Apr. 1st, 2013

starlady: Alanna, Daine and Kel: Tortall (inspiration)
Pierce, Tamora. Mastiff. New York: Random House, 2011.

I can still remember the day I first picked up, and bought, Alanna: The First Adventure, when I was nine, in Borders. There had been a distinct lack of girls with swords in books in my life up until that point, and Tamora Pierce's books will always hold a special place in my heart--not only because of all the great books she's written, showing a diverse palette of choices and lives available to girls and women, but also for the way in which she has continued to push herself as a writer, and has continued to be sensitive, and responsive, to questions of representation in her books. Her winning the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award from the ALA is very well-deserved.

Mastiff is the third and final book in the Beka Cooper trilogy, which is set 200 years before the Tortall that we see beginning in the Song of the Lioness books and which was, to be blunt about it, much more interesting. Beka Cooper is a young woman who enters the Provost's Guard of Tortall in the first book, and in the final story she faces her greatest challenge yet. The entire trilogy is framed very thinly by scenes with her famous descendant George Cooper, whom of course we know well.

I've really liked the Beka Cooper books--although Pierce's books have had some notable instances of fail (the Bazhir in the Lioness books; the Trickster duology and its white savior narrative), in these books she's pushed the bar both in terms of her own writing and in terms of what kinds of stories get told in YA books. (She's also pushed the page limits, but quite frankly I could read hundreds of pages of 200 years ago!Tortall being interesting, so YMMV on that.) I enjoyed Mastiff, and I enjoyed the ending. I don't think Beka has Ali's dubious flaw, namely being too competent, but Kel and Daine are still my favorites.

I read with interest this entry on [personal profile] swan_tower's LJ, in which the book's structural weaknesses are dissected in depth. I can see how Mastiff could have been a stronger book, structurally, but I don't know that every book needs to be a marvel of structural power. I'm also not sure that making the book stronger, structurally, would have enabled a realistic depiction of the central element of social change which is the emotional payoff of the whole trilogy--as it stands, it stretches the bounds of credulity, and stays inside them mostly because this is, in the end, a YA book. (Much more interesting, and credible, is the depiction of the slow shift in social mores that will, after Beka's time, end the age of lady knights for two centuries.) I also don't know that the frame-tale stuff with George is even necessary, except that this book is part of the larger Tortall universe, and the verse needs it, not the novel itself. But as part of the Tortall universe, this is a strong and interesting book, and if you liked Beka Cooper or Pierce's other books, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
I had a really nice break with my sister in Portland, but when I came back I promptly started freaking out about how much work I have to do in the remainder of the semester.

# On Friday afternoon I got a letter from a collection company saying that I owe my health insurance company $1200 for the services they paid for me for my bike accident 18 months ago. This is the first I've heard of this, although I looked and there is a page in the policy handbook that says I'm obligated to get the money from the third party's insurance company and pay back my health insurance company first. I've been told that in California you have up to three years to claim medical expenses related to an accident. I also called my health insurance company today and spoke with a representative who said she couldn't see any information about this claim in my file. So I have to figure out a) whether the CA thing is true; b) whether the claim from the collection company is genuine; and c) if both a and b things are true, whether I can claim more money from State Farm. I did receive a payment from them, but it did not cover these expenses, so we'll see. I may well wind up having to pay $1200. I'm certainly going to spend a lot of time tomorrow on the phone with insurance companies. All of which I need like I need a hole in the head.

# I got a series of emails this morning saying I've been accepted off the waitlist into the Critical Language Scholarship program in Qingdao, China. Which would be fantastic…except that I've already made a summer commitment and I'm really starting to worry about finishing this 285 [50-page research paper] for my professor, which is a prerequisite to advancing to candidacy, which I need to do next year, period. I had been planning on doing that over the summer and going to China next year (i.e. post-exams, pre-dissertation research). I will probably decline (and I have to decide quickly--the deadline is April 8), but this is another thing I didn't really need to be thinking about.

# I also need to figure out whether I should be paying estimated taxes for 2013. Quickly, because the first payment is due April 15.

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