Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. Published 2014 by FSG Originals.

Whoa. So, I dabble in SF but I don't read a lot- maybe 3 or 4 titles a year, and I'm picky. I like China Mieville, and Christopher Priest, and once in a while I can be persuaded to read Victor Lavalle but mostly I go by the reviews sections of SFX magazine. If they like it, I'll probably like it. They loved Annihilation, and so did I.

Set in the future at an indeterminate time, the book, which is the first in a planned trilogy (all will be out this year), tells the story of a doomed expedition to a place called Area X. The narrator, a biologist, tells us that this is the twelfth such expedition, and all of the previous 11 have ended in tragedy- suicides, murders, disappearances, mental breakdown and disease. The narrator's own husband was one of the casualties of the last expedition and her motivations for joining are one of the things we explore throughout this drawn-out, immersing and page-turning book.

The book we read is her journal, a record she leaves in situ after the first part of her journey has ended. She is not a reliable narrator and carefully withholds some crucial information until about 7/8 of the way through. The journey is bleak and scary; the landscape is brutal and holds some real terrors for her and the other members of the expedition, all women and all scientists of some sort. We never learn names. The women are defined by their professional roles- the linguist, the psychologist, the anthropologist. This nomenclature makes them seem generic and nonspecific, like playing cards or blanks. It's safe to say this is not a character-driven book but rather a voice-driven book, the singular voice of the biologist-narrator. And like I said, she's not reliable.

The book is short but it's not a quick read. It's detailed and like I said, immersing- when you're reading, you're there, and it's not a pretty place, filled with monsters and death and psychological games. But hang in there because it picks up speed near the end and becomes impossible to put down. It might be worth your while to wait for all three; I think I will wait till the third is published and read books two and three together.  The complete series, called the Southern Reach Trilogy, is Annihilation, out now; Authority, coming in May, and Acceptance, coming in September. Jeff Vandermeer is known as an anthologist and did one called The New Weird a few years ago. This book would fit right in. If you like weird, this is it.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Game of Thrones: Nice Knowing You, Joffrey.

Do not read this if you haven't seen this week's episode. Do not blame me if you keep reading and see something you don't want to know.

By and large this was not the most exciting episode ever. What happened?
  • The odious Ramsey Snow got a bit of dressing-down from his only-slightly-less-odious father regarding the former's treatment of Theon Greyjoy, now known as Reek. Poor Theon. Theon has made some bad choices but he doesn't deserve this. Will he rally? Time will tell. Then Ramsey was given the task of hunting down Bran and Rickon Stark after Theon admitted he didn't kill the Stark boys.
  • Tyrion dumped Shae and sent her packing. But is this the last we'll see of her?
  • Joffrey used his new steel sword, sister to the one Tywin made for Jaime, to hack up a nice book Tyrion gave him. 
All this was just warm-up for the big event, the royal wedding. Everyone loves a royal wedding, especially
  • Margaery, who got to be lady bountiful again,
  • Cersei, who can't quite accept her own new position,
  • Jaime and Loras, who got in some welcome-to-the-family shots against each other,
  • Tyrion, who was humiliated brutally by Joffrey,
  • Brienne, who got a nice moment with Cersei, and
  • Joffrey, who got the best surprise of all.
So this was a game-changer, at least for the folks in King's Landing. We'll see what's next. I miss Jon Snow and Arya. I hope they're back next week.

What did you think?

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week I finished Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation, first of a trilogy that will be released in its entirety this year in paperback original. It was good! Creepy, trippy and good- very Christopher Priest. I'll do a full review this week but I recommend it to readers who like the weird.

I haven't decided what to pick up next. I need something different- I'm not going for another science fiction book yet, although I have several on deck that I'm interested in. I'm thinking maybe nonfiction, like Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing, or Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne, about the Comanche wars. Or maybe Ellen Litman's new book, Mannequin Girl. I loved her first book so much and have been looking forward to this. Or maybe The Girl With A Clock For A Heart. What do you think I should read next?

(I'm still working my way through Hild and Rites of Passage. I'm finding Rites of Passage dull but it's a Booker winner and I need to read them all, so I'm doing my best.)

More at

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon- Portlandia!

No, not that one, the one in Maine.

Yesterday my husband and I took a drive up north to visit Portland, Maine. A new bookstore opened up- Sherman's Books & Stationery had a grand opening of its new branch on Exchange Street, right in the middle of the shopping heart of the city.

It's a neat store with a great selection of books and gifts. Of course you have to love the chalk signs.
I bought Deathless, by Catherynne Valente, which I've been meaning to buy for ages.

From there we wandered around the city some more-it's been ages since I've been up there- and visited some comic book shops and used bookstores. Jeff got to play a round on a Doctor Who pinball machine, and I came away with a beat up $1 copy of Gone with the Wind for my crafts.

After that we drove back south and headed to Ogunquit, a very lively spot on the coast, for lunch on the beach. I even dipped my toes in the (freezing!) water! So now I can say I've been to the beach this year.

All in all it was a great day! We had perfect weather, visited a new bookstore, chatted with book pals and ate a lobster roll. Can't do much better than that!

Friday, April 11, 2014

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day 8

Day 8's assignment is to do a quick 15 bullet points of things that appeal to me on blogs. Here goes:
  1. Strong opinions
  2. Neat layout
  3. No music or animations
  4. Long blogroll
  5. Short paragraphs
  6. Brevity
  7. Photographs
  8. Book covers accompanying reviews
  9. No colored text
  10. Good spelling
  11. Vivid logo
  12. Some white space
  13. Reviews of books I'm interested in
  14. Current reviews
  15. Frequent updates
And you?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: ABSOLUTION by Patrick Flanery

Absolution, by Patrick Flanery. Published 2012 by Riverhead Books.

I didn't break my hiatus to talk about The Hunger Games, or Joel Stein's article about adults reading YA, or even World Book Night. But I couldn't wait another minute to tell you about what might end up being my favorite book of 2012, Absolution, the debut novel by American expat writer Patrick Flanery.

The book tells the stories of Clare Wald, an elderly and celebrated author living in a kind of gilded prison in modern day South Africa, alone except for her maid. Sam Leroux is a writer and academic who's come to write Clare's biography, and she doesn't seem happy to have him there. Their relationship starts off testy and tense but nothing is as it seems.  The story of Clare Wald and Sam Leroux and the secrets, lies and truths that bind them and tear at them is riveting and beautifully written; Patrick Flanery may be a debut author but he tackles these prickly, unpredictable people and writes about difficult social, political and personal issues like a seasoned veteran.

A biographer faces off against a seemingly unwilling writer; we've seen this before but in this case it's not so much a battle of wits as a slow unraveling. The perspective shifts between Clare, Sam, the book that Clare is writing about her dead daughter Laura, a disappeared activist who was taking care of the child Sam just before she vanished, and more. Memories are told, retold, and imagined; sometimes the tellers are lying, sometimes they just don't know the whole story. The death of one character, a man named Bernard who looked after the child Sam for a time after his parents' death, is told four ways, and in the end the truth eludes us and the characters, too. And that's not all. Laura isn't who she seems; Clare carries a burden of guilt over the death of her sister and brother-in-law that may not even be hers to carry, and there are some things only hinted at that we never know for sure. Absolution is a lot of things in this book; it's the title of Clare's last book and the theme of course, the thing that everyone wants and some find more successfully than others.

So Absolution is really a four-pronged success. Flanery's writing is mature and elegant; the book reads like Margaret Atwood with its layers and complexity and craft. The characters are vivid and three-dimensional, complex and elusive. The plot keeps you turning the pages; what happened to these people, what's going to happen? The setting, contemporary South Africa, is rendered as a frightening dystopia where people live in constant fear of murder and death; middle-class people live in 24-hour terror of a predatory underclass and install panic buttons in their showers and bedposts in case of attack. I wonder if the panic buttons and burglar bars serve as a metaphor for something inside these people, their vulnerability to guilt and abandonment, their yearning for love and forgiveness. Sometimes the measures people take to protect themselves save them; sometimes nothing can. And the plot clicks along at a very satisfying, page-turning pace. I can't recommend this book highly enough to readers of literary fiction. It's a staggering, wonderful and accomplished book. I hope his subsequent books live up to the promise of his astonishing debut.

Rating: BUY- like, now!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Off The Shelf: What's Cool at the Bookstore

I came across Yé-Yé Girls of 60s French Pop, by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, the other day and it looks so cool. It actually ended up coming home with me because, hello? French pop of the 60's? I love French pop music and this is both educational and a great shopping guide. It's a biographical and musical guide to a really fun era in French music. It should come with a CD, or a QR code (does anyone even do those anymore) to a site with downloads or samples, but it does not. Oh well! Still fun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Game of Thrones: We're Back! Season Premiere Recap & Discussion

Do not read this if you haven't seen this week's episode. Do not blame me if you keep reading and see something you don't want to know.
So this was the season premiere of Season 4, and how we have been waiting for it. We're putting the characters back out on the board, gearing up for what's to come. After some pointed review scenes at the beginning to catch us up on the reappearance of some minor characters, things get started. Tonight's theme is "You can't always get what you want." What happened:
  • Nobody at King's Landing is getting anything they want. Well, Jaime got that sweet sword made from Ned Stark's old one, but he's going to have to content himself with that for a while as Cersei is exerting what little power she has to deny him access to herself. Shea can't get Tyrion, who's denying himself to everyone. And Margaery can't find a nice necklace for her wedding. I hate when that happens! *Stamps my foot.*
  • Sansa gets a friend, which she doesn't want but probably should be grateful for.
  • I do love scenes between Jaime and Brienne though. I love how she's becoming his conscience and he's learning to use his powers for good. His character arc has been fascinating so far and I can't wait to see what's to come for him.
  • Over in the far-away lands, Daenerys has an admirer in Daario Naharis, recast from that blond underwear model to some guy from "Nashville". She says she doesn't want that, but I think she does, a little.
  • Her dragons are getting large and testy. She wants to control them and might have to learn that she can't.
  • There's a new kid on the block, some guy with a grudge against the Lannisters. Like that doesn't describe every character who isn't a Lannister, and most of those who are. He wants revenge. Will he get it? And who is the woman for whom Rhaegar left this dude's siser? Lyanna Stark maybe?
  • Jon Snow gets to keep his head after answering to the Night Watch's council, so that's pretty good.
  • Some scarred-up guys starting hanging out with the Wildlings. Oh and they're cannibals. Neat.
  • Arya gets what she wants as she and the Hound continue their journey. He says he taking her to the Vale but if history is any predictor, where he says he's taking her is the one place she isn't going. But she gets some delicious revenge, served hot and bubbly. And she gets Needle back. So good for Arya.
So what I liked best were the scenes with Jaime, pretty much all of them, and how twice in the episode we get reminders of Jon Snow's relationships with the Stark children. There are his references to his affection and rivalry with Robb, and Arya's references to him as her brother- the brother who gave her Needle, for which she is willing to kill. Margaery is fun as always and I liked her scene with Brienne. "Joffrey is our king now." Uh-huh. That's your story and you're sticking to it.
So we got our usual helpings of blood and body parts and some new characters to boot. The royal wedding is coming up, which means Joffrey shouldn't start any long books. Tune in next week!

What did you think of the season premiere?

Monday, April 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well this past week I read Ben H. White's Countdown City, second in the Last Policeman Trilogy. It was good, what can I say. I love these books. I know they're unusual as crime books go, but I like a little something off-beat so to speak. Pun totally not intended.

Now that I've got that under my belt, it's time to move on to a little science fiction, long absent from my reading. So I'm reading Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. SF readers know him from the many anthologies he's edited; I myself read the Weird Fiction anthology he came out with a few years back. Annihilation is weird indeed, about a group of researchers investigating a mysterious area in a remote region of our planet, where strange things happen. If you've ever read Christopher Priest- especially if you've read Inverted World or The Islanders- you're going to find yourself in familiarly bizarre territory. So far so good!

I'm enjoying William Golding's Rites of Passage, about shenanigans on board ship to Australia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He's on his way with a group of emigrants and getting used to all aspects of sea life.

What about you? See more at

Friday, April 4, 2014

15 Day Book Blogger Challenge: Day 7: Blogging Quirks

The seventh question in the 15 Day Book Blogger Challenge asks us to "describe your blogging quirks."
  • I like to talk about who I think would like the book, whether or not I did. When describing books to others, I tend to break them down by appeal factors- plot, style, setting and character- to help my readers figure out if the book I'm talking about is a good fit
  • I like to have the book handy as I'm writing, to make sure I'm spelling names correctly and such.
  • But I always end up correcting something after the final review is posted.
  • I don't really do rough drafts anymore.
  • I write most of my posts on one day of the week and rarely write on other days. So if I write two posts that day, those are the two I have for the week. 
  • I tag by publisher, date, rating and broad category- fiction, nonfiction. I will tag for things like science fiction and crime fiction in case someone comes looking for books in those genres. I wonder if I ought to tag translated books, too. What do you think?
  • I like listening to music when I write. I have a Pandora station devoted to piano music and classical guitar. For some reason these genres help me concentrate.
  • Sometimes I write my posts when I'm watching TV. Like right now, I'm watching My Little  Pony. So this post probably makes no sense and that would explain Twilight Sparkle any weird things you might see pop up.
 What are your blogging quirks?