It is hard to get back on track after taking so much time off. I may have been away from the computer and then distracted by this whole Hugo awards fiasco, but I haven’t stopped reading. Here’s what I’ve read since last posting my reading log—about a month and a half by this point:
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Verdict: Painful slog. Reason: God-awful prose (backed up by the narrative, but still a nightmare to read), sex scenes that must be a product of the author trying his hand at comedy, and an ending that eliminated the significance of any of the changes or progress made up to that point by returning to the status quo. I give the book points (in the Whose Line tradition) for having an interesting setting–the US years after a vague super-flu wiped out the majority of its population, now suffering from the effects of climate change–but it wasn’t explored enough and ultimately rang hollow.
- The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Verdict: A pleasant surprise. Reason: I was expecting the worst when I picked up this book. This is my introduction to Beukes, so all I had to go on was my bias against her former publisher, Angry Robot Books, and my growing bias against her current publisher, Mulholland Books. I don’t want any weird looks for having issues with publishers… my tastes do not align with the people buying fiction for these places.As it turns out, my worries were for nothing. Lauren Beukes is a strong writer and she does a bang up job blending genres and tropes to create a simple, effective story. Her book is populated by compelling characters, the atmosphere is downright creepy at times, and the time travel remains blissfully free of the unnecessary complexity that often drags such stories down.
- City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Verdict: Deserving of any recognition it gets. Reason: Had some puppies not run amok with the Hugo awards, I expect we would have seen this book nominated. Well, I hope we would have seen this book nominated. There are few books that offer a little something for everyone and City of Stairs is definitely one of them. You might go into this book for the cool and competent spy who inserts herself into the murder investigation of a friend, for her mysterious and epic secretary Sigrid (some have complained that he is out of place in the book, but I personally loved him and his exploits), for the intrigue, the action, the stairs… I fell for this book because the city and its dead gods, for the world-breaking magic they left behind and the monstrous creations that still lurk in the shadows.
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Verdict: Unbelievable. Reason: I would probably love this book if it wasn’t for the loudspeaker scenes in the latter half. The propaganda narrative of this book was novel for all of a few pages and then it kept going, interrupting the story at the worst times and wearing down my patience to the point of translucence. It stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise very strong book. The story it has to share is great, if brutal. There are a lot of bright moments and there is humor and fun to be found in its pages.
- Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Verdict: 😦 Reason: I am not fond of this book. It is an improvement over The Shining Girls in terms of pacing and the integration of genre elements. The story appeals to me and so does the brand of supernatural that eventually emerges, but I disliked all but one of the characters and I am pretty sure he was only spared because he was rarely around. I should stress that there is nothing bad about these characters and that my feelings toward them are not borne out of poor writing. Were these real people that I might possibly interact with at some point in my daily life, I would go out of my way to avoid them. I can’t blame the author for writing characters that inspire such a reaction. I also can’t blame her for my apparent dislike of social media representation in fiction, which was something of a surprise.
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Why?: I was undone by the endless asides and nonsense conversations that seemed to crop up every other paragraph. The sad thing about this is that I sampled the book about a decade ago and loved what I read but I was wrapped up in the books I was reading for my blog and put it aside for later. It seems I waited too long to get back to it.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Why?: The first lines hooked me–“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.“–and the lines and pages that followed ripped out the hook, threw me back, and sped off to another part of the lake.