Books of the Month, January 2017

I accidentally read only books by women this month, and I am quite pleased.

Also this month: the introduction of the new genre system. As I have perpetually complained, I have not yet hit upon a genre categorization system that I am totally happy with. I’m going to experiment this year with the Writing Excuses podcast’s Elemental Genres system. They describe eleven genre elements that can combine to describe essential aspects of plot, character, and setting. They are listed and described in detail on their website, and are: wonder, idea, adventure, horror, mystery, thriller, humor, relationship, drama (meaning character study/development, the term drama is misleading by the pod’s own admission and I’ll be calling it character), issue, and ensemble. These can be endlessly recombined and some books might get two.

I’m also using a second, separate tag for setting. This is a little more specific than just the aisle at the bookstore (and I had never really thought about the fact that books are traditionally categorized by setting, instead of the far more important plot or character. Huh.), but is exclusively setting-oriented.

And of course, in case this utterly flops and also for purposes of comparing data to last year, I’m continuing to use the old system concurrently. Once there’s a gap in the data (even though in this particular instance it would be recoverable), it’s hard to go back and restore completeness. Best to just keep collecting it continuously and make adjustments in use later.

Fudge and Jury, Ellie Alexander

I have already spilled my heart out over this series, and I was so pleased to enjoy another Carlos-free installment (captain of the good ship Jules/Thomas right here). My heart hurts when I read one of these (in a day, of course, it’s me) because I want to go be in Ashland. And eat at the bakery.

Element: mystery. Setting: realism. Style: novel. Rating: 3/3 ugh I am OBSESSED

Angel Catbird Vol 1, Margaret Atwood

Literally never have I encountered Margaret Atwood’s work and not said “what the frick-frack” at least once (for a wide multitude of reasons, of course). This places her among my favorites. (Though all the points really go to her appearance, as herself, on an episode of my perennial Favorite Thing, Zombies Run, where she was fighting off zombies while holed up in the CN Tower.) Here, we have a regular guy who is accidentally transformed into a hybrid human-cat-bird, who can flip back and forth between normal human appearance and angel catbird appearance at will. He’s helping the local community of human-cat hybrids, who own a nightclub, fight off a rat-human evil scientist and his enhanced ratty minions (so many questions). There are responsible cat-ownership tips at the bottom of a bunch of pages. I can’t wait for volume two. Also, the art is GORGEOUS.

Element: thriller, horror. Setting: weird. Style: graphic novel. Rating: 3/3 never change, Margaret Atwood

Etiquette Espionage, Gail Carriger

Continuing here on the weird train. It’s a magical school novel, but also steampunk,  but also a Victorian finishing school, but also an intrigue spy thriller, but for schoolgirl assassins. And their brother school for boys trains evil geniuses. AND IT’S A HEIST. This kitchen sink of a premise has absolutely no business being effective, she said, having accidentally stayed up until 1am to finish it. I honestly cannot quite pin down what exactly made this premise work. On the face of it, it should be overstuffed and all these elements should conflict, not harmonize. I think its shameless taking of refuge in audacity helps – the author not once apologizes for anything, and so it doesn’t break the spell. I’m fighting through more backlog before I go buying books (AHAHAHAHA yeah right) but the rest of the series will turn up here eventually.

This book was clearly meant for YA readers, both in content and reading level, and this would make a really solid gift for the bookish 11-14 year old on your list who you always struggle to find something they haven’t read yet. Or, of course, a nerd 20-something with a giant soft spot for YA, because the only people too old for YA are those who have lost their imaginations and need help finding them.

Element: mystery. Setting: weird, school. Style: novel. Rating: 3/3 because I find myself weirdly engrossed

Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Knowledge is realizing that Frankenstein is not the monster. Wisdom is questioning whether Frankenstein is the monster. Seriously, what a jerk. Victor Frankenstein is the kind of guy who has the sort of rules that only get instituted when someone does ~something~ mysteriously popping up in his wake, wherever he goes. He’s clearly accustomed to being teflon (which is definitely abetted by his parents), and when his TERRIBLE decisions and complete inability to take responsibility for his actions finally catch up with him, he literally runs into the ocean to avoid them. He starts in Germany, so ending up in a peat shack on an uninhabited Orkney Island, off the intensely rural highland coast of Scotland, is no impulse feat – boy is a championship shirker of consequences. He manages to go all the way from starting this giant experiment in secret, so he clearly knows it’s shady but does it anyway and lies about it, to dumping his experiment out the window to avoid cleaning up after himself, to discovering the terrible but totally predictable consequences, to hiding in several shacks and/or attics from said consequences, to literally running into the North Sea. He only manages to get off his sorry ass to try to set it right when literally every single person he knows is dead. I feel terrible for all the poor people who got strangled because of their unfortunate association with this useless windbag. They deserved better, in fate and companion.

Meanwhile, creature’s tactics were very reminiscent of Richard III, actually – both of them had challenges in the looks department (IRL Richard less so, exaggerated for the sake of drama), and decided “you know what? I’m never going to be popular or well liked because people judge me my my appearance, so I might as well channel my considerable brains and the free time I get from not socializing at all into BECOMING A SUPER VILLAIN. SUCK IT, PRETTY PEOPLE.” Honestly, the creature (and Richard) are far more interesting characters than whiny potato Victor Frankenstein. No, that’s an undeserved insult to the magnificent potato.

Also, I will never truly understand why nineteenth century authors insisted that they “just found this crazy manuscript” that’s “totally real, for sure” and “was definitely told, in perfect detail, to this arctic sea explorer with a bizarrely immediate fixation on the narrator.” Just admit you wrote the darn thing, ok? It’s a good book, own it!

Element: horror, character (specifically, lack thereof!). Setting: magical realism. Style: novel “told to this captain” sorry not sorry, not letting it go. Rating: 2/3 I had extremely strong feelings about hating Victor’s smarmy face, but it does drag a bit in that 19th century way, so if you’re into that, GO FOR IT so you too can hate him with a fiery passion

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