I had previously read Little Brother by the same author and loved it. In Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow addresses some of the same themes as that earlier book: youthful idealism, where the internet and the law intersect, and access to information.
Trent McCauley (aka Cecil B. DeVil) runs afoul of the law and gets his entire family’s internet access shut off, then flees to the city in a mixture of shame and rebellion. There Trent makes friends and has the semi-glamourous life he’s always wanted, until he begins to see how the laws are unfairly balanced towards giant corporations at the expense of the average citizen.
While Little Brother had a sharper focus on the main character, bringing real empathy to the story, Pirate Cinema’s Trent is a poor copy of that protagonist. His struggles with his own identity, parents, friends, and sister were all really interesting, except that they felt like a thin veneer pasted on over the real point of the story, which is Doctorow’s stance on freedom of information and the role of young people in shaping that freedom. Even as someone who shares most of the same views, reading this book felt a bit like getting lectured at.
Eat, Slay, Love
Eat, Slay, Love is the third book in the “Living With the Dead” series by Jesse Petersen. Published by Orbit, the same house that brought us the awesome, award-winning Newsflesh series by Mira Grant. The publisher made me figure it was worth at least a look. I started with the first two in the series, of course: Married With Zombies and Flip This Zombie. They’re pretty much the quick reads you want during the summer. Not too heavy or dense a read — easy to blow through. If you’re expecting a deep read, you’ll be disappointed. But if all you want is mind candy, this is the series for you.
The Zombie Apocalypse began on an afternoon when Sarah and David were on their way to marriage counseling (even though they’d secretly looked up divorce lawyers without telling each other). But it turns out that taking all the mundane, everyday stressors and pressures out of life and boiling it down to “survive the zombie apocalypse” makes it easier to remember why you fell in love in the first place.
Sarah and David not only grow together but start a zombie extermination business — paid in survival goods: food and medical supplies. Their adventures in the second book nearly break them up. But by the time the third book starts, they’re close as ever, and on their way east to investigate the rumors of a Wall, built to stop the spread of the zombie virus from overtaking the entire North American continent. On the way they meet a nosey stalkerazzi who used to report for a thinly disguised TMZ, and a has-been, drugged out Brit rock star. Sarah does the narration in first person, and events from the second book carry through in a worrying manner into the third. Oh, and the funniest bit is how each chapter title reads like a self-help book, modified because of zombies. I’m about to start the fourth book now. Bring on The Zombie Whisperer!
I found Shoulders on accident, the way I have found a great many of the best things in my life, buried in a discount bin in a thrift store. The author, Georgia Cotrell, has billed this story as a novel, but it reads like a long letter from an old friend. It is the story of Bobbie Crawford, young Texan lesbian, and the women she loves.
Going into this read, I attempted to limit my expectations. This is a lesbian novel written in 1987 about the seventies and eighties, so it was very possible that it would be awful, like many other books about the same thing. How pleasantly surprised I was when the chapters streamed by and I found myself laughing and crying in equal measure.
Bobbie is a flawed character and so entirely human. She makes terrible mistakes that I begged her not to even consider. She has highs and lows, falls into deep depressions and struggles realistically to better herself. More than that, the other characters seem real too. Closing the book I began to miss her ex-girlfriends, to wonder if they really would keep in touch with Bobbie. I was enamoured with the easy-going way Cotrell had pulled me into Bobbie’s world.
While there is quite a bit of romance (and sex), this story is also about enduring friendships and strong women. Her characters are artists, teachers, dancers, and engineers. They know men, some have loved men, but they stand firmly in the world of women. The author is smart and so are her references to literature and pop culture. The only downside to all of this is that it is the only book Cotrell has ever written so to get my fix I have to just reread it (for the fourth time now).
Feiwel & Friends
I should have gone with my initial impression of this book. Young Adult contemporary is not a genre I generally go for. But then I saw the book trailer for Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend. Kudos to whomever created the trailer, because it instantly jumped onto my to-read list. It promised me makeovers, forbidden romance and stolen identities and I thought it would be too much fun to pass up.
Unfortunately, however, Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend, failed to live up to its potential. It started with a familiar premise – teenage girl getting dumped by her “perfect” boyfriend. And Gemma is obviously very distraught by this sudden turn of events. But this isn’t a novel about a break-up. Since the break-up has disrupted her summer plans she is forced to spend the summer with her father in the Hamptons. While there she runs into a childhood friend that she was once very horrible to. Thankfully this former friend doesn’t recognize her and Gemma takes this opportunity to make up for past wrongs. Why? Because then she would be a better person and her boy-scout ex-boyfriend might take her back.
Other than the somewhat ridiculous premise and the incredibly predictable plot the biggest problem with this novel was the characters. Besides Gemma every character was completely one dimensional. They were more like props than actual people. Finn wheeled them out when necessary for the plot but found too-convenient reasons for them to disappear the rest of the time. Gemma, the protagonist was a little bit better but her motivations always felt a bit off. I couldn’t lose myself in this novel because I simply couldn’t get past the fact that this would never happen. Which is saying something when I generally read fantasy, and science fiction.
I had hoped Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend would be a fun summer read. But by the end I was only continuing to see how everything was going to blow up in Gemma’s face. The fact that its the first book in the series makes it even more disappointing.
The Tyrant’s Daughter is the story of a teenage girl, told from a perspective I’ve never read before. Laila is the daughter of a Middle Eastern dictator. When her father is killed during a coup, Laila, her mother and her brother claim asylum in the United States. With their source of income now gone, and her mother refusing to find a job, they are forced to work alongside the CIA to stay afloat. She used to live the life of a princess, now she is an American high school student, which comes with its own sets of challenges, trying to stay ahead of an international conflict that has spanned generations.
Laila’s story is powerful. It touches upon a number of issues that are growing more and more relevant in the world around us. In particular the need to understand other cultures. Laila’s new American friends are guilty of misinformation and stereotyping Laila and her home country. But Laila is often guilty of the same thing. The need for cultural understanding and education is a two way street. The Tyrant’s Daughter also touches on how complicated international relations can be – much of the time there is no black and white solutions. I do wish the author had spent more time exploring Laila’s family and culture, but since Carleson comes from a CIA background herself it makes sense that it would focus more on the political side of things.
If you are looking to diversify your reading you won’t go wrong with The Tyrant’s Daughter. It is a timely and compelling novel that will make you reconsider the world and the people around you.
The Magician’s Land is a lot of things. The A-plot is about averting the Fillorian apocalypse. The B-plot has Quentin working to repair the wrongs he did to Alice. And there is a C-plot of vengeance against the rapist God from The Magician King. And all of these were well done. Slightly slogging, but well done. It was even a little anticlimactic; there was a bit of a let down in how Fillory’s final days panned out. Quentin and Co. face their demons in subtler, quieter ways than the showdown I was expecting. But, ultimately, these gentle let-downs were the final gasps of childhood fantasy, and then the adults moved on to a new, possibly even more fantastic era of their lives.
Excuse my corniness, but this was a book about the magic of becoming an adult. Speaking from my and my friends’ experiences, childhood was delightful, teenagehood was exciting, and then our twenties were experimental, artistic, and destructive. Entering our thirties, a lot of the pressure to be a certain way disappeared. We had a better idea of who we were, an awareness of what issues we still needed to handle, and were confident in our abilities. Just like Quentin and his friends, in our thirties we became adults and went into an entirely different phase of life. Quentin stops living in wonder of someone else’s creation and enjoys the process of exploring his own world. Even though his creation borders Fillory, he would rather investigate the new possibilities instead of revisiting the old.
The Magician’s Land also played with how the absence of guidance makes life more challenging and intense. The deaths of Quentin’s father and Ember/Umber echo each other, each experience removing a psychological safety net and forcing him into self-reliance. His magic becomes more powerful with each death as he moves further into adulthood.
This was a great final book for the trilogy, leaving the group with tons of space on the library wall to fill with books on their adventures. Just because you grow up doesn’t mean the fun stops.