juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
List of book reviews for 2005 )

Year Long Total: 25 books



List of book reviews for 2006 )

Year Long Total: 64 books



List of book reviews for 2007 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2008 )

Year Long Total: 67 books



List of book reviews for 2009 )

Year Long Total: 50 books



List of book reviews for 2010 )

Year Long Total: 37 books



List of book reviews for 2011 )

Year Long Total: 52 books



List of book reviews for 2012 )

Year Long Total: 32 books



List of book reviews for 2013 )

Year Long Total: 65 books



List of book reviews for 2014 )

Year Long Total: 16 books



List of book reviews for 2015 )

Year Long Total: 61 books



List of book reviews for 2016 )

Year Long Total: 123 books



List of book reviews for 2017 )

Year Long Total: 109 books



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


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


Title: League of Dragons (Temeriare Book 9)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 227,260
Text Number: 725
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The final Temeraire novel, seeing the war to its conclusion. It has a lot to wrap up, geographically and politically, and does so in a way that's comprehensive but not excessively neat. This means a lot of combat, military theory, and social politicking, all of it engaging if somewhat rushed, functioning as a final exam for the protagonists that returns to their military origins while encompassing their intervening character growth. There's otherwise not much room for significant character development, although there's some lovely personal moments (and one new character, Ning, who has a fantastic voice and whom I adore). This is in itself not a particularly memorable installation, but as a conclusion to the series it's satisfying—and what a series it's been! Insofar as a review of a finale is a review of the series entire: I loved it, loved it immensely; I'm only sorry to reach the end.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl From Everywhere Book 1)
Author: Heidi Heilig
Narrator: Kim Mai Guest
Published: HarperCollins, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 395
Total Page Count: 225,990
Text Number: 720
Read Because: on this list of Own Voices YA, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nix and her father can travel to any time and place recorded on a map, but her father has only one goal: to return and save Nix's mother, who died in childbirth. What a fantastic premise! and fairly well realized: Heilig's language is beautiful; the seafaring/pirate aesthetic is present but not hokey, and the few visits to mythical locations are delightful, if brief. The more mundane settings are decent, largely because the pre-annexation Hawaii is so well rendered. But the plot isn't as successful; a compulsory love triangle makes an appearance (and is better than most, but still tiresome) and the heist storyline is uninteresting and has a clumsy, overlarge climax. I wish this were more evocative, more magical: more mythical maps, fewer genre conventions. As it is, it's above average but not entirely satisfying.


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


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

Gilda is a Black lesbian vampire, and there's a lot packed into that premise: an inversion of vampire tropes, a Black (and queer, and feminist) power fantasy, a refusal of social and publishing norms; the introduction and afterward (to the 25th anniversary edition) do a great job of highlighting and celebrating those themes. She practices a benevolent vampirism; much of made of vampiric powers of mesmerism and mind-reading, and the ways Gilda uses them to manipulate mortals for their own good—without engaging issues of consent, an oversight that hardly erases the other things the book achieves, but which is still glaring. I find myself conflicted: the premise here is fantastic, the execution frequently unrewarding and technically unaccomplished (the interpersonal dynamics are particularly abstruse and rambling; a poor fit for a short fiction format), the themes imperfect but profoundly thoughtful. Would I recommend it? probably no, but it was still worthwhile to read.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Trouble and Her Friends
Author: Melissa Scott
Published: Lethe Press, 2014 (1994)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 224,650
Text Number: 714
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Three years after their work is officially criminalized, two semi-retired hackers re-enter the field in pursuit of a copycat. Scott works hard to invert established cyberpunk standards, decentralizing and localizing the setting, shifting the focus to queer women, and looking at the intersection of stigmatized bodies and transhumanism; the intent is admirable and occasionally provoking—most successfully, when considering which technologies are standardized on the basis of which groups use them. But too often these concepts are left underexplored. They're buried under a rambling plot and excess of supporting characters, and Scott's image of the future hasn't aged well (less well, even, than older cyberpunk novels): the synesthesic view the protagonists have of online space is evocative but restrained, and the rest of the virtual world is simplistic and too small. I wanted to love this and it disappointed me. But I'm glad that it exists, glad to see the genre pointedly diversified in logical ways; privilege, society, and bodies have always had an important role in cyberpunk; I'd rather Scott bring up the issue and fail to wrap a successful book around it than to not have it come up at all.

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


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


Title: Stargate
Author: Pauline Gedge
Published: New York: The Dial Press, 1982
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 225,035
Text Number: 716
Read Because: personal enjoyment, library discard hardback purchased from Corvallis Public Library book sale
Review: After the Worldmaker becomes the Unmaker, a vast family of linked stars and guardian sun-lords fall one by one. This is a loss of innocence narrative on a literally universal scale, a uniquely massive premise with a pervasive sense of inevitability; it strips autonomy from its characters and prohibits investment on the individual level, to its detriment: it's distant, bitter, inaccessible. The imagery is diverse and beautiful, but there's so much that it becomes monotonous. But while this isn't successful, and I don't recommend it, there's a seed of potential within—I've rarely encountered a narrative so stubbornly vast, so willing to refuse the human element and conceivable scale.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children Book 2)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 190
Total Page Count: 222,575
Text Number: 708
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A pair of unhappy twins girls discover the Moors, a dangerous portal world which will redefine their characters. This follows their lives from birth and has a slow start: to spend 20% of a portal fantasy within a stifling parody of suburbia is distinctly unmagical. But the Moors are fantastic—not perfect: I wish there were more danger and more moral relativity (especially in Jack's life)—but a Hammer Horror-style world is engaging and atmospheric. And the character growth of the protagonists is sincerely, inextricably tied to their world, which is what this book demands. I loved Every Heart a Doorway for its portal fantasy meta more than its plot, and didn't think I would enjoy the further stories of Jack and Jill when they had been the weakness of the first book. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a more traditional narrative, but its meta elements remain in a present narrator who speaks directly to the reader and directly about the narrative—reminiscent of Valente's Fairyland series (but toned down), not entirely at home in the modern-day frame narrative, but preserving that focus on portal-as-character-growth, on the relationship between person and narrative. I have technical quibbles about this book (I haven't even mentioned the rushed ending), but it exceeded my expectations. There's so much room in my heart for stories which take a diverse, self-aware, dark approach to portal fantasy while maintaining a sense of wonder and aesthetic.


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


Title: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Author: Megan Shepherd
Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 195
Total Page Count: 220,785
Text Number: 701
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A girl in a WWII-era sanatorium can see winged horses reflected in the hospital's mirrors. This is occasionally heavy-handed in predictable ways (the pacing of the climax, clumsy reveals, belabored themes), but it's well within middle grade standards and doesn't feel as though it's talking down to its audience. And, even with caveats, it's a lovely book. The unreliable narration, fantastic elements, and historical setting combine to create fertile, flexible imagery grounded by a convincing setting. It's mournful but beautiful and slightly escapist, echoed by the beauty and clear pathos of the language. I recommend it (but read it in winter!), and I'd be interested to read more by Shepherd.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: ZOO
Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Terry Gallagher
Published: San Francisco: Haikusoru, 2006
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 218,975
Text Number: 693
Read Because: reread for review purposes, from my personal library
Review: Eleven stories which consistently establish Otuichi's common narrative techniques, themes, and tone. His premises are frequently high-concept, sometimes to the extent of thought experiment (exacerbated here by the workman-like translation) and he has a penchant for unreliable narration and a twist in the denouement, which works more often than not—sometimes purely as narrative payoff, but at best these tricks are inextricably tied to the story's themes and character growth, as in "Song of the Sunny Spot." He writes about outsiders, about flawed and abusive interpersonal dynamics; his tone is morbid and, especially here, darkly humorous. I prefer the morbidity (as in the short, creepy "In the Park") to the humor, which can be caricatured or simply off-putting; these characters are frequently awful and unlikable, which keeps me at a distance from this collection especially when compared to the more cerebral Goth or more emotional Calling You. That makes ZOO my least favorite publication from one of my favorite authors—it lacks the profound appeal I find in his other work, but it's consistently satisfying and provides the style and content I look for from Otuichi.


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


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


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


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


(Sutphin Boulevard reminds distinctly of Elliot Wake's novels, especially Cam Girl, which I loved; they both capitalize on the aroused, heightened atmosphere of half erotica/half drama narratives, both involve substance abuse and coping mechanisms ... so it surprised me that I had such a visceral negative reaction to Sutphin Boulevard—"accidental panic attack"-style negative reaction. Wake works for me, I think, because the interpersonal aspects are tied into the negative aspects—all parts of that book function at that high-intensity level, all have an idealized-but-problematic push/pull, so the substance abuse etc. isn't grindingly awful and the sexy bits don't feel removed and over-idealized; and Wake's characters deal more directly with mental health issues, and their recovery is slower and carries more caveats.... I don't know. Sutphin Boulevard fucked me up but good, and I really wasn't expecting that; and I'm sensitive to alcohol use, even in fiction, but in this context I thought it would be fine; it was not fine, it was a devastating reading experience and I shouldn't've subjected myself to it.)
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Agents of Dreamland
Author: Caitlín R. Kiernan
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 125
Total Page Count: 216,320
Text Number: 682
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: The events at a California ranch house and the information uncovered by a government agent reveal the advent of a strange apocalypse. This is Lovecraftian through the combined lens of cult/conspiracy, and it works but I'm not particularly enamored with it. I wish the Lovecraftian namedropping were, perhaps, less literal; the jaded Signalman PoV is wearying. But the length is just about right, and Kiernan masters these themes, of information half-seen and ominous, of tying together the apparently disparate into a strange but instinctively convincing whole. She's my favorite author, but this isn't my favorite of her work—it's more of what I come to her for, but not in an aesthetic I love.


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


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

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



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


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


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


Title: The Devourers
Author: Indra Das
Published: Del Ray, 2016
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 325
Total Page Count: 215,210
Text Number: 678
Read Because: this post from Penguin's Tumblr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A professor meets a man who claims to be half-werewolf and charges him with the transcription of documents which tell an unusual story—a story of bodily transformation, ownership, and autonomy; of gender, rape, race, imperialism; of shapeshifters. Das's voice is beautiful, powerful, and distinctly grotesque—an unusual variation of lyrical which is particularly well suited to the themes at hand. The characters and dynamics which emerge are strongly voiced and unromanticized. Cyrah in particular fantastic, and images from her story—specifically, her first two beast rides—have not left me. This book became one of my lifetime favorites while I was still in the process of reading it and, in the nature of favorites, it's difficult for me to do it adequate praise. I'm a sucker for werewolves and shapeshifters, but I believe this works even if you're not; the style is the real determining factor, and it creates an empowered, complicated, visceral narrative. I adored it, of course recommend it, and look forward to my first reread.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: The Female Man
Author: Joanna Russ
Published: Boston: Beacon Press, 2000 (1975)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 213,600
Text Number: 673
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback given to me by [personal profile] thobari
Review: Four women are brought together across four parallel worlds. One comes from a futuristic single-sex utopia, one comes from a modern setting stuck in the Great Depression, and Russ plays fast and loose with plot and swings between PoVs, settings, and forms of address without feeling any obligation to explain; it's disorientating and almost playful, but for the frequently joyless theme. This is a speculative exploration of the way that women are influenced by their societies, and while Russ's feminism encompasses Feminism 101 it also exceeds it (as example, interrogating the link between internalized misogyny and gender dysphoria) and, with precious few exceptions, doesn't feel dated, although it isn't particularly intersectional. It's angry and dispiriting, but never has that frustrating sense of redundancy that marks some explicitly feminists novels. Not, by any means, a fun read; perhaps not anything I hadn't realized; but this was fundamental, in a way: that self-critical, self-deprecatory, rageful, playful, compassionate view of women—and the female self—as they are, or could be.


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

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


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


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


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


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


Title: Authority (Southern Reach Book 2)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Narrator: Bronson Pinchot
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 340
Total Page Count: 212,335
Text Number: 669
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the 11th expedition returns from Area X, an outsider, Control, is appointed Director of the Southern Reach facility. Pulling back to view Area X from outside changes the tone and focus, introducing the conspiracy theory that often accompanies bizarre phenomena as a speculative concept. This concrete focal point offers better characterization and swifter pacing, despite the liberal use of flashbacks. But familiar, predictable plot twists render it contrived and banal (especially in overacted audio narration). I didn't enjoy Authority as much as the sparse, strange, Annihilation, but it's successful where it counts: it complicates and expands the narrative, and VanderMeer maintains a strong sense of the weird, especially at the end; all told, a satisfying continuation.

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