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What Jen is Reading

 

A listing of what I’m reading, more or less current, guaranteed not to be complete, with or without commentary as I please, newer items posted at the top. (except the Scalzi serial fiction, that’s all getting stuck in January)

Still haven’t finished the Praxis book, but I read several short stories online that I forgot to post here, and I’ve read a ton of slush lately, some of it surprisingly good.

February

Sandman: Dream Country. Neil Gaiman. Someone I don’t know referenced Calliope in my post about muses so I picked this up. Haven’t read these since I was a kid. Now I’m side-eyeing Grim.

Anti-Dühring. Engels. Everything about this will end up in comments over here.

Slow Surrender. Cecelia Tan. I read most of this on the plane from MSP back to NYC, sort of like chewing gum with a toothache. It isn’t often that, as a story draws to its close, I scream, “You bitch! There had best be a sequel!” Fortunately for all involved, yes, there’s a preview of such a sequel which epilogues this book nicely (YES I DID just verb epilogue, and what are you going to do about it?) Throughout the book I was pleased as hell by the way the characters got to have hot, interesting sex, cover some BDSM psych basics without breaking stride, and still delve into several choice bits of social interestingness that only tangentially belong to erotica. It is a fantastic, fluffy little kitten of a story about a lady and her sexy limo-riding sexual prince charming; it also has some very sharp teeth relating to consent culture and power dynamics. I was pleased by the way Karina’s Cinderella story folds into her life, instead of the rest of her life just falling away in favor of sex. Even erotica I’ve really liked falls prey to that one — see Carrie’s story, below.

The passage on pg 50, about being good and dirty, forgetting or to embrace and, totally nails it. On pg 68 I was so certain of the ending that I noted the page number to remember when I thought of it – and I was right, HA, I’m never right about that sort of thing. The last thing I noted was pg. 178: “You make me feel precious without making me feel like a china doll or a trophy.” That right there is romantic as hell.

The chapter titles are Bowie lyrics, which brought a whole new level of emotional devastation to the story. I suspect if I read it over I’ll notice more little things along those lines.

Dogland. Will Shetterly. Started this book a while back and bounced off something right at the beginning so it sat in the “books” folder of my laptop, languishing. Stuck it on my new nook to read on the subway and I’m really enjoying it. Belongs in the category of book where the setting is an excellent character. Telling an intricate, interesting story from a child’s POV and not turning them into a miniature adult is an impressive trick; this is mostly pulling it off so far.

Between writing that paragraph and this, I traveled to Minnesota (my beloved homeland, ya know) and tore through the second half of the book. There are so many subtle magics that I might have missed if someone hadn’t pointed out the thing about the Tepes boy, which would have been a shame. Everyone bitches about heavy-handed insertion of magical things, so the layers of subtlety are much better even though they carry a risk I’d have missed quite a bit. (Everyone being me plus the assumption that I speak for all right-thinking persons.) I can add it to the small treasured list in my head titled books that are or contain good mermaid stories because of the manatees. I could use it as a starting point to chase down a ton of shit on wikipedia, but the POV means I don’t want to. Chris understands truth as a child, and the magical things (the King Arthur story his parents and Mr. Drake and the lady of the waters are playing out, the wronged woman/selkie, the Devil, etc) and the real world things (the Cuban missile crisis, the business deals, desegregation, the Klan) are clear to him and going over his head in equal measure. I like that. It keeps the story from being preachy or dragging so we can be informed and delighted and scared while a boy’s life goes by.

So there, I liked it, and I’m shutting up now both to eat and because if I say anything more I have to pull this out into its own post and bother with clarifying my thoughts. Sometimes a story is better when you just let it assimilate.

Snow White and Rose Red. Patricia Wrede. A fairy tale retelling set in Elizabethan England as part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series; they’re all amazing and I recommend using that page as a checklist. I kept slipping into the hot tub or curling into a nest of blankets in bed to read ‘my shakespeare fairy book’. It’s just that sort of comfortable reading that makes me smile the whole way through. The dialogue is period, which could be a horrorshow except that it’s in the hands of a truly excellent writer so you just slip into it. All of the real-world details were so perfectly drawn together that I just trusted the bits about fairies and magic. The romantic storyline is just a part of the story being told, instead of having an overblown happily-ever-after importance, while retaining the context of the importance of getting married when one is a poor widow’s daughter.

If you follow that link for the Fairy Tale Series, you’ll see the first book is Steven Brust’s The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars, which I didn’t realize until I went looking for that link. Anyway, there’s an easter egg from that book in The Incrementalists, which makes this officially the best segue I will ever write on this page.

The Incrementalists. Steven Brust, Skyler White. Love it. I posted about it.

The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Neal Stephenson. This was a great book. I loved the neo-Victorians, was far less impressed by the Drummers. It had a lot to say about chosen culture, and how culturee fucks us up individually and en masse. There was a bit near the very end where a character charges forward, in bloody peasant garb, at the head of an army with a book and a sword in their hands, that made me cry just a little. Making me cry is nearly impossible, so that’s either a really strong rec for this book or an admission that that particular scene pushed some of my deeper buttons really hard. Or both. Probably both.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Jenny Lawson. I’ve already been traumatized twice in the first few chapters. First when her mention of childhood panic attacks reminded me of my childhood panic attacks, triggering a panic attack, and second when she mentioned being dressed up Laura Ingalls Wilder style by her mom (which is something my mom also inflicted on me). unfinished

After the Coup. John Scalzi. Great story. Love the alien biology. Usually I dislike fight scenes, but I could follow this one and it was interesting, too.

Of note is that inbetween I keep reading short stories out of the Lightspeed: Year One anthology and not logging them here. Maybe I’ll post the volume as a whole if I’m ever done. There’s a lot in it.

January

Isle of the Dead. Roger Zelazny. Good but sexist book. I posted about it.

The Eyre Affair. The hero is named Thursday Next, plus Jane Eyre will be showing up somehow, so I’m sure it will rule.  — now complete — This was a really fun book. Interesting plot, perfect pacing. Funny with just enough “serious” to anchor it. The protagonist seemed a bit like a male-fantasy-fulfillment character (largely because she never interacts meaningfully with any other women, and also because even with her amazing detective powers and problem solving, her “true” triumph is marrying some dude (which, sure, that is probably specifically meant to parallel Jane Eyre but it was still irksome)). I liked her anyway. The little jokes along the way were the best parts. After the mad-scientist uncle sits on his sarcasm early-warning device prototype, things start to go really great for the characters!

Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Collection of all the old Amethyst comics. Bought it because I’m enjoying the current Christy Marx Amethyst story under the Sword of Sorcery title. unfinished

The Human Division. John Scalzi. Serialized novel, set in the Old Man’s War universe (OMW is a great book, also enjoyed that, but didn’t read the sequels between that and this). Read the first episode. Loved it, as it was smart, told a story from a few angles at once, and managed exposition without talking down to me. Don’t know if I will remember to keep fetching future episodes, but based on the first on I’m reasonably certain I will be happy if I do.

Episode Two: Ooooh, these things are going to play with format. I like playing with format. Good ep, too short.

Episode Three: Love it.

(February) Episode Four: Oh, neat, there is totes stuff going on back on Earth. I read somewhere that the title refers to the division between Earthlings and the rest of humanity. I have no idea who the saboteurs are, but I’m intensely interested now.

(March, I’m catching up) Episode Five (Tales from the Clarke): More intrigue, more fun! I think I like this ep because I’ve been watching Leverage lately. The sportsball parts were great.

Episode Six (The Back Channel): Now we’re getting somewhere with the high-level plot. I still don’t like churros, but that’s okay, he can have his thing.

Episode Seven (The Dog King): LOL. Seriously. The cute little dog! The awesome plant-things! I <3 Harry Wilson.

Episode Eight (The Sound of Rebellion): This episode is a little more serious, what with the torture and everything, but nicely showcases CDF capabilities. I have a feeling scalzi is doing that trick where it feels like the plot is getting really broad and weird and then at the end it will tie into a neat package.

Pegasus. Robin McKinley. This is the book that Jason got me for Christmas in 2011, not only signed, but with a velociraptor doodled in it by the author herself. I read most of it, learned it ends on a cliffhanger and the sequel wouldn’t be out for a bit, and stopped reading before the end. I’ve just finished it, and found it dreamily, pleasantly alien. Loved it. (For full disclosure, I’ve read every one of her novels and love them all.)

Dread Empire’s Fall: The Praxis. Walter Jon Williams. This is military SF and space opera, which, as you know, I don’t read (except Bujold’s Vorkosigan stuff or CS Friedman’s In Conquest Born). Two things sold me on this: a major character race of centauroid ants, and the British Empire naval officer feel. Fanatical adherence to the empire’s “absolute truth” scales up to galactic import while maintaining the humanity of the characters, and I love the delicate political machinations and dinner parties of the officers. Sort of a post-singularity 1984-meets-the-East-India-Company and finds some wormholes. Meanwhile, I tweeted that the sportsball-playing characters are uniformly idiotic, almost as though they’ve been tailored to reader expectations.

The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman. Hadn’t read it yet, even after watching this. Entirely pleasing coming-of-age in a graveyard story, and I suppose I ought to read The Jungle Book. Enjoyed it. Wasn’t life-changing or anything for me.

Bartleby, the Scrivener. Herman Melville. I was bored to tears by it, but I was told to read it to understand why it was funny when someone said, “I prefer not to.” I suggest someone write an improved version, Bartleby, the Squidener.

Inventory. Carmen Maria Machado. A meditation on how we relate to people with sex, framed by a viral apocalypse story. I loved it because there were no zombies, it was sexy, character madness was believable, and it made me feel human.

Carrie’s Story, sequel Safe Word. Molly Weatherfield. BDSM porn novels, quite good. Lots of standard bondage sex scenes, pony play, a slave auction, wealthy benefactors – hooray! The title of the sequel refers to shaping relationships with words, not the common bdsm practice. The protagonist often considers the psychological implications of her submission, miraculously without being dull. She’s smart and complex, so her slavish devotion to the tops around her is actually interesting rather than making her a blank fantasy. Carrie is a better heroine than O, Bella Swan, Beauty (as in the Claiming Of), and the chick in 50 Shades (though I haven’t read that one) combined.

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