Stalking Tender Prey, by Storm Constantine (1995) K

November 10th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Date Read: 9.24.07
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Stalking Tender Prey sets the stage for an epic trilogy by introducing the intertwining stories of the Grigori (fallen angels) family line which begin in a little countryside town, Lil Moor. Certain people in Lil Moor discover latent psychic abilities and the arrival of a traveling Grigori triggers a cascade of events that uncover the Grigori roots of Lil Moor. (First book of the Grigori Trilogy)

Review

Unfortunately, this book, and subsequently trilogy, pales in comparison to Wraeththu and the Magravandias trilogy. I’m a little bit surprised because Constantine has plenty of material to work with and sets up a rich landscape and sophisticated characters, but fails to do much with them.

I’d say the best point of this book was the character development, what I believe is consistently one of Constantine‘s strengths. Constantine somehow (I wouldn’t say masterfully) uses dialogue, subtle nuances of action, and atmosphere to create enchanting characters, who whether by their own self-realizations or due to the fantastical circumstances of their current lives, develop in amazing ways. Also unlike Wraeththu and Magravandias characters, each of the ones in Stalking Tender Prey seem to be shrouded in this veil of impenetrable mystery, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to quite grasp or connect to any on a personal level.

However, there was just about… no plot. The only plot that moved was a recurring flashback that mainly consisted of character develop of the Grigori traveler. Well, maybe “no plot” is a bit harsh, but the novel was basically a stagnant story about this little town in which nothing happens. Nevertheless, there was a climax and sex with a cat. Judging from this book, there is plenty of potential for the second book with respect to characters and plot threads, so I am still excited.

Go to:
Storm Constantine

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (2009) K

October 28th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Date Read: 9.26.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

The story follows Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor who calls upon the residents of the once glorious Hundreds Hall and begins to form a friendship with the remaining family and staff that reside there. His friendship to the family becomes a crux on which they rely, and soon he finds himself involved in ever stranger circumstances at Hundreds Hall.  The interactions of the story are characterized by mysterious fires, writings, and sounds with the underlying ever-increasing tension of Faraday’s relationship to the mother and daughter of the house.

Review

It took me a really long time to review this because I couldn’t form a concrete opinion. Basically, there was good and bad, but the good was oh so good and the bad was characterized by raging mediocrity. Every time the scales tipped in favor of one side, I’d remember something to the contrary and the dilemma would reassert itself.

The Good: Superb writing and storytelling. Of course, it is apparent from Waters‘ four previous novels that she knows how to write, and once again she demonstrates her ability to spin a tale out of not an incredible amount of material. I was reading along the first 100 pages, and I was still, somewhat inexplicably, waiting eagerly to find out what would transpire during Faraday’s fourth visit to the same dreary hall. There’s no rampant drama or lgbt overtones that characterize her previous novels, which I found quite refreshing, as if I were here for the sole purpose of enjoying raw word manipulation.

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The Shape-Changer’s Wife, by Sharon Shinn (1995) E

September 14th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Date read: 1.6.06
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

Always hungry for new knowledge, the magician Aubrey leaves his master to become the apprentice of the famed and reclusive shape-changer Glyrenden. Surrounded by a forest in Glyrenden’s decaying mansion, with only two eccentric servants for company, Aubrey becomes increasingly mesmerized by Glyrenden’s aloof and otherworldly wife, Lilith.

I read The Shape-Changer’s Wife at about the time that I began to be bored with standard fantasy, as evidenced by the fact that when I got it out of the library, I lost interest as soon as I looked at the cover. I read it anyway, just because it was relatively short and I liked the title, but overall it got a big shrug from me. I think it’s a combination of the aforementioned boredom, the book being Sharon Shinn’s first, and the fact that her prose is generally very… unassuming, as I’ve gathered from the others of her books that I’ve read (namely, the Samaria series, which I must admit to having enjoyed a good deal nonetheless). Granted, I prefer reliable writing over poorly attempted style, but Shinn’s writing is so straightforward and so devoid of stylistic interest that it leaves no impression on me afterwards. Add in the fact that I guessed Lilith’s “secret” 20 or so pages in, and a few annoying clichés and illogicalities, and there wasn’t much to be read. Still some nice details and scenes, but not enough to make this a memorable novel.

On a separate note, the [Profession/Status/etc.]’s [Wife/Sister/Daughter] titling convention/cliché has been amusingly documented by Isaac Marion here.

Go to:
Sharon Shinn
Archangel, by Sharon Shinn (1997) [E]
The Alleluia Files, by Sharon Shinn (1999) [E]

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (2003) E

September 9th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Date read: 8.27.09
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Henry DeTamble travels, involuntarily, in time; Clare Abshire is the woman who has loved him since she was 6 years old, and he, displaced in time – but in his own timeline already married to her – introduces himself to her in a meadow. The Time Traveler’s Wife charts the the convoluted course of their love, and all the hazards, vagaries, joy, and anguish that Henry’s strange condition brings into their lives.

Kakaner has been begging me to read this for years. This August I finally gave her the satisfaction of receiving a barrage of emails from me exclaiming over the book as I plowed through it in a handful of days. I was absolutely sucked in, and despite her warning that she’d found the first 100 pages of the book slow going, the first half-ish of the book was actually my favorite. I loved the slow back-and-forth as Clare works her way through life to her first meeting with in-time Henry – I found the scenes of her childhood and young adulthood (and the interspersed glimpses of Henry’s childhood and his first, innocently bedazzled experiences of time travel) beautiful and singularly lush, and I loved feeling so connected with Clare as a character, so immersed in her experience of growing up, and feeling as intensely as she does the anxiety and excitement of each impending encounter with Henry. (Sucker for young love, right here.)

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The Inside, by Isaac Marion (2008) E

August 23rd, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Date read: 2.6.09
Read from: Originally borrowed from Kakaner; now in personal collection, via Burning Building
Reviewer: Emera

At twelve, David falls asleep on a schoolbus, and meets, literally, the girl of his dreams. In real life, he grows up, marries a woman he thinks he loves, and proceeds to destroy both of their lives. He is unable to shed the belief that somewhere beyond the world he sees every day, there’s another one that’s more vital, more beautiful – and most importantly, is home to the girl whom he still glimpses in maddeningly brief and unpredictable snatches. Soon, even his waking life is invaded by the inexplicable: radio towers appear and disappear; cryptic cassette tapes appear on his welcome mat; he wakes up in his car in places that he doesn’t remember driving to. David is terrified, infuriated, and eventually obsessed by these “messages,” desperate to take control and escape a life that seems to hold no meaning except for the conviction that love lies elsewhere.

The Inside is a strange book. Though I hate to pin it down with genre terms (I know, then why am I doing it?), it’s most easily described as part psychological horror/suspense, part romance, part weird. After Kakaner lent me her copy (I bought my own later), I was haunted by it every moment that I wasn’t actually reading it, quite as obsessed as David, and a little frightened. Ultimately, I didn’t even care so much about the eventual reveals as I did about the process of getting to them, which is absolutely absorbing, often moving, and beautiful in a crazed, pained kind of way. I do think the novel falters towards the end, which I found somewhat rushed and a little incoherent, and there are certain other moments when Marion tries too hard to maintain the book’s tone, and slips into wryer-than-thou territory. Overall, though, Marion is an extremely assured writer, with a distinctive, effective voice and good control of pacing and plot.

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Anna, by Isaac Marion and Sarah Musi (2009) K

August 20th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Date Read: 6.11.08
Book From: BurningBuilding, now Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

The summer I discovered Isaac Marion‘s fiction (or more correctly, Emera discovered and I piggybacked on that), I ran around my friends group trying to get everyone to read his stories. I basically spent all of a work day on BurningBuilding engrossed in his short stories, sometimes reading some more than once. Out of all these, the one I repeatedly recommended was Anna, a story I believe is impossible not to love.

Anna is the first person tale of a young ghost who wanders through earth and time, and one day, falls in love with a young boy and follows his life. The story is a mixture of emotions, atmosphere, and a small bit of dialogue that somehow come together to produce a sweeping epic effect. Its simple but beautiful prose is proof that one doesn’t need embellishments and flourishes to successfully tell a story.

The word that always comes to mind when I read Anna is “floating”. First of all, Anna… well, she floats, so I believe it is appropriate. But the word also captures the way Anna lives out her “life”, carried by a wind of time, sometimes skipping 10 years, sometimes 100. This ephemeral quality is also skillfully conveyed by Sarah Musi‘s illustrations, which feature a lot of flowing lines and a bit of whimsy.

In particular, Anna contains one of my favorite scenes ever:

“One day in high-school the boy met a beautiful girl, and they kissed under the football bleachers. Anna turned away, and wished for a strong wind to blow her far from there, but the air was still. She floated into a mountain instead, moving through the rock for miles until she reached the mountain’s heart, and closed her eyes there, feeling the warm, dark crush of the mountain’s life grinding around her.”

I love the idea of withdrawing into the heart of a mountain to mourn. It is such a powerful, majestic image (or maybe I just love mountains and am obsessed with Now We Have a Map of the Piano by Mum), and I like to believe the mountain also lends Anna strength for the rest of her journey.

As of this entry, Marion still has 25 remaining copies of Anna. These are gorgeous, self-published illustrated books on very fine, sturdy paper. If this sounds interesting, you should definitely purchase a copy before Marion becomes too famous =)

Go To:

Isaac Marion
Purchase Anna
Online Sample
Anna (2008) [E]

“Urchins, While Swimming,” by Catherynne M. Valente (2006) E

August 5th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Date read: 8.5.09
Read in: Clarkesworld, Issue 3
Reviewer: Emera

Catherynne Valente‘s short story “Urchins, While Swimming” left me wide-eyed and breathless. It’s a simple, sorrowful, beautiful story, filled with unforgettable imagery and lyrical language. It’s about love between mothers and daughters, and falling in love, and the Russian rusalka myth. (Unless you already know it, you might not want to read it until after you’ve read the story.)

Below, a few of my favorite lines:

“The stars were salt-crystals floating in the window’s mire.”

“Artyom ate the same thing every day: smoked fish, black bread, blueberries folded in a pale green handkerchief.”

“…she did not say we drag the lake with us, even into the city, drag it behind us, a drowning shadow shot with green.”

For this story, Valente won the 2007 StorySouth Million Writers Award for Best Online Short Story; very cool, and deserving. Kakaner also lent me her copy of Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden this weekend, and now I’m even more excited to start it.

Also, since both of us are so partial to short fiction, we’ll probably be inaugurating a secondary review index for short stories alone, which will require a monumental amount of effort, but hopefully be rewarding.

Go to:
Catherynne M. Valente

Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) E

July 23rd, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Date Read: 6.13.09

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

Oskar is an alienated twelve-year-old living in a decaying Swedish suburb in the 1980’s. He is brutally bullied at school, and fantasizes often about striking back at his tormentors, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper articles about murders as his inspiration. Two new neighbors move into Oskar’s apartment complex: one an older man, and one, apparently his daughter, an androgynous girl named Eli who smells terrible, walks barefoot in the snow, and only comes out at night, but is nonetheless befriended by Oskar.

If you know anything about vampires, you can imagine where this is going. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, translated by Ebba Segerberg) was a bestseller in Sweden when it was published in 2004, and gained further international attention when the 2008 Swedish-language film adaptation (IMDB) won a number of awards and became a surprise hit. I’m not sure now if I heard about the movie or the book first, but unusually for me, I ended up watching the movie first, and read the book shortly after. I enjoyed both immensely, but for slightly different reasons in each case. Given that, I thought I’d do a combined film and book review. Please note that mild spoilers follow.

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The Scandal of the Season, by Sophie Gee (2007) E

July 21st, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Date Read: 12.17.08

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Emera

English poet Alexander Pope achieved his fame and success when in 1712 he published his mock-epic poem, “The Rape of the Lock,” satirizing the public disgrace of the renowned beauty Arabella Fermor. This novel follows Pope’s rise to fame, as he departs his country home to travel to the city for a season. As Pope struggles to find material for a new poem, and to cope with the hypocrisy and cruelty of London’s high society, the haughty but meagerly dowered Arabella encounters the equally attractive and clever Lord Petre. Amid the stirrings of a new Jacobite rebellion (the conspiracy to return the Catholic James VII to the throne), Arabella soon undertakes a clandestine affair with Lord Petre – an affair that will become the talk of London, and Pope’s making, by the end of the season.

I was actually able to see Sophie Gee speak about this book and the research that went into its making, and found her a very intelligent, engaging speaker, so I had this quite high on my reading priority list. Plus, 18th-century bedroom/social intrigues have been a pet subject of mine ever since I fell in love with Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Unfortunately, Gee appears to be a pretty terrible novelist. Most of her book is graceless and entirely deficit in subtlety and real character development – the only area in which she demonstrates any deftness is the sometimes witty, cutting dialogue. Erotic scenes occasionally offer a break from the plodding narration, but are executed with a mix of irritating coyness and heavy-handed, charmlessly vulgar metaphors. (Imagine the most obvious sexual innuendo possible involving swords, hilts, and sheaths. Got it? Good. You have now succeeded in equalling every sex scene in the book.)

The saving grace of The Scandal of the Season is that it’s based on real people and real events, and ones in which Gee is clearly an expert, such that the weight of their true personal histories and characters give substance to an otherwise poorly-constructed novel. As such, the only reasons I kept reading this were that 1. I bought it (damn), and 2. I really wanted to see what would happen to the characters. The end is very bittersweet and truly fascinating historically, but Gee effectively robs it of most of its emotional heft. Boo.

Go to:

Sophie Gee

Anna, by Isaac Marion and Sarah Musi (2008) E

July 7th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

Date Read: 2.2.09
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

book anna

Anna is the wistful tale of a young ghost who falls in love with a human boy. When I first stumbled upon Isaac Marion‘s short fiction online, it was one of the stories that most enchanted both Kakaner and me. In 2008, Marion self-published a 50-edition print run of Anna, with illustrations by Sarah Musi.

I love the size and feel of the book, especially the old-fashioned font and heavily textured, off-white paper cover. There’s something very individual-feeling about self-published books, and with their slight imperfections, you somehow you get more of a sense of the author, and of the effort that went into making the book. Instead of it being A Copy of a Book, it’s A Book, if that makes any sense.

Musi’s ink illustrations are delicate, charming, and perfectly suit the feel of the story with their elegant, expressive minimalism. Her elongated forms, fine linework, and use of negative space struck me as being faintly Gorey-esque. The story unfolds simply and gracefully, with quiet gravity. The details of Anna’s existence as a ghost are particularly captivating: my favorite moment of the story might be when she sinks into a mountain, seeking the comfort of its solidity.

As of July 2009, about 25 copies of Anna are still available for sale on Marion’s site. You can also see previews of the text and art at the same link. I treasure my copy, so if you’re at all tempted, I would buy one while you still can.

Go to:

Isaac Marion
Isaac Marion’s fiction online
Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion [E]
Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion  [K]

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