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...And visiting my sister means more exposure to wacky YA-dystopia hijinks!

Mind Games 3/5. Two sisters, a blind seer and an assassin, are forced to go to Evil!School to learn villainy. I am a sucker for assassin-school stories. And this one had some great ideas and it had an entertaining ending, and of course I always love sister stories. I liked a lot of things about it, but I could not get past the point where the blind sister was as dumb as rocks. Basically, her lack of learning from her mistakes, thinking things through at all, and steadfast lack of communication were the plot drivers for the entire book, and that annoyed me.

Vicious (Schwab): 3+/5. Okay, this one I liked. It's a dark take on superheroes (called EOs -- ExtraOrdinaries -- in the book). It suffers from the same problems I had with Soon I Will Be Invincible, which is that when your characters are a bit on the cartoonish side, even a grim cartoon, it's hard to be all that sympathetic. But the writing is good, the action ramps up well, and some of the sly tropes really amused me (such as how all the characters are centered around One Town even though they clearly had the whole world to play around in). One minor note: I found their university extraordinarily unconvincing. Everyone -- of different disciplines -- has to take a thesis prep class where each person announces the proposed thesis subject? Is this a thing in other universities that I don't know about? Or a superhero trope I don't know about?
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4/5. I... have curiously little to say about this book, except that I am glad I read it after Cyteen, because Cyteen drew me in with its genetic speculation and gave me a primer on how Cherryh works: the book goes on until she's finished writing it, with one major plot-line maybe resolved and a bunch of minor ones dangling; also, people will act like people and it will generally be grim and people will get grim comeuppances. So I was prepared! And actually I was unprepared for the awesomeness that is Elene Quen and the accompanying awesomeness that is Elene/Damon and Josh Talley. Although I was slightly more prepared for the grim sort of awesomeness that is Signy Mallory.

I don't like it as well as Cyteen; it doesn't have the interesting genetic Big Questions or the heartstopping moments when you realize you've just taken a dagger to the heart (except, okay, that last scene). But I liked it very much. Recommended if you like careful, methodical worldbuilding and history (apparently Cherryh herself said her books should read like that, and it does -- detailed and messy and without clean endings) and don't mind Cherryh's quirks, and very much not recommended if you want your plots wrapped up nicely or are not in the mood for grim...
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3+/5. [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales recently updated Turn of the Story, which reminded me that I hadn't read her Lynburn Legacy books. Now, I pretty much read and love anything that SRB writes, but it took me a while to get to these because they were described as Gothics, and I don't really like Gothics that much. I blame getting to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre entirely too late in my life and thinking, "Why are all these people so dysfunctional??" And… yup, I think I still am not a major fan of Gothics. The brooding and the inbreeding and the spookiness and the dysfunctional relationships and the bad-boy angst and the cast of characters who all look the same so as to provide maximum difficulty in my telling them apart… it's not all taken seriously in Unspoken, obviously, but it's just not my thing.

However, SRB likes subverting tropes a lot, and this I am totally on board with. The biggest part of this is that the main character, Kami, has a soulbond mindlink with another person. This turns out to be… really kind of awful and creepy, actually! As it would actually be if you had someone peeping at your thoughts all the time! And the terrible thing is that you really can describe it with all the cliches that moony teenagers use to describe their love affairs! He is part of her! They are so much more than friends! She's never had a connection with anyone the way she does with him! And it is super creepy and I love it.

I also found the ending somewhat lacking in emotional heft, partially I think because the relationships between the Lynburns weren't laid out solidly for me. Or possibly because I don't find love triangles (even between grownups) particularly compelling? Contrast the climax of Demon's Lexicon, which gets its power partially from the solidness of the development of the relationship between Nick and Alan. (That lovely lying liar! But I digress.) Family relationships get me every time.

Speaking of love triangles, as usual with SRB heroines, I am firmly on the shipping side of Kami/NO ONE IN THESE BOOKS. I think Kami should move away from Sorry-in-the-Vale, have lots of relationships, and eventually partner with someone who has never heard of the Lynburns!

Anyway. I would not have read it had it been an author I didn't know. And I think I would have liked it better if it wasn't Gothic (which I think drives a lot of the things I didn't particularly think were that interesting). But that's just me. And I'll be picking up the next one.

(Also, Turn of the Story is Lynburn Legacy for high fantasy rather than Gothic. I find this kind of fantastic, and like it in a much more uncomplicated way. But I could see, if you didn't like high fantasy, it not being compelling in much the same way.)
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Pink and blue.3+/5. I never read genderified books like this. The only reason I even checked this out of the library is because E noticed it on the "new books" shelf, picked it up, and begged me to check it out. I think it is mostly because she liked the colored pencils on the cover. I asked her what she thought was about before writing this, and she looked at me as though I were an idiot and said, "Pink and blue!" I suspect she was hoping that it would provide me with craft activities for her.

Anyway, it actually taught me some things, I think, or at the very least forced me to confront my own prejudices. I'd always sort of assumed that girls were "more verbal" than boys (except for my kid, who talked early but is now the second least verbal kid in both her social groups), and this turns out to not be true for the things they've measured (e.g., vocabulary), except that girls are a little advanced in verbal ability for the first several years of life. And once I thought about it, I realized it is true in my anecdotal sample: although there was a big difference when E was 2 or so, even at age 4.5, I can see that the boys and girls in E's class are fairly close in verbal ability.

And she did a good job in explaining in layman's terms statistical concepts like variance, and overlapping probability distributions, and the idea that just because the two means of a population might differ, you have to look at by how much they differ and how that compares to the variance. So I was reluctantly impressed by her taking the time to do that.

I had the same problem with this book that I do with all pop-sciency books I read, which is that she will cite a study and then act very smug that she has made her case, even though there might be an alternate hypothesis that would explain the data, so what did you do to control for that, or did you do another study to study that… argh. Some of this may be that she's not trying to write that sort of book; she cites Pink Brain, Blue Brain (Eliot) as a book to read for a more academic approach, so perhaps I shouldn't ding her for that.

It also annoyed me that she quoted a study that showed that there was a "0.21" difference between infant boys' and girls' activity level. According to her this is small! I have no idea what units she is in, what the standard deviation is supposed to be… WHAT. Also this difference gets larger over time, which she blithely attributes to cultural programming… but I don't see any studies on this… so I have no idea where she's pulling that out of.

Another irritating part was that the actual "parenting" part was mostly her saying, "Hey, these are some things that I did as I parented my own kids, so you should do them too!" Occasionally she would have studies that kind of really didn't back up the specific things she had recommended.

The most annoying part was when she acted all smug, which she often did. This bit was my second least favorite part:


Stereotypes about gender have affected you, just as much as they affect your kids. Think for a second about yourself. Are you good at math? If you are a woman, I would bet money — if I knew you and could actually collect — that you say either (1) you are not very good at math or (2) you do not like math.

…You just lost your bet. Don't you go down laying gender stereotypes on me, please and thank you! I am willing to believe the average woman reading your book might not like math, but you just wrote a whole book about how the mean does not describe an entire population, what is your problem?

(My least favorite part was the story she told about a friend who refused to believe her nonverbal kid had autism because she clung to the stereotype that boys were less verbal than girls, thus showing that stereotypes can be harmful! JUST. NO. Look, coming to the conclusion that something is wrong with your kid is very difficult, and some people have a really hard time with it, and will cling to anything they can. If it weren't gender stereotyping it would have been something else. I just… had a violent reaction to her using this as support for her point. Granted, she did present it as a fairly minor point. BUT STILL.)

Oh, here's another good one!


A meta-analysis shows that boys remember boy-labeled pictures, words, and toys better than girls do, and girls remember girl-labeled pictures, words, and toys better than boys do... How does this play out in real life?... If your daughter is given an erector set, she will first notice the boys playing with it on the box. It might as well be labeled "Not for you" because that is how she will interpret it. She will automatically be less interested in it... She will never really figure the set out, never fully realize all she can build with it. It simply won't keep her attention long enough. Mechanical skills stay a boy thing, strengthening the stereotype even though you tried to fight it.

So this is another good example of how she takes an idea/study that I think is interesting and which I believe (that humans tend to filter by group association) as well as an action that I actually agree with and think is a good idea (toys shouldn't be labeled by gender association), and wraps it in language that is so smug and irritating that it makes me want to stop reading even though I actually agree with all the points she's making! I want to say, "Hey, my daughter has never in her entire life noticed any kid on a box of any gender... and she doesn't like dolls even though all the girls she knows play with them... so... just stop making assumptions about her!" (All right, fine, it is true that she has become an Anna and Elsa fan for no other reason than that all the girls she knows are singing Frozen songs incessantly. But still.)

In conclusion, this book made me so irritated, but I did learn stuff from it and it had some good points, so... yeah. I don't recommend it exactly, but it might be interesting to flip through it a little if you see it at the library or something and see if it annoys you :)
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The Rosie Project (Simsion)

3+/5. This book was charming and hilarious!

It is told from the POV of a professor, Don Tillman, who pretty clearly has (undiagnosed) Asperger's. Whether the author does this well/believably I can't judge (though would love someone else to weigh in), but I didn't find anything that pinged me the wrong way, at least. It's a very good-natured book, which I liked a lot.

I should mention that the narrative is constructed to be in the style of a romantic comedy movie. It's not obvious (at least to me) in the beginning, but as the book progresses it becomes more obvious and signposted, complete with misunderstandings (though these misunderstandings, naturally arising as they do from two very different worldviews, bother me much less than most rom-com misunderstandings), situations that become more and more absurd (it did not trip my embarrassment squick, which is more sensitive than average -- although there was at least one scene where I did have to fast-forward to make sure it wouldn't get tripped -- but it probably would for someone whose squick was more sensitive than mine) and a proposal at the end. (I don't consider this a spoiler because I already said it was a rom-com.) In a normal book the proposal would bother me a little (it seems to come a little out of left field)... but it's a rom-com, so.

There's a mystery, and the solution to the mystery is, I think, a slyly pointed critique at writers like Agatha Christie, or maybe I only think so because I read so many Christies as a child where she used the exact same McGuffin that's being critiqued.

My sister did a character interview with Don Tillman on her blog which is super hilarious and you should all go check it out.

Can you tell us a story about your most memorable student?
No. I am forbidden by the Dean and the University legal department from discussing the Gender Misidentification Disaster.
cahn: (Default)
I reread (most of) these in the last couple of months for (as usual) Reasons. There are thirteen books in the original series about the Baudelaire orpans, and a couple of side books that go along with it: I reread all of the original thirteen except the first four (more on that omission later), as well as rereading Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography. (I wanted to also reread The Beatrice Letters, but we don't own that one and I failed in obtaining it before the deadline.)

They're deeply strange and strangely hilarious and over-the-top books, sort of if you mixed Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey, and added in a large scoop of secret organizations and another large dollop of meta. Lemony Snicket himself never explicitly shows up in the plot as a character, but the best parts of the books are where we learn things about him and his own personal secret-organization-filled unfortunate series of events. (I must confess that The Unauthorized Biography may actually be my favorite of the entire series, although it would make zero sense had you not read at least half the series beforehand.)

Rambling. Cut for length. These are the kinds of books where I really don't feel spoilers are a concern, but in any case there are no overt ones. )
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Yeah, this book is that good that I just wanted to TALK about it!

5/5. I adored this book. It basically hit all my buttons it possibly could: seventh-century Britain; a carefully researched milieu that felt real; prose that felt real (sorry, Guy Gavriel Kay, I like your books but I cannot take your prose seriously); politics and more politics; three-dimensional characters, all of whom are political beings and none of whom are one-dimensional heroes or villains; consideration of the webs of power with both women and men; a powerful woman protagonist whose power is intertwined and rooted in being female while the fact that she is still in primarily a man's world is not ignored; women friendships; friendships (of all gender-flavors, whee!) complicated by sex and friendships explicitly not complicated by sex; thoughtfulness about religion and how it is complicated by power; a way of looking at the world that shifted from the old religion to Christianity that rang true to me (in particular, the way that Hild thinks is not at all the way that Paulinus, for example, thinks); the twisting relationship between observation/deduction and prophecy/religion; even a number of shiny things! So, you know.

Minor general spoilers; tried not to be specific. Comparison to Cherryh and Mantel whom I haven't read; formal lifelong platonic female bonds and authors making up stuff; shiny things; warnings. )

Anyway. It's the kind of thing that I would super-recommend to many people, and would not recommend at all to others. I don't think my sister, for example, would like it at all (she doesn't really go in for Cherryh or Byatt).

I need to go back and read Bede again!

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