sholio: (Books)
There aren't very many years when I have really strong opinions on Hugo award winners, but this was one of those years when there was one category where I did have very strong opinions, and I'm completely delighted that the Vorkosigan books won for best series. (Full list of winners and nominees here.)

This isn't specifically because of my personal feelings about it (all the nominated series are ones that I either personally really enjoy or have heard good things about). It's because, of all the series on the list, it's the only one that I consider really, truly groundbreaking at the time it came out. Yes, the series has dated badly in some ways, but it's still kind of amazing to me that these books (the first half-dozen or so, anyway) were written in the 1980s. They stand out much less today, with so much more diversity of books available -- not just in the kinds of people in the books, but the kind of books that are around in the genre. But even by modern standards, these books are kind of weird (one part mil-SF, one part generation saga, one part comedy of manners). And at the time they were written, they were really, truly visionary. There just wasn't anything else like them. I think they were the first SF books I ever read where gay and agender and disabled characters were just there, as an ordinary human component of the future -- and yes, I know that is one aspect of the books that hasn't aged very well, but it was the 1980s! One thing that sticks in my head is LMB's account of what made her write Ethan of Athos: as a mom herself, she had a conversation with some male friends about whether men would be able to raise children by themselves (without a woman in the picture). She thought it was possible. Not a single one of her male friends agreed. I mean, literally didn't think it was a thing that could happen. So she went and wrote Ethan of Athos about an all-male planet to prove them wrong.

That's how much the world has changed in the last 30 years, and that's the milieu that the early books in the series were written in, and yet, books like Shards of Honor and the early Miles books are still completely readable today; they've dated a bit, but to me, anyway, they don't feel nearly as dated as the vast majority of 1970s/80s sci-fi does now.

So yeah, that's why I had strong feelings on that category, and that's why I'm really thrilled it went the way I was hoping it would go. The other series are excellent books. All of them have their own individual strengths; many of them do well what the Vorkosigan books don't. But I wanted LMB to win because, though they have their flaws, I think her books are really, truly visionary, groundbreaking, and influential in a way the others aren't, and that's what I think the Hugo awards (ideally) should recognize.
sholio: (Books)
I finally got around to reading The Furthest Station, which I had pre-ordered and has been sitting on my Kindle ever since my pre-order came in, and I am now wondering - did anyone else who bought the Kindle version of this get what appears to be an ARC version? It's full of typos (I normally notice a typo or two in any published book, because I just have the kind of brain that notices them, but this one was more on the level of the kind of thing I expect from competently written but unbeta'd fanfic - several noticeable typos or misused words per chapter) and there were also what appear to be notes to the "translator" scattered throughout (translator from UK to US English, that is). ETA: Never mind about that last one, as it's apparently intentional; see comments!

I didn't really mind, and it didn't make for a poor reading experience - I enjoyed the book; I'm not going to demand a refund or anything - but I am curious if I'm the only one who had this experience. I skimmed the Amazon reviews to see if anyone mentioned it, but didn't notice anyone else bringing up anything like that.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
As part of my new "think about happy things more often" initiative, I am going to try to start posting more about things I have enjoyed lately, and here's one: Courtney Milan's Cyclone series.

These are romances that, generally speaking, fall into the "new adult billionaire romance" genre (i.e. financially struggling young lady falls for billionaire). However, they're highly atypical billionaire romances that really feel more like general contemporary romance, or just contemporary fiction that happens to involve a romance. They are also very much about the world that the characters inhabit -- which is Silicon Valley, at a fictional, vaguely Apple-like tech company called Cyclone -- and about the ensemble consisting of the main characters' families and friends, which is what really sucked me in. I am a huge sucker for ensemble series and these books hit that button hard. I started with the second book in the series out of vague curiosity, then snaffled the first book immediately because I wanted to find out more about these characters, and at this point I'm glomming onto all the short stories and I just want to know everything about these people that the author is willing to share. It is very obvious from the part of the series that's out already (the first two books, plus various associated short stories) that the author has mapped the entire thing out in her head and has large parts of the future books written, bits of which intrude on the earlier books in various ways. It's huge and fascinating. It feels like a universe.

The series also does something that I have not seen in any other romance series I've read, at least not to this extent: she mixes het couples with various flavors of queer couples. The genre standard is to separate them out into different series or, at most, maybe stick one m/m into a series that's otherwise het. These books just sort of fling a bunch of characters together and then follow their various romances with an air of pure IDGAF. The first book is straightforwardly het romance. The second is still het, but with a bisexual hero and a trans heroine. Based on the covers, there's a lesbian one coming up (in which one of the heroines is trans; she's a supporting character in one of the other books) and the eventual book for the fan favorite, "when is this guy going to get his own book" character has been very heavily implied (bordering on outright stated, as of the short stories) to be m/m. Meanwhile there are a couple of other het couples with books still to come, as well as another book about the first couple who are the fulcrum of the series. Nearly all of the couples (possibly all of them) are interracial - first book is a Chinese-American heroine and a white hero, second book is a Thai-American hero and a Latina heroine. Ha, oh, and despite being technically New Adult, one of the books in the series is going to feature a couple in their fifties. The IDGAF is very strong with this series; the author is obviously just kicking genre conventions out the door, writing what she wants to write, and having fun.

The books so far are:

Trade Me - By far my favorite in the series, mainly because of the main characters' parents, who are AMAZING. I also really loved the heroine. THE PARENTS, THOUGH. Also, this book completely surprised me with a couple of the plot twists. It starts off with a really basic romance plot and you're like, okay, I totally know where this is going, and then at a certain point the book veers suddenly into OKAY WHAT??? and from there it's just a wild roller coaster ride through increasing levels of OMGWTFBBQ.

Hold Me - To be honest I was pretty meh on this one compared to the first, though obviously it engaged me enough to buy the first book (which was where my love for the series kicked up to eleventy). The couple never quite grabbed me, and while the first book handles the numerous issues it addresses (race, class, eating disorders, religious discrimination, and more) with a low-key approach that felt very organic to the plot, there were times when the second book got too hamfistedly didactic for my tastes. That said, it is an enjoyable romance novel and it may be some people's favorite; it just wasn't mine.

The next book will feature Blake, Tina, and Adam from the first book again, rotating POV between the three of them. *makes grabby hands*

If you want to sample a little of the 'verse, this short story contains no spoilers; it's just a little slice of life at Cyclone.

She's also got, I kid you not, a short story in which one of the main characters from Cyclone accidentally travels in time and meets the main character from one of her historical series. It's crack fanfic. About her own characters.

And if you've read these, come join me in the comments and talk about them! Particularly if you want to talk about Adam Fucking Reynolds. :D
sholio: (Books)
With the present state of the world being what it is, I should not be allowed to read about apocalypses.

It doesn't even have to be an apocalypse that's likely to happen! The book in question was about a comet hitting the Earth and everyone wandering around trying to survive in the ensuing nuclear winter. Apparently my hindbrain REALLY DID NOT LIKE THAT, because I finished reading it last night in bed and then ended up having to get up for two hours and do relaxing things on the Internet to calm down enough to sleep.

So, right. No apocalypses for me right now.

I really enjoyed the book, though - On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis. It's YA with an autistic protagonist (written by an autistic author) and, as apocalypses go, it's not at all grimdark. A lot of bad stuff happens because, well, apocalypse (and if animal harm/animal death is an issue for you, be aware that a subplot includes pets being put to sleep), but overall it's an optimistic book about people pulling together and trying to help each other and rebuild society.

All the scenes of people wandering around in a dark, flooded wasteland trying to find enough food to survive were apparently traumatic in a way my brain couldn't quite deal with right now, though.
sholio: (Avatar-upbeat attitude)
The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book in this series and the only one out so far. It's self-contained, or reasonably so -- that is, it doesn't end on a cliffhanger -- but is also obviously setting up the dominos for a longer series.

This is by the same author as Dresden Files. I know some people were turned off by sexism in the early books of that series, but it might still be worth giving this one a try; it has several excellent female protagonists, and no sexism in sight (nothing discernible to me, anyway) aside from the societal kind, due to their society being kinda-sorta Napoleonic-Wars-era in nature.

The cultural worldbuilding is somewhat flat, which is one of my two issues with the book (the other concerned a character I couldn't stand, but that's just a matter of personal taste). It's pseudo-19th-century-fantasy-Europe with airships. It does get somewhat more interesting once we start to get into the political landscape -- people on this world live in tower cities above an inhospitable wilderness, and while the protagonists' tower is pseudo-England, the others aren't. Also, while the series is fairly standard steampunk with airships, ether-based energy weapons, etc., there is a cool twist to the tech, which is kind of a spoiler (more of a premise spoiler than a plot spoiler, and might be an enticement to some), so I'm going to put it under a cut: Mild spoiler )

Anyway, there are two main sets of protagonists: a group of 20-something aspiring soldiers/sky Marines, and an older generation of 40-somethings sharing a tangled and mysterious past, which includes most of my favorite characters, such as a kickass female sky pirate and a swashbuckling swordfighter guy who is in a happy long-term relationship with a woman who is for all intents and purposes his common-law wife. There's a huge ensemble cast with a character for every taste (a young woman struggling to prove herself as a soldier, a fighter-type who belongs to a race of people who are part cat, a ~moody and brooding~ airship captain, likable antagonists, and so forth). This is probably not a good series for people whose tastes run towards deep and complex worldbuilding, but it has tons of swash and buckle, action and adventure and h/c. It's also 600 pages long, so even though there's just one book in the series so far, there is a lot to sink into, and I'm really looking forward to finding out how the various plot and character threads develop in future books.
sholio: Autumn leaves (Autumn-leaves 1)
... okay, seriously, I gotta get on this Yuletide thing, if I'm going to do it this year. Signups close tonight!

One of the things I wanted to do before I get my letter up was post recs for the more obscure books I'm requesting, since it looks like most (all?) of my requests this year are for book fandoms, and hey, if I liked them, maybe you will like them too! And maybe I'll have more people to talk to them about!

Let's start with Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde. It's recently back in print ... with an absolutely terrible cover. The cover on the older edition was a bit young for the book itself, but at least it was cute and generally fairly accurate to what happens in the book, even if they aged the protagonist down by about 5 years. (The writing style is middle-grade-ish, but the characters are in their late teens.) The new one looks like it should be the cover for a self-published YA vampire romance. Not that there's anything wrong with YA vampire romance, but that's really not what this book is.

This book has been one of my comfort reads for at least a decade or more. It's fast, funny, sweet, has a surprisingly well-crafted mystery given the simplicity of the style, and it never fails to make me happy, despite the book's somewhat dark premise. It's about a young man in a rural, medieval-ish village who is accused of murder, and because they don't know what to do with him -- murder isn't something they have to deal with very often -- the villagers wall him up in an ossuary cave with the dead man's corpse. Luckily for him, he's not the only person in the cave; there's also a witch (sarcastic, hyper-competent, and AWESOME; she's great) who sneaks in every so often to steal bits of corpses for spells.

She agrees to help him, and so the accused murderer and the dead man's ghost team up to solve the murder. Complication #1: they can't stand each other (which is why he was accused of killing the other guy in the first place -- they had a longstanding and very public feud). Complication #2: due to a necromantic spell gone wrong, the (sarcastic, annoyed) ghost came back trapped in the body of a bat. Meanwhile the witch just wants to know what she did to deserve being saddled with these two idiots. Things pretty much go (hilariously) downhill for everyone from there.

I love this book; it's been one of my perennial Yuletide recs for ages. Parts of it still make me laugh, no matter how many times I've read it, and it's a lovely riff on the general theme of misjudging people based on first impressions -- everyone from the dead guy to the witch to the main character's love interest turns out to be more than they appear at first. It's also a short book and a fast read, so it's not that much of a time investment, unlike the fantasy doorstopper I'm about to rec in the next post.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
I was going to sign up for [community profile] mm_rares (signups open here) but then I realized you have to both request and offer a minimum of four different fandoms, and I just don't have that many I'm interested in writing. For some reason I'd thought it was four different pairings, which I could've managed between AC and the MCU, but no. Ah well, maybe I'll pick up a pinch hit if any catch my eye.

I'm presently re-reading Robert Asprin's Myth books. I came across a couple of them while cleaning out my bookshelves, and I don't think I've read them since I was a teenager. They're turning out to be surprisingly not-terrible, considering that the last time I tried to read one of his more recent books (one of the Phule ones) I noped out just a few chapters in. I'm not sure if I'd recommend them exactly, and they're definitely products of their time, but they're fun. Also, it is really amazing how growing up can change your perspective on character dynamics.

12-year-old me: Man, Aahz is a jerk. Though he can be cool sometimes.
Adult me: Wow, Aahz has the patience of a saint.

Seriously, I remember him being basically a jerk, but at worst he's abrasive, somewhat mercenary, and ruthless when cornered; I was completely unprepared for how patient, protective, and generally decent he is. Though maybe he gets worse later on; I seem to recall the characters getting slightly flanderized as the series proceeded ... moreso than they already were, as most of them are basically parodies of various stock fantasy types to begin with.

It's also making me think about how popular SFF comedy was in the late 70s/80s, and how few books along those lines there seem to be now -- just off the top of my head, there were Asprin's books, the Xanth ones, Spellsinger, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the early Discworld books, at least three different series I can think of in which an ordinary Earth schmoe answered an ad to be a wizard/king/etc or otherwise got tapped for a similar fantasy-kingdom gig while woefully unprepared ...

And it's just not really a thing anymore, I don't think. At least it's not a bestselling thing. It made me wonder if the same ecological book-niche as comic fantasy held in the '80s (light, bestselling, brain-candy spec-fic) is currently occupied by urban fantasy instead.


May. 16th, 2016 11:14 pm
sholio: (Books)
I just got a notification from Amazon that the new Ben January book has shipped! For some reason I thought it wasn't out until July. And it's supposed to get here by Wednesday! (Thank you, Amazon Prime!)


I guess I know what I'm doing on Wednesday.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
Editing is haaaaard. /whine

I discovered last night that Barbara Hambly has a new Ben January short story out AND a new story for her Bride of the Rat God characters. (Which, incidentally, is my other favorite of her books, besides the Ben January ones, even though almost no one has heard of it. It feels slightly dated now, especially the "cursed Chinese artifact" that MacGuffin-fuels the plot, but it's still a delightful little slice of 1920s Hollywood. It was the first of her books I ever read, back in the early '90s, and I'm thrilled she's still interested in writing in the 'verse.)

There's an interesting economics lesson in this, though. When she first started writing these and selling them off her website, a number of years ago, I didn't bat an eye at paying $5 a pop for downloadable PDFs that I had to read on the computer. Her prices haven't changed, but now that ebooks are big and there's an accepted pay scale for them, it feels weird to pay $4.99 for a novella-length story. I'm still happy to buy them and support her, but it's just interesting to me, because several years ago it felt perfectly reasonable to pay $5 for a self-published short story, and now there's a different price scale in effect, and I'd only expect to pay a buck or two. An object lesson in the dangers of undercharging, perhaps.

Anyway, I've already read the Ben January one and it is a delight as always. Looking forward to the other.
sholio: (Books)
Still laboring to stay spoiler-free for Civil War, and managing to be mostly successful. Thank you for not spoiling me, flist!

I also ran across a lovely rec for the Lauren books by way of a blog pingback today. I'm not sure if this is one of you guys, but if so, thank you! ♥ (Also, let's hear it for free samples, hooray!)

For my part, I've been reading quite a lot lately. It's been the usual mix of good books, forgettable books, and unfinishable books (the latter mostly courtesy of the cheap paperback pile or impulse acquisitions from random library shelves), but I have managed to discover a couple of new-to-me series lately that I'm really enjoying.

[personal profile] frith_in_thorns turned me onto Invisible Library and Masked City by Genevieve Cogman (and, uh, facilitated me being able to read them, since they're not out in the U.S. yet). They're really delightful; I love the characters and the clever worldbuilding. Alternate Earths exist on a continuum from order to chaos, and the more chaotic a world gets, the more it's taken over by narrative/story instead of reality -- so you get an increasing incidence of worlds that are full of narrative tropes and random crazy tech like ray guns or steampunk mecha. There's also magic, dragons, secret royalty, brilliant detectives, sentient trains ... these books are pretty much "let's throw all the Rule of Cool stuff imaginable into a blender, mix well, stir and enjoy". They're great.

And for a total change of pace from that, the other series I've really been enjoying is Richard Stevenson's Donald Strachey murder mysteries. I've gone through all the ones the library had, and just discovered there are SIX of them beyond the point where the library ones stop (plus, a couple missing ones along the way). The books span the time period from the early '80s to the present day and follow the life and career of a gay private eye in Albany, NY and his straight-laced politico boyfriend/later spouse. These are a blend of funny, adorable, and bleak, with a dry narrative voice and a general optimism about human nature (aspects of it, anyway) that helps keep the darker elements from being overwhelmingly depressing.

I know that movie adaptations of some of the books exist, but I'm not watching those yet because the actors are so far off my inner-eye view of the characters (they're a good 15-20 years too young, for one thing). The more I fall for the characters, though, the less I care because I just want MOAR DON AND TIMMY, so I'm sure I'll be watching those at some point.
sholio: (Books)
After reading the first few chapters of my old paperback copy of Chernevog (the sequel to Rusalka) yesterday during our power outage and corresponding lack of Internet, I bought the revised/self-published version on Cherryh's website this morning, and wow, it IS different! Nothing major has changed with the plot (although she says the next book does apparently have plot changes) but there is a ton of sentence-level and scene-level reconstruction.

Most particularly, she explains things a lot better. Her books often leave a lot to the imagination, especially a lot of the character motivation and background worldbuilding stuff which is implied rather than stated, but in this edition she's gone back and cleaned up and made clear a lot of things that were subtextual in the original (often subtextual to the point of total incomprehensibility). It's a lot easier to get where she was going with some of the character stuff now. And she (and her editor; she credits Jane Fancher, her wife, with a great deal of the editing) greatly toned down the stream-of-consciousness narration of the original, editing it into something considerably more cohesive and conventional, while still retaining the flavor of the original.

So yeah, between the two, I'm finding the revised version definitely has enough changes to be worth choosing it over the unrevised one. The ebooks ARE expensive -- they're $9.95 each -- but these books are favorites and, to me, well worth buying.

I also bought the revised Rusalka just to compare, because I figure I've had more than $9.95 of enjoyment from it over the years. It's not markedly different -- she notes Rusalka was edited considerably less than the others -- but I was happy to notice that one of my favorite hugging scenes (of course I have favorite hugging scenes, who do you think I am), after spoiler thing happens; not too huge ) is expanded in the revised version, with a bit more character-interaction cuteness than the original had.

Oh, and also, I rediscovered [ profile] snarkydame's lovely tag to book 2 on AO3 yesterday. Sweet OT3 hurt/comforty goodness! Recommended. :) (But generally spoilery for the series up to that point.)
sholio: Cocoa in red cup with cinnamon stick (Christmas cocoa)
This book is wall-to-wall h/c idfic, OMFG.

It was one of my favorite books as a teenager, reread 'til it was falling apart, but I was concerned it wouldn't hold up since I think it's been at least a decade since I last read it. I needn't have worried. DID I MENTION THE WALL TO WALL IDFIC. And it's a pretty solid book otherwise, too.

Rusalka is set in a fantasy version of medieval Russia, with deliciously believable magic -- subtle and often deniable (is it the Yard-Thing that drinks the saucers of milk left out for it, or the barnyard cat?), but omnipresent in everyday matters of luck and superstition. Sasha is a young man who has magic powers, or at least he believes so. He can make things happen just by wishing them. Literally anything. When he was a small child, he made the house burn down to stop his father's abuse, killing both his parents -- or so he and everyone else in his hometown believe. Now the whole town thinks he's bad luck, and Sasha has desperately trained himself not to want anything, or think about things, or get angry, for fear of accidentally killing someone, retreating into a life of miserable isolation. (As the other protagonist says to him later: "That's hell you live in, Sasha." And it is.)

Pyetr is the orphaned son of a murdered gambler, cultivating wealthy friends in an attempt to rise above his gutter beginnings. He doesn't believe in magic -- or in nebulous things like friendship and love for that matter. His career of inveterate rakitude comes to a sudden and bloody end when a jealous husband stabs him near-fatally on page three. His wealthy fair-weather friends abandon him and the only person in the whole town who'll help him is fellow outcast Sasha, which leads to the two of them on the run in a winter-dead wilderness full of old, wild magic.

Pyetr soon attracts the attention of a rusalka, i.e. the ghost of a drowned girl, who can only survive by stealing the life energy of the living, although she doesn't want to. This is Eveshka, the third major character. Between this and the sword wound, Pyetr spends the entire book in various states of swooning, feverish collapse, in between getting attacked by monsters and railing against the fact that he DOESN'T BELIEVE IN MAGIC DAMMIT and WHY THE HELL IS THIS HAPPENING TO HIM. Meanwhile lonely Sasha attaches to him hard, and Pyetr starts to figure out how to be the hero Sasha and Eveshka think he already is.

The book is currently out of print and can be bought directly from the author as an ebook or as a used book from Amazon. There are two sequels, which I vaguely remember were somewhat disappointing, or at least less massively idficcy, but I'll be reading them next, so I guess we'll see.

ETA: There's an interesting about-the-book page on the author's website in which she talks about how, when she was writing this book in the 1980s, the Cold War was still going on and the reference materials on Russian mythology, plants, etc. that she needed to write the book were next to impossible to find. She ended up swapping sci-fi with Russian fans in return for reference books.

ETA2: Wikipedia article on the books talks more about them, with no major spoilers.
sholio: (Books)
I finished reading The Aeronaut's Windlass (the new Jim Butcher) last night. As some of you know, I was having trouble getting into it, but I ended up enjoying it once the plot started to happen. It's a fun, light, escapist read that clears the Bechdel test with flying colors; there are a variety of different characters for every taste, including a female pirate captain who is EXCELLENT (/unbiased), and the antagonists -- aside from the one who is clearly EVIL with a capital "E" -- are mostly sympathetic and likable people. It is very much the first book in a series, setting up a lot of dominos which will clearly be important in future installments; very little is explained, but a lot of intriguing hints are dropped re: the worldbuilding and the characters' respective backstories. My only real problem with the book is that there's a character I found so annoying I had to skim his POV sections, but mileage probably varies on that.

The spoiler part - nothing really specific, but comments on various characters and speculation on the worldbuilding )
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
... but you wouldn't know it if you're reading this on LJ, because apparently flock icons have now disappeared from some(?) older Livejournal styles, including mine. I suppose this is not so huge on the Livejournal Inconvenience Scale, but ... really, LJ?! I think I might end up switching to the default style, anyway. Years spent on Tumblr and other mobile-friendly sites has gotten me used to the Big Friendly Button school of web design and made it less eyebleeding for me, and while I had trouble with it in the browser on my old computer, it runs fine on the new one. Also, I didn't realize 'til I started checking LJ on a phone how difficult the old styles are to navigate on mobile. Change and progress, progress and change ...

(ETA: Switched site styles; flock icons now showing up again. I needed to change up my style anyway.)

For you Vorkosigan readers, the e-ARC of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is out! You can buy it for $15, or read the first four chapters online for free. I know some people are avoiding it because of certain aspects of the storyline, which is fine, but if you want to read it, thar it be! (GUESS WHAT'S LOADED UP ON MY KINDLE RIGHT NOW. :D)

And finally, here is a neat meta post I ran across on Tumblr on the symbolism of the wine bottle in the first and last episodes of White Collar. Thoughts? (May be construed as slightly Kate-unfriendly, though I didn't find it particularly so -- more that it's a snapshot of where Neal was at a certain point in his life, rather than a criticism of Kate or her relationship with Neal -- but depending on how one's shipper-tastes run, that aspect might be offputting to some.)
sholio: heart in a cup of tea (Heart)
I finished reading Kavalier & Clay! Come talk to me about it! :D

Spoilers )

Those of you who've read it: what did you think of the ending?
sholio: Captain America in the rain (Avengers-Steve rain)
I'm finally getting around to reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The reason why it's taken so long for me to read this book is because, when it won the Pulitzer Prize and got famous about 15 years ago, this immediately compelled everybody in my extended family who vaguely knew I was into comics to go "This book has comics in it! [personal profile] sholio likes comics! [personal profile] sholio should read this!" Which of course made me obstinately not want to read it, combined with a suspicion that it was going to ping my wrong-dar in all kinds of ways. A few years ago my mother-in-law gave me a copy, and I finally decided I needed to either read the damn thing or get rid of it, so I'm now reading it ...

.... and it's borderline un-putdownable, damn it. XD Considering this is a topic I know quite a lot about (the comics business), it really does seem to be hitting most of the right notes, allowing for a bit of Chabon's over-the-topness. There have been a few little things that have made me twitch (I need to make a post about the Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Artists one of these days) but in general I'm really enjoying it.

Actually, it's interesting reading the book now instead of 15 years ago, because I'd gone into it with the idea that it was a fictionalized version of Seigel & Shuster creating Superman (I think that was the general impression that reviews of the book left me with, probably because Superman is the superhero the public is most familiar with, or was back in the early 2000s before the Marvel Universe got so popular in films) but no, it is FAR MORE NERDY than that: it's a fictionalized version of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon creating Captain America.

In fact, the main characters themselves are a fascinating mash-up of actual Kirby/Simon (working-class Jewish cartoonist) and fictional Steve Rogers (Brooklyn-based disabled son of a single mom who works as a nurse). After reading a ton of MCU fanfic in which 1930s Brooklyn is basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia, it is definitely a change of pace to switch over to a historical novel which has literally the exact same setup as most 1930s-era CA fanfic -- poor Brooklyn artist and son of single mom tries to get by -- in which Brooklyn is a place where people actually have rather happy and fulfilling lives rather than a wasteland of rat-infested tenements, and being working-class immigrant poor equates to not always paying the rent on time and having to be careful not to use up all of one's drawing paper before the next paycheck, as opposed to eating out of garbage cans and blowing sailors on the docks for rent money.

In the part of the book I'm reading right now, relatively minor spoiler continuing the Captain America theme )

I think it threw me a little because I was not expecting the book to be this ... nerdy? Or quite this affectionately, blatantly pulpy? Or something. However, I think I can honestly say that the book approaches comics and 1930s pulp fiction in almost exactly the same way that The Yiddish Policeman's Union approached noir mystery: it actually is the thing it's commenting on (more or less), but it's also a meta-commentary on the genre itself. It's also very funny, in an often bleak kind of way.

(I am still quite a ways from the ending, so PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL ME, thanks!)
sholio: (Books)
I finally read Uprooted, by Naomi Novik! I know some of you have read it, because I remember seeing posts about it on my flist/DW (which I avoided reading at the time for spoiler reasons). Come talk to me about it!

I really enjoyed it! I loved the world, especially that it was a fantasy world built around Eastern Europe, which is not something you see much in Western/English-language fantasy (actually, the only other one I can think of is CJ Cherryh's Rusalka). I assume from the author's surname that she's drawing on her own cultural history here. And I loved the characters and relationships. Generally I found it unputdownable a lot of the time. I haven't been reading a whole lot of fantasy lately, and this reminded me how hard good fantasy can pull me in.

Not huge spoilers so much as general reactions )

Book rec

Aug. 31st, 2015 10:18 pm
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
Lately I've been trying to work my way through my unread paperback box. These are a grab bag of books acquired from used bookstores, garage sales, and heaven knows where else, most of them by authors I've never heard of. Usually this results in a lot of dreck with some tolerable reads, but sometimes I'll stumble onto a gem.

Like this one: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. It's partly a murder mystery and partly a slice-of-life glimpse of small-town Mississippi, moving back and forth between the early '80s and the present day.

Thirty years ago, a secret friendship develops between Larry, a white redneck farm kid, and Silas, the son of the black squatters who live on their land. Things blow up between them in ways that are probably predictable given that it's rural Mississippi. Three decades later, Silas got out, went to college and became a cop, while Larry got sucked into the downward spiral of small-town poverty and is now the town pariah, blamed for the rape and murder of a young woman who went missing after a date with him.

Now another girl has gone missing under similar circumstances, and Larry is the prime suspect. Silas has to figure out whodunnit while also confronting everything that happened between him and Larry all those years ago.

Content warning: the plot revolves around the rape/murder of two young women, and this is very much Silas and Larry's book, so there are only a handful of female characters anyway and all of them are in the background. I know that's an understandable dealbreaker for some. Also, due to the book's setting and theme, there is a ton of textual racism and racial slurs to be navigated, as well as the sharp edge of rural poverty.

However, this book hit my friendship/family/reconciliation buttons hard, while also managing to avoid (at least I felt so) most of the cliches that I would expect to run into in fiction about race relations in the South in a book written by a white author. The characters are flawed and unpredictable, the general depiction of life in small-town Mississippi (the good and the bad) felt believable for both the black and white characters (the '80s are not the '50s are not the 2000s, and the different flavor of life in different eras was well done, I thought). Nobody learns a ~valuable lesson about racism~, and Larry's unconscious racism and Silas's cutting defense mechanisms are both realistically portrayed. It's a painful book at times, an uncomfortable one at others, but overall there's a sense of warmth and optimism that flows through the book -- a feeling that things could either careen headlong into tragedy or come out okay, and at any point, individual characters' choices could give it the push that's going to turn it one way or the other: is this the time we do the right thing, the humane thing -- the time we manage to be better than our past selves, better than the people we grew up around ... or not?

On the basis of this book, I also checked out The Tilted World from the library, co-written by Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, and set during Prohibition in rural Mississippi. Very good so far, with a female bootlegger, a pair of prohibition agents investigating a murder deep in moonshine country, and an Accidental Surprise Baby they acquire after a shooting.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
Okay, I am the laziest of the lazy with this, because I read these books last winter and kept meaning to write up a rec and never did. (Aargh.) Though I've rec'd them to a few people privately in the meantime.

Around the time I got involved in the Paranormal Romance Writing Adventure of DOOoooooom, I finally got around to reading Lia Silver's Werewolf Marines books. And, guys, they're really good. I think it's no secret that romance isn't really my thing (which makes it hilarious that I have discovered I genuinely enjoy writing it) but these books, Prisoner and Partner in particular, have a lot of appeal, I think, for non-romance readers. At least they did for me. Laura's Wolf is set in the same world with related characters, but is more in the traditional romance vein (though it veers off in a direction mid-book that is somewhat more like the other two).

If you're going to try them, especially if romance (and shapeshifter romance in particular) is something you don't read much or at all, Prisoner is the one I started with and the one I recommend starting with. The book starts off in a way that was guaranteed to make my id stand up and take notice -- we meet the male protagonist, DJ, while his best friend is bleeding out in his arms after they're shot down in Afghanistan. DJ, who is a werewolf, has to bite his buddy and make him a werewolf too, in order to save his life. Then they're separated and DJ ends up in a ~secret government lab~, where he's controlled by threats against his friend (also being kept prisoner by the same people), and he meets fellow prisoner and enemy agent Echo, who is emotionally damaged and bitter, and similarly being controlled by threats against her terminally ill sister.

The books are very ensemble-oriented and in general have a similar tone to action/sci-fi/ensemble TV shows of the Fringe or Agents of SHIELD type. They're also much funnier than you'd expect from the basic premise (in particular, the thing that initially draws Echo to DJ is that he makes her laugh). And DJ is the opposite of a typical romance hero, or an action hero in general; he's funny, sweet, laid-back, and has literally NO ANGST AT ALL, aside from the obvious angst resulting from being locked up in a lab and forced to do werewolf things for the bad guys. DJ loves being a werewolf, he's totally well-adjusted, and he has a wonderful, loving family who support him. Echo, conversely, is a fascinating mess, although her sister is remarkably well-adjusted despite also being a secret government experiment who lives in a lab; among other things, her life is a series of nonstop dating shenanigans with Evil Lab goons and she's addicted to trashy romance novels, which is a source of running in-jokes throughout the series.

The series does some really fun things with the tropes of the genre, especially with the Men In Black/Secret Evil Lab thing -- most of the workers at the Evil Lab are just your basic government contractors, so you get to meet people like the Secret Evil Lab cafeteria barista. The worldbuilding in general is fairly detailed, so if you like your werewolves with a side of How Werewolves Work (and I do), it's pretty great. There's also the nifty detail that each werewolf has a unique superpower to go along with their wolfliness (telepathy, super strength, being able to control electricity or kill people with a touch, etc). So the whole thing is basically a sort of unholy mash-up of superhero and black-helicopter/secret-lab tropes -- Dark Angel meets Agents of SHIELD meets Fringe -- with tons of found-family dynamics and h/c and explosions. But there's also a lot of emotional realism, especially in the way characters react to trauma (which their lives are obviously FULL of), because the author is a trauma therapist and that familiarity with the inner workings of people under pressure comes through in a lot of little ways that make the characters feel unexpectedly real.

It is really a lot of fun.

The reading order I went in was Prisoner --> Laura's Wolf --> Partner, which I felt and still feel is the optimal order to read them in. No matter what order you read them in, some of the books will spoil other books, since Laura's Wolf takes place more or less concurrently with the Prisoner-Partner duology (soon to be a trilogy; there is a third book forthcoming, Packmate). You can also just read Prisoner and Partner, and try Laura's Wolf if you want more of the world, since it fills in some of the gaps. I think certain parts of Partner make more sense if you've read Laura's Wolf first, but I don't know how confusing it would be since I did read it first. And it really has a very different feel to the other two, so liking one doesn't guarantee you'd like the other.

But anyway, they're great and I've been meaning to rec them for AGES.

(Obligatory disclaimer: Lia is a friend, and I suspect I might not have tried these books if not for that -- but I'm very glad I did, because I ended up absolutely loving them.)


sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

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