Book Review -The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Blogland,

I have a lot of feelings about this book, not all of them good. It took me a lot longer to get through than I expected and it was quite a bit of an uphill climb for about two thirds of the book. With that in mind, this review will have a different format than usual, simply because I really hate writing negative reviews and want to do my best to tell you what does work, in addition to what didn’t work for me.

My Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars

city in the middle of the night

First, the good. What worked, what I did like, and why.

  • Anders is a really great writer. Her prose is powerful, eloquent, and compelling. I didn’t find any lines where I stumbled or balked, but was frequently pleased with the lines I read, with their straightforward poetry and spartan beauty. I have no qualms with her writing, and plan to read more of her writing.
  • The world-building is high quality. Gradual, but without holding your hand. The book expects you to pay attention, but doesn’t punish you with an unduly steep learning curve. However, despite the title and the amount of time spent in the various cities on the book’s planet, I would not say that setting is the driving component of the book. It’s done well and with a subtle hand, but it is not the focus.
  • Tone. Anders wields atmospheric tension extremely well. There’s a consistent feeling of dread that steadily builds through the whole book, even in moments of relative peace.

So, what didn’t work? Prepare yourself for a bit of a rant and some mild spoilers.

The characters. This is written as a character driven novel with four major characters, all of whom are written as if you’re supposed to like them. Except… none of them are all that likable. Some of them are downright loathsome.

Now, I realize that’s a highly subjective statement. Characters I find interesting, likable, or relatable may leave you cold and disinterested. So take my comments with a grain of salt.

The main character is Sophie. Her story is told in the first person and she is a very meek, naive, and loving girl. So of course, she gets utterly used by Bianca who she supposedly loves.

Bianca is the worst and I hate her.

Mouth is the second “main” character, with a 3rd person narrative, and the only character I really liked in the whole book. But she gets treated like complete garbage by all the other characters, even Alyssa who seems to be her longtime girlfriend.

That was another gripe I had with the book. These four women all appear to be in committed lesbian relationships, but none of that is ever actually said. I assumed that Sophie’s expressions of love for Bianca were obviously romantic (they lay together spooning, Sophie tells Bianca that she loves her, that she’s loved in her arms… to me these are not platonic expressions or actions), but by the end of the book, when a memory exposes Sophie’s romantic feelings, Bianca freaks out and calls her perverted? What? What did you think was happening this whole time?

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UK cover

And Mouth and Alyssa treat each other like crap the whole book, which is a trope I really don’t like. It’s so frequent in stories that members of long term relationships talk to each other with no respect because they’ve known each other for so long that it’s okay. It’s a personal pet peeve that I can’t stand, and even Anders shines a light on how bad their interactions were with Mouth’s persistent self-doubt and longing to leave her trauma behind her, as Alyssa suggests. As if it should be so simple.

So… Yeah. I had some problems with these characters. Their interactions and development (or lack thereof) made for a very bleak book. I read on, continuing to believe that by the end there would be some turn, some blossom of hope, but it never came. Instead, it just sort of ended without any real resolution, which makes me think there might be a sequel.

I don’t think I’ll be back for that.

My other criticism is the plot. It meanders, which jives with the whole atmospheric prose thing, and I should have expected it thanks to the blurb on the cover lauding Anders as “this generation’s Le Guin”.

(This is the part where I confess that I have yet to be able to finish one of Le Guin’s books… As a PNW SFF writer, I have just admitted an unforgivable sin. Sorry ’bout it.)

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The horror!

So, ultimately, maybe I’m not the best reader for this book. I tried really hard to like it. I refused to give up on it. I held on, determined to give The City in the Middle of the Night a fair shake. That’s all I can do.

According to Goodreads, this book seems pretty divisive. People love it, or people really don’t and apparently I’m in the latter camp.

I’ll be back later this week with a review for A Darker Shade of Magic, and I just started Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse today, so my reading is picking back up. Hooray!

Until then Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

Blogland,

This is my first post written in the new WordPress editor. If you have tried it already and have any hints or suggestions, please let me know, because this is a trip. I think I like it. Image result for uncertain gifIt’s very clean, with less clutter to distract the eye. But that means I have to relearn how to navigate a system I’ve used religiously for like… seven years.

A/N: 108 words into the new editor and I already had to revert back to the Classic Editor. The new format handles content in blocks, which doesn’t really allow me to embed gifs and pictures the way I like to. Or at least, I wasn’t able to figure out how to do in a timely fashion. I’ll keep poking at it for awhile and see if I like it. As of this moment, it’s getting a thumbs down from me.

Additional A/N: Turns out, reverting back to the Classic Editor part way through royally screws with the formatting. I was unable to resolve it no matter how much I tried until I went back into the new editor and manually fixed every single error. I officially hate this “update” and I doubt I will be using it in the future.

After bouncing around the entire library consortium, I finally got my hands on the only copy of The Hanging Tree available in the whole Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service. It’s been a very popular book.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Peter Grant and company are back at it, this time investigating what seems to be a routine drug overdose. Except, the deceased shows evidence of thaumaturgical degradation (aka her brain was a bit gooey from exposure to magic). And, Lady Tyburn’s daughter was at the scene.

As if that isn’t a big enough pain in Peter’s backside, there’s a member of the demi-monde, known unironically as Reynard Fossman (etymologically speaking, Fox Foxman), has come to the Folly to offer Nightingale something he can’t refuse: Newton’s Third Scientific text, the Principia Chemica.

Alchemy. It was rumored that the genius had worked out the laws that governed transmutation and the like, but that the text was lost to mankind. Until Reynard waltzes in and tries to sell it to the highest bidder. Because, why would he only offer it to Nightingale?

And guess who else has his metaphorical eye on the prize? Yep! None other than the dastardly Faceless Man himself.

Which, it’s about stinking time! My biggest gripe about the last Peter Grant story I read was that there wasn’t enough substance in regards to the Faceless Man and Lesley. I wanted MORE! Well, this book delivered, let me tell you.

All the things I’ve come to expect from a Peter Grant book remained true for this one. Fantastic dialogue that begs to be read aloud, a wide and dynamic cast of characters, an intricate and compelling plot told in a voice that is self-deprecating, fun, and clever as hell.

All that being said, it took me longer to read than I would have expected, mainly because I’ve just been too tired to stay up and read lately. Which, as I’ve discussed, is really shit timing. Every book under the sun seems to have a release date this month, and here I am too swamped and too sleepy to do a darn thing about it.

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One of those November releases is the next book in this series, the long anticipated Lies Sleeping. But, DO NOT read the synopsis for this book before you’ve read The Hanging Tree, otherwise you’re in for a giant spoiler.

I found that out the hard way while I conducted research to recommend the library purchase a copy of the newest book in the series. Whoops!

Also, my library doesn’t own any of the Peter Grant books, but several of the smaller libraries in our consortium own copies. But, none of them had purchased Lies Sleeping yet. Two weeks before the book is out and no one had bought it yet?Not acceptable. So, I recommended the purchase, and now I’m first in line on the hold list.

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So, in summary, this book was another solid entry in the Peter Grant series and the perfect book to read just a week or so before the newest installment is released here in the US. It’s nice to be caught up.

I’ve got a slew of books queued up for the rest of the year, which I mentioned in yesterday’s goals summary post. I’ll be a busy reading bee all the way through the new year.

Just the way I like it.

I’ll see you all again on Monday, maybe sooner if I have something to talk about. But we have a friendsgiving celebration on Saturday, so don’t expect much from me the rest of this week.

Until later, Bloggos.

BZ

Book Review – Legion: Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson

Bloggos,

If it’s been awhile since you’ve read the first two novellas in this series, I recommend checking out my reviews for Legion and Legion: Skin Deep before delving into this one. I know I needed the refresher before I tucked into this book.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Image result for legion lies of the beholder

Stephen Leeds is back, and so are his aspects. Ivy, J.C., and Tobias are still front and center, but a few others come in to play over the course 105 page novella. Personal faves were Lua and Jenny, an all new aspect intent on harassing Stephen as she follows him and writes down every bit of his adventures. His own personal biographer, all in his head!

In this story, Leeds and Co., are on the hunt for the elusive Sandra, who recently texted Stephen a single word: Help. Leeds panics. Sandra hasn’t contacted him in years, and now she reaches out in apparent distress? His anxiety is through the roof, and Ivy and J.C.’s distrust of the situation does nothing to help. But that’s what Tobias is for.

To make matters worse, Leeds is losing control. Two of his aspects have disappeared, turning into Nightmares. Spectral/undead versions of themselves, intent on harming Leeds and his remaining aspects. Turns out, his personas can kill one another. And that’s a painful lesson to learn.

This lack of control only ups the stakes for Stephen. He has to find Sandra. She was the one that helped him gain control in the first place, maybe she can help him again. But as the hunt continues Leeds begins to question who and what is real, and whether the price of ‘normal’ is really worth it.

I have a lot of warm fuzzy feelings for this story. It’s the first Sanderson book I’ve read in quite a while, and it really reminded me why I love him so much. It also struck a resonant chord in me, because Legion is a very personal story for Sanderson and it really showed in this novella.

Leeds is a man with voices and characters in his head. People as real as the neighbors you wave to each morning or the barista who hands you your coffee when you’re running late to work.

And that’s how it feels to be an author. You create these people, often times without really meaning to, and they are suddenly vibrant and demanding and so much more real than you ever anticipated.

The end of this novella actually brought a tear to my eye. And while that’s not unheard of for Sanderson stories, I definitely wouldn’t say I expect to get emotional from his books. This was a bittersweet tear, a feeling wholly satisfied and melancholy.

It was beautiful.

I know Sanderson is widely admired for his giant works of fantasy. Books like Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive, Elantris, and Warbreaker. And they are wonderful. I love them all. But man, I think he’s actually at his best when words are at a premium. All three Legion novellas were powerful in their own way, and let’s not forget the Hugo award-winning The Emperor’s Soul.

Legion: Lies of the Beholder is available in a few different formats. As a standalone e-book and in a hardbound collection of all three novellas called Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds. This is the copy I read courtesy of the library, and will eventually Image result for legion lies of the beholderpurchase, once we catch up from our expensive vacation. The cover art is phenomenal, and even better are the ink-blot chapter illustrations that change over the course of the series.

I was impressed with this book overall. Can you tell? I was impressed with the clever plot, and the depth of emotion Sanderson put into so few pages. I was impressed with the book design, both for the cover and the interior and would greatly recommend the series to fans of detective stories with a slight Sci-Fi spin.

I’m making good progress on War for the Oaks, and am optimistic that I’ll be able to review it next week. After that I’ve got a few more Urban Fantasy novels queued up, so we’ll see what strikes my fancy.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

Book Review – Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Blogland,

I went into reading this book with very mixed expectations. I’d heard multiple firsthand accounts of how brilliant it is, but actually knew absolutely nothing about it. I’ve never read anything by VanderMeer before, and all I knew about Borne was what I could glean from inside the jacket flap.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

borne

Rachel is a scavenger, eking out a living in the City for herself and her partner Wick. Tensions are high, with resources in the ruined city scarce and the giant, hyper-intelligent bear, Mord, wreaking havoc wherever he pleases. Wick and Rachel are distrustful lovers and partners, helping one another and keeping more than their fair share of secrets to boot.

One of those secrets is Borne, a sentient blob of biotech that grows and grows and grows. Rachel tries to raise him in secret, just another topic to avoid with Wick, but Borne quickly proves too curious and clever to be satisfied with Rachel’s small apartment.

With the secret out, Borne explores their domain of the Balcony Cliffs while Rachel and Wick let their secrets drive a wedge between them. When all the lizards have disappeared from their ruined halls, when all the small critters that scampered in the walls have vanished, and when raiders attack their home only to mysteriously abandon the Cliffs, Rachel refuses to entertain Wick’s accusation.

“Borne eats and eats,” says Wick. “But nothing comes out.”

And so begins the battle between Rachel and Wick about Borne. The decisions in which will shape the rest of their lives.

I have some pretty conflicted thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the story and the characters. Rachel, Wick, and Borne are delightfully complex and I often found myself disappointed in them as often as I was pleased. The world is developed extremely well, and I’d be happy to spend more time to learn about the City and the Company that deteriorated it so.

But…

VanderMeer’s writing was a struggle for me. Don’t misunderstand, it is beautiful. But it’s also strange. Just like the book itself. I had a hard time, not because the prose is overly Image result for borne vandermeercomplex or wordy, but because the sentence structures were often bizarre. There were entire paragraphs, large chunks of the page that were only a sentence or two. Those were immediately followed with sentence fragments and sentences that played with word order. You have to scavenge the story from the page. And while I can appreciate the mastery of craft behind such a novel, it frequently pulled me from the story, jarred me from the world, and allowed my mind to wander when all I really wanted was to know what happened to Rachel and her makeshift family.

 

See? I’m conflicted. It is a beautiful book. It’s a book that makes the reader work. And I’m not opposed to doing the work, but I felt that Borne could have balanced storytelling and readability a little bit better.

I can’t say if this is true for all of VanderMeer’s stories. I’ve only read Borne, and I’m only a third of the way through the Borne novella, The Strange Bird. So far, I don’t feel like it suffers as much from the jarring language as the novel did. Or maybe I’m just acclimated and notice it less. Either way, I’m struggling less so far. Which is a good thing.

I should be back this weekend to write up my review for The Strange Bird and probably to vent about how stressed I am about this trip. I’ll be fine once we’re on the plane, but each passing day my anxiety grows and grows. Just like Borne.

I need a beer.

 

BZ

Book Review – Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

Hi Blogland,

This week got off to a slow start with a migraine that refused to respond to medication. Yesterday was my first day without pain, and I had some obligations in the morning and then work in the evening. So, now it’s Friday and I’m finally here with the review for the next Peter Grant book! Beware some minor spoilers below.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

broken homes

I think this was my favorite of the books so far. As I’ve come to expect, Peter takes the reader through an all new area of London, furthering my mental image of the city with each flip of the page.

A string of suspicious but seemingly unrelated murders have piqued Nightingale’s interest, which means Peter and Lesley are on the job. From the car accident that revealed a murder in progress to the Housing Authority worker that committed suicide on the Underground. It all links back to a stolen book, a German tome on the industrial uses of magic and an architect from the 60s.

You see, the Faceless Man wants that book, and he wants the building the architect used to mine magical energy.

So, Peter and Lesley move into a vacant flat in the rundown Skygarden Tower. It’s a low income area with passionate tenants that have called the tower home for decades. They have monthly meetings to discuss how to combat the city council and keep the building protected.

Which is unfortunate, because the Faceless Man intends to blow it up.

This book takes its time setting up the history and lore, including how Skygarden Tower was designed, the purpose it serves, and the lives of those who call it home. Including a wood nymph named Sky who may be the spirit of the land the tower is built on. The Rivers are present, including the return of Peter’s almost lover Beverly Brook, and Zach the half-fae even makes a comeback!

But, once you reach the last 70 pages or so, things really take off. I felt like there were more action sequences in this book than in the previous one, and we get to see Nightingale really take off the gloves and unleash some monstrous power on the Faceless Man’s flunkies.

And, you know, Peter throws himself into danger in order to save civilians, like the proper copper he is.

There’s a lot more going on in this book, including some very interesting character developments, but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say I really liked this book and it launched me into Foxglove Summer the very next morning. foxglove summer

I’m hoping to get a ton of reading done over the weekend. I’m running out of time on these Interlibrary loans!

I should have another book review out next week, and I think it’s just about time to have a big Submission discussion, where I talk about my submissions so far and then share what my submission process looks like and what resources I use.

So, keep an eye out for both of those sometime next week.

 

Until then, Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant #3) by Ben Aaronovitch

Bloggoroonies!

It’s midnight, I just received another personal rejection on The Cost of Rain, so while let’s talk about Whispers Under Ground so I can ignore this damn unpleasant feeling in my chest for a few more minutes.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

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The third book in the Peter Grant series continues the tradition of sharp wit and dialogue with another twisty-turny plot that leads Peter and Co., throughout London. This time it’s a US Senator’s son that’s been murdered in the underground. There doesn’t seem to be anything too magical about it, except that the murder weapon appears to be a shard of some sort of ceramic. A shard with an incredible strong vestigia (magical odor/signature of sorts).

So in come Peter and Lesley, searching out the elusive origins of the pottery. But between the unofficial interference from the FBI and the erratic behavior of the victim’s fae roommate, Zach, things aren’t quite as easy as they could be.

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Turns out even ghosts aren’t safe from trains.

The pottery leads them all over the city, until they finally find a secret passage down into the underground. That means that the BTP (British Transport Police) have to be brought in, which really means that their one-man X-Files agent assists Peter on the case. And they have to dodge the over-eager, religious FBI agent that’s so keen to solve the murder that she (illegally) carries a firearm through the city. And, as always the Rivers have a role to play.

Peter had his hands full in this book. Poor guy.

This book was a lot of fun. I really liked Lesley’s added role as she’s become Nightingale’s second apprentice and Zach was an unexpected delight. He’s half fairy which makes him, well, a bit of a shit, but I found it endearing. He eventually proves to be very integral to the investigation, and I was glad to have him around as much as he was.

As I’ve come to expect from this series, London is vibrant and almost shockingly real on the page. I feel like, even though it’s been thirteen years since I’ve been there, that I have a familiarity with the city thanks to these books. To clarify, I know I don’t. It’s a monstrous metropolis and reading a few books will not help me navigate it should I ever return, but at least I’ll remember some points of interest!

So, if I liked the plot overall, liked the characters and the setting, why only four stars? Well, I guessed the ending AGAIN! Though, this time I think I just happened to be very perceptive. It wasn’t as obvious and really hinged on my being suspicious of a certain detail early on in the book. But still, I called it two books in a row!

Another factor in my rating was that, after the intense end of Moon Over Soho and the revelation of the existence of The Faceless Man, this book had very little to do with him. There’s some legwork to be done, some old school policing in researching who went to the right school at the right time to have been a rogue Magician’s apprentice and so on. There’s more character development and we get to see the full breadth of the Folly’s network and resources, including the Bodleian library at Oxford!bodleain library.jpg

I will admit, as a library worker, that bit made me really happy.

But, there’s still surprisingly little about the biggest threat in the series so far. So, four stars it is.

I’m about one hundred pages short of finishing Broken Homes. I’m looking to finish it tonight or tomorrow. I’m running out of time to get all these books read before the due dates, and they aren’t eligible for renewal. I need to step up my reading game!

I’ll be back on Monday to talk about my week and complain about writing my query letter, which is my main goal for the day. Wish me luck y’all, because it’s gonna suck.

Until then,

 

BZ

Book Review – Bloodlist (Vampire Files #1) by P.N. Elrod

Bloggos,

My brain is all melty from the 16+ hours I worked on editing The Steel Armada over the last two days. It was a wild time, where each chapter got about two hours worth of work, including three separate read throughs. I added a total of 68 words to the manuscript, and that’s after counting all the stuff I cut.

My brain is pudding dribbling out of one ear right about now.

So, let’s talk about Bloodlist!

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars

vampire files #1

You’re probably looking at that rating and cringing. You’re used to my other three star reviews, which are usually pretty negative. I’m not one to give a low rating lightly, and giving anything under a four usually brings me physical pain.

But, I’m not angry at this book. I’m not upset or even all that disappointed. I listened to it. It was interesting enough to ensure I kept coming back to it, although I didn’t think the narration was anything mind blowing. It’s hard to compete with James Marsters though, let’s be honest.

So, why the low rating then? Because I have no strong feelings about this book. I am neither disappointed by it nor would I recommend it. I read it. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t necessarily good either. It just was.

The book is set in post-Prohibition Chicago, and the lead character has just become a vampire. It has a lot of noir storytelling elements, which I appreciated, but it also featured a lot of mobsters being the 1930s equivalent of dudebros.

The man character, whose name literally just escaped me for two whole minutes, Jack Fleming was all right, but I didn’t really root for him. I liked the side character, his Private Investigator buddy… Escott? Yeah, that guy. He was intriguing.

But, there was little to no explanation of what the rules of Elrod’s brand of Vampirism were. I mean, I think Jack didn’t really know and we’re learning along with him, but… still. It was a little boring. It took awhile to get going and actually get to the plot. Which is a really common problem with the first book in a series.

I would say Bloodlist definitely suffers from that. My Goodreads rating said, “I feel neither glad to have read it, nor upset that I took the time.” I think about this book and my reaction is… *shrug*.

That being said, I’m open to giving the second book a try, if I ever find myself with a lull in my audiobooks. It wasn’t bad it just wasn’t good either. I do wonder if I would have liked it more reading a hard copy. Sometimes the audiobook leaves something to be desired.

However, I did enjoy listening to it when that migraine struck. Always gotta have a audiobook queued up, just in case.

I just went to read the synopsis for the second book in this series, and it really didn’t pique my interest either. Maybe someday, when I’m real bored, I’ll come back to it. But for now I’m going to stick to the Peter Grant books.

I am glad I gave this series a shot though! You never know what you might like if you don’t give new books a try!

I don’t think I’ll be back again this weekend. I’m going to take some quality time to decompress from my editing marathon and just enjoy my time off with a good book. I’ll be back to talk at you all on Monday!

Until then, Blogland!

 

BZ