It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a subway anecdote, so here’s a bit of holiday hilarious from my errand-running today: on the train home, two sisters (maybe ages seven and eight) were sharing a candy cane — sort of. It was clearly the little sister’s, and she was working hard to suck it into a perfect point. She kept holding it up for her sister and then pulling it away before her sister could actually lick it. Her sister was clearly growing increasingly grumpy about this, but the younger girl found it too hilarious to stop.
Finally, the little sister actually did hand the candy cane over. The older sister took it, gave her a smug look, and bit off that carefully-created point. She handed it back with a smile. (My own sister adds, “See? Little sisters are the worst!”)
On the assumption that I won’t have a chance to update with the rest of my 2010 books, here’s the list:
#49: The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa. Middle grade scifi about a bunch of kids on a space ship. Totally delightful!
#50: Soulless by Gail Carriger: steampunk urban fantasy. Fun romance, and I liked Alexia a lot (though I didn’t think she was much of a detective). This was also the first time I’ve ever actually gotten the werewolf thing.
#51: All Through the Night: A Troubleshooter’s Christmas by Suzanne Brockmann (reread). One of the most satisfying books I’ve ever read! I spent the other books about Jules and Robin squeeing that they need to get maaaaarried… and they do!
First things first: I bought an e-reader! Specifically, I got B&N’s Nook, original black and white flavor. Technically, I bought it back in November, and Ash was the first book I read on it, but I bring it up now because once I had it, I checked out the Baen Free Library. The library offers some of their books as free e-books, and I noticed On Basilisk Station among them. I decided to give it a try because one of my good friends loves the Honor Harrington series, and hey, it was free.
I let her know I’d downloaded it, and she said, essentially, “Great! Uh, there’s a lot of technobabble in it, FYI.”
And oh boy, was she right.
The thing is, I really wanted to enjoy the book, and there were pieces I really did. As a character, Honor was fine — heck, a determined young leader who’s going to do what’s right no matter how much pressure there is to give in to corruption? Who wins the respect of her crew that way, and turns a rag-tag bunch into an elite force to be reckoned with? Those are all things I love. And make it a space opera? Heck yes!
Unfortunately, all the things I liked about the book were buried. This got a little long, so have a cut: Read this article »
Last week, I listed a bunch of books YA books that I’d read planned to review later. Well, later is now, at least for two of them, lumped together for no other reason than they’re short, and they’re both sequels.
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is the sequel to the awesome steampunk Leviathan. In this installment, Deryn and Alek go their separate ways in Istanbul: Deryn’s got a secret mission to help the Darwinist powers hold the Dardanelles out of Clanker hands, while Alek’s looking for allies to help him end the war.
Blue Fire by Janice Hardy is the sequel to The Shifter. In it, Nya and her friends are still wanted by the Duke for some nefarious purpose — and when her friends are arrested, Nya has to sneak into enemy territory to try to get them back.
Both books are great — and you can read why I thought so in one convenient entry over at Active Voice.
So here’s a fun thing about me. Recording all of the books I’ve read this year has led to me, I think, reading a bit more, which is great! Hooray! Except I’m pretty bad at writing timely reviews, which means that now that we’re getting close to the end of the year that means I have a whole glut of books to tell you about. So instead of my usual, kind of lengthy review, here’s a list with some super short reactions (though some of these will get reviewed properly at Active Voice in the next few weeks).
#41: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld — this is YA steampunk, so I’m saving it for AV.
I loved this! I think by this point it’s pretty clear that I rarely read anything that isn’t either YA/MG or SF/F, so this was a bit of a departure for me. My sister handed it to me as highly recommended, somewhere between historical and literary fiction. It’s (sort of, roughly) about Carter the Great, a Vaudeville magician accused of conspiracy to murder President Harding.
The structure nerd in me loved this. It went back and forth through Carter’s life a lot, in lengthy chunks that painted pictures of his rise to fame and everything leading up to the show before Harding’s death, and then its aftermath. It’s incredibly rich, long enough to sink your teeth into, but with very little drag. I will say that the Mysterioso sub-sub-sub plot felt a little tacked on, but the climax was pretty great. I also wish there had been more women, as only two played major roles in the book (and the first was there for only about a third, and the second for only about half), but those are fairly minor quibbles. Overall, it’s probably one of my favorite reads of the year.
#43: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi — it’s post-apocalyptic YA, so I’m saving this one for AV.
#44: Blue Fire by Janice Hardy — MG fantasy, so I’m saving this one for AV.
#45: Ash by Malinda Lo — YA fantasy, so I’m saving this one for AV. (I’m really, really behind on reviews over there…)
Another of my favorites from the year, and another historical novel, although this one is YA. It follows Ida Mae Jones, a young, black girl during WWII. Ida is a pilot who hears about the WASP — Women Airforce Service Pilots — and because she’s fairly light skinned, she decides to try to pass as white so she can fly for the army.
This one is really, really good. The voice is really strong, and the way it deals with race is really well done. (For example, a heart wrenching scene where her mother has to come visit to deliver bad news, and she has to pretend her mother is her maid; or her general anxiety when a white man asks her to dance. She wants to, but she knows that she can’t have any kind of relationship with him in the future.)
The book is actually pretty light on plot, but I would happily read hundreds more pages about Ida’s missions during the war and what happened after.
I’ve written pretty extensively about my love of Bruce Coville before. A few weeks ago I found myself in the mood for something spooky (no idea what brought that on) so I grabbed this off my shelf. It is, like all Coville books, pretty much delightful.
I definitely didn’t get the “My name is Ishmael, but don’t call me that,” joke as a kid. (I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t actually fit with the tone very well, even.) And while I love the worldbuilding, there was quite a bit that goes unexplained — not in a plot-not-wrapped-up way, but it feels like part of a much larger folklore. I’d love to read more about Granny Pinchbottom and Igor, and even where William came from, and lots and lots about Fauna — her life before meeting William, what she does after, and so on. (She’s so intriguing, but there’s so little about her!)
As a whole, everything about this is weird and funny and kind of spooky, but still infused with Coville’s usual humor. It practically begs to be read aloud and reread on Halloween.
The Brooklyn Book Festival was a couple of months ago. I’ve meant to go every year since I moved to New York, but Brooklyn is far away and things come up and blaahhhh. Anyway, this year I finally did! And, as one does at such things, I bought a lot of books. The first one I tackled was Meet the Annas: A Musical Novel by Robert Dunn.
The book basically plays what-if with a fictional 1960s girl group, the Annas. It’s told from the POV of Dink Stephenson, one of their song writers, looking back at what happened years later. He was in love with the band’s front woman, Anna Dubower, and eventually proposed to her as the girl group era passed and they were desperately trying to manufacture a hit to bring them back. Anna didn’t give him an answer, and weeks later, was mysteriously dead. Now there’s a rights dispute over that last song, Dink has to go to court over it, and running into people from that old life stirs up old memories. At last, he’s determined to figure out what happened to Anna.
I was pretty ambivalent when I first finished this book. In the months since (I am waaaay behind on my reviews) the ending has festered, and now I find it enraging. I’m going to cut here because the book is sort of a mystery. I found it super obvious, but your mileage may vary. Read this article »
I don’t have a heck of a lot to say about this one. Overall, I really liked it! But I have one major quibble that kept it at 3.5 cupcakes instead of 4. The full review is over at Active Voice, though it’s maybe the shortest book review I’ve ever written.
My office is on the 16th floor. This evening, I left work, got in the elevator, and it went down, oh, fifteen and a half floors. Then it went kerTHUNK and stopped. I was stuck there for an hour.
The world of Wired (the third book in Robin Wasserman’s trilogy) is an eerie dystopia where the have-nots die young in cities, get sick from the nuclear fall out, and everything is controlled by mega corporations. Not a great place to live. On the other hand, the handful of wealthy people have technology advanced enough to put human thought patterns into a mechanical body. Presumably, their elevators never, you know, just stop between floors for awhile. So hey, silver lining.
I’m sick. I’ve been sick for about five days, though recovering steadily for the last two. This is better for me. It isn’t better for my roommate, for reasons illustrated in this graph:
In short, as I start to feel better, I become insufferably whiney that I’m not all-the-way better yet. At my sickest, I dope up on cold medication and mostly sleep; as I get better, all I do is complain.
Translation: Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Today, it came as a relief that I had enough energy to do things like wash dishes and run laundry. And I hate washing dishes and running laundry.
Oh, and just barely enough energy to (almost) catch up on book reviews.
See, this is how far backed up I am. I reread Catching Fire the weekend before Mockingjay came out, because I’d devoured it so fast the first time I didn’t actually remember anything that happened, or any of the new characters who’d been introduced. So I reread. This time, the book’s few weaknesses bothered me a little bit more, but overall the story and writing are so compelling that I once again devoured it. Luckily, I didn’t have enough time to forget anything, because Mockingjay came out the next week.
(Wait, you wanted an actual review? Last year, at Active Voice. Of course.)
What is there to say about Mockingjay that hasn’t been said? I was at the release party and got to see Suzanne Collins read the first chapter; that was awesome. (BTW, did you know Katniss has an Appalachian accent? I didn’t! But it was cool.) I took the next day off work to read (because the awesome thing about being a grown up is that I can do that), and it took me a long, long time to gather my thoughts on the book. There’s so much there.
I’ll sum it up like this: I wanted to like it more than I did. It does justice to the first two books in the series, for sure. It was fairly well put together, definitely. But getting that isn’t the same as liking it. More on this one, too, is over at AV.
Oh, Bloom County. I grew up reading collections of the strip, over and over, even though I was pretty young when it was canceled. I’ve occasionally joked that everything I know about 80s politics, I learned from Bloom County, but it’s not actually much of an exaggeration. What was really brilliant, though, is that the rhythm and the characters of the strips are so great that even as a kid, not getting about 65% of the jokes, I found it hilarious anyway. So I had not only read a lot of these before, I’d memorized them.
Getting a look at some strips I’d never seen before was great. I also enjoyed Breathed’s commentary. In fact, that was one of the reasons I liked Volume Two better than the first. The first had a lot of annotations about the events of the time, and very little commentary from Breathed; the second had fewer annotations and more commentary. (Don’t get me wrong, having some of the context for stuff that happened when I was a toddler was useful, but a lot of it was also pretty obvious just from reading the strips.)
This book, sigh. I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews that I often have issues with classics, because I’m so accustomed to (and more easily engaged by) modern pacing. This is the sort of book that shows just how much that limits me: it took me awhile to get into it, to pick it back up when I put it down, but it would have been a real shame if I had let the pacing put me off. The book is lovely.
It’s the journal of Cassandra, a young woman in the 1930s, living in an English castle (but also living in complete poverty). Her goal is to be a writer, so she strives to record all of her encounters and emotions honestly — to capture the castle in writing, you see. The story of the book also takes you through Cassandra’s first love (and the first time a boy likes her) and her family relationships, in a way that’s so real it’s almost painful. The prose is beautiful, but above all, it’s the emotions that the book gets right.
(Are those all the books I’ve read? No! But is it time for me to go take some more medicine and whine some more? Yes! So that’s it for now.)
I’m still way behind on book reviews, but here’s #32. I read the first in this series book earlier this year, and liked but didn’t love it. My feelings on this one were similar: I liked the narrator better, but felt the story wasn’t as strong. My full review is over at Active Voice.
Normally this would be a Lazy Sunday post, but as I actually did a book review yesterday, and today is a holiday, we’ll fudge it just a little. Here’s some miscellanea:
#32: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
This is a really good book. It’s YA fantasy that takes place in New Zealand and centers around New Zealand’s native mythology. Healely went out of her way to make the cast diverse and inclusive — including characters of color and characters with non-hetero sexualities — and she also went out of her way to be respectful of the mythology she used. (Well, okay, that shouldn’t be going out of her way, that should just be How Things Are Done, but sadly, that often isn’t true. Either way, she wrote a really interesting blog post about working with cultural consultants.)
Since this is YA fantasy, of course, you may be expecting a link to a full review over at Active Voice… and there is one, but I didn’t write it. It just seemed silly for me to write a whole review of a book when I could basically sum it up as, what Jess said.
I’ve had some of these links saved for ages, so… uh, apologies for the out of date conversations? All still interesting, though!
And realizing that Yoko wasn’t to blame for the Beatles breakup makes you ask a question. Why does the myth persist?
I had come to believe that most Beatles historians and true, educated fans had wised up enough to see the Yoko charade for what it is. So imagine my disappointment when proven wrong. Earlier this year, I finished Bob Spitz’s biography The Beatles, which is arguably the most comprehensive Beatles biography in existence. The book starts out amazingly, but about halfway through inexplicably begins to decline rapidly in the number of details provided once the Beatles become famous. That was annoying. But far more so was the unabashed, unapologetic and shameful smearing of Yoko Ono — made even worse by its presentation as fact when so clearly Spitz’s personal opinion. And this opinion is indicative, I think, of the opinion of most Yoko haters ….
So who is the main purveyor of the Yoko myths? Can we pin it on historians like Bob Spitz? Certainly, they hold part of the blame and need to be called out on it. But no, I blame someone else entirely for the bulk of the treatment and misogynistic cultural perceptions of Yoko Ono, as did John. In the first/next part of this series, they are the people who I’m going to discuss. And their names are Paul, George and Ringo.
Indeed. It was heartbreaking for me to realize, as I went through my Beatles Phase, that they were actually kind of dicks, and definitely abusers. Trying to reconcile that with my emotional investment in them, and their historical significance… well, I still struggle with that. It sucks to realize that people you idolize aren’t perfect, and can be outright nasty.
Anyway, all the Yoko hate out there started to bother me a few years ago, and it took awhile for me to twig to why. This pretty much sums it up — plus the cultural narrative that women ruin and destroy (see also: Eve, Pandora). Definitely worth a read.
Talk about out of date. Apparently last October, some jackass wrote an essay about how scifi is being feminized and that’s ruining the genre and also the world! Because science! You see, if girl cooties get into genre fiction, no boys will want to be scientists, and then there will be no scientists. If only the BSG remake hasn’t made Starbuck a woman!
Need I say that the Smart Bitches takedown is great?
The thing is, I can’t get past the feeling that focusing on the love triangle somehow dismisses the central point of the series. Sure, it’s a very commercial, mainstream series that is clearly meant to be a page-turning, engrossing experience. But it’s also about war, violence, mortality, and inequality. I’m a fan of The Hunger Games because of the way the books deal with these issues in such a readable yet thought-provoking (and gut-wrenching) way.
I’ve been trying for ages to put my finger on why “team” terminology bothers me when it comes to YA fiction. I don’t care, like, at all about Twilight, but that actually is a romance, but for series like Hunger Games and or Scott Westerfeld’s Pretties, both series in which I’ve seen this (and I’m sure there are more), it’s really bothered me. I know romances are compelling and even necessary for some readers (I enjoy them but don’t find them necessary to enjoy a story, personally) but to me that feels reductive. These stories aren’t about which guy the heroine ends up with. In life-or-death adventures, it really bothers me that the narrative around girls is romance, no matter how much ass they kick.
Basically, Malinda Lo says that. But way more eloquently. Totally worth a read.
Contest! That I’m entering!
The last time I entered a contest by linking from here, I won! So what the heck, I’ll try it again for the giveaway of an ARC I really want to get my hands on:
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer — if she doesn’t destroy it first.
(In case you are wondering, I loved the first book and highly recommend it.)
Okay, y’all. That’s all I’ve got. Happy Labor Day.