Reading Wednesday

Wed, Jul. 31st, 2013 11:09 am
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What I've read: Woe, didn't manage to finish anything this week. At least it was mostly because I was being social!

I did forget to note that I read Sampson Davis' Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home. I really wanted to read about the medical cases intermixed with personal knowledge of the intersections of health and race and poverty. In the end, the book was too didactic for me. Each chapter is about a specific thing (HIV, obesity, drugs, history of medical experiments on black people, etc.), and each ends with a list of resources. I'm sure it is helpful for people, but I wanted something much more complicated than an introduction to the myriad problems of the US healthcare system and/or personal health issues and what to do about them. I was especially put off by the PSA on obesity, where he focuses on a woman he portrays as grotesquely obese (examples of how she can't be strapped to the gurney, fungus growing in folds of flesh, etc.). This is too bad, because the bits on his own life and history in Newark and how they intersect with his doctoring were really interesting, especially since he was one of the few doctors there who had grown up in and still lived in Newark, as opposed to commuting there from another, more affluent town.

I also forgot to mention Carolyn Jewel's novella Moonlight last week. It unfortunately is not particularly notable. There is some emotional stuff going on there re: a younger man in love with the slightly older women he grew up with and trying to not be seen as a goofy younger brother, but most of it focuses on the sex without tying it in to the conflict.

And I forgot Courtney Milan's A Kiss for Midwinter. Wow, I read a lot the week before. Anyway, I don't dislike it to the same extent [personal profile] coffeeandink does, but the noted discrepancy between what people say about Lydia's cheerful disposition and what we actually read on the page is very disconcerting. I also thought Jonas never quite gelled as a character to me; he read more as a collection of traits—blunt and socially awkward doctor who shows compassion to underserved populations—than an actual person. Definitely not one of Milan's better works.

What I'm reading: I still haven't finished Spillover. So of course I started Mira Grant's Feed, which is one of those "everyone was talking about it when it came out and I am only now getting around to reading it" books. So far, it is entertaining and easy to read—too easy, given how I lost track of time at bedtime! I'm not terribly caught up in the characters yet; they are very snarky and capable, but there's no real emotional hook for me to grab on to. Also, it is interesting reading this in 2013 when the presumed zombie apocalypse is in 2014 (the book was published in 2010). I'm not sure I would have fully bought into Grant's projection of how blogging grows increasingly important even back then, but now it's even odder to compare to what has actually been happening.

What I'm reading next: Er, hopefully Hiromi Goto's Half World, because I keep meaning to read it and then forgetting that I do when it comes time to select a book.

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.
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I've been reading and rereading a lot of Courtney Milan's books lately, and I think she is a new favorite romance author. Most of her romances focus heavily on the heroine's journey and growth, and although not all her heroes are to my taste, she so far has had a relatively small amount of annoying alpha males. I also like that several of her books have featured non-neurotypicalness, particularly since she does so in a way that doesn't make me want to throw things.

Also, she has shown a willingness to write about non-lords, which is extremely welcome in duke-heavy Romanceland. Now that she is self publishing, I'm very much hoping that there will be more of class politics and gender dynamics, especially since what I've read so far of her seems to be feminist and looks at class in ways that also don't make me want to throw things.

Sometimes I find her resolutions overly optimistic, but I like her characters (esp. the heroines) so much that I don't mind. Also, it helps that people tend to behave like adults and use their words. I find the most interesting parts of her books to be the second half, after people have circumvented the Big Secret or Big Misunderstanding by talking to each other; the characters actually have to work together and communicate and own up to their own weaknesses to make things work out. Since I enjoy reading about functional romantic relationships, this is particularly nice.

Unveiled )

Unlocked )

Unclaimed )

Unraveled )
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As with Nicola Cornick, I picked up Courtney Milan because of [personal profile] rosefox's Best, and Next-Best, of 2010. The difference is that while I found the first book not really worthy of a next best spot, the second book is promising.

Proof by Seduction

Jenny Keeble acts as Madame Esmerelda, a Gypsy fortuneteller, and Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely, is out to wrest his cousin Ned from her grasp. I have many issues with this book, from Gareth basically bulldozing his way into Jenny's life despite her attempts to keep him away and his using his wealth and status to get what he wants, to Jenny basically doing Romany brownface. Dear romance novels: please stop making your white heroines fake Gypsy fortunetellers profitting off stereotypes, especially when you have no actual Romany characters in the book. I also mocked Gareth's Secret Angst relentlessly. The bits that were interesting were Ned Carhart, who is bipolar and not magically cured by the end of the book, and his marriage of convenience.

Trial by Desire

As noted, Ned Carhart married in Proof by Seduction, but by this book, he's left his wife Kate alone for three years as he goes gallivanting off in China. Despite my interest in the characters from the first book, the marriage of convenience hook, and the husband and wife falling in love hook, I put off reading this for a while because China + Opium War + romance novel = OMGWTFBBQ.

I am happy to say that I did not want to throw this book against a wall! Ned is indeed in China around the time of the Opium War, and he is there to oversee the Carhart family's "investments" in China (brief pause as I do not write a giant rant about British trade in China). However, he gets points for quickly realizing the East India Company basically sucks. Not only that, but there's very little we see of him in China. He does not magically save Chinese people from the British and do "what these people need is a honkey." He does not find himself in China by saving China. Instead, he finds himself by being an utter failure in trying to help. I appreciated this a lot. I mean, yes, it would have been nice to have more Chinese characters, but you know, given all the romance racefail I've read, I'm happy with just a mention of the Opium War that a) doesn't excuse the British by b) blaming the Chinese or the Qing Dynasty and c) lacks a Great White Savior. My expectations, they are so low.

Ned is a very interesting romance hero for me; his undiagnosed and largely untreated bipolar makes him try to be a stoic hero, but he's not so great at it. I also enjoy how his stoicness and Kate's anger at her husband's withdrawal battle against each other, but I can't say how well it's done because that is one of my buttons. I further liked that Kate wants sex moe than Ned does. Also, IIRC, Ned doesn't get a miracle cure for bipolar at the end, and although there is a happy ever after, I felt Milan didn't gloss over the difficulties Kate and Ned would face. I thought Milan also did a good job in walking the line between "OH NOES he is disabled and HIS LIFE IS RUINED" versus "magic wand makes everything go away" without also romanticizing Ned's bipolar. That said, I do not have bipolar and am still futzing around quite a bit with trying to look at disability in fiction, so YMMV and giant grain of salt.

Overall, much more interesting set up than her first book, and unconventional in ways I like a lot.

Also, I read part of her novella in The Heart of Christmas, and all I can say about it is: using money to try and buy the company of a woman fallen on hard times doesn't make my heart flutter.


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