Reminders of my youth

This is a well-loved and much read copy of Generation X from my local library.

It seems a waste to review a book published in 1991, one that cemented the name of an entire generation in place. And yet, here I go.

Generation X is both timeless (e.g. diagnosing all kinds of late capitalism problems like the pain of not having health insurance, the despair at a lack of a coherent future, the inevitability that we’re killing the planet) and very, very much of its time (e.g. it centers mainly white men and revolves around the idea that somehow falling into depression and doing your best to leave late capitalism behind will somehow fix the problems inherent to late capitalism).

I have an incredible soft spot for this book. It is problematic and dropping out of society just means that those who are left can run it into the ground (a thing that the book does passingly comment on); but it reminds me so solidly of a time when I was young, when I was trying to figure out who I was, of a time before the internet when it was so much easier to be aimless. I can’t not love it.

Read The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star is easily one of my top books of the year. Like the other Nicola Yoon I recently read, it’s a YA romance. This is her second book and the writing style is slightly less linear and definitely choppier – the two main characters, along with others, share the storytelling responsibilities – and it works well.

Natasha is the child of illegal immigrants from Bermuda, and is probably going to be deported at the end of the day, unless a miracle occurs. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on his way to a college interview at Yale (second best university, after Harvard, according to his parents). They meet and their story is almost entirely contained in that day, with the exception of the epilogue.

It strongly reminds me of Before Sunrise, never a bad thing. Their romance is electric, delightful, and potentially doomed.

I am definitely recommending this book to almost everyone.

A series about magicians

I actually picked up The Paper Magician in this series because I had an idea for my current writing project of… a magician whose medium is paper.* And I was curious about how she implemented it, what the paper could do, how the magician would work. When it turned out to be a decent adventure story, I borrowed the second and third ones from the library.

Alas, the second one (The Glass Magician) was not enough to keep me going to the third (The Master Magician). That said, if you’re looking for a quick read about magicians and intrigue in Victorian London, you could certainly do worse.

If you can’t tell if I’ve just recommended these books or not, don’t worry. Neither can I.

*I was originally inspired by this Economist article about the mathematics of origami, which is absolutely up my alley.

A delight of a YA romance novel

Everything Everything is a very sweet YA romance that I quite liked. There’s a girl, Maddie, who is allergic to everything and can’t leave the house. Ever. She is shockingly well adjusted and ok with this – she knows it keeps her safe and alive. But then a Boy moves in next door and everything changes. They communicate via text and email and then he comes over and she decides she needs more.

It’s a delightful, specific story about two people falling in love for the first time, and if you like romance novels, it’s a good one.

Gnomon: kind of a throwback

I had two main high-level thoughts whilst reading Gnomon, and they’ve made me undecided about whether or not I like the book.

The first was: this is a science fiction version of Foucault’s Pendulum. Gnomon has a deep debt to Umberto Eco and his everything-is-a-great-grand-scheme book from 1988. The whole book is a convoluted conspiracy that maybe didn’t start out being a conspiracy but there were patterns that turned it into a conspiracy it was meant to be all along. In this day and age, when so many people want things to be conspiracy theories that aren’t, and that turns out to be really, really damaging to society, I actually had very little patience for this (and it was the reason that I ended up skipping ahead to the ending after reading about half the book).

The second thought is that you can tell, as he’s laying the groundwork for the conspiracy in the early chapters, that he is his father’s son. John LeCarré is, of course, a master at telling these kinds of stories and Harkaway has learned the mechanics from him. It’s well done and to be admired.

So: while the mechanics are very well done, the overall story wasn’t one I wanted to read. So I didn’t.

Monsters and humans and how you define one or the other

This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet is a middle grade duology, known as Monsters of Verity. My daughter and I affectionately refer to them as the August Needs a Hug books.

This is a universe where monsters are created when people commit horrific acts. August is one of those monsters, created from a school shooting. Kate is human, the daughter of a mobster who keeps people safe from the monsters by controlling them much like he controlled (controls? it’s not quite clear how in the past it is) his crime empire. Kate is on her way to becoming a different, very human kind of monster, while August just wants to be human.

These books are a very sweet story about two people who become friends and grow up under what can only be called very trying circumstances. Recommended if you’re at all into YA or that particular branch of science fiction.

Generation X Literature: Pattern Recognition

I’ve been feeling my Gen X-hood lately; I’m not sure why, it’s just there. I’ve been listening to the Indigo Girls (their debut album came out 30 years ago) and REM; Welcome to Night Vale isn’t explicitly about Generation X, but it might as well be; if something’s been written about it lately, chances are I’ve read it.

Generation X, the book, was checked out of the library, so I chose Pattern Recognition instead. It’s a book very much of its immediate post 9/11 time. The main intrigue is about mysterious video clips that are posted online pre-you tube on whatever sites they can be hosted on. The internet is a big enough deal that it provides a place for people to come together to obsess about the videos, but not a big enough deal that you tube yet exists. And there’s a general sense of paranoia about the world and not being able to trust your immediate environment that was particular to the post 9/11 days.

But most of-the-moment of all, Cayce, the main character, her job is as a cool hunter. Someone who looks for trends in the real world for companies to make money on. As if that’s not a person who lives on social media or the internet in general these days. As if we could get a whole country to think of the same thing as cool, as if the trends don’t manifest themselves online.

There is an enjoyable underlying weirdness to the characters that I find particularly endearing. The characters aren’t wearing their weirdness as a character trait, not unless it’s a plot point. They just happen to be a bit off from “normal” because of what they enjoy or how they make money or because they just are.

I like Pattern Recognition, but at least part of that is because it is so particular to its time and I want to spend time with the characters in their weirdnesses. Recommended because of these things.

Enjoying more romance novels

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by telling you about the latest romance novel series that I’ve been enjoying? London Celebrities is a romance series about stage cast and crew members who are thrown together in various ways and have various relationships, and, of course, have swoony happy-ever-after endings.

Act Like It is the first book, and the two leads are persuaded by the people running their production to fake a romance in order to help his reputation and keep ticket sales high. Pretty Face is the second, and an older director falls for a young up-and-coming actress (they talk a lot about how cliche it is). Making Up is about two people, an actress and a makeup artist, who initially dislike each other – and have since high school – but, you know, they’re thrown together and things change.

The books are charming, the romances are fairly believable, and overall, they were lovely stories. I listened to two of them as audiobooks and the narrator did a good job reading them.

Recommended.

World building is important

King of Scars is the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) next book that takes place in the Grisha universe that Leigh Bardugo has so beautifully created. She writes YA fantasy novels that take place in a fictionalized Russia and beyond where some people are magical and those people are called Grisha. (This is a terrible explanation, I know. But it gets the point across.)

There’s a secondary character in those books, Nikolai Lantsov, who the author, much of the fanbase, and me finds very glamorous and charming. King of Scars is the book she finally wrote about him.

It was never going to live up to the hype in my own head – because glamour depends on mystery and writing a book about a glamorous character necessarily means explaining that character, and will ergo make him less glamorous and more mundane. That is not my quibble with the book. She navigates that tightrope as well as can be expected and certainly better than I could have done.

No, my quibble is with the second half of the book where Nikolai and two of his partners in crime are suddenly thrown into a magical netherworld. Everyone else is dealing with the fact that these three people are suddenly gone.

Look, it’s YA fantasy and the author has explained the world in the following way: Grisha are people who interact with natural forces in a way others can’t. This ability gives them rejuvenating energy when they practice it, so they live longer than non-Grisha. This is all basically world building along the lines of: it’s the real world, but with a few tweaks. The previous five books in this world have confirmed and deepened this understanding.

This whole other netherworld thing feels very out of left field and much more fantastical than the rest. Like, this is a nice little bungalow house you have here, where does this door go to, oh look it’s an olympic sized swimming pool that dwarfs the rest of the house. It was jarring.

That said, I enjoy her books and I entrust her world-building and story-telling. King of Scars is part one of two and I’m definitely going to give her the benefit of the doubt and keep going. Besides, Nikolai is still awesome. I want to find out how this ends.

A book for next Halloween

Melmoth is based on an Eastern European myth about a woman who is cursed to walk the world forever. She’s lonely, and so keeps taking people to walk with her, eg disappearing them and maybe turning them into ghosts.

The book was fine. It was darker than I wanted it to be – I’d just read another book about a woman as anti-hero, which is what this is – but I enjoyed that it was primarily about women and how women interact and both support and don’t support each other.

If you’re going to read Melmoth, I would recommend that you read it during Halloween season, when you’re in the mood for something a little darker and a little scarier. It was initially published last October, and that was probably the best time for it to come out.