Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl
kirilaw

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Was it really August when I last posted an update?

No wonder the list has gotten so long. I'll stick it behind a cut for sanity's sake.


76. Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis)
This is Lewis' "spiritual autobiography"; it's not so much the story of his life as the story of his religious and spiritual life and eventual conversion. It's interesting how much emphasis he puts on his imaginative and intellectual development as part of his religious development -- initially because he argues himself out of religious beliefs, but ultimately because intellecutal and imaginative engagement seem (for him) to be essential to religious feeling. There's a heavy emphasis, therefore, on his school days and the people who influenced him intellectually for better or worse. This book is not, in and of itself, an argument for Christianity; rather it's a highly idiosyncratic story of how one person became first an adolescent atheist and then an ardent Christian. ****

77, 78. Jack of Fables vol. 2: Jack of Hearts
Jack of Fables vol. 3: The Bad Prince
It's interesting, the way this series is starting to grow apart from the Fables series. In some ways, it's becoming more self-conscious and postmodern as the Fables series becomes more conventional. And Jack, while completely obnoxious, is also an increasingly... not complex, but... interesting character. The logic of Jack's world, it's becoming increasingly clear, is story-logic -- or, perhaps more accurately, fable-logic. It doesn't have to reflect the way the real world works. And that means just about anything can happen. And probably will. This is really starting to grow on me. ****

79. Death Note vol. 3: Hard Run
I do wonder if L's investigation might be more effective if he would just quit telling Light and his father what percentage probability there is that Light is Kira. I mean, really. "I am currently 80% sure that you're innocent. Oh wait, your facial expression just tells me that now I can only be 74% sure of your innocence". Surely it is not good investigative technique to give that much information away? ***

80. Preacher vol. 3: Proud Americans
Oh, the gore. The gore and the violence. Yikes. If I thought previous volumes were violent, this one blows them all away (so to speak). And there's a little too much gleeful nastiness in the portrayal of the evil Allfather for my taste. I prefer my villains to be at least a touch nuanced. ***

81. The Help (Kathryn Stockett)
I read this one for my book club, and I must admit that I didn't expect to like it at all. A white woman writing in the voices of black women in the Southern States during segregation? That can't end well, can it? And yet, she pulls it off. Or at least, she seems to from this white person's perspective -- the characters felt real, all of them, black and white, and the story soon enough pulled me in and carried me along. It ended up being -- for me -- a really good read. I'd be interested to know if it reads the same way for people of colour, though. My one complaint would be that the ending was a bit of a cop-out. Is it too spoilery to say that it was a happy ending, and that it might have been more honest to be a little less happy? I don't know. But that aside, I do recommend this one. *****

82. Death Note vol. 4: Love
Okay, I'm not sure if Light's actions make a lick of sense anymore. For an evil genius, he's starting to seem like he's flying by the seat of his pants. But the turn of events in this book does set up an interesting question for the next one: what the heck is going to happen now? ***

83. Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard
Politics! And unintended consequences. I find the political system a little hard to figure out here, honestly -- we're electing who for what? -- which may be in part due to my lack of in-depth familiarity with the American political system and political figures that are the springboards for the storyline. We do, nonetheless, get some further character development that's well-handled, and both a new assistant and the return of Channon. ***

84. Losing It: America's Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Laura Fraser)
Thoroughly researched (disturbingly often through personal experimentation) and well-written, this is a completely readable book about the weight-loss industry and its social impacts. It's over 10 years old now, but it still feels utterly contemporary (although some of the drugs she discusses have since been pulled from the market for killing people, and there are other new drugs to take their place). Fraser is a sympathetic narrator, and it's as much her voice that convinces you as her argument -- although her argument is also compelling. ****

85. Tithe (Holly Black)
It's probably completely trite to say this, but for a YA novel, this is awfully dark. There's drinking, smoking, death, masochism... and all kinds of moral ambiguity. It's actually a really good read. The fae are nicely complex, and the good guy/bad guy distinction between the Seelie and the Unseeline courts is not quite as clear-cut as might at first be assumed. There's also a fair bit that looks like set-up for more to come. I look forward to it. ****

86. Modesty Blaise (Peter O'Donnell)
This is a ripping spy caper, with very interesting a sympathetic characters. Modesty Blaise is a sort of female James Bond, only cooler and not always on the side of the law. In fact, she is recently retired from heading up a massive international criminal organization -- but she's got ethics. I very much enjoyed the story, and the characters are top-notch (at least the good guys -- the bad guys are a little on the cartoony side). There's something odd going on with the writing, though; things are described in precise detail, to the point that it rather dates the novel more than might otherwise be the case. That's a quibble, though; this is a good read. ****

87. Traitors' Gate (Kate Elliott)
Oh, what a heartbreaking and completely absorbing conclusion. I desperately want there to be more, just so that I can find out what happened next. Elliott has really outdone herself here, with plenty of moral ambiguity, sudden intrusions of reality, and an understanding of historical and demographic forces that is rarely seen in the realm of fantasy. I wish I had more epic-fantasy readers in my immediate circle, because I desperately want to talk about the ending, but I can't because spoiling it would be a tragedy. ****

88. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis)
This may be the best of Lewis' works of fiction. It's intended for adults, so it doesn't have the childishness of Narnia, and it's much more appealing and engaging, at least for modern readers, than the Cosmic Trilogy. Orual is a very sympathetic protagonist, and a completely believable female character. There is the question of how someone can possibly be so completely ugly throughout their entire life that everyone agrees on their ugliness as a child, and continues to agree that they are utterly hideous, but I think it's serving a more metaphorical purpose, so I'll let that go for now. The story, a retelling of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of one of the "malicious sisters", is concerned with the nature of gods and with faith, and despite hammering those themes almost incessently, manages not to come off as overly didactic. *****

89. Starfish (Peter Watts)
No one can ever accuse Peter Watts about being excessively optimistic. What he is, though, is an excellent writer who takes some pretty hard-science concepts, wraps them around stories about supremely messed-up people, and manages to make them understandable and sympathetic. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series... although I suspect it's going to result in the end of life as we know it. Just a feeling I have. *****

90. Never Too Thin: Why Women are at War with their Bodies (Roberta Pollack Seid)
Seid looks at the question of weight and dieting from a historical perspective, reviewing how attitudes toward attractiveness, appetite and health have changed, and examining the development of our modern obsession with weight. The book is a little bit dated in that it only goes up to the late 80s, and considers the endpoint an obsession with musculature that I would argue has long since fallen by the wayside, especially for women. Her optimistic hope that we might be headed for a return to "the Golden Mean" has, I think, not been fulfilled; instead, we're back to excessive slimness, period. It's a good overview, although although it has a bit of a problematic attitude towards weight, being careful to hedge bets by excluding "extremely overweight" people, and the writing style is not quite as engaging as one could hope for. Still, worth reading. ***

91. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)
This is one of the most famous of Christie's mysteries; it's known for its "twist" ending. Unfortunately, knowing that it has a twist helps the modern reader figure that twist out in a way that her contemporary readers wouldn't have been able. Also SPOILER ALERT we're much more accustomed to the idea of the unreliable narrator, which is so crucial to the solving of the mystery. END SPOILER So I did solve the mystery before the big reveal. I can see why it would have been a big deal when it was first published; as it is, it's still well worth reading. Christie is scrupulously fair and hides her clues in plain sight. ****

92. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
You don't see many epistolary novels anymore. People don't write letters the way they used to, of course, and we're not used to reading letters, either. Shaffer and Barrows pull it off, though, in part because their letter-writers are just so darn engaging. It's impossible not to like Juliet and her correspondants, and it's similarly impossible not to like this book. For a book about the occupation of Guernsey during the Second World War, it's surprisingly light-hearted. The authors have done a splendid job of allowing us to get to know the characters through their own words and those of their friends and relations. And since part of the heart of the novel is getting to know someone who is unwillingly, irrevocably absent, it works thematically, too. *****

93. Jaran (Kate Elliott)
This is Elliott's first published book, and it does show. It's part Jane Austen romance, part plains fantasy (life among the noble nomads), and part science fiction interplanetary intrigue. I think it's fair to say that although the various bits are promising separately, they don't quite gel into a convincing whole. The best bit, in my opinion, is the development of jaran society. Noble Nomads they may be, but there has been quite a bit of thought put into the workings of their society, and it's an effective bit of world-building. The romance -- well, I can see that people like that kind of thing. But I don't find myself having a lot of patience for the brooding, high-handed man whose love is just so intense. I think I would have enjoyed it more when I was younger. And the interplanetary intrigue is so much a secondary plot that, although there's clearly more to explore there, it ends up not mattering much to the story as a whole. So, in summary, this didn't suck me in the way Elliott's work usually does. ***

94. Sweet Tooth vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods (Jeff Lemire)
What this volume did for me, essentially, was leaving me wanting to know more. The plot seemed so obvious -- well, of course he's going to get betrayed! That's how these stories work! -- but the world-building provides more questions than answers. That's where the real interest is here. Gus is too innocent to be of much interest as a character, at least for now, but there are plenty of questions that I want answers to. Like, where are all these animal hybrid kids coming from? How is that even remotely possible? And how can Gus be nine when it all started seven years ago? (Is it a spoiler to say that I suspect his parents will in some way turn out to be responsible for this? And that his absent mother is clearly important? Bets on whether his Pa is really his father?) The scratchy art style isn't really my cup of tea, but it works for the story. I'm suspending judgement for now. ***

95. White Cat (Holly Black)
Black has created a very interesting world and magic system. Workers can curse -- or bless -- with a touch, so everyone wears gloves -- such a small thing, but so nicely carried through. The main character is convincingly messed up by his messed-up family, and we end the book not really knowing who to trust. As the start of a series, it has aroused my curiosity. As a standalone story, it works too. It's awfully dark for what I usually think of as YA, but I guess that's the way things go these days. Regardless, it's a good read. *****

96. Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)
This one has a reputation for causing sniffling. Its reputation is well-deserved. I'm not entirely happy with the portrayal of women in the book, but I'm willing to give it a little bit of "of its time" leniency. Otherwise, it holds up surprisingly well. ****

97. Sailing to Sarantium
Lord of Emperors (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Kay really is comfort reading for me, so the chaos of travel preparations were a perfect time to revisit his take on Byzantium -- excuse me, "Sarantium". This is an interesting set of books, because it's particularly transparent who the characters are riffing on -- or maybe it's just that I know Byzantine history better than I know that of the Reconquista. But I think this is the only case where a piece of art from the real world -- a set of mosaics -- is so explicitly echoed in the novels. The whole thing has an elegiac tone that works for me, and I like the way our main point of view character, Crispin, changes over the course of the two books. I don't know if he "grows", exactly, but he definitely changes as his perspectives on things change. That said, I remain rather unconvinced by the romances. Crispin is an appealing fellow, to be sure, but that doesn't mean every woman of significance is really likely to fall for him, surely! ****

98. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin)
This book seemed to be getting a lot of buzz when it first came out, and I can see why. I read it very nearly in one sitting, although admittedly that "sitting" was a 14-hour plane flight. Still, even if I'd been in more normal circumstances, I think I would have torn through it rather quickly. It's first-person narrated, which I don't consistently like, but Jemisin handles it beautifully, and it ends up working well. The plot involves complex political machinations and god, but it doesn't feel like any of the other books that have used those themes. It feels really quite unique. I recommend this one, especially for anyone looking for something a bit fresh in the fantasy department. *****

99. The Stupidest Angel (Christopher Moore)
I really wanted to like this book. It's a Christmas book with zombies, after all! But it didn't work for me, alas. It's not that I can't appreciate black humour -- but the killing just wasn't funny. And the characters just seemed to act in utterly irrational ways for no particular reason except authorial fiat. So this one gets a big old "meh" from me. *

100. Cold Magic (Kate Elliott)
Elliott says that the world in this book was created in collaboration with her children. That's interesting, because this doesn't feel much like an Elliott book. Oh, there's definitely been her usual meticulous world-building, and the world is appropriately complex -- but it's decidedly different, and I'm not sure if it's to the good. For starters, we have a first-person narrator, and I'm not sure it completely works. Being stuck in Cat's head leaves me with more questions about how things work than answers (and yes, I know, that's part of the point). I also wasn't completely enamoured with Cat, and I found the romance plot to be, well, just a little telegraphed. That said, Rory's appearance causes me to forgive a great deal. And I will certainly be reading the next volume to see what happens next... ***

101. The Broken Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin)
This sequel does a wonderful job of humanizing the previous book's bad guy, and of showing darker and more unsettling sides of some of the previous book's more sympathetic characters. This narrator, too, is engaging and appealing, and different enough to feel like a new voice, and not just an authorial voice that claims to be first-person. We're in the city now, not the palace, and it's a few years later so we're dealing with a world in which things have changed rather dramatically. My only complaint would be that you'd expect there to have been a bit more upheval, but it is pointed out that the authorities have been going to great lengths to keep things stable. Regardless, it's a very different world than the previous book, but it still feels like part of the same universe. I'm not entirely happy with one bit of the story, but I can't tell you what it is because it's a spoiler. And I'm not letting it spoil my enjoyment of the book as a whole, anyway. Recommended. *****



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) *****
55. Death Note, vol. 2: Confluence (Oba Tsugumi) ***
56. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) **
57. Tesseracts 12 (ed. Claude Lalumière) ***
58. Tesseracts 13 (ed. Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell) ****
59. Pretties (Scott Westerfeld) ***
60. Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant) ****
61. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (Kate Summerscale) ****
62. By the Mountain Bound (Elizabeth Bear) *****
63. Dreamsnake (Vonda N. McIntyre) *****
64. The Unwritten, vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Mike Carey et al) ****
65. The Stepsister Scheme (Jim C. Hines) ****
66. Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (Bryan Lee O'Malley) ****
67. Specials (Scott Westerfeld) ***
68. Kindred (Octavia Butler) *****
69. Bone and Jewel Creatures (Elizabeth Bear) *****
70. China Mountain Zhang (Maureen F. McHugh) ****
71. Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (ed. Justine Larbaleister) ****
72, 73, 74, 75. Seed to Harvest: Wild Seed, Mind of my Mind, Clay's Ark, Patternmaster (Octavia Butler) **** (overall)
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