Monthly Archives: November 2014

Review: The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones

21423574Title: The Barefoot Queen

Author: Ildefonso Falcones

Rating: DNF

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

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I have ever DNF’d a book I took on for review. I don’t DNF much in general, and I take reviewing seriously and think I should give every book a full shot, but I reached a point in this novel where I just couldn’t deal any more.

Set in mid-18th century Seville and Madrid, The Barefoot Queen follows Caridad, a former Cuban slave who falls in with a community of gypsies, and Milagros, Ana, and Melchor, the gypsy family who are connected with her.

Terrible things happen in this book. I regularly read crime fiction, and fantasy epics where violence is de rigueur, and I’m usually not affected. But early on during this book, I wrote endless parade of misery in my notes. And endless it was. The characters were thrown into one horrible situation after another. Rape and murder and prison and starvation and humiliation. I made it to page 478 (of 601). I put in a two week reading investment, and I fully intended to finish. And then something happened that just made me say, “Nope. Done.” In over four hundred pages, the characters were constantly beaten down, and whenever anyone got a little win, it was viciously taken away with something even more violent. When I reached my last straw, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The thing about it is though, the book really isn’t bad. The writing is quite lovely, despite a lot of historical infodumps. The scope is epic (it somewhat reminded me of Les Miserables) The characters were interesting. I was fascinated by the gypsy culture. Caridad is slow to develop, but I really started to like her towards the middle of the book. But, historically accurate or not, I could not stand the endless parade of misery. I didn’t foresee it ever changing, and so I just had to stop.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Winter TBR


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR.

Well…since I didn’t end up getting to a single item on my Fall TBR list (…oops), let’s just add to it why not.

215352691. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya- There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In. I just love her. And I love the way Penguin markets the translations of her books. The titles, the design. It’s all so great.

2. Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years Of Pilgrimage. It has been awhile since I picked up a Murakami, I think this will be a good one to restart.

3. Maggie Stiefvater- The Raven Boys. I’ve been wanting to check out Maggie Stiefvater for a while now. I’m going to do it. Really.

4. Hilary Mantel- The Assasination of Margaret Thatcher. For some reason I’ve been a bit reluctant to tackle Hilary Mantel, I’m hoping short stories will help me get over that.

5. John Scalzi- Lock In. Poor Lock In has been sitting on my TBR shelf just pleading to be read for months now. I’m sorry for ignoring you, book!

6. Robert Jackson Bennett- City of Stairs. I found out about this one through one of those list memes (Tough Travels? I think.) Anyway, it looks quite good.

7. Chase Novak- Brood. I’ve been in the mood for disturbing books for months now. This looks like it fits the bill.

8. Keigo Higashino- Malice. Oh good more international crime fiction just what I need. (I kid, I kid.) This looks like a good mystery…and it seems like more and more, crime fiction is a great place to find works in translation. Maybe I’m just noticing it more. But I’m reading more authors in translation than I probably ever have, and they seem to be mostly crime writers.

9. Max Gladstone- Three Parts Dead. This has been another one actually sitting on my physical TBR shelf, silently rebuking me, for months.

10. A.S. King- Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Every single thing I hear about this novel makes it sound badass and feministy and I need it in my brain.

What books are you hoping to tackle in the next few months? Winter is my favorite reading time of the year. Getting lost with a book while under piles of blankets keeps out the cold.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Sequels


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten sequels I can’t wait to get my hands on. I didn’t make it to ten this time, as I’m not reading a whole lot of series at the moment, or at least not ten series that I’m super excited about.


188738231. Mary Robinette Kowal- Of Noble Family The last Jane and Vincent novel nooooooooo. But on the plus side: pretty

2. Marissa Meyer- Winter OK, this one, I’m excited about. Fairest, not so much for various reasons (though Meyer always does seem to surpass my expectations)

3. Ann Leckie- Ancillary Sword Ancillary Justice got a LOT of critical praise and attention, and it will be hard to live up to. I’m excited to see where Leckie goes with it.

4. N.K. Jemisin- The Awakened Kingdom (novella) I was already excited about the Inheritance Trilogy omnibus, because two of my books are mass market and one is trade paperback and my OCD brain just can’t deal with that, but then I found out it also includes a new novella. Yes, please.

5. Justin Cronin- City of Mirrors It’s been awhile since The Twelve. I’m ready.

6. George R. R. Martin- The Winds of Winter I have a feeling that I’m going to hate it, but I still need it so much.

That’s all I’ve got. How about you, lovely readers?


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Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

18209339Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Rating: 3.5 stars

I read this book through my local library.

The best science fiction, particularly dystopian, speaks to our anxieties as a society. There’s a lot of handwringing going on out there about the devaluation of language, of texting and social media ruining critical thought processes and communication. Personally, I think a lot of that anxiety comes from elitism and clickbait, (see, for example, Time’s disturbingly racist and sexist list of words to ban) but Alena Graedon takes that anxiety and stretches it to its (perhaps inevitable) hyperbolic limits in The Word Exchange. She does a pretty damn good job of it, too.

In the near future, people use their Memes (think: super smart phones) for pretty much everything. The device anticipates your needs, your moods, even, sometimes, your speech. If you are, by chance, occasionally forgetful and can’t quite remember the meaning of a word, well, you can go on to the Word Exchange and download the definition. It’s cheap, only 2 cents a word. And it’s only for the most obscure words you rarely use, anyway. Until it’s not. Until Synchronic, the company behind the Meme and the Word Exchange, starts to buy up every extant dictionary in the English language, and words like “fork” are suddenly unintelligible without an Exchange Definition, and the price per definition gets jacked up. At the same time, a new game is creating made up words with a hodgepodge of alphabets and characters, and using those made up words to replace the English language. And a new disease known as the word flu is spreading, causing people to become aphasic, incoherent, uncommunicative, and, sometimes, to die.

This is a difficult book in many ways. It’s very theoretical and academic. There are a lot of things I loved about it (structure! footnotes! Easter Egg references to obscure lexicographers!), that may equally turn off a lot of readers, and even though I have a pretty strong vocabulary (I pretty much studied words for 8 years, I work with books, I write daily) I often found the writing daunting and dense. I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I really wanted to take on the reading of this book. But I knew that I was going to stick it out when I got to page 15, when the narrator, whose name I assumed was Alice (this was a reasonable assumption to make; it’s a first-person female narrator, the first chapter is titled A Alice, with the definition “a girl transformed by reflection”) says “And I knew something was wrong. Because my name isn’t Alice. Alice is a fiction. One I  never thought I’d see or hear again.”

That passage outright gave me chills. Who, then, was Alice? Who was the narrator? What was the conspiracy she had just found herself thrown in the middle of?

The Word Exchange didn’t always do a great job of sustaining that tension, or living up to its promise, but it was still interesting, highly original, and timely.

Names feature prevalently in The Word Exchange. Of course, like any other word, names are signifiers, with discrete meanings.  And it is no accident that pretty much every character has at least two of them. (Anana is Ana and Alice and all of her father’s little pet names, Bart is Horace and Horse, Max is Hermes King, etc. etc.) I’m slightly obsessed with the significance behind names and naming in literature, and probably my favorite part of the book was uncovering all those names and untangling what they said about the characters. It definitely stoked up my nerd love. But it was a problem too. Because I was more concerned with exploring the literary puzzles and the representation of things than I ever was with the actual plot of the book or the characters.

I like books that are challenging. I love books that are ambitious. But ultimately, I have to have a character to connect with, and I didn’t really find that here. Anana is someone that I just know, if she existed in real life, I would hate. (I genuinely love unlikeable characters…some of the time. But Anana is supposed to be a character that you root for and empathize with, she’s not supposed to be unlikeable, and so she fell flat for me.) Bart…there were points where I could have almost loved Bart, and points where he was a became cardboard cutout of a Sensitive Intelligent Male just waiting for his One True Love. And then his narrative devolved into illegibility and I was more bothered with trying to translate his actual meaning instead of caring about him. Doug, I think, was the worst transgressor of all. He’s my personal nemesis: the character composed entirely of pretentious quirks. At no time did I really want Anana to find him.

I don’t think the Death of the Book is imminent. (I don’t even think the Death of Print is imminent, though I do understand why people might.) I don’t think language–any language–is sacred; words, meaning, and how we communicate are always changing, and to bemoan those changes is to remain stuck in a nonexistent, glamorized past.  And so for the most part I thought the situations in The Word Exchange rarely rose above theory and fantasy (I’m still not even sure how phones managed to transmit an actual, physical disease). But it definitely raised interesting questions, and is a daring, thoughtful book. My only wish is that I had cared more about the characters and felt more connected to their plight.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Minor Characters Take Charge


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book.

This one is hard. I love sidekicks, but usually it’s because they’re sidekicks, and seeing them in the protagonist’s role doesn’t necessarily sound appealing.

1. Richie Curran- Broken Harbour. Given French’s propensity for circling back to characters, one I’m really hoping to see again is Richie Curran, Scorcher Kennedy’s almost-partner from Broken Harbour. I’m sure he’s cooling his heels in Traffic or something, so I don’t think logically he could ever make it back on the Murder Squad, but I really, really liked him, mistakes and all.

2. Heather & the pizza girlLandline. Oh please please please, Rainbow Rowell, give us something with Heather & the pizza girl. That was pretty much my favorite part of Landline. (Although, it is really, really weird to see your name in print like that. I don’t see a lot of Heathers in literature, so that was an interesting reading experience).


I need more Heathers gifs in my life

3. Wren Avery- Fangirl. Cath was a protaganist I really identified with personally, but I couldn’t help wanting to see into Wren’s brain as she’s falling apart in a very different way than her twin.

4. Caddy CompsonThe Sound and the Fury is one of the most beautiful books in English literature. I love it so much. But I always kind of wished that Caddy got a chance to tell her own story, not just be seen through her brothers’ eyes.

5. Emily and Anjan- The Heiress Effect. I loved The Heiress Effect, and a lot of why had to do with Emily and Anjan. It was the first time I really thought about fiction representing interracial relationships, and how important that is. While their plotline was quite nicely resolved, I really loved them both and wouldn’t mind seeing them at the helm of their own novella or story.

6. Patrick Shaugnessy and Baron Lowery- One of the things I loved about The Suffragette Scandal, and Courtney Milan in particular, is the matter-of-fact way queer relationships were handled. But. You can’t just drop in a relationship like that without giving me more. I haven’t yet read Talk Sweetly to Me, but since the hero of that one is Stephen Shaugnessy, I hope they make an appearance.


7. Thero- as much as I love my Nightrunners Seregil & Alec, I’m kind of curious what a solo outing for Thero might look like. He has a really well developed arc throughout the Nightrunner series, but it would be cool to see him have his own adventures too.

8. Carswell Thorne- I freaking love Carswell Thorne. Like, I would smother him to death with my love. I can’t even deal. (There’s a reason I don’t review books that make me squee and flail). And yes, he is a viewpoint character in The Lunar Chronicles, but I can’t get enough.


9. Bran the Marrok– Of all the various characters that populate Mercy Thompson’s world, I’m still not quite sure how Charles is the one with the spin-off series. I just. Charles. But anyway, I have this weird soft spot for Bran and would love to see something featuring him.

10.Camilla Salander- One of the bummer things about Stieg Larsson’s death was that we never got to see Lisbeth Salander’s twin sister on the page. Apparently she was the polar opposite of Lisbeth, and I would have loved to see a book featuring her.

So that’s about it. Here, have some dancing Baby Groot, and tell me about your favorite sidekicks while you’re at it.



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Top Ten Tuesday: Rereads


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten books I want to reread.

As it happens, I’ve been planning to make this January a rereads-only month because a) January sucks, b) I need to do some serious weeding of my bookshelves, and c) I never seem to reread anything anymore. Here are ten books I’m hoping to get to.

142011. Susanna Clark- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

2. Peter Ho Davies- The Welsh Girl

3. Haven Kimmel- Something Rising (Light & Swift)

4. Tea Obreht- The Tiger’s Wife

5. Ali Smith- The Accidental

6. Tod Wodicka- All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

7. Edward P. Jones- The Known World

8. Adam Johnson- The Orphan Master’s Son

9. Garth Nix- Lirael (and series)

10. Meredith Pierce- The Darkangel (and series)

We’ll see if I can get through all that in January. As for books I reread often–or more accurately used to reread often–The Sound and the Fury, Frankenstein, anything and everything by Lynn Flewelling, and The Secret Garden are my old standbys.


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NaNoWriMo 2014

Anyone doing it?

I haven’t tried NaNoWriMo in years. I’ve had mixed feelings about it in the past. It’s not so much the word count that I’m looking for, but a sort of community that I’ve never really managed. I’m going to really push myself hard this year, though, and see what comes out of it.

So anyway, this is me, if you’re interested.


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