My current status:
Surely this means you have fewer books to talk about this month, you say. To which I respond, AHAHAHAHA have you met me??
In my defense, 3 of these were really short.
But I will be, possibly fruitlessly, trying to keep it brief.
(Updated in 2020 to reflect my refined genre classifications.)
Grunt, Mary Roach
It is legitimately one of my life dreams to have Mary Roach’s job and if I am even half as good at it as she is I will count myself a success. Despite a history of tackling very serious topics (war, death, more death; but also poop) she always strikes a thoughtful balance between investigative, respectful, and ridiculous. While Stiff is and probably always will be my favorite of her works, Grunt is certainly also worth a spin.
Subject: life science, military science. Format: nonfiction. Rating: 3/3
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Lish McBride
I wanted to like this book, I really did. But I found myself really frustrated with the tell-don’t-show narration and the blatant fridging of a really excellent character (not a spoiler really, that happens very early on). (Fortunately, this is a book about necromancers, so she’s dead but not gone.) For the uninitiated (who didn’t click the link), to be fridged is when a (usually female) character is killed off solely to further someone else’s plot or character development. That said, this was the author’s debut, and it did noticeably get better on the narration issue as it went along. The fridged character was still dead though, unfortunately – her murder was pretty baked into the plot from the beginning, so there wasn’t going to be an easy way out of that one. I’m still going to (eventually) read the sequel, as I expect the improvement to continue. (2020 update: I didn’t.)
Traditional genre: fantasy. Setting: fantasy. Story genre: specfic, mystery. Format: novel. Rating: 2/3
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows and A Plague of Zombies, Diana Gabaldon
Have tie-in novellas always been a thing for series and I just never knew about it, or is this a new trend? Either way, I like it. Most of the time authors seem to employ them to show off a secondary or non-POV character who doesn’t usually get to be the star of the action. Here it’s touching but tragic backstory for Roger and another misadventure for my actual fave Lord John, respectively, in two very separate incidents that occur almost 20 years apart. I earnestly look forward to their appearances (sadly meager of late for John) in the main series so I was chuffed to get an entire work devoted to each of them (well, Roger’s origin story) here. I’m just so pleased with this whole novella concept! (I have also recently read tie-in novellas for the Old Kingdom, the Dresden Files, and Harry Potter.)
Traditional genre: historical fiction or literary fiction. Setting: historical. Story genre (Leaf): character study. Story genre (Zombies): mystery. Format: tie-in novella. Rating: 3/3.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu
I struggled to categorize these stories in words even though they all went together in a way that was perfectly logical as I read them. They were all various stripes of speculative fiction (specfic), the newish genre label that’s emerged to cover fantasy/science fiction/horror/magical realism and all the combinations thereof, and which isn’t derogatory the way the label “genre fiction” is. But ultimately all of the stories were hopeful – for the characters and their futures, for humanity, for technology and its uses, for magic in mundane places. Specfic is often dark, even if only for the purpose of accentuating the light worth fighting for, but these stories were overwhelmingly optimistic. That’s unusual, and refreshing. A rare and much-needed uplift in the face of a stressful time.
Also, I cried at least 15 times, including like 3 for just the title story, so the usual automatic bonus points for that.
Traditional genre: specfic. Setting: various, particularly fantasy, modern folklore. Story genre: various. Format: short stories. Rating: 3/3.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Shepherd Mead
Is it concerning that I know people who actually do things this ridiculous delight of a parody self help book facetiously recommends? I guarantee you know someone too. The musical, while also fun, misses a lot of the sharp satire here.
Subject: comedy, self-help. Format: parody self-help. Rating: 3/3
Goldenhand, Garth Nix
My friends first tried to throw these books (original series of three) at me in 2003 but it didn’t stick until 2013. Joke’s on them, I only had to wait 2 years for a sequel, and one more for an actually good sequel. (Sorry not sorry, Clariel.) Although everyone who’s read these books (and tie-ins, this is another series that does the novella day-in-the-spotlight tactic) saw the good ship Lirael and Nick preparing to leave port from a mile off, I still had my lingering doubts that it would actually happen in this book, and I was not disappointed. My ship, my ship has finally sailed!
On a separate note, I’m a sucker for a good perspective flip, so I was delighted to have several instances (patchy news of Ferin’s actions trickling through to Lirael and the rest of the cast, swapping between Ferin and Lirael’s perspectives of the climactic event, and most entertainingly getting Lirael’s perspective of the events previously seen from Nick’s side in, yes, a tie-in novella).
Traditional genre: fantasy. Setting: fantasy. Story genre: adventure, ensemble cast, specfic. Format: novel. Rating: 3/3 don’t make my mistakes and procrastinate ten years on reading these books!
Well, I kept it under 1000 words… points for effort? (2020: AHAHAHAHA.)
Currently reading: Persuasion, Jane Austen; Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; To Hold the Bridge, Garth Nix; Habibi, Craig Thompson; Now Write: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, various essayists; The Princess Bride, “S Morgenstern,” “edited by” William Goldman