And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Book Club, you HAVE to book.
Kate Elliott — Cold Fire
I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this series. There's SO MUCH cool and good stuff in here, but it has these bizarre pacing and structure issues, where it'll just go off into some weird tangent for what feels like forever and I'll get super bored. And it's not like these tangents are a waste of time, even! It's just that their relation to the plot as I understand it at the time is super fuzzy (they often involve weird coincidences that seem arbitrary but are fully explained 2/3 of a book later), and they halt all the action I was just starting to get invested in. It doesn't make the books unreadable, but it does make them feel incredibly slow. So while I'll probably read the final part of the trilogy, I'll also probably wait a while.
Like I said, there's good stuff: The heroine is real tough and cool, and so is her cousin/best friend. The love interest is convincingly hot, in a het romance novel sort of way. The geopolitical tensions and magical/metaphysical/cosmological systems are kind of the centerpiece, and they're all clever and intriguing. It's just that it kind of becomes a slog at points.
I keep hoping I'll find the Kate Elliot novel that nails all the stuff I love while shoring up the areas that wear me out.
Michelle Tea — Black Wave
This was odd as heck. I'm sort of glad I read it, but I'm not totally sure I liked it.
The first half of it is (questions of fictionalization aside) solidly in the addiction memoir genre, which is major league Not My Jam. And this particular one seemed especially cruel in its representation of the past self/protagonist. I sort of get why writers do this to their former selves, but it's really unpleasant to read and I don't find it particularly edifying either.
Then, at the break, it gets weird. There's an interlude of future-Michelle (Tea?) writing this book, and a dialogue with a character whose real role in the story had been deliberately mangled and time-shifted. And then the second half takes this left turn into a kind of cartoonishly unexplained apocalypse story. (There's some scattershot foreshadowing of this in the first half via offhanded comments like "well the world's dying anyway," but until the break it just reads as period-appropriate Gen-X histrionics.) And straight-ahead apocalypse story is also not really my jam! (Also, Sofia Samatar's "The Closest Thing to Animals" covered a lot of similar emotional space in a more concise and [to me] more affecting way.)
Here's something this story did that I really liked: in the apocalypse half, people all over the world start having dreams about alternate lives they might have lived, and Tea uses those to let snippets of real (?) memoir leak into the story. I'm not totally sure what she was building here; maybe a metaphor where parallel dimensions represent how distant a post-recovery conception of the self seems when you're in the middle of bad alcoholism shit? Maybe she was just exploring the divide between what part of life makes it onto the page and what gets cut. But I always dig a good alternate-lives story device, plus I thought it was a really intriguing attempt to glitch past the limitations of memoir and the parallel limitations of fiction (and I do love a good glitch run).
It had its moments. I really liked that last dinner party with her brother and his boyfriend. But all told, this was kind of grueling to get through and it wasn't very fulfilling.
Stella Benson — Living Alone
What WAS this?
Now witches and wizards, as you perhaps know, are people who are born for the first time. I suppose we have all passed through this fair experience, we must all have had our chance of making magic. But to most of us it came in the boring beginning of time, and we wasted our best spells on plesiosauri, and protoplasms, and angels with flaming swords, all of whom knew magic too, and were not impressed.
The name of this house is Living Alone.
It is meant to provide for the needs of those who dislike hotels, clubs, settlements, hostels, boarding-houses, and lodgings only less than their own homes; who detest landladies, waiters, husbands and wives, charwomen, and all forms of lookers after. This house is a monastery and a convent for monks and nuns dedicated to unknown gods. Men and women who are tired of being laboriously kind to their bodies, who like to be a little uncomfortable and quite uncared for, who love to live from week to week without speaking, except to confide their destinations to 'bus-conductors, who are weary of woolly decorations, aspidistras, and the eternal two generations of roses which riot among blue ribbons on hireling wall-papers, who are ignorant of the science of tipping and thanking, who do not know how to cook yet hate to be cooked for, will here find the thing they have desired, and something else as well.
First Edition 1919
Anyway, I liked this a lot. It's weird as hell, and even weirder when you try to figure out where it fits in the timeline of modern fantasy styles. It reminds me a little bit of Travel Light in that way, where you get this sense that it somehow dropped 50 years early. Actually, the ending reminds me a lot of Travel Light, too.
It's been sitting in my pile of random ebooks long enough that I can't remember who even recommended it; could have been any of three or four people.
(Obligatory note: This is From The Past, and its heart is in the right place but a sympathetic character does say something real iffy about Jews at one point. There's also one casual use of a top-tier racial slur, but the narrator immediately pauses to be like "ugh, I wish people wouldn't.")