Book Review: Jane Unlimited

I don’t often pick books up at random anymore, but I chanced to see an interesting title at the library the other day.  It turned out to be an excellent find: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore.

Nineteen-year-old Jane is an orphan who recently lost her beloved Aunt Magnolia, who raised her.  Jane is unmoored and drifting when she bumps into Kiran, an old acquaintance, who on a whim invites Jane to come to Tu Reviens.  This is Kiran’s family estate, a mansion on a private island.  Jane doesn’t want to go, but her Aunt Magnolia made her promise to accept an invitation to Tu Reviens if it ever came.  It proves to be a mansion full of mysteries, and every person there has secrets.  Jane soon finds herself at a crossroads, a seemingly insignificant moment when she can choose which mystery to pursue.  Jane only can see one choice–at a time–but the reader gets to see what happens as each choice takes her down a completely different path, dividing the bulk of the book into five sections, each exploring a different direction.

This is a masterfully created book, and as a writer I am genuinely in awe at how Cashore pulled this off.  Each section of the book follows its own story, but it’s clear that all the elements from each section are happening in all of them–Jane just has different information, or sees different pieces.  Later sections still have references relevant to earlier ones, and early ones have clues that aren’t explained until later ones.  It’s incredible.

Equally as fun, I realized as I went through the book that each section is a different genre: mystery, spy thriller, horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  Each one is beautifully done, both for its genre and as part of a larger, cohesive whole.  The horror section was suitably horrifying, and the sci fi story added a little bit of meta explanation for the book’s structure–sort of. Continue reading “Book Review: Jane Unlimited”

Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

A good friend recently gave me a book for Christmas–always a chancy endeavor, as it can be hard to find just the right one.  She hit the mark beautifully though, as I loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.

The story begins as Mary Jekyll buries her mother.  Clearing up her mother’s affairs, Mary finds a regular payment being made for the care and keeping of “Hyde.”  Baffled by this apparent connection to her deceased father’s hideous, long-missing assistant, she follows the clues.  She finds Diana Hyde, and in the process winds up assisting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they investigate the Whitehall Murders.  Tracing clues to a secret alchemists’ society, Mary and Diana find Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein, all a different shade of monster.

This is one of those books that has such a wonderful premise it’s hard to dare hope it will live up to it–but it does!  This is a wonderful exploration into the world of Gothic, Victorian literature, but turned sideways and much more feminist.  Each woman (including Mary, though we don’t have full answers about her yet) has been shaped by her alchemist father (or creator), but this is very much the women’s story.  Each one is a fully-formed individual with agency, and the story is about them, not their fathers.

In some ways this reminds me of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, drawing greatly from classics of literature, while putting an entirely new angle on them–with an active, realistic heroine (or five). Continue reading “Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter”

Book Review: Protector of the Refugee Planet seems to run in my family, with a few different storytelling (or writing) relatives.  And today I’m very happy to review Protector of the Refugee Planet by Dennis Mahoney.  It’s a little hard to claim this is an unbiased review, since that’s my dad! 🙂

Protector is a sci fi adventure set in the fairly distant future, centering around Steven, a member of the Order of Protectors.  After breaking up a drug ring goes bad and Steven accidentally kills the drug lord, he begins having hallucinations (or visions?) of the Order’s founder, D. F. Nathaniel, who is not at all pleased that Steven broke the Order’s strict rule against taking a life.  It doesn’t make things easier when Steven develops a crush on his assigned psychiatrist, Sheera, someone he is absolutely forbidden to date.  Both problems pursue him to Pitcairn, an edge of the civilized galaxy world where Steven is sent to stop a harpy-like alien who’s been on a rampage–but he has to do it without killing him.  Or breaking the code against romancing Sheera.

This is a fun sci fi romp in an old style–think Heinlein at his more innocent.  The protagonists are young/new adults, and this would be a good one for young adult readers too.  Even killing a drug lord doesn’t get too violent, and there’s only a slight amount of romance. Continue reading “Book Review: Protector of the Refugee Planet”

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

I have a confession.  Despite proudly claiming the geek label, I am not a Marvel movie fan.  I’ve tried–I’ve seen the first installment in most of their hero franchises, and…never gotten into them.  Except: I enjoyed Dr. Strange, and I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.  I still never got to theaters for Guardians 2, and only finally saw it very recently.  But it was fun when I finally got to it!

The Guardians franchise seems to be a collection of B or C-level superheroes, and that’s part of why it works.  The misfit group includes “Star Lord” Peter Quill, Samora (played by the reliably awesome Zoe Saldana, formerly Pirates’ Anamaria and Star Trek‘s Uhura), big muscly social-filterless Drax, (sort of) raccoon Rocket and (sort of) tree Baby Groot.  Peter, who had a human mother, has always wondered about his possibly-alien father.  Well, while the gang is trying to escape the creepy gold soldiers of the Sovereign race, the mysterious Ego shows up to rescue them.  He reveals himself as Peter’s father and brings them to his planet…where things are a little too good, while being a little creepy too.

I feel like that’s a muddled and incomplete plot description, but the movie wasn’t really about the plot.  And this is why I liked Guardians better than the rest: I like the characters and the way they interact.  They’re a deeply dysfunctional family who bicker all the time, and yet still are firmly tied to each other.  There’s a poignant moment near the end when this comes home to Rocket (and the fact that they got a poignant moment about the feelings of a trigger-happy raccoon?  That’s skill.) Continue reading “Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2”

Book Review: This Is Not the End

I don’t read a lot of real-world teenager stories, but I was super-intrigued by the premise of This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker–mostly because of the one sci fi element in the mix!

As she approaches her eighteenth birthday, Lake’s life is completely centered around the perfect trio of her, her boyfriend Will and her best friend Penny.  But then a car accident kills both Will and Penny in one afternoon, and Lake is left alone–for now.  Because in this near-future world, science has found a way to bring back the day.  Strict regulations mean each person can bring back one individual, and they only have one chance at it–choose someone to resurrect on their eighteenth birthday, or waive the right forever.  So now Lake has to choose, a decision growing only more complicated as she learns new things about her friends–and about her brother Matt, a quadriplegic for the past five years, who has his own agenda in the question.

This was a fast read, very engaging and full of mysteries that kept me turning pages.  Lake is likable and sympathetic, and the characters around her are well-developed.  Will and Penny in particular, despite dying early in the story, are very vivid, both through Lake’s feelings around them and the flashback sequences that take us through Lake’s relationships with them.  I liked Penny a lot, and would love to read a story with a heroine like her.  It’s overall great, smooth writing, with an unusually clear setting too, for a contemporary story. Continue reading “Book Review: This Is Not the End”