This past June I had the chance to go to BookCon, an annual convention for writers, publishers, and book lovers all over the country. Now that I live in New York it feels there are events like this everywhere, and while ComicCon skews a little too nerdy for me, BookCon seemed right up my alley. My very patient fiance agreed to come along, and we spent the afternoon at booths, walking the floors, in lines.
Oh Lord, the lines. The misconception with BookCon is that there are free books everywhere, when in reality there are a scattering of them and each line takes an hour to wade through. Somehow in my trip to BookCon, we managed to pick up a few free books: four to be exact. I decided to read them all and review them briefly. Were they worth the price? Let’s see.
1. Confusion is Nothing New: Paul Acampora
This one was a light middle-grade read, it took about an hour and I clearly wasn’t the audience for it. It’s a pleasant enough story about a girl trying to learn about her deceased mother, a backdrop of 80s music all around. The characters were mildly quirky and entertaining, but I find that this genre isn’t nearly as bright as insightful as it used to feel to me. I could blame it on the book, but it’s likely because I got older. Anyway, as far as middle grade reads, this one devotes a lot of its time to chit-chat and meandering, detracting from what little plot there is. Inoffensive overall, but hardly memorable.
2. Cold Hard Truth: Anne Greenwood Brown
This was one of two books here that I actually had signed by the author. Ms. Brown herself is lovely, and offered me encouragement as an aspiring writer myself. Her book was a healthy slice of young adult chick-lit, with darker moments scattered in. The protagonist is a young girl caught up in an abusive relationship and the world of drugs, trying to rebuild her life while on probation of sorts. She meets a young man with an anger problem…and immediately when I learned of this character trait I was annoyed. If anyone’s seen The Kissing Booth, that godawful Netflix movie people are talking about, it’s reminiscent of that. But what redeems Cold Hard Truth compared to that movie is justification. Max, the novel’s ‘hot angry guy’, is given reasons for his actions but not as many excuses. He is still held accountable by those around him, although this does start to fall apart by the ending, and damsel-in-distress tropes return. Nevertheless, the book is harmless enough and had some decent suspense and character development.
3. The City of Brass: S.A. Chakraborty
So, I’m not a fantasy reader, especially not immersive, high fantasy like this one. I usually find the genre’s callback to dirty, dull medieval Europe quite tiresome, and I get bogged down by endless languages, clan systems, and other aspects of the intense worldbuilding that often comes with the genre. Simply put, I usually don’t have the patience. But…I make exceptions. I took all 550 pages of City of Brass on a trip to Maine and finished it in three days. I was immediately drawn in by the new mythologies of the Middle East, lush imagery, tangible character motivations, and political intrigue. There were quite a few languages and types of people to distinguish, as to be expected, but I felt personally invested in each conflict and in the tenuous relationships of Daevabad as a whole. I do believe that the climax and falling action were incredibly rushed, too drastic of a pace change for a slow burning novel like this one.
The only other downside is, well, I have to wait until 2019 for the next book in the trilogy. I never thought I’d be so invested in a series since Harry Potter, but here I am.
4. We Sold Our Souls: Grady Hendrix
This was the second book I had signed at BookCon. Mr. Hendrix was a bright, bubbly personality that took the time to sign each book personally, even if that meant his line took twice as long as the others. I didn’t know what to expect from We Sold Our Souls, but from the cover art subject matter I assumed it was the tale of teenagers starting a band.
Not quite. Instead, we follow aging metal musicians in a moral wasteland, rife with gore, deceit, murder, and all the seediest parts of society. Juxtaposed with this dark subject matter are metal lyrics, all of which are so difficult to take seriously. In fact, the mythos that Hendrix builds up, with Black Iron Mountain, the Blue Door, the Faustian environment, it all feels so cobbled together and poorly thought out. Everything reads juvenile, which is especially jarring when told by a 50 year old protagonist. I didn’t buy any of it, apart from a few scenes written so bluntly and effectively that I visibly cringed. That takes talent, which I respect, but this story was not crafted well at all and makes no discernible impact at novel’s end. Additionally, I’m not a metal fan, so a lot of the references fall flat and don’t have the resonating nostalgia that the book is aiming for. Again, I’m not the right audience.
You know, maybe I just don’t care for books about rock stars. I haven’t really had a great track record with them lately.
* * *
Overall, these were definitely a mixed bag, but definitely a worthy project. I find that I really enjoy discovering new, lesser-known writers and learning more about myself as a reader. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to BookCon again, but if I do, I’ll be back in those freebie lines hunting for more.