Book Review: Signal to Noise

Signal to Noise Book Cover Signal to Noise
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fantasy
Solaris
February 10, 2015
epub
272
Prix Aurora Awards packet

A literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City. Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends -- Sebastian and Daniela -- and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love... Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

I’m having trouble processing the fact that I’ve already finished my first Aurora read. Certainly, at 272 pages, Signal to Noise isn’t a huge book, but it’s packed with all kinds of action.

In 1988, Meche is a fifteen-year-old girl with an obsession for music and an affinity for computers. She comes to realize that she can use her vinyl records to compose magical spells, and attempts to use this gift for both fair and foul reasons.  She’s at that age where she hasn’t fully matured, yet she’s not a child any longer. While other girls are pretty and popular, she’s dealing with pimples and social awkwardness. Her two best friends are similarly challenged and dealing with the pressures of their school’s social hierarchy. In addition, her parents are on the cusp of divorce. The only stable force in her life is the grandmother who tells her stories of magic and witches.

Fast-forward to 2009 and Meche returns to Mexico for her estranged father’s funeral. She has to confront her feelings about him and his abandonment of her family. She also has to face the friends she abused and some nasty home truths that have been keeping her from truly moving forward in her life.

The story is fast-paced and the characters are vividly realized. I started reading Signal to Noise a couple of days ago while recovering from a migraine. I blazed through the rest of it tonight. You give me a compelling enough story and I have trouble putting the book down. Dishes? What dishes?

As I’ve been doing my own reading and research into the art of writing, one of the major factors that keeps being mentioned is ‘voice’, both on a narrative level and a character level. If this story has one huge star quality, it’s the voice.

While I was reading, I was hearing a Spanish/English rhythm to the language, from the everyday English sentences to the occasional Spanish word or phrase. I don’t know how many people hear accents when they read, but I’m definitely one of them. Never let anyone tell you that a second-language class isn’t worth it — I made good use of my own high school Spanish education (sadly atrophied, but still useful).

Music is another huge aspect to this book, and as a music nerd, I appreciated the little touches that mentioning songs from specific eras lent to the story. Whether it was invoking the sultry tones of jazz or the pop-candy of Dead or Alive and Cyndi Lauper, the narrative and setting stayed firmly in focus depending on the music. My aforementioned high-school Spanish classes? The teacher totally had all us girls swooning over Luis Miguel. Thanks Mrs. Xander. Thanks.

As an aside, my grade-school French teacher tried the same tactic with a couple of Quebecois bands/singers, but he missed The Age of Hormones by about three years and it didn’t work out quite as well for him. Quel dommage.

In the end, Signal to Noise is a story of growing up, of forgiveness, and redemption. We see the mistakes made due to miscommunication, or the petty jealousies that feed immature selfishness. We see the sacrifices the more mature characters are willing to make, and in the end, it’s up to Meche to come to grips with the life she’s made for herself and see that she needs to move beyond the choices she’s made.

Wonderful story. Earns all my stars.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I probably have some dishes that need washing…

Book Review: A Convenient Engagement by Kimberly Bell

A Convenient Engagement Book Cover A Convenient Engagement
The Countess Scandals
Kimberly Bell
Fiction
Penguin
February 16, 2016
eBook
Netgalley ARC

A young lady makes an outrageous deal with a very handsome devil in this sexy debut romance set in Georgian Era London and Scotland. An independent young woman of means, Miss Hannah Howard is as stubborn as she is beautiful. After she moves to London for her first season among the ton, she immediately finds herself in a heated dispute with her neighbor, the ill-mannered Gavan Dalreoch, Earl of Rhone. Giving the Earl a black eye is a lapse in judgment—even though the Scottish scoundrel deserved it. Now with her reputation in jeopardy, her only hope for saving face is the man whose face she bruised. Gavan is content to live up to his rakish reputation, but with family pressuring him to marry, he and Hannah agree to get engaged just long enough to appear respectable. Yet as the charade continues with stolen kisses and a trip to Gavan's Scottish castle, Gavan and Hannah discover that their false engagement may be more real than they imagined. Includes a preview of Kimberly Bell’s upcoming novel.

A bit of a confession: I like romance novels.

Let’s get the icky accountability stuff out of the way first: I know Kimberly Bell as a friend of a friend. We have had very little direct interaction. When I was told that she had a book coming out soon, I was curious and decided to request the ARC through Netgalley. This is an honest review.

I think I’ve previously mentioned that Romance and Horror (Jackie Collins & Stephen King respectively, take it as you will) were the first two adult genres that I was exposed to at a tender age. My Mum’s inclinations are towards romance novels, so anything beyond this genre was up to me to source on my own, generally through the local library. This means that there were a LOT of romance novels to read per year in my household. Mum will still pass along books when she is done with them. Her favourite gift from us, so far, is a Kobo — because she can carry a whole library of romance novels with her at any given time. She’s a voracious reader and connoisseur.

So when I say that A Convenient Engagement is a book that my mother will love, I’m not exaggerating or being overly complimentary. I simply know her tastes.

Why will my mother love this book? We have two engaging main characters. Gavan and Hannah have fully rounded personalities that are wonderful both together and apart. Our hero is cosmopolitan and knowledgeable about the world he lives in. Our heroine is strong, independant, and just a touch naive from a sheltered upbringing.

There is a full cast of supporting characters that have their own personalities. The butlers for each household are a contrast in dynamics. Gavan’s cousin is a study in contrasts (action vs reaction to English society norms). Hannah’s maid is allowed to be a real person, rather than just a bit-part who fixes hair. Hannah’s chaperones are also fleshed out very well, from heart-weary Jane to vivacious Aunt Mattie. The fact that I can remember the character names and their personalities without too much prompting from the page of notes in my journal is pretty telling.

There are a couple of somewhat underdeveloped characters that have large roles in the plot, but as much as that stood out to me, it didn’t ruin the story as a whole. I will expect to see some improvement on that in future novels.

One of the pitfalls I generally see with historical romances is what I internally refer to as the “twit factor”. In other words, to what extent does a main character (usually the man) act like a twit, primarily when their love interest is around? I am not seeing that here, and I am thankful for it. I get the feeling that if the characters hadn’t met each other, they could have lived fulfilling lives apart, but the fact that they found each other will only enhance their lives. Neither is a besotted twit, both are enjoyable people to spend time with.

And the story made me laugh! I’ve been very lucky to pick some fun romance titles recently, and this one was no exception. I read it within a two-day turnaround, which is usually something that only happens with J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) novels and really engaging fantasy books. The writing was witty and clever without calling too much attention to *being* witty and clever. The author’s natural storytelling voice is delightfully charming.

The ultimate test — will I give this book to my Mum? Definitely. In fact, when the book is available on February 16th, I’ll be buying copies for both Mum and my Mother-in-Law. Because it turns out that she, too, sneaks good romance books on the sly.

Book Review: Storming: A Dieselpunk Adventure by K.M. Weiland

Storming: A Dieselpunk Adventure Book Cover Storming: A Dieselpunk Adventure
K. M. Weiland
Speculative Fiction
PenForASword Publishing
December 4th, 2015
epub
454
Purchased for myself

In the high-flying, heady world of 1920s aviation, brash pilot Robert “Hitch” Hitchcock’s life does a barrel roll when a young woman in an old-fashioned ball gown falls from the clouds smack in front of his biplane. As fearless as she is peculiar, Jael immediately proves she’s game for just about anything, including wing-walking in his struggling airshow. In return for her help, she demands a ride back home . . . to the sky.

Hitch thinks she’s nuts—until he steers his plane into the midst of a bizarre storm and nearly crashes into a strange airship like none he’s ever run afoul of, an airship with the power to control the weather. Caught between a corrupt sheriff and dangerous new enemies from above, Hitch must take his last chance to gain forgiveness from his estranged family, deliver Jael safely home before she flies off with his freewheeling heart, and save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.

Cocky, funny, and full of heart, Storming is a jaunty historical/dieselpunk mash-up that combines rip-roaring adventure and small-town charm with the thrill of futuristic possibilities.

Moving away from my usual book review format now that I’m not reading specifically for the Auroras!

I picked up Storming on my own. I know K. M. Weiland from online, as she’s an author who supports other writers with encouragement and resources. Once in a while we trade tweets, and that’s about the extent of our relationship.

I like science fiction & fantasy and thanks to the work of William Gibson, I’m familiar with cyberpunk. Dieselpunk…not so much. To be honest, Storming felt more like an adventure novel with a few dieselpunk elements. We don’t get as deep into the “punk” as I would expect from my experience with the related cyber genre. That said, at 400+ pages, there is a ton of world-building involved. I wouldn’t be surprised if Weiland continued the story as a series, progressively immersing the reader into the world and dipping her toes further into the genre.

Jael and Hitch are both interesting, well-rounded, and pleasant characters to spend time with. You get  real sense of Hitch’s frustration, trying to be the good-guy of the story, trying to do things for all the right reasons. Jael…I have a hard time with her. English isn’t her first language, and I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce her name (Jay-el? Yale? Yay-el? Jail? Jah-eel? You see my problem?). I kept expecting her to have a bit of “the chosen one” pop out at any given time…and was happy to find that wasn’t the case. She really seems to be what she says she is.

The romance angle is downplayed. Yes, there’s attraction, but I could happily give this book to my niece and nephew (tween/early teens respectively) and not have my sister-in-law yell at me for corrupting young minds. Let’s just say that there wouldn’t be a replay of my grandmother’s reaction to finding me reading Jackie Collins at age thirteen. Even better, the kids would probably like the story! There are aerial stunts, high-flying adventure, airships, and (a touch of) romance. What’s not to like?

That said, there were a few places where the story bogged down in specifics and I resented the fact that my Kobo wanted to tell me how far I had read through a section, rather than how many pages into the book (I’ve since fixed this). Conversely, though, I had other moments where I marvelled at the fast action-pacing, and again resented the fact that I couldn’t see where I was in the book.

Sidebar – I’m one of those people who will actually note how far through a book a scene will take place – usually subconsciously, like “huh…I’m only 2/3 of the way through…what else can they throw at me from here?” This is why I love paper books for being able to figure this out by actual touch. The Kobo can go pretty well anywhere, but I still have to visualize percentages rather than just pinch pages and/or cover together.

The bottom line – was it worth the $5? Yes. Definitely. I do not feel that my time was wasted in any way, shape, or form. Did I enjoy it? Yes! There could have been more punk to the diesel, but that may come in future books. As a beginning, it was a good story.  I’ll be putting K. M. Weiland on my watchlist for her next book.

Book Review: The Peripheral by William Gibson

The Peripheral Book Cover The Peripheral
William Gibson
Science Fiction / Fantasy
Putnam Adult
October 28, 2014
PDF
496
Prix Aurora Award reader's package

Depending on her veteran brother's benefits in a city where jobs outside the drug trade are rare, Flynne assists her brother's latest beta-test tech assignment only to uncover an elaborate murder scheme. By the best-selling author of Zero History. 100,000 first printing.

Yes, yes, the Prix Aurora Awards are long over by now, but I wanted to still put up my review of William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It’s taken me a while to be able to sort out my thoughts on the book.

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
I would say that parallel worlds sums this one up.

Is there a Message?:
Not really, I don’t think. It didn’t clobber me over the head with anything. If the message was that being poor sucks, well, we all know that’s true.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
This one seems to be straight-up science fiction/fantasy. Once I knew what was going on, it worked really well.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Kinda? Will explain down below.

Was the book easy to get into?:
Oh hell no. I actually needed a glossary to finally understand what the hell I was trying to wrap my brain around.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
No previous books set in this world, no. At least, that I know of.

Was the world believeable?:
Once I figured out what I was reading? Possibly? The best way to describe how the worlds worked is to say that it’s like one future has the ability to play with alternate dimensions of the past the way that some of us play The Sims. The overarching plot after that (character sees a crime committed and has to provide evidence) is just gravy.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes. The characters were all very well realized. It’s one of Gibson’s main talents. Once you figure out which world you’re in and the world-building that surrounds it, the characters themselves are a treat.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
There was a lot of slang. A lot of slang. Parts of the story are set in a world not too far ahead of us, and another that’s a few decades ahead of that. Apparently a lot changes in between those times, which made it hard for me to read the book without some form of translation.  So I looked up a helpful glossary online that told me what things meant without spoiling the story. Problem solved.

Actually, the site that I’ve linked as the glossary pretty well sums up my issues with the book right in the introduction. I was confused to the point that I almost put the book down a few times…and having that one or two extra bits of explanation really helped me to relax and enjoy it.

What did you like about the book?:
Once I understood what I was reading, I really did enjoy the story. As mentioned, it was a standard “protect the witness” plot, but with some really interesting twists. It also didn’t end the way that I thought it would…the few Gibson books I’ve read have had some really grim endings, and this one was surprisingly upbeat.

Last Thoughts:
Reading comprehension has never been a problem for me before this point. To be honest, Peter Watts’ books operate on a level that I have difficulty grasping. This one was worse. I’ve waded through medical journal text that was easier to understand. To be honest, I felt downright stupid for the first quarter to half of the book before I found the glossary and the little lightbulb went on. I really don’t like feeling that way, particularly when reading a book by an author that I admire. Some like the discovery that comes from being in the dark…I just felt like I was obviously too dim to understand what I was reading — which was a rather glum thought, and before finding the glossary, had me wishing I’d bought the  hardcover* so I could pitch it across the room with a satisfying thud.

I was very happy to find out that the fault really wasn’t with me, but the fact that Gibson seems to have gone out of his way to obscure the story. I suppose I might have been a little more good-natured about the whole thing if I hadn’t been on a very tight reading schedule at the time.

Do I recommend it?  Oh most definitely yes!  The story, once you get past the stumbling points, is wonderful. If you need the glossary, here it is again. My suggestion is the same as the glossary authors – don’t read it unless you find you need it. It’s very possible you’ll click with the story a lot sooner than I did.

 

* I’m still going to buy the book, though. It’s actually a really good story, so it will be going into The Library.

Book Review: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

Echopraxia Book Cover Echopraxia
Firefall #2
Peter Watts
Fiction
Macmillan
August 26, 2014
ePub
384
Prix Aurora Awards

It's the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it's all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he's turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out

 

Echopraxia is the third book that I have read of the five Best Novel (English) nominees for the Prix Aurora Awards. I did not purchase the book; it was a part of the award’s reader’s pack.

I will be purchasing a copy of Echopraxia to join our copy of Blindsight on the Husbeast’s office bookshelf.

♥ ♥ ♥

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
Outer space. Vampires. Aliens. Science. Immersive Realities. Emerging Dystopia.

Is there a Message?:
There might have been. I’m still trying to parse it all.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
I think that “outer space” and “vampires” covers that question rather neatly. And yes, it was done rather well. I’m impressed.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Watts has made his vampires a biological construct — a re-emergence of a prehistoric genetic code that had died off at a time when humanity needed to thrive. He’s also built science into humanity’s base fear of vampires. So….yes?

Was the book easy to get into?:
Since I had just read Blindsight, yes.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
Echopraxia is the second in a series, so yes, I would recommend reading Blindsight first. You can also, apparently, get the books as a collection titled “Firefall” if you don’t want to pick them up separately. Blindsight lays the base groundwork for the universe, and as its main character Siri Keeton and the Theseus mission are integral to the story, you’ll want to read it first.

Was the world believeable?:
Amazingly so.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes. The characters that we fully engage with are very well-rounded, and feel like complete personalities. There don’t appear to be any “throwaway” characters. They all have their place in the story.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
If anything, my problems with Echopraxia were comprehension-related. I like science fiction. It takes me a while to work out the jargon. Due to the fact that the main character is a biologist, there is a lot of science to work through. It’s also very prevalent when it comes to scene-setting. Even though this book is only set about sixty to seventy years in the future, there are a lot of world changes that require explanation.

My only other criticism is that it felt like the book only started to “wake up” around the midpoint. Even though there seemed to be plenty of action, that’s where I started to feel the most engaged. Your mileage may vary, though…I needed more time to wade through the science, and I had to break my reading into bite-size chunks due to my Real Life schedule 🙂

What did you like about the book?:
I got comfortable with Dan Brüks. I came to imagine an older, curmudgeonly gentleman  scientist and former professor, suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of action and opinion. And Dan has plenty of opinions. Much like Siri Keeton of Blindsight, Dan seems to be in the dark about most of the motivations of his fellow travellers, though unlike Keeton, is prone to intense flashes of insight that take the reader along with him.

You could probably stick Harrison Ford into the role. Or maybe Last-Crusade-era Sean Connery, if you want a little extra “grump” (which I did…oh, goodness, I did). It’s possible that Dan isn’t in that age-range and I totally missed it, but that’s where I put him, and it worked.

The book deals with science, religion, loneliness and intimacy in ways that are subtle and changeable — from the perspective of a person who is very obstinate and stubborn. It puts him into some degree of conflict with just about every other character he meets. It makes Dan’s journey richer in some ways, frustrating in others. He’s given the nickname “Roach” early on in the book, and you never really know how apt it is until the story is complete.

Last Thoughts:
This is definitely one of my award contenders. The book was sometimes challenging (and thus frustrating!) to read, but it was worth the extra brain cells. The only huge drawback is that the story really isn’t complete without reading Blindsight first. You probably could go on without it…but it gives the story much-needed context. Unless you already own the first book, you might want to pick up the aforementioned Firefall.

Watts has also left a few doors open for a third book in the series. There are plenty of loose ends that are strategically untied that would allow a nice, neat trilogy to bring it all together. I’m pretty sure we’d pick it up if/when he does.

Book Review: Blindsight

Blindsight Book Cover Blindsight
Firefall
Peter Watts
Fiction
Macmillan
October 3, 2006
epub, paperback
384
ePub from Watts's website, paperback on the Husbeast's bookshelf.

It's been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since - until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn't want to meet?

Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can't feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they've been sent to find - but you'd give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them..

A little fair warning here – I’m predisposed to like this book. The author, Peter Watts, is a distant acquaintance. We learned about him through a mutual friend, and hosted him at our home when he needed a bed to sleep in on a layover long, long ago. (If you’re reading this, Peter, I’m very sorry for the state of that house/room. If you ever need to crash again, the current house is in somewhat better order).

That said, while I’m biased towards Blindsight and enjoy a good Space Opera, it’s also in the realm of Hard Science Fiction. I can read science-y books, it just takes me forever. Gary Taubes‘s non-fiction opus Good Calories, Bad Calories took me ages, and not just because it quotes reams of medical jargon and scientific experiments. It’s also huge. Blindsight felt almost like wading through GCBC again. The difference is that after awhile, the scene-setting and jargon leech away into story — and then the science gets handed to you in mostly bite-size chunks. Much more manageable. There is a part of me, though, that still feels like I missed something in the translation. The book is like a roller coaster…you get started, feel a little doubt as the ride begins, relax into the excitement of the curves and turns, and when you get out of the ride — think you might want to try it again because you’re not sure just what you just experienced (yes, a run-on sentence. Deal).

Blindsight is good pre-reading for the Aurora-nominated Echopraxia, which is the second book in the series. Again…I’m not great with the hard science stuff. Sometimes Pratchett’s Discworld series is a challenge! The bonus to reading both books back-to-back? You stay involved in the world that Watts has built. For me, not having to switch my perspective on the world-building has been very helpful.

Blindsight is set in the late 21st Century. Imagine a world where genetic modification is normal, sex is no longer a contact sport, and you can decide to permanently “check out” of real life and into a virtual reality called “Heaven”. One day, as our main character, Siri and his father are returning from visiting his mother in “Heaven”, he experiences  the first sign of contact with an alien race. The world is surrounded by small craft that appear to take a picture of the Earth, then disappear. A mission is launched to attempt to track the source of the contact. Siri is chosen as one of the crew, responsible for ensuring that information is sent back to Earth in terms that humanity will understand.

The story takes place mostly on the ship, Theseus, with flashbacks to Siri’s personal life before the mission. We see he has been physically modified due to a childhood illness, his awkwardness dealing with people, and his utter helplessness at communicating with those he loves. Over time, we experience his confusion at the way his crewmates treat him – some seem friendly, but others tread the line of hostility.

His crew members are an interesting bunch, too. None appear to be “totally human”. Either they have implants for interfacing with computers, or they’ve spliced their personalities in order to gain a wider spectrum of knowledge and experience. There’s even a vampire.

Yes. A vampire in space.

I will say that as cheesy as space-faring vampires sound, Watts makes the concept work. He explains that they were a race from the Pleistocene that died out or became ultra-dormant due to the fact that one single vampire could chew through a significant portion of their food supply (pun intended). Gene therapy and experimentation brought the species back, and they have qualities ideal for space travel. In fact, in order to go into a deep enough slumber to survive a long space flight, crew members must have vampiric genes that can be triggered. Watts explains the vampire’s intolerance of crosses (right angles) in an interesting way — I recommend discovering it for yourself.

The group finally make contact…and it isn’t what anyone was expecting. It is obvious that Watts has thought long and hard about what an alien race might be. We usually take it for granted that it will be a carbon-based lifeform like ourselves – two arms, two legs, a head… Watts doesn’t give you that comfort. The sense of the unknown is furthered by the fact that our crew is confronted with an entity that they can’t hope to understand in the time they have been given.

If you have a head for hard SF and like a good story, I definitely recommend Blindsight. If you want to read the story but can’t afford a hard copy at this time, you can pick up an epub at his website. I definitely recommend having the paperback, though. We got ours at the local Chapters, but you can also pick one up online from Amazon (specific e-reader links are in the synopsis above!). I believe in helping authors make their mortgage payments 😉

Book Review: The Future Falls by Tanya Huff

The Future Falls Book Cover The Future Falls
Gale Women #3
Tanya Huff
Urban Fantasy
DAW Books Inc.
November 2014
PDF
336
Prix Aurora Award Package

When Auntie Catherine warns the family of an approaching asteroid, the Gales scramble to keep humans from going the way of the dinosaurs. Fortunately for the world, they're wielding a guitar and a dragon.

The Gale family can change the world with the charms they cast, which has caused some supernaturally complicated family shenanigans in the past. So when NASA and Doomsday Dan confirm Auntie Catherine's dire prediction, Charlotte "Charlie" Gale turns to the family for help.

But Allie is unavailable because the universe seems determined to have her produce the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son of a Gale.  And the Aunties can't help because they're tied to the earth – although they are happy to provide their delicious, trademark pies.  And in the end, all Charlie has is a guitar...

...and Jack. The Dragon Prince, and a Sorcerer.

But Charlie might like Jack just a little too much, and Jack might like Charlie a little too much in return. Actually, between Allie's hormones, the Aunties trying to force her and Jack into ritual, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack's sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie's fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems.

The Gales are going to need more than pie to save the world from an incoming asteroid. But together there isn't anything they can't deal with – except possibly each other.

 

The Future Falls is my second-read book out of the five Prix Aurora Awards nominations for Best Novel. I finished the book in one day of reading. I did not purchase the book; it was included in the voter’s package for the Auroras.

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
Dragons. Of course it’s dragons.

Is there a Message?:
Nope. Once you get around the world-building, it was a straightforward fantasy romp.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
There was quite a bit of romantic angst in it. In fact, I’d say that the Urban Fantasy was pretty much just a vehicle for the overall Romance plot.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
I have problems with romantic dragons. Particularly romantic teenage dragons who pine for women in their 30’s, but mostly just with dragons. The dragons I grew up with were ruthless, cunning, and greedy. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch made Smaug sound sexy, but Smaug is downright avaricious. I’m pretty sure that by now most people should be aware that one does not meddle with dragons — for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

Was the book easy to get into?:
Content-wise, yes. Format-wise, no. Stupid PDF files.
I did feel that the book was loooong. But that’s possibly due to the huge amount of backstory that’s built into the novel due to it being part of a series. Could also be due to the fact that I was reading really tiny text on a PDF displayed on a Kobo, and having to manually adjust every bloody page. Every. Bloody. Page.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
It would have helped. The Future Falls is the third in a series. There was a ton of world-building vis-a-vis the family dynamic, which probably would have made more sense if I had started with book #1. Also might have dulled the WTF-factor regarding that same family dynamic.

Was the world believeable?:
In regards to the setting? Definitely. I live in Calgary. I’ve been to, or driven past, most of the locations mentioned. Most of those locations are mentioned casually, without a ton of detail, so it’s not like I could or would nitpick.

I had some problems with the family dynamic.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes and no. I genuinely liked the Main Character, Charlie. She’s a musician, I’m a musician…I get that. She doesn’t want to be forced to stay in one place, wants to keep moving…again, I get that. I moved often enough before I was 10 years old that I’m always wondering when the trucks are coming to pack up my house. The conflict between her wanting to do the right thing to save her family and save the world versus just packing it all in and finding a jazz bar to ride out the coming apocalypse is a good one.

And then we have the dragon. A teenage, lovesick dragon. And suddenly the book isn’t just about “how do we save the earth and keep the family intact”, it’s now also “you have an inappropriate attraction to a much younger man.” Never mind the fact that he, too, is somehow genetically related to the main character. In fact, they’re all related to each other.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
Many, many problems.

 The age gap between the romantic leads felt like I was watching the lead-in to a movie-of-the-week about the 30-something schoolteacher who takes up with her student because she’s bored with her lifestyle.

  Dragons. Dragons, dragons dragons. Lovesick teenage dragons. I fully admit that I have issues with the Romantic Dragon scenario. It’s possible that’s because every time I do a lookup on fantasy novels lately, there seem to be a ton of them. I have friends who read dragon erotica. Perhaps I’m just dragonned-out. Maybe it’s because the last book I read that featured a dragon (Uprooted by Naomi Novik) was absolutely fabulous. The Dragon in that novel didn’t disappoint. Yes, I had said that if I were the heroine he’d have been chucked out a window, but he was acting like a dragon (even if it was only a title and not his actual species).

  There appears to be a lot of consanguineous sex in this family. The family is one big coven, and there are sex rituals. Often enough that it’s joked that one secondary (or tertiary) character needs some help as the women are wearing him out. There’s a concern for what one of the male characters will do if his mother crosses into his territory. This raised huge WTF flags for me. Big ones. I fully admit that when I was a kid I had a crush on one of my older cousins. Dude cosplays as Batman (now that he’s grown up and can afford it), so my crush was understandable. But that’s all it ever was. An innocent crush. We’ve seen what inbreeding does to a family. It’s not pretty. Why is this a huge plot point in this novel???

♦  The premise that had me eager to read the book became secondary to the romance. It’s like someone saying “okay. The sky is actually falling. Big asteroid coming to a planet near you. By warping time and space to get the one you love into the right age of majority, you’ll pull a Bruce Willis and deus-ex-machina that sucker out of the sky.” And this is why I have serious issues with the blurred line between Romance and Urban Fantasy.

 I had to Google search a musical instrument. This is only a very minor beef, but why choose a relatively obscure instrument as a device when there are so many other accessible instruments? The guy who brings this book for some light reading at the cottage may not have a computer or set of Encyclopaedia Britannica handy.

  There is an unnatural obsession with pie in this family. Even beings outside the family know about the pie. Why is it not being sold by Simple Simon so I can pick one up at the Co-Op???

What did you like about the book?:
I liked the fact that the setting was fairly familiar. As mentioned, I live in Calgary and the book is set mostly in that part of Alberta. I liked the fact that the main character was a musician, so it was easy for me to relate to her that way. I liked the fact that characters didn’t seem to be black-and-white in many of their views, and that  bisexuality was portrayed in a respectable way. I have serious issues with sexuality being seen mainly as gay or straight and the concept of bisexuality as really being one or the other but unwilling to admit it.

I liked the fact that there wasn’t a ton of canoodling. If there was sex, it was happening somewhere off-screen. It’s not that I don’t like sex in my books, it’s just that we’ve already seen my issues with Romance vs Urban Fantasy.

I liked that the author had a sense of humour. There were quite a few good pop-culture related jokes that I found myself giggling along with. It reminded me of a gentler, slightly-less-snarky Dresden Files in that respect.

The thing I loved? That it was an Urban Fantasy written by a Canadian and actually set in Canada. Perhaps I haven’t yet hit the motherlode of Canadian UF, but I find that my home country is often overlooked in favour of the States. Yes, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles are cool settings, but Forever Knight was shot in Toronto. X-Files filmed in the Vancouver area. There are eldritch places in Canada that need more love and beg to be inhabited by pixies and kobolds. Trust me, I’ve been there!
(There’s a set of waterfalls just outside of Yellowknife that spring to mind, as well as rocky pools on the shores of the Ottawa River. Visit those and tell me you don’t feel goosebumps.)

Last thoughts:
There’s a part of me that is curious as to the content of the first two books in the series. Maybe it would have helped me wrap my brain around what was happening in this novel. Maybe not.

I was glad to see Urban Fantasy have a spot on the list. UF is a popular subgenre, and it’s really nice to see magic happening in an everyday setting. I just wish that the magic rules the author used had relied less on bloodlines and more on other things.

So do I think that this book deserves an Aurora? Unfortunately, no. Not at this time. We’ll see what Julie E. Czerneda, Peter Watt and William Gibson have for me.

Book Review: My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children Book Cover My Real Children
Jo Walton
Science Fiction
Tor Books
May 20 2014
ePUB
320
Prix Aurora Award Package

It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know-what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don't seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War-those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history; each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton's My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan's lives...and of how every life means the entire world.

 

My Real Children is the first book out of the five Prix Aurora Awards nominations for Best Novel. I finished it in one day of reading. I did not purchase the book; it was included in the voter’s package for the Auroras.

What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
Alternate Universes — Jo Walton shows us the two lives of the same woman after she makes a major decision in her life.

Is there a Message?:
It sure felt like it to me. I’m a little confused as to what it was, though. I don’t want to give away the book, but it felt like one decision punishes the main character personally while the world they live in thrives, and the other decision gives personal happiness at the expense of the main character’s world going to hell in a handbasket.

Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
Although the book was working with Alternate Realities, it really felt more like Women’s Fiction or Literary Fiction to me. It was a good read, don’t get me wrong, but not something I would generally reach for.

Is the “trend” realistic?:
Only halfway? I’ll get into that later.

Was the book easy to get into?:
Actually, yes. It was very engaging, right from the start. A huge part of that is the storytelling. The other, much much smaller part was the file format. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, ePUB reads very, very nicely on my Kobo.

Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
Nope. If the book is part of a series, I’m not aware of it.

Was the world believeable?:
Not in my eyes, but again, I’ll get into that below.

Were the characters believable?:
Yes, to a certain extent. It felt like there were characters that had been given a lot of development, and a few characters that were almost caricatured.  Again, I’ll get into that…below.

What “problems” did you have with the book?:
Welcome to “below”.
Problems, I have many.

 I have a hard time believing that the choice of whether or not you “marry the guy” would lead to the sweeping world changes seen in each reality in the book. Neither reality is set in our current timeline (there are references to J.F.K. in the book that support this). The world changes would suppose that *everyone* is making alternate decisions along the way, not just the main character. If I could believe that, I could believe that my decision to take piano lessons directly affected the fall of the Berlin Wall. I guess my faith in Chaos Theory just isn’t that strong.

 A character who is so closeted that he lives his life in misery to the point where he closes himself off to almost every single person in his life. He even goes the extra mile to be excessively verbally and mentally abusive. While I’m sure that these folks exist, the world he lives in is increasingly more and more liberal. I find it hard to believe that he couldn’t come to terms with himself and his liberal family in order to attain some glimmer of personal happiness. It’s like the character just exists to be an asshole and a burden on the main character.

 Some secondary characters feel like placeholders so you know what era it is. The kid who knows computers, the guy who dies from AIDS…just felt a little too stereotypical and shoehorned in for my tastes.

 Everyone turns against you when you’re old.  The children that we’ve seen Patricia raise throughout both timelines seem like a bunch of greedy little gits by the end of the book. And when Patricia is shown to have a medical problem, they get offended and treat it like a moral issue that Granny really can’t remember that X Event occurred. I’ve seen some skeevy family politics in my time, but I couldn’t point to a single redeeming member of either family by the end of the book.

 No real resolution at the end of the book. We get to see the two timelines, but the resolution is…vague. Or maybe I’m just not insightful enough to intuit it.

What did you like about the book?:
Practically seamless world building. It helped that there was a lot of exposition every time you jumped between realities, but the world building was cumulative.

I also liked that the author was able to tell two complete life stories in approximately 320 pages. That’s pretty impressive. You get to know both versions of Patricia fairly well, and explore the world from her eyes in two very different ways.

Last thoughts?:
I got to the end and the only thing that crossed my mind was “Huh. I guess that’s that.”

I was vaguely unsatisfied because the story was…well…kind of a memoir. It was a book of quiet reflection on the lives of two identities who were the same person (if you can follow that). There were peaks and valleys, yes, but nothing that I could discern as a solid story structure. It would be different if Patricia had woken up one day in her nursing home and a (singular) friendly person from both pasts was there to help her on her journey to Her One True Self. We could have the standard hero’s journey of hijinks and misadventure, coupled with the fact that our heroine is in her 90’s and has a memory like a sieve.  Instead, Patricia gets old and reflects on the two pasts that she has solid memories of living before the end of her days. Huh.
Maybe it’s just me, and maybe this is why I don’t generally read women’s fiction. :-/

I’m not saying I didn’t like the book. Just that it was far too easy to pick up the next one and start reading. I definitely recommend it, but I don’t think it’s my Aurora pick.

Uprooted

Uprooted Book Cover Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Fiction
Del Rey Books
May 19, 2015
448

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

There are very few books that I’ve read on a recommendation, mostly because taste in literature is extremely subjective. The person who loves Literary Fiction or Women’s Fiction or cookbooks may not understand my love of fantasy, horror and the occasional romantic thriller. Sure, I’ll look up a variety of reviews online before purchasing a book that I’m not sure I’ll actually read, but otherwise, I try to use my own judgement.

I try not to be too much of a snob about the books I read. I’m getting better at it, but I still have my moments. For instance, I just can’t bring myself to read Twilight. I’m more an Interview with the Vampire kind of girl.

I couldn’t even get halfway through 50 Shades. Seriously. They may ask for my girl-card back.

uprooted

That said, when my sister-in-law recommended I check out Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, I nodded and dutifully purchased it from kobo.com. I had come across the title while checking out the fantasy section on Goodreads, and the first part of the blurb stuck with me.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon.

It’s a new take on The Princess and the Dragon! Half of me did a little dance of joy, the other half was looking at it with suspicion, somewhat like the kid in The Princess Bride: “Is it a kissing book?

Not that there’s anything wrong with kissing books. But I’m looking for a good fantasy with magic and adventure, not paranormal erotica. Not that I think my sister-in-law would recommend that to me, but she can be tricksy when she thinks I’m not paying attention.

I needn’t have worried. I promptly ignored the fact that I’d planned on reading Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and a comedic fantasy about paranormal janitors. I dove into Uprooted, and it was what went with me whenever I had a moment to read.

I grew up reading books written mostly in the third person, and that’s what I’m most comfortable reading. Uprooted is written in first-person, which I find somewhat jarring. I don’t need to know every thought going through the protagonist’s head, which some authors tend to do. I have the same problem with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series whenever a new book comes out. Even so, I quickly relaxed into the story, which says a lot about Novik’s ability to pull the reader into the world.  Lots of action, lots of intrigue, and lots of world-building that was very reminiscent of European folk-tales. The story was like reading a well-written translation of a Grimm Fairy Tale with plenty of magic and adventure.

There’s even a love story. I was happy that it didn’t overwhelm, but instead complemented the rest of the story. My only gripe was that in building a Beauty and the Beast-type plot, the Dragon was a little too beastly. To be blunt, if I’d been the heroine, he would have been chucked out the first convenient window in the tower at the earliest opportunity. Happily, for the sake of the plot, our Main Character doesn’t take my advice into consideration, and soldiers on. By the end of the novel, it’s pretty clear that she’s no shrinking violet and is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, thank-you-very-much. Very satisfying.

Definitely a novel I would recommend to others looking for a couple of days of escapist fun. I may even track down the adventure series that she’s written, as I hear that my nephew is a fan.

Back to reading Bradbury!

The reading list

I keep meaning to update with what I’ve been up to but my mind has been jumbled all over the place. I’ve been taking a bit of a break from knitting, and trying to get in a little spinning each week. The biggest difference is that I’ve been doing more reading and writing.

Yes, writing. Just not on the blog. Ouch.

I mentioned previously that I’m trying to do more fiction-reading. I’ve been fairly successful at that. Here’s the most recent picture of the stack o’books:

The stack sits on a side-table in our living room and just seems to be growing as I find new books to add. The Husbeast has not been helping the matter, as he keeps adding more books that he thinks I should be reading (Trainspotting, Raw Shark Texts and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union are prime examples). What the stack doesn’t show is the sheer amount of books loaded on Kobo hiding as an unassuming black book up near the top of that pile.

Since my last post on Ready Player One, I’ve finished the following books (with notes):

The Marrow of the World by Ruth Nichols
— I vaguely remembered this book from elementary school, and somehow managed to track down a paperback copy on Amazon. Good middle-grade book set both in Canada and in a parallel fantasy world. Definitely exceeded my nostalgia-tinted expectations.

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
— Finally finished this, and quickly realized that I definitely need to re-read it. Taking time off in the middle of reading made a huge difference in impact. Better to keep reading it and deal with the fear and paranoia the book was giving me than to stop and lose the suspense.

The Dresden Files: Skin Game by Jim Butcher
— Enjoyable escapist lark. Nominated for a Hugo. Not sure how I feel about that. It’s a good book and a fun read, but I didn’t find it terribly world-changing. I enjoy the Harry Dresden series and would recommend it to anyone because it entertains and does it well.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris
— I think I maybe saw half of the first season of the TV show before I gave up on it as “not my cup of tea”. I couldn’t get past parallels to a World of Darkness LARP run amok with too many sex scenes and far-fetched plotlines. It definitely works much better as a book for me. I totally enjoyed the first novel and look forward to picking up more in the series.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
— Finished this after a year of procrastinating. As good as The Shining? Maybe not. Entertaining, escapist thriller that I’ll likely read again.

Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King by Stephen King, Tim Underwood, and Chuck Miller
— Interviews with King from 1973 to 1989. Someone on Goodreads criticized this as being repetitive. I can see that, though I prefer to think of it as an exploration of the retelling of stories. Every so often something new crops up to illuminate a point or clarify a fact. Not sure it’s reading that everyone would enjoy, though.

Neuromancer by William Gibson
— Awesome heist story set in a highly imaginative future. A bit dated due to the way that technology has evolved since the book was written, but the story holds up either way. Having been influenced by my Dad’s love of Science Fiction, this is a satisfying read.

Monster by A. Lee Martinez
— A quick read that took maybe a day to get through. I liked the humour and premise, but ultimately thought something was missing. Left me with a vague feeling of “Ok, now what?” I have a couple more books by the same author, so we’ll see if maybe I’m just overthinking things a bit.

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
— Another quick read, but this one was much more satisfying. I gather it was meant as a middle-grade horror novella, if such things exist. A fun adventure in a wonderfully imagined and realized world. Definitely recommend to anyone who likes fantasy, horror, or a mixture of the two.

That gets me caught up to the present. I have a couple of new purchases on the Kobo that I’m thinking might be the next couple of reads. In the meantime, I’ll try not to take as long between blog updates!