December Wrap-Up

Another month down!

Other Stuff

Remember how last month I did a bunch of writing, and said I planned on doing the same in December?

…Yeah, that didn’t happen. I wrote absolutely nothing of note in December. And to a degree I can say that life just got in the way (the holidays, my roommate’s aunt passing away), but really, it was all down to general laziness plus a lack of inspiration. I just didn’t feel like actually sitting down and writing anything.

Which I think is something I’m going to have to get over, in a big way, if I ever want to actually accomplish things.

So December was a bust, in that sense. I did, however, meet my goal of reading 100 books this year, which is something, and I made some progress on a future project that I will probably unveil within a month or so (Super Sekrit Project is super sekrit), so it’s not like the month was a waste. Just not very productive when it comes to writing.

But with that said, on to the books that kept me entertained in December!

The Books

Servants of the Storm, by Delilah S Dawson
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Summary: Dovey learns that demons lurk in places other than the dark corners of her mind in this southern gothic fantasy from the author of the Blud series.

A year ago, Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind nothing but death and destruction—and taking the life of Dovey’s best friend, Carly. Since that night, Dovey has been in a medicated haze, numb to everything around her.

But recently she’s started to believe she’s seeing things that can’t be real…including Carly at their favorite café. Determined to learn the truth, Dovey stops taking her pills. And the world that opens up to her is unlike anything she could have imagined.

As Dovey slips deeper into the shadowy corners of Savannah—where the dark and horrifying secrets lurk—she learns that the storm that destroyed her city and stole her friend was much more than a force of nature. And now the sinister beings truly responsible are out to finish what they started.

Review: This book managed to be both what I expected and yet transcend my expectations at the same time, which is impressive enough in its own right. It starts out seeming like Dovey’s experiences are related to mental illness, that taking herself off the antipsychotics she was prescribed after severe trauma is is making her see what isn’t there while making her think that demons and ghosts are real and everyone else is being drugged into compliance. Only then it seems like that is reality, that Dovey has to fight demons in order to free her friend’s soul from servitude, and demons really are messing with everyone else’s perceptions.

Then the ending flips it all on its head and makes you wonder which side really is true after all, whether Dovey was caught in her psychosis or whether it’s demons after all. Because toward the end, things started to go a little bit odd, bordering on over the top, and it was like reality did start to slide a little bit and even the twisted things you’re sure of become uncertain and tenuous. Was that Carly’s mental state backsliding further because she’d been off her medication for so long, or is there so much more to the whole story than the book lets on?

The writing’s great, the pacing is wonderful, and the characters very believable, especially for a YA novel. But the true gem for me was in not knowing what was real. It straddles the line between YA horror and a chilling presentation of someone losing touch with reality, managing to come across as both at once, and I think it’s seriously underrated. Definitely a book to keep an eye out for if you like solving mysteries and looking below the surface of things.

Domnall and the Borrowed Child, by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
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Summary: The best and bravest faeries fell in the war against the Sluagh, and now the Council is packed with idiots and cowards. Domnall is old, aching, and as cranky as they come, but as much as he’d like to retire, he’s the best scout the Sithein court has left.

When a fae child falls deathly ill, Domnall knows he’s the only one who can get her the medicine she needs: Mother’s milk. The old scout will face cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep, to say nothing of his fellow fae!

Review: It’s not that this story is bad. Far from it; it was pretty entertaining, with some good humour, an interesting situation, and some creativity in not only presenting the problem at hand but also in the characters trying to figure out how to solve it when luck isn’t on their side and things turn sour.

But it’s so very short, and there’s so little world-building to it. The back-of-the-book summary tells you that there was a war against the Sluagh, and that’s why there are so few faeries left, which is why Domnall, of all people, is chosen to switch a fae child with a human baby when she falls ill, since only mother’s milk can save the child and people desperately want her saved. As for what’s presented in the book? Cut out the whole “war against the Sluagh and that’s why there are so few people left.” There are hints made, but nothing solid, because the story is about one particular post-war event, not what happened to society after the war, so it feels in some way like you’re getting only half of the story. It’s one thing to throw a reader right into the thick of things, but when that happens, the story usually starts with an action scene (not a guy wandering through the bluebells until he’s called back because someone wants to give him a task), and even then the backstory is usually revealed as we go. Not so much here. I felt a lot like this was a short story connected to some other series I was meant to be familiar with first.

That being said, the writing is good, and I did enjoy the story and the creativity shown in playing with typical faerie lore. But it didn’t sit right with me that I had to rely on the book’s synopsis to provide all the book’s backstory. It sounds more exciting than it was. If you’re looking for an action-packed fae adventure, this isn’t the place to find it. If you’re looking for a fae story with good humour and an interesting problem and solution, however, then Domnall and the Borrowed Child is definitely worth the read.

(Received in exchange for an honest review.)

The Builders, by Daniel Polansky
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Summary: A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn’t end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain’s company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain’s whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.

Review: If I were to try and sum up this novella in one sentence, I’d do it thusly: Imagine Redwall, only with guns, tons of violence, and in which almost everybody dies. It’s incredibly fast-paced, filled with short chapters that keep things rolling along almost quicker than you can keep up with (some chapters are merely a few paragraphs long), extremely violent, and with some masterful world-building that left me wanting to see more.

You’ve got a story full of anthropomorphic animals with axes to grind, mentions of real-world countries but definitely not real-world situations, and it’s such an interesting setup that I found myself a bit disappointed that this was only a novella and not a full-length novel. But one of the story’s strength, the break-neck pacing, was clearly better suited to something short rather than long, and I wouldn’t want to see that sacrificed just for the sake of spending more time with the story.

It’s not an idea that hasn’t been done before, but the dark approach to animal-based fantasy still isn’t common, and it keeps the idea fresh and interesting. Definitely worth looking into if you enjoy quick dark fantasy reads with something a little bit different. Full of revenge, very brutal, and very fun.

(Received in exchange for an honest review.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M Valente
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Summary: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M Valente
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Summary: September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows―and their magic―to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.

Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey in The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem…

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, by Catherynne M Valente
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Summary: September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

Review: I didn’t like this Fairyland book as much as I liked the first two, but it wasn’t by much. It was a bit of a mixed bag for me, really, with some parts being awesome and others being rather lackluster, especially compared to the previous two books in the series.

For instance, I love how the whole book is about September growing up. She’s passed into that stage of life that’s beyond childhood but isn’t quite at adulthood, where things change all over the place and people are often left not knowing what to do or where they fit in the world. And Valente captured this so well, with topics ranging from September worrying that she’d no longer be able to visit Fairyland now that she’s growing up, to just what “growing up” actually means. I loved how it was presented more like a a confusing adventure than something to be scared of and that means you’re going to lose everything you hold dear.

For me, though, the drawback is that the plot felt so… all over the place. September’s given another quest, and she goes through the motions, but it felt like this book lacked a lot of the magic and wonder of the books that came before it. There were new discoveries and a lot of the usual sensible nonsense that I like about this series, but it seemed bland, somehow, and I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was that gave me this impression. It definitely had some wonderful things in it, but it really wasn’t my favourite.

Maybe that says more about my own adolescence than it does about the book itself…

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M Valente
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Summary: When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Red Wind, he becomes a changeling-a human boy-in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate, while attending school and learning about human kindnesses-and un-kindnesses.

Review: Really, I think this may be the best Fairyland book yet! Rather than focusing on September as the other books did, this one starts out with Hawthorn, a troll child who is whisked away to our world to live as a Changeling. The early parts of the novel mirror The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, similar actions and dialogue and jokes made in the early parts of that first book reappear now from Hawthorn’s perspective, making a wonderful parallel between two children taken from their lives to live somewhere else and do things that neither of them could possibly comprehend.

But what really stole the show for me in this book was the way Hawthorn, living as Thomas Rood, struggles to live with his troll nature while at the same time forgetting who he was while he lived in Fairyland. He has trouble dealing with the things most children take for granted. He relates to people in strange ways. His father regards him as Not Normal. His story is a reach-out for any child who isn’t neurotypical, who struggles to understand why the rules of the world and of other people don’t mesh with the rules that exist in one’s own head and heart. I never thought I’d be able to say that I related so well to a troll boy, but there you have it. Valente works magic with words to have this come across clearly, powerfully, and it left an impact.

For the curious, the story does pick up with September toward the end, so it’s not as though this was an utter departure from the overarching story that ties the whole series together. And it ties in nicely with what happened at the end of the previous novel, which made that feel finally complete and not so much like a haphazard half-story. But as good as that was, it was still extremely refreshing to have the new perspective, so different to September’s and yet so similar, and I loved that approach. The humour was fantastic, the commentary on society brilliant, and it definitely renewed my interest in the series.

My Real Children, by Jo Walton
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Summary: It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know-what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War-those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history; each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton’s My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.

Review: Reread; full review here.

The Melancholy of Mechagirl, by Catherynne M Valente

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – July 14, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Science fiction and fantasy stories about Japan by the multiple-award winning author and New York Times best seller Catherynne M. Valente. A collection of some of Catherynne Valente’s most admired stories, including the Hugo Award-nominated novella “Silently and Very Fast” and the Locus Award finalist “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time,” with a brand-new long story to anchor the collection.

Thoughts: The title of this collection alone could have drawn me in, since it’s so unusual that I’d feel compelled to know just what it was all about. Find out it’s a collection of poems and short stories by an author whose work I like (Catherynne Valente) with influences from a country I’m interested in (Japan), and I was sold right there and then.

The collection opens with a poem, the same title as the book itself, a frantic and synesthetic perspective piece that I could probably read a dozen times over and still fail to fully grasp (though I’d appreciate it in new ways every time). It’s a compelling beginning to the book, really; short and fast-paced, giving you a taste of what’s to come without requiring much in the way of time or pages.

Some of the stories in The Melancholy of Mechagirl were not new to me, but they lost nothing in the rereading, and it was good to revisit stories that I’d read elsewhere and enjoyed. I’d heard the story of Killswitch elsewhere, in a collection of gaming urban legends, so it was good to be able to read the story in its entirety instead of just a summary. Most of them, though, were new stories to my mind, and I just drank them up. Valente’s skill with prose, her ability to meld metaphor and myth with solid science and sci-fi is amazing, and not to be missed.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time is one of the stories worthy of particular note, as it rewrites classic creation myths with a scientific bent in an amazingly complex way, while including autobiographics scenes and blending the whole thing into a seamless back-and-forth narrative that is so beautiful to read. It’s a prime example of her skill with words, and for those who haven’t read it yet and want to know just what I’m talking about, the whole story can be found here for free. This is a great taste of what you’re going to get when reading The Melancholy of Mechagirl. Some stories are better than others, as will forever be the case in anthologies and collections, but all are superb and all will impress you.

This is definitely a collection for fans of sci-fi and speculative fiction who enjoy playing with atypical ideas , and who want something new and fresh and their reading. It’s for those who enjoy good SFF fiction about Japan (in the time of Japanophilia, there’s a lot of Japan-centric fiction out there but a lot of it doesn’t exactly have a stamp of quality). It’s for those who, like me, are just addicted to Valente’s writing! It’s a book that has wide appeal, and is filled with stories and poems that all bear reading at least twice to fully grasp, which means it’s one of those uncommon books that I can identify early on as having great reread value. A gem to grace the shelves of SFF fans everywhere!

Anxiously Awaiting: The Melancholy of Mechagirl, by Catherynne M Valente

melancholyofmechagirl  I heard about this yesterday. Catherynne M Valente’s upcoming The Melancholy of Mechagirl, and even if I wasn’t instantly drawn to it by the amazing cover art, I would have been drawn for two other reasons: 1) Catherynne M Valente, and 2) fantasy and sci-fi stories about Japan.

I don’t think it’s possible to create a combination of factors that would be more appealing to my personal tastes.

Now I admit, I haven’t read much of what Valente has written, and what I have read seems to be mostly short stories in anthologies, which is why there haven’t been many reviews of her work here. But every time I come across something she’s written, I enjoy it. Without fail. And I can’t imagine that this collection is going to suddenly change that.

Plus I confess to being a sucker for Japan. My tastes run to more than just anime, manga, and video games, and I have no small obsession with traditional textile arts, Japanese history, modern and past culture, and the language. Combine that with my love of fantasy and speculative fiction, and it’s easy to see why Valente’s collection of Japanese-inspired fantasy and sci-fi stories would appeal to me in a powerful way.

This is one book for which I’ll count down the days until the release date, and will make a point of getting a copy as early as I can!

Look for this book to hit stores and shelves on July 16, 2013.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, by Catherynne M Valente

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Author’s website
Publication date – May 10, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Thoughts: I got a copy of this when it was first posted online as a freebie, but it sat unread on my Kindle for ages. What changed? Reading this. Where the author essentially says that hey, maybe kids reading books with big words and awesome stories to them will actually make them smarter. I developed a majot lit-crush on Valente right there and then, and made a point of reading this book at the first available opportunity.

I read this book mostly during my breaks at work, and while I regret not being able to just sit down and tear through the thing in one sitting, I think maybe doing it the way I did was beneficial. This is a book mean to be savoured, appreciated, and reading it piece by piece, chapter by chapter, puts you on the very same adventure that September is on. It felt epic and wonderful and properly like what fairy tales were supposed to feel like but never did because they were so short most of the time. This is a modern fairy tale for modern children who love their fancies and fantasies, and for adults who need reminding that children come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

With whimsical wordplay that was strongly reminiscent of Harry Potter, and the sort of sensible nonsense that never fails to thrill me, I followed September as she gets whisked away from the mundane world and thrust into the fantasy world of Fairyland, getting into trouble and going on quests and meeting all sorts of strange creatures and friends. My favourite (and I’m sure the favourite of just about everyone who reads this) is A-Through-L, the Wyverary. Wyvern+library, and this is where we run into a great example of the wordplay that Valente uses. It’s silly and captivating and speaks to my inner child that never wanted to stop messing around with words to see what new ones I could come up with, or new uses for old words.

This is a book for children, no matter how many big words are used. Children who are young in body, or young in spirit, who have already yearned for a world beyond the mundane, they will all enjoy reading this. The chapter titles are as long and amusing as the book title, the story is tight and well-paced and a utter treat to read. This is a book you do not want to pass over, either for yourself or for children you know. This is the sort of book that could kick-start a love of reading, or sate the literary hunger of a book-loving child, or keep you endlessly amused on a rainy day.

If all Valente’s work is as witty and creative as this, I can foresee myself becoming a big fan of hers.

The sequel to this, The Girl Who Fell beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, is due out next month. After having read this, just looking at the plot synopsis of the sequel about guarantees that I’ll enjoy reading it, and will probably read it the same way. Chapter by chapter, to make the journey last.

Hang on to your shadows, curl up with your wyveraries, and get lost in a delightful fantasy world.