Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl

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It's been a long time coming

Sorry about dropping off the planet like that, folks! I really do intend to start updating this journal semi-regularly, one of these days. Good intentions, etc., etc.

I do wonder, though -- is anyone still out there in lj-land? Hello?

Anyway. Book catch-up post! Here it is! Behind a cut because it's really really long, since it's been months.

11. Joseph Anton (Salman Rushdie)
Rushdie's memoir of his time living in hiding while under a fatwa calling for his death is alternately fascinating and frustrating. When he's describing his biographical backstory or the initial terror and perplexity or rushing into hiding, it makes for a great read. But it eventually degenerates into what reads as an endless series of complaints and settling of scores. ***

12. Ash: A Secret History (Mary Gentle)
What starts out looking like a gritty semi-historical medieval war story in a slightly alternate history gradually develops into something much more complex and "meta". The modern historian uncovering the historical story thing has rarely been done so effectively. That said, this is an extremely long book, and I can't help but feel it didn't need to be quite so long. And the supposed "free translation" of source material isn't quite enough of a veil for the very modern narrative style/voice. ***

13. The Strain (Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan)
Creepy imagery, nicely scary vampires (which are kinda zombies half the time). It does work as a fresh take on vampirism, making it much less romantic than it has been of late. The writing feels stilted, though, a bit overwritten. It's cinematic, of course, but it's also obsessed with making sure the reader picks up on everything. It would have worked better if it trusted the reader more. ***

14. The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie)
Reading Joseph Anton made me want to remind myself about the Satanic Verses. It's a strange book: large and sprawling and full of things that happen just because. Rushdie really does have a way with words, and it's absorbing while I'm reading it, but overall, I don't think it hangs together as well as Midnight's Children, say. Is it art? Of course -- it's all art. Is it good art? Well, it's certainly self-consciously literary -- not that there's anything wrong with that. ***

15. The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill)
I can see why this book was such a hit: it's got a very engaging narrator and it tells a story that engages with the history of slavery and racism while foregrounding a woman whose initiative and ability drive the story (not to mention a healthy dose of luck). ****

16. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)
This is kind of another example of great writing that doesn't quite hang together as a story. It's really more of a dream-like fugue state than a series of events that happen. ***

17. The Killing Moon (N.K. Jemisen)
Once again, Jemisen manages to create a fantasy world quite unlike anything I've seen before. The way the theology and the magic work together is fascinating and convincing. The characters are interesting and complex, and I was genuinely concerned about all of them. *****

18. In Great Waters (Kit Whitfield)
I haven't read many "serious" takes on mermaids... In fact, I can't think of another one. But this is a book that has really thought through how a sea-based culture of not-really-humanoids might interact with human culture, and it really does affect everything. The best part is how the characters don't feel quite human, but are still both believable and (mostly) sympathetic. ****

19. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Lois McMaster Bujold)
Cute, sweet, funny, light... This book is probably the very definition of a "romp".  Now, I don't want to see any of my favourite characters hurt...but I wonder if we're missing out somewhat because of the "main character safety field" that seems to be operating in the Voskorigan-verse at the moment.  ***

20. Divergent (Veronica Roth)
Violent dystopian YA trilogies really are a thing, aren't they? I don't buy the fundamental premise of this world: that society has divided itself into five factions, based on personality, and each faction is responsible for different aspects of work and life. However, if you accept that premise (and a few other things that would be spoilery to reveal), the world-building is pretty well worked-out -- I believe the politics, even if they are a bit broad-brushed. The characters are a bit broad-brushed, too, although our heroine Tris is a moderately believable teen girl. ***

21. A Civil Contract (Georgette Heyer)
Yeah, I'm not the audience for this, am I? I can mostly see why people like these. The characters are interesting, well-drawn, believable... but I just didn't feel like the stakes were high enough or the alleged comedy funny enough. Oh well.  **

22. Jack Cloudie (Stephen Hunt)
I don't want to spoil the twists here, but it's hard to talk about what makes this book interesting without a certain level of spoiling. I'll try anyway.  Let's just say there are interesting things going on around gender, and that what I was sure was a fridging (and I was getting irked by it...) turned out to be something else altogether. ****

23. Insurgent (Veronica Roth)
The second volume of this projected trilogy is just like the first, except with more conspiracy and more inability to trust anyone. Adults are, of course, particularly suspect. Tris' trauma and adolescence are leading to increasing moodiness and angst, which, while believable, can be a bit irritating on the part of a viewpoint character. ***

24. The Fall (Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan)
Unsurprisingly, my criticisms of the first book in this trilogy stand for this one, too. The ideas are (mostly) solid, but the execution is lacking. **

25. The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)
Alas, this was really not my bag. It felt like endless easily-preventable angst, and nothing ever bloody happened. I suppose the characters are well-drawn and the prose is lovely, but they're all aimless drips and it turns out I really do need a plot to be happy. *

26. The Shadowed Sun (N. K. Jemisen)
This is sort of a sequel to the Killing Moon, in that it deals with what happened next, but it is also a story in its own right -- the characters are, mostly, new to us, and the plot is not a straightforward continuation of what came before. It occurs to me that this is the same way Jemisen's Inheritence trilogy worked -- the books were linked, but not direct continuations. I found the handling of the romance in this book very interesting, and distinct from the ways romance is usually handled, with a resolution that wasn't as pat as I feared it might be. I also really enjoyed seeing more of the world, and getting a peek at a different culture and the ways all the various societies in the world interact. ****

27. Shattered Pillars (Elizabeth Bear)
As pretty much always with Bear, this book was full of complex world-building, and deals with nifty characters with hidden depths. It's very much a middle book -- it needs the context of the first book, and ends without quite as satisfying a conclusion as the previous book. At the same time, there are major developments and dramatic events, and very little actually plays out in a predictable way, which is all too rare for me. Also, horsies. ****

28. From the Deep of the Dark (Stephen Hunt)
This book is more science-fictiony than some of the others in the series -- parallel worlds! We get to find out about another (two) new societies, undersea ones this time. I am a bit impressed at the complexity of the world Hunt has created; there always seems to be something new to discover, some entirely new group of people (more or less humanoid) that we'd never heard of before. Not to mention new Cthulhoid groups... ****

29. The Night Eternal (Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan)
In this book, things are getting a little muddled between the scientific, the supernatural, and the symbolic. Characters are increasingly hard to sympathize with, and although I'd like to say it's a reasonable portrayal of severe stress and PTSD and so forth, it feels too much like "movie crazy" for my taste. Ideas and events get dropped -- Zach's incipient mental illness, for example (also, that seems to imply a model of mental illness development that I don't think is scientifically valid -- you don't get OCD because you're in a crappy situation). And, trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, I hate that whole name the baby after the heroic sacrifice thing. Meh. *

30. Zoo City (Lauren Beukes)
I love the way the animal familiars are both explained -- how they work, what the rules are -- and not explained -- where they come from and why. It's a great, grungy, lived-in world that immediately sets itself apart from your standard urban fantasy just by not being a generic North American town. I could have used a little bit more information at times about how things fit together and how Zinzi figures things out, though. ***

31. Cold Magic (Kate Elliott)
This was a re-read, leading up to the Cold Steel release. Elliott, as always, writes books that are compellingly readable and enjoyable for me. I'm not a huge fan of the first person, and Cat's voice is occasionally obtrusive for me, but I get what she's doing, and it does largely work. I wonder how much of the mysterious is going to be explained? ****

32. Finch (Jeff Vandermeer)
This book brings a whole new meaning to the description "noir". There's a detective trying to solve a murder, and a decaying city, and corruption... and there's also fungal infestations and the mysterious gray caps who have taken over the city and whose motivations are unknown and possibly unknowable, and half the time the whole thing feels like a profoundly disturbing fever-dream. ****

33. Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg)
The criticism that Sandberg is writing entirely for a very small class of privileged women is an entirely fair one. It's one she's aware of, and she tries to mitigate it by repeating over and over that every women should decide what success means in her own life and what she needs to do about it... but at the same time, all of her advice and all of her anecdotes reflect one very narrow view of success. Some of the advice is pretty good -- the bit about "don't leave before you leave," where she advocates not taking the "family track" just because you might someday want to have kids, for example -- but she never seriously questions the idea that its realistic to demand long working hours for corporate success, for both men and women. She claims to only be speaking to one side of the problem, and to believe that there should be societal-level changes as well... but that feels a bit too muc like preempting expected criticism for my taste. Anyway, it's a short book, although I'm told watching her various speeches will get you essentially the same material. **

34. City of Saints and Madmen (Jeff Vandermeer)
I didn't realize when I picked up Finch that it was actually part of a series of writings about the city of Ambergris. This is the first -- a set of four novellas set in the city's earlier days, and including a idiosyncratic history of the city. The imagery is evocative, and fungus has never been so creepy. ****

35. Cold Fire (Kate Elliott)
The most interesting thing about this book, for me, is how much was resolved that I half-expected to be maintained in tension throughout the series. Cat's romance plot is resolved, for example. And we know who her father -- pardon me, her sire -- is, and some of what that means. There are also pretty major developments as to who the antagonist is -- and who it isn't, quite. I love, too, the way the world just opens up -- this is not a story that's focused entirely on Europa, and I find the "New World" pretty well-handled. I am really curious to learn more about the "trolls"... And I am definitely eager to read Cold Steel now.  *****

36. The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi)
Bacigalupi has clearly thought through his post-economic-apocalyptic world. You can certainly see why this book got so much buzz when it came out: it's distinctively different, and not just because it's set in future Thailand. It's not a happy book -- terrible things happen to pretty much everybody, and nobody's really a hero. Everyone's out for themselves, and human nature is showing signs of recreating the same problems that caused worldwide economic collapse in the first place. It's a very well-written book, but it's hard to get attached to anybody, since pretty much everyone is terrible in some way, with the exception of the genetically engineered sex slave of the title. ****

37. The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
Almost a fairy tale, but not, this is a slim little book that you could read in a day, but it's surprisingly powerful and affecting all the same. The praise it's been getting is well-deserved. *****

38. Soft Apocalypse (Will McIntosh)
Damn. This is a powerful portrait of a world in decline, from the point of view of an ordinary guy just trying to survive and find love. The way more and more disturbing things gradually come to seem completely normal and to be expected is profoundly unsettling. It's also disturbingly plausible. *****

39. Shriek: An Afterword (Jeff Vandermeer)
As a novel, this is a strange work. It's mostly a memoir, but it leaves an awful lot of questions unanswered. Some of those answers -- what happened to Duncan? -- are partially answered in Finch, and others -- what happened to Janice? -- may or may not have been answered in the stories in City of Saints and Madmen. It's a peculiar, tangled, postmodern kind of writing. The story, such as it is, is mediated not only by Duncan's interjections and comments but also by the revelation in the afterword (to the afterword) that this work, too, has been edited in its entirety. Nothing can be accepted as true, and everything is ambiguous. I think that's probably what I like best about Vandermeer's work. ****

40. Gilgamesh (Stephen Mitchell)
This isn't really a translation -- Mitchell freely admits that he hasn't read the original text, and that he's working purely from other translations. Rather, it's an attempt at creating a coherent and cohesive text. It does achieve that. I feel ill-suited to comment in much detail, because I actually have never read a version of Gilgamesh before (I know!). My biggest reaction was: wow, there's a lot more sex than I expected. I guess that's why we didn't cover this in high school. As an introduction to the story, it is effective.

41. Cold Steel (Kate Elliott)
Once again, Elliott's pacing is perhaps what surprises me the most about this book -- I really didn't think we'd get Andevai back nearly so soon! And then it allows her to address the underlying issues that he and Cat are going to have to resolve if they're actually going to have a future together -- and to resolve those issues in a completely reasonable, if unexpected, way. The whole series has been a delightful mishmash of things being thrown into the pot -- there's a Napoleon-analogue rampaging across Europa, there's a popular revolution underway, there's conflict with the spirit world, there are intelligent dinosaur-people, oh, and dragons.... and yet, it works, for the most part. I was really pleased with the way all the very disparate threads pulled together in this book, although it did seem a little on the helter-skelter side at times. I particularly loved the developments in Bee's story, and how she becomes such a thoroughly modern character in so many ways, yet is utterly in keeping with the way her character has always been portrayed. It's hard to describe a book with so many serious, and seriously-treated, developments as a romp, and yet -- this is a great romp. *****

42. The Best Laid Plans (Terry Fallis)
This book is presented as something of a satire on the absurdities of Canadian politics, but I would argue it's actually moree of a wistful fantasy. It imagines a world where, yes, the independent parliamentary voice has influence and where integrity has effects... But it also imagines the major papers would criticize a tax-cut budget on sound economic grounds -- and that people would care. The only thing less likely, to my mind, is that a newly minted PhD with no publications who's been in political rather than academic circles would be able to just call up a department head and secure a faculty position in the english department because they're struggling to find someone. I know a few too many young PhDs to buy that!! Plausibility aside, it's a cute book and a quick read. I don't find grammar snarking nearly as appealing as I did when I was a younf prescriptivist (some of us grow out of it), but otherwise it's nearly as charming a book as it thinks it is. Even if it is really a nostalgia piece. ***

1. The Door Into Shadow (Diane Duane) ****
2. Murder of Angels (Caitlín R. Kiernan) ****
3. An Artificial Night (Seanan McGuire) ****
4. It (Stephen King) ****
5. Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel) ****
6. A Slight Trick of the Mind (Mitch Cullen) *
7. Late Eclipses (Seanan McGuire) ****
8. Busman's Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers) *****
9. One Salt Sea (Seanan McGuire) ***
10. Ashes of Honor (Seanan McGuire) ***

Tags: books

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