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Bun's Books

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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
Rebecca Traister
Six Months, Three Days - Charlie Jane Anders Fun short story about a precognitive couple having a relationship. I liked the playful exploration of ideas about time, and found the characters and the relationship very believable.
The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett This was a perfect palate cleanser after two different audiobooks that disappointed me. I always enjoy Pratchett, and Stephen Briggs (who narrates all of Pratchett's audiobooks) makes me smile every time. So that made things all much better.

If you haven't read Terry Pratchett before (audio or text) go do so now, because you are missing out. Unless you are very serious and don't much enjoy levity. In which case you are not missing out, carry on.
Render Unto Caesar - Gillian Bradshaw This is a light historical romance, but its an intelligent one, grounded in solid knowledge of real history and with plenty of action and adventure. I really enjoy Gillian Bradshaw's novels, they're a fun recreation and I don't feel dumber after I read one.
Grim Tuesday - Garth Nix This was fun. I've decided I'm going to think of the individual titles in this series as chapters in a larger book. Or maybe as one of those Saturday matinee serials from the forties with the cliffhanger endings!

I'm a little older than the target audience on this one, okay face it, a lot older, and so for me these are very short reads. But I'm enjoying them quite a bit. Garth Nix respects the intelligence of his readers, whichever age group he's writing for.

In this installment, our hero Arthur faces Grim Tuesday, a villanous industrail revolution tycoon type who is undermining the very foundations of the House in his insatiable quest for power.
The Carpet Makers - Andreas Eschbach, Doryl Jensen The first chapter of this book, which was originally published as a short story, is terrific. Five stars. The book then goes on as a short story cycle, with each story focusing on a particular character or vignette that cumulatively build a picture of the society these characters inhabit. Its an interesting conceit, carried out with discipline and intelligence.

The individual stories are a mixed bag. None of them are terrible, many of them are good. None quite comes up to the standard of the first one, but that's an awfully high bar. The whole to which each story contributes... well that's where readers are probably going to differ.

The whole is a thing of high drama and deep pathos, which many readers, particularly lovers of opera (italian, german, space) may well fall in love with. Or, if they are, like me, afflicted with an overdeveloped sense of the absurd, they may find it a bit over the top and be tempted to fall into a giggle loop at precisely the most solemn moments. Lets face it, I just can't be trusted to take things seriously enough. Ah well. I soldier on.
Silently and Very Fast - Catherynne M. Valente This is a beautifully written, evocative, highly intelligent novella about artificial intelligence and virtual realities. A lot of it takes place in a dream space, which is beautifully rendered.

For me, and this is an ideosyncratic reaction, the language occasionally bordered on too ornate. There are people for whom language can hardly be too ornate, and those people are going to adore this. But for me, there's a point somewhere along the line to rococo where the ornamentation gets to be too much for me and I start to feel distracted rather than charmed. This walked very close to that point a couple of times.

But that's a caveat and a quibble. Its still a lovely, intricate, heartfelt jewelbox of a story.
Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) - Hilary Mantel There were brief moments in this book where I was genuinely transported, feeling like I was actually standing next to Cromwell on the water steps watching the sun glitter on the Thames, or sitting in the chill of his study listening to the bustle of a busy household on a winter afternoon. Those moments were beautiful. They just didn't connect up into enough of a whole to make this more than a three star book for me.

I suppose its pretty hard to tell a story so well known and find something fresh to say about it. It was an interesting idea to tell it all in present tense, and almost entirely through the eyes and thoughts of Cromwell. It was a fresh approach and like I say, on a few occasions it did manage to transport me. But a lot of the time it felt a bit Rosencrantz and Guildensternish to me. Like, great events are happening somewhere off stage, and I'm listening to Cromwell argue with Wolsey's tailor about whether or not he used the right velvet.

I will give credit where credit is due, the history is accurate. Not a lot of liberties taken here, and there are some interesting viewpoints on some of the characters. More comes off as less of a saint than he's often portrayed, and I think that's fair enough. Still not entirely successful from my point of view. Oh also, if you don't know very much about the reign of Henry VIII you might find it confusing.
Hoot - Carl Hiaasen This was fun! My sister really likes Carl Hiaasen, but somehow up till now I picked up the wrong books or something because I was never able to connect with anything I tried. But this one I really loved! The characters felt real to me, and it had a great sense of place, which I really appreciate. I really liked the main character's relationship with his parents, they were supportive without being over involved or controlling. They answered his questions, and listened to his ideas, but let him solve his own problems. I really liked that. Some of his friends had real problems too, not oh dear I forgot to return my library book problems. It didn't feel like he lived in a happy bubble. Also, it was really funny!

The Man Who Bridged the Mist

The Man Who Bridged the Mist - Kij Johnson I loved this. Be warned however, I deeply love things that are pretty damn subtle. Other people often complain to me that the stories I think are gorgeously understated seem to them to be just dull as paste. So if you are a fan of fireworks... hm.

For me however, this novella goes straight to my happy place. Elegant, lithe, deceptively simple prose about people doing their honorable best without hoopla or pat answers. Nobody standing on cliffs with their hair blowing in the fans declaiming about the destiny of mankind, nobody flinging themselves into a volcano for love, no deus coming creaking along in his pasteboard and gilt machina to solve problems at the very last minute. Just a nice guy building a bridge, getting to know the people of the villages that will be linked by the bridge, falling in love.

Subtly underpinning that simple story are wonderful ideas about right livelihood, and the human need to test and challenge oneself against the world, what is lost and gained by so doing, how to love without ownership, what its like to be in a community but not of it, and mmmm, lovely understated intelligent yummy deliciousness.

At one point the title character looks out into the mist that he is building a bridge over and:

"Deep in the mist he saw shadows that might have been a Big One, or something smaller or a thickening of the mist, and then, his eyes learning what to look for, he saw more of the shadows, as though a school of fish were down there. One separated and darkened as it rose in the mist until it exposed its back almost immediately below Kit.

It was dark and knobby, shiny with moisture, flat as a skate, and it went on forever - thirty feet perhaps, or forty, twisting as it rose...The creature rolled and then sank and became a shadow and then nothing as the mist closed back over it.

That's what this story was like for me. A simple tale of a guy going to a town to build a bridge, but rolling in the mist of that simplicity, big important ideas that slip up to the surface and sink back again, informing the ordinary tenor of days with magic.

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy This creeped me out and kind of not in a good way. Its an absorbing and convincing story of obsession and corruption and murder. I see why its spawned imitators and inspired movies. But these are not really enjoyable people to spend time with, and I kind of felt like I needed a shower to wash off the mindset.
The Adventures of Alianore Audley - Brian Wainwright This was a fun romp. It helps to know a thing or two about the Wars of the Roses. The author clearly knows a thing or forty five. While this is clearly not a serious historical novel so much as a lovely bit of fun, its a lovely bit of fun that has its basic facts right. I laughed a lot with Alianore, her irrepressible career through the violent landscape of late fifteenth century Endland and her thoroughly irreverent take on the vagaries of her lecherous cousin Edward IV, his sadly humor impaired brother Richard III and their unfortunate successor, The Tudor Slimeball. I really had fun with this and recommend it highly.
The Joy Makers (Classics of modern science fiction #2) - James Gunn This is another in my 12 in 2012 reads. Twelve novels by authors awarded the Damon Knight Grandmaster Memorial Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America. This was much less awful than the previous one on my list.

There were some interesting ideas here about what would happen to society if it became possible to ensure happiness for everyone. Would we all become Lotus Eaters? Is discontent necessary?

The story consists of three sections, each further forward in time as the "science of hedonics" comes to dominate society. They were all interesting, written in clear readable prose and with an underpinning of good what if questions. There was also some fun tech stuff here and there.

I could have done with a little less of the nubile young woman gazing adoringly up at the strong wise man who is inspired by her adoration to struggle to rise to greatness... that's not exactly my favorite trope. There was also a fair tendancy for the plot to suddenly slam to a halt so the man rising to greatness could take a few minutes to lecture the rest of the characters about the intrinsic nature of man and how one should live and etc, and etc, which teetered on the edge of being annoying. But it wasn't unendurable.

On the whole there was more good than bad here, and I liked most of the characters - even the adoring nubiles weren't completely spineless. Its dated, but its still readable, and kind of fun.
Slow River - Nicola Griffith I think I may have liked this book slightly more than it actually deserved. Not that it doesn't deserve to be liked, its solid, intelligently written science fiction with believable characters and an interesting plot, expressed in some fairly elegant prose.

There are some pacing issues though. I ran into this with Ammonite too, its like somewhere around the last couple of chapters she just ran out of time or incentive, and wrapped everything up a little bit too quickly and easily. I'm a little bemused as well by how very interesting I found the whole sewage plant management portion of the story. Seems like that should have been less engaging than it was. I'm still uncertain whether the twist near the end was supposed to be a surprise to anyone but the protagonist, it certainly wasn't any kind of surprise to me. Intellectually I see that there are some things here that seems like should have bothered me more than they did.

The fact is however, I just had FUN reading this. I would set it down to go do something, and in the back of my head was a little warm feeling because I knew that when I got done I had reading pleasure waiting for me. I would pick it up again and be absorbed within a page or two and just happily trundling along like a kid making mud pies and singing a little song. Sometimes an author's voice speaks to you enough like the voice in your own head that you just feel comfortable and interested, flaws or not.
The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester This book is so dated that for me it travels beyond being dated into portraying an oddly fascinating alternate reality. I think the future of this book may actually feel stranger to me now than it did to the people reading the book in 1953. They were confronted with a world of flying cars and miniature androids and bubble environments in space, but the strange new world was inhabited by people whose motivations and behaviors they accepted as recognizable. I am confronted by a world with all of those technological innovations, inhabited by people who seem like some sort of weird alien race.

The men in this novel are all and always engaged in status contests with one another for access to power over one another. Some are seeking power for altruistic reasons, some for selfish reasons, some out of fear, or hunger, or desperation, but all of them believe unquestioningly that the only way to get what they need is to struggle to rise in a hierarchy of dominance.

The women are some sort of strange symbiont creatures, almost entirely focused on finding a man or men to attach to and identify with. This identification is so complete that rejection by or loss of the symbiont threatens their sanity. These strange symbiont creatures are also prone to behaving like children, which is apparently some kind of sexual signaling device.

In addition both the status warriors and the symbiont clingers act out various psycho dramas strictly along Freudian lines, with ids, egos, and super egos all battling it out - causing people to suddenly burst into hysterical laughter in the middle of a fist fight or fall unconscious at a party because they've suddenly been confronted by an unacceptable sense memory of their absent father or their death wish has gotten tangled up with their life force and is causing an uncomfortable pulsation in their sex drive, or who knows what all. They are very odd creatures really.

Its been said that every reading of a novel is a little bit different because each reading is a collaboration between what the author wrote and what the reader brings to her understanding of it. In my case that collaboration has produced something rich and strange, a story of alien creatures struggling for dominance in a world that never was.

Flora's Fury (Flora Trilogy, #3)

Flora's Fury (Flora Trilogy, #3) - Ysabeau S. Wilce I just adore Flora Fyrdraaca. There it is. She feels like a real, stubborn, particular, peculiar person to me. And the world she lives in is just a joy. A scary, funny, odd joy complete with flies and dishonest bed and breakfast owners, and cranky shapeshifters with abandoment issues, and all of it touched with the magic of genuine weirdness. These books make me happy.

Much of the happy is that they are fun, and the characters are terrific, and the world is creative and intricate and unusual. But like icing on an already delicious cake, not the least of the happy is that Ysabeau Wilce is one of a few wonderful fantasy authors who have realized that their creations don't have to share our history of gender because hey, this is a made up world!!.

People in this made up world don't have to be sexist homophobes just because that's part of the history of the reality we do our grocery shopping in. It isn't a given that the same bigotries have to travel into every fantasy novel, along with faux medieval speech and a guy with a slop bucket and a leather apron. Makes me slap my forehead and go duh! how did it take me so long to realize that?

Our heroine has her struggles and difficulties sure - her bad temper, her confusing heritage, her goofy dog, her Aztec overlords, but she never has to struggle with being dismissed or hassled because she has the wrong arrangement of genitalia. Her male friends don't have to fight to defend their masculinity every time they put on an item of clothing that isn't brown or grey. The degree to which this makes me just plain giddy is a little scary.

It makes me realize how unconsciously I carry around the weight of sexism, because that's just how the world is, and no point railing against it. But when I run into a world where that isn't part of the price of admission, it’s a little bit like taking off a heavy coat you'd forgotten you were wearing.

It frees me to participate in this world in a spirit of joyous play. It frees up reserves of energy that I usually have to dedicate to shoveling the sexist bullshit into a bucket in the corner and holding down the lid so that I can focus on the other perfectly good and enjoyable things that are also going on instead of just being mad and sad.

I know, I know, there are lots of stories in which the characters struggle bravely and even sometimes successfully against the sexism and homophobia of their worlds. Those are good stories too. But this is a story where nobody has to struggle with it, because its just gone. Which makes me silly happy. And so I love Flora Fydraaca.
Death and Resurrection - R.A. MacAvoy I have really loved RA MacAvoy's writing, starting all the way back with Tea with Black Dragon. The Grey Horse is part of the scenery on the inside of my head, and the Lens series floored me several times. So I was thrilled to see that she is writing again.

For me this was reminiscent of Black Dragon and Twisting the Rope, that sort of modern day fantasy/mystery set among artists - in Dragon, it was a musician, here its a visual artist. I know these people, I have had dinner and arguments with people just like these. In fact one of them still has my potato fork. Of course the ones I know don't disapparate, or at least if they do they don't tell me about it. But still, I feel very at home with these characters.

This particular book is a set of four closely related stories involving the same set of people. I liked the first three a lot, the fourth felt sketched in, unfinished. But I'm so happy to see MacAvoy back and still doing what she does so well that I'm feeling pretty forgiving about the weak fourth.

Here's hoping this is the start of much more from a writer I respect and enjoy!