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: 85 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: 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.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Season of Storms (Witcher Book 8)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: fan translation
Published: superNOWA, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 218,085
Text Number: 661
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the short stories and before the other novels, Geralt goes on a quest to recover his stolen swords. Insofar as the best part of the series is Ciri, and Ciri is not here present, this is something of a letdown. There's plenty of nods to central characters and plot, but this story feels both less urgent and heartfelt. It's almost prosaic: somewhere between comedy of errors/slice of life/travelogue, the daily life of a Witcher down on his luck, resembling the short story collections more than the novels. That setup allows Geralt's personality to shine through and he is, as always, a delight; the Witcher setdressing is present, the subplots are successful, and there's even some profound, if coy, worldbuilding in the frame narrative. But without the interpersonal relationships that made me care about this series, I came away underwhelmed.

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


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

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

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

Read more... )


Title: Home (Binti Book 2)
Author: Nnedi Okrafor
Published: Tor, 2017
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 175
Total Page Count: 218,645
Text Number: 663
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: One year after the events of the first book, Binti makes a pilgrimage home. I enjoyed the first novella in this series, but wanted more from it, specifically more complexity. This is more. It's as vivid, with equally satisfying character growth (these books would make fantastic movies, they're subplot-free and just the right length, and the world is so engaging) but Binti is working between points of intense, unpretty emotional conflict, and her cultural background is rendered with increasing complexity—it's a more complicated, difficult story. But unlike the first book, which is complete almost to its detriment, this one ends at the conclusion of Binti's character arc and leaves the plot with a cliffhanger; I'd've preferred a finished, novel-length work. But I still enjoyed and recommend it, and will read the next installment.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home (Fairyland Book 5)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: Feiwel and Friends, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 215,830
Text Number: 655
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When its previous rulers are revived, September and company must compete in a race for the crown of Fairyland. The cumulative effect of this series is what makes it successful, and the finale is all about culmination: expanding and reuniting the cast, challenging and resolving September's relationship with Saturday, and her relationships with Halloween, Maud, Mallow, and the Marquess, and, finally, her relationship with Fairyland. It's also an especially obvious travelogue, which has become the series's weakness—but here, too much else is going on for the traveling to overwhelm the plot. I've had quibbles with the series entire, and none of the books have lived up to my experience with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland—but September's cumulative journey through Fairyland has a comparable resonance, and couldn't have been contained in a single book. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland reflects that exactly, and is just how I wanted the series to end.

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


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


Title: Black Powder War (Temerarie Book 3)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 216,510
Text Number: 657
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Laurence and company undertake an overland journey, only to encounter hurdles and the war at every turn. This installation begins as a comedy of errors and develops into a tragedy of errors, all without a strong overarching plot. Yet neither the misery nor aimlessness are particularly tiresome, although I did lose the thread the war a bit (my own fault—I let my attention slip while listening and I'm unfamiliar with the history). It works partially because there's still enough action to provide momentum, but moreso because the human element compensates: the precision of the lived, daily detail within the historical and fantastical setting, the way characters's personalities and values are shaped by these experiences, and, at the heart, the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire have pathos and humor and just enough conviction. This series continues to engage and satisfy me, and I can't wait to read more.
juushika: Photograph of a stack of books, with one lying open. (Books)
Title: Anathem
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 955
Total Page Count: 213,570
Text Number: 649
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Off-world influence forever alters life for the citizens of Arbre and its math-based monastic order. Math-as-philosophy/-as-speculative-concept/-as-worldbuilding is unique and engaging, and kudos to Stephenson for also making it accessible. There's an attempt to balance the math-heavy sections with daily detail, but these details are boring and there's a sincere dearth of interesting characters or interactions (or women); the worldbuilding is clumsy, especially the use of language, and I don't entirely buy the plot (in particular, the importance of human consciousness). A book this long and obnoxiously dense needs to be a virtuoso work. This isn't. Dump the first 50 pages and the middle action sequences, trim it to about 400 pages, and there's some clever concepts worth exploring. But as it is, it's in no ways enjoyable, nor worth the effort.


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


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

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


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

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


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


Title: Binti (Binti Book 1)
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Robin Miles
Published: Scholastic Audio, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 90
Total Page Count: 212,620
Text Number: 648
Read Because: reading PoC, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A mathematician leaves her home village to attend a prestigious alien university, only to stumble into a war. Binti packs a fairly straightforward plot, a significant amount of worldbuilding, and satisfying character growth into novella length, and it's a successful balance: there's a lot going on, but it's vivid rather than dense. The beats—mostly in the conclusion—are predictable, but the themes are valuable enough to counterbalance that, and Binti is a fantastic character. This is one of those solid 4-star books: it didn't quite blow me away, but it was engaging and made me want to read more by the author.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Title: What's Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles Book 1)
Author: Kat Zhang
Published: HarperCollins, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 390
Total Page Count: 211,310
Text Number: 643
Read Because: recommended by Jen Campbell, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Everyone is born with two souls in one body, and usually one soul recesses and dies. But Addie and Eva are both still alive, and this is a dangerous secret to keep. This is yet another high-concept YA dystopia, and an approximately convincing one: the premise isn't too tortured, the use of pronouns justifies the first-person narrator and sells the concept, and the result is a quick hook and swift readability without too many suspension of disbelief-violating moments. It helps that the romance is relatively minor, and has human complications without being a love triangle/star-crossed/another genre cliché; it helps more that the core relationship between the sisters is intimate and complex. The readability stumbles a bit when Eva makes stupid mistakes--they're understandable given her life experiences and age, but they're also overbroadcasted and frustrating. It stumbles again in the middle section, which has outright unpleasant themes (that said, I'm particularly sensitive to narratives about institutionalization/denial of autonomy and identity/forced medical procedures) and a slow plot, mostly due to under-characterized and predictable villains. I find it difficult to be objective about this book: It's an above-average take on the genre, acceptably convincing, supported by sufficient emotional investment; it doesn't go above and beyond, but also refuses to succumb to obvious pitfalls. And I found it intensely, offputtingly stressful. This last I think is a personal quirk, and won't carry into the sequels; but I don't think the overall quality compels me to continue the series.

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

(The aliens are pretty great, though.)

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


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


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

I'll be honest: I am the exact wrong audience for this. I find memoirs of this tone wallowy and vaguely triggering; they evoke all the frustrations of female bodies and mental illness, but don't do anything with that except provide sympathy and platitudes. Readers that benefit from a sense of kinship and loving self-mockery will probably have a far better experience.

Profile

juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
juushika

July 2017

S M T W T F S
      1
2 345678
9101112131415
16 1718 192021 22
23242526272829
3031     

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags