Favorite Authors: Connie Willis

Connie Willis is one of the great ones of science fiction, in my opinion. She’s probably best known for her time-traveling Oxford series, which was certainly my entry into her work and which remain my favorites. But she’s also co-written several books with Cynthia DeFelice and has a wide range of other works. With the exception of The Doomsday Book, which I loved but am not sure I can ever re-read because it’s so sad, her books tend to be a mixture of funny and emotional, with quite a few muddles and misunderstandings along the way. In the Oxford books, she has created a future that I care deeply about, even though I know it will never actually come to be, but which I want to return to again and again.

Favorite books by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog
All Clear
Blackout
“Fire Watch”
Promised Land

All of my Connie Willis reviews
To Say Nothing of the Dog (2010)
Blackout, briefly (2010), twice and All Clear (2011)
Fire-Watch, briefly (2010)
Inside Job, briefly (2011)
Water Witch, briefly (2010)
Bellwether, briefly (2011)
Promised Land, briefly (2012)

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Links from around the web 4-15-15

Hugos: Connie Willis won’t be presenting; George RR Martin has written quite a bit about his opinion (I don’t entirely agree with him); a good background article if you want to know what’s happening. There’s SO MUCH MORE going on in this area, but I’m not even attempting to gather all, or even half the articles I’ve read.

The Guardian posted a terrible article about the rise of fantasy where all the writers mentioned were men. And then they posted this almost equally dubious response. However, Maureen K. Speller had a fantastic breakdown of the issues with the original article.

Jon Ronson wrote a questionable article about internet shaming for the NYT and now someone has made public a really terrible line from his book (the line has been cut, but why would you write it to begin with?)

I generally love The Book Smugglers, but I think the first post in their new Decoding the Newbery series, about The Crossover, got it really wrong and is dismissive of a book lots of people have loved for good & valid reasons.

How Daughter of Time led to the rediscovery of Richard III. Not gonna lie, this made me tear up a little bit. (via Melissa Wiley)

Fascinating post about seeing book covers as a synesthete (via Kelly Jensen)

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s complete list of Story Girls posts! I love the ones I’ve read and definitely want to check out the others.

This Toast article about Old School Livejournal felt so familiar.

Courtney Summers started an awesome campaign called #TotheGirls, which took off yesterday and got covered in a bunch of major media places.

The Audubon Society vs. Jonathan Franzen is my new favorite ANYTHING.

Forms of Govpurrnance made my day recently!

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Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

under a painted skyIn 1849 Missouri, Sammy is an outsider, a Chinese girl with a gift for the violin. She dreams of moving back to New York City with her father, but as the book begins, her father has died suddenly and her dreams are shattered. Instead, she runs away with Annamae, a slave who hopes that Sammy is her ticket to freedom. Together, the girls head for California disguised as boys.

Under a Painted Sky is Lee’s debut, and it is an impressive one. Sammy and Andy are both at the end of their resources, desperate for a life that will save them from the one they left behind. Their relationship drives most of the book, and I loved the way that aspect was shown. They share a goal, but not the same experiences or outlook on life; their friendships is slow to bloom and sometimes prickly, but all the more real for that. I loved that they both learn from each other, and that they have to learn to trust each other to survive. The story looks at the realities of being a woman and a minority in 1849, while recognizing Sammy’s situation–as difficult as it is–does not begin to match Annamae’s. In many ways, Sammy is also a daughter of privilege, growing up in a well-educated, cultured family. I really appreciated the nuance here, as it would be easy to write a too-simple equation of one experience to the other. At the same time, Sammy and Andy find themselves in each other, in both little ways and larger ones.

Their friendship is really the heart of the book. As far as the rest goes, I felt that it gives a kind of alternate history in much the same way that YS Lee’s Agency series goes; YS Lee notes that she is giving Mary Quinn an “antidote to the fate that would otherwise swallow a girl like [her]”, and I felt that to a certain extent here. It’s not meant as a criticism; I wanted fiercely for them to have a happy ending, while at the same time I kept remembering that so many people did not.

I also very much enjoyed the funny parts, which definitely exist (I think I’ve accidentally given the impression that this is a very Serious Book; it is, it takes on big things, but it’s also an adventure story). Part of the strength of this story, I think, is that it shows the very real diversity of the West during the 1800s, while also being the kind of journey-story which is exciting and appealing to certain readers. This is definitely one that should be marketed to boys as well as girls. The boys that Sammy and Andy travel with for most of their journey are important secondary characters, and provide several of the lighter moments.

And there are hard things that happen too, which both Sammy and Andy have to deal with and find a way to live with. It’s here that I circle back to my first point, the importance of their friendship. They give each other support and strength when the other needs it, in a way that echoes so much of the way I find female friends help and support each other. Far too often, we see women in books in isolation: I love when their relationships become the center of a story. I think that the readers who love Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire for the combination of historical setting and focus on female friendship should definitely take a look at this one.

If I have a slight criticism, it’s that there were a few places where the pacing or prose felt a little awkward, but this is a debut book and I will definitely be looking forward to much more from Stacey Lee. Sammy and Andy’s story is one I found compelling, and hard, and beautiful.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons; YA historical fiction

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April releases I’m excited about

Wow, there are a lot of books coming out in April! Here are some I’m looking forward to.

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Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
Illusionarium by Heather Dixon
Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys) by Amy Spalding
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
Tracker by C.J. Cherryh (except I think I’ll wait until the trilogy is complete)
Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman
The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan
Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
Valiant by Sarah McGuire
Skandal by Lindsay Smith
Watch the Sky by Kristen Hubbard

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March 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood
A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel
Persona by Genevieve Valentine
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Death Marked by Leah Cypess
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (such a bittersweet read)
Hunting by Andrea K. Höst

Other books
Displacement by Lucy Knisley: I found myself disquieted by this one, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Land of the Burning Sands by Rachel Neumeier: Second in the Griffin Mage trilogy. At first I was a bit taken aback by the change in point of view, but I really liked the characters and the story, and the way we saw a different side to the countries than in the first book.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson: I absolutely adored this one. Smart, fun, filled with a YA sensibility. I also loved the way Kamala’s family and faith and culture are woven into the story, how they’re both frustrations and sources of strength. I can’t wait for the second collection!

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: The titular essay is one of my favorite things EVER. As a whole the book is enjoyable, but also tends to repeat itself a bit. Still, it’s short and tight enough that this didn’t bother me too much.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson: Nelson’s poetic memoir of growing up black in the 1950s. She uses the sonnet’s snapshort form to great effect. This perhaps doesn’t have the same overview as Brown Girl Dreaming, but it’s likewise an important and powerful story. Its aims are, I think, somewhat different and achieved beautifully. I hope people looking for readalikes for Woodson’s book find it.

Dangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel: Second Peggy Fitzroy book. I enjoy these Georgian spy mysteries quite a bit, although this one seemed a bit long (middle book syndrome, maybe?). I do really like the way Peggy’s relationship with Matthew is depicted, and her valiant attempts to keep juggling all her plates.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Fun, angsty fantasy (not a contradiction!). I liked the concept and worldbuilding a LOT, and the way the magic has a price. I was less connected to the characters than I perhaps wanted to be. There were a few niggling historical details that bothered me, because I am the person who can’t let go of the fact that there were no abundant skirts in 1819. However, it’s a really enjoyable book and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen: Darker middle grade retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Gorgeous language and a pleasingly spare book. I found the characters and the way the story plays with the original to be fresh and engaging, despite a few niggling questions about the resolution.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry: I’ve been hearing good things about McCarry’s writing ever since All Our Pretty Songs came out, and I finally picked it up. SO GOOD. Complex characters, a wonderful narrator, outstanding prose, layers of myths that add a lot of depth. Definitely recommended if you loved Bone Gap–I would love to see someone look at the way the two books engage with the story they have in common.

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Other posts
Favorite books from the last three years
Favorite authors: Terry Pratchett
Spring TBR list
Library displays
Books I want to revisit
Links 3-11
Links 3-26
Recent additions to my TBR
Links to two tumblr posts

TV & movies
Poirot. I’ve been watching a lot of Poirot. I find the fact that the stories are transported to the 1930s sometimes a little jarring, and I recently watched “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” which is just a study in how NOT to adapt that book. (What is the whole point? Christie playing with narrative. What do they ruin? The game she’s playing.) Still, I love the main actors and it’s lots of fun to spot people who would later become famous (or famous for British actors, anyway).

Also watched “Belle”, a beautiful period movie based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. I loved the movie as a story, and the acting was wonderful. It does bother me to a certain extent that the John Davinier of the movie is so obviously not the John Davinier of history, which undercuts the story a bit. But as a story based on Dido Belle’s life, it’s wonderful, and it’s a powerful and important piece of representation.

Finally, I watched Sense & Sensibility (1995) with the Two Bossy Dames crowd. Despite some technical glitches on my end (Netflix, why must you fail me?!), it was an extremely enjoyable evening; there’s definitely something to be said for watching a movie in good company. It’s been awhile since I had seen this one and it ages quite well. I will admit that the climactic scene when Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her had me crying and then texting my sister.

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On libraries, and women in SF

I have two posts up on Tumblr today that I wanted to mention here.

First, there is one I’ve been working on for the past few days, called “On Libraries.” It was born out of my frustration with some quotes about libraries that don’t reflect the reality I see. Here’s the opening:

Here’s the thing about public libraries: they are so much messier and weirder and funnier than you think.

They are kids throwing up on the brand-new carpet; kids missing the toilet entirely; mysterious substances smeared on the covers of books, on the pages, on the inside of DVD cases. They are a full bag of poop tied shut and shoved into the book drop. They are left behind trash and bedbugs crawling out of books and used condoms in the bathroom trash.

Second, go read Alexandra Duncan’s post on Stacked today, called “Staking Our Claim in the Science Fiction Universe.” It’s a great post, but I also had some thoughts about history and context. You can read those here.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Recent additions to my TBR

top-ten-tuesday
This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

This week is all about books you’re recently added to your to-read list. I’m not including all the non-fiction recommendations that people gave me recently when I asked on Twitter.

The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow: I read the first book and liked it, so I’m adding the second
Tales of Innocence and Experience by Eva Figes: Ana recommended this one recently
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda: The cover for this comic is really eye-catching
Isabel’s War by Lila Perl: This reprint of an older title sounds intriguing and I’m always fascinated by WWII stories
The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri Smith: I loved Flygirl and have heard good things about Orleans, so I’m intrigued by this new mg book
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma: I had been aware of this one but hadn’t actually put it on my list
Tales of the Kingdom by Cynthia Voigt: I had no idea this series existed until Kimberly from Stacked mentioned it!
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn: Thea from The Book Smugglers put this one in an “On the Radar” post recently
The Art of Scorpions by Erin Bow: I love Erin Bow’s books, and The Art of Scorpions sounds amazing
The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud: I’ve been a big fan of the first two books in this series. Can’t wait for this one!

And if you want to know how I organize my TBR list, I wrote a whole post about it!

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