Categories
book lists bookish posts

Diving into the TBR stacks

Are there some authors who perpetually hang out on your TBR list? Not because there’s anything wrong with their books, but just because there are so many. I have a few I’ve been meaning to get back to for *ahem* some time now and I need a little push to get me to actually do it. So here I am, committing to reading the following books by the following authors sometime this year.  We’ll see how this project unfolds!

An Earthly Crown by Kate Elliott

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

The Sleeping Life by Andrea K Höst

The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

Half-Resurrection Blues by DJ Older

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Vicious by Victoria Schwab

Blood Spirits by Sherwood Smith

Categories
book lists bookish posts

Favorite science fiction from the last five years

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of my favorite SF from the last few years. These are not necessarily books published in the last five years, but ones that I’ve read in that time span. (I feel like I’ve read less SF this year than normal, but I know there are also several I haven’t gotten around to yet.)

ancillary mercyscorpion rulesconservation of shadows

Ambassador by William Alexander: I read Ambassador for the Cybils back in 2014 and loved it. It’s nice to have an SF book about a Latino boy, and Alexander does a great job of incorporating Gabe’s identity and culture into the story. The concept that drives the book works well as a way to combine kids and politics.

Quicksilver and Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson: This is a really fascinating SF duology from one of my favorite authors. I’m never sure what to say about these books, because they have some great twists I don’t want to spoil. But I loved the main characters a lot, and I enjoy the way they have an SF plot with kind of a fantasy sensibility–if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao: I read this YA for the Cybils last year, and it’s really stuck with me. Less the plot (I just had to Google because I couldn’t remember) and more the characters and worldbuilding Bao was doing. I really liked Phaet, and I felt like her outlook on life is one we don’t get very often in YA.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: This book. THIS BOOK. It’s terrifying and tense and smart and every time I drink apple cider, I wince. Terrible things happen in it, and yet I also cried because it’s so hopeful and affirming. I can’t say how much I love Greta, and Xie, and all the Children of Peace.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold:  I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in its entirety, as I’ve documented here many times, but I was really fascinated by some of the turns and choices she made in the latest installment. It was also really lovely to have another story from Cordelia’s point of view.

The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh: If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I’ve been glomping my way through Cherryh’s massive series. I love the way she writes the atevi and the political and social customs and issues that arise. While I occasionally quibble with the depiction of the human women, overall the characters are really engaging and wonderful as well.

Promised Land by Cynthia DeFelice and Connie Willis: This is a lighter SF romance, which has turned out to be one of my comfort reads. It’s kind of a space western, but in a very different vein than Firefly.

Jupiter Pirates by Jason Fry: A fun middle-grade space adventure about a family of space privateers. Tycho and his siblings have to compete to win the captain’s seat, but there are also bigger contests going on. Fry has written a number of Star Wars chapter books, and he clearly knows what he’s doing.

And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst: I love Höst’s books, and this was the first one I read. It’s an intimate story, almost quiet, even though it’s about a terrifying world-wide event. Rather than a sweeping epic, Höst keeps the scale on a human level, and makes me care so much about Madeleine and her friends and the outcome of their story.

Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: I basically always want to be reading this trilogy; Leckie writes ambitiously about identity, loyalty, families, and imperialism. She also pulls it off, mostly because of her rich characters and worldbuilding which also give an emotional core to the big concepts she’s engaging with.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: I was really impressed by this short story collection, which features so many fascinating and strange worlds, as well as some really striking characters. The prose itself is also beautiful, even when the subject matter is not. I can’t wait till I get a chance to read Nine Fox Gambit.

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it turns out that near-future socio-political thrillers are very much my thing when Valentine is writing them. Persona is smart and sleek and tense. If UN + red carpet + spies sounds intriguing, this book is probably for you.

Categories
bookish posts reviews

October 2014 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh
Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore
Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain by Hilary McKay
Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: This is turning into a comfort read for me–the characters I love, with a less angsty storyline than, say, Mirror Dance. Plus, it contains one of my favorite moments in the whole series in the sinking of ImpSec HQ.

Other books
Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks: I’m not a big urban fantasy reader, but I’d heard this one recommended a few ties so I tried it. I liked it, but it never fully engaged me and I found the semi-forced romance a bit off-putting (though handled MUCH better than it could have been). Readers of this series, does it get better? At the moment I feel like I’ll probably try the second book at some point, but am not in a hurry to do so.

Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh: Honestly, at this point I can’t remember which Foreigner books are which. Googled plot summaries tell me that it’s the one with the kidnapping. Right. I’ve liked this trilogy quite a bit–especially the addition of Cajeiri’s narration. It also has a slightly more intimate focus than many of the other books, focusing as it does on Bren’s role as Lord of Najida.

Caszandra by Andrea K Host: An extremely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy! I was a bit worried that Host wouldn’t manage to draw all of her threads together, but I think she pulled it off. While I would love to know more about what happens in the future, it’s also a nice place to leave the characters. Except that we don’t quite, because there’s the…

Gratuitous Epilogue by Andrea K Host: Really for people who like to know Exactly What Happened to all the characters (those of us who once found the ending of Jo’s Boys satisfying) but nicely written for all that. I didn’t realize that it’s almost a complete book on its own–more novella than short story–but I’m not complaining about this.

Champion of the Rose by Andrea K Host: Several people said they didn’t like this one as much as Host’s other books, but I quite enjoyed it! I like creepy fairies, and also morally or perhaps politically ambiguous characters. (Yes, Aristide is my favorite.) Host’s theme of “young woman thrust into difficult circumstances” is just as present as ever.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: I was worried about this one, but I think it’s just as good, though quite different in scope, as the first book. I have quite a bit more to say about it, actually, which I’ll hopefully get up soon.

Bones of the Fair by Andrea K Host: Definitely better than Champion of the Rose, imo. But this is mostly due to the fact that Aristide was the most interesting character to me in the first book, and I really liked Gentian, and the conflict between them. The ending did feel a tad anticlimactic, but that is my only complaint.

Monstrous Affections ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant: I was mostly excited about this one because of Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Wings in the Morning” (I wondered if it would work for people who have not been avidly following Turn of the Story, but I saw at least one review that said it did). And it was so satisfying and I grinned. This was overall a strong short story collection–not all of the stories worked equally well, but there were some really great ones (I liked Nalo Hopkinson’s and M.T. Anderson’s especially).

Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon: Part of my project to familiarize myself with J FIC. This is one where I can see the appeal but don’t necessarily feel the need to read any more of the books.

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly: First Benjamin January mystery. It’s moody, atmospheric, somewhat depressing in a certain way. Certainly well written, and I liked it enough to go on to the next. However, the solution to that one was quite upsetting to me, and I’m not sure whether to continue. People who’ve read more of them: is there anything as awful in the later books?

Other posts
Libraries and Life Preservers
Made and Making
Character-driven SF

TV & movies
Parks & Rec season 6: I saw this had gone up on Netflix, and I was sick, so I glommed through a fair bit of it. I’ll really miss this show when it’s gone; I find the characters so delightful at this point. Not all the episodes are perfect, but it’s a good example of comedic storytelling that doesn’t feel like I’m getting punched in the face.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day: I was sick and I wanted to watch I Capture The Castle (Romola Garai!) but it’s not on Netflix anymore, apparently. So I watched this instead, which worked for being sick and was moderately entertaining (Lee Pace’s accent is unintentionally hilarious) but I have never liked Ciaran Hinds and I find him as a romantic hero very improbable. One to enjoy but not linger on, or the charm goes away.

I could swear I watched other stuff, but I honestly don’t remember what so there we are.

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Scalzi, Milan, Host, Hamilton

lock inLock In by John Scalzi: Spoilers for this book follow Let me sum up my feelings on this book in one word: conflicted. Scalzi writes smart commercial SF that is not a pain to read, and I usually quite enjoy his books without feeling like they’re necessarily doing anything groundbreaking. I zipped through this one, and though he was doing interesting things. But I called not just the solution to the mystery, but parts of how it was done. I realized quite early on that Chris wasn’t gendered, and that Marcus Shane was black, and the treatment of both of these aspects didn’t really work for me. I feel like I’m in the minority here, and I would be interested in non-binary/genderqueer voices on this book. But, even if Chris doesn’t identify as either male or female, that’s still an identity; that identity still has bearing on that person’s interactions with other people. And, perhaps more fundamentally, I felt like Lock In was telling an expected story. I feel a bit weird saying that, considering that the protagonist is black and disabled and probably genderqueer, and those things don’t get enough representation. But compared to Leckie or Hurley? This is just the same old story with new characters slotted in. It was entertaining enough, but it felt safe. It felt like the lowest difficulty setting.

suffragette scandalThe Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan: Last in the Brothers Sinister series. I had to mention this one because it’s so good, even though I don’t normally review romance books here. I loved the two main characters, and I loved the way they supported each other. Milan is good at writing characters and plots where the obstacles that have to be overcome are realistic and understandable (not much “You don’t understand my paaaiiiin”). I also loved the sense of family, and the insights we got into other characters from the series. This was a deeply satisfying book, and one of Milan’s best.

lab rat oneLab Rat One by Andrea K Host: Second in the Touchstone Trilogy. I liked this one a bit better, I think, mostly because Cassandra starts to feel more comfortable in her surroundings and becomes more active and competent. It is definitely a detail and character oriented story, partly due to the diary format, I think. It makes sense for diaries to include all kinds of everyday details and in fact they almost have to. But things definitely happen, some of them worrisome and some happy-making.

house of dies drearThe House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton: I hadn’t read this one and I felt like it was important to read at least one book by Virginia Hamilton. If you want to sum up the story in one word: atmospheric. It’s a pretty tight third person narration, focusing on Thomas Small, who is a sensitive kind of person and conveys the eeriness of house and town quite well. I appreciated the way Hamilton draws on the idea of history, and more specifically the history of slavery, as present and important to the story and the characters. It underlies everything in this book, and she never lets us forget it.

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Characters in exile: Stray and The Silence of Medair

stray I’ve been on a bit of an Andrea K Host kick recently, first with Stray and then The Silence of Medair. (I read And All the Stars earlier this year and loved it.

Stray and Medair are quite different in overall sensibility. Stray is written as a diary, from the point of view of a teenage girl, and the worldbuilding is more science-fictional. Medair is told in tight third person, Medair’s age is not given but reads as perhaps mid to late twenties or early thirties, and it is definitely a fantasy (unless some bizarre explanation in the second book pushes it into SF).

And yet, both share this sense of dislocation, of being set out of time or out of space. Cassandra walks from Australia into another universe, Medair wakes five hundred years late. The bulk of both stories deals with the fall-out from this exile, both personally and politically. In a world that they don’t really understand (Cassandra more so than Medair), both characters must decide whether they will stay, whether they will cast in their lot and engage with this unfamiliar landscape or remain separate and alone.

In case it’s not clear, I thoroughly enjoyed both books. I’ve already started Voice of the Lost, and asked for Lab Rat One on inter-library loan.

It’s also true that both Cassandra and Medair spend quite a bit of their respective books reacting rather than acting, but this makes sense in the context of the story, and I never felt like they were passive characters. Of course, I’m more of a character-based reader than a plot-based reader, so books where the plot is “character coming to terms with their situation and themselves” doesn’t turn me off the way it would some people.

Stray begins with Cassandra’s notes after she steps through into a different world. It’s at times a slightly frustrating read because we’re so much in Cassandra’s timeline, and from the reader’s perspective something is clearly going to happen. However, once it does the pace picks up quite a bit. And I did appreciate that Host spends so much time on the mechanics of survival–Cassandra has less than Robinson Crusoe and modern life is much less suited to surviving when you’re suddenly pitched into a wilderness. Especially a wilderness full of completely unfamiliar fruit, which might save your life or might kill you.

Cassandra herself is a familiar and beloved kind of heroine. Bookish and nerdy, inward-gazing if not introverted, she has a strong moral compass and part of the strength of the book is the way she considers the consequences of her choices. She’s also not as boring as this makes her sound: her voice is clear and quite teenagerish, and I really enjoyed her sense of humor.

The sense of dislocation comes from the fact that her family has no idea where she has gone, that she can’t go back. She’s pitched into a strange world, with (slight spoiler) people she can’t at first understand and a society which is dramatically different from ours. And she has moments when she resists the situation she finds herself in, using Earth-based humor in a way the others won’t get. But I also suspect she is in some ways mis-reading situations and relationships in a wholly understandable and very human way. With lots of unresolved strands, this book certainly read as the first book in a trilogy, but in a “I have to read the next one now!” way.

medairMedair starts off much more in the middle of things, and gallops off from there. Medair, a Herald of Farrakkan, went in search of a legendary magical object to end the war her people were fighting. But she comes back five hundred years too late, the war long gone and the invaders thoroughly ensconced. When Medair rescues an Ibisian and has a geas put on her as a result, she must face the world she had retreated from, and decide what her place in it is.

Again, I’ve made that sound way too boring. I liked Cassandra a lot, but I really liked Medair. She’s older and a little sadder than Cassandra, without the burning sense of her own rightness to keep her going. And she struggles with her growing sense of the Ibisians as people, not simply the enemy she fought against (even that was complicated by her stay with the Ibisian ruler). Her ultimate choices didn’t surprise me, but they did leave me a very satisfied reader.

I’ll also note that I really enjoyed the worldbuilding here, the sense of history and politics, and the descriptions of landscapes and settings. Perhaps it’s just that I’m really a bit more of a fantasy reader but: I liked Stray a great deal, I loved Medair.

(As a complete side-note, I really like the covers for these books! One of my small gripes with self-publishing is that the quality of the covers is often not good [granted that is also sometimes true of big publishing houses, but it seems to be more often true of self-published books] and I appreciate that Host has put in the effort and money to have really quality covers for her books.)

Book source: ILL (Stray), purchased ebook (Medair)
Book information: 2011 (Stray), 2010 (Medair), self published; YA and adult respectively, though there’s no reason they can’t be crossovers

Categories
bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: 2-21-14

And-All-the-StarsAnd All the Stars by Andrea K Host: Several blogging friends have been praising Host’s books for a few years now and I finally got around to reading one. And All the Stars is marvelous–diverse, thoughtful sci-fi, which takes a somewhat improbable scenario and makes it real and human.

The Bearkeeper’s Daughter by Gillian Bradshaw: Historical fiction about Justinian and Theodora, with the focus on a probably-not-real son of Theodora’s. I liked the way Bradshaw weaves in the court history and politics while also keeping a very human and down-to-earth focus on John and his struggles.

Imperial Purple by Gillian Bradshaw: There’s a similar setting and ethos to this one, which looks at the end of Theodosius II’s reign. I found that having the main characters being regular people caught up in larger events gave me more of a sense of everyday lives, as well as being a perspective you don’t always see in historical fiction.

Pride of ChanurThe Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh: Rachel Neumeier told me to read the Chanur books, so I did. 🙂 I loved the way Cherryh keeps the narrative entirely from Pyanfar’s point-of-view, making it far more effective than splitting the story between characters. Perhaps because of that, I did feel a slight distance from the characters, more so than with the Foreigner books. Nevertheless, I am definitely invested enough to read the rest!