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I think it's time to admit I am never cleaning up any of the 2016 book log, post, and move on.

League of Dragons (2016) (Naomi Novik): The concluding novel in the Temeraire series. Napoleon is finally finished off, various disputes are disposed of, and Temeraire and Iskierka's egg hatches.

On romance and Romance; characterization; and worldbuilding. )

Uprooted (Naomi Novik) (2015): Reread, picked up for plane distract during an October vacation. It's very likeable, even if it feels like it's trying to be three novels. It's three novels I'm happy to read! Not The Chosen Girl is a good story, Fairy Tales Meet Realpolitik has its moments, Young Woman Defeats Ancient Evil is good times. The only thing I don't like is the romance, because there's a point where your mixed feelings about the older mentoring wizard and his relationship with the younger witch in training run smack into your memories of Harry Potter fandom and you want to gouge your eyes out, because student/teacher has never ever been your thing, and that's... not how the author feels.

Necessity (Jo Walton) (2016): The concluding novel of Walton's Thessaly trilogy. Spoilers. )

Bring Down the Sun (Judith Tarr) (2008): Swag bag freebie. A novel of Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, mixing history and fantasy. Olympia, known by various names as she departs from the path of an alcolyte to a fading Goddess religion to pursue power, magic, and lustful romance among the politics of Epirus and Macedonia.

Holy erotica, Batman! Tarr mixes history, fantasy, and romance in a short novel. Olympias wrestles with the dark magic of Thessaly's witches, learns about political power, struggles to understand and master her magical gifts, and meets and marries Philip of Macedon. A slight novel in word count, the mix of setting and genres is an interesting study in satisfying divergent trope demands. The tensions of those demands sometimes make the characters a bit wooden, and the length contributes a sketchy feeling to the worldbuilding, elements which keep the novel a bit slight in impact.

A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab) (2015):

INTERNET BUZZ: It's a fantasy novel about London, written by a YA novelist.
ME: Meh.
INTERNET: It's got a multiverse.
ME: WAIT RIGHT THERE.

Yet I found myself underwhelmed. Spoilers under the cut. ) The emotional highs and gory lows should have compelled my attention, but instead I found myself disengaging to poke at the underpinnings. The multiverse conceit is interesting, but I might have liked this more if I'd been able to accept the rest of the premise without so many questions about whether it could hold up to the narrative promises.

Penric's Mission (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2016): Third in the Penric series. Penric and the demon of chaos he's named Desdemona fail miserably at espionage and succeed at healing another character caught up by intrigue. The first two Penric stories are not required to understand this short novel, but they're fun reading. I think this could have used one more editing pass, to balance some of the events between the end of the last story and the start of this one, unless I was supposed to think, "well, that offstage crisis was not in-clued".

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (Anne Fadiman) (1997 / 2012): Nonfiction account that places miscommunication between one set of doctors and parents in the larger forces of Hmong experience and immigration. In the 2012 edition's new afterward, Fadiman writes: I hope The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down is settling into its proper place not as the book about the Hmong but as a book about communication and miscommunication across cultures. That's very much the light in which I read this. And in that light, I found it an easy, clear read. Fadiman takes pains to explain to readers the historic and cultural contexts that drove Lia Lee's parents decisions, balanced against the more familiar medical imperatives driving her doctors.

Death's End (Liu Cixin, trans. Ken Liu, 2010/2016) HOLY SCIENCE FICTION MADNESS. This is serious end of the world times. End of the universe times.

Spoilers. )

I made a sincere attempt to read Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning (2016) based on promising reviews and made it all of two pages before losing empathy for the narrative voice.
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Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Anthony Bourdain) (2007 edition; original pub 2000): Specialist writes about his beloved field, warts and all. A colorful mash of frank minutia, which I loved; blunt honesty; and just a dash of machisimo. The colorful recollections of knife accidents and burned hands don't always make for appetite-enhancing reading during lunch or dinner, but the emphasis on narrative by anecdote makes this a fun book to read on the bus and train.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison (Piper Kerman) (2010): Prison memoir; picked up after watching the first season of the show. Knowing the writer is telling a story, it's interesting to compare the book to the series, and to consider how those diverge from the lived experience.

My Real Children (Jo Walton, 2014): Being a double life framed within the slippery memory of a woman with advanced Alzheimer's.

It feels like Walton writes a novel when she has a new experiment to try. Cut for space, incidental spoilers. )

If anyone else has read My Real Children, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it; this was definitely more of a thinking than feeling novel for me.
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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich): Strong entry-level feminism primer. If I were trying to do a women's history or women's studies 101 , I'd love to stick this on the book list and cherry-pick case studies. The author coined the title phrase in a graduate paper on colonial women; in the prologue, she reflects on its separation from its original source.

Liked. )

I'd like this even more if there was more focus on the activism of the late 20th C, but that's out of Ulrich's academic focus. Instead I get many examples outside of my usual historical range, and read about women's history I would not have found on my own.

The Gate of Ivrel (C. J. Cherryh): The themes you don't notice when you're 17 are the most telling when you're 27. Vanye kills his brother, refuses to commit honorable suicide, is exiled and symbolically shorn of his honor, and after two years dodging avenging clan-kin, refuses three offers to be welcomed into a family/social unit (Liell at Irien, Roh and the Chya, Erij on the road to Ivrel), and goes pelting after the woman he cursed for binding him at the beginning of the novel. What I didn't notice were the callbacks to really pulp-ish sword and sorcery; the two-sons-plus-one family dynamics (seriously, what was Vanye's dad thinking? I sense Author's Hand); how much of the novel various characters spend wounded; the body count. I was an innocent young woman.

The first time I read The Gate of Ivrel was around the same time I found The Best of C. L. Moore, so I was ready to draw Morgaine and Jirel comparisons; I wonder if I shouldn't have made a detour through Fritz Lieber or other fantasy novelists first. The setup reads now to me more like a young writer asking, "what if I took these pulp tropes, only I made the mighty leader a woman?" than a reaction to or conversation with Moore's stories.

White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (Carl Elliott): I cannot for the life of me remember why I put a hold on this. It's an op-ed. Elliott attacks big pharma with the passion of the disenchanted (MD-PhD now teaching bioethics; someone who's smart and organized) to the degree I find myself looking for elided facts, appeals to irreverent authority, appeals to the common man (aka the Jeff Winger Student President Debate speech), and other emotional tricks that obscure the fact I'm probably on Elliott's side. Stop trying to sway me with emotion and give me statistics, and highlight the potholes that are getting skipped to get the book finished. If, quoting Elliott quoting a Carnegie-Mellon study, "coming clean means playing dirty" (p94), what are his motives for writing this book? I finished this thin book with the reflection I wanted to read the original research, or better research on Elliott's examples, not re-written column pieces stitched into hardcover format.

The Midnight Mayor (The Inauguration of Matthew Swift) (Kate Griffin): Sequel to A Madness of Angels; urban fantasy with a high body count and not a phouka or unseelie court in the worldbuilding. Usually I don't find much entertainment in urban fantasy; there's too much love of the fantasy elements and not enough city love. This is not a problem in The Midnight Mayor: London is a character in its own right. Isn't there a lowbrow sci-fi novel where books come to life, embodied as the main character? And Dune is represented by, well, desert and sandworms? When Griffin's writing, London feels a bit like that: alive and sense-of-wonder in its own right. Since that's how I feel about San Francisco, I think this is the best thing ever.

Spoilers, book 2 and 3. This isn't a perfect novel, but I was entertained. )

"A Room of One's Own" (Virginia Woolf): Nonfiction. An essay which has been on my "to read" list for years. Woolf calls for the elevation of women in writing in a way that makes me think of a later woman's writing, and a progressive / reform political party formed of "the people that matter". If one were teaching Feminism and the Written Word 101, I'd have students read this, then read Audre Lorde's "Master's House" back to back, because Woolf's attiude is exactly what Lorde attacks. If all upper class women of the 1920's were this elitist and focused on their semi-bohemian artsy lives, I'm relieved to be long removed from that time and place.

And yet - without the Virginia Woolf, do you get Lois Bujold? Or many of the post-Woolf authors I like, female and male? Acknowledging both the contributions to a tradition and personal weaknesses in the same person is something I struggle with.

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book By Patton Oswalt: Nonfiction / essay / memoir of a high school D&D / sci-fi geek turned standup comedian, the sort of person who knows people who know that zombies can live underwater, they just don't like it (p98 HC). Oswalt grew up in Sterling, VA, part of the greater DC exurb tedium which I know from intimate personal experience. Title from essay of the same name, which is written in the language of my people: "Darth Vader is, essentially, a Zombie, born in a Wasteland, who works on a Spaceship." (p99) "The Matrix films are about a hero, Neo, who doesn't realize he is a Zombie, and also doesn't realize he's living in a Wasteland, until he's woken by Morpheus, who de-zombifies Neo by bringing him aboard a Spaceship." (p101) "Hey - why do heroes always "wander" the wasteland?" (p103). Light and funny, and sometimes sort of awful, as good comedy so often is.

Among Others (Jo Walton): Fiction: 15 year old Welsh girl at English boarding school, with a limp, a diary, a grievous family situation, and a yen for libraries. Plus or minus the fairies, this was my 1996. It's hard to say if I like Among Others over the feedback squeal; I had to keep reading or I wasn't sure I'd finish it. Some reviewers dislike the mish-mash of genres - boarding school, fantasy, semiautobiographgical mimetic, etc - which I'd say is part of the fun. The only genre stance the novel takes is falling on the fantasy side: in the book world, magic is real (and not very nice).

After skimming half of Paladin of Souls, I reread Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt. The pacing is terrifically uneven, the first half wending along asking "is this my plot? What about this?" and finally turning on Horseriver and the Wounded Woods. One gets the impression Ingrey would very much like this story to be about someone else, please, while he and Ijada neck in the back of the theater; fortunately for me, Ingrey is not the driving - writing - hand.

Numbers game: 8 total finished. 6 new, 2 reread; 4 fiction, 4 nonfiction.
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This is why I need a job.

The Cherryh Odyssey (Edward Carmien, ed): Nonfiction collection discussing Cherryh's novels and her career as a speculative fiction writer. The essays are arranged in a rough trajectory from personal recollections to more academic work. There's a fair amount of overlap in the recollections, so I was most interested in the critical essays. The essays are geared for a very general audience: in several introductions, Carmien advises readers that the citations need not be read to derive full enjoyment from the essay. The history of post-partition India (extensively endnoted for citations and clarifying details) and I say, "uh, yeah." This is popcorn nonfiction: entertaining, but not as thought-provoking as I had hoped for. I learned a few interesting anecdotes, but I wanted something stronger and deeper.

My major takeaway from the personal reminiscence sections were two things: one, Cherryh started writing after Flash Gordon went off the air, and she wanted more; two, Wave Without a Shore was one of Cherryh's "magic cookies" published by DAW in the '80s. I wish she'd done more of those one-off brain puzzles: I liked them.

Lots of reaction and table of contents under the cut. )

Lifelode (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): Great-grandmother Hanethe comes home. Some really interesting worldbuilding is 90% obscured under a "slice of life" story.

Tangent: my reading expectations are deeply affected by context. I am more forgiving of shaky plotting and derivative worldbuilding if I'm reading on a computer screen. I expect dog-eared '80s paperbacks to approach story differently than the first printing HC I pick up at Border's this week.

With that said, Lifelode feels like a paperback, but I read it in NESFA HC. I didn't like it as much as I would have liked it in paperback. This has an experiemental feel - slippery character PoV; shifting tenses, in keeping with several characters' abilities to percieve past and future events; organization by theme (says Walton), not by chronology; implicit interaction-by-avoidance of epic fantasy tropes - which isn't what I want in my HCs. I also failed the inclue: when Taveth mentioned living in a stable polygamous foursome, when the priests were explicitly stated to be religiously nude, when the Galtis Pedmark showed up, I blinked and said, "wait, what?" (I'm still pretty, "wait, what?" about the priestly nudity. Why?) Walton says in the FAQ (and how can questions in a first printing be frequently asked? Wouldn't "author interview" or "additional Q&A for the interested reader" be a more appropriate format?) that she started with Jankin, and Hanethe took over. I want this to be a story about Jankin and Haneth and how they're foils for each other, and it's a story about Taveth being the rock on which the Applekirk manor is built. I am most intrigued by the worldbuilding that came up in the Q&A. Would that Walton had used that free will / yeya gradient in different ways! It's such a cool idea, acting as a backdrop for something completely different. What Walton's doing here is not in my focus, so I am likely complaining because there is peanut butter in my chocolate. If you want a cozy domestic story, this is about right; if you want a meditation on free will with a revel in a Nifty Worldbuilding Idea, this is going to frustrate you.

The Gate of Ivory (Doris Egan): Reread; escapist comfort fiction. This is a very cozy read for me: Egan has a sense of humor that is very easy for me to fall into.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Bryan Lee O'Malley): Toronto hipsters, part two. This is pretty, but not deep.

The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande): I approached this with a management question in mind: how do you get stuff done with a high degree of reliability and consistency? I am a checklist person, so I was gratified to see that checklists helped in critical situations. However, I think Gawande's take-home point was not that checklists are a cure-all, but that checklists, correctly constructed, could foster situations and environments where certain goals (communication and co-operation in ORs, for example) were more likely to be achieved.

Further reactions, and tangents on keep-on-hand bookcases. )

The first half of a massive Vorkosigan series reread: Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warrior's Apprentice, Cetaganda, The Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms (Lois McMaster Bujold): I'm not going to pretend this is anything but denial. One cannot read this much Miles while listening to "Funhouse" on repeat without being aware you are not living up to your expectations.

Shards: On the one hand, it's not as smooth as some of LMB's later novels. On the other hand? Cordelia = AWESOME. tWA:Give me an art metaphor for a moment. Compared to some of LMB's later novels, WA works in primary colors: exhilaration, terror, broad comedy. Death. LMB kills of characters with relative abandon in her early novels: Gottyan, Vorkalloner, Piotr, Bothari. I feel like, by Diplomatic Immunity, there's a lot more... pastel? Old Master palette? Something subtler, anyway. I chafe against some of that, because I am not a particularly subtle person. Cetaganda: I wonder when LMB decided Handmaiden of the Celestial Whatever meant Empress-in-Waiting?

The Spirit Ring (Lois McMaster Bujold): Reread, but not since my teens. I was surprised by how likeable I found TSR: I barely remembered it, and had not until now reckoned up that the bulk of the action takes place in about five days.

Numbers game: 12 total finished. 4 new, 8 reread; 10 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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Half a Crown (Jo Walton / [community profile] papersky): Third in the series. I... don't have a lot to say about this. British democracy is sort of saved from fascism by British debutante traditions? Maybe? I lost my focus somewhere in there, and can't see what the heck Walton was trying to do. I find myself engaged by the characters even while I want to beat them with their own flimsy assumptions - really, Carmichael, what made you think Elvira was anything like safe, standing in your shadow? - and I was entertained in my puzzlement, but the fact that I'm reacting on an in-book character level and not intuitively feeling the themes* means I'm in no rush to reread. There is a sensibility here that I appreciate (most ironic sedar in 2008 fiction), but also an approach to genre and story-telling that isn't meshing with my approach to reading. Also, between this and Little Brother, I am done with based-on-Gitmo headgames in my fiction for a while.

*I'm finding Watsonian and not Doylist reasons, in other words.

Y: the Last Man: 8-10: Kimono Dragons, Motherland, Whys and Wherefores (Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra): As previously mentioned, if you laid out a checklist of things I like in fiction, this hits pretty much every single one of them, right down to the bittersweet "sixty years later" epilogue. (Good news: humanity survives. Bad news: if you wait long enough, everyone dies.) [profile] charlie_ego and I had very different reactions to the McGuffin, because we approached it with different expectations, and if I were taking my time I would use this as an example of genre expectations and reader enjoyment, and will cheerfully expand if you give me an excuse.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Jared Diamond): Why did Europeans take over the world? Conversely, why did other aggregates of humanity not spread their influence across the globe? I think my comments to toraks pretty much sum my reaction: great idea, but so broad many details may be quibbled. I think it's important to remember that the book was published in 1997 and research keeps messing with Diamond's ideas. Corn dating, diseases we gave to cattle, other stuff I just haven't seen yet, but I'm sure is out there. Also, people other than me have complained they get bored with Diamond beating the reader over the head with his broad thesis (geography's influence on food production is the ultimate cause of The World As We Know It). I enjoyed seeing different examples of the same idea, but I can also see how other people might roll their eyes as he reiterates the Failure To Take Over The World checklist for the Americas, Africa, New Guinea, Australia, etc etc etc.So I think it's awesome, but I also think it should be read with a critical eye.

Uhura's Song (Janet Kagan): I mentioned to [personal profile] norabombay I was reading this, and she said, "oh, the proto-furry novel?" I think the original ST tie-in novels weren't as rigidly policed then as some franchises are now. Entertaining, but the most lightweight of fluff. )

I reread random parts of The Gate of Ivory (Doris Egan) because it's comfort reading. Lightweight, transparent prose, a sense of humor compatible with mine, a plot that doesn't challenge my attention span.
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Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik / [livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Way to cliffhanger, Novik! )

Ha'Penny (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): Remember what I was saying about writing to entertain? Walton is writing to tell an idea in story form. Her character's trucks are gonna break, their dogs will be shot, their wives will leave them. I want to say something about gender roles and Carmichael and Jack, whose PoV would probably be enlightening. Why doesn't Jack get a job too? I come from the two income household assumption, and also from the "construction workers are hot" mindset, so I may be missing the point here. Series structure note: Carmichael PoV limited 3rd past; female protagonist limited 1st epistolary. Nifty trick, since it gives you a reserved point of view, and a distorted one.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood (Oliver Sacks): For anyone like me, who hasn't been paying attention, Oliver Sacks is awesome. The title pretty much encapsulates the book: childhood, science, colorful twist. It's a love letter to science. Sacks talks about such and such a part of growing up - uncles, parents, the nanny, World War Two child evacuations - and then wanders off to talk about physics, or the history of chemistry. Sacks also includes many, many entertaining footnotes (he blames Mendeleev's footnotes in The Principles of Chemistry, which he writes about in terms that make me want to read it too). Sacks loves science, and is well-versed in the history of science, which he uses to lead into and out of his own childhood. Sacks had a large family, including several uncles involved in industry and applied chemistry or physics. If you think this didn't impact his life, you'd be so wrong. There's something to be said for family expectations and how they play out in your life (see also Sacks's mother arranging an introduction to human anatomy at age fourteen - because every 14 year old wants to dissect the corpse of another 14 year old). It's difficult to write a biography without saying something about the people who impacted that life, and in this case, chemistry and chemical concepts are at least as prominent as the people. Very fun biography.
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I didn't intentionally read two novels of alternate history focusing on the UK this week, but that's what happened. If you ever need an illustration in the difference between honor and reputation*, do Empire of Ivory and Ha'Penny as paired reads.

*The Bujold definitions, with honor being what you know about yourself, and reputation being what others know about you.

I'm a lot more worried about Carmichael's ultimate fate than I am about Laurence's, but that's what having a dragon who's smarter than you will do for your luck roll.
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If I do not post this now I will never finish it.

The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler): The play which gets annual stage time on college campuses (and youtube). Since it's a play, it really should be seen, not read, to get the full effect. However, I keep brilliantly noticing it's playing about a week after the performance(s).

Too much girly feelings-sharing makes me nervous. I know I have schizophrenic trust issues, and I mostly accept this. The Vagina Monologues are all about sharing your feelings, and getting a little TMI, and safe spaces, and it probably says something that my favorite piece was "Because He Liked To Look At It", which is one of the funny pieces, not one of the Deeply Tragical monologues. (Links: YouTube - and it says a thing that I only got one hit on that monologue - and text.) Letting it all hang out goes against my grain, unless it's done with courtesy, intelligence and humor that cuts sharper and quicker than rage.

Star Wars: X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar (Aaron Allston): Wedge Antilles breaks up with girlfriend Qwi Xux, and is conveniently assigned to a diplomatic mission on a pilot-lovin' planet with which the New Republic would really like an alliance. Recommended after romance complaints for Wedge-and-Iella content. Complete fluff. Allston has a weakness for repetition that drives me nuts, and could really use a copy editor to clean up sentences like, "she was beautiful, but it was not her beauty that jolted Wedge - not her beauty that made him feel as though he had taken a punch to the gut."

The romance: it was a B-plot in an action story and did what it was supposed to, which is give two secondary characters a happy relationship. I was surprised by how little bearing it had on the A-plot; "Wedge and Iella in love" could have been "Wedge and Iella in best friends forever land" with much the same impact on the main action story.

Plot comments: pilots, no Jedi. Flying, no fathers. Comedy, not tragedy. Deep like the puddles you happily splash through in your small yellow rainboots. If there's a message or theme, it is that you should treat people with respect and honor, and they'll reward you with courage, love, and gaudy cloaks you want to burn. And nothing don't mean nothing if it ain't free.

Edit: Shoutout to [livejournal.com profile] scifantasy for being a total fanboy and correcting the title.

Farthing (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): A prominent politician is murdered in 1949 Britain, eight years after a peace settlement with Nazi Germany.

By the way, this is alternate history.

I've read most of Walton's novels to date, because how can you not root for an author whose usenet sig reads, I kissed a kif at Kefk? Really solid fun. )

Glasshouse (Charles Stross): A postop memory surgery job decides to participate in a psychology experiment simulating pre-Acceleration social dynamics.

Readable, but not memorable. )

Conclusions? Rec for the SF crowd; not running down the street trying to shove this down people's throats. Adequate storytelling.

In the Bleak Midwinter (Julia Spencer-Fleming):
Live son of dead girl:
detective complications.
Snow sweeps Millers Kill.

A baby on the church steps brings together Police chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson in an investigation that points at the most and least respected families of small town Miller's Kill. (Together, they fight crime!) Kill is an example of borrowing from Dutch, and refers to a creek. The doubled English meaning is merely convenient for mystery writers.

Cut for spoilers and length. Together, they fight crime! )

Conclusions: I would rec this to romance readers looking for a mystery; I might rec this to mystery readers who don't mind romance; I am saving the rest of the series for trashy travel reading, or any time I want an excuse to displace some yelling about characters flying in the face of sense. The blurbs are compelling, and the characters given sufficient backstory and depth that I am curious about what happens next ("together, they fight crime!"), but my curiosity is tempered by the occasional character idiocy.
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If there's a theme this month, it's, "but your meta is so good! Why is your book not so good?"

Self-Made Man (Norah Vincent): Woman decides to cross-dress to explore that age-old question, "but how does it feel to be a man?" Yes, I did read this for the titilation factor. Two things strike me: the temptation to check off central themes bandied about in women's studies courses, and how joyless and relatively humorless the author makes the entire process seem. If you're going to transgress social norms, you may as well have fun, no? The author had a breakdown at the end of the book, about a year and a half into her exploration into masculinity, which may have something to do with the tone. Her experiences are interesting, but every chapter leaves me thinking, "you know, you make it sound like life as a man is a terrible thing, an emotional wasteland - except I'm pretty sure it's a little more complicated than that." Also, I think Vincent failed to fully acknowledge the impact of class and race on her personal experiences with masculinity. For example, door-to-door sales (one job she tried) are soul-destroying regardless of gender. A cushy internship at dad's law office is something else. For men or women.

Conclusions? Flawed, but thought-provoking. Gentlemen, pipe up: do you feel like you're living in an emotional wasteland? Discuss.

Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton/[livejournal.com profile] papersky): Self-described Victorian novel with dragons. I appreciated the elegance and artifice of the many plot threads concluding happily, but suspect I'd get a lot more out of this if Pride and Prejudice had inspired me to read more regencies.

"A Gift of Wings" (Sarah Monette/[livejournal.com profile] truepenny): Monette keeps doing cool meta in her lj, but her actual fiction does nothing for me. "A Gift of Wings" is a romance, which means the narrative tension should derive from the lovers overcoming obstacles to be together, but in this case, the primary obstacle seems to be the traumatized wizard and the battle-hardened mercenary not talking to each other. For months. When the narrative voice reflects that "he made it plain without so much as a word that they were lovers no longer" I tend to gag a bit.

Digression on romance, by way of quests. )

The characters are adequately crafted (if love-struck fools), the setting nicely evoked, and - to me - the plot a complete turnoff. Even the smutty bits do nothing for me. YMMV, especially if you like romances.

On the other hand, a traumatized wizard and a battle-hardened mercenary woman must solve a murder they are accused of committing. Together, they fight crime!

("A Gift of Wings" was published in The Queen in Winter, a collection of romances written by Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Sharon Shinn and Sarah Monette. Had I realized what I was getting into, I would have totally not ILL'd this. Not a romantic!)

Black Powder War (Naomi Novik/[livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Look! It's an overland Asia trip with dragons, and then it's a Napoleonic land battle with dragons! Mild book 3 spoilers, comment on book 4 chapter 1 preview. )

And there I go, getting gleeful about horrible deaths. Like I said, I'm here for the worldbuilding; plot and characterization are a little secondary. Though I may get attached to Iskierka, pluckiness and all.

July previews: I'm 30 pages from the end of Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable, which involves a lot of circa early '90s computer modeling, and generally isn't as cool as The Selfish Gene. But I'll at least have some nonfiction finished this month. Also, Fifth Business is kicking around my room, so I'll probably knock that off Real Soon Now.
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Late, they say, is better than never. This has only been sitting in my "trim loose ends and post" queue for ten days now.

Wizard's Holiday (Diane Duane): Fluffy! )

Tam Lin (Diana Wynne Jones): Reread. )

Fudoki (Kij Johnson): Found this one via word of mouth. )

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J. K. Rowling): First spring break book. )

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers (Tom Standage): Hey, nonfiction! )

The King's Name (Jo Walton): Sequel to The King's Peace, and wraps up the duology. Very good, in a quiet way. I need to keep an eye out for Walton's books.

Lost in a Good Book (Jasper Fforde): Starting with a slightly off-kilter quote, and proceeding to massive spoilage. )

Crown Duel and Court Duel (Sherwood Smith): Low density fantasy. )
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See? Not as late as July! Go me!

Cutting for major spoilers and some space. May come back and cut for space more once I post this and see how much space it hogs.

(Nine books. Nine. Shoot. Granted, some of them were short, but others were five hundred pages. Probably won't read this many novels again until I get another insane commute like August's. Given where I live, it shouldn't be more than three years... anyway. On to the stories.)

The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (Nominated for the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel): The Black Plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated third to half of the continental population. What if it had wiped out 99% of the European population? How would history play out if Chinese and Islamic culture dominated, rather than European? And what if souls reincarnated, grouping together in multiple lifetimes, so that stories set a thousand years apart might be the adventures of the one protagonist? Kim Stanley Robinson throws a monkey wrench in the mechanics of history and writes down how it might play out. Sort of.

Spoilers? What spoilers? You mean the ones under this cut? )

On the balance, it’s KSR. If you like his relaxed writing style and socialist/environmental politics, you’ll probably enjoy The Years of Rice and Salt.

O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King: Mary Sue Russell and her mentor/partner Sherlock Holmes temporarily escape a messy and potentially lethal case in London, risking their lives in the Holy Land in January 1919. Set smack in the middle of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book in the series, but written between The Moor and Justice Hall (see below).

If I recall correctly, I first read this during a Laurie King binge a couple years ago. Beats The Moor hands down.

Justice Hall, Laurie R. King: A very direct sequel to O Jerusalem. The most striking thing about it, for me, is a theme it shares with LRK’s Martinelli series: an authorial love of generational continuity and expensive houses intersecting with some less rooted or more ambiguously rooted characters. Russell gushes about the centuries of history imbued in Justice Hall's very walls; Kate Martinelli and her partner Lee sink sweat, time and money into Lee’s dead... aunt’s? mother’s? house on Russian Hill. The central mystery, such as it is, unfolds with authorial deliberation and enjoyable twists, but is almost incidental to LRK’s interest in continuity and the changing British social landscape of the 1920's.

The King’s Peace, Jo Walton: Would you believe I didn’t pick up that this was an Arthurian retelling until two hundred or more pages in? Comments waiting on finding and finishing The King’s Name the second half of the story.

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin: Everyone dreams; most people’s dreams don’t affect reality. George Orr’s do, and it terrifies him. The state-assigned psychiatrist he is forced to see after a drug overdose read as an apparent suicide attempt is fascinated by these "effective dreams" and uses George to rewrite the world a bit. Okay, more than a bit. George is disturbed. The reader resists the urge to earmark and pencil in examples of Le Guin’s bulletproof literary kinks pet ideas.

Dawn, Octavia Butler: The War is gone, as is most of the human race. Lilith Iyapo (people famliar with Bible-based religious traditions will note the significance and irony of the name) is one of the survivors saved by the Oankali, aliens without the human biological imperative for conflict, but with an imperative to "trade" genetic structure with other species, willing or otherwise. The novel narrates Lilith’s reluctant acceptance of a role as the resentful bridge between the humans and the Oankali.

The Oankali have a classically cool S.F.nal idea going for them: a three sex reproductive system, involving up to five participants. They also subvert a lot of classic memes. Their behavior toward humanity is peaceful, benevolent and more invasive than any "conquer the puny Earthlings" military campaign. Their trade imperative is read by most of the characters as infecting the human genome with frightening, alien characteristics. Science fiction has reiterated the clash of cultures theme from a dominant culture’s point of view plenty of times; Dawn is about the effects on (and by) the "weaker" culture. Humans hate and fear the Oankali, but are prized by that species of assimilators for their adaptability and creativity.

This has some obvious applications to the history of the United States, and the Americas at large.

Ill Met in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber: All hail the adventures of the indomitable Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser! Old school sword-and-sorcery of the type much mocked by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but with a flair for dramatic language and humor. The city of Lankhmar has probably inspired a number of D&D games, and several series currently in production, such as Steven Brust’s Vlad novels and P.C. Hodgell’s Jaime books, very likely also trace some roots to Fritz Lieber’s novels. If you find any of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novels, they’re slightly dated in attitude and their use of language, but very much worth reading for their lively protagonists and fantastical plots.

The Service of the Sword, David Weber et al: latest collection of stories set in the Honorverse. People who have read the previous three collections know the drill: Weber writes a story about Honor, the Navy, or the treecats and other authors fill in gaps that interest them. This time, Jane Lindskold, Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, Victor Mitchell, and Eric Flint step up to the Honorverse. )

A Wolf at the Door, and Other Retold Fairy Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds: Short story collection filed under YA at the library. I checked it out for the Garth Nix story, a rather gruesome retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but really enjoyed several other stories in the collection. A fast, easy read, including contributions from a lot of big name authors, including Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen. Possibly my favorite story in the collection was "Swans" a retelling of the same myth used in [livejournal.com profile] pegkerr's The Wild Swans, which was about family, love, noise and silence when I wanted to hear about those things.

Edited Sept. 12 to add: The Cinderella retooling annoyed me, though, smacking into current buttons regarding the importance of self-motivation and determination in life.

Edited Oct 17 to add: Forgot about Sorcery and Cecelia, which I had to have read sometime in August.



September's book list will almost certainly be shorter, unless people are keenly interested in a blow-by-blow account of my struggles with functional groups in two different courses, but I've got some good stuff on hand: more Octavia Butler, The Paths of the Dead (finished it this weekend, and... oh. Even fangirl squeals fail. I think Brust may be leaping up the purchase priority list as soon as I confirm the pub date for The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. And oh, thank any and all deities and divinities for interlibrary loan, which granted me Paths and will eventually eventually land The Lord of Castle Black in my trembling hands.)

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