starlady: Roy from FMA: "you say you want a revolution" (roy)
I'm up in Tochigi for a few days because of reasons, which has mostly been great so far. I got to see real mountains again, by which I apparently now mean "young, steep, not too high yet." Hopefully tomorrow we are going to an onsen, I could really use it.

What I'm Reading
Still Silver Spoon vol. 6, I know. But! I am confident that I will have it finished soon! It is great, I've just been sidetracked by other stuff. Namely…

What I've Just Read
Silver Spoon vol. 5 - enough said. 

The Hawkwood War by Ankaret Wells - The direct follow-up to The Maker's Mask, which I really enjoyed, and this was one was almost as good, which is to say, still excellent. As [personal profile] oyceter mentioned, I appreciated among many other things that there is such a variety of female characters doing and being very different things, and upon completion of the book, I really do stand by my assertion that on one level it's Dune but if the secret orders of ladies were doing interesting things instead.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson - It's winter now, and I like reading winter novels in winter, and you can't get more winter than Jansson. This novel, too, is definitely winter; Jansson could manage summer quite well when she put her mind to it too, of course. I'm not sure how much I have to add to what [personal profile] rushthatspeaks said about the book; except that the ending is perfect, and Anna and Katri are utterly believable, and it is a great novel.

The Fall of Ile-Rien by Martha Wells - Consisting of The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods. I'd had Wells on my radar for a while now, but after reading Kate Elliott's squee post about the trilogy recently I moved it to the top of my list. Much as she predicted, I got about halfway into the first one at a reasonable pace but then absolutely devoured the remaining 2.5 books. They are criminally unloved and Wells is criminally unknown in my book, and the only good thing about being finished with them is that I still have the rest of her backlist to work through.

The books are set (partly) in the eponymous Ile-Rien, an analog for early 20thC France which has sorcery coexisting with airships and automobiles and electricity, and which is losing the war against the sinister Gardier, badly. It falls to erstwhile playwright Tremaine Valiarde, not at all against her better judgment, to get mixed up in the last-ditch sorcerous war effort against the Gardier and to discover a whole bunch of things about magic, herself, and her own family while going at a breakneck pace to try to save her society. Not many spoilers, but some discussion of suicidality ) I am also totally glad for the setting, which we still need more of in fantasy--cities! modernity! the end to the false dichotomy between magic and science! I think the books' titles are clever but on a superficial level highly potentially misleading, and the paperback covers (still included in the ebooks) were terrible, so I urge people to look beyond those attributes and check them out. Luckily The Death of the Necromancer sounds like it should have at least some of what I loved about these books going for it, now that they're sadly finished.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré - On the theme of "bloody-minded and ruthless," I immediately started reading this after The Fall of Ile-Rien, and not at all to my surprise, since I loved the recent movie with Gary Oldman and company, I devoured it in about twenty-four hours and loved it. It is in all senses of the word a perfect novel. Smiley is not as openly sarcastic as Tremaine, but he has his moments of acid wit, and the entire thing is a bitter, bloody delight.

What I'll Read Next
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier - It is set in the 30s and it is violent, which is another way of saying that it is exactly what I have put myself in the mood for.

Also, probably, going to try to sneak in a few more potential Hugo nominees such as Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge.
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
As of right now I have read 66 books this year, which not only is 11 more than 2013, but is also four more than 2012! It's not entirely impossible that I'll finish another volume of Silver Spoon before midnight, either, in which case I will edit this post. This makes me very happy, as I only read five books from February through May (and none in March), meaning that more than 2/3 of these books were read in the latter seven months of the year. Clearly my goal for 2015 should be to read 70 books.

Moving on to the numbers…25 of 66 books were by chromatic authors, which is slightly less than 38% and decently respectable, as well as an improvement on 2013 and 2012. A 10% selection rate for "best of 2014" means I should be picking six books.
I've read too many excellent books this year, I really have. What should go in that blank? A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge? Moonshine by Alaya Dawn Johnson? The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black? We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler? The Diviners? The Goblin Emperor? Clariel? Stranger? Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History, which I finally finished this year? All of these books were great, and I enjoyed them immensely. I can only hope that 2015 provides a similar embarrassment of riches.

What I'm Reading
The Hawkwood War by Ankaret Wells (2010) - Direct sequel to The Maker's Mask, which I thoroughly enjoyed for its breakneck pacing, laugh-out-loud humor, banter, and wit, and throw-in-the-deep-end-and-swim approach to worldbuilding and explaining it. Tzenni is great, Innes is great, and the characters are interesting, varied, and believable. It's a teeny bit like Dune in the various secret orders running around, and I like it thoroughly so far. I'll definitely be picking up Heavy Ice (2013), set in the same world 200 years later, after this. Also, note that everyone in the books is some shade of black or brown as far as I can make out.

Silver Spoon vol. 5 by Arakawa-sensei - Still great. Hopefully I can read the remaining 7 volumes in time to buy vol. 13 when it comes out, which should be June-ish based on previous publication pace.

What I've Just Read
Ashes of Honor (2012), Chimes at Midnight (2013), The Winter Long (2014) by Seanan McGuire - Well, I was planning on trying to pace myself with the latest three volumes of the October Daye books in time for the ninth one in September, but that obviously didn't happen. I finished the sixth and started and finished the last two in the space of 24 hours on Boxing Day, which even for me is pretty remarkably fast. I <3 Toby, and I really like her team--and I like that they explicitly think of themselves as a team, and that [Romantic Interest] fits into the team so well. (Much better than [character] did.) I know everybody said 8 was a huge shocker, and I guess it was, except that I've honestly forgotten the details of so many of the first three books that some of the punch of various revelations was lost on me. Also, there's clearly so much that still hasn't been said, and a lot of that is what I was wondering about. Given McGuire's meticulous dropping of hints and her even-more-impressive-in-retrospect ability to leave threads very precisely untied until they turn into garrotes, I expect quite a lot of interesting things in the second act of the series, and in particular in the next book. Also, reading these books is like taking a trip home to the Bay Area, and that was just what I needed this Christmas.

The Maker's Mask (2010) by Ankaret Wells - See comments on The Hawkwood War. Highly recommended. Wells came out of fanfic, and it shows in the best ways.

Silver Spoon vol. 4 by Arakawa-sensei - I had a bit of a tough time with Hachiken's would-be white knighting in the second half of this volume, but as I've said before, it's still great.

What I'll Read Next
More Silver Spoon. Razorhurst. Not sure what else. It's a new year.

Favorite books for [personal profile] aria 

Goodness, this is a tough question. I think "favorite books" tends to be difficult to answer, because so many of one's favorites tend to be the books one read when one is very young and everything is still new and capable of making a ridiculously strong impression. Conversely, I've read many great books since my return to SFF in 2009, but which of them will stand the test of time? That said, I'll try to come up with a list of some favorites that mixes old and new.
  • The Young Wizards books by Diane Duane - Some are stronger than others, but all of them are well-considered, fiercely ethical, and beautiful, heartbreaking, and wonderful by turns.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - I talked a lot about Narnia several years ago and I'm still basically obsessed. They're complicated texts, and imperfect, and I appreciate that about them as an adult even as I also remember my childhood reactions.
  • The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper - Well, obviously, warty gender issues and all. The Dark Is Rising is a perfect book.
  • Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge - I stumbled on this in a bookshop in Derry in Northern Ireland and loved it from the very first word. I love Mosca even more now than I did then.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix - I haunted the books section of Zany Brainy (oh, the 90s) until this came out in paperback, and it was worth the wait.
  • The Alanna books by Tamora Pierce - I think Pierce's later books are objectively better, but I read these when I was nine, and they made a huge and much-needed impression.
  • The Honor Harrington books by David Weber - I've basically broken up with this series, but the first eight are great, and Honor was a great character for me to read about when I was 13. I have huge issues with much of Weber's worldbuilding now, but I still recommend the first eight, since they form a pretty self-contained arc.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - Huge, sprawling, wondrously detailed, the perfect winter novel. I have the red Christmas cover that they sold at Borders and I love it to death.
  • The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson - No one should be surprised to see this on this list at this point. :P To my mind, this is how you write historical fiction.
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman - These books were a huge influence on me, and though I have some problems with Pullman now, they are still wondrous.
  • The Spiritwalker Chronicles by Kate Elliott - A latebreaking addition to this list, but the first one in particular felt like it was written for me, and I love all of them to death.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell - Another perfect book.
  • The Michelle West novels - I find it difficult to pick a single book out of any of these, not least because the single story they are all telling has long since overwhelmed any individual volume in my mind. I discovered The Broken Crown when I was 12 and have loved them all ever since.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu - My favorite manga, still, both for its action and its humor but also for its characters and its willingness to ask tough questions and to make hard choices.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - I never think of this one at first blush, but the story (albeit mostly through The Muppet Christmas Carol) absolutely has had a huge effect on me, especially in the decade or so since high school when I was first faced with the question of how to be an ethical being in society. I worry about my own tendencies towards misanthropy, cynicism, and despair for humanity, as well as about being a good person--all things that Scrooge has to learn about! But the book also offers the most important lesson of all: that it's never too late to change, and to change one's life. May that truly be said of us, and all of us.
It's funny; I spent a lot of time in high school and college reading "the classics," and though there are a lot of writers on those lists whose works I love (Austen, the Brontës, Woolf, Dumas, Faulkner, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Tristram Shandy), none of them stuck in quite the same way, I suspect partly because they aren't asking quite the same kinds of questions as many of the books above, and also partly because none of them have magic. Well, we all have our faults.
starlady: (heaven's day)
What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon vol 4 by Arakawa Hiromu - It's still great. Also I'm really jealous of all their fresh vegetables.

The Maker's Mask by Ankaret Wells - After the disaster of The Three-Body Problem I wanted some sci-fi that was about as different as possible. I've only just started, but I'm quite enjoying the book so far. Ladies! Pseudo-medieval post-planetfall politics! Genderqueerness! Assassins!

Razorhurst by Justline Larbalestier - I bought this while I was in Australia, and it's just been short-listed for an Australian literary award, so I'm hoping to finish it soon!

What I've Read
Clariel by Garth Nix - I think the best thing to say is, it was worth the wait. I'm really impressed at how many writerly tricks Nix pulled off here, and how a book written 11 years after its predecessor but set 600 years before can so effortlessly set up the next book in the series. I also was impressed at how suspenseful I found the book to be, given that I knew the ending going in. MORE OLD KINGDOM NOW PLEASE.

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown - At long last the #YesGayYA book is available in the world, and I quite enjoyed it, which to be honest is no less than I expected. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, but it's a very animanga kind of livable, quotidian postapocalypse, and the society it portrays is interesting and believable, with just enough vampiric plantlife thrown in to keep things interesting. Honestly I think this book may appeal to fans of X-Treme X-Men, as it really is "the X-Men in the Old West" in some ways, even as it's also one of the most LA books I've read--not Hollywood, but actual LA with actual people. The food descriptions alone nearly made me want to book a flight back to California; I did go out to the best Mexican restaurant in Tokyo because of it. And, of course, I also found the characters interesting, and wasn't fussed by the switching between multiple protagonists, or by what happens to them.

Essentially, I disagreed with the [community profile] ladybusiness review on basically all points, and in particular, I wanted to mention that I don't think that queer characters in books should be treated like they're made of glass. A story in which being gay and suffering for it in whatever way is not the only story that should be told about gay characters, but at the same time, it's not like nothing bad that isn't about being gay ever happens to gay people, and what some of the gay characters in this book have to deal with in terms of parents and family is stuff that everyone has to deal with. I think it's just as important to represent those kinds of things in fiction because they are universal, or the next best thing to it, and gay readers deserve to have that chance just as much as straight audiences. (I also appreciated that gayness isn't just for white boys. Indeed, most of the protagonists are people of color, which was refreshingly realistic for a book set in future!Los Angeles.) I will say, however, that if you haven't liked Sherwood Smith's other books, I don't think you'll like this one. She has a very distinctive close third person POV style that, quite frankly, took me a while to get used to when I first started reading her books, and though obviously this is a co-written book and the style isn't "strictly Sherwood," if you will, there's enough of it in the prose that I'm confident in this prediction. All that having been said, I loved it, and I'm very excited to hear that Hostage, the sequel, is coming very soon!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison - I was not expecting to sit down and devour this book in less than a day but readers, I did. IT'S SO GOOD. It follows Maia, the despised youngest son of the elf emperor who unexpectedly inherits the throne after most of the rest of his family die in a suspicious airship accident. I'm still bitter about The Mirror Empire and grimdark, and I really appreciated a fantasy novel with goblins and elves and airships and bridges in which the struggles are about how to overcome one's own ignorance and how to enact good policy for one's realm. Maia is deeply sympathetic, and his relationship with his mother's family--he is essentially biracial, being half-goblin and and half-elf--was particularly interesting. I'm not sure I should even mention that Katherine Addison formerly wrote books under the name Sarah Monette, but I do think that assertions that this book is totally out of character with her previous work is somewhat wrong. It's true that this book is in many ways the polar opposite of something like Melusine and those books, but in some ways Maia's struggles to figure out how to interact with the world reminded me very much of my absolute favorite of Monette's works, namely the Kyle Murchison Booth stories. I do think there are subtle continuities between this book and Monette's earlier work, but I would also say that if you bounced off any aspect of the Melusine novels, I would heartily recommend giving this one a try. Her prose is a delight in and of itself.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones - I read this because [personal profile] littlebutfierce mentioned it in a December meme post, and I devoured it. It's a masterpiece and if you haven't read it you must do so now--I especially recommend it to those of you who, like me, are rather over the whole Tam Lin thing or never even got into it in the first place. (Ironically, I've read a lot of Tam Lin books and will read more. But as Jones herself says in this book, if you can't find things worth reading in fairy tales that is your problem.) It is not very Tam Lin-ish even though it's a Tam Lin novel; there's far more of T.S. Eliot in here, which makes me happy because Four Quartets is my absolute favorite Eliot. That said, I am not ashamed to admit that I relied quite heavily on [personal profile] rushthatspeaks' two essays explicating the ending to understand what happened, and to those who may have found it confusing, I highly recommend those posts: We only live, only suspire/Consumed by either fire or fire and The way upward and the way downward are the same.

Silver Spoon vol. 3 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still excellent. I appreciate the peeks into Arakawa's philosophy, which was an aspect of FMA that was de-emphasized as things went on, understandably.

What I'll Read Next
Probably the book after the Wells one, since I'm given to understand that they're a very tightly knitted duology. Also more Diana Wynne Jones! And more Silver Spoon of course.
starlady: (serious business)
Liu Cixin. The Three-Body Problem. Trans. Ken Liu. New York: Tor Books, 2014.

I was quite excited to read this book, which was a bestseller in China and which is one of the few examples of Chinese-language SF available in English. After giving it the old college try, however (I got to position 173 of 593 in my ebook, or to chapter 9), I had to either give up or face death by boredom. I just don't get the hype, and even beyond that, there are a few things about the book that I actively object to. Here's a problem with ebooks that I discovered reading this one: how to throw across the room in disgust?

Stuff from the part I did read. Contains discussion of suicide )

Stuff gleaned from reading reviews )

The AV Club's review called the book more anthropological than exciting on account of translator Ken Liu's attributing the book's flaws to the Chinese literary tradition, but for a whole bunch of reasons I think this is a cop-out on Ken Liu's part. (The review is partly boneheaded [the rise of the Party was 40 years before the Cultural Revolution, WTF] but it makes good points overall.) First of all, I don't think the idea that "the Chinese literary tradition" is necessarily didactic, boring, and bereft of characters with emotions really holds water. I am not any kind of expert on every era of Chinese literature, but at the least Lu Xun and the May Fourth Movement were not for characters without emotions, to say nothing of writers I've loved such as Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang) and Han Bangqing. Ken Liu's decision to render Liu Cixin's prose in this sort of flat manner--and even more, to lard an already overly expository text with even more in-text explanation rather than more footnotes--is the kind of mistake I would expect from a very inexperienced translator. Of course translation is a betrayal; if you're going to translate something, you have to decide what purpose your betrayal will serve, and Ken Liu has done the book and English-language readers no favors in his translation choices.

In conclusion: ARGH.

ETA: [personal profile] seekingferret finished the book and has some very interesting remarks on it (including corrections to some of my assumptions).
starlady: (but it does move)
Something everybody loves that you don't (or that you love that nobody else seems to) for [personal profile] the_rck 

I am a day behind--whoops! 

I think the answer I am going to give, to the positive permutation of the question, is the books of Neal Stephenson. I am immediately going to put in the caveat that I've "only" read The Baroque Trilogy (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and Anathem, but when you think about the length of a typical Stephenson novel--and the sad fact that most people don't seem to make it all the way through the Baroque trilogy, sob!--that is still pretty respectable.

The line I most often hear about Stephenson is that he is bad at endings and women, and while I obviously can't speak to his earlier books, I think both books disprove that idea to some extent. The Baroque Trilogy has many awesome female characters, for example, starting with but by no means limited to Eliza, and The System of the World is both an excellent book with a conventional plot structure in its own right as well as one long ending to a thousand-page epic. And the female characters of Anathem at least play active parts, even if the actual protagonist is male.

But what I love about Stephenson most is that he's so smart and so funny. The number of times I laughed out lout while reading the Baroque Trilogy was in the dozens--he has a way with quips, particularly in the first and third books, that is hilarious, though the Star Trek joke in Anathem was hilarious too--and also just a bravura way with words that I think is really great. Some people have said to me that they find Stephenson's prose style boring. I also like Thomas Pynchon and China Miéville, and in the end there's no accounting for taste. And while Stephenson may not be a Virginia Woolf or a Joseph Conrad in terms of prose style, he does have a style, and moreover, he's astonishingly smart and astonishingly good at explaining very complicated ideas very clearly. The part in Quicksilver where they escape Blackbeard with calculus--let me say that again, they escape Blackbeard with calculus, oh excuse me Sir Isaac, I meant fluxions--is a case in point. Anathem, where the characters run around doing all kinds of complicated trigonometry and orbital mechanics with not much more in the way of tools than were available to Euclid, with the crucial exception of their prodigious scholastic tradition and the minds they use it with, is another excellent example.

Anathem is another example of the ways in which Stephenson isn't afraid to channel that intelligence towards speculation--informed speculation, but speculation nonetheless--about science and technology, though I'll say no more about Anathem because it's all major spoilers. [personal profile] spaiku said to me once that The Diamond Age is the only work from the cyberpunk age that got the way we live now right (and I think that's true if you take a mulligan on William Gibson, whose novels came true in pieces and who then stopped writing science fiction), so this isn't precisely a new trick, either.

Talking of The Diamond Age brings up the other reason people tend not to read Stephenson, namely the very questionable racial politics in some of his books. I called The Diamond Age "the masterpiece of techno-Orientalism" in my Ph.D. exam, which is a characterization I stand by, and I'd really rather just pretend the Mongoliad books or whatever the fuck they're called don't exist. In its dealings with the Ottomans Quicksilver in particular suffers from some of this, but in drawing on history and also research Stephenson is insulated from some of the more pernicious effects of unconscious attitudes. It's a shame that such a learned guy can't get past his own privilege or ignorance or whatever, and I certainly can understand why people would avoid Stephenson on this account. But at least these four books, and some of his others about which I've heard good things, are ones on which I want to play the "this author is problematic but I like them anyway" card. I actually heard him speak at my university once, and he struck me as actually quite humble, which might come as a surprise to some people. I would have liked to ask him a question about some of these points, but the Q&A moderation was terrible and so were the moderator's questions. Don't let physicists ask writers about novels, people. Just say no to that.

Anyway, I commend The Baroque Trilogy to anyone interested in the Scientific Revolution, 17thC Europe, or London; I walked around the city this summer with scenes from the books playing through my head like some kind of multimedia installation. And I commend Stephenson to your reconsideration, if you're so inclined.


Oh, if you want the answer to the other half of the question, because they just came up on a playlist: FUCKING MUMFORD AND SONS. ALL THEY DO IS GROAN MELODICALLY. SHUT UP MUMFORD AND SONS. WHY
starlady: (abhorsen)
What I've Just Read
I finally finished Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves, a YA novel set in the same world--the same town, really--as Bleeding Violet. It feels weird to say this, but although Slice of Cherry was much darker (content notes: serial killers, child sexual abuse, I'm probably forgetting something), I still liked it a lot. Whereas Bleeding Violet was as much about introducing Portero as anything else, here the general Night Vale-style weirdness of the town takes a back seat to the psychodrama of Fancy and Kit Cordelle, the daughters of the so-called Bonesaw Killer, who take advantage of their unique heritage to follow in their father's footsteps in their own way, even as they learn, albeit painfully, that there are more ways to connect with people than just by killing them. If Bleeding Violet reminded me strongly of Welcome to Night Vale, this book reminded me a lot of Hannibal, if Hannibal and Will were two teenage girls who kind of wanted to get out of the murder game. I continue to really like Reeves' writing, and at points I was rather forcibly reminded that she is definitely not writing from a mainstream, middle-class white perspective. The characters are all quite frank about sex, in particular, but there are many other little things that make Reeves' voice original and valuable. I'm very glad to see from her Twitter that she's working on two more Portero books.

I also finished Silver Spoon vol. 2 by Arakawa-sensei. It's so great. I like Hachiken-kun a lot more now that he's got a bit more backstory to him, but it's also nice to just read a book which is about the small--but by no means inconsequential--dramas of daily life, in which everyone is just trying to do their best in that muddled human way. I'm also learning a lot of agricultural vocabulary, still.

I devoured Ancillary Sword on my way back from Australia; I think I liked it even better than Ancillary Justice, which is saying something. It really reminded me, in a weird way, of Jane Austen in space--Jane Austen in space with guns, of course, but etiquette is absolutely crucial in most of the book's central conflicts, as are the proper dishes. I loved how Breq is angry all the time too--she has a lot to be angry about, too--and I liked how this book made the whole situation more complex, even as it made the answers less simple. Breq does her best to right the injustices that she finds, but there's only so much that she can do, to her dismay. My favorite character of all was probably the Presger translator; I hope we'll see more of the Presger in future, although I'm sure Breq wouldn't. I also, frankly, would read about a million books set in this universe. In the meantime, AS is on my 2014 Hugo ballot for sure.

What I'm Reading
I'm trying to finish Clariel tonight. I really like it, and I basically read the high points of it in that skipping around way that I do when I bought it, but I'm enjoying my thorough reading very much. In addition to what I said before, I also really like that Clariel is so angry. In fact, she's a berserk (like Touchstone in the first books), and though it is something that she needs and wants to control, she isn't punished for it by the narrative. Mogget is about to show up, and I <3 Mogget.

What I'll Read Next
Silver Spoon, assuredly. I'm also looking forward to finally reading Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith!
starlady: (abhorsen key)
I'm back in Bali. Due to various things, some of which I should have realized and some of which I should have been told, I am on my way to spending eleven hours here in the airport today. When I get to Tokyo I'll see whether they can change Indonesia rupiah, because the rates here were crap. For the record, the airport is very new and very nice, and don't worry, Lonely Planet, they have multiple duty-free shops now.

What I'm Reading
Clariel by Garth Nix - I had forgotten how much I love the Old Kingdom books; my copies of the first three and of Across the Wall and "The Creature in the Case" are in storage, so I haven't been able to do a proper reread, but even just from reading the preview of Sabriel in the back of the book, they're great. I also really like the way Nix manages to do several difficult things here: namely, to make an ostensibly unlikable protagonist sympathetic, and to build a plot and a coherent worldview despite said protagonist being rather disposed to obliviousness. I cannot wait for the fifth book, and I wonder to what extent Lirael's being a Rembrancer will come up. Also, I really do love Mogget more and more. I hope he's back too.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie - "We can't go to space without dishes!" I love the imperial Radch so much, partly because they are Romans in space and partly because they drink a lot of tea, although my loving them does not make me neglect their many faults, no more than Breq is blinded. This is a different book than Ancillary Justice in many ways, and in many ways also funnier (Breq is hilarious when she wants to be) and I'm enjoying it heaps so far.

What I've Just Read
Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan - Finished on my plane from Sydney this morning. I was not prepared for the fact that it would make me cry multiple times. I liked these books a lot, although I feel like they could have been deeper than they were, I guess. Not that they were shallow! And I did like the way the characters grew and changed, and the feelings, and the story itself. Sigh. Maybe I'm just actually wanting more story.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee - Finished on my train to Sydney on Sunday. I'd read some of Lee's stories in various online magazines, but it had been long enough that I'd forgotten almost all of them except "Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain" and "Blue Ink." Anyway they are great! Lots of maths, lots of Asian influences, lots of interesting and cool things. I need to read the rest of Lee's stories that are online and weren't in this book.

Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson - Read in the airport this afternoon. I love ADJ's books, and I liked this one a lot, although nowhere near as much as I loved The Summer Prince, which was alchemical. This one is good, and very much drawing on Johnson's experiences growing up in the District, although it's changed a lot in the last few years and her D.C. is very much up to date; I daresay her childhood didn't include pandemic flu and the invasion of Venezuela. I liked the protagonist Bird and her slow, painful transformation into her self; I never understood her attraction to Coffee, per se, and I also sort of question this knee-jerk association of Brazil and freedom and justice, although characters poke holes in it at at least one point. They have favelas in São Paulo, IJS, I guess. And I liked the story--I liked what happened with what Bird knew, and what didn't--but yes, the government does horrible things and while I believed in Bird's self-delusion on that point, I'm already in Coffee's camp more or less, and so Bird twigging to the truth of that didn't really do much for me. Bizarrely, Johnson repeatedly minimized the death rate of the 1918 pandemic flu (she says 5-10%; it was somewhere between 10-20 on average, and higher in many places), which really bothered me, because you don't actually see the extreme social dislocation of a pandemic at anything much below 30%, or at least you didn't historically, and the plausibility of the whole story line kept bothering me because of that. I don't know; the book is really about they way we live now, I guess, and it's depressing, but also nothing new. This dynamic of "teenagers discover huge government plot!" worked better for me in Malinda Lo's Adaptation books because I don't believe the government is lying about aliens. But I'm quite sure it's lying about some of the things that are plot points in here.

What I'll Read Next
I got Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier in Australia, and also a classic Penguin cover edition of Northanger Abbey, the last Jane Austen I haven't read. I also got a little Penguin pamphlet about the Sydney Opera House (it kills me that we in the States don't get the best of Penguin's designs, which have really gotten awesome in the last five to ten years), so probably that too.
starlady: Ramona Flowers wearing her delivery goggles (ramona flowers is awesome)
What I've Read
One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire--so, I actually quite like the Toby Daye books, which is funny because they're the sort of thing I'd have thought, four years ago, were not my cup of tea at all. But I've attended the parties for about half of the Toby Daye books, including this one, and liked them better and better…though I somehow failed to acquire this one in paper, which led to me acquiring it from (vomit) Amazon because I have a gift card there, and because the eighth book out and Everything Changes (again) and I didn't want to fall even further behind. I really liked it; I think in the Toby books in particular it's possible to see McGuire growing by leaps and bounds as a writer, and the climax takes place in one of my favorite parts of San Francisco. The books take place in a city but aren't typical "urban fantasy" by any means, and I do like Toby and her sarcasm and her need for coffee. I figured out the [spoiler] ages ago, and never really cared about that character anyway, but I liked them in this book more than I ever had before. I'm excited for the next three, when I get to them.

I also finished Silver Spoon volume 1. It's adorable and also very interesting. I find it really cool how Arakawa manages to make even the most mundane activities seem--not overly dramatic, but momentous in their own quotidian way. The horseback riding sequence is a good example of this. I also think it's interesting that this is the story she chose to do after FMA--she could have done whatever she wanted after FMA, and she started writing a manga about cows (and other things) set in Hokkaidou. Nice. Anyway, I love it, and it's great.

What I'm Reading Now
Yoon Ha Lee, Kate Elliott, and Rae Carson are the guests of honor at Sirens next year, and since I've loved some of Lee's short stories individually for a while, and had the collected volume of them, Conservation of Shadows, in my "to read" pile for a while, I started that on the plane this afternoon. It is also great; I love the math and science elements and Asian influences of Lee's space opera futures, and fantastic pasts.

Also, Silver Spoon vol. 2.

What I'm Reading Next
Well, more Silver Spoon when I get back to Japan. I'm also planning on buying Clariel by Garth Nix in paper when I get to Australia (bizarrely, the Australian cover is clearly the best of the lot), and possibly also Justine Larbalestier's Razorhurst (the Australian cover of that is better, too). Reading Yoon Ha Lee also makes me really want to read Ancillary Sword, so probably that soon too.

starlady: The Welcome to Night Vale Logo, with clouds over the moon (welcome to night vale)
No lie, I tried to picture where Triskelion was when I went over the bridge on the Metro today. And I walked past Steve's apartment building again. ♥


What Have I Read
Dia Reeves, Bleeding Violet (2009) - So, while I know that this book was written several years before the debut of Welcome to Night Vale, believe me when I tell you that this book could be a novel set within its universe, or an AU of its universe. The story concerns a half-Finnish, half-African American girl, Hanna, who moves to her mother's town in East Texas even though she's never met her mother before and her mother doesn't want her there. Hanna has mental health problems, but it turns out that her experience with her own crazy may actually stand her in good stead in a town where things really do go bump in the night, and even in broad daylight. There's even a scary female Mayor, and doors around the town play a huge role in the story--yes, it's basically Night Vale. I loved Hanna, and her pragmatic approach to her own mental health problems, and in many ways I don't think I've seen a more unsentimental portrayal of mental illness in YA. Her being mixed race, and also her sexual appetites, are similarly portrayed. I loved Hanna, and the book is dark and gripping. If you like Night Vale, I suspect you'll like this book, and vice versa. Highly recommended.

Sarah Rees Brennan, Untold (2013) - Sequel to Unspoken, which I liked a lot, and I liked this one a lot too, although it does (albeit believably, since the characters are emphatically not rational adults) rely on the Misunderstanding trope for much of its emotional tugging at the old heartstrings. I still like all the characters; they are still, especially the protagonist Kami, quite funny, and the story is still interesting, although this is definitely something of a middle book and I'm very much looking forward to Unmade. (Yes, I did wait to read this one until I could read the final one, which just came out.) I do think SRB keeps getting better as a writer; I'm looking forward to what she does next.

Alaya Dawn Johnson, Moonshine (2010) - After loving The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I wanted some more vampires done right, and this book fit the bill. I absolutely love Johnson's books, all of them, that I've read, and this was no exception, although it's written for adults (and, unlike Johnson's first books, the tone never wavers from that). The story concerns one Zephyr Hollis, the so called "vampire suffragette," a social reformer in a 1920s New York City populated by vampires and djinn as well as bootleggers and immigrants. I really love the 1920s setting for multiple reasons, not least being that we're in a Second Gilded Age, a Jazz Age without the Jazz (more's the pity), and I liked the book a lot. Zephyr is very much a modern woman, and for a while her almost maniacal zeal for social reform seems almost a caricature, until eventually things click into place like bullets in the chamber of a revolver and you realize that she's a killer who is fundamentally lying to herself about her own nature, even to the point of adopting vegetarianism. Her capacity for violence, unfortunately, is part of her and part of what allows her to do what she does; one wonders whether she'll ever be forced to reckon with it. I desperately want to read the sequel Wicked City, partly because the romance is left at a juncture not unlike some of the happenings in Untold (Zephyr, like Kami, is a pistol), but unfortunately it's not available in ebook and my copy is in storage. I shall just have to read Johnson's new YA novel Love Is the Drug in the meantime.

What Am I Reading
Buoyed upon the 1920s vim of Moonshine, I started Libba Bray's The Diviners on the plane immediately after finishing the first book. I love it terribly so far--Evie is a pistol too, and Memphis is swell--although I'm reading it with the trepidatious knowledge that the second book has been delayed for years (understandably) and Bray is currently dealing with depression, which of course is both wholly individual and also really difficult. Be that as it may, I really want these books to be the (a) great American historical fantasy epic that I've been waiting for my whole life, it feels like (and yes, these thoughts are emphatically partly due to getting back to my own New World pirate fantasy novel after eons)--it's the 1920s, it's New York, it's urban, it's got magic, it's American in all its painful complexity and darkness--and yes, Bray has gotten much better on the representation front, to my mind, after her first books in which people in Raj India are said to eat snakes (hint: no.) in the first scene and things go downhill from there. But so far The Diviners is the berries.

What Have I Acquired
My problem with the New York Review of Books Classics is that I want to read all of them. I went down to my alma mater on Monday to meet some of my old professors, and for reasons that shall remain unenumerated in public, I was in a weird and dark mood when I got back, the kind of mood to read something terrible and true, so I picked up a copy of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne. Apparently it was a secret bestseller amongst the U.S. army officer corps eight years ago, and may well be again, given that another September has brought yet more American violence to the Middle East. I have my doubts about this kind of history, but we'll see.

What's Next
Who knows?
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
Wednesday is generally when you get the cheapest and emptiest flights (relatively speaking) and it's become my go-to travel day for that reason. But for once I am in California again, so it's time to talk about books.

Books Read
Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate (2008) and Traitor's Gate (2009) - Further comments forthcoming, but suffice it to say, I loved the whole Crossroads trilogy, and I highly recommend them to everyone looking to read more epic fantasy that pays due attention to female characters and to women's experiences. Also: GIANT JUSTICE EAGLES IJS

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011) - I really enjoyed the other Oyeyemi book I read, White Is for Witching; I liked this one too, though (perhaps unsurprisingly since it's riffing on "Bluebeard") the themes of violence against women, against female characters, etc, felt a bit too close to reality. But in the end I really enjoyed the interplay between Daphne Fox, the titular Mr. Fox's wife, and Mary Foxe, his fourth wall-breaking muse; he doesn't deserve either of them, but that's how it goes. Oyeyemi is a wizard of prose, and I can't recommend her books enough.

Holly Black, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) - I was talking to a friend of mine who bought and started reading this book the same time I did but stopped a bit of the way in because of vampire fatigue. Well, I finished it on the BART this evening and I am here to tell you, there's no question of vampire fatigue when someone reinvents the form as well as Black does here--I'd forgotten how a well-written feeding scene can be better than any sex scene outside of top-shelf fanfic, and more interesting besides. The main character's tenacity and general clear-headedness are refreshing, and the worldbuilding is very interesting. I really enjoyed it.

Currently Reading
Brit Mandelo, We Wuz Pushed - This is an Aqueduct Conversations piece about Joanna Russ. I'm quite liking it so far. It was Mandelo's master's thesis and it's really good.

Wendy Walker, Knots (2006) - Another Aqueduct Conversations book. I love Walker's prose. I need to try to get this book for my own; I'm borrowing it from a friend.

The rakugo manga - yes, I know

Book-Shaped Acquisitions Space
Andrea K. Höst's book Stray is free on amazon.com. Höst was recommended to me quite enthusiastically by a fellow Michelle West fan at Worldcon, and I'd been planning to buy some of her books in paper when I go to Australia next month. I expect interesting things!

Reading Next
These things are very difficult to predict. We'll see!
starlady: David 8 holding the holographic Earth in wonderment. (when there is nothing in the desert)
Hurley, Kameron. The Mirror Empire. New York: Orbit Books, 2014.

The Mirror Empire is the fantasy novel that everyone is talking about this year, and right at the beginning, let me say that it will almost certainly be on my Hugo ballot, and that I think it deserves to be there. But as much as I enjoyed the book (and I did), I didn't love it, and even more so than usual, I have Thoughts.

It's gotten to the point where I feel like I've seen the plot of The Mirror Empire described a million times, or maybe I've just been obsessively reading other people's reviews to crystallize my own thoughts. At any rate, the book is set in a world--one of many--in which magic is linked to the ascent and descent of various satellites in the sky; those who can channel these wanderers can do so only in accordance with the altitude of their relevant moon. Most of these satellites are predictable, but one, Oma, only appears every 2000 years or so, and when it does it brings chaos, because those who can channel it can do just about anything, from unmaking the world to opening gates between worlds to raising the dead. Even more alarmingly, it becomes clear over the course of the novel that forces are massing in at least one other world with the unmistakable intention of killing everyone who remains in the world of most of the protagonists, so that the invaders themselves can inhabit that world--you can only cross over if your double on the other side is already dead, or never existed. If this sounds like genocide to you, it does to Hurley and her characters too.

I haven't yet read Hurley's God's War trilogy, but I'm willing to bet that the brutality of the world and the people in this book, as well as the sheer weirdness of some of the elements (mobile plants! who knew they could be so terrifying?), are shared by her previous novels. The Mirror Empire is an excellent epic fantasy, and I enjoyed the fact that so many of its protagonists are female, or of genders other than male, and that the novel depicts a host of matriarchal cultures, as well as the oppression that comes along with unchecked power. The book is fast-paced and interesting, although at times, as other people have said, it did get a bit challenging to keep who was doing what, and who knew what when, straight, which is not helped by doubles often having the same names. But there's no mistaking that it's a truly epic fantasy, whatever that means (wide scope? lots of worldbuilding? multiple POV characters?) and that Hurley is swinging for the fences here. Based on this book, it looks like she's going to clear them.

I liked it, but I didn't love it: POV characters and genocide )

I bought this book from Barnes & Noble because I wanted to support Hurley, who deservedly won two Hugos in London this year, and because I wanted to support the reinvigoration of epic fantasy via the promotion of new and existing voices within it. I don't regret my purchase at all, but as much as I'm curious to see how it's all resolved, some of the author's artistic choices have definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the sequels.
starlady: (bibliophile)
Books Read
Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria (2013) - I was talking to [personal profile] jhameia about this book, and about how the writing reminded me a lot of The Secret Service, and she said, "It's so sad." Which it is. And it's also, to my mind, much less about reading than other people had led me to believe. It's about travel, and being a traveler in a strange land, and yes about the power of books but also about how books aren't everything and about how they can and can't save you. It's melancholy and gorgeously written and wonderful, you should read it.

Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride (2013) - I enjoyed this book about a young woman who receives an offer to marry a dead man in turn of the C20th Malaya, although I am sympathetic to those reviews who complained that Choo's prose is somewhat more telling than showing at times, and the conceit that the narrator's father educated her sometimes stretches a bit thin in the face of facts about Malaya that she supplies the reader. But the narrator and her personality, and the vivid country of the dead to which she journeys, are more than enough to carry the story through. I am ambivalent about the ultimate denouement, but only because I saw someone else on DW compare the choice the protagonist faces to Aeryn's at the end of The Blue Sword. All that having been said, I really liked the book and very much will read Choo's future books.

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013) - Being spoiled for the essential conceit of this book did not make it any less awesome in the reading; at times while I was on the train reading it I had to laugh out loud. I've never read any of Fowler's work before, but this was awesome, and well deserving of all success. The narrator and her perspective are a treasure.

Kate Elliott, Spirit Gate (2007) - I started reading this, the first in the Crossroads trilogy, because one of Elliott's forthcoming 2015 books is set in the same world many decades later. I did not regret it. There are GIANT JUSTICE EAGLES and also, with two notable exceptions, all of the men are at best incompetent and all the women are badass in different ways. The setting is also entirely Asian-inspired, and the entire cast POC. I'm already 1/4 of the way into the next book.

Zen Cho, Spirits Abroad (2014) - This book was published in Malaysia, and I arranged with the author to purchase a paper copy for Loncon. I read it on the plane to Turkey and loved every second of it; I've previously read and quite enjoyed Cho's romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, but her short stories are also a true delight, particularly "Prudence and the Dragon" and "The Four Generations of Chang E" and…all of them, really. Many of Cho's characters speak Manglish, and having attended a few of the author's events at Worldcon, it was interesting to note bits of her personal experience reconfigured and reused throughout her work. I very much hope that her novel is picked up and published soon! 

Currently Reading
Kate Elliott, Shadow Gate (2008) - Second in the Crossroads trilogy. Has more of [spoilers] but also more of a character who I honestly wished had been killed at the end of the last book. I think I get the point of his plotline, but he's still damn annoying.

The rakugo manga - still

Book-shaped space for acquisitions
Various, Kaleidoscope (2014) - I downloaded my ecopy of this anthology, which I supported in Kickstarter, and can't wait to read it.
Hagio Moto & Komatsu Sakyo, Away vol. 1 (2014) - new manga by Hagio Moto from a Komatsu Sakyo story!!!!!

Reading next
I acquired an excellent badge ribbon emblazoned with the phrase "All power corrupts, but we need electricity" at Worldcon, which makes me want to read the book it's from, namely Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon. Also probably Michelle Sagara, since I'm behind on the Cast books. Also Kameron Hurley because she won Hugos. Also Seanan McGuire because I am WAY behind on her books. Also…you get the picture.
starlady: (bibliophile)
Recently Read
Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Burning City (2010)
I really liked the first volume in this unfinished trilogy, Johnson's first novel, Racing the Dark--and though the trilogy is unfinished, I think this volume ties up enough of the loose ends that it's not an unsatisfying place to stop. The book traces the events immediately following the end of Racing the Dark, as well as events of 1000 years ago, the age of the great spirit bindings. I still found Lana to be somewhat annoying at times, so it was nice to break her perspective up with that of the dead witch Aoi, although Lana, by the end of the book, did start to come into her own as more of an adult than before. Semi-facetious note: This is one of several books I've read recently in which a threesome with better communication would have solved a lot of problems.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (2013)
I already knew that I was going to vote for this book for Best Novel in the Hugos, and I was pleased to find that it totally lived up to all the buzz I'd heard. Aside from the absolutely gripping narrative and the compelling protagonist, Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen alias Breq, who used to be a part of a millennia-old starship but isn't any longer, I love how the narrator just says "gender is confusing me, I can't see it correctly" and just uses "she" to refer to all of the other people she meets, including people she knows are male-bodied. One in the eye, fanboys! And, although Leckie denied it to some extent in the back matter, the Radch are totally Romans in space, and we all know how much I love the Romans. I can't wait for the follow-up, Ancillary Mercy.

Sarah McCarry, All Our Pretty Songs (2013)
A YA retelling of the Orpheus myth that reminded me of Francesca Lia Block (whom it name-checks) but better, because I never much liked Francesca Lia Block; I am tickled to note that in this book LA, the setting of most of Block's oeuvre, is emphatically identified with Hell, which I suppose would make mid-90s Seattle, where the book is set, something other than Elysium. I liked the book, though not as much as some people; wild teenagers Aurora and the unnamed protagonist grow up like sisters despite the fact that Aurora's Kurt Cobain father killed himself and her heroin addict mother Maia (probably meant to be Courtney Love) doesn't speak to her former best friend, the protagonist's mother Cass. Things get complicated when phenomenal guitarist Jake, a clear stand-in for Hendrix, rolls into town and the narrator falls in love with him. Given that Maia is black and Courtney Love is a rocker in her own right, I was uncomfortable with the clear "Cobain and Love" aspect of the characters, and in particular the way that Maia is totally out of touch with her own life, to say nothing of her daughter. Like other people, I felt like the few isolated attempts to discuss race were more shoehorned in than organic, albeit sincere. I felt like Jake's characterization was also a bit thin, particularly since he's basically Hendrix. The narrator is unnamed, of course, because there is no one like her in the Greek myths, and the book's language is gorgeous. I also thought the denouement was an interesting twist on a familiar set of tropes.

CLAMP, xxxHoLiC Rei vol. 1 (2014)
I bought this when I was in Japan last month and…I don't know. The art's still great, but I fail to see how the story can be anything but a retread of the less interesting (i.e. non-main plot arc, such as it was) parts of the original manga. And as much as I love the characters, for all the jokes Yuuko makes about couples' comedy routines, it's not like CLAMP are ever going to either fish or cut bait with the relationship between Watanuki and Doumeki, probably not in any way. Which I find more frustrating than I used to, I will admit. My own personal feeling is that Rei is set in the middle of the first series; on the cover and in the splash pages, Watanuki still has two blue eyes, so it's pre-Spider Lady. I imagine they want to cross over with Legal Drug, which has also restarted; it was possible to see, for a while after the latter was cancelled, the places in the former where crossovers had been intended. Which is fine, but for all that the first HoLiC series had pacing issues, it was still gorgeous and captivating. I am not captivated by Rei yet; unless I become so, I'll probably sell it back to Book-Off before I leave Japan next year.

Currently reading
Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. I like it a lot so far; I have nothing to say yet.

Reading next
No idea!

starlady: (bibliophile)
We're back and better than ever! Or at least, I'm reading for fun again for the first time since before my exams.

Just finished
Rachel Hartman, Seraphina (2012)
I really liked this YA novel about a girl caught between two worlds in conflict (humans and dragons, natch) in a for once believably plausibly medieval world, with much greater gender equality and non-stigmatized homosexuality, even. I was reminded of Frances Hardinge's Fly By Night in that respect, actually, which is very high praise indeed. I could barely put the book down, given how much I loved Phina, and sympathized with her struggles, and I think the book is also making some fairly sophisticated arguments about embodiment and what it means for who we are. The dragons were great too, and I'm looking forward to the sequel very much.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Peril (2012)
I really enjoy the Cast books, even though I'm perpetually falling behind--the newest, Cast in Flame, is about to be published, and I still haven't read the one in between them. I was also thinking to myself while reading it that I really wished two characters would sleep together, and thinking that it would never happen, when it was explicitly discussed in text a few pages later (and rejected; I like that Sagara's characters often know and enforce their own boundaries). So there is indeed character development going on, and for a book that's all about a journey from Point A to Point B, it was surprisingly gripping. Anyway. If you like Sagara West's central protagonist type, you should totally check out the Cast books, since they really are Kaylin's story.

Frances Hardinge, A Face Like Glass (2012)
I think this is Hardinge's best book yet, at least of the ones that I've read. (I only have three left to read! Noooo! I've been trying to pace myself.) Neverfell isn't as brave as Mosca, and that makes her equally interesting in a different way, and the worldbuilding was spectacular. I can't recommend Hardinge's books highly enough to everyone, and I also want to say that I think that her books are a great example of art being found everywhere, even in denigrated categories such as middle grade.

N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (2012)
I really liked both these books, though I thought that The Killing Moon stood better on its own, particularly since The Shadowed Sun was rather heavy in its subject matter at times. Everyone should read these books! Pseudo-Egyptian epic fantasy with interesting magic and an interesting and varied cast of characters and…ninja priests of death! All that being said, while I liked Hanani a lot, I didn't like the denouement to her story, or the ending of the book in general; I wanted more of the politics related to the resolution, and less of the personal. I also think that…how do I say this. Jemisin is clearly in conversation with certain romance novel tropes at times, and I'm not personally a romance fan; I also feel that giving female protagonists in fantasy novels romance novel endings feels conservative, even if it's actually not for the characters themselves. I'd rather see Jemisin give queer characters the romance novel endings; that would feel more revolutionary for me, and more satisfying. Also there should be another whole book about Nijiri; I found him annoying initially, but by the end he was my favorite character by a long shot.

N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods (2011)
On the other hand, I really liked this conclusion to the Inheritance trilogy; I liked the politics, the magic, the godhood and its problems; I liked Sieh and his trio with the Arameri siblings. I actually mostly just wish it had been longer, really; Jemisin really managed to draw the threads of everything else that had come before together in a very satisfying way.

Sherwood Smith, Revenant Eve (2012)
I hadn't read the previous two books in this Dobrenica trilogy, but that turned out to be mostly okay as it's a time travel tale in which the viewpoint character isn't actually the protagonist, which is interesting structurally, and the book itself was a fun romp through largely under-explored back alleys of the Napoleonic period in France. I quite enjoy Smith's books, and this was very enjoyable. Awesome ladies with swords and pistols! What more could you want, I ask you.

Sherwood Smith, Banner of the Damned (2012)
That said, I enjoy Smith's epic fantasy sequence even more, and this is the next one in the main continuity, set about 800 years after the Inda books. I really, really liked that the main character was asexual (this may be the first book I've read where that was explicitly acknowledged as a thing, actually), and I liked the way that you could see glimpses of history changing and being retold in the background, even as by the ending of the book it became an explicit issue. I'm also really impressed in general at the way that Smith can make just about anything suspenseful, even things that rightly shouldn't be; her pacing is always a marvel. I also think she's a master worldbuilder who doesn't get anywhere near enough credit. Also highly recommended.

Currently reading
Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Burning City
Because I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Love Is the Drug on Twitter and I want to try to clear out the backlog. Currently I'm not very far in and I'm still trying to remember who everyone is (I've been consulting the pre-synopsis literally). I'm still really sad that there's currently no plans to finish the third volume, even as I both enjoy the book and recognize that it's weaker than her more recent books. Anyway, she's awesome, you should read everything she's ever written.

Recently acquired
CLAMP, Gate 7 vol. 4 (I don't think I finished 3?)
CLAMP, Gouhou Drug - Drug & Drop vol. 1
CLAMP, xxxHoLiC Rou vol. 1
Arakawa Hiromu, Silver Spoon vol. 10 (it was packaged with an ema from the shrine in the manga! I haven't even finished vol. 1)
Yoshimoto Banana, Kitchen
Short Stories in Japanese: New Penguin Parallel Text, ed. Michael Emmerich

Reading next
Probably Diana Wynne Jones or Kameron Hurley or Ann Leckie. Note to self: vote for the Hugos.
starlady: a barcode with my DW username & user ID (barcode)
Chauhan, Anuja. Those Pricey Thakur Girls. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2013.

I read this as part of the Anuja Chauhan Reading Club organized by [personal profile] deepad. Short version: I really enjoyed it and you should totally read Chauhan's books if you can.

The plot follows the trials and tribulations of the Thakur family in the 1980s in India, when deregulation is the name of the game and fourth daughter Debjani (the Judge and his wife named their daughters in alphabetical order; daughters A through C have married and left the house, leaving Debjani and high school age Eshwari) lands a prize gig as a newsreader on the state television channel. Almost immediately she clashes with up-and-coming investigative journalist Dylan Shekhawat, who is attempting to pressure the government into taking action against the senior politicians who were indirectly responsible for the anti-Sikh riots several years previous. Although on the surface of it, this sounds like an odd mixture of tone, Chauhan managed to pull off the romance against the serious background material, and implicate them together in the ending, rather well, I thought.

It helps that the Thakurs are pretty hilarious, and that Chauhan has an eye for the telling and comedic detail. Like other people, I felt like Debjani herself was a bit underserved by the narrative, but I was happy to trade clearer character development for her for the focus on the wider family adventures, which as I said, were hilarious. In this the third person POV was quite an advantage, as it allows us to float through various characters' perspectives for maximum payoff.

I've not read much Indian literature (Salman Rushdie; Amitav Ghosh) and I'm not a big fan of romance, so I suspect that this was actually the ideal Chauhan book for me in that the third person POV means that the entire book isn't totally romance-centered. The downside is that, as several other people have remarked, some parts of the narrative feel somewhat awkwardly shoehorned in, particularly the parts about youngest daughter Eshwari's budding school romances. (Given that a sequel, set a generation after this book, is forthcoming, one suspects at least some of this material is setup for that novel.) I liked that Dylan and Debjani were often (but not always!) fairly mature and rational about their relationship, and that there was a balance between them and their families in how things progressed.

All in all, this was a fun book--I stayed up late reading it in about two sessions. Although there's a lot of Hinglish slang, I generally found it pretty easy to piece together what was going on from context, particularly since Chauhan was pretty good about bringing the feel of the setting alive without info-dumping. I would happily read more of her books, and in particular the new one about the Thakurs in the future--I hope I'll get the chance!
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
[personal profile] wild_irises asked for "A book that stands out from the crowd of books you have read, whether or not you mentioned in the post for [personal profile] rachelmanija."

There is one book I read last year that I never got a chance to talk about that I do want to put in a plug for, namely, Kate Elliott's Cold Steel.

I've raved about the first two volumes in Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy before, and I was highly anticipating the third volume when it came out in June. Suffice it to say, I wasn't disappointed. The relationship between Cat and Bee remained at the heart of the story, and I really liked the way that Elliott used the device of the timeslip between the spirit world and our world to keep the story moving while not unrealistically portraying the development of an actual social revolution spreading across Europa. I also liked the way a lot of the plot developments/character relationships didn't conform to the stereotypical structure of a fantasy trilogy. My sister thought that there was too much description and character detail for her taste, but this is the sort of thing that I eat up with a spoon, and I loved it. I also loved the portrayal of the relationship between Cat and Camjiata (they maybe have my favorite kind of relationship in fiction); Camjiata remains probably my third-favorite character. (Sorry, I'm just not that into Andevai, though I can see why Cat is!) And I really liked the place where Elliott left his story, too. All in all, I thought Cold Steel was a worthy ending to the trilogy, and I also very much enjoyed The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, as well as Julie Dillon's new art for the trilogy.

Also on the theme of books, [personal profile] nan asked about my favorite kind of steampunk. I enjoy all steampunk, because I enjoy creatively mucking around with the past and imagining different possible histories, but at the moment I'm eagerly anticipating Ken Liu's forthcoming silkpunk novel The Chrysanthemum and the Dandelion, to say nothing of the other two volumes in the trilogy that he's sold to Simon & Schuster!
starlady: (xmas penguins)
For today, [personal profile] seekingferret asked about my favorite toe. I have webbed feet, so my second and third toes are literally tied for my favorite toe(s). Interestingly, it's only on the right foot that the webbing goes up high enough to prevent me from wearing five-toed shoes.

Yesterday, [personal profile] rachelmanija asked me about five books I didn't enjoy, or enjoyed for the wrong reasons. This is actually a hard question! One of my achievements of the last few years has been ruthlessly cutting out books that I don't enjoy from my reading habits, mostly through pre-screening my choices. I didn't enjoy Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Summer of the Mariposas for the reasons enumerated at the post. I also didn't enjoy Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch (Viking, 2011) anywhere near as much as I wanted to, for many of the same reasons that Rachel noted in her review. The pacing was wonky and, as much as I liked Sunny, the stakes of the backdrop and the dimensions of her actual experience of being a Leopard Person were very mismatched. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the sequel, which I understand is coming out next year. Okorafor is still one of the most interesting writers I know, but I think The Shadow Speaker is still my favorite of her books (and at this point I've read almost all of them). And while reading volume 8 of Ôoku I inadvertently realized that the manga has straightwashed multiple notable historical figures, including Tsunayoshi, which has definitely colored my opinions about the manga henceforth.

ETA: I also didn't particularly enjoy Georgette Heyer's Sylvester, which I read earlier this year. I'm not well-versed in romance novels in general, and I know enough about the Regency period that the Regency slang felt layered on with a trowel. I also prefer Jane Austen's approach to the Regency period, which (being contemporary) was eminently sensible: most aristocrats are fools. I have False Colours on my shelf and I will probably read Cotillion at some point because it's the one everyone loves, but there it is. That said, I'd welcome recs for people's favorite Heyers that I should read instead.
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
Today [personal profile] rachelmanija asked me to talk about five books I enjoyed and why. There are still spots available on the meme!

I'm going to talk about five books I read and enjoyed since my last book post, which was…August 20 of this year. Welp. Thanks, grad school.

Kristin Cashore, Graceling (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) - I'm very much late to the Kristin Cashore party, but I devoured this book in about one sitting and I thought it was fantastic. As most people by now probably know, the book follows Katsa, whose Grace in a land where people with particular gifts are known as Gracelings is very specific: killing people. Katsa's perceptions about herself are upended when she takes steps beyond the reach of her uncle, a rather morally ambiguous monarch of the seven kingdoms comprising the known world. I'm not describing it well, but Katsa's emotions and her story are ridiculously intense, and I could barely put the book down. I loved the portrayal of Katsa as someone who is comfortable with violence but who nonetheless hates what violence does to her, as well as to those around her, and the denouement of the plot. (There is a bit of magical disability at the end, which Cashore has pledged to avoid in future.) It was so good. Seriously, so good.

Rae Carson, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom (Greenwillow, 2011, 2012, 2013) - This was another excellent book with an excellent female protagonist, Elisa, a younger princess who is married off to a neighboring kingdom quite suddenly as the book opens and who must find the strength within herself to protect her adopted realm and herself when she is kidnapped across a vast desert. I really loved this book because of Elisa, who is smart and stronger than she knows, and because it is unabashedly pro-princess in a way that I like. I think Carson found a way to make a princess's role not only interesting but vital, and the book is really great and very hard to put down. I also liked that Elisa is portrayed positively despite the fact that she is overweight, which makes for a nice change. One of the things I liked about Elisa's story was that each book encapsulated a different set of challenges and that she does grow into herself and her role over the course of the narrative; I also liked that the eventual love story was somewhat unconventional, though to say more would be to give away too many spoilers for the first book. Suffice it to say that Elisa is awesome, her world is very real, and I appreciated the great number and diversity of female characters who play important roles in her story. These books are great and you should read them. Along with Kristin Cashore, these books made me glad and certain that there are worthy heirs to Tamora Pierce beginning their careers now.

Franny Bllingsley, Chime (Penguin, 2011) - This is another excellent book with a wonderful, knotty female protagonist. Briony lives in a village at the edge of a swamp in an alternate Victorian England. She knows she's a witch and a murderer, and she hates herself accordingly (she's more than a bit like Katsa in that regard, actually), and it's only when a clever outsider comes to town that she begins to question whether the story she knows about herself is actually true. This is another intense book, very atmospheric and very hard to put down, and I loved the portrayal of Briony and the damage she's inflicted on herself, and the beginning of her journey out of it. I've not read any other of Billingsley's books, but now I very much want to.

Frances Hardinge, Gullstruck Island | The Lost Conspiracy (various, 2009) - Hardinge is one of my favorite writers alive and this book is really amazingly good. I said on Twitter that Hardinge's books prove that middle grade books can be literature, and I would put her in the same class as Megan Whalen Turner in that respect. Gullstruck Island is the story of Hathin, a worrywart girl from a tribe that still clings to the old ways on an island that was colonized by the mainland centuries ago, and how she finds herself holding the entire island's future in her hands, beginning with her older sister. There is a ton of stuff going on in the book--and it's not precisely light; there are massacres and concentration camps, among other things--but compared to the sheer abandon of Hardinge's first book, Fly By Night, it felt a little more controlled, and somewhat more serious. I can't recommend her books highly enough, though I have to say that in my opinion the U.S. covers and titles are mostly terrible.

Hiromi Goto, Darkest Light (Razorbill, 2012) - I bought this book especially in Canada, because it's not available in the States, which is a shame because it's really good. It's the half-sequel to Half World, which I also read and loved, and is just as grotesque (in the aesthetic, not the moral sense) as the first one, but longer and more involved and also…more intense. It's also the rare YA book I've read with a male protagonist, namely Gee, whose identity will be clear to those who've read the first book but who is a mystery to himself and whose depression and anger and vividly and claustrophobically portrayed. To be clear, the book needs a trigger warning for the depiction of a successful suicide, but at the end, I definitely felt, if not entirely optimistic, at peace with the narrative and with Gee's journey. I said at one point earlier that it reminded me somewhat of A Christmas Carol, which is actually one of my favorite books in some senses, in that Gee learns, late but in time like Scrooge, that it's never to late to change your life. Again, highly recommended.

starlady: (but it does move)
Garrfinkle, Richard. Celestial Matters. New York: Tor Books, 1996.

Marie Brennan recommended this book to me, and she was right that I liked it (I borrowed her copy, in point of fact). Celestial Matters is an alternate history novel of science fiction in which Aristotelian physics are true (so the sun orbits the Earth), and the Delian League, which controls half the world, has been locked in unending war with the Middle Kingdom for approximately all of the nine centuries since the death of Alexander the Great.

The plot follows Aias, the scientific commander of the lunar ship Chandra's Tear, who is tasked by the league with a task of Promethean scale: i.e. to steal fire from the sun and bring it back to Earth, where it can serve as the engine of the ultimate weapon to end the war by devastating the capital of the Middle Kingdom, Hangzhou. Aias is accompanied by his friend and co-commander, Aeson (representing the Athenian and Spartan traditions, respectively), and his bodyguard Captain Yellow Hare, who is Cherokee by birth but Spartan by avocation. The ship's Chief Dynamicist, Ramonojon, is Indian, and the rest of the crew are of similarly varied origin--and also even gender.

This book was really interesting in a lot of ways. Garfinkle has clearly put a lot of thought into his alternate physics, and the worldbuilding of the science aspects is really great and thorough. I also thought the way he handled Aias' fundamentally Hellenic worldview, and particularly his interactions with the gods, was a really well done update of the mindset of ancient Greek literature, and I thought the characters in general were well-drawn. That said, a little more attention to social and cultural development might have been good, though I did like the much greater gender equity of this version of the Delian League.

The pacing of the book is somewhat uneven, however--despite spies and assassination attempts, the story lags until a skirmish just off Selene a little more than halfway through the book, at which point it races to the finish. I would have liked more Middler science earlier, and even more banned Buddhism, though I thought the depiction of Daoist science, when that does come, was also really well-done. (Reading any Daoist text for me is basically like reading elementary quantum mechanics, so on the one hand, Garfinkle has it somewhat easier.) I also thought the way that Garfinkle depicted the hardening of science into ideology on both sides was pretty great. All in all, this was a very interesting and unusual read.

A brief disquisition on transcription, and why you shouldn't mess with established systems to show off )
starlady: (basket of secrets)
Walker, Wendy. The Secret Service. Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Classics, 1992.

This is the kind of book that one hears about vaguely for years. I have the memory that Garth Nix actually mentioned it in a recs page on his website at one point, but I think I'm wrong, though it was definitely that general era, i.e. middle school, when I first saw it mentioned. I have also seen it in [personal profile] coffeeandink's classic post on Notes toward a definition of 'fantasy of manners', which I periodically dip back into. Last spring I happened to have the brilliant idea of seeing whether the Stanford library had it. They do and I got it, because Stanford students don't read. It's so obscure it has an entry on [tumblr.com profile] writersnoonereads, but Worldcat reveals that a number of university libraries have copies. I'm glad I didn't manage to track it down before now, as I am quite certain that I would not have been able to appreciate its pleasures in middle school.

The book is nominally about the desperate actions of a set of characters employed by the eponymous British Secret Service of the title, which on one level is a rather droll pun, because the chief espionage tactic of the Secret Service in this alternate Victorian England is transfiguring themselves into tableware. (Also flowers and statuary. If you like the decorative arts, this book is for you.) The novel follows a varied cast of characters: the Corporal and Mrs. Morgan, who recruit, train, and dispatch young Polly and Rutherford to the Continent to follow the positively Baroque plot of a troika of villains against the English royal family. Rutherford is a chauvinist ass overly enamored of his own manly capacity for decisive action. Polly is calm, collected, and secretly joints the Service out of a thwarted ambition to tread the boards.

Not fantasy of manners, but Mannerist fantasy )

I said when I first started reading the book that it reminded me a bit of Ted Chiang, which mostly comes from the fact that the first chapter is an excruciatingly long discussion on the alternate (Aristotelian) science that allows the Secret Service to take objective form. The pleasures of this book are not in its science but in its intoxicating prose, its dry wit, and its elaborate psychology. It's like what you would get if you crossed Ted Chiang with Susanna Clarke and an admixture of Stendhal, which believe me, is high praise. Though I can name similar authors, this book is nonetheless unique, and uniquely fascinating. If you can track down a copy, I highly recommend it.

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