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: 103 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: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside Book 2)
Author: Ellen Kushner
Published: Spectra, 2006
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 227,645
Text Number: 726
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The mad Duke Tremontaine promises to relieve his family's debt if he may train his niece in swordplay. Perhaps recycling an antagonist from Swordspoint is lazy; certainly there's some trailing subplots here, and it takes time for the headhopping and politicking to coalesce into a narrative. But this won me by the halfway point, and won me entirely. It's a delight to come back to this world, with its affected tone and character cameos (featuring significant growth!), and it benefits from the introduction of gender diversity. It deglamorizes the Regency-esque setting, and creates room for issues of gender presentation and social roles, for an organic sexual awakening and coming of age. The narrative-within-the-narrative is an especially nice touch; it frames Privilege in a self-aware but loving light, and the way that characters interact with it functions better than the subplots to explore the diversity of women's experiences within a misogynistic society. Being able to see a work's flaws and yet not care about them is evidence of a sincere, engaged joy—and I certainly had that with this book, and love and recommend it.


Title: Vermilion
Author: Molly Tanzer
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 375
Total Page Count: 228,020
Text Number: 727
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Lou Merriwether, a psychopomp from San Francisco, travels east to investigate the disappearance of Chinese workers. This has a fantasy/steampunk Western setting, talking bears and psychopompery, a mixed-race, genderqueer protagonist, and an oversized tone with just enough grit. Lou has a great voice and makes bad life choices, and while she eventually gets called on the latter it slows the pace of the book's middle third. The tone absolutely overextends—the protagonist at one point calls the antagonist "hammy," and he is, and it gets old, and so the final third also drags. But the joy of this is in the details: the distinctive, lively characters (bless Coriander); the diversity and Lou's gender presentation; Lou's work and its interactions with worldbuilding and plot. This is an uneven effort, but likable and engaging, and worth reading of that and genre appeal.


Title: Software (Ware Book 1)
Author: Rudy Rucker
Published: Prime Books, 2010 (1982)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 170
Total Page Count: 228,190
Text Number: 728
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library (but also free from the author)
Review: Robots invite the creator of robot sentience to become immortal. There's some hardcore, classic cyberpunk themes at play here: transhumanism, robot consciousness, iterated identity; they're not developed in any great depth, but they're satisfying. They're also couched within an aggressive, exhausting, drug-added parody of tone that infects the language, plot developments, and characterization. (It almost resembles A Scanner Darkly, but is crasser, less dark, and the tone doesn't especially benefit the narrative.) Software manages to be readable because it's so short; I enjoyed it more than I frankly thought I could, and it works as a quick hit of classic Big Cyberpunk Ideas—but as experience or aesthetic, it's not my thing. I think the sequels would be too much for me, and I'll probably skip them.

(Teja also went on to read the next immediate sequel, and may return to the series some day. He says that Wetware went to some plot places he didn't expect, but otherwise was that same combination of unsubtle forefront cyberpunk themes and distasteful exhausting tone.

We had a similar response to Software. It's pretty thinky, but mostly by extrapolation: punchy, brief statements of concept, but jumping quickly between them, bridged sometimes by a moment of transhumanist-themed self-reflection but as often by drunken escapades or vaguely distasteful character moments. Some of the concepts tie together, but as many are abandoned one-offs. It works for me because they're themes I really love: RNGesus as literal entity/religion is a delight; likewise, the fluid arguments of what defines a sentience, what role body plays, what role iteration plays, what role continuity/memory plays. But the voice and tone.... We also read Scanner together, and that's one of my favorite books; and the difference is that Scanner goes about things darkly (pun intended)— the drunken escapades are humanizing, are darkly comedic relief, but they also represent a self-aware part of a tragic lived experience. Here, it feels like something Rucker can't excise—it wouldn't be his voice without it—but it gets in the way of what I care about, often literally, taking some of the limited space from more interesting speculative concepts. The narrative nihilism fits the themes, I guess; I still didn't like it. Anyway, co-reads with Teja continue to not be super satisfying books—but they've gotten me visit a lot of cyberpunk and this sure is cyberpunk; it's honestly one of the more satisfying as pure food for thought.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Doctor Strange film, 2016, dir. Scott Derrickson
A strange mish-mash, and there's little distinction between the bits I loved and the bits I didn't care about. I like the resolution (it was spoiled by a friend, and the reason I watched)—I've never seen time travel/narrative looping played quite that way, and it was clever. The mirror universe and unfolding, kaleidoscopic visual effects are phenomal—Inception didn't look this cool; it's such a finely rendered, dense, evocative aesthetic, and I could watch it all day. But the magic (as ... sparks, I guess?) effects are uninspired, and: the acting! the character arcs! the sense that no one in the film want so be there or is taking it seriously, including Swinton, whose presence was already unjustified but who I at least expected to live it up (as she has elsewhere, see: Constantine). I find Marvel boring, and this Marvel is no exception (and the humor's awful), but the bits I like, I sincerely love. Bless that we have the technology for effects like this now, for worlds folding and unfolding, for dense particle physics and shattered glass.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, film, 2014, dir. Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
I watched this for Bucky and I remain true to type: I loved him—the only Marvel character I've ever much loved, and for no especial reason but that dark, tortured, mask-wearing, augmented and/or disabled, brainwashed but the face of the one he loves can save him are tried and true trash tropes for me. But, honestly, this is one of the more successful Marvel movies I've encountered, thanks to its smaller, interpersonal focus. I guess there was a larger plot, and I hate the use of Hydra as a Nazi metaphor that manages to wildly miss the point, and the pacing and resolutions were predictable, and there's still not two women to run together (in other words: a Marvel movie); but the characters sold me and it has emotional payoff, which is what I've retained.

Captain America: Civil War, film, 2016, dir. Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
This, meanwhile, was vaguely embarrassing. Civil wars in comics are gratuitous by nature, and this is no exception. It makes effort to avoid "bad communication = plot," only to settle for "bad self-control = plot," which isn't much better. The cameos are corny and reference characters/films that I don't care about (Spiderman was the adorable exception, and felt comfortable within the campy tone; I also liked the introduction of Black Panther). That said, the larger cast does means there's room for more than one entire lady! how novel. It also creates short, sweet, relatively successful character scenes within the supporting cast. So: a hot mess, but occasionally cute.

Ajin: Demi-Human, s1-2, 2015-2016
I love love love Polygon Pictures, and 3DCG is such a good fit here: it allows for dynamic human animation and microexpressions, which are particularly productive in developing the protagonist's character, and the ajin are fluid and intricate and disconcerting. This series is a slow-paced action-thriller; lots of big fights, surprisingly gradual plot progression—layered against psychological themes that almost-no-quite insist on being understated because they get overshadowed by the momentum of the action. That makes it weird to reflect on (not much happened, I guess? lots of interesting characters got almost no screentime?) but engaging to watch. Mostly, I wish Polygon would animate everything; I know some people have a hard time adjusting to 3D animation but the payoff is intense.

Blame!, film, 2017, dir. Hiroyuki Seshita
This was ridiculously good. I'm absolutely biased: I love generation ships, love this aesthetic—like futuristic Dark Souls, everything vast and inhuman and inhospitable—and love the themes, the devolution of society and society's stubborn, changing persistence. I haven't seen a generation ship narrative quite like this, where the ship's breakdown isn't human-triggered, via forgotten history or social divide, but ship-triggered, and it makes the ship feel larger and refreshes the trope. (I also love to think of this as canonical entertainment within Knights of Sidonia, another generation ship setting—it localizes/contextualizes both narratives.) The art design is great, the monsters are great, the action is great; as above, I want Polygon Pictures to animate everything, but they're an especially good fit for something that would need a lot of CG effects regardless, and it further allows intricate character and design details. The pacing is superb, the length just right, the frame narrative effective. I was just hugely impressed by this, in every moment, and already want to rewatch it.

(You don't need to be familiar with Knights of Sidonia to watch Blame!, so you should watch it, and talk to me about it.)
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: In Calabria
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Published: Tachyon Publications, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 226,640
Text Number: 723
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A farmer's prosaic, solitary life is disrupted by the appearance of a unicorn. Beagle has a phenomenal eye for "it is not the same thing, of course, but still it is"—for moments where the specific meets the metaphorical, imprecisely but profoundly. The plot doesn't always live up to that—the intrusion of the modern world is intentional but still unwelcome and makes for a literal, overlarge conflict; the romance fares somewhat better—but there's an abundance of beautiful scenes and the end is strong. It's impossible to avoid comparing this to The Last Unicorn, however unfair; they're different stories and genres, but I've never seen anyone handle unicorn imagery so well as Beagle and In Calabria possesses that transcendence. It's charming and swift and I sincerely enjoyed it, despite niggling caveats.


Title: Roses and Rot
Author: Kat Howard
Published: Saga Press, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 226,960
Text Number: 724
Read Because: this review, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Two sisters, estranged by their abusive mother, reunite to attend a prestigious artists's retreat which seems too good—and too magical—to be real. This is half mythic/urban fantasy (of the de Lint variety) and half a Tam Lin retelling—a ridiculously indulgent combination which cribs a bit from The Night Circus in its styling. But writing about a writing (the protagonist is an author) draws attention to the craft, and this a debut which feels like one, especially in scene structure and character voices; worst of all, the inset fairytale sections are facile and repetitive. There's still some magic here: fairyland has a dangerous allure, and the protagonist's desire for it is compelling. But the contrivances of an ever-changing rulebook and sibling squabbles weaken the plot in the second half. I admire that this prioritizes a sibling relationship, but it lacks the emphasis on communication, faith, and female agency which makes Tam Lin so resonant. This is a fun, quick read, but not a particularly good one—more's the pity, as the premise is hugely relevant to my interests and I wanted to enjoy it.


Title: League of Dragons (Temeriare Book 9)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 227,260
Text Number: 725
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The final Temeraire novel, seeing the war to its conclusion. It has a lot to wrap up, geographically and politically, and does so in a way that's comprehensive but not excessively neat. This means a lot of combat, military theory, and social politicking, all of it engaging if somewhat rushed, functioning as a final exam for the protagonists that returns to their military origins while encompassing their intervening character growth. There's otherwise not much room for significant character development, although there's some lovely personal moments (and one new character, Ning, who has a fantastic voice and whom I adore). This is in itself not a particularly memorable installation, but as a conclusion to the series it's satisfying—and what a series it's been! Insofar as a review of a finale is a review of the series entire: I loved it, loved it immensely; I'm only sorry to reach the end.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
I've been thinking a lot about missing stairs and culpability and productive responses in light of Nick Robinson's suspension from Polygon.

I don't think I have the capacity for surprise anymore when a likable man is accused of sexual harassment/assault; yet this particular one has hit me hard, because Polygon-as-brand works proactively to be a safe space—which doesn't make them free from error, but does lead me to give the benefit of the doubt and expect better than average. Like, what do I do when I'm stressed, I watch Polygon videos, because they're funny and I trust them; and now the thing causing stress is ... Polygon.... It feels more like a betrayal than this sort of thing usually does, even when *cough Johnny Depp* it's someone I like or had emotional investment in.

(Car Boys is deeply, hugely important to me, on an existential/is-this-what-religion-is/emergent narrative scale; as trope, as concept, as art, also as funny.)

It especially does not surprise me in the now to discover a man's problematic behavior, nothing surprises me in the now, in this era of political and cultural crisis. I think it does surprise me to see it reacted to immediately and compassionately; to see a company take action and keep proceedings private, and for that company and independent outsiders to insist, rightly, that "it is not on anyone who has been hurt to provide detailed receipts of their trauma for your entertainment."

Missing stairs operate as a cultural phenomenon—the whole coming to light of this has felt like a thing that "everyone" knew and "no one" talked about, and also something that caught people by complete surprise; it makes me have conflicted feelings about what knowledge is within this phenomenon; about what some people experience and some people know and some people, because of their privilege, never see or never recognize. What culpability is there in that position of not noticing? when clearly it is noticeable, to those that need to or know how; even I feel like some of my "ehhhh" reactions to some things he's said have been given context. But that there are people apologizing if their involvement or position of power compelled others to be silent—and that Polygon/Vox Media is literally doing anything at all, but especially via clear, thoughtful communication....

Cumulatively: a personal betrayal in a way that's not awfully valid, because I wasn't directly effected, but I liked and wanted to like this especial person & didn't want these issues to invade that space—and a knowledge that this issues invade every space, that that's literally what the issue is: pervasive—and gratitude that this is the best possible initial reaction and response. Insofar as any of this is cogent, it's only because I turned it into a rambling narrative for Devon last night; these feelings of mine, while Very Much and A Lot, have effectively been resolved now. (Except that an actual investigation will take time, and while I don't want this to occur in internet time or internet space as a trial-by-popular-vote overnight phenomenon, I do want it to be resolved overnight and forgotten by the next so that it isn't on my mind anymore—not feasible, not desirable, but I still feel cheated for not having it.) But it was Very Much; also: A Lot, in a particular time when I've approximately 2.5 spoons and would in any other circumstances! be watching Polygon videos! for escapism and distraction!
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl From Everywhere Book 1)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Narrator: Kim Mai Guest
Published: HarperCollins, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 395
Total Page Count: 225,990
Text Number: 720
Read Because: on this list of Own Voices YA, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nix and her father can travel to any time and place recorded on a map, but her father has only one goal: to return and save Nix's mother, who died in childbirth. What a fantastic premise! and fairly well realized: Heilig's language is beautiful; the seafaring/pirate aesthetic is present but not hokey, and the few visits to mythical locations are delightful, if brief. The more mundane settings are decent, largely because the pre-annexation Hawaii is so well rendered. But the plot isn't as successful; a compulsory love triangle makes an appearance (and is better than most, but still tiresome) and the heist storyline is uninteresting and has a clumsy, overlarge climax. I wish this were more evocative, more magical: more mythical maps, fewer genre conventions. As it is, it's above average but not entirely satisfying.


Title: City of Illusions (Hainish Cycle Book 3)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: Stephan Rudnicki
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (1967)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 185
Total Page Count: 226,175
Text Number: 721
Read Because: fan of the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A man awakens without memory in an enclave on far-future earth, and sets out to discover his origins. That section—the slow journey through various dystopic human settlements—is this book's weakness: none of the settlements are especially convincing, and as satisfying as Le Guin's travelogues are (and they are; her descriptions of natural landscapes and the solitude of travel are precise and immersive) the plot here stagnates. But the end comes together beautifully. It's an introspective book—the most significant developments occur within the protagonist's mind, as he considers his situation, life experience, identity—but the results are profound, clever, and tie nicely into the series's shared universe. It rewards active engagement and it's a satisfying testimony to Le Guin's strengths; a lesser author couldn't make that interior narrative so compelling, but Le Guin excels at the personal ramifications of speculative concepts. A pleasure to read; I recommend it.


Title: The Gilda Stories
Author: Jewelle L. Gómez
Published: City Lights Publishers, 2016 (1991)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 226,465
Text Number: 722
Read Because: introduced to the author via Octavia's Brood, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A runaway slave becomes a vampire, beginning a multi-century narrative which ranges across the United States. Her tale is told through connected short stories, most of which focus on periods of transition, a choice which feels less like a "best of" reel but instead provides views from the margins: a glimpse of an ending, the anticipation of a beginning, but no particular investment in the now. It makes the scope of the simultaneously historical and futuristic narrative more accessible, but at the cost of an unfulfilling narrative.

Gilda is a Black lesbian vampire, and there's a lot packed into that premise: an inversion of vampire tropes, a Black (and queer, and feminist) power fantasy, a refusal of social and publishing norms; the introduction and afterward (to the 25th anniversary edition) do a great job of highlighting and celebrating those themes. She practices a benevolent vampirism; much of made of vampiric powers of mesmerism and mind-reading, and the ways Gilda uses them to manipulate mortals for their own good—without engaging issues of consent, an oversight that hardly erases the other things the book achieves, but which is still glaring. I find myself conflicted: the premise here is fantastic, the execution frequently unrewarding and technically unaccomplished (the interpersonal dynamics are particularly abstruse and rambling; a poor fit for a short fiction format), the themes imperfect but profoundly thoughtful. Would I recommend it? probably no, but it was still worthwhile to read.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Travel Light
Author: Naomi Mitchison
Published: Small Beer Press, 2005 (1952)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 145
Total Page Count: 225,180
Text Number: 717
Read Because: multiple recommendations, including [personal profile] mrissa, here and a few mentions (of author and book both) by [personal profile] rushthatspeaks, ebook requested and borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A rescued child, fostered by bears and dragons, learns to travel light. The title is central conceit, character growth and theme: what we carry with us, physically, psychologically; what it means to keep or discard, and how it informs our experience—couched within a playful, flexible narrative that slides from fairytale to Constantinople. The changing settings and tone can be disorientating, even disappointing for becoming less fantastic, but it also allows for increasingly ambiguous thematic development. That Mitchison can do this all, can speak with humor and sympathy, can be frivolous and profound, is a sincere delight (and it makes me want to read more of her work). I wish I'd encountered this earlier, but better late than never.


Title: A Plague of Unicorns
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Tom McGrath
Published: Zonderkidz, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 225,370
Text Number: 718
Read Because: reading more from the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A plague of apple-eating unicorns forces a monastery to seek outside help. This is a historical pastiche, a coming-of-age, a fairy tale, slipping lithely between categories with no great depth or sense of investment. But the combined effect is charming. It has a playful, irreverent tone which does much to demystify unicorns, and then an evocative, beautifully imagined climax which puts the magic back in; sweet, accessible, but with satisfying payoff. I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this, and would be interested in reading more of Yolen's middle grade fiction.

(The illustrations are adequate; decent atmosphere, but the technical skill leaves something to be desired. I don't find that they added anything substantial to the text, but they may work better for younger readers.)


Title: The Pride of Chanur (Chanur Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: DAW, 1981
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 225
Total Page Count: 225,595
Text Number: 719
Read Because: fan of the author
Review: An alien stowaway thrusts one ship and crew into an interspecies conflict. The concept here—of human as alien, and as a secondary character—is fantastic, but not always fully realized: hani, the protagonist alien society, is insufficiently weird, insufficiently non-human; but other alien species are weirder, which is more intriguing and also convincing, and the approach to interspecies interactions, via cultural frameworks and linguistics, is a compelling addition to the space opera subgenre. This furthermore possesses Cherryh's hallmarks, the balance of personal narratives to larger plot; the distinctively terse but emotive relationships—functioning here across species lines. Cherryh has yet to disappoint me and this is no exception; I wasn't blown away, the ending action is a bit much, but the premise and sociological focus is thoughtful.


I was going to write "sure is nice to have a good reading block!"—but I actually began The Pride of Chanur mid-July (then interrupted it to get through a bunch of things due back) and the further truth is that a lot of my recent books, including ones finished today/in progress now, have been fantastic. Out from under the shadow of The Martian and the good intentions of Trouble and Her Friends—and the endless audiobook which was The House of Shattered Wings.

Following up Travel Light with A Plague of Unicorns was fascinating. They're not especially comparable—Travel Light is all about the numinous, the thematic; A Plague of Unicorns is a more frivolous but then, that climax! (the image of a girl-warrior winding a labyrinth for unicorns is transcendent, and a pointed conversation on feminism and violence, and Alexandria is the true hero of the book). But I had a similar reaction to them both, to their language and accessibility, to how far they take their magics and morals. It made me write this post over on Tumblr, copied below for posterity:

Read more... )

I've been reading an above-average (for me) amount of YA lately in my attempt to diversify my reading—it's so easy to find own voices reading lists for YA—and it's been occasionally spectacular (When the Moon was Ours) but, on the whole, has functioned mostly to remind me that I sure do hate the genre's standards. It's taken me a while to realize I tend to have the opposite reaction to MG.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Trouble and Her Friends
Author: Melissa Scott
Published: Lethe Press, 2014 (1994)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 224,650
Text Number: 714
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Three years after their work is officially criminalized, two semi-retired hackers re-enter the field in pursuit of a copycat. Scott works hard to invert established cyberpunk standards, decentralizing and localizing the setting, shifting the focus to queer women, and looking at the intersection of stigmatized bodies and transhumanism; the intent is admirable and occasionally provoking—most successfully, when considering which technologies are standardized on the basis of which groups use them. But too often these concepts are left underexplored. They're buried under a rambling plot and excess of supporting characters, and Scott's image of the future hasn't aged well (less well, even, than older cyberpunk novels): the synesthesic view the protagonists have of online space is evocative but restrained, and the rest of the virtual world is simplistic and too small. I wanted to love this and it disappointed me. But I'm glad that it exists, glad to see the genre pointedly diversified in logical ways; privilege, society, and bodies have always had an important role in cyberpunk; I'd rather Scott bring up the issue and fail to wrap a successful book around it than to not have it come up at all.

(Teja and I had approximately similar reactions, although he was more critical of plot—and rightly so: there's a general sense of disconnect between plot and genre; the brainworm is the means by which they make things happen, but largely feels like a McGuffin, and the opening to tie it into character motivation is spoiled by an inconsistent, uninteresting antagonist—and less interested in the (largely unrealized) potential of queering a cyberpunk narrative. It's weird that a book so actively engaged in writing about its genre has so little follow-through in that regard, but I'm willing to extend a lot of good will on basis of the intent alone. On the other hand, at least that debate—about whether or not it achieves cyberpunk, about whether or not it achieves its aims—is interesting! more interesting than, "ah yes, another vaguely unsuccessful book by a white man." I remain Team Slightly-Diversified-Buddy-Reads.)


Title: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg
Author: Philip José Farmer
Published: London: Titan Books, 2012 (1973)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 45 of 305
Total Page Count: 224,695
Text Number: 715
Read Because: cleaning out my bookshelves, used paperback purchased from Corvallis Public Library book sale
Review: DNF at ~10%. The short, punchy chapter length and playful tone means I could finish this if I wanted to; the retelling format is tedious, which means I don't want to. I feel confident about giving this a pass, but it may be worthwhile to readers more invested in the source material or premise.


Title: Stargate
Author: Pauline Gedge
Published: New York: The Dial Press, 1982
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 225,035
Text Number: 716
Read Because: personal enjoyment, library discard hardback purchased from Corvallis Public Library book sale
Review: After the Worldmaker becomes the Unmaker, a vast family of linked stars and guardian sun-lords fall one by one. This is a loss of innocence narrative on a literally universal scale, a uniquely massive premise with a pervasive sense of inevitability; it strips autonomy from its characters and prohibits investment on the individual level, to its detriment: it's distant, bitter, inaccessible. The imagery is diverse and beautiful, but there's so much that it becomes monotonous. But while this isn't successful, and I don't recommend it, there's a seed of potential within—I've rarely encountered a narrative so stubbornly vast, so willing to refuse the human element and conceivable scale.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Sister Light, Sister Dark (Great Alta Book 1)
Author: Jane Yolen
Published: Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy, 2016 (1988)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 223,595
Text Number: 711
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The origin story of a prophesied destroyer/savior to a society of female warriors. This is told via straight narration, but also through fictional folklore, ballads, myths, and via modern historical academic analysis, and that meta-narrative is the highlight of the book. It isn't always successful—the modern sections are an academic pastiche with a grating tone—but the cumulative effect functions to contextualize and deconstruct the otherwise unremarkable tropes as well as the story's feminist themes, creating a story about stories, about history, about cultural perceptions and mythic archetypes. The story underneath that structure is only okay—the chosen one is a tired trope, even when reinvented—but Yolen's balance of a private coming of age and a prophetic origin story has a pleasant rhythm. I didn't fall in love with this, and I'm not compelled to read the sequels (especially as I'm under the impression that the direct sequel tones down the meta-narrative), but I found this reasonably satisfying.


Title: Wicked Gentlemen
Author: Ginn Hale
Published: Blind Eye Books, 2007
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 225
Total Page Count: 223,820
Text Number: 712
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A missing woman brings together a clergyman/detective and a disgraced demonic descendant. As the premise implies, the worldbuilding here is indulgent and stylized, something like Fallen London-lite: otherworldly Prodigal and their demonic magics, the strict and corrupt church-cum-police force, a city with its propriety and dirty underbelly. The pair of protagonists almost live up to that; they're ultimately too nice, and their romance resolves too easily, but between them they offer a diverse, ambiguous view of their world. The mysteries that fuel the plot are only adequate, dependent on coincidence and fairly simplistic in fact, but with a moral ambiguity that echoes the worldbuilding. I wish this lived up to its potential (and had stronger editing, especially re: dialog), but it's fun.


Title: Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire Book 8)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Tantor Media, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 450
Total Page Count: 224,270
Text Number: 713
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: En route to China, an accident leaves Laurence shipwrecked, with amnesia, in Japan. Amnesia is the most cliché of all possible tropes, but it achieves what it's meant to, resetting, and thus recognizing, Laurence's character growth; allowing him to fall in love, again, with Temeraire. It's ill-excused, manipulative, and effective. Politics and battles then transpire, and they integrate the disparate plot points and return the focus to Napoleon and the war at hand, while still engaging issues of ethics and dragon/human society. This is what a penultimate book should be, a coalescing and revisiting; and while it doesn't achieve that with great grace, I'll be damned if I didn't love it anyway.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children Book 2)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 222,575
Text Number: 708
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A pair of unhappy twins girls discover the Moors, a dangerous portal world which will redefine their characters. This follows their lives from birth and has a slow start: to spend 20% of a portal fantasy within a stifling parody of suburbia is distinctly unmagical. But the Moors are fantastic—not perfect: I wish there were more danger and more moral relativity (especially in Jack's life)—but a Hammer Horror-style world is engaging and atmospheric. And the character growth of the protagonists is sincerely, inextricably tied to their world, which is what this book demands. I loved Every Heart a Doorway for its portal fantasy meta more than its plot, and didn't think I would enjoy the further stories of Jack and Jill when they had been the weakness of the first book. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a more traditional narrative, but its meta elements remain in a present narrator who speaks directly to the reader and directly about the narrative—reminiscent of Valente's Fairyland series (but toned down), not entirely at home in the modern-day frame narrative, but preserving that focus on portal-as-character-growth, on the relationship between person and narrative. I have technical quibbles about this book (I haven't even mentioned the rushed ending), but it exceeded my expectations. There's so much room in my heart for stories which take a diverse, self-aware, dark approach to portal fantasy while maintaining a sense of wonder and aesthetic.


Title: The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen Book 1)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 415
Total Page Count: 222,990
Text Number: 709
Read Because: reading more form the author, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
In Paris, in the aftermath of a devastating war, a vulnerable house of fallen angels is threatened by both a curse and competing houses. The premise is fantastic and atmospheric: aristocratic in-fighting, diverse and present pantheons, dangerous magic within the decrepit homes and cathedrals of Paris. It's at best indulgent, but at worst overwrought and—unexpectedly—cold. There are things that Bodard consistently does well: significant character growth, socially-complex worldbuilding (Philippe and his background is the easy highlight of this book), and big, magical climaxes. But, while present, those elements are unfulfilling because it takes so long to reach them and the journey is tedious: repetitive phrasing, politcking that reads like bickering, plot intricacies that have more to do with bad communication than true complexity. It feels long—not just longer than it needs to be, but longer than it is. I liked it more than the Obsidian and Blood series (although I'm convinced they could exist in the same universe), but, I suspect, for arbitrary reasons; it isn't good enough to recommend, or to make me read the sequel.


Title: Crucible of Gold (Temeraire Book 7)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Recorded Books, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 355
Total Page Count: 223,345
Text Number: 710
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Temeraire and Laurence are reinstated and sent on an ambassadorial mission to the Incan Empire. Another rambling book; it does a better job illustrating the ways that alternate history and world forces are shaping the war, and but much of that is still backloaded while traveling and survival make up the bulk of the book. There's some welcome reoccurring characters, and Incan society provides another interesting take on dragon/human social structures, but this too is familiar to the series. As this series grows longer and its individual installments lose their cohesive plots, it lives and dies on the strength of previous investment in the characters and world—and I have that in droves, and will happily read the daily tribulations of Laurence and crew. But this is late in the game to still be waiting for the plot to coalescence and the pacing to pick up.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Mr. Fox
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Published: Riverhead Books, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 221,710
Text Number: 705
Read Because: reading more from the author/listed here in a reading list from Indra Das, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The iterated narratives of an author, his muse, and his wife. It's stories within stories, stories about stories—a playful, fluid experiment in form that reminds me of Margaret Atwood (especially "Happy Endings") and Joanna Russ (especially The Female Man) in style as well as theme, because this is a conversation on gender, gendered violence, and the relationship between narratives and human experience. It's somewhat limited, but does good by what it engages, particularly as regards competition between women (over men). The iteration is handled about as well, with each instance lasting just long enough to achieve investment. Tone is the weakness; the surreal fairytale atmosphere alternating with parody (especially of historical eras and socioeconomic class) feels disjointed, without the same effective self-awareness or flagrant disregard as Atwood or Russ, above. This is ambitious, and succeeds without excelling.


Title: Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements
Editors: adrienne maree brown, Walidah Imarisha
Published: AK Press, 2015
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 222,010
Text Number: 706
Read Because: mentioned in Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An anthology of 20 stories—many of them quite short—of visionary fiction: speculative narratives that explore marginalization, social justice, and radical social change. Many of these stories come from activists who have never written fiction (others are poets, writing here in prose). The lack of experience shows in clumsy, unconvincing worldbuilding, hamfisted social justice themes, and a general dearth of technical skill. There are a few happy exceptions, like the density of "Evidence" by Gumbs and the fluidity of "Lalibela" by Teodros. Editor adrienne maree brown's "the river" is also strong. But, surprisingly, work from published authors isn't much better; the excerpt from Fire on the Mountain by Bisson is the most promising, but it doesn't work as a short story. The intent of this anthology is pointed and brilliant, and there's something refreshing about reading work from activists whom I otherwise might not encounter. But it's simply not very good. The majority of stories share a structure which frontloads worldbuilding and characterization, but cuts off plot while the larger conflict remains unresolved—a logical limitation, given the complexity of the social conflicts at hand and the lengths of these stories, but still repetitive and oddly self-defeating: all these narratives about social change, rarely offering a plan to change society. There are exceptions—there are uplifting stories, cathartic stories, productive stories; but on the whole, this collection feels like an unfulfilled ambition as well as being technically unaccomplished. I admire it, but didn't enjoy it, and don't recommend it.

There are also two nonfiction essays; "The Only Lasting Truth," Tananarive Due writing on Octavia Butler, is a good read and strong finish to the anthology.


Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Published: Broadway Books, 2014 (2012)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 375
Total Page Count: 222,385
Text Number: 707
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After his crew makes an emergency evacuation, one astronaut is stranded on Mars, left to MacGyver his survival. Remember that bit of Hugh Howey's Wool where someone has to improvise an underwater breathing apparatus in order to repair a generator? that scene, but long form, with an irreverent tone in counterpoint to the harrowing survival situation. This was originally self-published, and feels like it: the tone is repetitive and everything outside of the protagonist's PoV shows this most and worst; the pacing is rendered predictable by condensed foreshadowing and an "everything that can go wrong will go wrong" plot. It's compulsively readable, absolutely—the sudden-onset crises and their clever (nerdy, math-heavy, repetitive, but: clever) solutions makes for a lot of momentum. But there's no cumulative effect or staying power.

(Teja of pretty much the same opinion. He accidentally read it super fast, so I did too, and that's what it has going for it: momentum, speed, action-adventurey survival. He had more tolerance for the tone and voice—also works among this same power nerd demographic, so he has more fond feelings; I actually didn't mind it until external PoVs were introduced, as they are of two types: incredibly dry inanimate object narratives, and the realization that all the characters sound like this & Weir doesn't actually have any grasp of tone, this is just his default. Wouldn't have read on my own, but don't regret reading it—it's harmless. But pls Missy pls stop reading white dudes!!! they're boring!!!!)

(I will tag on to almost anything Teja reads just for the opportunity to read something with someone and talk to them! about books!—but his inclinations v. much run towards "things that appear on a lot of lists" and, surprise, dominant culture reiterates itself & has shitty taste.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: The Second Mango (Mangoverse Book 1)
Author: Shira Glassman
Published: Prizm Books, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 180
Total Page Count: 220,965
Text Number: 702
Read Because: intrigued by this blurb of the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A young queen and her new bodyguard go on a quest. It's a difficult plot to introduce because the objective is a moving target, interrupted by backstory reveals and aided by coincidences—and that's not entirely a bad thing: it has a fun, action-adventure feel and a light, sweet tone. The Jewish-influenced worldbuilding is fantastic, and the diversity of the cast is admirable, albeit pretty hamfisted. But the writing isn't great, which shows worst in the dialog and plotting. If progressive fluff and found family is your style, this is a good bet; I found it well-intended but insubstantial.


Title: Shissou Holiday
Author: Otsuichi
Artist: Hiro Kiyohara
Published: Kadokawa Shoten, 2000
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 221,160
Text Number: 703
Read Because: fan of the author, scanlation read online
Review: A teenager, insecure in her adoptive home life, engineers her own kidnapping. Otsuichi's twist endings are consistently satisfying, even when the reveal is as exposition-heavy as this one, because they have narrative logic and it's enjoyable to catch the foreshadowing. But the real pleasure here is the little things: the relationship between protagonist and supporting character, the atmosphere of the hideout; the art isn't phenomenal but it's adequate, and it successfully depicts those small, intimate touches and uses them to sell the protagonist's character growth, which compensates for flat humor and uneven pacing. This isn't as grim or sad as most Otsuichi—nor is it as profound or memorable as his better work; it's not a must-read. But it's okay.


Title: Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables Book 3)
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: Gutenberg, 2006 (1915)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 221,420
Text Number: 704
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook via Gutenberg (although I own it in paperback somewhere)
Review: Anne attends college and learns to fall in love. For all that this focuses on romance, it's less dated or frustrating than the previous installation—perhaps because the many featured romances are so varied and compassionate. Anne's romantic entanglements are almost overdrawn, but they function as a platform for her character growth, for the quiet conflict between storybook ideals and happy realities, and by pulling double duty they don't overstay their welcome. Her college life goes relatively unexplored, and I wish it were otherwise—Anne's scholastic achievements would help ground the narrative. Daily life with her classmates rises to fill that gap, and performs well; Patty's Place is exactly what one would hope for from this series, charming and gently idealized. I liked this, didn't love it—probably none of the sequels will live up to Anne of Green Gables, but that's an unfair standard to hold them to.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Fires of Azeroth (The Morgaine Saga Book 3)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: DAW, 2000 (1979)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 220,210
Text Number: 699
Read Because: continuing the series, used paperback purchased from the Book Bin
Review: Journeying to a new world, Vayne and Morgaine encounter an existing qhal society and a people from Moragine's past. The pacing in this final book is significantly different: the first third opens room for peaceful domesticity, the second third once again separates the protagonists, and it all functions to create parallels to (via supporting characters) and a distanced view of Morgaine and Vayne's relationship. This slows and frustrates the larger plot, and the focus on the relationship overshadows the worldbuilding—I kept waiting for more science from the science fantasy, or to see the worldbuilding directly inform the plot, and that never came. But the highlighted central relationship is distinctly Cherryh, all sublimated intensity and conflicted, bittersweet tone, and it benefits from the reflection encouraged by this book. Insofar as a review of a finale is a review of its series: this series isn't worth it, but I don't regret reading it; it's a peek into the voice and themes that I love in Cherryh's later work.


Title: Promise of Shadows
Author: Justina Ireland
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 220,590
Text Number: 700
Read Because: on this list of Own Voices YA, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An exiled and disgraced harpy discovers that the secret she's been guarding may make her the prophesied savior. I DNF'd at 50%, almost entirely because it isn't my style. There's potential in the diversity of the cast and high-energy, Greek mythology-influenced worldbuilding, although the heavy exposition weakens both pacing and plot. But what killed it for me is the traditional YA execution: first person present tense, a protagonist who just wants to be normal, sudden onset romance, a dozen proper nouns—all genre staples that a YA reader may like or tolerate, but which put me off. It's not objectively bad, but nothing compelled me to finish.


Title: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Author: Megan Shepherd
Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 220,785
Text Number: 701
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A girl in a WWII-era sanatorium can see winged horses reflected in the hospital's mirrors. This is occasionally heavy-handed in predictable ways (the pacing of the climax, clumsy reveals, belabored themes), but it's well within middle grade standards and doesn't feel as though it's talking down to its audience. And, even with caveats, it's a lovely book. The unreliable narration, fantastic elements, and historical setting combine to create fertile, flexible imagery grounded by a convincing setting. It's mournful but beautiful and slightly escapist, echoed by the beauty and clear pathos of the language. I recommend it (but read it in winter!), and I'd be interested to read more by Shepherd.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables Book 2)
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1909
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 225
Total Page Count: 219,680
Text Number: 696
Read Because: ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library, but it's on Gutenberg, and I own it somewhere
Review: Anne, age 16, spends two years teaching at her childhood school. The focus on early adulthood means exploring gender roles and romantic relationships archetypes, and that introduces the historical sexism one would expect: relatively mild, but not innocuous, and preventing this from being the same sort of unfettered escapism as Anne of Green Gables. That said, the constrained scale changes the pacing and allows for a more coherent, focused narrative; something is lost by toning down the humorous vignettes, but something of equal value is gained in the sensitive, finely-rendered portrait of Anne's entry into adulthood. The supporting characters are colorful, and Miss Lavender is the easy favorite; she enlivens this book and helps restore the frothy, idyllic tone. This was lovely, but, unlike the first book, here I find I have caveats: I don't think it's aged as well, and it doesn't carry for me the same nostalgia.


Title: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Published: 1943
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 100
Total Page Count: 219,780
Text Number: 697
Read Because: in preparation for reading Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, dowloaded via Gutenberg but also owned in paperback collection somewhere
Review: An experienced dreamer goes in search of a beautiful, forbidden dream-city. The travelogue aspects of this novella are less than successful; Lovecraft's repetitive phrasing, stylistic embellishments, and reliance on visual descriptions frequently makes the landscapes inaccessible (at least for me), and most of the localized action in the first two thirds is removed from the overarching quest. But the ending is packed with direct action and has substantial payoff, and the underlying concepts of this novella are superb. In some ways, this feels like the most Lovecraftian of Lovecraft's work that I've read: the concrete mythos and substantial worldbuilding; a bevy of iconic gods and monsters; elaborate imagery and vast, haunted landscapes. It didn't really work for me, but I admire the atmosphere and potential; consider this a mild recommendation.


Title: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
Author: Kij Johnson
Published: Tor, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 219,955
Text Number: 698
Read Because: reviewed by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A college professor seeks a student who has eloped into the waking world. This takes place in the same setting as Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and readdresses what Lovecraft achieves there, introducing diversity while acknowledging the limitations of Lovecraft's worldbuilding and of society (historical and present, fictional and factual); it's especially satisfying to see the protagonists of each novella meet. Johnson's style echoes Lovecraft, but the particular, evocative language is less repetitive (thank goodness) and more effective; the worldbuilding is also reiterated, but the pacing and tone is inward-facing, subdued: Vellitt Boe is an unassuming protagonist, experienced, competent, but dwarfed by the scope of her world and her quest. I can quibble about the ending, which has a different setting and is arguably rushed. But I enjoyed this on the whole. Johnson's approach to the source material is as loving as critical, and she reinvigorates the setting by viewing it from within, reversing the portal fantasy to strip the colonial/power fantasy aspects and allowing the residents to speak for themselves.
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.

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