February 2012 Book Reviews, Part 1

My reviews are becoming increasingly wordy, so I decided to split February up.

Shotgun Gravy, by Chuck Wendig.  ☼☼☼☼.  Oh god.  I know it’s a cliché, but I’m finding it impossible to keep myself from starting this review with “Shotgun Gravy contains all the brutality, the inevitability, and the fucked-up can’t-tear-my-eyes-away fascination of a train wreck.”  Phew.  Got it out of my system.  Oh wait, should novellas be italicized or put in quotes?  Piss off Google, I’m writing here.

Atlanta Burns took a shotgun to her mother’s pedophile boyfriend.  She had good cause.  Now she’s back in town, her mother’s sleeping in the garage, and she’s developing the bad habit of sticking up for the underdogs of her town.  Not-really-spoiler-alert: the bad guys are Nazis.  They’re the last bastion of pure, no-shades-of-grey evil in this world.  And yeah, it’s sorta clichéd.  And definitely, they make an easy big bad.  But y’know what?  I’m ok with that, in this case.  Chuck Wendig knows the approved method of kicking Nazi ass (hint: it involves a shotgun and a can of bear mace), and I would be delighted to read any further thoughts he has on the matter.

An aside: Wendig, for some reason, lives in Pennsyltucky.  I don’t; I was raised in the one of the more civilized regions of the state.  However, my first roommate in college came from that area.  She owned guns.  She couldn’t get cell reception from her house.  She had a dial-up internet connection, and for fun her friends would mount spotlights on their pickups and go deer spotting (seriously, check out #6).  And then I read shit like this.

And then I wish that the vigilante with a shotgun wasn’t the least believable part of Shotgun Gravy.

Changes and Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.  ☼☼☼☼.  Quite honestly, I’m not going to review these books further.  I feel like, if you’ve gotten this far in the series you probably know whether you’re going to read these or not with no prodding from me.  They were epic and fun and featured an (increasingly) complicated world, and I wouldn’t ask for anything else.

Scored, by Lauren McLaughlin.  ☼☼☼☼.  The romance element was sub-par.  If the conclusion wasn’t so tepid, I’d probably have gone with five stars.  Oh well.  Quick, before I continue, watch this video (at least through the first chorus).

“Well the poor keep getting hungry, and the rich keep getting fat.

Politicians change, but they’re never gonna change that.

But girl we got the answer, it’s so easy you won’t believe.

All we gotta do is…rmmph mishmph mmplm.”


(The song is poking fun at protesters which claim to have solved all the world’s problems in five words or less.  “All you need is love”, and all that crap.  Real life is hellishly complicated.  There is no one simple answer.  We all know the rich people are getting richer, poor people are getting poorer, politicians never actually solve those problems, etc.  But very few of us examine the underlying causes of those problems, the psychology and economics and ingrained social constructs which prevent them from being worked on.  The mumbled line emphasizes the point of the song: clichéd problems beget clichéd solutions.

I want to be clear, I wasn’t looking for some amazing resolution to all humanity’s problems.  My problem with the ending is that it was too Happily Ever After.  McLaughlin spent almost the entire book exploring essential dichotomy of human existence; how the competing drives for fairness and unequal social groups shape societies and social change.  As the characters spun across the page, duking it out over the plusses and minuses presented by both the status quo (American society as it is now) and the shady corporation’s Scoring regime, I found myself impressed again and again by the feeling that McLaughlin has thought this through and organized it really well.  The next time someone complains about how OWS eschews pithy, quotable cachphrases, I want to point them to Scored, so that I don’t have to explain how pithy, quotable (clichéd) catchphrases would insult our collective intelligences.  Scored shows us the wicked problem, and asks us whether our solution is indeed a solution, or just another wicked problem in disguise.  And then, only then, does her plucky, working-class heroine kiss the entitled rich boy and win the convenient scholarship.

McLaughlin essentially admitted that there were no easy answers to the degenerative arthritis that America’s class mobility has developed.  I just wish that she hadn’t mumbled the conclusion.

Twenty Palaces prequel, by Harry Connolly.  ☼☼☼☼☼.  I suppose I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I really like this author’s writing style.  I read his blog, and on it he mentioned that he usually writes in a sleep-deprived daze (because that’s the only way to smother his inner critic enough to actually get the words on the page).  I’m probably seeing connections where there are none, but I feel like this contributes to the dreamlike feeling of the books.  I’m not talking about the hazy, vague, logic-less impression I get when I look back on dreams after I’ve woken up.  No, this is in-the-moment dreamlike, where everything feels brutally real no matter how bizarre the situation gets.  Where events keep evolving out from under my feet, and I have no choice but to accept each new development and try to keep up with everyone else (who seem to know so much more about what’s going on than I do).

Ok.  Maybe I’m the only person with dreams like that.

Anyway, this book details the events leading up to where the first-published book in the series, Child of Fire, starts.  Ray Lily is released from jail and moves in with his aunt and uncle.  He gets a job in a copy shop, and promises himself (and his uncle) that he’s going to become a proper, Law-Abiding Citizen.  That’s all shot to hell (sorry, sorry) when his childhood friend, Jon, shows up at the copy shop sans wheelchair.  When they were both teenagers, Ray had accidentally crippled his friend for life using a gun he’d found at Jon’s house.  And now Jon’s made a miraculous recovery.  Even better, Jon’s willing, nay, insistent on having Ray back in his life.  It’s heartbreaking how deliriously happy Ray is that Jon wants anything to do with him.  Also, now I understand why Annalise wanted to rip Ray’s arm off and beat him with it.

Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff.  ☼☼☼.  I’m always annoyed to read reviews by people who hated a book because they had quite obviously (and accidentally) stumbled into the wrong genre, and yet didn’t bother to factor that into their review.  These are the type of people who review a Stephen King book and rate it two stars because “there’s too much horror”.  So.  Caveat time: I don’t like military SF.  The fact that this book is military SF somehow escaped my notice when I was choosing to request it from the library.  I’ve never made it past the first 30 pages of Forever War.  I managed to finish the first Honor Harrington book, but I suspect that was only because Baen was offering it for free online and I desperately needed something to read.

With that said, I guess this book delivers everything you’d want from military SF, if military SF happened to be what you were looking for. A smart protagonist who generally manages to maneuver her green commanding officer into making the right decisions.  Dastardly political maneuvering by those higher up the chain of command.  Fighting, bloodshed, death, and a final victory when all seemed hopeless.

Coulda been worse.

The Better Part of Valor, by Tanya Huff.  ☼☼☼☼.  Sequel to Valor’s Choice.  I got the omnibus edition with both novels, so I figured that I might as well read both.  I actually liked this one more; I had a difficult time putting it down.  The very, very end hinted at an approaching novels-wide story arch.  I was a bit disappointed that the guy she ended up sleeping with is a jerk.  He’s charming, too, but he tried to intimidate her by getting in her personal space (which always makes me feel uncomfortable.  There’s no non-jerk explanation for that behavior).  I would read more of the series if I didn’t have other library books to read.  As I do, they win out over military SF.  (On the record, my problems with military SF stem from a) whether my favorite supporting characters make an appearance rests on the whims of the military higher-ups and b) whether my favorite supporting characters make it alive through the book rests on the whims of the author.  In both cases, emotional involvement is uncomfortable.)


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