Wednesday reading 23 November 2016

What I just finished reading

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek; and

The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer – YA lesbian retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth. Good scene-setting. I wanted to like it more than I did but it was fine, if not particularly exciting to me.

What I’m reading now

I’m midway through the first draft of an assignment that’s due Friday, about the time I get home from work, so all I’m reading is my notes right now. Sorry! Can’t wait until term is over. (I’m going to watch a million movies, clean my house, read some of my book backlog and replay the Ace Attorney games when the term is done.)

What I’m reading next

I’ve managed to buy no new books for three weeks straight. I feel pretty pleased with myself.

Review: The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Acquired how: bought paperback

 

Okay, first of all: as far as I’m concerned, The Hanging Tree was totally worth the wait. It is awesome.

It felt so good to get back in touch with Peter, Beverley and Nightingale. This many books into the series, it’s a bit like catching up with old friends. I’m so thoroughly invested in them and their world that Aaronovitch would have to write a pretty crap book for me to not enjoy it. Luckily, this is one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. However, a lot of why I enjoyed it so much was due to build up and pay off of things introduced earlier in the series. And while there is a bit of exposition to get regular readers to remember everything that’s gone on, I don’t think a new reader could pick up this book and feel up to speed, without reading the previous five books.

I strongly suspect that this post is going to immediately into spoiler territory, so if you’re reading this by cross post, please be careful to avoid the

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Midweek reading 10 November 2016

I apologise for being a day late with this, but it was my birthday yesterday, and also America decided to set itself on fire.

What I just finished reading

Caliban’s War by James S A Corey – So much better than the first one. The problems I had with the first one didn’t appear in this one at all. And Avrasala was delightful. Granted, a lot of what I liked about this one was building on what the first one set up, so I wouldn’t advise people starting with this one.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – It feels like everyone recommends this one. Meh. As a writing guide, no. As a memoir about life as a writer, sure.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch – I feel like I waited forever for this. It was awesome. Review to come.

What I’m reading now

Half a dozen space operas (I’m really feeling space operas right now), a thus far underwhelming urban fantasy, and a book about book proposals I have out from the library.

What I’m reading next

I’m putting myself on a book buying diet. I’m not allowed to acquire any new books until I make a serious dent in the backlog.

Reading Wednesday 5 October 2016

What I just finished reading

Authorpreneurship by Hazel Edwards (library book) – Read for uni. Nothing new to me, very little about treating your writing as a business, and read more like barely expanded notes than a decent non-fiction reference. Also, a lot of repetition of Edwards’ thoughts on speaking engagements.

The Perfumer’s Secret by Fiona McIntosh – It’s very rare I read a book of mainstream fiction and think ‘this would be better with more incest’. I wanted this book to be something different than it was and only finished it out of a feeling of obligation. It did make me think about what kind of infodumping I will accept in different genres and how much it annoys me when authors create suspense by having characters withhold information from each other for no valid reason.

Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey – At the beginning I was really enjoying this (and I’m not sure how much of that was because I was reading the above books at the same time and it was improved by comparison), then in the middle it draaaagged, and then the end redeemed the book. I may or may not get the next book. Miller falling in love with the idea of a woman he’d never met was a bit of a tired, sexist cliché, even if it ended up being plot-relevant. After a while, Holden seemed frustratingly naive. Nonetheless, I like the idea of space opera that bridges the time period between people beginning to leave Earth and far out space adventures (which is probably why I’ve watched Gundam Wing so many times). I also like ridiculous space politics, looks into everyday life on space stations and really imaginative fantasy monsters. And the end was really cool.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan (library book) – I wasn’t enjoying what I’d read of Milan’s regencies all that much because I’m not into regencies, but I read the previous two in this series so I figured I’d give this one a go. IT WAS AWESOME. Violet and Sebastian were delightful. Obviously, this is a bit of a fantasy version of the regency (but aren’t all regency romances a bit fantastical?), but Violet is like the awesome fantasy regency version of many nerdy women I know. Some strange pacing at the start, that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I enjoyed this very much.

What I’m reading now

More writing guides for uni and the current issue of Elle Australia at work. And the partially read pile of books next to my bed is embarrassingly large.

What I’m reading next

I’ve been planning to get on to reading Cam Girl so I could talk to a friend about it for ages, so I should probably get on that.

Reading Wednesday 3 August 2016

What I just finished reading

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (library book) – I’d been meaning to get onto this one for years because people kept mentioning that it was one of the books that kicked off the urban fantasy genre, and I do often like my fantasy urban. There was a lot to enjoy about this and some of the faerie stuff still feels really fresh. In here are none of the fantasy creature archetypes and clichés that have overcrowded the genre. I liked the way Bull melded the fantasy elements with the everyday elements of making rent and buying food, as well as the particular kinds of problems and joys musicians face. There’s lovely description of the magic in music.

The romantic entanglement that develops between the main character and one of her new faerie acquaintances is delightful. It is not merely based on physical passion, though the physical awareness is masterfully built up between the characters throughout the book, but also on respect for and delight in each other’s personalities.

However, it is a bit dated. Some of the 80s clothes described I imagine to be delightful but even describing all the clothes in such a way felt very 80s. I liked some of the 80s elements so much (synth!) but the particular kind of casual racism of the times, such as when Eddi looks in a mirror and drags her eyes out to imagine what she’d look like Chinese? Yeah, no. This in spite of a racially diverse cast of characters, granted, and I didn’t notice any unfortunate stereotypes. So some of my reaction to this is a bit mixed but I did enjoy it.

Music Business for Dummies by Loren Wiseman (library book) – I imagine much more useful if you are actually a musician. Some of this was useful; some of this was utterly garbage marketing/promotion advice. Contains almost no actual specifics of the music business though I imagine someone really needed that advice on politeness, posture and healthy touring. Still better than that one for Dummies book I read about Wicca that claimed that Wiccans believe in Karma (…no, we don’t. That’s a Buddhist concept).

What I’m reading now

Only research materials right now, in an attempt to reach the home stretch on the book, sadly. Oh, and half a dozen home decor magazines at work.

What I’m reading next

Every book I’ve put aside while trying to finish In Tune #2 (and I’ll leave my whining about that to another day).

Book: Dying for a Living

Dying for a Living by Kory M Shrum
Own copy

I picked this one up because it was free on Kindle and looked interesting. Unlike most times I do that, this book was actually enjoyable.

The premise is thus: Jesse is a ‘death replacement agent’ which means she has a superpower that allows her to take somebody’s death and die in their stead, then awaken hours or days later. What a cool idea! Jesse wants to get out of the business, eventually – the more often she dies, the more likely she is to lose her mind – but she’s stuck in the job by the fear her boss will report her dark past to the cops. And then somebody starts killing off death replacement agents.

This was a reasonably fun ride. Not without flaw, though. Because the POV is tightly locked on Jesse, several important parts of the climax of the story happened off page and were recounted as exposition later. That kind of fizzled things for me. I also sometimes had trouble remember which of the supporting characters was which before reorienting myself, but that may be down to only reading the book on my commute in short spurts.

Still, the main character was interesting, as was the world-building (even if some of it was utter nonsense), and I’m interested to read more from this series.

Book: Neuromancer

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Own copy

And now, having finally read this book, I understand so many more nerdy in-jokes and references I’d missed over the years, and also know what Straylight Run are named after.

I should have read this book when I was a teenager. Not that I didn’t enjoy it now but I would have enjoyed it exponentially more as a teen, in the 90s. Partly because this kind of writing and plotting style was like catnip to me when I was a teen. Partly because the internet was weird and mysterious to me then (the internet didn’t come to Australia until 1997 and my family didn’t have a dial-up connection until 2000), so the way Gibson creates his vision of cyberspace would have excited me more. That’s not to say you can’t accept a vision of a future-internet that’s accessed neurologically, instead of via a fixed or satellite connection to a device (and I’m pretty sure plenty of cyberpunk goes with brain-internet connection, because it’s fun to imagine).

Another reason I should have read it before is because I’ve watched so much of the cyberpunk that comes later, and can’t help but think Ghost in the Shell, in its various iterations, does some of the themes better.

Nonetheless: Neuromancer is high-octane science fiction nonsense. It’s so 80s in a way I find highly nostalgic, because like all 30-somethings I find myself becoming nostalgic for the feeling of pop culture and fashion from my youth. I think some of it I would have understood better if I’d read Gibson’s previous short stories (which I do plan to track down, eventually) but some of it is just Gibson’s writing style. He doesn’t go in for setting you up with long exposition, just plops you in the story and lets you figure a lot of it out on your own. For some things that worked well, and it certainly helped in creating the social milieu. For some things I found that less effective.

The main character, Case, is the kind of mildly pathetic and occasionally well-meaning scumbag you don’t see as much of in fiction these days, but that I really enjoy. As a person he’s a bit crap. When it comes to coolness stakes, he’s vastly overshadowed by Molly, a misfit action woman with a painful past, who strides through scenes with the kind of swagger it’s usually hard to capture in prose. But compared to Armitage, the batshit new boss who coerces him into joining the team, and Riviera the gigantic psycho, he looks like a pretty swell guy.

Neuromancer is part noirish cyberpunk story and part heist adventure. For my moment, the best parts of the book are the most sfnal – Linda Lee’s face projected in the fireworks, the other AI’s secret world, the way Riviera uses his projected illusions to reveal people’s secrets. Sf/f marries pretty well with stories about dark and grungy underworlds and the moments of horror, beauty and redemption those stories can bring: Neuromancer is no exception. It’s also a bit of a mess, but then, it was a debut novel. I can definitely see why it struck such a chord in people and it has been enormously influential. It grapples with questions about artificial intelligences and the self, what constructs the self, and what gritty horror the future might be like – all that good stuff you would expect from the genre.

And this is honestly a very long pile of words for a review that has barely talked about the story at all.

Mid-week Reading 14 July 2016

What I Just Finished Reading

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: the science of hedonism and the hedonism of science by Zoe Cormier – Interesting. There were some places I wanted more information and sometimes I felt things were dumbed down a little (as you’d expect from a popular science book) though from what I see on goodreads some people felt the opposite. I loved reading about how all three things in the title affect the brain and I think what I need to find next is some popular science books about hormones and neuroscience because that is interesting stuff. One of the best bits was Cormier musing on what music is, a thing you don’t realise is difficult to define until you try. Beautiful math is a charming way of putting it, not that I’d necessarily agree.

Liberator (Flights of Love book one) by Shelley B Mcpherson – I picked this up because it was free on Amazon and it sounded interesting. And, look, the basic plot line is interesting, it’s just that the book itself felt very infodump-y and took a long time to get to the point. Once it got there I was excited (and the sex scene was all the more swoon worthy to read for having had to wait so long for it) but then it ends abruptly. Which is probably what I should have expected for a part one sold on Amazon. It feels a bit like a pilot episode. I might pick up the next book at some point because I am intrigued to see where the story goes.

What I’m reading now

Idol by Kristen Callihan – This might just be a DNF. I suffered through the male lead’s sexism early on (why again is there something wrong with the groupies when he’s the one who goes through women like kleenex?) but I’ve gotten as far as the first sex scene and his dirty talk is cringeworthy.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – My friend wrote this!

Neuromancer by William Gibson – I should have read this when I was a teenager in the 90s. I would have loved it because I was well into that sort of writing style back then. I’m only up to about page 58 right now so we’ll see how I like it. It’s interesting to look at the different conceptualisations of what cyberspace would be like that came about back in ye olde cyberpunk days, before we were all expected to be on the internet. Yeah, we don’t talk about jacking in any more. But that thing where Case finds it difficult to find people that accept cash because most financial transactions are electronic? We’re definitely going that way. And it perfectly forecasts current meme and youth culture:

Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the speed of light: entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
– p58

I feel like subcultures on Tumblr rise up and vanish almost overnight and memes spread so quickly that they become old news within a few days. That’s often the interesting thing about reading older science fiction (and by older I just mean, not super recent): seeing the ways in which things did or didn’t come true.

What I’m reading next

I have a to-read list several shelves deep and at least 30 unread ebooks waiting for me, and that’s on top of everything waiting for me at the library. So your guess is as good as mine.

Review: The Superheroes Union: Dynama

The Superheroes Union: Dynama by Ruth Diaz
Acquired how: bought ebook

TJ is a superhero and single mother of two kids, working a day job and saving the world. Annmarie is the nanny she hires to help out at home. When TJ’s supervillain ex escapes from prison they draw closer together as they both protect TJ’s kids in their own way.

I often like to read romance novels with a bit of a fantasy element – sometimes that gives the book an extra bit of spice, and sometimes that means that the book is enjoyable even if the romance is less convincing. This is a case of the latter.

The superhero plot is grounded in every day concerns. Even a superhero mum has to balance her job with childrearing and makes mac and cheese from a packet. The ramp up of tension with the supervillain plot is entertaining, as are the action scenes. Her background and Annmarie’s background are both convincing. The issue is that the relationship between the two leads goes too fast, ramping up from meeting to love within a matter of days, and the chemistry isn’t particularly convincing initially. Once the characters are in a relationship, their interaction seems believable, but until that point they seemed awkwardly manoeuvred together.

Released three years ago, this seems to be the author’s only book before vanishing from the face of the internet. That’s a shame because this novella shows potential. It would have been interesting to see how she would have improved her skills with further books.

Short paranormal romance reviews 22 November 2015

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles – I bought this forever ago and meant to read it, what with everyone constantly talking about it. Well, now I know why they do! Very entertaining. The main characters and their relationship are well drawn, and just enough plot outside their romance to make things interesting.

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett – There was a lot to like about this book and yet I found it quite a slog to get through. Perhaps I just didn’t connect with it that well. I found the end satisfying and yet the lasting impression is that finishing the book was like drudgery.