Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl

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Yes! I am still book-blogging!

Theoretically, I am otherstuff blogging as well. Or I will. Or I might.

Anyway. I have been keeping a running series of mini-reviews of my reading for this year, and I keep getting almost caught up enough to post said reviews, and then falling behind again. So that's why it's a quarter of the way through the year, and I am posting my books for the first time. Not that any of you are waiting with bated breath for my book reviews!

Anyway! Onwards! Here it is, the much-anticipated List of My Reading in 2012!

Book Reports

1. Welcome to Bordertown (ed. Holly Black and Ellen Kushner)
A nifty shared world, a collection of stories and poems by some pretty significant names in the field... this is just a plain old good read. Most of the stories are really about and for younger folks -- late teens and young adults, but they're still well worth reading. ****

2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
This is a book that only works because the narrative voice is so strong. The story itself -- a clique of high school students with a special relationship with their teacher -- would not normally appeal to me at all. But Blue's voice is so well-done, and her personality is so pronounced and unique, that she really carried the book for me. ****

3. A Betrayal in Winter (Daniel Abraham)
Like _A Shadow in Spring_, the first book in the series, this is an excellent story. It picks you up and carries you along with fascinating characters, all of whom manage to be sympathetic even while doing horrible things. Everyone betrays everyone else, and nobody's hands are clean by the end of it -- and yet I wanted them to all be okay, somehow. That's a sign of effective writing. *****

4. The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
Any description I can write for this book is pretty much guaranteed to make it sound like a generic fantasy. We have an innkeeper, who is really a hero (or villain) of legend who faked his own death, and who is telling his life story. Which involves being the bestest ever at pretty much everything, including magic, and music. The cliches are piled on, fast and furious -- he's a red-haired "Gypsy", with colour-changing eyes, whose family is murdered... and yet Rothfuss manages to make it all feel new and interesting. And he certainly doesn't make it obvious how it's all going to turn out. *****

5. An Autumn War (Daniel Abraham)
I loved the first two books. This one is devestating. If you hadn't already realized how terrible the magic system really is -- how hurtful it is to the world and its people -- the climax of this book will really drive it home. Wow. *****

6. Cleopatra: A Life (Stacy Schiff)
Popular biography is not something I read a lot of, even historical biography. This book is definitely intended for a mass audience -- it's written to be accessible and engaging. And for the most part, it succeeds. I did find, at the beginning, that Schiff was assuming a fair bit of familiarity with the popular legend of Cleopatra and with the broad outlines of Roman history, familiarity that I'm not sure most of her readers would have. The early chapters were also a bit confusing as they seemed to jump into the middle of the story, before going back to give (sketchy) details on Cleopatra's background and childhood. Still, a generally interesting and approachable read. ***

7. Strong Poison (Dorothy Sayers)
Going in to this book, I did know the eventual fate of the falsely accused Harriet Vane. It's probably near-impossible not to know what happens to her. Still, while this knowledge lessened the tension of the thing a bit, it didn't impair the interest of the story itself. Figuring out who really had "dunnit", and how was quite challenging -- the plot was quite pleasantly twisty. I also liked the characterization of Harriet herself, and the way the book deals with the emotional impact of Wimsey's relationships. ****

8. The Wise Man's Fear (Patrick Rothfuss)
Like the first book, this second volume of Rothfuss' "Kingkiller Chronicles" is a completely generic fantasy novel that's not generic at all. My biggest complaint is that I now have to wait for the release of volume three, when I will get answers to some of my questions... I hope. In the meantime, Jo Walton is doing a very detailed re-read of these books over at, and coming up with some fascinating insights and theories. *****

9. The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian)
At the beginning of this book, it looks like Aubrey is going to sail home and get command of a beautiful new ship... and then all hell breaks loose. This is a book that's all about defying expectations. I can't say much without introducing spoilers, but let's just say that this one made me terribly eager to pick up the next volume. *****

10. The Price of Spring (Daniel Abraham)
This book is all about consequences. After the devastation of the last book, people are still, fifteen years later, trying to pick up the pieces. With great difficulty. And they're working at cross-purposes to two very different goals. And they're all right about the ways the other side's goals is liable to destroy the world/country/society. These are wonderfully complex books, and although all happy endings are only happy because of where you stop telling the story, I thought *this* book did a remarkable job of finding a happy-ish ending. *****

11. Corsets and Clockwork: 14 Steampunk Romances (ed. Trisha Telep)
There are lots of great ideas in this short story collection, but unfortunately, the writing doesn't live up to the ideas' potential. I found many of the stories depended far too heavily on telling (instead of showing), and felt rather stilted. Some were better than others, but none of them really captivated me, although some of the worlds would have been interesting to explore further. **

12. The Companions (Sherri S. Tepper)
Tepper is always worth reading, but this is probably not one of her best. There are lots of great and interesting ideas being explored, but there are almost too many of them. We have over half a dozen alien species (including long-lost semi-mythical ones), genetically engineered dogs, an overcrowded Earth, exploring not one but two new planets, sentient plants, Earth politics, alien politics, a profoundly disturbed brother, a missing husband, and semi-sentient sex dolls. Tepper's good enough to prevent this complexity from becoming an out-and-out mess, but it's still a lot of balls for her to keep in the air, and it prevented me from being really caught up in the story. ***

13. Empress (Karen Miller)
Positive comments first: this is a fantasy with a very unique setting, magic system/theogony, and protagonist. I have rarely read a book where the protagonist is... I want to say unsympathetic, but it's actually perfectly clear why she acts and thinks as she does, and there's plenty of scope for sympathy there. But it's hard to like her. It's hard to see why people love her. But they do. Unfortunately, the promising set-up is hampered by writing that didn't quite "sing" to me. It was fine, but it didn't catch me up as much as I would have liked. And the dialogue felt very stilted, although that may have been largely due to the national speech-patterns that were being depicted. ***

14. The Surgeon's Mate (Patrick O'Brian)
Following directly on from the previous volume, this is a tremendous story, full of turns and reversals, and great successes followed by great disasters. I'm sure I've said somewhere before that if you'd asked me if I would like to read a long series of books about sailing ships during the Napoleonic wars, I would have said no -- but I'm really enjoying these a lot. There's something about the way they're written that just picks me up and carries me along, making we want to read more and more of them. They're terrific, and this is definitely a good example of what I enjoy about them. ****

15. Agatha H. and the Airship City (Phil and Kaja Folio)
The problem with taking a successful, long-running comic series and turning it into a series of novels is that you already have a lot of the story laid out, and there's only so much scope for elaboration and filling-in. The Folios do a good job of adding backstory and detail, but ultimately, it is just too much of a rehash of what they've done before -- fun for fans, but I'm not convinced it would stand alone. ***

16. Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold)
This is not the story I thought it would be. I'm not sure what I did expect, but it surely wasn't this. Wow. Miles' tendency to "get away with" things finally catches up to him. And then something really bad happens. And there's a mystery that must be solved (and while I didn't have the perpetrator pegged right away, I did have it figured out well before the reveal), and some serious growing up that has to happen. Recommended, but you really need to read the rest of the Vorkosigan books first, in order for it to have the impact it deserves. *****

17. Half-Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan)
This is a story about a group of black jazz musicians in Berlin and Paris during WWII, and about them meeting again in contemporary times. It's also about betrayal, and family, and a rivalry over a woman that never quite makes sense to me. This is a very readable book, and the narrator is quite engaging and tells a good story. But it suffers because the plot would completely fall apart if people ever actually spoke to each other. At all. I'm also somewhat perturbed that the single female character is this enigmatic love-interest who doesn't seem to get her own perspective on things, and who (of course) has died by the time we get to the contemporary, reconciliation section, so that we never get to see her in her own context. She's always just a fantasy for the male characters. That said, it's an interesting piece of history that you've probably never heard about before, and it is well-written and well-told. So it's worth it for that alone. ***

18. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Jon Krakauer)
This is not a happy book, but it is an interesting one. It deals with Mormon fundamentalism, centering around a murder committed by men who claimed they were acting on God's instructions. Krakauer traces the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with special attention to its schisms and breakaway sects, especially those driven by adherence to polygamy. The problematic issues that are present even in the mainstream church aren't glossed over, but it is still quite respectful, I thought. Krakauer isn't trying to prove that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, but only to trace some of the effects of his pronouncements and revelations and of the faith he founded. ****

19. Mort (Terry Pratchett)
The logline for this one is "Death takes an apprentice". It's pretty sweet. I mostly came out of the book feeling affection for Death, who likes cats and wouldn't mind being able to hand the job off to someone else for a while... There's not a whole lot of true surprise here, but it's a nice little book with some charming bits. ***

20. Feed (Mira Grant)
I am not really all that into zombies, generally. I mean, I can appreciate Sean of the Dead with the best of them, but I'm not a huge zombie fan. But this is something different: a zombie story set not in the immediate uprising, but twenty years later, when humanity has learned to live with the zombies -- more or less. It's also a story with properly science-fictional zombies, which is pretty rare -- they are disease-model zombies, but a disease model that actually makes sense. Mostly. It's also a book about blogging-as-journalism, and about politics, and it's a lovely emotional story as well. The ending (which I will not spoil!) has been described as "brave", and it is that -- it also works. I immediately grabbed the next book in the trilogy at the library. We'll see if she manages to carry through. *****

21. Bloodchild and Other Stories (Octavia Butler)
I've read some of these stories before, and some I haven't. One of the most interesting bits of this book is the little afterwords that Butler attaches to each story, explaining something of what she was thinking about that caused her to write it. Like her novels, Butler's stories are unsettling and prone to provoke thinking. Things are hardly ever as black and white as you might hope them to be, which is one of the things that makes Butler one of the Greats, in my opinion. ****

22. The Ionian Mission (Patrick O'Brian)
This is a very good book, even though it is full of frustration throughout for Jack and Stephen and the crew. Nothing seems to be going right, and I felt so badly for them that it was a real relief when they finally got to start fighting. I was so very swept up in the story that I raced right along to the next one, which is...

23. Treason's Harbour (Patrick O'Brian)
I think this is the best book in the series so far. Tension! Suspense! Angst! Action! Surprising Reversals! Seriously, it's great. I just wanted to keep reading and reading to see what would happen next. I knew Jack and Stephen would get out of it eventually since there are still ten more books in the series... but I wasn't sure about anyone else at all. *****

24. Komarr (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Miles is now an Imperial Auditor, and this is his first mission in his new role. It's a mystery, so I guess he's kind of a detective now? That's actually a good role for him, I think. Although he misses being able to run out and stir things up. And he does still manage to get himself into plenty of peril. We also have the introduction of a new point of view character, who is pretty obviously being positioned as a new love interest -- I've seen a lot of people complaining about her, but at least so far, I really like her. I am persuaded that she could come out of Barrayaran society, and that she would react to the world as she does. She's clever, and sensible, and she has her own interests and objectives. The story as a whole is a good whodunnit, and the way the pieces all fit together -- or rather, the way they don't fit together for the longest time -- makes for a good read. ****

25. The Hallowed Hunt (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Like everything of Bujold's that I've read so far, this book succeeded in sucking me in and convincing me to keep reading. I found some of the story beats a bit more predictable than I would have liked, thought, especially towards the end. Our Hero is an interesting character, particularly in that he has a negative outlook on life. We've all known people like that, but it's rare to see them in a story, and still rarer for them to be the heroic protagonist. I think my suspension of disbelief is most strained not by the animal spirits, but by the fact that the heroine falls in love with him so quickly! (It's absolutely possible to love a very negative person -- but I would expect it to take a bit more "getting to know you" time. Oh well.) ****

26. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
It was sheer good luck that my hold on this book at the library came up just before the movie came out. Now I can go and see the movie guilt-free (although I hope there won't be too many spoilers for the next two books, which are still on hold). I was actually pleasantly surprised by this book. It's much better than I had expected. It's not the most brilliant or original story, narration, or premise, but it does a really quite good job of telling that story and working through that premise. This is the book that finally got to apply the lessons of the reality-tv era to earlier dystopian imaginings, and that it does it with a tough female character and an appeal to young (especially female) readers is just a bonus. Huge mega-hit or not, it's worth reading. ****
Tags: books

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