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Bookaramarama

Wow. I appear to be reading a lot this year. To be fair, there has been a higher-than-usual proportion of graphic novels/trade comic collections.


55. Death Note, vol. 2: Confluence (Oba Tsugumi)
Okay, I am not sure how I feel about the super-amazing former FBI agent who just wanted to settle down with her fiance and have kittens, but now that he's dead she's going to be all bad-ass. Yeah. That doesn't work for me so much. Otherwise, though, the story continues to be interesting, and doesn't seem to be letting Light off the hook for all his killings. You've got to wonder what's wrong with him, though, that he doesn't seem to have any guilt about it? ***

56. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
I really wanted to like this book -- the blurbs and reviews were all so positive! -- but found myself disappointed. The Library of Forgotten Books, an image that really appealed to me, turned out to be no more than a way of kick-starting the plot, which rapidly descended into melodrama and bad thriller clichés. I didn't much like any of the ostensible heroes, and kept waiting for the women (who were essentially attractive cyphers for them to fall in love with) to smack them upside the head or something. **

57. Tesseracts 12 (ed. Claude Lalumière)
The choice to make this edition of Tesseracts all novellas in an interesting one. I imagine the selection process must have been tough. As always, some are better than others -- that's the nature of an anthology. There was a decent amount of range in terms of variety of stories. Not my favourite of the Tesseracts collections I've read, though I can't quite put my finger on why. ***

58. Tesseracts 13 (ed. Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell)
This edition of Tesseracts is horror-themed, although in a lot of the stories, the horrific elements were rather muted. Contemporary horror is all about the psychological, isn't it? ****

59. Pretties (Scott Westerfeld)
This book suffers a bit from being the middle book of a trilogy, which affects its pacing and plotting. Unlike the first book, which was a complete story arc, this book does a lot of setting things up and getting characters into position. I'm a little skeptical of Tally's (SPOILER) ability to overcome the lesions just by "thinking herself" smart (/SPOILER), especially given that the system is apparently in use world-wide and has presumably been pretty thoroughly tested, but I guess the hero has to be remarkeable, right? I did like seeing confirmation that the Pretties are definitely not white, something I had suspected from the first book, but which was made clearer here with mentions of Littlies who were so pale-skinned they had to be protected from sunburn. ***

60. Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant)
I suspect this is the kind of book most people will either love or hate. Much of what makes it work (or not work, as the case may be) is the narrative voice of Oddly (Audrey) Flowers. Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, to which is will probably be endlessly compared, it's the story of someone who doesn't see the world quite as we are used to seeing it, and who has to unravel her family's history in order to come to terms with it. I found the constant wordplay helped to keep a light touch on a story that's otherwise really about a young woman mourning her suddenly-dead father. The family secret is probably pretty obvious to most readers from relatively early on, but what's important is how Oddly discovers and understands it. ****

61. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (Kate Summerscale)
A historical true-crime story that reads like the detective stories it inspired. It's quite clever and well-done. The case in question is an interesting, upsetting case of murder of a child. Summerscale does a good job of calling to our notice the ways that class prejudice/assumptions about proper behavious played into the theories about the case. ****

62. By the Mountain Bound (Elizabeth Bear)
The angst, oh the angst! This is a prequel to All the Windwracked Stars, but knowing how it's going to turn out doesn't lessen the suspense. This is much more mythological-fantastic and much less cyberpunk-apocalypse in its trappings, but the world still manages to be fascinating and strange. I'm now very much looking forward to the third volume, The Sea Thy Mistress, to see how it all comes out... *****

63. Dreamsnake (Vonda N. McIntyre)
The book starts out like a fantasy -- in a desert where snakes are used for healing -- but it quickly becomes apparent that this is actually science fiction proper, with some surprisingly complex world-building. We're in a post-apocalyptic world, with offworlders who may or may not be aliens, snakes that definitely are alien, and separate cultures of people inside Domes who refuse almost any contact with people outside the domes. There's advanced genetic engineering, and low-technology nomadic cultures. The story is ostensibly about Snake's efforts to get a new dreamsnake when hers is killed, but it's actually more about the people Snake meets and how she ends up forming her own family. This book is something of a classic, and it holds up surprisingly well. *****

64. The Unwritten, vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Mike Carey et al)
There is a lot of very interesting stuff being set up in this comic, with fiction ("stories") and the real world apparently intersecting in very peculiar ways... I am looking forward to seeing how things play out. I get the feeling Mike Carey knows where he's going with this series -- I hope I'm right. ****

65. The Stepsister Scheme (Jim C. Hines)
This is a delicious little piece of fluff that imagines a trio of fairy-tale princesses -- Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella -- as a sort of fantasy Charlie's Angels. ****

66. Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (Bryan Lee O'Malley)
Personal growth FTW! In this concluding volume of the Scott Pilgrim series, Knives finally gets to stand up for herself. And turns 18. That was very satisfying (the standing up for herself bit, I mean). It may not be the best book in the series (now I have to think about which one I would call the best... hmmm...), but it is a totally acceptable conclusion, nicely wrapping things up -- as much as things are ever wrapped up in the real world. ****

67. Specials (Scott Westerfeld)
It's finally hit me: the future world portrayed in these books is more fantasy than science fiction. We're to imagine that the Rusty culture (that's us) was entirely destroyed by an oil-eating organism, but that the new culture that developed had no problem coming up with completely eco-friendly recyclable everything and perfect solar power. Not to mention the medical technology to allow for near-constant surgeries with almost no recovery time! That aside, Specials is very much like the other two books in the series. The perspective broadens; for the first time, we get to see a different City, and for the first time, Tally's actions affect the world at large. I'm not sure I buy the degree of revolution that happens almost by chance, but it's a decent, adventure-filled finale to the series. ***

68. Kindred (Octavia Butler)
Wow, that was depressing. Actually, depressing's the wrong world. Powerful, maybe, though that makes it sound like a Book Club book, and although it certainly could be read profitably by many a book club, it's so much "more" than that. The story is about a woman who time-travels back to the South of the 19th century to save the life of one of her ancestors, and finds herself caught up in the culture of slavery. Jo Walton (link: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/04/octavia-butlers-kindred) says of the book that it makes "every other time travel book in the world look as if it's wimping out", which I think is accurate. *****

69. Bone and Jewel Creatures (Elizabeth Bear)
Forget the plot, this little book is all about the images. And the image of jewel-encrusted creatures built from bone and wire is fascinating and beautiful. And the characters are credible and complex, despite their limited amount of time to express themselves and, okay, the plot is interesting and not quite as straightforward as it seems. *****

70. China Mountain Zhang (Maureen F. McHugh)
Here's another case of a book with exceptional world-building, but little in the way of a plot. There is a plot, sort of -- it's the story of Zhang's life as he finds a profession and a lifestyle that makes him happy -- but it's not about the plot. It's about the creation of a complete, textured world in which China has become the world's dominant culture, the U.S. has gone through a "proletariat revolution" and Mars is being colonized. And it's about how people live in that world, and how they make spaces for themselves. There are entire sections of the book that are only loosely linked to our protagonist, but they are important for giving us further perspectives, for seeing how other people live. I admit, I kept waiting for the plot to kick in -- the jacket copy had given me the impression that there was going to be a bit of a thriller plot -- but the book as it is makes for absorbing and thought-provoking reading. ****

71. Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (ed. Justine Larbaleister)
Here's an interesting approach to an anthology of feminist sf academic writing: publish a series of short stories, and an essay on each of the stories. It makes for almost an introductory reader in the area of feminist sf, and creates some interesting juxtapositions. The story selections are varied; some are the classics that get discussed constantly ("Rachel in Love", for example), while others are stories I had never read by authors I'd never heard of. Some of the essays seem rather shallower than I might like, scraping the surface of their subject matter rather than really digging into it, but I suppose some of that is trying to make the book accessible to people outside the field. Still, a collection well worth taking a look at. ****

72, 73, 74, 75. Seed to Harvest: Wild Seed, Mind of my Mind, Clay's Ark, Patternmaster (Octavia Butler)
There is something positively reassuring about seeing that Octavia Butler's very early work isn't particularly good -- in fact, it's about on a par with my university-age writings! Maybe I can grow up to be Octavia Butler after all! Okay, maybe not. Because even her not-that-great work (and I'm talking about Patternmaster here) manages to set up the endpoint of a series of much better books, including the really exceptionally good (and depressing) Clay's Ark. Butler does seem to have a rather pessimistic view of people -- or maybe it's merely realistic. But her characters so often seem to give in, to accept the necessity of servitude in the interests of survival, even if it's harmful in the long term. You see this in the Xenogenesis books, too -- it really does seem to be something of a theme with her. **** (overall; the individual volumes get rather different ratings)


The list so far...

1. The Hickory Staff *
2. Shelter (Susan Palwick) *****
3. Cast in Shadow (Michelle Sagara) ***
4,5,6. The Book of Jhereg (Steven Brust): Jhereg, Yendi, Teckla *****
7. Brokedown Palace (Steven Brust) ****
8,9. The Book of Taltos (Steven Brust): Taltos, Phoenix
10. Fray (Joss Whedon et al)  ****
11. The Court of the Air (Stephen Hunt) ****
12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Buffy Season 8 vol. 1-5 ***
17, 18. Angel After the Fall vol. 1-2 **
19. War for the Oaks (Emma Bull) ****
20. Ink (Hal Duncan) ****
21, 22. The Book of Athyra (Steven Brust): Athyra, Orca ****
23. Undertow (Elizabeth Bear) ****
24. The Phoenix Guards (Steven Brust) ****
25, 26, 27. Hammered, Scardown, Worldwired (Elizabeth Bear) ****
28. Five Hundred Years After (Steven Brust) ****
29. Dragon (Steven Brust) ****
30. Issola (Steven Brust) ****
31. Dzur (Steven Brust) ****
32. The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Edward Luttwak) ***
33. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 1: The Paths of the Dead (Steven Brust) ****
34. Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) *****
35. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 2: The Lord of Castle Black (Steven Brust)
36. Preacher vol. 1: Gone to Texas (Garth Ennis et al) ****
37. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 3: Sethra Lavode (Steven Brust)
38. Death Note vol. 1: Boredom (Oba Tsugumi) ****
39. Fruits Basket vol. 1 (Takaya Natsuki) *
40. The Gears of the City (Felix Gilman) *****
41. Transmetropolitan vol. 1: Back on the Street (Warren Ellis et al.) ***
42. Dust (Elizabeth Bear) *****
43. Chill (Elizabeth Bear) *****
44. The Good Fairies of New York (Martin Millar) ****
45. Jhegaala (Steven Brust) ****
46. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection (Sarah Blaffer Hrdy) *****
47. Un Lun Dun (China Mieville) ****
48. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man (Marshall McLuhan)
49. Preacher vol. 2: Until the End of the World (Garth Ennis et al) ***
50. Transmetropolitan vol. 2: Lust for Life (Warren Ellis et al) ****
51. Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay) ****
52. Wild Life (Molly Gloss) *****
53. The Margarets (Sherri S. Tepper) **
54. Horse Heaven (Jane Smiley) *****

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