45 Book in 2018 Post Script #46: Red Rising By Pierce Brown

Sit down, my dear ones, this Christmas Eve, and I’ll tell you a story, of Paul Atreides, and Ender Wiggin, and Roland Deschain, and Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker, and Katniss Everdeen and Buffy Summers, and Danerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, and Kara Thrace, and Usagi Tsukino, and Claudio Kilgannon, and Moana of Motunui, and Clark Kent.

Let’s sing songs and tell tales of those heroes. Because it’s only in knowing them as I do, after these past six years of immersing myself in the culture that holds them up, can I tell you, that Red Rising is one of those glorious bits of genre fiction that stands on the shoulders of things that came before it and holds them together. Pierce Brown has written a pure hero’s journey story that’s fun to read, peopled by imperfect characters in a fully built world.

That’s not easy.

That said, I was more impressed by this book than loved it. It’s propulsive in it’s plotting, but I never fell for Darrow, our intrepid chosen one, a member of a low caste mining clan on Mars, in a distant future plucked into a deadly game of elite warriors by chance and possibly fate, the way I love those I listed above.

The book’s good though and worth reading if this is your thing. (Again, look at that list, it is decidedly my thing) (Also, check out The Marina Chronicle, where I’m peddling my own version.) (I know, I haven’t updated in a while, it’s coming soon, I swear!) Without spoilers it pulls of an early in twist of the kind that I haven’t seen since The Matrix (AH! Neo! Also on the list!) you think this is one sort of story and it’s another entirely. It’s got a lot of The Hunger Games in it, to be sure, but I think more of Dune. (Then again, Dune is kind of the Ghengis Khan of the speculative fiction game, it’s DNA is ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE.)

The world building is superb, the plot simple enough (there are two or three too many double crosses for my taste, but I get it.) and it’s the beginning of a series, so we’ll see if I go further down the rabbit hole this time.

Up next is I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved The Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson, because between this book and Deadwood I’ve been mired in Man’s being philosophical and violent so I need something light and female at the moment.

45 Books In 2018 #44: Lasher By Anne Rice

It’s almost always the case that answers are rarely if ever as satisfying as mysteries. So all of the gothic weirdness and questions that made me absolutely love The Witching Hour, were answered, kind of stupidly in Lasher.

What is Lasher? A demon? A ghost? The same brand of dark spirit that possessed Akasha and created vampires? (I’m not going to lie, this is sort of what I was hoping for…the book does mention David Talbot’s disappearance, just as Body Thief mentioned Aaron Lightner needing Deborah Mayfair’s portrait for the family. The links begin to form! The tower has many levels.) Nope, turns out he was just a different species of humanoid, the Taltos, born without a soul, thus not allowed to Heaven or Hell, and reborn over and over again as the genetics of the Mayfairs allowed.

OK, that’s also kind of weird, but it’s not the brand of weird and mysterious and dark that I was hoping for here, which makes the sequel to The Witching Hour (possibly my favorite book I’ve read this year, but we’ll get there) something of a let down. Lasher is almost all answers and very few questions, pretty much the only questions left are how much the Mayfairs knew when Rowan and Michael returned to New Orleans (sort of interesting) and are we going to forgive Michael for sleeping with one of Rowan’s teenage cousins. (Seriously, Mrs. Rice? I mean really?)

There’s still another book in the Lives Of The Mayfair Witches, plus the places it apparently crosses over with Vampire Chronicles, but at the moment, I’m a little bummed out.

As a sequel this didn’t live up, though as a speculative fiction novel itself, it was very good. It’s well written, the plot stays moving, the characters develop in interesting and yet trackable ways. But man, as answers to creepy questions go? It sucked all of the magic out of the story.

Up next is TV: The Book: Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows Of All Time by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz. I’m jonesing hard for some non fiction and I’ve always really enjoyed both Sepinwall and Zoller Seitz’s writing, so I’m looking forward to it.

45 Books In 2018 #43: The Tale Of The Body Thief by Anne Rice

In which Lestat has a fun body switch adventure. And we learn that Claudia might be a ghost.

Since diving into The Vampire Chronicles I’ve been wondering if Rice was capable of writing another breezy horror adventure in the same vein as Interview, since while I love Lestat and Queen Of The Damned they got awfully bogged down in history and metaphysics.

There’s some of that in Body Theif, but it’s mostly just fun silliness and a bit of gothic angst. Lestat is approached by a disgraced member of the Talamasca, Raglan James, who’s developed the magic power to possess other bodies. He offers our favorite vampire the chance to be human again, they’ll switch bodies for a few days and then switch back.

Since his whole, “Imma be a rockstar and unite vampires and humans,” gambit didn’t work out (THANKS FOR THAT AKASHA!) Lestat’s been feeling the ennui so he agrees if only for the novelty. Of course James doesn’t keep to the plan so, Lestat and his friend (also Talamasca) David Talbot go off to hunt him.

They go on a cruise! They set Louis on fire! I repeat, they COMMUNE WITH CLAUDIA’S GHOST (maybe?) Seriously, this is the kind of bonkers one off adventure that I read long running genre series for. When the characters have settled into themselves and you can just set them off on something, it’s the best kind of book like this.

There’s also the small details here, that the minute Lestat gets a human body all he wants to do is fuck. As usual, with our favorite pansexual vampire rockstar brat, it’s men and women, but seriously, this is his first instinct. Oh, he also adopts a dog named Mojo. (Y’all, I seriously cannot wait for the TV series. Because if they get to this book, it will be the kind of one off season that people either think is totally brilliant or hate.

Anyway, I loved this one, and I’ll stand by it as a favorite (I know I have like six books left in the series, but so far, I like it best!) Up next is Lasher also Anne Rice, not because I’m so into her right now (Though I am) but more because it’s due back to the library this week and I’m out of renewals for it!

45 Books In 2018 #42: The Historian By Elizabeth Kostova

There’s a handful of good ideas in in Kostova’s novel, that never really gel together. A brainy teenager (with that old Gothic standby of not having a name) tracing a secret long kept by her loving parent, while the other is absent, a secret society of scholars hunting for the truth about Vlad The Impaler discover that the vampiric legends surrounding him are true, and Vlad Dracul’s descendants grapple with the legacy of evil left behind.

None of it quite gets there, as The Historian can’t commit to one of these narratives and tries to get all three in there. While the stylistic choice to mirror Brahm Stoker’s Dracula is a fun one, the diary within a diary within a diary conceit of this book makes it often hard to track.

A globe trotting thriller that’s never quite thriling and a horror novel that’s only scary for a few pages, a semi-sequel to Dracula where he only appears for like ten pages (and they are the best 10 pages of the book) everything about The Historian feels half baked. It’s also from that precious time fifteen years ago where every book seemed like it was trying to ape The DaVinci Code‘s formula of academics uncovering ancient and shocking secrets as they stumble through catacombs in Europe.

I enjoyed it enough that I was able to push through the more banal parts to the actually exciting conclusion, but not enough to really recommend it as a read to most people. It’s a fun read for anyone who’s really into vampire fiction. (Like Me!) It’s ties to Stoker’s original are worthwhile and the way it draws on the actual story of Vlad The Impaler somewhat creative, but it would have been altogether a better book if Kostova had picked one track and stuck with it, rather than trying to cover everything here.

Up next I’m sticking with vampires but we’re checking back in with Lestat in The Tale Of The Body Theif. I’ve missed that arrogant little SOB, I really, really have.

45 Books In 2018 #39:I Was Anastasia By Ariel Lawhon

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about the Romanovs. And by that I mean the “final family” as I’ve been calling them in my head for the past decade. I became fascinated by the legend of the lost princess Anastasia when I was really little. (My obsession even predates the Fox animated classic Anastasia. I was that annoying kid pointing out all of the historical inaccurracies in that flick.) (And not even the obvious stuff, like “Zombie monk.”) (I was very popular, as I’m sure you can tell.) My favorite is certainly The Kitchen Boy, but I’ve read some doozies.

I Was Anastasia is a very good book, focused on two timelines, one moving backwards, the other forwards until they meet, we’re told the story of Anastasia’s last days as a prisoner, and the story of Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess for years. Anna’s half of the book begins on the day her final appeal to be recognized by the German government as Anastasia Romanov. Anastasia’s half begins the day of her father’s abdication.

The stories meet in the middle, with the most likely explanation of what happened to Anderson facilitating her great con. (Or delusion, depending on your point of view.) Anderson’s story was more fun for me as it’s the one that I’m less familiar with.

Lawhon didn’t really add many new wrinkles to the “Romanovs in Siberia” stuff. Everything I’ve read before was here. The girls sewing their jewels into the clothing, their fierce protection of Alexie, Anastasia’s torture of their tutors, flirtations and love affairs with revolutionary guards. She does add a rape subplot. I’d never seen that before. (I’m not sure why. I mean, asserting that the guards may have raped the Grand Duchesses and Tsarina isn’t exactly a huge stretch) (I think this proves how unnecessary rape subplots are in certain narratives though.)

Look, reading this book was like curling up someplace homey for me. I wasn’t ever going to be blown away by it. An Anastasia book would have to be amazing to blow me away at this point, but it was good, comforting and had some stuff I’d never seen before, mostly the Anna Anderson stuff, but still, it’s nice to get back into old obsessions occasionally…maybe I’ll listen to some Billy Joel and watch Glee now.

OK, not really, I’m actually going to read The Witching Hour. Because old obsessions are great to revisit, and all, but new obsessions are better.

 

45 Books In 2018 #38: The Queen Of The Damned By Anne Rice

Boy, this is a weird series. I mean that in the best way. Even as someone who loves digressional world building there are large swaths of The Queen Of The Damned that were tough to get through. In the end it all comes together, though, and oddly, knowing the trajectory of Rice’s life and beliefs this is a fascinating read.

If Interview With A Vampire was a look into the horror of ennui, and The Vampire Lestat was about the deconstruction and reconstruction of myth, then Queen Of The Damned is about the triumph of humanism over dogma and superstition.

Part of what appeals to me about vampire fiction, and Rice’s work in particular is that I’m Catholic and I’m queer. You don’t get a better a intersection for what the woman’s trying to say than that. I identify with humanism in a lot of ways too. (My boy Tommy Quine Quine, to quote The Good Place.) (Are you watching The Good Place? If you aren’t, stop everything you’re doing and watch it!) So, you know, I’ve thought a lot about the ideas she’s talking about in this book, about the fall of superstition and the rise of human intellect that really spoke to me.

But there’s also a deep air of creepiness and horror here, not just weird musings about witches and spirits and their irrelevance in the face of technology and the human animal. Like, Akasha, The Queen Of The Damned herself is terrifying on both the visceral “crazy vampire” level and the existential, “this kind of unfeeling monster is the end of the line for an immortal” level. However, her overall plan to kill 90% of the men in the world and restart civilization with women in power sounds kind of deeply appealing.

Overall, I’m in though, and as I found with both Dune and Dark Tower in the past few years, book 3 tends to be point of no return for me. So, I guess I’m in. I’ve come this far. (And I’ve taken out like 6 other Anne Rice books from the library…so there’s that, too.)

Up next though, we’re taking a break to indulge in another old school obsession, I’m going to be reading I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon. I’ve missed the Romanovs. The Amazon show has gotten them back in my head again, so I’m sure there’s going to be some further spiraling back down that hole.

45 Books in 2018 #37: The Vampire Lestat By Anne Rice

I think my favorite part of diving into a new series is figuring out the parts of the series the author is most interested and how they diverge from the things that am interested.

For example, when I was reading the Dune Chronicles, I was interested in the bonkers court politics and weirdo religious structures. Frank Herbert, appeared more interested in governmental philosophy and deconstruction of mythos. In The Dark Tower I was interested in the ways that connections to people change us and our goals. Stephen King was interested in meta textual wankery. (I am also interested in meta textual wankery, btw. That’s why I love The Dark Tower) And with The Vampire Chronicles it’s clear that Anne Rice is interested in the ways that myths function, the nature of evil and good and what truly makes humans, well, human. am interested in SEXY GAY VAMPIRE ROCKSTARS.

Luckily, The Vampire Lestat gives me sexy gay vampire rockstars, as well as ruminations on humanity and good and evil and myths and blah blah blah. Sure, Lestat’s life story is kind of interesting, and the fact that he’s always been a theatrical little bitch makes a lot of sense. (Plus he’s just good at everything. Just because. He’s freaking Lestat OK?) And, OK, it’s a little weird that the first person he made into a vampire was his Mom, and then his boyfriend…I mean, that’s actually really weird, but whatever.

This book RULES. I am so so glad that I’ve decided to read this series. I’m wildly in love with this mythos and these characters. (Louis and Lestat get back together at the end! SQUEE!) And even though Lestat’s chosen one status is a little bit much (and not at all in line with his description in Interview, but as someone who is used to characters taking over on their own, I can forgive this) I’m really looking forward to moving through the rest of the books.

Up next is Queen Of The Damned, because I am powerless against the power of a good fantasy series.

Happy Halloween Y’all!

36 Books In 2018 #30: Rich People Problems By Kevin Kwan

Goodamn do I love this series,  you guys. I hope  the movie makes a trillion dollars so that we get  the sequels.

Set five years after the first book, this time Nick and Rachel have to deal with hid family’s bonkers money issues yet again, this time on the grand scale of everyone being summoned home to Singapore as his grandmother is dying. Meanwhile, Kitty has married Jack Bing, and is on a mission to beat Collette at social climbing (Collette has married into the actual British aristocracy and is you know, a ruthless sociopath, so it’s not easy!) and Astrid and Charlie must navigate their psychotic exes trying to sabotage their chance at happiness together.

There’s family intrigue, ridiculous fashion name dropping, shopping sprees, and hilariously unsubtle conversations about Rachel’s fertility. And it’s all amazing.

Seriously, picking up this series has been such a gift. They’ve been pure joy and escapism and I’m so happy to love them. And last week, when I joked that I hope it ended in a dance party, I grinned as I finished it up yesterday to discover that it does in fact end in a dance party. 

Seriously, I love these books. Everybody read them. And see the movie in about a month so that they make the other two.

Up next is God Emperor Of Dune. I’m also finishing up Battlestar Galactica so I’m just gonna be buried in deep thoughtful sci fi filled with wackadoo religious allegory. HOORAY! (Which I have discovered, is a genre I like quite a bit…)

36 Books In 2018 & The Epics Project #6: #29 Ulysses By James Joyce

Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glow-lamps or the growth or adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, Jesuit education, careers, the study of  medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of presabbath, Stephen’s collapse

This quote is as close to talking about what Ulysses by James Joyce is about as I feel qualified to make.

That is to say, that in the past two weeks while I read the book, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of it as a whole, but I learned long ago that understanding the whole is not really how to go about reading Joyce. It’s about absorbing the moments. And about understanding that he’s trying to confuse you, so just live in that confusion.

Joyce’s whole deal is about finding the sublime in the mundane. Elevating the experience of the average person to that of epic tales about gods and heroes.

It’s lofty lofty shit which is why when it goes over my head, I try not to let it frustrate me. I know at the very least, that Ulysses is about Ireland, and anti-semitism, and sex. I got that much. So, you know there’s that.

Reading this book and (War And Peace) was kind of the impetus of this project, so I’m glad that I finally got through it, but oh god, was it rough, and I just need to exhale and be thrilled that this one’s done.

I read Ulysses you guys, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. Maybe someday I’ll read it with guidance and understand more of it. Maybe I’ll never touch it again. I don’t know, for now, I’m going exhale, and been grateful for having read it.

Next up, I get to indulge in Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan, (HOW WILL THIS SAGA END? I hope in a dance party.) And the next epic is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace…I’ve scaled up now. We’ll see how it goes.

36 Books In 2018 #28: The Harvesting By Melanie Karsak

It’s a gamble, picking up a book in a genre that you haven’t invested in in a while. It’s a bigger gamble when you do it because you were flirting with a guy running a small press table at a comic con while dressed as a Hogwarts student.

But gamble or not, that’s how I found The Harvesting, and it, as well as it’s sequels, and they’ve stared back at me, hissing, “You may have flushed $35 down the toilet and wasted half a book shelf…” before I realized I wasn’t ready for God Emperor Of Dune yet and I was pretty well through the rest of my TBR.

So, yesterday afternoon I picked up the first book. I haven’t read supernatural adventure stuff in a while. After the zombie boom which followed my brief love affair with all things vampiiric, the thought of diving into a series that promised both, as well as a kick ass female lead who uses some kind of sword…well…uh, it was overwhelming.

Anyway, all this baggage I took into The Harvesting, and I was immediately charmed by our heroine, Layla, and delighted in her zombie fighting adventurers, the plague  hitting as she visits her grandmother in the sleepy upstate New York town where she grew up.

Oh, also her grandma was a medium, and she is too, and there are fairies? There’s a lot going on, but I’m totally hooked. I mean, seriously,  she fights zombies and talks to fairies and this is all for about a hundred and fifty pages before the vampires show up. Plus there’s this whole drama with Layla’s high school boyfriend Ian (now married to a girl he got pregnant while cheating on her.) and his brother Jamie (totally dreamy, single and way more stable than Ian!) which is so right up my alley.

It was also refreshing to read a book of this genre where all of the characters are adults. Most supernatural fiction I’ve read has been of the YA variety and usually with a good deal more smooching. I still love a good eternal teen with a focus on brooding and relationship issues, I mean, I think, it’s been a while. But this was really fun to read.

Anyway, back to The Harvesting, it’s a fun easy read, with a hook I couldn’t resist. (Hereditary psychic fights zombies and vampires? I mean, hello?) And I was happy to support small press! And lady writers!

Up next, it’s time to start in on Ulysses…gulp.