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: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
Bodard, Aliette de. On a Red Station, Drifting. London: Immersion Press, 2012.

It wasn't until after I'd received my copy of this book in the mail that I realized that Aliette de Bodard had sent me a copy of the manuscript along with the copy of Master of the House of Darts. I've written before about how I really enjoy de Bodard's writing, and this novella was no exception.

I wish I'd read A Dream of the Red Chamber before I'd read this book, because I know that it is drawing on that classic for inspiration, but even without that extra background knowledge, I really enjoyed the novella. It's certainly a well-deserved Hugo nomination, and very deserving of a Hugo vote.

The story is the story of a subtle conflict between two strong-willed women, Linh and Quyen, both distantly of the same family but of very different status. Linh flees to the family hold, Prosper Station, after having submitted an arguably treasonous memorial to the Emperor of the Dai Viet Empire and the planet she governed, as a licentiate of the imperial examination system, having been overrun by the rebels. Quyen is acting Station Mistress in the war-driven absence of all the station's best and brightest, called to serve the empire. The third woman in their triangle is not human at all, but the Honored Ancestress, the AI who runs the station…and who is, slowly but surely, losing her grip on her own processes, and the station itself.

De Bodard is Franco-Vietnamese, and I really liked the world building in this novella--if I'm not mistaken, it seems to possibly be set in the far future of her Xuya verse, but either way, it was really interesting to read a space opera in which the human diaspora isn't dominated by white people, to be quite frank. I also thought it was super cool to see a plausible non-sexist Confucianism! For any and all of these things, you should totally check the novella out. Although the paper copies are all gone, you can still buy the ebook.
starlady: (sora)
Sagara, Michelle. Cast in Ruin. New York: Luna Books, 2011.

I always forget how much I enjoy Michelle Sagara's Cast novels until I read another one. Long-time readers will know that Michelle West, who also writes as Michelle Sagara, is one of my absolute all-time favorite authors, so this is somewhat unsurprising. But although this series doesn't offer the same pleasures as the epic fantasy novels that are the West books, it continues to be very pleasurable indeed.

Cast in Ruin is the seventh entry in the Chronicles of Elantra, a world that blends some aspects of semi-medieval fantasy settings with the police procedural show, if the police procedural show were constantly hijacked by increasingly eldritch incidents of magical and inter-species crisis. (Sagara has compared the books to the equivalents of episodes of Buffy.) Our protagonist is Private Kaylin Neya, who has magic that she doesn't understand, duties that she does, and responsibilities that she takes on with increasing knowledge and frequency. She is shadowed by her childhood friend Severn and increasingly calls on a growing cast of people of all species who have been her allies and friends before. In this book, which largely takes place in the fief outside of the imperial city and in the imperial palace, those are largely Dragons, along with some newer allies.

Sagara is a funny writer, although it's only in the last few West books that her characters have started being really sarcastic; the Elantra books have been funny from the beginning. Even though most of Sagara's books share similar themes (female protagonist learning to grow into her role, possibly the end of the world), the Elantra books have given her the space to play with some different kinds of things than the West books, in some ways, and I appreciate that. These books, being Luna Books, are also more explicit about romance than the West books (which, if you know the West books, means that they are approximately 25% as romantic as, say, the average Mercedes Lackey book, to mention an author who's also been published by Luna). I also really just like Kaylin, and I'm always interested to see where her stubbornness, coupled with her willingness to learn to bear the responsibilities she often shoulders without thinking, takes her next. In this case, since I fell off the schedule, I have Cast in Peril and Cast in Sorrow waiting for me in very short order, and I know that she'll be going outside the city, to the West March. I'm looking forward to it.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Jemisin, N.K. The Broken Kingdoms. New York: Orbit Books, 2010.

It would be misleading to describe this book as a "sequel" because it is clearly intended to stand alone, but it is unquestionably a follow-up to Jemisin's debut The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I quite liked. Taking place ten years after the events of that book, The Broken Kingdoms follows the travails of Oree Shoth, a blind artist who makes her living in the city at the roots of the sky-tree. Oree has her own peculiar kind of magic, and she also has an undying surly mortal dude who she brings into her house after finding him on the trash heap. Needless to say, Things Happen.

It took me two years to finish this book because I skimmed to the end in a desperate frenzy when I first got it and then I…put it down for two years. It is compulsively readable, and on the whole I enjoyed it a lot. I really enjoy the way that Jemisin wears her anime influences on her sleeve (I can't express how anime the idea of a city in tree roots is, and Jemisin actually mentions the anime she got the image from in the back), in things like character design and setting and also…some quality of the worldbuilding. I was less into Oree qua Oree than Yeine, though I appreciated the flipped perspective of someone whose people ancestrally worshipped Itempas willingly, partly also because the magical blindness thing was the kind of thing I side-eyed. (I also sort of gave the side-eye to the ending, but then, there's multiple reasons that I don't read romance novels.) I did like that the events from the prior book continue to reverberate, and that several characters from last time had small but important parts to play.

All in all, it's no surprise to me that Jemisin's star only keeps rising in the field, because her books are pretty awesome--inventive, gripping reads with female POC characters and lots of interesting worldbuilding. I'm looking forward to the rest of her books!
starlady: meralonne and kallandras in the wood (in a dark wood)
West, Michelle. Battle. New York: DAW Books, 2013.

Michelle West's books are awesome and everyone should read them. This book, the fifth in the House War sequence, picks up almost directly after the events of last year's Skirmish and I loved it just as much as I did the last one. Things continue to happen, Jewel and her den continue to be awesome in different ways, and there continues to be a lot of sarcasm and dark humor thrown around, which I appreciate because that is basically how I roll.

I said on Twitter that I was highly impressed with the way that Battle shows that West has been tieing characters, plots, and meaningful details together across 13 books and counting, because it's in Battle that we begin to see even more strands of the overarching story weaving together at last. I have been a fan of this overarching story since I first picked up The Broken Crown in 1997 and didn't fully understand what was going on but knew I loved it anyway, and it was a pleasure in this book not only to see that but also to get some rather large revelations about certain beloved characters, as well as to see other characters finally undertake tasks we've known they must one day undertake for six books or so.

I've recommended these books to basically everyone I know, and I continue to do so; I continue to think that West is basically writing epic fantasy the way it should be, and that the fact that she isn't better known is criminal. (Well, not criminal; a reflection of the sexism rife in SFF and society in general.) (That said, see the posts I've linked for more discussion of issues and themes than I have the brain cells for now.) This is not the book I would recommend people start with; given ongoing issues with the availability of The Sun Sword books in e-form (i.e., they are coming out, but slowly) it is probably best to start with The Hidden City, though in some ways that book is a poor reflection of the scope of the series. (In other ways, of course, it's foundational.) But if you can get your hands on a copy of The Broken Crown, starting there is not a bad idea either. In any case, more people ought to know these books, and the awesome characters (many of them female) and well-thought out cultures and politics that fill them.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013.

This is one of, if not the, best books I will have read this year. It's beautiful, amazing, wonderful--a triumph.

The Summer Prince is the story of June, the waka daughter of a very politically powerful couple in the city of Palmares Tres, the jewel of postapocalyptic Brazil. It is the story of Gil, June's best friend, who falls in love with the Summer King of Palmares Tres, Enki, whose one-year reign is preordained to end in his death, and his selection of the city's ruling Queen.

Palmares Tres is uneasily divided in many ways, class and age being the most obvious. The ciy's aged but technologically youthful grandes are wary of the energy and rebelliousness of the young waka, and the election of Summer Kings is an acceptable outlet for dissatisfactions. At the beginning of the story, June doesn't much care about any of this; she cares about making art, and after meeting Enki, she cares about making great, confrontational public art with Enki, showing the grandes what they would rather not see.

There aren't words for how much I loved this book. It's so amazing on so many levels--on the level of worldbuilding, as the history and society and culture of Palmares Tres feels so believably complicated and tangible, on the level of character, as June's struggles and eventual hard-won wisdom are sympathetic and engrossing, and on the level of story, which is never predictable and which I couldn't put down. There are so many things to talk about--the culture, the food, the dancing, the absolutely unremarked status of bisexuality as a norm, the difficult subplot involving June's father's death and her mother's decision to remarry one of the city's highest-placed Aunties. It's also a really compelling portrait of the process and attraction of creating art, and also an interesting retelling of the story of Gilgamesh, in which the titular hero of that poem is devalued in favor of the much more interesting points of the triangle. Although Enki arcs into her life like a comet, this is June's story, and it's utterly amazing. Read this book.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Lord, Karen. Redemption in Indigo. New York: Small Beer Press, 2010.

I won a copy of this book and of Karen Lord's newest novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds, from her British publisher on Twitter last month. Thanks, Jo Fletcher Books!

Redemption in Indigo is the story of Paama, a woman whose decision to leave her gluttonous husband (partly because he doesn't appreciate her cooking--the problem is not his appetite, but the size of his soul) forms the beginning of a saga that eventually involves the Indigo Lord, a djombi whose control over the Chaos Stick has been revoked due to his penchant for not appreciating it. Along the way, Paama's sister, parents, a hunter, the Trickster, and assorted other djombi and mortals make their appearances--it's a novel that never quite gives away where it's going, which I very much appreciated.

Partly I suspect this unpredictability derives from the novel's being inspired by a Senegalese folk-tale that I don't know (things I know about Senegal: terribly few), and partly because the story is framed as the performance of an oral storyteller, a griot as they are called in some cultures, and the oral quality allows the characterization and the story to expand and contract, to flatten and thin out, as the rhythm of the narrative demands. Although it isn't quite as "thick" as a more conventional novel, there is plenty to sink one's teeth into in terms of themes and in particular the voice of the narrator, which is by turns humorous, sly, and eventually, when the fantastical elements of the plot get to be too much, resigned to unreality.

I've never been a big fan of fairy tales, but I certainly enjoyed this book, and I would definitely recommend it to people who like retold tales, particularly retold tales that aren't Euro-American. I'm very much looking forward to The Best of All Possible Worlds.

More reviews: oyceter's
rachelmanija's
rushthatspeaks'
Interview with Karen Lord by [personal profile] shveta_writes 
starlady: A typewriter.  (tool of the trade)
Half my review posts are impelled by people saying things on Twitter these days. Well, there's nothing wrong with that.


Cho, Zen. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. 2012.

This is the second e-book I've ever read. Yes, I've joined the third millennium at last.

I got this e-book when it was briefly offered for free a few months back, since I've read and loved many of Zen Cho's stories and had heard nothing but good things about this novella. My only complaint was that it was too short, although since I don't read romance I have absolutely no sense of what genre conventions Cho may or may not be subverting here. Jade Yeo is completely enjoyable just as a story, period, about a young Malaysian Chinese writer living in 1920s London on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group and having some believable and believably difficult challenges navigating her life and her relationships. I've made it sound boring, I fear, and it is anything but! Jade and her POV are a treat; I would read her diary endlessly, as much for her observations about others around her as for herself. There are more than a few pointed observations hidden in the confections of Jade's wit, and you should totally read her story for yourself.

The e-book is available here, and you can read more of Zen Cho's short fiction online.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Johnson, Alaya Dawn. Racing the Dark. Chicago: Agate Bolden, 2008.

I got this book while it was available for free on Amazon.com (it's actually the first e-book I've ever read) because Johnson is one of the guests of honor at this year's Sirens conference. You should join us! It's been an awesome time for the three years I've gone, and I fully expect for it to be an awesome time again.

Racing the Dark, the first book in an unfinished trilogy, tells the story of Lana, who when the book opens is initiated into the sisterhood of divers on her island, who provide the community's main source of wealth via harvesting organic jewels from the mouths of fish. The jewels Lana finds on her first solo dive mark her out as having a great spiritual power, but she conceals this sign of her destiny and soon is forced to leave her island with her parents in light of the environmental upheaval that has turned the freshwater seas around her island brackish. Lana's father goes ahead of them to the capital to try to establish himself as an instrument maker, and she and her mother remain behind in the closest large port city trying to make a living as a barmaid and a laundry-girl, respectively. It was when Lana's mother turns to prostituting herself for money to buy medicine for Lana that I realized I wasn't reading a YA book (though, when Lana gets drunk and smokes weed with no consequences within the first few pages, I started to have my suspicions).

Despite the way it seems initially, this isn't a YA book. But it doesn't quite feel like an adult novel either, despite the fact that it quickly develops into a very epic epic fantasy that spans years, characters, and continents. It quickly becomes clear that the environment is profoundly out of whack: the spirits of the elements that were bound millennia ago are restless in their bindings, and they want to be free. I said on Twitter that the book's setting feels like the midpoint between FF: VII and FF: X-2, which is a reference to the fact that in one of the bonus scenes in FF: X-2 child pilot Shinra talks about possibly tapping the planet's geothermal energy and in FF: VII the geothermal power processing has nearly destroyed the planet. Environmental precariousness is a major theme in the book, as is the theme of humans being out of whack with their environment.

There are a lot of characters in here, some of whom die annoyingly early and others who linger too long (I personally loathed Kotaku from the very first time we got his POV), and I have to agree with [personal profile] oyceter's remark that Lana, for most of the book, seems rather passive. But in all honesty the narrative propels along fast enough that I honestly didn't notice, in part because the setting and the characters are pretty original: the language and the setting feel Pacific Island mostly, although much of the language and cultural details seem Asian (mochi are specifically referenced at one point). (On that note: characters aren't pictographs, KTHNXBAI.) All the characters in the book are people of color, which I also appreciated.

The structure was also, as I've implied, kind of whacked out--I continue to think that this book is more YA than not, except for how I don't know that it could ever be marketed as YA. Anecdotal evidence seems to be that the book got next to no marketing, or if it did, it was the wrong marketing, which is a crying shame. This is a really interesting world with a fascinating and varied cast of characters, and I will very much be seeking out the sequel, The Burning City, as well as the rest of Johnson's works.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

This is a really, really excellent book, clearly the exception that proves the rule that the Pulitzer Prize often goes to the totally undeserving.

Probably everyone knows by now that this book is about the eponymous overweight Dominican nerd from New Jersey of the title. Let me tell you, if you haven't read this book--particularly if you're in a position to get the genre, and particularly Tolkien, references--you really, really should. As the late [personal profile] skywardprodigal pointed out, Oscar's very existence is a rebuke to a lot of the nastier myths about (the lack of) SFF fans of color, and if only for that reason, it's worth reading. But there's a lot more going on here than that, and I don't want to overlook any of it.

The book tells the story of Oscar from the perspective of his one friend, Yunior, but Oscar's story isn't just his own--it's the story of his sister Lola, of his mother Beli, of his grandmother La Inca, of their family, of Trujillo, of the Dominican Republic itself. Unlike many other readers, I did get about a microsecond of Dominican history through reading Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, whose protagonists the Maribal sisters are also frequently name-checked in the footnotes.[1] Díaz goes deeper and much more explicitly into all the ways that Dominican history is fucked up, and it was interesting getting a comparative perspective on the Trujillo era, to say the least. More to the point, words fail at the sheer verve and pleasure of Díaz's writing, even when he's describing some of the most horrific practices of a horrific regime, and a horrific history. (Sidenote: I don't suppose it surprises anyone that Oscar's New Jersey and mine are almost totally different, but let me assure you, this is New Jersey, and Oscar and his sister are indisputably of New Jersey, and I could recognize New Jersey in their lives and even some of the places they spend those lives, and I really enjoyed that.)

Having skimmed most of the enthusiastic blurbs on the covers and endpapers, I actually suspect that most mainstream literary critics didn't get the real point of this book. No, I don't think riffing on Kurtz means the world has been saved. )
starlady: (queen)
Sagara, Michelle. Silence. New York: DAW Books, 2012.

Michelle Sagara West is one of my favorite authors, and has been since the seventh grade; I've read almost everything she's ever written, and when I saw that she was doing a YA trilogy, I was quite happy. Although Silence could not be inaccurately described as a YA paranormal (with hints of romance), anyone who's read anything of West's should know that she doesn't really write stories that can comfortably fit in an elevator pitch.

Silence is the story of Emma, a teenage girl in Toronto whose father died years ago and whose boyfriend died just last summer, and who discovers that she can see, and speak with, the dead. It is also the story of her friends, including Michael, who is on the autism spectrum; it is also the story of the hunters who are sent to kill her and who instead find themselves joining in her crusade. It is a story about grief and love and friendship, and I enjoyed it very much.

There are some of West's familiar themes in here, but given that this book is set in the contemporary world, there's also quite a lot that's different, or differently portrayed, than her other writing, and I enjoyed Emma and her typical West protagonist "won't take no for an answer" attitude. I also enjoyed that her friend group could be straight out of Mean Girls, but isn't; West, when she did the Big Idea on Scalzi, talked some about this aspect of the book being inspired by her own autistic son's experiences with people at his school. It was refreshing to see Michael being treated as a full person not only by the narrative but also by the people around him, to say the least.

In sum, this was a very different take on what could have been some very well-worn YA tropes, and I'm very much looking forward to the next two books.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Summer of the Mariposas. New York: Tu Books, 2012.

McCall is one of the Guests of Honor at Sirens 2013, which is going to be awesome--you should come!--so when I saw this book at the Strand I snapped it right up. I enjoyed it, but I also had some quibbles.

The book is billed as a Mexican-American fantasy retelling of the Odyssey, and in this case, the marketing didn't lie. The book follows Odilia and her four sisters in their quest to return a body they find in the Rio Grande to the man's family in Mexico and then to their grandmother's house and back again; along the way they are guided by La Llorona and face down a parlianment of lechuzas and the chupacabras, among others. The book was a page-turner, and I enjoyed the sisterhood among the characters very much. The book is definitely a gripping read--I was tearing through it even as my internal complaints accumulated, and I really did enjoy the portrait McCall drew of a family that straddles cultures and borders, and the way McCall fearlessly combined the elements of her stories into a new thing that is all its own.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. )
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Hopkinson, Nalo. Midnight Robber. New York: Warner Books, 2000.

Dedicated to the memory of Pete Hudson.

Nalo Hopkinson was the Guest of Honor at two cons I attended last year; I read this book after Sirens. I liked it better than the other book of hers that I've read, The Chaos, though this novel, Hopkinson's second, is way heavier and much darker.

Midnight Robber tells the story of Tan Tan, whose father Antonio abducts her to an alternate prison-world (dimension?) after he commits a crime that Granny Nanny, the AI web into which almost everyone is linked and which helps govern society, cannot abide. Tan Tan grows up quickly on the criminal world, and at the age of sixteen she commits a crime her settlement can't forgive and runs off into the bush, where she lives in trees with the planet's native dominant species and begins to remake herself to match the legend of the Robber Queen.

Spoilers contain discussions of sexual abuse, rape, and incest ) But Tan Tan's journey from self-loathing to self-confidence is unforgettable, as is the setting, and Hopkinson's language, which is wondrous. Both planets are Afro-Caribbean, and the telling of the SF story in another English--Caribbean Creole--using that to describe and map futuristic concepts, is really cool, as are the interpolated folk tales about Tan Tan as the Robber Queen. In a way, the book is a rebuke and a reminder to mainstream SFF that (and here I'm quoting a Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman novel) there are other worlds out there, and other suns.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Diverse Energies. Ed. Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti. New York: Tu Books, 2012.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Thanks!

I'd heard good things about this anthology, and though the premise isn't something that I am 100% always a fan of--"YA dystopia" is a marketing category that needs to be exploded as far as I am concerned, and as [personal profile] rachelmanija notes, the books in it "are generally about naïve privileged white girls slowly coming to realize that their “the government controls everything” society actually sucks, while navigating a love triangle"--I genuinely enjoyed almost all of the stories in this anthology, and there were even a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments. When I finally write that magical urban revolution story, I am putting a coelacanth in it as the symbol of rebellion, let me just say. Another thing I genuinely enjoyed is that almost all of the protagonists in these stories are not white, and many of the authors are people of color. These are both things that I can get behind.

individual notes )

Overall, I didn't find this collection as depressing as some people have--I suspect this has as much to do with temperament as with anything else, but there are at least two components to my reaction that I can identify. The first is the uncomfortable knowledge that some of these futures, or near carbon copies of them, almost certainly already exist in our present for those who are less privileged than I am and we are. The second is the fact that very few of the stories end in a truly hopeless place, for the world as a whole if not the protagonists, as far as I can tell. Again, it may be temperament that inspires this interpretation in me, but it may also be the fact that creation can and does come out of destruction, as the writers in this anthology prove.
starlady: (abhorsen key)
Bodard, Aliette de. Master of the House of Darts. London: Angry Robot, 2011.

I actually won a copy of this book from the author (with this delicious "Aztec gold" brownie recipe), who is one of my internet acquaintances whom I most hope to meet some day. I have really enjoyed her other books, and I cannot recommend highly enough her short fiction.

The final volume of her Aztec mysteries is set a few months after the end of Harbinger of the Storm, and largely deals with the ramifications of the denouement of that story. It's not a major spoiler to say that the new Revered Speaker's coronation war was more or less a total bust, and the consequent dearth of captives has real political and indeed, existential consequences for Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, and the rest of the imperial elite - particularly in light of the Revered Speaker's accelerating instability and the unmistakable signs of a renewed conspiracy targeting the highest echelons of imperial politics.

I was struck by how much, even as the trilogy does follow some of the genre conventions of trilogies, the overall politics of this final volume are much more ambiguous and decidedly non-triumphalist. There are no easy answers for any of the characters, and several major characters end with their interrelationships significantly strained. All the same, one gets the feeling that the book ends the only place it could have ended, and de Bodard's depiction of Aztec society and the nuances of its history, politics, and religion remains strong and sensitive throughout. I also continued to enjoy the characters' growth and interactions with each other - comparing where the major players stand in this book with where they stood at the beginning is instructive - and I continue to like Acatl and his sister Mihmatini and the way they've proven themselves.

Really, I'm sad the books are over, and I hope Bodard writes more novels soon. Until then, her wonderful short fiction should be more than enough to keep me satisfied, and for those looking for an "urban fantasy" that is pretty far outside the realm of the usual in the genre, this should fit the bill.
starlady: (basket of secrets)
This book review is part of the A More Diverse Universe BlogTour. You can see the full schedule here.

A More Diverse Universe: Celebrating People of Color Speculative Fiction Authors


Lo, Malinda. Adaptation. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Disclaimer: the author is a friend of mine.

I won an ARC of this book at Mythcon 43 by virtue of the fact that I knew that Mulder's sister was named Samantha, which is perhaps all the comment I need make on Mythcon 43. I've really enjoyed Lo's previous books, and though this one is a decided change of pace in several ways, I loved it too.

Adaptation is set in the near-future United States, San Francisco to be precise; rising senior Reese and her debate partner David are prevented from flying back home by a series of bird strikes causing plane crashes across the continent. Driving a rental car home through Nevada, they encounter a bird strike themselves, and after they wake up in a military hospital and finally get home to San Francisco, it quickly becomes clear that everything has, somehow, changed.

It was highly difficult to put this book down - Malinda talked at Mythcon about how she was inspired by her love of The X-Files, among other things, and how it was easier to write contemporary than pseudo-medieval fantasy dialogue, and it turns out that she's pretty handy with witty verbiage. I also really liked Reese; I sympathized a lot with her dilemmas, both practical and romantic, and the other characters are also very nicely drawn. Although Reese isn't herself a person of color, plenty of her friends including David are, and one of the things I really enjoyed, now that I live here, is how Lo brought out the reality of San Francisco and its diversity without being didactic about it. Without being spoilery about it, there are also several queer characters, and I particularly appreciated the way several characters' bisexuality is handled - realistically, and with acceptance from other characters rather than more stereotypical, skeptical attitudes. Lo's love for the city and its inhabitants shines through alongside the menace of the men in black.

Oh, are there a lot of men in black in this book. There's also a love triangle, conspiracy theories, and some plausibly creepy biological horror - the book opens with a quotation from Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and that's all I'll say on this point outside of a spoiler cut. Suffice it to say that this book is smart, sexy, and un-put-down-able, and I can't wait for the sequel (next year, sadly!).

Spoilers must adapt to survive )
starlady: the philosopher's garden (obligatory china icon)
Pon, Cindy. Fury of the Phoenix. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2011.

Disclaimer: The author is a friend of mine.

I liked the first of Cindy Pon's alt-China YA fantasy books, Silver Phoenix, very much, although it took me eons to get around to reading this book, the direct sequel. Fury of the Phoenix follows Ai Ling and Chen Yong as they journey to Jiang Dao to find his father, as well as Ai Ling's enemy Zhong Ye three hundred years in the past as he meets Ai Ling's past self Silver Phoenix and strives to climb the ladder of court rank in the Emperor's palace.

Silver Phoenix was great because it was such a frenetic, awesome story, and while a lot of what I liked about Ai Ling still shines through in this volume, giving half the story to Zhong Ye takes away from spending time in her perspective and on the whole this book feels a little bit more conventional than the first one. That said, it's still definitively a China-that-never-was fantasy with accurate cultural details, a strong female protagonist and a very frank attitude towards bodily appetites (food and sex) that I found refreshing. I also liked how even the characters of the cod!European country, Jiang Dao, were dealt with fairly while keeping the perspective very much through Ai Ling's Xian eyes.

Cindy tells me that she has just turned in another book set in Xia. I can't wait to read it.
starlady: Cindi Mayweather running through Metropolis (i believe in the archandroid)
To: Readers, friends, the world

From: Electra

Re: Hairston, Andrea. Mindscape. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press, 2006.

Question: What is this book about? Is it any good?

Observations: I read Mindscape because Andrea Hairston was one of the Guests of Honor at WisCon 36 last month. Fried in the gate at Detroit on my 6am redeye connection, I could tell when I started reading it that I would like it, but that it was too complex for me to attempt at that point. I was essentially right.

Mindscape is great, though for a while I wasn't really sure that I fully understood what was going on, and in some ways I'm still not sure what hit me. The book tells the story of the efforts of a varied cast of characters to uphold and enforce the Inter-Zonal Treaty that one of the characters, Celestina, gave her life to cement, more than a century after the Barrier ripped the world as we know it and rearranged everything. Elleni Xa Celest, Celestina's protegee, and her friends and enemies, have to decide what story they're telling, and how much they're willing to pay.

This is a great, rollicking novel, with truly imaginative concepts and fantastical concepts and a lot of trenchant commentary on issues of history and class and race and many more things, as well as some endearing characters who are very believably flawed. There's a lot going on, with a lot of things I didn't fully understand and lots of things that weren't fully explained, and all in all it was pretty amazing.

Notes: This is, in a way that I suspect many people would not want to really acknowledge, a truly American science fiction (science fantasy?) novel, and probably one of the few that I have read. Though there is a lot of Afro-futurism in here, there is also a lot of specifically American history, particularly the history of U.S.-Indian relations - born-again Sioux Ghost Dancers are central to the plot, and the final scenes take place at Wounded Knee. Furthermore, movies and a lot of Hollywood permeate the characters' lives and worldviews, as well as the fact that many of them are involved in movies as directors or actors or unwilling Extras. I liked the way that some of the characters were explicit about the fact that they didn't want to be co-opted into mainstream narratives, and probably my favorite character overall was Lawanda Kitt, a loud and proud ethnic throwback who shakes up the corrupt and rotting zone of Los Santos without fully realizing her own power, even though we only get her viewpoint in transmissions to various people. I didn't like Elleni quite so much, but by the end I understood her - indeed, one of the awesome things about this book is just how many awesome female characters there are.

Recommend: Read this book. You'll like it, I bet. If you have, what did you think? Let me hear you.
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2008.

I think I first heard about this novel from [personal profile] coffeeandink's review, but it was when [personal profile] dhobikikutti and others urged me to read it at a dinner that I finally moved it to my "to buy" pile. I finally read it because I've been invited to a summer book club for the follow-up, River of Smoke.

This is one of those books that I would strongly consider assigning in a history class, because it's about history--the history of the British Empire in Asia as it was lived by some very interesting characters--in the way that the best historical fiction is, at the same time that it's also unabashedly having fun with history in the way that the best novels do. I've made it sound stodgy, though, and it's anything but. (The story towards the end about the threesome who led the flotilla of pirates off the southern coast of China? Completely historically accurate!)

The novel is about, to try to summarize an intensely and consciously complex book, the group of people who will find themselves, by the end of the book, bound for the Mauritius Islands aboard the retrofitted slave ship Ibis. These people come from all walks of life and all corners of the globe: there's a half-Chinese, half-Indian convict, an ex-raja from Calcutta, several former poppy farmers from Bengal, a French naturalist and her brother, a Muslim boatman, a mulatto carpenter turned sailor turned officer from Baltimore, various British officers and empire-builders, various sailors and soldiers of fortune from around the Indian Ocean. They are of all faiths and genders as well as backgrounds, and one of the real joys of the novel is the brio and clarity with which Ghosh summons their various Englishes. The glossary of Anglo-Indian and laskari terms later produced by one of the characters at the back of the book is one of its sublimest pleasures.

How can catch cow on sea? )

It's a great book, though, hilarious and frenetic and heartfelt and a rollicking adventure yarn, and for all of you who are interested in families of choice, this is a story for you.

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