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Marissa Lingen

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Books read, late December. [Jan. 1st, 2012|04:14 pm]
Marissa Lingen

It's New Year's, and guess what? I'm sick. Again. In hopes that I can prevent this from happening next New Year's, I have put "start Vitamin C" on my calendar as a recurring December 1 thing. Ideally this will help. I appear to have read 297 books last year, and I appear to have discarded 60 without finishing them. That category ranges from reading a few sentences to reading a few hundred pages. One hundred twenty-three of them were in the category I mark "speculative" (which does not include speculative YA or kids' books), and only fourteen were in the category I mark "mystery," which probably explains why I am feeling hungry for a good mystery series just now.

Anyway! I am sick, and so I sound way more energetic in text than I actually am. And also I have read a boatload of books. So I cut because I care. But there's a lot of good stuff under there; you should go see.

E. Archer, Geek Fantasy Novel. Nerd metafiction for kids. Poor little book--it was reasonably entertaining and all, it just came to my attention on a day when it couldn't even be the best YA fantasy I read that day. Or, um. In the top two. But it was a fast, fun read, and it pretty much does what the title and cover advertise.

Kevin Brockmeier, ed., Real Unreal: Best American Fantasy Volume 3. Fantasy Writer Enjoys Peter Beagle Story: News At Eleven. (Followed by this breaking story: Singer/Songwriter Likes Townes Van Zandt Song.)

Mike Carey, The Unwritten: Leviathan. This is the first graphic novel series with which I've had the classic comics reader experience: impatience for the next installment of a serial to come out. The flip side of this is part of why I am not a bigger comics fan: I find the chunks of story so short in these things! I'm not primarily visual, so the reason I'm reading The Unwritten in graphic novel form is that that's the mode in which this story--which I very much want to read--is being told, not because I have a very deep connection with the art. But I'm still looking forward to seeing what they do with it.

Laurel Corona, Finding Emilie. There is a very standard--one might almost say conformist--narrative of historical novels of non-conformity. This is that. If you like a bright young girl finding her way through oppressive surroundings to find all the good things a bright young girl finds in that sort of novel, hey, this is a one of those! With bonus Marquise du Chatelet. But it doesn't really stand out within that genre.

David M. Crowe, A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia. So first of all, this is not, in fact, a history of the Romany people of that region, it's a history of what the non-Romany people of that region did regarding them. And second, it's wretchedly, wretchedly organized. For reasons as yet incomprehensible to me, Mr. Crowe decided that the best way to organize his book would be to have a chapter on each of the modern-day countries (at the time of his writing) he wanted to cover, going chronologically within the chapter. So in the bit on Czechoslovakia, there are various edicts from Maria Theresa. Then you get to the bit on Hungary. Surprise! Same edicts from aforementioned MT! It's bad enough to take this approach to a non-geographically focused people, but far worse when the regional boundaries you're using had a meaningful lifespan of about fifty years. So--this is not worthless, but it highlights how much I still don't know more than filling in gaps.

Aliette de Bodard, Master of the House of Darts. This series continues to be well-done and fun. Where will each volume take the politics both in this world and in the realms of the gods? I do not know! I have faith that Aliette will do pieces of major upheaval, so there's no "oh, it has to reset at the end" sense that you get from some mystery series. Which makes it all more interesting and exciting for me. (I should note that these are tagged as "spec" not "mys" in my files, so that's three more mysteries I've read this year.)

Sarah Beth Durst, Enchanted Ivy. I'm beginning to think that Durst is one of those authors who writes books that sound really awesome to me and then are totally, totally not my thing. In this case, the levels of gushing over Princeton and how wondrous it all is...made me roll my eyes rather than falling into the "Hooray for Princeton!" vibe.

Kate Elliott, Cold Magic. Alternate history Europe thinger. I wanted to know more about...pretty much everything in this book, actually. So that's probably a good reason to read the sequel. What I did not approve of here: Cat's relationship to her name late in the book. I was down with it at first, being friends with a young pair of Kat-and-Bee, but later developments made me give it more the stinkeye. I know this sounds like I'm being dreadfully picky, but I can't really say more without spoilers, and this is not exactly Citizen Kane in age and venerability of spoilage. I can say I think this is my favorite Kate Elliott thing to date.

Zetta Elliott, A Wish After Midnight. When netmouse brought this book up--and thanks for it and the others, netmouse, she said she was frustrated and didn't know why The Freedom Maze was getting so much more attention. Wait, no, I am misquoting. She was disappointed to see it getting so much more attention. Okay. Well, I can tell you a couple of reasons why it is, and they're interlinked.

Both are good books. Both are flawed books. But 1) A Wish After Midnight was originally self-published, and then picked up by Amazon's republishing arm. People tend to react less positively or enthusiastically to that. Whether that was about race or being an established writer or anything else, I could not honestly say, but it is a factor in how much buzz books get. (netmouse's solution of sending along this book to someone who might like it--me--is a useful one if you have the resources.) 2) There are kinds of flaws that tend to make professional editors either pass on the book or change that flaw, and there are kinds of flaws that slip through the publishing process. Zetta Elliott's characters have more depth and more complexity and are universally handled with more compassion than many--probably most--established authors' characters. But she has serious issues with pacing. The first fairly large chunk of book is simply the main character talking about her life, establishing her life and experiences. Very little happens, and the things that do happen do not hint at coming speculative premise. The one speculative event early on is then dropped or left unexplained later. If you don't have amazing connections, and even if you do, three chapters of not much going on is unlikely to hook the editor even if it's smoothly written and easy-to-read not much going on. (Which this is.) Even if it's doing the work of setting up complex characterization and relationships. (Which this does.) And that's...not even wrong, actually. Sure, not every book has to be paced the same way. But one of the things that happens with commercial pacing is that the writer communicates reading protocols to the reader. What kind of book this is. What sort of things will happen in it. Also, the longer anything goes on without happening in a book that promises something will happen, the more the writer has to deliver when stuff does happen. And the trip back in time is really wonderfully done, very realistic--but the ending is rushed and not very well resolved.

Does this happen with books that are professionally edited? Oh, sure. Editors are human; they fall down on all sorts of things. And I'm not saying that Elliott will have no chance of getting better at pacing without the work of a professional editor--it may be that having the right first-reader will fix this and allow her books to really shine and get the attention they deserve. Because this is a good book. It's a very promising first novel. But sometimes you read a novel like that and go, "...I have no idea why no one picked this up," and sometimes it's more like, "This has some really great stuff going for it...but I see what they were not enthused about, too."

I'd encourage you guys to give this one a try, especially if you're patient with pacing. It's doing interesting things with time travel and race; it was emphatically not a retreaded or watered-down Kindred. And Zetta Elliott could probably use readers at this point in her career. But be warned about the pacing, because that first step: it's not a doozy. Not really at all.

Karen Healey, The Shattering. Oh, I loved this. This cemented Karen Healey's position as an author whose work I will read whatever she does next. The New Zealand setting and mix of character ethnicities was beautifully handled, and the plot was exactly the sort of thing I read YA for. Recommended.

Matthew Hughes, The Gist Hunter and Other Stories. It turns out I like the Henghis Hapthorn stuff better than the not-Henghis Hapthorn stuff. So there's a thing.

Jonathan I. Israel, Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585-1740. What it says on the label. With lots of charts about cloth. Want charts about cloth? This is your book. I like Jonathan Israel, but...I'd recommend starting with some of his other work. Which I can't exactly say is less abstruse. Um. Still: very fond of Jonathan Israel.

Siegfried Jagendorf, Jagendorf's Foundry: A Memoir of the Romanian Holocaust. Because nothing says holiday cheer like a Holocaust memoir? Well. It was there and wanted reading. And it's an interesting approach, because Jagendorf himself was pretty self-serving about his treatment of fellow Jews in this horrible, horrible situation, and the fact that it was published posthumously gave the editor a lot more leeway to come in and go, "Well, actually..." when Jagendorf needed an actually. Probably there are better Holocaust memoirs for your time, but there are also worse.

Steven Johnson, The Invention of Air. This is like a mini-bio of Joseph Priestley. You can skip and hop through some light, fun early chemistry. I particularly liked the bit where he was putting random stuff under glass.

Robert Ludlum, The Holcroft Covenant. Grandpa's. Reading it now for spy novel purposes. It was...I can see why it was not one of his more famous works. But it was a fast read, as spy novels are prone to be, and the crashing sexism and predictability were kind of par for the course in that era, as I understand it. (All hail the David Audley books for being better.)

William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. Grandpa's. Thumping big book. Everything You Wanted To Know About Douglas MacArthur (And His Mother) But Were Afraid To Ask. Good stuff if you're interested in the subject matter, probably would have been numbing if I hadn't been.

Chris Moriarty, The Inquisitor's Apprentice. I loved this too. It nails the turn of the 20th century stuff in ways I have not seen done well very often before--the immigrant cultures, the rise of socialism--within a YA fantasy alternate history that hit a lot of my buttons. In some ways it goes with The Pushcart War and in some ways with the All-of-a-Kind Family books, both of which I love. Very excited about the next one.

Daniel Pink, Drive. Kindle library book. This is about creative work and how to get it done and how to motivate. It's got a lot of neurological studies I'd seen before, but not put together, and then some others I hadn't. It's also a lot of how not to motivate. Very fast read.

Madeleine Robins, The Sleeping Partner. Latest Sarah Tolerance book. More of Sarah Tolerance! Not where to start, but certainly a worthy entry in the series.

Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Squids Will Be Squids. Mostly I don't list picture books, because mostly I am reading picture books aloud to small people, and also mostly I figure you don't need to hear about them. But this one is sarcastic fables of great humor, and I got a copy after Rob so loved Lily's. It is an all ages book really and for true.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Engineering Infinity. This anthology contained more stories I liked than the vast majority of other anthologies, and also more stories I didn't hate. It started out with a bang with the Peter Watts story, and I didn't expect it to keep up that level, but the level it did keep up was still pretty good. Hurrah! Anthology worth my time!

Ian Whates, ed., Solaris Rising. This, on the other hand, was so little to my taste that I cannot pick out a story to like from it. This felt to me like what is wrong with modern SF writing for my tastes. Sigh.

Kit Whitfield, In Great Waters. Sometimes it helps if a major premise of a book is where you stick, because you can look at it and go, "Okay, I totally don't buy that. Am I going to keep reading or not?" And if you are, then you know that you agreed to the bit you don't buy when you decided to keep going. So the relation of the mer-creatures in this book to the royal houses of Europe in this alternate history: did not buy. But it was right there up front, so I could just say, "Okay, I'm going to go with this even though I don't buy it," and enjoy the rest anyway. Far better than being nickel and dimed.

Ben Wilson, Decency and Disorder: The Age of Cant, 1789-1837. This is about the rise of moral hypocrisy in British culture! It has so many weird and delightful aspects. It's really kind of awesome. And if you've ever looked at the Georgians and then the Victorians and gone, "... ... ...?????", this is a good book for you. Point A gets to Point B with entertaining anecdote.

So that's the bookses. State of the Mris and Year End Writing posts to come when I am feeling up for it; now back to the couch with some hot beverage of throat soothingness.


[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-01-02 12:41 am (UTC)
I'm sorry to hear that Solaris Rising had literally nothing in it worthy of your stamp of approval.

On the other hand, Engineering Infinity seems to have gone over decently, and we are in agreement on the quality of its specific contents (after accounting for the usual caveats), so hooray for that.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 12:47 am (UTC)
(For the benefit of people who are not us: the usual caveats include Mris Hates Zombies, No Really, No Really.)
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2012-01-02 12:57 am (UTC)
Have you always hated them? Or just since they've gotten So Hot Right Now.

PS 297 books ... JFC, woman. I knew you read fast, and I knew you read a lot, but that is off the chain.

I didn't keep track of mine this year, which is silly. It's probably hovering around 50 like usual :)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 01:05 am (UTC)
I have never liked zombies, but I like them even less now.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-01-02 01:15 am (UTC)
I am glad that your hatred for zombies is focused on Zombie Apocalypse/Dawn of the Dead zombies, rather than, say, the zombies in "Ironheart". Or "The Young Necromancer's Guide..." (Poor Dragon would be devastated!)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 04:13 am (UTC)
Those are not zombies! They talk and only consume brains as part of a balanced diet including cake!
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-01-02 04:34 am (UTC)
The Food Groups according to Hydra:

1) Cake!
2) More Cake!
3) People who call Hydra a "monster".
4) Ooh, ooh, the *best kind of cake*!
5) With chocolate frosting!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 04:11 am (UTC)
That is no flower! Flowers are for Summer Mrissas! That is a snowflake!
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[User Picture]From: netmouse
2012-01-02 10:20 pm (UTC)
I am exactly the same way!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 04:14 am (UTC)
See, and I eat clementines and grapefruit and lo these many things. So I think the next step is to do that and take Vitamin C supplements.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 06:07 pm (UTC)
It is true! Veggies are awesome that way. On the other hand, I live mostly on veggies, and here I am, cough cough hack hack.
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[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2012-01-02 02:18 am (UTC)
And if you've ever looked at the Georgians and then the Victorians and gone, "... ... ...?????", this is a good book for you.

Why, yes, I have! Frequently. That one's going on the wish list.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2012-01-02 11:59 am (UTC)
It's nor rare for my to buy a book or two after reading about them here. Three is on the high side. But what really pleases me is that one, The Inquisitor's Apprentice, lokos like something I'll like very much and I might have been unlikely to buy it without this review. (The title makes me think of Spain in 1492 rather than NYC in 1902.)

FWIW, the other two were the Daniel Pink book and a Sarah Tolerance mystery - not the one you review here but an earlier one.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-02 02:00 pm (UTC)
There is a line on page 12 about why Uncle Mordecai was kicked out of Russia that--well, I was sold. Sold, sold, sold.
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From: vcmw
2012-01-02 02:59 pm (UTC)
Several of these sound delicious, but the Ben Wilson thing sounds ridiculously right for my reading tastes.
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From: diatryma
2012-01-02 03:10 pm (UTC)
I think I am the same about Sarah Beth Durst. I have one of hers from the library now, and one roommate's read it and given it the expected stamp*. There's a type of book where the premise is the point, and I tend not to like them. Also, in-jokes: not usually my thing.

I'm more likely to read the Delia Sherman now that I have something to compare it to; the buzz about the book was not quite to the point of I Refuse To Read That, but still the type of thing that makes me unlikely to pick it up without guilt spurring me on. So yay Zetta Elliott for that reason.

*In my head, I just invented stamps for the books ranging from 'Please read this because we're going to be talking about it' to 'Don't read it, it was boring in a boring way'. Which is not a spectrum, so there are other stamps like 'Huh' and 'Get me more of this author NOW. No, really, now.' It's weird and awesome to actually live with someone who is not only reading the same books I do, but reading the same books I do, with no recent genre mismatches, and at the same time. Other people read science fiction and fantasy and Julia Spencer-Fleming, but I don't curate their reading experiences.
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From: swan_tower
2012-01-03 11:26 am (UTC)
And if you've ever looked at the Georgians and then the Victorians and gone, "... ... ...?????", this is a good book for you.

Well, shit. Where was that book when I was shifting gears from A Star Shall Fall to With Fate Conspire?

("On the bookstore/library shelf" is the likely answer. "Waiting for you to notice its existence, dumbass." Oh, for the books I should have read and didn't.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-01-03 01:56 pm (UTC)
Actually the correct answer is "not having a US release." I picked this one up in Chapters in Vancouver, and it has Canadian and UK pricing on it. Which doesn't mean you might not have ordered it from Chapters yourself or tried to find a used copy if you'd known it was there, but I really think that lack of US edition is a good reason you didn't find it.
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From: swan_tower
2012-01-03 08:10 pm (UTC)
Ah! This is good to know.
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