juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are locked.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New subscribers/commenters/friends are welcome. Feel free to leave a note of introduction (on this post or elsewhere).
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
List of book reviews for 2005 )

Year Long Total: 25 books



List of book reviews for 2006 )

Year Long Total: 64 books



List of book reviews for 2007 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2008 )

Year Long Total: 67 books



List of book reviews for 2009 )

Year Long Total: 50 books



List of book reviews for 2010 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2011 )

Year Long Total: 52 books



List of book reviews for 2012 )

Year Long Total: 32 books



List of book reviews for 2013 )

Year Long Total: 65 books



List of book reviews for 2014 )

Year Long Total: 16 books



List of book reviews for 2015 )

Year Long Total: 61 books



List of book reviews for 2016 )

Year Long Total: 123 books



List of book reviews for 2017 )

Year Long Total: 70 books



Also See:
Tags: book reviews, book reviews: recommended, book reviews: not recommended
Reviews on Amazon.com, Profile on Amazon.com
Profile on GoodReads
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

PREVIEWb
Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.


You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, film, 2016, dir. David Yates
Going into this already inundated by criticism helped, because it allowed me to recognize the problematic bits, know they had been engaged, and not sorry over them so much that ruined the rest of the experience. (That said: where are the Jews in this New York & cast of Jewish surnames?) I thought this was decent. I liked the characters, and thought the effects were charming; the conflicts, both overarching and localized "where to find them" plot, are less successful—predictably paced and too disconnected from one another. The worldbuilding falls somewhere in between: there's a fantastic sense of place but the adaptation of wizard culture is clumsy; the magical beasts could add such new life to the world! but their magical characteristics are gimmicks, and their behavior is subservient and anthropomorphized, which undermines ... everything, really. Ultimately, this provided what I came for, that Harry Potter-film escapism composed of rich visual aesthetic, larger than life characters, and just enough underlying emotional subtlety; but it wasn't great.

How to Get Away With Murder, season 3, 2016-2017
If this series is The Secret History of procedurals—the push/pull of exaggerated, idealized academia and intimacy set against the social breakdown fostered by secrets and murder—then this is the season of consequences, of the trickle up to Keating's career. I didn't know my respect of Viola Davis could grow more profound, but it has—she does an outstanding job of portraying a complex mix of vulnerability and strength. The plot elsewise is okay—the danger in a series with this premise is that it can grow too convoluted, undermining and/or overlooking previous events while chasing the next cliffhanger; but the way that things fall out, the in-fighting, the effect on extended cast, the hints of underlying intimacy (especially in Michaela's apartment!), use previous events to good advantage. I enjoyed this a lot.

Frailty, film, 2002, dir. Bill Paxton
This would have been a significantly better story given: 1) no twist ending—the twist is exceptionally predictable and could have even been written in, but wasn't, and as is it serves only to undermine the potential character study of brainwashing/abuse/delusion, 2) better acting—it's a small cast, and there's a huge burden on the child actors, and no one can stand up to it (Bill Paxton in particular has some cringe-worthy acting in high-value scenes), 3) better effects ... I didn't discover until this writing that this came out in 2002! I thought it was older ... the corny effects combine with the so-so acting to undermine the premise, to turn it from compelling and unsettling to a gimmick. Nice idea, but skip this one.

Tag, film, 2015, dir. Sion Sono
What a weird film! It's almost successful, mostly on account of the acting and because, in broad strokes, the feminist themes work: an intimate relationship between women, fighting the nightmare of gendered social expectations. The tone is certainly remarkable, if not successful: grindhouse meets arthouse, strange and humorous gratuitous violence played against surreal reoccurring imagery and dream logic. But here's the thing: it engages in an awful lot of objectification despite the feminist subtext, and the reveal is a bit of a mess, a lot of an anticlimax, and isn't awfully empowering. This is no Sucker Punch, but sometimes resembles one.

Sense8, season 2, 2017
I forgot, until viewing the S1 summary, how much of this show is ridiculously contrived action sequences, the motivations for which I'd largely forgotten—and few of which really matter because, as the summary reinforces, the heart of this show is 25% speculative concept/plot and 75% queer orgy found family feels. And I really love those precise feels, and I'm mad about the circumstances behind the show's cancelation for precisely this reason: it's so id, so gay, and there's not much else that does what it does—I want it to set president, not be quietly erased. I don't have a lot of feelings about plotting vs. interpersonal in this season (I don't, frankly, think it improved remarkably over the previous season), but I found it so engaging, as always: I love these characters, the film techniques, the voice and style; it's a consistent pleasure.

Dig Two Graves, film, 2014, dir. Hunter Adams
Phenomenal sense of time and place; a ... mixed handling of racial issues: uses g*psy slur, but it's period-appropriate; it acknowledges racism and its consequences, but also capitalizes on stereotypes for aesthetic and plot purposes. I have a lot of mixed feelings, here. It pushes the hell out of my Southern gothic aesthetic buttons, and I love the initial setup, the haunting use of liminality. But some of the "magic" evoked is pretty corny (as well as fulfilling racist stereotypes), and as the narrative progresses—spoiler spoiler spoiler warning—and everything is given mundane explanations ... mundanity makes for a tricky reveal: it's innately underwhelming, despite the substantial themes and the title drop. I liked this, and wanted to like it more, but kept running into caveats.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: ZOO
Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Terry Gallagher
Published: San Francisco: Haikusoru, 2006
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 218,975
Text Number: 693
Read Because: reread for review purposes, from my personal library
Review: Eleven stories which consistently establish Otuichi's common narrative techniques, themes, and tone. His premises are frequently high-concept, sometimes to the extent of thought experiment (exacerbated here by the workman-like translation) and he has a penchant for unreliable narration and a twist in the denouement, which works more often than not—sometimes purely as narrative payoff, but at best these tricks are inextricably tied to the story's themes and character growth, as in "Song of the Sunny Spot." He writes about outsiders, about flawed and abusive interpersonal dynamics; his tone is morbid and, especially here, darkly humorous. I prefer the morbidity (as in the short, creepy "In the Park") to the humor, which can be caricatured or simply off-putting; these characters are frequently awful and unlikable, which keeps me at a distance from this collection especially when compared to the more cerebral Goth or more emotional Calling You. That makes ZOO my least favorite publication from one of my favorite authors—it lacks the profound appeal I find in his other work, but it's consistently satisfying and provides the style and content I look for from Otuichi.


Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel
Published: Knopf, 2011 (2009)
Rating: 1 of 5
Page Count: 200 of 1040
Total Page Count: 219,175
Text Number: 694
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: DNF at ~20%, which was about 200 pages, and as such a sign that my time is more valuable than this book. Murakami possesses an almost hypnotic style, offering surprising flow despite the length and relative mundanity of individual scenes—but this is nonetheless unforgivably long and overwritten (contrasting hilariously with scenes where Tengo obsessively rewrites and edits Air Chrysalis to stubborn perfection—a punishing attention to detail which seems entirely absent in 1Q84). The narrative is slow and padded by graceless infodumping that defies suspension of disbelief; the characters are caricatured, the dialog stiff; a distasteful veil of misogyny shades depictions of female characters and gendered violence such that they're tasteless at best, problematic at worst. This wasn't for me, and doesn't compel me to try any of Murakami's other novels; I don't recommend it.


Title: Stories of Your Life and Others
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: Small Beer Press, 2010 (2002)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 280
Total Page Count: 219,455
Text Number: 695
Read Because: multiple recommendations/having watched Arrival, the film adaptation of "Story of Your Life," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A collection of only eight stories, many of them on the longer side. It's an idea-based collection; the stories feel like thought experiments and the narrative voices are comparatively understated, even absent. This works best when the concepts are particularly strong, like the evocative, surreal, science fictional take on "Tower of Babylon," or the plot developments are particularly substantial, as in the narrative evolution of "Story of your Life;" elsewise, they can come across as distant or even didactic. But even the second-rate stories are engaging; the concepts may be one-note or implausible, but the explorations of them are expansive. I didn't love this—I find I want a stronger voice, or maybe some characterization—but I consistently enjoyed it; it's substantial, intelligent, and satisfies that high-concept speculative fiction itch.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Published: Soho Teen, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 218,205
Text Number: 690
Read Because: multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A teenage boy attempts to erase his knowledge of his homosexual orientation. This is more contemporary than speculative, although speculative elements fuel the plot. The local, social details of the protagonist's life are repetitive but fairly convincing; the speculative elements and the major plot developments they dictate are predictable, which isn't a deal-breaker because the heart of this book is an inevitable, tragic grief. It begins in larger society, but becomes intrinsically tied to the protagonist; it's an exploration of the social role of sexual orientation and the effect of internalized homophobia. I think it has the potential to be productive as a thought experiment and an expression of rage and sorrow, but the genre and emotional appeal didn't work for me personally. Consider this a mild recommendation, as I trust it to appeal more to other readers.


Title: Brown Girl in the Ring
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Narrator: Peter Jay Fernandez
Published: Recorded Books, 2001 (1998)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 218,455
Text Number: 691
Read Because: reading people of color, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Toronto's collapse, a young mother's otherworldy visions presage her involvement in violence within the city's remaining community. I liked this better than Sister Mine; it has fewer sideplots and more direction, making it a more satisfying experience. There's a lot going on in the combination dystopic/magical premise, and the use of Caribbean dialect brings the voice and cultural aspects to life. Yet it never captured me. The action is contrived, the antagonists simplistic; the flawed family dynamics have potential, but none of the characters are especially engaging—unfortunately including the protagonist. Good intent, mediocre execution; I don't recommend it.


Title: Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs Book 1)
Author: Santino Hassell
Published: Dreamspinner Press, 2015
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 218,720
Text Number: 692
Read Because: reading more by the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A gay man's one-time threesome with his best friend complicates their relationship at the same time that family troubles disrupt his life. The combination of erotica/romance and family drama/alcoholism didn't work for me: it's a mishmash of wish fulfillment and gritty, depressing, triggering content (and eliding recovery with the romantic relationship struck me the wrong way). The two halves are effectively written, and the overall quality is better here than in Stygian, the other book I've read by Hassell; the erotica is idealized and exaggerated, within genre tolerances and to great effect; the personal drama engages race, class, and sexuality, possesses nuance and mostly refuses easy answers, but I still couldn't tolerate it. This is especially strange for me as it's a combination I've had no issue with elsewhere, and I'm not sure what makes Sutphin Boulevard different—the relative division between the halves, or the way it effects pacing? the particular substance abuse depicted? the resolution?—and, regardless, it means my reaction should be taken with a grain of salt. But I would have done better to DNF this, and won't read the sequels, and don't recommend it.


(Sutphin Boulevard reminds distinctly of Elliot Wake's novels, especially Cam Girl, which I loved; they both capitalize on the aroused, heightened atmosphere of half erotica/half drama narratives, both involve substance abuse and coping mechanisms ... so it surprised me that I had such a visceral negative reaction to Sutphin Boulevard—"accidental panic attack"-style negative reaction. Wake works for me, I think, because the interpersonal aspects are tied into the negative aspects—all parts of that book function at that high-intensity level, all have an idealized-but-problematic push/pull, so the substance abuse etc. isn't grindingly awful and the sexy bits don't feel removed and over-idealized; and Wake's characters deal more directly with mental health issues, and their recovery is slower and carries more caveats.... I don't know. Sutphin Boulevard fucked me up but good, and I really wasn't expecting that; and I'm sensitive to alcohol use, even in fiction, but in this context I thought it would be fine; it was not fine, it was a devastating reading experience and I shouldn't've subjected myself to it.)
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Went to my first Pride on Sunday, with Dee. I only had the energy for the parade, so we left after that and didn't go to the gathering; I'm not sure how that would have changed my opinion of the event.

It was remarkably more corporate/sponsored that I was expecting, and I was expecting plenty—although I do feel like the front-loaded that stuff, which we appreciated & which made for a better final impression. I am of mixed feelings re: some police marching in uniform, the number of companies on display, about acceptable/sanctioned activism vs. what's valuable to the community & in current political climate—the same conflicted feelings everyone's having lately, I'm sure. There were little things, like the company members with aggressively doctored signs, which helped me find a middle place between fears and ideals.

When I was trying to talk myself into going (leaving the house is hard!), Teja and I made a list of What Would Make Pride Worth It: 1) to belong to a community, 2) to support that community, 3) to actually be a present roommate who goes-with, and/or (in any combination), 4) that feeling I got from the recent St. Johns parade: that Portland itself is tolerably unshitty, as things go, and I am grateful for unshitty things especially now and can stand to be reminded they exist.

(The local Montessori school marched in rainbow flag colors at the St Johns parade and I had a moment of realization that, when I attended Montessori, that's not something my school would have done; we were weird hippy liberals but essentially white liberals, who recycled and biked and misgendered trans* people. But the intent to do better was there; it helped to make me who I am. Times have changed. Portland is not Corvallis. And, in the least, the local Montessori school is doing better.)

2) was distantly, approximately achieved; 3) was bare-minimum achieved, but I guess that's the best we can expect of me; 4) occurred, however complicated by thoughts re: the commercialism of Pride, as above.

1) was difficult, is difficult.

At the MAX station on our trip into town, we talked briefly with a woman going to Pride, a woman that had been active within the community for some 40 years, who told us briefly about her work in the community, and about GLAPN; who asked if this was our first Pride, and welcomed us, and told us we would meet friends there. It was a lovely interaction.

We did not make any friends. Did you know that if you don't talk to people and skip the actual gathering part, you don't make friends? A lot of my pre-event angst came from just being a crazy person, but part of it was that I do want 1) to belong to a community—and I don't. Community means interaction, and I'm barred from that, predominately by the crazy (also by the way I conduct my relationships ... which is influenced by the crazy). It would be easy to tell someone else in my position—and believe it!—that their identity isn't defined by the fact that they appear straight or monogamous or cis, but when all of that is rendered moot (albeit in it a frustrating, unfulfilling way) by circumstance then ... it's hard to feel that, to be convinced by it. (Especially relevant given recent conversations online re: identity politics, queer as a slur, LGBTQIA+/MOGAI acronyms and definitions; consider intersectionality while policing identity, and that mental illness can complicate everything from gender expression to romantic/sexual relationships.) Portland would be a great place to make friends, to socialize literally at all, to engage in this community and in other communities which are important to me. And in six years, I've done none of that.

But at the same time, there were fat shirtless people, hairy people, sagging-bare-breast people, and that outreach—the visual but also unexpectedly literal outreach of it, of bodies I don't normally see, obviously non-conforming people, people in triads, queer couples, was viscerally effective. A lot of the world doesn't feel allowed to me—and maybe that's something I still need to work on, or maybe it'll always be a barrier, I don't know. But the world was there, and it still feels present within me. A sum positive experience, I suppose? I feel fragile in the wake of it, and exhausted (my back absolutely gave up the ghost even on pain killers, and it was 80° and the sun came out halfway through—thank goodness for parasols—so a significant portion of the exhaustion is physical), and despondent; and hopeful.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle Book 2)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: Stephen Hoye, Carrington MacDuffie
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (1966)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 125
Total Page Count: 217,315
Text Number: 685
Read Because: fan of the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: As a long winter approaches, outsiders threaten both of the planet's human civilizations, native and offworld immigrant. Lifecycle-long years and established offworld settlers combine to create a speculative premise that informs every aspect of the book: worldbuilding, social structure, point of view, plot, resolution; and while that last is too neat, it's just so satisfying to see concise worldbuilding with significant ramifications. The character dynamics operated within that are nearly absent, certainly underwritten—but I suspect this is exacerbated by audio narration, Hoye's in particular. But Le Guin's voice, powerful and sparse and precise, carefully balancing organic daily detail against larger speculative elements, is a sheer delight and offset other weaknesses. I see flaws here, but they don't particularly bother me; this is just what I wanted it to be.


Title: Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables Book 1)
Author: LM Montgomery
Published: Duke Classics, 2012 (1908)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 335
Total Page Count: 217,650
Text Number: 686
Read Because: reread, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (but I own it, and it's on Gutenberg)
Review: The story of a young orphan girl's childhood at a farm on Prince Edward Island. This was one of my favorite books as a child and I owned multiple copies and reread it many times; but I haven't reread it in at least 15 years. It's​ aged surprisingly well, for me personally, but also in the hundred years since its publication. It's beautifully charming; Montgomery's descriptions of nature and the community of Avonlea is lovely, evocative escapism; her intense and playful compassion for Anne, for her dreaming whimsy and enthusiasm and the gentle process of her coming of age, was everything to me as a child and I find I love it still. The plot is uneven, speeding up in the final third, becoming less playful and episodic, more of a summary and interchangeably too idealized and too tragic. But I appreciate the quiet consistency of Anne's character growth, and the payoff of her relationships, especially with Marilla, justifies some of the shortcuts. LM Montgomery's wish fulfillment was my childhood wish fulfillment too, and I still bear it good will; this reread was everything I wanted, all my best memories but freshly engaging, enabling me to entirely gloss over some objective flaws.


Title: Dangerous Space
Author: Kelley Eskridge
Published: Seattle: Aqueduct Press, 2007
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 217,905
Text Number: 689
Read Because: fan of the author, paperback given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: A collection of only seven stories, although the titular "Dangerous Space" is nearly a novella. I picked this up for "Eye of the Storm," which became one of my favorite short stories after I read it elsewhere. It's as good as I remember: a sword and sorcery setting, but an interpersonal focus, looking at fluid queer polyamorous found families and the link between violence and sexuality. "Dangerous Space" has a contemporary setting and secondary science fictional elements, but a similar tone. This is where Eskridge shines brightest, even if the ending of "Dangerous Spaces" is underwhelming: when she writes id fiction, focusing on strange intimacies and art, queer relationships and examinations of sexuality, engaging dynamics and sympathetic character growth.

The other stories are decent to successful; the style and theme that Eskridge is experimenting with in each is frequently obvious and sometimes unconvincing (although the density and unusual language of "Somewhere Down the Diamondback Road" is fantastic), but her voice is strong—she's particularly adept at working a story's themes into its metaphors and language, which brings to life even the clumsier examples. This collection isn't perfect, but I admire the ongoing themes of sexuality and art; and, honestly, it would be worth owning just for "Eye of the Storm."


The aforementioned trio of ridiculously successful books, counteracting a slew of "okay, I guess" books. Weird story about the Eskridge, though: midway through the collection, I received a comment on my review of the anthology where I first encountered "Eye of the Storm" which included "I'll be checking out Kelley Eskridge though"—a coincidence which inspired me to go back and read my review, and discover I'd mentioned that Dangerous Space included two companion stories to "Eye of the Storm." Which is awesome! But I was already halfway through, and hadn't encountered them, so skimmed ahead and—

—those stories are not there. They've never, in fact, existed; I'm not sure where I got the impression, such a precise impression (two companion stories!), that they did; other stories in the original anthology have companion novels, but re: "Eye of the Storm" reviews include such notes as "I am only distraught that there is no novel (series, opus, canon, tie in anything) with these characters."

I chalked this up to parallel universes and/or a fragment of my truly awful memory and moved on, except that: "Dangerous Space," as it turns out, not only has overlapping themes/feeling, it also has reoccurring character names. This isn't hugely surprising—I know creators recycle & reinvent archetypes, characters, names, &c.; and it fits: there's an overlapping logic, to take a slantwise-similar approach to different settings and dynamics. But what a bizarre series of events, to write and unwrite a parallel universe in which there obvious were, were not, sort of were companion stories to this story.

(To be honest, "Eye of the Storm" stands alone. I would happily live in it forever, but it so well establishes what it needs to establish that more isn’t really necessary; if anything, the summary and departure of the last few paragraphs is ideal—it keeps the setting alive and enterable, without the hit-or-miss potential of expanding the canon. I don't need the companion stories that don't exist. I'm just confused about the nature of their existence.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
August recently recovered from a five-day stint with the cat flu. It conformed exactly to expectations re: symptoms and recovery (she had a clear runny eye and nostril, just on her right side; some sneezing and squinting, but no breathing problems; mild decrease in activity but no decrease in appetite); it was still unenjoyable. I made a successful effort not to provide any contagious anxiety, because something like stress/going off her food could've lead to legitimately dangerous complications. And her vague self-pity and head-shake sprinkles of tears and snot were cute, in a gross way. But she's my baby and my lifeline, and I live in terror of anything bad happening to her ever. I'm glad it's behind us.

(Dee and I have no idea how she got sick! All the cats are indoor-only; August has limited physical contact with the other cats and zero contact with the dog (who obviously does go outside). None of the other cats have gotten sick. The windows have been open and we've had visiting porch cats, and that seems like the only possible vector: virus via early-summer open windows.)

* * *

My last set of overlapping books included a Le Guin (and is there anything more satisfying than Le Guin, than the strength of her language, the plot-wide influence of her worldbuilding elements); a revisit of my favorite short story of all time, Kelley Eskridge's "Eye of the Storm;" and Anne of Green Gables, a childhood favorite that I haven't reread in at least 15 years and which is remains just so delightful. It's been a decided upswing after a brief series of mediocre books.

I spent this afternoon in bed, just having finished the first and a story adjacent to the second, reading the third. August climbed under the blankets with me and lay down on my chest, and we took a nap together in an idyllic setting which echoes Green Gables: my computer was turned off, my blinds down; the room lit by diffused white light and the day cool for June; sleeping atop freshly-laundered sheets. Echoes Green Gables in specific not at all, but in that atmosphere, of finding the best of a thing; of making space and time to daydream. August's whiskers on my face brought me in and out of sleep for an hour until I finally got up to make dinner.

I have a lot of sleep issues, split equally between anxiety and back pain, which means I effectively never nap—it happens about three or four times a year, generally on accident. Pleasant when it occurs (if it doesn't fuck up my back), but not something I can do on purpose, because sleep is a carefully coordinated effort that I only have the energy for once a day.

It's one of the things I envy most in my cats, but sometimes, just sometimes, August shares it with me.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Agents of Dreamland
Author: Caitlín R. Kiernan
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 125
Total Page Count: 216,320
Text Number: 682
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The events at a California ranch house and the information uncovered by a government agent reveal the advent of a strange apocalypse. This is Lovecraftian through the combined lens of cult/conspiracy, and it works but I'm not particularly enamored with it. I wish the Lovecraftian namedropping were, perhaps, less literal; the jaded Signalman PoV is wearying. But the length is just about right, and Kiernan masters these themes, of information half-seen and ominous, of tying together the apparently disparate into a strange but instinctively convincing whole. She's my favorite author, but this isn't my favorite of her work—it's more of what I come to her for, but not in an aesthetic I love.


Title: Who Fears Death (Who Fears Death Book 1)
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: DAW, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 216,705
Text Number: 683
Read Because: reading more of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A mixed-race girl develops profound supernatural powers which will alter her violent, racially divided homeland. Okorafor has a lot to say about racism, sexism, and the ways they intersect, and her protagonist is equally outspoken; I love Onyesonwu for her stubbornness and anger, and found her motivations more accessible than Phoenix's (in the companion novel). But the structure and pacing of Who Fears Death leave something to be desired. Its prophecy/quest tropes are uninspired, although the magic system is engaging; too much time is spend in subplots, specifically the minutiae of supporting characters's sex lives. There's not much room left for agency, for Onyesonwu to direct her path or effect explicit, comprehensible change—the piecemeal ending is intriguing but unexplored. I liked this more than The Book of Phoenix, but it's not particularly successful and I don't recommend it.


Title: The Golem and the Jinni (The Golem and the Jinni Book 1)
Author: Helene Wecker
Narrator: George Guidall
Published: HarperCollins, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 485
Total Page Count: 217,190
Text Number: 684
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An orphaned golem and enslaved jinni cross paths in the immigrant neighborhoods of 1900s New York. This is one of those slow ensemble narratives which relies on coincidence but still manages to be engaging—both because of and despite its length, gentle pacing (somewhat ruined by the busy climax), and exhaustive backstory/resolution for the entire cast. The historical New York setting is vibrant and unidealized without being grim; the fantasy elements are decentralized and surprisingly unevocative, but the golem and jinni convincingly bridge the human and supernatural; their character growth is routine, but Chava remains compelling in her understated, internalized way. This isn't flawless, but it's satisfying, especially via George Guidall's audio narration.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Certain Dark Things
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Narrator: Dan Bittner
Published: Thomas Dunne, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 325
Total Page Count: 215,535
Text Number: 679
Read Because: reading PoC/fan of vampires, audiobook and ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A vampire flees to Mexico City, and enlist the aid of an unremarkable street boy. The interesting bits here, the public existence of vampires and Vampire: The Masquerade-style diversity of vampire species, are original and engaging but delivered via infodumps (and an unnecessary explanatory appendix). The rest isn't particularly interesting—Moreno-Garcia nicely sidesteps the worst urban fantasy character clichés, and the setting works well to play socio-economic class against vampire/human interaction, but the most promising themes of the central relationship—power and consent, intimacy and violence—are buried under an underwhelming, straightforward romance. There's potential here, but it's too predictable, insufficiently confrontational; a missed opportunity. I don't recommend it.

(Avoid the audiobook. I read the first third in audio before switching to print; the profanity and gritty urban tone mesh poorly with the overacted narration, but are more natural in print.)



Title: God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha Book 1)
Author: Kameron Hurley
Published: Night Shade Books, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 335
Total Page Count: 215,870
Text Number: 680
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A disgraced bounty hunter and her crew hunt down a politically-fraught target. Hurley drops the reader into the middle of a world and the beginning of a narrative—an uneasy combination that makes for a slow and confusing start. The action eventually picks up, but the plot never improves; there's too many double-crosses and kidnappings, not enough throughline. The worldbuilding fares better, but it isn't remarkable—it's unique, and certainly evocative (in a purposely unenjoyable way), but the gender-stratified societies grow repetitive, if not in detail, then in theme. But the heart of this book is its protagonist, a woman as grim as the world that created her, as violent, as difficult and flawed; she's crafted with obvious and infectious love. This book never came together for me on a technical level; it has the roughness of a debut. But I admire the inspiration—for the protagonist, and for a world where unlovely women not only have a place, but are commonplace. (I'm ambivalent about reading the sequels; this book I wouldn't particularly recommend.)


Title: Orleans
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Published: Putnam Juvenile, 2013
Rating: 1 of 5
Page Count: 325
Total Page Count: 216,195
Text Number: 681
Read Because: pulled from this list of Own Voices YA, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After numerous hurricanes and a deadly endemic, New Orleans has become a dangerous, isolated land called Orleans. This is the story of two people's journey through it, and it's relentlessly, unproductively, unrealistically grimdark. The plot relies on poor communication (multiple dangerous journeys could be avoided if the characters just talked), accident and error (I appreciate that the supporting character is so blatantly ill-suited to this setting, and that his presumption and inability has clear negative consequences; I still wish he weren't here), and betrayal, kidnapping, rape threats, and other grimdark events which repeatedly violate the setting's established sanctuaries. Somewhere under that is vaguely interesting worldbuilding, and a fantastic protagonist whose voice and determination I adore—but would have preferred to see in almost any other narrative.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire Book 6)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Tantor Media, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 315
Total Page Count: 214,540
Text Number: 676
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Laurence and Temeraire are exiled to Australia. This is a quiet book, especially so after the previous installment; the action is removed from the war, set on a smaller scale, and consists of little more than a long overland journey. But Australia is a compelling landscape, eerie and inhospitable, and there's room in this smaller novel to develop and introduce minor characters; later plot revelations continue the interesting dragons-as-technology alternate history themes. As a stand-alone, I would find this disappointing; at this point in the larger series, it's more successful (if still not a favorite): a break after the height of the action and before the ramp up to the finale, quiet and bitter but also easing the tension.


Title: Acceptance (Southern Reach Book 3)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Published: FSG Originals, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 345
Total Page Count: 214,885
Text Number: 677
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The narratives of those involved in Area X—its creation, as well as its eventual fate—converge. That makes for substantial PoV- and voice-hopping, including some second person address, and it works surprisingly well—it's distinctive and develops secondary characters and elements; the number of simultaneous narratives also creates a better balance between the conspiracy side and nature preserve/alien phenomenon side of the story. But the conspiracy still bores me, and everything ties together too neatly, a litany of reoccurring, over-explained artifact and images; the ending is small, almost anticlimactic. These are the exact complaints I expected I wouldn't have, as they're the elements VanderMeer has handled best until now—but here, he creates too clear a picture of a subject which is meant to be unknowable. I enjoyed Annihilation; I don't know that any sequels could have held up to such an ambitious, strange beginning, and I didn't expect them too—and, as it turns out, they're okay: just okay.


Title: The Devourers
Author: Indra Das
Published: Del Ray, 2016
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 325
Total Page Count: 215,210
Text Number: 678
Read Because: this post from Penguin's Tumblr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A professor meets a man who claims to be half-werewolf and charges him with the transcription of documents which tell an unusual story—a story of bodily transformation, ownership, and autonomy; of gender, rape, race, imperialism; of shapeshifters. Das's voice is beautiful, powerful, and distinctly grotesque—an unusual variation of lyrical which is particularly well suited to the themes at hand. The characters and dynamics which emerge are strongly voiced and unromanticized. Cyrah in particular fantastic, and images from her story—specifically, her first two beast rides—have not left me. This book became one of my lifetime favorites while I was still in the process of reading it and, in the nature of favorites, it's difficult for me to do it adequate praise. I'm a sucker for werewolves and shapeshifters, but I believe this works even if you're not; the style is the real determining factor, and it creates an empowered, complicated, visceral narrative. I adored it, of course recommend it, and look forward to my first reread.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Please help me, I am forever so behind on these, & what I do not record I will forget forever.


Time of Eve, anime, 2010
This has an ideal runtime and microformat. The individual vignettes aren't particularly in-depth exploration of speculative concepts/worldbuilding/the laws of robotics; they're equally fueled by pathos and the human condition, so the short episode length gives room to develop those things without allowing them to grow maudlin—a good emotional balance. The effect is cumulative—not especially cleverly so, it's pretty straightforward "interwoven ensemble with overarching character growth," but it's satisfying. I wish this pushed its speculative/robotics elements further, but, frankly, I'm satisfied with the whole thing, it's engaging and evocative and sweet and I sure do like androids.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, season 1, 2017
I'm surprised to find I enjoyed this more than the book series—and I didn't love the books, but didn't expect them to improve upon adaptation. The weakness of the books is how much depends on the meta-narrative and how little of that there actually is; rewriting it with a better idea of what that narrative will be, and with more outside PoVs, makes it more substantial and creates a better overarching flow. The humor is great, the set design is great, it feels faithful without merely reiterating, a condensed "best of" the atmosphere and themes; a sincere and pleasant surprise. I'm only sad that the second season isn't out yet, because the Quagmire Triplets were always my favorites.

The Great British Bake Off, series 6, 2015
They finally got rid of the awful, belabored pause before weekly reveals! That was the only thing I ever hated about this series, and I'm glad to see it go. This is a weird season: weekly performances are irregular and inconsistent and vaguely underwhelming; the finale is superb. It makes me feel validated in my doubts re: whether the challenges and judging metrics actually reflect the contestants's skills, but whatever: it has solid payoff and this is as charming and pure as ever. What a delightful show.

Arrival, film, 2016, dir. Denis Villeneuve
50% "gosh, the alien/language concept design is good"; 50% "I really just want to read the short story" (so I immediately put the collection on hold). Short fiction adapts so well to film length that it makes me wonder why we insist on adapting novels: the pacing is just right, the speculative and plot elements are just deep enough to thoroughly explore, there's no feeling of being rushed or abridged or shallow. What makes this worthwhile as a film is some of the imagery, alien design (the language really is fantastic), and viewer preconceptions re: flashbacks as narrative device; it's awfully white and straight and boring as a romance, though—underwhelming characters with no particular chemistry, although I like Amy Adams's pale restraint. If I sound critical, I'm not; I thought this was a satisfying as a 2-hour experience.

Interstellar, film, 2014, dir. Christopher Nolan
I have a lot of feelings, and most of them are terror: wormholes! black holes! water planet! time as a dimension! space, just as a thing in general!—I find all this terrifying, in a fascinated by authentically panicky way. The imagery and plot does a solid job of making these concepts comprehensible and still vast (save perhaps for the fourth+ dimension—the imagery there almost works, but it's so emotionally-laden and interpersonal as to, ironically, make it feel localized, small). But Blight-as-worldbuilding is shallow, and a lot of the human element is oppressive and obvious, which deadens things; I wish more of it were on the scale of Dr. Brand's love or the effects of relativity: private motivations for the characters, sincere and intense but with limited effect on the setting or plot. But as a speculative narrative, one within the realm of the plausible but intentionally alien, distant, and awe-inspiring, this is effectively the space version of the disaster porn in a disaster flick—space porn, is that a thing? It's captivating in a nightmareish way, which, I suppose, is exactly what I wanted.

Legend, complete series, 1995
One of Devon's childhood shows, which he got as a birthday present, so we watched it together. It's honestly not as awful as I expected. The frontier setting is less idealized or racist than it could be, but still has a great atmosphere; the character dynamics are hammy but sincerely endearing; the mystery plots are episodic but decently written. Not a new favorite, shows its age, and the mix of tone and science fantasy Western makes it understandably niche, but it exceeded expectations.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: The Female Man
Author: Joanna Russ
Published: Boston: Beacon Press, 2000 (1975)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 213,600
Text Number: 673
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: Four women are brought together across four parallel worlds. One comes from a futuristic single-sex utopia, one comes from a modern setting stuck in the Great Depression, and Russ plays fast and loose with plot and swings between PoVs, settings, and forms of address without feeling any obligation to explain; it's disorientating and almost playful, but for the frequently joyless theme. This is a speculative exploration of the way that women are influenced by their societies, and while Russ's feminism encompasses Feminism 101 it also exceeds it (as example, interrogating the link between internalized misogyny and gender dysphoria) and, with precious few exceptions, doesn't feel dated, although it isn't particularly intersectional. It's angry and dispiriting, but never has that frustrating sense of redundancy that marks some explicitly feminists novels. Not, by any means, a fun read; perhaps not anything I hadn't realized; but this was fundamental, in a way: that self-critical, self-deprecatory, rageful, playful, compassionate view of women—and the female self—as they are, or could be.


Title: Little Brother (Little Brother Book 1)
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Published: Listening Library, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 213,990
Text Number: 674
Read Because: co-read with Teja, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After a terrorist attack, San Francisco becomes a police state—and one teenage boy rises up to fight it. This is fueled by a lot of righteous anger about the intersection of privacy, technology, and politics; it's well-intended and, sadly, as relevant now as in a Bush-era presidency. And that's the only thing to recommend it, because, as a book, it's pretty awful. The teenage male PoV is uninspired, which makes the romance doubly so; there's a minimum of intersectional awareness in the supporting cast, but it's undermined by the use of slurs. Doctorow's tendency towards infodumping makes every character sound the same—namely, like Wikipedia article given a veneer of hipness—and the name- and brand-dropping and frequent geek cred are cringe-inducing. The plot, somewhere under that, isn't awful, and I sympathize with Doctorow in spirit if not specifics—but this is an awful reading experience and I can't recommend it.

(A co-read with Teja, on his suggestion, as part of his 1984 block—and while I loved revisiting 1984, this was pretty awful. It's transparent propaganda directed at teenagers: Boys! Create Civil Liberties on Your Internet!—I don't know that Doctorow was intentionally targeting teenage boys but does he ever, and this is where Teja and I differ: neither of us enjoyed it now, but he says he would have found it an effective call to action at the time/at that age, as he was part of the intended audience, sympathetic to teenage boy experiences and computer-savvy enough to find the privacy technology here explored intriguing; I think I would have bounced off of it, mostly because I would have found the PoV isolating and vaguely icky (and also because I wanted my calls to action to be intellectual instead of cool—I was a pretentious teen). It feels unfair to judge it outside of context, when it's all just info dumping and YA characterization and excessive cringy geek cred but, mostly, not for me. But even in context? It still wasn't for me, it was never for me.)


Title: The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death Book 0.1)
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Published: DAW, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 235
Total Page Count: 214,225
Text Number: 675
Read Because: reading more of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the death of a friend, a manufactured, genetically modified superhuman escapes the Tower that created her and sets out to destroy it. The components elements of this dystopia origin story are fascinating: Phoenix's gendered and racially motivated rage, the commentary on technology and social responsibility and ethics, the manufacture of a villain and how future generations reinterpret her legacy. But I bounced off of the voice—unexpectedly, as I've enjoyed Okorafor's writing elsewhere. The first person narrative lacks structure, wandering between settings and events in such a way as to obfuscate foreshadowing and to make Phoenix appear to lack either direction or reliable narration. The editing is wanting (numerous missing vocative commas, as example), and the descriptions are distant and repetitive despite the colorful speculative elements and their strong symbolism. All that said, I tend to have a difficult time with first person narratives, so this may have simply been a bad fit for me. But I tried hard to love it, and appreciate it conceptually, yet never became invested; I don't recommend it.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Well Witched (Verdigris Deep)
Author: Frances Hardinge
Narrator: Bianca Amato
Published: Recorded Audio, 2009 (2007)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 370
Total Page Count: 212,705
Text Number: 670
Read Because: fan of the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When three children steal coins from a wishing well, they find themselves cursed with strange powers and obligated to fulfill the wishes bound to the stolen coins. Well Witched is further proof that there's nothing quite like Hardinge's books. Her initial premises are supremely creepy, and her flexible, creative metaphors render a vivid atmosphere. But the explanations behind these premises, and the resulting plots, are more mundane and occasionally comic—exacerbated here by the middle grade characters/audience, which further lightens the tone. Then again, she's compassionate, insightful, and has a knack subverting tropes, all of which makes for satisfying character growth. Her books are always flawed, if only because that shift in tone from horror to adventure/comedy is inconsistent and disappointing. But I love that she writes them, and especially love the elements that work best in Well Witched: the Glass House, the internal logic of the magic system which unites character growth and plot, the satisfying but unsimplified way that relationships develop; it's so enjoyable, so distinctive, if not perfect.


Title: The Weight of Feathers
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: Thomas Dunne, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 315
Total Page Count: 213,020
Text Number: 671
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Two teenagers from rival circus families cross paths. It's a beautiful premise, evocative and diverse: Spanish mermaids and French-Romani tree-climbers makes for a romantic but unidealized tableau, engaging race and class and assimilation; beautiful imagery and light touches of magical realism create an immersive setting. But the execution is merely adequate. It's all so predictable, from the nature of the feud to the course of the central romance—and while the protagonists are likable, their chemistry isn't enough to carry the book. I wish there were more going on, in the supporting cast, or larger world, or even more conflict or development in the romance than just the circus feud. As is, this is what it feels like: a first novel, with promising component parts but unremarkable execution.


Title: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire Book 5)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2008
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 213,385
Text Number: 672
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Laurence and Temeraire are separated, Temeraire assumes a commission of his own. The introduction of Temerarie's PoV is only briefly disorientating; it is, on the whole, a great addition, because this book is all about consequences—of the recent cliffhanger, but also of Laurence's actions throughout the series, and to see them from without, via a character unaware of that complicated social and moral position, is especially effective. It also keeps this book from becoming too dour—so too does the breadth of the action and progression of the war. This is almost too neat a book, in the way that reoccurring characters and ongoing arcs tie into the plot, but that would be my only complaint; I loved it, I found it necessary and well-realized and, if less pointedly feel-good than other series favorites, then perhaps more substantial.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Sandman, Vol 4: A Game of You (Issues #32-37)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: Vertigo, 1993
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 211,730
Text Number: 667
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Barbie's life is threatened by the Cuckoo, her fellow tenants make a journey to dreamland. This could be a series favorite—I prefer the more substantial arcs, and this one proactively engages dreams (wouldn't think this would be hard to come by in context, but sometimes is!) with evocative imagery and magic; the characters are fantastic, especially the ruthless Thessaly. But what sincerely awful transphobia, presented both in good faith (to depict the discrimination faced by trans* women) and as a product of era, or oversight, or sincere prejudice; regardless of the cause, it's exhausting and revolting and I can't see passed it—it irrevocably taints an otherwise decent installment.


Title: The Sandman, Vol 5: Fables and Reflections (Issues #29-31, 38-40, 50, Sandman Special: The Song of Orpheus, Vertigo Preview)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: Vertigo, 1994 (1990)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 211,995
Text Number: 668
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A collection (outside of original publication order, including some specials/spin-offs) of short stories within the Sandman universe. Better, on the whole, than previous one-offs; there's still some duds, and the historical cameos and retellings grow repetitive, but there's a frequent, strong sense of magic (like the central concept of "Soft Places"), occasionally brought to life by unusual panel arrangement or strong imagery (as in "Ramadan"). I do wish Dream/the Endless had more prominent or interesting roles, especially in longer stories like "The Song of Orpheus," but that's my usual complaint with this series.


Title: Authority (Southern Reach Book 2)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Narrator: Bronson Pinchot
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 212,335
Text Number: 669
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the 11th expedition returns from Area X, an outsider, Control, is appointed Director of the Southern Reach facility. Pulling back to view Area X from outside changes the tone and focus, introducing the conspiracy theory that often accompanies bizarre phenomena as a speculative concept. This concrete focal point offers better characterization and swifter pacing, despite the liberal use of flashbacks. But familiar, predictable plot twists render it contrived and banal (especially in overacted audio narration). I didn't enjoy Authority as much as the sparse, strange, Annihilation, but it's successful where it counts: it complicates and expands the narrative, and VanderMeer maintains a strong sense of the weird, especially at the end; all told, a satisfying continuation.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I went down to Corvallis for my mother's 65th birthday almost-surprise party—not a surprise that there would be a party, but a surprise that out-of-towners, including her sisters, would be there; they also gave me my ride down from Portland. I am very bad at social events, even casual ones; I went and I didn't fail miserably (just moderately), so that's something, I suppose.

And I talked with people, uh oh. )

Then I spent ~10 days closed in Devon's bedroom, speaking to no one except a very good dog and occasional cat (and also Devon), lying in bed and reading, and playing the occasional video game; and it was approximately enough recovery.

- - - - -

I came back to PDX because I wanted to see my cat, and we made the mistake of driving up on a weekday afternoon because it fit every schedule except traffic and the first heat wave of the season. The car began to overheat once we hit the Portland traffic, so we ended up pulling off to the dead end of a residential street—a vacant lot and a half, tucked under an overpass and against a power station, nothing there but the shade of trees with their sudden vibrant green and the quiet backs to apartment complexes. We hung out for an hour, to let the car cool and traffic pass; I read 1984 for the millionth time. Then we drove home through back ways we know from when I lived in SE. It was, bizarrely—the unexpected 4-hour car trip, unseasonably hot, broken radio, rush hour traffic, and yet—a lovely, long goodbye, relaxing despite the stressful circumstances.

I hate summer, don't get me wrong. But summer is such an intense experience, so physically present, that the first signs of it conjure something akin to nostalgia: memories of spending all day in bed with all the electronics off, reading, reading, coaxing a crossbreeze out of my opened windows, and the anticipation of sunset and the full-body relief of tired eyes and tired skin. I saw that in the haven we found in that dead end.

- - - - -

These things are over a week old, now, but I've been been so tired lately; I've been having back issues for the last three or four weeks, the "wake up already in pain" variety, which is part of it. All I want to do is lay down and read, but the more time I spend reading, the longer the omnipresent backlog of book reviews becomes, fie. (It is so long.) But there've so many great books lately! Almost everything hovers at that 4-, 4.5-stars level, not quite flawless, but that can't really be a complaint.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Annihilation (Southern Reach Book 1)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Published: FSG Originals, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 218,840
Text Number: 664
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A biologist joins an expedition into Area X, quarantined after an undisclosed event and now uninhabited. This is akin to the most compelling and surreal parts of the podcast TANIS, or the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise—half terrain, half experience, entirely a revelation, thick with body horror and existential horror. The ending is substantial and convincing, which is crucial to this type of narrative. For better or worse, the bizarre usually needs a counterbalance, both to contrast and distract, so the intrigue isn't lost; here, that's the protagonist and her husband, a relationship which is bland and vaguely unlikeable. But the short length means most of the focus can be Area X itself, and VanderMeer's distant narration, a removed and precise take on New Weird's vivid imagery, is a strong fit. I really enjoyed this; it's easy to come up with this premise, but requires both creativity and discretion to drive it home, to make it profound but keep it on the edge of unknowable. This hit that balance, to satisfying effect.


Title: Empire of Ivory (Temeraire Book 4)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 211,240
Text Number: 665
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Laurence and Temeraire search for a cure to the illness ravaging England's dragons. Unlike the previous installment, this book has a solid throughline. The plot makes for extraordinarily satisfying hurt/comfort—revolving around Laurence and Temeraire, but, unusually, also around other dragons and their captains; it's a welcome broadening of emotional investment, and works beautifully. This book also marks the series's first major departure from history (dragons aside, of course), and it's a telling change that directly addresses the racial issues that permeate the narrative. I was initially skeptical of the tendency to elide historical slavery and the fictional social role of dragons, but the way this development works, combined with increasingly diverse representation, specifically of Africans, goes a long way to resolving that. This series is super tropey, in its tone and relationships, which is what makes it so compulsively readable. But the underlying historical setting, with all its injustice and complication, tempers and enriches that tone. I'm remain in love with the series, but this volume in particular was fantastic. (And, that ending!)


Title: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Narrators: Rebecca Mozo, Lincoln Hoppe
Published: Scholastic Audio, 2013
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 211,540
Text Number: 666
Read Because: reading more from the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The kings of Palmares Tres are elected by the public and ritually sacrificed by the queen, a symbolic role disrupted by the election of an unusually popular king plucked from the city's lowest social class. It's hard to introduce this novel's elements—nanotechnology, post-apocalyptic manufactured societies, celebrity, love affairs, art—in a summary; the book does a better job of it, of sinking the reader deeper and deeper into the larger-than-life, vibrantly detailed world of Palmares Tres. In another setting, the romances would be melodramatic; within this appropriately heightened tableau, they're bittersweet and symbolic, and refreshingly non-monogamous.

This is what I hoped for, after I read Love is the Drug and found it unsatisfying but saw potential in the author: I wanted that diversity, that eye for daily detail, that penchant for dramatic romances, explored within a creative and highly speculative setting. And the result is remarkable, grandiose and complicated and sincerely emotional, and one of my favorite books of the year.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Season of Storms (Witcher Book 8)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: fan translation
Published: superNOWA, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 218,085
Text Number: 661
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the short stories and before the other novels, Geralt goes on a quest to recover his stolen swords. Insofar as the best part of the series is Ciri, and Ciri is not here present, this is something of a letdown. There's plenty of nods to central characters and plot, but this story feels both less urgent and heartfelt. It's almost prosaic: somewhere between comedy of errors/slice of life/travelogue, the daily life of a Witcher down on his luck, resembling the short story collections more than the novels. That setup allows Geralt's personality to shine through and he is, as always, a delight; the Witcher setdressing is present, the subplots are successful, and there's even some profound, if coy, worldbuilding in the frame narrative. But without the interpersonal relationships that made me care about this series, I came away underwhelmed.

I was chatting with Devon about the Witcher series and mentioned offhand that there are eight books, the two short story collections, the five novels, and the... —and then I realized that I had never reviewed this later prequel, never even written notes for it; granted, I read it late last December, when I was reading less and a lot of my reviews got delayed, but the fact that I entirely forgot this book says something about it, I suppose.


Title: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire Book 1)
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Published: Solaris, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 218,470
Text Number: 662
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An infantry solider named Cheris is selected to host Jedao, a long-dead traitor and brilliant general, in order to combat a heretical uprising. This has the inconsistent, piecemeal feel of a first novel: the beginning is almost deliberately obtuse (coming in familiar with the author's short fiction makes the style and worldbuilding more accessible, but patience serves just as well) where later sections are over-explained. But the experience entire is a remarkable journey. Math-as-calendar/-as-technology/-as-society is an engaging high concept, but the system's limitations and complicated cultural effects are what make it convincing. Lee's voice is an intense sensory experience, with evocative and alien synesthetic descriptions. The interpersonal relationships remind me of CJ Cherryh's uniquely implicit/explicit dynamics, where everything is tersely understated but functions on an intense, tropey level. The format, especially as a series opener, reminds me of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch: it introduces an entire world and has a satisfying arc, but is obviously the first part of a longer battle.

I enjoyed Lee's short fiction, but also found it frustrating because iteration and length limitations turned otherwise fantastic voice and concepts into repetitive worldbuilding. His first novel is everything I hoped for. The same techniques and themes are here, but they're given more space and elaboration. It's distinctive, fulfilling, and fully realized. I recommend it, and look forward to the sequels.

A pair of quotes, for posterity; I adore the language, the weird math-fantasy-science, how unsettling and evocative and strange it all is.

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Title: Home (Binti Book 2)
Author: Nnedi Okrafor
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 218,645
Text Number: 663
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One year after the events of the first book, Binti makes a pilgrimage home. I enjoyed the first novella in this series, but wanted more from it, specifically more complexity. This is more. It's as vivid, with equally satisfying character growth (these books would make fantastic movies, they're subplot-free and just the right length, and the world is so engaging) but Binti is working between points of intense, unpretty emotional conflict, and her cultural background is rendered with increasing complexity—it's a more complicated, difficult story. But unlike the first book, which is complete almost to its detriment, this one ends at the conclusion of Binti's character arc and leaves the plot with a cliffhanger; I'd've preferred a finished, novel-length work. But I still enjoyed and recommend it, and will read the next installment.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Stygian
Author: Santino Hassell
Published: Dreamspinner Press, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 205
Total Page Count: 216,715
Text Number: 658
Read Because: author recommended by WoolfsWhistle, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jeremy hopes that a retreat with his band will finally bring them together, but the spooky mansion they stay at seems more likely to tear them apart. This opens with a Poppy Z. Brite quote, and reminds me distinctly of Brite's early books—not the quoted text so much, but it has a vibe somewhere between Lost Souls and Drawing Blood: supernatural horror elements hanging over queer characters in the grunge scene and their tense relationships. This is less robust than Brite's novels, but also shorter. The speculative aspects lean towards predictable, which undermines the effect of the final reveals. But characters are realistically troubled, even unlikable; their relationships aren't as complex or as dark as they could be—too much is tied up in miscommunication/reveals when I'd've preferred to watch the relationships grow organically—but they are compelling. I wish this had pushed itself further, but it makes for an engaging pleasure read, and I'll pick up more by the author.


Title: The Will of the Empress (Circle Reforged Book 1)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: Scholastic, 2010 (2005)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 550
Total Page Count: 217,265
Text Number: 659
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The Winding Circle siblings are reunited after their travels by Sandry's pilgrimage to her family's estate. I loved the first quartet in this series despite its simplistic plots, but found the second quartet unforgivably repetitive and thought that removing the sibling dynamic was self-defeating. I almost didn't start this quartet on account, and that would have been a mistake. Reuniting the characters and reestablishing their bond brings back everything perfect about this series, but nicely matured by intervening events and the age of the characters and audience. It's not as complex than it could be, and secondary antagonist characterization is particularly repetitive, but it's a broader, more significant narrative while still maintaining the aspects that make it a perfect comfort read; what a lovely surprise!


Title: Three Souls
Author: Janie Chang
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Published: HarperAudio, 2014 (2013)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 440
Total Page Count: 217,705
Text Number: 660
Read Because: reading PoC, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After her death, a woman and her three souls revisit her life from adolescence through marriage in order to determine what keeps her tied to the world. She's an ambitious young woman from a wealthy Chinese family and comes of age at the cusp of the Chinese Communist Revolution—so her story engages everything from the role of women in the 1920s and 30s to the era's shifting political and social landscape, occasionally with a heavy hand but more frequently with grace. The retrospective PoV allows the protagonist to analyze her memories and notice things she missed at the time—effective as foreshadowing, and even better as a tool to develop the supporting cast. The end of the book is less subtle; its compressed timeline makes it feel like an extended epilogue. The speculative element that allows all this to occur is distinctly secondary—it's effective, but uninterrogated. That means this book isn't to my usual tastes as a speculative fiction reader, but to my surprise I enjoyed it, given a quibble or two. It's a local story within a broad setting, and Chang's ability to wrangle that, to make the history accessible while grounding the narrative in intimacies and details, makes for a compelling and delicate novel.

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