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Month: June 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 170: Year One (2017) by Nora Roberts

For anyone who may be unaware, and it seems unlikely but I suppose it’s possible, Nora Roberts is a prolific romance novelist who also writes supernatural romantic thrillers as J. D. Robb, and other things under assorted other pseudonyms. It was probably only a matter of time before she got on board the Apocalypse train, given that the genre is among the most popular of present times — I think we all just want to be assured that now matter how bad things seem, things could yet be worse. Certainly, my friend Lara, who gave me this for Christmas last year, says she hates the world a little less every time she reads a book like this.

What I didn’t expect was that “a book like this” would involve fairies.

Told through multiple perspectives, the end of the world leads to the usual rioting, rape and rationing, as well as sending good people on the run because of dark magics and a messiah. You know. The usual.

For all my extensive reading in pretty much every one of her frequent genres, I have never actually read a Nora Roberts book before this. There is no denying her talent, of course — as millions of readers, and billions of dollars, will attest — and she certainly has a way with a compelling cliffhanger. Whether I am invested enough in her vision of TEOTWAWKI to rush out and buy the sequel I am as yet unsure, but I am certainly going to start reading more of her books.

Luckily, I have collected more than a few of them over the years.


TBR DAY 170: Year One (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts
GENRE: Post-Apocalypse, Paranormal Thriller
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 months. 
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Maybe?

READING THE TBR, DAY 169: Uprooted (2015) by Naomi Novik

I have slowly been working my way through the Temeraire series, following my enjoyment of the first book earlier this year (and this TBR project), but I also discovered in my shelves this other book by Naomi Novik and decided to give it a try. For one thing, it is a standalone — rare in High Fantasy — and I really need to stop reading books on my TBR that make me have to buy and read other books. It’s counterproductive. On the other hand, this is a long and ultimately incredibly unsatisfying book, so perhaps I should go back to series, after all.

The story of a mage who takes as tribute one young girl from his local village every ten years, and then basically uses her as a housekeeper/slave for a decade, and yet we’re eventually supposed to feel sorry for him, it rubbed me the wrong way from the outset. Throw in Agnieszka, the typically plain young woman gifted with hidden power who is unexpectedly (except, expectedly by anyone who has ever read any Fantasy at all) selected over the prettiest sacrifice in the village, and a truly stultifying conclusion in which there are tree people and some kind of long-winded dreamscape reminiscent of the interminable epilogue in War and Peace (and it is not good to remind people of that part of War and Peace), and the book was, quite honestly, a major struggle from beginning to end.

It’s a shame, because there is the core of a fascinating Fantasy novel in here, and the use of Russian backdrop over the more traditional British/Irish model is a nice touch. But, as it stands, I just really did not care for this book at all.

Time to go back to Novik’s dragons in the Napoleonic Wars, I guess.


TBR DAY 169: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
GENRE: Fantasy
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Discount book shop.

READING THE TBR, DAY 168: Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe (2014) by Christopher Hastings

The title of this limited run both attracted and concerned me, speaking as it does of some major fourth-wall-breaking, and that can be very hit and miss. On the one hand, there is Deadpool, King of the Fourth Wall, and on the other there is the 90s She-Hulk title, which was basically just MAD Magazine, but even more obvious and juvenile.

Happily, this wacky installment isn’t fourth wall-breaking at all, or maybe it is, but more like in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, which not only broke the fourth wall but also examined the trope as a storytelling medium. Because Longshot — who is already a pretty confusing X-Man (but not mutant), his powers of luck causing havoc almost everywhere he goes (yes, luck is a superpower; cf. Domino in Deadpool 2) — alters reality when he… er… luckily?… gets his hand on a cosmic cube that is comic-speak for the tesseract, and suddenly there’s some kind of Q-like guy (Star Trek, not Bond) in charge of an anti-magic S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dr. Strange shows up to explain everything. 

Thanks Doctor Strange!

Of course, many other Marvel stalwarts show up too, and that is always the most fun part of an alternate universe story line. From Scarlet Witch to Hulk to Ghost Rider to Deadpool to Reed Richards and Tony Stark (who share some of the blame for the craziness herein) and many, many more besides (Blade! Spider-Man! Cap!, the cameos fly thick and fast and it is a joy. There’s also a possessed teddy bear. Of course.

Does Longshot actually save the Marvel Universe? Well, yeah, which is good, since he’s pretty much the one who endangered it in the first place. And it’s mostly a good time, though the yin/yang rhetoric is pretty pointed, and the allegory about control stamping out artistry is… not new. Still, there are worse ways to spend a half hour or so.

Much worse.


TBR DAY 168: Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe by Christopher Hastings, illustrated by Jacopo Camagni and Matt Milla
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes, Marvel
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years. 
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 167: Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood

So there’s a lot to make one very uncomfortable in this book. There is way too much detailed child pornography in it, for a start. Of course, the apparent acceptance of it in society is supposed to signify the slow decay of civilization, is a precursor to corporation-fueled destruction, and also shows us that our protagonist is both a creep of the first order and as unreliable narrator as it is possible to meet, but still. The answer to “how much detailed child pornography in a book is too much” is “any”, so I really had to struggle to read on past the first appearance of such evil. 

In this vision of the end of everything — Atwood’s religious revolution in The Handmaid’s Tale bred a localized dystopia, but here the worldwide apocalypse is definitely at hand — technology is both the cause and cure of most of what ails humanity, but when the cure does not come fast enough, sole survivor (?) Snowman, née Jimmy, ponders his lost love Oryx, his lost best friend Crake, and his lost sanity in a world on which naught but genetically engineered creatures remain to keep him company, and follow his teachings. (Or do they? Are they all just in his head?) Through flashbacks and forwards and a tenuous grasp on reality, Snowman reflects on how he, and the world, came to this pass, and wonders if there was anything he, who almost coincidentally ended up at the centre of the storm, could or should have done anything to stop it. (Dude. Yes and yes.)

Almost more disturbing than Snowman’s apocalyptic wasteland is Flashback Jimmy’s impeding-apocalypse corporatized hell-world, and, as with much of Atwood’s work, it all hits a little too close to home to be completely ignored or dismissed as too fantastical, to absurd to ever actually happen. If the point of science fiction — and this is assuredly science fiction, no matter those purists who deny that the term has any bearing on true literature — is often to sound a warning, then this is one to which we should all be paying close attention. There are two further books in the MaddAddam series, both of which are on my TBR, and I am sure they are similarly full of dire predictions and outright genius that this book so amply displays.

Did I like it, though? Well, no. I can’t like a book where the heroine is a former sex slave who becomes the plaything of two sickos who once watched her eight-year-old self perform fellatio on a grown man, and got off on it. But is it important to have read it? Yes. And I will be thinking about it for a long, long time, although I know I’ll really wish I could stop.

I wish that already. 


TBR DAY 167: Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam #1) by Margaret Atwood
GENRE: Apocalypse, Post-Apocalypse
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Collins Booksellers.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 166: The Four Graces (1946) by D. E. Stevenson

Calling this an installment in the Miss Buncle series is like saying those Avonlea books without Anne in them are a part of her life story. This does take place in the same town as the last two — Wandlebury — and there are a few incidental cameos from those we already know, but for the most part this story could just as well take place in Anytown UK during World War II.

Happily, it is a pretty good story regardless, featuring the romantic adventures of four lovely girls — Liz, Sal, Tillie and Addie Grace — even as they pitch in on the home front farming and nursing and generally being role models for all the bully-for-you, buck-up-old-chap sentiment that pervades novels set in this period.

This is not to say that the girls don’t have troubles. There are petty jealousies and sibling rivalries and men they like who they think like their sisters and then there is Addie, who is kind of a jerk but fortunately isn’t in the book too much. But it’s all very nice, if not quite as successful as the earlier books in its nominal series, nor as sharply observant about human behaviour. In many ways, I wish it stood alone, unmoored to its more brilliant predecessors, so it could be enjoyed on its own merits rather than suffering in comparison.

But then, would I have been so eager to read it if it were not “Miss Buncle #4”? Sometimes, marketing has a lot to answer for.


TBR DAY 143: The Four Graces by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 165: The Two Mrs Abbotts (1943) by D. E. Stevenson

War has come to the land, which means that the former Miss Barbara Buncle — now one of the Mrs. Abbotts of the title — and the former Miss Jeronina Cobbe — the other one, and who fortunately goes by Jerry — are helping to hold down the fort, alongside their Wandlebury neighbours. Not too much sacrifice is required on the part of our Barbara, really, except that she is raising two little hellions that you kind of wish would get kidnapped and held to ransom, as did Sarah’s son in Miss Buncle’s Book

Speaking of Sarah — hello, Sarah! The sensible doctor’s wife, so utterly but falsely suspected of having written the scandalous Disturber of the Peace, which so upset the tiny hamlet of Silverstream and exiled Barbara from there forever — comes to Wandlebury on behalf of the Red Cross, and is bivouacked with the elder Abbotts. It really was most remiss of Barbara not to have stayed in touch with the lovely Sarah, one can’t help think, but they pick up the threads of their old friendship in a trice, and it actually rings true, because that happens to me all the time.

For all the one Mrs. Abbott’s life has remained pretty static, despite the horrors of War, the younger version is having a very difficult time, with her husband away on the front and her beloved horses seconded into the Army (I think) and various soldiers and displaced Londoners billeted on her estate. We spend the majority of the book with Jerry, and she is as stiff-upper-lip as anyone could wish for, really bringing home the idea that they also serve who stand and wait. 

Secondary characters like Miss “Markie” Marks (heh), Jerry’s no nonsense former nanny, the now-grown-up neighbour boy Lancreste Marvell, who is immersed in an unfortunate dalliance, and a romance novelist who is wooed by a well-redeemed character who was a positive nightmare in the last book in this series, all add to the charm of this enjoyable if, of necessity, very different — because: War! — outing in the series.

I am really loving D. E. Stevenson’s work, and I am mainly disappointed that it took me this long to find her. 


TBR DAY 165: The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 164: Miss Buncle Married (1936) by D. E. Stevenson

Sequels can be hard to pull off, and certainly sequels in which an unexpected romance has been consummated in general satisfaction, and now the happy couple can be seen going about their daily lives in connubial bliss, can be even harder to pull off.

For the most part, D. E. Stevenson succeeded admirably at the task in Miss Buncle Married, in which our newly-made Mrs. Barbara Abbott labours under the weight of social obligation so much that she and her obliging husband actually move to another part of the country, just to get away from people who want them to play cards.

The town they end up in is the Silverstream-esque Wandlebury, in a dilapidated old fixer-upper that Barbara is very excited to fix up. Next door live some adorable, if presumptuous, ragamuffins, whose narcissistic parents are the butt of many jokes throughout the book, while the town is presided over by a wealthy and cantankerous old woman whose secret will is a secret to all but Barbara, who only wants to help, but ends up making a muddle of everything.

Probably the only thing I didn’t love about the book was when Barbara is seized with a fit of writerly inspiration, and for some days stays immured in her study, overcome with the need to write up the doings of the town in which she and her husband no reside. But publish it? Oh, no! She couldn’t possibly. She is, after all, a married lady now, and must devote herself to her husband and burgeoning family — and she really doesn’t want to have to move. I can sympathize with the latter motive, of course, but the former: pah!

However, despite this unfortunate turn of events, this is an otherwise thoroughly engaging story, and a worthy sequel to its predecessor.

And now, onto the next one!


TBR DAY 164: Miss Buncle Married (Miss Buncle #2) by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 163: Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) by D. E. Stevenson

Oh, I loved this so much! As I had no doubt I would. I am only sorry it took me so long to read this book — it was recommended to me a year ago, and I bought not only it but its sequels, and several other books by the same author besides, on the recommendation of my friend Jen, who is an aficionado of excellent fiction (and who shares, if not exceeds, my love for Georgette Heyer), and so I knew I was in safe hands when she ordered me, immediately, to delve into D. E. Stevenson’s canon.

I decided to begin with Miss Buncle’s Book, since that is Jen’s favourite, and after only a chapter, I could immediately see why. The charming tale of a spinster in small town England, in between the World Wars, who, impoverished and seeking to make a little extra coin, writes a slightly fictionalised version of life in her ordinary little town. Laying bare the foibles, fripperies and falsehoods of her neighbours, she not only scores an unexpected hit with her anonymously published epic, she also sets the denizens of Silverstream against each other, as they all suspect the other of such scurrilous lies. And in the meantime, also finds love!

It is perfectly delightful, light and breezy and funny and silly, but also with a biting observational style and featuring an insightful, almost clinical dissection of human nature that is as clever as it is prone to make one slightly uncomfortable, and somewhat exposed.

In all, just a wonderful, speedy read full of delight — I cannot wait to read the next in the series!  


TBR DAY 163: Miss Buncle’s Book (Miss Buncle #1) by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 162: The Problem with Forever (2016) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Well, that was harrowing.

The story of foster kid Mallory and her traumatised self after years spent in an abusive hellhole, who at last is able to attend high school in her senior year but who still bearns both figurative and literal scars, this is a book that was given to me as a gift because I really like the TV show The Fosters, by someone who has never seen The Fosters, and so had no idea how much more upsetting this would be.

Mallory’s reconnection with old friend/foster brother/childhood sweetheart Rider forms the heart of the story, in a lot of ways, and I did like that bit — it’s all very Brandon and Callie, and I loved Brandon and Callie — but the confronting, almost salacious, nature of the rest of the tale, the near-delight in which the horrors of Mallory’s childhood are recounted, and the viciousness with which Rider’s pseudo-girlfriend reacts to it all (kids can be cruel, sure — but that cruel? Ugh.), just made me hate what I was reading at every turn.

It’s a well-crafted book, and I am sure it is a big hit with the hurt/comfort crowd, which do make up a significant portion of this genre’s readership. But I am not among them, not really, and so for me, this was just a really upsetting story about yes, survival, but also lovingly-detailed suffering, and that is just not my favourite.

Thanks for the gift though, Marianne! 


TBR DAY 143: The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: I… um…

READING THE TBR, DAY 161: Karnak: The Flaw in All Things (2017) by Warren Ellis

Marvel’s Inhumans are a band of superpowered and/or otherworldly heroes and/or villains who were transformed into their post-human state by exposure to the Terrigen Mist, a gene-altering compound that brings out their latent abilities if they are descendants of visiting aliens. Or something. I know — or think I know — all of this only because of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the endlessly annoying network television show with an endlessly annoying title to type, because somehow this band of secretive yet interfering metahumans had not really registered with me in all my years of comic book reading.

So when I saw this trade paperback, and learned it was about an Inhuman who was not one, and moreover that it was written by Warren Ellis, who is a genius, of course I had to buy it, to delve into this lore of which I had so long been ignorant. Except for the TV version, that is.

It is stunning. But also, wow, Karnak is a dick.

He is one of those I-have-no-emotion-I-kill-with-impunity-life-has-no-meaning-everything-sucks guys who takes nihilism to such heights he makes Marvin the Paranoid Android look like Hello Kitty by comparison. He is deadly and implacable, and as he is tasked by S.H.I.E.L.D. — also, an annoying agency to type — in the person of Agent Coulson (hi there!) to bring back a kidnapped Inhuman, we learn that Karnak, though born with latent Inhuman gifts, was denied exposure to Terrigen by his nonconforming parents, and so all his skills and badassery come from training and discipline. He’s kind of impressive.

But still a dick.

The writing, of course, is spare and lyrical and thought-provoking and intense (because: Warren Ellis) and the anti-heroness of this character really comes through in all its devastating glory (because: Warren Ellis!). This six-issue limited run is the kind of comic that makes you want to know much, much more about the character and his world, and that is probably the highest praise I can give any comic, or any form of creative endeavour.

It’s certainly more than can be said for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., anyway.*

* Incidentally, Karnak showed up in the ill-fated Inhumans TV series, but, yeah, I never watched that.


TBR DAY 161: Karnak: The Flaw in All Things by Warren Ellis; Illustrated by Gerardo Zaffino, Roland Boschi, Antonio Fuso
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes, Marvel
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Yes!