And It All Comes Full Circle – A Review of Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher via Netgalley. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on November 20, 2018.

This is a review of the seventh book in a series. It contains no spoilers for the book being reviewed, but may contain spoilers for the books that precede it. Please do not read this review before reading the other books in the series.

When reading a long, ongoing series, it can be difficult to keep track of plot events and story elements as they are laid down along the way – especially when reading a series that is more than four books long. In many cases, I have to go back and reread the previous books in a series before engaging with the latest one, just to refresh my memory on what has happened before. This is especially important when the author has a tendency to leave certain story elements – characters, seeming offhanded remarks, even little tidbits of lore – scattered in various books, only for those elements to lead up to something even bigger later in the series.

Personally, I find that sort of thing a lot of fun. Though it can be difficult keeping up sometimes, it’s still immensely pleasurable to pick out elements in previous books and figure out how they fit in the grander scheme of the series’ story arc. I don’t always guess right, of course, but when I do, I have the pleasure of experiencing the kind of “aha!” moment that comes with figuring out the solution to a puzzle.

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Checking Privilege With Lovecraft and Demons – A Review of Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher via Edelweiss+. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on November 13, 2018.

“Check your privilege” has become quite the popular online catchphrase, often thrown down when someone is perceived to be making a statement that shows the privilege of their position in the world, and how that privilege is making them unable to understand another person’s point of view. It can also be used as a reminder, a note to oneself to remember that what one thinks is normal or right might not always apply to someone else. When used correctly, it is a great deflator of ego, a reminder to the self and to others to see something through someone else’s eyes. Whether it is economic gaps, racism, misogyny, homophobia, or even smaller issues like personal relationships, checking one’s privilege is a useful tool that forces people to open up to other ways of seeing and understanding the world.

Checking one’s privilege is a key theme of Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer. Set in Long Island in the 1920s, it follows the story of Ellie West, who is doing all she can to scrounge together enough money to send her brother, Lester, to college so he can become a doctor. In oder to do that, she augments the money she makes fishing the bay with money she makes by bootlegging liquor – a profitable, if not entirely safe, source of income, walking as she does between the Mob and the feds. So when a group of wealthy holidaymakers offer Ellie a large sum of money to procure booze for a party, Ellie does just that – even if some of the liquor she sold them has a rather sketchy provenance. But she doesn’t want to think about that. What matters is that she now has enough money to send her brother off to college, and never mind what rich folk do when they want to get drunk.

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Pushing the Limits of Absurdity – A Review of The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Tor.com Publishing, via Netgalley. This does not in any way affect my review. This book is slated for release on October 30, 2018.

This is a review of the ninth book in a series. While it contains no spoilers for the book under discussion, it may contain spoilers for the previous books in the series. Please do not read this review unless you have already read the previous books.

Some acquaintances of mine have commented on my ability to sustain interest in long-running series before they are completed. Trilogies, they say, are easy enough to maintain interest in, especially if the author is good enough about delivering a book once a year or so. Romance novel series are also fairly easy to maintain interest in even if some of them can run into several books long, because each book deals with one specific couple and can therefore be read on its own.

But in genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy, maintaining interest in a series that runs beyond four or five books is, so my acquaintances say, an almost herculean feat of focus – especially if the series has yet to be concluded. For my part, I do not see how that sort of focus is herculean – not least because I often reread books in a series if it has been some time since I engaged with it and need a refresher before diving into the latest volume. It can be a bit tedious to have to do so, especially if the previous novels are doorstoppers in their own right, but doing so does not require any great expenditure of effort, nor is it in any way onerous. There is something pleasant, after all, about revisiting a story one has already engaged with – especially if one enjoyed it.

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A Variation in Major Key – A Review of Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

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I don’t quite remember when I first read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I think it might have been somewhere in the first two years of my time at university, when I was reading in wide, near-indiscriminate swathes because there was still so much that I had not yet read and would need to read if I wanted to be ready for the degree I’d chosen to specialise in. Access to a proper university library was certainly helpful in that regard, because I don’t remember seeing Dorian Gray in the library of my rather conservative Catholic high school.

It was also a case of “right place, right time”: I doubt I would have enjoyed Wilde’s writing style while I was in high school, and I rather doubt I would have liked the titular character enough to want to keep on reading. But by the time I was at university I was ready for it, and though I can’t say I enjoyed it (I think I’d need to read it again, now, to see if I actually do), I appreciated it for its merits, and for the influence it and its author exert in various corners of the arts.

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Coming Home to Find a Way Forward – A Review of Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor

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I have mentioned often enough that my faith in young adult fiction is not as solid as it used to be – certainly not like it was when I first started reading in the genre in the very late 1990s and early 2000s. One would think that, given the sheer amount of YA now available, I would be able to find at least some reads that I would find enjoyable, but despite the seeming embarrassment of riches the YA shelf of my bookstore now provides, quantity does not always mean quality. YA used to be a rather small genre, but almost all the books were excellent – what I did not like was generally down to personal taste, and not so much the quality of the writing. But nowadays, finding good YA stories is like trying to find a few grains of gold in a very great quantity of dross, and I just do not have the time to do that kind of sifting.

Fortunately, the Internet has been (relatively) helpful in pinning down interesting YA novels to read, though it still does require some filtering and sifting to find material that might be good to read. In general, however, I filter according to books by authors of tried-and-tested repute (such as the inimitable Diane Duane), and, increasingly, books by people of colour. I notice that it is among the latter that I am finding the kind of quality storytelling that used to exist in YA. Not all of those stories are to my taste, of course, but I find that the ones that are, are incredible, amazing stories, or at the very least immensely entertaining – which is more than I can say for a great many of the other YA stories written by white authors.

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