Reading Wednesday

Wed, Aug. 28th, 2013 01:31 pm
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Woe, it's been a while since I've had a Reading Wednesday post.

What I've read: I thought I had already made a post about reading Meljean Brook's Guardian Demon, but apparently not! Anyway, I'm hoping to write this one up in more detail. Like many of the other books in the Guardian series, I don't completely buy the romance and the plot doesn't always make sense, but somehow the books are greater than the sum of their parts. Possibly it's Brook's clear affection for worldbuilding along with romance. And of course, after I finished, I went on to reread bits and pieces of various other Guardian books.

I did not read for another week or so after that, but then I got the Kobo Aura HD, and I have now resumed reading 7 Seeds (currently in the middle of volume 14? 13?). It continues to be awesome, and I am especially glad to see certain characters reappearing.

I also caught up on the latest Skip Beat chapters! I think I am withholding judgement until I see what happens next. Also, the translation for some of them is terrible.

And I skimmed The Mammoth Book of Hot Romance, most of which I cannot remember, save the Victoria Janssen short story that I liked a lot. POC hero AND heroine! And a relatively unused romance time period (for the genre, not for the author) with a lot of period detail.

What I'm reading now: Finally found my places again in Spillover and Feed after uploading them to the new ereader, but I haven't made much progress in either. Also in the middle of a 7 Seeds volume. Also I am a few pages into Samit Basu's Gameworld trilogy book 1, but I don't count that as officially reading it yet.

Random book-shaped space: I miss reading manga! Being able to do it on the ereader is awesome, and the new one's larger screen makes them so much more legible. Anyway, I got Silver Spoon and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou to read, but I feel like I'm completely behind on stuff, especially shoujo manga. Any good new shoujo series around?

... also, I should grab whatever Yuki Kaori is working on now.

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 24th, 2013 10:50 am
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What I've read: Amazingly, I have actually read a fair amount this week. The bad thing is that I suspect it is because I have been not feeling great lately. Hopefully the reading will continue and the feeling bad won't...

Blazed through several Sarah Mayberry books, though none of them were as good as Her Best Worst Mistake, which I also reread. I also finished and even managed to write up Grace Lin's Starry River of the Sky, which I enjoyed.

And I finished Courtney Milan's new book The Heiress Effect, which I need to write up. I went a little into some of my uneasiness with it, though overall I did enjoy it. That said, while I liked reading about Jane's empowerment, things just felt a little bit too smooth. This was especially obvious when compared to Cecilia Grant's A Woman Entangled, which has a similar conflict of "I love her but she does not want or fit the deeply cherished lifestyle I want."

I also read Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Wrecked, which is better than the one I previously tried! No implausible misunderstandings! It does still have the somewhat unbelievable "he is in love with her even though she is afraid of him" thing that has been in other Iron Seas novellas, but at least this one doesn't involve him actively deceiving her. I also just like the "two people on the run together" storyline much more. And now that there are small spoilers ) in the world, who knows what will come next!!

What I'm reading: I started Rob Jolles' How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence without Manipulation, which is an easy read, but not something I was particularly into. I do like the overall premise though. I also started Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, except I really do not like the author's voice. He keeps saying things and not supporting them, and then saying that there is no point in finding supporting evidence because the most important evidence is the stuff you don't know. Mostly it reads as very self important without having anything to really say.

I am also in the middle of David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. It's not quite as easy a read as Siddhartha Mukherjee's book on cancer—I know that sounds odd, but The Emperor of All Maladies is really a page turner—but it is fairly engaging and only lost me while going into the variants of HIV and etc. It's got the thing where there's a fair amount of focus on more rural "foreign" regions that a lot of books on pandemics and parasites do. Quammen overall tries to avoid the lurid "Haha see what these people eat?" thing, but he does slip into it a few times.

What I'm reading next: No idea... hopefully something comforting and engaging?

Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 17th, 2013 09:46 am
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OMG I read stuff! I suspect this is largely because I am out of playable content on Here Be Monsters and have run out of suitably addicting puzzles on my phone.

What I've read: I finished the new Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled, and even managed to write it up. Overall, it has a lot of the things I've been liking about Grant's books so far: lack of noblepeople, believable conflict, an awareness of money, and things that aren't resolved too neatly. I think my favorite of hers so far is still her second book, but I do like this one for the hero and heroine's desire to climb up socially, which isn't condemned.

I also finished (two books! I finished two books yay!) Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald's Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, which I will hopefully write up in more depth. Anyway, Greenwald was the person who developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), and since then, he and Banaji have conducted many experiments on unconscious prejudice and biases. As the subtitle indicates, Banaji and Greenwald are very careful to not assign blame or motive, which would probably make this very good for 101 stuff. Anyway, it's a quick read in plain and simple language, and after taking (and retaking) some IATs, it's interesting to see what's changed with me since 2006.

AND I finished Courtney Milan's novella, The Lady Always Wins. Like most of Milan's books, the hero and heroine actually talk to each other instead of the hero going through with his planned deception, but it felt like the denouement of one of her novels rather than a complete work in itself. There's not quite enough in the beginning to make the bulk of the payoff worth it, imo. Then again, that's how I feel about most romance novellas—there's either not enough set up or not enough payoff.

What I'm reading: I, er, of course haven't continued anything I was in the middle of last week. Instead, I started Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, which is exactly what the title says, if by "we" the author actually means "people like her and not me." In other words, it's the standard "A History of Everything!" that follows a (primarily Western) European history through to the US, with bits and pieces of other cultures thrown in every so often to look diverse. I sound more bitter than I am; I am mostly used to this and pretty much expected it going in, given the title.

I'm also in the middle of Meljean Brook's Iron Seas novella Salvage. Unfortunately, the Iron Seas novellas overall have not been very satisfactory, and this one is no exception. At least there's no eyebrow-raising consent scenarios, unlike some of the others, but the central conflict is a Big Misunderstanding that could have been cleared up if the hero and heroine had actually bothered to sit down and talk for five minutes instead of running off on an assumption based off a single sentence. My eyes roll forever. Spoilers? For the assumption at least )

What I'm reading next: Uh. Hopefully a book.

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, 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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Nicholas St. Croix is trying to track down the demon who killed then impersonated his mother; royally screwed up his psyche; and killed Rachel, the woman who loved him. Ash doesn't know who she is, although Nicholas tells her she looks exactly Rachel. All she knows is that she has absolutely no memory from before three years ago, that sometimes her eyes glow eerily, that she frightens all the nurses, and that she doesn't need to sleep.

I like Ash, especially when she's trying to figure out how to survive with human beings and their strange emotions. I was much less fond of Nicholas, who lives for revenge and doesn't trust anyone. That said, Meljean Brook was trying to break the mold a bit; several times in the book, she mentions that thankfully Nicholas isn't a misogynist due to his evil mother-who-was-a-demon-in-disguise. I also like that there is no illusion about Nicholas being a nice guy. He's a jerk a fair amount of the time, and that's actually what Ash likes about him. Er. That sounds off-putting, but I feel it makes much more sense when your heroine is part demon.

The other thing I really like about the Guardian series so far is how prominent the women are. The first few books definitely feel like "Now meet the hot heroes of books #2-8!" But I was glad to see that several female characters from previous books continue to play a large role in the plot. I think it's more in the last three Guardian books, due to spoilery events, and the final Guardian book is focused on the biggest baddest Guardian guy (of course), but I will take what I can get in this genre. More details under the cut.

Spoilers for previous books )

My main issue with the book is that the plot resolution and the romance resolution aren't paired up, so after the main plot is resolved, you still have to wait around a bit for the romance, which makes it feel anticlimactic. And then there's a bit more plot thrown in to set up the next book, which also feels a bit anticlimactic when it really shouldn't.

Other than that, I am glad Brook seems to have more interest in awesome heroines who may not like each other but work together. I always want more, but I figure it's a nice departure for the paranormals I've been reading of late.
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Savitri Murray found out about Guardians and demons and all that fun stuff in Demon Angel, and she also met irresistibly handsome and vain vampire Colin Ames-Beaumont. Plot ensues, some of it involving demons and nosferatu and vampires and Chaos and almost all of it completely incomprehensible. And I even have my plot brain back! So for once, I don't think it's just me, especially since I just reread Demon Angel, and the major twist in the end is kind of cheated.

Savi herself I liked a lot: she's really awesome and inventive in just the first chapter and continues to know who she is and what she wants throughout the book. I also loved that she was a mixed-race character who was raised by the desi side of the family; there's pain around her white relatives, but the book isn't about the tragedy of being mixed race. I felt a little conflicted about her characterization as a computer nerd and geek. On the one hand, there's the whole Asian nerd thing. On the other hand, she's so cool! She has Sailor Moon posters! And is an awesomesauce hacker! And grad school dropout! To me, she didn't feel like the Asian nerd stereotype and more like a fictionalized and awesome-ized version of people like me on DW, but YMMV. I wish that Meljean Brook hadn't brought in arranged marriages, even though she did it in a way saying, "Arranged marriages are not that big of a deal, get over it," because in the end, it had to not work out to make the central romance work, which undercut the message a bit. When we were in Savi's POV, it felt like her being desi was simply a part of her, not something that made her different, which is very rare in romances.

Unfortunately, any time the POV is Colin's, Savi smells like cinnamon and mango and has caramel skin and chocolate eyes. I also felt it was an extremely bad choice on Brook's part to make Colin a former British aristocrat who clearly lived through the colonization of India. Brook doesn't refer to this at all, and it was the elephant in the room for me. Also, at one point, Savi questions Colin's relatives' acceptance of her and her grandmother because her white grandparents rejected her, and Colin is all insulted she would think that. Me, I just wanted to shake him and say anyone in his family could be a racist asshat, and for that matter, given that he probably profited off of the colonization of India, he really was in no position to say. And I wanted to smack him any time he spoke Hindi.

Finally, the plot makes no sense! Brook gets much better at it later; she's never stellar at characterization or coherent plot, but she has enough cool bits to make up for it. On the other hand, things in this book just make no sense whatsoever. The conflicts between Savi and Colin don't feel very real, particularly because Brook holds off a little too long on a backstory reveal so we don't understand why there is tension between the two, and the final big "why we can't be together" reason is solved in a way that made me roll my eyes. Also, the dynamics of bloodlust and vampirism get much more interesting later on in the series, although I like that Brook uses vampire sexiness as a negative feature instead of the way it's usually used in paranormals.

That said, I kind of still love the Guardian series because it is so cracktastic and has the good sort of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of plotting, and because Brook has some really awesome female characters. Her characterization isn't always the best, but her heroines are almost always more interesting and more tortured than her heroes, to whom she tries to give angst but largely fails.
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Demon Night - book 3 of the Guardians series. I skipped this and Demon Moon in my first pass through the series since they were both about vampires. Luckily, this book is actually more interesting than the back cover lets on. Ethan McCabe is watching over Charlie Newcomb, as her sister is working at a demon-owned corporation which has been vamping their employees' relatives. The whole thing with Ethan protecting Charlie isn't particularly up my alley, but I very much like that Charlie is a former alcoholic who is desperately trying to keep her life under control. This may also be the book that gives us a larger view of the Guardian corps, as we're introduced to many of the novices that Ethan has been mentoring. Then again, we may have also seen them in Demon Moon, which I haven't read.

Brook also throws in supernatural creatures galore, and although her vampire mythology isn't as cool as Mizushiro Setona's, her making bloodlust text and not subtext is fairly interesting, particularly since she has vampire heroes and heroines throughout the series. I like Ethan and Charlie's interactions best in the book, as the focus is largely on the psychological tension between them, though I also appreciate Charlie's relationship with her sister and the way this book kicks off a lot of the plot for the next few.

Demon Forged - Irena is one of the oldest Guardians, and although she and Alejandro were very attracted to each other in the past, a demon got between the two of them four hundred years ago. Meanwhile, the wife of a demon masquerading as a U.S. Senator has been assassinated, and Irena and Alejandro are trying to find out who's behind it while also dealing with the fall out from Demon Bound. The first time I read this, I wasn't very impressed with the romance. I'm still not, but this book has plot like whoa and works much better as a fantasy novel instead of a romance. Brook also starts to bring in the hero and heroine of the next book, as well as set in motion what I'm sure will eventually be the book for Michael, Doyen of the Guardians.

I'm still not certain all the world building makes sense; one reason I went through this reread was because I started the latest book and had no idea who and what all the supernatural creatures were. But! I have plot brain back, and things a bit clearer this time around. The world building reminds me a lot of my favorite idtastic manga, as well as Marjorie Liu, in which everything and the kitchen sink goes in, and the showdown at the end is pretty spectacular. Really fun, although I was much more interested in the plot than the relationship between Irena and Alejandro, and much of this book feels like set up for the rest of the series.

Demon Blood - Rosalia the Guardian has a plan to deal with the nephilim, but for that, she needs the help of the vampire Deacon. Both were introduced in the previous book. This is much more a romance than Demon Forged, and although I like Rosalia as tactician and manipulator, Deacon goes through a bit too much "Woe! Angst! She could never love me!" for me. I like that Brook has just as many women as men influencing the overall plot of the series, and I love that Rosalia is the mastermind behind the plot of this book. I kind of hope she still gets a large role in following books. As mentioned, I'm not as impressed by Deacon, although I still buy the romance much more than I did the one in the previous book. I also like that the events from Demon Night are still influencing the plots, and I especially like the thread for Michael's book is still going on.

These aren't particularly deep books, but they hit several of my happy buttons, and I am really enjoying the world building, cracktastic though it may be (or more likely, because it is cracktastic).
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Alice Grey is a Guardian with her soul on the line: either she must kill Michael, head of the Guardians, and present his heart to a demon, or else she'll be damned for eternity. Finding a way out of the bargain involves a lot of archaeological investigation, more history of the Guardians and Heaven and Hell, and the help of novice Guardian Jake Hawkins.

The plot does not make much sense to me, nor do the eventual revelations about Guardian history, which I still fail to understand. On the other hand, I am perfectly willing to sacrifice plot comprehension and logical worldbuilding for angels and demons and heaven and hell and lots of crack (see also: Yuki Kaori). Brook is not quite as cracktastic as Yuki Kaori, but given the three things I've read by her so far (this book, Demon Angel, and a to-be-blogged short story, I think I will keep reading and hoping that she improves in her characterization.

The notion of Alice as a character is awesome. She's known as the Black Widow to the Guardian novices, most of whom are scared silly of her; she keeps pet spiders (normally freaky but very cool when there are no visuals); she freaks Jake out by projecting the illusion of a spider crawling out of her lips the first time he kisses her (again, normally freaky but very cool when there are no visuals); and she has tons of angst thanks to her backstory and to her bargain with a demon. The execution of Alice as a character is not quite as good. The backstory might have been effective had it been more interwoven with modern-day Alice; as such, I didn't fully believe in what she had suffered before becoming a Guardian. Also, much like in Demon Angel, once we get to the sex, all the tension in the story and between Alice and Jake vanishes. Sometimes she felt more like a composite of traits rather than a human being.

Still, I enjoyed the book a lot, and I'm particularly happy that the sex is not perfect the first time around and that there's characterization during the sex scenes. And I find Jake's puppy-dog-ness very cute, although some of the "Hot damn" dialogue and his own backstory didn't work for me. Overall, Brook seems to be very uneven as an author and doesn't always succeed in what she attempts, but what she attempts is so interesting (particularly for the romance genre) that I'm curious to see what she'll continue to write. Also, it's so nice getting some paranormal romance writers who have grown up on SF/F and comic books as much as they've grown up on romances; it's such a change from many of the older paranormals I used to read, where the worldbuilding was a joke. Brook's worldbuilding is not necessarily coherent or logical, but there sure is a lot of it, and it's very fun.
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Lilith and Hugh have been battling over human souls for centuries as demon and Guardian (a cross between angel and human), though neither are allowed to interfere with human will. But after eight hundred years of trying to save people, Hugh grow bitter, decides to fall and finally kill Lilith.

Sixteen years later, there's a new threat in San Francisco, involving demons and nosferatu (sort of like Buffy ubervamps), and Hugh and Lilith have to team up, though he's human, and she's not as she was.

I loved the concept of Lilith a lot, though I was a little sad that she wasn't the Lilith. I also like the insane worldbuilding, all the demons and angels and wars between Heaven and Hell and two people battling over centuries, each growing more disillusioned.

On the other hand, nothing in the latter 300+ pages lives up to the snippets of battles between Hugh and Lilith over 800+ years; once we move from snippets to in-depth prose, Lilith and Hugh both lose some of what made them interesting to me as characters, and a lot of the tension between the two disappeared. Hugh in particular got rather boring; I wanted more disillusionment and scruffy amorality a la Wesley. Lilith stays cool in that she gets to kick a lot of ass, and she's the one who grows the most as a character, but even so, I felt that Brook underplays her demonic-ness and tries too hard to make Lilith morally acceptable.

Also, the sex completely threw me off -- what's the point of having a demonic heroine and a fallen angel hero if he's in control of the sex every time we get description? Lilith does take control, but it's off-scene, which makes it much less effective, and the first major sex scene completely didn't work for me (save one detail, which was made of win).

On the other hand... Hugh writes a book for her! To make up for all the dead white men writing her out of their books! This won me over.

I'm not sure if I'll read more Brook. I'm particularly uninterested in Colin and Savi together, especially because I was rooting for something on Colin and Selah going into the whole captive blood-sucking thing. And I want more demon women!

On the other hand, I enjoyed the worldbuilding a lot, despite feeling like the vampires and nosferatu detracted from the world as a whole, and I am a total sucker for angels and demons. And Brook seems to focus more on the woman in this book, which is rare enough in romances that I'm willing to give her another shot.


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October 2017


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