starlady: (shiny)
Yes, it's the anniversary of another trip that I have made around the sun. Here's to more of the same, but better, next year. :D

What I've Read
Ms. Marvel Vol 1, G. Willow Wilson et al - I finally got Comixology and I am hopeful that it will result in increases of the numbers of comics I actually am able to read. I loved this, but you're not surprised. What I will say is that I spotted that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure joke, and I laughed, and what really warmed my heart above and beyond the story itself was how goddamn Jersey it all is, the actual Jersey that doesn't often make it into media. ♥

The Tropic of Serpents and Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan - These books are so great. They operate in a familiar mode (lady Victorian naturalist/adventurer) but do everything completely opposite, except what they don't, and I really enjoy Brennan's ability to pack a lot of complex undercurrents into rather pulp-y yarns, and the way that Isabella is so willing to attempt to conform to the norms of the cultures among which she sojourns, because dragons.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge - Hardinge's newest, and with this I'm now back to having read all but one of her books. I liked it a lot! [personal profile] skygiants said a thing that I agree with a lot, which is that Hardinge's protagonists are perpetually encountering women who they think are standing in their way but instead are much more complex, and that goes double for Faith. The book actually makes a great pair with the Brennan novels since they are both about the same thing (women and natural science) but are totally different. Anyway, it was great, though still not my favorite Hardinge; that will always be Fly By Night, with an honorable mention for Gullstruck Island, which I still think is her most ambitious. But this one was great too. I would read oodles of fic about the badass lesbian couple on the island, IJS.

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer - The final volume in the Southern Reach trilogy; I devoured it in less than a day and I loved it. I think I'm nearly alone in liking how Control is a sarcastic failboat, qualities which are not on display in this final book, but I did want to say that I appreciated VanderMeer's not having every character in the story be a straight white guy, because that could easily have happened, but instead the cast of the final book is a brown career spy, a black lesbian government agent, a part-Asian scientist, a gay white man, and a white woman psychologist. I think the Southern Reach trilogy is great; it's an attempt to deal with climate change and the horrors it's unleashed and revealed, it's a way of grappling with the latest realizations in ecology and biology, namely that humans aren't special; it's some of the most interesting and critically engaged SF I've read in a long time.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace - I blew through this book quite rapidly too, it's post apocalyptic YA scifi with a female protagonist, the eponymous Archivist Wasp, who makes a deal to journey to the underworld in the company of a ghost who's looking for his fallen comrade. It turns out the ghost and his comrade were genetically engineered super-soldiers before the world ended, and that everything Wasp thought she knew is wrong, and you're only as trapped in the past as you let yourself be. In a weird way, this reminded me powerfully of Sabriel crossed with…a really high-tech SF book about genetically engineered super-soldiers, who have got such style, I cannot even tell you. Anyway it was great and I have no idea where a sequel would go but I am so there.

Silver Spoon vol 9 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

What I'm Reading
Silver Spoon vol 10 by Arakawa Hiromu - Still great.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone - I don't think I'm quite as into this book as some other people have been, but I'm enjoying it a lot all the same. I really like Gladstone's determined mixing of magic and modernity, as well as how inventive he is.

What I'll Read Next
Probably some of Tanith Lee's Secret Books of Paradys, and also Michelle West's Oracle!!!
starlady: Peter, Susan, Edmund & Lucy foment a revolution in Narnia (once & always a king or queen in narnia)
What I'm Reading
Water Logic by Laurie J. Marks - The Small Beer Press editions of these books cleverly contain large samples of of the next book in the series, and I was two chapters into this book after finishing Earth Logic before I realized that it was one thirty in the morning. I'd had vague ideas of keeping this book back to read later this year--there are rumors afoot that Air Logic may be published soon, finally--but no dice. I'm not sure what to say beyond the fact that I adore these books and the way they quite calmly turn every fantasy trope on its ear. Also, this may be the platonic ideal of found family stories.

Silver Spoon vol. 8 - Yes, I'm slow, but things are getting intense, and manga is visual enough that it flips my "I don't want to watch bad/awkward things happen to these characters!" switch--which is probably part of the reason I'm bad at TV, come to think of it. And also part of the reason I like going to movie theaters, where you have no choice but to watch the whole thing straight through. Anyway, it's great, with the exception of the fact that the one black teacher is still drawn using the "white circle around the mouth for black people's lips" visual trope.

What I've Read
Hostage by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith - I thought this was another excellent book in the series (in some ways I tend to like middle books better, because they build on already established relationships), with some very fine writing and interesting expansions of the worlds and the characters' stories. Given what did and didn't happen in this book, I'm very much looking forward to the next one, Rebel.

Annihilation and Authority by Jeff VanderMeer - Two of the three volumes of The Southern Reach Trilogy, which I'm very glad I nominated for the Hugo, because it's excellent. If you like(d) The X-Files or Welcome to Night Vale, I wager that you will greatly enjoy these books--they are very much down with "the unseen and imagined is way creepier than the seen," but there's plenty of creepy stuff going on in Area X and in the Southern Reach, the vaguely menacing government agency tasked with supervising it. I read these books in about 48 hours straight with the result that every creak in my apartment made me jumpy, but the characters are just as great as the atmosphere; Control and the biologist are of course wildly different, but also strikingly similar in some ways, and I can't wait for the last book, once I acquire it.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, ed. Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar, and Anita Roy - A really great anthology of feminist speculative YA that is distinguished by the breadth of its contributions and the ways in which those contributions came into being. I didn't like every story, but many of the stories are excellent, and it's very strong overall.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge - Now I only have Verdigris Deep left to read, not counting The Lie Tree, forthcoming this year, and while this wasn't my favorite of Hardinge's books (that's still split somewhere between Gullstruck Island and Fly By Night + Twilight Robbery), I thought it was in some ways a technical level-up, and I think its Carnegie nomination is very well-deserved. I think Hardinge's use of historical material in this book adds (and, to be fair, also subtracts) a dimension, and I'm really interested to see where she goes from here. And of course, the story in general was excellent. I particularly liked Violet; I thought her presence really added some complexity to the story.

Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks - I adored this book for the reasons I outlined above re: Water Logic, and I also think the ending is one of the better candidates for an eucatastrophe that I've recently observed (NB I don't think an eucatastrophe is actually a deus ex machina; I think an eucastrophe makes much deeper thematic and structural sense than a deus ex machina). The image of Karis and the wall is one I won't easily forget.

Some thoughts on the Zanja plotline, and how it does make sense )

What I'll Read Next
I think it might be time to start Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books. Or something from my Sirens list.
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 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: "They don't play by the rules, why should we?" (dumbledore's army)
Hardinge, Frances. Twilight Robbery. London: Macmillan, 2011. [In the United States as Fly Trap]

Six years ago after purchasing a truly massive (2kg) Cadbury bar at the mall in Derry, Northern Ireland, I popped round into a little bookshop called The Bookworm, which proved to be yet another treasure trove of books. No one told me that Ireland is the paradise of English-language bookshops, but it is. I picked up a great many excellent books on that trip, from Kenny's in Galway to The Bookstore in Carndonagh to Waterstone's in Dublin and many shops in between. One of the books at The Bookworm that caught my eye, however, was a book called Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. I bought it, devoured it, loved it, went back and bought another copy for a friend, and spent the next six years haunting English-language bookshops on two continents looking for more of Hardinge's books. This fall I wised up and let the internet provide them for me. Twilight Robbery is the sequel to Fly By Night, and it's just as thrillingly, heart-stoppingly excellent and wonderful as its predecessor. It is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. If I haven't made this clear enough yet: GO READ FLY BY NIGHT, YOU WILL LOVE IT. YES, I MEAN YOU.

Where has Mosca Mye been in my life these past six years. ‪‪#twilightrobbery‬‬

The books are set in a very, very alternate post-Revolution England, in which the London equivalent is a city named Mandelion and the part of the Puritans was played by a group of monotheists called the Birdcatchers, since the old religion was one of multitudinous little godlings called the Beloved. Every hour of the day and night is sacred to one or another Beloved, and it is tradition that people be named for the Beloved in whose hour they were born. Mosca Mye has the misfortune to be born under Goodman Palpitattle, the Beloved of flies who has no good reputation among gentlefolk, and consequently she grows up too smart, too sarcastic, and too independent for her own good. After her father's death she and her faithful, semi-homicidal goose Saracen strike out for Mandelion, where they have a series of awesome adventures, recounted in Fly By Night, before striking out from the city two steps ahead of the people pursuing them on the trail of their fortune. They are accompanied by the Stationer spy Eponymous Clent--the Stationers being one of the many Guilds that now have de facto oligarchical control over the Realm, since the multitudinous contenders for the empty throne have not managed to attract enough popular or political support for any one of them to regain it.

Twilight Robbery: Frances Hardinge does Beszel/Ul Qoma, and Omelas.

Twilight Robbery soon finds our heroes in the toll town of Toll, down on their luck, hard up for cash, and under the guns of a three-day term limit for their stay in the daylight side of the town, after which they will be consigned either to the daylight or nighttime sides based on their names--though living in the same spaces, each side of the town is obliged to pretend that the other half doesn't exist during their designated hours. No surprise, Mosca is slated for the nightside, a dismal dystopia in the grip of the Locksmiths, the most fearsome of all the guilds and one with which Mosca and Clent have already had some dealings. It's clear that Hardinge is drawing on, to some extent, China Miéville's excellent The City & the City, but as I continued along in the novel I realized that she was also doing her own take on Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" too. It's typical Mosca that she makes a totally perpendicular choice to the sets of options that either of those stories offer.

Mosca Mye would not walk away from Omelas. Mosca Mye would burn that whole city down. ‪#twilightrobbery‬

I don't think I can fully express just how much I love Mosca Mye. After an additional six years of reading YA/middle grade books, Mosca is even more of a revelation than she was the first time. I love her sarcasm, her cynicism, her hard-bitten capacity for mayhem, her good heart and her well-hidden idealism despite the odds, and most of all I love her radical political principles and her budding atheism. I've complained before about how little love for democracy there is in fantasy literature, or republicanism, small R, and that is one complaint I will never have to make about Hardinge, or about Mosca. They know where their politics are, and they stick to those politics, even in the face of some very determined opposition. Along the way, Mosca learns some home truths about what's in a name, and what isn't, in a way that feels true, partly because it's hard.

Oh go on, underestimate Mosca some more, I'm sure that will work out well for you. ‪#twilightrobbery‬

The other thing I love about these books is the sheer inventive wordsmithing verve of Hardinge's prose. At times she is laugh-outloud funny, and she never, ever resorts to a hackneyed turn of phrase because she doesn't have to.

Mosca could not help feeling that the "poor dear" might have a point about the likelihood of disaster. Having tasted Toll-by-Night's moonlit stew of murder, menace, treachery and pursuit, she had fallen wildly in love with the six shabby bolts that held the door shut and the danger out. Her new regalia did not make her feel any better about venturing out either. There was no help for it however. Time was not on their side… (286)

I haven't seen the U.S. versions of either of these books except in passing on bookstore shelves; I don't think the U.S. title for this book is as terrible as some of the other retitles of Hardinge's books. (The terrible titles and U.S. localization may be part of the reason Hardinge is so undeservedly unknown here.) I've heard that it's possible to get the unlocalized books in e-form, and the internet is quite happy to provide you with the actual British paperbacks. In any case, I can't recommend Hardinge highly enough, and I'm so looking forward to reading her other books.

Just finished Twilight Robbery. This book may well be perfect.

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