Friday, July 31, 2015

A Constant Love (by Sophie Turner) [and A Change of Legacies]

This is a Pride and Prejudice continuation story that was recommended on Ask Metafilter, and I thought it was really well done. I actually have tried to get into a lot of the continuations, but have never gotten very far into one. This one sucked me right in -- the original characters are delightful, the voice is convincing, and there is an added level of historical detail that I really enjoyed. (For instance, I hadn't known about the practice of chalking ballroom floors.)

 I've moved right into the sequel, which I'm not sure is up on Amazon yet -- but you can find it on AO3. Which means yes, I suppose this is "fanfic" -- but the line there is a bit blurry, considering that all the traditionally published continuations are also kind of "fanfic," and some of them are notoriously bad. Don't let it put you off if you enjoy this sort of thing. I don't usually put book-length fanfic on my reading list, even though it is book length and some of it is quite good. But this is "literary fanfic" so I guess I'm counting it this time.

[Edited to add: I already tore through the sequel, A Change of Legacies. The author is reportedly planning five more books in the series, and each one is meticulously researched. As one of the characters might say, I enjoyed the sequel prodigiously well!]


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Shipping News (by E. Annie Proulx)

The League of Unreliable Narrators book club's latest selection. As per tradition, this is one Chris had read before and I had not. Special guest Wendy also joined us for this one!

The Shipping News is about a somewhat pathetic character named Quoyle who moves with his two daughters and aunt to Newfoundland after his horrible, evil wife (he does not notice she is horrible and evil, even though she literally sells their children to a child molester) dies. He begins working on a newspaper called The Gammy Bird that I really wish existed, particularly its restaurant reviews.  (Sample review: "The Fish Strip Basket was supposed to include Dinner Roll, but instead we got Slice of Bread. The fish Strips were very crispy and good. There is a choice of packet of lemon juice or Tartar Sauce. We both had the Tartar Sauce.")

This is a book with a unique writing style. The fragmentary sentences and shifting points of view kept me intrigued through. The voices, the setting, and the characters are all unique -- the names of the characters are uniformly wacky, which give the book a bit of a fabulist feel. The tone of it was difficult to pin down -- even with the wacky names and the amusing restaurant reviews, I found so much that was ominous and foreshadowy at the beginning, so many references to drowning, I definitely expected it to build to a dark climax. Which it kind of does. And then it doesn't.

Spoilers ahoy: The one character who does finally drown then magically comes back to life, and everyone has a happy ending -- even Dawn the newspaper girl, happy with her new life in St. John. I was let down by this, frankly -- I was... hoping for? ... a slightly melancholy ending, not a happily ever after style one. Not that I wasn't happy for Agnis and Mavis, because heck yes I was. But it felt a bit too nicely tied up in a bow. Or in this case, a fisherman's knot.

(Incidentally, we also worked on choosing Shipping News-esque names. My finalists are Hex Jetstream, Poplar Undertow, and Martha Sundial -- but I can't decide which I like best.) (Chris and Wendy, please post yours, I forgot to write them down.)

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Friday, July 17, 2015

The Human Division (by John Scalzi)

Warning to RSS readers: minor spoilers. Non-RSS readers can highlight to read the spoiler text.

When The Human Division was released, I read the comments on John's blog that indicated there was a cliffhanger. So I decided to hold off on reading it until the sequel was released, to spare myself any frustration. Glad I did! Even knowing there was a cliffhanger, I was expecting there to be a little more resolution. Specifically, I thought the big bad would be revealed, and then the sequel would focus on subsequent events. But not the case, so I'm excited to download The End of All Things soon.

This is a classic Scalzi book, with classic Scalzi pros and cons. On the pro side: it is incredibly smart and propulsive, with clever banter and delightful characters, particularly Harry Wilson (an old favorite) and Captain Sophia Coloma. I love how front-and-center women are in Scalzi's novels, and how he makes an effort to strike a gender balance in his books. He's such a popular writer that I feel it's good for the genre as a whole. On the con side, it's true that his characters are uniformly clever and sarcastic, and basically all sound like Scalzi. But... that's what makes the books so entertaining! Our flaws are often the flip side of our best qualities, are they not?

I should probably also mention that this was originally released serially -- so how does it hang together as a novel? Pretty well! I actually enjoyed all the chapters, maybe the one about Schmidt the least (possibly because of expectations, as I was hoping he was the mole). I was always happy to get back to the Clarke and to anything to do with Harry Wilson.

I see The End of All Things is in four parts, as opposed to the 13 parts of The Human Division, and I think that's probably a good call. It strikes a balance between the standalone pieces and the work as a whole. I look forward to seeing how it all wraps up.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Rosie Effect (by Graeme Simsion)

This is my latest gym book, which means I've been parceling it out to myself when I'm exercising. I loved The Rosie Project in particular for its narrator, Don Tillman, who is a somewhat unreliable narrator due to his most likely being somewhere on the autism spectrum. He is so completely delightful and literal and wonderful, and I was so happy to spend time with him for a second book.

Don being overly literal and socially somewhat awkward gets him into a number of sticky situations, some of which made me tense in an uncomfortable way (such as the whole social worker plotline) but others of which are very entertaining. His group of friends -- Dave, George, and Gene, are wonderful and their interactions -- from the beer-storage apartment to Dave the Calf -- are fun. The book's resolution is touching, and is a nice culmination of the rest of the story.

Don's wife, Rosie, comes off significantly less well in this book; as other reviewers have noted, she is not very sympathetic here at all. But Don loves her, so you're rooting for them because you're rooting for Don. But her lack of ability to communicate and meet Don halfway left wondering where they go from here. Hopefully there will be a threequel so I can find out!

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (by Sarah Hepola)

I like to treat myself to books on my Kindle when I travel, and also at all other times. This was an airplane read on the way to Jenfu's wedding in Minneapolis. Kind of ironic that I was reading this book about drinking on the way to a weekend that I spent drinking! Ah, life!

At any rate, this is a wonderful memoir, and I tend to be picky about memoirs. It reminded me of Liars' Club. I love Hepola's funny, wise, unpretentious voice, and was compelled by her story both before and after she quit drinking. 

I highlighted some of my favorite lines:

A confrontation is like a cold bucket of water splashed on you at once, but what you might not realize is how long the bucket of water was building. Five drops, a hundred drops, each of them adding to the next, until one day -- the bucket tips.

So much clinging and drama. We sounded like parting lovers fleeing the Nazis, not two kids bored in American History.

When men are in a blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in a blackout, things are done to them.

I paid lavish attention to every word she spoke. Until then, it had not occurred to me what an act of love this was: to remember another person's life.


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