Blake Crouch: Recursion

There was a lot I really liked about this novel and a few things I really didn’t. I avoided reading anything about it beforehand, but I’m guessing it’s dogged by comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s films (both “Memento” and “Inception,” particularly) and maybe to Kaufman/Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and really, if this is somehow not already under option, someone should jump on that.

My reaction is very like my reaction to Nolan’s work: wow, a lot of really cool idea, but dang, the story is very action-movie-ish (lots of guns). A version of a thing I fundamentally don’t like that is executed so well (and in many respects thoughtfully) that I’m pulled in despite myself. I read the whole book in less than two days.

I was willing to digest some big lumps of exposition, and some aspects that initially made me struggle with suspension of disbelief were eventually satisfactorily explained. My biggest problem with the book is structural, quite near the denouement: there’s a point where the reader gains an insight that the characters almost have. The story takes the foot of the gas there for me from a narrative standpoint, but from a plot mechanics perspective there are a bunch of things to ratchet up the stakes that cumulatively felt a bit mechanical. The metaphorical equivalent, maybe, of how a car’s ignition never catches the first time in movies when something is after you. Pulled me out of the book for a bit (although it pulled me back before the wrap-up).

[And, not a spoiler, but a gratuitous reference to T***p, or anyway one of his buildings, really made me wince. Not an explicitly political book. Has one definitively POC character with dialogue, no significant queer rep, and would just barely squeak by the Bechdel test if filmed as written. So.]

Amy Daws: Wait with Me

This was 80% my catnip, but that last 20% … oh boy.

Positives first: romance novel about a romance novelist struggling with writer’s block and writing in a tire shop was written in a tire shop (for real). Lots of fun meta touches, with Romancelandia terminology used within the book. When the characters assert that they are real people, not characters in a romance, that was a bit much even for me, but mostly this was breezy (and racy) fun.

But then protagonist Miles gets a character attribute that in real life would be a HUGE “run away” red flag. It really undercut the degree to which I felt the HEA was deserved (or even “happy”).

T.B. Markinson and Miranda MacLeod: Holly and Ivy

DNF. Reviewing here but not on GR coz I con’t want to be mean.

I wanted to like this FF holiday-themed romance, with a chilly techie, an offseason vacation island setting, and even a part-Maine coon cat – all super on-brand for me, but the prose was just too clunky and the plot had too many “wait, what??” moments. I gave up after an extended sex scene that had clearly never had a line edit.

Catherynne M Valente: Space Opera

I loved this book so much it’s hard for me to write coherently about it. The language: dense, rich, vivid musical. The premise: yes, Eurovision in space, played for laughs, but not JUST for laughs, also a glorious, delirious refutation of “rare earth” and “habitable zones,” a dizzying celebration of near-infinite diversity. A plot twist, telegraphed literally from light years away, still deeply satisfying when it materializes. Optimism, not of the Pollyanna fairy-tale-ending variety: gritty, scrabbly, acknowledging the deeply fuckedupness of many things, but proudly declaiming that it can still all be WORTH something, that the chance to pull it off, if slim, is real. The rare trick of writing about music in a way that doesn’t make someone who’s played it cringe, and of paying tribute to Ziggy and the Spiders in a way that does them justice. Standing ovation. Playing the encore in my head.

Courtney Milan: After the Wedding

I very much appreciate how Courtney Milan inverts and subverts familiar romance tropes, and “After the Wedding” is no exception: it literally starts with a wedding, in which the principals are forced at gunpoint to marry, and their efforts to obtain an annulment, coupled with their inconveniently increasing mutual attraction, drive much of the plot. The setting is England, shortly after the U.S. Civil War; the man in the forced marriage is black, the woman is not, and neither of them are exactly what they first appear to be (although Milan plays fair with the reader, introducing her protagonist as “Lady” Camilla Worth) and establishing details of Adrian Hunter’s parentage in his introduction as well).

I found so much to love about this book – Camilla’s indignation on the part of women whose petitions for annulments were unfairly denied, the details of Adrian’s business venture, the large and diverse cast of bit players.

I did have to adjust my expectations a bit in one regard: Camilla and Adrian are both viewpoint characters, and both have complicated thoughts about choices they either made or were not able to make. The noun “choice” and the verb “choose” are both important to their inner monologues, and that initially struck me as a bit repetitive before I realized that their attitudes about choices were shifting subtly as the novel progressed.

(Disclosure: I was provided an ARC of this novel.)

Alyssa Cole: A Princess in Theory

When Naledi gets exaggeratedly polite emails about being a long-lost royal bride of an African nation she very reasonably assumes they’re a phishing/identity theft attempt, but it’s all true, and “A Princess in Theory” unspools like a modern take on a classic screwball comedies, with assumed identities, disastrous coincidences, palace intrigue, and even a bit of skullduggery. It made me laugh out loud frequently. I don’t usually cast books in my head, but the dynamic between Prince Thabiso and his assistant Likotsi put me in mind of T’Challa and Okoye in Black Panther, and then it was hard for me to shake images of Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira in the roles. Minor quibble that the resolution of the mystery element felt a bit rushed but I still enjoyed the book thoroughly. This is my first exposure to Cole, but I’ve already pre-ordered the next book in the series.

Paul Krueger – Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

I’m leaving this rating here unaltered.

I thought I’d written a review when I read this 3 years ago, but apparently I didn’t. I’m guessing that’s because even then, I was uneasy with how this novel portrays drinking – downing the perfect cocktail can give you literal superpowers, what?! – and how my sober friends might react to my praising it. But, damnit, I liked it a lot. There are a TON of monster hunting urban fantasies, and I’ve read my share, and this one felt fresh and fun (and I bought supplies to make the mundane version of one of the featured cocktails, and liked it). I kept hoping I’d see a sequel announced.

I don’t remember the dynamic between the protagonist and the love-interest being particularly problematic, but then, I didn’t have particular reason, 3 years ago, to LOOK for evidence that the author was a bad guy with a long history of behavior that made women uncomfortable.

I’ve recently seen such allegations. I don’t know any of the people personally, so I don’t have anything but second-hand experience to draw on. But I know what it can cost women to come forward with stories like this and I BELIEVE them.