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Book blogging

19. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (Julie Philips)
I don't read a lot of biographies. I'm too much a fan of plot and narrative for the truly honest biography to hold my interest, I suspect. This one, though, is wonderful. It's neither a psychological story nor a recitation of names, dates, and events: rather it combines the best of both biographical worlds. It reads almost like fiction, with clear, elegant prose and an engaging story, yet doesn't feel invented or falsified at all. It's a tricky balance, and Phillips manages it effortlessly. It doesn't hurt that the subject is so fascinating, either. *****

20. Fragile Things (Neil Gaiman)
This is a collection of much of Gaiman's short fiction from the last several years. Like all such collections, there is some variation in quality, but since it's Neil, it tends to vary between "really excellent wow" and "pretty good". Some of the stories really are fantastic: I particularly loved x and y. I was less keen on a and b, but all in all, it's a great collection and a very enjoyable book to read in short gulps. *****

21. Lucifer vol. 4: The Divine Comedy (Mike Carey et al.)
Hey, look: Death shows up!
I think I've finally put my finger on one of the fundamental problems with this series: Lucifer just isn't a very nice guy. Well, he isn't supposed to be -- he's the Devil, after all! But it's hard to have sympathy for a protagonist who has no sympathy for anyone else. His goals are lofty and outside our world (quite literally), and he just doesn't care about the kinds of things we care about. The solution to this problem, of course, is to put the focus on the "secondary" characters, the humans and quasi-humans whose motives and desires are more comprehensible. That's certainly what Gaiman did when faced with a similar problem in Sandman. But Dream was rarely the protagonist in Sandman -- he was much more a character lurking in the background. Lucifer really is the protagonist here, and the human(oid)s are just secondary players. And that shows.

This is not to say it isn't a bloody good comic series -- it is. And I do want to see what happens. But I'm finding myself much more distressed about what's happening to Elaine, or Jill, or even Mazikeen than I am by the core of the story -- and that’s a problem when those characters keep fluttering in and out of the storyline.

And, just to be completely fair and honest, I actually liked this volume better than the last one. And not just because Death's in it.

****

22. Jack of Fables, vol 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape (Bill Willingham et al)
I'm wary by nature of spin-off books, but this one shows definite promise. Jack's narration carries much of the story, and does so with a distinctive voice and humour. The universally cheesecakey women are a mild irritant, although appropriate to a story told through Jack's eyes. I'm sure something interesting could be done with that, but I'm not sure we'll ever get there. The story itself is not stunningly original, but it's relatively well-told, and the art is pleasant and clean. ****

23. The New Moon's Arms (Nalo Hopkinson)
This may be my new favourite Nalo Hopkinson book. It's a wonderful story, entirely believable with just the right amount of fantasy to make it interesting. The main character, Calamity, is likeable but flawed, and her slow evolution and growth is well-handled. Political issues are present but hover just outside the main story, placing the book firmly in a real world with real issues, but keeping it those issues far enough away to avoid polemic. To be fair, there is a little bit of polemic in the book, but it's handled with a light touch, and grows convincingly out of the characters rather than being imposed on them. And, Nalo does a wonderful rewrite of the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER selkie story ENDSPOILER ENDSPOILER that reminds me of one of my old stories, though Nalo's is a much better take. ****

24. The Metamorphosis (Peter Kuper, based on Franz Kafka)
A graphic adaptation of Kafka. It take a certain kind of mind to come up with such an idea, but XXX pulls it off surprisingly well. The balance between humour and tragedy is well-maintained, and the art style is completely appropriate. I will never be able to visualize poor Gregor Samsa any other way. *****

25. Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik)
The degree to which I love fluffy books about dragons is probably a great weakness. It completely compromises my intellectual pose. But Naomi Novik has re-ignited my long-dormant love for talking-dragon books, and I find I cannot complain. This is the sequel to His Majesty's Dragon, and it's very nearly as good as the original. It's a book for gulping, and I duly gulped it, and enjoyed every minute. Temeraire is such an unfailingly wonderful dragon, and his world is so very much one I recognize from fictions past, and so very new at the same time. It's an episodic sort of book, with a series of crises that, while tense and well-told, don't directly point to the climax. This is a deliberate choice, I think, and it works well, although I do occasionally find myself wondering when we're going to get into the major conflict. But then I get distracted by something wonderful that makes me smile, so it's not really a problem. ****

26. Mulengro (Charles De Lint)
It amused me a little to read the introductory 'warning' to this book, advising the reader that this was 'not the usual De Lint fare' and that it contained 'darkness'. It's certainly true that this isn't De Lint's standard kind of book. People die in this book -- a lot of people, including viewpoint characters -- are there are certainly creepy ghost-story/horror elements. It's not, though, as dark as the warning would have you believe. There's still humour, and the characters are pretty much universally well-meaning, and Lessons are Learned by the end of the story. It's not really as much of a horror tale as it wants to be. It's a decent book, although I didn't feel that the spooky side quite lived up to the potential of the setup, which is unfortunate, because there was definitely potential there. ***


Books of 2007
1. The Geographer's Library (Jon Fasman) **
2. The Way the Crow Flies (Ann-Marie Macdonald) *****
3. Eastern Standard Tribe (Cory Doctorow) ***
4. The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler) ***
5. Inkspell (Cornelia Funke) ***
6. Don Quixote (Cervantes) ****
7. Fables: Wolves (Bill Willingham et al.) *****
8. Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) ****
9. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester) **
10. The Innkeeper's Song (Peter S. Beagle) ****
11. His Majesty's Dragon (Naomi Novik) *****
12. Perdido Street Station (China Mieville) *****
13. The Last Light of the Sun (Guy Gavriel Kay) ***
14. King and Goddess (Judith Tarr)
15, 16. Lucifer: Children and Monsters and a Dalliance with the Damned (Mike Carey et al.)
17. When Abortion Was a Crime (Leslie J. Reagan)
18. The Scar (China Mieville)
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