Hope Swann (coffeebased) wrote,
Hope Swann

[Books] what a skill, baby, aiming to kill me with words you don't mean

Hello, yes, I am still alive. Just tossing this out before it gets even more unwieldy.

Finished Reading:

The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner came out of left field for me. A friend of mine (FATIMA. FATIMA, I BLAME YOU.) got into the series after an ill-advised viewing of The Maze Runner movie. And then she made fanart and dragged goodness knows how many souls with her into TMR hell. The series was a bit difficult to get through because it seems to combine so many of the terrible stereotypes found in most dystopian YA with the added bonus of having little to no writing style. I feel as though the author attempted to lampshade the plot-confusion by having his characters question everything so often, but that really only works if things are actually answered properly, and the story gets tied up neatly. I don't know what happened, but I feel as though he kept writing himself into tinier and tiner corners until even the characters and story got the life squished out of them. That was really a pity, as I did enjoy the character voices, variations, and interactions until the plot got them. Too much plot, too little story.

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A Hero at the End of the World by Erin Claiborne is a bit of a disappointment for me. The style was good, and the premise was kind of cool, but the execution left a lot to be desired. I am often iffy when people negatively describe a book as too fanfiction-y, but this is literally the entire problem with this book. While the author obviously wrote this book intending to turn a trope on its head WHILST introducing new and captivating characters that were supposed to carry the whole thing, I honestly felt as though the characters weren't up to the task. Instead of it about being a subversion of a trope, it really felt more like what it is: an AU of Harry Potter, populated by pastiches of characters from that series with TWISTS. I really wanted to like it, and I could really tell that the author was trying to distance herself and her work from HP, but ultimately, I couldn't get on-board. I'm not saying that the book is simply a rehash of the series, as there is an interesting but oddly-paced sequence of universe-hopping, but the characters and story weren't strong enough for me to actually invest in them. The snippets of world-building Claiborne inserts throughout the novel seem to be there to try to do the work of whole backstories, but they simply couldn't manage it, I am sorry to say. Her style is good enough that I would be interested in picking up any of her future novels though.

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman is pretty cool. It's a short story collection, so I was mentally prepared for uneven writing across the entire anthology, but I have to say that each story seriously exceeded expectations every time. Each story focuses on a single "almost-famous" woman, whose life stories lie on the fringes of history, either as those who nearly achieved fame and notoriety through their actions, or by existing in the periphery of historically-famous people's existences. The only thing I didn't like about it was that it was such a quick read? I could have done with a lot more content. Going to pick up Bergman's other anthology and hope she releases another book soon.

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig took me ages to finish. I couldn't read it all in one go, but it wasn't the fault of the author. The writing was ridiculously light and easy to get through, considering the subject matter, but that same subject matter was just too much to take in continuously. A lot of the book actually discusses the social and historical context of the developments leading up to the pill itself, so readers will have to slog through the truly depressing state of birth control and sex education during that time period. (This actually gets more depressing when you remember that majority of the Philippines still doesn't have easy access to safe and reliable methods of birth control and education. And then you get more depressed because even the more "enlightened" and "liberal" countries are still having a lot of difficulty with the concepts of sexual freedom and expression. And then you just have to get over it because some revolutions take longer than others. See Pluto. See the struggle between the rich and poor. Etc.) The subtitle of this novel seems a bit clunky, but it's really perfect, because Eig's storytelling is quite character-driven and he builds the whole thing in such a way that you just get swept up in their stories. Social and historical content aside, the science and research itself was mind-boggling in its seeming simplicity. A lot of the information we take for granted, that can be accessed with a few mouseclicks, didn't exist until people started poking around. I do believe that Eig managed to condense a lot of the research for his non-science readers, and he did it quite well and without condescension. Very good, and a must-read.


The Compass Rose by Ursula K. Le Guin was an impulse buy. I was lucky enough to be invited to do a couple of discussions on Sci-fi and Fantasy for the DLSU Writer's Guild last year, and they gave me a Fully Booked GC as a thank you. So I went and bought Compass Rose. Le Guin is one of my favourite writers, and I really do hope to collect and read everything she's written. The Compass Rose isn't the first Le Guin short story collection I've read, so I thought I was pretty prepared for the usual themes. However, no, I was an idiot and completely unprepared for the dazzling (yes, DAZZLING. SCINTILLATING. BLINDING.) wealth between those pages. TCR is not a light book either, materially, it is a dense collection, so I felt as though I was trapped in this extended state of literary bliss. The stories are clever, unique, and imbued with such foresight that I honestly feel that despite it having been published in 1982, it is as fresh and fucking relevant today as most of what I've already read in 2015. Such a fucking blessing. I've got Orsinian Tales (from a GC I won in a trivia contest) coming up soon so I'm pretty jazzed for that.

Dancer by Colum McCann does not mess around. I was around a third into the book when I had to just stop and google whether the protagonist was an actual person (Yes.) because everything was rather intense. I was initially thrown off by the length of the chapters, but McCann was really able to bring everything together. Actually, McCann has a hideous and amazing gift for bringing everything together because the entire scope of this novel is beyond wild, so I really do respect his ability to bring you from communist Russia to capitalist America and manage to be as simultaneously liberal and unforgiving with his descriptions of both settings. Or maybe it's just the way he wrote Nureyev (he wrote the entire book through different character's perspectives of Nureyev and his actions, and it's fucking amazing because it was a masterclass on the different ways people can love someone) and how everything is just blown away in sharp relief by the glow of his talent??? and stardom??? It is so amazing that even Nureyev's decline was addressed lovingly. I am very much in favour of this novel.

Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson was just released on March 30. I snagged a copy as soon as Sanderson's newsletter announced it, a bit worried that it was an April Fool's trick, considering how it was already the 1st in the Philippines. It is pretty damn cool, and like most works by Sanderson, difficult to discuss without spoiling a great big chunk of it. I do have to say that I was (laughably) sceptical of the whole story when I was reading it, and that I totally deserved being messed up by the latter part of it. That is what you get when you start feeling too cool for the things you love: a slap to the face. :))) I distinctly remember tweeting a lot of apologies after I finished it.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert IS SO GOOD that I made my COMPANA classes write a paper about the first three chapters. According to majority of my students, they were unable to stop reading the book once they'd started it, but as this was finals week I am not a hundred percent sure that this was not just them sucking up. It is highly likely that a lot of them did enjoy it though as it is so well-written that I had to stop every few paragraphs to just savour how cleverly everything was done. Kolbert does a thing where she focuses on a specific organism's extinction in each chapter whilst tying it into the greater theme of mass extinction, and it's kind of amazing how elaborately she weaves each chapter because hot damn, Kolbert manages to integrate evolutionary history, that specific extinction's history, and actual current research being done on mass extinction. The amount of work she had to do is actually kind of baffling. I'm waiting to find any literature (like non-scientific literature. The back of TSE covers all of that quite handily) about how she wrote this book because I am genuinely curious and AMAZED by it. Bad feelings about the ongoing mass extinction, extreme changes in climate, and ocean acidification aside, of course. (I think that every thinking person who is aware of these problems should be at least 90% resigned to how their existence, and society's existence is just never going to make up for the terrible things it has wrought on the planet. Like yeah, do your best to minimise it, but that's pretty much all you can do at this point.)

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang This duology has been on my radar for the past few years now but I have had a heck of a time actually finding copies of it. Fully Booked has it sometimes, but I've never actually been lucky enough to catch them when they're there. I wish I'd been able to read them sooner, because they're jewels. Graphic novel magical realism jewels. Both novels lie on opposite sides of the Boxer Rebellion (reading the wiki page may be a good idea before reading the books if your grade school and high school history lessons seem too distant a dream) and Yang gives us two completely different, well-written YOUNG protagonists to experience the whole thing with. I read Boxer first and then Saints next, and I really recommend that order for any person who plans to check it out. I think that the overlap just flows better in this order, so please treat yourself and read it. The art is relatively simple in comparison to everything that's out there, but man, it's beautiful. I want more YA comics like these out in the world. :"D

Lazarus Book 1 (Collecting Lazarus #1-9) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark is wild. I remember the night I read this so vividly because I had to press my warm cheeks against the cool metal of my desk because DAMN, I needed to calm down. The basic premise is: the world economy just gives up, whole countries and regions end up being the direct property of giant family-owned multinational companies (big pharma, banks, insurance groups, biotech), those capitalist families then attempt to run their regions like feudal lords despite being the most capitalist capitalists that ever acquired and collected capital ever, and then ???profit???. Seriously. Anyway, this entire capitalist ASoIaF-esque scenario is told through the perspective of one family's Lazarus, Forever Carlyle. A Lazarus is basically a family's bioengineered, martially-trained champion and enforcer, representing the family to other families and within the family's demesne (a legit reason to use one of my favourite words) and they are possibly the deadliest and most adorable clique known to humanity. I've been reading the singles after I finished the HC, and so far there hasn't been a drop in quality despite the fact that it's on its 16th issue.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi was a lot raunchier than I expected it to be. Satrapi's never shown herself to be the type to shy away from such topics, but I have to admit that I was taken back by a few of the stories told within. Embroideries functions very much like a short story collection, where each woman shares a short anecdote about another woman's experience with love and sex, or maybe I could even describe it as Rashomon-esque, where each is just another PoV that builds up the entirety of the female experience in Iran. It's actually pretty uncanny how Satrapi nails that tone that you often get when women are just gossiping together, that I could almost hear the echoes of a bunch of conversations I've been in with some Titas of Manila. Solid, and moving.

Light by Rob Cham was released last Easter at the first Komiket. I wasn't able to go to the event because of ~family responsibilities~ so my good friend Josh got me a copy. (He even got it signed!) I read it three times in the first hour I had it: twice, very quickly, and once as slowly as I could. It's a very short book, of course, but it's lovely art- and story-wise. I lent it to a friend who had some issues with the fact that it had no text, but I honestly didn't have any problems with that because the message just feels pretty clear to me. They're selling lot of copies of Light at Fully Booked, and I think y'all should stock up and give them away as gifts (after you get one for yourself, of course!).

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Death or Glory, Duty Calls, and Cain's Last Stand, a.k.a. The Shadowlight Trilogy by Sandy Mitchell Okay, I had no idea that these three books constituted a miniseries in the greater Ciaphas Cain collection, and I literally only found out when I finished Cain's Last Stand and I was checking out the wiki for fun things I might have missed. So, obviously Mitchell's improved a whole lot in terms of writing style and that it's not amazing or anything, so I'm going to skip right over to HOLY SHIT, CAIN, JUST ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE THE HERO THE IMPERIUM DESERVES. Death or Glory was nerve-wracking and I was so proud of Cain and his RAGTAG BUNCH/MILITIA, and I was delighted by the idea of series based on their adventures and experiences, Duty Calls was... ADORABLE, and I honestly want a whole Amberley Vail INQUISITOR OF THE IMPERIUM series, where Cain just pops in and out the way she does in his career, and Cain's Last Stand has to be my favourite of the whole lot because Cain TRAINING commisars??? Everything I wanted to be, but like, with a higher body count. I don't know why I even allow myself to keep getting attached to any characters in WH40K; I keep getting really upset when they get introduced and then die in the next chapter. Or the next sentence. Or the same sentence. But I have to admit that the deaths in Last Stand affected me a whole lot more because they were his charges. Ugh. Still a very satisfying experience over-all, and I noted at least two instances where Cain wrote "kilometre" instead of "klom" down and I was very surprised and gratified that Mitchell's been rising above the stuff from before.

(Um, also, yes, I still read one Cain book every five other books I read, so the fact that I have three in this post is kind of telling about how busy I've been. I honestly did promise myself that I'd be a lot more relaxed about book blogging, so here we are with 21 books in this post. I'm only really doing this now because it's literally the first day after term ended, and also the first day of a four-month break due to DLSU's calendar shift? I am at loose ends. I also have been having a hard time finishing or reading any books this past fortnight so. I guess it was safe to just knuckle down and get through this post. I should be cleaning, so I'm mostly typing out this whole thing on and off throughout the whole day. If I am lucky, I should be able to finish and post this by tonight. I'm also two books away from another Cain book, and that's kind of ridiculous as there are only THREE BOOKS LEFT. ALERT ALARM.)

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt took me ages to finish. A lot of people online don't seem to like this Tartt book as much as The Secret History and The Goldfinch, and I have to admit that while I did enjoy the experience (wild. the experience was wild.) there is something about it that is a lot less loveable. TSH had elitist murderers and TG had the literary descendant of Hamlet in it, so I honestly don't know why they're more loved. TLF has a female protagonist, a young, brazen, whipsmart child, who's out to find and punish her older brother's murderer. (If you have ever wondered where all of Donna Tartt's characters' self-motivation and ambition went, seek no further: this child took it all into herself.) I know that I shouldn't compare, but there are a just lot of elements that are similar across all three novels. My only problem with TLF, other than the fact that once again, Donna Tartt makes me want to call Child Protective Services, is that there is very, very little closure given. You don't get any answers to the original questions plaguing her family, you don't get to find out how Harriet's going to grow up and survive, you don't find out if all of this will even have any lasting effects on their town? I get that it's all within the theme of unpunished crimes and secrets, BUT GODDDAMMIT, WOMAN, A LITTLE CLOSURE PLEASE. There was a lot of touchy and interesting stuff about race and class in this novel, as it is set in Mississippi in the 1970s, and you get the same horrified delight Harriet has at discovering just how terrible people can be to each other, even their own families. Really interesting family dynamics too, reminded me of a /terrible/ Aunt Hill à la Alcott but awful. The writing is unquestionable, of course, as it is Tartt.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik was an unexpected delight. I've long been a fan of Novik and her Temeraire series, so I was really looking forward to reading Uprooted! The book's actually a lot longer than I thought it would be. I kept expecting it to end and have to be continued in another novel, but Novik manages to wrangle what feels like what should be a duology into a single volume. I feel as though I wouldn't have minded more than one book in this universe, as the development of the main plotline feels a bit rushed somewhere in the middle, and the end feels very sudden. It doesn't feel forced in any way whatsoever, the author does take enough time to provide all of her characters and subplots with enough closure, but I suppose that I wanted more magic? The magic system in this novel is less than a system (Sanderson has spoiled me completely), and I respect that Agnieszka's entire shtick is that she subverts the entire magic system in her world, but I feel as though one must properly build up the world, culture, and magic system before one goes about subverting things? The first half probably was meant to do that, but I felt as clueless and in the wind as Agnieszka did, so, it wasn't very successful. I feel as though Novik wanted us to really empathise and sympathise with the big bad, but I didn't feel as though I was able to invest in that character and their motivations. I liked it, but I really expected too much, I suppose. I was also disappointed by the romance. I should have realised that that was going to happen, but I really thought that Agnieszka and Kasia had a shot. I know I should support strong female friendships media, but I really wanted that to happen. I honestly have no idea how Agnieszka even developed any kind of feelings for the Dragon considering the stuff that happened. Magic, man.

Kikomachine 11: Mga Kirot ng Kapalaran by Manix Abrera is only just as good as the previous volumes, but it comes with two amazing covers (same content, of course), so there's that. It's still funny, of course, and a lot funnier than most humour-based comics out there, and you can't help but lag a bit after your eleventh volume, I suppose. I know I sound ungrateful, because I have yet to find anyone else who discusses Filipino culture and current events as succinctly and gracefully as Manix Abrera. Literally the only fault of this comic is that it has maintained its standards. I'm sorry.

Now Reading:

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
The Diamond Age, or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson

Reading Next:
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Milk: the Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages by Anne Mendelson

Next 20 Reads:
1. Red Shirts by John Scalzi
2. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Col. Chris Hadfield
3. Waking the Merrow by Heather Rigney
4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
5. Fulgrim (Horus Heresy #5) by Graham McNeill
6. The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
7. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
8. Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) by Octavia Butler
9. Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen #1) by Steven Erikson
10. Diaspora by Greg Egan
11. Abarat: Days of Magic Nights of War (Abarat #2) by Clive Barker
12. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
13. Genocide of One by Kazuaki Takano
14. The Man Who Knew Too Much by G. K. Chesterton
15. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by
Marilyn Johnson
16. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
17. Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter's Tales by Greer Gilman
18. She of the Mountains by Vivek Shraya
19. Atonement by Ian McEwan
20. Sans Moi by Marie Despleschin
Tags: books

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