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.

Read more... )


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.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
I originally posted this on Tumblr, but it belongs on my rereads tag, aka my favorite tag in the history of all tags.



I’m doing another co-read with Missy, George Orwell’s 1984, a reread for both of us. He read it in school, and hasn’t reread it since then; I read it ages ago and many times since—but not in the last few years, so I suppose I was due.

My copy is inherited/gently stolen from my mother, and was published in 1961; there’s a typo on page 17 ("her sweep supple waist") and pencil notes on the first page, an about the author, to underline Orwell’s name and list "Winston—the everyman; Julia—the everywoman"; it has that distinct almost-musty scent of used books of this specific page weight and quality and era; it once sold for 95 cents; I remember reading it as a … preteen? young teen? while accompanying someone else’s trip to a college campus, and feeling very smug that I read literary canon of my own volition & and that’s why I, too, would belong at college some day.

It’s impossible for me to have a discrete experience with the book, to judge any sort of objective or relative quality or how it’s aged (objectively, relatively); I’m still tied up in that early encounter, because what I took away wasn’t the value of literary canon—rather, it was that the Important, Classic novels I would one day read for school* were also speculative; that genre was literature. It was the first time I encountered that overlap, between "real" books and speculative books. As speculative books go, it’s the definitive opposite of fun, even though dystopias have their own "what if" hook; it’s a weird book to memorize, to fondly recognize all these scenes were people are miserable, miserable in grindy petty banal ways atop the high-concept stuff. But there’s a perfect fondness: the velvet-smooth worn paperback, that distinctive scent, returning to a novel that literally changed me as a reader.

* I never did read it in school, but I did do projects comparing it to other dystopic novels!
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home (Fairyland Book 5)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: Feiwel and Friends, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 215,830
Text Number: 655
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When its previous rulers are revived, September and company must compete in a race for the crown of Fairyland. The cumulative effect of this series is what makes it successful, and the finale is all about culmination: expanding and reuniting the cast, challenging and resolving September's relationship with Saturday, and her relationships with Halloween, Maud, Mallow, and the Marquess, and, finally, her relationship with Fairyland. It's also an especially obvious travelogue, which has become the series's weakness—but here, too much else is going on for the traveling to overwhelm the plot. I've had quibbles with the series entire, and none of the books have lived up to my experience with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland—but September's cumulative journey through Fairyland has a comparable resonance, and couldn't have been contained in a single book. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland reflects that exactly, and is just how I wanted the series to end.

read last December; still not caught up on belated reviews, pls send help—interestingly, they're all finales of series, and I liked them all; I guess the cumulative feels of multiple books makes writing a review of a good book that much harder, esp. as reviews of finales almost must become reviews of the series entire, a "was it worth it?" judgement


Title: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas Book #1)
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Published: Sourcebooks Fire, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 216,160
Text Number: 656
Read Because: reading PoC, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Alex believes her family's magic has only ever brought them pain, so she attempts to cast off her own powers with disastrous results. As a premise—Latinx witches with their own customs, pantheon, and hereditary magics; a journey into a dangerous portal world; a bisexual love triangle; novel-length themes of self-acceptance—this is phenomenal. But the writing lets it down. The staccato sentences grow repetitive, and brief visual descriptions deaden the action and the magic; combined with a predictable plot, it all just ... sits there, lost potential. I wanted badly to love this, and probably would have fared better were I a visually-inclined reader, but frankly I can't recommend it.


Title: Black Powder War (Temerarie Book 3)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 216,510
Text Number: 657
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Laurence and company undertake an overland journey, only to encounter hurdles and the war at every turn. This installation begins as a comedy of errors and develops into a tragedy of errors, all without a strong overarching plot. Yet neither the misery nor aimlessness are particularly tiresome, although I did lose the thread the war a bit (my own fault—I let my attention slip while listening and I'm unfamiliar with the history). It works partially because there's still enough action to provide momentum, but moreso because the human element compensates: the precision of the lived, daily detail within the historical and fantastical setting, the way characters's personalities and values are shaped by these experiences, and, at the heart, the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire have pathos and humor and just enough conviction. This series continues to engage and satisfy me, and I can't wait to read more.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Beginning Place
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrator: Rob Inglis
Published: Recorded Books, 2006 (1980)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 225
Total Page Count: 214,400
Text Number: 652
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A young man discovers a gate that allows him to escape from the burdens of his mundane life into a twilight world where time seems to stop. This is a fairytale—a small, understated one. It reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones's depictions of troubled family life and fantasy lands, and carries a similar sense of the numinous, but is significantly less whimsical. Instead, Le Guin's voice is precise, restrained, and cut through with moments of piercing insight. The discovery of the premise is the bulk of the book; the action is profound, but secondary. Instead, the focus is the characters (the shifting PoV allows the readers to see them through each other's eyes, a touch which Le Guin writes particularly well), what they set out to escape, and what escape turns out to mean. I'm not content with the conclusions: they're so heteronormative and grounded in normalcy as to feel timid. But the overall themes, the constrained and beautiful atmosphere, the gently mournful tone, are all I could hope for—this is a small, beautiful comfort read.


Title: Lady of the Lake (Witcher Book 7)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: Gollancz, 2017 (1999)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 530
Total Page Count: 214,930
Text Number: 653
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Ciri gains control of her powers as war comes to a head. The narrative framing makes for a slow start, but for the most part, this longest book in the series doesn't feel that long. The middle political section, while still distant from the main characters, has strong PoVs and is more interesting, and easier to follow, than series's norm. And it's the reunion of Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer that makes up most of the book. Emotional investment has always been the center of this series, and that's especially true here; it grounds the bittersweet, ambiguous, fairytale-esque ending, an ending that transitions beautifully into the games—and while I take issue with those, the entire multimedia narrative is a success. And, always, everything comes down to Ciri, to the investment she inspires, to the strength of her character; a bittersweet finale suits her well. I've had caveats on and off with this book series, but the underlying emotional appeal is so consistently strong as to make the effort worthwhile right to the end.

casually finds and finally attends to review notes from, uh, last november


Title: Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy Book 1)
Author: Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire)
Narrator: Paula Christensen, Jesse Bernstein
Published: Hachette Audio, 2010
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 580
Total Page Count: 215,510
Text Number: 654
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After a worldwide zombie outbreak, blogging has become the news. A trio of bloggers embark on coverage of a presidential campaign. I sure do hate zombies (it's a good question, then, as to why I read this), but this book held my attention. The zombies are distinctly not different, but the worldbuilding elements are intelligent and unique, from the mechanics of infection to technological developments to post-outbreak social structures. On a local scale, moment to moment, this has energy and conviction. The relatively simple conspiracy plot is less successful, and the frequent action sequences grow tiresome; but that anyone can die creates significant risk and consequence, and that's what sells the ending. Characters are distinctive (the protagonist's disability, which informs all aspects of her experience but isn't her singular defining trait, is particularly well-rendered) and the relationships are engaging, but the urban fantasy-style banter destroys the dialog. I can see why some readers find this series so engaging, and I was pleasantly surprised, but just this book is enough for me.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Anathem
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 955
Total Page Count: 213,570
Text Number: 649
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Off-world influence forever alters life for the citizens of Arbre and its math-based monastic order. Math-as-philosophy/-as-speculative-concept/-as-worldbuilding is unique and engaging, and kudos to Stephenson for also making it accessible. There's an attempt to balance the math-heavy sections with daily detail, but these details are boring and there's a sincere dearth of interesting characters or interactions (or women); the worldbuilding is clumsy, especially the use of language, and I don't entirely buy the plot (in particular, the importance of human consciousness). A book this long and obnoxiously dense needs to be a virtuoso work. This isn't. Dump the first 50 pages and the middle action sequences, trim it to about 400 pages, and there's some clever concepts worth exploring. But as it is, it's in no ways enjoyable, nor worth the effort.


Title: China Mountain Zhang
Author: Maureen F. McHugh
Published: Orb Books, 1997 (1992)
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Page Count: 315
Total Page Count: 213,885
Text Number: 650
Read Because: recommended by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Chinese-headed socialism has become the leading world power, "Government is big, we are small. We are only free when we slip through the cracks." This is a local, personal-scale novel about individuals surviving within a larger political and social climate that's not quite a dystopia. It can be awful to read, occasionally in predictable or problematic-adjacent ways, and requires trigger warnings for rape and queer suicide. But neither is it tragedy porn; there's mundanity and profundity, too, and an emphasis on sanctuaries and the personal narratives that persist in any setting. The stories of the ensemble cast overlap, but not too neatly; not every section is equally strong, but there's a surprising amount of flow. Worldbuilding is secondary to these aspects without being coy. This is a quiet, unassuming book, and a sincere success.


Title: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 214,175
Text Number: 651
Read Because: recommended by literarymagpie, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Miel and Sam have been friends ever since she was found in a water tower as a child; now adolescents, their coming of age is sparked by Miel's magical curse, Sam's gender identity, and their burgeoning romance. There's a lean towards the delineated and repetitive in the imagery and character growth—a larger cast or more precise sense of place may have made the work broader and the themes less blatant. But it's all so fundamentally good as to overcome that weakness. The pumpkins and moons, the descriptions of food and color and scent, are lush and beautiful without slipping into pure purple prose. Everything about Sam's gender is handled with grace and respect,* and the cultural and racial diversity, exploration of women's power, depictions of racism and appropriation and self-presentation, are well-interrogated and complex while still providing a positive, productive resolution. This is a profoundly beautiful book, in style—which is best delivered in bite-sizes, which the chapter length encourages—as well as content. I recommend it.

* Miel's trauma isn't as successfully portrayed—while Sam's identity feels like a lived experience, Miel's history feels more metaphorical, to its detriment.


Anathem was Teja's suggestion, part of a list of books he brought with him while traveling, the only book he ended up getting to because of its grinding length; I power-read it for the sake of being done with it, and then ignored the rest of his SF-by-dudes TBR to read three books—two of them reviewed above—that were by/about women and/or PoC and which I knew would have a localized focus on actual characters and/or beautiful, intentional language. Those were not the fundamental flaws of Anathem—that would be worldbuilding and pacing—but they were the ones I most desperately needed to counteract.

And those three books were, independently, quite good; and they felt bonus extra good for the fact that almost anything with any competency would have at that point seemed amazing.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Back around around Hanukkah time—I'm so late to write any sort of journal post—my parents and I went through my paternal grandmother's collection of jewelry. My grandparents used to make regular visits to New Mexico, so she wore a lot of turquoise; she liked big bulky statement pieces, chunky rings and earrings, dyed coral, brass and gold. But she didn't have a signature piece, something worth keeping for pure nostalgia. She just had ... a collection.

I've never been in the habit wearing of jewelry, but whatever my personal tastes are, they're nothing like that. But I managed to find two pieces which were smaller, less chunky, in neutral metals. One of them is a copper chain-link bracelet that doesn't particularly fit her statement-piece style, but came to me missing links and with some small dents, so it had obviously been worn.



So I started wearing it too. Every day, literally all day. It was weird to adjust to the feel of it, especially in the dead of winter—my wrist always felt cold. But now I wear it all the time except when I shower; I even sleep with it on. There's redundancy in the dash-shaped links, which is why it was still wearable when I got it, and a good thing too, because I've lost another link. At some point, I know it'll stop being wearable, it will literally break, but I'm okay with that. These aren't treasures, really; they're personal relics, and this one's serving its purpose.

I wanted something to connect me to my Jewish family, and ancestry, and dead grandmother; to ground me in and validate that while the world outside endangered it. And this has done that. (I'm still not being the Jew I want to be—in many ways, fuck knows—and there are still no outside answers to cling to. But there is this one physical thing to literally be attached to, to use as talisman and a private sort of proof and comfort; and that in itself is valuable, and it's a step forward just to disentangle from some of the anxiety.) I'm not sure what I'll do when it breaks—my wrist will feel so bare—but on some level it will feel like an external sign that I achieved that goal of engagement and remembrance, and can shift my focus elsewhere.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I encountered a discussion on [tumblr.com profile] why-animals-do-the-thing about bi/pan/trans/ace/aro animals, or rather, about the non-existence of cis/straight animals, and how gender identity and sexual orientation work in the animal world, and the relationship between biology, gendered pronouns, and anthropomorphization, and nothing has ever better articulated my gender identity.

I've discussed my pronoun use before with a tl;dr of "female pronouns are convenient and acceptable; non-gendered pronouns are equally accurate: because I'm a cat and cats don't have genders, and using these words isn't the same as embracing their connotations"—which has always been about as close as I can come to a gender identity. I present as cis female due to my body shape/the clothing that flatters in & in which I feel comfortable, but don't identify anywhere on any human gender spectrum. My spay/neuter status as a desexed cat has always been the defining factor of my identity—and that's not even a measurable real thing; it's complicated, it has no particular overlap with human gender identities or agender/genderqueer experiences, and more to do with the way gender (doesn't) work in animals, particularly desexed domestic animals.

I'm quoting that post here, for my own record keeping and future reference, with all credit to anon submitter and the parent blog. I just want to make sure I never lose it. It's such a good post! The personal connections I make to therianthropy/my gender are a smaller, secondary conversation, but it was elucidating to see these things laid out and they helped explain some of me to me.

Read more... )
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Archangel (Samaria Book 1)
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: Ace Books, 1997 (1996)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 212,180
Text Number: 646
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Before he can assume the leadership role of Archangel, Gabriel must marry—but Rachel, the wife selected for him, betrays every expectation and reveals many of his society's fatal flaws. The plot and character arcs are fairly predictable, although Rachel's incandescent stubborn streak is a gift; the slow-burn romance begins well but overstays its welcome, and the repetition causes by alternating PoVs exacerbates all these factors. Most of the fun is found in picking out the SFnal aspects hidden within the worldbuilding—they're consistent, though underdeveloped, and have interesting interactions with the philosophical elements of the plot; I expected the sequels expand on them. I love fantasy misunderstood as science, I don't care about angels, and I'm ambivalent about drawn-out, antagonistic romances; on a personal level, this was mildly successful but not something I'd particularly recommend.


Title: Love Is the Drug
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Narrator: Simone Missick
Published: Scholastic Audio, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 212,530
Text Number: 647
Read Because: reading PoC, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A pandemic upsets the life of Emily Bird, a Black student about to graduate from a prestigious prep school. The social politics of prep school, race, and economic class; the edge of an apocalypse; a romance, a mystery, and significant character growth: there's so much going on here, and yet, somehow, not quite enough. The themes and diversity are fantastic, albeit delineated, but it's the plot and romance that let things down. The thriller/mystery is too insubstantial to carry so much of the book, and the romance tips towards tortured and saccharine. But Johnson's writing is strong, dense, unexpectedly challenging, with engaging variations in address, and she tackles an ambitious timescale and sociopolitical context. If this were less restrained by genre convention or presumed audience age, it could have been more complicated and satisfying; what it is instead is a mild disappointment, but I may pick up more by the author because I think her voice has great potential.


Title: Binti (Binti Book 1)
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Robin Miles
Published: Scholastic Audio, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 90
Total Page Count: 212,620
Text Number: 648
Read Because: reading PoC, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A mathematician leaves her home village to attend a prestigious alien university, only to stumble into a war. Binti packs a fairly straightforward plot, a significant amount of worldbuilding, and satisfying character growth into novella length, and it's a successful balance: there's a lot going on, but it's vivid rather than dense. The beats—mostly in the conclusion—are predictable, but the themes are valuable enough to counterbalance that, and Binti is a fantastic character. This is one of those solid 4-star books: it didn't quite blow me away, but it was engaging and made me want to read more by the author.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
LJ's recent ToS update and the final, for-real-this-time exodus hit me harder than I expected, for one logistic reason (my list of book reviews, which I reference a lot for personal use, links to LJ posts, and I will never be arsed to manually replace >600 links), predictable comment- and community-related nostalgia reasons, and vague "the intrusion of the current world climate into my personal bubble" reasons. The compromise? solution? I've opted for is to turn off crossposts and make all of my LJ entries private; I have indefinite, personal access to the comments, but if my LJ is deleted or it becomes wiser to do so, so be it.

A while ago I made a trip down to see Devon which ended up lasting about a week longer than normal. When I see him, a lot of my crazy comes to a head because my subconscious decides the make-it-better person is present and I should therefore provide all the icky things for making-better purposes; as such, I tend to have ironic mental health crises when visiting; as such, I generally make those visits sort of ... vacations from reality, since they're also vacations from my 1.5 responsibilities. So I just ... switched off the politics part of me when I was there, and I was there for ages. And when I got back, I never switched politics back on.

And you know what, I was pushing myself far beyond my limits. So now I'm one the other side of the same debate: I'm not doing the work I deem important, I'm filtering what I expose myself to which, there's inevitable unfilterable intrusions that really bring it home; I'm less crazy, less anxious but more depressed, cognizant always that avoiding the world is only possible because I'm so crazy as to not have a life; I know it's a long game and I can resume my role in it later.

And LJ manages to be simultaneously a petty nothing and emblematic of all of that.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: What's Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles Book 1)
Author: Kat Zhang
Published: HarperCollins, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 211,310
Text Number: 643
Read Because: recommended by Jen Campbell, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Everyone is born with two souls in one body, and usually one soul recesses and dies. But Addie and Eva are both still alive, and this is a dangerous secret to keep. This is yet another high-concept YA dystopia, and an approximately convincing one: the premise isn't too tortured, the use of pronouns justifies the first-person narrator and sells the concept, and the result is a quick hook and swift readability without too many suspension of disbelief-violating moments. It helps that the romance is relatively minor, and has human complications without being a love triangle/star-crossed/another genre cliché; it helps more that the core relationship between the sisters is intimate and complex. The readability stumbles a bit when Eva makes stupid mistakes--they're understandable given her life experiences and age, but they're also overbroadcasted and frustrating. It stumbles again in the middle section, which has outright unpleasant themes (that said, I'm particularly sensitive to narratives about institutionalization/denial of autonomy and identity/forced medical procedures) and a slow plot, mostly due to under-characterized and predictable villains. I find it difficult to be objective about this book: It's an above-average take on the genre, acceptably convincing, supported by sufficient emotional investment; it doesn't go above and beyond, but also refuses to succumb to obvious pitfalls. And I found it intensely, offputtingly stressful. This last I think is a personal quirk, and won't carry into the sequels; but I don't think the overall quality compels me to continue the series.

I do wish that any consideration were given to the existence of real-world Dissociative Identity Disorder/related experiences.


Title: A Taste of Honey (The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps Book 2)
Author: Kai Ashante Wilson
Published: Tor, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 160
Total Page Count: 211,470
Text Number: 644
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Snapshots of a life of a young lover and his first love. Once again, Wilson's writing is a pleasure. It's vibrant and playful, with an engaging use of language; oversized relationships and characters coexist with unusual genre-bending worldbuilding and issues of race, culture, and class. It's profoundly original, and manages to be both challenging and engaging. I didn't love A Taste of Honey as much as The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps--it's a smaller story; there's a similar combination of interpersonal and worldbuilding, but the worldbuilding has a more restricted effect on the plot. That said, it's interesting to see a wider view of the same setting, and this gave me the style and core elements that I came looking for.


Title: Planetfall (Planetfall Book 1)
Author and narrator: Emma Newman
Published: Blackstone Audiobooks, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 211,800
Text Number: 645
Read Because: multiple recommendations, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A small colony on a distant planet is threatened by a human outsider whose arrival uncovers secrets about the colony's origin. The book's speculative elements—the colony's 3D printing and communication network, the nearby alien structure and its effect on humans—are compelling, and inform everything from daily minutiae to the mystery plot to the colony's religious origin. The protagonist, Ren, has a distinct and precise voice, focused equally on engineering and the human condition; her comorbid mental illnesses are central to her experience as well as the plot's mystery. The depiction of these illnesses is complicated—it's unflinching, compassionate, but also exploited to build drama; upsetting to read at the best of times, but sometimes unjustifiably so. The ending abandons the local, colony-level scale for something more transcendental; I think it works, but it also compromises the pacing and tone. This is one of the more absorbing reading experiences I've encountered in a while: it has a great voice and protagonist, it's astute and wrenching and intriguing, and Newman has a phenomenal eye for detail; but too much is dictated by the murder-mystery plot—and those contrivances sometimes override the more successful, subtle elements.

I had an incredibly difficult time assessing my reaction to how Planetfall handles mental illness; thoughts on that below the cut, & beware spoilers. Originally posted on Tumblr.

Read more... )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood Book 2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012 (2011)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 210,345
Text Number: 640
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Acatl investigates the murder of a councilman whose death imperils the election of the city's next leader. As a murder mystery, this is better than Servant of the Underworld—clues and politics are nicely entangled, and the mystery is more solvable. The scale is as grand as in the first book, and the setting is broader. Once again, the protagonist experiences significant character growth. Unfortunately, these elements don't always make for a compelling narrative—a lot of time is simply spent in transit—but the overall effort is solid, and it's a testament to Bodard's technical skill that the reader can keep track of so many names and characters despite the unfamiliarity of the Aztec setting. But Bodard's artistic skill still leaves me wanting: her descriptions are predominantly visual, and as such I found them flat and inaccessible when they needed to be what sells the magic and scale. Occasionally, there's a fantastic image or turn of phrase (and I came to Bodard's long fiction because I loved her short story "Immersion"—I think its shifts between second and third person bring the language to life); visually-inclined readers may have better luck, and Bodard has potential regardless—and there's even more in the setting. But this series just isn't working out for me, so it's time to put it down.


Title: The Forbidden Wish
Author: Jessica Khoury
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 210,710
Text Number: 641
Read Because: mentioned on "YA Books about PoC by PoC," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An Aladdin retelling focusing on a female jinni named Zahra. Zahra's point of view is a strong starting premise. It emphasizes magic, and while Khoury's voice isn't robust enough to be truly transporting, the imagery and abilities are creative. It also emphasizes the fantastic female characters, and there are many: the princess is even better than the protagonist, and the narrative is frequently addressed to a long-dead queen—an engaging technique that ties nicely to the main plot, and fails only because the story of Zahra and the queen is more interesting than the story of Zahra and Aladdin. Their relationship is a predictable and obtrusively saccharine romance, meant to be the emotional core of the book. The rest of the plot is also predictable, largely due to overdrawn antagonists, so there's not much to counterbalance the romance. There's plenty of potential here, in the premise and the setting; with a more evocative voice and the willingness to defy genre convention, it could work. But the book as it is unexpectedly boring.


Title: Elysium: or, The World After
Author: Jennifer Marie Brissett
Narrator: Jamye Méri Grant
Published: Skyboat Media, 2015 (2014)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 210
Total Page Count: 210,920
Text Number: 642
Read Because: mentioned in Nisi Shawl's "A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
A pair of iterated entities experience the downfall of human civilization. This is an ambitious, fluid narrative, reinventing its core characters in different dynamics and settings and points in time. The concrete reality of their identities is unimportant; their various selves represent the human condition within the events of the plot. I admire this willingness to forgo structure and conventional characterization, and despite its strangeness this is a swift read, setting mundane sorrows against increasingly diverse (and, eventually, excessively numerous) speculative concepts, united by an eerie tone.

But the many interesting questions this narrative raises—what forms an identity or a relationship? what part of a person persists when their consciousness is iterated and their setting changed? how is personhood effected by body, gender, orientation? what is an artificial intelligence's relationship with, and how is it changed by, their programming, the society that created them, and their personal experience?—go almost entirely unaddressed. There's not enough throughline, no uniting identity—except for the reoccurring names and events, these characters could be unrelated. I'm in love with the book this could have been; the book it is unsuccessful, but I'd still love to see more stories like it, with unconventional narratives and diverse casts* and similar but better-explored themes.

(The aliens are pretty great, though.)

* Caveat: despite that the entities experience multiple genders and orientations, the treatment of transgendered individuals is awful.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Affinity
Author: Sarah Waters
Published: Penguin, 2002 (1999)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 209,320
Text Number: 637
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a troubled woman begins volunteer work at her local prison, she meets a captivating spiritualist inmate. Waters's books consistently offer a dramatic, discomforting tension—they're set deep within their historical contexts, dealing with social/gender roles and queer relationships; they're unromanticized, yet evocative and atmospheric. I found Affinity's social tensions (imprisonment, mental health, suicide within gendered/social context) especially unpleasant for personal reasons, but they have strong thematic synergy. But much of the book's tension lies in the authenticity of the supernatural elements, which means most plot developments are shunted into dramatic revelations in the closing act—and, though both logical and foreshadowed, this still betrays the long, slow engagement that is the bulk of the narrative. This is my least favorite Waters novel so far, which is to praise with a faint damning: it's compelling and sympathetic, but didn't strike me in the way that Waters's other novels have.


Title: Throne of Jade (Temeraire Book 2)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 370
Total Page Count: 209,690
Text Number: 638
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After discovering that Temeraire is a Celestial, the rarest and most prestigious of Chinese dragon breeds, Laurence and crew must make a political journey to China itself. I love an extended training montage; as such, this second book in the series lack the immediate appeal of the first. Its focus is politics and culture clash, sometimes in petty ways (which suit the historical setting, but still weary), but improving as themes develop and Chinese dragons are explored. The plot is unremarkable, but what I love about this series is the proactive way it engages the companion animal trope, and here it extends both its setting and purview to explore the social role of dragons across two cultures, while maintaining an emotional center in the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. I may not have loved this as much as the first book, but I remain content with the series so far—it's a satisfying and increasingly thorough take on one of my favorite tropes.


Title: It's All Absolutely Fine
Author and Illustrator: Ruby Elliot
Published: Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2017
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 209,945
Text Number: 639
Read Because: personal enjoyment, print book borrowed from Dee
Review:
A memoir and comic collection by a 20-something woman figuring out how to live life as an adult with mental illness. Chapter divisions give the book structure, but grouping the comics makes most of them feel repetitive while leaving a handful of outliers—themselves quite cute!—to stick out sorely. I feel like the comics would be more successful viewed individually, and my experiencing seeing the author's work online supports this. The text sections are honest and have a distinctive informal and self-deprecatory tone. It's all quite relatable, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is meant to be: not an outsider, as everything hinges on relatability; but the lack of detail or productive payoff make it feel too shallow for a fellow sufferer.

I'll be honest: I am the exact wrong audience for this. I find memoirs of this tone wallowy and vaguely triggering; they evoke all the frustrations of female bodies and mental illness, but don't do anything with that except provide sympathy and platitudes. Readers that benefit from a sense of kinship and loving self-mockery will probably have a far better experience.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Dark Orbit (Twenty Planets)
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Narrator: Melanie Ewbank
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,230
Text Number: 634
Read Because: reviewed by Rosamund, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Sara Callicot travels to a newly discovered habitable planet located in a pocket of bizarre phenomena in order to spy on another member of the exploratory crew, cLassiter. The planet Iris is beautiful and strange, but this initial premise in no way conveys the variety of speculative concepts which come into play: multiple alien cultures, disability and culture-building, alternate forms of perception and dimensions and travel. Cultural and methodological diversity functions as a tool to explore these concepts, and as such individual character development—primarily for Thora—is strong. Interpersonal relationships go undeveloped; this keeps the focus on the speculative concepts, but it might have been nice to see more perception-clash, especially between the protagonists. But I'm a sucker for high speculative concepts which are made accessible by studying the experiences of those enmeshed within them; in that way, this reminds me of Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series—Kirstein does a better job developing and capitalizing on interpersonal aspects, but both emphasize the individual's engagement with research, phenomena, and worldview adjustments, and Gilman also offers strong, multi-sensory descriptions. I'm not entirely content with Dark Orbit's conclusions*, but the journey to them is compelling and stimulating. This takes place in a shared universe, and, while it stands alone, I would love to read more Gilman someday.

* Initially, the depictions of mental illness and blindness are unromanticized—but by the conclusion, both become forms of or tools for seeing outside normal human perception; this resolution makes sense in context, and disabled characters retain agency and humanity, but the elision still makes me uncomfortable.

(What a strange audio experience! The voice used for the Sara's third person narration was obnoxious; for Thora's diary, rich and thoughtful. I admire the narrator's ability to assume such different tones, but Sara's opening sections almost made me DNF.)


Title: Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood Book 1)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 430
Total Page Count: 208,660
Text Number: 635
Read Because: enjoyed the author's short story "Immersion," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the Aztec Empire, Acatl is pulled from his duties as a funeral priest to investigate the violent disappearance of a priestess, a crime which implicates his brother. This reminds me of Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace: murder mystery as impetus to explore a fantasy setting and magic system. It's not a format I enjoy (I prefer my murder mysteries in short form); regardless, this isn't a particularly successful example of it—it's more of a plot McGuffin than a mystery that the reader can solve. The setting and magic system are marginally more successful—they're a welcome change from genre tradition, and the magic is complex, diverse, and occasionally interacts with characters in dynamic ways. But Bodard's descriptions are unevocative and primarily visual, so the magic fails to feel as powerful as it needs to be. In theory, this is a compelling first effort; but in practice, it's just not that compelling. I'd love to see more books in this setting, and so may attempt the sequels; this first book stands alone, but I wouldn't recommend it.


Title: The Gracekeepers
Author: Kirsty Logan
Narrator: Katy Townsend
Published: Random House Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,960
Text Number: 636
Read Because: multiple booktube mentions, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A circus performer and funerary hermit cross paths in a flooded world which is socially divided between seafarers and landlockers. The setting and language and atmosphere are all phenomenal—similar to Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, but significantly more evocative: a dreamy ocean landscape, almost magical realist in style. The relationship between the protagonists, and their relationships with their respective social roles, are compelling; it's a long and distant romance, perhaps frustrating only because it's subtextual. But the intermediary aspects are less successful. Too much time better spent with the protagonists is given to hopping between stock supporting characters; the worldbuilding falls for some YA genre clichés, too delineated, chock full of proper nouns. When this is good, it's very very good—one of my more pleasant recent reading experiences in recent memory. I just wishes its occasional lapses of subtly didn't hold it back.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
The OA, season 1, 2016
I can't talk about this show without spoilers; be ye warned. Insofar as the purpose of a piece of media is to engage and stimulate, this succeeds. I don't find it necessarily to decide or clarify the "objective truth" of OA's story, but I do think the show tries to do too much in putting it into question—it's a slow, spread-out narrative, and then so much is crammed into the many hanging threads of the final episode; it's cheap and underdeveloped. But I'm sold on that slow narrative, in both structure and content, from the modern set dressing to the speculative elements to the framed narrative to the unreliable narrator; that it's a contemporary/SF movie given a 10-hour runtime actually makes it more immersive. I'm even more content than not with the final episode, more for the purpose it achieves than how it does so, although I don't know how they can make a second season work after the intentional and strained ambiguity of the finale. This was an experience—not always successful, not always smooth, a little smug and back-weighted, but it held me; I wanted to read about it and talk about it after I finished watching, all signs that I was engaged.

Santa Clarita Diet, season 1, 2017
This is sincerely charming; so charming that I can overlook the fact it's essentially a quirky White suburban romantic comedy. It's gleefully morbid, excessively so, shamelessly so, overshooting gorn and landing in the territory of corny but legitimately icky—which must be the counterpoint that I need to sell me on the rest. (It helps, too, that I love Drew Barrymore, although they really don't know how to do her hair.) I wish the pacing were better, I wish the season had any sense of finality—instead of just feeling like it had finally developed a larger plot, none the least because the premise is the more engaging narrative. But while I bounce off most humor, this worked for me. It's endearing and gross and dark and I approve.

Sherlock, series 3 and "The Abominable Bride", 2013-2014 and 2016
Spending a while away from this show really serves to highlight its flaws upon return. It's not half so clever or logical as it needs to be, borrowing poorly from the source material as far as cases are concerned. It's overacted; the humor misses its mark. Sherlock himself is wildly unpleasant, and scenes like John's forgiveness on the train are simply—ironically—unforgivable. And then there's an episode like "His Last Vow," which manages to expand on the original material, which hammers home the show's dynamic and characterization, which is tightly written and uses the obtrusive styling to its best advantage. My sum experience with BBC Sherlock tends to be negative, but it's highlights like that which make me keep trying.

Finding Dory, film, 2016, dirs. Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
This is such an active, compassionate, empowered narrative about disability, and some later scenes are fantastic. I sincerely appreciate the depiction of accommodation and internalized discrimination; it's tear-jerking in the right way, substantial but uplifting. But a character magically overcoming an injury/disability is unequivocally awful; and I've seen arguments that the humorous exploitation and derision of other disabled characters functions both to depict a discriminatory society and invite viewers to question why they participate in it—except that it doesn't, the humor goes almost entirely unchallenged, and it's wildly out of place and disgusting. I went into this having read some criticisms, and I'm glad for that—or I probably would have stalled out at the one-third mark. The sum is positive, but there's no excuse for the missteps—ever, really, but especially in this context.

The Joy of Painting Netflix Series, Bob Ross: Beauty is Everywhere & Chill with Bob Ross
Full episodes of the show's entire run are also on YouTube, so I'm still watching Bob Ross—but I didn't discover that until watching the Netflix compilations. They're composed of selected episodes from later seasons (~27-31), which makes for the highest quality video and most familiar techniques (in narration, painting, and filming). Chill is winter scenes, and many of Ross's winter paintings are warm-toned and a bit fuzzy; this is the selection that grows most repetitive, but I also watched it during winter in a moment of kismet: during the stress of the holidays, Netflix gave me Bob Ross. Beauty is Everywhere is general landscapes and seascapes, but a solid selection of those, highlighting a number of the black-canvas paintings which Ross particularly loved and I do too. There isn't a particular reason to watch these selected episodes, they're hardly the only good ones, but they are good, consistently watchable, and have all the markers that make this series enjoyable.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, season 1 and Christmas Special, 2015-2016
This has a strict episodic framework—repeated sequences, reiterated structure, etc. But it also begins with all aspects established, from supporting cast to superpowers—a mild in medias res. Subplots, small details, and the natural evolution of relationships explore those background aspects and add narrative depth, and the occasional deviation from the repetitive format has nice narrative flair. I'm normally ambivalent about the format of kid's cartoons, so I'm surprise by how well this worked for me on a structural level. And the protagonists's relationship! it's a star-crossed miscommunication-driven will they/won't they/of course they will hetero romance, but I love it anyway, thanks in large part of the way that Ladybug controls their dynamic both in and out of combat. There should be nothing for me to love here, but I found myself taken with it anyway; it's charming and unexpectedly compelling. I look forward to the next season. (I did find the webisodes frivolous, and skipped them. I prefer the French dub immensely, and wish Netflix weren't missing some of the audio tracks.)

Re:Zero — Starting Life in Another World, anime, 2016, White Fox
I came to this explicitly because a friend spoiled the protagonist's character growth (or, more specifically, the reveal that Subaru is a "nice guy" and that the narrative calls him out on it). I'm glad I went in knowing that, both because it's interesting to track the foreshadowing and because it helps justify such an awful protagonist. His later character growth is artlessly exaggerated, but it's still rewarding to see his behavior condemned and corrected. The plot, meanwhile, has an iterated/Groundhog Day-style structure (one of my favorite tropes) which is just clever enough to work and which sells the danger and violence—and that's a good thing, because something needs to counteract the anime styling at play. I would have liked this better had it shed its anime clichés—but I still found it incredibly engaging, cathartic, and satisfying. (I'm not sold on the ending, but my impression is that it works better in context of the light novel, as a yet another bait-and-switch happy resolution.)

The Great British Bake-Off, series 4, 2013
As calming and as sweet-hearted as ever, but I found myself more critical of the judging structure this time (I don't think judging week-to-week without taking into account cumulative performance is representative of real quality; I'm troubled by the cultural/educational bias implicit in the technical challenges), and of significantly less patience with the pacing of the reveals (so corny; just skip them). But even if my initial wonderment has passed, this remains such an endearing show, pure and lovely, engaging food porn and light reality TV, but without the pettiness that fuels so much of the genre.

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, anime, 2007-2008, Madhouse
The pacing here isn't as successful in Akagi—it's more strung out, teetering towards the repetitive and stretching the tension and metaphors too far. But! it's still so good! (Within FKMT caveats: no female characters; funny noses.) Such a fantastic foil to Akagi: this protagonist who doesn't want to risk, who isn't looking for the experience; who keeps landing himself in trouble and manages to scrape through almost despite himself. Like any good predicament porn, it's equal parts indulgent and discomforting, the perfect balance that pushes "dim ratbag victim of masochists" past the point of humor and enjoyable tension and into the realm of sincere, albeit frustrating, sympathy. I look forward to continuing with the next series.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: His Majesty's Dragon(/Temeraire) (Temeraire Book 1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 207,930
Text Number: 633
Read Because: companion animal trope, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When he captures a dragon egg, a ship's captain must forgo naval service and become part of the Aerial Corps in England's war against French forces. In other words: the Napoleonic Wars with dragon bond animals. I have no interest in that historical setting, but the unusual nature of the Aerial Corps (namely, there are women) is engaging and the corps's outsider status adds narrative intrigue. I don't care much about dragons, but love bond animals—and this iteration is especially tropey. There's a wide variety of human/dragon dynamics on display and some solid worldbuilding, but the perspective is cozily centered on the protagonist pair and their sincere, endearing intimacy. The emotional beats are occasionally predictable, but always satisfying. I'm glad for the sequels, and only regret that it took me so long to start this series.

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