I haven’t done this in a Really Long Time. But since I’ve told the same thing to more than five people lately, I figured it would be a Good Thing. Also, I’m not about to review *every* book I’ve read in the last two years. That would just be silly. Because it’s been such a Very Long Time since I did reviews, I should like to point out that I use a ten-point rating system (I had initially typed a ‘ten-pint rating system, which sounds much more fun). The more there are of this symbol:
the more I like the item being reviewed.
I will begin with my favourite book of the year. Past few years.
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
This is a book about…well, it’s told by…the thing I love best about it is….I’m’n’a start this over. Grant’s writing style puts some people off. Probably because they are unimaginative, stodgy old farts who also don’t like things like whipped cream and sunshine and the word tuber. I read one review of this book, in the Literary Review of Canada that said the book would have been just as good at three-quarters the length. That is wrong. This book is perfect at precisely the length it is. There is not a single coma (hee hee hee) I would change, not a single word out of place. Jessica Grant tells a number of stories in this novel (her first), but by far my favourite is that of the main character, Audrey Flowers. Other reviewers, and indeed the author herself, talk about how the most unique thing about Come, Thou Tortoise is that it has two narrators, and one is a tortoise named Winnifred (this year). And far be it for me to contradict the author on her own work, but that is not the best part of, nor is it the most unique part of the book. The best part of this book is the bit that happens in between the two covers, like make-up sex. In fact, that’s a really good comparison. Make-up sex is frantic and passionate and sometimes a little silly, and it makes you feel so good, and the orgasm bits are amazing because you just release everything and go. And that’s what this book does.
But how’s about I actually review it. Do the plot summary thing. That every reviewer does.
You know what pissed me off about studying literature? What pissed me off about studying literature was the insistence everyone seemed to have on taking these beautiful works of art apart, these perfect constructions, breaking them down into their component parts and analysing the smallest portion of them. You know what you’d get if you put all of the letters from a Hemingway novel under a microscope? Eyestrain, that’s what. So I’m not going to take the book apart. I’m not going to analyse it.
I want you to read it because it makes your heart bigger. Because it makes you dream more frequently, and more vividly. I want you to read it because it will make you laugh out loud. Because it will make you cry. Because it will make you scratch your head and say “Doubleyou Tee Eff?” and then go “OOOOHHHHHH!!!”, and grin like an idiot. I want you to read this book because there is not one single thing that isn’t awesome about it. Not one. Single. Thing.
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Meh. It’s been done better, many times before. If you’ve never read a book of science fiction, and the thought of doing so puts you off your breakfast, try this one on. It has training wheels.
Marseguro and Terra Insegura by Edward Willett
Kay. I didn’t think I’d like these books (sorry, Ed). But I was kind of intrigued by the descriptions of them (Ed is an AMAZING promoter), and so, in preparation for an interview on the radio, I read the books. In the hot tub. At the lake. When you read the books, you will understand why that is completely appropriate. There is just enough nerd factor in these books to make them sciencey, and there is just enough of a fabulous story to make them fictioney. In fact, both of them are the perfect blend of those two things. Marseguro is about a planet colonised by genetically modified humans. I don’t want to tell you in which way the humans are genetically modified, because I want you to read it. However, “Marseguro” means “safe seas”. ‘Nuff said.
There are themes of racism, colonialism (don’t those two go hand-in-hand anyway), civil rights, and, ultimately, survival. Terra Insegura is more than a sequel; it takes everything that happened in Marseguro and ramps it up a notch, including a *second* race of genetically modified humans.
The story is set in the far future where the separation of church and state has gone so far as to come back around like the ouroboros, biting its own tail. The politics which lay gently nestled within the margins of the story provide a framework that is at once startling and utterly believable. Willett’s characters are fascinating and real, although at times are frustrating as hell (I totally did *NOT* nearly throw the book INTO the hot tub, shouting at one of the main characters: “For EFF’S SAKE, Richard. What, are you STUPID!?” But the fact is, even if I HAD almost done that, it would mean that I was so invested in the characters and the story that I nearly seriously rebigulated the book). But what really makes these books for me is the villain.
The primary villain, not who you suspect it might be – not the easy choice (although he/they is/are villain/s too), but is the absolute *perfect* choice. He is pretty much an utter tool, which makes me smile every time he shows up. But he’s not maudlin; that’s the ticket. He’s almost – but not quite – a caricature, and he’s one of my all-time favourites.
Of All the Ways to Die by Brenda Niskala
Okay, first, this review is a little coloured by how much I loves my Brenda.
That being said, this book is a novella (a difficult form, to be sure) about, among other things, a pot luck dinner at which all of the invited guests are dead. I’m going to leave you wondering whether it’s a zombie book. And the interplay at this pot luck is charming and witty and wonderful. But that’s not what did it for me with this book.
What really gets me about this book is the way the author has managed to tell a single story in the same way that you might hear that story over the course of an evening, maybe at a pot luck, or maybe just in a quiet corner of the living room. What amazes me about Of All the Ways to Die is that in 100 or so short pages, Niskala packs a hell of a whallop every time a word appears on a page. You’ll cry a whole bunch of times during your stay with this book (and it only takes an evening to read, so get out the tissues). You’ll smile so much your face hurts. You’ll be tempted to put the book aside while you go fix supper, and then you’l
l change your mind because you want to copy down the recipe from the book…the one with the lasagna, but then you’ll realise you have no spinach, and while you could go to the store to get some because you REALLY want that lasagna, you figure, “ah, but there are only a few more pages in the chapter”, and before you know it, you’ll be hungry and sated, all at once, and the book will be finished. THAT is the power of this book.
Contained within its slim body are stories of sex trade workers, drug addicts, acquired brain damage, pow-wows, family, love, war, dreams, hope, royalty, life, death, food, and mystery. Because that’s what this book is, is a mystery. But it’s not. It’s also fantasy. It’s also historical fiction. It’s also sci-fi (oh, sorry…”Speculative Fiction”, if you need to apply for a grant). It’s also a recipe book. It’s also a brilliant tribute to many inspirational people.
I’d do a whole lot more, but the walls aren’t going to wash themselves. Are they?
Incidentally, you should read Robert Sawyer’s “Wake”, if you’re a sci-fi fan. Particularly if you’re a fan of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.