Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl
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Record-breaking catchup on book blogging

I know I always say I've fallen behind, but this is getting ridiculous. I'm going to put the whole thing behind a cut to spare your friends page my epic meanderings.


63. Black Wine (Candas Jane Dorsey)
This book is complex, self-referential, and sometimes disturbing. It is, of course, right up my alley. The story's not told linearly, and for the first half of the book, it's an open question whether there's any relationship between the different strands beyond the thematic echoes between them. When everything does get tied together, it's like a jigsaw puzzle where everything has its place. It's a book about families, both those you're born with and those you make; it's also about slavery, and about freedom, and about possible societal structures. There are utopian impulses and hellish possibilities. It's science fiction, but it sometimes feels like fantasy, so much so that I was often jolted by the reminders that high technology exists in this world/these societies. It's a fascinating book, and it makes me want to dissect it at length. *****

64. The Tower at Stony Wood (Patricia A. McKillip)
This is, like much of McKillip's writing, a fairy tale for grownups. Everything happens in a dream-world where intentions become reality and everything happens for a reason -- generally, an emotional and metaphorical reason. The novel evokes the Lady of Shallott story, with a woman in a tower embroidering -- or are there two women? And two towers? As is often the case in McKillip's novels, there are no real bad guys, and everything that seems evil or dangerous is simply a force pushing towards the resolution of some long-standing dispute or misunderstanding. The writing is very much like a magic spell itself, pulling you into a world that seems more like a song than reality. And sometimes that's what you need -- something that's the antithesis of "gritty". ****

65. Ring of Swords (Eleanor Arnason)
This is a fascinating book. It's the story of a woman studying alien intelligence who suddenly finds herself caught up in diplomatic negotiations with the only known intelligent aliens. It's also the story of the human "traitor" who's been living among those aliens for years. The aliens are great -- they're similar to humans in a lot of ways, and could be accused of being "Star Trek aliens" (so humanoid that they're basically just humans in fur suits or green face paint or whatever). But they have a profoundly different society and understanding of a being's place in the universe, which leads to serious misunderstandings. Aliens that aren't just menacing others are really hard to write well, but Arnason succeeds (you could argue that they're too human, but I think the issue is adequately addressed in the books itself). It's a great story, too. And who else would think of an alien interpretation of Shakespeare as a pivotal plot point? ****

66. The Virtu (Sarah Monette)
The sequel to Mélusine, this novel is the story of half-brothers Felix and Mildmay, and of their journey back to Mélusine to try to fix what Felix's evil former master used Felix to break. Felix, who was out of his mind for most of the previous book, is sane again, which makes him more interesting as a character but no more likeable. You don't often see books that hang so much of the story on a fundamentally unlikeable protagonist, and although you can feel sympathy for Felix, it's hard to really like him beyond that. Mildmay is much more likeable, but his motivations are more opaque -- not even he understands why he cares so much for Felix, and why he's so driven to follow him around. The pacing in this novel is much smoother than the last -- having two sane narrators probably helps -- and the story has a much clearer, better-defined shape to it. It's a travel story, so some of its episodic nature feels more natural. And I knew I was getting drawn into the story when I started wanted to smack Mildmay upside of the head. ****

67. The White Mare (Jules Watson)
Randomly selected from the library shelves, this is a pretty standard "acient Britain clash of cultures" story. It's actually set in what is now Scotland, and deals with the time period when the Romans were trying to capture all of the British Isles. There's a beautiful, red-haired priestess, who must defend her people by allying with a foreign warrior (from what is now Ireland). There's True Love, foreshadowed by prophetic dreams, and blocked by the Dark Secret in the priestess' past. There's an Evil Druid. And so on. It's a little paint-by-numbers, but it is quite readable, and not half bad for a book of this type. ***

68. A Companion to Wolves (Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear)
This book takes the telepathic-companion-animal fantasy trope and takes it to its logical conclusion. It's an absorbing story, and very well told. It is definitely not for the faint of heart -- some of those logical conclusions are pretty darn unsettling and hard to read, and Monette and Bear do not shirk from them. Ultimately, though, it's not about the trope anymore -- instead, it's a story of survival and companionship, and it's really good. But I would not recommend it for anyone who's sqeamish -- this is not your traditional telepathic-companion-animal fantasy. *****

69, 70, 71, 72. 52: vols 1, 2, 3, 4 (Geoff Johns, J.G. Jones, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, et al)
In retrospect, I'm not sure why I let fairplaythings talk me into reading this. It's not really a friendly storyline for the non-obsessive comic book reader. In fact, it tends to degenerate into "look at me drop in a completely obscure character that half of you have forgotten about and the other half have never heard of! I'm so clever!" This starts to get annoying, to say the least. It's also a very frustrating read, because it seems to be trying to assemble itself into a coherent story, but it never quite manages it. I kept expecting all the different story lines to not just intersect, but come together -- to be one big story. But they weren't. They were just a whole bunch of separate stories packed into one weekly comic. There was no payoff for the constant intercutting of way too many stories about way too many mostly-obscure characters. And a lot of those storylines never really felt like full stories. Let's not even get me started on the whole "let's create a female superhero whose sole reason to exist is as a motivation for a male superhero -- first by being so good she makes him good too, and then by dying tragically so that he can go crazy and bad" thing. Now, I'll admit that there were some good bits to this series, but overall, it really didn't live up to the hype. **

73. Ultra: Seven Days (the Luna brothers)
Superheroine looking for love. It's not a bad idea, and this isn't a bad book. It telegraphs some of its major plot twists just a little too much for my taste (but then, I do tend to see these things coming), and it doesn't fully explain other events, so the storytelling is not as coherent as it could have been. The art is very nice - soft and dreamy. The story is a bit slight, but no more so than a TV sitcom. It's not really my thing, but it's a nice little tale. ***

74. Lavinia (Ursula K. LeGuin)
This is a fascinating book. Lavinia is a peculiarly inert, passive character, but LeGuin manages to imbue her with a rich inner life and reasons for her actions, or lack thereof. I particularly like the little twist whereby Lavinia is aware of her fictional nature, although none of the other characters are. Self-aware characters really appeal to me. I like, too, that there are things that matter to Lavinia, and that she has her own beliefs which she will do anything to defend. However, I did find her fundamental passivity a little distressing, even though it's amply justified. The writing, as with most LeGuin, is like clear water -- it doesn't call attention to itself, while being eloquent and well-chosen. ****

75. The Mirador (Sarah Monette)
For the first time in the series, Monette introduces a third narrator, eliminating the neat back and forth between Felix and Mildmay that we've had up to now. Mehitabel is a very appealing narrative voice, and her sections are a pleasure to read, but it's a bit surprising to see such importance given to her after such an exclusive focus on the brothers. It is nice to have a voice who's not tied up in that relationship to listen to, though. In this book, I have to again complain a little bit about the pacing. There's a sudden event late in the book that completely upsets everything you thought the story was about. Maybe that's not really pacing so much as an intentional unsettling, but it does point to something that bothers me about Monette's books: they don't really have the shape of books. They just tell the story as they go along, and at a certain point, they stop. Threads are left dangling, to be picked up in later books (sometimes quite a bit later, and with relatively little context), and storylines seem to be just starting when the book ends. I'm enjoying the continuing story, but I can't help longing for a little more shape, a bit of predictability. Other than that, though, I have nothing to complain about. ****

76, 77. Y: the Last Man (vol. 9, 10) (Brian K. Vaughan et al)
I'm very sad to say that the long-awaited wrap-up of this series leaves something to be desired. Although we've been told all along that there was a plan, it doesn't really feel like a planned wrap-up. It's more like, around about volume 7 or 8, a decision was made that 10 volumes was a good length, and everything was shoehorned in to fit. There's never any good explanation of what caused all males to die in the first place -- rather, we're provided with a series of pretty absurd theories, and we're supposed to pick the one we like best. Nor is there any good explanation of how society rebuilds itself -- all we know is that it does. There's a suggestion that animals are somehow starting to reproduce and have two sexes again, but no indication of how, and whether that would eventually apply to humans or not. In short, there's a lot of unanswered questions. The conclusion of the romantic threads is frustrating, too -- because things seem to happen for narrative reasons rather than for any real good reason. And the future world we see at the end of volume 10 doesn't actually seem to flow with any real logic from where we were at the end of the real-time story. All this to say, it was a disappointing end to a series that started off so promisingly. ***

78. Fables (vol. 10): The Good Prince (Bill Willingham et al)
A whole book, pretty much entirely about Flycatcher -- er, Prince Ambrose. And it's a good book, too. It's almost a fairy tale itself -- magic is fully present, and behaves like magic rather than like something fully understood. Things happen with fairy-tale logic, because they must. There are knights in shining armour, and ghosts, and the return of several well-loved characters who'd been killed off. And, off to the side, we get hints of a little more of what Frau Tottenkinder's really up to... *****

79. The System of the World (Neal Stephenson)
Stephenson exerts a rather heroic effort here to pull all of his disparate threads together, and to give every one of his bajillion characters a happy ending (or as close to one as possible). Nobody but Stephenson could have pulled it off, but then nobody but Stephenson would even have attempted something like the Baroque Cycle in the first place. It's still an absorbing read, which is pretty incredible given that we're basically talking about a 3000 page book (okay, not quite -- but nearly). While I might quibble with some elements, I'm going to settle for applauding the ambition and the effort and the fact that it really did work astonishingly well. ****

80. Fire and Hemlock (Diana Wynne Jones)
This is a peculiar book -- most of it is recently-remembered backstory, and it's only near the end that we're suddenly catapulted back into the book's present. The pacing is a little odd as a result. Polly, the heroine, has two sets of memories -- one perfectly ordinary and dull, and one dominated by a unusual childhood friendship. Once she realizes what's happened, she has to act quickly to save that friendship and, of course, to thwart the bad guys. I knew going in that I was dealing with a Tam Lin story, so I was alert to what was going on, and figured it out more quickly than I might have otherwise. I would imagine that, not knowing that, you'd find it a very strange read indeed. But it does pick you up and carry you along, so that you're at the climax before you even realize it. ****


81. Tam Lin (Pamela Dean)
I first read this book when I was in high school, and I loved it then. Inspired by Janet, I stuck elvish words on the door of my bedroom. I was reminded of it by Jo Walton's discussion of it on Tor.com (and if you happened to suspect that a lot of my recent reading comes from books suggested by Jo, you'd be right). I loved it just as much as I remembered. I can see why some people might not -- the pacing is just as odd as Fire and Hemlock's, if not more so, and the magic elements are almost entirely invisible until the last chapter or two. But somehow it works, at least for me. Although it did make me terribly nostalgic for university (not that my university days were full of fairies and people who could quote poetry at will, but they were full of reading and thinking and inspiration - sigh.). *****


 

Whew. I really do have to do this more often.


1. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (Douglas E. Hofstadter) ****
2. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) ****
3. Od Magic (Patricia A. McKillip) ****
4. The Walking Boy (Lydia Kwa) *
5. The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed (Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter) ****
6. The Girl Who Was Plugged In/Screwtop (James Tiptree, Jr./Vonda N. McIntyre) *****
7. Tori Amos: Piece By Piece (Tori Amos and Ann Powers) ***
8. Coldheart Canyon (Clive Barker) ***
9. The Infinite Plan (Isabel Allende) **
10. Ysabel (Guy Gavriel Kay) ****
11. Stardust (Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess) *****
12. Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) ****
13.The Ladies of Grace Adieu (Susanna Clarke) *****
14. An Embarassment of Mangoes (Ann Vanderhoof) **
15. The Lions of Al-Rassan (Guy Gavriel Kay) ****
16. Shake Hands with the Devil (Romeo Dallaire) ****
17. Rollback (Robert J. Sawyer) ****
18. Singularity Sky (Charlie Stross) ****
19. The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Susan Faludi) *****
20. White as Snow (Tanith Lee) ***
21. Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge) *****
22. The Visitor (Sherri S. Tepper) ***
23. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
24. Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: Twentieth Annual Collection (ed. Ellen Datlow, Kelley Link and Gavin J. Grant) ****
25. Madras on Rainy Days (Samina Ali) **
26. The Prestige (Christopher Priest) ****
27. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Michael Chabon) ****
28. The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham) ****
29. The Android's Dream (John Scalzi) ****
30. Promethea Volume 1 (Alan Moore et al.) ****
31. Starman Omnibus (James Robinson et al.) ***
32. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) *****
33. Slipstreams (ed. Martin Greenberg) ****
34. Flat Earth: the History of an Infamous Idea (Christine Garwood) ****
35. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
36. Promethea Volume 2 (Alan Moore et al) ***
37. Dust (Elizabeth Bear) *****
38. Path of Fate (Diana Pharaoh Francis) ***
39. The Lottery and Other Stories (Shirley Jackson) *****
40. The Drawing of the Dark (Tim Powers) ****
41. Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair (Laurie Perry) ****
42. Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping (Judith Levine) **
43. Understanding Comics (Scott McCloud) ****
44. Promethea vol. 3 (Alan Moore et al.) ***
45. The Colour of Magic (Terry Pratchett) ****
46. Gender Trouble (Judith Butler) ***
47, 48. Path of Honor/Path of Blood **
49. Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik) ****
50. Reading Comics (Douglas Wolk) ****
51. Quicksilver (Neal Stephenson) ****
52. Blood and Iron (Elizabeth Bear) *****
53. The Alchemist's Daughter (Katharine McMahon) ***
54. The Powerbook (Jeanette Winterson) ****
55, 56. Promethea vol 4, vol. 5 (Alan Moore et al.) ****
57. Carnival (Elizabeth Bear) ****
58. The Mismeasure of Women (Carol Tavris) ****
59. The Confusion (Neal Stephenson) ****
60. Mélusine (Sarah Monette) ****
61. Whiskey and Water (Elizabeth Bear) *****
62. The Light Fantastic (Terry Pratchett) ****
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