The City at the Center of Forever

The hardest part about reviewing books, for me, is placing them on a sliding scale of “Worst” to”Best”. It can be paralyzing. I have avoided reviewing books simply because I didn’t know where it fell on a 1-5 scale. I think the problem stems from the fact that since I judge every book as an individual there are weird inconsistencies in my ranking over all; for example why are both Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Three Musketeers marked five stars? That’s not right. Comparing the two Island might be lucky with a 3 to Musketeers 5. But that’s like comparing a kitten to a goose.

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Best Google search I’ve ever done

Sure, you may have a preference and be able to compare them on some scale but that doesn’t take into account that each is unique, designed for different purposes. Cats can’t fly, and geese aren’t grace and majesty personified; they both lose points! But that’s silly because cats shouldn’t fly, that wouldn’t serve them any good. First off because they would still just sleep all day, but also because they are perfect for what their role in the food chain is. Okay, this metaphor is becoming its own thing and its time to stop. Point is; books are designed to different ends, with different audiences in mind and different goals for the impact of the story. You can’t judge it by another books goals. Island of the Blue Dolphins does exactly what Scott O’Dell set out to do with that book, just as The Three Musketeers does just what its meant to and they both do these things well.

So now that that extended explanation is out of the way I can tell you why I subjected you to it in the first place; indie books. Self published book. Books written by my friends. These are really really REALLY hard to place on the scale because most of the time they are quite good, great even but how do I know that since I’m judging this book with only itself as a meter that I’m not biased in some way? Am I judging them fairly? Am I overlooking flaws I wouldn’t overlook in a mainstream book?

I don’t know.

thumbnail_imageBut I will keep those questions in mind as I tell you about The City at the Center of Forever by James T. Witten. You remember him, I reviewed his book The Maijikal Chronicles earlier this fall. This new book is also a National Novel Writing Month book from several years ago and I am so happy to have read it this month because its great motivation.

The book opens up with us meeting our main character, Aolden Blackwood, at his gig as a taproom magician. He sets shit on fire, makes people disappear, and catches the eye of a young girl who couldn’t be happier to be there. I’m sorry for what I’m about to say but there is really no other way; one thing led to another *gags* and Aolden finds himself in a gang of merry misfits, led by a girl who is described as “enigmatic” so many times I want to physically harm the author, on a quest for. . . something? Maybe? No one is quite sure at first.

The story is fast paced, with not much down time. That can be a point against it for some people but I enjoyed it. There were scenes that were just hilarious because the whole time I was thinking “Is this really happening right now? Of course this is happening right now.” There are a few near death experiences, some strange interrogations, some hopeless yet frantic rides to freedom. It’s a fantasy novel, you know the deal. It is also quite funny, and the plot is gripping enough that I felt real anxiety to continue reading every time I put it down.

It isn’t perfect though, not by a long shot. As much as I loved our “enigmatic” token female character, Aysil, I couldn’t stop myself from realizing she was just another YA “most specialist girl in the world!” She has zero flaws, her differences only serve to make her more extra special, and she has some unexplained mystic abilities that I still have no understanding of. Witten goes a step farther to make sure she is just the most specialist snowflake that ever did flutter by describing our “enigmatic” lead female as having a strange “Aysilness” about her.

On top of that I am not satisfied with the explanation for the reason for the entire quest. You can speculate on it for sure, I certainly have and filled in the gaps to my own satisfaction, but the book isn’t going to tell you. It’s not gonna tell you a lot of things

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Look at those sexy page numbers

actually. Not all of this is a bad thing, I hate authors that feel the need to tell us every little thing. I think a bit of ambiguity and mystery at the end leaves the reader so much freedom to create what they would like to imagine as the ending, or as character motivation, or as explanation for something that happened. That is the reason why no two people can read the same book. That opens room for discussion and speculation and, at least for me in this particular case, fan fiction.Witten introduces us to his band of merry misfits in a way that leaves much to the imagination. We get a good idea of who these people are and why they are here but not much about where they came from or where they’re going next. I like this. It’s a snapshot in their lives. I wouldn’t want him to change it.

This review is becoming a novel in and of itself. Sorry. Now is the hard part; how many stars? Compared to The Three Musketeers it’s a solid 1.5. If you pit it against, say, The Lunar Chronicles its on par. 4-5 stars. I chose to weigh it against Wittens other book, which in the comparison was bumped down to a 2.75 so that The City at the Center of Forever can have a solid 4 stars: it does what I think Witten intended for it to do, and was enjoyable while doing it.

You can help support this wonderful indie author by grabbing a copy of the book HERE! I recommend it. If for no other reason that to support self published works and small authors.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora

There is nothing wrong with this book. 18196876
5/5 it is everything right in this terrible terrible world.

“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”

Okay. Maybe I should say a bit more.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch landed into my unprepared hands while in a Barnes and Noble when a friend of mine looked at the pile of books I was purchasing and said “I don’t know why you’re bothering with those since you’re going to read Locke Lamora next.” He has yet to steer me wrong with book recommendations so I didn’t even care what it was about, I just started reading and I have never been happier with a book in all my life.

This book is the first in a series, that will one day total 5 books but which currently has only 3, called Gentleman Bastards. It takes place in the fantasy country of Camorii, an Italy inspired world of alchemy, magic, and, most importantly, thievery. You already know more about this book than I did going in and I really hesitate to say much else but I will. Because this is a Book Chat.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a masterpiece of world and character building. Scott Lynch pulls us, a little at a time, into this complex fantasy with a rich history and culture; he introduces us to characters that feel almost real and shows us relationships that are deep and valuable. It is pure sorcery, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I read A Song of Ice and Fire. Locke Lamora is far more intimate that GRRMs epic, though. It is focused on one group of characters and it allows the reader to become closer, more attached and emotionally connected. At least, that was my experience.

wp_ss_20161002_0001Lynch builds this world around the reader little by little but the story starts out at a trot, increasing in pace with each page. It is written better than anything I’ve read in years. There are no boring scenes, or no slow spots. There is no unnecessary descriptions or info dumping. There isn’t a single word in this book that isn’t relevant to the story. Lynch wove his narrative together using multiple view points as well as interludes and flashbacks yet it all fit together so seamlessly I couldn’t tell you any other way this story could have been written. It is complex, almost to the point of absurdity, and yet ever single piece serves a vital purpose to the overall story. Scott Lynch is a gods damn artist. He made me laugh. He made me cry. He wrapped me up in the world of Locke Lamora and just as I thought I was starting to like it there he broke my heart.

“I’m not gong to kill you,” said Locke
I’m going to play a little game I like to call ‘Scream in pain until you answer my fucking questions.”

The Lies of Locke Lamora is, without a doubt, one of my top 3 books of 2016. I highly recommend it to anyone at all who can handle a bit of grit, a lot of colorful language, and also a hole in their fucking soul.

 

 

A Torch Against the Night

Trilogies tend to follow the same pattern; the first book is good, awesome even, it draws you in and makes you pick up the second one; the second book is sloppy, not nearly as entertaining and not nearly as good; the third book is the best in the series, it wraps it all up nicely and leaves the reader satisfied. Every trilogy I’ve ever read has an-ember-in-the-ashes-by-sabaa-tahirbeen true to this pattern, A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir is no exception.
Last Fall I read the first book in this series as part of my August TBR jar challenge; not only was I sucked in I was all out amazed at this book and this story. I loved it. I loved every heart breaking second. To prepare for the second book I gave An Ember in the Ashes a quick reread; it held up to my original assessment which surprised me. It was still an emotional roller-coaster, I cried in several places even though I went in knowing how everything played out. If anything I enjoyed it a little bit more because I knew the levels of horror each character would face and seeing their innocence before it all just hurt so much.
Then I picked up book two.

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A Torch Against the Night picks up exactly where An Ember in the Ashes left off. Literally exactly. Same scene and everything. We follow Laia and Elias through the city’s catacombs while they are being pursued by auxes and Masks alike, including Commandant Venturia. Meanwhile the rest of the city is in the throws of a Scholar uprising creating a wonderful backdrop of chaos and destruction from which our unlikely heroes must escape.
This is where the book stops being good.
I’m going to spoil quite a bit after this point so continue at your own risk. Go ahead and skip to the last paragraph for a spoiler free summery and rating if you are so inclined.
Read More »

Caucasia

Caucasia by Danzy Senna asks the question on every mixed persons mind;caucasia-novel

“What color do you think I am?”

Birdie Lees mom is white. Her father is Black. Her sister Cole is a smooth coffee color. Birdie could be Sicilian. Or Jewish. Maybe Pakistani.
Its 1975 in Boston Massachusetts and a revolution is brewing. Deck Lee has discovered the Black Power movement and he wants his daughters to know that in racist America you are either black or you are white. No daughter of his is going to pass*.  Sandy Lee says he’s an over intellectualized ass who needs to get his nose out of his books and get his hands dirty for the cause. Their arguing keeps Birdie awake at night.
During the day Birdie struggles with what it means to be Black; as her sister begins cornrowing her hair and receiving “Negritude for Beginners” lessons from their Papa, Birdie finds herself being picked on at their all black school “Black is beautiful” “Then you must be ugly”. And while she absorbs her fathers lesson in Black Pride with interest he only seems to focus his attentions on Cole who couldn’t care less.
When the political situation in Boston finally reaches its boiling point the Lees make a decision that will rock Birdies world. Cole leaves with her father to greener pastures and Birdie must pass as white while on the run with her mother.
This novel is a coming of age story like no other I’ve ever read. Birdie must deal with the struggles of friendships, boys, her relationship with her mother all while experiencing the existential identity crisis that goes along with being biracial in America. Not only biracial but biracial living as white. Something that to Birdie, and many mixed people, feels like a slap in the face to herself, her people, her father. She clings to her blackness even as she hides it. She rebels against white America even as she becomes a part of it.

This novel is extremely personal for me and its hard not to write this review as one sentence; PLEASE READ THIS BOOK I NEED YOU TO READ THIS BOOK! For me, the story of the American mulatto is, well its my story. From Queen, to Birdie, to me. Our story is integral to the story of race relations in the country.

“. . .the mulatto in America functions as a canary in the coal mine. The canaries, he said, were used by coal miners to gauge how poisonous the air underground was. . . likewise, mulattos had historically been the gauge of how poisonous American race relations were. The fate of the mulatto in history and in literature, he said, will manifest the symptoms that will eventually infect the rest of the nation.” wp_20160909_002

No one wants to tell our story though and we have been much to shy about telling it ourselves. Until I stumbled upon this beautiful novel I used to tell people “The only time you see a mixed person in literature we are not characters, we are the evidence” I still hold to that but as I discover more books like those by Danzy Senna I know that one day talking about the biracial experience will be second nature, just as talking about the Black experience is becoming more mainstream. What makes Caucasia so special is not that it is a book about race, because its not. Its is a book about self. About growth. Its about a young girl coming to grips with her reality, and for mixed people race is an everyday reality.

“He says there’s no such thing as race.”
“He’s right you know. About it all being constructed. But”- she turned to me, looking at me intently- “that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
“I know it does.”

Caucasia has been translated into 10 languages and received a variety of literary awards. I can’t say enough how well deserved this success is. Anthea Lawson of The Times in London said of it, “Senna hits no false notes in this engrossing and powerful tale of identity and misplaced idealism. The issue of race is constantly questioned, yet never overtakes the narrative itself: that of a strong-minded girl trying to find her way.”  It is a beautiful work of art with heavy subject matter and a powerful message. I highly recommend Caucasia to anyone. Anyone at all.

5/5 stars: There is nothing wrong with this book

*To “pass” means that a person of color looks “white” enough to be mistaken for a white person. This can be a blessing and a curse; historically lighter skinned slaves were better treated, and people who could “pass” had even escaped to freedom pretending to be white. It also created tensions within the black community, there was a hierarchy based on skin tone (this is seen in many areas colonized by Europeans) and set us against one another. It also creates tension within a person who is Black (or Indian, or Mexican, etc.) but looks white and will never truly belong to either community because of this. “passing” in the mixed community is a touchy subject and its a term I don’t like to use. It implies that a) you aren’t white to being with, as if the one drop rule were still a thing. As if you only “look” white but that’s not good enough to actually “be” white (some mixed people identify as white. And they are, more power to em) b) it implies that looking white is the goal. Oh you’re light enough to pass! No. Instead of “pass” I usually say light skinned because that is a factual statement not a judgment on a persons worth based on how white they look.
Sorry that became a rant.

Out of the Darkness

I am currently stuck around page 60 of Lady Chatterleys Lover by D.H. Lawrence; its good but I’m enjoying it more for its commentary about sexual relationships than as a story. I just can’t sit down and READ the damn thing. I also don’t want to DNF or start something major before I finish.
I am at an impasse.
To cope I’ve been writing a TON and reading my friends books, some completed novels, some I’m beta reading, some I’m just editing. I’m having a blast.

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Tonight I finally read my friends short story published in Beyond the Mist: An Anthology by Caithness Writers. I didn’t. . . Um, I didn’t read any of the stories besides Out of the Darkness by Carys Mainprize, which is not how one is supposed to deal with an anthology but fucking sue me.
I have known Carys (or Tyrfish) for quite a few years now, we have been writing buddies and friends sharing short stories and other writing. She has been an invaluable person in my writing journey. Don’t let that fool you, I would never give her a good rating just for that. She wouldn’t respect me if I even thought such thoughts!
Her story Out of Darkness is about a pair of investigators looking into some suspicious disappearances and murders in the Caithness area. The one confirmed murder victim was found with only minor burns and no cause of death. The obvious first step is to rule out demons, of course… Carys has always written contemporary fantasy where good old fashion Earth is just dripping with secret supernatural beings; gods, demons, vampires, you name it. It’s definitely the type of fantasy I can get behind, I love the idea that a vampire clan is secretly running entire cities, or that people who die tragically can come back to save the souls of others.

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I hate ebooks

She is a fantastic writer as well, she does a great job pulling these complex worlds together in a way that doesn’t seem too cluttered. In Out of the Darkness I notice her fumble a bit with that; its about 25 pages and heavy on the supernatural. There’s a lot to get across and not a lot of space to do it so some places could seem rushed and dense. I also noticed maybe two places where the wording of something was weird or seemed wrong/awkward but sometimes I have a had time telling if that’s just because she speaks UK English and I speak ‘Merican.

3 stars– I enjoyed the story. It was just a glimpse into the secret world that exists interwoven with our own and I liked that even if it is a lot to take in in a handful of pages.

 

The Majaikl Chronicles

One of the great things about being a bookish person is the fact that you tend to attract other bookish people and we all know that the one thing all bookish people have in common is that we write. So, it stands to reason that sooner or later we all make friends with someone who has a book out. I’ve reviewed friends books here before and I will probably continue to do so because, as I said, I attract bookish people and chances are at least a few will have books that I can review.

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The Majaikl Chronicles by James T. Witten was never recommended to me; in fact the only thing I’ve ever heard about the book is how incredibly awful it is. Of course this was all coming from Witten himself so I didn’t take it at all seriously; he also thinks he’s funny so I just don’t trust his judgment on anything. In fact, I might as well open with this, the book is okay. A little rough around the edges but it’s fine. Just fine. I liked it.

You were just intolerably stupid four times in three sentences.”- Aervane

Ahem. Moving on.

The Majaikl Chronicles is the story of an elf-like creature, a Majaikl, named Aervane who is tasked with journeying across the county to gather information for his King. The future of his race is at stake and so, even though he has never left the darkness and WP_20160811_016safety of his forest home, and has never had extended interactions with humans, Aervane sets out into the human world. Humans aren’t particularly kind to the Majaikl whom they always mistake for a Darkheart, a prejudice that is more than a little understandable as we come to find out, but Aervane must work with and trust humans to complete his journey and find the information his people need. It’s not easy;

Everything Aervane had ever learned about humans told him that if more than a dozen were in the same room at the same time, they would end up stealing from each other as soon as the lights were out.”

The entire book takes place over the course of about a week, it is not an epic saga, and you aren’t going to find masterful wold building or complex story lines. It’s short and sweet. Hero gets a quest, takes a journey, finishes quest, goes home. That being said it did hold my attention for an entire evening and I know I don’t like my boyfriend enough to be that into his writing if it were truly uninteresting.

Don’t get me wrong, this book could use improvements; the story could use cleaning up, there are a handful of editing mistakes, and some themes that could have been developed more and better. Also maybe a single woman wouldn’t have hurt things. Like just one. For a NaNoWriMo from six years ago though I say it’s good. I like it. It made me laugh, it kept my attention, and there was one scene thatWP_20160811_007 genuinely left me speechless and a little emotional.

3 stars– Nothing special, but for what it is it’s a nice quick read. If you want to check it out and show some love to a great writers first work you can find it here.

The Land That Time Forgot

I am not the biggest SciFi fan; I’m sure that confession comes as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog before. Its not that I don’t enjoy the genre when I read it but, like fantasy and graphic novels, I really never pick it up. Luckily I have friends who will knock on my bedroom door at midnight to hand me a book they found in a free box knowing I’d read it.

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The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs excited me for 2 reasons; first off its just the type of pulp classic that I feel obligated to read knowing I will at once understand the origins of any number of stories/parodies/pop culture references. The second thing that grabbed me was that Edgar Rice Burroughs is the creator of Tarzan, another classic I just NEED to sink my teeth into.
The Land That Time Forgot is really three short novels published in serial form back in the 1940’s; The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and Out of Times Abyss. Each book chronicles the adventures of a different cast of characters as they fight for survival in and escape from the unforgiving time capsule of Caspak.
Caspak is a fictional bowl shaped island somewhere off the coast of Antarctica formed when a volcano exploded. The unique shape and location above underwater steam vents create a hot, almost tropical climate and the isolation from the outside meant that over time Caspak developed its own evolutionary process from the rest of life on Earth.  On Caspak dinosaurs roam and I’m pretty sure the first animal our heroes encounter is  cousin to the Loch Ness monster.
This island is as beautiful as it is deadly with a giant inland lake, streams, cliffs, and hundreds of species of plant life.
“All about us was a flora and fauna as strange and wonderful to us as might have been those upon a distant planet…” Each story is framed differently; the first being read from a message in a bottle sent from the hopelessly trapped  Bowen Taylor; the second was written as a memoir told after the fact by Tom Billings who gets lost on Caspak in a rescue attempt; the third book is told in third person about the adventures and misfortunes of a group of the original crew to land on Caspak.
Besides the change in set up and narrator the stories all read pretty much the same. Our heroes are all endlessly talented, clever men who are just dorky enough with woman to make them somewhat endearing.

“I have never been a ladies’ man…” -Bowen Taylor, The Land That Time Forgot
“I have never been what one might call a ladies’ man…I think that I rather appeal to a certain type of girl for the reason that I never make love to them; I leave that to the numerous others who do it infinitely better than I could hope to…”- Tom Billings, The People that Time Forgot
The differences in them are so slight they may as well be nonexistent. I didn’t dislike any of them for this though all share one negative trait; their constant  patronizing of the woman they each end up adventuring with, because of course these are “love” stories.
Each hero is paired with a damsel in distress (for that is the bread and butter of adventure stories) whom he can rescue, protect, and fall hopelessly in love with even though he fights against it with all his manly might at first. I wouldn’t be so offended by this classic trope if the woman were written as F-220incapable, then at least it wouldn’t be so offensive when the men refer to them as “Little girl” and fo on endlessly about how they can’t do anything for themselves because it would at least be true. That isn’t the case though; these woman are smart, quick on their feet, and good with a weapon. They each save their man at least once with cunning, or in one case a well placed arrow. They are brave in the face of certain death and usually more knowledgeable about the landscape and circumstances than their male counterpart and they are constantly. Being. Patronized. It doesn’t make me angry at the writing so much as the men themselves; they’re assholes. Stop it.
Yet the woman love their men with puppy dog devotion. “What you wish, I wish” –Co-Tan, Out of Times Abyss.
The only other issue I had with this series was the all out abuse of the Just in Time trope. It became difficult to feel any suspense knowing that some beautiful coincidence was going to save the day soon. Or at the last moment our hero is going gain the ability to hit a a swear hurdling towards his “she” with a bullet, stopping it in its tracks. It makes it hard to read these books for any length of time without a break because you keep seeing the same thing over and over and over again.
In all though you can’t really complain that a novel that laid the groundwork for those sorts of tropes is being tropey. They weren’t cliche at the time after all.

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All things considered I enjoyed my time spent reading these books. They are funny, action packed, and straight up weird. Also there’s a dog. His name is Nobs and he’s the best character. I’m not kidding. This dog is loyal, and brave, he develops as a character more than most of the humans. By the end of the books he is as comfortable ripping apart a dinosaur and eating its raw flesh as he is getting belly scratches.

3.5 stars– I liked it but it didn’t keep me up at nights