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text 2018-05-25 23:57
Fantasy Flights May Meeting - Nebulas
Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss
A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar
Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor
China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak

Every month, I go to a book club that meets at a local taproom. Rather than reading a specific book, each month has a theme. May's theme was the Nebula Awards because, well, they are awarded in May. The Nebulas are one of those awards I've always been vaguely aware of from stickers on books, though I do enjoy Ceridwen's Blogging the Nebulas posts. I was a bit surprised to see how many previous nominees I'd read. I had to cull down to just a handful of recommendations. 


Here's what I ended up bringing from this year's ballot:


Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty. I wanted to read something on topic for the month, so I compared this year's Nebula and Hugo nominees. The overlap included Six Wakes, which I hadn't read yet, and is published by Orbit. The Hugo voter packet includes whatever publishers provide, and Orbit has traditionally included excerpts of nominees, not full books. Strategery! Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. 


The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss. I read this one last year, and abso-fucking-lutly loved it. Great characters in an interesting concept, and there's a sequel out really soon. I was so happy to see it on an awards ballot. I won an auction for a signed copy that arrived a day before our May meeting.


I also decided, like I had when our theme was the Hugos, to bring some of my favorite losers. The awards hadn't been announced when we met, so I didn't even know my first two picks had lost. I would have brought Stone Sky, but I've rec'd to this group before. But here are some real losers:


A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar.  I adored this beautifully written fantasy novel about a book nerd's misadventures. The not-sequel is also amazing. Samatar's prose is just wonderful. My copy of this was signed here in Alabama, at a lecture she was giving MFA students in Tuscaloosa. Because if a master of the genre is going to make an appearance in my state, I can be a little late to work the next morning. Oh, since I'm late posting this, I can link to her recent AMA. This book lost to Ancillary Justice in 2014. But it did win a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and a Crawford Award. Samatar also won the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her blog has since become private, so I can't link to her post about the WFA, but more on that in the next book.


Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor. My copy of this is technically a gift for my niece. I got it signed at Worldcon in Chicago. She's almost old enough to read  it. This is a different indictment/celebration of fantasy than Samatar's, but no less powerful or wonderfully written. It lost to Blackout/All Clear in 2011, and I can't even. It did win a Kindred, and a World Fantasy Award that year, sparking an essay that eventually resulted in a redesign of the award statue 5 years later.


China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh. I read this so long ago I don't have a review for it. It combines a vast scope with a well done character study. McHugh has done a lot of outstanding work, and this is no exception. This lost to Doomsday Book in 1993, but won a Lambda, Locus, and Tiptree.


Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny. This is one of those books that starts off firmly a fantasy, but reveals itself as science fiction, and the author is a poet. One of my favorite books. My current not for load copy is the leather bound Eaton Press edition. In addition to being a piece of goddamned art, this book was the cheesy sci-fi novel used as cover for the Canadian Caper, aka, the CIA operation in Argo. It lost to The Einstein Intersection in 1968, but won a Hugo that year.


All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak. Simak wrote at least three versions of alien invasions that followed roughly the same plot. This is the best one. A small town finds itself cut off from the outside world and some purple flowers are revealed to be extraterrestrials. Creepy and weird, it's worth a read if you're visiting that era of scifi. It lost to Dune in 1966, making it one of the first losers.


Next month's theme is Urban Fantasy.

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review 2018-05-09 12:19
Truly Devious
Truly Devious - Maureen Johnson

Ellingham Academy is set high on a mountain in Vermont. It is an exclusive, free school for those deemed to be the best. Every student is either a Junior or a Senior in their school and they are given all the core subjects for their grade, but others in the field of interest. Stevie is new to the school and had entered on a lark to get away from her parents and to study the mystery from 1936 involving the disappearance of Iris and Alice Ellingham. 


This book was assigned to my girls in their book club and while one thoroughly enjoyed the story and cannot wait for the 2nd book to come out. The other two were not as enthused by this book. I know that I too am interested in book two as there did not seem to be an end to the first book. 



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review 2018-04-11 16:28
Tedious Book Likened to Rebecca
The Beloveds - Maureen Lindley

Please note that I received this book via NetGalley. It did not impact my review or rating. 


Spoilers about the book "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier are below. 


Look there can only be one "Rebecca". This book is in on way or shape at the level of "Rebecca" on it's best day.  The main character is insane. She also does very terrible things and is never caught. The voice of the main character feels older than what the book setting is. At one point I thought the book started in the 1950s or something, but no it seems to be in modern settings. The ending left me unsatisfied. If you are going to have me follow the ramblings of a Mrs. Danvers character, at least let some sort of comeuppance occur. 


"The Beloveds" is just a long and overly tedious book into the mind of a psychopath (our main character is  named Betty) who is obsessed with her family home. When her mother dies and leaves the home to her sister and her husband (Gloria and Henry Bygone) Betty plans ways in which to get the house she rightfully sees as her inheritance. 


There's nothing to Betty besides being cruel and petty. You would think that people would see another side to her, but based on what we are given to glimpse as a reader, she seems to be either drunk on gin and or taking pills most of the time. Considering her supposed weight (and the book mentions how very little she eats these days), how she wasn't passed out in all times is baffling to me. Betty is obviously supposed to be a stand-in for Mrs. Danvers. But for me, Mrs. Danvers wasn't obsessive about Manderley, she was obsessive about Rebecca and keeping Manderley the way that Rebecca wanted it.

The other characters are not developed very well. Probably because Betty takes no notice of them except to rage about her sister being seen as a Beloved, and other people as Beloved (they can do no wrong and are perfect). There are hints here and there that the character of Gloria is becoming suspicious of her sister, but that's all there are, hints. She seems just as clueless as other people in this book. 


Telling the book via first person POV was just a mistake. As a reader you don't have the chance to get away from Betty. You read about the terrible things she does (there's a comment made that you find out she murdered the family's pet when she was a child) and then you just keep reading about things she is doing/planning with no hint about it from other people. I just felt mentally exhausted by the time I got to the end of this book. 

The flow was not that great. We just stumble from one of Betty's schemes to another with her comments about how the house was talking to her and how her sister was a beloved and she didn't see why. Somehow we skip ahead months and years in this book with no reference for it except a quick word here and there said. Since I got an advance copy, hopefully the final book has some chapter headings with month/year included. 


The setting of this book mainly takes place at the family house in the country somewhere, not close to London, but in the general area. Sorry if I sound vague, but the author didn't really describe things in a way for me to get a sense of where this was besides somewhere in England. The house also doesn't even come alive for me the way in which Manderley does for me as a reader while reading "Rebecca". I still don't even get why Betty is obsessed with a house that doesn't seem to be anything special. 


The ending was a disappointment. The author just sets up that more bad things are coming. Why this is marketed as a mystery astounds me. There is no mystery here. 

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review 2018-04-01 06:44
The Beloveds
The Beloveds - Maureen Lindley

There's an expression that my grandmother used to say about people who thought a bit too much of themselves - 'I'd like to buy them for what they're worth and sell them for what they think they're worth.' That came to mind several times while reading The Beloveds. This story is told from the perspective of Betty Stash, one of the most unlikable characters I've come across in some time. Now, given that she's the antagonist of this tale, that's to be expected. Betty is unhinged at best with her obsession over her childhood home - a house that speaks to her no less. I could get behind the crazy obsession and even Betty's frustration over her sister inheriting the house, but for a story that was supposed to be about sibling rivalry, I really didn't see much of that here. Don't get me wrong, Betty definitely doesn't like her sister, but the thing is she doesn't like anybody, including her own husband, so it's more like a rivalry with everyone. She does have her sinister side, complete with plans to get what she wants. All of this could've made for a thrilling read, including when Betty's plans backfire on her. Unfortunately, this one lacked that edge of your seat feeling that should come with a thriller. Instead, Betty comes across as whiny and pathetic most of the time, and that whining went on and on for the majority of the story. Her self-entitled, that should be mine attitude and the incessant poor pitiful me theme wore thin pretty quickly and made for a story that felt much too long. There are a handful of moments when the tension ramped up, but they were just too few and far between to make up for the tedium of the rest of the book. The author clearly has talent, and the premise was good. In fact, this could've made for an excellent short story, but as it stands, I found myself wanting to skim more often than not and it was much too easy to set it aside for later.

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review 2018-03-24 04:36
Truly Devious
Truly Devious - Maureen Johnson

Nope nope nope. 1. Why is Maureen Johnson starting a new series when I have been waiting on the last Shades of London book for years? 2. Why wasn't it at least better?


To be fair, I did read the whole thing, but I wasn't happy about it. If a book has flat characters, it better have a good plot. If the plot is weak the characters better at least be interesting. To have both... don't do it.


Also it's unfair to write a book and not resolve any of the storylines. OK, there is one reveal at the end of the book, but it's about a super boring character (from a cast of boring characters) and it answered a question no one was asking.


More rambling under the cut.

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