Tough Traveling: Monsters

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Every Thursday, the Fantasy Review Barn is taking us on a journey through Fantasyland with their Tough Travel Guide. Today’s topic is Monsters.

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

There’s the definition, now let’s completely ignore it!

Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)The Reaper and The Wild Dreamer- The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin

I think I might like Jemisin’s Dreamblood books better than the Inheritance Trilogy. Actually, scratch that, I’m sure I do. The culture is based on Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Gatherers are the most powerful magicians of Gujareeh–they kill people, and gather an element known as dreamblood to keep the rest of the society in order. The Reaper is what happens when a Gatherer completely loses control and turns into an amoral, all-consuming monster. In the second book, the Wild Dreamer is something that I won’t spoil, but it kills people through a contagious nightmare. Very original, and scary.

TillyTilly- The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

8 year old Jessamy has trouble socializing. When she visits Nigeria with her family, she makes her first ever friend, TillyTilly, a girl who is definitely not what she seems. Is TillyTilly a mere figment of Jessy’s imagination, or is she something more dangerous? One thing’s for sure, she’s definitely a monster.

Dyrmagnos- The Nightrunner Series by Lynn Flewelling

A dyrmagnos is an undead, basically un-killable, necromancer. To be defeated, they have to be cut into teeny tiny pieces, have those locked in boxes, and then dispersed around the world.

The Creature- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

As you may have guessed from this list, my favorite type of monsters are those who were once human and then, for one reason or another, changed. The Creature is one who wants nothing more thank to be human, but society rejects him and so he rejects it right back.

Area X- The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

The Southern Reach Trilogy (of which I’ve only read two so far), is more horror-scifi than proper fantasy, but I had to include the weird, wild, ecological disaster-area/creeping horror that is Area X. There are lots of little monsters, and I have this feeling they’re all part of one big monster. The thing in the tower, the director, the terrior. Basically:

does_not_want

 

 

So that’s all I’ve got this week. I have a feeling I’m missing a ton. What are your monsters of choice?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Reads

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books/Movies To Read Or Watch To Get In The Halloween Spirit. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I love to be creeped out. But I do not love a lot of traditional horror or gore. And it turns out, I don’t read that many books that fit the bill this week. So I tried to get a little creative.

6715601. Lynn Flewelling- The Bone Doll’s Twin This was the first thing I ever read by Flewelling and it majorly creeped me out. I personally don’t feel like the rest of the series lives up to this first book in terms of creepiness. The Tamir Triad is good high fantasy, but The Bone Doll’s Twin in particular is dark fantasy. The first chapter still gives me shivers every time I read it.

2. Neil Gaiman- Coraline For my money, this is Gaiman’s creepiest book, perhaps because it explores the darker side of mother/daughter relationships.

3. Sheridan Le Fanu- Carmilla This is commonly referred to as a lesbian vampire novella. I dislike grafting modern definitions–particularly of sexuality–onto literature from previous centuries, but the two characters do have a very charged relationship. For an interesting modern twist, check out Holly Black’s “Millcara” in Rags and Bones.

4. Mary Shelley- Frankenstein Ya’ll knew I had to include this one. It’s pretty much my favorite book. I actually don’t find it particularly frightening or creep worthy, but Frankenstein’s monster is such a Halloween staple. (And it is a way, way better book than Dracula, although Dracula wins out in the classic monster movies front I think).

5. Justin Cronin- The Passage/The Twelve A modern vampire-as-plague saga that is just really. Really. Really. Good.

6. Meredith Ann Pierce- The Darkangel 92717Long before I had met my angsty vampire love Angel, or read anything by Anne Rice, and way before the Twilightification of vampires, I had The Darkangel, a cursed, winged vampyre prince (really) collecting a harem of brides.

7. Edith Wharton- The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton Some good old fashioned turn-of-the-century ghostly tales.

8. Jane Austen- Northanger Abbey So once upon a time, Jane Austen made a parody of popular gothic literature with a heroine who gets a little too invested in fictional worlds. Hmm. I wonder if anyone in the bookternet can relate.

9. Gillian Flynn- Dark Places I love Gillian Flynn. She does warped human nature really well. Dark Places creeps me out more than her others.

10. Paula Gurnan, ed- The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014There is some really, really great stuff in this anthology.

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Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

20697435Title: The Book of Strange New Things

Author: Michel Faber

Rating: 3 stars

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

The Book of Strange New Things is high concept science fiction, and boy, what a concept it is. There was a lot of interesting–I suppose you would say,  philosophical inquiry. But most of the time, the characters and the slow, slow, slow burn of the novel left me out in the cold.

I’m actually rating this one a little higher than I feel comfortable with. It’s already gotten so much talk in the bookworld, and most of that seems so positive, that I have to wonder if there is a little something wrong with me, if I just didn’t get it. Well: so I didn’t get it.

In the future, (I never did figure out exactly how far; it seemed relatively 21st century and then suddenly jazz was considered “ancient”) former alcoholic and current Christian minister Peter takes a commission to travel to a newly discovered planet and act as a missionary to the alien population, leaving his wife, Bea, behind on what appears to be an increasingly dangerous Earth.

So far, so good.  I was hooked. How, exactly, does one minister not just God, but Christ, whose very point is his humanity, to people who are not human? Why does no one on Earth seem to know or care much about this planet we are suddenly colonizing? And why are we colonizing it at all, when there are almost no resources to speak of?

Those questions were eventually addressed, to a point, but it was a slog to get there. The first three quarters or so of this book were insanely, mind-numbingly boring. Some of that tension and slow burn lead to the payoff, yes. But that’s almost three hundred pages where I was bored out of my skull. And I see absolutely no reason why a ton of it couldn’t be cut. (I would whack two hundred pages off this book, easy. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m not a novelist.)

My main problem with The Book of Strange New Things was Peter. I didn’t get him, and, more relevantly, I never liked him. I suppose I’m already inclined to dislike missionary type people, who are so superior in their infinite knowledge and wisdom, and smugly sit back and watch the rest of us poor schlubs wander blindly in the land of the faithless. He was so judgmental and self-absorbed, all under the guise of being godly, and I just couldn’t connect with him in any way.

I also wanted to actually see Bea. The Earth is rapidly falling into chaos, and she suffers a huge crisis of faith, but we only hear of it through her letters, half of which Peter misunderstands and which we later find out were censored anyway. There could have been any number of letters that didn’t get through to Peter–and us–at all. I came to resent Peter’s remove, I wanted to be with Bea at least once in awhile where things were actually happening.

That wasn’t the book Faber set out to write. But it was the book I wanted to read.

One final note. The book casually fat shames, sex shames, just plain shame shames, and I couldn’t figure out if it was just Peter’s inherent asshole nature or something more troubling (things that were incredibly bothersome to me: the black characters adding “bro” to literally every line of dialogue to denote their blackness, “ugly” women constantly being referred to by their butchness and (subjective) ugliness, body fat equated with moral dubiousness (and American-ness, cause, haha, everyone knows that all Americans are fat pigs), and virginity being derided because it supposedly signifies a lack of “passion”). It left me deeply uncomfortable a lot of the time. Much of The Book of Strange New Things is designed to make the reader uncomfortable, but I honestly can’t tell if those choices were part of that design, and that bothers me.

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Short Story Sunday: “Haruspicy and Other Amatory Divinations”

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“I am not going to begin this story at the beginning.”

Haruspicy and Other Amatory Divinations” by Kat Howard, published by Apex.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Series Starters

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten new series I want to start. I am so far behind on series books it isn’t even funny. Frankly I get exhausted sometimes by the mere fact that everything seems to be a series (even when it doesn’t need to be!) So here are some sffnal, some YA, and some romance series that I’ve been meaning to check out (or, in one case, waiting not-so-patiently for to be published)

2432721. Brandon Sanderson- Mistborn

2. Brandon Sanderson- The Stormlight Archive

3. Kristen Cashore- Graceling Realm

4. Diana Gabaldon- Outlander

5. Jenn Bennett- Roaring Twenties

6. Courtney Milan- The Worth Saga

7. Max Gladstone- The Craft Sequence

8. Megan Shepard- The Madman’s Daughter

9. Jeanne Birdsall- The Penderwicks (I don’t really read middle grade at all, but these came over my desk at work to be processed and they looked so good, I may have to revise that statement)

10. Deborah Harkness- All Souls Trilogy

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Short Story Sunday: “Casket Girls”

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“She was one of the many, les filles à les caissettes, named for the little sea chests they had been allowed for their voyage.”

Casket Girls” by James S. Dorr, published by Daily Science Fiction.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Travel Time

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is ten places books have made me want to visit. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel a bit, but I’ve not nearly been to enough places in this world. Luckily, we have books! Books have taken me so many places. Some I hope to see with my own eyes someday.

681x4541. Stockholm Reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was honestly the first time I’d ever really thought about Northern Europe as a destination. They have GwtDT tours in Stockholm, and I’m so lame, but I kind of want to do it.

2. Dublin I’ve been to parts of the UK, but not Ireland. Can’t say I had any real desire to go there, but then I started reading Tana French. Crime novels make me want to explore cities, I guess.

3. Oslo Another set of crime novels, another European city. This one is thanks to Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series.

4. India oddly enough, it was The Secret Garden that made me first want to travel to India. The India seen through a priveleged white child’s upbringing is problematic, to say the least, but I’ve since read other books set on the subcontinent that make me really want to see it. Plus, I was supposed to go to Nepal a few years ago and I wanted to travel the whole area while I was over there. That never materialized and I’m still kind of bummed out about it.

5. St. Petersburg I have wanted to visit Russia for a long time, but specifically St. Petersburg. I blame Dostoevsky. St._Petersburg_church

6. Istanbul There’s not any particular literary tie to this wish, other than from history books. And They Might Be Giants. But it seems like a pretty awesome place.

7. Rome History, mythology, the seat of Western culture.

8. Egypt Again nothing specifically literary, again lots of history books. I’m fascinated by Ancient Egyptians, and I’m curious about modern Egypt too. If I had a time machine and could only pick one destination, it would probably be the library of Alexandria. (nerd alert).

9. Venice Most recently, Jane and Vincent’s adventures in Valour and Vanity have made me want to explore the canals, but there are lots of great literary references to Venice.

10. New York City in the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1950s, and on and on and on. It was amazing to me, looking over my goodreads lists, just how many books I’ve read are set in New York City. I don’t particularly like New York City, mostly because whenever I’ve been there I feel like I have TOURIST stamped on my head in red letters, like I’m just off the bus from a Midwest farm. It’s so silly, I lived in Boston for years, cities should not do that to me. But New York does. HOWEVER, if I had that time machine, it would probably be a pretty cool place to expore.

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Short Story Sunday: “All Find Safety in the Tomb”

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“Even when it’s sunny in Brooklyn, there’s a leaden feeling to the light, particularly in the historic district, where we live.”

All Find Safety in the Tomb” by Isabella David, published by Every Day Fiction.

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Tough Traveling: Dark Ladies

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Every Thursday, the Fantasy Review Barn is taking us on a journey through Fantasyland with their Tough Travel Guide. Today’s topic is Dark Ladies.

DARK LADY. There is never one of these – so see DARK LORD instead.

Pfft. We can do better than that.

Turkdel8The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia) The original bad lady of fantasy, Jadis the White Witch plunged Narnia into a world where it was always winter–and never Christmas! Every villain I wrote when I was young was basically the White Witch, which I didn’t even realize until I was like 20.
Melisande (The Kushiel series) The Dom to Phaedre’s sub, Melisande does some pretty terrible things for power. I don’t remember many of the details (its been a long time), but I remember her as a pretty nasty piece of work.
Queen Levana (The Lunar chronicles) The Lunar Chronicles is undoubtedly my favorite ongoing YA series at the moment. Queen Levana controls the moon with an iron fist, and is scheming to take over Earth as well. She’s a bit flat, actually, but I like over-the-top megolomaniacal villains of that ilk.

Marsilia (The Mercy Thompson series) Queen of the vampires. Nuff said.

Mrs. Coulter (His Dark Materials) Mrs. Coulter is elegant, fashionable, and cruel. All requirements I think pertain to Dark Ladies.

Rhazat (Shards of Time) The last Nightrunner was…not what I wanted it to be. But it did feature a malicious, vengeful dyrmagnos that wore a beautiful woman’s skin and ruled over a kingdom of ghosts. So there’s that.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Character Driven Novels

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels. Character is always, always the most important thing to me in a book, but I had a little trouble defining what “character driven” means to me. In the end, I tried to come up with ten books where personality and relationships are more important than the plot or the writing style to me, even if those elements are important too.

173322431. Nicola Griffith- Hild This expansive novel is full of history, religion, and politics, but the center of it all is a complex and incredible character.

2. Mary Robinette Kowal- The Glamourist Histories (series) Kowal started with an almost dangerously cutesy, niche concept but she then used that concept to create Jane and Vincent, two characters and one incredible relationship that ground the series in reality.

3. George R. R. Martin- A Song of Ice and Fire (series) When people want to talk about epic fantasy, they usually gravitate towards worldbuilding, or battles, or magic systems. What GRRM does best, in my opinion, is use inspirations from history to write some of the most compelling characters around. When you think about the fact that every chapter is told from a different close third, and how many characters we see in that close manner, the scope is incredible. The characters are what make that particular world worth it for me. I may not remember all of the details of the scheming behind the Red Wedding, for example, but I will always remember oh my God when that one guy did that one thing. The little (and big) character moments are the most important thing there for me in those books.

4. Suzanne Collins- The Hunger Games (series) You cannot have The Hunger Games without Katniss, and her voice is those books. She’s one of my favorite characters in recent literature. She’s angry, she’s defiant, and then she is broken, and you just root for her all the way.

5. Tana French- Broken Harbour. The best crime fiction I’ve read offers compelling portraits of deeply flawed and beautifully human people, perhaps more so than any other genre. Tana French is the best I’ve found to do this yet, and Broken Harbour is (possibly) my favorite of her books (I’m still debating this). Scorcher Kennedy drives that novel, and most of the other characters in his orbit are equally as enthralling.

6. Jo Nesbo- The Harry Hole series. Again with the crime fiction, again with the deeply flawed people. Nesbo, I think, does it in a more fun way than French (if that is the word I’m looking for, less introspective and more charactery-y) (boy, I’m really going places with this list). Hole is one messed up dude, but the characters around him are fun, vibrant, eccentric, and memorable. The plots are always humdingers, but I definitely read for the characters (even though I know he’s up there with GRRM in terms of putting bodies on the table).

7. Gillian Flynn- Gone Girl. Forget whatever you’ve heard about the twists. Forget the buzz. Forget Ben Affleck. This is a character portrait of (say it with me now:) two deeply flawed people. The identites they present and the identities they hide make for a wonderfully complex and enthralling story.

8. Ann Leckie- Ancillary Justice. 17333324I’m still not sure quite how I feel about this novel. I’m still not sure quite what novel it is. But Ancillary Justice is definitely a remarkable feat of character-building. Breq is a refugee, a lone human on a revenge quest. She used to be an entire spaceship, and all of its crew. She’s not an easy character to define, and she’s not an easy character to dismiss from your headspace.

9. Mary Beth Keane- Fever. This is a great example of the kind of historical fiction I like. It takes an historical figure that most people are at least marginally familiar with (Thyphoid Mary) and uses the facts to dramatize an internal life. Keane does it really, really well with Fever.

10. Anything Rainbow Rowell had ever written, ever. I literally do not know how she does it. Rowell takes lots of dialogue, some pop culture references, and choppy, fast-reading formats and manages to churn out novels that make me feel all the feelings at once. They shouldn’t work (for me, given my reading history). But her characters are so alive, it’s like they could pass you walking down the street. I feel like I know everyone she writes about. Half the time I feel like I’ve been them. It’s amazing, and kind of creepy, and I hope it never stops.

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