Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Read: 9 October, 2018

Karen Memory has all the fixings for an amazing story – Wild West steampunk featuring lesbians and Bass Reeves and a mecha-sewing machine? Bring it on!

Unfortunately, while I liked just about every individual component of this book, the whole didn’t work for me. Whatever it was, something about it didn’t click, and it took me forever to read.

Part of it is that I struggled to imagine a lot of what was being described. I understand that the built up roadways are based on the way Seattle was built up, but I just couldn’t picture it. Similarly, I have no idea what the sewing machine is supposed to look like. I know what sewing machines look like, and I know what mechabots look like, but the two combined? Whatever tinkering the characters were doing, I just don’t understand how the proper use of a sewing machine could involve getting into it, nor why it would have been equipped with arms and legs.

The book still gets four stars because, as I said, there was so much awesome there, even if it didn’t work for me.

Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Emma Ríos

Read: 5 October, 2016

Bunny and Butterfly are talking about Death’s Daughter, Ginny – a reaper of vengeance. They say that when someone calls out to her by singing her son, she will appear to avenge them.

Pretty Deadly plunges straight into the story, which makes it rather confusing. Characters are thrown at the reader in quick succession – characters with traits or dialogue that make it seem like they might be interesting, like there might be something going on that I’d like to know about, but then the story just keeps moving on and the mystery is never acknowledged.

The illustrations have a similar issue. While absolutely gorgeous, they are often a little too stylised, making the action difficult to follow. I sometimes couldn’t tell what was happening in a panel until I’d read a few more and could piece together what happened by its result.

The use of animals and animal-human hybrids gave the story a mythic feel, which I quite enjoyed.

Unfortunately, though the visuals and ideas were great, the execution just didn’t do it for me. There’s too much “mystery box-ing,” which leaves me feeling frustrated rather than intrigued.

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Are You A Horse? by Andy Rash

When cowboy Roy gets a saddle for his birthday, he goes on a quest to find out what a horse is.

This is a silly, cute book with very appealing art. My son loved shouting out the correct answers every time Roy asks a new creature if it is a horse. He practically squealed when Roy made his final mistake (which, frankly, had me chuckling as well).

Are You A Horse? is a fantastic book, with good repetition, lovely artwork, funny jokes, and lots of opportunities for readers to make voices and kids to make animal sounds. I highly recommend it, it’s a gem of a book.

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Hexslinger #1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files

Read: 23 November, 2013

When I read the description of A Book of Tongues at the store, I knew I had to get it. Gay cowboy wizards involved with ancient Mesoamerican gods? What’s not to like!

Unfortunately, I just could not get into it. All the elements of a book I’d really like are there, and I found it full of great ideas, but the execution just fell flat. The narrative style was inconsistent, slipping back and forth between modern and Cowboyese. I also noticed several errors – wrong grammatical use, wrong diction, etc – that made the book a hard slog. And while it’s clear that a lot of research was done in the writing of the book, there were a few anachronisms that I found rather jarring (such as one character’s use of the term “glory hole,” which was not used in its present sexual context until much later).

The feverish quality of the narrative meant that I could never get a grasp on the characters – something that’s necessary for me to care what happens next. The entire book read like the weird dream/trance sequences that I always skim through.

All in all, I find myself very disappointed. I love creative magic systems and I just can’t get enough of books that incorporate mythology into their narrative, but A Book of Tongues just did not do it for me.

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