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All the books I'm actively reading. Send help,

All the books I’m actively reading. Send help.

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I don’t know how this happened–no, I do. I’ve been reading several intense books in slow spurts because they are really good but also my heart can’t handle too much at once. And then I’m trying to read several other books that have taken me a bit to get into, so I keep pulling a new one off the shelf and trying it. Anyway, from the top:

Dove Exiled by Karen Bao: Sequel to last year’s Dove Arising. I am finding the writing a little choppy, but I’m really interested in what Bao’s doing with the world and characters.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken: For October’s reading notes, so I won’t say much more. Except–this book is 168 pages long. One hundred sixty-eight! Take note, authors.

Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid: This is a fun diverse teenage con/heist story–great for kids who have aged out of The Great Greene Heist.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: I’m rereading this with librarian book club and auuugghhhh the emotions. They might actually be worse the second time through?

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi: It’s very difficult to say what’s happening in this book, but in a good way. (I tend to like texts that make you work for their meaning, as long as they’re not being jerks about it.)

James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips: This book is making me feel way too many things. It’s fine. (I just DM the best/worst bits to the friend who recommended it to me. Thanks & you’re welcome.)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: A re-read because I wanted to and apparently wasn’t reading enough intense books? Yeah, I don’t know either.

Monstress by Marjorie Liu: My hold at the library FINALLY came in!! This is a lot more violent than I tend to like my comics, but the visual sensibility is so much my thing that I’m still reading. (Art deco-ish fantasy monsters=I’m there.)

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge: I JUST started this one, but I’ve gotten far enough in to be hooked. Definitely a story I’d only trust from an #ownvoices author, though!

Jupiter Pirates: The Rise of Earth by Jason Fry: Third in a middle grade SF series I’ve been enjoying! Fry has years of experience writing Star Wars tie-ins and he clearly has a good grasp of what kids like in their SF. I have a feeling that things are going to Happen in this one.

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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.

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Ancillary Sword

ancillary swordLast year I read and loved Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and felt very smug and vindicated when it ended up winning almost every science fiction award there is, including the Hugo for Best Novel. (Which is silly since I had nothing to do with it, but shows you my level of investment.)

But sometimes when you really, really love a book, reading its sequel is a dicey proposition. Ancillary Justice was such a strong book, but Leckie had also taken years to write it. Could she possibly manage to pull off the same thing a second time?

Reader, she could. Or rather, she could write a very different book which is just as brilliant and thoughtful and immersive.

Breq, the protagonist of Ancillary Justice, who used to be a ship (this makes more sense in context) returns to an uncertain world in Ancillary Sword. She has made an uneasy peace with Anaander Mianaai and been given a new ship, The Mercy of Kalr. But the other part of Anaander Mianaai is still out there (this…also makes more sense in context) and Breq’s old life is gone irretrievably.

Ancillary Sword takes place in a fairly limited setting, Athoek and Athoek Station, and the concerns it’s dealing with are at least on the surface likewise limited. Ancillary Justice was all about the grand reaches of politics and long-planned revenge; it had, for all its groundedness, the feeling of an epic. Ancillary Sword is about what comes afterwards, the search for meaning and identity, the awkward coming-to-terms with a sometimes unfriendly world. This is not a young adult book, but it shares some of the themes that YA often concerns itself with, even though the protagonist is in fact a centuries old former spaceship.

But if the Breq of Ancillary Justice was bound to the past, defined almost entirely by her quest for revenge against the Lord of the Raadch, the Breq of Ancillary Sword begins to become a person. This comes across most clearly in two areas: the way she deals with the command of Mercy of Kalr, and the way she deals with the situation on the tea plantation. With Mercy of Kalr, she shows that she can use the knowledge of being a ship, not cutting that part of her away, but also has to fumble her way through the awkwardness of human relationships. She’s dealt with Seivarden before, of course, but they are two exiles flung out of time. I liked both the strengths and mistakes that Breq makes here.

But with the tea plantation we also see that Breq is someone who still cares about justice, about righting wrongs. She is not one to stand by and let the powerful ride rough-shod over everyone else, and yet at the same time she understands her own complicity in the system. Leckie does not make the mistake of assuming a simple solution for the world she has created, and Breq herself must operate within its confines. The part of Breq that spent so long planning revenge against Anaander Mianaai is still there.

(Can I just say for a moment that I so appreciated that Leckie does not ignore the fact that the tea Breq drinks comes from slave labor, and in fact makes this an integral part of the story? I think too many book would simply hand-wave it away, and instead here it becomes part of the quiet subversion, working against the system within it, that I loved.)

I’ve seen a few other people say that this one has middle book problems; I didn’t see it, personally. But then I would probably read a book all about Breq and the crew of the Mercy of Kalr just going about their daily lives. I found the interactions there fascinating, and touching. And the worldbuilding continues to be superb. I love all the little details that underlie the story and show us the way this culture thinks. The writing too is understated and beautiful.

Ultimately, this is–like Ancillary Justice–a book that succeeds in being both thought-provoking and a good story. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2014, Orbit Books; adult science fiction

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December 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

All the other books
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky: I found this one to be a touching, tender look at families and identity, and what it means when a parent struggles with mental health. Sophie was a sympathetic protagonist, and I found a lot to like here.

United We Spy by Ally Carter: Perhaps it’s because I came to Carter’s writing via the Heist books, but the Gallagher Girls don’t have the same deep appeal for me that they do for many others. That said, I do think this was one of the weaker books in the series; despite a relatively strong resolution, it just bounced all over the place.

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan: For me, this one was a classic case of English majors run amok. It has a lot of separate elements which are really interesting, but taken as a whole, the symbolism came across as very heavy-handed, and both characters and plot failed to convince me that they were worth taking seriously.

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin: My reading experience for this title was probably marred by the fact that it included both a forward and afterword purporting to be from the editor and claiming that this manuscript ‘mysteriously appeared in their offices’ and since I hate that kind of intrusion with a BURNING PASSION, it really messed up the rest of the book for me. But also, I had trouble with Ritchie and buying his transformation. I wanted to, but it just didn’t work for me.

Forget You by Jennifer Echols: An enjoyable read, but my favorites are still Such a Rush and Going Too Far.

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron: I was hoping to really like this one; I enjoyed it, but it was a bit more stereotypically high fantasy than I was expecting and it never really wowed me. I do plan to read the next book or two, to see if the series as a whole delivers on the promise of what it could be.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers: I tried re-reading this one to see if I liked it any better. I didn’t, though possibly for different reasons than when I was younger.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: I’d been hearing rave reviews of this title even before I managed to get my hands on a copy and WOW. Yes, they were all right. This is a stunner of a book, with a wonderful world and narrator. I loved how much Leckie trusted her readers–there was never a moment when I felt hammered over the head with anything. This would absolutely have been a favorite book of 2013 if I had finished in time.

Above by Leah Bobet: This is a very difficult book to describe, so I won’t try. But I was seriously impressed by the world, by the writing, by the characters. Bobet shows people making hard choices, but does it with a lot of understanding and grace. I never quite tipped over into absolute love, but I really respected what the story did.

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil
All The Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

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