Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Revenge and the Wild

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by the ladies at Breaking The Spine. In it, book bloggers talk about the upcoming books they're most excited about.

Finding a book isn't a problem for me. Choosing one is. There are always far too many upcoming books I'm just dying to read.

Today's pick is Michelle Modesto's REVENGE AND THE WILD, which is scheduled for release on February 2, 2016.

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it's perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local investor Nigel Butler.
Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She's determined to make the killers pay for their crimes--and there's nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.
But Westie's search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel's latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold--which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There's only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie's kin. With the help of Nigel's handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she's not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.
This thrilling novel is a remarkable tale of danger and discovery, from debut author Michelle Modesto.
(Summary from Goodreads.)
I cut my teeth on Westerns, and their current resurgence warms the cockles of my heart. Plus: magic? Monsters? Mechanical arms? A beautiful cover? All adds up to a book I very much want to read. Please don't let me down, Revenge and the Wild.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

YA Recs: Recent Fantasy Favorites

I like a little variety in my fantasy. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a fairy tale that breaks free of retelling the same old stories. (What are we up to now, five Cinderellas? Nothing against them--Marissa Meyer's Cinder is wonderful--but it's so nice to have a new story on occasion.)

Naomi Novik's Uprooted delivers there. Does it ever. The characters are as lush and wonderful as the world-building. Full of detailed, grounded magic, encroaching evil, and beautifully drawn relationships, Uprooted was one of my recent favorites. For me, this was a book that lived up to the hype.

Sometimes, though, I'm in the mood for a little magical realism.

Moira Fowley-Doyle's The Accident Season is hard to describe. It's about secrets, and shadows, and shattering. It's about families, the ways we break ourselves and each other, the things we hide and how they always come back to haunt us. While the secrets underlying the "accident season" were intriguing, I ended up caring more about the damaged, sympathetic characters, and how they might find some measure of healing.

Or what about good, old-fashioned second-world fantasy? Not a fairy tale, just solid world-building and a great story.


Miriam Forster's Bhinian Empire series (City of a Thousand Dolls and Empire of Shadows) is set in a richly-imagined world populated with shape-changers and based loosely on ancient India. With so many books already based on European mythology, this setting provided a refreshing change. I deeply enjoyed both books. (They are connected and set in the same world, but feature different main characters.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Far from suffering "second book syndrome," William Ritter's Beastly Bones--sequel to Jackaby, which I reviewed here--was, I thought, superior in nearly every way to its predecessor.

Jackaby was a fun book, but suffered a bit from lack of originality. It read like a mashup of "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who," with just enough likable characters and original concepts to keep it afloat. Beastly Bones takes flight from where Jackaby left off, advancing the world-building and the characterization of existing characters, and introducing several fascinating new players and supernatural beasties.

Characters and events that seem unrelated all tie back together in the end, culminating in a suspenseful, explosive finale that I did not see coming. And have no fear--the lovable character from Jackaby who seemed to have been Put On A Bus at the end is present and accounted for here. This book takes place in his new home.

Unlike many second books of trilogies, Beastly Bones refuses to end on a maddening, scream-inducing cliffhanger. It ties up the storyline in a satisfying way, while also effectively setting up the villain and story of the third book.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

(This review contains some mild spoilers.)

I wanted to love Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road.

I am a child of the West, daughter of generations of pioneers (raised, as you might expect, on Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey). My grandmother's father, born in 1887, lived to be 101, dying just after I was born. Though I don't remember him, my childhood was filled with the rhythm of the stories he passed down, among those from many other close relatives--mountain men and trappers; children who grew up in covered wagons; farmers and ranchers and one great-uncle who broke out of the Texas Rangers' jail (mostly to say he'd done it).

I'm excited that Westerns are coming back into fashion. I was especially excited about Vengeance Road, because it sounded good--and, well, look at that cover. I'm shallow about beautiful covers.

I could not love it, sadly, though it had some positives. The first and foremost reason I could not love it was because the dialect is very wrong. The Western dialect, which I grew up speaking as a "first language," may sound uneducated to outsiders, but it has its own consistent internal grammatical rules. It also has a powerful and beautiful storytelling tradition--which does no good unless you understand it.

Dear authors: Please do not write in a dialect with which you are unfamiliar unless you are going to make a SERIOUS effort to familiarize yourself with it.

Read books written by people who either speak the dialect natively, or who did their research well (ideally the former). Watch movies for which the same rules apply. Listen to stories being told by people who speak the dialect. (This website is a great resource for that.) While you are doing those things, pay attention. Then, once your book is written, get beta readers who speak the dialect. They will tell you what you've done wrong so you can try to fix it.

The Western dialect does not consist of misspellings and incorrect grammar. No one in real life has ever said, and I quote: "I's gonna said rude." We might say, "He done it" or "I seen him leave" or (in the older, pioneer generation) "He taked a bath." We would never say "I's gonna said rude." It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

Beyond the dialect issues--which, I'm sure, bothered me more than most--was the lack of real consequences. I enjoy some ruthlessness--True Grit is a classic, of course--but early in the book, Kate's quest for revenge leads her to kill an innocent person. Though it is technically in self-defense, due to a misunderstanding, the man is no less dead.

This is mentioned a few more times throughout the book, but it has no real consequences, and Kate still gets her happy ending--unlike the dead man. It's that lack of consequences, rather than the ruthlessness itself, that bothered me about that particular plot point. If a heroine is going to essentially mow down bystanders in her quest for revenge, I like to see that followed through.

Then there was the treatment of Native Americans. It could have been worse--Liluye, the Apache girl, had little interest in helping the white people, and was definitely the lead of her own story in her own mind--but it was stereotypical overall. "Indians" were presented as the violent, faceless bogeyman for much of the story, and once they appeared as individuals, Liluye and her people fit the shallow "at one with Mother Earth" stereotype you see in movies like Pocahontas.

This isn't to say there weren't positives. Kate's brutal, ruthless pursuit of "justice" (actually revenge) was sometimes compelling, and might have been more so had her actions been followed by real, permanent consequences. Kate's act of saving Liluye's life would usually have led to the tired, ugly old trope of a person of color who is blindly devoted to serving the white main character, and though the treatment of the Apache characters was tired and trope-y in nearly every other way, it was refreshing to have Liluye go, "Forget this, I owe you people pretty much nothing." There's one moment, between Kate and her love interest, that demonstrates consent in a very healthy way. And toward the end of the book, there was a twist I very much didn't see coming.

What killed the story for me was: The lack of consequences (for Kate), the stereotypical Natives, and the clumsy attempt at Western dialect, which at its best absolutely glows in storytelling.