redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Apr. 3rd, 2019 06:44 pm)

Recent reading:

"Rogue Protocol," by Martha Wells. This is the third of the Murderbot novellas. Like the first two, it's good--I enjoyed the fast-moving plot, Murderbot's narrative voice, and the bits of world-building. Murderbot's viewpoint and goals change by the end of this novella, because of what it sees and experiences here. I finished this and immediately asked the library for the next one, which I got yesterday; it's next on my reading list.

That Ain't Witchcraft, by Seanan McGuire. Another InCryptid novel, an immediate sequel to *Tricks for Free"; spoilers for both books )

In between the plotting, we learn more about Annie's half-human, half-cryptid boyfriend now that they're in the same place long enough to have some time to talk.

I didn't like this as much as the earlier books in the series. This might be because McGuire is running out of ideas/steam on this universe; random variation, in the books or my mood; or that I don't like Annie-as-narrator as much as I did the books about her older siblings. A note at the end of the book says that the next book will put Sarah (their cuckoo cousin) at center stage; my reaction to that was that I miss Verity's narrative voice. Or maybe the problem is the lack of Aislin mice. If you liked the previous InCryptid books this is worth reading, I think, but I wouldn't start here.

"The Measure of a Monster," by Seanan McGuire: this novella is included as a bonus with That Ain't Witchcraft; it's about Alex Price (Verity and Annie's older brother) and his partner going to the rescue after a large number of children are kidnapped from the nearby gorgon community. It includes a bit more about cousin Sarah and her recovery from the mental damage of saving Verity a few books back. The story is set during That Ain't Witchcraft, and Alex is pleased to get even a tiny scrap of news about Annie beyond the inference that she's alive because their dead aunt Mary would let the family know if she died.

What I've read recently:

The Glass Universe, by Dava Sobel. This is a history of photographic astronomy using glass plates--photometry, spectral lines, and how the photos they were used to study variable stars--and of the Harvard Observatory and the women who did much of the work. Many of the women were first hired as "computers," doing calculations for (originally only male) astronomers, before starting to do astronomy on their own. The group included Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who figured out the luminosity-distance relationship in Cepheid variables, and thus the distance to the Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda galaxy; Annie Jump Cannon (of the OBAFGKM star classifcations); and Cecilia Payne Groposchkin, who became the first person of any gender to get a PhD in astronomy from Harvard, with a dissertation showing that our sun is made mostly of hydrogen and helium.

The book is about both the astronomical work, and the lives of the people doing it, including the ways the women involved had to fight to do it, and be recognized for their work, in both the US and Europe. It weaves together several lives, and stories, over more than half a century. One important thread is Mary Anne Palmer (Mrs. Henry) Draper, who dedicated many years, and money, to support and fund the Henry Draper Memorial to carry on her late husband's cataloging work. (All those "HD" star catalog numbers are from that work.)

Tricks for Free, by Seanan McGuire. This is another InCryptid story, this one about/narrated by Antimony Price (younger sister of Verity, who introduced the series). She's on the run from the Covenant, and thus separated from all her living family (though her dead aunts visit occasionally), fighting sorcerers in an amusement park. She has a team of Cryptid allies, her boyfriend Sam comes back (and they decide/declare that they are boyfriend and girlfriend) and everything moves fast. This was fun, but leans significantly on what happened in previous books.

Around the World in Eighty Trees, by Jonathan Drori. Drori gives us eighty brief pieces about eighty trees he finds interesting, either for botanical or cultural reasons--with locations, usually at the level of "Morocco" but sometimes US states, and for ailanthus it's "Brooklyn, USA." Each tree's essay is illustrated with color drawings. The book discusses trees I hadn't known of, and includes some things I hadn't known, or thought about, and is pleasant, mostly restful reading, a few trees at a time. (The articles on some trees sections talk about global warming or near-extinction from overuse). Recommended by [personal profile] mrissa.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard to Talk about Race, by Robin diAngelo. This is more or less what it says on the tin, from the viewpoint of sociology/activism: why it's difficult for white people to talk about race, and the ways that silence about race maintain white supremacy--and that this is not accidental. DiAngelo offers some suggestions about how white people can talk about race, including both ways to talk to (and sometimes challenge) each other, and ways to listen respectfully and not shut down people of color who are taking about racism. The book looks at both structural racism and microaggressions, and how people (don't) talk about hate crimes. I have this as a library ebook, and may need to buy a copy so I can reread it, and maybe use some of her bibliography. It's shorter, and easier to read, than I'd expected. (Your mileage may vary, either if you're less familiar with sociology and some of the terminology, or if the topic is especially stressful for you.) Note: diAngelo is writing from an American viewpoint, and points out both that other parts of the world will be somewhat different, and that American movies, magazines, music, etc. are part of the environment all over the world.

Current reading:

  • So Far So Good, by Ursula Le Guin (still, I'm dipping into it, a few poems at a time)
  • Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin, a collection of short pieces, including humor and reporting
  • At the Mouth of the River of Bees, short stories by Kij Johnson
The King County library system has posted a "ten to try" challenge for 2019, and it feels like a shape of thing that might work for me:


  • Read a book about history

  • Read a children’s book

  • Read a book about a subject that can be difficult to discuss

  • Read a book of poetry

  • Read a book by a journalist

  • Read a book recommended by KCLS Staff

  • Read a book by an LGBTQ author

  • Read a book about a crime

  • Read a book about family

  • Read a book by an immigrant author



I'm going to modify/expand the sixth one to "read a book recommended by library staff," for any of the libraries I'm currently using: King County, Minuteman, Boston, or Seattle (in the rough order of how much I'm using each system). Yes, I have four active library cards; at some point King County and Seattle will probably notice I don't live there anymore and stop lending me ebooks, but for now I get monthly emails from KCLS.

Since this is about reading new books, rereads don't count, but I am counting new books by authors I've read before. (I think I've read all of Pablo Neruda, but not all of Le Guin's books of poetry.)

I have just followed a link from KCLS recommends and reserved (in Boston) what appears to be a book of poetry by an immigrant author. I hereby give myself permission to decide which category to count a book in later, if it fits into more than one, but not to count the same book twice. Also, I hope to use this as a sort of guide when looking for things to read, not a constraint: I don't expect all of the next ten books I read to fit these guidelines.
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redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Dec. 27th, 2018 09:42 pm)
Books finished relatively recently:

Tove Jansson: Fair Play and Finn Family Moomintroll. These two have little in common except that in each book, each chapter is a different episode, and that they're both about people who like each other. Jansson is best-known, at least outside Finland, for the Moomin series of children's books. I thought I'd read all of them when I asked the library for Finn Family Moomintroll, but there are things in there I think I'd remember if I'd read it before, including the Hobgoblin's Hat, and Too and Ticky showing up and becoming part of the household. Fair Play is an adult novel, or series of stories, about two women, an artist and a writer, who live separately but in the same building, and ongoing events in their relationship. (It's at least somewhat autobiographical, and was written long enough ago that it could be read as a platonic friendship, absent the known context, which includes that the "about the author" on all her books falselu said she lived alone, rather than mentioning her long-term partner.) I'd recommend both of these, if you're at all open to both mimetic fiction and playful fantasy about non-human characters.

Marjorie Allingham: Look to the Lady and Policemen at the Funeral. This is two-thirds of a kindle "box set" of Allingham's Albert Campion stories. Look to the Lady is plot-driven rather than character-driven; not so much that it feels as though the characters are moving around to fit the needs of the plot, as that they're somewhat flat. Policemen at the Funeral is weird, in ways that I think would be spoilers even to hint at, so have a cut: Read more... )

Alma Fritchley: Chicken Run. This was recommended by [personal profile] rachelmanija and is, as she said, a cozy lesbian mystery about a chicken farmer, set in England a couple of decades ago. It's at least as much about shifting relationships as about the mystery, and the pacing of the plot is weird in terms of that genre. I enjoyed this enough that I have a sequel waiting for me at the Somerville Library.

Charlie Jane Anders: All the Birds in the Sky. This one is weird, and I'm not sure I'd say I liked it. The first part of the book is emotionally difficult, parallel/intertwined stories of two children/teens who are being abused by their parents and school systems. There's witchcraft and science/technology, the latter with a sort of hacker ethos, and a character who I'm fairly sure is based on Elon Musk, with the riches and intelligence and egocentricity. It's hard to really like either group or their cavalier way with everyone else's future, even realizing that they're dealing with a series of escalating natural disasters.

Currently reading:

Nick Lane: Life Ascending: the ten great inventions of evolution. Bits I've enjoyed so far include the discussion of how the DNA-->amino acid coding isn't random, and the explanation of how the two photosystems that make up oxygenic photosynthesis work, and how such an odd-seeming thing could have evolved.
I haven't finished a lot of books recently--I get stuck in the middle of things, or go read another online thing, mostly nonfiction. However, the kindle helps some, so:

I read Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson, last week. Here's what I jotted down at the time:

This is a short story collection, with an introduction, plus brief introductions to each story. Nalo notes that the stories were written over more than a decade, and aren't particularly connected. Some of the narrative voices are using various Caribbean English dialects; others are more standard US/Canadian. The collection starts with a zombie apocalypse story, in which fighting the zombies only buys the children time (and manages a more positive ending than that suggests). The other pieces include a good Bordertown story; I am displeased but not surprised that both she and the editors got pushback from white fans who said it "didn't feel like a Bordertown story" because it was mostly about non-white characters, both human and elven.

I bought a humble bundle of ebooks mostly to get this. (Yes, the title is a homage to Cordwainer Smith.)
Not exactly reviews, but here's what I've read in the last couple of months, with notes I jotted down at the time:

Death in a White Tie, by Ngaio Marsh. Part of her long, loose series of mysteries starring Roderick Alleyn, who is both a police officer and from a well-off upper-class British family. In this case, the victim and many of the suspects are friends of his; this book is where the slow romantic plot arc gets to "yes, I'll marry you." My note on this is "Plausible mystery plotting, though the past [in this case 1930s Britain] is a foreign country—gur zbgvingvba sbe n ybg bs guvf vf oynpxznvy, naq gur ynetrfg frperg vf gung, haorxabjafg gb ure, bar bs gur punenpgref jnf obea bhg bs jrqybpx.

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison. I like Maia, and enjoyed rereading this. And would like reading more about him, beyond the first months of his reign, but have no idea if she's considering writing that.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman. Third in a series about a widow from New Jersey who winds up working for the CIA in the 1960s. Mrs. Pollifax i getting more confident, and still worrying the actual CIA agent she works for, Carstairs, while letting circumstances take her well away from her assignment. Once again, impressive results; I'm glad that the pattern in the first two of "she is assigned a minder, and he's killed quickly in the course of that" isn't replicated here.

Swing, Brother, Swing, by Ngaio Marsh. Alleyn is (coincidentally) at the scene of the crime in this case; complicated intertangled motives and plotting, a purloined letter bit—and yet another book where things would be so much simpler if the characters talked to each other. Though at least here there are plausible reasons why not (both expectations against honesty between the genders, and that two of them are a long-married couple who either like nor trust each other, but are stuck being married and for halfway-plausible reasons living together).

Dancing at the Edge of the World, by Ursula Le Guin. I reread probably about 2/3, dipping in and out of a library ebook copy; skipped most of the travel writing this time, and I'm going to sync the kindle now that I've either reread, or decided I'm not in the mood for, everything except the last section of book reviews. [I own almost all Le Guin's books in hardcopy, but most of them are still in boxes.]

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire. Sequel to Every Heart a Doorway: a quest, of course, since these are portal fantasy. Starts at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. Some of the students there, missing their own portal worlds, offer to help Rini get her mother back, after Rini falls out of the sky and tells them that the villain from her world has undone her mother's successful quest and made Rini not have been born. Not as silly as that sounds (although Confection is a nonsense world). Rini and Sumi get a happy ending, as does Nadya, who stays in the Land of the Dead so the others can take Sumi's ghost with them; the other questers come back to the school here on earth.

Women and Power, a Manifesto, by Mary Beard. Beard discusses the ways that politics and public speech have been gendered male at least since the Odyssey, and the extent to which that's still true, and still a problem, now. "A manifesto" suggests more suggestions for action, along with the (interesting) examples of the problem, past and present. The book is short, and in two parts, based on lectures she gave in 2014 and 2017.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. On this year's Hugo ballot; the first-person story of a murderbot [sic], a part-organic construct that's supposed to act as a sort of guard. This one has hacked its governor module, and just wants to watch video dramas. Murderbot doesn't exactly like its humans, but dislikes them less than many other humans and wants to protect them. At one point, it observes that it doesn't like any real humans as much as the fictional ones, but if there were no real humans, there'd be no more entertainment programs. Good story, obviously room for a sequel (even if I didn't know the next one is coming out this spring).

At the moment I am most of the way through Eleanor Arnason's Hwarhath Stories, in hardcopy, and just started on a very odd book called S, by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst; the latter is a complex and slightly fragile artifact, which may slow my reading. Those are both library books. On the kindle I just started Le Guin's last nonfiction book, No Time to Lose, and have a variety of other things to keep me company on the bus to and from Montreal.
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Jan. 24th, 2018 01:14 pm)
Jo Walton's obituary for/remembrance of Ursula Le Guin.

The first books I can remember buying for myself were the Earthsea trilogy; I don't know if I knew what I was picking up, but I still have those paperbacks (somewhat the worse for wear, but definitely still readable). At the moment I am also thinking of Always Coming Home, The Left Hand of Darkness, "The Matter of Seggri," and "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie." Ask me in eight hours, and the list will be different, but Gethen and the Na Valley are close to my heart.

It seems worth mentioning that at Wiscon 20, there was a staged reading/performance piece based on a bit of Always Coming Home, and I was and am pleased and proud to have been part of it. She came to the rehearsal (where she answered questions about pronunciation, of Kesh names obviously but also at least one English word); I had the chance to thank her for making it possible.

And a quote from decades earlier, which seems apropos and I think she would agree with: Don't mourn, organize.
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We have been to the self-storage place in Medford, and have a specific unit and a signed contract. That was annoying, not because of anything the storage company did—they were organized and helpful—but because of transit stuff. We didn't want to wait half an hour for one bus, so we took a different one, and got to wait half an hour there. And on the way back we were late for lunch, and had a plan, and then [personal profile] cattitude said "get off here" and then "no, really, we overshot" convincingly enough that we were off the bus before I clarified that we hadn't overshot, except that the app he was using had suddenly decided we wanted the 89 instead of the 90. *sigh* But we eventually got back to Davis Square and had smoked salmon crepes, and bought some plums at the farmers' market, and came home.

Then I did another round of book sorting. (The categories for now are "I want this in the apartment, given limited space there" and "I'm fine storing this for a while.") I continue to be surprised at how few books I'm putting into the first category; it's not just because Cattitude did a first pass while I was in Montreal, because he hadn't looked at the paperback shelves. Once I've gone through the rest of the hardcovers, and he's looked at those paperbacks, we may do a second round and add some things that we might read, or that we'd be okay storing because we can borrow them from the library if we want. It is very weird to be thinking "why do I own all these books?" I have read about sixty books this year, with significant rereading, but relatively little of that has been rereading my own physical copies of books (rather than borrowed books, library or ebooks, or purchased ebook copies of things I'd forgotten I owned).
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It's been a month since the previous reading post; I'm still doing a lot of reading and much less of other things, to spare my hands. Once again, it's tended toward light reading, and almost entirely fiction, that being what I seem to be up for right now. So, a list with a minimum of comment:


Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel: I liked this a lot. Post-apocalyptic SF,
Trouble in the Brasses, mystery by Charlotte Macleod
Ice Blue and Blue Murder, police procedurals by Emma Jameson, about detectives working at New Scotland Yard. There's romance in these, but the characterization isn't limited to that, and more-than-cardboard characters who aren't part of the romance arc.
The Late Scholar, mystery by Jill Paton Walsh
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers: reread, and the suck fairy has definitely been here, in the form of very noticeable casual racism and anti-Semitism.
Magic for Nothing and "Every Heart a Doorway," by Seanan McGuire: the most recent InCryptid novel, fast-moving if not entirely plausible fantasy adventure, and a more serious life-after-the-portal-fantasy novella
Irrational Numbers, by George Alec Effinger (collection of short stories, many of them dark
The Hanging Tree and Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch: numbers 6 and 5 in his "Rivers of London" series, read in the "wrong" order because I thought I had read Foxglove Summer, titles not being useful here. Reading out of order wasn't a big deal (though they both contain significant spoilers for the fourth in the series)
Roller Girl, by Vanessa North: lesbian romance about someone talked into roller derby by a friend who thinks she needs a social life after her divorce. Trans* heroine, treated sympathetically by the author and most of the characters.
The Infinite Sea, by Jeffrey Carver: third in the "Chaos Chronicles," a very-large-scale space opera
A Presumption of Death and The Attenbury Emeralds, by Jill Paton Walsh: authorized fanfic/continuations of Sayers' Wimsey/Vane stories, Walsh doesn't quite get Sayers' tone, but also without the casual racism of my most recent Sayers reread.
Oranges, by John McPhee: nonfiction, reread over a few weeks at bedtime
Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang: reread of almost all of this short story collection
Starfarers, by Vonda Macintyre: reread, still good (interstellar adventure, with significant bi and poly characters)
The Book of Night with Moon, by Diane Duane: a "young wizards" book, this one from a feline viewpoint, she keeps the action moving fast enough that you might be able to ignore the physical improbabilities (we tend to give writers a pass on FTL and time travel, though the combination really messes with causality, but Duane is also ignoring the second law of thermodynamics. There's also a certain amount of "make it didn't happen," though once you've got time travel…
Revisionary, by Jim Hines: also fast-moving adventure fantasy, with high stakes, though the "anything in a popular book can be used for magic" assumptions of this book make "impossible" effectively meaningless, which feels vaguely like cheating. Fourth in a series, I think: as with the Carver, Duane, Macintyre, and McGuire, better to start at the beginning of the series.
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I've been trying to spare my hands, in part by using pens and my keyboard less, for the last few weeks, and have read a lot of books (compared to my pattern over the last few years). Books finished since the beginning of June:

Lunar Activity, by Elizabeth Moon. Collection of short stories, which I read over several weeks during visits to [personal profile] adrian_turtle, because I tend to wake up before she does. Fun, some with a good sense of place,

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. This is a sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: it has some of the same warm emotional feeling, which I was looking for, but I don't think it was as good as the first book. There are two timelines, one starting right after the end of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet [spoilers for that book] spoilers for that book ) I enjoyed this, but I liked the first book better, in part because we get to spend more time with interesting aliens.

In the Labyrinth of Drakes and In the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan: volumes 4 and 5 of Brennan's "Memoirs of Lady Trent" series, set in an alternate world that contains many species of dragons, and the relics of an ancient, lost "Draconean" civilization. I recommend these, but read them in order unless you don't care at all about spoilers, because it's a continuing narrative, though with natural break-points: each book is about a different major expedition, what was discovered, and the adventures along the way.

It's an odd sort of alternate world: the geography is visibly not that of Earth, but is very similar to it, as are the cultures: Scirland is very much based on Britain, the Akhians are desert nomads, and so on. These aren't presented as an alternate history—there's no divergence point along the lines of "what if Lincoln hadn't gone to the theatre that night?"—so I didn't find myself objecting to the "wrong" degree of similarity with our actual history, but I know different people's tolerance for that sort of thing varies. (If you can buy Novik's Napoleonic Wars with dragons, you'll probably like this series.)

I was a little disappointed by In the Labyrinth of Drakes because it felt as though there was more archeology and politics, and fewer dragons, than in the first three volumes of the series. In the Sanctuary of Wings gave me plenty of dragons and natural history, along with the politics. (There's politics throughout the series, and that's part of what I like about it; I just felt the proportions were a bit off in volume 4.)

Tremontaine, season 1, by Ellen Kushner et al. This is an episodic, because written for serialization, prequel to Kushner's Swordspoint. Each chapter is by a different author (though some people wrote more than one, nobody did two in a row). A lot of this takes place in and around the University (though we do see both Riverside and the Hill. If you liked Swordspoint, give this a try (N.B. Nobody here is as bloodthirsty as Alec).

Crocodile on the Sandbar and The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters: mysteries against a background of Egyptology, or maybe vice versa, set during the beginnings of archeology as a scholarly pursuit. Fun, relatively light fare, with detective plots I was satisfied by,and I gather her Egyptology is basically sound. (The main characters' relationship isn't one I can imagine being happy in, but I can believe that they are, and don't find it unpleasant to read about.) This is told as first-person narrative, by an Englishwoman who took up Egyptology, and then detection, more or less by chance.

Georgiana Darcy's Diary, by Anna Elliott: a "what might have happened next" fanfic set after the end of Pride and Prejudice. It's competent enough that I finished it, but not enough to make me want to read the next volumes, because the author (wisely) doesn't even try to pastiche Austen's narrative voice/style, and I'm not nearly invested enough in that book to otherwise care much about the doings of Darcy's sister and aunt, or Elizabeth Bennett's family. (I got this free via the web: a lot of what I've read in the last few weeks was either from the library, or free or low-cost "try one, maybe you'll get hooked" ebook offers.)

If Death Ever Slept, by Rex Stout. A Nero Wolfe mystery novel I don't remember having read before. It's from the mid-1950s, and well done (within the pattern of the series in general). Archie Goodwin's attitude toward women can be more than a little annoying, but there isn't too much on display here. (One reader's opinion, probably based in part on my mood a week ago, YMMV.)

Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black. I found this because after reading Tremontaine I decided to ask the library what else it had by Kushner: it's a (relatively) new Bordertown anthology, set in the same world as the previous volumes (edited by Terri Windling). Bordertown has dealings with the human world as well as with Faerie; the book deals with the gap in real-world time since the previous books by having Bordertown cut off in the interim (under a version of Elf Hill) so when the border reopens the residents are dealing with new tech (what's a blog?) as well as people in the World looking for long-lost relatives.
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Nov. 9th, 2016 03:40 pm)
Most recently read:

So You Want to Be a Wizard, by Diane Duane. The book starts with twelve-year-old Nita fleeing bullies, taking refuge in a library, and finding the eponymous manual in with a series of books about careers, like "So You Want to Be a Pilot."

The book is fast-paced, and good, and has a strong sense of place; Nita and her friend Kit look for a stolen pen, which plunges quickly into high-stakes adventure, with advice from older wizards and some local trees, cut for possible spoilers )

Thanks to whoever suggested I read this.

Up next: the sequel, Deep Wizardry.
I spent most of yesterday on a bus from Boston to Montreal, where I made the happy discovery that I can comfortably read from my kindle on a moving intercity bus. (Paper books, not so good.)

The trip from Boston to Montreal is about two novels (plus random looking at the landscape) long. So (apologies to Mris, who got most of this in an email):

The Pilgrim of Hate, by Ellis Peters: this is I think #10 in her medieval mystery novels about the Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael and his friend Hugh Beringar, the local sheriff. For some reason, I was able years ago to find approximately 1-7 and then from 14 or so on, and am trying to fill in gaps from the library. Since it is an ongoing story (though each book's mystery stands alone), there were not only references back, but things I knew about from having read about them in books set later.

The Cadfael books are set during the English civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud (which is not either of the English Civil Wars that most Americans are at least vaguely aware of); this one involves two murders, and the complications of trying to find a missing person based only on his name and the vaguest of descriptions, at a fair (so a place full of strangers) in a time and place where it's taken for granted that he will of course have changed his name when he left home. I enjoyed this, both for the mystery plot (which I didn't figure out early on) and the general story-telling (though I gather that Peters took serious liberties with both history and herbal medicine.

Marionette, by T. S. Markinson: if I had to describe this, it's a sort-of mainstream lesbian novel, about relationships and coming of age (the narrator is 17 and a freshman in college). I read this after a couple of her other books, all found via an email list that sends out announcements of free or discounted ebooks (sorted loosely by genre). Based on this, I have concluded that Markinson is a good writer, and that I hope she has a good therapist—what I have read so far are this, and two books about an unrelated character, and both protagonists have similarreally problematic family backgrounds, not just "they can't deal with me being a lesbian" but "my well-off parents hate me, and don't seem to like each other, and all my father cares about is money and business, and nobody in my family ever had a real conversation while I was growing up" level. I liked this, but it's not exactly light and cheerful: large chunks of the book are set in and around the protagonist's therapy sessions, which she started going to after she attempted suicide and her girlfriend found her in time. (Also, the past, even the recent past, can be a foreign country: this is set in Colorado at the time of the anti-gay Proposition 2, and it's not just that the main character is closeted—given her parents, that makes sense—but the people she's at school with include several who don't think they know any gay people, one of whom apologizes for homophobic remarks when told "my brother is gay."
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Apr. 13th, 2016 01:27 pm)
Recent books (both borrowed from the library, and read while sitting under a cat):

Pocket Apocalypse, by Seanan McGuire
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I enjoyed both of these, and they are both part of ongoing series; neither is a good place to start.

The McGuire is part of her inCryptid series, involving over-the-top magical cryptozoology and the narrators' family's attempts to protect the cryptids from an organization that thinks all cryptids are dangerous and evil. This is I think the second with Alex Price as the viewpoint character/narrator; I'm not sure if the series is running out of steam, or if I just like the ones told by his older sister Verity better.

possible spoilers for this and others in the series )

The Bujold is part of her Vorkosigan/Barrayar series, finally focusing on Cordelia again after umpteen books about her son Miles (though he does turn up unexpectedly, with Ekaterin and their children).

cut for spoilers for previous books, just in case )
I saw a criticism of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen on the grounds that "nothing happens"; quite a bit happens, but it's true that there aren't many explosions. If you want a one-threat-after-another story, Pocket Apocalypse is more what you're looking for. I said above that neither is the place to start; in the case of the McGuire it's because you might be confused, and I think the Bujold relies more on the reader already knowing and being interested in the characters.
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redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Nov. 4th, 2015 04:52 pm)
Reading Wednesday is posting a lightly-annotated list, because it's better than not posting at all. Books finished since I last posted one of these:

Strange Attractors, by Jeffrey Carver. Sequel to Neptune Crossing; Bannie finds himself in a strange, huge construction; finds friends as well as danger, and some fractal beings wanting his help. Whoever brought them there has a mission for him, and maybe for them. Fast-moving, fun. His internal alien "Charlie" is reborn, again, and very confused; Bannie and his robots have both been modified/improved to fit the environment, the robots acquiring rather more initiative than they were built with.

Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights, by Daniel Pinkwater. Episodic sort-of memoir that grew out of a series of radio pieces; fun, and more linear than that makes it sound. (It's partly a matter of plausibility/realism: these pieces are much less surrealist, because reality has different constraints than fiction.

Axeman's Jazz, by Julie Smith. The second of her novels about Skip Langdon, a New Orleans cop, which I have been reading semi-randomly; in this one she has just been made a homicide cop, and is trying to find a serial killer who has been sending threatening letters to the press; she/the team figure out that the victims, and presumably the killer, have some connection to twelve-step programs, but this is a context where people go to those meetings as a way to find dates.

Shadow Tag, by Marjorie Doering. And another mystery, which I read on the plane home, enjoyed, and can recall absolutely nothing of at the moment (two days later).

The Shepherd's Crown, by Terry Pratchett. The death of Granny Weatherwax, lots more Tiffany Aching, another war with the elves. An afterword notes that Pratchett died before he could polish this, and it shows. I'm glad I read it, but would recommend it only for Pratchett/Discworld fans.
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A few other people's posts that include "I am posting even though it feels like not much is going on" remind me that it's been ten days since I posted anything. The freelance stuff continues, today's most exciting moment was querying the kind of nail polish used (for a paper on medical applications of nanotech).

Recent reading, two books that are second in series where reading order does matter:

Prairie Fire, by E. K. Johnston. If I say more than "read this unless you need your dragons to be sympathetic, but read The Story of Owen first," there will be spoilers for that book, so have a cut tag.
Read more... )

The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton. This starts ten years after the end of The Just City, and a lot of the chapters are from the viewpoint of Apollo's now-15-year-old daughter Arete. I recommend it highly, but read The Just City first. I think this needs a cut tag, too ) Having waited several weeks after it was published to buy this, I am now impatient for the third volume.
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I've done a lot of reading in the past fortnight—most of it in Montreal, and on the trips there and back—and then I came home and find myself busier than I expected, so this is mostly based on brief notes I made at the time.

Agatha Christie, The Murder at the Vicarage: I think this is the first Miss Marple; I didn't much like the narrator/viewpoint character, a minister. He obviously shouldn't be married to his wife, from what he says about marriage and how little respect he shows her. (That's not germane to the mystery, but Christie gives an impressive example of that kind of relationship problem. And it is a problem here, not "I don't understand this person, but I adore them and we make each other happy.")

Will Cuppy, How to Attract the Wombat: reread of a collection of short bits, most of them at least partly about animals, but with comments about humans in general and ancient naturalists in specific. Not quite as snarky about Pliny as in some of his stuff, but he has some sharp things to say about Aristotle and fact-checking.

John Barnes, One for the Morning Glory: another reread, a book with deliberately silly use of words (hunting the wild gazebo, the Isought Gap, etc.) along with characters who know they're in a fairy tale.

E. K. Johnston, The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim: recommended by [livejournal.com profile] mrissa, a good, fast-moving YA novel about an alternate history with far too many dragons, and therefore some differences in Canadian, US, UK, and other history.

Carl Hiaasen, Tourist Season: I seem to be off Hiaasen (or got another clunker), our senses of humor don't fit together as I remembered.

Laura Antoniou, The Killer Wore Leather: a murder mystery set at a leather/BDSM convention in New York City. Not bad, but I think the author was aiming for funnier than I found it.

possible mild spoilers for Mike Carey and Anthony Price )

Julie Smith, Tourist Trap: one of a series of mysteries about a San Francisco lawyer; I found some of the described reactions to a crime wave less than convincing, but a lot of the rest works, and there's some good stuff about the detective's relationships with her boyfriend and her family of origin. (Amazon offered me this as a free download, so I had it on the kindle and read it on the flight home.)
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Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan. This is the third in a series of alternate-history and alternate-natural-history books about a woman who is fascinated by dragons, traveling around the world to study them. She has to put quite a bit of her energy into being allowed to do the work, and dealing with various sorts of scandal based on nothing she has done, just sexist assumptions and the desire for interesting gossip. "Widow travels with her son and studies dragons" isn't nearly as good gossip as assumptions that she has taken a lover. What actually goes on is quite enough material for a story or fifty, between exploration, dragons, and shipwrecks.

This volume had, it felt like, more politics, more musings on taxonomy and relatedness, and fewer actual dragons than the previous two. This time around she spends a lot of time on sea serpents (are they dragons?), is blocked from some other research by politics, and takes a side trip to see komodo dragons (the ones that exist in our world); and once she gets a good look at a komodo dragon she concludes that, name aside, those are not dragons, or especially interesting. Definitely a page-turner, but this is a series to read in order: volume 1 is A Natural History of Dragons: a memoir by Lady Trent.
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redbird: closeup of me drinking tea, in a friend's kitchen (Default)
( Jul. 26th, 2015 09:33 pm)
After dithering for quite a while, but spending probably too much time following the puppy/Hugo roundups on File 770, I now have a supporting membership in Sasquan, and have cast at least a partial ballot[1]. Novel I'd already done my reading for: I'd read The Goblin Emperor because lots of reviews made it sound interesting, and Ancillary Sword because I liked Ancillary Justice, and I'd tried The Three-Body Problem because it came well-recommended, and was put off by the first chapter. That chapter is well-written and dark (being a close-up description of bits of the Cultural Revolution), and "I'm not enjoying this and want to stop" is good enough reason for me to stop.

I have downloaded the samples for "best fan artist," and have ranked four of the five nominees, only two of whose work I'd previously been familiar with. The slate-heavy categories I'm mostly giving a straight no award; if I have energy between now and Friday I will take a look at the graphic story nominees. (I'm not a very visual thinker.)

[1] If you vote electronically, you can make unlimited updates/changes to your ballot until the deadline [2]. So you can vote in the one category you're sure of your opinion on and then go back and look at other things; or vote a flat "no award" on the puppy categories and then think about novels and fan artists; or change your mind a half dozen times between The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword for best novel.

[2] And they will send you a copy of your current ballot every time you click "save" to make a change.
redbird: full bookshelves and table in a library (books)
( Jul. 2nd, 2015 05:13 pm)
This is a few weeks' worth at once, because I was staying at [personal profile] adrian_turtle's home two Wednesdays ago and in a hotel in New York last week.

Recently read:

The Housewife Assassin's Handbook, by Josie Brown. This is a weird, fast-moving mix of adventure story and romance. Not really "what it says on the tin," though the first-person narrator is a housewife and CIA assassin. I found this as a freebie for the kindle, and will likely read more of these if I remember before my next long plane trip.

Naked Came the Manatee, by Carl Hiaasen et al. This was also fast-moving, but oddly flat: I thought I was getting a Hiaasen novel, and what I actually got was a 13-chapter book in which each chapter was written by a different author. If you like that sort of thing, and like the Miami background, this might be the sort of thing you like.

Neptune Crossing, by Jeffrey A. Carver. This is good—a first-contact story set on Triton, about a former space pilot who was injured in an accident that cost him his ability to connect to the net and thus to be a pilot, and was left with other neurological issues. And then the alien contacts him, and won't let him tell anyone, at least not until they save the Earth.... This works as a stand-alone but is also the first in a series, and I will be reading more.

Terms of Service, by Irina Rempt. Secondary world fantasy, with actual gods getting involved in things, some people with magical talents, and two rival guilds devoted to specific gods, but with quite similar practices when they aren't attacking each other's members. There's also quite a bit of intrigue within the viewpoint character's guild. I found this one because the author is someone I'd known on alt.poly; it's been sitting untouched on my kindle for I don't know how long. (Creative commons licensed, so if you're interested and can't find it, leave me a comment here.)

A Stoop to a Rake, by A. J. Hall. Part of an ongoing set of fanfics based on the tv show Sherlock and the Bronte sisters' Gondal juvenilia, but I find it works despite not knowing either. Adrian and I have found that these stories work well for her to read aloud to me; I think we did the first half of this one in April.

Nine Hundred Grandmothers, by R. A. Lafferty. Reread of a short story collection; I'd say this is a good place to start with Lafferty's decidedly odd writing, which derives quite a bit from the tradition of tall tales, rather than high fantasy.

Currently reading:

Bryony and Roses, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). I started this today, and am enjoying it so far.
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