Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Fish Out of Water or Two

I'm still a bit behind on reviews so I'll be doubling up today on two stories that feature a strong female protagonist who must find her way in a foreign culture -- one of them in her own city!

Mur Lafferty's The Shambling Guide to New York City is one I kept seeing mentioned in recommendations and "best of" lists so, even though I don't read much modern urban fantasy, I grabbed a copy. It's about Zoe Norris, newly returned to New York City after a very bad breakup (she was sleeping with her married boss). She's looking for work and sees a help wanted ad in a very strange bookstore that seems to be perfect for her -- travel guide writer, the same job she just left behind in North Carolina. The owner of that company happens to be standing right by her when she sees the ad and he bluntly tells her that she is the wrong person for the job. Zoe doesn't give up though and, when she happens across another employee of Underground Publishing in a local coffee shop, she manages to get a foot in the door. Whether the job is actually going to be a good fit for her will be determined once she finally sees who (and what) she will be working with and whether or not she can survive her first days on the job.

This story was funny and sexy and terrifying and I had an absolute blast reading it. There were all sorts of creatures and people, lots of adventure and peril, and New York City herself was actually a character -- and not in that way that one usually says "it's like the city was a character". No, in this book it was literal. And there was one sexy-type scene that embarrassed me so much that it made me think that I should probably read more romance because my reading choices are apparently a bit prim. But I loved Zoe's confidence and her acceptance of a ridiculous amount of diversity. She was sensitive while finding out new information and tried her best to be an ally, even when it put her life in danger. I just bought the second book in the series, The Ghost Train to New Orleans, and I'll also be grabbing Lafferty's recent Six Wakes based on Jenny's great review.

For the longest time I kept seeing everyone talking about Tremontaine, a serial novel set in the Swordspoint world created by Ellen Kushner, and wasn't sure it would be my thing. But a few weeks ago I saw that an omnibus of the first season was coming out and so I got it from the library just to try it out. It didn't take me long to totally get into the story and not much longer to finish all 673 pages!

In this alternate universe, southern hemisphere cultures are the most advanced, able to navigate the oceans and travel to the dreary north to deliver exotic commodities like vanilla beans, saffron, and, most importantly, chocolate. A young woman named Kaab, a member of the main trading family from her land who is trained in espionage and combat, has been banished to the north because of a mission gone wrong. What she finds in her new home is swordplay, political machinations, and, unexpectedly, friendship and romance. The story also follows a young scholar, a turnip-farming girl with a head for math, the Duke and Duchess of Tremontaine, and others who are looking to get the most out of the City they love/loathe.

This was written as weekly episodes, each by a different author than the week before -- 13 episodes, seven authors. There were a few inconsistencies but the overall story was ridiculously compelling. There were even some unexpected plot directions that left plenty of room for, hopefully, surprises and redemptions in the second season. I believe all of the episodes are already out for that season so I'm not sure if I'll cave and buy each one now or wait for the second omnibus. If I do wait, though, I'll be filling the time with Kushner's original three novels! Her writing was my favorite in this book and I look forward to seeing how she created the world.

Considering a quick jaunt out of my comfort zone,

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Shorts and More

With each change of season, I always take the time to reshuffle the books on my TBR bookshelf (and the adjacent piles) to put those I most want to get to on the top shelf. I've just finished that task again and it looks like I'm in for a summer of short stories, mysteries, classics, and escapist fiction.

If you can't decipher what all of the books are:

Kraken by China MiĆ©ville
The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries
Unnatural Creatures
East, West by Salman Rushdie
Resorting to Murder
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
Farthing by Jo Walton
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
The Mistaken Wife by Rose Melikan
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane
Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Lightless by C.A. Higgins
Emma by Jane Austen
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Murder is Not Polite by Robin Stevens
The Life of the World to Come by Kage Baker
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

The two books I'm working on right now are Tremontaine (from the library) and The Children's Book on audio. They are both over 600 pages long so I'm not sure how many of these 25 books I will get to but it makes me happy to have such a fun shelf to look at! There are so many places I can go, so many unique people I can meet.

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

Grabbing some iced tea and sunscreen,

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Friends With Boys

One of the graphic novels that I enjoyed the most this past Readathon was Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks. Maggie, the lovely girl on the cover, is the youngest of four kids. Just like her three older brothers, she was homeschooled until high school by her mom. The difference now is that her mother, finally done with raising her kids, has gone away to live her own life. So Maggie starts high school with no friends, a police chief father, and, well, a ghost lady from the nearby graveyard as her protector.

This was just such a great story. There were parts with no words that didn't need them --

because Maggie's face was so expressive. There were parts of the story that were so perfectly high school --

like the random enthusiasm of Lucy for this old museum piece. There was the hint of supernatural stuff, which I love, but most of it was honest emotion and high school-type happenings. I rarely reread graphic novels but this is one that I'm already looking forward to revisiting later.

Making a new book friend,

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A College of Magics

One of the benefits of book shopping online is the little "based on this title, you might like" strip that comes up across the bottom of a page. I had one of these pop up during a recent Powell's visit and was recommended A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer. She is one of the co-authors of Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot and also of a lovely short story that I read in the Queen Victoria's Book of Spells collection (with Ellen Kusher, whose group effort Tremontaine I'm reading right now!). I had never read one of her solo books though but figured I couldn't go wrong, especially by grabbing a used copy of this out-of-print book. Well, you can probably guess how this went ... LOVE.

I was just trying to write up a regular plot summary but it sounded so stupid and flat compared to the actual story. The back of the book makes it sound like a boarding school tale, which it admittedly is at the start. But there are three parts to the story and the second two are full of real life and high stakes adventures. Faris, the main character, is a couple years from coming of age at the beginning of the story and has an "evil" uncle who is ruling her country of Galazon until she is 21. And the school? It seems like a normal finishing school but the girls who excel there are those that are able to use magic. But do they teach magic at the school? Not really. It's just theoretical instruction and then innate ability just kind of takes over by the time the young women are ready to leave. Faris hates it at first but then finds friends and loves it and then, of course, is pulled out early by her evil uncle, but not before things go totally wonky with her nemesis, Menary.

And then once she leaves and heads toward Galazon by way of Paris, the adventures/perils begin, with real consequences for Faris, her companions, and her enemies. Some of the things that happen are actually quite intense. The back of the book says "ages 10 and up" but there are some violent things that happen that seem more appropriate for a slightly older kid. I say this because the intensity did something to me, the adult reader. During the days I was reading this book I was tense and stressed and had to keep getting back to it. The world felt so real and Faris's eventual mission so important that I ended up speeding through the almost 500 pages of story. Then the ending was so unexpected, so outside of normal children's fiction norms, that I ended up in awe of Stevermer and her feminist ideals.

As this book was first published in 1994, did any of you read it as a kid/teen? I'm really curious how a young reader would actually handle some of the things that happen in the story. Also, I would LOVE to see this book made into a film. In the meantime, I'll just search out more of Stevermer's books and collaborations and enjoy her fabulous worlds!

Always looking for more magic,

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Release: Yearbook

Paul Dry Books, an independent press in Philadelphia, kindly sent this book that I couldn't resist since it is set in the Puget Sound region and takes place in 1996, the year I moved to Washington state at the tender age of 21. Yearbook by Jesse Edward Johnson follows a small group of friends through their senior year of high school, focusing mostly on Lester Smith -- smart aleck, Milton fanatic, and Ramones addict. Lester is chock full of problems, the largest of which is that his father abandoned his family, and he takes many of his frustrations out on the young new AP Humanities teacher, Jeff Traversal. The only thing that he has any interest in at all during the school day is yearbook class. But when a tyrannical temporary principal threatens the quality of that bastion of high school memories, Les and friends must do some pretty daring things to rescue their legacy.

Though there were a couple of far-fetched things that happened, for the most part this was a ridiculously accurate representation of life in the 90s as a wayward teen. This meant that there were times that I was completely frustrated with Les and his stubborn, wrong-headed decisions but I also intensely felt his reasoning (or lack thereof) for the things he chose to do. His relationship with his freshman sister was familiar (I had the same age spacing with one of my brothers) as were his few but close friendships. Overall, this is a coming-of-age story that has real heart and honesty and I'm glad it found its way to me.

Keeping in touch and not letting the man get me down,

Monday, June 5, 2017

Walter Moers' Zamonia

I had the ridiculously good fortune the weekend before this last one to meet up with some blogging friends -- Robin, Selena, and, the reason for it all ... Ana, who was visiting Seattle for the first time. Yay! We met at Elliott Bay Book Company where we bought too many books together and then had a lovely little sit down with lemonades. It was so nice to be with these dear friends in person. There were so many of you that we also wished were there too!

Anyway, at one point we each volunteered what we were currently reading and I tried to explain my current read and completely failed, mumbling something about "dinosaur-ish author explores a city dedicated to books". My explanation might not even have been that clear! Then I just looked back over my blog and saw that I rave about most of the books in this series but can never quite explain what they are about in a way that doesn't make them seem ridiculously odd. So, here is my latest attempt to get some of you interested in the Zamonia series by Walter Moers, translated from German into English by John Brownjohn.

There are five books currently translated into English in this series --

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear
Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures
The City of Dreaming Books
The Alchemaster's Apprentice
The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books

The first two books have a character in common but aren't related, the third and fifth feature the same main character and take place 200 years apart, and the fourth is another one-off, but all five are set in the same world. They all feature illustrations by the author and a fantasy world like no other. The fifth, which I just finished, is actually only the first half of a huge, rambling story and it was my least favorite (but still enjoyable) Zamonia read, a real fan's book ... but that could change once the rest of the story is available (in The Castle of Dreaming Books, release date unknown). Anyone could easily start with The City of Dreaming Books or any of the other three and discover the world, just in a slightly different order.

So what are these all about? A whole bunch of species living in the ridiculously diverse landscape of Zamonia and the city of Bookholm. There is a bit of magic, a lot of unexpected friendships, some intense adventures, and a deep and abiding love for books and words. Main characters can be bears, dogs, cats, or even dinosaurs and eventually you think nothing of it. You get too caught up in the prose, the humor, and the adventure of Moers' tales. Just search for Zamonia on Tumblr and you will see that this series has fans from all over the world that have been inspired to create and dream and explore.

These are some of the things I have said in past posts about this series:

I don't even know how to begin to explain this book or series but if you are looking for something completely different, this is it. If you don't enjoy the absurd or fantastic, then don't read it. (Rumo)

I know this sounds super strange but it's actually a beautiful tale with tons of suspense and action but also lots of thoughtful musing. (Alchemaster)

This book is funny and exciting and charming and imaginative. Each book I read in this series is more amazing than the last. Moers is a genius in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, using wordplay in a witty but seamless manner. I'm sure that I have missed well over half of what was really in this story. Rather than discouraging me, it just makes me look forward to rereading. (City)

So, I'm sure I still haven't satisfactorily explained what these books are about and what makes them so special but, if you're in the mood for something completely different and unique, you may want to give this series a try.

Spewing gibberish,

Saturday, June 3, 2017

New Release: Not A Scientist

Ugh, you guys. When I picked up Dave Levitan's Not A Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science three weeks ago, I didn't expect it to be so ridiculously relevant by the time I read it. I sat here last night until 3 a.m. and read the entire 200 page book, filling it with post-its and scoffing out loud. This is a must read for anyone struggling to understand exactly how politicians manage to convince their constituents to ignore real science, regularly prefacing their stupidity with the "I'm not a scientist, but ..." line. Levitan purposely does not go into "why" because motive is near impossible to assign. He doesn't needs to discover motives though because what matters is that, let's be real, today's GOP politicians are presenting lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations of science to further their political agendas and they are harming our nation in countless ways.

This book is short and, because Levitan is a journalist, it reads like a nice, long article, very clear and easy to read. It assigns each tactic a chapter, twelve in all (with names like THE OVERSIMPLIFICATION, THE CHERRY-PICK, and THE BLIND EYE TO FOLLOWUP), that expose clear examples of each infraction and provide quick methods on how to spot them. It gives examples of politicians opposed to climate change action, wetlands preservation, and timely vaccines, just to name a few. It also shows how politicians use fake science to do things like further their anti-immigrant agendas or defund essential government programs. Levitan also includes 30+ pages of sources at the end in case you want to double check anything. All of your favorite science-denying idiots are in here -- Inhofe, Cruz, Paul, Bush (all three) -- and he even throws in a couple of Obamas to show how even a well-intentioned bad statistic can be harmful to a political cause. The only one that isn't included in the book is Trump because the book was completed before last November. The Foreword does acknowledge Trump's main tactic though, which he dubs "THE FIREHOSE", basically blasting us with an endless stream of utter crap so that we can't possibly notice/reply to it all. Yay.

This is the bottom line though -- 
Vigilance is the only antidote against a flood of misinformation, deception, and backwardness. If you spot any particularly egregious misuses of science from the President or any other politicians, call your senator or House representative--let them know that you want Washington to curtail its anti-science ways.
You don't have to be a scientist to notice when the "science" a politician uses seem fishy or incomplete. Though answers aren't always easy to come by on the internet, there are always actual scientists and experts out there to point you in the direction of the correct data/interpretations/studies. Let's stop letting politicians and constituents get away with being willfully ignorant of science. Regardless of what some believe, the only way to attain a safe, healthy nation and world is through the proper application of scientific research.

Done lecturing (for the moment),