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Quarterly Book Report of DOOM!

Yay, books.


54. From Hell (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell)
This is definitely an interesting work, one that does a very complete job of integrating pretty much every bit of Jack-the-Ripper research and mythology it can. It doesn't quite work for me, though -- the masonic symbolism, ultimately, seems just a little too stretched to be credible, and it undermines the credibility of the rest of the work as a result. The art, too, wasn't completely successful -- maybe it's me, but the style left me at times just too confused about what was meant to be going on. Still worth a read, certainly, but not a masterpiece. ***

55. Anya's Ghost (Vera Brosgol)
Teenage angst feeds very effectively into a really well-told ghost story. The tonal balance is well-done -- this isn't a persistently gloomy story, and its teens are alienated in realistic ways rather than full of standard gothy anomie. The art is lovely, too -- clear and evocative. *****

56. The Wine-Dark Sea (Patrick O'Brian)
57. The Commodore (Patrick O'Brian)
I'm running out of words to adequately review these books. Let's just say they continue to sweep me up and make me want to read more. *****

58. The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer)
This book is what you get when you set a bunch of authors and artists loose and just let them have fun. "Curiosities" is the perfect description not only of the items allegedly being catalogued herein but also of the pieces, both visual and written. It's also fun to note the occasional in-jokes or examples of cross-pollination of ideas and imagery. This is, all in all, a fun collection of bits both bizarre and unsettling. *****

59. The Book of Cthulhu (ed. Ross E. Lockhart)
One of the things I found most interesting about this collection of Lovecraft-mythos stories is how many of them set out to deal head-on with the racial issues that are so problematic is Lovecraft's own writing. Not all of them did, certainly, but it was a recurring theme. The stories collected here do vary in quality, but there were more that I greatly enjoyed than that I didn't, so overall I'd say it was a good collection. ****

60. Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)
This is an enjoyable romp, but I wouldn't call it the best of the Miles books, not by a long shot. The stakes feel too low -- they're not remotely personal for Miles, and although we do get a secondary character, Jin, for whom things matter, his perspective is so limited by his age that it's hard to get fully engaged in thing. ***

61. The Yellow Admiral (Patrick O'Brian)
Poor Jack really doesn't handle shore life well, does he? ****

62. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
This is a prime example of the classic moody New England haunted house/ghost story, which is all about the atmosphere, and never explains anything. It's absorbing and well-written, and leaves one without any sense of closure at all. The characters are not likeable, but they are interesting, and there's enough depth there to make the reader want to understand what's happening to them. ****

63. The Hundred Days (Patrick O'Brian)
This volume is theoretically about the briefly reignited war following Napoleon's escape from Elba, but what it really seems to be about is loss and grief. O'Brian has done a fairly major table-clearing, taking significant players off the board and already beginning to set up new intrigues and romances, but this is the book of grief and recovery. Readers are not let off from grief and loss, either. Sniff. ****

64. Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy L. Sayers)
Oh, this is a good one. I think it's fair to say Sayers is at the height of her powers with this book. I love the idea of Peter in disguise, and the writing is great. There's plenty of depth to the mystery itself, starting with the question of whether there has been a murder at all, and I utterly adored the portrayal the advertising business -- as someone who works in a field not too far distant from "marketing", it felt entirely authentic (and it's amusing how little has changed). *****

65. Montréél (Éric Gauthier)
I randomly picked this one up when I was wandering through a bookshop in Montreal, and I'm glad I did! It's a story about an alternate Montreal, in which ghosts are real (and great efforts are made by city planners to keep them from infesting the city) and magic is governed by law. The main plot of the book is about the sudden, unexplained disappearance of a neighbourhood full of buildings (and their inhabitants!), and the efforts that are made to bring them back. Then the story expands from there. If I have one complaint about the book, it's about the way the story spreads out to involve a secret international cabal of magicians, a British house that doesn't quite exist anymore, and London's mysterious "cold zone" -- I almost think it would have been a stronger novel if those elements had remained part of the background and not been quite so central to the story and the outcome. Still, a great discovery. ****

66. The Sharing Knife, vol. 1: Beguilement (Lois McMaster Bujold)
There seem to be quite a few people on the Internet who generally like (or even love) Bujold's work, but are left cold by the Sharing Knife series, allegedly because it's too much of a romance. I'm not one of them. I don't think it's her best work, but it's just as compulsively readable and enjoyable as anything else she writes. The characters are its real strength -- Fawn and Dag could easily be caricatures of the naive farm girl and the stoic, heroic patroller, but they're not. And their relationship actually makes a certain kind of sense to me, even if it does seem rather hasty by modern standards. If I have a complaint, it's that the romance element creates some pacing issues -- this doesn't feel like a complete book, and it's largely because, after the early action sequences, it's hard to take "scaring off the rejected suitor" as a real climax. But I don't think this book was ever really meant to stand alone, so I think I'll have to read the rest before I come to any conclusions about plot shape. ***

67. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Charles C. Mann)
Mann really is good at dissecting history and biology and anthropology and making it all make sense for a lay audience. Unlike 1491, this book is less focused on culture and more interested in the biological effects of contact between the Americas and the rest of the world -- not just things like potatoes and tomatoes (neither of which existed in Europe before contact), but things like earthworms (which are not native to North America! This blew my mind!). Mann does an excellent job of maintaining a balance between story-telling and examining the wider impacts of those stories -- I think it's in some ways the perfect balance for any work of popular science. *****

68. Blue at the Mizzen (Patrick O'Brian)
This is the last book in the series that O'Brian completed before he died, but it's clear that it wasn't intended to be. All kinds of new plots and complications are being set up, even as many of the long- running ones are being wrapped up. And Jack gets his flag at last, which as a series-concluding event works pretty well. I so wish there were more of these. Twenty isn't nearly enough.  ****

69. Sea of Dreams: Racing Alone Around the World in a Small Boat (Adam Mayers)
This book is, in some ways, an examination of why people do things like sail around the world entirely on their own. It's actually a telling of the events of the 2002-2003 Around Alone race, focusing on Canadian Derek Hatfield, whose first attempt it was. The writing style is clear and journalistic rather than poetic, but Mayers does a great job of capturing the rather dramatic events of the race, including plenty of near-death experiences on the part of many of the skippers. It has certainly done its job in making me a little bit obsessed with the upcoming Vendée Globe race... ****

70. The Sharing Knife, vol. 2: Legacy (Lois McMaster Bujold)
One of the things about these books that I suspect bothers a lot of folks is the extent to which the action is really backgrounded. This book has quite a dramatic action sequence, but it just as much time as Fawn's attempts too win over Dag's family. I don't really read romance -- is this a typical pattern? Or is Bujold just trying to subvert expectations all over the place? A bit of both, I suspect. As always, the writing is engaging, the characters are terrific, and even if you wanted to call this "minor Bujold" -- and I wouldn't argue -- it's well worth reading. ***

71. Debt: the First 5,000 Years (David Graeber)
My mind is officially blown. Wow. Graeber completely and convincingly rewrites the history of economics. It's also a very readable book, friendly to non-specialists (like me!) and casual readers. Recommended. *****

72. In the Forests of Serre (Patricia McKillip)
Nobody writes fairy tales quite like McKillip. This is very much a fairy tale, one with Russian-esque elements (firebirds, witches with shacks that walk on legs and an affinity for chickens). The characters are lightly sketched, and yet plausible, and no one is truly evil, although there is plenty of evil to fight. There's something soothing about knowing that, one way or another, it'll all work out... ****

73. The Sharing Knife, vol. 3: Passage (Lois McMaster Bujold)
In this book, Fawn and Dag acquire a substantial (and ever-increasing) number of followers. They're going to end up founding some kind of new community, aren't they? Where farmers and lakewalkers can live in harmony? What was most interesting to me about this book was the discovery that there really are rogue lakewalkers out there, and they really are a danger -- it makes you wonder why the lakewalkers are so ready to banish their misbehaving members. ***

74. The Child that Books Built (Francis Spufford)
This book is part childhood memoir, part psychological case study, part literary analysis. It's quite unlike anything else I've ever read. Spufford analyzes his own biography and psychological development through the books he read as a child, and examines how, at different ages, different books spoke to what he needed to learn and understand about the world and about himself. It's a fascinating read. I'm a bit skeptical that he actually taught himself to read with the Hobbit, but I'll accept that he remembers it that way, and it makes for a good story. *****

75. A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)
I had been resisting this series, because it's unfinished, and I know it's going to be a while before the next volume comes out. And my memory for details isn't good enough to retain names and events for years, so reading the series now inevitably means re-reading it before the next one comes out. But! It is, for a book of its size, a surprisingly quick read. The prose is smooth and readably, and it gives me that "one more chapter" urge that's so much fun. It's actually not as dark and depressing as I had been led to believe, although I'm sure there's time in the future books for it to get there. I suppose it's the killing of viewpoint characters that shocks people, but honestly, the level of violence seems pretty well in the normal range for modern epic fantasy. And... there isn't actually that much sex, yet (maybe that's an HBO thing). ****

76. Door Into Fire (Diane Duane)
I don't know that I can write a really proper review of this book. I read the series as a young teenager, and although I'd forgotten all of the details, the *feel* of the book was still intensely familiar to me. And it's a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling. Nostalgia stars! *****

77. Lucifer, vol. 5: Inferno (Mike Carey et al.)
We follow up the dramatic events of the previous volume with a duel in Hell, complete with treachery and sneakiness. This wasn't my favourite chapter -- I'm a little "over" Hell, and I don't think it's the most interesting part of the story. Still, it's well-told, and the art continues to be very good (and Hell does provide an opportunity for lots of interesting architecture and demons). ***

78. Red Plenty (Francis Spufford)
This book is completely unlike anything else I've ever read (That appears to be Spufford's M.O. -- writing things that are completely different from everything else). It's not history, because it's full of fictional characters and personal stories; but it's not a novel, because it's also full of real people and real events. It's engaging, well-written, hard to put down. Recommended, whatever it is. *****

79. A Clash of Kings (George R. R. Martin)
This volume didn't feel as tightly-plotted as the first one, but it's still an absorbing read, and easy to get caught up in. There's more of that much-ballyhooed violence in this book, as we move from scheming into flat-out war and Westeros basically falls apart. Also, some people are really terrible. ****

80. Blackout (Mira Grant)
I'm not sure what I can say about this book without introducing spoilers for the previous two books, and I want you all to read this trilogy, so I will just go with: zombies! Mad science! Conspiracies! The return of beloved characters from previous books! Tragic deaths! Satisfying conclusion! *****

81. The Sharing Knife, vol. 4: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Fawn and Dag continue to assemble family and surrogate family as they try to figure out a way bring together both their peoples. There is action and danger along the way, and although it's well-done action, in some ways the action takes away from the relationships that are the strongest part of this series. I wanted to see more of how Fawn and Dag coped with their changed circumstances, and of the others growing into their respective lives. ***




And the year so far...



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) ****
27. Deadline (Mira Grant) *****
28. Reamde (Neal Stephenson) ***
29. The Far Side of the World (Patrick O'Brian) *****
30. The Reverse of the Medal (Patrick O'Brian) *****
31. Range of Ghosts (Elizabeth Bear) ****
32. A Civil Campaign (Lois McMaster Bujold) ***
33. The Riven Kingdom (Karen Miller) ***
34. House of Dreams (Pauline Gedge) ****
35. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) *****
36. House of Illusions (Pauline Gedge) **
37. Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron (Jasper Fforde) ****
38. Five Red Herrings (Dorothy L. Sayers) ****
39. The Letter of Marque (Patrick O'Brian) *****
40. Falling Free (Lois McMaster Bujold) ****
41. Diplomatic Immunity (Lois McMaster Bujold) ****
42. Shanghai: the Ivory Compact (David Rotenberg) **
43. Jack of Fables, vol. 4: Americana (Bill Willingham et al) ***
44. Jack of Fables, vol. 5: Turning Pages (Bill Willingham et al) ***
45. The Thirteen-Gun Salute (Patrick O'Brian) *****
46. The Book of Madness and Cures (Regina O'Melveny) **
47. The Nutmeg of Consolation (Patrick O'Brian) *****
48. Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins) ****
49. Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins) ****
50. Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (Vincent Lam) ****
51. Clarissa Oakes (Patrick O'Brian) *****
52. Have His Carcase (Dorothy L. Sayers) *****
53. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann) *****

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