cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
Assuming I don't find another list somewhere, this should bring me up to date as of just over a month or so. I appear to have inserted vast amounts of spoilers into the first and last of these, so consider this a warning.

Wanda Cowley, Biddy Alone. )

Jill Stevens, The Stolen Painting. )

Josephine Elder, The Encircled Heart. )
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Consider the title fair warning. I was not impressed by either of these, and if you liked them or haven't read them, you should probably skip over this. It may or may not help to know that my next post will probably be about 15 volumes of BL manga (all by the same author), which I accidentally read while writing my Yuletide story, and involve me attempting to justify this temporary obsession on somewhat shaky textual grounds.

Connie Willis, All Clear. )

Lois McMaster Bujold, Cryoburn. )

Jan Wong

Dec. 4th, 2010 10:22 pm
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Red China Blues: my long march from Mao to now
Jan Wong's China: reports from a not-so-foreign correspondent
Beijing Confidential: lost and found in the forbidden city

I read these out of order – starting with Beijing Confidential, which is technically last – and, although I don’t think it makes a huge difference, it’s probably best to start with Red China Blues. Jan Wong is a third generation Chinese Canadian journalist, who in 1972 arrived in China on a student visa to search for her roots and explore her commitment to Maoism. She is offered the chance to stay on and study at Beijing University, which she takes, and flings herself with enthusiasm into student life, political meetings, manual labour and all. After her university graduation the book skips through events – moving between China and Canada, her marriage to a white American living in China in order to dodge the draft – and then slows down again with her coverage of the Tianamen Massacre, much of which she watches from the Beijing Hotel at the north end of the square.

By the time she reaches the massacre her devotion to Maoism is largely gone, and this is the story that drives the book, even while it’s a tight, sharp and often amusing (if bitter) look at a fascinating time period of history, with a lot of intriguing detail about her experiences, and construction of her identity as Canadian and Chinese. Beijing Confidential is a thematic sequel to this, being her trip back (with her family) to Beijing as it prepares for the 2008 Olympics, a trip prompted by her desire to find – and apologise – to a fellow student who she informed on in 1973, for asking about help leaving China. Jan Wong’s China is more of a conventional journalism sort of book, with a broader sweep in topics (and geography) but a tighter focus in terms of time, and although her previous experiences inform it, they don’t dominate. There is some repetition in reading all three, and I think the first is definitely the strongest (and the coverage of Tianamen Square is heart-breaking, with a determination to keep reporting because there’s nothing else she can do), but they’re all worth reading.

I checked to see what she’d done since and was disappointed, because it doesn’t sound anywhere near as interesting and also sounds a bit too deliberately confrontational (lunching with celebrities and bitching about them) for my tastes. On the one hand, I’m glad she hasn’t kept going back over the same material and milking it dry; on the other, I really want to find more good non-fiction about things I didn’t previously know about.

Ginn Hale

Nov. 28th, 2010 11:02 pm
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Starting off with massive thanks to Orannia for telling me about these and lending me her copies (I'm ordering my own shortly, although the trick is going to be not ordering a bunch of other unread books as well)...

Kiram Kir-Zaki is happy and well-adjusted, has a supportive (and surviving) family (he’s gay, so his mother tries to match him up with a nice young responsible male pharmacist) and no magical powers whatsoever, which makes him massively unlikely as the protagonist for a fantasy novel – I can’t remember the last one who fit all these criteria – but ideal for me to read about. He’s also the first Haldiim – a nonwhite ethnic minority – to attend the Sagrada Academy, an all-male quasi-military quasi-nobility training centre, by right of being an engineering prodigy, and because he has a cheerfully if cautiously atheistic attitude to the dominant Cadeleonian religion, he ends up sharing a room with Javier Tornesal, the only surviving heir of a cursed Dukedom, and apparently a soulless being with special powers. What ensues is two books of action, world-building, romance (complicated by the Cadeleonian objection to homosexuality), culture conflicts and blends of magic and technology, and the first secondary world fantasy I’ve really enjoyed for ages.

More details, mostly vague but a few spoilers. )

Wicked Gentlemen. Two linked novellas in a semi-Victorian fantasy world, the first from the point of view of Belimai Sykes, a Prodigial – descended from demons, addicted to drugs, available for hire (as an investigator) and with a black past, and the second from William Harper’s point of view, a captain of the Inquisition who suppress the Prodigals, who also has a mysterious past and, in the opening novella, needs Belimai’s help. Complicating matters again is their relationship, which starts off as sexual and then develops emotionally, neither of which are particularly well tolerated by their worlds.

More specific discussion. )

So, in summary, I really enjoyed Lord of the White Hell - Wicked Gentlemen less so, but it was written earlier, and so now I really want to see what she does next...
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Which are in progress. Technically, the dog is recuperating from his operation (neutered yesterday) and is a delicate flower who needs to be coddled and fed a light diet, according to the info sheet from the vet; in reality, he is massively hungry and keeps charging down two flights of stairs to see if there are any unattended shoes that need chewing (I have gotten much better at concealing socks, so he's branching out).

Gordon Korman, Son of the Mob. Vince is a high school student whose father is a mob boss (I know, massive surprise after the title); his attempts to avoid getting sucked into the lifestyle himself are complicated by his own generous impulses (attempting to save a couple of low-lifes who owe his dad money) and the fact that the girl he is currently dating is the daughter of the FBI agent who runs the wire tap on his family’s house. I liked this about as much as I’d expect to like anything where organised crime figures are sympathetic (my “no mafia, no yakuza, no pirates rule”), mainly because I like Korman’s stuff, but although the plot is fair, it’s still a sanitised version of things – the body in the car boot is unconscious, not dead.

Seth Stevenson, Grounded. American couple travel around the world without using planes – trains, cargo ships, bike, etc. I liked bits of this, but an awful lot of it is logistics rather than actual experiences. In particular, it’s unclear to me why they have to go so fast – there’s a bit where they have, basically, two hours to do all of Sydney – when there isn’t a specific deadline (he’s a travel writer and sometime Slate journalist, she does law but has quit her job for the trip), or at least not one that’s apparent from the book. I also found it irritating that obviously at least part of the reason for doing the trip is to do this book, and yet this is never acknowledged. Having said that, I liked the train bits, the bike tour of Vietnam, and the occasional observation. I am, however, still startled at how few books he appears to have taken with him.

Nigel Smith, I think there’s something wrong with me. British comedian gets near fatal weird brain illness, spends considerable time in ICU and then undergoes a slow rehab process, with the aim of getting home before the birth of his child. Bitter and sharp and funny, possibly unfair at times (his mother does, however, come across as giving as good as she gets, visiting him faithfully everyday only to retell in excruciating detail the latest plot of her favourite soap opera), and a good sample of just how difficult it is to be sick. Nice tribute to the NHS, as well.
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I am now optimistically on twitter as accanz, where I am noting down whatever I've read in the hope that this will make me catch up more quickly. Am currently doing long reviews of Cryoburn, the Jan Wong books and Ginn Hale; in the meantime, some briefer ones.

Elizabeth Hand, Ilyria. Madeleine and her cousin Rogan share identical twin fathers and a lifelong bond that becomes sexual in their early teens; the youngest members of a large, sprawling family with a famous actress for a great-grandmother, they meet in secret in the attic of one of her old houses, where they find a toy theatre that has its own inexplicable lighting and scenery. But tensions are developing between the two of them, from their families and themselves, and their involvement in the school production of Twelfth Night becomes both a way out and a breaking point.

Vaguely spoilery discussion. )

Lisa Lutz, The Spellman files. Isabel is the black sheep daughter of a family of private investigators. When she wants out of the family business (after a series of doomed relationships), she's given one last case to solve... Light-hearted, and I like the family dynamic, but the case is both obvious and clumsy, and the family jeopardy situation (and its resolution) doesn't quite fit with the rest.

Jane Chetwynd, Cloud Farm. Professor of public health medicine buys a derelict farmhouse and a huge section; discovers personal meaning in renovating both, gives up job, acquires probable girlfriend (nothing stated, so it's entirely possible that a strange woman moves into a one-bedroom house with her for entirely platonic reasons). Doesn't quite lift off - it's interesting in parts, but I think the author knows that it's something that is likely to mean far more to her than to the reader. And somewhere I read a chunk of a book about gorse as a shelter crop on the same part of the country, which was interesting and is now bugging me as to what it was from.

Christian Lander, Stuff White People Like. Book of the blog - similarly mostly mildly amusing, occasionally very spot-on. I am 30% white mainly because I am not American and don't like coffee, but it is talking about a fairly specific experience. Most useful for pointing out the invisible-by-privilege cultural expectations.

Jeanette Walls, The glass castle. Dysfunctional family memoir. Does a great job of showing the loyalty and expectations that can exist within a family that really isn't serving most of its members' needs, and the description of how Jeanette tries to take over and run the family while her mother's away (an attempt completely undermined by her father) is just heart-breaking. Well written, but I probably won't be charging out to re-read it.
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Micah is a young black woman at high school in New York, an habitual liar, and the first person narrator of this book. Which is a mixture of truth and lies; which is which, or which if anything is true, is up to the reader.

I can't talk further about the book without spoiling it, which I do - if vaguely - behind the cut. I think it's worth reading, but it didn't really work for me; this response is individual enough for me to recommend it anyway, with caveats. )
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Two people with the same name tell alternating chapters of an intersecting story; both male (and white), one straight and determined not to care (but doing so despite himself), one gay (and closeted) and hating himself.

Moderately detailed discussion, hopefully still vague enough if you haven't read it. )


Oct. 19th, 2010 09:52 pm
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I was on the third floor in a meeting for today's 5.0 aftershock (shallow and close to the city - knocked out power for thirty minutes or so). I did end up heading for the doorframe (with one of the other meeting members - the rest milled around, while one slightly confused soul went and stood next to the window) but I went there fairly slowly and, really, this whole series of quakes have pretty much suppressed my finely honed Wellington childhood instincts of leaping for the doorframe in any tremor. This is partly because Civil Defence says in most modern houses it's better to stay put, and partly because I am finally living in a place with mainly built in shelving, so staying put does not involve various 1.8 metre bookcases descending on me. Now my instinctive reaction is to check Twitter and Geonet... unfortunately this morning's shock knocked out the cellphone towers for a bit as well.

So. Books not currently in my possession that I have read:

This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart. )

This Way Up, Lindsay Wood. )

Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Dav Pilkey; plus three additional Captain Underpants books with equally lengthy titles. )


Sep. 28th, 2010 10:03 pm
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I've been following much of the discussion about race and fandom that's been going on, through various iterations (and some appalling demonstrations of privilege), and so this does tend to come through in my reviews. I don't think I would have been wild about this book before that - it's the second Andre Norton ever published, and while it's an all right, if obvious, adventure story from a plot point of view, with occasional striking imagery, I really prefer her sf - but afterwards it's very difficult to see it as anything but problematic.

Ralestone Luck, Andre Norton. )

Anyway. I should go re-read some of her sf books after this, which are much better.
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I have burnt out on secondary world fantasy with quasi-European settings, I dislike fairies and I'm not fond of Cinderella retellings, so this book had three strikes against it from the start, and it was not entirely surprising when I spent the first 134 pages grumbling at it. Fortunately, the second half has lesbians - the main reason I picked it up at all - and is also just overall generally stronger, although still light on actual plot.

Fairly specific description, although there is no way I consider the plot of Cinderella to be a spoiler. )
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One of the plays I’ve seen this year was Homeland, a New Zealand drama that does an excellent job of exactly recreating a particular place and person – an old man on a farm, no longer coping but unwilling to admit it, and his family’s (local son & daughter-in-law, big city daughter with son-in-law and granddaughter) attempt to move him into residential care. The setting was amazingly familiar, the dialogue realistic, the characters recognisable, and all in all it was like spending two hours watching the equivalent period of someone else’s life – which is unfortunately not at all what I go to the theatre for. What I like about drama is that it’s shaped and selected; that it contrives to create truth and realism from the obvious artificiality of a stage, that the dialogue is sharp and polished, that the characters are unexpected and still believable; in short, what I like about drama is that it’s theatrical.

So. I recently re-read Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, which is one of my favourite plays and which in no way suffers from any lack of theatricality.Angels in America. )
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I read eleven books on my recent holiday and four volumes of manga, but due to the harsh strictures of baggage restrictions on domestic flights I was forced to leave some of these behind, which makes logging them a bit more difficult. Actually, the main problem with my luggage allowance was manga – I took 20kg up with me, of which probably two-thirds was reading material, and most of that manga to lend to people. Unfortunately I’d forgotten just how much I’d already posted up/left behind that was now waiting for me to take back, and then of course I bought more… Anyway. Banana Fish (v1-14) is making its way around the first city I visited, while there’s a box of Oldboy, Ikigami, various Yoshinaga titles and A Drifting Life, plus three books, in the second city, thus enabling me to board with 24kg of suitcase and 6kg of carry-on (limits of 25 and 7kg, respectively). I left A Drifting Life behind on a previous trip because I was very close to the weight limit, but at least it’s now a few hundred kilometres closer.

Anyway. Brief recaps of titles I no longer have with me:

David Peace, Tokyo Year Zero. )

David Baldacci, Simple Genius. )

Jaclyn Dolamore, Magic under glass. )

Jo Walton, Half a crown. )
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E.W. Hildick, Jim Starling Goes to Town (re-read).

Pamela Brown, Blue Door Venture (re-read).

Both of these are books in which a group of British youngsters (with other adventures chronicled in earlier books in the series) are defrauded by flashy London conmen, and through their own efforts track down the men responsible and have their resourcefulness rewarded. Having said that, there are some key differences. Blue Door Venture was published in 1949, and the children in it, although described as such, are old enough to be working in their theatre full-time, having completed theatrical training; the town they live in is Fenchester, which I presume is somewhere near Cambridge (I haven’t got the other books handy to check for cross-references, but somewhere in the Home Counties), and their interactions with their remarkably tolerant parents as well as with the locals in Cornwall place them clearly in the middle class. Jim Starling, however, and his Last Apple Gang, are from 1963 and from Smogbury, a mill town two hundred miles north of London, younger (still at school), and definitely working class.

The basic plots, however, run along very similar lines. )
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These are all the rest of the books I've read for the first time this year, leaving me with five re-reads and however many books in progress. I'm still a bit ambivalent about where to put graphic novels that aren't manga, but I'm reading so few of them at the moment that they're ending up here.

Edie Campbell, The fate of the artist. )

Ellen Wittlinger, Sandpiper. )

Hilary McKay, Indigo’s Star. )

Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted Glass. )

Stephen King, Under the dome. )
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Two more for [ profile] 50books_poc, cross-posted.

Isabel Waiti-Mulholland, Inna Furey. The bit at the back of the book lists four more books in this series, but I’ve never seen any of them (this book came out in 2007) and Google suggests that it’s not just me. Which is a shame, because this book is largely set-up, and I’d like to know where the author was going with it.

A new, strange, girl – Inna Furey – starts at Leanne’s school. When Leanne meets Inna late one night in the reserve outside her house, she discovers Inna’s secret – she can transform into a giant bird (Haast’s eagle, the largest known raptor – now extinct). But, when she changes, she isn’t herself anymore, and whatever she transforms into is taking over more and more often…

Isabel Waiti-Mulholland, Inna Furey. )

Natsuo Kirino, Grotesque. Two women working as prostitutes in Tokyo are murdered. Years earlier, they attended the same exclusive high school, along with the first, unnamed narrator, the older sister of one of those murdered (Yuriko). Yuriko was abnormally beautiful – a beauty described as grotesque – and the subsequent distortions this created for her and her sister reverberate through their lives.

Natsuo Kirino, Grotesque. )
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I picked this up because I loved The Intuitionist, which may have elevated my expectations – I enjoyed this, for the most part, but I didn’t love it, and possibly it’s suffered a bit by comparison. It’s still very good.

Colson Whitehead, Apex hides the hurt. )

And I have just discovered there is a new David Mitchell book due out in May. I am madly excited by this (I loved Cloud Atlas) and even more excited to discover that it's set in Japan in 1799 with a Dutch protagonist, and an opening chapter complete with engravings from period obstetric texts. What I should really do now is read the last forty pages or so of Number9dream, which I think is a book with a lot of potential but also a lot of ability to irritate the reader - I got so caught up in the kaiten (submarine version of kamikaze) pilot's diaries that I couldn't cope with returning to the present day protagonist, and put it down for just that little bit too long. Black Swan Green was perfectly admirable technically, but I'm personally not fond of the novel as a linked series of short stories approach.
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Minus the one I've left at work, and the one I still haven't read - the rest have now gone back.

Jose Carlos Somoza, Zig Zag.
This is a quantum physics serial killer novel in which the murders are committed via string theory, and like the other two of Somoza’s novels in translation that I’ve read it deserves a significant amount of credit just for the sheer audacity of the idea. I liked it more than The Art of Murder and less than The Athenian Murders, and I think my preferences reflect what he ends up doing with the fascinating concepts that he comes up with. Zig Zag is atmospheric and vivid, to the extent that I actually stopped reading it at one point because it was late and I was by myself, and the science in it is intriguing; but the resolution didn’t go enough beyond the standards of the serial killer story to work for me.

Jose Carlos Somoza, Zig Zag. )

Walter Tevis. The Hustler.
The Queen’s Gambit is one of my favourite books (admittedly this is a rather large category), and I’m also fond of pool, although without being particularly good at it. This is a beautifully constructed novel about Eddie Felson, a pool hustler who comes to Chicago to take on the legendary Minnesota Fats, and in the course of a night beats him – at first, and then throws it all away. And then he attempts to put himself back together, with the indifferent help of Sarah, an alcoholic and an Economics masters’ student, and Bert, a helpful man with connections and views about winners and losers.

Walter Tevis, The Hustler. )

Hsu-Ming Teo, Love and Vertigo.
Grace Tay’s mother kills herself by jumping from her brother’s high-rise apartment in Singapore. Grace, who came to Sydney from her birth country of Malaysia with her family (originally Singapore Chinese) flies back to Singapore for the wake, and the unravelling of her own and her parents’ pasts.

Hsu-Ming Teo, Love and Vertigo. )

Also, I am fiddling with entry format. Let me know if it bothers you.
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One of the library books I had out is not in the box with all the others. Possibly it is hiding out with the dishwashing liquid and EW Hildick's Jim Starling Goes to Town, which I was three chapters into before I moved - I think they're due back on the 28th, so at least I have a few days of optimistically opening boxes before I have to pay for it.

Nancy Garden, Endgame. )

Amjed Qamar, Beneath my mother’s feet. )
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I have moved into the new house and out of the old one, which sounds simple enough but I have 12 bruises on my left thigh alone, I found a hole in the floor of the old house (fortunately this is now the property manager's problem) and the new house is largely decorated in a nice repeating cardboard box motif. Regular reviews will resume eventually with the same erratic frequency as previous, but in the meantime here are the two Dick Francis books I read while unpacking the "F"s (I am now up to the end of "M", although I have done all the manga as well).

Dick Francis, Knock Down, Proof. )


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