Blood Colony

May 15, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

colonyBlood Colony by Tananarive Due

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MAN, it took me a long time to finish this book. I like Due’s style, and her plots have been interesting, but somehow Blood Colony took me about three weeks to finish. Even other, drier books haven’t taken that long. Somehow I just couldn’t stay engaged with this story like I did with her other two books (though The Living Blood took me about two weeks).

I do like how Due shifts her themes around from book to book. Each one has been a look at immortality, but where My Soul to Keep was a personal look, and The Living Blood looked at it from a more epic perspective, Blood Colony is a mixture of the two, since Due introduces us to a competing group of immortals while showing us Fana as she attempts to become her own person. As the two groups intersect, we see that the blood reveals a new power, and what it suggests is chilling. It’s reminiscent of Carrion Comfort, in the way that the immortals can control other people, but it’s not a carbon copy thriller.

I like where the book takes us, but I felt like it was a lot of story for not a lot of payoff. Part of it, I think, is how much ground Due has to cover. Not only does she have to give us the history of the new group of immortals, but she also has to show us what’s happened with Fana over the last fifteen years or so. Since both stories take us to the same conclusion, we need them both to get the whole story, but it can sometimes feel long-winded.

The characterization feels weaker here, too. It may be due to Due bringing in so many characters, but I didn’t feel the kind of connection with Fana and Jessica like I did in the first two books. I expected it to be the other way around, since by now I should be familiar with them, and Due wouldn’t need to spend as much time developing them, but somehow I felt the distance. The book forces them apart, so the distance there is physical, but I didn’t expect that to be true of them in the story, too.

Due gives the story a good depth, showing Jessica and Fana having started up a commune to disperse the blood for its healing effects, but the story doesn’t have the same OOMPH as the first two books. There’s one more book left in the series (so far; apparently, readers thought this would be the final book in the series, which would have been a disappointment), and I’m hoping Due can bring it back with that book. I’m eager to be finished with the series so I can move on to other books on my list.

Started: February 25, 2018
Finished: March 18, 2018

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Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook

May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

lostLost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

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A good five-word summary of this book is: Peter Pan as a sociopath. And it makes perfect sense.

Think about it. He’s impulsive, manipulative, insincere, unreliable, and exhibits superficial charm. He’s also smart and self-centered. Even in the context of the original story, he’s a textbook sociopath. Henry takes this idea and uses it to develop Peter Pan’s origin story, told through the eyes of James, later to become Captain Hook.

The pivotal point of this story is Charlie, a new recruit to the island, and the youngest boy Peter has ever brought to the island. Only five years old, Charlie is adopted by James, who has always served as the protector of the Lost Boys. Their relationship makes Peter jealous, since James is supposed to be Peter’s best friend, and over the course of the book, we see the relationship between Peter and James break down. Along the way, we find out what keeps Peter young, how he meets Tinkerbell, and how Captain Hook came to be Peter’s enemy.

Henry has had good success with translating children’s stories into darker, adult tales, and part of that success is in how well she draws her characters. The main characters here (James and his circle of friends) are convincing, and the relationship they share feels real. Their personalities and challenges carry the story, and it’s them who kept me engaged. Parts of the story didn’t work for me (the origin feels somewhat simplified, and Henry incorporates beings who don’t live on the island in the original work), but overall, it was riveting.

I’ve started listening to nonfiction audiobooks, since I find I can focus on them better than I can audio fiction, but Lost Boy was an exception. I found it on sale, and liked Henry’s Alice books, so I figured it was worth a shot. I’m glad I gave it a try; Lost Boy kept my attention from start to finish.

Started: March 8, 2018
Finished: March 11, 2018

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The Devil in America

May 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

devilThe Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson

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I can’t remember what led me to read this novella. I tried reading The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps a few years back, and I couldn’t make it through, but I read something about this story that made me want to read it. I’m glad I did, though when I first finished it, I wasn’t sure.

It took time for the story to settle, and for me to realize just how good it is. I didn’t like the metafictional asides (there are moments in the story where the author’s — not the narrator’s, now, but the author’s — father interjects with comments about the story), but I realized they were clues as to what was to happen in the story. Why Wilson chose this device I don’t know, but when he comments on Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, it becomes clear that this story is about the violence done against African-Americans, historically and currently.

As such, it’s not a comfortable story. We see white cruelty, though we also see hope through our main character, Easter, who lives in the late 19th century and possesses African magic. She has the ability to control “angels”, who can either do good or ill. An uneasy bargain she makes to save her father leads to future violence … or maybe the violence would have happened regardless.

The magic story works, as does the metafictional device (strange as it is), and the theme resonates. It’s a powerful piece of fiction, though it doesn’t reveal its significance until after some thought. Wilson is a talented writer, enough so that it makes me want to revisit The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps to see if I gave up on it too soon the first time around.

Started: February 27, 2018
Finished: February 27, 2018

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Saga: Volume Eight

March 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

saga8Saga: Volume Eight by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Volume Eight covers issues 43-48 of Saga, which is usually the time when a series shifts into a higher gear, or runs out of steam. Given that this is Saga, though, you should have a good idea which route the comic takes.

Saga has always been about politics, but it’s never been preachy about it. It’s presented Alana and Marko as a young couple in love more than it’s presented them as two different races on opposing sides of a war. The message the authors want to present is clear, but it’s never been drilled into the reader’s head.

Volume Eight opens with Alana going to a backwater planet to have an abortion of the child who died at the end of the last volume. The authors show us both sides of the issue, through the practitioners who provide the service, the unauthorized practitioners who don’t ask questions, and the residents of the planet who oppose the practice altogether. It’s clear the authors are presenting a certain viewpoint, but they do it by presenting a scenario and taking it through to its conclusion instead of beating you about the head with it.

The story continues to be fantastic, with well-realized characters, challenging dilemmas, and thoughtful themes. It’s exactly what the title tells you it will be — a saga — told through the lens of a single family. I like how it’s narrated from the perspective of Hazel, from some point in the future, as it gives it a touch of innocence and wisdom at the same time. I’m interested in seeing how Vaughan and Staples will keep this arc going, and how they plan to conclude it. If they can come to nearly fifty issues and still keep the story this fresh, then I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Started: January 6, 2018
Finished: January 6, 2018

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Monstress: The Blood

March 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bloodMonstress: The Blood by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

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I read the first Monstress collection last year, and was blown away with its depth of story, world-building, and characterization. That the story was paired with the perfect artwork — glorious and horrifying at the same time — made it that much more impressive, so of course I was going to keep reading this series. I just hate that it took me this long to get around to it.

The story continues to be dense with detail and history, as well as building out the world of Maika on her journey, but none of it gets in the way of the story itself. This time, Maika and Ren are on a quest to learn more about her past and her mother’s machinations, which takes her to sea to find an island of legend. The journey there and her discovery are the heart of this book.

The Blood is effective due to its imagery, both in story and art. Liu balances compassion and cruelty in her story, which Takeda balances delicacy and violence in her art. Overall, this book is creepy and disquieting, and is the kind of story — visually and narratively — that gets under the skin and keeps you thinking. That the two can continue with the strengths that made the first volume so good ensures that I will be reading this through to its conclusion.

Started: December 31, 2017
Finished: December 31, 2017

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The Conformity

February 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

conformityThe Conformity by John Hornor Jacobs

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In the previous two books in Jacobs’ trilogy, he borrowed heavily from existing horror stories, but made his stories unique partly through Shreve’s voice. In The Conformity, he mixes up his formula, and I question if it works as well as he thinks it does.

For one thing, what he borrows from horror is a little too distinctive to borrow: He adopts the giant-person-made-up-of-regular-people idea that Clive Barker used in “In the Hills, the Cities”. I’ve never seen that trope used in any other horror story, namely because it’s so distinctive, an author wouldn’t be able to get away with it without looking like a copycat. It’s not the point of Jacobs’ story like it was in Barker’s, but still, it was impossible to read this book and not think of Barker’s story.

For another, Jacobs goes outside of Shreve to narrate parts of the story, and I don’t understand why he broke that formula. In regards to the story, it makes sense — Shreve is knocked unconscious for several days, and it’s up to others in the Society of Extranaturals to continue the story — but since Shreve can now jump into anyone’s head and experience their lives directly, I question why Jacobs didn’t use this as a way to show what the other characters are doing.

The pacing of the novel feels off, too. The ending comes rather suddenly, when Jacobs spends pages and chapters showing us a side-quest that never serves a purpose to the overall story. It feels like Jacobs was padding the story to get to a certain page-count, which is still odd, when he could have spent more time drawing out the ending of the book instead.

I didn’t thing The Conformity was bad, but I can’t deny I was disappointed, either. Jacobs started out telling a unique, if familiar, story, and then ended it in a way that was weaker than the first two books. I still liked the trilogy enough to want to read more of his fiction, and I would still recommend the series to readers looking for a unique take on a coming-of-age story, but I feel like the author didn’t quite stick the landing here. Consider this book a 7.5 performance from a 9.8 athlete.

Started: December 8, 2017
Finished: December 13, 2017

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The Shibboleth

February 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

shibbolethThe Shibboleth by John Hornor Jacobs

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A shibboleth is, according to Wikipedia, any custom or tradition that distinguishes one group of people from others. In the case of Shreve and Jack, our main characters for this sequel to The Twelve-Fingered Boy, this is the power they have. These powers are important to a group called the Society of Extranaturals, which is the group for which Quincrux, the antagonist from the first book, is trying to recruit the two boys.

Jacobs takes a risk with this novel, separating both Shreve and Jack at the start of the book. It was their relationship that carried the story, and the first half of the novel is just about Shreve. Luckily, Jacobs still uses that relationship to define Shreve’s state of mind, even though he’s not present; in fact, it’s his absence that drives Shreve’s character. Eventually, the two characters reunite, but this series continues to be a coming-of-age story, and one of the risks of growing up through the teen years is friends growing apart.

The story will likely remind most readers of X-Men, and fans of Stephen King will see some influence from The Shop, the secret agency that recurs throughout his middle-era books. Like The Twelve-Fingered Boy, though, the book does its own thing with borrowed themes, and stands on its own well enough. It’s much darker than either influence (yes, some parts are even darker than Firestarter), and Shreve’s voice stands out to make the book unique.

Since this is the middle book of a trilogy, it ends at the darkest moment for the main characters, leading us to the final showdown in the third book. Jacobs sets up the events well for the conclusion, even going so far as to play with our expectations for how it will develop. Following the tone he’s created with the first two books, the third should be just as impressive.

Started: December 4, 2017
Finished: December 8, 2017

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The Twelve-Fingered Boy

February 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

twelveThe Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs

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Shreve Cannon is a big-wig in juvie. He’s the connection if you want candy, and he knows how to use people’s sweet teeth to get what he wants. That all changes, though, when Jack, the new kid, shows up. He seems to be the usual newbie, crying at night and keeping to himself, but Shreve figures he’s something special because of his twelve fingers. And then there’s the thing that happens when Jack gets angry.

The premise isn’t anything new, but Jacobs brings a new voice to this kind of story, through Shreve. He’s a standard juvie/jail tough guy, at least as much as his front will allow. He winds up being more compassionate and sympathetic than one would expect, since his tough guy image is related to his position as the candy supplier. He still talks like a tough guy, though, and he serves as the narrator, which makes it a little difficult to get into the story, since his voice can be off-putting.

Jacobs also makes the story bigger than just Jack and Shreve, but what sells the story is the relationship between the two boys. It’s a coming-of-age story set against the background of developing powers, those powers serving as a metaphor for developing into the adult they will become. It’s a compelling story, with strong characterization, and even if parts of the story seem like they’re heavily borrowed from Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, it’s unique enough to stand on its own.

This is the first book in a trilogy, though, so be forewarned that the story Jacobs is writing is larger than the one that exists in this book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just know going into the story that you won’t get all your questions answered here. Jacobs raises a lot of them, so it’s best to be prepared going forward.

Started: December 1, 2017
Finished: December 3, 2017

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Cloudbound

January 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cloudboundCloudbound by Fran Wilde

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There are a lot of things Wilde does right with Cloudbound. For one, the first couple of chapters serve as a nice summary of what happened in Updraft, the first book in this trilogy, which is useful, since I last read that book over a year ago. Like that book, Cloudbound also wraps the story around some fascinating ideas and themes, which help to elevate what is, to me, a mediocre story, to something a little more interesting.

The book picks up a few months after the events of Updraft, and this time Wilde shifts the narration from Kirit to Nat, one of her oldest friends who wound up fighting her to help save the towers. To say their relationship is strained is being generous; there’s a tremendous loss of trust between the two, and it drives their characters for the bulk of the book. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t spring to life for me. Kirit is mostly a background character, with the focus shifting back to the troubles between the Spire and the towers, neither to which she belongs. She’s an outcast, despite her role in bringing the corruption to the towers’ attention, so she gets very little page-time in the book.

I don’t find fault with Wilde shifting attention from one character to another. There are a lot of people in her Bone Universe, and it helps broaden the universe to show that it takes more than one hero to keep that world going. It’s just that none of the other characters are as interesting as Kirit. She does a good job of creating a diverse cast of characters, and gives them proper motivations, but I couldn’t get interested in them.

The other weird thing about the story is that it ought to have engaged me. Plot-wise, it was interesting, and expanded on what the Bone Universe is, but somehow I felt disconnected with it all. It reminded me a lot of the Craft Sequence, in that the narrative itself couldn’t engage me, despite the wealth of great ideas within.  I also noticed how Wilde uses sentence fragments a lot, I’m guessing for effect. Or because she felt it provided a narrative punch. (Yes, that’s my attempt to show how she was using them.) For me, they were more distracting than anything else.

I’m not sure if reading Updraft would have made me more aware of these issues, since I listened to the audio production for that book. I get the feeling the sentence fragments would have been less obvious, but I’m not sure about the rest. I do know that I remember pieces of Updraft fairly vividly; time will tell if Cloudbound will stay with me as well.

As I was reading this book, I figured I might have been done with the series, but then she went and ended the story the way she did, and I get the feeling I’ll be back around for book three. I know it’s already out, but the stories didn’t strike me as good enough to buy the books in hardcover, so I’ll likely wait until the paperback is released to get caught up. If my library carried a copy, I’d get it from there, but as it is, I don’t mind waiting. I have a lot of other books I’m more interested in reading right now, anyway.

Started: October 19, 2017
Finished: October 27, 2017

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The Red Threads of Fortune

January 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threadsThe Red Threads of Fortune by J.Y. Yang

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Rumor has it, you can read the two books in Yang’s Tensorate series in any order. Based on that rumor, I picked the order in which Goodreads has the books ordered in the series and started there, with The Black Tides of Heaven. I made the right choice, because if I had started with The Red Threads of Fortune, (a) I would have been lost, and (b) I’m not sure I would have continued with the series.

The focus of Tides was on Akeha and Mokoya, twin children of the Protector, and their early life. Threads shifts away from the twins to a degree, showing us what they’re like as adults. By now, the characters have grown into the different personalities they became at the end of Tides, and have moved on to life, not without each other, but at least focused away from them. The main focus of Threads is Mokoya, as she hunts a rogue naga that threatens the city where she lives.

Threads is less interesting, since it shifts its focus away from the relationships. The character Mokoya is now isn’t as sympathetic as the one she was in Tides, and what relationships she does have in the novella feel more forced. Her development feels authentic, but where she goes in this book with that development simply isn’t as interesting. The story does have more of a plot than the previous book, but when Yang writes the first book to focus on character, it’s jarring to then shift over to a book that’s primarily plot.

How much you like this book may depend on where you start with the two books. Chronologically, Tides comes before Threads, and gives us more insight into the characters than the latter book. Those readers who start with Threads, though, might be disappointed by the shift from plot to character, but I still feel like they would be confused by events in Tides. Yang is still a strong writer, and I’m in it for their next two books, but I’m hoping the attention will shift back to the characters and their relationships for those books.

Started: October 16, 2017
Finished: October 20, 2017

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