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Let's make these updates quarterly, shall we? That's completely reasonable, right?



27. Deadline (Mira Grant)
As you may recall, I loved the first book in this series -- scientific zombies that actually make sense, kinda! This book is a worthy successor, and although the dramatic ending of the first book is pretty tough to top, this one is fairly jaw-dropping, too. I don't feel that I can say much about the events of this book without spoiling the previous one, so I'll content myself with saying that I can't wait to get my hands on the concluding volume. *****

28. Reamde (Neal Stephenson)
As always with Stephenson, this book is absorbing enough that it doesn't feel like it's 900-some pages long. Stephenson is a great storyteller, and he's good at keeping his audience engaged and reading along at breakneck speed. That said, this one did take a bit longer than usual for me to get into. And I must confess, this is not one of my favourite Stephensons. The story wants to be a romp, but between Russian mobsters and Islamic terrorists, it's hard to take the subject matter lightly enough for it to really romp. Okay, the whole plot is kicked off by events in an obsessively-realistic fantasy MMORPG, but there's just too much real-world death, and it's too close at hand for it to really work. It's also frustrating that things that seem so important initially -- internal MMORPG world politics, the Russian mobsters -- end up being secondary at best as the whole thing gets obsessed with violent Islamic terrorism. ***

29. The Far Side of the World (Patrick O'Brian)
This really is quite a glorious big adventure book. O'Brian really does write books that simultaneously feel authentically nineteenth-century and utterly transparent to a modern reader (never mind that I have no idea what most of the technical terms mean). *****

30. The Reverse of the Medal (Patrick O'Brian)
Oh, this was a painful read. It's an excellent book, but it's terrible to see things going so very wrong for Jack and Stephen. Especially Jack -- you can see trouble on its way, and you just want to grab him and say "No, don't!" but of course you can't. Despite being a terrible downer, this is one of the best books in the series so far, I think. *****

31. Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear)
This is a great fantasy setting. I love the idea of a world where the sky actually, literally changes in response to military and political events in the world. It's such a unique idea in my experience of fantasy fiction. The eastern-inspired setting is nicely done, and I enjoyed the characters immensely. I absolutely loved that our mage-character is *not* an amazingly strong, super-powered mage. I loved the tiger-woman. I love love love the magic pony. My only real complaint about this book is that it's so much more setup than it is actual story. It seems to spend an awfully long time getting all the characters and puzzle pieces into place. There's plenty of action, to be sure, but it was very clear that this is only the first part of a much longer story. Still, recommended. ****

32. A Civil Campaign (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Poor Miles. He's really quite terrible at romance, at least when he's serious about it. There's quite a lot to cringe at in this book, and although it's meant to be funny, it's also a little bit painful. I do hate people being kept apart by misunderstandings and an inability to actually talk, and there seemed to be a fair bit of that in here. On the other hand, there are also lots of lovely bits, and it was a wonderful opportunity to check in with characters we don't always get to see a lot of, so that was nice. ***

33. The Riven Kingdom (Karen Miller)
I liked this one quite a bit better than the first book in the series -- Miller seems much more comfortable with a standard faux-European setting, and writes much more naturally when not trying to create "exotic" speech patterns. The characters are largely sympathetic, and the bad guy is appropriately bad. The plot does seem to drag somewhat -- it seems to mostly consist of setup, of getting people where they need to be, and it seems like an awfully long book for that purpose alone. ***

34. House of Dreams (Pauline Gedge)
This was a random library-shelf selection, and I quite liked it. It's a historical, set in Ancient Egypt, and although it is clearly meticulously researched it doesn't ever stop being a story while it tells the reader all about the research that was done (I hate that). Thu, the protagonist, feels like a real adolescent girl, with all the angst and selfishness that entails, and it's completely believable to watch her getting in over her head. ****

35. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
What a fascinating story! Science history is tricky to do well, but this is more than just a book about science; it's also about the impact that science had on a family. And, ultimately, it's the family's story that's most compelling. *****

36. House of Illusions (Pauline Gedge)
After the first volume of the duology, this is a bit of a disappointment. It starts out looking like the story of a young man, Kamen, who stumbles onto information that would have been better left hidden. Unfortunately, it shortly thereafter becomes a slow and extended wrap-up of the dangling threads of the previous book. There isn't really much of a plot here once you get past the first section -- just a very lengthy denouement. I'm glad to see Thu's story get resolved, but I would much rather have had more of a new story about Kamen (and his fiance -- she's great!). **

37. Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron (Jasper Fforde)
This is... rather darker than I expected. Or, perhaps more accurately, it pretends to be less dark than it actually is. It's full of the pun-laden Fforde humour that I've come to expect, but the world it portrays, although entertainingly absurdist on the surface, is actually rather disturbing. Reading it is, in sum, quite an unsettling experience. ****

38. Five Red Herrings (Dorothy L. Sayers)
I absolutely love the bit early on in this book, when Sayers breaks away from the narration to say that she's not going to bother to tell us what Peter noticed was missing from the crime scene because it's just so obvious that the reader will have figured it out already, so she needn't bother. It's such a lovely poke at mystery-readers, at the way we try to solve the crime ourselves. It's also, and I quote myself, "aaargh!". Anyway, this is a very enjoyable read, quite possibly one of my favourites in the series so far. The way all the suspects are kept in play, the way their alibis keep being questioned and then validated and then questioned again, is all very effective, and makes for a good whodunnit. ****

39. The Letter of Marque (Patrick O'Brian)
Oh, what a relief to see things finally turning around for Jack and Stephen! Even if it does stem from Jack's being kicked out of the Navy (poor Jack) and Stephen's laudanam addiction (poor Stephen... but mostly, poor Padeen!). I feel like I'm repeating myself, but I really really like these books. And I like seeing some good news for the characters, for a change. *****

40. Falling Free (Lois McMaster Bujold)
If you can read something like this without cheering wholeheartedly for Leo and the quaddies, then you probably have no soul. The quaddies are such charming, appealing people, and the situation they're in is so horrible, that it's hard to imagine how things got so bad in the first place. ****

41. Diplomatic Immunity (Lois McMaster Bujold)
This is a great story. It's mostly a murder mystery, although part of the mystery is whether there's actually been a murder or not, since there's no corpse to be found. And there are quaddies, who have an utterly fascinating culture and are, overall, such nice people that I just want to spend more time with them. I love that the fundamental political unit is the work gang. It's just so right for them. I only have two complaints with this book. One is that the ending feels a bit smashed on to the rest of the book. It's almost as though Bujold were writing along happily, and suddenly hit a page-count limit and had to wrap everything up the fastest way possible. There's a bit of pacing whiplash going on there. My other complaint is that there isn't enough Ekaterin, especially given the way things get wrapped up. I would have loved to see her have a bit more to do -- instead it felt as though she got locked away fairly early on, and didn't get to actually do much of anything for most of the book. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book and loved the story. ****

42. Shanghai: the Ivory Compact (David Rotenberg)
This one gets a resounding "meh" from me, unfortunately. I'm easily attracted by big thick books on the shelf, and I do like historical fiction, but this book just doesn't live up to what it wants to be. There are large sections that feel like nothing so much as a history's recitation of events, and the characters were often disappointingly thin and lightly-sketched. In a book this big, there ought to be room to show us people rather than caricatures. I could have done with a couple of female characters who weren't concubines or brothel-owners, too. I also had a hard time buying the supernatural elements, in a story that's otherwise relentlessly mundane. **

43. Jack of Fables, vol. 4: Americana (Bill Willingham et al)
44. Jack of Fables, vol. 5: Turning Pages (Bill Willingham et al)
It's weird to say that I'm enjoying this comic, when I really dislike the main character. I keep waiting for him to get his come-uppance, and it just doesn't happen. And yet, the supporting characters and the mythos are appealing and interesting enough that I continue to enjoy reading and want to know what happens next. It's a strange experience for me, I have to admit. ***

45. The Thirteen-Gun Salute (Patrick O'Brian)
It's becoming increasingly difficult to summarize these plots. This one has foreign diplomacy, and a deadly monsoon, including one of the most amazing shipwreck scenes I've ever imagined. Onward! *****

46. The Book of Madness and Cures (Regina O'Melveny)
I wanted to like this book. The writing is quite lovely, and the premise seems appealing: strong-willed Venetian woman, trained as a doctor, but not allowed to practive because of sexism, goes in search of her missing father, working on his Book of Diseases along the way. It should have been a great story. But I think, fundamentally, the protagonist just wasn't interesting enough to carry the story -- or maybe she was simply too interior for my tastes. She's strong-willed, sure, but she's curiously lacking in direction. She wants to find her father, but she drifts from town to town without any real initiative of her own. She meets people, has relationships with them, but it all felt rather empty to me at the end. Which is disappointing, particularly in what is a well-written book with great promise. **

47. The Nutmeg of Consolation (Patrick O'Brian)
What an incredible amount happens in this book! Especially considering how many setbacks they encounter in the first section -- I was wondering whether they would ever get off the island at all! And then there's a wonderful sea chase, and the arrival in Australia, which proves once again that land is much worse than sea for these people. Even, in this case, Stephen, whose deadlier-than-expected encounter with a platypus genuinely astonished me. *****

48. Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)
Oh, now this one I can't wait to see how they make it work as a movie. And poor Katniss just can't catch a break, can she? I mean, the Quell is clearly (IMO) designed as a response to the problem she represents for the Capitol, so it's not luck, per se, but if you're not saying "oh, poor Katniss" a lot, you probably lack a sympathy neuron or something. ****

49. Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
I gather from the Internet that a lot of people don't like this conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. And I can see why. It's very different, structurally, from the others, and the ending is not unambiguously happy by a long shot. Also, what happens to Peeta is really upsetting, and so is what happens to Prim. But I thought it was congruent with the world and the story we've had so far, and I found it satisfying as an ending. So well done, Suzanne Collins. ****

50. Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (Vincent Lam)
This is a very interesting book. I can see why it won the Giller. It's fiction, but it feels heartfelt and true in that way that only things pulled from life can. It's a collection of short stories, but the doctor characters are the same people throughout the book, at different points in their lives. Lam doesn't always wrap everything up in a neat little bow, and he's not afraid to leave things unclear or unresolved, the way they are in real life. It makes for a surprisingly effective read. I was skeptical, but I do recommend this book. ****

51. Clarissa Oakes (Patrick O'Brian)
I hardly know how to review these books any more. They're consistently captivating, they sweep me up and make me want to keep reading -- what greater compliment is there? *****

52. Have His Carcase (Dorothy L. Sayers)
I love Harriet Vane! I don't remember feeling so strongly about her in her first appearance (in Strong Poison), but in this book, she's a very real character, and a great one. She has a wonderful viewpoint, and you can really see why she appeals to Lord Peter. The mystery is great, too, and the final revelation that allows everything to fall into place is perfect, right out of -- well -- a murder mystery! I really enjoyed this book a great deal. *****

53. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
The basic argument of this book is the idea that the Americas were not, in fact, sparsely populated when the Europeans arrived. This isn't a completely new idea for me, but I hadn't really put together the scale of the preexisting population. Mann also does a great job of describing sophisticated cultures, with extensive histories -- it's perhaps the history that's most revelatory. We're not used to thinking about First Nations people having a real and lengthy history, although it's clear that they did. My only complaint about the book, really, is his use of "Indians" as a descriptor, although he makes a credible argument for it in an appendix. It's a very readable book, and extensively documented. I recommend it. *****




And the first quarter results, for posterity:

1. Welcome to Bordertown (ed. Holly Black and Ellen Kushner) ****
2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl) ****
3. A Betrayal in Winter (Daniel Abraham) *****
4. The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) *****
5. An Autumn War (Daniel Abraham) *****
6. Cleopatra: A Life (Stacy Schiff) ***
7. Strong Poison (Dorothy Sayers) ****
8. The Wise Man's Fear (Patrick Rothfuss) *****
9. The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian) *****
10. The Price of Spring (Daniel Abraham) *****
11. Corsets and Clockwork: 14 Steampunk Romances (ed. Trisha Telep) **
12. The Companions (Sherri S. Tepper) ***
13. Empress (Karen Miller) ***
14. The Surgeon's Mate (Patrick O'Brian) ****
15. Agatha H. and the Airship City (Phil and Kaja Folio) ***
16. Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold) *****
17. Half-Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan) ***
18. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Jon Krakauer) ****
19. Mort (Terry Pratchett) ***
20. Feed (Mira Grant) *****
21. Bloodchild and Other Stories (Octavia Butler) ****
22. The Ionian Mission (Patrick O'Brian)
23. Treason's Harbour (Patrick O'Brian) *****
24. Komarr (Lois McMaster Bujold) ****
25. The Hallowed Hunt (Lois McMaster Bujold) ****
26. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) ****

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