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.

Sara Benincasa: DC Trip

liked this better after I stopped worrying about the geographical inaccuracies and just went with the full-on zany. the framing device didn’t work for me, and some of the backstory digressions seemed a bit OTT, but I did like the alternating chapters from the kids’ perspectives and the chaperones’ perspectives. sweet (if a bit raunchy) and very silly. could easily see this being optioned for film.

Holly Messinger: The Curse of Jacob Tracy

Reminds me almost equally of TV’s Deadwood and Angel – impressively researched post-Civil War setting with a complex supernatural ecosystem in a series of nearly self-contained novellas that gradually advance a larger plot. Novel finds some degree of closure, but more seems indicated, and I’m eager for follow-on.

Naomi Mitchison: Travel Light

“Travel light” is an exhortation protagonist Halla hears at one point in this singular slim book; it’s a tactic that enables her to travel farther and faster than she otherwise might, not being unduly burdened. It’s also a tactic the book itself employs, moving from what at first seems to be a fairy tale that might employ familiar tropes — wicked stepmothers, and such — into several quite different things, not burdened with the notion that it needs to keep an easily described shape. I wouldn’t exactly say that the novel grows more sophisticated as Halla trades innocence for age and wisdom — for one thing, that implies it’s relatively unsophisticated at the outset, itself a gross simplification. But I’d argue that the novel has little truck with linear progressions of any sort. How does the book go from being a girl-raised-by-animals story to a not completely unsatirical socio-political tale set in a mildly fantastic Constantinople? It travels light.

This was my introduction to Naomi Mitchison; I’ll certainly seek out more.

John Green: The Fault in Our Stars

I read The Fault in Our Stars with no clear idea of what it was about, because several people whose judgment I trusted said I really ought to. If I had known what it was about, I doubt I would’ve read it, because the bones of the plot sound maudlin, heavy-handed, and more than a little trite. It’s just been made into a movie, and I’m finding it hard to see how the singular presence and voice of Hazel Grace — which is most of what lifts this novel far above the maudlin, heavy-handed and trite — could possibly be translated to film without losing everything that makes the book so very good. But yeah, it’s about teens with cancer, and an improbable collision with a dissolute writer, and it defies every preconception those facts could give you. I’m very glad my prejudices didn’t keep me from reading it.

It’s also set some tongues to wagging about the merits of “Young Adult” as a marketing category (or, God help us, as a “genre”) and what gets tarred with the “romance” brush and what doesn’t, and the disparate treatment of/respect for male vs. female authors. My thunk, for what it’s worth, is that YA is a fine way to identify books with youthful protagonists, so that anyone with a particular inclination for or desire to avoid young protagonists has a way to do so. The rest of us can just read the books we want to, on bases like whether they sound interesting or maybe have something to teach us. Differing respect for male vs. female authors I find abominable, but I’m not nearly as tetchy about the notion that ambition to something beyond escapism has some intrinsic worth, when considering books that “succeed” equally well on their own terms. So to my mind The Fault in Our Stars is YA only in some strict technical (and possibly useless) sense. It has serious thematic heft, a (deceptively) complex narrative structure and incidentally its vocabulary sent me scrambling for a dictionary a time or two, which, no false modesty, does not happen often.

E. Nesbit: Five Children and It

I learned about E. Nesbit and Five Children and It from Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, which predisposed me to wonder if the reason I didn’t know Nesbit’s name while I did know the names Baum, Barrie, Lofting, Grahame, etc. was rooted in sexism. (Then again, I did know the names Travers and Norton.) After reading it, I’m a bit less inclined to cry foul — Nesbit’s book is just a little more rooted in its time, place, and class structure than its peers/approximate contemporaries. Although it undercuts several racial/cultural stereotypes it also gives them a lot of airtime, and in unexpurgated form it has some language that’s no longer appropriate in a children’s book. It all adds up to a book that’s less than welcoming to a modern young audience without either some judicious editing or some careful context setting. That’s a shame, because Five Children and It has quite a lot going for it. There’s a quite unusual magical critter, the menace of which is only gradually revealed. This oddly and intriguingly juxtaposes with a series of comic wish-gone-wrong episodes. Nesbit’s voice is drily witty, and she’s quite careful to narrate from the perspective of her young protagonists. (And really, we make a lot of historical allowances for all those other books, too.)