I haven’t been reading as much as I would like. Or, at least, that was the case two weeks ago.
I’ve always been greedy for stories, but lately, I’ve indulged in more movies and television than good textual tales. I keep hearing writers advise others to read as much as they can get their hands on and I’m aware that it’s good advice. Reading is an important aspect of the vocation I’m trying to get into. Reading helps you figure out how to write and how you want to write.
But turning on the television is so much easier…
Two weeks ago, I decided I needed a good kick, and probably something to keep kicking me. This blog has been good for that before.
For a least a while, I’m going to post short reviews every two weeks, with the hopes that I won’t go another two weeks without reading any time in the near future. I have too many unread books on my shelf to continue like that.
Let’s get started:
The first forty pages of this book took me three months to get through. Then the last two-hundred and forty took me three days.
It took me a little while to coax myself through the beginning chapters which seemed to mimic Old Russian novels in their fixation on two points: that Moscow is a dreary place, and that the main characters inherited a much less wonderful world from their parents than they would have liked. Getting past that, however, I found myself in a very pleasant little book.
I say “little book” because this is not an epic, not a book that’s going to turn your way of thinking upside down in a moment. What it is, is a lot of little stories stitched together. It tells fairy tales, with an invitation to believe that they are true without bothering to confess any logic in the matter. It tells about a world hidden underneath Moscow and all the strange little things that have happened – a house burning down, a man losing his glasses, the invasion of a newer god, death – that accidentally allowed a person to slip into it. The characters that find themselves on the other side don’t ask what to do with this new reality, they ask what to do with themselves.
I enjoyed this book mostly for the peek at unfamiliar fairy tales and mythology – Baba Yaga is probably the only Russian character I could name before this – but also for the meandering feel of it. The books I read usually drag me into an adventure. This was a nice way to relax.
This is the story of Tana Bach, the lone survivor from the world’s worst house party, who ends up on a roadtrip to Coldtown with Aidan, her ex-boyfriend, who is in the middle of the volatile process of turning into a vampire, and Gavriel, a vampire who at any given moment might eat someone, might make puns, or might take another shot at improvised beat poetry. The best part? Tana’s not sure if she actually survived the party. She might be turning into a vampire too (it’s too early to tell). Oh, and she’s letting the crazy vampire ride shotgun.
This book is my jam. I knew it was going to be my jam, just based on the subject matter, and it will be my jam again when I decide to reread it (which I will do shortly, just to collect all the good quotes). I’ll read it a third and fourth time for pedal-to-the-metal Tana, and mad-as-a-hatter Gavriel.
If I had a complaint, it would be an odd one by most people’s standards: I mentally gave the book permission to give me a dark ending, and it surprised me by being fairly sweet instead.
In this Cinderella retelling, Cinderella is a cyborg and her best friend is an android whose personality chip has developed some idiosyncrasies. There’s a plague with no cure appearing more and more frequently among the population of New Beijing and the government is as worried about that as they are about the threat of war from the Queen of the Moon. Yes, I said the Queen of the Moon. They’re pretty sure she’s bent on dominating the solar system.
The further I read in this book, more I became enchanted with its strangeness. The author created a future that seemed both absurd and real. I laughed, sympathized with Cinder’s hurt, and got really angry with the Queen of the Moon.
As a retelling, it never abandoned the predictability of the fairy tale. I could watch all the pieces of the final chapters tumble into place as I read along, which was pleasant, but kept me from falling in love with the story. I also laughed every time Prince Kai was called “charming” as if the author were afraid that we would forget his role in this story. Still, none of that was enough to keep me from enjoying myself.
As Cinder‘s sequel, this book continues the story of our cyborg mechanic – on a romping adventure that I won’t explain in order to keep from spoiling the first book – and adds another protagonist in Little Red Riding Hood. Red (or Scarlet as she’s been named here) is looking for her grandmother, who she swears has been abducted, though the police have written the case off as a missing person who doesn’t want to be found. Secrets fall out of the sky, right onto Scarlet’s poor head, as she looks for proof that the police shouldn’t have stopped looking.
I was delighted while reading this, to find that the author had started me “over the river and through the woods toward grandmother’s house” and I hadn’t realized it until we were almost at the door. If Cinder was too predictable for me, Scarlet managed to make all the proper nods to the old story without feeling like a machine pushing the pieces into place.
My only complaint? The quickness of the romance, which is a fairy tale pet peeve of mine. But I still immediately ordered the next book.
My older sister gave this book to me for Christmas a few years ago. I’m not sure if she read it before she decided it was a book I needed to own, or if she just looked at the cover. Either way, she was right. Twenty-five pages in, when the narrator found the misspelled “referal” in a doctor’s office and immediately coined a new word in his head for “the state of having returned to wild savagery”, I giggled and knew he was my kind of guy. My favorite thing to do with errors is to puzzle out or invent their accidental meanings.
Besides giggles, this book also provided some language history I hadn’t known before and discussions on language shift and the humanity behind human error. The authors, road-tripping around the United States looking for public errors, struggle with the instinct to protect the integrity of English while also realizing that a static language is a dead and unusable language. If they go too far, they’ll have to find a brand new language for daily use and put English up on the mantle. If they forget that there are humans on the other side of the text they’re correcting… Well, they end up in court.
If you read the entire last paragraph and it sounded interesting to you, this is probably a book you should pick up.
What books have you been reading? Tell me about them in the comments, or, if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, tell me what you thought.