Jun 14 2020

München Blues by Max Bronski

Oktoberfest brings a lot of customers to Wilhelm Gossec’s this-and-that shop. The hideously overpriced merry-go-round horse in the window captures their attention, and they wind up leaving with a souvenir, an old piece of Bavarica that Gossec has snagged at an estate sale, or maybe even an oil painting artfully half hidden so that the visitors think they have made a discovery and are getting a bargain. One particular Oktoberfest evening something, or rather someone, unusual turns up outside of Gossec’s shop: a terribly drunk man who had also been beaten and robbed.

München Blues by Max Bronski

Gossec, the first-person narrator of München Blues says, “…when I see some poor sod lying there, the Boy Scout in me stirs” (p. 10) and he feels compelled to do his good deed for the day. In this case, the deed draws him into a mix of greed, violence and chicanery. According to a business card the robbers have overlooked, the poor sod who has wound up in front of Gossec’s store is Ernst Hirschböck, an important member of Bavaria’s legislature. He’s a state secretary, one level below a minister. Gossec cleans him up a bit, calls a taxi, and sends him homeward. Not, however, without also keeping something that he found on Hirschböck along with the business cards: some printed matter, a brief collection of papers.

Those turn out to be very interesting, or at least to have aroused the interest of a surprising number of people. Two men from law enforcement who decline to say just who they work for (“We’re something like Praetorians”) appear on his doorstep not two hours after he has sent Hirschböck homeward. They ask about the papers, Gossec says he only found the business cards and an invitation to an Oktoberfest event, and they perform a quick search of his shop. “When they were gone, I thought for the first time that I should have at least asked for [their] names. But probably the shy one would have called himself Maier-2 and the one in the green shirt Müller-5. Or something like that. People like that are practically born in camouflage.” (p. 15)

A couple of days later, Hirschböck’s associate Traublinger shows up. Traublinger has a buzz cut, harsh features, and bursts through the shop door with almost enough force to knock the bell off its mount. Gossec hates him on the spot. He brings Hirschböck’s thanks, along with repayment of the taxi fare plus five times that amount as a sign of gratitude, along with a personal note saying that if Gossec ever needs help, he has but to ask.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/14/munchen-blues-by-max-bronski/

Jun 13 2020

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu & Suzanne Walker

Nova is a young hearing-impaired witch of Asian-American heritage, who helps her grandmas run the Black Cat Bookstore in their small New England town. When her childhood friend, Tam, comes back to town, their return sets off a tale of magical adventure, family conflict and sweet romance.

This is a gentle, charming tale that reads as YA despite slightly older characters. Suzanne Walker writes of characters under-represented in YA fantasy with a real grounding in what magic might mean for them. I really appreciated the extra material included in the volume that explores the challenges a hearing-impaired character might have in navigating the setting’s magic system. The romance is queer but chaste, and there’s some magical violence, so it kinda feels like a shojo manga transplanted to American soil. Wendy Xu’s art reflects this, blending the best of Japanese and European comic styles, well suiting the subject matter.

Overall, a cute urban fantasy that centers minority characters, seamlessly integrating non-mainstream American lifestyles and cultures in an affirming manner. I think it would have had a more profound impact on me had I been much younger upon first encountering the book, tho.

This volume was reviewed as part of my voting slate for the Hugo Awards 2020 Best Graphic Story category.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/13/mooncakes-by-wendy-xu-suzanne-walker/

Jun 11 2020

Hugo Awards 2020: Novelette Nominees

For whatever reason, I felt that this slate wasn’t as strong as in the Short Story category, probably because I spent less time being impressed by the entries, bar the one I’m going to vote for. I mean, there weren’t any bad stories here, but I’d expect better from what’s essentially a Year’s Best list. Let’s go over the ones I won’t be voting for first.

The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019) is fine. It’s about travel through space and time, and it’s about love and grief and first contact. It’s… fine. Competently written but hardly ground-breaking.

The Blur In The Corner Of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019) is also fine. The most overtly horror-tinged of this slate of nominees, it’s about a bestselling murder mystery author and her long-suffering assistant who go out to the countryside so the author can work on her next novel. Then the author discovers a dead body, and a whole mess more. It’s a fun, gross story with an ethical dilemma at its heart but again, hardly ground-breaking.

For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019) is an absolutely darling re-imagination of a chapter in the life of a real-life English poet, as seen through the eyes of his cat, Jeoffry. When my family inevitably gives in to my eldest son’s petitioning and gets a cat, I’m going to lobby to have its middle names be Nighthunter Moppet, after my favorite character in this story.

We finally get to more out-of-the-ordinary stuff with Away With The Wolves by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019). A young woman whose human life is one of constant, debilitating pain finds escape in her ability to become a wolf, but suffers guilt over the very idea of escape. It’s a thoughtful allegory for what disabled people fear they “owe” society due to ableist pressures.

A thought experiment of a different kind is explored in Omphalos by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador)) (currently unavailable to read for free online. Legally anyway.) In a world which science can prove was Intelligently Designed, a new discovery could shake the foundations of faith for millions. So, serious question as a Muslim: who besides (some) Christians ascribes to this Intelligent Design stuff? Muslims are taught that numbers in scripture are allegorical especially in re time (i.e. God’s concept of seven days != a human concept of seven days, and it’s okay for our puny little brains to not be able to grok the scope) so the whole movement to “prove” that evolution is fake and the Earth is only several thousand years old seems incredibly naive and pointless to us. Anyway, I started out enjoying this novelette before I realized it was less a sci-fi story with faith elements and more a faith story with sci-fi elements. Definitely an original idea tho.

Finally, we come to my favorite of the bunch, Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon)). Cleverly subverting the Dying Earth trope, it’s fresh, funny and progressive, and I’m almost tempted to get the Audible version so I can hear Jason Isaacs give life to the waspish voice of the narrating AI. Everyone should read this novelette that I’m choosing as my best of 2020.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/11/hugo-awards-2020-novelette-nominees/

Jun 10 2020

LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor & Tana Ford

Yes, I am totally here for open border advocacy allegories, sci-fi tales that center non-white perspectives and experiences, and sly critiques of racism, overt or otherwise! Dr Freedom Chukwuebuka is five months pregnant when she abruptly leaves Lagos to return to New York City. She leaves behind a clinic where she treated both humans and aliens, primarily the plant-based florals, as well as a fiance involved in a Free Biafra movement that has skewed from protesting persecution of the Igbo to demanding a “pure” Biafran state. While Nigeria was the epicenter of alien immigration, having benefited greatly from being the point of first contact, the United States, unsurprisingly, has been far slower to embrace these intergalactic newcomers. As expected, Freedom finds herself jumping through demeaning hoops just to get back into her own country through LaGuardia International (and now Interplanetary) Airport.

Fortunately, the standard xenophobia of American immigration officials that Freedom was counting on allows her to smuggle in an illegal alien, whom she plants in the ground behind her beloved grandmother’s apartment building where she’s staying while she figures out what to do next. With no job, an estranged fiance and a baby on the way, Freedom has to navigate a whole new chapter of life… and that’s even before taking into account the complications of her alien friend being perhaps the last of its kind.

I loved the social commentary on display in this book, tho as with Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, I was perturbed by the absolutely blase way the author deals with bodily autonomy. At least in LaGuardia’s case the primary modification is accidental instead of deliberately inflicted. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel like you shouldn’t change another person’s physique without their informed consent.

The art worked well for the story, especially in depicting the humans, tho the caricature-esque style isn’t one I generally cotton to. My main complaint, with the full understanding that this might very well be a me-problem, is that expressions too often took on a sinister cast when they were supposed to be depicting glee or, usually, sarcasm. Also, the florals almost universally creeped me out, even when the plant life was entirely terrestrial.

That said, this was probably the worthiest of the stuff Ms Okarafor has written to date, primarily because of the sharp social commentary, but I’d really also like to read the last book in the Akata Witch series please! Especially with J.K. Rowling having recently gone full jackass, it’d be great to have a complete magic school series I can read without being distracted by the author’s awfulness.

This volume was reviewed as part of my voting slate for the Hugo Awards 2020 Best Graphic Story category.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/10/laguardia-by-nnedi-okorafor-tana-ford/

Jun 09 2020

Die Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans & Clayton Cowles

This was the first of the Hugo-nominated graphic stories I picked up for review and wow, inject it straight into my gamer veins! Immediately after finishing, I emailed my favorite former Dungeon Master and sent him the link to the first issue, just in case he hadn’t read it already. Any book I immediately want to evangelize after reading is a straight up 5-star read.

I actually walked into Die without much preamble. For being an old-school comic nerd, I couldn’t name off the top of my head any of Kieron Gillen’s work, but knew vaguely of him. The accompanying book blurb described Die as roleplayers getting sucked into a fantasy world a la the D&D cartoon, and I thought that sounded fun. So I was a bit “yeah, yeah, whatever” with the opening pages, which are drab and glum, both in story and art. But then Sol starts handing out dice, and RPG nerd that I am, I was hooked by the creativity of the character classes (even as I was vaguely repulsed by the Savage-Worlds-like system. Shut up, I love rolling lots of dice.) A few pages more, however, and I realized that the drab art till then had been a conscious choice to better delineate mundanity from the game world, a suspicion confirmed in one of the many thoughtful afterwords regarding the design of this comic.

First and foremost, this is a brilliantly designed world, that took Mr Gillen and Stephanie Hans over two years to create. The artistic choices are deliberate, intelligent and, when they need to be, spectacular. I honestly can’t think of an artist who could possibly have done better by Mr Gillen’s story than Ms Hans. Which, in itself, is a hell of a thing. As for the story, six teenaged friends are physically pulled into the magical setting they’ve just begun roleplaying. Two years later, only five of them return. Twenty-five years later, a mysterious package causes them to assemble once more, in hopes of finding a way to save their lost friend. But they’re all older, wiser and infinitely sadder, and reading of their trials is both a mindfuck and a heartbreak.

I don’t want to give away too many plot details because they’re so absurdly wonderful, but there are deeply meaningful references throughout to the history and psychology of fantasy and gaming. As a thinking gamer, this combination of intelligence and sensitivity pierced me to the core. I do get the impression that if you’re not into roleplaying games, you might not feel this book as profoundly as a gamer would, which only makes me wish everyone knew how to imagine-with-rules.

This was a really strong start to the 2020 Hugo Awards Graphic Story category. It’s got me really excited for the rest of the selections now, too!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/09/die-vol-1-fantasy-heartbreaker-by-kieron-gillen-stephanie-hans-clayton-cowles/

Jun 08 2020

Hugo Awards 2020: Short Story Nominees

It’s that time of year again! Doug persuaded me to get a voting membership to the Hugos this year, and I’m taking my duties quite seriously, even if there’s only about a month and a half in which to go over all the materials nominated. Of course, I started with the short stories because they’re the quickest to evaluate.

First up alphabetically was And Now His Lordship Is Laughing by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019). This anti-colonialism revenge fantasy reminded me of both W. Somerset Maugham’s “P.& O.” as well as Ray Russell’s “Sardonicus”. While I quite enjoyed the centering of the elderly female Bengali doll-maker in the narrative, I didn’t find the story otherwise original or of note. Entertaining, but been done.

As The Last I May Know by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019) was slightly more original, and certainly very thought-provoking, but as a 40-something Asian woman who’s read her fair share of Pacific Rim area anti-nuclear-weapon fiction, it also didn’t strike me as being particularly award-worthy. I did enjoy the atmosphere of a far future world that felt more like something out of a feudal fantasy novel, but I honestly felt that the brevity of the piece did a disservice to the subject.

Blood Is Another Word For Hunger by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019) felt quite different from most of the Civil War slave fiction I’ve read, but the quasi-metaphorical supernatural elements, especially towards the end, didn’t really work for me. I felt for Sully’s rage and hunger — “I’m bored of hurting” is undoubtedly the single best line of all the stories here — and while I appreciated her appreciation of Ziza’s grace, I had a hard time connecting with the ending, probably because I thought confining her happiness to the fate of one person was a surprisingly limiting choice. As with the last story, I felt like it could have been more, tho this one definitely felt more like shorthand for a larger work to come.

That was also one of my main issues with A Catalog Of Storms by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019), the other being that I had a hard time understanding the magic/weather system. So much was spent outlining that at the expense of infusing the characters’ interior lives with meaning that it just felt like a jumble of a read. It really felt as if the selection committee nominated this based on a nostalgia for the systems and styles of N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, only with less character diversity.

The next to last story alphabetically was Do Not Look Back, My Lion by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019). Despite the strong fantasy elements, it’s essentially a slice of life story in a fascinating steppe setting of a warrior people and the dilemma that will wedge apart one married couple. Vivid, with terrific world-building and a central polyamorous lesbian-bisexual couple, it was my runner-up for the title.

The winner, for me, was Ten Excerpts From An Annotated Bibliography On The Cannibal Women Of Ratnabar Island by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019). This very short story plays with form and time to tell a compelling tale that is at once pro-lesbian and anti-colonial, with significant horror and sci-fi touches. It read like a brilliant, dark jewel that left me far more impressed than any of the other entries in this category.

I can’t wait to fill out my ballot, and to hear Doug’s opinions on the category! Please do mention yours in the comments, as well, if you’ve read any of the nominated works!

6/9/2020 Updated to include links to where all the short stories can be read online, provided by their original publishers. Read ’em while they’re up!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/08/hugo-awards-2020-short-story-nominees/

Jun 03 2020

Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined (Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology #2) by Stephen Fry

Greek myths have been my jam since I was a little girl. I knew the entire pantheon by heart by the time I was 8, and to this day feel that two of the best gifts I’ve ever received were an illustrated version of The Odyssey when I was 14 and the Penguin Classics translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses from my mom just after college. I’ve devoured modern updates, with undoubtedly the best being the child-friendly Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and, for adults, Ted Hughes’ incomparable, bloody-minded Tales From Ovid. So when Chronicle Press, out of nowhere, offered me an advance copy of Stephen Fry’s Heroes, there was no way I was saying no.

Having dealt with said pantheon and the creation myths in his first volume, Mythos, Mr Fry turns his eye to the mortal Greek heroes (or at least the ones who started out as mortals) pre-Trojan War, whose names and stirring exploits continue to echo down the centuries. I appreciated the fact that “hero” is used in a gender-neutral fashion, as Mr Fry notes that it was originally a female name anyway, and that Atalanta gets her own chapter here. Aside from the fleet-footed princess, Perseus, Heracles, Bellerophon, Orpheus, Jason, Theseus and Oedipus all have their adventures narrated, or reimagined rather, in Mr Fry’s distinctive voice. The tone is so very British, with droll wit and a view of heroism that is by turns stirring and self-effacing. It’s well-researched, with terrific footnotes, an index and a pages-long cast list of characters. The illustrations are gorgeous and appropriate. Younger me would have loved this book so hard.

But older me can’t help reading even this modern adaptation and thinking of the damage these myths, so foundational to Western civilization, have done to millions of people over the centuries. Actually, I should say that that dread influence never really hit home till I read this book in particular. From heroes threatening each other with the wrath of their daddies; to the excuses given for crimes including murder; to the casualness with which rape is handled, contrasting with the pervasiveness of the false rape claim, it’s hard to read these stories of Greek heroes, these paragons held up for generation after generation of classical education, and not shudder at the way that toxic masculinity has been enshrined, through them, from an early age in the bosoms and brains of Western readers. I’m not sure if it was Mr Fry’s intent to underscore how really shitty classical Greek culture could be, and how millennia later we’re still suffering from the nonsense mindsets it espoused, but that was absolutely my main takeaway from reading this.

I did very much enjoy his afterword, even if my conclusions differ somewhat from his. While he wonders at the literalness of the myths — was someone actually cursed by a god, or was it just bad shit happening? — I prefer to think of myths as the explanations of those who didn’t have the linguistic, perhaps even intellectual and certainly experiential, capacity to explain real-life events. I have no doubt that Heracles’ rages came from a medical condition such as PTSD, and weren’t actually delusions sent by a jealous goddess, but how politic is it to claim, in a civilization that relied on warfare in order to expand, that violence and fighting could fuck with your head? Better to claim it a curse from the goddess of domesticity, whose constant maligning is a whole other kettle of fish altogether.

Myths and stories are continuously shaped and molded by their tellers over time. I believe that these heroes once existed as ordinary people who did extraordinary things that, over the centuries, got jumbled up with one another, with the details being embellished or forgotten to suit the storyteller, and that metaphor was often taken as literal once eyewitnesses began to die off and their children could only know things at secondhand at best. And for all that I have a very dim view of the negative legacy of the ancient Greeks’ machismo — tho in their defense, it certainly wasn’t they who downplayed the almost ubiquitous bad end that came to each of our heroes — I cannot deny the charm and wonder, and even instructional merit, of these tales. Mr Fry has done a tremendous job of highlighting each in a highly entertaining fashion. I just don’t know if I’m meant to feel so sad at the end of it all, from seeing how damaging to our psyches our long veneration of these myths have been.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/06/03/heroes-the-greek-myths-reimagined-stephen-frys-great-mythology-2-by-stephen-fry/

May 29 2020

Infernal Machines by John Hornor Jacobs

Now this is more like it! John Hornor Jacobs concludes his trilogy of cowboys and Romans with style and panache, picking up the pace, tightening the narrative, and never losing the joy of pulpy adventure even as he delivers more complex characters and greater depth in this alternate world. As Infernal Machines begins, longtime partners Fisk and Shoestring have just barely made it out of a demonic attack on Harbour Town, the equivalent of a nuclear detonation, complete with flash burns on people and animals that were many miles away from the explosion. Meanwhile, his wife Livia and her sister Cornelia are on their way back to Rume to face the imperial displeasure caused by their failed embassy to far Kithai. Things are looking bad for our heroes, which means that they are about to get worse.

Infernal Machines

Jacobs tells the story in alternating first-person narratives, with Shoe continuing in the role he has played since the beginning of the trilogy, and Cornelia stepping in as a fully fledged narrator in the third book. In the second, Foreign Devils, she had been an epistolary narrator, writing back to Fisk via a sort of demonic telegraph. In the current book, imperial orders ban her from using the device, leaving her with the habit of relating what has happened to her, leaving readers with a new narrator, and leaving Fist with considerable anxiety about why he has suddenly stopped hearing from his wife who is half a world away.

Jacobs speeds up the action with short initial chapters, each one ending in a small cliffhanger and getting a set of characters deeper into trouble. Fisk and Shoe are in the odd-numbered chapters; by the end of their third appearance, they have laid an ambush, barely survived a shoot-out with the renegade engineer Beleth and his demonic minions, and been forced to join a band of dvergar who have their own ideas about what to do with Rumans and the half-dvergar like Shoe who work with them. Livia and Cornelia have the even-numbered chapters, and by their fourth appearance, they have returned to Rume, been told that the emperor has decided husbands for both of them (imperiously dissolving Livia’s marriage to Fisk without further thought), escaped their family’s villa with an infant in tow, confronted the emperor’s praetorian guard who had come to Kithai with them, fought him, and accepted his help in making their escape. In their next chapter, they resolve to steal a demon-powered navy ship to make their way back to Occindentalia.

Eventually the breakneck pace slows a bit, but only to give greater depth to the characters and the conflicts that they are smack in the middle of. War has come, and not only to Occidentalia. After burning Harbour Town, the Madierans look to use their armies and their superior seapower to banish the Rumans from the continent entirely. Across the Western Ocean, the Madierans’ newfound knowledge of demonic possibilities will bring the war home to Rume in devastating fashion.

Fisk is a man of the Hardscrabble Territories, but he had a full life in Rume before he lit out for the west, and parts of that life catch up with him in Infernal Machines. His commission to capture Beleth grows into a larger role, as Rume’s position in Occidentalia grows desperate. Shoestring helps him make contact with dvergar bands who mean to assert their own interests while the great foreign powers make war. More importantly, Shoe has gained new insight into the nature of the vaettir, the fearsome indigenous giants of the new world. They have no love for the Rumans, but the demonic terrors the Madierans are unleashing may be even worse.

Livia is a woman of Rume, shaped by the journey shown in The Incorruptibles, and her resourcefulness comes to the fore as she is determined to escape the emperor Tamburlaine. Cornelia, who started as a spiteful viper in the first book, has matured into a determined fighter and quick study of machines even while retaining a girlish spark of unpredictability. Infernal Machines is pulpy adventure, but its women have their own stories to tell and every bit as much agency as its men.

As in any good adventure, things get out of hand and stay that way. Victories prove short-lived. Fisk and Shoe capture Beleth, for example, but other considerations prevent them from killing him immediately, and he may be able to persuade the dvergar to set him free to benefit from his knowledge of engineering and binding demon. Livia and Cornelia capture the ship, which turns out to be highly automated and designed by a man who bears more than a passing resemblance to the chief engineer of the Titanic. But a successful act of piracy creates even more problems than it solves, and even if they can cross the ocean, they still have to find Fisk who could be nearly anywhere on the continent.

And as in any good adventure, when the end comes it is solid and satisfying. Along the way, the worst of the villains have gotten what they deserved until finally the surviving heroes (not all of them, alas) can look back with a mix of joy, relief, and sadness. Infernal Machines is still a Western, though, even if it is full of Rumans:

Gynth came to me. “You will never return, will you?”
“No, hoss,” I said, looking up at the big bastard. “I don’t think we will.”
“I would have you stay,” he said. “[Cousin.]”
“Pard,” I said. “You’ve got a good deal here. This is where you belong.” (p. 359)

There is a sunset, and characters sail into it. With one last surprise at the end.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/05/29/infernal-machines-by-john-hornor-jacobs/

May 28 2020

Well Met (Well Met #1) by Jen DeLuca

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to Pro and Con a book more than this one, at least in recent memory!

Pro: the writing is really terrific! The book flows so smoothly, the events and timeline make sense and the prose is both modern and pretty. You feel like you’re really in Emily’s head as she navigates her new life in Willow Creek, Maryland. Which, unfortunately, leads to the first

Con: Emily is kind of a ninny. I get it, she’s 24 and just got out of her first serious relationship with a guy who was, unfortunately, a complete asshole, but that should only mean that she’s gun-shy about romantic relationships, not every relationship. I literally had no idea why she was being crazy about her sister April not charging her rent, when her entire reason for being in Willow Creek was to help her niece Caitlin and April after a horrific car crash temporarily immobilized the latter. Given the cost of home health care + driver services, April should be paying her to stay with them! But the presence of April herself is another

Pro: How delightfully the family relationships are portrayed outside of Emily’s strange head. April and Caitlin are both terrific and realistic (disclaimer: I myself am a bit of an April, a reluctant joiner who prefers city life,) as are the friends Emily makes on moving to Willow Creek. Even as an urban-loving suburbanite, I loved the portrayal of small town life as well as its charming inhabitants. Chris and Mitch and Stacey are all super fun, lovely people, in stark contrast to my main

Con: Simon. Ugggggggggh. Using an emotional trauma from three years ago as an excuse to be a fucking douchebag is classic manipulator behavior. For example, getting mad that Emily picked a Renaissance Faire name that is easy for her to remember to answer to is the most counterproductive nonsense I’ve ever heard: if he really cared about Faire, he’d be fucking grateful she chose a name that helps her stay in character instead of being pissy that she wasn’t “trying hard enough.” I don’t care that he’s not as bad as Emily’s ex because that is an unimpressively low bar to clear. And I haaaaated his relationship with Emily because neither of them could have a conversation worth shit. I sorta got why that was so in Emily’s case (see: Con #1) but the last time I had those kinds of incredibly terrible relationship talks with people defaulting to paranoia and insecurity was when I was 19 and in my first serious relationship, which you’d think Emily and Simon would have matured past by now. But that leads to my last

Pro: People are actually this dumb and awful in real life, so yay, more realism! I mean, it’s not a huge character flaw that Emily and Simon have a completely bizarre and insultingly ungrateful opinion of his parents giving him their house, and Emily’s flair for organization is something I truly connect with, as part of me being a reluctant joiner is that I usually wind up in charge of everything, which is exhausting. But none of that made me like either Emily or Simon very much, tho I’m glad they can go mildly tax each other with their self-obsessed, immature and ultimately realistic quirks.

I actually wasn’t going to read more of this series until I discovered two things. First, I read the included excerpt from Well Played, the immediate sequel, and I was absolutely taken with Jen DeLuca’s writing there. The voice is so impressively distinct from Emily’s that I have high hopes Stacey will be a completely different but still fully realized heroine. The second thing is that the third book will be about APRIL AND MITCH!!!! Given that I spent almost the entire back end of Well Met shipping those two in my head based off of one brief interaction, I’m so flustered and happy that Ms DeLuca feels they deserve an entire book to themselves too! While WM was a decent baseline/starter for the series, I’m really hoping, if not quietly confident that, it will just keep getting better and better with the next books. Because APRIL AND MITCH!!!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/05/28/well-met-well-met-1-by-jen-deluca/

May 25 2020

Hope Island by Tim Major

This page-turner of a slow burn horror novel features one of the most original — and in hindsight, one of the most ubiquitous, after a fashion — villains I’ve ever read. I spent far too much time wrongly guessing what lay behind the bizarre behaviors of the residents of Hope Island, and was dead impressed at the reveal.

The story itself revolves around Nina Scaife, a workaholic television producer whose partner Rob has just walked out on her. Determined to prove to their teenaged daughter Laurie that they’re still a family, she takes Laurie to visit Rob’s parents on Hope Island, off the coast of Maine. Rob and Laurie have made the trip plenty of times over the years but Nina has always begged off, claiming work commitments. Now, however, Nina finds that her somewhat rash idea of visiting people she barely knows with a daughter she still needs to break the news of the split to is perhaps even more ill-conceived than she’d expected.

Because Hope Island is strange. At first, Nina puts it down to a sense of culture shock, coming from metropolitan Britain to rural America and having to live with her husband’s seemingly disapproving family. But then she realizes that her dour mother-in-law Tammy’s idea of religion is a nearby artist’s colony called The Sanctuary, and that something is really odd about the island children who keep drawing Laurie into their midst, and soon Nina’s interior turmoil is matched by a vertiginous sense of wrongness. And that’s even before the murders start.

In addition to the revelation of the Big Bad, I was really taken with the way Tim Major wrote of Nina’s often physical losses of perspective, so reminiscent of a Christoper Nolan movie that I almost expected to hear the foghorn blare of one of Mr Nolan’s beloved Shepard tones as I read. The passages charting Nina’s disorientation are a terrific metaphor for the changes besetting a woman who has to learn how to family after her partner, who also happened to be their daughter’s primary caregiver, takes off on them. I’m also a big fan of how the voices felt authentically Anglo or American, depending on which character was speaking — tho the fact that I even noticed this seamlessly carried out last should be no surprise to long-time readers here.

In a previous interview with Mr Major, I noted that much of his writing up till and including his prior novel Snakeskins had to do with themes of maturation. While those are still present in Hope Island, this novel feels more like an exploration of a different kind of growing up, with perhaps even a healthy acknowledgment of growing apart. It’s an excellent addition to his oeuvre, and just a really good, original horror novel.

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