TBR: The Doubly Dead Angel-Thief by Marc Whelchel

Meet V.C. Almond, Mastermind Sleuth, Jack of Some Trades, and the Delmar Loop’s Private Investigator Ordinaire.

V.C. Almond’s life is in the gutter. Divorced and broke, he’s living in a rat trap apartment above the loudest punk music venue in the Delmar Loop. Worse, his dear friend, merry prankster Jake Kennedy, son of crime boss “Big Jamie” Kennedy, has just committed suicide.

The night of Jake’s funeral, V.C. returns home to find a surprise on his floor: Jake’s freshly murdered, bullet-riddled body. Soon realizing Jake’s double death appears destined to go unsolved, V.C. reluctantly agrees to help private detective Aldous Lewie crack the case.

Stumbling upon the body of a man who’s supposed to already be dead is just the first leg of V.C.’s journey down the rabbit hole.

Two things soon become clear: Even in the Communication Age, miscommunication reigns supreme. And if V.C. and his band of misfits don’t figure out who aced their amigo, then they will soon be sipping GrandMa in the Great Beyond.

“GrandMa”?  You can’t just throw a grandma in there and not have me worry for her.

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TBR: The Ruby-Eyed Child (The Seventh Order Book 1) by J. Walter Brockmann

Leaf Bottlestopper is a perfectly ordinary half-elf. Until, that is, his foster mother is killed and his infant foster sister, a ruby-eyed girl named Sage, is kidnapped. Leaf is thrown into a brewing conflict—decades in the making—that’s now about to erupt. With help, he learns the deep secrets of the Six Orders of magic—secrets that the enemy’s leader has worked hard to suppress. As the time to save his sister dwindles, the question becomes: Is the enemy truly after Sage… or Leaf himself?

I like how this seems to use fantasy to explain modern family dynamics.

View on Goodreads. 

 

TBR: Evergreen Avenue: 1970s by Amelia Keldan

For 1970s housewife Penny McVee, the decision to move back up to the lush and idyllic

Adelaide Hills was a tough one to make. With her devoted husband Russell and three beautiful kids by her side, she feels ready to embrace the hometown she had left behind so long ago. The long and lazy Summer stretches out before them, promising endless days filled with pool parties, friendship and chocolate fondue. Secrets however, have a way of revealing themselves. Way down deep beneath the murky depths of her subconscious, Penny hide

s a memory she’d rather forget. Determined to keep it together and mindful of the shaky ground she now finds herself standing on, Penny ignores the little voice telling her to tread carefully. Will those around her be content to ignore any past indiscretions or is Penny about to lose it all?

My guess is she’s about to lose it all.

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TBR: Ride the Star Wind: Cthulhu, Space Opera, and the Cosmic Weird

Space madness! Fly away with us to the deeps of space for action and adventure, alien intrigue and bloody surprises. Join us out here where all things alien and weird flow freely. Dive headlong into spaceships and monsters, tentacles and insanity, determined struggle and starborne terror. Whether sprawling across civilizations or tightly focused and personal, these tales paint a psychedelic vision of strange proportions and wondrous possibility. 

Where space opera meets the weird. An anthology of 29 illustrated short stories that blend the weird cosmic horror of the Cthulhu Mythos with the star-spanning vistas of space opera by a diverse array of all-star authors…

Remy Nakamura • Lucy A. Snyder • J.E. Bates • Gord Sellar • Brian Evenson • Heather Hatch • Desirina Boskovich • DaVaun Sanders • D.W. Baldwin • J. Edward Tremlett • D.A. Xiaolin Spires • Tom Dullemond • Premee Mohamed • Wendy N. Wagner • Kara Dennison • Brandon O’Brien • Heather Terry • Wendy Nikel • Robert White • Ingrid Garcia • Richard Lee Byers • Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. • Tim Curran • Angus McIntyre • Ada Hoffmann • Bogi Takács • Wendi Dunlap • Cody Goodfellow • Nadia Bulkin

You’ll meet soldiers and scientists, starship captains and intrepid explorers, each with secrets to hide and a story to tell. And then there’s the aliens. So many aliens. Some friendly, some monstrous, but all of them exciting.

Engines full. Course set. We’re going in.

“Cosmic Weird.” The cosmos is weird by default, no?

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Book Review: Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

Palimpsest, interestingly, means this:

ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest/
noun
  1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
    • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
      “Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of successive owners”

Palimpsest…rhymes with incest.  Which kind of makes sense given the hyper-sexual content of this book (and the incestiness). The title also works in another way: There is a world overlapping this one, just like a manuscript being overwritten. The back cover synopsis doesn’t do a good job of explaining what this 2009 book is really about. You need to pick it up for yourself to really understand — it’s one of those books. I’m not saying pick it up because I recommend it, but it is a book that is hard to sum up with words. Let me try and fail to explain why.

So Palimpsest is a place — a place you enter through having sex. But only if you have had sex with someone who has been there before. It is a sexually transmitted city — as many other reviewers have pointed out. But it is a bit more than that. It is, more so, that the city is like opium, and the only way to get that opium — to go back to this city that, even in the book, is described like a drug trip — is to get it in exchange for sex. That’s the real metaphor here — a weird mixing of orgasm, drug, and dreams.

There are multiple characters you follow around as they get the “sexually transmitted city” — their ticket into the dream world. It’s like a first hit they continually chase. Palimpsest itself is not that interesting to me — reading dream sequences in novels is never easy or fun. After they were “tripping” in Palimpsest, what happened there was usually pretty easy to figure out in the “normal” prose parts of the book so it’s almost like it could have done without them. I found myself wanting to skim those those sections. But Palimpsest is like a shared dream. Like in the 2006 movie Paprika:

Weird shit happens. Some characters don’t like it or believe it is real. But most of the time characters are willing to do anything to go back or learn how to stay — even mutilate their physical bodies.

The city also had a very Spirited Away vibe, with animal-headed people and quirkiness. So much so that it felt like Valente was heavily influenced by these two movies. Her book did come out after.

The new arrivals to the city are treated like immigrants much the same way that the main character, Chihiro, of Spirited Away is tangled up in the eccentricities of the supernatural realm. It’s funny at first but once you figure it out your like “Oh, didn’t we just do this?”

The train imagery is a big plot device in the book even:

The Palimpsest passages seemed more like prose poetry, where Valente used wordplay and nonsense to stand in place of real description. She illustrated too much of it for the medium, in my opinion. It was beautifully done, but there was simply too much of it. The reader cannot care about the city if they cannot experience it, so don’t harp on it. …Unless you’re OK with the reader wanting to skip over it? Just like I feel the back cover fails to explain what this book is about, words fail to entice the reader to long for the city in the same way the characters do. And the reader becomes numb to it just like all the sex scenes in the book as well — which are handled very well. But so much focus on getting the city detials and the sex details just right seems to have allowed the ball to be dropped elsewhere.

The plot that drives the characters together is thin — they simply want to become permanent citizens of the city and to do that they must find each other. Though the plot is the flimsiest excuse for orgies, it is still more of one than Sense8 ever was:

(We get it. You like sex. We get that you all feel each other having sex. We get that you all have maps on your body and really want to go to Palimpsest. There’s no larger moral or statement here…)

All the most gorgeous strings of words in the world can’t make up for a book not understanding its medium, though it really tried. The characters were well developed and interesting enough, in my opinion. Diverse as fuck. But the book still lacked ambition. It was what it was and it would have been better on screen or as a short story. The greatest emotion this novel pulled out of me was the heartbreak — seeing the loss of potential for the characters in the real world (what could have been if only they weren’t under the city’s spell), the twisted dynamics of having sex as a means to an end versus sex for love, and the sadness of those who knew they could never become residents of the city because of unfortunate circumstance.

Other thoughts I had on the book:

Oh my god, so many cat similes and metaphors. Not EVERYTHING can be compared to a feline gesture, Valente. Pick another animal.

Oh my god, so many mentions of the word “baroque.” Find another word.

Oh my god, it’s weird that she meta-mentions (several times) a book she would later go on to write. It’s like writing a children’s book to hook them into reading your porno when they grow up. Also, one of her characters is a fangirl of the book. So it’s kind of like patting yourself on the back. It’s weird.

Other goodreads reviews I agree with:

‘Unfortunately, the writing style is so far beyond pretentious as to be arrogant, and it’s extremely off-putting. This is a book with a built-in cult following, and either the author drinks her own Kool-Aid or she just knew how most readers would respond to it – either way, you’re expected to fall in love with the book as soon as the first gritty fairy-tale-inspired metaphor hits you, and if you don’t, you’re left behind.’

 

No matter what it did, no matter what cold water of sub-par creation flaws I saw, Palimpsest always managed to hook me back in again. And it is entirely to do with the fact that its aesthetic, what it presents me to gasp and sigh and marvel at, the particular blanket of words that it slowly wraps me up with and whispers until I fall asleep, is made up of many of the ingredients of everything I have learned to find beautiful.

 

I have never encountered prose quite so elegant that it is really, in fact, poetry. Reading this novel is like reading a dream. Vivid moments connected by strange and surreal images. 

 

And it is so disappointing, the idea is so great (not the sexing necessarily, but the idea of a city mapped on people’s body, spreading like a disease): I wanted Palimpsest (the city, in the book) to be wonderful and magical and strange and fabulous and scary and everything you want the world to be. It wasn’t. I still don’t know why every body in the book wants to go there. The way it is described, it is a place with all the elements of a magical place but without the magic, without the wonder. It’s just a place. It’s exclusive, and maybe that’s the fabuloussness, like an underground, bunker hidden boîte de nuit where you need to know someone who knows someone and who had sex with another one… or that’s what people tell me.

 

A criticism I have often read about her is that there is a lot of style over substance. And honestly, that does happen. When you get lost in the beauty of her language, her plots can sometimes get a little confusing. But to me that’s a minor irritant because I just love to bask in the whimsical beauty of whatever the Hell she feels like writing.

I put this book on my “erotica” shelf, but there is a lot more to it than sex. In fact, the sex quickly becomes a means to an end and is not the focus of the story very long. Because this story is about cities, about our inner worlds and how beautiful and guarded those secret place within ourselves are, and how hard it is to access them and truly understand them. Yes, there is a lot of sex in this book, but I found it made me ponder the nature of intimacy much more than carnality.

TBR: The Step-Spinsters by Madina Papadopoulos

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…

…(actually, in Medieval France, to be exact) there lived Cinderella’s stepsisters, Fredegonde the tall and Javotte the small. They wake up the morning after the legendary ball to learn that they each still have a chance to be the bride—all they have to do is make their feet fit into that tricky slipper. Alas, these two damsels under stress never quite seem to fit in anywhere. But that doesn’t stop them from wishing and hoping as they set upon a quest for grooms and grandeur of their own.

The title of this book alone is enough to make me hype it.

View on Amazon.

TBR:Who was Joseph Pulitzer?: A novel by Terrence Crimmins

Pulitzer was a rags to riches fellow who revolutionized the newspaper industry by introducing sensationalism and shaking the ground of American politics. As the first person to push for the goals of the Progressive agenda, Pulitzer raised red flags about the exploitation of the poor by the very rich in a very different time. Crimmins’ novel brings us into the day to day life of this unique genius, who arrived in America as an immigrant who barely spoke English, yet twenty years later developed and edited two of the biggest newspapers in the country. Pulitzer’s run-ins with the other newspaper titans of the Gilded Age show us the men who laid the foundations of American journalism, and his confrontations with the wealthy robber barons brings us into the drama of how Pulitzer began a surge for reform that was so very important to improve the quality of American life. Pulitzer’s wife tries desperately to comfort the man who she deeply loves, yet their romance is shattered by Pulitzer’s workaholic Napoleonic ambitions. Such frantic behavior came to cause him a terrible breakdown, casting his newspaper widow further to the sidelines in this captivating drama of American life. Crimmins’ dramatic novel helps us to understand significant historical events at the heart of American society, describing the life of a man who fought essential political battles that changed life as we know it in the United States.

I don’t see many indie nonfiction titles like this, so this one seems interesting.

View on Goodreads. 

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – DNF

I got a little bored with this one, 200 pages in. I liked Schwab as a person and for her other novel Vicious. This one also appears to have had its movie rights snatched up so I thought that was a good indication of its content. But the story was a bit too basic — it all rests on the power of a mysterious stone that can give magic to those who are holding it…or something like that. The four Londons are really three — one of the Londons, Black London, is no longer a thing but the stone comes from there. I found myself not really caring about the characters or the Londons. In fact, I grow tired of stories set in London or anything too Anglo-centric. Not trying to be a patriot here, but there are plenty of interesting things that could happen outside of the U.K. and Europe. Beyond this, the main character, Kell, seemed a bit too much like Doctor Who — for no particular reason other than he picks up a female sidekick and has a coat that can be folded into different styles and colors. Very Doctor-ish. Side note: I don’t like Doctor Who.

I liked the Coat of Many Styles but his one dark eye seemed too much like Terry Pratchett’s Mr. Teatime. That’s all I could picture, which made Kell seem a bit ridiculous.

The female character, Lila, was a straight up rip off of Elizabeth Swan, I felt like.

And then suddenly Kell and Lila are given this contrived reason to be around each other: the stone, which Lila pickpockets off Kell, not knowing what it is. And they decide it’s a good idea to return the stone back to Black London or something. Together.

For 400 pages — and 200 just to get to that point — I think I’ll wait for the movie to come out to finish this story. I don’t feel like something so simple is worth another 200.

Other Goodreads Reviews that I feel backed up my reason to stop reading:

For a 400-page book, there needs to be more than just a stupid plot about a magic stone. There are no subplots, no subterfuge, no otherness about it. There was nothing at all, except a short story that was stretched out and stuffed full of padding to satisfy a word count.

 

Another reviewer mentioned that this book felt like a play for a movie deal. It does, big time. It feels like a terribly written action movie (oh, is there any other kind?) – one-dimensional characters, a somewhat interesting concept, action scenes with just enough dialogue in between to keep pushing the plot along. 

 

It seems like the very idea of her was taken from watching Kiera Knightly in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. By the end, she has a pirate coat and is seen looking at a bunch of ships deciding which one to steal.

There’s a lot to be confused about in this book too. Especially, trying to remember the differences between the 4 Londons. Yes, there are 4. It’s some alternate dimension thing?? There’s really no explanation as to why there are at least 4 different (overlapping) universes here other than the need for Kell to jump between them because of some quasi-political reasons.

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

This book was a very good refresher on U.S. history as well as a great introduction to Alexander Hamilton. It is clear this book is riding the waves of the Hamilton play, but now that I’ve read it, watching the play (some sweet, sweet day) will now have a lot more context for me, I’m sure.

This graphic novel touches on all the contributing factors that possibly made Hamilton the man that he was. I cannot remember much about him from grade school, and apparently he’s a mystery even to historians at times. So this book takes all those loose threads — all these things supposed about him — and weaves them into a story, giving him context so that you can draw your own conclusions about what we do know about him. An example: He was born in the West Indies, and so we get a few pages of illustration here and there about the history of the Indies. This gives the reader a feel for the setting and life Hamilton would have been born into. The writers are good at distinguishing the “truth” from the “perhaps.” The story itself was a bit contrived — framed by two men speaking about Hamilton at the beginning and then by learning who those two men are throughout the book and then going back to them speaking at the end. But that’s my only qualm.

The artist even draws a historian in a frame at one point to quote from her. I thought that was pretty cool. If you ever need to quote from a librarian, I’m available for your organization of information graphic novel.

Comics telling history is almost as cool as Drunk History. Definately better than a textbook.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. Read my review policy here.

Book Review: Scatter, Adapt, and Remember by Annalee Newitz

It was weird reading this during the wake of Hurricane Harvey. There was a heavy focus on natural disasters in this book and, well, it was hitting too close to home.

I picked this book up because I wanted to see her ideas on how humans will do it. Because, right now, I’m not so sure we can. I also was hoping she’d give me a reason why we should survive. It always seem inherent that humans deserve life and that is what I am not so sure about.

Newitz says “If humans are going to make it in the long term, and preserve our planet along with us, we need to accept that change is the status quo.” But she barely touches on the fact that change could mean us no longer being human. Though she does touch on it.

The first 10% is just detailing the earth’s history to give context to mass extinctions, often humorously:

“Today we worry that cow farts are destroying the environment with methane; back in the Proterozoic, it’s certain that algae farts ruined it with oxygen.”

But most of the time, this recounting of extinctions before humans read more like the story of Genesis — something I didn’t care too much about it because so much of it is still so vague and unknown to really be helpful. But I can see how talking about them was necessary to prove that extinctions aren’t anything new and so we should be looking out for them. If we understand how they work, maybe we can prevent one.

But I’m also a bit concerned with the lack of prevention explored in this book. She more so lists human-made disasters that weren’t prevented (but could have been, had we been smarter) than gives solutions on how we could stop them. At the end she tended to accept the fact that we’re going to destroy the planet and we’re not going to stop so we need to learn to adapt to the mess we’ve created. Nevermind voicing an opinion on how carnism and pro-natalism are killing us. 

And, at first it seems she’s flirting with the idea of colonialism (expanding to other planets). She doesn’t abruptly put her foot down, but she does eventually direct us toward how  betting on moving to space can be colonialist. CAN BE. 

Um, no, it is. And we need to stop before we start.

She acknowledges fears of the sixth mass extinction and how ours is happening too fast, but then she quickly moved on. Never mind giving reasons to stop those extinctions. It’s not us yet.

I liked it when she explored our language on neanderthals and how, when we speak about them, it can almost sound racist. She handled that very well when she came to it. DNA is also a topic that is explored and how complicated it is.

It’s here that we start to really focus on humans in the book. The plague is dutifully mentioned.

Interesting thing I learned: “Of all the forms of mass death we’ve looked at so far, famine can be understood as the least natural of all disasters.”

And so on. And at this point I was getting frustrated because all this time she had been talking about extinctions but not how we prevent it or accept it–or why we are worth saving, really.

“And yet, if history is any guide, the humans of tomorrow will be nothing like us–their bodies will have been transformed by evolution, and their civilizations by the kinds of culture-changing events that have already marked human history.”

She then uses science fiction examples–mostly using Octavia Butler a lot…

Basically only Octavia Butler.

Because Butler is probably the best example of speculative apocalyptic bounce backs.

But Newitz does not address to my satisfaction why we should plan to prevent the worst. Why are humans worth saving? After all, a die-off created us. Extinction allowed US to form. Why should we deny that of another potential species? Also, there have been other catastrophes we did not plan for and it seems we got along just fine. Was that her point? I didn’t see a convincing argument here for change, just an exploration of inevitability. No prevention needed.

Toward the end she finally starts to really explore how humans could next evolve/adapt and why space colonization is not a good thing:

“‘I think it’s unethical to colonize space because we’ll make a mess there as well,’ she said.”

Indeed.

And then she touches on — with only a few pages to spare — how uploading ourselves or becoming more cyborg-like might be how we adapt. Well, duh. That or, you know, we could stop killing the planet right now.

“Because Bostrom believes this future of superintelligence and uploads is inevitable, he’s convinced that we won’t got to space at all. We won’t want to…so instead of exploring outer space in fantastical vessels, we’d use robots to dismantle every object in space…”

While this book is almost like a brief history of the apocalypse, it doesn’t explain well “how humans will survive a mass extinction.” She is not radical enough–not in her actions of entertaining possibilities and not in her conclusion.