Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles #1) by Philip Reeve

 

Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles, #1)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 16 to 23, 2018

This book gets a solid OKAY from me: good for young adult, but just fine overall. There was one thing about it that I couldn’t get behind, and that one thing get in the way of my enjoyment. More on that below.

Generally speaking, this book was too young for me, but this time I say that as an observation, not a critique, because it’s written/meant for a younger audience. Readers who enjoy YA would enjoy it as well, but the writing gave me that feeling that it was written with young readers in mind. Almost everything about it was geared toward young readers, from the young wholesome protagonists who are eager to throw themselves into the fray, to their fight to overthrow a corrupt system, to their grand magnanimous ideals, to the industrialized dystopian setting, to the bleak look at an environmentally devastating future, to the mustache twirling villains, to the non-stop action, and the list goes on, right into the spoilers. So I’ll stop listing things here.

I would recommend this book to young readers and anyone looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation. It’s a little violent for YA with some characters getting killed rather graphically, but the ideas and visuals and hydraulics this book inspire will look incredible on screen.

To get to that one thing that took me out of the story, I have to explain a little about the set-up. The conceit, municipal Darwinism, is really interesting. The execution, though, is… not as interesting. Municipal Darwinism is basically big cities consuming smaller cities. Once consumed, the smaller cities get broken into parts and their resources are used to fuel the bigger cities. The people who are consumed either assimilate and resettle in the new city or they are enslaved; it all depends on how “ethical” the cities doing the consuming are. Not all big cities are predators though. A few of them are peaceful, and survive by trading with smaller municipals. (I find them more interesting than the predators and wanted to find out more about them, but this story’s focus is on predator cities.)

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

These cities aren’t just cities stuck on land, though. They’re traction cities. Yeah, that’s right, they can move. They can run actually. Up to 100 km per hour, if I remember correctly. Yeah… This was where the book lost me. I could not imagine a city the size of London running around the world eating almost everything in sight at roughly 60 to 100 km per hour. I mean, the weight it carries alone would snap its appendages clean off every time it tries to take a step forward. Unless, somehow, the atmosphere is less dense and/or gravity is no longer a thing in this world… I don’t know. I could imagine everything this book threw at me, everything but cities running around on traction. Apparently not being able to buy into this one thing unravels the whole book because I found the rest of the story hard to take in while I tried to work out how London was galloping across the world, eating other cities. 

I went through the same thing with Updraft by Fran Wilde. The ideas introduced–bone towers and flying contraptions–were really interesting, but the ways in which they were incorporated into the story and dystopian setting didn’t make much sense to me, and that took me right out of the world the author tried so hard to create. And once it lost me, I could not get back into it.

So that was my stumbling block for Mortal Engines. Wish I could have liked it more because it’s got four more books in the series, and I love series (but I love solid world building more). So not dismissing these books completely, just gonna put it on the maybe list for now.

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Iron & Velvet (Kate Kane #1) by Alexis Hall

Iron & Velvet by Alexis  Hall

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: June 25 to 29, 2018

Kate Kane is a revised version of Sam Spade for our modern times. She’s a private eye living in urban fantasy London and she investigates cases involving vampires, werewolves, the fae, and other otherworldly creatures. The case this time is the murder of a werewolf outside a nightclub, and Kate is asked to look into it by an alluring vampire. She couldn’t resist.

This is a paranormal romance with a lesbian character at the center, and there’s more focus on the romance than the paranormal. Normally this wouldn’t interest me, but Kate is an interesting subject, so I didn’t mind following her around even when the investigation took various detours through her sex life.

The writing style is hardboiled and done very well, and I say that as someone who’s not a fan of hardboiled mysteries. But since I had heard lots of good things about the author, Alexis Hall, there were some expectations. Fortunately, they were met.

Since hardboiled is not my preferred genre, the writing was a little hard to get into at the beginning. I didn’t really get into the rhythm of the narrative or Kate’s voice until more than half the book was over, but by the end, it was an enjoyable read. A little too romance-heavy at times, but not a big deal.

What is a big deal is Alexis Hall not continuing this series. I think there’s a good thing here, and I was hoping there would be more. Oh well.

What stood out the most to me is the queer female detective angle, which I don’t see much in urban fantasy or mysteries in general, and I appreciate the work the author put into this character to make her seem real and not another tough-acting, hardboiled caricature.

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: May 25 to 28, 2018

A quick, unencumbered read and not bad for paranormal romance. Personally I think Nalini Singh is one of the few better (readable) authors in this genre. If you like PNR, there’s a good chance you’ll like her books, and you’ll have a long back list to enjoy. Her style is very consistent and predictable.

I’ve read 4 books from her Archangel series and thought the first 3 were fine–the 4th was awful but that’s another thing altogether. They’re a bit long and too romance-focused for my liking, but fine overall. She builds unique worlds very well and populates them with striking, beautiful, otherworldly creatures who are as beautiful as they are violent and vengeful, and she adds interesting alternate histories to these worlds and characters. The romance can always be counted on to be hot and heavy and instantaneous, if that’s what you’re looking for. If not, it can be suffocating.

The writing is almost always too focused on the romance for my liking, and I find it weird and awkward whenever it shows up in the middle of intense action scenes, like right in the middle of a chase scene. They’re easily overlooked, though, if you don’t mind these kind of things in your paranormal romances. I, however, do–there’s a time and a place for the sexy times. Not in the middle of a investigation or kidnapping is all that I ask for. How is this so difficult to NOT write…

Anyhow. This book is no different than any of the other books by this author because her writing, themes, and content are very consistent. Only major difference is it leans more towards sci-fi than fantasy and features shifters and characters with mind powers instead if angels and vampires. There are factions and conflicts, an enemies-to-lovers story line, various urban settings, and lots of action and sexual tension as usual. And also as usual, there are a lot of explanations. Every character’s motive and background is explained, as is every thought and feeling they have toward each other; this is another trait of this author’s writing style. You never have to wonder why. Everything is laid out in the open. No sense of mystery anymore; hence the 2-star rating.

DNF: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible (The Austen Project, #4)

Date read: May 28 to 30, 2018

This book has been called the modern Pride & Prejudice all over the bookish blogosphere, and that was the first thing that got me interested in reading it. That is until I actually read it and found it to be… ridiculous.

But maybe I should explain further. I personally don’t think it’s possible to rewrite a P&P suitable for our modern times because the social and economic consequences of marrying outside one’s class no longer carry the same stigma (at least not in most Western societies), and so a modern tale about the Bennet sisters’ plight would not have nearly the same impact as the original. It wouldn’t have any impact at all tbh. That whole “want of proprietary” thing and having mortifying parents wouldn’t work at all either.

Plus, this book is a collection of first-world problems and I could not get through more than 10% before wanting to set it on fire.

I mean…

Liz is a writer for a magazine, and Jane is a yoga instructor; both currently living in New York.

After their father falls ill, they return to their hometown Cincinnati only to find the family a mess–mother still high-strung, younger sisters still ridiculous–and their childhood home falling down around them.

Since Jane is single and approaching 40–OH THE HUMANITY–their mother has to get her married off soon or else… I have no idea what “or else” means. This isn’t Victorian England, and the family estate isn’t entailed. Perhaps a yoga instructor’s salary isn’t as comfortable as one would hope, but it isn’t quite destitution either. So I really don’t get the desperate picture the author is trying to paint here.

But anyhow, back to the story.

Enters two wealthy eligible bachelors.

Bingley is a handsome, charming, easy-going doctor who just moved to town, AND he’s got an equally handsome and bankable (bangable?) best friend. But Darcy is a curmudgeon. More than that though, he’s a neurosurgeon. And this was precisely where I stopped reading. Couldn’t take it anymore.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern updates to this classic are surprisingly shallow. I was expecting more, maybe something clever or poignant with a little humor, because of all the praise this book has gotten. But really, it’s like any other contemporary romance out there, and the prose itself is nothing special. I honestly don’t see what everyone sees in this book.

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: May 5 to 6, 2018

Currently available for free on all ebook sites.

This novella is a good start to the series, and I regret letting it sit on my e-shelf for the past couple of years and forgetting about it. Found it again in a bout of spring cleaning, and after the wild ride that was Altered Carbon, I needed something light and happy to take the edge off.

Not expecting much, I went into this book with some reluctance expecting to see the same old regency romance set-up (scandalous aristocrats and nobility, rogues/rakes, strong-willed governesses, “compromised” virtue, various mentions of class and marriage and marrying out of one’s class), and it does have those things. However, it surpassed my expectations by actually being well written and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would for a few reasons:
1) it’s better written than most of the regency romances that I’ve read (and/or abandoned)
2) it’s smarter than I expected
3) it has self-awareness of its own genre and the tropes/pitfalls of its forerunners
4) it actually addresses some of these tropes and pitfalls.

At only a 100 pages, it’s not long enough to address all those things, but it does a decent job of getting me interested in this series and Courtney Milan’s writing. I’m hoping the rest of the series will be just as good or even better.

Angels Fall by Nora Roberts

Angels Fall

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 18 to 26, 2018

Not bad, but also not good either.

I mean, there are good parts, but they’re offset by little things I find annoying and there were a lot of these little things which accumulated at the end. So it was a bumpy read. The Montana setting and vivid descriptions of a small town sitting at the foot of the Grand Tetons were a nice touch though, and the main character was sympathetic. Easily my favorite part of the whole book was the setting. Everything else was mostly filler.

A couple of weeks ago my neighbor got a new job out of state and I “inherited” her library. Normally this would be exciting–I love sorting through books–but this time, not so much. She and I don’t have much in common book-wise, and her collection consists of fiction, lots of mysteries and thrillers and quite a few romances. All contemporaries and not a single sci-fi or fantasy in the bunch. All huge door-stoppers too. Majority of these will go to charity because I have my own pile of similar fiction that I still haven’t been able to chip at no matter how much I avoid it try.

Anyhow. I now have a huge stash of Nora Roberts books and it’s been a real–chore?–experience sorting through them.

I went into this book expecting–well, hoping–it’s like The Witness which was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. This book has a similar set-up: small town, picturesque backdrop, lots of wilderness, nosy busy-body townsfolk, protagonist with a traumatic past who is on her own, and a murder mystery plot in the background. What’s different from The Witness is the uneven pacing and utterly unlikable love interest who is actually quite an ass. This turned out to be the sticking point with me because I could not get over how much of an ass he was. Moreover, I could not see what she saw in him, and so I couldn’t get into the story whenever he appeared, being all ass-like.

More on this book in particular when I get home.

* * * * * 

I’m home now, but still don’t have much to say about this book. Maybe with a little more time it’ll come to me. For now though, all I can say is this book makes me angry, and not in a good way, because the set-up is good and there is so much potential for the rest of the book to be good. But unfortunately Nora Roberts had to go and be all Nora Roberts all over the damn book. I wouldn’t say she ruined it, because I’ve read worse, but she got very close. So much potential, all wasted.

*angry muttering*

It could have been SO GOOD.

Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

#1. The Birthgrave
#2. Shadowfire (formerly Vazkor, Son of Vazkor)
#3. Quest for the White Witch

These books are intense. Like, INTENSE. Mind-blowing. Ground-breaking (only sort of a pun). And easily the best sword-and-sorcery series I’ve ever read, which might not mean much coming from me since I’m not a fan of the genre in general, but recently I learned it’s because I haven’t read any good sword-and-sorcery. None that fit my particular taste. Until now.

Tanith Lee’s writing fit the bill. Some people don’t like her prose and say she had a tendency to over-write her stories, that she was too flowery with her words, too elegant or too extravagant at times. I like it though. I know it can be hard to read, might take some time getting used to, but I like it. I find it very enjoyable, especially when it’s at odds with the intensity of the stories she was telling.

This trilogy was originally released with Conan-the-Barbarian-esque cover art, complete with scantily-clad women in awkward poses, to convey the style of fantasy its written in… and appeal to its “target” audience? It’s target audience is actually me… but who could have known that back then, right? Recently the whole trilogy was re-released with darker, slightly gothic-looking covers (see below) that are more in line with the characters and apocalyptic world in which they live, which I prefer. 

I still have the last book to read, so below are not quite reviews, just some brief notes and impressions.

* * * * *

The Birthgrave

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: June 21 to September 2, 2015

A hard book to read and an even harder book to like. And I enjoyed it very much, mostly because I have strange taste in genre fiction and strange books always call out to me, but I think, if the mood is right and you’re looking for something with depth, with flesh, to sink your teeth into, you might want to give this challenging book a try.

The writing is subversive and sublime and unexpectedly hard-hitting, and not what I expected from the Conan the Barbarian throwback cover and description. I simply expected Conan the Barbarian but told from a female perspective, which sort of what this book is. It takes Conan as the foundation for which the story builds on to create a whole new world that’s on the edge of destruction and reincarnation.

And I find every part of it fascinating because it really delves into and takes advantage of all the things that genre adventures often ignore, like the inner life of a confusing character who is, by all accounts, an alien. She is definitely not of the world in which she walks. And in most stories written in this genre, she would’ve been ignored or killed early on. Here, though, she gets to tell her tale.

* * * * *

Shadowfire (Birthgrave #2)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: April 14 to 18, 2018

Still good but still a hard read like the first book. Unlike the first book though, we’re no longer following the mysterious nameless woman who emerged from a volcano, broke the world into pieces, and set a host of apocalyptic things into motion.

Instead, we move on to her son’s perspective, Vazkor (son of Vazkor). He’s an angry young man who was raised in a society that valued violence, might, and masculinity. He grew up without his mother, only having heard tales of her in a destructive, demeaning light all his life. So when he grows up, he does the expected thing. He sets out to kill her.

I’m not saying he isn’t within his rights, but the reason behind his revenge journey is… weak. His mother would not have approved.

Still an interesting story and still well written, but maybe not as compelling as the nameless woman’s story because it lacks the nuanced, alien feel of her narration. Vazkor is more in line with the series’ old Conan the Barbarian inspired book covers. He’s more human in his wants, needs, and motivations, and therefore not as interesting to me.

These books though… when I see or hear people say “pillars of the genre” and then name the usual names and list the usual books, I always wondered what my pillars of the genre would have been if I had grown up reading sci-fi and fantasy. I think this series would have easily made my list.

Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 1

Over the past couple of years I have listened to a lot of audiobooks and have amassed a ton more in my library, to the point where I didn’t know how many I’d owned, which was a problem. It’s fine to let physical books accumulate and pile up all over the floor, but it’s a problem when you let that happen to audiobooks. It’s too easy to forget about virtual books when you’re not constantly tripping over them. The sheer number of unread audios that I own and their combined hours is probably more than my lifespan. Probably.

So organizing my audio shelf has been a long, on-going process that I’ve been meaning to complete for years now, but kept putting off because… virtual shelves, not tripping over them, and all that. Also, I didn’t have the right motivation until recently when a friend on Goodreads asked for some audio recommendations, good audio recommendations, that is. I knew there were plenty I wanted to list for her, but couldn’t recall what they were off the top of my head. So this list, or rather these lists, is a way of keeping track of the best ones, the ones that I know I would gladly recommend to anyone (with some caveats) and I know I would reread (relisten?) to them if I have the chance.

So here they are in alphabetical order by author because… just because that’s how I roll.

Peter Grant books (aka the Rivers of London series)
by Ben Aaronovitch (reviews)
read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

When an audiobook narrator and the main character of the book seem like they’re made for each other, magic happens. Literally. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is Peter Grant (if there’s a TV show, the role’s gotta his, right?). But not only that, he also portrays every character in the story, as well as London itself, so skillfully that I always forget I’m listening to the book rather than reading it myself. It’s a joy to listen to and always makes me feel like I’m right in London.

The Blade Itself (First Law Trilogy #1)
by Joe Abercrombie
read by Steven Pacey

I’m partial to narrators with British accents when it comes to high fantasy, and this book read by this narrator is one of my particular favorites. Steven Pacey not only makes the characters come to life, but he makes you believe that he really is each and every one of them. When the POV jumps from one to another, he moves seamlessly between them without missing a beat. And furthermore, I find that he’s as good with internal monologues as he is with action scenes. I really need to reread this trilogy in audio.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

So good and a lot of fun. Stephen Fry makes this book very enjoyable. I first read it some years ago on my own and didn’t really like it. I found the plot meandering and the prose too busy with too much going on to make much sense. Ironically, I’m a fan of books inspired by Douglas Adams’ writing style (Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez, Soulless by Gail Carriger, The Gates by John Connolly, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett). But the original itself? Was not a fan… until I listened to Stephen Fry read. This book is meant to be read out loud and you’re meant to enjoy the performance.

Watership Down
by Richard Adams
read by… unknown

I don’t recall who the narrator was, just that he was very good. I borrowed the recording from the library some years ago, but it’s not there any more and none of the other libraries have it. 😦 Anyhow. I just remember the narration was very good and made me love the book all over again. I would only recommend a listen if you read it way back when and had fond memories of the rabbits (and were permanently scarred by their violent deaths). (Watership Down was my Winnie the Pooh.)

The Goblin Emperor
by Katherine Addison (review)
read by Kyle McCarley

Otherwise known as “he who can pronounce basically any made-up fantasy word.” Just a few examples: Alcethmeret, Ulimeire, Istandaartha, Nazhmorhathveras, Verven’theileian, Untheileneise, Edrehasivar. The mind, it boggles. I liked this book on the first read, but it was the reread in audio that made me love it. (McCarley is also the narrator for City of Bones btw, which was okay overall but not as smooth or well-read as Goblin.)

Garden Spells
by Sarah Addison Allen
read by Susan Ericksen

Once again, another book that I liked more on audio because of the narrator. This is sweet with a little bit of magic and lots of food (one of the main characters is a gifted caterer). Like Practical Magic (the movie, not the book), but cozier and softer around the edges.

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
read by Rosamund Pike (aka Jane Bennet herself)

Personally, I think Jane Austen’s writing is better in audiobook than it is when read by yourself (or myself), and that’s especially true for P&P because of all the dialogue and the internal monologues and the endless balls and gowns, not to mention all the explanation of appropriate fashion and mannerisms. Rosamund Pike does an amazing job bringing the characters and their predicaments to life with her narration, and I think she’s the best reader for this book. She’s got a voice that really brings the time period to life. (IMHO she’s even better than Kate Reading, who’s good but not time-period-enhancing good.)

The Reapers Are the Angels
by Alden Bell
read by Tai Sammons

There are so few narrators who can portray a teenager’s point of view in a believable way, while at the same time preventing the tone of the book from veering into whiny YA territory. This book is definitely not YA, but the main character is a teenage girl trying to survive a zombie apocalypse by herself, so there are long passages in which she’s recalling the past. The writing is amazing and I loved this book the first time I read it. Then I listened to audio and enjoyed it all over again.

Kitchen Confidential
by Anthony Bourdain (review)
read by the author

Bourdain writes like the way he talks and vice versa, and he narrates the same way too–cocky but with the skills to back it up, honest, matter-of-fact, heartfelt, endearing (if you like that type of personality). I play this audiobook just to have it in the background when the house is too quiet just like other people play their favorite albums. It keeps me grounded.

A Natural History of Dragons (Lady Trent #1) (series)
by Marie Brennan
read by Kate Reading

Ms. Reading has a natural talent for high fantasies with lots of adventure told from female POVs, and Lady Trent is the perfect character for her voice and style. She and her husband, Michael Kramer, have read a ton of genre books together, but I much prefer her narration to his, so I usually seek out books that she reads by herself (P&P being one of them) and I always pass on books they read together because nothing puts me to sleep faster than Michael Kramer’s voice.

Vlad Taltos (series)
by Steven Brust (reviews)
read by Bernard Setaro Clark

Fun, fast-paced, and very funny. Bernard Setaro Clark is so good that I think I might listen to the rest of this series, even though I already own most of the books in paperback. Clark’s portrayal of Vlad and the stealthy (and often accidentally teleported because he’s so stealthy) Kragar and their friendship is my absolute favorite.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
read by the author

Very good and very funny. I loved the audio as much as I loved reading the book myself. However, I should mention that text books are hard to listen to for long periods of time. The mind tends to wander after half an hour. No matter how good or interesting or engrossing the text is, you’ll find yourself suddenly fascinated by dust motes and the molding on the ceiling.

Lilith’s Brood or Xenogenesis (trilogy)
by Octavia Butler (review)
read by Aldrich Barrett

A hard series to read, but since this is Octavia Butler, the pages just turn themselves. I read all three books back to back, turning to the audios whenever the reading got difficult, which was often, and I was able to make it through some of the toughest parts because, for some reason, listening to them made them easier to bare. It really helped that Aldrich Barrett has a voice that’s very easy to listen to.

Wild Seed (Patternist #1)
by Octavia Butler
read by Dion Graham

Similar to Lilith’s Brood, but mildly easier to read because the story is set on Earth… during the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and deals with shapeshifters indirectly involved in the slave trade, so not that easy, just easier to digest than aliens from outer space interbreeding with humans as part of a genetic trade agreement to repopulate the Earth… Anyhow. My point is Octavia Butler’s books are hard to read but so good. Thank audiobook for talented narrators like Dion Graham who make hard reads… more pleasant.

The Kushiel trilogy
by Jacqueline Carey
read by Anne Flosnik

Like Kate Reading, Anne Flosnik is another household name in high fantasy. I think her voice is a good fit for fantasies that feature courtly intrigue, a layered plot with many subplots branching off and then converging later on, with lots of moving parts, and royal families and their subjects squabbling, which is why she’s perfect for the Kushiel trilogy. However, I should mention that it took me more than half of the first book, roughly 15 hours, to get used to her narration style, but I’m glad I stuck with it because the scope of the story is huge and the payoff is very satisfying.

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
by Gail Carriger
read by Emily Gray

Very funny and enjoyable. Emily Gray has great comedic timing and she really embodies Alexia Tarabotti’s style of flouncing tradition in favor of doing and saying whatever she wants, often times in public and at the most inappropriate moment. If I ever get around to picking up the second book, I will definitely go for the audio.

The Wayfarers (series)
by Becky Chambers
read by Rachel Dulude

Both readings of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit are excellent, but ACCO is slightly better IMO because it’s an emotional gut-punch, whereas Small Angry Planet is light and fun.

Alexander Hamilton
by Ron Chernow
read by Scott Brick (the unabridged edition)

This audiobook is 36 hours long and I only listened to parts of it when I couldn’t concentrate and my mind started to wander. So I’m not sure how the whole audiobook is, just the parts that I listened to were expertly read by an expert, Scott Brick. (Mr. Brick is also the narrator for one of my favorite mind bending sci-fis, The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. More on that when we get to R.)

Continues on:
Best of Audiobooks, Vol. 2 (to be posted later)

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

3447

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: April 26 to 29, 2018

This is a deceptively angry book. It may look normal and unassuming on the outside, even boring, but on the inside, it’s a slow-building, roiling, burning rage, the kind that sucks you in and makes you burn along with it. And I could not stop reading or even look away. Finished it in 36 hours. All I did this weekend was read this book and let it burn.

Beautifully written, bitterly frustrating, angry and wholly unexpected.

Looks real black and white now–very clear–but back then everything came at you in bright colors. No sharp edges. Lots of glare. A nightmare like that, all you want is to forget. None of it ever seemed real in the first place.

[…]

Would it help to announce the problem early on? To plead for understanding? To argue that solutions only demean the grandeur of human ignorance? To point out that absolute knowledge is absolute closure? To issue a reminder that death itself dissolves into uncertainty, and that out of such uncertainty arise great temples and tales of salvation?

[…]

I have tried, of course, to be faithful to the evidence. Yet evidence is not truth. It is only evident.

[…]

The afternoon had passed to a ghostly gray. She was struck by the immensity of things, so much water and sky and forest, and after a time it occurred to her that she’d lived a life almost entirely indoors. Her memories were indoor memories, fixed by ceilings and plastered white walls. Her whole life had been locked to geometries: suburban rectangles, city squares. First the house she’d grown up in, then dorms and apartments. The open air had been nothing but a medium of transit, a place for rooms to exist.

The theme “you can’t ever go home again” prevails infuriatingly throughout the writing, cementing the fact that, here in this story, you really can’t go home again.

Normally I hate fiction that leaves the reader without closure or an ending. Why read books that imitate real life when there’s already too much real life in your own life? That has always been my reason for staying away from contemporary fiction. But it’s different with this book and its open ending and lack of closure and lack of subtlety, all because it’s Tim O’Brien (better known for his memoir of his experience in the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried). There’s a sharpness to his writing that has always spoken to me. It’s almost as though I get him and what he’s saying. No one writes about memory and pain like Tim O’Brien, and no one writes about being lost in the wilderness of post-traumatic stress quite like he does.

My heart tells me to stop right here, to offer quiet benediction and call it the end. But the truth won’t allow it. Because there is no end, happy or otherwise. Nothing is fixed, nothing solved. The facts, such as they are, finally spin off into the void of things missing, the inconclusiveness of us. Who are we? Where do we go? The ambiguity may be dissatisfying, even irritating, but this is a love story. There is no tidiness. Blame it on the human heart. One way or another, it seems, we all perform vanishing tricks, effacing history, locking up our lives and slipping day by day into the graying shadows. Our whereabouts are uncertain. All secrets lead to the dark, and beyond the dark there is only maybe.

This book found me at the right time and in the right state of mind to appreciate its infuriating complexity. In a different mood, at a different time, and I would have no doubt stopped reading somewhere about page 20. But there was something about this past weekend that made this book call out to me. Every word, every line, made sense in a way that contemporary fiction rarely does for me. Maybe it’s Tim O’Brien. Or maybe it’s simpler than that, maybe I just wanted to get lost in the woods or a lake (preferably one that’s accessible only by helicopter).

Did Not Finish, Vol. 2

The urban fantasy edition. My favorite genre, which is probably why I take so many chances and try so many books, even ones that I doubt I would like in the off chance that it would be a hit. It’s usually not, and that’s why I DNF so many in this genre. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s not, it’s… please see below.

A Hunger Like No Other (Immortals After Dark #2)
by Kresley Cole
(“review“)
This is the second book in the Immortals After Dark series and the only time I will ever read anything by Kresley Cole. Not only is this bad, but it’s bad in a “how did this get published???” kind of way.

Dark Lover (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1)
by J. R. Ward
(“review“)
This is the first book in the popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series and most likely the only book I’ll ever try by J.R. Ward. Not any better than Kresley Cole, but sort of more interesting? Maybe. Sort of.

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2)
by Kevin Hearne
Nothing wrong with this book or series; the writing is just not for me–too much “jaded” snark crammed in. The first book was meh with a dash of try-hard, as in it tried too hard to appear “cool” or “cooler” than its urban fantasy counterparts. Case in point? The main character is a 2,000-something years old wizard, yet speaks and thinks as though he’s a hipster millennial, but he’s neither a believable hipster or a believable millennial. He reads like what he is–a young character written by an author who mirrors his characters after what he thinks is “cool.” Being from hipster central myself, I just don’t find that part of the characterization believable, so that’s a deal-breaker.

A Local Habitation (October Daye #2)
by Seanan McGuire
After finishing and not liking the first book, I kept this series on my radar because so many friends kept recommending and saying it gets better, but what little I read of the sample chapter failed to capture my interest. Even the title bores me.

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson #2)
by Patricia Briggs
After finishing the first book and was on the fence about it, I gave the second one a try because the world building was pretty good tbh and I didn’t wanna miss out on a series that could very well turn out to be good. First books in urban fantasies are dicey, and long series don’t really take shape until the second or third book (or fourth or fifth). What stopped me from continuing this series was the main character. Simply put, Mercy bores me and I have no interest in following her around for twenty more books.

Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence #2)
by Max Gladstone
While I liked the first book just fine and enjoy Max Gladstone’s writing in general (A Kiss with Teeth, The Angelus Guns), I had a hard time getting into this one because the main character was a bit boring and there was too much going on at the beginning. Plus, I think at the time I was impatient for a story that I could sink my teeth into without having to work so hard or wade through so much text to get to the good stuff. Temporary DNF for now with promises to return soon… ish.

Firefight (Reckoners #2)
by Brandon Sanderson
Too young for me, just like the first book, but this time I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about the characters to keep reading past the sample chapter. I think this was around the time I was fed up with Brandon Sanderson in general, and reading any more of his particular, repetitive style of fantasy was just too much.

Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)
by Jim Butcher
This one bored me right out of the gate because… well, Harry Dresden. I pushed through the first book to prove a point and put an end to doubts. Turned out I was right: this series is not for me. But again, friends kept on recommending it, saying it would get better, so I gave the second one a try and it’s further proof that this series is not for me.

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2)
by Laini Taylor
Another one that’s too young for me. The first book had all the irksome quirks of young adult, but the world building was good, so I stuck with it to the end. The second book was more of the same, but I was looking for something with more depth and less YA. I think all the “beautiful” descriptions of all the pretty things just got on my nerves. Why the obsession with beautiful things? What’s wrong with plain fugly things? They need love too… as all things need love…

Cast In Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra #2)
by Michelle Sagara
I read the first book with Beth as a buddy read. She liked it a lot more than I did (her thoughtful and concise review here). I expected to like it, because 1) long series, 2) the description was interesting and 3) several Goodreads friends gave it high ratings, but I found the writing too messy and meandering. Plus I’m not a fan of the stream of consciousness style. Also, the main character, who is a detective, is bad at her job and entirely unbelievable. While I believe she is bad at her job, I don’t believe her as a detective, but the thing is, this whole series revolves around her being a detective and it’s told from her first-person POV… which really sucks.

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)
by Kim Harrison
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and wondered “have I read this before?” I’m usually pretty good at recalling beginnings, especially beginnings of books I end up abandoning, but with this book, there was a moment in which I couldn’t be sure whether or not I had read it or abandoned it because the writing style was not only familiar, but it’s so familiar that I was sure I’d read this book before. I hadn’t though. It was PNR deja vu. Rachel Morgan is full of sass and snark and has very little substance, and her antics get old very quickly, like around page 10. I think I pushed myself to the 30% mark before call it quits due to recurring boredom.

Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland #2)
by Greg Van Eekhout
I tried reading this one right after the first one, hoping it would get me more into the series. Didn’t work. Only made me more annoyed with the main characters which were too young and teenager-y for my liking. The world building is still fantastic though. I just couldn’t get into the characters or gave a damn about their life-or-death situations or cared about how they’ll save the world. It really is too bad because I really liked the setting, world building, and magic.

Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre #1)
by Mike Shevdon
Couldn’t get into this one. Don’t know why. There was something about the writing in the first 10% that didn’t capture my interest, and so reading on felt more like a chore than an escape. Didn’t help that the whole series is about the fae and their courtly politics. Kudos for the middle-aged main character though… perhaps I will give this one another go.

London Falling (Shadow Police #1)
by Paul Cornell
I wanted to like this book. Other than Two Serpents Rise, this is the only other book on this list that I regret not finishing. It’s got all the makings of a nice, chewy cop drama with some paranormal thrown in. Also, it’s set in London. But the book opened with too much going on. The writing moved too quickly from scene to scene and very little info is given about what’s going on and the characters involved. I couldn’t follow what was being said, let alone catch all the subtle implications. So I got bored not being able to follow the story or, rather, not being in on the take. Stopped at around 30% with plans to return, but I don’t know at the point. Maybe I’ll audiobook it.