the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘contemporary

The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Available Sept 24th, 2013

where I got it: NetGalley

you can read an excerpt over at Tor.com.

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In a garden as old as humanity, disguised memories become the seeds of change. The residents of this garden archive the smell of your grandmother’s soup in the curve of a vase, or the feel of your first kiss in the color of piece of yarn.  Memory is a funny thing, you don’t even remember what happened until the smell of a particular white wine brings it all back like a flaming spike to the head.

A genre-bending cerebral thriller masquerading as a mainstream novel, The Incrementalists enchanted me in the first chapter, and in return I devoured the rest of it. I read this book in one day. Like Bastian in The Never Ending Story, I ignored the world, skipped the pop-quiz, hid in a corner and climbed right into the lives of Phil and Ren, and Celeste and Irina and Oskar and Jimmy, staying very quiet so they wouldn’t notice me listening in on their conversations. And I am still listening, because they told me where to look.

Who are the Incrementalists? A secret society of nearly immortal people who make the world a better place,one tiny change at a time.  No pay, no thanks, no credit in the history books, their work is as invisible as a fading dream. They are the ones in the garden. And when their human bodies die, someone new must be found to carry on the work, and carry around the personality of the recently departed Incrementalist.

It’s been a few months since Celeste’s old body died, and her ex-lover Phil thinks he’s identified a good Second for Celeste’s stub.  He approaches Ren with the offer, and unlike most  Seconds who take at least a week to make up their minds, Ren agrees almost instantly that this is what she wants. She doesn’t give Phil a chance to tell her it’s a painful experience. She never gives him the chance to warn her that once she’s accepted Celeste into her mind, there’s a good chance Celeste’s personality could completely subsume Ren, effectively killing her.  Ren says Yes, Phil says OK, and from that moment on the chemistry between them is palpable.

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the quarryThe Quarry, by Iain Banks

published June 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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I’m supposed to be reviewing Hugo stuff, you say?

Don’t you worry, I got plenty of that sweet stuff right around the corner for you, but when an Iain Banks shows up on your doorstep, everything else gets brushed aside. It’s like getting a Lynch, or a Rothfuss, you know?

The Quarry was Iain Banks’ final novel. It’s tough for me to even type that without getting a lump in my throat. He wrote somewhere that had he known this was going to be his last, he would have written a better book, something more epic. Personally, I think he chose a damn good one to go out on. No “M” in the name means this is plain old contemporary fiction. No spaceships, no aliens, no artificial intelligences, no galaxy spanning cultures.  It’s been ages since I read a good old novel. If they were all this good, I’d read ‘em more often.

Eighteen year old Kit lives with his dying father Guy in an old house that’s falling apart. In the final stages of terminal cancer, Guy grudgingly depends on Kit for everything, often lashing out at him in frustration. It’s never explicitly stated, but Kit is definitely on the high functioning end of the Autism spectrum.

The entire story is told in present tense from Kit’s point of view, and it’s his voice that really pulls you in.  He has so much to say, he just doesn’t quite know how to say it, or who to say it to, or why in fact, things like that even need to be said. He doesn’t understand rhetorical questions or why people just can’t say what they are thinking or feeling. Guy obviously loves his son very much, but it’s unfortunate that there are very few places where Kit is accepted for who he is. Had the story been from anyone else’s point of view, he would have been a quiet kid who faded into the background, and the reader would have missed out on an incredible character.

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The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

published in Sept 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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I knew it was going to be a busy couple days, so I planned to take at least 4 days to read this book. I started it on a cloudy Saturday evening, and finished it the following Monday. I hate sounding cliche, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I admit that from the blurb on the back I was expecting something run of the mill – Wounded war hero Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to recuperate, giving her hometown it’s fifteen minutes of fame.  And that’s where the “run of the mill” ended. Bronwyn’s parents seem oddly disappointed in her, in a way that’s got nothing to do with her military record. Her ex-boyfriend can’t wait to get back into her life, a ghost is hanging out in her backyard, a confuddled preacher is wandering around town, and worst of all, she can’t remember how to play her mandolin.

Bronwyn, her family, and her entire hometown are Tufa. Not white, not black, not Hispanic or Native American, not anything, the Tufa clans have been living in the Tennessee mountains since before the white man came.  They keep to themselves and do their own thing, and they don’t like strangers. The last thing they need is every local news station in the midwest descending on them to interview a war hero with a busted up leg.

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I Was Told There’d be Cake, by Sloane Crosley

published in 2008

where I got it: the library

why I read it: Carl V recommended it

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I had no idea what to expect out of this book. I’ve never really read a book of essays before, at least not voluntarily. It starts out very darkly funny, and I kept hearing Allie Brosh’s voice reading this.  As Allie’s voice faded and Sloane’s took over, I found I was reading about someone about my age, and due to that, we had a lot of similar experiences growing up.  Not only is her prose witty and smart and so easy to get into, but it was a nice little change up of scenery for me.  Sometimes it’s tough to relate to all those time travelers, swashbucklers and space smugglers who live in a galaxy a long time ago and far away, you know?

Sloane recounts numerous moments in her life that are actually pretty serious sounding – the disaster that was her first “big girl” job, getting stuck in a wedding with a bridezilla, her youthful misunderstandings about sex and religion at summer camp, and makes turns them into something poignant and funny.  and you know what? My first “big-girl” job sucked too, and it was nice to find I wasn’t the only 8th grader with less than no clue about kissing boys.

She lives in Manhattan, and although I’ve never lived in New York City, I’ve been there enough times that I recognized many of the places and neighborhoods she mentions.  And her suburban upbringing, selfishness, social ineptness and occasional moments of utter brain-not-workingness? Yup, I recognize those too, from every time I look in the mirror.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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