Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Accidents Happen, by Louise Millar

Accidents Happen: A NovelAccidents Happen: A Novel by Louise Millar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mildly spoilerish.

This book was sent to me as a galley by Atria Books, through Galley Alley, and it's the second in a row that I've read containing the theme of "sad woman who has been through trying times is befriended by and falls in love with a 'too good to be true' guy who turns out to be too good to be true". This might even be a trope at this point, or at least a trendy theme in psychological thrillers. All I can say is that it is a delicate thing to write this kind of story so that the reader believes that the heroine is vulnerable but not overly credulous.

The story takes place in present-day Oxford, following the tortured daily existence of Kate, a 30s-ish woman with an eight-year-old son, who lost her husband in the recent past. Kate sees her life as a series of unlikely tragedies, feeling she's had more than her share of loss and accident. She's become obsessed with statistics and safety measures almost to the point of agoraphobia. Her husband's parents and her sister-in-law are naturally concerned, but their high-handed ways of demonstrating this concern are a huge source of friction. Kate meets a visiting statistics lecturer one day by chance...or is it? He seems literally to have written the book on the statistics of safety, and when Kate screws up her courage to talk to him they start a tentative friendship which immediately changes her outlook on life for the better.

Louise Millar skillfully sets her scenes in a detailed way that draws you in to the moment. The characters speak naturally and we spend just enough time in their heads to know what they're thinking without drowning in internal monologues. I found myself fully a quarter of the way through before I took a break.

**************More obvious spoilers*************

I subtracted one star from a perfect five for a couple of reasons:

1. The "sad woman needs a man to feel better and have a happy life" trope. I'm not saying this doesn't happen, but I prefer stories where the sad woman meets somebody who helps her find her happiness without needing to be the ultimate source of that happiness, if that makes sense.

2. Kate, our protagonist, is massively credulous to the point of stupidity. I would buy her being snowed by our Bad Guy if she were a 20-something college girl full of blind naïveté, but she's a 30-something woman with a child and an amazing menu of adventurous life experiences. I just don't believe her being so gullible, especially considering her paranoid obsession with security and safety. Bad Guy asks her to do some pretty sketchy things in the name of "bringing her out of her shell". By the second or third, after the first one I would have been very skeptical about this guy, and after a particularly creepy scene involving being stranded in a rural village with a gang of potential gang-bangers I would have punched this guy's lights out and called it quits.

The payoff is decent by the end, and the pacing is good. I always enjoy stories that take me to places I'd like to visit, in this case Oxford, England and environs. It's a nice couple of hours' reading.

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Redshirts, by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is to SF novels what "Galaxy Quest" is to SF movies. It's not the same story, or even the same kind of story, but it has the same weight and tone and lovingly pokes fun at a beloved SF world. This is not to say it is pure book candy, as there are places that grow amusingly metaphysical. Don't overthink these moments; you'll just give yourself a headache. You'll laugh, you'll cry (well, get misty, anyway), or maybe you'll shout "SCALZI!!!" like Brandon Sanderson.

Read it. You can get through it in a long afternoon or a couple of days of light reading. If you enjoy Douglas Adams, Star Trek, or campy SF of any kind, you'll thank me.

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Among Others, by Jo Walton

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far it's like a trip down memory lane for me. I haven't read as many of the SFF novels as Morwenna, but where our lines do cross it's fun to hear her natter on about them as a teenager. I'm not a huge fan of first-person, and in this case you're stuck in the head of a fifteen-year-old, so it can get a bit droll at times. At that age the world revolves around you, and everything is a CRISIS. She tends to overreact to many situations in an overt and external way, which always drives me crazy in a person, but it's utterly believable and consistently written. I'll scribble a real review when I finish.


As is often the case, I finished this book and dashed off to other things without writing a review. Part of the reason is that while I enjoyed it for the most part, I didn't find it as engrossing or fascinating as so many others seem to. Do not let my tepid reaction stop you from reading it. I do think it's worth anyone's time... but I felt like the arc was a slow climb up a very low hill to a moderately interesting climax about fifteen pages before the end. Part of my reaction is because I'm usually not a big fan of first person perspective, and especially when one is stuck in the head of a teenager for 75,000 words or so. Even when I was that age I had little patience for the "it's all about ME" thing, and as a crochety old lady I have none at all.

Still, it was nice to re-visit so many of the things I read as a teenager and through my college years and see them through fresh eyes. Give it a try.

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