This year is going quickly, right? Not just me?
June reading included the last of the DGLA shortlists (for the first week) and then three weeks of ANYTHING BUT EPIC FANTASY. Not that I'm singling that genre out for special hatred, just that ten books in a row of anything is too much. Curiously, this made for one of the most enjoyable months of reading in a while, as I somewhat randomly plunged around my Kindle and the piles of stuff on the floor.
A few disappointments:
David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men (2013) got a mini-review earlier, so I won't drag this out. It is a very fluffy history of Dungeons & Dragons, and I'm sorry it wasn't a little more insightful. There are a few cute anecdotes in here - and real evidence that Ewalt got under the skin of the game and the company - but this was too superficial to be of real interest.
Lionel White's Party to Murder (1966) is a Gold Medal from one of the publisher's more hit-or-miss authors. This is firmly in the 'miss' category. A woman dies at the office Christmas party. Also, and unsubtly, there's a robbery and a hit and run that same night. Structurally, Party has potential: each chapter is a different point of view and White does a solid job of establishing all the different voices. That said, the mystery is ridiculous, with way too many moving parts: everyone is a criminal, whether that's embezzlement, adultery or being a psychotic serial killer. It is overly sordid. It doesn't help that the core point of view - the infodumping detective - is painfully jaded and world-weary. The result is a messy, dirty, ill-plotted crime novel that reads like the worst of grimdark fantasy.
John Norman's Tarnsman of Gor (1967) was bad. But not in an interesting way. I've bullied it already, so no point in repeating myself: the book was boring. I expected to dislike it, but I didn't that'd be the reason. There's ponderous prose and dubious sexual politics, so not a total 'loss', but most of this book was just a meandering travelogue.
Enough of that, here are a few books I'd actually recommend from June:
Non Pratt's Trouble (2014) was, again, already reviewed (in brief) - but great. One of the best non-SF/F YA books I've read, full stop. A pregnant teen and the 'new kid' team up to prevent bullying and get their lives back on track. It is positive without being cloying, and realistic without being dark. Basically, a perfectly balanced book.
Hunt Collins' Cut Me In (1954) is a very, very, very early Ed McBain. I had almost forgotten how much fun his mysteries are - especially the early ones. Cut Me In is especially enjoyable as it features a sleazy literary agent as the protagonist. When his partner turns up dead, our 'hero' is firmly in the police's sights - but with a wealthy movie deal in play, there's plenty of suspicion to go around. The mystery is goofy (so many red herrings, such a telegraphed twist...), but the real joy comes from the pulpy feel of it all.
Megan Abbott's The Fever (2014) manages to be as good as I wanted it to be, which is saying something - I was really excited about this book. The author of Dare Me returns to the (surprisingly sinister) world of high school. When teenage girls fall victim to a strange and inexplicable fever - one after the other - things get tense. It is a vaccine? Is it something in the water? Is it something from sex (gasp!)? This isn't about the disease - it is about the hysteria that accompanies it; how we react to protect the people we love. I'm going to be shout about this one like crazy come SF/F awards season - much, I suspect, to the chagrin of traditional SF lovers. But there's a 'speculative' argument to be made here, and, I think The Fever is representative of the best that science fiction can offer: a thorough and powerful examination of the social, political and moral ramifications of a (speculative) event occurring. Furthermore, it is using that (speculative) event as a means of challenging contemporary society. Basically, this is a good 'un.
L.T. Meade's The Rebel of the School (1902) is inexplicably good, and this may very much be a 'me' thing. A turn of the century 'school story', Rebel features the fiery (well, noisy) Kathleen O'Hara - wealthy Irish girl - as she joins a rather class-bound girl's school. Despite her wealth, Kathleen sympathises more with the 'foundation' students, and leads a (rather staid) rebellion. There's so much that's dated and silly about this book - for one, the underlying assumption that physical attractiveness = moral superiority is an exhaustingly antiquated one. Nor is there really any... plot. There's a 'rebellion' and some grumpiness and a few furtive trips to cottages where people have tea. (Also, a lot of sausages. I'm not sure if there's cultural significance to that or if it is a surprisingly saucy metaphor, but people are dining on sausages all the time in this book. So many sausages.) Still, despite having a lot of more ostensibly thrilling and exciting books on my plate, Rebel was the one I kept coming back to, curious what would happen next. It is ridiculously silly, but it is a page-turner. And Meade manages to create an atmosphere of real tension - I actually card what happened to Kathleen and her cronies, despite the archaic frivolousness of nearly every scenario they're in.
Actual thorough reviews of a few June reads coming later this week.