Review: Every Heart a Doorway

We all know what a portal fantasy is, even if we’ve never heard the term. The Chronicles of NarniaAlice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Magicians, etc. We all know the beginning of the adventure. We all know the adventure. But what about after?  What happens to the boys and girls who go on impossible quests and return, irrevocably changed?  That is story Seanan McGuire’s short novel Every Heart a Doorway seeks to answer.

Nancy Whitman is the newest student at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school/ sanitarium for children who have disappeared and returned claiming to have been whisked away to another world. In Nancy’s case, she has returned from the Halls of the Dead where all but five strands of her hair have turned white. She is desperate to return, though return is a very rare thing. But the desperate often turn to extreme measures to get what they want. Even murder.

I want to like Every Heart a Doorway. I really do. But while the short novel has a good central idea, there are too many flaws that suck out any real enjoyment I have.

The writing is flowery and literary in a young adult style. It works for readers who like that style, but for readers who are not terribly fond of the young adult style, the writing can be off putting.

The biggest problem with Every Heart a Doorway is that McGuire tries to condense a significant amount of ideas into too small a narrative space. Part of the story is orienting Nancy to her new school. The majority of the story, however, deals with surviving a serial killer running loose in the school. Neither story thread gets the space it needs. The orientation provides only sketches of characters save for the eventual (spoiler alert) antagonists. The horror story is very predictable. Ultimately, everything falls flat.

(A part of the problem, I think, is that Every Heart a Doorway is trying to be a literary fantasy, which focuses primarily on explorations of character and character growth, but cannot escape the fact that it is a fantasy and must have a more exciting plot than portal fantasies being nothing more that living metaphors of the individual’s psyche).

Another major problem with the story lies with representation. The main character is asexual, although said asexuality had to told to the audience rather than shown in a very clumsy scene that also revealed one of the four boys in the school as being transgender (transforming the scene into the young adult equivalent of Jerry Springer after the fact).

Furthermore, the explanation as to why there are only four boys out of a school population of forty is deeply problematic. And I will leave it at that. (Though if any one wants to comment with their interpretation, please do so. Just remember to be respectful and not abusive or bullying).

In conclusion. I found the story to be deeply unsatisfying and poorly constructed despite the good ideas. Perhaps if the story had been split into two stories of nearly two hundred pages each, I might be writing a far different review.

2017 Book Haul One

The books I have bought recently have started to pile up. Therefore, I need to sort them and put them in my bookshelves. While I’m doing that, I thought it might be fun to list all the books I got recently.

From the book sale nook at West Waco Library:

Dr. No by Ian Fleming

Pursuit of the Screamer by Ansen Dibell

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

From Golden’s Book Exchange:

The Mirror Prince by Violette Malan

The City in the Glacier and The Destiny Stone by Robert E. Vardeman and Victor Milan

From Alibris:

Miss Marple Meets Murder by Agatha Christie (an omnibus that includes: The Mirror Crack’dA Pocket Full of RyeAt Bertram’s Hotel, and The Moving Finger)

Finally, from Amazon, I picked up:

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Hero by Perry Moore

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

The Root by Na’amen Gobert Tilahun

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

An impressive haul, if I do say so myself. I’m aiming for my next haul to come in April after I’ve hit Golden’s during their bimonthly half off sale.

 

The Books I Read in February 2017

February has been another disappointing month in terms of my reading. On the whole, it was better than January, but not by much.

Again, a part of my problem is I am still using a TBR list that I made when I wanted to read more literary fiction. And I don’t want to read literary fiction.

Anyway, here is what I read this past month:

I started the month with The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde. I wanted to like this collection. But beyond a few poems, I found myself uninterested.

Another book of poetry I read was Amiri Baraka’s Transbluency. Unfortunately, I found myself struggling with Baraka’s homophobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. Baraka is an important poet, but his early work is hard to get into for contemporary readers.

The first novel I read this month was Kindred by Octavia Butler followed by The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. I didn’t particularly like either of these books. I struggle with Butler’s work. And I am disappointed I didn’t like Naylor’s first book. I really enjoyed her novel Mama Day.

I attempted Paul Austers’s 4321. This book is bad. Just bad.

I also attempted Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. I really wanted to like this book. I really did. The world building is awesome. The plot has potential. But the protagonist is weak. I love Unar’s ambition. But the plot directed stupidity she routinely displays makes the novel ultimately disappointing.

The second to last novel I read this month is Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman. This novel is wonderful. It is beautifully written. Almost poetic. But it is also boring at times.

The final novel I read this month was Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey. This novel is a marked letdown from Leviathan’s Wake. Avasarala is a nice addition to the POV roster (indeed she steals the book). But I can’t say the same for the other new POV characters. This novel struggles, I think, to hide the cultural problems of the world building and some problems with the plot. (I want to write more on this after I’ve read more books in The Expanse.)

The best things I’ve read this month, actually, have been collected volumes of superhero comic books. I read: the first two volumes of Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Totally Awesome Hulk by Greg Pak, Scarlet Witch by James Robinson, and Thor by Jason Aaron. I loved all of them. Though my favorite must be Scarlet Witch and Thor. The reveal of Thor’s identity and her motivation is amazing. She is what a true hero is. And Scarlet Witch is all sorts of awesome.

February was disappointing. I hope March will be better.

Cozy Reading Night

Friday, I had a cozy reading night. The idea for cozy reading nights comes from the booktube channel “Lauren and the Books.” This was my first cozy reading night. I enjoyed myself. But I also discovered a few things.

A cozy reading night needs to be an event. There need to be snacks. There need to be drinks. There could be soft music or a fire whether real or artificial. There needs to be a comforting atmosphere.

One person alone does not make a party. Okay, one person could make a party. But I think I would have had more fun if I had visitors to read with me. A reading party if you will.

I read from seven to ten. I took on two novels and a short story. The short story was David Brin’s “Temptation” (from The Space Opera Renaissance) and the two novels that I started were: Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman and Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey. I enjoyed all that I read but I did realize something.

I don’t like to switch between multiple books. Rather, I like to sit down and binge an entire book. If I don’t like it, I will put it down, dnf it, and move on to the next. So I think I will pick a selection of possible books and pick one to read for the duration of my next cozy reading night.

My first cozy reading night was fun if not as successful as I hoped. But it did reveal somethings about myself. Mainly, I need to get out more.

The Books I Read in January 2017

I’m not happy with my January reading.

I wanted to start the year reading more literary fiction. I wanted to start the year off with a Margaret Atwood binge. Nadine Gordimer got in on the binge. I wanted to try Louise Erdrich. And I decided that I finally needed to complete a T.C. Boyle novel (after failing to finish Water Music and The Road to Wellville). ( I also added a few other books here and there. Too many honestly).

I started off with LaRose by Louise Erdrich. I read fifty pages. The novel started strong. I liked what I read. But gradually, an emotional dissonance in the narrative and a sojourn in 1839 (compared to the 1990s setting) threw me out of the novel.

From that defeat, I moved on to Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is a difficult novel about a young woman who has devoted herself to her parents’ political struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. I really should try this novel again when I am in a mood for difficult and great literary fiction.

As far as Margaret Atwood is concerned, I tried to read Cat’s Eye for the second time (and was not into it) and The Handmaid’s Tale (which I will not get into- not a fan of dystopia).

I also tried Peter Ho Davies’s The Fortunes and really did not like it. Which is a shame.

As far as literary fiction is concerned, I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come. It is a powerful story about violence and what drives people to violence. I would give it a solid four stars. But the novel is not without flaws. I feel that Sarah, whose story starts out strong, falters as the narrative progresses, becoming little more than an appendage to Adam/ Colter’s story.

I also reread Wislawa Szymborska’s View with a Grain of Sand. I first read this selected collection over ten years ago and loved it. But this past reread has cooled my passion for this collection of poems. To say I am frustrated should be obvious.

The problem, I am sure, is that I allowed a form of unintentional peer pressure to create a desire to binge read too much literary fiction. Which ultimately put me off of the whole thing.

In addition to the above books, I also read three comic book volumes. I first read Midnighter volume 1 (“Out”) by Steve Orlando. The book was okay. I enjoyed it. But the art is disappointing, the narrative is disjointed (and not in a good way), and the final confrontation with the villain is beyond disappointing (I expected so much more from Prometheus). I later read Thor volume 1 (“Goddess of Thunder”) by Jason Aaron. I  really liked this volume. I am sold on Jane Foster as Thor. I want to see what happens to her. But, I feel Thor is too good too fast. She can do things her predecessor never did without any training. And every damn villain is a straw man misogynist. I also read Doctor Strange volume 1 again by Jason Aaron. I hated this comic book. Aaron not only rips himself off (the plot is basically Doctor Strange’s “God Butcher” arc) but also attempts and fails to capture Loki magic by imitating Gillen and Ewing. And the art is terrible.

Finally, as I wandered around my favorite library, I checked out Nick Harkaway’s  Angelmaker  and James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. I hated Angelmaker. And fell in love with Leviathan’s Wake on my second attempt.

I love this book now. Leviathan’s Wake is wonderfully written and exciting and enjoyable. I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to see them succeed. I yearned to see the mystery of Julie Mao solved. A solid four and a half stars.

There are some flaws. Miller is, perhaps, too much of a hard boiled dick stereotype (down to falling in love with the subject of his investigation). Julie Mao is a woman in a refrigerator who I feel could probably have taken over Miller’s role. But on the whole, I really like the novel.

So that is what I read last month. Again, I’m not happy with it. I want to read more. And finish more books. And like more books for that matter.

Hopefully February will be a better month.

 

Where Have I Been?

January has been a very busy and stressful month. So, I haven’t been able to blog as frequently as I wanted to. I’ll try to post when I can. But I don’t think I’ll be able to post anything with regularity until the end of February.

Art and Books on Youtube

Over the past year, I have discovered the joys of art and books on Youtube. Honestly, where have these channels been all my life? (Okay, Youtube is only like ten years old and many of these channels are less five years old, so please excuse my exuberance for these channels). So, this post is about my favorite art and book channels on Youtube.

Art on Youtube

The first art channel I subscribed to on Youtube was the Artist Network channel, which is the Youtube presence of the Artist Network website. I have enjoyed this channel for years. It is generally amazing, excepting for the fact that most of the videos are appetizers for full length videos on the Artist Network website. Still, an amazing introduction to many kinds of art.

The second art channel I subscribed to on Youtube is Graeme Stevenson’s Put Some Color in Your Life. This channel runs full length episodes of, you guessed it, the Australian television series Put Some Color in Your Life. This series is freaking amazing! I love it! So many wonderful and talented artists have been featured on the show. Do check it out.

Over the past year or so, I have subscribed to many other art channels on Youtube.

If you are interested in watercolor and many other arts and crafts, check out The Frugal Crafter. Lindsay is amazing. Especially when it comes to watercolor. Another good watercolor channel is Tim Wilmot, who creates amazing urban and landscape watercolors.

For acrylics, none can beat the Art Sherpa and her mother Ginger Cook. The Art Sherpa is a wonderful trip to watch live. And Ginger Cook is a delight to watch.

There is also Lachri Fine Arts with her numerous media.

What about pastel?

I have subscribed to several very good pastel oriented channels.

The first of these is Karen Margoulis. The others are Lindy Witton Studio, Gail Sibley, Marla Baggetta, and Bethany Field. They are all really amazing.

Booktube

I first discovered Booktube through a post on Tor.com listing various book oriented channels on Youtube, including some who focus on science fiction and fantasy.

I don’t remember who the first booktuber I subscribed to was, but special mention must be made to Mercy’s Bookish Musings. She is amazing and introduced me to many other amazing booktubers. Including: Savidge Reads, Lauren and the Books, Jen’s Bookish Thoughts, Erika’s Epilogues, Britta Bohler, Helen Jeppesen, and many others. Check them all out.

To be clear, many of these booktubers focus mainly on literary fiction with Harry Potter being the sole excursion into science fiction and fantasy (though Mercedes (Mercy’s Bookish Musings) and Simon (of Savidge Reads) do engage in genre fiction of some form at times).

For booktubers exclusively devoted to science fiction and fantasy, my favorite is SFF 180. Thomas Wagner is amazing. I look forward to his weekly mailbag and his reviews with great anticipation. I do not understand why he does not have tens of thousands of subscribers.

For the young adult oriented science fiction and fantasy fiction, Peruse Project and Benjamin of Tomes are very good. I love their videos. Their passion is infectious. Even if the books featured are far from your cup of tea. (I really need to write a post on my feelings towards SFF YA).

Anyway, these are the art on Youtube and booktube channels I adore. If you are ever interested in expanding your Youtube subscription, do check all of these channels out. You won’t be sorry.

Looking Forward To 2017

2016 is near its end. It has been, personally, a rather miserable and unproductive year on a number of fronts. It has been terrible in terms of reading. I procrastinated creatively. I post once in a blue moon it seems. And don’t get me started on all the celebrity deaths we’ve had. And the election. The only bright spot is- I have a new nephew. So, with any luck and a whole lot of effort, let 2017 be a much better year.

In the new year, I want to post more. I am not going to be foolish and attempt to post every day, but I do want to get back on a regular schedule with multiple posts a week. I want to focus more on books (in terms of my reading, library, and reviews), science fiction and fantasy, my writing, topical issues, and any other subject that strikes my fancy.

I want to be more engaged with what I read. And I want to be more analytical. Which means lists and writing down my reactions to what I read.

I want to be more active in the science fiction and fantasy community. I’ve been a lurker for far too long. It is time to get out there and engage.

I need to finally settle down and pick a damn project to write and finish. I must not allow myself to be distracted by nagging worries and, at the moment, more attractive projects that need more work.

Will I manage to achieve my goals and resolutions? I don’t know. But I am determined to try. If nothing else, I want to try and make 2017 a good year.

Is Earth Big Enough for Two Epic Fantasies?

Is Earth big enough for two epic fantasies? Right now, I am asking myself this question because I am sorely tempted to set both the super hero project and the magic project in same fantastical version of Earth. Given precedents in both novels and comics, I think it is possible to have multiple epic narratives running at the same time (or nearly at the same time). But, perhaps most importantly, do I want fantastic Earth to be a core setting in my work?

I want to write an epic fantasy dealing with super heroes. If one reads super hero comics from Marvel or DC, one will quickly realize that there are numerous epic stories running nearly concurrently. So, my own super hero project will best be served by keeping in mind that a super hero’s story is lurching from one epic crises to the next with a brief respite in between (if he or she or they are so lucky). And yes, I do want to put my creations through that wringer.

Rick Riordan’s mythology inspired works are all set on the same fantastic version of Earth. Each series has its own developing epic story that succeeds one another, though not always interacting. I am not familiar with Riordan’s work, but I do think this is the general gist of it.

So, it is possible to have multiple epic stories in the same setting. But is that really what I want?

That is the kicker, isn’t it?

Part of me is super excited to use a fantastic Earth for the bulk of my creative endeavors. It cuts a huge amount of time out of world building. I can focus on the fantastic stuff without having to invent everything whole cloth.

But, as readers of this blog will note, I do have serious reservations about using Earth, no matter how fantastic I remake it, as a core setting.

I am, perhaps overly, concerned with getting things right. If I have a hero who is a scientist, I, therefore, should know a bit about his area of expertise (and not fall into the trap of having a hero scientist prattle on in areas that aren’t his field). If I have stories dealing with realistic crime, I want to do the proper research. Wanting to get subjects right is a good thing. But it can also cripple an author who gets bogged down in the minutae of research.

Another concern, which I haven’t written about, is the contemporary temptation to be overly referential to earlier works. Referring to earlier works is okay. But I am not interested in turning my work into a metafictional commentary on fandom or transforming my characters into annoying fanboys and fangirls. I want to approach the story more seriously than that.

(This is my problem with the Young Avengers and one of my problems with The Magicians).

So, is fantastic Earth going to be a core setting? I am going to try it and see where it leads me. And if it doesn’t work? Back to the drawing board. Or writing journal/ keyboard and computer screen.

(By the way, how does fantastic Earth sound as a reference for Earth as a setting for fantastic stories?)

And Then It Hits Me. . .

I have wanted to write an epic science fantasy story for quite some time. On Wednesday, I got a significant amount of work done on a character sheet. I wrote away happily listening to public policy videos from my Youtube watch later list. I felt a euphoric sense of accomplishment. And then, the next day, it hits me. . . the story developing from the character sheet doesn’t work. Damn it all to hell. But all is not lost. Most of the plot elements work better in other places.

I have waffled between a real world or a secondary world setting for the magic project. This specific epic science fantasy had, as its protagonist, a sorcerer. But as I worked on the characters, I realized that this is not what I mean by magic project. A magic using protagonist, and antagonist, isn’t enough. A magic project implies (and freaking calls for) the work to focus on magic as its main subject.No matter how much magic I throw into this setting, the story isn’t going to be about magic. And that is not what I want.

(I’ve obviously changed my mind as to the setting of the magic project. I’ll write about that in my next post.)

The plot developing from the character sheet works, annoyingly enough, far more satisfactorily in my portal fantasy project. So, it won’t be so difficult rolling these characters somewhere into the portal fantasy. Or should I call that epic portal fantasy project?

I opened this post stating I have wanted to write a science fantasy project for some time. I wanted this project to be separate from the portal fantasy project. But the more I think about it, the harder it is to ignore the fact that the portal fantasy presents a greater opportunity to have a world that mixes science fiction and fantasy. So, there is a good chance this world gets merged with the portal fantasy universe (or I break it up and add bits of the world to other, newer worlds).

Finally, even the historical inspiration fits better being the basis of a different project. As I read on this period, the early Macedonian Empire and the Wars of the Successors, the more I want to tackle the subject head on, rather than obscuring it through the filter of a secondary world narrative. How I’m going to do that I don’t know. I’ve got so many other projects I want to work on.

As I write, I discover that the creative process doesn’t always proceed in ways that I expect. Sometimes work on one project works far better on another. Sometimes a project does not work well on its own. Sometimes I discover that I am wholly uninterested in a project and must, despite my reluctance to do so, abandon a project to the depths of my writing journals. No matter where my writing takes me, no matter how the final story reads, the process is always fun.