Tag Archive: 8

Jan 06

Review: Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

Something More Than Night

Another read from the Kirkus Best of 2013, I finished the audiobook of Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis. And I am…conflicted.

But more on that in a moment.

The book opens with Bayliss, loner angel who spends his time on Earth in a slightly future, slightly dystopic version, watching Gabriel die in slow motion in the pleroma (think like heaven but more grey). And he has been tasked to find it a replacement-someone weak-willed who won’t rock the boat. So he tries to kill drug abuser Martin, but his sister, Molly, jumps in the path of the tram and dies herself.

And because she’s all fiery and strong-willed, she of course can’t sit still when there are mysteries afoot. Because someone killed Gabriel. Something is up with the angels of the pleroma. There are weird inconsistencies growing in the ground. Metatron, “The Voice of God,” is more than he seems. Dames give strokes to other dames. A bloke put the bum’s rush on a priest. Mysteries and riddles and secrets, oh my.

It’s all told through a thick noir film because Bayliss is permanently wrapped up in the good old days when all you need was a skirt, a pill, and a place to keep your nose outta the rain. But because Molly’s his responsibility, he gets dragged in as well.

This book takes its own cosmology and goes through the roof. Angels are not typical humans with wings, but the seraphim have four faces while the cherubhim have faces of fire. Dominions are just lightning and black ooze while thrones are the celestial cops. And everyone is bound by the M-O-C (the mantle of ontological consistency) that says that physics are physics and nobody can break the rules of the universe.

And at first I wasn’t into the story. It seemed to drag a little bit and there’s quite a bit of exposition. I just didn’t see what had everybody raving. You keep reliving Molly’s life, and she keeps wanting to take car of her brother and visit an ex-girlfriend. Plus, she gets angry and often forgets to ask all the questions or think things through before rushing in. Granted, she keeps getting attacked by forces she doesn’t understand, but you think she’d be a bit more on the ball. But about halfway in, I got completely sucked in, and I couldn’t wait to figure out what happens next.

Can't Wait to See How RuPaul

And then all the things happen and (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Bayliss turns out to be the most untrustworthy of characters. Which is problematic for the reader, because he narrates every other chapter from a first person perspective. So a lot of the story has been a lie or a half truth, and it forces you to reconsider everything that you’ve learned because he’s been the principal source of information for the entire story. And so you have to take this sudden new information right near the climax and roll with it.

Sexy times? Yes, sexy times.

And I can see why a lot of people would have problems with this book. The language can be science-y and dense at times. Unreliable narrators can be infuriating, because it breaks the reader’s trust along with the character’s. Not every reader is very forgiving, and I can’t blame them. But, because every book list has ruined the unreliable narrator plot point, hinting or outright saying it, I knew what I was getting into. And even though parts of the story may have been bullshit due to the compulsive lying of Bayliss, it’s still a fun read. The ending is a little…odd. And it definitely feels more drawn out than is strictly necessary, but overall, this is a great entry into urban fantasy.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

JMF

Dec 13

Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Testament of Mary

For a tiny book, this packs a punch. Short listed for the Booker Prize this year, I think it truly deserved to be there. Literary fiction isn’t much my thing these days, but this crop of nominees had a couple that I wanted to look at, so I read this one earlier this week when my back was killing me from shifting all of the library’s Large Print collection in a single day.

This book is a first person account of Mary, mother of Jesus, from her perspective late in life. She escaped from Jerusalem after the crucifixion and was spirited away to Ephesus where two unnamed men visit her every day to gather stories about Jesus to put in the gospels that they are writing.

This is not your Mary, full of patience and grace. This is Mary with a long eye towards the past, Mary who is a little impatience with all this God talk, Mary who misses her son and doesn’t like the weirdos who hung around with him. This Mary is a lot more mother, and a lot less mother of God. And the perspective of seeing Mary as a person, rather than as a radiant, all-compassionate mother figure is really quite interesting.

Now, obviously this is not nonfiction masquerading as fiction. It doesn’t attempt to do this, and everyone knows that Mary’s true thoughts on the subject of the burgeoning Christian faith are ultimately unknowable, but I’m a sucker for a reinterpretation of mythological stories, and the Christian mythos is no exception.

I don’t quite know how to describe this book. I mean, it’s written testament style as a reflection on past events. And Mary is…if not exactly funny, at least relatable. She doesn’t understand or like the misfits that her son keeps bringing home, chalking that up to the fact that they’re all weirdos who don’t have the confidence to look a woman in the face and be a man about it. And the bulk of her story follows three events: Jesus initial departure, the wedding scene, and the trial and crucifixion. In this account, she claims to have fled Golgotha before Jesus had finally died and to have been on her way out of the country by the time the empty tomb was discovered.

Toibin is obviously playing with the idea that the truth of anything distant is truly unknowable, and that all we have are the possibly fallacious, possibly misinterpreted, possibly mistranslated, possibly not even real accounts to try to build reality. And that just doesn’t work because everybody has an agenda and an angle they’re after.

At 81 pages, this book is truly worth the not very long it takes to read, and it’s easy to see how Toibin has been a three-time Booker short list-er. How he has yet to murder anyone from being so close but not a winner three times is more of a mystery. Anywho, if you’re looking for something contemplative that will stick with you for a while, this will do it for you. After all, ’tis the season.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Dec 06

Review: The Human Division by John Scalzi

The Human Division by John Scalzi

I have to say, before I listened to the first Old Man’s War book, I was strongly resistant to them. Because, like the exquisite Dinner with Friends by Donald Margulies, I thought that the title was dumb. I mean, it’s totally accurate, but I thought that there was no way that concept could translate into an interesting story.

Not only was I wrong, I was crazy wrong.

In the last year, I’ve read all five of the main stories set in the Old Man’s War universe. And the series also proved me wrong about my distaste for thematic sequels: sometimes, they actually do work. As in the case of The Human Division by John Scalzi.

The book was originally published as a serialized e-book, but I don’t do serials. I can barely choke down my cereal in the morning, much less keep out with things that come in a little at a time. I prefer a binging approach, so I listened to the audiobook after it came out in a collected volume.

The interlocking stories follow Harry Wilson, a technical advisor on the diplomatic spaceship, the Clark. Harry (who was a supporting character in the earlier books in the series) continues to find himself in the middle of trouble as diplomacy comes to the fore of the Colonial Union’s interactions with the larger universe. Due to the events in The Last Colony, which (spoilers) drove a wedge between the Earth and the Colonial Union, these diplomatic efforts of this b-level fire team are one of the only things that are keeping the peace in an increasingly hostile universe.

As with any collection of stories, there are going to be stronger and weaker tales. For instance, I really enjoyed the Glenn Beck slash Hearst-ian “A Voice in the Wilderness” take on a radio talk show host who gets used by shadowy forces to further their causes before he’s disposed of to further their plans even more. But even the quote unquote weaker stories are still a fun listen, and the entire book propels forward at a great speed.

One of the things that makes Scalzi’s books stand apart is the attitude apparent in his characters. None of his main characters lack a spine, and their inner strength turns them into quip machines who are all a little (sometimes a lot) on the sarcastic side. This is just Scalzi’s style, and once  get into it, it’s fine, but it puts me off a little bit right at the beginning. Maybe it’s because I’m not expecting it and it just feels…different. But I will always give him props for writing stories from a number of character perspectives and refusing to allow things to break down simply into good and bad guys. These stories live in the grey areas where no one is right all the time (well, except Harry) and no one is all evil. This nuance keeps the stories interesting.

I recommend the whole series. Don’t jump in here; the water’s too deep. But start at the beginning and make this a series to knock out when you need something assuredly good.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Sep 23

Review: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

War of Art

I will read a self-help book, ya’ll.  I will read one in a heartbeat.

Now, I’m not going to read something that’s going to teach me positivity or help me become more confident or let me shed inches from my waistline.  After all, I don’t need help with any of these things.

However, a good motivation book is my guilty pleasure.  I, like a lot of people, have large aspirational goals, but I lack the follow through to make significant headway on them.  I know that I should just knuckle down and get to work, but somehow, I still end up watching TV on Netflix or scrolling through Imgur for ungodly amounts of time.  I guess I’m looking to hear about other people’s successes and best practices so that maybe I can steal their secrets and push myself back on track when I wander off.

And if it’s about artistic endeavors, even better.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is just that: a primer on what’s in between you and what you want to accomplish.  It takes many forms, but he refers to it as personified Resistance.  The book is structured into thirds: an examination of what resistance is, the way to power through it, and an examination of where ideas and inspiration come from.  The chapters are super short.  Like the average length is a page and the longest one might be six.  I read the whole thing in an hour.  It says over 100 pages, but seriously, it’s like 40.

I found the book very inspiring.  Pressfield posits that the source of all our Resistance to progress is internal.  His solution: be a professional.  Amateurs over-invest their energy, their resources, and their feelings into what they’re working on.  Amateurs take days off when they’re tired.  Amateurs have no commitment to the end product because they’re too involved in the process.  A professional, on the other hand, makes time to get done the things he has to get done.  He goes everyday, and he’s always focused on the prize.  And if making this mental distinction in your head doesn’t help you, then this book really won’t do anything for you.  However, sometimes all you need is a little shift in your frame of reference to get down to work and knocking things out.

That's not weakness.  It's Resistance.

That’s not weakness. It’s Resistance.

Even in the few days since I read this book, it’s kicked my butt into gear.  I’ve been saying for weeks that I want to start getting up at 7, go to the gym everyday, knock out chores as they’re needed, etc. But I let myself slide because my bed is warm and days are long and sometimes I just want to sit around. Not anymore.  Sure, I still find time to relax, but if there’s stuff to be done, the sense of accomplishment in working hard and finishing thing is better than the time suck of the Internet.

Oh, and don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important.  That’s a good tip too.

So if you like self help on the go, this book has you covered.  And it just might get you back to working on the novel, training regimen, magnum opus that you always said you’d finish, but now you’re ready to get to work.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Aug 27

Review: Soup Night by Maggie Stuckey

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I always have such high hopes for cookbooks.  I love to cook and try things out. But I’m not a big experimenter.  I realize that some people spend years at school learning to cook while I just started cooking in earnest about two years ago. So while there are some things I know I can do, I usually stick close to a recipe. I love Food52’s recipes, and I will scavenge AllRecipes.com for just the right process, but somehow cookbooks never do it for me.  And for a book lover, this is somewhat problematic.

Cookbooks tend to be overly ambitious as to what I can accomplish or they tend to be written for simpletons.  I haven’t invested $10,000 in kitchen gadgets, so I rarely have everything needed for a fancy recipe (and there’s always the chance that none of my small town grocery stores will have their rare ingredients).  But a too-low-of-a-level book makes me feel like they’re giving me ingredients for a ham sandwich or nachos.  I’m not that helpless.  Usually.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by Maggie Stuckey’s forthcoming cookbook Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup.  Stuckey provides around 100 different soup recipes, ranging from classics to new favorites.  However, because anybody can get recipes off the Internet these days, what makes this book special is that it offers a window into Stuckey’s life.  She started a local soup night in order to meet her neighbors and encourage community in her area.  Her stories (and those of the people that she compiles) are charming, and they made me wish that my local neighborhood was more united.  I mean, I honestly don’t even know their names.

Unlike traditional cookbooks that are formatted around protein items or main ingredients, this cookbook is organized according to season.  That way, you can cook soups based off of seasonal vegetables or experience tastes you associate with certain seasons (cold summer soups, light spring mixes, etc.).  A few breads and deserts are thrown in at the end of section for a little something extra on top of all the soup.

The book is gorgeous to look at.  The designer’s color palette subtly shifts for each season, subtly morphing the book through the passage of the year.  Recipes are well-laid out with ingredients sharing equal space with process so that you’ve got everything on one page or spread.  No flipping back and forth with flour-covered hands required.

The proof is really in the tasting on a cookbook.  Last weekend, we made Tortilla Soup and a Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup.  I loved the Tortilla Soup and Dale was all over the Chipotle.  I mean, they were both good, we just had different preferences.  And this was just the first two that we’ve tried–there’s a whole book of awesome left over (not to mention a large amount of soup).  Oh, and at $15 for two meals and tons of leftovers, it doesn’t get more economical.

I’m already thinking of who I want to buy and gift this book to.  And that is truly a vote of confidence.

JMF Rating: 8/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Note: This book was received from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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