365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Archive for November 2010

The Replacement by Brenda Yovanoff

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Why do I like this book? Simple, three reasons:

1. Tate. I like a girl who can kick ass, a girl who is the one who saves the hero from the big bad but at the same time isn’t a girl with superpowers. She’s not Buffy. She’s just a regular girl who’s angry and ready to kick some ass. And smart enough to bring some cold iron (a crowbar) when she goes to kick some Fairy ass.

2. You know how in Twilight Edward was all mopey because he was so very very lonely (so lonely!) and there was no one special enough for him to love? And he’s rich and gorgeous and young forever and that’s totally not good enough for him? I bet you wanted to kick him in the nuts too.

Anyway, Mackie might be a Fairy changeling and he might be good looking, but he’s also got real problems like he’s dying from all the iron in our world. And even then? He doesn’t make with the emo moments. He’s also a big dork who is dorky enough that he really can’t tell when a pretty girl likes him, and enough of a real kid to do stupid things (like kiss a girl with a steel tongue stud) that almost kill him.

3. But really most of all it’s the interaction of Mackie’s family. Maybe their original son was stolen and killed, but that wasn’t Mackie’s fault and they love him just the same. That doesn’t mean that their isn’t baggage or guilt because of all that, but they seem like a genuine family.

For me, that was enough. I’ll tell you now that the plot isn’t any great shakes. (Remember the subplot from American Gods about the small Midwestern town? Yeah, that’s pretty much our plot here.) But it’s handled well enough and I found the characters interesting enough that they carried the day.

(And how ugly is the UK cover on the right? I think the US publisher played it right by going for the creepy.)

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Written by Chance

November 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm

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Zoo City by Lauren Buekes

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Zinzi December is a former junkie, Nigerian 419 scammer, and generally not a terribly pleasant person – oh, and she also may or may not have killed her brother.

Because of her brother’s death she became one of the “animalled” – a physical manifestation of her guilt and a source of magical powers. In Zinzi’s case she can find lost objects.

She’s not quite the PI of old fashioned detective fiction, but she’s close enough for this novel, which has a definite noir feel.

She’s sucked into a missing persons case she really doesn’t want to take, and honestly I didn’t want her to take either because it wasn’t very interesting. The ending feels rushed and at the end it feels like she’s turning over a new leaf in a way that feels incredibly forced and not very believable.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit for about the first 50 pages – shortly after she gets dragged into the central missing person case I mostly stopped caring what happened. And then when you get to the big reveal/climax, I was pretty much “Really?” and not in the good way.

So yeah, that’s pretty much my thought on this book: “Really?”

One thing Angry Robot does right is the pricing of their ebooks. Zoo City was a real bargain in the Kindle store – only $3.99 and definitely worth the money. If only they published more women.

(Sorry for the paucity of posts – I have been reading, but life has been lifelike and so I am far behind on writing up thoughts.)

Written by Chance

November 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm

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Day 53: The Bolted Door by Edith Wharton

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Sometimes when I read a story, I wonder what it would be like if I had read it when it was first published. Or at the very least, much earlier in my reading career before I became aware of the patterns of fiction.

So it is with The Bolted Door by Edith Wharton. It’s a bit tell-tale heart and reminds me a bit of Agatha Christie. (In the fascination with useless upper class people unable to conceive of working for a living way)

Hubert Granice is that useless upper class person who has spent the last ten years of his life as a failed playwright and now his despair drives him to do something curious – confess to the decade-old unsolved murder of his cousin in hopes of getting the death penalty.

Unfortunately for his plan, the man he confessed to (his lawyer) doesn’t believe him. How ever Granice tries to convince him, his lawyer doesn’t budge in his belief that Granice is innocent.

Much of the story is taken up with Granice confessing this crime over to various people who all refuse to believe him. He has an iron tight alibi that was investigated years earlier, and all the people that Granice suggest could corroborate his story cannot be found. Eventually he becomes unhinged that he’s locked up in an asylum.

The twist at the end is (of course) that he’s actually guilty of the murder. Maybe when the story was first published this twist was surprising.

The trouble for me is that there isn’t much development in the story beyond the initial confession – sure his agitation heightens with each confession until he’s completely unhinged but for me it was obvious that this tension was just building for the reveal that he’d had in fact committed the murder.

I can’t say that I’ve read a story with this exact plot before, but I feel like I have. If I hadn’t, I imagine I would have appreciated this story quite a lot more.

Written by Chance

November 13, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Day 52: 50 Fatwas for Virtuous Vampire by Pamela K. Taylor

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Kameron mentioned this story on twitter the other day and I’m glad she did. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with it.

First the love: I rarely like faux non-fiction, but I really enjoyed the excerpts from the books that advise vampires on how to live a virtuous life and one keeping with the Koran.

In Chapter Three of Ethical Eating: Seven Steps to a Godly Diet’ Sheikha al-Binawi explains, “Selecting the appropriate individual for dining upon can seem quite a daunting prospect. However, the Muslim vampire can take heart, for God does not leave us without guidance. The Qur’an, in a most appropriately titled chapter–The Table Spread–tells us that ‘whoever slays a human being, except for murder or spreading corruption on the earth, it is as though he had killed all of humankind, and whoever saves a life, it is as though they had saved all of mankind.’ Keeping these words firmly in mind, a righteous vampire can not only have his cake but eat it, too! His heart can rest at ease as he dines upon murderers, arsonists, rapists, philanderers and other nasty criminals, knowing that he is not only ridding the Earth of those who would corrupt it, but also saving innocent lives in the process! Truly, we must be deeply grateful for the double blessing the Lord has showered upon the Everliving!”

The actual narrative part of the story, well that’s something else. First, having your main character stand around and think a lot? This very rarely a good idea and definitely not one here.

The bigger problem is that I didn’t feel like the author had any awareness of how repulsive Ibrahim was. I feel like she meant him to be a hero who is saving Lina from the horror of a brutal marriage. Of course, he’s the man who attacked her and now she makes Bambi eyes at him? The whole last scene makes me want to stab the author with a fork.

Imagine to yourself what you would do if a stranger approached you on the street and said:

“I want to help. I can protect you from Sidi Ahmed.”
“You know about him? What he wants?”
“I overheard.”
[…]
“What can you do? We depend on him for everything. We’re completely under his thumb.”
“I can marry you,” he said, surprising himself.

Are you going to look at him like a) a dream come true or b) another predator who is going to do you wrong as much as the guy who was trying to blackmail you into marriage.

I choose B. The author chose A

Written by Chance

November 11, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Day 51: The Popinjay’s Daughter by Anne Cross

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(sorry, still behind and trying to catch up.)

So this felt a lot like the first chapter to a novel. I wouldn’t mind particularly if it were because I enjoyed the concept and the story.

Who can resist a house with rules of its own?

You may pass through as many of them as you like and not arrive where you think you ought to, because you cannot leave the House except through the door you entered in by, and you cannot exit the House unless it be in the same state you came in.

Sure, it’s got your standard fantasy bits – the plucky urchin who becomes apprentice to a powerful magician (sortof), the corrupt magical society who use their power for their own gain. There’s a bit too much of “you can do whatever you want to women if you are powerful” for my tastes. (Seriously, I’m just done with that. You know what? Don’t make it a plot point. You don’t have to. Think different, people! Ahem.) There is also my super-pedant complaint that second world fantasies should not mention places in our world, so Mad Russian, no thank you.

However, although this danced in familiar shoes, they are comfy shoes and I like them. I like how earnest Ghost is about trying to learn, but not quite able to teach himself how to read. I like the strength in him and how he doesn’t fall for the beautiful woman, but for her baby.

Written by Chance

November 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Day 50: Bread and Circuses by Genevieve Valentine

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Much like dragons, circuses make everything better, so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an actual circus in Bread and Circuses. However, there was quite enough here to like even without an actual circus.

Instead, there is only a refugee from a circus, Valeria who becomes a walled town’s new baker. The narrator, Tom, is the one who stokes the fire for her over, is her jailor, and belatedly her friend.

This town is a prison that locked itself in a cycle of fear – their greatest fear being that someone will steal their wheat and attempt to sell it to the neighboring town. Sadly, there is no theft, there is simply not enough to go around. (That’s how they lost their last baker, in a year of famine she was made the scapegoat. Tom and Valeria have been set up to fill this role again.) Their community is a fragile, suspicious thing.

This story reminds me of one of my favorites from SCI FICTION, The Water Master” -the shortage in the water master is water, not food, but both the water master and the baker take a similar spot in the society – the outsider who fills a role that’s essential to the community well being but at the same time is demonized for it.

The narrator here is a bit naïve and oblivious. He was the last to realize that he has been made her jailer. One day he watches her sift dirt into the dough and does not comment. Then:

The third day when I looked up at her, waiting, she shook her head silently, made little pockets in the bread so it looked bigger than it was. (I was too crushed by her silence, I didn’t think much of her doing it; I didn’t realize that her worries had begun in earnest.)

He wraps his hopes into the circus – the thing that he experienced only briefly and from the outside, it is a childlike and melancholy hope, but Valeria tries to protect him:

Her hands were shaking as she turned back to the dough, and I knew she wouldn’t speak another word about the circus—not even for her own sake, but for mine.

The story ends with escape and death, but also with defiance.

If I jumped, I would land outside the city walls. That would be enough; whether or not I lived, I would have been even once outside the gates.

(The aerialists had done the same—you held your breath and jumped as far out as you could, and hoped the wind would carry you.)

Written by Chance

November 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Day 49: Heart of a Mouse by K.J. Bishop

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There is a fable about a mouse who is turned into a lion, but is still afraid of everything because he’s still got a heart of a mouse. Bishop has taken this fable and literalized it –people are turned into who they are inside.

Some people are turned into volk which seem to be gun-nut Christian right types, they carry around AK-47s and shout purity slogans. Some folk have been turned into cats and dogs and pigs or angels or dreams or bactyls (mindless eaters of some sort).

The narrator has been turned into a mouse, a giant bear-sized mouse, but a mouse none-the-less. As you read the story you get a sense that he wasn’t a particularly nice man before the great “search and replace” happened.

Before he was a cop, a bully, divorced from his wife for reasons we don’t know, but it’s not too hard to guess that it was probably his fault:

Well, I can understand that. It’s how she was, anyway. Vain creature. Wanting someone to look after her but never wanting to be obedient or altruistic. Yeah, that’s the kind of power she’d give him if she was real.

a man who beats his son and tries to make it sound like he had to do it to:

So I have to hit him, not out of hurt feelings, of course, but because there’s no way I can look after him and keep him safe if he doesn’t respect me and do as I say.

Yep, this guy is a real prince and who would want to spend the apocalypse with him? (You can’t help but to compare this story to The Road what with the endless travel and the idyll in the found house that is common to them both. Unfortunately, Bishop easily loses that comparison.)

He starts to change when he finds a hut, and against his better judgment decides to stay there for a while, making a home, and in the process grows, but he doubts himself.

This seems like my old way of thinking coming back, the way I used to think in the days before, making justifications and excuses–murky, weak thinking, pretending to put others first when actually I’m only trying to look after myself–deceitful, slimy thinking. The thoughts a bactyl would have, if it could.

And perhaps he’s been given the chance to be more of a man than he would have ever been in the pre-change world, but at the end of the story when he needs to move on again, he’s afraid he’ll become who he was before:

What I’m worried about most of all is that now we don’t have the hut anymore, now we’re back to where we were before, he’ll change back, lose the brains and guts that last night’s episode proved he’s grown, and the sensitivity I’m seeing in him now. And that I’ll lose what I got back too. I don’t think he understands that, though. He’s only a kid.

I didn’t find this story affecting. It was interesting for the worldbuilding, but the emotional arc the narrator goes through left me cold. Something about the narrator failed to engage me – I wasn’t even terribly repulsed by his brutish behavior. Overall, I felt like the story was trying so hard to move me it ended up being very on-the-nose and had the opposite effect.

Written by Chance

November 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm