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Book book book book book

Way overdue, and probably a bit incomplete, but better late than never, right?

50, 51. In the Ruins, Crown of Stars (Kate Elliott)
And with these two books, Kate Elliott wraps up her seven-volume series. Generally, it was quite a decent wrapping-up, although it didn’t suck me in quite as effectively as some of the early volumes. I wasn’t particularly crazy about Alain’s story arc, and what happened to him -- it was hard to buy in to for me. I also found that the epilogue didn’t really work for me. It raised more questions than it answered, and it didn’t give the sense of closure I would have liked for the original main characters. Still, as a whole, the books were a perfectly reasonable conclusion to a series that made me like epic (really, really epic) fantasy again. ****

52. This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (Aidan Chambers)
This book is probably best described as a portrait of a person -- it’s not a story as such, although it does have elements of plot throughout. I was quite surprised by the events at the end -- they coloured the rest of the book retroactively, as I suppose they were meant to. I will admit that I do find the “young true love” thing a bit tiresome, since it reflects reality so little. But that said, this was a good read, and quite absorbing. The protagonist is thoroughly believable; her egotism is entirely appropriate, and doesn’t make her unlikeable at all. ****

53. The Translator (John Crowley)
This was quite a frustrating book. It was a good, absorbing, enjoyable read, but it left everything so far up in the air that there was no way for me to get a sense of closure. It barely gestures at a “why” for any of the events in the novel. I don’t mind ambiguity or open-endedness, but in this case it was taken to such an extreme that it made the book thoroughly unsatisfying. It’s a real shame, because otherwise it was really good! ***

54. The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton)
This book is a touch on the melodramatic side, but generally a pretty good read. It plays on gothic tropes of family secrets and mysterious parentage, secret locations and long-buried mysteries. I had the key secret figured out quite early on, but it was enjoyable to watch it play out. The book does at times take itself a little too seriously, but generally, I found it fun and fluffy (in a dark, mysterious way, of course!). I absolutely loved the Frances Hodgson Burnett appearance.

55. The Steep Approach to Garbadale (Iain Banks)
I do love Iain Banks. This is a family drama, like the Crow Road, and like the Forgotten Garden, there’s a long-buried family secret. I had the secret mostly figured out before the big reveal, but that’s not a criticism -- this isn’t a story about the secret so much as about the people affected by it (and the people affected by a family generally).****

56. Always Coming Home (Ursula K. Le Guin)
To the best of my knowledge, Always Coming Home is unique, and it’s just as well, because I’m not sure any lesser writer could pull this kind of thing off. It’s generally described as science fiction in which the science in question is anthropology, or as the anthropology of a future society. It’s not a novel in the conventional sense -- there is a narrative section, but it’s not nearly as important (or at least as extensive) as the stories, poetry, and other information about Kesh society. *****

57. The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (Gabriel Ba and Gerard Way)
Weird. Weird weird weird.
This is a graphic novel that’s more about the peculiar world/characters/aesthetic than it is about the story. Which is just as well, because the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In part that’s because there’s quite a lot that’s left unsaid or fit in between the lines. And that’s certainly deliberate -- it’s a feature, not a bug. ****

58. Uglies (Scott Westerfield)
This is the first volume in a series that’s been getting quite a bit of buzz as an example of some of the really good science fiction being written for a YA audience. The premise is a world where everyone undergoes an operation once they’re 16 to make them “pretty”. It’s a nice take on the way we as a society value attractiveness. I was particularly interested in the way “prettiness” has been scientifically determined and codified, and the way the characters react to 21st-century beauty magazines was well done. I’m certainly interested to see what comes next. ****

59. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (David Petersen)
This is lovely. The art is absolutely gorgeous. If I have one complaint, it’s that I would have wanted to see it stretched out more -- a slower build and a more extended story would not have gone amiss with me. But it’s a lovely piece of world-building. *****

60. Zoe’s Tale (John Scalzi)
Alas, I am sorry to say, that this doesn’t quite work for me as a novel. The pacing is off somehow -- the first half of the book is much too slow-moving, and then far too much happens too quickly in the second half. I appreciate the way Scalzi’s woven a new story out of the elements of the Last Colony, but ultimately I didn’t find enough suspense or differentiation to justify an entire new book (I know that others have felt differently about this, so this is just my take). Scalzi is, however, justifiably proud of Zoe’s voice, which is generally very well done. She’s a little too smart and self-aware sometimes for a teenaged girl, although being a science fiction heroine can do that to a person, and it does occasionally slip into a generic Scalzi voice here and there, but generally it’s a successful attempt. ***

61. Acacia: The War with the Mein (David Anthony Durham)
This is a very good story. Unfortunately, there’s something about the narrative style that doesn’t quite work. It’s a little too stilted and formal. It reads almost like somebody imagines high fantasy is supposed to sound, and it’s too distant and declarative to be effective. It’s quite distracting, especially in the early parts of the book. It’s unfortunate, too, because the story is very interesting, and not at all conventional. It’s a fascinating, absorbing story, which makes the distraction of the narrative voice particularly disappointing. ***

62. Vellum: the Book of All Hours (Hal Duncan)
This book is weird, weird, weird. It’s fascinating, and absorbing, and thoroughly original. I finished it and promptly felt that I needed to read it again to try and figure out exactly what’s going on. Or at least how many characters there actually are. But that dislocation is very much part of the point for this book. It’s the epitome of non-linear narrative, and it manages to be completely alienating and yet completely absorbing and well-told. I may not be quite smart enough to grasp everything that’s going on here, but I enjoyed the confusion.

63. Thunderer (Felix Gilman)
An impossible, unmappable city, where gods walk and the city’s streets constantly change and re-make themselves -- this is a prime example of the other kind of urban fantasy. It’s very much about the city, and follows an outsider as he learns more and more about the part of the city he’s in and about the city as a whole. The story is an interesting one, involving missing gods, and gods gone wrong, and the characters are well drawn and interesting enough to care about. If I have one complaint, it’s that I wasn’t really happy with the way the female characters were handled -- I would have liked to see a little more independence and development in them. But this was a good book, and I will be seeking out the sequel. ****

64. The Mongols and the West: 1221-1410 (Peter Jackson)
Like so many books written for academics but ostensibly aimed at a lay audience, this book suffers from an issue with tone. [author] wants to be scrupulously accurate (as he should be!), and as a result the lay reader with no background in the historical period (that would be me) ends up in over her death. The preference of faithful transliterations to familiar anglicisations of names, and the tendency to pile on those names, often left me completely confused and struggling to keep track of what I was meant to get out of a chapter. This is more a criticism of my own lack of background than of the book, but it serves as an example of the author’s unwillingness to dumb anything down for a non-specialist audience. The writing tries to be accessible, but the level of detail gets in the way. Still, it was a useful overview of a historical period that I didn’t know much about. ***

65. The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History (John M. Ford)
This is a very good read, very absorbing and interesting, and yet I think I’ll need to read it a few more times before I can hope to have gotten all the details out of it. It's a book that assumes you're paying attention, and doesn't slow down to explain things to you. So there are bits that I needed to go over a few times to get a clear idea of exactly what happened and its implications. And yet for all that, it's a very readable book and a very enjoyable one. ****

66. The City and the City (China Mieville)
If this doesn’t end up with a mittful of awards in the near future, I will be very surprised. It’s a murder mystery, set in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. The way the two cities work and interact is both completely impossible and completely thought out and plausibly depicted. The writing, of course, is excellent (it is Mieville, after all), and the mystery story hangs together quite well: I did not solve the murder before the protagonist, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. I’m trying to think of things to criticize in this book, but I must confess I’m having a hard time: it’s just a very well done story. *****

1. The Gone-Away World (Nick Harkaway) *****
2. Old Man's War (John Scalzi) ****
3. Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Walter M. Miller) *
4. Sprit Gate (Kate Elliott) *****
5. Sunshine (Robin McKinley) *****
6. Capacity (Tony Ballantyne) ***
7. Knitting Rules (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) ****
8. Rite (Tad Williams) ***
9, 10. Astonishing X-Men 1, 2 (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday et al) ***
11. Tigerheart (Peter David) ***
12, 13, 14. The Serrano Legacy: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colours (Elizabeth Moon) ****
15. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
16. Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb) *****
17. Serenity vol. 2: Better Days (Joss Whedon et. al.) ***
18, 19. "The Stratford Man" - Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth (Elizabeth Bear) *****
20. The Electric Church (Jeff Somers) ****
21. The Mysteries (Lisa Tuttle) ****
22. Yarn Harlot: the Secret Life of a Knitter (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) ****
23. Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) ****
24. Justinian (H.N. Turtletaub) ****
25, 26, 27. King's Dragon, Prince of Dogs, the Burning Stone (Kate Elliott) ****
28. Shadow Gate (Kate Elliott) *****
29. Into the Darkness (Harry Turtledove) ***
30. Child of Flame (Kate Elliott) ****
31. The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi) ****
32. New Amsterdam (Elizabeth Bear) *****
34. Transformers Animated: The Arrival (Marty Isenberg et al) ****
35. The Silver Bough (Lisa Tuttle) ****
36. Accelerando (Charles Stross) **
37. A History of Western Philosophy (D.W. Hamlyn) ***
38. The Last Colony (John Scalzi) ***
39. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (vol. 4) (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
40. Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe (vol. 5) (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
41. The Gathering Storm (Kate Elliott) *****
42. Saturn's Children (Charles Stross) ***
43. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
44. Over the Wine-Dark Sea (H.N. Turteltaub) ***
45. Palimpset (Catherynne M. Valente) *****
46. Half a Crown (Jo Walton) ****
47. Little Brother (Cory Doctorow) ****
48. Anathem (Neal Stephenson) ****
49. The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle) *****
 
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