Book Review: Pocket Apocalypse, by Seanan McGuire

20417843I’m a long time fan of Seanan McGuire, who writes urban fantasy as McGuire and horror as Mira Grant.  I thought the first two books in the Incryptid series sere a ton of fun, and even though the third book didn’t thrill me I thought maybe that was an anomaly and that the fourth book would be better.  But Pocket Apocalypse is so bad that it makes me actually angry.

The Incryptid Series is a light urban fantasy series about a family who studies, and in some cases manages, legendary and mythological creatures.  The series is relatively light in tone, a nice change of pace from the common angst urban fantasy (McGuire’s October Daye series is an excellent example of darker, edgier urban fantasy).  The first two books involve Verity Price.  While the books had problems, I found them to be engaging.  The third book focuses on Verity’s brother, Alex, and I took a bit of a dislike to him – I found him to be smug.  But I told myself that this was just  personal preference and that the quality of the writing was just fine.  I’ve reviewed the other books at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  Here’s my review of Discount Armegeddon, here’s one of Midnight Blue-Light Special, and here’s one of the first book featuring Alex, Half Off Ragnarok.

The latest book, Pocket Apocalypse, is set in Australia and features Alex and his girlfriend, Shelby.  It has many things I love.  First of all, I love anything set in Australia.  There’s tons of detail about all the crazy critters, just like in the previous books, and I eat that up with a spoon. The Aeslin Mice hitch a ride to Australia in Alex’s carry-on bag, and I love the mice, who make a festival out of EVERYTHING.  McGuire’s sense of imagination and wit are fully functioning.  So what went so horribly wrong with this book?

Let’s start with the subjective.  I can’t stand Alex.  I wasn’t wild about him in the last book and in this book I hate him with a fiery passion.  He’s smug, he’s superior, he’s condescending, he makes speeches that in no way sound realistic.  Shelby, who had a sidekick role in the last book, should have come into her own in this book, but nope, she still needs rescuing.  We know from the Price family that families in this line of work need to be vigilant, but Shelby’s family goes beyond any kind of reasonable caution and is a bunch of blustering, incompetent, trigger happy sociopaths.  I’m left rooting for the side character of Helen the Wadjet, and the mice.

But I’m willing to admit that that’s very subjective.  Maybe some people might like the family – might see them as admirable outlaw types fighting the good fight whose actions are justified because of the dangerous conditions in which they live.  Maybe some people think Shelby is spunky and Alex is reasonable and intelligent.  Even given all that, there’s a writing quirk that just drives me mad.  With almost every single sentence, McGuire stops to have Alex patiently explain what’s happening to the reader.  This is a trick she’s used before as a way to get a lot of exposition across, and in other books it’s been fairly effective.  It’s not effective in this book because it’s so horribly overused.  Yes, I need to be told (or better yet, shown) that bunyips are a real thing.  No, I do not need the action to screech to a halt so that Alex can explain to me, patiently, as though I am a small child, the difference between domestic and international flights and the terrors of thrombosis.  When Alex takes a nap, he explains that in a war you have to sleep whenever you can.  I KNOW THAT.  When a bunch of people say (I’m paraphrasing), “We were told it by way of rumor,” I don’t need Alex to respond by saying, “I could tell that we were dealing with a whisper campaign” (again, paraphrasing – the point being, yes, Alex, I can tell too, because someone ALREADY TOLD ME).  Every thing any character says or does is immediately explained to the reader.  McGuire writes perfectly good characters.  I can infer their motives from their histories, their actions, and their statements – I don’t need Alex to explain everything to me.  When he’s not explaining things to the reader, he’s explaining things to the other characters, and usually, they are obvious things.

I have to admit that I did not finish this book.  I let Alex mansplain for 85 pages (out of 340) and then I gave up.  I did some skimming and read the end.  The end was not so very compelling or convincing as to make me change my mind, although it did remind me that Helen the Wadjet is freaking AWESOME and that nothing will ever diminish my love for the mice.

Every author has stylistic quirks.  Seanan McGuire has a very distinctive way of inserting exposition.  Usually it works just fine.  This book was so frustrating specifically because I know from her past writing that she’s capable of being so very, very good.  I will even read the next book in the series, which is about Verity again and not Alex the explainer.  This particular book was just too much of the same quirk again and again.  It was tedious and honestly it was insulting to both my capabilities as a reader and McGuire’s as an author.  She’s perfectly good at showing and there’s no need to accompany every single show with a tell.

Book Review: The Witches of Echo Park

cover of Witches of Echo ParkHere’s what you should know about The Witches of Echo Park, which is out today:

1.  It’s not YA despite having a young protagonist.

2. There’s an explicit rape scene and an explicit sex scene.

3.  There’s barely any plot – it’s all set up.

4.  What’s with all the bashing of intellectual men?  Lyse and Eleanora both comment disparagingly about the intellectual men Lyse has dated in the past.  Not all intellectuals are snobs, Lyse and Eleanora.  Lighten up.

The Witches of Echo Park is about a young woman, Lyse, who leaves her adult home of Athens, Georgia to visit her dying great-aunt in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA.  Lyse’s aunt, Eleanora, is dying of cancer.  She is also the member of a coven, and she wants Lyse to take her place.

There’s a lot in this book about bonds between women, which is one of my favorite topic.  The bond that came across most strongly is the one between Lyse and her best friend in Georgia, which makes me hope that the Georgia friend will join Lyse in Echo Park in future books.  There’s also a lot about how love can be a positive or destructive force.  Eleanora suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her grandmother, and only gradually comes to accept that her grandmother truly loved her and abused her in hopes of saving her from the Devil.  Eleanora is portrayed in a sympathetic light, but she does damage as well, raising Lyse in a web of lies that causes her considerable grief as a child and trauma as an adult, even as Eleanora also provides Lyse with a loving and stable home.

What this book lacks is any forward momentum.  It’s an entire book of exposition.  I enjoyed just kicking back and hanging out with the characters, but the slender plot is tacked on and is clearly intended to kick into action in future books.  If you are looking for an evocative, slow-paced, female-centric read, you will probably enjoy Witches.  If you want more focus on plot and action, start with book two.  There isn’t a second book yet but I have every expectation that it will be more plot-driven given the hints that are dropped in book one.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Book Review: Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty

17607897-the-ghost-train-to-new-orleansHello, Dear Readers, I am speaking to you from the depth of my book revisions.  I’m working on a book about romantic relationships in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Tentative release date July 2014!)  Coffee has been injected directly into my veins.  My computer has achieved sentience and delivers a small but irritating electric shock every time I misspell a word.  I’ve renamed my daughter “Simile” and the kid I babysit “Metaphor” and my husband now goes by “Allegory”.  It’s a busy time – and that’s why this is less of a book review and more of a passing comment.

The Shambling Guide to New York City was one of my favorite books from 2013.  It was fun and fresh and funny.  In this sequel, our heroine, Zoe, continues to work for a book publisher run and staffed by coterie (supernatural beings).  Zoe is sent to New Orleans to write a travel guide for coterie.  She’s accompanied by a death goddess, a cranky healing goddess, a dragon, two vampires, and her boyfriend.  She has staffing problem since one of the vampires wants to kill her and no one respects her as a boss.  She has relationship problems because her boyfriend ran out of the medicine that keeps him from turning into a zombie, and he’s searching for more in New Orleans but doesn’t want Zoe to help or to spend any time with him.  On top of all that, she’s dealing with the discovery that she’s a city talker, a person who can talk to the souls of cities.

I enjoyed Ghost Train, but some of the magic was missing from the first book, and here’s why:

1.  Zoe talks a lot about missing her friend from the last book who was so light-hearted and fun.  Guess what?  We miss her too.  There’s humor in this book, of course.  Gwen (the death goddess) tries to become more funny, with results that are so unfunny that they circle back round to being funny after all.  But this series has a lot of angst and violence and personal conflict, and it needs the lighter touch of a character who isn’t steeped in drama.

2.  The charm of the first book was that Zoe was the only non-super=powered being in her circle, and she had to make that work.  She fought to earn respect.  She fought to prove her competence.  She was adept at learning how to interact with the people around her and she had to deal with weird little things like the zombie co-worker’s lunch being stored in the company fridge right next to her own mundane little sandwich (zombie lunches are unappetizing).

But now, Zoe is also a super.  This series is still fresher than most urban fantasy and paranormal series, because it uses a greater cast of beings than just zombies, vampires, and werewolves.  Zoe is not physically kick-ass, even with her powers, and her super power is certainly unusual, but I think it was a mistake to make her other than a normal human.

I want to see Zoe be a smart human being and I want her to succeed.  In this book she is cranky and whiny and everyone shits all over her.  Her ass is literally and metaphorically kicked and her triumph at the end seemed incomplete.

I am bringing hard on this book because I loved its predecessor so very much.  But if I were assigning it a letter grade, it would be a B-, which is a nice, solid positive grade.  Certainly I want to read the next book, in which Zoe et. al will be going to London.  I’m just a little sad because I loved the premise of human Zoe and I’ll miss her.

Book Review: Dead Weight: The Tombs, by M. Todd Gallowglas

8178367I’m always nervous when I review something by an author I actually know, because if I hate it the ensuring conversation might be…awkward, although I’m finding that most authors appreciate any honest review, as long as it’s constructive.  Happily, I loved this book and can honestly give it a glowing review with the caveat that some of it was a little confusing, possibly because it’s the first installment in a series.

Dead Weight:  The Tombs is the first in a series of short books about The Faerie War between humanity and faerie.  We won, but it’s a tenuous and scary peace.  This story is set in San Francisco and one of the strongest aspects of the story is that it uses a clear sense of place to convey the vast devastation and social changes that occurred as a result of the war.  When I read that Washington D.C. was a crater, I was annoyed (at the Fey, not at the author).  When I learned that Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley was gone, along with the rest of Berkeley, I was PISSED.

The star of this story is the world-building.  There’s a huge sense of history without labored exposition.  The culture is fascinating – all the little details ring true.  The action is intense and violent and gory in a gritty way.  The main character is presented in the least sympathetic possible light and yet completely wins our sympathy.  He likes movie quotes, as do I.  I was particularly amused by his attempt to fight off a fey soldier by quoting a famous speech from Pulp Fiction, before remembering that the speech consists of made-up scripture, not actual scripture (he has better luck when he switches to The Lord’s Prayer).  Other characters are intriguing but not fleshed out at all.  This is the first installment and it feels like an installment as opposed to a complete work.  It’s a good installment, but you’ll want to understand what you’re getting into before you dive in to avoid frustration.

The reader is thrown headlong into the middle of a complicated, non-liner story without much exposition.  I found the main storyline easy to follow but there were aspects of the beginning and the end concerning identity that confused me.  This might be because I wasn’t paying enough attention, it might be because the writing isn’t clear, or might have been a deliberate choice of the author because more books in the series are coming along with more information and further developments.  This did not mar my enjoyment of the story overall and it made me very curious about further developments.

I loved this story because it was original and interesting, it was gripping and emotionally involving, and it got a lot of work done (in terms of establishing a main character and a complicated world) very quickly and effectively.  It moved fast and was vivid and kept me going from page to page.  I felt like I could see everything happening in front of me – the descriptions were brilliant, and I loved the use of language.  As far as the cohesiveness of the plot, that we won’t know until we get to read more, which I’m looking forward to doing.  I mean, I’m REALLY looking forward to it.  This was one of the most original and exciting things I’ve read in a long time!

Mini Review: Charming, by Elliott James

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Charming is – well.  It’s charming – sexy, funny, and engaging.  This urban fantasy introduces us to John Charming, who is a former Knight Templar gone rogue.  John is sexy, snarky, smart, a good fighter, and he loves strong, capable, smart women.  For once, you can judge this book by its cover.  If find the cover […]

Book Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City

Cover of Shambling Guide to New York CityIn The Shambling Guide to New York City, Mur Lafferty upends urban fantasy by being completely matter of fact about it.  Her main character, Zoe, accepts a job at a publishing firm that makes books for monsters – the politically correct term is coterie.  Zoe has to fend of the advances of the office incubus, decide whether or not wearing perfume to a meeting with vampires would be a good move (it might make her smell less like lunch) or a bad move (it might offend their sensitive senses of smell).  She learns to take coterie taxi’s and pay for thing with Hell Notes and cope with the fact that there are human brains in the office fridge.  Above all, Zoe never stops using her publisher’s brain – even during her first, shocking exposure to the coterie world, part of her is wondering what might publish well with this demographic.

I loved this book right up until all the plot madness kicked in and frankly, I lost track of what was going on.  Eventually Zoe has to go out and fight evil, but I preferred just watching her buy coffee.  There was a golem made out of a plane, and lot’s of explosions, and you, know, action type stuff happened, but that was all pretty confusing.  The strongest stuff of this book is definitely its matter-of-fact, funny, and at times horrifying look at what it would be like to work in an office full of monsters.  For instance, here’s one of Zoe’s coworker’s to-do lists:

To Do:

Eat Brains

Meet With Zoe regarding writing assignments

Learn where Wesley lives

Follow Wesley

Report back to Phil, Montel, or Zoe

Be Discreet

Eat More Brains

And no matter what kind of horrible carnage is happening, Zoe’s boss still expects her to keep to her deadlines.  Hence my new favorite office sign:

CRISIS FREE, FLIRT FREE, DISTRACTION FREE, THREAT FREE ZONE.

I HAVE WEAPONS.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll be happy to cope with anything.  For today, I have to do my job.

I thought this book was hilarious, but it was also not for the faint of heart.  Innocent people get eaten and coterie think very, very differently than humans, even those coterie that Zoe thinks of as friends.  There’s a scene of sexuality that involves what might best be described as attempted mental rape.  This book takes on a whole range of possible consequences of working with coterie, from the cute (the water sprite can flow under the office door and bother you even when you locked the door) to the horrific (when zombies run out of brains, bad things happen).

I loved this book even when it horrified me or grossed me out – I was rather impressed that the author kept the humor without shying away from the bad stuff.  I was less impressed by the chaotic ending – I still don’t know what happened, to be honest.  But I’m very much looking forward to the Shambling Guide to New Orleans.  Incidentally, humans who work with coterie can wear talismans of protection and guess what!  You can get your own!  Aren’t these pretty?  There goes my disposable income *sigh*:

photo of talismans

Shiny!

You can order these from surly-amics.  Practical and pretty – my favorite kind of thing!