Category Archives: book reviews

Review – Liar by Justine Larbalestier


***Warning comments will most likely contain spoilers but the post will be major spoiler free***

I want to mention how hard it is to review this book without spoiling it because everything that you want to discuss is a spoiler. It’s a testament to the book that I’m trying at all though because as all my friends will tell you I love me some spoilers but with this book even I agree that it’s best not to be spoiled and so I’m trying to stick with that which will necessitate some vagueness on my part.

First thing I will say is that Liar was one of those books that I got to the end of and my first thought was, ‘Damn, why didn’t I write that!”. Some of you may have heard of the novel because of the controversy of it’s American cover originally featuring a white girl with blond hair when the protagonist is of mixed race background. The whole thing is detailed on Larbalestier’s blog [here and here]. That was what brought the book to my attention initially but I was too bogged down in grad school to really pay attention. Then I started to hear a lot of praise for the book once it was released. After finishing the work I can say I think the praise is well deserved.

Larbalestier does a great job of keeping you guessing. It’s all about a young girl Micah, a girl who freely admits to being a compulsive liar (if not a pathological one…maybe). Micah’s boyfriend has just died which is complicated by a number of facts: his official girlfriend, Micah’s web of lies slowly crumbling and a police investigation. I am not a fan of unreliable narrators, however I have in the past been a fan of novels with unreliable narrators such as From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust which is an important distinction. Sometimes a works may be amazing and you may feel it needed to be written but you don’t exactly like it for whatever reason.

However Larbalestier achieves which Faust did not (which is not really a criticism since I don’t think it was his intention at all), she makes me really like an unreliable narrator. When you think about that it’s a pretty amazing thing. I am given a character who I cannot trust who openly admits to lying to everyone and I want to believe her, I want to trust her, I want to understand her. It’s a pretty skillful trick to pull off. The very fact that Micah tells us she’s a liar makes the reader want to believe her, to believe that they are special and worthy of the truth where no one else is not. We want to believe that we understand why she lies, and can see the difference and falling into that thinking especially in a book like this is dangerous.

All that being said for me the last fifth of the book seemed weaker than the rest in terms of the balance kept between all the possibilities of Micah’s truth. For me a lot of the genius of this book is that you get to select the truth for yourself from Micah’s tale however in those last pages it felt as if I could see what the author wanted me to believe or the ending that she herself leaned towards. She says on her website that she had no particular preference so it could just be me and as someone who’s not that big a believer in authorial intent this shouldn’t bother me at all anyway but I did find it hampering my enjoyment of the book a little towards the end.

Overall I loved the book and would recommend that everyone pick up a copy and read it. It’s far from a light read so if you’re looking for a traditionally conformative happy ending you may be sorely disappointed…or not depending on how you see it.

I give it four and a half severed elf heads out of five (and if someone makes me a graphic I can use for this rating system you’ll be my favorite ever)

Currently Reading: The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper

Me, Elsewhere

So one of the other things I was working on that I didn’t mention besides the Nancy Kress interview and the Top Ten poll for Feminist-SF was a review of the novel Empress by Karen Miller for Fantasy Magazine. Well the review is now up! Check it out! I discuss things like the race relations and the unsympathetic protagonist and much more. Let me know what you think.  

 

Review – From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain

So a friend lent me her copy of this the second book by Minister Faust, but the first book of his I’ve read. I’ll admit it was hard for me to get into and that wasn’t because the plot wasn’t interesting, or the characters intriguing or the writing dynamic and humorous. Because it was all of those wonderful things. The reason I had such trouble getting into the book is because I hate the narrator, Dr. Brain. Let me explain, it’s a book within a book so that while you’re reading From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain, you’re actually reading one of her self-help books for superheroes. Now she’s designed to be an unreliable narrator (and several characters call her that in the book so it’s not at all hidden) and while I’m usually able to deal with and sometimes like unreliable narrators, the problem with Dr. Brain is the fact that she can’t see anything beyond what she believes to be true. So someone can come up with some compelling issues and stuff and she’ll write it off as a delusion or paranoia and that’s a tactic I’m familiar with. It’s a tactic used all the time when sexism, racism, heterosexism, any oppression is mentioned, it’s the reaction of those with priviliege. I hate it so much that it makes me grind my teeth, but it’s a very effective literary device for Faust to use here, especially with the story he’s trying to tell.

Ultimately I was glad I stuck with the book and it’s cast of characters, some of which riff off of “classic” Golden Age superheroes. Iron Lass – WonderWoman, Flying Squirrel – Batman, Omnipotent Man – Superman, Brotherfly - Spiderman and PowerGrrl & X-man who have no analogues that I can really think of. I don’t read a lot of satire I’ll admit but this just might be the key to changing my mind.

Faust takes all these characters to their ultimate end, the Republican and openly racist Flying Squirrel, the hokey desperate for approval Omnipotent Man, the totally in control and controlling Iron Lass, the shuck and jivin’ Brotherfly living with a secret, the celebutante PowerGrrl and the anti-racist but aversively sexist and homophobic X-man. With these characters he interrogates everything from 2nd wave vs. pseudo-feminism girl-power (not 3rd wave feminism which is a whole other thing), the sexism & homophobia within some African Nationalist movements, drug addiction, parent-child issues, the way the media skews things based on race, governmental corruption (think Iran-Contra) and a whole lot more I don’t want to say for fear of ruining some of the amazing surprises in the book.

I’m not gonna lie it took me to maybe the very last pages of the book to really get what was being emulated and deconstructed but that could just be me being slow. When I did get the understanding though the whole book took on a new edge and I liked it much more than I thought I would. It’s about problems being ignored, people turning on each other, reveling in their privilege while actively ignoring the truth and finally about the way fear can affect us all making us do things we would never normally do and act in ways we find reprehensible. What Faust has created here is a scathing look at the human psyche and the way that super-powered or not we all fall into destructive patterns that can not only fell us but all those around us. Now I sound like Dr. Brain but I’m trying to explain the novel without spoiling anything for y’all. In the end I just recommend you all go pick up a copy.

But I still hate Dr. Eva Brain.

***Comments May Contain Spoilers***

Update on Blog Work

So the Science-Fiction blog I’m working for will be launching pretty soon and I’ll keep y’all updated on that front. But the personally relevant news is that in addition to being the intern they want me to write a couple of book reviews a week. Now this no problem but this blog is specifically about science-fiction, no fantasy or horror unless it ties into science somehow. I tend to read more fantasy that science-fiction so I’m asking for you recommendations! I mean we will be getting free advanced copies for me to read and review but one of the points of the blog is just about finding cool shit for people to read no matter if it’s new or 40 years old.

So send me your recommendations for science-fiction! All that I ask is that the main character be female because that’s my preference.

Other than that I’m working on a story for one of my classes that’s more futurist and a urban fantasy/humor zombie romance short story called “How I learned to stop worrying and love the stitches.”

Also if you’re in the Bay Area Writers With Drinks is tonight. There will be fantabulous people reading:
Kage Baker (The Sons of Heaven)
Jessy Randall (A Day In Boyland)
Inga Muscio (Cunt, Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil)
James Calder (In A Family Way, Knockout Mouse)
Ellery Urquhart (Rooster T. Feathers Comedy Competition)
Samhita Mukhopadhyay (Feministing, Racewire)

So come on down if you can.

Writing, Thinking, Reviewing, Music & I’m Off!

I finished the first drafts of two short stories on Monday & and hoping to finish another 2 and start a third today.

I’ve been thinking on the novel I said I would finish this summer and have barely started. I think the issues I wanted to tackle were way too large for what I wanted to do. I think I need to address the issues of race and slavery within the work in a more roundabout and peripheral manner. Not hiding it but not beating people over the head with it. The minute I started to think in this way the more words filled my head. It’s still not all there but there’s more than their was.

Also I’ve been gathering ideas on what I want to blog about for IBARW (Int’l Blog Against Racism Week). There are more than a few things I want to talk about some that tie into to F/SF in general and some that don’t.

Just finished Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Spirits That Walk in Shadow” her first (I believe) YA book. I liked it but didn’t love it as I do her other work. I think that had some to do with the story and some to do with the format. The POV changed between the two main characters every chapter. I’m weird about POV shifts, sometimes I can roll with it and sometimes I just despise it. I rolled with it for a while but after a while I began to really dislike one of the main characters. So whenever it was time for her chapter I was like “Again!?”. Also the pacing seemed a little off to me
things happen so quickly and it seemed like I was just jerked along. I think one of the reasons I’ve really love her past works (especially”A Fistful of Sky”) is because it deals with magic and interpersonal relationships. How does magic alter/affect friendships and familial relationships? In this case that seemed to be left in the background for a more traditional ‘find & capture the baddie’ thing and it just sort of left me a little cold. I still think it’s a good book just to me it wasn’t great. Kudos on the racial diversity within family lines though! One of the white main characters has a black cousin, which was great and I identified with seeing as I have a few cousins and a brother who can pass for white.

My surprise new music obsession is Mandy Moore’s new album Wild Hope. This album sounds more like the female folk rock of the mid 90′s than the bubblegum pop of her previous albums. She also worked with some of my favorite artists including Chantal Kreviazuk, Rachel Yamagata & The Weepies and co-wrote all of the songs. Also listening to a lot of Bic Runga lately. Runga is a half-chinese, half-maori New Zealand artist that I love. She’s very popular down under but gets almost no love in the States, which is a damn shame. Here’s her video for the song Drive off her album of the same name:

Now I’m off to make some food (haven’t eaten all day) then it’s off to the library for some writing without distractions.