Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood by Samuel G. Sterling

Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to BollywoodPopo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood

by Samuel G. Sterling

Kindle Edition, 596 pg.
Jolliwood Books, 2016

Read: March 31 – April 3, 2016


In circumstances difficult to explain, hard to believe, and probably meant to be comical — Popo Gigi and his twin brother, Ramyou, are born while their unwed mother emigrates from India to England. They spend years in poverty, gaining some sort of financial stability when their mother eventually marries. Ramyou is a troubled child with wild appetites (in just about every sense of the word — at least eventually), while Popo distinguishes himself academically. He eventually is admitted to, excels in and graduates from Oxbridge. Following graduation, he sets his mind to seeking some sort of understanding/closure regarding his father and his utter disregard for his twin sons. So Popo travels to India and begins a series of haphazard adventures as he attempts to meet and then bond with his father — hilarity ensues (theoretically), as does romance, a dash of danger, and more.

There is a charm to the writing that I can’t deny — even when the book seemed pointless — and even when the writing was muddled enough that I wasn’t sure what was going on (which happened a lot). Nevertheless, the it felt like sitting down and listening to a charming young man tell a long, rambling story. And, boy, do I mean rambling. Still, you can’t help but like the prose.

It’s the content of the prose that is problematic. It’s hard to believe a lot of the plot — and it’s not that easy to see the links between events that should follow each other, plot lines that are just abandoned (for chapters on end, when not totally). The “humor” is largely dependent on the kind of things I really haven’t found funny since I was in grade school — untimely erections, urine, excrement. I don’t care how many times they’re repeated, bathroom jokes just aren’t funny.

I wanted to like this, but I couldn’t. This was going to be a 2-star read for me, that I kinda felt guilty about, because of the spirit of the novel — I couldn’t help feeling affection for the style and writing, even if I didn’t like it. But the last few chapters killed that for me, it’s like they belonged to a different novel. There’s just no point to reading this book.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from Jolliwood Books in exchange for this post — I appreciate it, even if the book didn’t click for me.

—–

1 Star

Pipeliner by Shawn Hartje

PipelinerPipeliner

by Shawn Hartje

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Helen Springs Press, 2016

Read: March 14 – 15, 2016

I just don’t know what to say about this one. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man in the 1990’s growing up in (what I believe is) a fictionalized Idaho Falls, Idaho. It’s arguable how much Jason Krabb actually comes of age here — you could make a pretty decent case that he regresses throughout the book.

Jason’s main goal in life is to become a rock star in Portland, OR or Seattle, WA — along the way, he’d like to have a girlfriend and party a lot. He spends a lot of time and energy becoming pretty mediocre at guitar, and hangs out with a poser who’s new to town and a couple of older friends who are more interested in scholastic success and their futures (a concept Jason can’t really wrap his brain around). He’s got an older brother studying at Princeton and dating a nursing student, a very successful mother and a less-successful father who’s browbeat by the other constantly.

The writing is uninspired and dull, there’s no life to it at all — just a dry recitation of what’s going on. To be fair, there’s a bit of flair displayed when he writes little Lake Wobegone-inspired descriptions of things from Jason’s mother’s perspective, but I never saw the point of those, they didn’t seem to add anything. The sex scenes are perfunctory and clumsy (fitting for a seventeen year-old’s initial fumblings, I guess), at least those involving Jason. The one with Jason’s parents was just . . . odd and unnecessary. There were a couple of anachronisms that bugged me, but by and large, his history is good — he captures the feeling of the time, while maybe overplaying the pre-dawn of the Internet as we know it a little bit.

Were I an LDS youth of that era, I might be offended at the depiction of both the straight-laced LDS and the backsliders. If I were someone who spent time with a lot of LDS at the time depicted in the book, I might say it was pretty accurate. Either way, it’s going to be divisive.

There’s nothing new here — stylistically, narratively, or in terms of character. It’s all cliché, it’s not original, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before — and likely better. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth your time and effort. While reading it, I spent a lot of time annoyed by the book — but there’s nothing to rant about here. At Hartje tried to do something, but like Jason, did the bare minimum and it shows (not unlike what I did here).

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — sorry Mr. Hartje.

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2 1/2 Stars

Snotgirl, Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung

Snotgirl, Vol 1Snotgirl, Vol. 1: Green Hair Don’t Care

by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Script), Leslie Hung (Art)
Series: Snotgirl, #1

Trade Paperback, 144 pg.
Image Comics, 2017

Read: March 7, 2016


I don’t know what Bryan Lee O’Malley was doing here, really. Lottie Person is a fashion blogger, trend setter, and all around would-be Kardashian. She’s a little vapid, a little shallow, but pretty likable (don’t ask me how). Her actual life is a mess — she has horrible allergies — crazy horrible (hence the name), has been recently dumped, and maybe, just mayyyyybe killed somebody. She’s not sure — neither is the reader.

What follows (for about 80% of the book), is Lottie bouncing around between social engagements, possible hallucinations, and run-ins with her ex and his new girlfriend. Throw in a fashion-conscious cop and things get pretty interesting (and confusing).

I loved the art — it was a little strange to see this kind of art attached to O’Malley’s writing, but I really liked Hung’s work. Yeah, her white guys tend to look too much alike to easily tell the difference (that might be intentional) — but otherwise, I really liked it — everything jumped off the page, the drawings were filled with energy and life. Every time I thought about bailing because the story just wasn’t working, the art kept me in.

I just don’t know what to make of this — I enjoyed it, but man . . . I really wish I knew what was going on. I can handle it for a little bit longer — but not much. Volume 2 had better be a little clearer (or a little something else). I’m not going to wave potential readers off, but I’m not going to encourage anyone either.

—–

3 Stars

Legal Asylum: A Comedy by Paul Goldstein

Legal Asylum: A ComedyLegal Asylum: A Comedy

by Paul Goldstein

ARC, 284 pg.
Ankerwycke, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2017


Elspeth Flowers is a career-fixated, libidinous, and conniving Dean of a state college’s Law School. She’s been working for years to put herself and her school into the prime position to launch themselves into national prominence. The School is on the verge of breaking into the Top 5 of U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking of Law Schools — a first for any state school. When that happens, the prospects for the trailblazing leader that got them there are so bright they’d inspire a song by Timbuk3. While Elspeth wants the success for the School, what she wants more than that are for her post-academia plans for herself to come to fruition. But on the cusp of her anticipated victory there are a few things that stand in her way:

  • Cuckolded Assistant Dean Jimmy James Fleenor who keeps (initially inadvertently) blocking her cunning plans.
  • An Enterprising Mail Room clerk, Wendall Ward, who just might be the most influential person we meet in these pages — definitely the most on-the-ball Mail Room clerk since Brantley Foster.
  • A federal investigation into the business practices of the school’s biggest donor.
  • A handful of secrets that are enough to get the accreditation committee to look long and hard at everything around the school.

Did I forget to mention that the ABA’s Accreditation Committee shows up days before everything is going to fall into place for Elspeth? Not just that, but thanks to circumstances and Jimmy James’ fumbling machinations, the committee is full of people who aren’t going to march to the beat of Elspeth’s drum or respond to her wiles. Their arrival shows that Elspeth’s best laid plans may look impressive (especially to her), but in reality are merely a tower of Jenga blocks threatening to topple. The question is: can she keep things standing long enough to get her Top 5 ranking and seize the brass ring — or will she find herself standing in a pile of rubble?

I like to think I learned a lot about the state of legal education today from these pages — even if the details are exaggerated for the purposes of satire there’s enough truth at the heart of them to educate the reader. Competition can drive the most cut-throat amongst us to extremes — and when the rewards for winners are what they can be in this area of academia, there’s a lot of incentive for people to get very competitive.

This is Goldstein’s fifth novel (I believe), and it looks like this is the first that isn’t a straightforward legal thriller. The experience he gained from those other novels probably served him well as he attempts to stop into another, and far trickier, genre. His characters are well-developed and well-used, his pacing is good, and he reveals plot complication after plot complication like a pro. He doesn’t go for cheap laughs and doesn’t demean the targets of his satire — nor does he pull his punches. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny book, but it’s amusing and he’ll elicit more than the occasional grin as you read it.

One thing I’ve noticed about satirical novels is that endings are the hardest part — I’ve stopped looking for strong endings in satirical novels, I just hope for not terrible endings. Plots just tend to get away from the authors — like Soap Box Derby cars with cheap brakes on steep hills. Things in Legal Asylum threatened to get away from Goldstein, but he largely managed a satisfactory ending. I’m not 100% convinced it wasn’t more by authorial fiat than by being true to the characters (particularly Elspeth), but it was close enough that I could swallow that last chapter without much difficulty.

Do I think I’d find this more amusing if I was in the legal profession, had some experience with Law School, or was closer to my time in higher education in general? You bet. Is all of the humor lost on me because none of the above apply? Nope — and the same is likely for other readers. This is a recommended read for those who like smart books — particularly those about smart people who don’t always act like they are. Strong writing, satire that’s on-target without being mean, good characters and an ending that’s pretty satisfying — it’s hard to ask for more

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author’s publicist in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
eARC, 384 pg.
Dutton, 2017

Read: November 21 – 23, 2016

Avery Brooks famously asked, “Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars! I don’t see any flying cars! Why? Why? Why?” Elan Mastai’s book finally provides the answer. Simply put: we had it — flying cars, routine space flights, robots/other tech dressing us, feeding us, doing the everyday jobs that need to be done so that humans can focus on working in labs to make the world an even better place, to make the next technological leap forward. Essentially, everything that Science Fiction of the 1950’s told us to expect, we lived in George Jetson’s world.

Until July 11, 2016 when the first time machine was turned on and things went wrong, resulting in 40 years of history being rewritten and one man — Tom Barren — was the only one to know that we are now living in a dystopia. It’s a dystopia for everyone on Earth, but Tom, that is — his life in the 2016 that we know is much better than it was in the “original” 2016. So now Tom has to decide, does he try to restore the timeline (if he can even figure out how to do so), or does he keep things the way they are?

That’s less than you can see on Goodreads/Mastai’s site/Web retailers — and yet I think I gave away too much. But really, that’s barely scratching the surface.

There’s a great mix of detail to the science (at least the ideas and theories behind it), yet keeping it at the level where we don’t get bogged down in technicalities (and kept Mastai from having to work them out) — he gets away with it by comparing it to the way that we don’t really understand how hydroelectric dams or incandescent light bulbs work.

There’s the literary equivalent to that scene from The Wire‘s 4th episode — it’s a mixture of genius and profanity and poetry. Mostly profanity.

We’re going to be talking about Elan Mastai the way we recently talked about Ernest Cline or Andy Weir next year (assuming I can predict anything) — and he deserves it. The voice grabs you right away from the humor, the honesty — the trouble with time travel grammar. I really wish that Jonathan Tropper’s endorsement of the book wasn’t right there on the front cover, because it feels like a cheat to compare Mastai to him now, but I want to. He’s got the same mix of humor, heart, drama, inspiration as Tropper, he just blends science fiction themes in with those.

Tom Barren’s a great character (a questionable person, but a great character) that you’ll love spending time with. There are really a lot of great characters here, but he’s the only one I feel safe discussing. There are characters with warts, strengths, weaknesses, courage, bravery, humanity in all shapes and sizes — some noble, some despicable, some pathetic. As is frequently the case, seeing multiple versions of the same characters in the various timelines tells you a lot about the people and/or worlds they live in.

Tom’s father, the one who developed the time machine — has some fantastic theories about time travel — it’s not just about time, it’s about space (between the earth’s rotation, movement through space, etc.), and for time travel to be really possible, both have to be addressed. Not only does it clear the TARDIS from every critique of time travelers/machines mentioned in the book, but it’s a really, really good point.

It’s one of those magic books that you don’t want to end, because you’ll have to leave the characters and world — but that you can’t get through fast enough because you just have to know how it turns out.
Is it flawless? No, I’m sure it’s not, but unlike ever other book I’ve read this year (including the ones I’ve loved), I can’t think of a single problem. That says a lot to me.

I have not been able to stop talking about this book for a week now — I think my wife and kids have started ignoring me when I bring it up. All Our Wrong Todays is a book that practically demands over-hyping — it’s only a huge amount of restraint that keeps me from spilling everything. I have a list of people I want to buy this for (started compiling it when I was about 10% finished), and the list is currently long enough now that I wouldn’t be able to buy any books for myself until June 2017 — so, sorry everyone, buy your own.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch/read more time travel again — especially time travel involving love stories — but man, it’s absolutely worth it if this was my last. Pre-order this one now so that you can dive into it as soon as possible.

—–

5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Today Will Be DifferentToday Will Be Different

by Maria Semple

Hardcover, 255 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2016

Read: December 2 – 3, 2016


It is 100% completely unfair to compare this book with Semple’s previous novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette — but, man — it’s hard not to. The protagonists, their lifestyles, their problems, their families, their children’s schools, their problems, what got them to Seattle and the career’s they left behind — they all beg comparison. But I’m going to try not to — and it’ll be to Today‘s benefit if I can pull that off.

Here’s the problem with the book — well, the main one — it’s there in the title, Today. It takes place over a day, no real change, no real resolution, no real anything can happen in a day. You can resolve to make changes, you can take steps towards anything happening. But real lasting whatever takes time. Not that you can’t have a good novel in that time frame, but not this kind of novel.

The pluses? The storyline about Eleanor’s sister — there were so many ways this could’ve gone wrong, become cliché, or turned into a mere punchline. It’s uncomfortable, it’s troubling, and it’s real. Eleanor’s kid, Timby was interesting and I enjoyed his relationship with her ex-colleague. Most of all, it’s the voice. Eleanor’s voice is strong, it’s developed, it’s clear, and there’s a confidence to her (while realizing she’s a giant mess).

But that ending? I could write pages about how bad it was.

In the end, while reading Today Will be Different, I had a blast and was hooked throughout — it was funny, tragic, thoughtful, painful. But the instant that I closed the book, all I could think of was how many things I didn’t like and problems I had with the story. It’s not just because Eleanor’s story was different from Bernadette’s — I was relieved, by that — but that this one didn’t deliver what it could have.

—–

3.5 Stars