& Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Books September 2015

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Fiction. Publisher: Riverhead Books September 2015

The Book Itself: Are those feathers? Waves? I suppose it’s a cool design, and the title is simple and graphic.

My ReviewEvery story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.

This is finally the last book I read in 2015! I don’t necessarily post my reviews in the order I read things – Red Seas Under Red Skies , which I read in December, had to be posted right away because I featured it in my Best Books of 2015. Whereas Menagerie, read in October/November, is just now getting posted this month. So I’m not that behind, really. But I am behind.

Anyway.

I had been in fantasy world for a while before I got to Fates and Furies, a book that I had heard so much in magazines and articles that I felt like I kind of had to pick it up. Barack Obama selected this as his favorite book of 2015, so hello big deal fiction right here.

And just so you know, Lotto and Mathilde aren’t all that likeable. The book starts off with Lotto, a rich boy born to rich parents who disown him when he meets and marries Mathilde soon after. He is sullen, spoiled and pouty, and totally wrapped up in either only himself, or just him and Mathilde as they appear to other people. Mathilde narrates the second half of the book, revealing more of her character and the things Lotto didn’t know (which could probably fill up another book). If you only read Lotto’s section, you think Mathilde is an untouchable goddess, practically perfect in every way, beautiful and effortless and above reproach. You find out she’s actually kind of a bitch when it gets to her perspective.

This is the story of a marriage between two bad people, prettied up with flowering prose.

And it tries very hard to be prose poetry in book form. This seems strained when you read things like Lotto, clean as camphor at his neck and belly, like electrified pennies at the armpit, like chlorine at the groin” and “Spin of bottles and flip-flops and zip ties and packing peanuts and boas and baby-doll heads and false eyelashes and inflatable taxidermy.” This book tries way. Too. Hard. The entire way. A few strange sights or elaborate metaphors would have been much more impactful if they were few and far between. As it is, we have a moody/vain actor-turned-writer who churns out a miraculous play every year, whose wife is the perfect Stepford-model partner who polishes his plays to sparkling diamonds and never lets this shiny veneer crack until it’s her turn to speak. I don’t like them (they call any woman who has children “breeders,” even Lotto, who begs for a child nearly the entire story, saying a woman who had a child has a “soft, breeder’s belly,” which I just find really rude), and I got tired of the poetry.

What is it trying to do in regards to marriage is interesting. Gone Girl did this to the extreme: painting the picture of two people who have fallen in love and married, and then slowly exposing their horrible, terrible, sadistic sides. Fates and Furies does that on a much tamer level, although these married folks are just petty and shallow. Gone Girl’s were just psychopaths, the both of them. Both Lotto and Mathilde have secret selves, that even though they have this deep, passionate love, they do not share with each other. They are two different people, and we only see that when we get Mathilde’s perspective – she is much more complex than the mostly-perfect-goddess Lotto paints her to be. I did like this slow unveil of each character, and filling in the gaps of knowledge I had about events in the story once we got both sides to the coin. But that wasn’t enough to make me like either of them.

Plus, the sex scenes are unattractive (not that sex is always attractive) and at times, obscene. Not my favorite book.

My Grade: C-

& Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers October 2015

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers October 2015

The Book Itself: Very dramatic, and definitely depicts the idea of a motorcycle race across the world. The wolf shadow is well done, and even the colors remind me of WWII propaganda posters. Overall very well done.

My Review: The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

Boy, there really was a theme to my reading in the final months of 2015. Last week’s review explored werewolves and political overtones, and this time, wolves take a symbolic role in this speculative fiction story, where Hitler won and a motorcycle race he organized might finally lead to his downfall.

Plus, there’s the shapeshifting element: our protagonist, Yael, can alter her appearance thanks to the experiments performed on her in the concentration camps. So she changes into a contender for a globe-trotting motorcycle race that, should she win, will get her within killing distance of Hitler himself.

The book doesn’t ease you into the story – within the first few chapters, Yael is kidnapping the contender she is to turn into (Adele Wolf) and a few pages after that, starting the race. You get to know Yael a bit more over the course of the story, but all you’re really getting at the start of the story is a brusque, hardened warrior type who is single-minded in her pursuit of murdering someone (I mean, it’s Hitler, but still: Yael is off-putting at first).

Overall, I felt the story could have been expanded. Give me 100, even 150 more pages and I would feel like everything was really fleshed out. The motorcycle race, the central point of the story, seems quick, even glossed over in parts. The most description and interaction between the racers comes at times they are not on their bikes. At checkpoints, with fights breaking out over bowls of soup, or camping overnight in a desert, sabotaging each other’s bikes and equipment, or coming to blows on a ferry ride between roads. The race isn’t the focus: it seems like dwelling on the characters and their conflicting feelings and relationships with one another are. But the race seemed pretty freaking cool to me (as cool as something devised by this fictionalized Adolph Hitler could be…) and Yael spent a little too much time agonizing over her feelings about the contender’s brother, or her attraction to the contender’s love interest. Maybe I wanted a little less YA novel introversion and wanted more action.

Add to that some YA silliness – why would Yael get tattoos when they would still be there when she transformed? She’s been training for this mission for a long time, and is so personally connected to it. Why chance ruining that by getting five wolves tattooed on her shapeshifting skin, representing five people she wants to remember? Emotional connection and memories and all that, but she could have just as easily brought along five wolf pendants or figurines or whatnot. I must not be putting enough emotional stock into that decision. It just seems like a reckless, stupid thing to do when you’re trying very hard not to stand out as being someone else. And also the whole plan is for her to kill Hitler, and then escape out the back door…you best believe that that’s impossible. Aren’t the people surrounding him trained to kill any threats to his person? Why does she think that the immediate confusion and panic will be enough to get herself out of there? If she had spent more of the story with the mentality of a suicide mission, maybe it would have made the story too serious. But come on…talking about Hitler automatically makes things serious.

Either way, there will be a sequel, coming out this October that might have more of that action and less emotional contemplation. It is well-written, if a little too YA-simplified than I would have liked. So perhaps I will pick up the story again to see the story through.

My Grade: C

& Review: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy. Fiction. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing May 2013

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy. Fiction. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing May 2013

The Book Itself: I like the red-tinged forest coming through the words, but overall the cover is pretty lackluster… I’m sure the Stephen King quote really lures people in though.

My Review: They live among us.

They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.

They change.

When government agents kick down Claire Forrester’s front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is.

Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero.

Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy.

So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge…and the battle for humanity will begin.

I am almost done reviewing the books that I finished at the end of 2015. Whoops – a little behind here! And apparently I was into a theme – using the mistreatment of a mythical creature in the modern world to illustrate some very real prejudices people enact on other races every day. Menagerie did this with creatures of all kinds. Red Moon focuses on werewolves.

There is a thin veil between the events of this book and the events in the real world it is trying to parallel. A terrorist act on an airplane, perpetrated by a werewolf part of an extremist group inspires mass persecution and prejudice against all werewolf kind. This prejudice spreads like wildfire, until the world resembles more of an apocalyptic version of itself, with barren wastelands and war breaking out all over the world. In this way it serves as a warning: hey, let’s not treat other people like these fictional Americans treated werewolves, okay?

Very strong political and social commentary overtones aside, Red Moon is very Stephen King-esque. It’s incredibly action packed and to-the-point. It’s a brick of a book – my mass market paperback was a solid 600+ pages. And while the plot tends to meander, the prose is quick, almost terse in the way cop drama TV shows can feel.

And it’s good. But not great. The beginning felt scattered, as we were getting to know our large cast of characters. The sex and nudity is gratuitous – it kind of feels like “hey, no one’s been naked in a while, let’s have a skeevy politician get a ‘massage.’” And quite often action packed scenes fade to black, only to be picked up in summarization elsewhere.

And the ending is wrapped up all neat and tight, with a final chapter that ruins everything the book worked towards, hinting at a possible sequel. How mean.  It made me frustrated that I had traveled all through those almost-700-pages, just to be told that all was in vain, maybe next time things will be resolved. And as far as I know, there is not a sequel, nor is there one in the works? Which makes that unraveling ending that much more frustrating.

Overall, I think there are other, better social commentary/mythical creature fictions out there. This one tried to encompass the scale of an epic, but tended to lose its story threads.

My Grade: C-

& Review: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent. Fiction. Publisher: MIRA September 2015

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent. Fiction. Publisher: MIRA September 2015

The Book Itself: Rather plain, but I think it suggests the sometimes dark, mysterious side of circuses, with the dark background with pinpricks of light and the simplistic, somewhat tarnished title. I’m glad it didn’t try to put a mermaid or werewolf on the cover. I think that would have fallen flat.

My ReviewWhen Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Circus stories are having a moment – Night Circus, The Gracelings, and now Menagerie. And I’m not hating that moment. There is an inherent wonder and curiosity associated with circuses that make them ripe for storytelling. Add some magic or some dystopia in there and I am a happy camper.

Menagerie goes the mythical creature route. A popular traveling circus features a cavalcade of creatures labeled “cryptids.” (a quick Wikipedia search reveals that cryptid is the descriptor of beings like the Loch Ness monster and the yeti, and based on the Greek prefix “crypt-”meaning “hidden” or “secret.” KNOWLEDGE!) Treated mainly like side show acts and freak shows, our protagonist, Delilah, thinks the whole charade is wrong, wrong, wrong. And then it turns out she is one.

Exactly what she is is a main mystery of the story. And when her cryptid-identity is revealed, I was left with a whole lot of “Wait, what exactly is she??” She’s not your garden variety creature. No unicorn or siren or werewolf here. And at first it feels like Vincent ran out of creatures and had to dig for some obscure folklore being to place into the story. I’m kind of hoping Delilah meets more of her kind in later  books so that her cryptid-half becomes more fleshed out.

Overall, the book is well-written and well-paced (except for the conclusion – more on that later). Some chapters are told from the perspective of other cryptids, which is a nice take on the circus setting. The book is very concerned with the persecution and mistreatment of something people perceive as other. Torture and injustice feature heavily, so if you’re looking for a lighter read, Night Circus is more your thing. This one is heavier. The idea of who is the monster here, the cryptids put on display or the people who put them there is a big theme.

I really, really wish that Delilah’s mother were more fleshed out. Delilah often misses her, and we get a couple of flashbacks, but I never feel like I really know her. Delilah and her main ally’s cryptid identities are obscure and obtuse, and so I found them a little hard to access. And the reaping, a historical event in the past of this current story, is only outlined. Again, we get a few, brief flashbacks, told in snippets of news stories and dictated recordings before every chapter. But I don’t feel like I understand it fully. It was a culling of the cryptids from normal society, and perhaps we don’t need to know much more than that, but it’s briefly mentioned so many times, that I feel like I should get a little bit more from it.

The ending is rushed and a little sloppy. Events happen too rapidly, and this person gets hurt in this way, and someone gets killed and this is the future of our little carnival, but it all feels fast. It felt like a conclusion had to happen, and Vincent felt like some big moves had to be made, so it was all thrown in there, hoping to be impactful. And it fell a little flat for me.

But overall the story is very intriguing. The persecution of other races is well explored (and quite relevant today…), and I care about what happens to these characters. I will be reading the other installments.

My Grade: B

& Fridays: On the Horizon

Does anybody else put book release dates on their schedules, paper or electronic or otherwise? No?  Just me?

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

I have had Morning Star in my little calendar for as long as it has reached until 2016. The third installment of the Red Rising trilogy, I am sure you have heard me gush about it a number of times. I met the author, Pierce Brown, at a signing at my local bookstore. I devoured the second book, Golden Son in days, and since it ended on a cliffhanger (so, so mean, Brown…) I have been buzzing with anticipation waiting for it.

AND IT’S ALMOST HERE! It comes out on February 9th, y’all!! THAT’S SO SOON! LIKE, 4 DAYS SOON!!!!!!

You can bet I will be staying up late just reading one more chapter. And I will be heading to another reading/signing by Brown at the same bookstore on the 10th. THIS WEEK IS SO EXCITING JUST BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK!

Also, go read that series. Right now. I’ll wait…

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

Another terrific book I read back in 2014, City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (review here), is getting a sequel this month. City of Blades, out January 26th, sounds like it features everybody’s favorite butt-kicking Hagrid, Sigrud, in even more detail. Yay! I will definitely have to quick-read City of Stairs though – it’s a complex world I will be re-immersing myself into!

And I just looked up the sequel to my favorite book I read last year – Illuminae – and the sequel is slated for this year! YAY! Of course, the first one was out in October, so the next one is likely to be out around then too, so I have a bit of a wait….

But it’s okay, I can be patient…..

Sometimes.

What about you, dear readers? What books are you excited about? Any sequels coming out soon that you will hunker down and devour within days?