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The Girl at Midnight, by Melissa Grey [May. 19th, 2015|06:29 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Delacorte Press.

On the immediate level, this book is a pretty generic teen fantasy of a type very popular in the last few years: sarcastic special girl, two races of secret magical beings–in this case there is Team Dragon-People and Team Bird-People–plus a war and lots of cute boys. It has a breezy, readable voice, but the large-scale structure is very, very generic.

Happily, the details are not. There is, for example, an antagonist character I thought was being set up for an entire trilogy worth of antagging. But no, that situation is resolved rather completely and rather abruptly, with ramifications elsewhere! There are best friends for both of the main POV characters, and those best friends have their own goals and interests, rather than living only in Sidekick City. And Grey burns plot, getting through events that some authors would take a trilogy to portray in one book, leaving one a little breathless and eager to find out what will go in the actual next book.

So this is a book for “if you like that sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing you’ll like,” sure. But it’s also a book for those who don’t particularly like that sort of thing and are willing to see how and where the boundaries of a sub-genre can be stretched.

Please consider using our link to buy The Girl at Midnight from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early May [May. 16th, 2015|06:35 am]
Marissa Lingen

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks in Spring. Fourth in a charming series of children’s books, this one fast-forwards several years and foregrounds the previously-youngest Penderwick sister, Batty. Fair warning: because lots of time has passed, Hound has died before this book begins. Does this count as the dog dying? Well, it’s not done for dramatic effect, and the book deals more with long-term grief than with the first agony of loss, but if you need books where dog grief is never a thing, I need to warn you about this book. I think it’s sensitively and beautifully handled, but. I also really like how things are evolving, often offstage in ways that are clear onstage, as the Penderwicks grow up.

C.J. Cherryh, Invader. Reread. Holy crud the early books in this series are full of humans! Humans here and there and everywhere, and who needs ’em? Well, the plot needs ’em. But I’m glad she got less humany plots, because what I really want is Jago and Banichi and Ilisidi and like that. So if you’re starting this series and discouraged by the humans, be of good cheer, they’ll wander off soon. I think soon. Within a trilogy or two at least.

Diane Duane, Deep Wizardry and High Wizardry. Rereads. Deep Wizardry will, I think, always be one of my favorites of this series. It…well, it dives right in, emotionally. It gets to the main themes of the series and does not pull any punches. And I do love all the whales. Whales! More books need whales! High Wizardry brings in Dairine and an entire planet of silicon life, and those things could hardly be bad either.

Nicola Griffith, The Blue Place. Reread. A thriller that understands being Norwegian and Norwegian-American, is very sensory, and also is very meditative about violence and its place in different humans’ psyches. I loved this on the first read and am glad to return to it.

Hua Yu, China in Ten Words. This was a very odd essay collection. In some ways it was highly personal–it was about Hua’s experiences growing up in the Cultural Revolution and being a writer in China after. And yet those experiences were in some ways so universal that his highly personal thoughts felt a bit generic. If you haven’t read much about the Cultural Revolution for average people, this should be a reasonably smooth introduction. Otherwise–well, the opening has a really vivid story that made me hopeful about the whole thing, and then the hopes were dashed. Ah well. Not bad, mind you, just not living up to the vaccination story’s individuality early on.

Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Pffffff wow. Okay, so Jackson is an incredibly difficult subject to handle well. And yet. And yet. I feel like Meacham feels like he’s not giving Jackson a free pass from criticism in his racial policies, and yet his policies regarding African-Americans are almost completely absent from this book, and his policies regarding Native Americans…well, there is hedging. I think Meacham would say no! he says that the Trail of Tears was bad! but seriously, dude: the Trail of Tears was more than bad, and Jackson’s bad decisions in dealing with indigenous people were larger than just the Trail of Tears. There was interesting stuff in this book, but it wants context to point out its limitations, so I don’t recommend making it your sole reading material about the Jackson administration.

Jodi Meadows, The Orphan Queen. Fun, fast read with intrigue and adventure. The major “plot twist” is not very twisty, but the book’s appeal doesn’t rest on it being a major surprise. I’m interested to see where Jodi goes next with this swashbuckling YA high fantasy.

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, Dragons Beware!. Discussed elsewhere.

Samuel A. Tannenbaum, The Handwriting of the Renaissance. Holy crud was people’s handwriting a mess. One of the major features in this book’s discussion of each character was what it could easily be mistaken for. There’s a reason for that. This is a volume from the 1930s, by the way, which had its charming moments and a few moments of outright racism. (Yes. In a handwriting book. That’s the fabulous thing about racists! They will find a way! Wait. Not fabulous.)

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 2. Kindle. I had already read my favorite story from this issue, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing,” online before I got around to reading the Kindle cover-to-cover, so this should count as a partial reread. This is what I mean when I say I am not trying to be comprehensive when I recommend short stories: I will read part of an issue one month and part another, in two different formats, etc. So really: I am not setting myself up as an authority here. I just like some stories. Like the one linked there.

Tehani Wessely, ed., Insert Title Here. I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, so: this exists! I am in it! I read it!

Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths. Disappointingly for some of you, this is a history of the ancient people, not of the recent affinity group. It was substantially focused on the Visigoths but had a long chapter on Ostrogoths as well, and mentioned other Gothic groups somewhat. Its translation from the German meant that it dodged some common issues of Anglocentrism/Francocentrism in history originally written in English, but it could have done with many, many (MANY MANY) more maps. And also with a coherent sense of what some placenames mean absent the nation-states they refer to. When you talk about the Visigoths encountering the Spanish, for example: what group is that? Iberian Celts? Basques? Some other pre-Gothic Iberian group? “Spanish” does not cut it in these centuries. Still had some useful bits.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Dragons Beware! By Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre [May. 4th, 2015|04:03 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Dragons Beware! has strong messages of teamwork, loyalty, and self-acceptance. Sometimes they’re strong enough to overwhelm the actual story, which doesn’t do very much that’s new with its team of varied dragon-slayers. The art is cute, there are some cute asides, and generally…yep, cute. I think this is one of the graphic novels that probably has a strong age component to its audience, because people who haven’t read a quest tale of this type before are more likely to find it interesting/less predictable. And the age this series is aimed it is the age that can’t have read much of anything before, because they haven’t been on the planet long.

A note: this is the second book in a series, apparently, but I haven’t read the first one and did not find that I was missing much. All of the backstory was filled in quite clearly.

Please consider using our link to buy Dragons Beware! from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late April [May. 1st, 2015|11:32 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Johnson Heade. There is less Twain than a person might hope if they were partial to Twain, but there is quite a lot of Mark Johnson Heade, and if you’re partial to obscure bird artists–which frankly I kind of am–that works out all for the best.

Jennifer Coopersmith, Energy: The Subtle Concept. A history of how we have thought about energy (in a physics context, not a colloquial one). Worthwhile even for the physicists among us for how it covers dead ends and experiments that reinforced wrong notions as well as covering progress towards decent approximations of understanding. I love mad scientists and wrong science. They are the messy way the world works.

Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard. Reread. The thing that struck me on this reread is how astonishingly filmable this story is. I am completely boggled that it has not become a movie yet. There are aspects that fall away as the series deepens, and it gets much, much better from here, and yet the basic elements are there, Kit and Nita starting to work as a team, personality from unusual places starting with Fred the white hole but also including the cabs in the dark universe, and always always placing oneself squarely against entropy. I’m going to keep rereading this series. This was a good reminder of why I love it–and how simply complex things can start successfully.

William Gibson, The Peripheral. I respect this book a great deal. A friend suggested that it might be the best thing Gibson has done, and she may well be right. The science fictional thing he’s doing with information traveling through time but not matter–that’s not something I’ve seen much before if at all, and he does it very well. I did not, however, find it particularly well-characterized. I had difficulty caring about the characters. So I respected but didn’t enjoy this book. Ah well; these things happen.

J. N. B. Hewitt, Iroquois Cosmology. Kindle. Highly archaic language, retelling origin stories from more than one Iroquois group. Somewhat repetitive and not very good quality prose, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to recognizing diversity/variation of Native American/First Nations pre-Columbian thought.

Megan Marshall, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Kindle. Very weirdly structured. Because this was on my Kindle, I couldn’t tell that fully 40% of it was endnotes, and that therefore it was going to stop once two of the sisters were married. Their careers and interesting behaviors did not stop at that point, nor did they sink into obscurity (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other Horace Mann), so I’m not at all clear why Marshall decided that this was all the Peabody we got. Other than that it was quite good, digressing in a most engaging way into the history of canals and Unitarianism in the US and all sorts of stuff, just the right amount to be sparkly and interesting but not enough to lose coherence. I also added to my list of “women Bronson Alcott screwed over; reasons Bronson Alcott should have been shaken until his teeth rattled,” which latter act I would not even have thought of without Louisa May Alcott, so…appropriate I guess. But Bronson Alcott did not take over the book, and I have hopes that he will not take over Marshall’s bio of Margaret Fuller.

E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act. This is the book with which my ability to read nonfiction ran aground in March when I got sick. There’s a lot of dense chewy stuff about poaching and commonly held lands in English history. Worthwhile, but not for when your brain is not at full capacity.

Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. I still love how this all fits together, how the worldbuilding works with something this complicated. Before it came out, I was saying that there weren’t many people other than Jo I would trust not to make something like this a hot mess, and that’s still true. For those who haven’t read it: the main characters are a complex family, and time runs differently depending on where you are geographically. And it’s substantially domestic. It’s lovely, and I love it, but I can’t think who else could have written anything even with a similar setting, much less the whole thing.

Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs. The first in a mystery series that focuses more on the effects of WWI on the heroine’s life than on the mystery, but since that mystery is also WWI-related, the imbalance doesn’t grate. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series works, though, since it doesn’t seem all that repeatable. The best mystery series don’t rely on repetition…but most do.

Zong In-Sob, Folk Tales from Korea. This is from 1952. All sorts of interesting pieces and parts in it, useful thoughts for later projects. Does not have everything one could want; duh, really, it’s only one book. Very glad that Half Price had it, though.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early April [Apr. 17th, 2015|07:25 am]
Marissa Lingen

Balak, Sanlaville, and Vives, Last Man: The Stranger. Discussed elsewhere.

Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, Hostage. Kindle. Sequel to Stranger, very dependent on its events and characterization. If you were wanting more of that, here it is, but this is not the place to start. Implication and ramification, though, both in terms of the world and individually. I don’t see that coming out nontraditionally did a thing to harm this book.

Roz Chast, Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?. A memoir of her parents’ old age and her experiences in eldercare. In comic form. Wry and in some places dark, not as much depth as I would have hoped.

CJ Cherryh, Tracker. The latest atevi novel. For the love of Pete don’t start here, but! We have plot progress! This is not merely another book in which people drink tea, pick out coats and furnishings, and try not to get assassinated! Not that I didn’t enjoy those, but: serious plot progress hurray! (Of course, I flipped immediately from being thrilled with the plot progress to being impatient for more. Readers, man. You just can’t win.)

Adam Christopher, The Machine Awakes. Discussed elsewhere.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Of Noble Family. Discussed elsewhere.

Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings. This is why I keep reading epic fantasy: because sometimes there is a book like this. So immersive! I found my sense of how much more it was reasonable to read before doing laundry/making supper/etc. stretching out as the book went on: “Oh, only 100 more pages in this section? sure, that sounds like a sensible amount to read before eating.” The influence of the Chinese classics was so structurally pervasive that I think it even changed how I saw POV shifts. There is a thing in classical Chinese literature where you get a POV character for a short time but it doesn’t feel like head-hopping, and that came into play for me very early on in Ken’s book, that the short-term perspectives felt signaled to be an homage to that instead of just random. Other people have talked about how there aren’t very many women characters early in the book, and this is true, but I think that the last part makes up ground quickly and promises good things in future volumes, and considering the literary influences on it, it is jam-packed with women doing both traditional and non-traditional things in awesome ways. Very much recommended. Looking forward to more.

Robin McKinley, The Door in the Hedge. Reread. Wow, am I glad I didn’t pattern short story writing off this. Her structure is so weird. Most short stories–even novelettes and novellas–are not better with a prologue, an epilogue, and then two chapters. That…is not really how this goes mostly. Also she was doing lots of early-career trite stuff–if I never see a tiny sprinkling of freckles described as keeping someone from being perfect/too beautiful again, it will be too soon. Still immersive and lovely.

Nayad Monroe, ed., Not Our Kind: Tales of (Not) Belonging. I make a policy of not reviewing books I appear in. Therefore I can tell you: this book exists, I read it, I wrote part of it.

Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Crime. This is very much in the “characters dig themselves a muuuuuch deeper hole” school of second books. Do not, do not, do not read this first. Go read The Winner’s Curse first. Then if you don’t want to keep going, The Winner’s Crime was not the book for you anyway. Revolutions, negotiations, politics, star-crossed lovers like whoa.

Salla Simukka, As White as Snow. Finnish YA suspense novel. Second in its series but not as dependent upon the first one as some other things I read this fortnight. Very, very Finnish. Matter-of-fact romance with a trans character, very structurally weirdly handled though: it’s the sort of thing that feels like it somehow didn’t fit in the first book where she was setting backstory/expectations and needed to be there (I’m guessing) before the third book where she wants to have some kind of continuation/plot/payoff, so…it goes in the second book, but basically offstage. Strange place for a romance plot. (I mean that the romance plot itself was offstage, not just the sex scenes, which were at least highly suggestive-to-pretty-onstage for this type of YA. That inversion confused me, too.)

Jo Walton, Ha’penny and Half a Crown. Rereads. After I finished Farthing last fortnight, I basically just wanted the whole arc. I think there’s enough backstory in these to make them readable at any point, and the three non-Carmichael voices are so vividly different. I found the follow-through into Elvira’s attitudes particularly wrenching. I said last time that Jo is one of the best at theory of mind stuff, and this comes through particularly, I feel, on something like her characters’ reactions to Hitler. It appears to be really difficult for people to put themselves in the mindset of someone who doesn’t think of Hitler as they do, or else they feel insecure about whether everyone will understand that they know Hitler was really bad? or something. But Jo gets it just right, the chasm between what someone under a fascist system will think of a charming politician they’ve just met and what we know, or the things that growing up under a particular system can normalize. I love these, but I can’t reread them too often.

Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities. Discussed elsewhere.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Last Man: The Stranger, by Balak, Sanlaville, & Vives [Apr. 15th, 2015|04:49 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

(I could have sworn I posted this review earlier. Apparently not.)

The visual style of this slim graphic novel is clearly influenced by French-language comics of the past (French and especially Belgian). It’s doing a plot that shows up in anime a lot: basically a tournament with lots of fighting, a tiny bit of subplot for the characters but not much. But the faces don’t look like anime. The fight style doesn’t look like anime.

This is not quite Tintin Goes To A Tournament, Manga Style. But it’s pretty close.

Nor is this a complete story. If you’re someone who likes fight comics that don’t get too gory, and you don’t mind stories being stretched over several installations of blam, peuh, and thwok, this may very well be your thing. I’m going to try it on my favorite 12-year-old and see whether he likes it, but for adults it’s likely to revive feelings of being that age. You can judge for yourself whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. So far, it’s executing reasonably well, but if it’s doing more than dead-center genre-standard things, I can’t see what they are.

Please consider using our link to buy The Stranger from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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The Machine Awakes, by Adam Christopher [Apr. 14th, 2015|11:23 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the second book in a series, and I have not read the first. The rule for reviews is that I start reading, and if I don’t quit until the book is done, I review it; while there are some things that probably would do a bit better with the context of the first book, nothing was too glaring. I don’t see any reason not to start here, if you have a copy convenient.

This is an entirely readable military SF thriller. There’s nothing innovative in the SF concept, and the characterization is not deep enough to provide its own novelty, but on the other hand, an unobjectionable military SF thriller with readable prose is just what I have heard a great many people yearning for (albeit usually in more glowing terms). There are Psi-Marines, if that tells you what genre-space we’re in. I could wish that it was doing something more with the characters, but the action zipped along, and I didn’t regret the time I spent reading it. And it may be just what you’re looking for.

Please consider using our link to buy The Machine Awakes from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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The Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson [Apr. 9th, 2015|02:35 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor.

Nerds like taxonomies. This is a truism we use around here a lot, but there it is. In The Affinities, Robert Charles Wilson manages to write about a highly taxonomized future without telling us more than the tiniest bit about those taxonomies. Sixty percent of people, this book postulates, fit into twenty-two “affinity groups.” Okay? But what these affinity groups are, how they work, why they work, remains sketchy at best. Many of the characters are part of the Tau affinity group, and all I could make out of the Taus is that they are “nice enough, I guess.” Their main competitors for resources and political power are the Hets, who are not nice enough, who are in fact frankly villainous. So we have the good guys, the bad guys, the 40% unclassified, and…twenty other affinity groups, of which we know that…one of them is kind of flaky? That’s pretty much it.

For this book to work, we are asked to believe that the affinity groups work amazingly well together…but this is repeatedly told and never even remotely shown. They are to be mentally, emotionally, socially, and neurologically amazingly compatible–but couples who share the same affinity group and find each other without help are supposed to be rare? And no one says, “eh, this is all right, but I’m actually more compatible with” any of the other affinity groups humans already form. Fraternities and sororities, bird watchers, alumni of particular colleges/universities, folk dancers…well, yeah. The number of things people already form clumps around is large. And those clumps already give advantages to some over others–I, for example, would go farther for a randomly selected Gustavus physics major than I would for a randomly selected member of the general population. I don’t have a lot of pull in getting people jobs etc.–but I absolutely would try at least a tiny bit harder for one of “us.” Or one of another of a dozen “us”es I have. But in The Affinities, the affinity groups discovered are so powerful that they completely crush any other possible ways of forming kin and affines. For nearly everybody. And yet! And yet they are distributed more or less randomly, so that you always have the useful profession you want available, whether it’s substance-abuse counselor or helicopter pilot–and never discover that, eh, nobody in your affinity group really likes to do [job], so you can’t really rely on them for that.

Further, the affinity groups have enough time to get themselves deeply embedded in a society that is clearly (from the grandmother’s class year) the future and yet behaves like ten years ago or so. Other than affinity groups, nothing has changed over the course of this entire future. There are tensions in South Asia; people use cell phones but not for anything interesting; the same cars are prestigious and the same behaviors are denigrated or lauded by society at large and its more reactionary members in particular. When people complain about SF novels not addressing the present, much less the future, this is exactly the sort of book on their minds.

This is a lot to swallow, and in fact I couldn’t swallow it. Robert Charles Wilson’s books are always readable on a sentence or even paragraph level, so it was a painless read in that sense. But the social thinking…just did not work for me. I found it unconvincing in its particulars and as a whole. I didn’t even find it interestingly wrong, because it wasn’t engaging with any depth on the topic of what makes people work well together or not, and which ways of working well together engage the wider world in positive and negative ways. It just sort of skated over those questions for a shallow action plot and a deeply obvious “twist” ending. I wanted to like this book or, failing that, find it interesting to argue with. I can’t say that either happened.

Please consider using our link to buy The Affinities from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Of Noble Family, by Mary Robinette Kowal [Apr. 1st, 2015|08:52 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the conclusion of a series, and a lot of its emotional weight as well as its worldbuilding rests on having read the previous volumes. To use Jo Walton’s spearbuilding metaphor, this is a very sharp point on a very long spear. It’s sharp enough that even without the long spear, the point will probably cut skin easily, but with it, this book will go right through you and also impale your next-door neighbor.

At the beginning of the book, Jane and Vincent are ready to return to England when they find that Vincent’s brother needs them to go to Antigua on urgent family business. Vincent’s relationship with his relations, as readers of the previous books will know, have been strained at best, but some crises are important enough to encourage cooperation–especially with Vincent’s closest and least-fraught brother. When he gets there, he finds that the problems are not only at the core of his family but also with the conditions of the estate, its managers, and the slaves who have lived upon it. Jane is plausibly–and appropriately for the particular period–a mild abolitionist: not a modern person in a period dress, but someone who is horrified by the institutions of slavery–and yet still has some assumptions to unlearn about race herself.

In the midst of all of this, Jane finds herself pregnant with a much-wanted child who complicates matters immensely: it is widely believed that working glamour (magic) can cause miscarriages. This is an interesting case of something we don’t see enough of in fantasy: a place where different characters believe that magic works different ways, so that the exposition of the protagonist’s beliefs are important without being a definitive statement of ultimate truth. The slaves with whom Jane interacts have completely different assumptions about magic and how it is and should be done, and her attempts to learn from them feel very frustratingly realistic–and so do her frustrations with her own limitations.

The entire structure of the book hands Jane and Vincent one hard choice after another, regarding magic, human rights, and family. It’s no shame, then, that the true climax of the book is not quite so fraught. Some of the plot twists struck me as a bit obvious, but this is not a book whose power relies upon shock value. Rather, it’s focused on the emotional core of two people who love each other very much (and who are better at loving each other than they were for the first book), and how they face difficulties together. If you have someone close to you who has been through abuse–if you are that person yourself–this book may be difficult in spots, but it is incredibly well done. You may want to choose a moment when you’re feeling strong and supported to read it, but I don’t think it’s one you’ll want to miss.

Please consider using our link to buy Of Noble Family from Amazon. (Or the previous books in the series: Shades of Milk and HoneyGlamour in GlassWithout a SummerValour and Vanity.)

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late March [Apr. 1st, 2015|06:11 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I honestly don’t know how people who don’t read nonfiction do it. One needs such a lot of fiction to make up for it. I hope to regrow my ability to read nonfiction for fun in April, with some more rest, but in the meantime I am constantly surrounded by loads of good fiction, so I’m not actually suffering.

Lloyd Alexander, The Beggar Queen. Reread. I picked this up because it went with the “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” group I was reading. I love that he lets Sparrow and Weasel grow up. I love that the political realities of deposed monarchs are considered even when they’re personally awesome. This is probably my least favorite of its series, which still puts it very high on my all-time list. Always happy to discuss these books with whoever.

Alan Bradley, The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse. Kindle. This is a Flavia de Luce short story; it was entertaining, but mystery shorts tend to be a bit monofocus, so I don’t love it as much as I do the Flavia books. Still, though, 11-year-old chemist: hurrah.

J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic. I think this is pretty dependent on having read the first series, but it does fun things with Portugal for a setting and all sorts of magic sea creatures I am not at all tired of at this point. And also race and class, in a way that’s integral to the story and its setting rather than tacked on as a message about ours.

James S. A. Corey, Cibola Burn. Simultaneously gross and grim and not gross and grim enough. (Seriously. Way more people should be dead at the end. WAY MORE. And not in the “I hate that guy” way, either.) Also the villain is very mustache-twirling. If you want very dudely space opera, well, this dudes like anything. If I was not starved for good space opera, I would not still be reading this series, but it’s reasonably written, and…well, I am, in fact, starved for good space opera.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. So very much of this is so perfectly, so exactly, resonant with my college experience. Some of that, of course, is that I read it before college, so in addition to having the moment where Janet is dealing with a particular kind of professor resonating, I remember that when I got my similar professor, I thought OH GOSH LIKE IN TAM LIN at the time. So many small perfect things. So lovely so lovely.

Ellen Kushner, The Privilege of the Sword. Reread. I think every Kushner fan has their Riverside book, and this is not mine, but it’s lots of fun anyway. Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge…well, the torture is mostly emotional. I really liked that Katherine ended up a swordfighter without having spent her whole childhood being That Girl. There should be room for all sorts of roads to swashing one’s buckles.

Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, and Jingo. Rereads. One of my questions, as I barrel towards my favorite Watch book and in fact my favorite adult Pratchett novel (Night Watch) is where people have to start to get the full effect of Night Watch. So far I have kept thinking that each succeeding volume would actually be fine as a place to start. Lois said that she thought you had to start with Vimes in the gutter to get his full arc, but Vimes in the gutter is fully implied by Vimes as he exists in each later book–you can see the trail it left–and Guards! Guards! is not deep stuff. It’s fun–it’s just not deep. Vimes is a cardboard cutout of a drunk copper–this is even more clear to me now that I’ve spent the last decade watching quantities of cop shows. And Lady Sybil is practically Honoria Glossop. (For the record, of all the toffs in those books, I expect I’d get along fine with Honoria Glossop if I was socially thrown together with her–we could talk about dogs and, when I was steady enough, go for walks–whereas nobody else in Bertie Wooster’s social circle would be worth talking to for more than five minutes. Well, possibly Gussie on the topic of newts. And Barmy for that whole [college friend’s name redacted] experience of never having any notion what was going to come out of his mouth next. I DIGRESS BOY HOWDY.) My point being: the characters add depth as the series rolls along, but not linearly with each paragraph. Yes. I think that’s what I was trying to say. But: I had forgotten how much “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” Guards! Guards! was, and in fact the other two directly after it too, so that was interesting.

Delia Sherman, Young Woman in a Garden. Lovely stories, just lovely. Most of them explicitly historical fantasy, variety of voices and settings. Did not skip a one. Recommended.

Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings. Reread. Remember what I said above, about every Kushner fan having their Riverside book? This is mine. It goes with The Beggar Queen and the early Watch books in the “fantasies about countries dealing with not having a king any more but not really being over the concept” category, and it goes with Tam Lin and Caroline’s “of Magics” books (below) in the “academia fantasies” category. But I don’t love it for its categories, I love it for its lush precision. (Okay, I’m a sucker for its categories too.)

Caroline Stevermer, A Scholar of Magics. Reread. I want more fantasy inspired by this general era: the time when motor-cars were new and no one had fought a world war (but they might be thinking of it), basically. I chose this rather than the one before it because I hadn’t read it in awhile and had reread A College of Magics not long ago, and they’re very different for being so related to each other. Visiting scholar experience vs. undergraduate. Both with some cool world magic. Recommended.

Karina Sumner-Smith, Radiant. Lots of chewy interesting stuff in this, and it was also good fun to read. There is a minor plot element that…I don’t want to spoiler it, but there is a very small plot element that looks a lot like a trope I hate. But there is plenty of room for Karina to develop it in later books to have its own depth/complexity, so I was satisfied with that part. Also with the towers and the magic currency ideas. Next one went on my list right away.

Jo Walton, Farthing. Reread. This is almost the perfect inverse of the structure of Pratchett’s Vimes novels, which there is no reason to notice unless you’re reading them right next to each other, which I was, so. I have read more of the influences on this book since last time I read it, which only makes it better. Also, Jo is one of the best out there at actually managing theory of mind: that is, keeping it feeling reasonable when you know something and not all the POV characters do. Very hard in an ordinary mystery. Even harder with two very different POVs.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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