We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Read: 30 August, 2018

When I was a kid, The Haunting of Hill House was my favourite book, and is – to date – the only book that I’ve read at least a dozen times. And yet, for some reason, I haven’t sought out Jackson’s other writings. I did come across “The Lottery” in school, but I was rather primed to hate everything that I came across in school.

The Haunting of Hill House has a plot to it, whereas We Have Always Lived in the Castle is more of a meditation. Things do happen, but the main characters actively resist reaction. Even their way of speaking has a certain out-of-timeness that doesn’t seem to quite respond to what has been said to them. In a lot of ways, Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian are living ghosts, all stuck on that day when the rest of their family died.

There’s a mystery of sorts, as we try to figure out just what happened to their family. But while we do get answers, they barely seem to matter when they do come. The point of this story is, rather, the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is very, very creepy.

I really enjoyed this. I thought it would be a bit too long to just evoke a creepy feeling without much in the way of plot, but it does work. And just when it might have started to drag, Jackson gives us a “normal” person to show us just how thoroughly we’ve immersed ourselves in the Blackwoods’ mindsets. Cousin Charles and the villagers all seem irredeemably horrible, like zombie hordes trying to get at the Blackwood sisters. So when the sisters build a barricade in the garden, it seems to make perfect sense.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a feeling, and it’s evoked expertly.

    Vampirates #1: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

    Read: 29 August, 2018

    Eons ago, I spotted a book in the bargain bin of my local bookstore called Vampirates. At that price, there was no chance in heck that I wouldn’t buy a book called Vampirates! I mean, that’s just amazing! I bet Somper is incredibly glad that he stumbled onto the name first. In fact, I bet the name alone has half made his career!

    Unfortunately, the Vampirates I bought was Tide of Terror – the second book in the series. I didn’t want to start with the second book, but I also wasn’t intrigued enough by the name alone to justify buying the first book at full price.

    Fast forward nearly a decade, and I found Demons of the Ocean on a friend’s shelf. She, also, had seen the amazing title of Vampirates on a book that was on sale, and also decided that it was worth buying for that alone. Between the two of us, we had purchased enough material to judge the series on more than just that incredible name.

    And… it’s fine.

    It drags a bit, particularly for a children’s book. Within the first few pages, the heroes’ last remaining parent has died and they’ve run away to sea. Only, they’ve capsized and each been rescued by a different pirate ship – Connor by normal human pirates, Grace by the titular Vampirates. And that’s basically it. They each make a friend, they each get to know their captain, and very little else happens. There’s pages upon pages of nothing happening.

    On the plus side, there are a few moments of legitimate horror. There is a scene where Grace runs afoul of a Vampirate and I honestly started to wonder if I should be reading it aloud to my kid (it actually wasn’t all that gruesome, and I don’t think he picked up on the rape analogy at all). There’s also some fairly good creepy atmosphere while Grace is still working out what kind of ship she’s on, and I liked Connor’s moral difficulty with the whole pirating biz.

    The setting is a little confusing. The story explicitly takes place in the future, but the in-story details all point to a fantasy-infused past. There are hints that there’s been an ecological disaster, and that’s why the society feels so “set back”, but there are no remnants of the modern world. Placing the story in the future adds nothing, while setting up expectations that aren’t met.

    All in all, I found this to be much better than a series called Vampirates has any right to be. It isn’t fantastic, by any means, but it’s a solid children’s story with some good adventure and thrills.

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      Vorkosigan Saga #15: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

      Read: 28 August, 2018

      I was trying to explain to someone about this book I was reading. Nothing’s happening, the main character is just kinda wandering around in a depression funk. He goes on a little vacation to the country, too. No, it isn’t boring at all, actually. It’s wonderful!

      Sometimes, you just gotta read it for yourself.

      The plot proper (anything that could be mentioned in a blurb) doesn’t actually start until at least halfway in. Before that, Miles is still dealing with the aftershocks of his temporary death in Mirror Dance – both physical and psychological. But this is Bujold, master of character, and it is riveting stuff.

      Once the plot itself got underway, I barely had time to come up for air. I was nearly late for work this morning because I had to sit in the car out in the parking lot just so I could finish “just this chapter, I swear!”

      Needless to say, I really enjoyed this one. Miles’s life is in for a heck of a change, and I am so excited to see where this leads!

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        Silo #3: Dust by Hugh Howey

        Read: 21 August, 2018

        With 2/3 of the series read, I couldn’t very well stop there!

        I quite liked this one. The philosophical stuff takes a back seat (beyond the extremely general “people should get to make the big decisions that shape their own lives), so the story was easier to enjoy.

        There’s also more religion in this one – with a cultish sect that gets in the characters’ way. This felt a bit ham-handed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the author is, himself, an atheist. For one thing, this religious sect basically kidnaps a seven year old girl and forces her to marry an adult man. The only other time we see them, they are burning books. This could have worked for me if we got a bit more into what they believed and why they were doing what they were doing, but it just seemed to be a bunch of stereotypes all rolled into one.

        This is made worse by the fact that the religion itself is so underdeveloped. There are references to “the gods” multiple times throughout the book, but then the sect is suddenly talking about a single deity, which comes off way more Christian than the religion we had seen previously.

        But then there’s a religious character who “sees the light” just as Jules comes to realise that religion has a function in her society. It sends a rather mixed message.

        There’s quite a bit of payoff, like explaining how Solo managed to survive Silo 1’s initial attacks. I’d written this at the time as lazy writing, but it worked. I liked that many “bad” characters were redeemed through the story, particularly Anna.

        Overall, it’s a satisfying end to the series. I felt like my major questions were all answered, and there’s a somewhat happy ending (at least until genetic issues start to crop up due to population bottle-necking, or the whole group starves to death in their first winter), so I can happily say that I’m done with the series.

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          Throne of Glass #3: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

          Read: 18 August, 2018

          I found this to be the weakest of the series so far. The pace, which has been a fair trot throughout, slows right down. Not only is this book the longest of the first three, it also has far less plot.

          In summary, Celaena has been sent to a continent that still has magic so that she can learn to control her powers. She discovers a handful of things along the way, she makes a few new friends, but the whole book is essentially a really loooong training montage.

          To pad this out, we get a bit back in Rifthold as Dorian gets a romance sub-plot and Chaol discovers the rebels. This still isn’t enough to fill the run time, however, so we also get Manon – a witch who has been recruited by the king. Unfortunately, her plot is also a training montage, so much of the book goes back and forth between her and Celaena, as they each get incrementally more powerful.

          While I’m sure Manon’s plot will be important, delivering it in this way just bogged the story down. Celaena needed her training, but the book could have focused on Dorian and Chaol’s plots, or even Celaena’s mystery with the weird corpses they keep finding. That, and maybe cut about a hundred pages, too.

          Also symptomatic of the editing issues with this book, every character seems to “purr” all their lines.

          The pacing made this a tougher book to finish than the preceding two. That said, I do like increasing plotlines and character depth as we spend more time with the cast. And while I didn’t particularly feel that Manon’s plot fit into this book, I do like where her story is going. I also really like the way friendships are treated in this series – Celaena’s devotion to Nehemia is beautiful, and Chaol telling Dorian that he loves him was absolutely perfect. Friendships often get pushed to the sidelines in fiction, and it’s great to see them treated as relationships that are every bit as deep and important as romances.

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            The Witcher, vol. 3: Curse of Crows by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Piotr Kowalski)

            Read: 17 August, 2018

            This is my favourite book of the lot.

            I enjoy the random Witcher adventures – the monsters are interesting, I like the way Geralt interacts with people, and I always like the reveals at the very end that Geralt knew what was going on the whole time. But Geralt at his very best is Geralt when Ciri and Yennifer are around.

            The artwork is also much better in this one, especially the backgrounds. The city shots, in particular, were gorgeous. Kowalski also did a good job of capturing the right body language and facial expressions to go along with Tobin’s writing.

            As for Tobin’s writing, he’s once again managed to capture the characters’ personalities. This is especially impressive with the banter between Geralt and Yennifer, which rides such a very fine line – too affectionate and it isn’t them, but too teasing and it could come off as mean-spirited.

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              The Heart of Everything That Is by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

              Read: 14 August, 2018

              A little misleading, since there isn’t actually too much about Red Cloud’s perspective. Mostly, the book sets the stage for the Fetterson Massacre, which includes brief overviews of native/white relations leading up to it. There is some biographical information about Red Cloud’s family and his rise to power (as well as similar information about other key players, such as Crazy Horse), but it all feels like part of the background.

              Once the story shifts to Fort Phil Kearney, the whites take the centre stage. We learn a great deal about the officers, about their supply situation, about internal military squabbling, etc, but Red Cloud and his warriors are on the outside, as a threat. Then, once the Fetterson Massacre is over, the entire rest of Red Cloud’s life is summarized quickly in the Epilogue.

              The history was interesting and reasonably well-written, and I did like what there was about Red Cloud and the political/social scene he navigated, but I wanted much more about him. I would gladly have read a book about the Fetterson Massacre from the white perspective, but this shouldn’t have been it.

              I found this to be an interesting book with interesting history, but not has focused as it should have been. It also ended rather abruptly with much of its stated story still left to tell. As a biography of Red Cloud, it leaves much to be desired.

                Silo #2: Shift by Hugh Howey

                Read: 6 August, 2018

                After finishing Wool, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to continue the series or not. The “mystery box” plot type doesn’t hold all that much of an appeal for me beyond the initial read, and I felt that Wool had already answered the major questions I had. But then I found the audiobook of Shift at my local library and really needed something to listen to while I did the dishes, and here we are.

                Shift continues as a “mystery box”, except that the mysteries are much smaller. We’re not longer wondering what the hell is going on, but rather what did So-and-so have to do with it, and how exactly will the thing we know will happen come about. Small mysteries.

                These are interspersed with individual tales from the silos, giving us a picture of how experiences can differ from each other in similar situations.

                The narrative is still very much object-focused, so the POV characters have little in the way of individual personalities. That said, I did like the way Solo distinguished himself, even though it was merely you having experiences that were dramatically different from the other POV characters.

                Overall, this was a good book to listen to while doing the dishes. The philosophical “truths” of the story are simplistic and overdone, and the characters aren’t particularly compelling, but the “mystery box” is at least an entertaining ride.

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                  The Witcher, vol. 2: Fox Children by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

                  Read: August 6, 2018

                  As with House of Glass, I appreciate how well Tobin has managed to capture Geralt’s voice and the general tone of Witcher series.

                  The artwork, which disappointed me a bit in House of Glass, is still rather underwhelming. However, there is now a female character who actually wears clothing, so that’s at least a little improvement (have no fear – the central female character is still naked). This is authentic to CD Projekt Red’s vision of the series, so I can’t fault it for that, but it’d be nice to have a little more parity.

                  The story works, for the most part. I liked the ending twist, and I thought that that Tobin did a good job of building a paranoid atmosphere.

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                    The Witcher, vol. 1: House of Glass by Paul Tobin (illustrated by Joe Querio)

                    Read: 5 August, 2018

                    I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork for this one. It felt a bit rough or lacking in detail, and there were several panels where I had a great deal of trouble figuring out what I was looking at. In particular, Vara’s body (her arms, especially) seemed all over the place, proportionally. It’s not bad art, per se, but it could have been a lot better.

                    The story was okay. It definitely felt like a Witcher story, just not one of the better ones. There’s some good mystery and ambience building up, until Geralt finds the right person to talk to and they just infodump what’s going on. Which a lot of Sapkowski’s stories also do, so points for keeping it authentic, but those aren’t the stories that I really like.

                    All that said, I did enjoy the writing. When Geralt speaks, he sounds like Geralt. His humour, his deadpan, the way he just goes along with what people saying – even while he knows that they are lying – just to see what will happen… that’s truly Geralt. Even the “twist” at the end that he had a good idea of what was going on the whole time, even while the reader was befuddled by the mystery, reads just like Sapkowski’s stories.

                    I also liked the way Geralt bantered with Vara. They had a good rapport, and it worked better than just having Geralt wandering around by himself for half the story.

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