Category Archives: Reviews

The Bastards’ Paradise – Not a Review

Again, not a review, because I am not a reviewer. More of a flailing-about-madly-squee-er.

Illustration

The Bastards’ Paradise is set some time after the events of The Mercury Waltz, (which I did not-review here) and again, if you pick up this book without prior knowledge of Under the Poppy or TMW you will be utterly lost. It is the final act in a grand epic, a smash of masks and puppetry even when the deep lines must be hidden with grease paint and Kohl, the cough stifled with gin and laudanum. Where under the prayers and the Church pageantry and the stern mask of rectitude lie war and hashish and cocaine and grinning thieves. Where everything is a lie. (If you think I’m harping on a bit about this, no, it really is a theme that runs strongly through all three books)

Koja is a phenomenal writer, and my favourite kind – the one that doesn’t give a shit about Gentle Reader. The story leaps and twists back on itself like a hare chased by hounds (a lord of hares, perhaps?), and the words play tag among themselves. Gentle Reader has no place here, only us fools and dreamers.

UM SPOILERS BECAUSE THIS IS BOOK 3

We’re back with Istvan and Rupert—Rupert who is meant to be a dead man in hiding after the final play of the Mercury. Holed up in garrets and attic rooms and rented bedsits and under starlight coughing himself to death while Istvan of the thousand names pretends to play it alone, puppets and wit still his to swindle and entertain.

But while the Poppy books have always been about lies and artifice and plays and players, the dark swirl beneath the city’s tarnished reflection, now the rot and the ache have truly set in. Istvan and Rupert are old and injured, no longer the bright young kits who found in each other the only true things, who understood that the whole world was theirs to fuck over, because it was that or be fucked over first.

These are men on the edge of dying. These are men who put newspaper in their boots, who lie to everyone, (including, and most painfully, each other) and who see themselves echoed in their sometime proteges Frédéric and Haden. Indeed, the stories of the two couples mimic each other, the pairs shinning the tale between them, ghosting and feinting.

Istvan, the eternal wanderer, knows that Rupert needs to settle down somewhere—a safe place, where he can stop being “the dead M Bok” and can regain his health, and he sets in motion a great swindle; a piece of artistry and vice to part the pretty gems from the fat fingers of the rich.

While Rupert stays alone in his room secretly (or so he believes) penning all the tales of their time together. There are plans made, old alliances gently pinned together in the hopes of a future. Piece by piece the two and their compatriots put their respective plays in motion, each wanting to save the other.

Through this main thread twists a million more—the women who form the net of the story. And their stories are, in their own ways, just as important. They are none of them written as throwaway characters—they can be just as selfish and petty and broken and obsessed and wonderful as our main characters. Women who are sisters, enemies, friends, fortune tellers, those who want to own Istvan and Rupert as though they were puppets themselves, those who want Istvan and Rupert as lovers or fathers, and sometimes lovers and fathers. All these threads twine together to build a story that grows richer and richer, crimson and emerald and blue black, until the final thumb to the nose, the tragedy and the closing curtain.

The story hops from place to place, giving hints and scenes that the reader puts together like a huge puzzle without a cover. All three of the Poppy books are meant to be savoured, to be taken slow. They reward careful reading—little witticisms and sleights of tongue are thrown out casually, carelessly, easily missed in a fast read.

You need to indulge in these stories the way you eat a 95% cocoa Lindt, and take your time, let the bittersweetness melt. Koja’s writing style can be vexing if you’re used to authors who follow more conventional rules, and if you’re not familiar with her work it can seem like a rough-grown thicket, impenetrable with brambly italicy undergrowth. But take your time and you begin to find the hollows and curves that lead you through the darkness, the hare trails and fox’s tunnels. She leaps from character to character – often in mid line—and it’s easy, if you skim, to find yourself completely lost.

But that is also part of what makes her work stand out. That and the utter heartbreaking gorgeousness of the story, which I sadly feel I’m not doing any justice.

I loved this book. It broke my heart and gutted me and made me cry, but it also made me grin, and shake my head, and turn the pages faster.

And when I walked blinking out into the light, it stayed in my head. And that, not-so-fucking-gentle-reader, is what makes a story.

On folk music standards and drowning girls

If you know me, you’re probably aware I have a fascination with folk songs, and with the twisted tales they tell. One of my faves crops up in various versions and guises, though my two favourite renditions of it are Bows of London as performed by Martin Carthy and Eliza Carthy:

 

 

The other version I love is by Tom Waits’ Two Sisters.

 

 

So when reviewer Charlotte Ashley referenced Pentangle’s Cruel Sister, I squealed in glee, and that was before I read her rather lovely and flattering review of my F&SF short The Girls Who Go Below. I can’t wait to see my copy and to read all the things therein. MUCH ASCITE and all that kind of stuff yes. 😀

Review: Let The Right One in by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I saw the film; loved it, loved the fragmentary glimpses that we get hinting at Eli’s background, the levels and layers to the sexuality of vampires, playing with the tropes, but also embracing them in a way that was utterly affectionate and not a parody at all.

So I decided to read the book.

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The feel of it is different. The horror is more visceral – more important to the story line, the loneliness and patheticness of Oskar played up (the Pissball is an example of this) and the bland hopelessness of the suburb of Blackeberg more palpably desperate, especially as seen through the other characters in the story. Look at the way alcoholics Virginia and Lacke’s story contrasts and echoes Eli and Oskar’s – all in all it’s a very bleak picture the author has painted.

The stories of the minor characters weave through the main narrative wonderfully, and I really felt like I learned something from that as a writer.

The layers of sexuality present in the movie are also added to when we discover the real reason behind Hakan becoming Eli’s ‘handler” And yes, there are certainly things in the book that were cut entirely from the film. For a start, the film felt more like a coming of age story than the book which I felt panned out more a s a straight horror, and the focus seemed to shift remarkably between the two mediums.

Naturally, the thing that hooked me the most is the genderqueering of the relationship between Eli and Oskar. I love it. The book certainly doesn’t play as coy as the movie about Eli’s view of himself, and it’s so heart-wrenching to read – how Eli has lost even the basics of human cleanliness, and it’s his friendship and love for Oskar that ultimately give him back both a semblance of humanity, but also destroys it furthur. And Eli …Eli trying so hard to be what Oskar wants, to not be a murderer.

Eli’s loneliness is made so obvious – this is no sparkling immortal vampire plucked at the age of perfection – he’s a child, trapped forever in a state where she must rely on others, and her note to Oskar telling him how much she liked him actually had me tearing up. It was just so…utterly childlike and lost. Eli is not the vampire teen goths dream of becoming; her life is small, dirty, agonsingly lonely. And because of this her love for Oskar is such a careful and brittle thing. Guh. I am floored.

Obviously, I read the translation, so I don’t know how it holds up against the original but my god there are some perfect perfect moments where so much is said with the simplest of words:

A silence fell between them. The kind of silence that is particular to

hospitals and that stems from the fact that the very situation—one person

in the bed, sick or injured, and a healthy person at her side—says it all.

Words become small, superfluous.

Review: Khepera Rising, Nerine Dorman.

Title: Khepera Rising
Author: Nerine Dorman
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Lyrical Press.

Jamie Guillaume – Cape Town’s wickedest man – is in a wee spot of trouble. All around him friends and acquaintances are being killed or harrassed, and the only connection between them is an interest in the esoteric and the occult.

Author Nerine Dorman has a touch for evocative description of places, and her characterisation is oft-times pin-point accurate. However, she’s prone to overly-flowery writing, and her MC is a self-righteous twunt I would cross the street to avoid. Jamie reminds me of every goth “satanist” I’ve had the misfortune to meet.

In that, she does an excellent job of building this egomanicial, self-obsessed magician. And her Jamie Guillaume is a hard character to like., I think that easing us in to the less-shallow side of his character would have made it easier for readers to find a spark in Jamie they can relate to.

And he does have his moments – visiting dying mum in the nursing home, occasionally realising how fucked up he actually is…. His ex Gabby is more likeable, and she seems as exasperated with Jamie’s self-centred blindness as the reader.

The prose picks up after the second chapter when the MC stops desperately trying to convey his self-conscious nonchalance. Dorman’s voice smooths out and we get less of the tongue-tying floweriness of the early pages. There are some amusing lines, like when Jamie is talking about his fellow magicians and their bragging:

“Most of the talk is just a bunch of leg-humping.”

Moving on from writing to story: it seems that someone is offing cultists in Cape Town, and Jamie is set to be next on their list. Our little friend, in an alcohol-fuelled orgy of despair and anger, performs a ritual, and wakes with no memory of what he might have done. He finds a scarab scar on his chest – symbol of the god Khepera; the Burning One who has haunted his nightmares for many years.

More of the local witches and esoteric types get targeted, and it soon becomes clear that right wing Christian nutters are behind it all (as usual).

Then Jamie himself becomes the victim. His house is broken into and vandalised, and his pets tortured to death, his elderly mother dies, someone tries to drive him down in the road, then his esoteric bookshop is broken into and all his stock used as bonfire material. It’s at this vulnerable moment that the reader is prepared to forgive him some of his earlier arrogance and nastiness and feel sympathy.

When the cops turn out to be useless, Jamie decides to get revenge on the fundementalists, and he is both aided and dogged by his level-headed ex Gabby, an assortment of friends and sleazy acquaintances, and the figure of The Burning One.

There are many side characters, and I think it would have been better to narrow the focus a little. The book starts to lag a bit in the last third, and the tension kept slipping. I think that part would have benfitted from less talk and more action.

It also seems that at this point, Jamie takes a back seat to his compatriots, and that may be what made the book flag here – the legwork being done mostly by his friends. If Jamie had been a little more proactive at this point I think the story would have been stronger for it.

The final solution to Jamie’s problems is an interesting tactic – relying more on media and manipulation than violence. Unfortunately the denoument is a little drawn out, although it does succesfully set up tension for a second Jamie novel.

If you’re looking for Urban Fantasy without vampires and werewolves, set somewhere other than New Orleans and the like, and with an MC that exasperates, amuses and annoys, yet still manages to entertain, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Just skip the first chapter.

We don’t need no steenkin’ characterisation!

Yesterday I took my darling mommy out to the movies. Since I hate arguing with people about what to see, I figured I was cool with whatever she chose (although secretly I was going PICK G FORCE PICK G FORCE IT HAS GUINEA PIGS PLEEEAAASE I WANT ANIMATED GUINEA PIGS!!!).

We did not go watch G-force. My mom picked My Sister’s Keeper.

Afterwards we walked out and my mom just went “WWHHHHHHHYYYYY?!”

Dear Hollywoood,

Endless melodramatic slow shots of bald people dying of cancer, while tearjerker music swells in the background, is not really the same thing as characterisation.

FAIL.

No love,

Cat

Moving on, here’s a list of things agents hate to see in the first chapter.

 What Agents Hate.

 “I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable
and boring. No ‘flowing, wind-swept golden locks’; no ‘eyes as blue as the sky’; no ‘willowy, perfect figures.’ ”
—Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency

pretty much sums up my feelings on characters. Perfect characters tend to bore me.

And now you know. Use this knowledge wisely, etc.

Oh I’m back and here I am

I’m back from our family hols (Sodwana Bay, for those who like that kinda thing. Very pretty indeed; butterflies and monkeys on the beach in the middle of winter. Hell yeah) and trying to catch up on emails and lj posts and stuff. (And failing, I might add)

This post by Scalzi made me feel a bit better about my incredibly slow path to …well…anything really. 😀

Why New Novelists Are Kinda Old, or, Hey, Publishing is Slow

this part especially:

1969 – 1997: Time spent learning to write well enough to write a novel (28).

1997: Wrote first complete novel (28)

1997 – 2001: Life intervenes and keeps me away from fiction (32).

2001: Wrote second novel (32)

2002: Offer made on second novel, now my debut novel (33)

2003: Contract signed for debut novel (33)

2004: Editing and early publicity for debut novel (35)

2005: Debut novel published (35)

2006: Won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (37)

So basically I have five more years before I give up.  *grins*

While on hols, I finally got some reading time in and finished Cindy Pon‘s Silver Phoenix.  It’s easy to tell that Cindy likes food and painting. Seriously.  She made me hungry a whole lot, and her writing is very visual, very painterly. Most of the time I felt I was watching the story scroll past in a series of water colours, with fresh colours and clean ink lines.

Personally, I would like to see her incorporate the other senses more to help ground me in her world. Taste and smell especially. The few times that these two senses came into play I really felt myself immersed in Ai Ling’s world. As it is, I loved the mythology, and her descriptions are wonderful , and I’m glad to see that Cindy Pon doesn’t shy away from killing off characters. (Yay!).

Ai Ling makes for a sympathetic protag and she was both believable and relatable. I loved Chen Yong, and his obvious out-of-placeness and I’m keen to read the next book and see where the story takes the two of them (if indeed that’s where the focus is going to be).

Recommended.

Review: EYES LIKE STARS – Lisa Mantchev.

 


Lisa Mantchev‘s debut Eyes Like Stars is a delightful whimsy hiding shadows beneath its painted artifice. Bertie is the unconventional blue-haired heroine of a play of her own creation, as she invents the story of how she arrived, a nameless orphan, on the steps of the Theatre Illuminata.

Mantchev has created a charmingly vivid world in the Theatre, peopling it not with actors, but with Players. Ophelia is always drowning, Hamlet is an emotastic little creep, Nate is a pirate from The Little Mermaid, and every night, these Players play themselves in another production. Flashbacks are short bursts of script, which I found to be original and fun, and Matchev didn’t overdo it, and the whole thing tied in nicely with the conclusion of Bertie’s play.

Human in a world full of meta-fictional characters, teenage Bertie does her best to fit into the Theatre, with her bedroom-set, her pranks, and her friendships with the various quasi-fictional characters. And being human, she’s bound to fail.

When Bertie is threatened with expulsion from the Theatre, she attempts to prove her place in this grease-paint world, and in doing so, begins a string of events that will set the Players free from the confines of the Theatre, release them into the real world, and in doing so destroy the only place that she has ever known as home.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Eyes Like Stars was Mantchev’s ability to take well-worn characters and bring them to life in their own right. Enter Peaseblossom, Moth, Cobweb and Mustardseed, who accompany Bertie everywhere she goes, commentating, helping and not-helping her with their own ribald, fairy take on things. Or Ariel, seductive, and menacing, then broken and pitiful (or is he really – this is always the fun with the start of a series).

Ariel’s desire to be free, and his manipulation of Bertie is symbolic of Bertie’s sexual awakening (hey, I’m going out on a limb here – that’s what it seemed like to me) and a slightly safer alternative lies in Nate the pirate. And here is where the book fumbled for me. I couldn’t completely buy the relationship between Bertie and Nate, and many of their scenes felt crowbarred in, forced to be a natural progression, and I just never felt what I think I was meant to feel.

On the other hand, this is a first book in series, and it may be that the awkwardness of the relationship is purposeful, as more of Bertie’s past is revealed in the successive books. The Sea Witch storyline felt rather lost in among all the stuff about the Players’ connection to the Theatre, but that may also be a flaw related to the pacing of a story stretched out over several books. At first it made no sense to me, but by the end of the book, I was willing to see how later books will unfold the Sea Witch story. Coupled with the mystery of the Theatre Manager, and what exactly he knows about Bertie, and wants from her, there’s more than enough build-up to carry the story further.

Although I found the second half stronger than the first, I will most definitely be reading the next Theatre Illuminata book to see where Bertie’s adventures outside the theatre take her.

writing is my job dammit

Amanda Downum went to go watch Leonard Cohen.
No, I’m not jealous at all. Whatever made you think that?

Via Lisa Mantchev comes this little timewaster: Have you ever wanted to dress up steampunk paper dolls? Why yes you have.

Thanks to my parents, The Slave and I went to go watch Slumdog Millionaire last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am 100% in love with the soundtrack.

Today brought me a little epiphany. Reading is part of my job.

Yes.

When I was younger, I always wanted to read as a job. And now that I have a career that practically demands that I read, I feel guilty every time I stop writing for a bit and read instead.

Get over it, Cat Darling.

Seriously. So far this year I’ve completed the first draft of two books. I have the rest of the year to revise them, fix them, burn them.* Whatever. Reading time will only make writing time better. I just have to explain to myself that there really is no need to pump out another book this very instant.

So no more guilt about reading.

It’s my job, after all.

*Unless of course BW sells, ’cause then I’ll also be rewriting that.

Happy Monday

And I’m back with the list of doom

We’ve hit Web Tools, and we’re starting with web editor Amaya.

From their site:  “Amaya is a Web editor, i.e. a tool used to create and update documents directly on the Web. Browsing features are seamlessly integrated with the editing and remote access features in a uniform environment. This follows the original vision of the Web as a space for collaboration and not just a one-way publishing medium.”

Release 10.0 is cross-platform – they have releases for Windows NT/2000/XP/vista, for Debian, Ubuntu,  Redhat, Mandrake, Suse and for Mac. The exe file for Windows is 7.2 mb.

Only I can’t get it to work in Ubuntu. Keeps giving me an error.

So that’s that.

Prompts

One quick note before I get into the next app: We have now upgraded to Ubuntu 8.04 – Hardy Heron, and both sonar and ywriter gave no issues (unlike Gimp…grrr).

Today’s focus shifts to Helpful Tools on the list, and gives us Prompts.  Basically, it’s an on-line random prompt generator.

Exciting stuff. As far as my writing goes it’s not exactly helpful, although I can see it being something you might use if you felt the urge to blog and had nothing to say.

Oh my god, wait. I think I need to do just that. Never again will you be forced to scroll past wangsty posts of doom, when instead I could be writing about this:

I’m not giving this a rating of recommended/not recommended because although it’s not a serious tool it could be fun to use on those fallow blogging days. There do seem to be some other cool little things on the site aimed at teachers, so it might be worthwhile going and giving the place a squizz to see if any of the other widgets interest you.