried giant
  • J.J. Adams (editor) The end is nigh
  • David Wellington’s Positive
  • Monica Byrne’s The girl in the road
  • V.E. Schwab’s A darker shade of magic
  • Nancy Kress’ After the fall, before the fall, during the fall
  • J.J. Adams (editor) Wastelands: Stories of the apocalypse
  • Flannery O’Connor’s The complete stories
  • M. John Harrison’s Viriconium
  • Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in autumn

And  I got Peter Newman’s The Vagrant as an audiobook, too.

In my defense for this week – my boyfriend did a little shopping spree. We share living space and libraries and have 98% overlap in reading preferences, so it really does count as stacking my shelves. He also got the kindle edition of The girl with all the gifts, because he doesn’t do audio, which was the format I already had it in. (And it happens to be one of my favourite audio recordings, too. Excellent narrator!)

Almost forgot – I pre-ordered Seveneves this week too.  I’m so impatient for this book, it’s ridiculous…!

(I just deleted a chunky paragraph where I ranted about cost of digital English-language books vs, uh, non-digital non-English books.  And it’s just blah.  It’s hard to stop instinctively going defensive about frivolous purchases, actually. But there’s nothing to defend, so I’m exercising some messy self-cognitive-therapy-blablahAHAMWAHA BOOKS I SHALL HAVE MORE BOOKS.)

Bookstagram?

I post booksy stuff on instagram, sometimes.  But as it’s a personal account, I also post food and basically anything I want to, so I’m not going to invite you to follow me for any special bookish reason.  Thought I’d try to share some of the relevant things in a post, though!

A photo posted by Rin (@rintergalactic) on

A photo posted by Rin (@rintergalactic) on

A photo posted by Rin (@rintergalactic) on

A photo posted by Rin (@rintergalactic) on

Ha. The grimy fingernails there, it’s dried watercolour paint.  I’m a mess.   Do you put what you’re reading on instagram?

I am Radar, by Reif Larsen

I am Radar Book Cover I am Radar
Reif Larsen
Literary fiction
Random House UK
27 March 2015
e-book
672

Reif Larsen wrote The selected works of T.S. Spivet, and because of that, I needed to have I am Radar sitting there on the front page on my kindle for a long time before I could bring myself to open it.

In the... not-negative way of things, you see.  It's because that previous novel, the story about the young cartographer from Montana, was such a knock-out.  I wasn't prepared to get as immersed and involved and sad as I did - it isn't unusual for me to react visibly (and audibly) to books, but T.S. was an overload.

In the end, a few weeks later than I had planned, I felt ready to start on I am Radar.

Like the author's previous novel, this one is odd.  I adored big chunks of it, and would have felt quite warmly about the book, except the ending didn't really... end things, for me.  This isn't going to be a big problem for some readers, but I felt perhaps a little cheated - there was no real climax, just a lot of story. Lovely stories, about Radar and his parents and other individuals, but disappointing, nevertheless.

The novel visits several places outside of Radar's home in New Jersey - there's Norway, Serbia, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I am a Norwegian reader, and found some amusement in the conversations pertaining to Norwegian history, and the scattered bits of Norwegian text throughout the book - but this, of course, has me wondering what I missed out on, as I can't read Serbian or French. (And it never looked quite relevant enough to attempt a google translation. Context does the job. I did google the book constantly referred to, "Spesielle Partikler" ("special particles"), just to, um, double-check its fictional nature.  It is. It doesn't exist. I kind of wish it did.

It's tricky to explain this book. I could go: There's a guy named Radar. He's strange. He has parents who are also quite strange, but sweet.  His father joins a mysterious group of performers who do peculiar things around the world, and there are a couple of other people named so-and-so who have interesting stories, and they, too, get involved with these performances, and some of the things that happen are sad.

...It doesn't really tell you anything about what the book is like, does it?

I'd recommend I am Radar to people whose ears perk up when the first adjective chosen to describe a novel is odd.  It sits somewhere just inside of magical realism, peppered with beautiful sentences and sentiments, prose that takes you easily from one page to the next.  As I said, it was not an unpleasant read.      But leave it for when you can deal with an utter lack of closure, okay?

Perhaps because of the unsatisfying ending, this book has left me with an enormous book hangover, wow.