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Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Why I Picked It Up: I got this on preview night at Comic Con this year. The cover copy had me at "Jane Eyre" and "Fey." Also, the cover art is lovely. I proceeded to carry it around with me for most of con.
Goodreads Star Rating: 3/5

General, possibly spoilery thoughts:
The story definitely leans heavily on Jane Eyre, but I knew that from the description. Young woman who's had a rough life takes a job as a governess at a secluded manor with a mysteriously intriguing master... you know the drill. The dynamic between Jane (yes, that's still her name), and Mr. Rochart is quite familiar, too. But then there's the fact that this is set in an England that is... roughly equivalent to the early 20's, but instead of WWI, there's just been a big war with the Fey, who humans were dependent on for technology up until the war, so now lots of things don't work and actual human innovation and invention is years behind where it would have been, and anyone who has been wounded by shrapnel from Fey weapons is infected with a curse that makes their emotions dangerous to people around them, and so they have to cover the affected area with iron, hence the term "Ironskin."

Anyway... it was a good way to pass the time. The slow development of Jane's understanding of what it means to have bits of Fey inside her was interesting, (Jane's an Ironskin who wears a mask on her face to hide her scarring, and to keep her anger from infecting others around her) and some of the world-building was unique. As in Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochart has a secret, but it's not a madwoman in the attic. It's something a lot more supernatural, and actually quite sad.

I did have a bit of an issue with how most of the women other than Jane (especially the pretty ones) are silly and vain and vapid. It's the kind of "I'm not like other girls" thinking that, while it seems subversive on the surface, is actually saying, "Don't lump me in with those other women who have characteristics that are seen as weak and useless." Never mind that those "other women" have those characteristics because they've been taught that this is the right way to be a woman. It's another way patriarchal systems set women against each other, and it drives me up a wall, especially when it's the "role model" main characters who are espousing the "I'm not like other girls" line. I'm willing to withhold harsher judgement, though, until I've read the second book, which I found out it is going to focus on Jane's sister, Helen, who spends most of this book being the beautiful, fluttery foil to Jane's good common sense.

Anyway, it was a fun read with a slightly info-dumpy, heavy-handed environmental message at the end. (And I'm as much of a tree-hugging hippie as you're likely to meet.) Still, I'd like to see if your library has the next one in the series.

Read this if: You'd like a unique take on British faerie mythology, or if you like the idea of a slightly steampunk take on Jane Eyre.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
Why I Picked It Up: Again, this was a comic-con freebie. I had a choice between this and several YA books that didn't seem at all interesting to me, and so even though I don't usually go for zombie fiction, the title made me do a double take, and so I picked it up. (this is the first zombie BOOK I've read... and I've seen the first two seasons of Walking Dead.) Also, this little paperback was the lightest of my Comic-con freebies, so it fit nicely into my bag.
Goodreads Star Rating: 4/5

General, possibly spoilery thoughts:
I actually really enjoyed this. Far more than I thought I was going to. The first person narrator, Angel Crawford, has a self-deprecating, highly observant narrative voice that was fun to read. Basically, the set up is this. Angel wakes up from what she's told was a drug overdose, but with memories of a terrible car accident. She also wakes up to a job waiting for her at the morgue and a craving for brains.

This is not a universe where zombies are immediately mindless as soon as they turn after dying. With a regular supply of brains, zombies are virtually indistinguishable from normal humans (with the exception of super strength and speed if they've had a LOT of brains recently). Without them, though, they start rotting within a few days, and the hunger drives them out of their minds, and that's when they become dangerous. So, Angel has to figure out how to keep herself supplied with brains, (good thing she works at the morgue...) figure out who arranged for her ever-so-convenient job, deal with her relationships with her father and her sometimes-boyfriend, and figure out why all of the decapitated corpses keep showing up.

It really is a lot of fun. I laughed out loud several times while I was reading it, and I think the Angel's development into a woman with agency who can make her own choices and isn't tied to the destructive cycles that have been her life so far. (Yay, zombie women with agency!) And... even though once I stopped laughing, I cringed a bit at how classist the title is, Angel (and the narrative) doesn't present her community as something to be laughed at... it's just... her reality, and she has a fairly clear-headed view of what's good and what's bad about it. (I'm specifically thinking about the her relationship with her alcoholic father here... those were some rough scenes, but well done, I thought.)

Anyway... this was a fun, quick read. Again, I'm hoping to someday find the next books in the series. (That's kind of the meter by which I judge whether a book was worth it or not if it's first in a series... do I have any interest at all in reading the next one? This time I do.)

Read this if: You like zombies, and not just the mindless, lurching kind. (No Zombie Apocalypse in THIS novel, at least.)

Blackout, by Connie Willis

Why I Picked It Up: I had the privilege of seeing Connie Willis on a panel about hard-to-classify speculative fiction at Comic-con... oh, a couple of years ago now. She struck me as a highly intelligent writer, and I'd been seeing her books for years. Also, London in WWII is endlessly fascinating to me, and so is time travel. So... there you go.
Goodreads Star Rating: 4/5 (I'd give it a 4 1/2 if I could...)

General, possibly spoilery thoughts:
If I had to describe this book in one sentence it would be: Time traveling historians stuck in London during the Blitz. That's it. But it's so much more than that... it's about what it was like to be in London, under attack every night and worried that England was about to be invaded any second. It's about how people carried on and were gloriously, wonderfully... normal. It's also about the mystery of why all of the historians who were on assignment in London or nearby are mysteriously unable to find their "drops," the portals that open at regular intervals in case they need to go back to their own year of 2060. Most of this book is spent getting to know Mike, Polly, and Eileen (her real name is Merope, but she's posing as an Irish servant in a large manor house, observing evacuee children) and taking the reader along with them as they slowly realize it's not just one drop that has stopped working... it's all of them. They weren't even supposed to meet in the past, and so there is the complicated chore each of them has of finding the others... and they miss each other constantly. This was a bit frustrating to me as a reader, and I wish they'd all met up with each other sooner, but in the mean time there are so many marvelous little human moments... the two hilarious lower class kids named Alf and Binnie who wreak havoc on the manor, the regulars at the air raid shelter Polly goes to, one of whom is a Shakespearean stage actor who keeps them entertained with monologues while the bombs are going off right above them (I cried during that scene. Honestly. It's incredibly moving.) And there are shop girls and soldiers and nurses and ambulance drivers... all of them "doing their bit" even if they're scared or uncertain.

Then, there's the question of whether or not the historians' presence at events where they never planned to be has changed history, and THAT is what broke the drops. They still don't know, but Mike saved exactly ONE solider during the evacuation at Dunkirk (he wasn't supposed to be there... but the boat left while he was sleeping...) and that one soldier went on to save 500. Who's say what the consequences of those men living when they weren't supposed to were? And then... there are more people dead in a department store that was hit than there were supposed to be according to the historical record... and who knows what else is different? And how is that affecting their ability to get back to the future?

Some reviews I've read say that this is a slow read, and I suppose that's true... but I prefer "intricate." There are a lot of little things going on, and the immersion in the day to day life of the city is something I really enjoyed. I didn't find it to be "slow" or difficult to get through at all, and I read it in about two days.

Now, it's off to the library to get the second half of the story in All Clear. (I hear the book got too long and had to be split into two volumes due to sheer length, which is why Blackout just stops without much of a proper ending.

Read this if: You're a WWII history buff. You watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a child and thought the idea of little city kids being sent out to the country was both incredibly touching and rife with possibility for hilarity. (Have I mentioned how much I love Alf and Binnie? They're two of the kids at the manor where Eileen is observing, and they are HILARIOUS. Because I don't have to deal with them. Honestly. They're little terrors.) Also, if you like time travel and musings on the possibility of one person affecting the future.
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