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I'm afraid you don't need to hunt much for this one.

Comic #1: Fearful Hunter
Author: Jon Macy
Provenance: Received as an order from Kickstarter

Sometimes, you back a project on Kickstarter, because it's pointed out to you by someone you respect, and you support that kind of thing overall. I like gay-centered comics, I heard about this from Alex Woolfson, it looked interesting, and so I went for it. And... well, it's not like it's bad exactly, but... yeah.

So this is a contemporary story, set near a small town, where our first main character, Oisin, is apprenticed to a local druid, and nearing the completion of his training. That'll involve binding himself to a god of nature, and yet he finds his attention drawn at a party to a werewolf, Byron. And that's dangerous, because werewolves, once they bond, mate for life.

So the story proceeds as you might expect - Oisin is encouraged to complete his training and fulfill the goals of the druids, but Byron seems like a good partner for him. There are some twists in the story, but the overall strokes of it aren't surprising. You know what you're going to get.

The art is often really good, but variable - the more complex, druidic vision stuff is often really interesting, and creepy, and the nature scenes are also well executed. But the character work is spottier, and it wasn't always easy to tell what character it was I was looking at.

The bigger thing is all the sexual content. There's a lot of sex in this - between men, and between men and gods, which can get very overwrought. But the scenes are for the most part not relevant to the plot or to the furthering of the characters, and that doesn't really make me that happy. There's also a decent amount of half-naked guys and such in unrealistic ways, which adds to this air. Nothing wrong with drawing guys in different states of undress, but if it's as part of a story, I want it to connect up better.

So... there are some things to commend the book - the art really can be beautiful and imaginative. But the story is average, and there are enough issues that I'd more recommend this just if you really want a new gay comic to read, and you ran across this one. No need to hunt this down too hard.
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It's nearly impossible, and you'll probably get burnt.

Book #7: Escape from Camp 14
Author: Blaine Harden
Provenance: Listened to the audiobook from Audible

There's a definite draw to reading books about North Korea, if only because trying to understand the scope of the horrors that people can manage to perpetrate on each other is inherently interesting and valuable. And possibly more than anywhere on the planet over the past few decades, that's been the role of North Korea: to show how badly a society can misshape itself in hard, uncaring, terrible ways. I've read a few books about the place over the past few years, fiction and non-fiction, and I doubt I'm done with this one. This wasn't the best, but it's an interesting addition.

Escape from Camp 14 gives you exactly what it says on the cover: it's the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was born to parents in a prison camp for political prisoners. You see, the policy is that you punish political prisoners for generations, so people are born, grow up, live their whole lives, and then die in these camps. Camp 14 is a particularly bad one. The book details Shin's life growing up there, his weak relationships with his parents, his attitude towards the authorities and other prisoners, the brutalities and torture he suffered, and then eventually, his escape from the camp, his circuitous route to South Korea and then to the US, and his struggles to adjust to life outside.

My feeling when going through the book (and I listened to the audiobook here, read by Blaine Harden, the author) was that Harden decided for the most part to leave the prose unadorned and journalistic, and let the power and brutality of Shin's biography just carry the reader through. But I don't really think this was the most effective choice; the horror of the situation is perhaps unchanged by it, but it does feel like you're at more of a remove from Shin's tale than I'd have expected. Some parts are just glossed by, which may be just the amount of detail Harden could get, but I feel like the story could have been more affecting, given the core material.

That said, like, it is still really powerful as is. Some of it is the terrible stuff that, somehow, I end up expecting - the lack of food, the killing of one of his fellow students by a teacher for a trivial offense, the generalized amorality among the prisoners at the camp, who are trained to basically value none of their relationships and confess everything immediately. But much of it is still surprising, too - what ends up happening to Shin's mother and brother, for instance. Or why he wants to escape the camp; he's not motivated by a desire for freedom. Or the nature of some of the working conditions in the camp. Or how once Shin is out and in South Korea, he's different from the other North Koreans and tries to avoid them. He's not been indoctrinated to the Kim family mystique, because why bother? And his attitude towards life and personal relationships and how hard it's been to change was also really enlightening.

I do really feel like this is an important book, and I hope many people hear about his story. It's horrifying how widespread this is in the country, and how little we are doing to change it, even if I don't have a great suggestion about what we could do to bring about change. I think it could have been somewhat better presented, but Shin's life story is gripping enough that it doesn't lose too much. Just don't come to this one with happy thoughts. They won't last too long.
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Got injured there for a bit, but now we're back.

Book #6: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

This is the kind of book that I come into, and I feel like it's more or less being made for me. It's playing with fairy tale tropes, but it's not retelling any particular fairy tale. And it's written by an author that I've wanted to read for a long time, but I was reticent about getting into her series. So finally she writes a standalone one, and I'm like super onboard! And I'm slightly prepared to be let down, but nope, Novik delivers exactly the sort of book that I'd expected she would write, with magic and believable characters and important themes and a strong, crucial friendship between women. It is glorious.

Our story: Agnieszka and her best friend Kasia have grown up in the same village in a very Polish-inflected fantasy kingdom. Kasia is very powerful and determined, smart and beautiful, and Agnieszka is less so. She may be smart and stubborn, and she may have her own set of talents, like being able to find anything out in the Wood they live near, and a budding propensity for magic, but she's also clumsy and messy and less the classic woman than Kasia. And because of that, she's viewed as being less likely to be taken by the Dragon.

Oh, yes, there's a Dragon that also comes down to the village once every ten years to take one of the young women from the town. But this Dragon is less full of scales, and more full of wizardry: a magician who lives in a tower at the end of their valley, and carries the responsibility for protecting it. The women he chooses stay in the tower with him for ten years, and then are free to go... but none of them ever decide to come home again afterwards. So needless to say, getting chosen isn't seen as a wonderful thing. Everyone assumes Kasia, apparently being the cream of the village's crop, will get selected, but instead, it's Agnieszka. And so the whole story begins.

I don't want to go through the plot too much, but it spreads out naturally and wonderfully, from the mechanics of living in the old tower with a powerful magician, to dealing with the valley and the Wood, to matters of country and crown, moving from stage to stage in a way that feels natural, without losing track of the characters. And the main set of characters are really well-realized: Agnieszka, Kasia, the Dragon, and then the most beloved prince of the country and the Dragon's main rival magician. The world is vibrant and real, and the Polish feel to the story is strong, from the names to the architecture to the magic background (let's just say that Baba Jaga is very much name-checked as a historical character in this Polnya).

I really enjoyed the relationship between Agnieszka and Kasia - how it changes, how devoted they are to each other, and the place Kasia comes to hold in the world Agnieszka moves into. And the magic is superb; it's really shades of Diana Wynne Jones, which is quite the compliment from me. Different people have different kinds of magic (and the mysterious Wood has still another), and working out how your magic can work, and how you can intertwine your power with others, is very important. Like in many DWJ books, viewing yourself through the wrong lens keeps you from your power. And here, Agnieszka's realizations and growth, and how that bounces off the Dragon and changes their relationship, makes the book feel even more real and magical on top of the literal magic being tossed around. Her time around politics also really works - her character's got a coherent core that carries through the story.

This isn't quite the perfect book for me, but it's close, and it was very enjoyable. If you're interested in fantasy, and you want a magical world that will seem familiar and yet enticingly different, this is definitely a book for you, too. You won't get uprooted while you're reading it, that's for sure.
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One day, I will learn what the connection of the titles are to the books here. Maybe.

Book #5: Pocket Apocalypse
Author: Seanan McGuire
Provenance: Listened to the audiobook from Audible

So here we are at book 4 in the InCryptid series! I read Discount Armageddon, the first book in this set, a while back, and was fine with it, but not enough to continue on, I guess? But then I thought about it more, and I wanted to read more of McGuire's stuff, and so now I'm through another one. And it was enjoyable, although I doubt I've liked any of the books in this series as much as the Toby Daye books.

In this one, Alex Price (the brother of the main character of the first two books) is taken back to Australia by his girlfriend to help manage werewolves making their way to the continent. And in InCryptid-land, lycanthropy is even worse than you'd normally think, because any mammal can be turned into a werewolf, so the potential pool of wolves is much larger. Also, being an island ecosystem, having a whole new set of predators around could be really devastating. (This in a continent that has like a million feral camels because someone thought camels were a good idea.) But of course, things get to be more complicated, and y'know. Werewolf shenanigans of a creative and clever variety.

Even though it's a different set of characters from the first Alex book, I think I enjoyed this one a bit more than the previous one. The setting was well thought through, with a good cast of characters among the Australian crypto-zoologist crew, and the writing is, as usual, a lot of fun - good character beats and humor, a different enough voice from Verity (or Toby), top notch use of talking mice. Lots of creative non-humans, both sentient and not, really. Those relationships are always interesting to see here. And the plot had some good twists, which I will not divulge. It's also more horror-y than a lot of McGuire's stories are; I'm not really a huge fan of that generally, but it wasn't enough to put me off.

A couple of points, though: there's always so much more people talking about how proficient they are at escaping or hurting each other in this series, a lot of posturing, and... I guess maybe it's not unrealistic, given the character set, but there always comes a point in these where I've had enough of it, and it's never when the book has run out, it seems. And some of the stuff around the werewolf plot and Alex's attitude towards it seemed... again, maybe not unrealistic for the character, but I did want to shake him a couple of times, and was happy when essentially one of the other characters finally did.

So yeah, I mean... these are still fun reads, and I'm not stopping with them. I already have #5 on my nightstand. We'll see how long it takes to get to that one. I wouldn't read this one first (definitely at least read Half-Off Ragnarok before this), but if you're enjoying the series, this'll be good for you, too.
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This definitely helps in seeing the world differently.

Book #4: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

Even though I'd heard about Coates for a long time before reading this book, I don't think I'd read more than an article or two of his. But this just showed up too many times in a short period, and I'd read Paul Beatty's book The Sellout at the end of last year, and this looked to be short and powerful and perhaps related to that. And anyway, Between the World and Me comes to be called Required Reading, so I went for it.

The book is in the form of a long letter to Coates's teenage son, though it focuses on a large timeline across Coates's life, and also across a swath of his family, as well. There's a strong sense of Coates grappling with what to tell his son in the wake of police violence that isn't being punished, and what that means for his son's life, along what it meant for his own life. On the one hand, you have all the evidence of the antipathy towards people of color in the US, and the reminders that if you get out of line, the state - society at large - sees your body as forfeit; on the other hand, there's a frank discussion of what having to live with this knowledge leads to in the psyches of the black people that Coates has known. Nothing positive, as you may expect.

These messages are delivered powerfully and elegantly, with strong prose and thematic arcs that aren't immediately obvious, but become clear over the first section. It's hard not to think about what it means to be unsure about yourself all of the time, to watch your actions that way. How that might influence how you carry yourself, know yourself. And the format, trying to work out how best to deal with passing this kind of information on to the next generation, lends more power to Coates's approach. I'm not sure there's a good answer to the question.

It's a discomfiting book, but an important one. And it's not a long read, but it's one that will probably stick with you. It's worth the investment.
capfox: (Montreal)
Are malteds and milkshakes the same thing?

Book #3: Sparrow Hill Road
Author: Seanan McGuire
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

I've been a big fan of Seanan McGuire for a few years now, but I wasn't immediately interested in picking this one up. Short story collections tend to have a higher bar to cross for me than novels, and the fact that they're all based around the same character's adventures actually made it a bit less appealing. But then our main character Rose has a cameo in one of her other series, and that was that - I didn't have any other of her stuff left to read, and I was curious enough to try.

So our story: Rose Marshall was forced into an accident on Sparrow Hill in her small hometown of Buckley, Michigan, by Bobby Cross, a man who made a bargain for immortality at the crossroads, and now can keep it only through taking in the souls of others who die on the road. But Rose, forever sweet 16 now, doesn't go away. She stays around as a hitchhiking ghost, and gains over the years a reputation - the Phantom Prom Date to humans, a knowledgeable road spirit in the ghost realm - and a greater knowledge of her powers and how the ghost roads work. Among those powers are the ability to become immaterial if she doesn't have a freely given jacket, and to sense upcoming death, and the scent of what kind it is - sometimes, she can stop it before it happens, and she takes it on herself to do so. Much of the action is driven by her working her way around accidents, or around tense situations; usually, they involve one or the other of those abilities.

The stories span decades, and often will jump back and forth time-wise in a given story itself. But mainly, the book hits that sweet spot of ghost stories: a sense of fear and occasional horror, yes, since they're supposed to be scary, at least some of the time. But often, it's the wistfulness of time changing: the differences across time of the people she meets, and of herself, as well; her connections to the people she once loved, her family and the boy she loved; the feel of an America that's just left a bit behind, off the beaten track, shading into the spirit world. That sense of not quite being right and being there is pretty ghostly.

And it's McGuire, so there's some good creativity on display in the stories, too. Some is in the locations: wandering down the Atlantic highway to meet a witch named Apple was very atmospheric, but my personal favorite was the Last Dance diner, the final place for a soul to stop before heading off into the darkness, and how it felt in contrast to the diners I've ended up in over the past few years. And some was in the scenarios: playing with ghost mythology, both for what you expect going in and then what gets et up by her over the course of the book, works well.

The collection does rather have the problems short story collections often have, though: the stories do vary in strength, there are kind of diminishing returns on a couple close to the end, the repetition of the setup and who she is feels like it came from the stories being anthologized, and the ending to it all wasn't as strong as what I'd normally expect from her work.

But overall, I'm glad I came around on Rose - enough that I already bough a Last Dance t-shirt. Hopefully, though, this won't be the last dance we have with the character or this view on America.
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A book has never made me want to make bacteria cookies more.

Book #2: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

This book is just hard to talk really about. I mean, I read the People in the Trees, Yanagihara's previous book, and that one (with its super misogynist paradise-despoiling child-molesting narrator) was hard, too. I found it thorny and beautifully written and unpleasant and it stuck with me for years. I recommended it to no one, but talked about it with many people. Which'd be about how I feel about A Little Life. I passed up my hold from the library twice before taking it out, and the wait was wise; and then I read it, and I mean, it was a singular experience. It was one of the most powerful reading experiences I've ever had. I'm still not sure I'd recommend it.

So the basic story, if you don't already know it: the book focuses on the lives of four friends at the outset who meet at a small northeastern US university, and then move to New York, all around the same time: a biracial, fairly affluent guy who doesn't know his place with anything yet (Malcolm); a driven Haitian-American artist who really wants to establish a name for himself but has complex issues with his race at the outset (JB); a white struggling actor whose ranch-hand family out west has all recently died around the outset of the book (Willem); and a disabled, ambiguously racial, secretive aspiring lawyer with huge, huge backstory trauma issues (Jude). It's basically their lives from around 20 through their early 50s.

Now then: you can level a lot of criticisms at this book that I will grant you. The story devolves away from really focusing on all of them to focusing more on Jude and Willem, and Jude most of all. It loses track of JB and particularly Malcolm for long stretches, after it sells you the quartet at the outset. It'd be better if it kept a broader focus - I will grant this. Everyone ends up being ridiculously successful to frankly ludicrous degrees - I will not argue. Jude's friends stick through some of his behaviour that simply should have been alienating at least some of them, perhaps particularly his doctor friend, Andy, who should have cut Jude off or tried to get him committed or something - I will accept it. The terrible, horrible backstory for Jude and the depictions of his abuse and his adult responses to that abuse are fairly extreme and hard to read - yes, I will say, they definitely are. Somehow, the New York portrayed in the book is stuck in a perpetual 2007 - I will nod my head to you in sympathy for your urban frustration. And on and on - you think Yanagihara's prose gets too purple sometimes? Sure. You dislike the message Yanagihara says she was trying to convey with the book? Yeah, it's pretty reprehensible.

But despite all that. Despite everything the book missteps on. To me, this is still one of the most important books that I have ever read. Why? Because Jude is basically me. I don't have his baroque tortured backstory, and I am fervently thankful for that. And I never did any cutting, which Jude loves to the bits he carves himself into. But the portrayal of Jude, and of the effects he has on the people around him, is just astounding. He would say or think things or behave in ways that were shockingly familiar. And shocking is the right word, because that kind of character identification has never once happened to me ever, for this part of me. She nailed the internal psyche of an adult who overcame significant childhood trauma and is trying to live with it as an adult. Just nailed it cold, with the secrets and the strategies and the compartmentalization and the constant nagging surety that people see you the exact unrealistic way you see yourself and everything. It is a fantastic writing achievement.

And if that is not enough: for all his difficulties, for all that Jude struggles with himself and tests repeatedly all the bonds he makes with his friends and eventual family, he gets to build a life. A realistic life in many ways, too, considering where he starts as an adult - he doesn't leave his past behind, because he can't. It's still there. But he builds a career he takes pride in and is ferociously good at, and he makes friends who care for him unfathomably deeply, and he finds a place he loves to live in, and he gets a sizable amount of wealth. He even finds love, both from adoptive parents, and eventually from a romantic partner. And with all this, he gets to a place where a late section titled the Happy Years actually seems possible.

This, too, is staggering: it is a message of hope and of beauty, and indeed of love of various kinds, delivered in a way that is effective for feeling so true. And that takes really grappling with so much ugliness and knowing the depths that he traversed to get himself to a spot where it could happen. No one writes characters like Jude - you don't know their stories and you don't get their lives wrought in this much detail, with this much love. There is a care here that cannot be dismissed. It is a painful and difficult book to read, and I can't recommend that you do. But if this book will resonate with you, then it has the potential to reshape your worldview and make you feel less alone. Like I said, it's singular. It's one little life, portrayed in detail. But it's also a whole lot more.
capfox: (Ravenclaw Quote)
A return?

Book #1: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

So maybe it’s not fair, but when I hear “vampires” around the realm of YA fiction, my initial reaction is not to jump in and give it a try. Like, I know it’s not fair – my favorite TV series ever is Buffy, and that wasn’t light on the vampires or the YA – but it happens. And so I put off reading this book, even though I’d heard some pretty positive things about it, because, well, vampires. But then I got through the Darkest Part of the Forest, and the Curse Workers Trilogy, and I wanted some more Holly Black, and, well. Here we are!

And I’m really glad I tried it, because man, this book actually worked really well for me. So here we have a world where there are vampires, and very publicly so: from within the government-established vampire/vampire-hangers-on safe zones called Coldtowns, media-savvy and internet-enabled vampires send out alluring images into the rest of the world of all the parties and debauchery taking place within. It can seem glamorous to a lot of people.

But not so much to our main character, Tana - she’s not really enamored with vampires, particularly when she wakes up in the bathroom in the morning following a house party that turned into a blood-sucking massacre. All that’s left alive in the house are her ex-boyfriend Aidan, and a vampire chained to the bed, Gavriel. And the vampires who did this? They’re probably still in the house. AND Aidan isn’t actually okay; he’s been bitten, and left to go cold.

Yes, of course the vampires here don’t have to work the same way as vampires elsewhere, so here’s how they do: if you get bitten, then you have the vampire virus in your veins; after a short incubation period, you start craving blood, but you’re not a vampire yet. No, you have to actually taste some blood for that. If you do, congratulations, you get to die and become a vampire for real! if you don’t, your bloodlust will get worse and worse, but after months of waiting with it, you will pass it from your system and return to normal. A mechanism with much potential for tension, and it works well for the book.

So Tana ends up having to try getting everyone to safety, and she takes the vampire, too - and here, safety means to Coldtown, where at least if they have vampires about, they won’t hurt any more random people. First they have to get there, though.

I don’t want to go into more plot details here, but I will say I was generally quite satisfied with it - there are some pretty horrifying turns, but they’re earned, and the story’s really quite well thought and written out. I definitely churned through the book quickly, which is a real testament, because there were parts that were uncomfortably gory to read, too.

But it’s not just the plot that really works - there are some very real, complex characters in this book, that play off each other well. Tana’s view of herself, and Aidan and other people’s views of her, have a real tension to them - Tana makes herself do things she might not otherwise want to or feel comfortable with because she doesn’t want people to define her boundaries, almost defensively. And other people view this (particularly Aidan) as bravery. And there’s similar sorts of character points, too. I also liked Aidan a bunch - the cockiness, the degrees of caring and daring, the shading over into hunger and impatience. And Gavriel and other characters (like a pair of twins who really, probably, likely want to be vampires, maybe) also come through well.

Beyond which… I love the way Black handles representation. I love that it’s so little remarked upon when various racial or LGBTQ people saunter through the story just being people. Aidan is actually probably the best-realized bisexual character I’ve ever read in anything, and there’s a trans character who really works and where again, it’s just treated as part of a personal story.

Minuses? Well, I do feel like the main villain could have used a bit more time and build-up as an actual character than they got. Gavriel is probably not quite as solid to me as the other characters, which may be slightly on purpose? And there’s some world-building stuff I’d have loved to see more of, but it was full enough and long enough that I can’t really ding it much for that.

All told, this is a really good book that does a lot of things with a fairly high degree of difficulty well, and even if I wouldn’t start with this book if you haven’t read any Black (*cough Darkest Part of the Forest *cough*), it’s also a good standalone story, and I give it quite the high recommendation.
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This is my list of books read for 2016, along with links to reviews, where available. Books are usually added as I begin reading them, not after I end, so the list is subject to change. Work-related books don't get reported on here; this is just pleasure reading things. Links to previous years' lists are as follows: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

Books read in 2016:
1. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
2. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
3. Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire
4. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. Pocket Apocalypse, Seanan McGuire
6. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
7. Escape from Camp 14, Blaine Harden
8. Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn
9. The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow
10. Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf
11. The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra
12. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
13. Pax, Sara Pennypacker
14. Feeling Sorry for Celia, Jaclyn Moriarty
15. The End of Average, Todd Rose
16. Plain Kate, Erin Bow
17. Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
18. The Lone Samurai, William Scott Wilson
19. The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
20. Tell the Wind and Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan
21. Loving Day, Mat Johnson
22. Chaos Choreography, Seanan McGuire
23. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
24. Botchan, Natsume Soseki
25. Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis
26. Gnarr! How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World, Jon Gnarr
27. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
28. Last First Snow, Max Gladstone
29. The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey
30. Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
31. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
32. The Turn of the Story, Sarah Rees Brennan
33. Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer
34. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
35. Once Broken Faith, Seanan McGuire
36. Girl Mans Up, M-E Girard
37. Four Roads Cross, Max Gladstone
38. Highly Illogical Behavior, John Corey Whaley
39. After Dark, Haruki Murakami
40. The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak, Brian Katcher
41. The Swan Riders, Erin Bow
42. Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta
43. Absolutely on Music, Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa
44. Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple
45. Sorrow's Knot, Erin Bow
46. You Know Me Well, Nina LaCour and David Levithan
47. If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo

Graphic novels and manga read in 2016:
1. Fearful Hunter, Jon Macy
2. Snowden, Ted Rall
3. Lucky Penny, Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota
4. Giant Days Vol. 1, John Allison
5. Giant Days Vol. 2, John Allison
6. Barakamon Vol. 1, Yoshino Satsuki
7. Barakamon Vol. 2, Yoshino Satsuki
8. Barakamon Vol. 3, Yoshino Satsuki
9. Friends with Boys, Faith Erin Hicks
10. Barakamon Vol. 4, Yoshino Satsuki
11. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
12. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
13. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
14. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
16. Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (Color Edition), Bryan Lee O'Malley
17. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now, Ryan North and Erica Henderson
18. Fresh Romance Vol. 1, edited by Janelle Asselin
19. Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stephenson and Grace Ellis
20. Barakamon Vol. 5, Yoshino Satsuki
21. Barakamon Vol. 6, Yoshino Satsuki
22. Blacksad: A Silent Hell, Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
23. Blacksad: Amarillo, Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido
24. Giant Days Vol. 3, John Allison
25. Thermae Romae Vol. 2, Yamazaki Mari
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This is my list of books read for 2015! Work-related books don't get reported on here; this is just pleasure reading things. Links to previous years' lists are as follows: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

This was another year where I didn't get quite as much reading done as I wanted, but still, it wasn't too bad. I'm pretty happy with what I got to do. Except for Japanese reading; I'm going to at least try to do more manga for 2016.

Books read in 2015:
1. Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan
2. The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire
3. The Martian, Andy Weir
4. Without You, There Is No Us, Suki Kim
5. Lola and the Boy Next Door, Stephanie Perkins
6. Girls Will Be Girls, Emer O'Toole
7. My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins
8. The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
9. All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld
10. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
11. The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide
12. Hold Me Closer, David Levithan
13. Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue
14. Guy in Real Life, Steve Brezenoff
15. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner
16. All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
17. Missoula, Jon Krakauer
18. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
19. The Porcupine of Truth, Bill Konigsberg
20. Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire
21. The Realm of Possibility, David Levithan
22. The Gossamer Years, translated by Edward Seidensticker
23. Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins
24. All You Need Is Kill, Hiroshi Sakurazaka
25. Anything Could Happen, Will Walton
26. The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande
27. The Shadow Cabinet, Maureen Johnson
28. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
29. How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran
30. White Cat, Holly Black
31. You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost), Felicia Day
32. A Red-Rose Chain, Seanan McGuire
33. So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
34. Red Glove, Holly Black
35. Black Heart, Holly Black
36. Stand Off, Andrew Smith
37. Popular Hits of the Showa Era, Ryu Murakami
38. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness
39. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
40. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
41. More Than This, Patrick Ness
42. The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Comics and manga read in 2015:
1. Petty Theft, Pascal Girard
2. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
3. This One Summer, Marian and Jillian Tamaki
4. Off*Beat, Volume 1, Jen Lee Quick
5. Off*Beat, Volume 2, Jen Lee Quick
6. Off*Beat, Volume 3, Jen Lee Quick
7. Tomboy, Liz Prince
8. House of Five Leaves, Volume 1, Ono Natsume
9. House of Five Leaves, Volume 2, Ono Natsume
10. House of Five Leaves, Volume 3, Ono Natsume
11. House of Five Leaves, Volume 4, Ono Natsume
12. Nimona, Noelle Stephenson
13. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud
14. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1, Ryan North and Erica Henderson
15. Step Aside, Pops, Kate Beaton
16. Thermae Romae, Volume 1, Yamazaki Mari
17. Check Please, Volume 1, Ngozi Ukazu
18. The Fox and the Star, Coralie Bickford-Smith
19. Supermutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki
20. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 2, Ryan North and Erica Henderson
21. Alex + Ada, Volume 1, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
22. Alex + Ada, Volume 2, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
23. Alex + Ada, Volume 3, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

Best: Everything I Never Told You. This is a look at a bi-racial American family living in a small college town in Ohio, starting from finding out that the middle daughter, Lydia, has died. The story alternates between looks into the family's past, and ongoing parts with the family adjusting to her death in various ways. This story really worked for me - the quiet growth of it, the looks at being Asian-American or a woman or bi-racial or some combination thereof, and how that's changed over time, the influence of different characters' problems and personalities on each other. Sharply written and well-observed, involving and sometimes heartbreaking. I loved it.

(Runner-Up: Skippy Dies. The book that probably elicited the most emotional reaction from me this year: it's hilarious some of the time, and deeply sad at others, scary occasionally, lots of good stuff. Also, the one that got my newest long-running status message: "The achievement of maturity, psychologically speaking, might be said to be the realization and acceptance that we simply cannot live independently from the world, and so we must live within it, with whatever compromises that might entail.")

Most recommended: The Darkest Part of the Forest. It's hard not to recommend Everything I Never Told You, as well, and I've pushed both books on people already, but this book is basically made for me. Fairies mixing with the real world and young adults coping with difficult pasts and some very nice gay representation and more. I loved it to bits. Somehow, it was the first Holly Black book I'd read, but I've downed a bunch more since then.

Most recommended graphic novel: Nimona. The art took me a bit to get used to, but I think that's just because I'm more at the manga end of the scale already. The story, of a powerful shape-shifter girl who wants to help out local evildoer Ballister Blackheart against the local heroes, has a lot of wit in commenting on the tropes of the sort of lone mad scientist working against the establishment stories, but also a lot of heart for its characters and their relationships, as well as a commentary on who exactly in a situation should really be considered bad. Plus, sharks!

Worst: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. The first thing I've read by Ryu Murakami, and almost certainly the last. It was for a book club, and if it hadn't been, I probably wouldn't have finished it. At least it was short. The story, of dueling bands of disaffected men in their early 20s, and ladies in their 40s all named Midori, was really just grotesque, both in its violence, but more importantly, in its descriptions of basically all of its characters. There are some interesting points in there, conceivably, about the nature of life in Japan at the end of the economic bubble, and how disconnected people had become, but it was so swamped by the terribleness, it was just hard to take.

Most surprisingly good: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. Sometimes, I just pick up a random graphic novel at the library, because they're around where I work. This one, I mostly picked up because of the name and the cover. And it's a fun story about a robot club and fighting robots and growing up and such. It's not super-duper special, but I did enjoy it more than I'd expected.

Most disappointing: The Buried Giant. I was looking forward to this one, as it was the first Ishiguro that I'd read, but it kind of left me cold. It was hard to get through - it took me three tries. It did have its points, and its subtle discussion of memory and duty was well-done enough, but yeah. I wanted more.
capfox: (Chipp Badge)
This is my list of books read for 2014, along with links to reviews. Books are usually added as I begin reading them, not after I end, so the list is subject to change. Work-related books don't get reported on here; this is just pleasure reading things. Links to previous years' lists are as follows: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

Books read thus far in 2014:
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
2. Two Serpents Rise, Max Gladstone
3. One Salt Sea, Seanan McGuire
4. The Search for Anne Perry, Joanne Drayton
5. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, Julian Rubinstein
6. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
7. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
8. Revenge, Yoko Ogawa
9. Openly Straight, Bill Konigsberg
10. Ashes of Honor, Seanan McGuire
11. Tampa, Alissa Nutting
12. The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan
13. The Demon's Covenant, Sarah Rees Brennan
14. The Demon's Surrender, Sarah Rees Brennan
15. This Is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith
16. Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci
17. The Crane Wife, Patrick Ness
18. Necessary Errors, Caleb Crain
19. The Geography of You and Me, Jennifer E. Smith
20. A Tale of 7 Elements, Eric Scerri
21. The First Muslim, Leslie Hazleton
22. Winger, Andrew Smith
23. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
24. Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith
25. Chimes at Midnight, Seanan McGuire
26. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
27. Trust Me, I'm Lying, Ryan Holiday
28. Flash Boys, Michael Lewis
29. Self-Inflicted Wounds, Aisha Tyler
30. Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
31. The Marbury Lens, Andrew Smith
32. Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher
33. The Humans, Matt Haig
34. The Woman Who Died a Lot, Jasper Fforde
35. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
36. The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman
37. What If?, Randall Munroe
38. Sabriel, Garth Nix
39. Unspoken, Sarah Rees Brennan
40. Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire
41. Untold, Sarah Rees Brennan

Comics and manga read thus far in 2014:
1. Clockwork Game, Jane Irwin
2. Showa: A History of Japan, 1923-1939, Shigeru Mizuki
3. Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh
4. The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks and Caanan White
5. Andre the Giant, Box Brown
6. Seconds, Bryan Lee O'Malley
7. The Shadow Hero, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
8. Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang
9. Just So Happens, Fumio Obata
capfox: (Blank)
This is my list of books read for 2014, along with links to reviews. Books are usually added as I begin reading them, not after I end, so the list is subject to change. Work-related books don't get reported on here; this is just pleasure reading things. Links to previous years' lists are as follows: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

1. Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente
capfox: (Chipp Badge)
This is my list of books read for 2013, along with links to reviews. Books are usually added as I begin reading them, not after I end, so the list is subject to change. Work-related books don't get reported on here; this is just pleasure reading things. Links to previous years' lists are as follows: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

And now, the list for this year:

The full book list )

Best: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. This made me actually write a fan letter to the author, which is only the second time that's ever happened. A story about Mexican-American teenagers, and finding your friends, with some very realistic character work and good families. It's hard to really write someone who doesn't like talking and doesn't really know their emotions well, but Saenz really does it. It made me like my 15-year-old self better.

Most recommended: There were some really good books this year. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia had some very nice second-person narration, and was very interesting. Three Parts Dead had an interesting approach to magic, very lawyerly, and caught me up in its story of trying to bring back a dead god. Code Name Verity had a strong tale of friendship between women during war that I found very moving.

Worst: How to Create the Perfect Wife was a real slog, but I think it had more to do with the book reminding me of an old friend of mine than any real fault of the book itself.

Most surprisingly good: True Grit stood up a lot better than I expected it to. Eleanor and Park turned out to stick with me a lot more than I thought, too. A very nice romance.

Most disappointing: Gone Girl was a very driving narrative, but I ended up not enjoying it very much. Everything and More was not everything and more; it was more uneven than I'd really hoped.
capfox: (Ravenclaw Quote)
My guess is he probably wasn't whenever anyone was actually saying or thinking that.

Book #64: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
Author: Richard P. Feynman
Provenance: Borrowed from my dad

I can't very well say when the first time I heard about Richard Feynman was. He's long been a hero of my father's, and he'd show up in unexpected conversations occasionally. I think I found this a bit interesting when I was a kid - why does he keep cropping up? I've heard and read more about him since then, and I read James Gleick's biography of him when I was in Japan, but somehow, despite seeing this book on our shelves every day for years growing up, I never actually gave it a try until recently. And it's definitely an interesting read, both for what's on the page, and what's not.

This is sort of a biography of Feynman's life, pieced together from stories he told a friend of his, and one imagines with a final okay from Feynman (since his name's on the book, after all). It covers a lot of his life, with the different stories ranging from when he was a kid through being a student at MIT and Princeton, his time on the Manhattan project, up through being a renowned professor. There's a range in the scope of the stories, from short little anecdotes through long pieces about, say, learning to pick locks, or sensory deprivation, or tea-time at Princeton. It actually makes for an easy read this way; since the stories are all basically standalones, you can jump around the book based on how much time you have to read. It helps to have a little idea about his life ahead of time if you're going to do that, but it's doable without that knowledge, I think.

So the subtitle for this book is "adventures of a curious character," and that really is what you're getting. Feynman clearly comes through as brash, fiercely intelligent, not taking anybody's word just on authority, trying out new things (art, drumming, lockpicking, etc) because they seem interesting - and then following through and trying to achieve the best he can with it, and invested in seeing things through to their complete and logical end. He has a sense of marveling at ways of doing things that get out wrong or incoherent results. It's an approach to life that certainly makes for a rich and diverse set of experiences, and the writing, while simple enough, gives you a real sense of who he was. It won't win any prizes for prose, but he wouldn't want those, anyway. And it still is engrossing and often very humorous.

It's notable, as well, that there's very little science in here, and that you don't get a sense of how harsh he could be (beyond the fact that he very clearly doesn't suffer fools gladly, and that he says often in the earlier studies that had it happened to him now, he would have told the person off / did what he wanted). My dad says he was very invested in having everyone know he was a wild and crazy guy, and told the book that way. The book I read after this (by Herman Wouk; I'll review it next) gave more of the harder side. But the wonderful thing about this book is that it shows you what it really means to be curious and dedicated, to have a desire to really try a lot of things and try to see the heart of them. That's something to learn from, one way or the other, and for someone who was also a great teacher, one might imagine that was part of the purpose, too. It's a fun read to have around, I'd think, for inspirational, amusing refreshment. Not perfect, but then, it definitely held my interest well.

Next up: Yeah, the Language God Speaks. Since I said already.
capfox: (Live My Way)
It definitely had a different set of stops than I was expecting.

Book #7: Riding the Bus with My Sister
Author: Rachel Simon
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

One of the worst kinds of literature, to my mind, are the ones where your main character is a busy person, trying to succeed, doing their best to make the most of their lives, and then they are exposed to wise old sage / intelligent animal / precocious child / disabled veteran. And then they learn the true value of life, and hurrah, hurrah, their minds are forever changed for the better, and they love the world. Urgh, the trite pastiness of it. And then those books end up super popular, and you hear about them everywhere: this will change your life! You just sigh internally. I picked up this book because my mom recommended it, and she usually has good taste, but I look at the blurbs on the cover ("it touched my soul" - Rosie O'Donnell) and I read the first twenty pages, and I worry.

But - and thankfully, there's a but - the story doesn't pan out that way. This memoir details the year that Rachel Simon spent with her sister with mild mental retardation around on the buses in her sister's small Pennsylvania city. A few years before the time detailed in the book, Beth, her sister, took up riding around the buses of the town all day, chatting with the drivers and learning all the routes and the timetables, to the degree where she serves as a backup resource for new employees, getting access to the driver's room, etc. Not all of the drivers take to her, but enough do, and she feels as if she's found her place.

Rachel had not been close with her sister for some time, but when Beth reached out to her and invited her to spend a year riding with the buses with her, she decided to take time out of her schedule to take up the offer, alongside her classes and writing. The memoir goes along month by month, for the days she's out there with her sister, with the chapters for each month generally including some riding around with a particular driver on the bus, each with different views on the world, jocular, heavy, contemplative, religious, trying to help Beth, or not; and then also some time off the bus, and then finally about the history of the Simon family and dealing with Beth through the years.

It's actually a very easy read, and the different profiles of the bus drivers, intelligent, thoughtful folk (for the ones that get profiled; Simon notes they're not all like that), add some nice variety. But the most interesting part of it is Simon's coming to grapple with her sister and her life, and what it means for her to be a good sister, and a more open person. Simon turned away from her sister some when she was growing up, but she didn't even really know what it meant for people to have the sort of disability her sister has. She hadn't done the research on it until during the year in question, and she hadn't tried to understand her sister's place in life, why she wanted to ride the buses, the level of self-determination she has.

The overall trend in care for those with mental retardation has been to give them more control over their lives, and the book shows both the plusses and minuses of this system - Beth makes her decision about how to make her life fulfilling, but she makes her own bad decisions, too, and it's hard for her sister to watch. But she does get a lot more respect for her sister, and eventually, the feeling becomes more mutual. Beth's fiercely independent, but they do manage to make it work out between them, so that they each have their place with the other.

I actually did come to enjoy this book after the beginning. It's a more complex story, written clearly and with enough emotion to become invested. I learned much about the toughness of the situation, the complexity of living with someone with a real cognitive disability, but that they're really still a complete, full person. Realizing that is hard even when you're in the situation; even with my mom being a special ed teacher, I have a hard time remembering this sometimes.

Anyway, it is an interesting, informative, and, yes, heart-warming read. But not in that bad way. In a better one.

Next up: HMMM. No predictions. We'll see tomorrow.
capfox: (Wonderboy)
I suppose "because I said so" isn't really going to be a good answer.

Book #45: Why Does the World Exist?
Author: Jim Holt
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

No, really, why does the world exist? The question posed by the title is likely one of the oldest questions that people have ever considered, particularly if we rule out more mundane questions like where their next meal is going to be coming from. It is definitely one of the foundational questions that is answered by religion, as well, and then in terms of philosophy and science. Getting a variety of answers in one place seems like a interesting book to have.

Holt probably isn't the first person to try tackling the challenge of putting together a coherent examination of the facts, but I think he may be the first one to try doing it with this approach. After laying out the overall question of why there is something rather than nothing and a couple of initial thoughts, Holt embarks on an interview tour with many different sorts of thinkers: philosophers, theologians, scientists, and even John Updike, in the end. And we're not talking about any random, low-key selection of thinkers here. These are people who've generally given a lot of thought to the topic: Adolf Grunbaum, Steven Weinberg, Derek Parfit, etc. It's a good mix.

At each point, Holt discusses how he set up the interview, why he wanted to talk with that person, and gives them a chance to elucidate their argument. These range from "this is a pointless question; there's no reason to think nothing would be a more rational state" to "God made the universe" to the Big Bang theory to a variety of other philosophical and scientific views. After almost each interview, there is an interlude in which Holt gives more history and background around the question, details a bit of his life at the time, and most importantly, grapples with the views of the person he's just talked to, their likelihood and their implications.

It helps that Holt is a clever guy, an erudite writer, and someone who is very clearly interested in this question, because the book somehow fails to ever become tedious. The different people Holt talks with are invested in making sure their points are clear, and their relationships to Holt matter, too (Derek Deutsch nearly doesn't talk with him because Holt gave a fairly negative review to one of his books once). The personal interludes actually help the story along, as Holt encounters death around him, bringing the question of something vs. nothing into a more personal light. But really, the meat of the book is Holt considering the different views of the interviewees, and accepting or rejecting the ideas, and that makes for a fulfilling read.

I don't really personally find satisfactory the conclusion that Holt stops on, or share the reverence for Updike and his opinions that Holt shows at the end after he's reached the conclusion he stops on. That said, it was a very interesting read, far more readable than I'd have thought it had any right to be, and it does stick with you, the ideas. If you've ever wondered about this question, you could do far worse than trying this book. I quite enjoyed it, and I'd like to see what else Holt has done. If he's this interested in the topic, it probably makes for a good read.

Next up: Should I even predict? Let's say Dear Teen Me.
capfox: (Serious Chipp)
Going about and trying to change the past? That always goes well, right?

Book #59: The Revisionists
Author: Thomas Mullen
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

Sometimes, when we look back at history, we can see a clear line of a chain of events that comes up to some climactic point, and people wonder, well, what if we had stopped this, or changed that? Could we have avoided the whole thing, if we had managed to save that guy's life, or broke the code sooner, or something? But however it is, you get the world the way it is now.

But if you have time travel, well, why not go back and change it? Although... maybe you like the way things ended up, even if it was horrible to get there. Maybe if you have time travel, you try to make sure the bad things in the chain happen, so you can get to the shining future you want. It's a hell of a job to have, probably. But that's our Zed's job. He's come back from the future into modern-day DC to make sure things play out the way the future utopia needed them to play out, even if that means a magnificent cataclysm that will require people to learn the multiple of decimate to count all the dead, in the end.

That's our setup for Mullen's book, a multiple POV piece where one of the viewpoints is our future fixer Zed, with the others taken up by a young lawyer, an immigrant maid in a diplomat's residence, and a contractor who's just been cut off from the government. For all of the science-fiction trappings, they basically sit mostly within Zed's viewpoint; he has to keep a low cover to not disrupt the timelines further, after all. The rest of the book is more of a story of modern government, diplomats and bureaucracy and small projects of skulduggery, all connecting our characters together.

In many ways, really, this is a government thriller, a story that asks about the power of an individual against the bureaucracy and the systems of the world, against history. It's a story of alienation, with all of our characters feeling out of place, geographically, temperamentally, temporally. These are themes straight out of Kafka, but it's not like the world's changed that much since then. Even world-shaking events can't break the hold the idea of systems have on us, after all.

But as I say, this is science-fiction, and a character piece, and a DC thriller, rolled into one. They should clash more than they actually do, all the different modes, but Mullen actually does a pretty good job of holding them all together. The characters have clear, different voices, and there's a good amount of world-building on Zed's side, to get a real sense of the future, and the way he looks at the present. But the SF-ness of it goes away somewhat over the course of the book. Mullen had a good run of it, and there's a lot to recommend it, but I can't say he totally stuck the ending. Still, it actually all comes together well enough, and that's pretty impressive.

In the end, I don't think this quite came together as cleanly as I'd have liked, but it actually works well enough, down to some nice, real ambiguity about some of the narration. And it grapples with the consequences of doing bad things to try to keep your shining future ahead of you, along a number of different axes, and that's a rich theme to explore. I can't recommend it totally unreservedly, but it's definitely worth a try if you like some time travel in your reading diet, or some low-key piecing-it-together informational thrills. Mullen's an inventive guy; I should try more of him. But this isn't a bad place to start. Zed's a good place to end, though.

Next up: Sigh. Maybe actually Paper Towns. Maybe that Jim Holt book.
capfox: (Wonderboy)
(Programming note: time to get back on doing these again until I'm caught up with the backlog. I'm going to try to do 1 a day again until I'm caught up. Let's see how that goes.)

Homecomings are always harder when they're to secret institutions of secrets.

Book #66: Return
Author: Peter S. Beagle
Provenance: Borrowed from my mother

It's helpful to have your favorite book by an author be their favorite book as well. Sometimes it can lead to them playing around with it more, and that's the case here. My favorite book actually is Beagle's The Innkeeper's Song, and he's returned to set a number of shorter stories in the world since then, including a collection in Giant Bones, with this latest novella being a fairly notable installment. This is a rarer effort from him in this regard, a tale dealing with one of the main characters of The Innkeeper's Song itself, returning back to the monastery of secrets where they spent their formative years.

Really, the setup works quite well - our hero (alas, using the name constitutes a real spoiler for the original book) dispatches the latest bunch of assassins sent from the place, but there's something amiss about them and their behavior, and to work out the consequences, our protagonist returns in disguise to his old home and refuge. The welcome there is complex, the ultimate reason the monastery wanted him to return surprising and fairly monstrous, and the nature of the place and its residents revealed to be... well, not exactly a revelation, but not exactly what I'd expected, either.

It's always a pleasure to return to the Innkeeper's World, and Beagle gets the cadence of the lead character down right. The writing is typically brilliant, as you'd expect from Beagle, and the whole story was worth the time. The only thing is that it's really quite slight, even for a novella; I do feel like to get everything I'd have wanted for the feel of the place, it should have been a bit longer, but it was a good story as it was.

All told, if you like Beagle and you read the other books in this setting, then you'll definitely want to read this one, as it fills in much of this character's past. But definitely read the other stuff first - this isn't the story to start with in this setting, and it'll spoil a ton of things if you read this and then go into the others. And you don't want to be spoiled for the original too much. Beagle does twist some good tales, and this world is still my favorite.

Next up: Probably Paper Towns, I'm thinking.
capfox: (Blank)
2012 was actually a surprisingly good year for books. I read more than I had for a while, and most of it was quite good. In terms of volume, I think it may have been that I started really taking books out of the library more regularly; I thought I disliked the pressure to read by a certain date, but it motivated trying to get through things, certainly. In terms of content, well, I guess I just got lucky. ^_^

List of books read for 2012: )

Best: The Fault in Our Stars. This teenagers-with-cancer story really could have failed to work properly, and be a sappy, sentimental mess, but it really did come together. Hazel and Augustus and their world seemed very real, funny and sad.

Most recommended: This would be the Magician King, but that's book 2 in a series; it's also potentially TFiOS, as above. But let's say The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Fun, fast, full of pranks and well-phrased feminism.

Worst: Again, I was lucky this year in avoiding reading anything that was truly terrible. Probably the worst thing I read was Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, though.

Most surprisingly good: Hmmm. I actually had more disappointing surprises than good ones, but I think Tokyo Vice turned out to be a better and more affecting book than I'd have predicted. Lots of interesting stories and insights, and there really is growth on the part of Adelstein. It probably helps that I miss Japan a lot these days.

Most disappointing: Not that they were bad, but I was disappointed with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and You Killed Wesley Payne, both of which were supposed to be quite good, and neither of which really made an impact with me. Particularly Wesley Payne, but my expectations weren't as high, so I'd say they're about the same in terms of relative disappointment.

I still have more books to review from this year to catch up on, but I'm looking forward to getting down some very good stuff in the year to come. ^_^
capfox: (Looks Can Deceive)
I'm not really sure in the end what connection that title has to the book. Maybe I just missed it? It's a good title, though.

Book #43: Discount Armageddon
Author: Seanan McGuire
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

Seanan McGuire's been an author that I've been meaning to try for a while. I've heard good things about the Toby Daye series, and I do like urban fantasy stuff, so she sounded like a good fit. But I didn't really feel like starting a more established series, and when I heard she was starting another one, I thought I'd jump on that train instead. Particularly when that train, the InCryptid series, has such a nice pun in the series name, and, c'mon, Discount Armageddon, that's a cool name for a book. Eye-catching. Although eye-catching in a worse way (at least, from my perspective) was the cover, featuring a city landscape at night with our lead character in a pink halter and pink plaid skirt, carrying a gun (which, at least, that's sort of an outfit from the story. I know I shouldn't be embarrassed by what I read, but... yeah. I mostly knocked this one off at home.

The whole story here's not an embarrassment at all, really. Our heroine, Verity Price, is a member of the youngest generation of a family of, well, cryptid managers / police, in a sense. They keep an eye on the paranormal populations in their territories, New York in Verity's case, and while most of them just generally go about their own lives quietly, there are some who look to prey on the population at large. And that, of course, is also Verity's job - she keeps them in line, through words or through a well-placed ass-kicking. This job doesn't much pay the bills, though, so she works a cover job as a waitress at a strip club where most of the strippers are local non-humans of one variety or another. But really? Really what she wants? Is to be a real honest-to-God ballroom dancing champ.

So there are a lot of parts here to look at, and the plot is tipped off by the arrival of an agent from the organization that Verity's family used to work with, the Covenant of St. George, who has rather a different idea of what to be doing with those cryptids about, a rather more violently final one. So with a kill-'em-all agent, Dominic de Luca, showing up, Verity has to protect the group, and as she gets to know de Luca more, things get more... complicated.

The plot actually does work pretty well, a fairly driving and enjoyable tale, but in this case, it's the characters that really made the story for me: Verity, our first-person narrator, with a world-weary, tongue-in-cheek, but driven voice, proud of her accomplishments, but not really happy with her life; Sarah, her cryptid cousin, with psychic powers and an interesting biology; Dominic, a holy warrior, yes, but not immune to new ideas; oh, all of them, Verity's family, the super religious cult-of-the-Price-family mice in Verity's apartment, the whole world. It's well thought out and well-realized, and it gives the plot that much more heft. This one, it's a lot of understanding Verity's world and then messing it around, as befits the first book in a series, and it pays off. You get the regular kind of showing how this world differs from the real one, who inhabits it and setting the rules, and then lets things tick off the rails nicely.

All of which is to say, I did quite enjoy this. I'll have to try her other series soon, but this one makes for a nice, fast adventure, with good characters and a nice style. I see what the fuss was about, for sure. And even if I do think I'll try out Toby Daye, I'm looking forward to more about Verity, as well. Definitely a good read here for urban fantasy fans.

Next up: Hmmm. Maybe a Terrible Splendor this time? The Last Policeman? One of those should be good.
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