Book Review: The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery

oh my god.

I did it again.

In my desperate hunt for decent fantasy (on netgalley. There’s a lot of VERY decent fantasy out at the moment, but I spent the last of my teeny tiny book allowance on NK Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate and can’t afford anything else until February. It was worth every penny, by the way, her writing is INCREDIBLE), I stumbled across the Imlen Brat, was accepted as a reader and dove in.

At first, I didn’t like it. The character is young (like 7) and while Avery has done a brilliant job of capturing the trials and obsessions of a 7 year old in a 7 year old’s voice, I own a 7 year old and reading is my main way of escaping from her. I like my fantasy point of view to come from someone older, like 15+. But I kept reading and you get introduced to the world and the ruling class and their politics in a way that’s not too in your face. And the world looks goooooood. The politics are complicated, the intrigue is… well, intriguing. There’s a foster system, there are honour killings for fucking outside one’s class, there’s an island with a castle in a maze and people have the ability to kin-curse those they are related to. And there’s a bastard child in the middle of it who will either be trained as a soldier, a pirate or an assassin.

……………and then it fucking ends.

70 pages of yes (well, 20 pages of omg, I’m really desperate for fantasy fiction, and 50 pages of omg, I’m really glad I stayed with this) and then, nothing. Fuck you, Sarah Avery, with your sample size serving of REALLY EXCELLENT writing.

Ok, it’s worth the read. If you want to know how a good author sets up a political system, read this novella – it’s a great example of showing, not telling (which is difficult with complicated worlds). It’s realistic, emotional, well told and as much as I do not like 7 year olds (especially today – she had a melt down in Target), she has nailed character action, voice and expression.

Please write the rest. For the love of all things holy, write the rest!

 

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Book Review: The Girl in the City by Philip Harris (spoilers)

A while ago I read a book from Netgalley called The White City by Karolina Ramqvist. It’s about a young mother who has been abandoned by her high rolling boyfriend, and is about to lose everything when the courts repossess her house. The girl, Karin, pulls some strings and risks everything to get what she feels she deserves (a fat wad of cash). And then the story just ends. Like it just stops. It gets you really invested (I hated the first few pages, by page 25 I was HOOKED) and then it just ends on page 176. I was so fucking mad – she took the beginning of a really, REALLY good story, beautifully written and dark and energetic and dramatic and emotional, and she just cut it into a fucking novella.

You’d think after that experience, I’d  check how long books are before reading them. It’s the problem with digital readers (I’m on an old Acer Iconia while my Microsoft Pro is getting fixed) – you can’t tell how hefty a book is. I downloaded The Girl ITC and got started and it was great. Fantastic hook, non-intrusive world building, believable actions by characters, high stakes, a bomb and then……………………..fucking NOTHING. That’s the end. She’s not even the girl in the city anymore because there is no city.

Urgh.

I get that this was written as a short spin off from another book (Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker, which I’ll now have to read), and it’s my fault for picking it up when I was tired and not noticing it had “novella” written on the front, but god damn! Leah is an awesome character, and the world is gorgeous, and ‘the Girl in the Wilderness’ best come soon or I’ll die.

This is so not even a review. Both books (the White City and the Girl in the City) were excellent, read them if you want something quick and beautiful, don’t read them if you’re the type to get drawn in and fall in love with characters, because then you will feel ripped off at the sudden, devastating endings.

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Book Review: The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl

Oh this book was so fun!

It took a little getting into – it’s a bizarre world – but once I was there the story swept me up and carried me along with it! The story is based around Charlie, who works for the Ferryman Institute (started by Charon on the river Styx) and is charged with convincing freshly reaped souls to walk towards the cliched bright light. Charlie is good at his job – in 259 years, no one has refused to step through their door to the afterlife. But there will never be a door for Charlie and that’s making him a little crazy.

So someone gives him a choice. Save the girl (from herself) or remain a Ferryman.

Cue mayhem.

There’s a car chase, a series of doors, a secret mentor who may or may not be a spy, blood, guns, a room full of emptiness, and some really, really bad puns. Oh and of course, romance.

 

Now, I don’t usually read urban fantasy. I recently tried to read Balance by Janelle Stalder because I liked the idea of it, but it was so painful I gave off after a few chapters. Also, the writing wasn’t polished enough and the jumping between third and first person POV made me cranky. This is basically my issue with all urban fantasy – it’s keyboard bashing at best and heteronormative patriarchal bullshit at worst (read my previous post on Twilight). But the Ferryman Institute? It doesn’t read as urban fantasy. It reads as clever writing and a fresh take on the Charon myth. I kind of think Gigl thought “If I was a character, what would I do?” and then made a character that did all those things. Coz reading it, I wanted to do those things.

There were a few issues. I didn’t like Alice’s voice in the book (she’s very woe is me, my life is over, but it seems like a bad case of middle-class white-girl-itis to me), and I thought the romance was unnecessary and the only weak writing in there. I also thought the action scenes were TOO detailed. I don’t need to know the trajectory of every bullet, or where his hands were on the wheel of the car – nothing else in the book is a closely detailed, and I feel it’s condescending to the audience.

I love the twists, especially regarding Charlie’s boss and I LOVE the sarcasm, wit and punning that happens – I’m a sucked for a bad pun. I feel like you can tell this is a debut novel, but I’d be happy to read whatever Gigl has coming next.

 

***/5

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A rant about Twilight (the movies)

This will be long and I’m a little drunk.

I’m actually horrified that Stephanie Meyer believed she was writing a book about Bella. About Bella being a strong woman who wanted what she wanted, fought for it and won. About Bella knowing who her family was, knowing what was best for her, and doing whatever she could to make her dreams come true.
I totally get that Meyer thought that’s what she was writing.

Instead, we have this character who is dictated by men.
First off, Bella leaves her ‘flaky’ mother to live with her apparently more stable Dad while mum travels with her new husband. Bella chooses the move, but it leaves the audience feeling as if Belle is someone who needs a strong, stable male in order to be happy, rather than a rootless mother.

So she heads off to Forks, gets instantly adopted by a group of friends (coz THAT happens IRL), and despite being a self-described good girl, falls for the mysterious, bad boy of the school. Who is also adored by her two girlfriends. Because bad boys are loved by high school girls everywhere.

So Bella finds out Edward is a vampire and confronts him, and he just kinda says Yeah, sure, watch me sparkle, I’m a monster. Next thing you know, he’s trying to get her to stay away from him, but really Eddie, you couldn’t just say “Hey, not a vampire, you’re crazy,” and then leave town? Like I know she smells good, but if you can leave after you’ve kissed her twice you could probably have gone straight away. Not much good for a story then.

Next Bella in brought into the family, headed by Carlisle, and everyone is happy because now all the Cullens are happily paired up. You know, because there’s no way you could actually face eternity as a single vampy.

Blah blah, Edward is sad because he thinks Bella is dead, so Meyer has her running across the globe to save him. Nice gesture right? Strong girl, risking all to save her man. And she does. But seriously, this probably would have been totally unnecessary if Ed had bothered to you know, call and check his facts. Or, not leave in the first place?

Let’s skip movie two because it makes me too mad. I won’t even start on the fact that all the ‘dangerous’ things that Bella does to make Edward appear (because he really just can’t leave her alone) are to do with men. We get it Meyer, men (other than the sparkly vampire who is only barely holding himself back from PENETRATING her with his lack-of-fangs (yeah – check the bite marks. Not protruding canines. No protruding lateral incisors. That’s a ill-equipped sucker right there)) are baaaaaad. Women are good, unless they are damaged good like Leah. Yeah, she got spurned for Em and now she’s bitter and probably barren and it’s probably because she has the wolf gene and men (even dangerous ones) don’t like to be out-masculinated. Technical term. So yes, women good. Men with self-control-that-belongs-in-the1860s also good. Other men, bad.

Sorry, I did say I’d skip movie two.

Anyway, what even happened in movie three? By that time it was 2.30 in the morning and I think I swore a lot at the screen and also paused to actually work. Yes Meyer, I work! shock horror!
Oh yeah, that’s when Victoria makes a posse. Because even worse than spurned women are widows. Irina. Victoria. They would rather die than live on without their menfolk. Does Meyer see this as strength too? Some sacrifice that needs to be made, because women couldn’t possibly just move on from a relationship (especially one with men who are not altogether good). Nope, widows need revenge.

And somewhere in there, Bella is asking Edward to fuck/suck her. In whichever order he chooses. And he says no, because he is a GENTLEMAN. This blatant disregard for women’s sexual urges goes on even after she gives into some archaic tradition and marries him – despite her being quite into the rough sex (because, you know, men have uncontrollable urges), he refuses to repeat their wedding night in case he hurts her (coz women MUST be protected from rough sex, they really don’t know what they want, and asking for/liking rough sex is just NOT OK) and he must protect her. Even from herself. Even though he married her. Just give the girl the D, Eddie. She knows what she’s in for, I promise.

At this point, we are about a third into movie 4.1. And Meyer, trying to teach girls that they really have to keep it in their pants, knocks Bella up. Yes, womenfolk everywhere, just once is enough.
This is totally true (and for those playing at home, Avalon was conceived the first time, pill and all, so y’all know the rules about contraception), and if Meyers audience was purely pre/early-teen girls who needed a reminder of no-glove no-love (OR, no marriage no love), then this would be fine. But let’s not kid ourselves about the FLOCKS of middle aged women who joined Team Eddie. And then, team Christian. (I myself am firmly on Team Lafayette). Bella WANTED sex, she finally got Edward to give in to her urges, she immediately gets knocked up and it nearly kills her. Lesson learned.

Let’s skip past the scene where Edward hears the baby’s thoughts, coz I totally teared up. I have baby-daddy issues, ok, you shoudl have seen me when Brennan told Booth she was preggo the first time – bawled like a pregnant woman denied icecream and pickles.

I’d like to take a break here and address some inconsistencies. Apologies if you’ve been keeping track on the livestreaming, most of these are repeats COZ I STILL HAVE NO ANSWERS
Why do they only shatter on death from movie 3 onwards?
If a werewolf does domestic violence is it still domestic violence?
Why do the type of wildflowers change (and multiply) every time they go up there?
If she hates cold and wet why is she lying on grass in a cloudbank?
Why do the sparkles make tinkly noises only sometimes?
Why does Bella (for the first two films) get hurt more often than she gets kissed?
Why is that song still stuck in my head?
Why don’t I have eyelash extensions?
Why doesn’t she just like ride the werewolf, rather than making him carry her in his arms? Is this a last ditch effort to show Jacob’s muscle off?
Wait, when he flips and turns into a wolf, where do his shorts go?
And is that why they never show them turning back into peoples?
When she uses him as a pillow is it like sleeping on an ice cube?
Was edward waiting for Bella when he was 9?
Isn’t that Bella’s motorbike?
WHY DOES THE TENT NOT MOVE IN THE WIND?
Why do the special effects get worse with each movie, when the budget got bigger?
Why doesn’t she just give in and love Jacob, because even though she’s said no repeatedly, he keeps pressing and everyone knows that no woman can resist muscles that just keep asking and asking and…. oh wait, she kissed him. Problem solved.
Why do they change her into an above-knee blue dress when she’s turned into a vampire, when for every other scene (including her wedding) she has arms and decolletage covered? Is that a mormon thing? Is this whole thing a mormon thing?
Why are the Brazilian vampys tan?
Wait, did he BITE the baby out?

So the last movie, they wanted all the women who have recently hooked up because you know, women HAVE TO BE IN RELATIONSHIPS TO BE SANE/PROTECTED/SEXUALLY ACTIVE/ALIVE, to bring their new (and possibly two years younger, coz look, Meyer is breaking all kinds of taboo (see, the two years is to get you used to the idea of the 17 year age gap that appears later on… with an infant.)) squeeze to the movies, so they threw in some action. But it’s ok, coz the action doesn’t actually happen. SPOILERS: It’s a vision. But it makes your heart race and you see the sacrifice. Vampys and Wolvies (wolfies?) working together! Love conquers (mostly) all. Save the baby Jacob!
But it’s ok people! Only Irina dies (because she’s widowed (kinda) and she didn’t really want to live any more anyway). And nearly everyone else is happily coupled now, (even the fucking baby) because vampires around the world came together. How sweet.
And now Bella and Edward can just fuck whenever they want, because for the next year she’s stronger than him and can hold him down.

And here’s the kicker – Meyer (and her squillions of adoring fans) think that Bella being strong is the point. And I’m all for strong women. I am one. I’m raising one. I was raised by one. I’ve been in love with more than a few. Strong women – totally NOT my complaint. But a strong character who is good and just and courageous and still COMPLETELY DOMINATED BY AND RELIANT ON every other male character (even the fucking baby wolf is necessarily to protect her at one point) is ridiculous. Her daughter is so vulnerable that she needs to be claimed AT BIRTH in a all-encompassing relationship by a man 17 (maybe 18 at that point, I wasn’t keeping track) years older than her, who stakes his ‘most sacred law’ abiding claim on her THE MINUTE HE SEES HER. Bella can’t have sex unless Ed says yes. Can’t have the type of sex she wants, because she’s too fucking fragile. Can’t have the baby she obviously adores because three men want to fight over what happens with her body. Can’t leave home even after she’s 18 without being grounded. Can’t sleep without being watched. Can’t ride a motorbike without either falling off, or it being some travesty. Can’t kiss anyone else. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t.
So.
Many.
Can’ts.

I’m so fucking sick of female characters being celebrated for being strong, yet still being held down by all this shit. I get that this is meant to be a love story. I get that there are scenes that are romantic (the first proposal is shit. even the ‘real’ one is pretty shit. And I’m an expert in shitty proposals at this point), scenes that are sexy, scenes that tug at the heartstrings because they make you think about family, or love, or friendship, or honour, or whatever the fuck makes you sleep well at night knowing you have it. But please, strong women of the world (and more-so, women who don’t think they are strong), this is not love. Patriarchy, control, slut shaming, ownership, male tradition, dominance, violence, sacrifice, blind adoration – these things are not signs of love.

I could finish this by saying Strongbow Classic Apple is love. Or the love a single girl has for her three cats is love (these things are totes true). I could also finish by saying I have no fucking idea what love is (also true) I only know what it’s not.

But I totally believe that if you want love, if you want to be strong, and secure, and vulnerable, and open, and whole, then love….Love is something you need to have for yourself.

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Filed under Adolescent, Romance

Book review: Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city of Upper Mesopotamia, located in modern-day northern Iraq; it is on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
In 612 BCE the city of Nineveh was sacked and burned by the allied forces of the Persians, Medes, Babylonians, and others who then divided the region between them. The area was sparsely populated thereafter and, slowly, the ancient ruins became buried in the earth.

 

I don’t really know where to start with this book. I found it incredibly bizarre and was really uncomfortable the whole time I was reading it, which perhaps was the author’s intent.

It’s the story of Katya, a second generation pest control expert working in South Africa. After the successful relocation of caterpillars from a fancy party, Katya is asked to come to the house owners new venture – Nineveh, a nearly completed but still empty luxury estate – and deal with the strange plague of insects that has stopped the construction. Katya moves to the estate, where there is no sign of the pests she has to deal with, and from then on the story dissolves into a weird set of coincidences and conspiracies that I couldn’t follow. First Katya finds that someone is sneaking building supplies out of Nineveh and selling them at a nearby market. Then she finds her estranged father and allows him to stay in the estate with her. Then there is the plague of insects, an interlude with a guard dog and an accident with the owner of the estate, who Katya may or may not be sleeping with.

Oh and you can never tell if it’s day or night, and everything happens on top of a swamp.

Katya goes through her backstory, but even that is sinister and strange and you get the feeling she either won’t divulge or doesn’t realise the full story. Every single relationship Katya has in the book, from her nephew Toby, to the wealthy landowner, to her father and to random female characters throughout the story, is dysfunctional and oddly sexualised. The whole story points at a massive storm approaching, but the break is oddly glossed over and confusing. It’s building…building… building….. then two pages and everything is back to a new kind of normal (albeit with Katya now living in her car with the dog she was terrified of throughout 90% of the story).

Maybe it’s because I can’t read between the lines, or because I imply things that aren’t there, or just because I hate gothic novels, but this book just made me confused and uncomfortable and I was super glad when it was over.

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Book Review: Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Please excuse my super long hiatus – I have been reading a lot, but just fell out the habit of reviewing, which is terrible because the fewer books I review, the less I get given to read!

I don’t read a lot of crime (except for J D Robb books, because I’m seriously addicted) because I find so much of it is obvious and poorly written – either too gory, or too subtle. But Two Days Gone came highly recommended and when I gave it a go I found I couldn’t put it down.

It’s the story of Prof. Thomas Huston, who is currently wandering in the wilderness in bare feet and shock after his family have all been brutally slaughtered. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco, still dealing with the breakdown of his own family, is called in to investigate and has trouble reconciling the brutality with the calm, clever professor he knows.

As the story progresses, Huston gets deeper into the woods and DeMarco gets deeper into his life. It becomes impossible to tell what elements of Huston are real and which are research for his latest novel. Every new lead dissolves as more and more characters are introduced until the reader is as confused and lost as both Huston and DeMarco are.

The end of the book comes crashing down with unexpected endings (of stories, families, and lives) all round. It keeps you on your toes until the very last few pages and leaves a restless unease over the impermanence of life and love.

The book, Silvis’ thirteenth novel, is due out in January next year and all in all is a masterful effort at bringing together literature and suspense. DeMarcos backstory is beautifully rendered and demonstrates the range of reactions that occur with the death of a child. Huston’s dissociation is written with grace, believable and tragic and perfect for the story. You will not see the end coming, and the story builds and builds, making this book one you will not put down until it is over.

PS: A bit of a warning, though – it’s really dark in some places and quite graphic, so trigger warning for the gruesome deaths of small children described in intimate detail.

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Book Review: The Future Tense of Joy by Jessica Teich

Note: I got this book as an advanced reading copy from Netgalley, but you can read it in September 2016.

So, this book made me cry.

It was in the last quarter, when Jessica intervenes in a issue her daughter is having with a schoolmate. The school has a word, the crisis is averted, and her daughter goes back to being a happy, if somewhat pensive, child.
“It was that simple,” says Teich, “That’s how easily someone could have saved me…”

And I cried, because like Teich, like many women who have been abused, I realised it could have been that easy for me to be saved too. And it stings that no one did.

This is not a novel about abuse necessarily, although Teich does go into her history in depth (abusive boyfriend, absent mother). It’s a story about a woman who sees the world she’s trying to desperately to mould into perfect safety slowly eroding away. Late at night, questioning her choices as she navigates family life, Teich picks up a decade old obituary and sees a kindred spirit in the dead girl, Lacey. Both high achievers, Rhode scholars, women with difficult relationships with their mothers – how is Teich in this life, with her daughters and a husband who adores her, and Lacey in the ground after committing suicide at 27?

The novel then rambles through Teich’s search to uncover Lacey’s life. She contacts Lacey’s family and friends, trying to get a sense of her and trying to uncover what drove her to such a drastic act. At the same time, Teich uncovers more and more of her own life, explaining and exploring her neuroses using Lacey’s life as a mirror.

Some of the writing here is just beautiful. Poignant, reflexive and heartfelt, Teich treats Lacey as a beloved sister. Her love for her children shines, and her pain at not feeling the connection to her family that she craves is exquisitely written in.
That said, the book goes on way too long. The whole last section could be easily removed without losing any of the story. The story about Angelia is pretty, but I really don’t see how it fits in with the surrounding story – if it had been woven in better, introduced earlier it may have worked, but it’s like a story that’s been added later to drive home a point, and it’s quite jarring. The parts about her travelling back to Oxford could have been more succinct, because again, a lot of the conversations she has seem to be added to just reinforce what the book is about.

I feel like a lot of the present day autobiographical content is very self indulgent. Yes, memoir is by definition indulgent, but not THIS indulgent. It’s as if Teich wants applause for working out her demons, returning to her husband, learning to release her vice-grip on her children, and learning to live her life despite the abuse she suffered as a teen. But she doesn’t need to ask for accolade. A lot of women (and men, i guess) who want to read this understand implicitly how hard it is to love and be loved after abuse. How hard it is to let children out into a world that is inherently unsafe. How guilty not being happy with a life that looks perfect on paper makes you feel. Just saying ‘here’s my history, here’s my demons, here’s what I’ve done’ would have been good enough. And made for a book that didn’t drag at the tail end.

The writing style nearly makes up for it. But not quite. However, this would have been an extremely difficult book to write (and harder yet to release into the world), and I have to give Teich props for handling the subject matter with poise and delicacy. At no point did I feel her inclusion of Lacey was voyeuristic or macabre (and I’m pretty sure Lacey’s family felt the same). She shows her daughters in a way that demonstrates her absolute devotion, but doesn’t make them larger (or more perfect) than life. She handles delicate, uncertain and painful topics with grace, and there should be more books that talk about this stuff.

3/5 stars.

 

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Filed under Biography, Creative Non-fiction, trigger: suicide