Reviews: 7 for the last day of the year

The Montreal Stetl by Zelda Abramson & John Lynch. 5/5
An excellent ethnography of the Shoah survivors who settled post-war in Montreal. Researched with care and respect, and with ethics and a thoughtfulness and intellect not often found in today’s non-fiction, The Montreal Shetl is an important and beautifully crafted book about Jews in North America, their lives as immigrants and outsiders, and the power of their testimonies.

Ghosts of Gotham by Craig Schaefer. 5/5
Smart and brilliant, this thriller is a roller-coaster ride into a world where gods and demigods and semigods and immortals are all still around and occasionally move not just the scenery but the course of the action as well. Lionel Page, a reporter who has spent his career debunking frauds of the purportedly psychic type, becomes involved in an ever-shifting and complex race to track a murderer, keep old gods from killing, and learn some life-saving magic. Along the way readers meet his mentor, Maddie, members of an elitist cult, several cool witches, and some very hungry ghouls. Super fun.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher (excerpt). 4/5
I really want to read the rest of this book! The dystopian/apocalyptic setting is rich and nuanced, and I liked the characters and premise. (Please change the dog’s name, though: “Jip” is a variant of “Gyp(sy)” and is offensive.) I want to know more about this world and its people and how they are surviving and what they value.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (excerpt). 4/5
A promising start to what I think will be an engrossing novel. Two cultures, two faiths, and two women appear to be poised to break new ground in their own territories by managing political and personal challenges. One, trained from birth to ride dragons in defense of her kingdom, attains her goal of becoming a dragon ride, but her willingness to take risks by sheltering outsiders and seeking answers about her heritage place her in a precarious spot. The other, a servant of the leader of her matriarchal society, is being manipulated by political forces as she seeks political knowledge herself. I hope the full book will be available to read soon.

The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan. 1/5
Lots of people will buy this book, in part because of Peter Beagle’s name. But they shouldn’t. And it’s a damn shame that Tachyon has pushed Beagle to co-edit it and write an Introduction. As his Introduction states, eloquently and bitterly, Beagle has become “the unicorn guy.” It’s not what he wanted; he thinks his best work is still his first novel, the ghostly romance A Fine and Private Place. But he’s been hemmed in by the unicorn-lovers and especially those who would capitalize on them. This book is an attempt to do just that–cash in on the unicorn-lovers, who may or may not know Beagle’s views on the matter. A lot of these stories are good, but many of them are from other, readily available anthologies, such as Zombies vs. Unicorns, which is very-well represented here (by which I mean: just go read Zombies vs Unicorns instead of this book).

I won’t even get into the problems of all of the pieces in which “virginity” is given actual consideration in the course of the story.

Leave Beagle alone. Go read his unicorn book, and his other books, and the other books that this anthology borrows from. But don’t keep asking him to be “the unicorn guy” anymore.

D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose. 1/5
This book will sell well to general readers. It shouldn’t. It’s disorganized and messy, and both condescends to its readers and lacks essential information on its topic. Author Sarah Rose makes sweeping generalizations about France and its citizens during WWII; misstates historical facts; engages in inaccurate and sometimes offensive hyperbole; and has apparently done little research into the role of women in war, women in WWI, or the history of war in general. She refers to figures in the book by their first names, which diminishes them in contrast with the leaders: she gives Hitler his self-appointed titles, though. She characterizes figures in the book with no documentation to do so: is this person really “sniveling,” was this one “no longer fecund” and why do those things matter? She uses outdated and unacceptable ethnic terms–“gypsy” comes to mind–and uses other inappropriate or incorrect words that an editor should have caught (“snarked,” “fulsome,” others). I’d like to read a good book on the work of women–who, no matter how young, were not “girls”–in the French Resistance in France during the war, but this definitely isn’t it.

Do The Dead Dream? by F. P. Dorchak. 1/5
After wading through several introductory essays in which people claimed that the stories in this book were good, I found that, in fact, they were not. These are unedited, formless, and self-indulgent stories that all too often go on far too long. The author fancies himself a genius, which apparently means that he can mix up multiple genres (badly), be sexist, and run wild with all caps or italicized writing….all for no reason. It’s kinda like early Stephen King but with no editor and no rewrites and less imagination. Pretty much unreadable.

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