juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
2020-01-03 12:01 am

Sticky Post: Introduction and Friending

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)
2020-01-02 06:24 pm

List of book reviews for 2005-2017

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: 109 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)
2020-01-02 06:00 pm

Ghost and Aaron: An introduction and master list

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 the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
2017-09-17 06:47 pm

Autumn—and moving, and cats; and autumn.

I woke to rain outside, and kept hearing it, on and off, through the day; hearing it because I've been able to keep a window open and the fan off for a few days now. The window here is behind a substantial bush, so the light is gentle in the mornings (the birdsong, on the other hand, not so much). Yesterday morning, I sat under that open window and peeled and cut apples while watching Supernatural. (Every year about this time I catch up on Supernatural; every year it's still awful, but the kernel of the show it could be, the 11.4 "Baby" show, the AU werewolf!Claire show, the show of ambiguous landscapes of denuded, earthen British Columbia forests pretending to be the Midwest, the show of flannel and bunkers and overnight drives, always leave me wistful.)

The apples came from the back yard, half-feral apple trees that produce tart, hard, dry green apples with just a few bugs. When I taught Teja how to make applesauce, I told him "peel, chop, boil over medium heat"—it's impossible to screw up. This year made me wonder if I was wrong; the first batch was prone to scalding and awfully tart, and required a cup of water (I'm used to ladling off excess fluid instead) and half a cup of brown sugar (there are greater sins). And it wasn't ruined, it turned out fantastic. Homemade applesauce always is.

Anyway, I moved last month. Moving is objectively always awful, but this went fine, even if it left me wishing I owned zero physical objects—despite that it was making a place for objects (specifically, an overhead shelf with nothing but blankets and plush and treasured figurine) which made me feel settled in.

August and Gillian are settling in too, decently well. The stress of the move, and the smaller space and relative isolation, has made them much more companionable. They've lived together for five years, with tolerance but no intimacy. Now, they're touching all the time! They share a blanket! This morning, August licked Gillian's face three small, sweet times. I'm not getting invested in the future of this intimacy, but feel blessed to witness the little signs of it.

I've been taking a few shitty snapshots of the cats, and you can find them over on my Tumblr; here are some cat-touching highlights:






Their peace and comfort, and also mine, has been interrupted by a fairly severe flea infestation—with which we are dealing, but which may be an ongoing/reoccuring battle for reasons outside my control, and I'm mad about that. They're just so uncomfortable, and only have the energy to groom and eat and then nap; not eager to play, too sore for most cuddles. Hopefully things will improve as the medication does its thing.

Autumn is the season of my heart, and the weather report says the rain is not just today, it is the next five days, and by then it's late September; 70 degree days after that will just be sunny days in autumn—the season is here. Most people don't get such a clear cut-off date! But ours was September 17, and rain, and rain, and rain.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
2017-09-13 11:20 pm

What I Watched: Moana, Closet Monster, The Levelling, American Fable, I Am The Pretty Thing...

Moana, film, 2016, Disney
Came for Accessible Disney Emotions; largely received them. It's interesting the way that gender/racial choices reinvigorate traditional heroic quest arcs—because this is extremely by-the-book, but feels empowering rather than redundant; Moana's personal growth and the way it ripples out to supporting characters and the resolution is extremely satisfying. Interesting musical choices: when they started a song about coconuts I was underwhelmed, but there's—

(Now imagine a pause while I check Google to see if anyone else has made a link between the lyrical evolution/reiteration of Moana's "I want" song and the unique lyrical style of Hamilton, and then I discover that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that song, and that the link isn't influential but direct. I sincerely didn't know he was involved with this movie.)

—there's a beautiful lyrical evolution/reiteration in that main theme which is reminiscent of the self-referential wordplay of Hamilton; it's clever, and substantial enough to carry the film's emotional thrust. But while the denouement is fantastic, the resolution is flat, and that's all due to the design of Te Fiti—there's a dozen ways to conceptualize nature-as-humanoid/-goddess which is more evocative and less "vaguely fuzzy giant green lady" (even the willow tree in Pocahontas was better!), and what's rendered here undermines that final emotional resolution. I also hate the water tentacle—the hair is amazing! the natural water is beautiful! there are some great renders in this, but the nondescript water tentacle that shakes its head isn't one of them. Also: I sincerely don't get why anyone cared about the chicken, and the grandmother is one of the best characters I've ever seen and I both want to know her and want to be her, someday. I found this more successful than not, but the ending missteps.

Closet Monster, film, 2015, dir. Stephen Dunn
This is really good. It perfectly bridges its surreal/imaginative/symbolic aspects to its concrete events. It's sincere, convincing, compelling; accessible but also private; heartbreaking but cathartic, without being exploitative or simplistic. (The way it depicts violence is particularly successful, cutting away/using discretion shots in a way that simultaneously preserves tension, confers respect, and still conveys trauma). There are flaws (the hamster is heavy-handed; the final scenes too idyllic), but I'm sincerely impressed by what it achieves.

The Levelling, film, 2016, dir. Hope Dickson Leach
If I had thought about it, perhaps "vet student from a farming family" and "family trauma post-suicide" was not an ideal combination for me, in particular; but I didn't think about it, and did watch this through, and it was vaguely unlikable, if only for slipping "forgive and reunite with you abusive family members" in there at the end. I do this a disservice: the interstitial shots of an English countryside caught between the idyllic and the eerie and the muddy mundane, and the localized loss in the wake of a suicide, are effectively staged; the whole weight of the film rests on Kendrick's shoulders, and she can bear it. But it is absolutely about how awful suicide is for the survivors, and about forgiving/healing past familial abuse, and using violence against animals/the farming industry as psychological manipulation and metaphor: all tropes I deeply despise and shouldn't've put myself through.

American Fable, film, 2016, dir. Anne Hamilton
Honestly, pretty awful. There's an interesting story here, about poor rural white America's interaction with—well, Jewish bankers, the boogeyman of Jewish wealth, economic antisemitism and both sides of economic anxiety; you can't cast an identifiably Jewish person in the role of "wealthy man buying up farmland who is kidnapped and tortured by farmers" and then not address the Jewish issue—it creates a Jewish narrative in absentia and I have no idea: is that intended? is it just really poorly executed? is it just because of Schiff's casting? It doesn't particularly matter as the rest of the movie is forgettable, hamfisted plot development and campy horror pacing, with a beautiful setting, promising but undeveloped imagery, and some decent acting from Kennedy and Schiff that has no particular payoff.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, film, 2016, dir. Oz Perkins
I thought I would like this; I really did like this. April Wolfe of The Village Voice described it as "the most atmospherically faithful adaptation ever of a Shirley Jackson book that never existed" (thanks, Wikipedia)—and it's no Shirley Jackson, but it does have that feel to it: a strong sense of place and costume and set design, an investigation into women within gothic archetypes (and women's life as gothic) which isn't hugely robust but is largely successful, some gentle queer subtext, a plot which isn't hugely complicated but which does clever things with narration, and a really satisfying tone. It wasn't objectively perfect, but I wanted it to never end; I wanted those empty rooms and facile but appealing metaphors and mustard accents to last forever.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
2017-09-12 11:57 pm

Reviews: The House of Binding Thorns, Bodard; Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, Tiptree; Way Station, Simak

Title: The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of the Fallen Book 2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Ace, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 230,925
Text Number: 737
Read Because: recommended by Rachel, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Not long after the events of the first book, House Hawthorne becomes embroiled in conflicts and alliances with the dragon kingdom. This has a slow start—there's a big cast and numerous subplots, all tied together by something like a murder-mystery (of which Bodard is fond, and I am not); it stands largely independent of The House of Shattered Wings, and maintains most of that book's weaknesses (like repetitive descriptions) and indulgences (like the moldering elegance of the setting). It's the second half where things come together. The plot coalescing is adequate, and Bodard has a knack for large finales (here, perhaps, overlong), but the real joy is in the characters—there's a number of great character types (a pregnant woman and her angel wife is an especial delight), and Asmodeus's development, as an unrepentant and unforgivable person who still has depth, even value, is ambiguous and subtly-wrought. I didn't particularly enjoy this, but appreciate its payoff; it's more successful than Shattered Wings, and may be worth reading if you've already begun the series.


Title: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Author: James Tiptree Jr.
Published: Tachyon Publications, 2004 (1990)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 505
Total Page Count: 231,430
Text Number: 738
Read Because: personal enjoyment
Review: Eighteen stories, most published under the Tiptree pseudonym, combining themes of gender, sex, death, and speculative science. This is a long and thorough collection, in part because many of the stories are novella-length, in part because Tiptree's voice and theme are confrontational and fatalistic. Tiptree has some repetitive stylistic choices: many of the stories end with a twist or thematic summation, often individually successful (as in "The Screwfly Solution"), but transparent and repetitive when viewed in sequence; in the forgivable search for an idealistic solution to the anger and fear that motivate these stories, some are over-long, some defy suspension of disbelief ("With Delicate Mad Hands"). But, while the angry, didactic tone can be punishing, the content and perspective more than compensate. Tiptree embodies a masculine point of view while writing feminist fiction ("The Girl Who Was Plugged In," "The Women Men Don't See"—a central, prevalent doubling of identity, including but not limited to gender identity), intertwines speculative concepts with intensely critical social themes, and possesses intensity, vigor, and valuable rage. The cumulative effect of this collection far exceeds its component parts. .


Title: Way Station
Author: Clifford D. Simak
Published: Open Road Media, 2015 (1963)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 231,645
Text Number: 739
Read Because: recommended by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:

That was how it started, Enoch thought, almost a hundred years ago. The campfire fantasy had turned into fact and the Earth now was on galactic charts, a way station for many different peoples traveling star to star. Strangers once, but now there were no strangers. There were no such things as strangers. In whatever form, with whatever purpose, all of them were people.


From a Midwestern homestead, one lonely man runs a way station for alien travelers. This takes a quiet, almost distant approach to its premise; the protagonist is more witness than actor and the tone is wistful, contemplating the vastness of the universe and what role humankind deserves within it. It's eminently quotable.

"There may come a day," Ulysses said, "when it won't be like that. I can look ahead and see, in some thousands of years, the knitting of the galaxy together into one great culture, one huge area of understanding. The local and the racial variations will still exist, of course, and that is as it should be, but overriding all of these will be a tolerance that will make for what one might be tempted to call a brotherhood."

"You sound," said Enoch, "almost like a human. That is the sort of hope that many of our thinkers have held out."


Half of the narrative is akin to a science fiction fairy market, a cavalcade of wonders which rambles almost like a travelogue, slowing the pace but suiting the tone. The plot eventually coalescences, pulling neatly from perhaps too many of the established elements, and is a little too large, leaning on coincidence and hinging on problematic tropes regarding disability. But the ending preserves the overall tone, and if the small pieces are better than the larger plot, then they are fantastic pieces: beautiful, mournful, hopeful, idyllic but not idealized, profound without slipping into the facile. I sincerely loved this; a pleasure to read.


Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and Way Station both made it on my favorite and formative list—there are absolutely objective flaws here, and ones I can recognize (unlike the rare favorite which I know must not be objectively flawless & yet which makes me convinced it is), but they're solid 4.5 "it feels like a 5-star book," where feeling is the operative response—they are both a little more than themselves. Satisfying to have a few of those after a slew of sheer mediocrity.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
2017-09-06 06:03 pm

Reviews: Call Me by Your Name, Aciman; The Bear & the Nightingale, Arden; Aristotle and Dante, Sáenz

Title: Call Me by Your Name
Author: André Aciman
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 229,885
Text Number: 734
Read Because: recommended by Holly Dunn, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One summer in Italy, a teenage boy grows infatuated with his family's boarder. That narrow perspective—focused almost entirely on one time, one place, one formative relationship—set within hot, idyllic Italy is certainly an experience: intimate, claustrophobic. The fluid sexuality, sincere intimacy, and the sense that a relationship can be simultaneously transitory and indelible are all well-realized. The voice, a stream of consciousness memory, dense with mixed metaphors and the inconsistent but sincere revelations of adolescence, is perhaps less so: it contributes to the atmosphere but is samey (the dialog sounds just like the interior monologue) and sometimes rambling and inaccessible. There's something seductive in the experience of this book, and I can see why some readers fell in love; it failed to quite grab me.


Title: The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale Book 1)
Author: Katherine Arden
Narrator: Kathleen Gati
Published: Random House Audio, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 230,225
Text Number: 735
Read Because: recommended by A Case for Books & others, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A daughter with the second sight tries to save her family home from the deadly Russian winter, the old spirits from the rise of Christianity, and herself from a woman's fate. This succeeds when it creates investment in the protagonist, Vasya, which it does: as a rare exception to female social roles and thus the consequences of a misogynistic society, she's sympathetic wish-fulfillment; the final act, with its large magics and an opportunity for Vasya to win the day, is a strong finish. But this is unremarkable on the whole, from the uninspired characterization (especially of antagonists) to the predictable pacing; Arden renders a strong sense place, but her voice isn't especially evocative. Mostly, this fails to feel larger than the sum of its parts, to be numinous or profound—an arbitrary judgement, but one that determines whether or not I find a fairytale narrative successful, which this one is not; it feels instead like the promising but unrefined debut which it is.


Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Book 1)
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2012
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 230,585
Text Number: 736
Read Because: multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Two boys met, become best friends, and survive adolescence together. Once again: it's (mostly) not you, young adult contemporary; it's me. The characters are realistically rendered, the themes are well-intended—but the voice is flat and repetitive (especially the dialog; especially how often people break out laughing), and, while I see the appeal of the arc from drama to tragedy to happy endings, while I think happy endings are valuable especially for teens in minority groups, the end of the book bothers me. The final deus ex parents is ridiculous and removes the protagonist's agency; moreover, he transitions from a troubled young man to someone completely cured. It's untenable and erasing; it feels more like everything wrong with the "it gets better" campaign than anything truly productive. These criticisms are unfair: the journey is frequently more realistic than the destination, and the happy ending obviously works for most readers; I imagine the narrative and voice are more successful for fans of the genre. But this fell flat for me.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
2017-08-31 11:47 pm

Book Reviews: Bad Boy, Wake; Of Sorrow and Such, Slatter; Ghostland, Dickey

Title: Bad Boy
Author: Elliot Wake
Published: Atria, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 229,165
Text Number: 731
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A trans guy begins to doubt his place in Black Iris, a feminist vigilante group, when a figure from his past returns. This has much of Wake's style—the heady atmosphere and toxic, powerful relationships—but simplified and condensed. The plot is straightforward, aside from contrivances in premise and communication; one of the central events is a false rape accusation, which is in poor taste, especially within an overtly queer and feminist and social justice-y narrative. I want to champion this book, and the protagonist deserves it; the complicated way that internalized misogyny acts within his transmasculine experience, how his doubt and self-actualization coexist, is nuanced and deeply personal. But the plethora of buzzwords and commentary on social justice subculture, combined with the underwhelming plot and use of transcript-style flashbacks, saps some of the authenticity, the immediacy; makes it feel more like studied rant than lived experience. I love and admire Wake's Black Iris and Cam Girl, which feel messier and less contrived; this has so much potential, but disappoints me, especially in comparison.


Title: Of Sorrow and Such
Author: Angela Slatter
Published: Tor, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 150
Total Page Count: 229,315
Text Number: 732
Read Because: discussed here by [profile] calico_reaction, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A witch hides her magical abilities under the guise of herbalism in order to protect her fellows and family. This has an engaging premise and fulfills it entirely: herbalism, magic, familiars, grimoires; strong-willed crones, willful girls, complex and varied relationships between women; women's magic as a feminist lens to women's social roles, historical and otherwise. It's that concept which is more effective than the voice (adequate, but some sentence structure/punctuation feels off) and plot (it's backloaded with predictable action), but I still adored this. It's such a good premise and atmosphere, and Slatter fulfills it without tending towards hokey or idealistic, or too grim.


Title: Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
Author: Colin Dickey
Published: Viking, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 229,635
Text Number: 733
Read Because: recommended by Caitlin Doughty, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A tour of America's hauntings, nonexhaustive but diverse, from private homes to entire cities, focusing less on whether ghosts are real and more on their cultural and social function. This isn't as titillating as the premise may imply; Dickey establishes evocative atmospheres (although few nonfiction books so badly want an appendix of images), but the histories and ghosts have short narratives—as it turns out, there's not much to substantiate most hauntings. Dickey instead makes various arguments for the social function of ghosts: as a means of exploring society's secrets while upholding the dominant paradigms; giving voice to anxieties about death and social change. The number of subsections and frequency of closing arguments tends towards the repetitive and facile—I almost wish this were less structured, more organic, and that some sections had more depth. But Dickey strikes a good balance in his skepticism: he's sympathetic to the experience of haunting, to the idea of it, and so is invested in conclusions regarding its origin and purpose.

The formatting for footnotes in the ebook version (primarily using highlighted passages instead of tiny, hard-to-click asterisks) is lovely and I wish it were more common.

ETA: Things referenced in Ghostland which caught my attention, probably because of subject matter, maybe because of the way the content was described (or because of section quoted), & which I may seek out someday:

? The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (fiction)
Winchester trilogy, Jeremy Blake (short films based on the Winchester House)
Barton Fink, dir. Coen Brothers (film)
Captive of the Labyrinth, Mary Jo Ignoffo (definitive biograph of Sarah Winchester)
Modern Spiritualism: A History and Criticism (especially volume 2), Frank Podmore (Fox sisters)
The History and Haunting of Lemp Mansion, Rebecca F. Pittman (Lemp family)
The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives: The Greenbrier Ghost and The Famous Murder Mystery of 1879, Katie Letcher Lyle (Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue)
? For a Critique of a Political Economy of the Sign, Jean Baudrillard (philosophy)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
2017-08-24 11:34 am

Book Reviews: When You Reach Me, Stead; The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood; Before I Fall, Oliver

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Published: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 200
Total Page Count: 228,390
Text Number: 729
Read Because: mentioned by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
The mundane events in a girl's life are knit together by her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. Stead has a fantastic eye for mundanity, the daily details, for building immersion and character growth. The larger plot is surprisingly simplistic, especially in retrospect: it's just one twist, which isn't foreshadowed so much as it is the book's core structure. An interesting combination of elements, but one that didn't gel for me. The function of—and therefore allusions and comparisons to—A Wrinkle in Time highlights my disappointment: this has little of that sense of wonder and whimsy, and where the details of A Wrinkle in Time provide necessary grounding, the speculative concept here is relatively decentralized and thus the details aren't providing balance. It's an unfair comparison, since I have a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in A Wrinkle in Time—but it's one that this book invites, so.... I loved some of the moments in this (particularly the protagonist's female friendships and feelings towards her mother), but never loved the book entire.


Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: Anchor Books, 1998 (1985)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 228,710
Text Number: 729
Read Because: co-read with Teja, from my personal library
Review: Reread August 2017: My earlier impression holds up. I enjoy Atwood's voice, although the wordplay and literary styling, while fluid and beautiful and personal, also become repetitive; more, it distracts from the dystopic/speculative worldbuilding: it's iconic, with the costumes and proper names and near-future dystopic styling, and I can see why it's stuck in the public imagination, but it's not awfully convincing (especially in origin). The commentary re: women's social roles and the complicity of "good" men is much more successful. The climax is rushed, but I like the use of the frame narrative/final chapter for contextualizing the story.

This reminds me of Elgin's Native Tongue, which I also think isn't entirely successful but which I think does more with similar themes, in large part because the women's underground society/cooperation in defiance of male dismissal and socially-enforced competition comes often, and early, and has huge impact on the plot; here, not so much.

Co-reading notes. )


Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Narrator: Sarah Drew
Published: HarperCollins, 2010
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 200 of 415
Total Page Count: 228,910
Text Number: 730
Read Because: this review, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a teenage girl dies after a party, she returns to relive the last day of her life. DNF at 50%. This has a speculative plot structure but is entirely contemporary in execution—the story of a high school mean girl coming to terms with the origins and consequences of her actions. It has an atmosphere entirely alien to my high school experience, petty and drunken, and exacerbated by the tone used for character voices in the audio narration—but perfect balanced between the social dramas and facile but resonant moments of profundity which do feel uniquely teenage. The groundhog day format makes for an exhaustively detailed, grindingly mundane exploration of this amped up high school life; I hated it, but suspect fans of contemporary YA would have better luck. This is the wrong book for me, and I'm glad to drop it; spoilers for the ending haven't changed my mind.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
2017-08-19 10:16 pm

Book Reviews: The Privilege of the Sword, Kushner; Vermilion, Tanzer; Software, Rucker

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: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp
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)
2017-08-09 06:41 pm

Watched: Doctor Strange, Captain America: The Winter Soldier & Civil War, Ajin: Demi-Human, Blame!

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)
2017-08-08 07:32 pm

Book Reviews: In Calabria, Beagle; Roses and Rot, Howard; League of Dragons, Novik

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)
2017-08-06 05:43 pm

Missing stairs and culpability and productive responses and Nick Robinson

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)
2017-08-06 04:44 pm

Book Reviews: The Girl From Everywhere, Heilig; City of Illusions, Le Guin; The Gilda Stories, Gómez

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)
2017-08-04 12:41 am

Book Reviews: Travel Light, Mitchison; A Plague of Unicorns, Yolen; The Pride of Chanur, Cherryh

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)
2017-07-30 06:57 pm

Reviews: Trouble and Her Friends, Scott; The Other Logg of Phileas Fogg, Farmer; Stargate, Gedge

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)
2017-07-29 06:30 pm

Book Reviews: Sister Light, Sister Dark, Yolen; Wicked Gentlemen, Hale; Blood of Tyrants, Novik

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)
2017-07-22 05:56 pm

Reviews: Down Among the..., McGuire; The House of Shattered Wings, Bodard; Crucible of Gold, Novik

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)
2017-07-19 11:14 am

Book Reviews: Mr. Fox, Oyeyemi; Octavia's Brood, eds. brown & Imarisha; The Martian, Weir

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)
2017-07-17 10:16 am

Book Reviews: The Second Mango, Glassman; Shissou Holiday, Otsuichi; Anne of the Island, Montgomery

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.