Jan 13 2018

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack

Full disclosure: I read each issue individually, but felt it silly to review them one by one. So I can’t comment on any extra stuff this volume might have in addition to all the very cool extras each issue already contained. Apologies.

That said, this is a really cool retelling of Sabrina Spellman’s story, and I’m glad I heard about it via the Kiernan Shipka casting news. I love that it’s set in the 60s and is a straight up homage to horror comics of the era. While the Riverdale gang makes the occasional (awesome) cameo, it’s pretty great that this book is essentially standalone, much like the beloved TV show starring Melissa Joan Hart, so can do its own thing. And what an own thing that is! Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and his artist, Robert Hack, have created a terrific throwback that turns all the cutesy witchy stuff on its head and really delves into a world of darkness. I especially enjoyed how they then juxtaposed that with reprints of original Sabrina/horror stories from back in the day. For those of us lucky enough to have grown up with Archie comics a/o the aforementioned TV show, this book provides a creative and entertaining retelling of a story familiar from our childhoods, in a way that is distinctly adult but hardly exploitative (inasmuch as any horror comic can escape being the latter.)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/13/chilling-adventures-of-sabrina-vol-1-the-crucible-by-roberto-aguirre-sacasa-and-robert-hack/

Jan 13 2018

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire

After reading Down Among The Sticks And Bones, I feel, honestly, that its prequel Every Heart A Doorway seems a lot flimsier in my recollection in comparison. Which is weird because I ended EHAD unsure of whether I wanted to read more about Jack and Jill: at the end of DATSAB, I was burning to know more about them, and hope that their fate after the events of EHAD is covered in the next novella, Beneath The Sugar Sky, despite being about another Wayward Child entirely.

DATSAB also illuminated a problem I hadn’t been sure of how to elucidate when reading EHAD: the role of parents in their children’s lives. DATSAB was a really good examination of specific parents being specifically awful, whereas EHAD pushed a more “parents just don’t understand” worldview that I found problematic, especially in conjunction with the tacit condoning of leaving this world and all its miseries for a fantasy land (specifically an underworld in what felt very much like an extended metaphor for suicide.)

I did feel bad for Jill, because it felt like she was doomed from the start. I think that’s part of the reason why I want to know what happens to them after the events of EHAD. Jack has had her chance at redemption but Jill has been molded entirely by Very Shitty Parenting, and after reading this explanation for their behaviors in EHAD, it would be infuriating if we did not find out what happens to them next. I also really loved how Seanan McGuire built The Moors, and would happily read more writing set here, so here’s hoping!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/13/down-among-the-sticks-and-bones-wayward-children-2-by-seanan-mcguire/

Jan 08 2018

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

For some reason, I can’t put this book in a folder on my Kindle, so when it was time to pick something to read on my flight home, I figured it was about time I got through this one so I could delete it finally and have it not clutter up my main page. Also, I’ve been feeling weirdly guilty about not reading the romance novels I’ve collected in the past few years: I feel like I’ve neglected that one genre of book more than the others.

Anyway! There are a lot of great, refreshing things about this romance novel: for example, I really liked that Temperance, our widowed heroine, really loves sex. Speaking of, the sex scenes were pretty hot, even if there was the one cringe-worthy scene in her sitting room where I was in a mild panic that her brother or one of the orphans under her care would walk in, completely mortifying her. I super hate when people in romance novels have sex in wildly inappropriate places a/o situations because lust overwhelms common sense. It’s one thing to sneak away to do it, or to try for a quickie, but the sitting room scene was just absurd given that they gave zero thought to privacy.

I also really enjoyed the subplots with Silence (she’s totally gonna wind up with Mickey, right?) and the Ghost of St Giles (who I’m guessing is played in turn by the Makepeace brothers?) I might read the rest of the series should they cross my path, but I wasn’t bowled over enough to seek them out. Good for a quick, saucy read, tho.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/08/wicked-intentions-maiden-lane-1-by-elizabeth-hoyt/

Jan 08 2018

The Snowman (Harry Hole #7) by Jo Nesbø

Why, yes, I borrowed this in anticipation of the movie, and while I never got around to watching the latter (and likely never will,) I can safely say that it’s much smarter than those insipid trailers. Also, oddly, I kept picturing Daniel Craig as Harry Hole instead of Michael Fassbender, who is just too darn pretty for the role.

Anyway! The book was decent, if rather appallingly dated in its treatment of women in the workforce (how things change in a mere decade!) The murder mystery was pretty easy to figure out, and I felt that the first two-thirds of the book made for far more compelling reading than the last third, in large part because I couldn’t really muster up much feeling for Rakel. I did feel very sorry for Eli, doubly a victim to violent perversion. And I did very much enjoy Harry’s determination to bring in the killer alive, a fitting punishment for a person who’d taken life from those who wanted to live. Altogether, an entertaining piece of Scandinavian crime fiction, tho certainly not the best example of its type.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/08/the-snowman-harry-hole-7-by-jo-nesbo/

Jan 08 2018

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraborty

I needed this to be good and not only did it come through, it came through with big brass bells on! Honestly, it had me from the scene where Ali was staring at the courtesans and his companion steps between them and admonishes him to look away because OH MY GOD, S. A. Chakraborty understands Islam and I just wanted to reach through the pages and hug her and thank her for not writing a book that would make me angry or impatient or just sad about how my religion is depicted. Because the Islam of The City Of Brass is not just the strict Sunni strain that forms the (slight) majority of the Islamic world’s teachings: it also encompasses less mainstream sects, even if none of these are ever mentioned by name. I feel as if this is the first fantasy novel, indeed perhaps the first novel of any genre, based on Islamic history and mythology (that I have ever read, at least) that takes all of that rich plurality into account instead of using just a small corner of the planet with its idiosyncratic culture as the defining viewpoint of the book’s Islam. I don’t quite know how to explain, if you don’t understand it already, why that’s such a big deal but it is. Islam and Muslims aren’t just one thing. We are, we contain multitudes, and it’s nice to have that represented.

Religious feelings aside, I was concerned that a book about a street healer who didn’t believe in magic but suddenly realized she was not only magical but powerful in many ways, including political, would make me cringe for other reasons. Pauper to princess novels are often handled poorly, or at least simplistically. I should not have doubted tho: Ms Chakraborty weaves a complex tale of bloody history and warring perspectives that is breathtakingly and sympathetically humane. The book is a lot like Game Of Thrones in that sense, tho it is also similar in that there is a fairly large cast who pop in and out in ways that aren’t the easiest to keep track of: if this is the kind of thing that confuses you, then you may not care for this book. But if you do like sprawling sagas written from differing, limited viewpoints; if you like epic fantasy based on real human history; hell, if you like good, absorbing fiction that leaves you begging for the next book in the series, then I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s hard to believe that TCoB is Ms Chakraborty’s debut novel given how well-written and sophisticated and accomplished it is. My very soul shivers with anticipation at how good the rest of this trilogy will be.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/08/the-city-of-brass-the-daevabad-trilogy-1-by-s-a-chakraborty/

Jan 04 2018

Taking Stock of 2017

This was a good year for reading. No household relocations, no major changes on the job front, no international incidents. That adds up to a longer list of books (somewhat eclectically defined) read than any year since I began keeping these lists.

Voting for the Hugo award drove a lot of my reading in the middle of the year. It definitely increased the amount of what I read, and this list does not include all the works in various categories — fanzine, graphic story — that I read as part of making my choices. My choices were interestingly at odds with other voters. I would have given the award to N.K. Jemisin for her short story, rather than for The Obelisk Gate. The novella I liked best placed fifth in voting, while the novelette I liked best was the one that won. The other voters shared my enthusiasm for Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin. All in all, being a Hugo voter was a rewarding experience, quite apart from the great joy that was the Worldcon itself. I hope to do it again in 2019 for Dublin, an Irish Worldcon.

Hugo reading was just part of a good year for authors who are new to me, although it brought several to my attention: Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Kai Ashante Wilson, Kij Johnson, Victor LaValle. Beyond the Hugo finalists, authors whose work was new to me and left me wanting more include Ben H. Winters and Andrey Platonov.

Communist legacies turned up in a fair amount of this year’s reading, architecturally with Landscapes of Communism and Soviet Bus Stops, directly with Lenin on the Train, Conversations with Stalin, The Last Man in Russia and Revolutionary Russia, fictionally in The Foundation Pit, and as part of the big picture in Postwar, The Ottoman Endgame, and Germany: Memories of a Nation.

This year past, I read four books in German, eight graphic works, ten Discworld books, one Shakespeare play, and three books in translation (one from Russian, one from Polish, and one from Serbo-Croatian). I am fairly certain that I read I, Robot many years ago, so I re-read one book in 2017. (ETA: Whoops, I have read Macbeth numerous times. I just overlooked it in the list when I put this overview together. So that makes two.)

The non-fiction book I am most likely to read again is We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The non-fiction book with the most passages flagged for the review I am still working on is What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, even if it is missing two words from its title. The fiction that has stayed with me the most includes Underground Airlines, The Foundation Pit, and A Taste of Honey. At least two of those three are about terribly repressive societies. Sign of the times?

Best book expressing a view about brass instruments goes to A Devil to Play by Jasper Rees. Best cover belongs to Lenin on the Train. Best scene whose outcome you already know is the one with the crossbow and the apple in Wilhelm Tell. Best geeking out on an obscure topic has to be China Among Equals. Best book with the word “fifth” in the title was The Fifth Elephant, although the best Discworld book was The Truth, even though the best single scene in a Discworld book was very likely the opening of Carpe Jugulum, with Granny Weatherwax called in to assist a midwife at an emergency birth.

Full list, roughly in order read, is under the fold with links to my reviews and other writing about the authors here at Frumious.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/04/taking-stock-of-2017/

Jan 03 2018

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

What a lovely start! In The Wee Free Men, the thirtieth Discworld book and the second explicitly marked as intended for young adults, Terry Pratchett introduces Tiffany Aching, a young witch who would go on to feature in four more novels, including Pratchett’s last. Likewise, he introduces a new setting, a rural area known as the Chalk. It’s sparsely settled by shepherds and a few farmers.

At the beginning, Tiffany naturally does not know that she’s a witch. She knows she’s been left to look after her baby brother again. She doesn’t know that Miss Perspicacia Tick, a wandering witch and misfortune-teller (“Ordinary fortune-tellers tell you what you want to happen; witches tell you what’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. Strangely enough, witches tend to be more accurate but less popular.” (p. 2) So Miss Tick tells misfortunes.) has seen two of the main problems already and is watching Tiffany to see how she fits. The first is that there is a “definite ripple in the walls of the world. Very worrying. There’s probably another world making contact. That’s never good.” (p. 2) It’s a common Discworld danger, and long-time readers know that trouble is not far away. Miss Tick can sense that there’s another witch near the incursion, but “You can’t grow a good witch on chalk. The stuff’s barely harder than clay. You need good hard rock to grow a witch.” (p. 2)

Tiffany turns out to be right at the border where the other world — and more to the point something with long skinny arms, “a thin face with long sharp teeth, huge round eyes and dripping green hair like waterweed” (p. 5) — is trying to come through to the Chalk. She scoops up her baby brother just in time and dashes away, not so much scared as mortally offended that a monster would turn up in her river. Back home, she pages through her grandmother’s old book of fairy tales until she finds a description of what she has just seen. Tiffany then grabs an iron skillet, a bag of sweets as bait for her brother, her brother as bait for the monster, and returns to the river to sort things out.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/03/the-wee-free-men-by-terry-pratchett/

Jan 02 2018

Mission Child by Maureen F. McHugh

Mission Child begins on the other side of the Prime Directive. The first-person narrator, Janna, is a member of a renndeer-herding clan on a world that isn’t Earth but that was colonized by humans at some point in the unspecified past. Settlement took place long enough ago that an indigent species has been re-engineered to be domesticated and to provide sustenance to the humans who herd them. Janna’s people are settled, and live in an appropriate-technology mission. The situation read to me a bit like Peace Corps among the reindeer people. The clans live from their herds and from hunting, plus a bit of gathering the indigenous plants that can provide nutrition to humans. It’s a hard life, made hard by life in the world’s arctic zone, and harder still by what their fellow humans will do. Two technologies that are present among the reindeer people are alcohol and guns. Those two, plus a surfeit of testosterone and no small amount of greed, arrogance and stupidity lead to the first, defining, catastrophe of the book.

McHugh shows readers what warfare among the nomads looks like, and it’s brutal. Her portrayal is by no means gratuitous, but it is unsparing, and as hard as the northern winter is cold.

Janna survives, but on her long trek out of the tundra and taiga she decides that appearing to be a man is safer, so she becomes Jan, and it is as Jan that she spends the middle of the book as a kinless foreigner at the margins of the teeming cities of the industrializing south. This part of the book reminded me very much of Peter Hessler’s portrayals of reform-era China, with Janna as a Uighur or Mongolian, trying to find a place in the city, discovering some of her own people on the margins, adapting to new ways and holding on to other parts of her upbringing. Her childhood at the mission also marks her as separate, even among the other nomads who have come to the city, and even more separate from the second-generation people who have grown up in the city but are still marked as foreign by the dominant culture. There are also wonderful illustrations of how something that looks like shiftlessness to job-holding city people is the fulfillment of solemn obligations when seen from the former nomad’s point of view. There are also clear-eyed portrayals of how structural conditions — impossibly long commutes, dependence on frayed networks of social support — can keep people excluded and on the margins, quite apart from conscious discrimination.

Later, Jan finds herself still further south, where her appearance marks her as even more exotic, which combined with continued presentation as male (and her background gives her the size and strength to make it convincing) leads her into manual work and being hired as an occasional guard. She suspects that the merchant who hires her wants the mystique of someone who looks like her more than the actual muscle and rifle that she provides, but in due course she is also called on to fight. The repercussions of that fight form the last third of the novel, one that brings her full circle into questions of appropriate technology for this world, and the legacy of her formative years as a mission child.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2018/01/02/mission-child-by-maureen-f-mchugh/

Dec 30 2017

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

The third book in the series felt like the weakest, and tho Kevin Kwan tried to make a point about how the old guard are mostly a bunch of racist elitists who are insecure because they inherited everything instead of making their own fortunes, I really felt like that one scene was just a ham-handed insertion into a book surprisingly short on social commentary. I did appreciate Astrid’s realization about the ways in which her parents had raised her to be fearful but, to be quite frank, the book felt too much like a rejection of Asian manners for a more flash Western ethos, and that didn’t sit well with me. Consider the juxtaposition of her speech to Charlie on the subject with having sex on a public beach. I have nothing against public displays of affection/sexuality but the people having sex should both be aware of it, ffs. Rachel and Nick were as irritating as always — yes, it is annoying how Asian parents pressure you to have children, and yes, it is absurd the lengths that they’ll go to in order to pressure you, but that doesn’t mean you have to behave like a jackass in return. It is possible to thwart one’s parents’ plans for you without causing a scene and/or severing ties with them (I’ve done it, goodness knows, as have innumerable Austen heroines.) It is possible to be independent and kind all at once, and I wish that was the contrast Mr Kwan had chosen instead of having our “heroes” just be assholes to their parents.

Anyway, I was very happy for Kitty and Peik Lin, and honestly believe that Kitty’s growth throughout the series has been one of the strongest things these books have going for them. And while I was happy for Oliver, I think a little more growth/poverty would have suited him, as well. Also, Mr Kwan knows that not all Malay women, royal or otherwise, wear a head covering, right? Threads were wrapped up neatly even if, I dunno, I felt like the Astrid-Charlie thing got really weak towards the end and I don’t even know how to explain it. I think that, as with Nick and Rachel, their (or Mr Kwan’s) idea of Asian rebellion was to wind up being Western middle class. Which is very disappointing because a) that’s boringly cliched, and b) it’s possible to break the shackles of tradition without disrespecting the perfectly good ideals, a/o simply “aping the West”, to use a phrase that was done to death by critics of such when I was growing up. This could have been a lot better and wiser, like the works of fellow Singaporean Ovidia Yu, or the more overtly Austen-inspired Moni Mohsin. As it is, Rich People Problems is the perfectly respectable, conventional, dull finish to a series that started out full of satirical, witty promise. Worth reading for Kitty, and to see who inherits Tyersall Park, but not much else.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/12/30/rich-people-problems-crazy-rich-asians-3-by-kevin-kwan/

Dec 26 2017

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2) by Kevin Kwan

I think the thing I found most infuriating about this book was how it was taken as a matter of course that everyone would be so incredibly disrespectful of their parents. I mean, I’m not terribly close to my own parents and have gone my quietly rebellious way from what they had in mind for me, but I’ve never been as horrifyingly rude and confrontational as over half the “kids” (really 20- to 30-somethings) in China Rich Girlfriend. Sure, parents can be overbearing and unreasonable, but that doesn’t justify any of the spoiled brat behavior on display in this novel. And, of course, the insufferable Rachel and Nick go along with any and all of it so long as it doesn’t directly impact their own lives. Oh, because of course, Rachel and Nick are just as bad.

God, I hate those two. Nick was just boring in Crazy Rich Asians, but in this second book of the series, he’s become obnoxious, too. And it kills me how everyone pretends that Nick wasn’t aware of how “badly” Rachel was being treated in Singapore: barring the dead fish incident (and even then, Sophie was at hand to help!) she was treated pretty damn nicely till Nick announced that he wanted to marry her (and then he was around and reacting when his mom and grandma were unkind, so wtf. And Francesca’s announcement? Was just Rachel being a fucking baby.) Just because people weren’t falling all over themselves to be friendly to the American doesn’t mean they were cruel to her.

She does get a little better in this book but ugh, I was really rooting for her to exit the series permanently. Fortunately, we spend a good chunk of the novel with the wonderful Astrid and the terrific duo of Kitty and Corinna. It’s quite impressive how Kevin Kwan “rehabilitates” Kitty from the opportunist of CRA to the woman trying hard to fit in here in CRG (tho never fear, Kitty doesn’t lose any of her scheming pluck.) I freaking loved her partnership with Corinna, especially in the scene where they were discussing what to do about Gisele. And oh my darling Astrid and Charlie! I love/ship them SO HARD. I knew at the end of CRA that Astrid ought to leave Michael exactly because of what happens here in CRG: men who tie up their ego in money will never be healthy and happy no matter how much or little money they have.

Anyway, I felt this book wasn’t quite as strong as CRA due mostly to less Eleanor, and I think this book also drew less societal parallels and spent more time on gossipy set pieces. It was also irritating that people in the Rachel-Nick orbit were considered good or bad only in relation to that dreary duo. Honestly, Carlton and Colette are just as bad as each other, but Carlton gets a pass because he’s nicer to Rachel than Colette is? What the fucking ever.

I’m sure Book 3 will have more Astrid and Kitty (yay!) but I’m hoping for more Peik Lin than just the cameo she had in this book. If Rachel and Nick would just kindly fuck off in the last book, it would be perfect, tho I’m not holding my breath. Kudos to Mr Kwan for making me feel so personally invested in these people, even as I wish he were capable of writing as well as he aspires to. I know he means for Rachel to be sympathetic, but his writing of her is so intensely wooden that it’s hard to do anything but suppress a groan and an eye roll during her scenes. She’s not funny or charming or nice or anything but the most boringly middle-class Asian person I’ve read of in recent memory, and a terrible construct to hang a book series off of.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/12/26/china-rich-girlfriend-crazy-rich-asians-2-by-kevin-kwan/