Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 10th, 2013 10:58 am
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Yay, I actually read something this week, even if I didn't finish anything!

What I've read: As noted, haven't finished anything =(.

What I'm reading: Wendy Christensen's Outsmarting Cats, for the obvious reasons. I probably won't finish, as there doesn't seem to be much in there that I can't already find on the Internets. I was, however, very amused at the introduction and the whole "cats have been domesticated for much less time than dogs, so inside your cat lurks a wild and ferocious predator!"

And I started Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, which is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I loved. So far, there aren't any direct connections between the books, but the structure of stories within the main story is the same. It is so nice having a book that plays to my love of retold tales where said tales are not only not Eurocentric, but also ones I grew up with. Like the previous book, I'm enjoying the little changes Lin makes as she weaves them all together. I'm reading this as an ebook, though I feel I should get it (and the previous book) in paper so I can look more closely at the illustrations and the typesetting and etc.

What I'm reading next: Er, if I actually keep reading, hopefully finishing the Lin? Also, I have had Cold Steel for a while now and still haven't started, despite my anticipation. Cecilia Grant's new romance has also been out for a few weeks, and I vaguely intend to read, but haven't been in much of a romance mood. Instead, I want to get my hands on Spillover to read about pandemics or My Beloved Brontosaurus to read about the latest in paleontology. The latter is sparked by a rewatch of Jurassic Park a few months back, and as for the former... no idea, except that I like reading about diseases and parasites? I have several books about plague and disease and hospitals on my ereader, but am of course hankering after the one I don't have.
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What I've just finished: Yotsuba 11! It is as cute and cheerful as all previous volumes in the series, and it encompasses dramatic events like Yotsuba's first experience with pizza, Duralumin getting slobbered on by a dog, Yanda bringing over bubble blowers, and bugs.

I also read Aliette de Bodard's On a Red Station, Drifting, which I enjoyed. I didn't really see the Dream of the Red Chamber connections until I read the author's notes, with the exception of a spaceship named after one of the characters. There's a comforting familiarity to the importance of magistrates and government officials and civil service that reminds me a lot of Chinese literature—I know the world is Vietnam-based, not China-based, but Wiki notes that the civil service examination system was modeled on China's. I also love the mention of fish sauce brewing as a fine art, and that one of the key conflicts happens while a character is writing poetry at a banquet. I didn't entirely understand all the shifts in the two main characters' attitudes, but overall, I prefer this to de Bodard's "Immersion," which won the Nebula. "Immersion" strikes me as being a little too on the nose, and while it makes a good point, I prefer how On a Red Station, Drifting incorporates more Vietnamese themes and background.

What I'm currently reading: I started book one of Alis A. Rasmussen's (aka Kate Elliott) Highroad Trilogy, but I haven't been able to track what's going on very well. I got a bit annoyed right off bat when I realized the martial-arts-practicing heroine is the lightest person in her brown family (I think she is POC? But she is described as pale so I am confused?), as well as when she rescues a robot early on and it devotes itself entirely to her. Still reading, and hopefully I will figure out what's happening soon.

I also started Jeffrey Brantley's Calming Your Anxious Mind, which is about using mindfulness to help with anxiety and fear. So far it's mostly been explanation of what mindfulness is and how it's effective as opposed to actual instruction, so I have no idea if it works or not.

I also started 7 Seeds volume 2 but am not very far into it.

What I'll read next: If I manage to finish book one of the Highroad Trilogy, probably book 2. Also, I keep meaning to read the latest Skip Beat chapter, so maybe that.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, May. 15th, 2013 10:34 am
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Didn't post last week since I didn't actually finish anything....

What I've read: Finished Adulthood Rites! And Imago! More noodling for Wiscon: all three of the books are captivity narratives in ways, though Jodahs' captivity is the least restrictive... it's only outlawed from Lo, and then briefly imprisoned while looking for its human mates. I keep being struck by the biological determinism of the books, particularly the emphasis on Human males and their propensity for wandering in Adulthood Rites, and how the Oankali think it's more important to listen to the messages that Humans' bodies give as opposed to their mouths/thoughts. There are some scenes in which the person is saying they don't want to be physically intimate with an ooloi, but the ooloi reads past the words to their body and goes on anyway. And... it doesn't always work out well--the Humans are frequently conflicted--but I am reminded of rape cases in which the survivor is physically aroused during the attack and how that in itself can be incredibly traumatic (as well as the super awful arguments about how then it isn't really rape).

Must remember to go over [personal profile] oracne's entry (spoilers) before the con as well. Can't believe Wiscon is in less than two weeks!

I also read [personal profile] rachelmanija's A Cup of Smoke, which is a collection of her short stories and poems. I've read a lot of them before, but I really needed something comforting after Haru, and having a familiar voice (along with a rodent zodiac) was immensely helpful. Unsurprisingly, I liked the stories more than the poems (I am not a huge poetry person), and there are a lot of f/f, POC, and retold tales, which is right up my alley. I can't really be objective about this, since Rachel is a really good friend of mine, and I can see so many of her fingerprints over all the stories, but that is also why it was the perfect thing to read right when I needed it.

What I'm reading now: Er, I'm not. I started Tansy Rayner Roberts' Creature Court trilogy, but I still need familiarity and comfort right now. Possibly instead I will continue rewatching Fruits Basket and Utena (CB is watching them for the first time. I think he's more taken with Utena so far, especially now that we've seen a few more Nanami episodes).

What I'm reading next: Maybe stuff for Wiscon? I don't know. Oh wait, I mean to get to the new Skip Beat chapter!

Reading Wednesday

Wed, May. 1st, 2013 11:02 am
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What I've read: Finished my reread of Dawn for Wiscon \o/! I have various quotes highlighted for things like heteronormativity, consent issues, gender essentialism, slavery analogues, and etc., but I still need to mull over things and synthesize before I have anything particularly good to say. Aside from issues about gender and sexuality, which hopefully will get discussed in depth at the Wiscon panel, I'm really interested in how Butler deals with violence. And I'd like to compare Dawn to other post-apocalyptic books about rebuilding society, since I think many of them fall prey to the "The strongest will survive and this is just and right!" mindset that Butler doesn't necessarily avoid, but does try to complicate. Lilith's relationships with other women aren't explored as much, possibly due to the emphasis on pair bonding and reproduction. Some thoughts on how OSC's Worthing Saga has a section very much like Lilith Awakening various people and having to train them for life on Earth, though possibly I only see similarities because I don't read that much SF and therefore don't know other works with this general theme. Lilith vs. Jason Worthing and how the people they awaken and train react to them is especially informed by the characters' and authors' race and gender, imo.

What I'm reading: Partway through Adulthood Rites! Dawn ended much more abruptly than I had remembered, and there's a big shift between it and Adulthood Rites. So far: more notes on heteronormativity, gender essentialism, and violence, as well as a continuation of Humans as Other. I really want to poke at the idea of the specialness and risk of a Human-born male child.

What I'm reading next: For once, I am fairly certain! If all goes well, I will proceed to Imago.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 24th, 2013 10:10 am
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Sigh, I have been reading (and posting) much less of late.

What I've just read: I feel like I haven't had much brain the past few weeks. Anyway, I finally figured out how to split up a single epub file into several so I can split up several compilations I have—they mess with my series numbering! And I hate it when a compilation of romance novellas has novellas in several series I'm keeping track of, so I don't know which series to count it as. My quest for book organization perfection will never end... This is the long way to say that in the course of splitting up novellas, I came across Sharon Shinn's "Nocturne" in Angels of Darkness, reread it, and was struck by a desire to reread some of her Samaria books. And lo, I was down in South Bay over the weekend and found my copy of Jovah's Angel.

"Nocturne" is a light, enjoyable read that doesn't feature issues about faith. This is good, because I feel the Samaria series overall doesn't do very well with those. I like the first-person voice, and the fact that the heroine is past thirty (iirc). There's a bit of "hey disabled person, stop moping around," as the heroine finds a recently blinded angel, but I liked how they found a way for him to fly again.

Jovah's Angel was less light and less enjoyable, alas, and it reminded me of why I am not a Samaria fan. I vaguely remembered it having more engineering stuff and more crises of faith and was sad to find that this was not so. Anyway, this is the one where Alleluia discovers that their god Jovah is actually the orbiting spaceship Jehovah. I didn't remember the subplot regarding former Archangel Delilah at all. Overall, I like that there are two female Archangels here, and that they aren't pitted against each other, but I would have liked seeing them together more. I also didn't quite buy how quickly the Alleluia/Caleb romance progressed, and of course, I still want more deconstruction of the whole Jovah-picking-your-perfect-mate thing. Overall, the book isn't enough of a romance to satisfy, and it's not enough of sf to satisfy on that front as well.

I also read volume 1 of 7 Seeds. So far, I am unimpressed by the heroine, though I am sure I would be the extremely frightened and nervous one if I randomly found myself in a boat with strangers and no memory of how I got there. Plus, she probably develops into a badass later on, so I am content to wait and watch. On a more random note, EW BUGS. I'm glad Tamura doesn't draw them in great detail.

What I'm reading: Just started Lilith in preparation for Wiscon, which hopefully I will continue. I am feeling rather meh lately, and the dystopic situation weirdly makes me feel better.

What I'm reading next: If I am being optimistic, more Xenogenesis! Also, more of 7 Seeds. Though I am tempted to start on a Fruits Basket reread because CB has just started on the anime. And I just got Yes, Chef from the library, which has POC author + food + easy reading in its favor.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 17th, 2013 10:50 am
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What I've read: Finally finished review copy of Tokyo Demons and reviewed it! And because last week, I was craving fantasy + romance, I naturally blazed through Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo's Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art. It's a fun book about how con man John Drewe got artist John Myatt to forge hundreds of paintings. The difference in this con, though, isn't the techniques used to make the canvases pass scrutiny, but rather how Drewe created the provenance of each painting—the record of ownership, sales, location, and etc. of a painting. Since it can be difficult to tell a forgery via art style, dealers and auctioneers and buyers rely on a dependable provenance, and Drewe took advantage of this to sell off some paintings that would otherwise never have passed as real.

Drewe isn't a con man that I'm secretly rooting for; instead, even if Salisbury and Sujo's description of his compulsive lying and his terrible treatment of his common-law wife hadn't been there, I would have hated him just for sneaking into all those archives and doctoring so many documents. My morals, somewhat subjective...

And of course, now I want to read fast-paced non-fiction about cons or robberies or other elaborate schemes, which I am sure I will take recs for and them promptly be in a different mood in about two days. (I like the recs! Please keep it up! I might not get to them soon, but I do take note.)

I also read the latest chapter of Skip Beat, minor spoilers )

What I'm reading: I started Sherwood Smith's Once a Princess—good lord, she's published a lot lately! I didn't realize she had so much self-pubbed/small press stuff out; I hope it's going well for her. Lost some interest once it hit the secondary world due to not having enough processing power for worldbuilding. I'm also in the middle of Martha Wells' Wheel of the Infinite, which I am enjoying but cheated on with an art con book. And I started my Con or Bust review book. I got a few chapters in Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive after reading Provenance, but then decided it was too research-y and less narrative than I was looking for.

What I'm reading next: A genre I have not talked about in this post? Hopefully I will keep going on Con or Bust book, along with starting a reread of Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis in preparation for Wiscon.
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Disclaimer: I got a review copy of this from the author.

This is the first volume of the Tokyo Demons light novel series, which can also be read online. It's clearly part of a larger arc, but the volume has a complete plot and resolution. It's very much in the tradition of "teens with superpowers/mutant powers/psychic abilities/etc." where here, said teens are dropped in the middle of yakuza, gangs, and a secret organization with nefarious goals.

I feel like I should have had much more fun reading this than I actually did, given the premise. There are some cool bits, particularly re: Ayase, one of the POV characters, figuring out creative ways to use her powers (her body turns into a swarm of bugs), but one initial problem was just that the plot takes so long to kick in! Some elements are being set in place early on, but it felt like there were too many instances showing Ayase being withdrawn or Jo (the other POV character) being tough and street smart without anything actually happening. The plot finally gets a jump kick halfway through, with the teens disclosing their mutant powers and finding out about Nefarious Organization, but that's a long time to have various characters wandering around, not knowing what's going on, and mostly going through the same loop of not wanting people to find out about their powers or ... something, in Jo's case.

My main issue, though, was that I found it really difficult to connect with the characters. They seem interesting enough on paper—Ayase, the paranoid girl trying to hide her ability; Jo, the pickpocket smoker who tries to not care about anyone; Sachi, the nice guy who is trying to bring everyone together—but it doesn't quite gel in the execution. For example, I never really bought that Jo secretly cared about people while trying to maintain his tough demeanor. You see a lot of him waffling on getting involved, but he never seemed invested in any of the characters as people with personalities, with the possible exception of Mitsuko, who he wants to bone. I also completely don't buy Sachi as the heart of the gang. The emphasis is always on how much he wants to help and how he tries to get close to various people so he can, but to me, it felt like him repeatedly crossing boundaries and signals to get people to interact with him, which is creepy. Ayase probably gets the best character arc of the bunch, but it's really frustrating watching her get maneuvered into a potential romantic triangle.

I also wish there were more women. There are some in the organization fighting Nefarious Organization, but there isn't much interaction among the women. It's also frustrating that Ayase is so far the only girl teen mutant among a group of around five of them, and that she's already getting embroiled in aforementioned romantic triangle. Mitsuko shows up later and seems cool, but she also primarily interacts with the guys, and in a very sexualized manner at that. She's supposedly the sempai for a lot of girls in the school, and she helps out Ayase at one point, but most of that is background to her relationship with Jo and another supporting male character. One of the older women in Nice Organization is cool, and another mostly seems to be there due to her relationship with another one of the guys.

So, fun plot when it kicks in, but the characters all feel a bit too flat for me, and it could use a lot more women.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 10th, 2013 09:42 am
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What I've read: I finished Alison Bechdel's Fun Home after seeing her at a City Arts & Lectures event. The event itself was great; Bechdel herself isn't all too talkative, but there was a short video clip of her creating a comic page and discussion of her process, which I hadn't been expecting and was really interesting. I don't have much to say about Fun Home yet, especially since I'm still in the middle of her next memoir about her mother, but it's definitely worth reading, and I kind of wish I had read her stuff before going to see her. Oh well! At least it was incentive to get some of her books!

I also finished Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, which I like, but possibly not as much as everyone else. As most people have said, the voice is fantastic, as is the sense of place, but every time I was getting into it, more murder mystery details showed up and I would promptly lose track of what was going on. Clearly plot brain has disappeared again.

A lot of Meljean Brook )

What I'm reading now: I'm still in the middle of Bechdel's Are You My Mother, which is an interesting experience because it has therapy and mothers, but Bechdel's relationship to her mother, problematic as it is, is very different from mine with my mother. (Me: I WISH my mom would not talk to me!) I also started Aaronovitch's Moon over Soho because I wanted to see how a few dangling threads at the end of Rivers of London were resolved, but now the mystery has hit and, predictably and sadly, I have lost interest.

What I'm reading next: Who knows! I feel like a fantasy + romance fun blend but don't like most paranormals and their more dominant than you heroes, but I can't really think of anything. I should also read vol. 2 of Wandering Son before it's due back at the library.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Apr. 3rd, 2013 11:07 am
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What I've read: So sad, I don't think I finished anything this week, aside from rereading bits of Skip Beat. Oh wait, no! I read Sarah Mayberry's Her Best Worst Mistake, since it was pretty highly recced on Dear Author. I've tried getting into some of Mayberry's stuff in the past because DA has liked her other books, but I bounced off most of them due to the gimmick-y professions feel. I.e. famous movie star and celebrity chef he hires fall in love! Or: agents have to go undercover in a BDSM club! The contemporary setting makes it so much harder for me to suspend my disbelief, particular when power dynamics are in play.

Anyway, I really liked this one, which is about a woman who sleeps with her best friend's ex-fiance (the best friend breaks up with said fiance in a previous book). There's the Big Secret of when she will tell her best friend, but done in a way that's very convincing. Violet knows she should tell Elizabeth, Martin (the hero) wants her to tell Elizabeth, the readers want her to, but the reasons why she can't get herself to are really the crux of the book and of Violet's character development. I love how much weight is given to Violet's development, and I really like how Violet and Elizabeth's friendship is one of the driving forces of the book. All the relationships feel like real people interacting, which isn't always the case for contemporaries for me.

What I'm reading now: I started up the Ben Aaronovitch again! Hopefully I will make more progress. I also started Mayberry's She's Got It Bad after liking Her Best Worst Mistake, but I fell out of romance mood again. Also, I don't like the hero nearly as much, and it's got the gimmick-y profession thing.

Also, I don't know how if I should count this, but I've also started playing Samsara, an interactive fiction piece set in 1757 Bengal. You're a dreamwalker who is supposedly working for the Nawab of Bengal, but both British and French forces are threats on the horizon. It's based on the same engine that does Fallen London, but the chunks of text are much longer, which helps me follow the storyline more. The gameplay is also more directed and there's less grind, which again helps, and the story has been unfolding fairly quickly. Right now there are only two chapters up—each chapter took me a few hours to explore—but I really want more.

What I'm reading next: Hopefully starting back on Tokyo Demons again.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Mar. 27th, 2013 01:09 pm
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What I've finished reading: As you guys may have noticed, I kind of blazed through twenty volumes of Skip Beat and now want more content and/or more fic. Hi manga! I missed you! Now I'm trying to decide what else I should catch up on! OMG manga is now on my Nook (thank you so much [personal profile] meganbmoore and I feel like all the possibilities are open! I also got and read Ooku 7, though I'm still stuck on posting about the series. Everyone has already said such smart things! I am not sure what to add, and the stuff I can think of is all jumbled in my head and not coming out very coherently.

What I'm reading now: I started the Tokyo Demons light novel, which is... interesting? I'm not really caught up in it yet, but it's my first light novel (I think? Do Twelve Kingdoms books count?), and I am not entirely sure how they work. I am so not used to fictional work that grabs from anime and manga traditions that is in text!

What I'm reading next: Ahaha, I am betting I will reread more bits and pieces of Skip Beat over the next few days. And maybe go on some other giant manga rereading binge! \o/
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Exclamation point! Even though I actually haven't read that much this week.

What I finished reading: Finally! I read some manga—vols. 4-6 of Ooku, which I've had out from the library for who knows how long. 4 and 5 were rereads, since I think I meant to post on them after the Ooku panel during Wiscon in 2011 and never quite got around to it. Now that the story has gotten to where the shoguns have become established as female, the story reads more as a historical recounting, although there are still some interesting bits on gender and gender roles. I'm not sure what I think about Yoshinaga's tendency to introduce one male true love per shogun (at least, per shogun adult enough to have one), and now that I think of it, it's odd how het-focused the relationships seem to be. Obviously there's the whole producing an heir bit and that Yoshinaga seems to focus mostly on relationships between the shogun and members of the Inner Chambers, but aside from one or two instances, there's not much mention of f/f or m/m, despite the Inner Chambers being nearly all male and most of Japan being 75% female. I find this particularly odd considering who the mangaka is. Anyway, hopefully I will be inspired to write an actual post later.

(Also, I keep looking up actual Tokugawa history in Wiki, and I love how the male pronouns for the shoguns are weirding me out now.)

What I'm reading now: Er. I basically started and fell out of various books: Courtney Milan's The Duchess War, the Con or Bust book, Ankaret Wells' Firebrand.

What I'm going to read: Hopefully I will get started on a light novel (my very first!), though I suspect I will actually be reading Ooku 7 as soon as I get it. I am ordering books and getting them in the mail again! I've mostly tried to stop buying physical books, since I still haven't unpacked a ton of boxes in my apartment, but there's no good eink substitute for manga, so physical copies it is.

I was browsing through my Amazon wishlists (which I have finally updated), and I feel like I have missed a generation's worth of manga. Sigh. I also really really really want to do a Skip Beat reread and catch up since CB started watching the SB anime and I am happily watching along with him. Kyoko! I forgot how hilarious you are!

I am also so tempted by the FMA manga boxset, as well as the remastered Utena DVDs.
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What I've just read: Finally finished Cecilia Grant's first book and read the second (interesting new author, see review), which lead to a bit of a romance spree. Went through Sherry Thomas' Tempting the Bride, which I liked due to longing and unrequitedness and amnesia, though tbh, didn't really buy the hero's sudden non-taunting of the heroine even though I love it due to aforementioned angst. Read Meredith Duran's That Scandalous Summer (like the heroine, bleh for the hero, got really disinterested toward the middle and end) and her novella, Your Wicked Heart, which has a heroine who reminds me a great deal of Olympia from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire. Also, I think it has the hero I've liked best out of her books so far... I love Duran's prose and I love her heroines, but I frequently want to brain the heroes and get really lost during her plots. Then Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns, which has an adorkable tailor hero who asks about clothes and fashion and can cook. Couldn't completely get into it, though, I think because the dialogue sounded too modern for me? (Then again, I know zero about Regency outside of romance novels.)

Finally finished Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which I had been reading for so long that I forgot to include it on my "currently reading list" for the past few Wednesdays.

Also read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince, which I REALLY liked. The reviews on Goodreads seem to be very love it or hate it, though. Also, I rolled my eyes at the ones that were all "There's so much sex in this! Homosexuality and bisexuality is no big deal?!" and reviews complaining about too many original terms ("waka," "grande," etc.). I suspect I have very different expectations compared to the current YA SF audience?

...the length of this section correlates inversely with how much sleep I have been getting. orz

What I'm reading now: Still in the middle of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. Probably something else I started months ago and promptly forgot?

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully the book I'm reviewing for my Con or Bust offer. More realistically, probably a ton more romance novels.
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After a nuclear apocalypse and subsequent global cooling, the enclosed glass pyramid that is the city of Palmares Tres rises in what used to be Brazil. Palmares Tres is ruled by a queen and Aunties, but every five years, the city elects a Summer King. And at the end of the year, the Summer King is sacrificed as he selects the next queen.

June Costa and her friend Gil are very caught up in the current Summer King elections, and when their favorite candidate Enki wins, Gil and Enki quickly fall in love as June plots with Enki to create politically risky art installations. This sounds like it should be your standard post-apocalyptic YA romance triangle, and it really isn't. Gil and Enki's romance mainly acts as a backdrop to June constantly having to balance social approval against radical art.

I am having a terrible time writing a summary of this. There's June's battle with her desire to win the prestigious Queen's Award while knowing that anything too daring will disqualify her. There's Enki pushing her more and more toward radicalism as he uses his Summer King position to make the city focus on its poorest citizens. There's June's terrible relationship with her mother and stepmother, with the death of her father haunting them. There's the city's anti-technology tendencies in a world where many people have abandoned their bodies to become datastreams. There's the conflict between the wakas (the powerless youth of the city) and the grandes (the non-youth) along with the class conflict June has been too privileged to pay attention to before Enki. And all the layers are so easily intertwined with the others: this is a future city that feels incredibly real and complicated.

I've previously liked but not loved Johnson's books—Racing the Dark felt too crowded and lacking in focus while Moonshine had a great world but too much paranormal-romance-genre-flavored romance for me. The Summer Prince manages to juggle a bit of romance with a lot of worldbuilding, along with a great YA coming of age story that is June coming into her political and artistic own, and it really feels like Johnson has come into her own as a novelist as well.

And all this is ignoring the incredibly powerful narrative of a Summer King's year and the ritual the city was founded with, the choice of mortality and sacrifice and how it impacts everyone in the book.

This is a really good book on so many levels. I love Palmares Tres and the little glimpses we get of the world outside, I love having same-sex relationships casually in the background, I love little things like June's relationship with her rival Bebel and how that unwraps, I love the bits and pieces of Brazil and the South American African diaspora, I love the non-dystopian and non-utopian matriarchy, and I really really love how it's about sociopolitical moral dilemmas and art and expression written in a way that is complicated and difficult and very personal.

Anyway, go read!

- [personal profile] skygiants' review
- [personal profile] starlady's review
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I am definitely keeping an eye out for this author, because she seems to be doing interesting things with genre tropes, particularly for historicals.

A Lady Awakened

In order to secure her household's maids from her rapey brother-in-law's management, Martha Russell decides to conceive a fake heir to keep the property. Theophilius Mirkwood is the guy she chooses. The pairing is fairly typical for romances: Martha is uptight, very moral, and doesn't think much of sex, while Theo is the rake who's been exiled to the country. Normally, Theo would seduce Martha into enjoying her own sexuality while she imparts a greater sense of responsibility on him. The latter happens, but though Theo has his mind set on the former, Martha has other ideas.

The sex in this book is remarkably unsexy. Martha rolls her eyes at Theo's compliments and his attempts to please her, and... he really never manages to seduce her. Instead, after the chore of trying to conceive is over, they gradually get to know each other by talking about dairies, treatment of tenants, and various agricultural things.

I don't have the best impression of the book, since I basically would read one chapter, put it down for a few weeks, and then read a bit more. That said, I like that Grant lets Martha be unaffectionate and practical and cold and that the sex never really becomes the Most! Best! Thing! Ever!, as it usually does when uptight widows and pleasure-loving rakes are involved. I also enjoyed the prose a lot.

A Gentleman Undone

I can't tell if I liked this more because it pinged my buttons more, or if it's partly due to reading it in a single chunk.

Will Blackshear (brother of the previous book's heroine) has returned home from the Napoleonic Wars with PTSD and a lot of obligations he feels he should meet. Lydia Slaughter is someone else's mistress who is extremely good at counting cards. Together, they decide to go gambling together so Will can meet his obligations and Lydia can set herself up as an independent woman.

The book is actually much darker than the summary sounds; Lydia and Will both have dark things in their pasts. I particularly love Lydia, who detests feelings and tenderness and likes sex very, very much. Throughout most of the book, Lydia remains with her protector while Will deals with the guilt of wanting another man's mistress, and thankfully, the book doesn't do the usual "courtesan finds sex with the hero to be the Best! Sex! Ever!"

The book is paced oddly, and though Lydia's card-counting skills are emphasized a lot in the first few chapters, that thread is dropped for a bit for a drama-filled house party and then taken up on the last page of the book, where it felt atonal and out of place.

Other things I like: Lydia isn't punished for enjoying sex and gets a lot of agency in the sex scenes (though at some points, I was a bit concerned about consent issues in terms of her pressuring Will). No miracle baby + couple being okay with not having kids. Will's family is clearly not evil, but the majority of his siblings disapprove of him and Lydia and there doesn't seem to be an overall reconciliation by the end of the book. (I also like that Martha's marriage from the previous book still isn't completely okay by the family as well.)

Read if you like a lot of angst re: PTSD, honor, and trust.

Reading Wednesday!

Wed, Mar. 6th, 2013 10:26 am
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This actually makes me look forward to Wednesdays, which is nice.

What I've finished reading: Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, which was nice but largely unforgettable. I feel like I know most of the stuff about taking it easy on yourself from therapy and am currently in the space where I am trying to not be perfectionist and beat up on myself for stuff, but also trying to Do More Things. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011: I don't know if this was depressing because I am feeling depressed and morbid lately or if it's just the subject matters. There's an extremely good but extremely depressing piece on end-of-life care (and how we suck at it) by Atul Gawande, which made me morbid for the obvious reasons. Then there was a piece or two on the existence of the afterlife or not, several on species taking over environments or the general bad effects of global warming, and one on why a killer whale at SeaWorld may have killed his trainer. You know things are depressing when you turn to reading a murder mystery to cheer yourself up.

What I'm reading: Am now a few chapters into Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London/Midnight Riot, which has been enjoyable but put-downable for me. I really wish I had a UK copy; there have been several references to the main character wanting cable so he can watch soccer, which was extremely weird, given how rooted the book is in London.

What I'm reading next: Hopefully I will start the book I'm going to review for my Con or Bust offer. Also, I need to reread Ooku 4 and 5 and read Ooku 6 before it's due at the library. Sigh. I am reading so little manga lately, largely because I'm not buying any and because I'm trying to avoid reading them off LCD screens for the sake of my eyes and my nausea.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Feb. 27th, 2013 01:26 pm
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What I just finished: Heh, so instead of going off anything listed last week, I went on a tear through Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series. (Check tag for write ups.) I am holding off a reread of Demon Marked from her other series until the final book comes out in a few months. Also, I really wish I could just purchase her individual novellas from a collection instead of buying the entire thing in ebook, though that is more because I am lazy and don't want to bother making individual files per novella so it messes up my Calibre categorization less. I am willing to pay $2 for just one novella instead of $2.99 for the whole thing!

ETA: Also, can't believe I forgot, but finally finished Zen Cho's The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo! (I read half when she was publishing snippets on her blog and then decided to wait for the whole thing. Disclaimer: I know and like the author.) It's a romance with a Chinese-Malaysian heroine in the London writing scene in the 1920s, really charming voice. It's one of the best kinds of fluffy reads, in which I can enjoy myself while also watching the author do interesting things with tropes and etc. Vaguely spoilery ) I'm really impressed all this was in the space of a novella, particularly when it reads so pleasantly. I hope that isn't damning by faint praise: I actually think doing all that takes a lot of skill, especially when it's not an Issue Book.

What I'm reading now: Just started Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, per several people's enthusiastic comments. I'm only a few pages in, but I like the voice a lot so far.

What I'm reading next: I feel the only certainty is that whatever I put down is will definitely NOT be what I end up reading.
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(This covers The Iron Duke, Heart of Steel, Riveted, and two novellas in Burning Up and Wild & Steamy. I was going to put in individual write ups here as well, but the post is already monstrously long as is.)

Since several people praised the Ben Aaronovitch books and I am not in the mood for romance, I went for ...a tear through steampunk romance. My brain, I do not understand it either.

Five hundred years ago, the Mongolian Horde conquered most of the Eurasian continent via nanotechnology and war machines. When the series begins, the Horde's empire has begun to decline, and England has been freed from Horde rule nine years ago, when the Iron Duke blew up the tower that controlled people via the nanoagents they are all infected with.

Unsurprisingly, I had some serious issues with this premise. That said, I liked how much worldbuilding there was in The Iron Duke, though I didn't necessarily like the worldbuilding itself. The next two books have been exploring much more about the world and expanding it. I still find some of the things in the world nidgy, but there's been enough interesting stuff to balance it out so far.

For one, it is an incredibly thorough alternate timeline. Paranormal romances from around twenty years ago used to read as though the magic was only in there to further along the romance, what's now called urban fantasy has definitely improved on that, but this is a series I would actually give to someone who wanted worldbuilding detail. I particularly like how Brook has extrapolated how different cultures in her world work: the English are much more comfortable with sex and mechanical prosthetics, given that they didn't have much choice with either under Horde rule, whereas the New World, populated by refugees from Europe and Africa, tends to much more closely resemble historical mores. The New World, on the other hand, is extremely multiracial. Brook is also taking a lot of time to explore bits of it; having each book be an individual adventure instead of part of an overall arc means that they can cover a lot more of the world. It is still very Europe-focused though.

I'm still not sure what I think about the treatment of Native peoples. I couldn't tell what had happened to various indigenous communities when European and African refugees flooded in after zombies basically took over Europe and Africa, and so far, the books focus more on New World communities established by the refugees, particularly ones that speak European languages and correspond to European countries. We know that Portugal and Spain and France and England have carved out little portions, but I wanted to know about various African empires and kingdoms as well. I know from her online guide to the world that actually, the vast majority of the Americas is under the control of assorted Native confederacies, but it's not something that has so far showed up in the text itself. (Also, annoyed at "New World" terminology, though I suppose it makes sense given that it's all European people in the books talking about it.)

I wasn't sure how aware Brook was of things like imperialism and colonization and how intertwined they can be with steampunk—the very beginning of The Iron Duke mentions that the people in England almost all refuse to drink tea or eat anything with sugar, because the Horde used tea and sugar to hide the nanoagents used to infect and then conquer England centuries ago. On reading this, I didn't feel sorry at all for the English and more thought, "Ha, serves you guys right!" given real-world history of how tea and sugar trade went hand in hand with colonization (I am also curious how the Horde got all that sugar, given that there aren't sugar plantations in the Americas. SE Asia is my guess?). I think now that Brook was actually aware of this and meant for it to be ironic, but without much context, I gave it a lot of sideeye when I first read about it.

I also find the worldbuilding really interesting because Brook is obviously using it to explore issues around disability (mostly the social model of disability, I think, so far), gay and lesbian rights, women's rights, and race. Sometimes it's been heavy handed, or it doesn't quite feel right to me, or I roll my eyes, but it's substantively more than most paranormal romances and urban fantasies do, and actually more than a fair amount of sf/f does.

That said, I'd advise pretty much everyone to skip The Iron Duke, which is the book I want to throw against a wall (heroine: awesome. hero: HATE HATE I HATE HIM SO MUCH). Heart of Steel features the cutthroat Arabic pirate airship captain and the Indiana Jones-type guy she throws off her ship the second time they meet. Riveted has POC in the roles of hero AND heroine (this may actually be a first for me in non-African-American romance), along with minor spoiler that I think will convince people to try this. )
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When the Sadiri homeworld is destroyed by their enemies, the bulk of the remaining Sadiri population move to Cygnus Beta, a planet known for harboring many different societies and groups of people, often refugees. The Sadiri want to rebuild their people and culture by finding women with suitable genetic traits to marry, and a small expedition is formed to scout out various populations and places on Cygnus Beta. The book isn't so much a story of rebuilding the Sadiri people, more a set of stories about what the expedition encounters.

First, I love the narrative voice of the book. The narrator, Grace Delarua, is a fairly ordinary citizen of Cygnus Beta; she's a government worker who enjoys fieldwork and has a talent for languages who is called on board due to her existing professional relationship with Dllenahkh, a Sadiri councillor. She's snarky and not particularly serious, and I especially liked learning about her personal and family life outside of the expedition. The relationships among all the members of the expedition are also interesting, from Delarua and Dllenahkh's growing closeness to the way team roles grow and shift when a bunch of people are stuck together for a while.

That said, I thought the narrative itself lacked some drive. I was fine with this through most of the book, since the characters and the worldbuilding made for interesting incidences, but I wanted some more closure for the ending. I vaguely think the romance between Delarua and Dllenahkh ties in with the Sadiri's attempts to figure out how to continue their race, but it would have been nice to have a much more substantial connection. That, and I am still not sure what the Sadiri end up deciding.

The romance itself seems well done: I really like how they move from professional respect to friendship to romance. It didn't really hit me, but as previously mentioned, I am in a weird non-romance mood of late.

Given that the narrative is all about finding women for reproduction (the vast majority of the refugees are male), I really wanted Lord to go more into that, particularly what happens with LGBTQ+ Sadiri. It's especially interesting because one member of the team is asexual and nongendered, which one of the Sadiri reacts a bit to, but there's not much further exploration. I do like how Lord portrays the various tensions pulling at the Sadiri: when you are the last of your people and culture, it makes complete sense to want to rebuild, especially if your homeworld has been destroyed. On the other hand, as Delarua notes, people on Cygnus Beta come from all sorts of cultures (planets? races? I am not sure) and usually ended up there due to some sort of negative circumstances, and the Sadiri's reluctance to mingle looks a lot like arrogance to them, especially since the Sadiri had a fair amount of influence and power before their world was destroyed.

Also, niggle that I have with a lot of SF books: Delarua refers often to "old Terran" cultural artifacts like Indiana Jones or other bits of pop culture, and I always wonder why it usually ends up being pop culture relevant to us now and not as much pop culture from various other planets.
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(consists of The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods)

Ile-Rien has been under attack by the Gardier for a while, and they are losing. The Gardier possess magic that can disrupt anything mechanical, and Rienish wizards haven't been able to find anything that can counter the Gardier's magic, at least until they accidentally find a way to jump to different worlds using a sphere made by Tremaine Valiarde's eccentric uncle-figure Arisilde, who has been missing and presumed dead for a while. Ensuing attempts to battle the Gardier eventually encompass rogue wizards, a giant luxury liner, a lot of fighting, airships, and Tremaine's often dubious morals.

I especially enjoyed the trilogy's blend of plot, world building, and fun characters. Tremaine herself would probably admit that she is terrible as a model heroine, but very good at flying by the seat of her pants, being sarcastic, and having a complete lack of sympathy for the Gardier. And the Ilias and Giliead show always cracks me up.

Cut for length )

Spoilers, some mention of suicidality )

In conclusion: I have some nitpicks, but the trilogy is really enjoyable, with settings I think you don't get that much in fantasy (I now want to check out the luxury ocean liner the Ravenna is based on) and a fun cadre of characters.


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