Reading Wrap-Up: May 2017


Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (My Rating: 5/5) When you love a book on the level that I loved this, it’s hard to discuss. How do I impart to you that I’ve been waiting for a book like this for so long? Something suitably weird with great world-building and an incredibly strong and well-written lead character. This book covers all those needs. Butler even managed to write the exposition regarding the aliens and all their ins and outs without boring me for even a single second. I’m not sure how you do that. Info dumps are the worst, but every moment of hers are fascinating here. Then halfway through the book, it gets even better. The core of humanity’s deepest problems is explored with lots of conflict and a really surprising climax. This book is perfect. There’s no other word that will suffice. I can’t wait to get to the second one in the trilogy.

Redder Than Blood by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 4/5) My absolutely relentless reading of all things Tanith Lee continues. This is the latest posthumous book to be published, and it’s a short story collection full of fairy tale retellings. It had a couple of downs, namely “She Sleeps in a Tower” and “The Beast and Beauty”. The former because it was merely a story meant to shock with little other purpose and the latter because I felt it sent a pretty unsavory message (accidentally, one hopes) about why “ugly” people and “pretty” people shouldn’t mix.

With that out of the way, it’s an otherwise incredible collection. As with any subject she tackles, Lee explores fairy tales in ways that are wholly unique and always engaging. There’s a bit of everything here. Whimsy and magic, dark horrors, modern spins, erotica, all kinds of flavors. “The Reason for Not Going to the Ball” and “Midnight” are two very spectacular, new takes on Cinderella, a story that rarely gets its due. “Below the Sun Beneath” retold The Twelve Dancing Princesses, an underappreciated favorite of mine. And “Wolfed”… Wow. All I can say is she went all the way with that one. A solid collection in the same tradition as her previous one, Red As Blood, which I also recommend.

Star Wars: Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka (My Rating: 3/5) Watch while I become even more of a nerd before your very eyes. I love Star Wars. Every so often, that leads me to try one of the tie-in novels. In Before the Awakening, each member of the new trio gets a little backstory. First up is Finn. We get his Stormtrooper training and why he defected, but ultimately I don’t feel like Rucka took Finn’s personality into account at all. The story read like someone else, not Finn. Therefore I struggled to see where it rang true.

Rey’s story was a little better in terms of character, but generally not much happens. A lot of time is spent with Rey examining wreckage in minute, technobabble-filled detail. Which only served to pad out a story that could’ve been a lot shorter without all that. Not to mention that Rucka clearly had a conclusion in mind, but didn’t bother to have Rey react to it in a realistic way.

Then there’s Poe’s story. This made up for so much. It’s exciting and full of adventure. We see what made Poe join the Resistance, how he met Leia, and what led him to become the man she trusted with helping her find her brother. There’s so much to this. There’s still a bit of that pseudo-science jargon worked in that I’m not sure I see the point of. If Star Wars were even close to hard SF, it would feel needed, but it’s not, so it didn’t. Still, I left Finn and Rey’s stories feeling like I learned nothing about them as characters. Finn because his story rang false and Rey because nothing much was done with her at all. But I feel now as if I understand Poe on a deeper level. It was worth it for that.

Unnatural Selections by Gary Larson (My Rating: 3/5) This was a collection of Far Side comics, and while I remember thinking Far Side was the best when I was a kid, I was sad to find it didn’t hold up. Maybe the humor was too punny. Maybe sometimes Larson’s punchlines weren’t obvious enough. Either way, I was underwhelmed. It had it’s moments, but mostly it was middle-of-the-road.

The Worst Band in the Universe by Graeme Base (My Rating: 4/5) This is a children’s book, and while I don’t normally go that young in my reading demographic, I had to try this one. It’s about an alien band in outer space. It was as adorable and cool as that implies, but it also happened to have a really great message about the power of being creative and not letting anyone hold you back. It was a smart book for smart kids who will glean something from the fact that it doesn’t talk down to them. Also, really gorgeous art.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (My Rating: 5/5) I don’t think anyone familiar with VanderMeer will be surprised to hear that this book was strange. Wonderfully and excitingly so, which is another staple of his. I was particularly anticipating this release, because it’s a sequel to a short story he wrote entitled “The Situation”. He managed to take that world, flesh it out a bit more, conclude the characters’ plots from the previous story, and work in a very subtle message about the environment that rang very true. That is a lot to accomplish so smoothly in one book, and I find it very impressive.

It’s also a book that’s very accessible if you’re new to Jeff VanderMeer. I want desperately for more people to read his work, but I’m also aware that both his worlds and his writing are very dense, odd, and not for everyone. This book, however, feels like the perfect gateway. It’s just weird enough that it reads entirely as his work, but it also feels the most like a traditional novel of everything I’ve read by him. I highly recommend it for long-time fans and new readers alike as it’s an emotional roller-coaster and an epic journey.

Ex Machina Vol. 6: Power Down by Brian K. Vaughan (My Rating: 4/5) A decent continuation to the story. We’re beginning to get hints at a fuller picture, and Vaughn is good at keeping his audience invested with promises of reveals at a later date. I’m very interested in what this volume put forth, really driving home the idea of this being an alternate history. It’s the sort of thing that (if I had the money right now) makes me want to buy the rest of the series and read it in a frenzy.

The thing I didn’t love was how Vaughn felt a need to have characters using gay slurs. So often that it was distracting. It only served to remind me that, unfortunately not that long ago, there was a time when that sort of thing was considered hip and acceptable. It casts a poor light on the whole thing and dates the story in the worst way. The overuse of those words felt like supremely lazy writing when I know he can do better than that.

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker (My Rating: 3/5) This was definitely a cash-in of the most shameless variety. This is a collection of very short stories that all tied in with a Clive Barker/Todd McFarlane action figure collaboration. They were only intended to flesh out these characters Barker had created to become toys. The concept is therefore interesting but needs a lot more foundational work to make it worthy of being a book.

My one big recommendation here is “Sabbaticus”. That had all of Barker’s trademark creativity and world-building, and I’d love to see an entire book set in that world. It’s definitely not that the book is worthless. It’s fine for completionists and hardcore fans. I’m glad I read it, being the fan of his work that I am. But is it worth owning? I’d say no.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (My Rating: 5/5) Sometimes a book is incredibly popular, and everyone is talking about how important and moving it is, and whenever that happens, I get a little skeptical. I’ve been burned by hype before, so I’m always wary. In this case, it was what everyone said it was. Gorgeous, which goes for both the artwork and the telling of the story. Strange and visually intriguing, but also a tale that is universal and so clearly told that it hits you right in the heart. And I don’t mean in that glurgey way that makes you wish you hadn’t read it. No, it’s a very edifying experience that I actually recommend everyone try.

The Secret Books of Paradys III & IV by Tanith Lee (My Rating: 4/5) As I said I would in my post regarding series I need to finish, I finished this one. This particular edition is a bind-up of books three and four, and I’ll talk about them separately. Each book in this series follows a theme, and book three is The Book of the Dead. Like the first book in the series, the only thing connecting these stories is the city of Paradys as the setting and the overall theme. All of the stories were good but not great. There is no single one that blew me away. I feel I don’t have much to say about it, because while all the stories were gothic in nature with interesting twists, which I typically love, none stood out.

But book four, The Book of the Mad, is an entirely different thing. Like book two, it tells a series of interconnected stories that manage to make one, strange, beautiful narrative when merged together. And it was brilliant. Three alternate versions of Paradys are linked and woven in the telling, and the final climax of the novel is bizarre and perfect. Out of all the books in this series, this was by far the best. It was the most meticulously planned and told, and it made for a very satisfying end to my time in this world.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (My Rating: 5/5) I read this as two volumes, but for the sake of this very long wrap-up, I’m going to review it as one book. This is Satrapi’s memoir of what it was like growing up in Iran in the midst of revolution. It’s clear from the very beginning, when she talks about how she learned about politics and philosophy from graphic novels on those subjects, why she’d choose this format for her story. She knew she’d reach a very wide audience with the medium, and it works. It breaks the story down to its core elements with visual aids that propel it into pop art territory. I thought this was brilliantly done, and it’s such an accessible way to broaden your reading horizons. I knew nothing about Iran’s history or politics, and I learned a lot from this. Not just about the political atmosphere of another country, but about an entirely different way of life. Highly recommended.

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (My Rating: 5/5) Middle grade horror is rarely that scary. It’s for kids, right? It’s usually softened in some way. Even the scariest Goosebumps books don’t frighten me now that I’m a grown-ass woman. This book is insidiously scary though. The sneaky, whisper-lies-in-your-ear villain of the story is a wasp, and that’s already weird and spooky. Then the climax happens, and it becomes genuinely terrifying.

I can recommend this for more besides the scares though. The central story is dealing with disability. With so many authors that clearly want to deal with the subject and fumble and trip their way through it, Oppel is a breath of fresh air. His story ultimately is about accepting disability in yourself and others, recognizing how it’s shaped you, and not letting anyone tell you that you ought to be “fixed”. I kept waiting for there to be some troubling message accidentally splashed across a page, but that never happened. It was exactly what stories like this ought to be, and better yet, it’s for kids, the ones who need to hear these things the most.

American Vampire: Volumes 1 and 2 by Scott Snyder and Stephen King (My Rating: 3/5 for both) Again, in the interest of keeping this short and sweet, let’s mash these together. I really can sum them both up in the same review. The way this series was advertised was with this overly macho idea of “bringing the balls back to vampires” or whatever. With all that boasting while simultaneously bashing romantic vampire series, I expected a lot more than… the same tropes they took a hefty crap all over displayed on every page. These vampires weren’t that scary. 30 Days of Night, for all its problems, has it all over these vamps. There were unnecessary romances, one of which was so creepy I’m going to find myself frowning at Stephen King for some time to come. And for all their “vampires should be monsters, dammit!”, they were all morally gray characters that even tended to be heroes. So what the hell were they on about!? Why would you spend the introduction to your series scoffing at popular vampire fiction and then imitate it? It was mediocre. Forgettable. The same schlock they claimed to hate.

Hades: Lord of the Dead by George O’Connor (My Rating: 4/5) This is part of a graphic novel series covering all the major Olympian gods and goddesses from Greek myth. Of course, I had to jump on this one to try it out. O’Connor has the unenviable task here of telling the Hades and Persephone story, trying to remain fairly accurate to the original tale, and make it for a middle grade audience. Considering how difficult that clearly would be, he did well. He made Persephone’s story a coming-of-age tale about how getting away from her mother made her able to discover herself. How Hades’ misguided attempts at wooing actually helped her do that, which… is a message I know many will find questionable. But look at what O’Connor had to work with. And he managed to make it a positive thing even with all that. I was fairly impressed. Though as much as I love the story, I do prefer retellings. There’s just more room for movement in that case, and I think O’Connor, who is clearly a great storyteller, could’ve benefited from that.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (My Rating: 5/5) After The Arrival, I had to have more Tan. This turned out to be just as beautiful and well done. It’s a short story collection with illustrations and strange layouts that’s full of magical realism. It was right up my alley. You may have heard of “Eric”, probably the most popular story in the collection. It was absolutely adorable and sweet and lovely. But they’re all worth exploring here. Just read Shaun Tan’s work. He’s amazing.

Oh my God, that’s all. Wow. As you can see, I read a lot. I took to reading some graphic novels, and when you do that, the wrap-ups can get insane. Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!

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