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So Many Books...

Jun. 10th, 2012

09:38 pm - Finish line post

My stats:

Hours spent reading, listening to audiobook, writing up books finished, and Challenge interactions: 32 hours, 15 minutes. (Rounded, and oddly, same as last year.)

Books read: 7 (I of those I'd started before the Challenge), and a few hours of an audiobook listened to.

Money donated to Reading is Fundamental: $75

Books still to write up: 1 (Greg Van Eekhout's The Boy at the End of the World.)

Reduction in my Goodreads To-read shelf: hahaha. (It's gone down a few, but nothing like as much as it'll go up after a few more minutes looking at other participants' reading.)

Resolution for next year: get better sleep the night *before* the Challenge so I don't go into it tired.

Other probably unkeepable resolution for next year: don't discover that the living room radiator is leaking the day Challenge starts. Just don't. I had no time to make the nice scones I was planning to make, and fun snacks would have been really comforting.

Aahhh, it's a good sign that thinking about next year is already fun.

08:55 pm - Book 7: SHINE, by Jeri Smith-Ready

I'm SO not putting the cover here, as it's vile. Actually, I'm not going to say all that much about this book anyway, as it's book 3 of a trilogy, and it's all spoilers for book 1. So the few random thoughts that are all I'm capable of, for the trilogy.

1. This isn't exactly the kind of fantasy that would appeal to the readers who like their fantasy with a good basis that borders on the realistic end of the fantastic. Even in the first book, there was a big old unanswerable question lurking: How did anybody KNOW about the Shift? (For everyone who hasn't read it, all children born after the Shift - some unknown event that happened 16 years before book 1 - can see ghosts, while those who were born before it, cannot. Even those who could see them before the Shift lost the ability.) How did the adults find out all they did about kids being able to see ghosts, and, even more so, how did they discover how to trap and control them?

2. But that said, the Shift caused a really interesting change in the power relationships between adults and teens, with the teens having to translate for the adults so they can communicate with ghosts, as for example, in trials. (Nice side-effect of the Shift is the ability of murder victims to testify!)  In book 3 there's a lot of seriously bad stuff going on with the DNP (govt agency to control ghosts) and the big business interests that make fortunes over the control of ghosts, and it leads to the proposal of  a draft for all post-Shifters. A draft as in the erstwhile military draft - all post-Shifters will be forced to register on their 18th birthday and serve in the DNP.  We're not talking light-handedness here, but still, it's unusual and I like the 'what-if' exploration. (And I thought the scene in the high-school with the students standing up for the principal was pretty great.)

3. Ridiculous romance, we get it. And while there's the inevitable YA love-triangle, the fact that one of the guys is ghost Logan does offer interesting possibilities for looking at loss and letting go. I didn't even like Logan at all, but still found Aura's prolonged struggle to be loyal to him while finding a way to help them both move on quite touching. And in book 3, there's a ludicrous young lovers *fated* to be together and being connected in a way no other young lovers are deal - which isn't actually all that ludicrous because it's true in the reality of the book.

4. Bit of a downturn when Aura and Zach come to Ireland, to go to Newgrange where it all began, but it's mostly fairly little stuff, and the actual winter solstice at Newgrange is kind of awesome. It did grate that they kept talking about Irish people speaking 'Gaelic', and was very unlikely that Zachery would have been so easily able to understand said Irish speakers. But I was willing to let the daft Irish [spoiler] group go as this wasn't, as I said, very realist fantasy. Well, mostly willing to let it go.

5. Overall, despite the above-mentioned & other occasional annoyances (Aura makes some really bad choices in book 2 when grieving, and throws a hell of a bratty temper tantrum in book 3), the series was fun and I'm kind of sorry it's over now.

03:42 pm - Book 6: THE WICKED AND THE JUST, J. Anderson Coats

I am really running out of steam. Not reading steam, but sitting at the computer and saying anything about the reading steam. Though this wasn't an easy read, either. Somehow or other I'd got the impression that this was historical fantasy, and once I got over that, I still had the idea it was more -- lighthearted. Not fluff, but not quite the tragic, bloody, slice of history I should have known it would be. Caernarfon, Wales, 1293, that setting.

The book is told in alternating POVs, with the vast majority of the narrative going to Cecily, especially at the beginning of the book. There's a quote on the front cover from Karen Cushman, and in the beginning Cecily's voice sounded *very* like Birdy, which is always a good thing, although that set it up for being a less tragic story. (Also, Coats doesn't have the sure touch with maintaining "period language" that Cushman has. It's not usually too bad, but there are definite missteps.) But it soon becomes clear just how different from Birdy Cecily is. She's presented as a spoiled brat, and in fact  the other POV character, Gwenhwyfar, calls her "the Brat", but in ways she's worse than that, and so willing to cause others to suffer that it makes for chilling reading.  Of course she's not going to have been taught that injustice matters even when it's not just to you or yours, because her father doesn't think that way. And in all honesty, it's probably a very small number of English people at the time who would have been likely to think outside the "the King conquered Wales - it's ours now" mindset when told [Edit to change to correct spelling - good grief I was tired to have written the grape juice version] Welsh holdings were theirs for the asking. (Pretty much.)  I didn't get just why the father thought he SHOULD have had the estate he ran for his crusading brother - he was the younger, and would there even have been the ability to bring a suit to try to get it for himself? I'd have thought it extremely unlikely, but then my 13th century English legal knowledge isn't that solid.

Gwenhwyfar's narrative is also difficult, as her reasons for burning resentment and hatred against the English has so much to feed it. Her father was killed in an earlier uprising, leaving her and her younger brother to take care of their mother and themselves, in a town that the English are running in a deeply corrupt manner. She has reason to hate Cecily from the start, as Cecily tries to have her thrown out of her position on the first day, but just as she starts to believe Cecily might be learning a bit (which she is), Cecily behaves even more unforgivably. (It's bad, too, for all Cecily isn't quite aware just how horrifically it could end. I mean, she *should* have been aware of it, even though she chose not to see.)

Those of you whose history is less pathetic than mine will have known that there was an uprising coming, and it's then that the book takes a turn I didn't expect. It's not as simplistic as showing the Welsh to be capable of brutality in the killing of people in the town when they rebel - though it shows this, also. But it's how Gwenhwyfar and her brother react when Cecily is utterly at their mercy that is surprising, and works towards an unexpected and satisfying ending, though one that leaves nothing sure.  There was a fine author's note at the end that told about what happened after the uprising - and it was what she'd put into some of the characters' mouths. I do like a good author's note after a good historical novel! 

11:30 am - Book 5: PICTURE THE DEAD, Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

I'll come back to book 4 (Greg Van Eekhout's The Boy at the End of the World) soon, honestly - was just too tired last night when I finished to sit at the computer and say anything sensible. It was a keeper though!

  Picture the Dead's (very brief) Goodreads synopsis:

Jennie Lovell's life is the very picture of love and loss. First she is orphaned and forced to live at the mercy of her stingy, indifferent relatives. Then her fiancé falls on the battlefield, leaving her heartbroken and alone. Jennie struggles to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, but is haunted by a mysterious figure that refuses to let her bury the past.






All right, but it neglects to mention that her twin brother has also died (it's the Civil War), and that her fiancé was one of those 'indifferent relatives', and her first cousin. My feelings about this book are mostly that it's very stylishly done - I love the way it's presented, with pages of letters and photographs as if from Jennie's scrapbook - but there isn't terribly much depth. Honestly though, I might have had more time for the story if I hadn't been so annoyed by the stupid, utterly pointless fat-bashing. Jennie's mean and hypocritical aunt is described on page 2 as "a spoiled child, blown up into a monster", and that "blown up" is quickly clarified as meaning fat: same page, her chin "wobbles like aspic". First picture of her, she's fat (shocker) and ugly (ditto). Next but one scene, we have "Her eyes were baleful, her pudgy finger crooked".  They get a photograph taken and Jennie says her aunt's "jellied bulk affords her a dignity that eludes her in real life". There are plenty more "fat fingers", "squeezing" of her girth -- all the usual.

But, there's an odd one later on, about two girls who had been Jennie's "friends", when she was engaged to the older son of the family. Their calling cards are pasted onto a page in Jennie's scrapbook, with her writing beside it: "If everyone knew how much Flora gossips and Rosemary eats, they mightn't be so quick to accept a calling card from either sister."  Really?  These snobs who drop Jennie as soon as she's lost social standing are a huge cliché, and part of that cliché is really the gossiping involved in social calls. But this toss-off, illogical remark is still pretty vicious - Flora's gossiping is a real fault, for all it wouldn't have stopped her visiting with her social set, but eating a lot? 

It's a pity that there was this kind of rubbish going on, as the details about the early days of photography are a lot of fun, and seem to have been well researched. Other things were more dubious historically, though I can only say of one of them - "At 18?  No." as it's a spoiler.

Jun. 9th, 2012

08:21 pm - Book 3: THE CHAOS, Nalo Hopkinson

Well, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of writing anything coherent about this one, so have a Goodreads synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she's the perfect daughter, at school she's provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can't be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she's ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that's begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.

Actually, that's kind of helpful because I don't think it's great as descriptions go, though it's easier to criticize than to write one myself. Starting from the top, Scotch (also known as Sojourner, which is such a wonderful name) is hardly the perfect daughter; she may hide things like the clothes she *really* wears at school, and she may have hidden the fact that she was going out with a white guy, but that's not quite 'perfect'. Provocatively sassy is an odd one, but I think the third is just a bit off: I'd read this description, and read Hopkinson discussing it, and expected Scotch to feel more obviously as if she didn't belong. In the book,
she gets grief about not looking like her darker brother, but she's very able to deal with it. And she simply doesn't *take* the grief about her Jamaican accent not being right or the like (from some of the kids at school).

Anyway, the Chaos is the name given to all the weird stuff that happens, both in Toronto and around the world. And it's seriously weird, which in a way is all I feel like saying about it - it's Seriously. Weird. If you don't like random surreal things happening for no reason, this is probably not the book for you. I really liked it, but I'm not at all sure that I'd be able to justify it if I were writing a real review of the book. It's a bit too random and there's a bit of heavy metaphorical layer to the randomness that I'm not sure totally works. But this isn't a real review - hurrah!

Anyway, the Chaos is now dealt with! And there's a really interesting YA story there too, though it's not at all as simple as "Teen of Mixed Racial Identity Comes to Terms with her Identity". But the thing about that YA story is that Scotch is a real jerk at times, and her repeated "Oh no, she didn't!" moments got to be a bit annoying. The first one is quite neat though. She's just dealt with a guy in a bar (her brother snuck her in so she could hear him perform his poetry) who's being all flirty until he sees her brother. When Scotch tells the guy it's her brother rather than her boyfriend, he says ALL the awful things about how they can't be related, really, and then goes on to say the most hideously awful thing about how she could even 'pass as white'. She's duly disgusted, but tells him off with (alas, probably practiced) ease. And shortly after, she's talking to a girl, Punum, who's just performed, and assumes it's her first time performing (she's in a wheelchair). Punum calls her on it asking if it's because she hasn't seen "a chick doing spoken word, or a crip doing it?" When Punum says that Scotch can't use 'crip', Scotch says she gets it, because it's 'like me being black. There's names we can call ourselves that other people better not.'  The way Scotch understands her own situation perfectly, and has very much missed that people with a disability should get the SAME RESPECT, is really well done. But next page she starts to realise that Punum is gay and thinks "Great. I had a big old dyke stepping to me. Or wheeling to me. As if."  ::smacks Scotch::

And then she falls into the trap of thinking she's so awesome for defending Punum (verbally) when Punum has gone out to take on the police who have been beating up a guy in a wheelchair. But right after defending her, she acts in exactly the same way, if down a notch, by assuming that Punum can't possibly make her way across town without Scotch there to hold her hand, despite it being perfectly obvious that Punum is more than able. Furthermore, her thought is that Punum should be 'grateful' to her for the defending, instead of being 'so mean'.

Aaaand then, a short time later, she says the inexcusable thing: about how she'll be the only one (of her threesome of friends) who's 'normal' if another one of the three is gay as well. (Her relationship with Ben, who'd been dating guys for a while, had seemed so lovely, and HE is so lovely, that this comes as even more of a smack in the face.)

There's something slightly odd going on about sexuality and gender already though, and I'm finding it a bit hard to pinpoint. At the start of the book, the threesome has broken up (with Ben staying friends with Scotch) because, she says, Gloria is trying to 'steal' her boyfriend. Actually, her ex-boyfriend. Actually, the ex SHE dumped, quite coldly. (She had some reasons, which have to do with the weird, but still.) But even though Scotch only admits later that she actually dumped the bf, and oh, yes, realises that Glory wasn't interested in him anyway, and she and Ben have both stopped being friends with Glory over it, there's never quite the acknowledgment of how horribly unfair she's been, and how hurtful it must have been to Glory.  I found that a bit off, even though Scotch does learn a lot of things, including about her own bad behaviour as she goes on. (I loved Ben's trying to get them to stop fighting, muttering "Two girls fighting over a guy. How original."  Also Glory's calling her on the 'trying to steal' line - "Like a boy is a candy bar you carry around in your purse with no will of him own.")  There's also a degree of oddness in the whole 'slut' thing. (The book's term, not mine!) There's a little bit of expositional dialogue between Ben and Scotch near the beginning, which is rather awkward in trying to set up the double standard about girls being 'sluts' and boys being 'studs', but Scotch still seems more than a bit ready to call another girl a slut, given that she was bullied so horribly at her previous school about it (and just because she was bustier than the other girls).

So, I suppose the thing I'd really love to discuss with friends is whether Scotch's awful behaviour in the ableist, homophobic senses is used well enough by the text to justify being there. Because, honestly, it's quite painful. And I'd also love to know what people make of the final outcome of her whole transformation into the 'Tar Baby' thing. Me, I'm not quite certain I see that as a great resolution to her pre-transformed self.

Right, off to feed dogs (while listening to A Confusion of Princes on audiobook), so no more time for wittering about this book, fascinating though it is! That's the book, not the wittering.

03:30 pm - Book 2: ABOVE WORLD by Jenn Reese

  And today I seem to have no border around the image....  Still ruling the tech!

  Goodreads synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral  Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is in doubt. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt—growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains—here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.



I had a bit of trepidation starting this one, partly because it sounded a bit more "Under the seaaaa" (you all know the tune, right?) than I thought I was in the mood for, fun as that song is, and partly because it's middle grade instead of my usual YA. But neither of those proved to be problems once I was just a short way in, and even if Aluna hadn't left her ocean home (the clue *was* in the title) very quickly, it would have been fine.

Or more accurately, if Aluna hadn't headed for land, followed quickly by Hoku. One of the nicest things about the book is the journey companions, and the way these two friends pick up new ones along the way. Hoku and Aluna are the classic polar opposite types of friends, with Aluna being the one who wants to be a warrior (but isn't allowed to be, though at least she can train because of her brothers' willingness to teach her), and Hoku utterly uninterested in fighting, but fascinated by technology. It's nice that there isn't just this fairly standard twist in the grrrl being feisty and keen on fighting though, as the next companion to be added is Calli, an Aviar (I'll get to the 'splinters' soon), who's just as mechanically minded and smart as Hoku. And with whom Hoku is immediately smitten, in a really sweet and funny portrayal of first love. Hoku's internal musings on kissing were delightful.  Dash, who eventually joins the group, is - or should have been - an Equian word-weaver. And there's the utterly adoptable Zorro, a -- well, a very special raccoon, not to spoil anything.

The world is complicated and fascinating. As earth became over-populated and life there unsustainable, big corporations (including HydraTek) invented bio-engineering abilities to allow humans to exist under the sea, as with the Kampii and Deepfell; in the air high above earth; in the desert; and elsewhere.  The Kampii refer to the Ancients, who gave them thick skin and strong bones to allow them to survive underwater, but also breathing shells, which attach to the necks and allow them to draw oxygen from the water. But the breathing shells need power to function, unlike their other adaptations, and the Kampii don't have the technological abilities to generate that power in sufficient quantities, when the breathing shells start to fail.

I thought this was all wonderful, and was quite happy to leave the details of the science aside for the most part - I'm happy to see the book as just as hybrid as the splinters, rather than being categorised as simply straight science fiction or fantasy. I did have some quibbles occasionally, however. One was about the group of Aviars Hoku and Aluna encounter and come to be allied with, Skyfeather's Landing. This group is all female, and though there are other groups which are all male, the separate communities appear to have little interaction - and there's nothing about men and women getting together for reproduction, let alone any kind of romantic interaction. And yet [mild spoiler alert] Calli's interest in Hoku is as immediate as his for her, and in fact she kisses him first. 

This isn't a major point, and I suppose I only noticed it because of the evolutionary-science slant to the story. The other problem I have is harder to address, because it is absolutely nothing intentional, and I could well be misreading anyway. (It's entirely possible that things that seem quibblesome now will be explained in future books in the series too.) That problem is the depiction of the Upgraders. These are certain types of Humans, and in pasing, despite our human-centric expectations, Humans are the beings with the least degree of 'humanity' to them. The name Upgrader comes from the fact that they make up for their missing or deformed body parts with a combination of techno-bits (generally adapted for violent purposes) and parts stolen from other creatures. It's not clear by the end of the book whether or not these Upgraders actually have choice about the killing and theft of body parts for their own use, or whether it's all the fault of a few arch-villains. But lines such as these do seem disturbing: "One of the riders had no legs at all. Her torso seemed like part of the mechanical insect itself. Did these misshapen creatures really share the same ancestors as the unadorned Humans in the boat? The same ancestors as the Kampii?" and: "The Upgraders shuffled through the entrance corridor and into the room. [...] Another seemed to have bare feet, but they were made of dull-black metal. Even the toenails! If the Upgraders were Humans once, they'd left the legacy behind, as sure as the Kampii had left dry land."  It comes close to reading as if the 'misshapen' bodies are indication of lack of humanity, though as I said, it's clear that nothing like that is intended, especially as one of the strengths of the book is the coming together of societies that have feared and even hated each other in the past.

I am very much looking forward to the next book. (By which I mean the next book in the Above World series, rather than the next book in my 48 Hour Book Challenge!) I do hope it won't be too long a wait.

Jun. 8th, 2012

10:30 pm - Book 1: ANGEL KISS, Laura Jane Cassidy

Nice start!  Am wasting valuable reading time trying to figure out size adjustment and image deletion and various other stupid things I've forgotten, so the cover can be seen (I like it), without taking up everyone's friends' pages.

Anyway, this one probably isn't going to be well known outside Ireland/the UK, so I'll pop in the blurb from Goodreads:

Jacki King is fifteen and adjusting to her new life in a small village. She's missing Dublin but she's making new friends: artistic Colin, feisty Emily - and Nick, gorgeous yet unavailable. But no sooner is Jacki settled than the torturous headaches and nightmares begin - followed by strange visions, voices and signs...Jacki refuses to believe that something paranormal is happening. But then she discovers the unsolved murder that occurred in the village years before...

Actually, I've just spotted something on pasting that in, though it's something that will only mean anything to a small number of readers (especially ones, like me, considerably older than the book's target readers): the tone of the book reminds me quite a bit of the stories in Jackie magazine and
its like. It's very girly.  Nick is gorgeous, and within one very brief and highly embarrassing meeting, Jacki is pulling petals off a flower and thinking about first love. After a second, where he's with his girlfriend (who's also gorgeous but fake, so it's okay!) , she's writing love songs about him, pretty much, and so it goes.

While this is very off-putting, there's quite a bit of good stuff in here along with the fluff. The author has a nice ear for dialogue, and the village (not a real one) is fun to read about - this isn't the kid of cod-Irish we get so fed up with seeing in books and on film/TV, and it's not played for the cheap laughs either.

The other thing I liked is that Cassidy bucks the usual trend of this type of story, in having the local GP recognise from the one office visit that something supernatural is actually going on, and send Jacki straight off to a local healer. Jacki does drag her heels a bit before giving in and going to see him, but it's rather a nice twist on the 'nobody will believe meeeee' theme. (Though that can be effective too, of course.) The characters' behaviour does occasionally seem more than a bit unlikely, and the murder is pretty obvious.  But, despite the weaknesses, it kept me entertained enough, and I'm happy to try the next book, which is set up in the short framing sequences with Jacki being asked to participate in solving the murders of four girls.

07:10 pm - It's that time of the year!

Looks in confusion at wooly cardigan and socks.

But it is June, and it is Mother Reader's  annual 48 Hour Book Challenge !

I'm trying to eat, and reply to comments, and gather my books all at once, which is going about as well as can be imagined.  I'll be donating $2 per hour read to Reading is Fundamental.

Will also be tweeting this, and trying to put my write-ups on Goodreads too.  What could possibly go wrong??

Nov. 29th, 2011

10:03 am - Here now (also Nowhere and New Hero)*

Have been to Massachusetts east and west, and met internet friends older and newer, and it was fantastic.  Did not manage to read LJ/DW at all while away, and probably won't catch up now, so any ignoring of newses is completely unintentional.

This is definitely the fast and dirty way to do this, but I will attempt to clean up later: I need to know how friends who have helped in any way with The History Book would like to be acknowledged. There'll be a section in the acknowledgement for those on LJ who helped with suggestions of texts for us to look at, discussion about those we were already looking at, etc.  steepholm and I will go back through our posts and make a list of everyone who did so, and write asking about name preference, but that might not happen until after the book has been sent off.  If you want your username rather than your "real name", let me know in comment or PM.  Er, if I know your real name, of course, otherwise default will obviously be username. 


*(Just the ramblings of a Fire and Hemlock fanatic.)

Nov. 11th, 2011

10:39 am - Just call me Harriet the Spy

It's been a frantic few days, and haven't managed to keep up with friends' posts at all, but it's for a good reason, for once: I'm on my way to the States! (Yes, as I write, but only on the coach to Dublin Airport for now.) haven't been back since 2004 and haven't crossed the Atlantic by myself since before I was married. Will be seeing friends I haven't seen for far too long, and some I've never seen outside a computer screen, and relatives as well.

I have wonderful beta reading with me, and a C.J. Cherryh packed in my bag, along with my new 3 Euro reading glasses so I have a hope of being able to read it.

And last night, when I went down to our beloved local health food store to get tofu for dinner, I mentioned that I was going away the next day. Oliver (one of the family owners who lived in San Francisco for some years) asked me where I was going. I told him it would be around Massachusetts and he asked if I might be going into a certain health food store of some repute. I had already planned to, and he asked me if I could check out the deli section for him! And get menus! And maybe take pictures! And if the one in Cambridge was especially nice, to let him know, because he "wouldn't mind visiting it" himself!

My mission, should I choose to accept it....

Catch y'all on the flip side! (Assuming the plane isn't washed right out of the sky by the miserable windy rain we're having now.) [Insert other generic jinx-avoiding utterances here]

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