I wrote this a couple of months ago and forgot to post. Gearing up for a book launch can be crazy. So some of the descriptions this month are a bit sketchy. Please see Caveats below.
No nonfiction this month. I was travelling, writing nonfiction writing, doing interviews, holding business conversations, etc. So I started many (scores) of novels and story collections and did not have the bandwidth or patience to finish most of them.
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucy Peach, Kelly Robson (2018)
Cool SF ecofiction time travel to Ur, with lots of disability themes, biotech, and knotty ethical dilemmas. Passes the Fries Test with flying colours. Novella with lots of heart and one extremely unflinching choice. Set up for a sequel. Recommended.
Hal, Kate Cudahy (2015)
Unpolished Swordspoint knockoff: secondary world fantasy with no magic, but stuffed with duellists, nobles, politics, and lesbians. If you have a miserable, heavy cold and are doped up on every over-the-counter soporific on the planet, it’s a soothing chunter through familiar tropes. First of a trilogy.
Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins (2018)
Also a secondary world fantasy but this time with an early medieval flavour, and set in an analogue British Isles undergoing its own version of a Christian conversion. It’s the tale of sisters, daughters of the king of the biggest kingdom on the isle. Each sister embodies traits familiar to experienced readers of fairy tales: the Warrior, the Romantic Airhead, the Obsessive Convert, and the Saintly Healer. Their father is remarried, with all the usual attendant step-family troubles, and falls under an enchantment that the sisters, working together, must defeat. It sounds like a cliché but it’s nicely done and involves a lot of well-described outdoor travel and well-considered consequences. A perfect companion for a long, hard journey by plane, train, and automobile.
Island of the Mad, Laurie R King (2018)
A lesser entry into the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series but, as always, worth reading, this time with queer young things in Venice, lunatic asylums, and a #MeToo moment that was seriously obvious to me from the beginning but dear Mary Russell had to be hit over the head with a zillion times before she could accept it. There again, that’s the underlying theme of #MeToo, too, so in that sense I suppose it makes sense.
Jar of Hearts, Jennifer Hillier (2018)
16-year old Georgina, known as Geo, falls for Calvin, a Bad Boy who turns out to be even worse than anyone thought. Things go very wrong and he ends up becoming known as the Sweetbay Strangler. For 14 years she escapes discovery of her part in his crime, but then the past catches up with her and she spends 5 years in prison while Calvin gets concurrent life sentences. Before she gets out, Calvin escapes. When she gets out she has to remake her life, but then dead bodies start turning up again. It looks as though someone is trying to get her attention… I kept seeing how it would fall into cliché but Hillier kept escaping cliché by the skin of her teeth. Mostly—enough to keep me reading. The last few pages go off the rails a bit, but I still enjoyed it well enough to recommend to those looking for a competent brisk canter through crime, punishment, and redemption, with a bit of straight romance to flavour the mix.
The Power, Naomi Alderman (2017)
When I first heard of this book I saw a lot of potential for Alderman to get it really wrong, to write an eye-rollingly obvious worm-turns story. (I should have read the acknowledgements—Karen Joy Fowler, Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin—before I read the book; I would have been reassured as to its lineage and aims.) But she gets it almost wholly right. It’s a cool sfnal premise: a new organ develops in women, the skein, that allows them to generate an electrical field strong enough to incapacitate. Women suddenly have the power, in every sense. Alderman does a fabulous job of imagining how that would change the world, and she uses the kind of strong, plain prose familiar to genre readers. What counts here is the story and the thought experiment. There isn’t much wasted. Her descriptions of the shocks (in all senses) the world experiences are particularly good. Recommended.
This month the list is just too long to bother with. Wow, there’s a lot of crap out there…
The next post is just about ready to go, so read that tomorrow.
This is not meant to function as an in-depth assessment. It’s more a way to monitor what I’m reading and get a sense of where I’m being lazy. My reading can be variable, both in terms of taste and amount. It’s a combination of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and research (for essays on various topics, and for Menewood).
The fiction and narrative nonfiction is a mix of not-yet published, old favourites, and what are frankly bargain backlist that I get for .99¢ from BookBub, sometimes because they’re old favourites I’d like to have in digital format, sometimes because it’s a book I’ve never read that promises to be a couple of hours of light reading that I can fall asleep over without worrying I’ve missed anything. (This is the kind of book I’d read with flu, or doped up on opiates: it does not require full attention but is a great distraction from discomfort.) The research is just as variable and in a variety of disciplines. Some of it is also not-yet-published, some ancient and out of date foundational reading, and almost all a combination of fascinating, difficult, annoying, and necessary.
I start many books; I don’t finish most of them. When that happens, I often won’t discuss them. Why? Because in terms of living writers, punching down isn’t acceptable and punching up can be counterproductive. On occasion I’ll do both but I have to feel seriously provoked in terms of either narrative choices (cripples as narrative prosthesis; women as victims of sexual violence) or a writing habit that has pissed me off once too often (the misuse of language; avoidance of specificity, particularly in matters of time and/or place). Punching dead writers often feels tacky, but not always. I’ll make exceptions for a) those upon whose reputation my comments will have little or no impact (which is, y’know, most of them) and b) if I believe my commentary might prove useful to a potential reader or a new writer.