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Rot and Ruin (Maberry) - 3+/5 - Well, the best zombie book I've ever read, for sure; and its worldbuilding is head and shoulders above the vast majority of the dystopian YA I am fed. It got a bit preachy at times, and a couple of the plot twists were telegraphed pretty heavily, and Benny is a bit much on the obnoxiousness. But I liked it! And it gets major points for sidestepping a lot of irritating things in the (small number of) other zombie books I've read.

A Severed Wasp (L'Engle, reread) - 4/5 - Another yuletide-reread. The best adult book L'Engle ever wrote, where she works out her thoughts on love and marriage and work, but always in the service of the story. I really, really like this one.

Little Brother (Doctorow) - 3+/5 - Doctorow is rather like Ayn Rand to me, in that I am not entirely sure he had a lot more to say in this book than he had in the last Doctorow I read (which I quite liked, don't get me wrong). The government is evil; don't give up your privacy rights. There, now you don't have to read it. Also I was highly entertained by Doctorow taking great pains (and here he is unlike Rand, who lived in a white world) to include Two Non-White Sidekicks. Who give Moving Speeches About Their POC-ness and then... disappear from the narrative. Clearly I have been hanging around social justice wank for too long...

Elementals (John Antony) - 3/5 - Antony's a quite good writer, and I was tickled to see that this YA dystopia is set in North Carolina, which never happens. I think though that this book was trying to do too much (dystopia AND magic powers! AND young boy who must discover his destiny AND threatening danger! AND love triangle AND family drama!), and as a result I spent most of it a little off-balance.
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4/5 (reread) - This was pre-yuletide reading, in the sense that someone's DYW prompt reminded me I wanted to read this again (it's actually been on my to-reread list for ages). Oh, this book. I think it's C.S. Lewis' best work, if only because from time to time he forgets that he's doing Christian apologetics and immerses himself in the story, and because I suspect it speaks to a deep and dark part of his own soul.

Because what I loved so much about it this time around (and what made me dislike it the first time I read it, as a teenager) is that -- I am Orual. All the pettiness and insecurity and jealousies and -- everything that Orual hates about herself -- Well. I like to think a lot of the edges of these things have been smoothed over by time and age and maturity and things like that. But there is a deep and dark part of me that recognizes Orual in a frighteningly immediate way.

(Also, speaking of yuletide, if you would like yuletide recs, I've posted them here. I am listening to Turandot right now, not a coincidence :) :) )

ETA: And here.
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2/5 to 5/5. So I read maybe half the stories in this book. The half I read, I quite liked. The half I didn't finish, I obviously found super-boring.

And the last story is by Elizabeth Wein. So, I said, you're not going to fool me again! I'm onto your tricks! I'm armed against death-and-destruction, torture, mental head-game torture, and torturous love-hate familial conflict, and any of those things will just make me scoff cynically! And I was prepared.

...The story made me all sniffly anyway. Darn it!
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This was one of the later L'Engles that I read -- I had the hardest time finding it as a child -- and as a result I had built it up in my head as The Book Where Vicky Meets Unicorns. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to find that there are no literal unicorns. This time around, I liked the book quite a bit better because I didn't have those expectations.

It was interesting to reread this. On one hand, L'Engle does the rapidly shifting POV and it sort of gives me whiplash. Did people do a lot more of this in the 80's? Because if I were reading a book like this now for the first time, I'd probably put it down and go away. I guess I've become a limited-3rd sort of person?

On the other hand, [livejournal.com profile] nolly once pointed out to me how completely awesome the families in L'Engle are, and that was kind of borne out for me, and is triply as interesting to me now that I have a kid of my own. In a relevant point, I think the title is awesome, but I also think that in a lot of ways this is not really a YA book, or at least it wasn't a book I was ready to read as a teenager, when the title completely went over my head and just left me with a lingering sense of betrayal that Vicky didn't meet unicorns.

On the third hand (foot), every time I read L'Engle I am reminded that she just really loved science, especially physics, and really just had no clue about it. Here there's very little explicit science and therefore fewer opportunities to get it wrong, but I was rather amused by the idea of a medical doctor being the World Expert on... lasers.
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5/5. This book is a collection of Strayed's Dear Sugar columns. These are not your run-of-the-mill advice columns. These columns make me cry -- Well, okay, you say skeptically, everything makes you cry, including blatant manipulation! -- it's true. But not only do they make me cry, they occasionally also leave me gasping for breath as not many things do, as though -- do any of you remember, at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the water that was stronger than wine, like liquid light? Strayed is an atheist; her columns remind me of that line.

(I should include a caveat here: not all her columns are created equal. Some are amazing; some are fascinating; some did nothing for me. But all of them... well, as [personal profile] lightreads said in her insightful review, all of them strive to have that ring of truth, even if they sometimes fall short of that.)

I do not, actually, recommend you buy this book on my recommendation. What I do recommend is for you to go read some Dear Sugar. Once you have done so and realize you need a hardcopy, then go buy the book. Full warning, though: when I was first linked to Dear Sugar, I spent a day reading them instead of working and had to make up the work on the weekend. So consider yourself warned.
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If I Lie (Jackson) - 3+/5 - So this book surprised me over and over again -- it very much exceeded my expectations. On first glance, what with the title and all, and the fairly familiar tone of the first-person teen girl narrator, I figured it was your typical high school book. Then it turned out it was a high school book With a Secret. Then I figured out the secret, which didn't take that long. Then I thought I was going to be bored through the whole book as the author ham-handedly built up to the Big Secret Reveal. Then, a couple of pages later, the author... revealed the secret. Almost casually. Then I thought the book would be about how she was triumphantly vindicated. And then it wasn't. It's about how people are complicated. And then I thought it would be about Teen True Love. And it wasn't. It was about how people can love and hurt each other at the same time.

The one thing that Irks me about this book is how one character decides something is "wrong" or "messed up" with another character because he doesn't ask for sex even after they have dated for two whole years. IN HIGH SCHOOL. Um... I've dated three people for more than two years, two of them atheists, and none of them asked me for sex in the first two years. So there. I mean, yeah, I understand that you're maybe trying to deal with one set of messed-up expectations? But doing this by switching to another set of messed-up expectations, uh, no?

Ready Player One (Cline) - 3+/5 - Someone on my reading list said something along the lines of "This is basically an excuse for the author to talk about his obsessions from the 80's," and that's... just about right, in a way that's surprisingly entertaining, but that is probably more entertaining for those of us who lived through the 80's. The writing, even laying aside the nonsensical premise, is curiously full of flaws -- infodumps, telling-not-showing for large chunks of the action, random deus ex machinas showing up from time to time, somewhat cardboard characters, the usual cardboard dystopia-world-building (no worse, I suppose, than your usual dystopia YA), some totally random rants against religion (what?) in the beginning that seem unrelated to the rest of the book -- and yet the enthusiasm for the random 80's video games and so on is so genuine that I often found myself charmed despite myself. For example, the climactic puzzle of the book is kind of... silly; the way it's presented doesn't make any sense -- but it uses a song that was such an integral part of my geeky childhood that although the absurdity of it totally registered with me, I was still smiling with glee that it had appeared at all. So... the rating here is me trying to assign one number to one aspect I'd rate very high and another I'd rate rather low.

The Fault in Our Stars (Green) - 3+/5 - So apparently there was this whole thing where copies were released early and Green was terrified that people would GET SPOILERS OH NOES. Which strikes me as kind of hilarious, because around a third of the way in I refused to read any further UNTIL I got spoilers. Since I was reading a kindle version, I looked online, but if I had been reading a print book I would have flipped right to the end (and the middle). Anyway. I frequently have this problem with Green's books where I feel slightly, I dunno, detached from the characters, and I felt a little this way about this book too, but I found it much more moving than An Abundance of Katherines. I liked it a lot, although I definitely was glad I'd looked up the spoilers.

Incarnate (Meadows) - 3/5. Eh. I suppose it's not the book's fault, not totally, that its central conceit (a fantasy, or possibly a SF-fantasy-feel, that people get reincarnated and remember their past lives -- although how this is physically possible is not entirely clear to me -- and that there is a romance between an 18-year-old and a 5000-year-old. REALLY. Hey, you just hit my squick issue! (It's rather more the book's fault that the 5000-year-old came across as, maybe, a thirty-year-old at oldest.)

Some books

Sep. 26th, 2012 09:08 pm
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...I still do read books sometimes. Really.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom (Wein): 3+/5. So obviously these were great books, very readable, and Telemakos is awesome, and AWWWW Telemakos-Athena sibling-partners-in-crime FOREVER is my OTP. Also OH TELEMAKOS, as I figured would happen. ...And what happened at the end? I felt like there was a lot of buildup to... not much at all? Half of it was glaringly obvious from practically the beginning of TEK (what Abreha meant by marking Telemakos), and half of it made no sense and/or was kind of anticlimactic (the whole archipelago subplot, so, it was all for nothing in the end, is that what you're telling me?).

Bad Boy (Myers): 3+/5. The YA author Walter Dean Myers talks about his experience growing up. If you like Myers' other work, you will probably like this too, and if not, probably not. It reads a little disjointedly, with many important parts of his character arc elided or completely absent. However, I'm rounding up instead of down because it did give me a perspective I hadn't had before, and that's worth something to me.

Bathsheba (Smith): 3-/5. Third in a series of the Wives of King David, and the one that was available at my local library. Some of my low rating is personal. For example, I disliked that Abigail died at the beginning of the book, which is obviously personal preference given that my headcanon has taken over my head... but in general I felt that the author shied away from doing anything that would require, oh, engaging with the material and the character interactions. Not recommended, although I understand the author did a lot of research, and you could certainly do worse for what seemed from my quick read like a fairly true-to-the-source-text, if superficial, retelling of what is a cracking good story in the source text.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (): 3+/5. A recommendation from my sister! The writing style and worldbuilding in this one was pretty awesome. It introduced and then sidestepped some of my major squicks, which, points! (However, there was the Love at First Sight thing, which is not a squick of mine, but is something that does turn me off a bit, and I thought the middle was a little slow because of it.) The ending cliffhanger was great. I can see the sequel either going with cliche or not, although given this book I'm hoping for not. We'll see. I'll pick up the sequel and let y'all know ;)
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I first read The Winter Prince yeeears ago because [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales told me about it, and I loved it, and I crashed hard on Coalition of Lions.* (I blame sarahtales for not warning me!) But I really wanted to reread all the books in this series because Code Name Verity was so awesome, and I'm now going through all five of them. The first three:

The Winter Prince (reread) - 4/5. I had completely forgotten about this book before rereading it except for one detail which does not actually show up in this book at all.* And this book about Medraut (Mordred), King Arthur's son, is totally and completely awesome. Can we say intense?

* I will now do all of you a huge favor and tell you that there are NO SEQUELS to this book and under NO CONDITION should you read A Coalition of Lions right after reading this one. (Although you should read it, and the other books in the series too, because they're really good, just not right after this one.) Yes, it says it is a sequel. It is not. It takes place in an alternate universe that happens to be very similar to but IS NOT THIS ONE. DARN IT. THIS IS MY POSITION AND I'M STICKING TO IT.

A Coalition of Lions - 3+/5. This is not a reread, because the first time I tried, I gave up on it about two chapters through because OH MEDRAUT. Because, as I mentioned, NOT A SEQUEL to Winter Prince. Except, you know, that it has the same characters and backstory and stuff. And Goewin's the POV character, which is totally cool.

Anyway, the second time through I knew the punchline of the first chapter (hint: remember what actually happened in Arthurian myth?) and it allowed me to get through without dropping the book in despair. And it's a really good book! I JUST. OH MEDRAUT.

The Sunbird - 3+/5. This one's from the POV of Telemakos. OH TELEMAKOS. Are you sensing a theme?

Stay tuned for the other two books in the Telemakos series. I have a feeling that there will be more OH TELEMAKOS to come.
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5/5. So [livejournal.com profile] julianyap told me I absolutely positively HAD to read this book. And then, after he had recommended it in the highest terms possible, I didn't read it for a month, during which everyone else on my reading list did and also really liked it. And then, finally, I read it. And of course I loved it. And now I am here to browbeat you into reading it, assuming you haven't already.

I know now, though, why it took me a month to read it even though I knew that anything julian recommended that highly was bound to be brilliant. Because I'd read The Winter Prince (also highly recommended), and I knew that Wein does intense. And this, if anything, kicks up the intensity of Prince up a notch. (And also, honestly, just a little, because I was a little afraid of how she'd do the 1940's, only ever having seen her do that series, but I need not have had any fears on that score -- pitch-perfect.)

I went in blind - knowing almost nothing - and I really think that is the way to go, with this book. I did know something about the narrator that at least two other reviews I read thought wasn't a spoiler, but I would have preferred not to know even that level of meta because I am not a highly critical reader, so no description here. Comments fair game though. Please, don't even read descriptions of the book. It's better that way.

I will say one thing, because I cannot help it, but I think it is not at all spoilery. One of the things that is just amazing about the book is the level of detail. In the afterword Wein talks about how basically every event in it was inspired by something that actually happened in real life. In general, the book has been very meticulously put together. It's the sort of book that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again, slowly. (I haven't yet -- see the note below about hard copy, and also above on intensity.)

(And when you're done, go read [personal profile] skygiants's (spoilery DO NOT READ THIS BEFORE READING THE BOOK PLEASE PLEASE) review because she makes a quite interesting point, I feel, about one of the characters' literary ancestry (and which, Julian, I think plays into why the two of us had a particular spoilery reaction we did).

One thing - I read a kindle copy, and this is one of those books where I would really, really have preferred a paper copy (a lot because it's one of those books where it really pays to be able to flip back and forth, but also because I just prefer paper for good books, darn it). And now I'm going to buy a paper copy so I can reread that one. I could have saved myself the money by just doing it that way to begin with... If you prefer e-copies, then get an e-copy, but this is one book I'd recommend in paper if you at all prefer paper copies.

(Also, why is the British cover two zillion times better than the American one? Not fair!)
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Guys and Dolls (Damon Runyon): 3+/5. Not much to say about this. If you like Guys and Dolls, the musical, and you like O. Henry, you'll like these stories. I very much like all three. I'd counsel against reading them all at once, like I did, because they do get a little wearisome one right after another (much like O. Henry, which I overdosed on in middle school and have not really gone back to since).

After the Apocalypse (Maureen McHugh): 3- to 3+/5. I dunno. I really, really liked the other collection of McHugh that I read, and this one I just... didn't. I don't know whether I was the one to blame or not; I suspect partially I'm to blame, as I think I read this when I wasn't in the mood for depressing. And, wow, these stories are depressing. And also involving characters who just give up, which I am not, I guess, that interested in reading about.
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4/5. I HAVE MISSED YOU, LMB! AND YOUR PLOTS TOO!

I wasn't intending to read this until the hardback came out, but then [personal profile] julianyap intervened. So.

So this review really boils down to SQUEE! This was an incredibly indulgent book -- and I don't care, I wanted it to be indulgent, and so (I suspect) did LMB. For this reason, it read a lot like extremely well-written fanfic, with a nice plot, from someone who really likes Ivan! Which I'm all for! (Interestingly, I just requested something almost exactly like this in a fic exchange, which amused me no end while reading it.)

It's most like Civil Campaign in feel -- not so surprisingly, as it's a slightly tongue-in-cheek romance (oh, come on, that's not a spoiler, is there anyone, anyone at all reading this book, that didn't know Ivan was going to get hooked up in this one?), but without either the Barrayan politicking or the Milesian tendency to get himself, um, hoist on his own petard. Because if there's anything that would be out of character for Ivan, it is getting himself hoist on his own petard. It's really kind of refreshing. Though I looooved the politicking of ACC and would have preferred more of that.

It isn't deep. It isn't serious. It isn't even super-plot-heavy (this disappointed D, actually; he was sort of hoping that there would be some sort of super-plot-twist at the end tying it up really nicely, but there wasn't). It doesn't tell us anything about life we didn't already know (as was true with Mirror Dance, Memory in spades, and even Civil Campaign). It's just a rollicking adventure with an old friend who gets some of the happiness we all always hoped he would get.

Some-of-these-are-spoilers, tried to make them mild, involving some of our old friends: )

A couple of things that mildly bothered me: Mild spoilers regarding Tej's identity ) So Tej didn't really ring true to me. I mean, as a character she was great! But as a character given her backstory... not so much.

Another thing: The Koudelkas are the only females in the Vorkosiverse I can think of who actually manage to have friends whom they don't meet through their husbands or father. Not-so-mild spoilers regarding friends/families )

In general things seemed a little, um, simplified? But I still loved it.
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3+/5. I... didn't dislike this as much as I was prepared to. Which, um, is better than it sounds? I did like it! It's got a bunch of things going for it -- a not-quite-your-typical-whitewashed-medieval-Europe-vaguely-Spanish-based society. The writing seems good -- less clunky, more polished, than a lot of first books I've been seeing lately. Elisa, the heroine, gets to win through bravery and interesting plotting, which is kind of nice. I also liked that religion is treated as a Thing, even with different sects, though I suppose I've been forever spoiled for in-depth religion world-building by The Curse of Chalion.

And yet... I don't know... a lot of things rubbed me just a little the wrong way, culminating in a feeling of restless annoyance. The big thing, I think, was the narrator Elisa's whininess. Oh, no one likes me. Oh, my sister hates me. Oh, I'm fat. (I'll get to that one in a moment.) I mean -- I'm all for family conflict and insecurities, I enjoy reading it, but I have to have more to work with than "So my sister's mean!" (which is basically all we're told about her, until we're then told that she isn't in fact mean -- I have no idea what their relationship entails, no idea of what lies between them). And I prefer not to get the anvils to the face. Like, in The Perilous Gard, Kate has a whole boatload of insecurity with respect to her sister, but she doesn't say so very much explicitly, and I don't think she ever thinks that Alicia is mean -- the issues come across more in the way the two of them are treated and the way she responds to things, not because she whines about it constantly, like Elisa does.

Okay, so, the fat thing. Elisa is fat, and therefore ugly, I guess, at the start of the book. I don't know, this rubbed me the wrong way too. In general I didn't really understand why she had to whine about it so very much. I mean, she's a Chosen One, she's always known she has to make a dynastic marriage, she is taking classes in lots of things (oh, another thing that annoyed me... apparently she's smart? Smarter than her sister, whom Elisa thinks is the smartest person Ever? But we aren't shown examples of this, or how this might have come to take place, or how this is a natural outgrowth of how she grew up, we're just told so, by fiat, when Elisa does smart things) -- doesn't she, like Kate, have other things to worry about? And then we find that walking miles in the desert handily gets rid of this "problem." I don't even... I mean, I knew about this before I read it, and I was prepared to dislike this more than I did; I appreciated that it was a fairly minor subplot (the main plot is about how Elisa makes interesting plans and is brave and so on), and I did like how it was making a point at the end about how people respond to looks, but I don't really see why it needed to be as big a part of her personality as it was, and that irked me.

I really, really wish that the ending had been different. Fairly major spoilers: )
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4/5. OMG THIS BOOK I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BOOK FOR YEARS WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT IF YOU WERE SQUICKED OUT BY TWILIGHT LIKE I WAS GO READ THIS RIGHT NOW

...ahem. Let me calm down a bit and issue my standard disclaimer, which is that I would probably read a laundry list if SRB wrote it, because she would contrive to make it hilarious. So. Keep that in mind. But still, this book is awesome, a little perfect gem of vampire satire meta that nevertheless is its own thought-out world and its own book. The first chapter ends,

"A vampire who wants to go to high school?" I said. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Which turns out to be both a commentary on you-know-what and an important statement in the book in its own right. SO good.

I was wondering how the collaboration thing would work out, and the answer as far as I'm concerned is really well -- I haven't read any JL, but I'm going to have to now. I can see some of SRB's exuberance, and quite a lot of her meta, in the writing, but the sometimes over-distinctive style that occasionally got distracting in the Demon trilogy is smoothed over a little here, which makes the whole thing flow quite well.

I very much appreciated that some care was taken to think through how the vampires and humans would co-exist. YAY. I love the vampires, by the way, especially Camille. LOVE HER. I also have a sneaking fondness for Francis. I think it's awesome how the authors managed to paint them as Other and yet human in so many ways.

(Okay, now I feel like after all that squee I have to think of something non-squee-like to say about it, so: It's too short! No, really, that's my chief complaint, and not just because I wanted more. The plot is fairly straightforward -- I didn't twig to it, but probably only because I was too busy squeeing over all the WIN of the book-as-meta (which was intentional, I think; go team JL-and-SRB); the characters of Anna and Ty are just not fleshed out enough to make them worth my time, especially Ty, who appears to be The Character Who Is Diverse and Sometimes Snarky and who isn't fleshed out much more than that. I mean, points for that, and major MAJOR points for having the narrator be American-born Chinese, which is awesome, but I think I would have preferred either much less Ty or much more. I also never was completely sure about how emotions worked in vampires, although I think I see what they were getting at. And there are all kinds of hooks about family and friendship that I know they had more to say about, but couldn't within the confines of this particular book.

That being said, I don't want a sequel -- this book was wrapped up nicely. However, I would totally read anything these authors ever collaborated on again.)

The thing I possibly love most about this book is that, like all the best books, it isn't really about vampires (or, you know, wizards, or thieves, or crazy short admirals, or whatever). It's not even about romance, even though romances occupy a key part of the book. (I LOVE that it's not about romance, by the way. Whyyyyy must all, or most, YA be about romance?) It's not even, in the end, about satire. It's about friendship, and the choices we make, and about when we hate the choices our friends make, and about when we and our friends grow up to be different people, and what friendship still means when that happens.
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3/5. And this is a pity 3. So remember how I was talking about how really good writers try new things? Card used to do this, but now he has become ... the antithesis of this; apparently he now has nothing better to do than to write increasingly irrelevant (and what's worse, boring) fanfic about minor characters from a spinoff of his most popular work. It's frankly quite surprising to me that the same man who wrote the brilliantly disturbing Ender's Game and the incredibly moving, thoughtful, and subtle Folk of the Fringe, not to mention the layered Memory of Earth series, is putting out this kind of shallow garbage.

I mean, I was expecting the terrible dialogue where all the characters come across as OSC clones. That's par for the course. (Although even there, you don't find this kind of dialogue in Fringe.) But this tale of Bean in space with his genius mutant kids fails not only on a tired-tropes-are-we-still-talking-about-this-why level but also on a basic writing level, which is really surprising to me because I've always relied on him to at least get that right. Mild spoilers, but really, do you care? Mostly cut for rantiness: in which I make fun of various things, solve the characters' problem for them, and am angry at retconning. ) So, I mean, I think this was a book he needed to write, and that maybe he didn't think he had time to really do it justice, and I get that. I understand that things come to writers and they have to put them down. But I do not think this is a book you necessarily have to read, unless like me you are an OSC addict.

And even then, I swear to you, if he writes a book about Bean's grandchildren, I am not going to read it. Even I have my limits.

Bitterblue

May. 28th, 2012 08:33 pm
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4/5. Third in the series beginning with Graceling and Fire, and by far the best of the three. Yeah, I feel like Cashore uses each book to really figure out what she's doing with the next. This one in terms of craft and skill was light-years better than Fire, which itself was light-years better than Graceling. The beginning was much better machined and much less clumsy and boring than the first two. The clumsy expository flashbacks are gone. There appears to be actual thought put into the way the kingdom's run, instead of just, well, assuming that Kingdom Things Happen.

This book is a departure from the theme of Powerful But Angsty Woman Has Action-Oriented Adventures of the first two books, and I might have loved it just for that -- I've talked before about how really good authors will not be content to stay with a Formula that Works, and Cashore has proven herself to be That Kind of Author by what she does here. Bitterblue, the young monarch of a kingdom recovering from being mind-controlled, doesn't have special powers -- but she does have Power by virtue of being queen, and that's one of the themes explored in the book. The book is also about abuse, and about surviving abuse, and about handling loved ones surviving abuse, and about forgiveness. I am not the person to ask how well she handles this, but I think she handles it well.

The characters are also presented in a much more nuanced way than in the first two books, and in ways that I was very happy to see. Katsa and Po get called out on their DRAMA-filled relationship! Giddon gets over his Issues! I also very much liked the way Bitterblue's romance was presented. Mild spoiler: )

Oh, and it has ciphers! Like, the action all stops in the middle while she explains how simple ciphers work, and although I suppose this might not be a selling point for some, it totally was for me. (Although I will confess that I get a little weirded out by books set in a fantasy world where the characters are all speaking and writing English. Because... uh?)

It's not perfect. The politics are a little... murky? seeming to involve a large amount of paperwork and no actual, um, political structure. I mean, I'm totally down with politics involving paperwork, but I never got at all a sense of what the papers were for, and in fact I got the sense the author might not have either. Somewhat related is the part where this series has apparently heretofore has inhabited a part of my head that's distinct from the part that the Attolia series inhabits, but this book, being told from the POV of royalty, tended to invite the comparison -- and unfortunately, I think it suffers from it. Fire was distinct enough that I didn't think to compare them at all, but this book... every so often Bitterblue would be angsty about something she didn't know/understand and I'd be all "If this were Gen and Irene, not only would they understand it but it would become part of their MASTER PLAN" and it would sort of distract me.

...And then the last ten percent of the book happened and my brain sort of overloaded on awesomeness. AWESOMENESS. Just. All my buttons got pushed like whoa. (Warning: For maximum effect, one needs to have read the other two books, which unfortunately are not nearly as good, though I still do recommend Fire. Graceling you might want to skim, or read a synopsis.)

What is Cashore going to do after this? No idea, and I'm excited that I have no idea. And I'm sure as heck going to be there when she does. Best book I've read this year, so far.
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Druid's Blood (Friesner), 3+/5 - There is a lot going on on this Sherlock Holmes With Magic! alternate universe pastiche, complete with cameos by almost everyone you can imagine of interest in Victorian England (Arthur Conan Doyle, of course; Lord Byron; Ada Lovelace; Victoria herself). Written before racefail was even dreamt of, so, you know, complete culture!fail where brown people = Kali-who-eats-humans! Yey! I think, though, that from an entertainment standpoint, the big problem is that there's too much going on; there are some nice moments, but it sort of falls under its own weight.

The Hall of the Mountain King (Tarr), 4/5 - Another of those I might feel differently about if I read it for the first time today, but my principal feeling on reading it this time was holy cow how did I not realize that The King of Attolia has the exact same plot? Because the emotional plot is the same: peon that everyone else respects is called to be the reluctant servant to royalty who must prove himself to the world but also forge a beautiful friendship with the peon. Except with more magic and sex and plot and death than in Attolia. (And I really liked Moranden this time through.) And I really like that emotional plot, as it turns out. Although I like Attolia better. But I was pretty excited to reread the next book in the series after rereading this one.

Also, cool that everyone in this book is dark-skinned and it's not really a thing, but it's rather more descriptive about it than the Earthsea books (in the sense of, I didn't actually realize the Earthsea residents were not pale-skinned until the third book or so, whereas I was pretty clear on it in these; the covers helped).

The Lady of Han-Gilen (Tarr), 3/5 - Heroine hair color: red. I really liked this one as a kid, and I don't think it's bad now -- but I'm so over the bratty teenage kid thing and the love triangle thing. I mean, yes, it's nice that she gets called out for being bratty, I can't fault Tarr for her handling of it, I just don't particularly want to read it any more. I also kind of lost my momentum for wanting to read the third book, despite the big plot twist in A Fall of Princes blowing my mind as a naive teenager.
cahn: (Default)
I am getting caught up on my backlog of posts/reading, finally.

Red as Blood (Tanith Lee) - 3 to 5. Reread. The title story is amazing, in my opinion, a tour-de-force of dark lush reimagined-Christian imagery. I'd forgotten exactly how good it was. The other stories range from quite good (I liked the Pied Piper one more than I'd remembered) to a bit silly (I'm sorry, I didn't find "Beauty" entirely convincing).

Going for Infinity: A Literary Journey (Poul Anderson) - 3+ to 4. Some of these stories were rereads. Poul Anderson is totally awesome, really: he's got the hard-science thing going and he also has the Scandinavian-myth thing going as well, and the stories where those things come together are made of awesome. "The Queen of Air and Darkness," complete with an actual ballad and a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, is a fantastic SF story (yeah, with that title and a ballad, were you expecting a fantasy story?), as are "Goat Song" and "Kyrie," all three of which have aged very well (okay, fine, occasionally one would wish for updated gender politics, but otherwise they are all very good). Some of the earlier stories are, well, they don't age nearly as well, but even those have interesting and well-worked-out ideas. The only thing is that his stories almost never viscerally grab me, but it might be impossible to do that with the careful working-out of ideas that is a hallmark of his stories.
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4/5 - My parents came to visit and brought me a whole buncha books from my room, thus starting me on an orgy of rereading... starting with all the Star Trek books, for some reason. Note that I totally revert back to my 12-year-old self when reading these books, so the fact that I seriously and unconditionally love them all does not actually mean they're any good, necessarily. I mean, they might be! But I cannot tell.

ST:TNG Strike Zone (Peter David) - Still the best ST:TNG novel I've ever read, although honestly that doesn't mean a whole lot (I think I read the first ten or so, as well as David's other work). It's better, I think, than David's other ST:TNG work, which veers into the maudlin; this is still simply funny with only an edge of seriousness, which is more his forte, and with an awesomely hilarious climax that, well, is kind of something I wish the show itself had done. Also, my family is really into the "if you prepare hard enough bad things will never happen to you" philosophy, and rereading, I suddenly remembered this was the first book I ever read that just came out and said, "No, that's a dumb philosophy," and that stayed with me even though I had completely forgotten that this was the book it came from. As a result, when I read it now, I give it a pass on Bechdel test failure, a general fail on portraying Troi, and what I imagine are probably a whole host of other things were I able to actually look at this book with a rational eye instead of a twelve-year-old eye.

ST:TOS Ishmael (Barbara Hambly) - Spock gets thrown back to 1800's Here Come the Brides. Hambly is a good writer, and I like this book very much, and the overall writing is probably stronger than the other two books here, but the only bit that really imprinted on me was the part where the woman doctor calls out everyone else (except Spock, who thinks it's normal) for thinking it's weird that a woman is a doctor.

ST:TOS The Pandora Principle (Carolyn Clowes) - Spock, for all practical purposes, adopts Saavik. I've seen people who both love this book (the camp I'm in) and people who think it's totally awful. I can see the awful side, I guess. The main plotline is sort of hilariously Rube-Goldberg (it hinges on the assumption that a starship, finding a strange box, will then... take it back to Earth before opening it? What?) and rather iffy-science at that; Spock is a total Gary Stu who's smart and patient and understanding and kind and a really great dad, all-around; Saavik, although I haven't watched the films in years, is I suspect out of character for the person portrayed in the film. And yet the writing is crisp and with that lovely edge of humor to it that livens the whole thing; and Saavik is, if not the actual character in the movies, personable and interesting both as a child and a woman (my favorite bit is where child-Saavik informs another little kid that it isn't logical to eat its own fingers, it would be more logical to eat someone else's!), and I can't help it, as an adolescent I totally imprinted, like a little bird, on Spock as the ideal dad who never gets mad or impatient. And it passes Bechdel easily. And it's got some lovely original characters. One of my favorite Star Trek books ever, and I wish I knew what had happened to Carolyn Clowes, because I'd surely buy any other book she wrote.
cahn: (Default)
(3+/5) - Heroine hair color: red. So this is an awesome book -- the writing is very good, rather better than most YA I read, and it's about evil horses! Yay! (Having been brought up reading about Valdemar Companions, I now in reaction have a total weakness for books about evil horses. See also Cherrryh's Riders duology.

The only thing is, the ending vaguely bothered me, and I am not sure I can articulate why. Not that this has ever stopped me from trying to do so! Cut for spoilers. )

Holly was totally cool, though. I'd so read a spinoff with him.
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Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher)
3-/5. Hannah, who committed suicide, leaves cassette tapes behind for the thirteen people who affected her decision.

Look. I generally think books on suicide are useful. And I generally find books about how, especially as a teen, one's actions have an impact on other people not just useful but also really interesting and valuable. I love Chris Crutcher and Sarah Dessen and Melina Marchetta and Cynthia Voigt and all those authors who are tackling these kinds of questions.

So I thought I would like this book, but I bounced hard off of it instead.

I think it might have been the near-complete lack of characterization. The only thing I learned about the narrator (Clay, the kid listening to the tapes) during the entire book is that he thinks he is very shy. Oh, also, he has a mom. Hannah herself comes across as whiny and entitled, and although we're clearly supposed to feel sorry for her that all these horrible things happened to her, it was kind of hard for me to care. I kept wanting to be all "Just stop complaining and get a grip, Hannah, geez!" which is exactly the sort of attitude the author was trying to lambast. It obviously just didn't work for me.

I actually think this is a natural problem of the way the story is told (the narrator listening to the tapes interspersed with the contents of the tapes themselves) -- I see how it's a narrative hook (and an effective one; after reading the description I did want to read the book) -- but it's very hard for a character to consciously tell her story (that is, not just first-person narration, but actually being conscious of writing it down (or speaking it) for an audience) without coming across as a little solipsistic (heh, see also In Spite of Everything, this might also have been my problem with that book) and very hard to complain in a conscious narration without coming across as whiny. I think this is because in such a conscious story, it's really hard to show rather than tell. You can't show by showing other people's reactions, because the story is being told by you, and you can't show by showing your own reactions without coming across as seriously over-self-analytical. So you just have to describe what you felt. "I felt like everyone was ignoring my pain." And that is not writing that's going to resonate.

Oh, and also, everyone gets to be very two-dimensional. There's Nice!Guy and NiceVeneerButActuallyCatty!Girl and Doesn'tRespectWomen!Guy and so on. Again, problem with the narrative structure. Of course from Hannah's perspective they're only going to be 2D, and she, of course, dies, so she never figures out if there's anything more to them. (Contrast, say, To Kill a Mockingird, which is consciously told as an older woman looking back on her childhood, and so she can see things that she wasn't able to see as a child.) Indeed, there is no character development in this book by anybody. Everyone's pretty much the same throughout the entire book.

(Hm, on second thought, I can see how this could have been helped. Since there are effectively two narrators, Clay could have been used to give another dimension to all the characters. But he wasn't used that way.)

And I think this is a problem. The whole point of a book dealing with suicide is to humanize both those who have committed (or are thinking about committing) suicide and those who may unknowing have contributed to that person's problems. It is to elicit compassion in the reader as well as thoughtfulness about our own actions, a sense of empathy that hopefully we will take out into the world. (In addition to the authors I mentioned above, Before I Fall, though I do not particularly recommend it, did a far better job in these respects.) If what you're instead eliciting is a sense of "Stop whining," you have failed.

Also, my pedagogical rant-o-meter going off: the English classes at this school seriously read a (bad) anonymous poem by one of their own high schoolers in class? And it was seriously compared to reading a poem by a famous dead person? I... don't even know where to start. The utter wrongness of this is never addressed, perhaps because Hannah had so many other things to complain about.

No idea why this book has been so recced around. I suppose they haven't read Chris Crutcher.

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