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Pump Six and Other Stories
Paolo Bacigalupi

Silent in the Grave

Silent in the Grave - Deanna Raybourn This series was recommended ever so thoroughly to me, as it seems to be absolutely my thing (England, lady mystery-solver, historical setting), and I think it simultaneously a) was oversold to me and 2) has elements I just don't like. It's terribly competent in doing its thing; I just don't like the thing.

I was expecting, I don't know, something more serious. I was not expecting to be introduced to a forcibly whimsical cast of characters. I was not expecting a romance-novel-style asshole hero. I was not expecting the heroine to make quite so many boneheaded moves.

I think it's that this is written like a certain kind of romance novel that does not work for me (some do, and I enjoy them thoroughly, but my tastes are very specific), except there's not a romantic resolution at the end of the first book, plus there's some dead people and some mystery solvin'. This again should be right up my alley, but the execution fell down for me.

Mostly I just cannot make myself be allured by a hero who says, "If you do X, I will not be responsible for my actions." No, jackass. You're always responsible. To place the blame for your actions - presumably harmful ones - on the heroine, in order to control her? Yeah. I'm checked out and could care less whether your emotionally stunted wooing over corpses is successful. This is a certain brand of romance hero who has little more personality than "hot" and "brooding" by which I remain utterly unentranced. Also, I will admit my bias for a clever heroine, and so far Lady Julia isn't cutting it.

All that, and I still give it three stars. It was competent, yes, and I will read at least a couple of sequels. It almost scratches the itch, and it remains to be seen if the other books magnify the problems or resolve them.

Seating Arrangements

Seating Arrangements - Maggie Shipstead Rarely have I been so enthused to read about wretched people being awful to each other. Shipstead does a remarkable job making me want to know more about characters , to the point that I found myself thinking about them when not reading and was genuinely eager to pick up the book again whenever I put it down. She has a delightful turn of phrase, and while certain characters were awful enough that I never quite felt sympathy for them, Shipstead made me understand how they came to be who they were and why their awful decisions made complete sense for them. And I mean awful in the "you are a terrible parent who is emotionally stunting your children in the same way your parents did to you" way, not the mass murdering/wolf of wall street/physically abusive sort of way.

This book is like the drawing room comedy of manners upper class wedding shenanigans of a Regency romance, only modern and, for lack of a better word, "realer." The prejudices, crappy parenting, insecurities, and lack of neatly tied up spit polished happy ending is out in full force. Also there's a dead whale. Like you do.

French Milk

French Milk - Lucy Knisley Fine, but not what I was expecting, and I'm having a hard time separating what I was expecting from what I got. I went in expecting to be charmed by the small details of an American wallowing in Paris, and I left mostly just profoundly glad I'm not twenty-two anymore. Which shows the effectiveness of the author, I suppose, but still. Fare thee well, early twenties. Don't let the door hit you. I nevertheless appreciate her dedication and completionist's spirit in documenting all of her food adventures. (Not sarcasm. Super serious. Let's hear it for cornichons.)

Fool Me Twice

Fool Me Twice - Meredith Duran Not near enough grovel.

Murder in Montparnasse

Murder in Montparnasse - Kerry Greenwood A paen to food and France, now with bonus respectful threesome negotiations. I remain a fan.

Away With the Fairies

Away With the Fairies - Kerry Greenwood

Well, speak of the devil. This is totally Phryne's Murder Must Advertise, if only Harriet Vane had been kidnapped by pirates while Peter was churning out advertising copy. Still enjoyable, though.

Death Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher, #10)

Death Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher, #10) - Kerry Greenwood Thoroughly enjoyable little academia-set mystery, but it turns out my ability to give a shit about Cricket Games In Posh-Set Mystery Novels Between The Wars is limited to one, and that vacancy has already been filled. Thankfully, flipping through those pages rapidly had little to no bearing on the rest of plot. But still, yergh. No faster way to kill the action than to put a detailed description of a sporting event that has zero effect on the plot in the first quarter of your book.

The Skull and the Nightingale: A Novel

The Skull and the Nightingale: A Novel - Michael Irwin Blar. I'm tired of protagonists being all rapey in the guise of being "edgy." If I'm going to read about an amoral, detached investigator of human nature, I don't care to waste my time with this self-important, did he mention he's pretty? because he knows he's soooo pretty, insufferable blowhard. When your exploration of the dark sides of humanity are pretty much all about this dude sees women as chattel whose value is determinable by their level of fuckability, even if that level is unexpectedly higher than this paragon of human observation first thought, well. You're not particularly cutting-edge or interesting.

The Fairy Godmother

The Fairy Godmother - Mercedes Lackey If TV Tropes and the [Color] Fairy books had a romance novel for a baby and dressed it in nothing but Lisa Frank-designed onesies, it would be this book. It is not entirely un-Xanth-like, albeit thankfully free of Xanth's whiff of pedophilia.

The driving force behind this universe is the idea that the fairy tale equivalent of TV Tropes must be fulfilled and what all the implications of that spin out to be. Blah blah romance blah blah fantasy world building blah blah. But, seriously, once I twigged to the inescapability of tvtropes.com no matter the universe, everything else was irrelevant and hysterical. It's bog-standard Mercedes Lackey characters with definite romance novel bones underneath the entertainingly fantasy/meta world built atop of it, and the hero's an egregious dick with explicit rape on his mind at one point who doesn't grovel near enough for my taste, and I'd be hard-pressed to call it good, but it certainly entertained me for an evening.


Untamed - Anna  Cowan The crossdressing genderqueerish rake hero with painful secrets and an army of dandies and the awkward butchish heroine with painful secrets and occasional bouts of crossdressing find emo, love together. Utter catnip. It's emotional hurt/comfort cranked to eleven; the final "battle" is between two women who respect each other and recognize that they would probably be friends under other circumstances; the heroine gets the action words during sex scenes; did I mention the army of dandies? This has all the external trappings of historical romance novels I enjoy, but it's the squishy non-romance-typical gender dynamics in the center that make me want to clutch this (e)book to my heaving bosom while simultaneously shoving it at everyone I know who digs romance novels but not always their gender politics even a little.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan In the Grand Scheme of Dragon-y Books, this one is, like, the polar opposite of the Pern novels. Yes, the dragons are awesome, but don't read this one for the dragons. Read this one for the alternate history disguised as a second world fantasy and the feminism, and you will be well-rewarded.


Asylum - Madeleine Roux

Four stars for genuinely creepy, well done atmosphere. Minus one star for relying so heavily on photographs (photo montages, whatever - their own sort of work of art within the story) to create that atmosphere instead of with words alone. (As a package, they were remarkably effective.) Minus another star for a stilted boarding school plot mashed together with a stilted horror plot (think Urban Legend (the movie) mashed up with Session Nine, only not as effective). All the vibrancy of the creepy atmospheric writing is lost in wooden characters (and almost minus another star for relying so heavily on the format that Looking For Alaska skewers and only occasionally overcomes itself). All equalling out to an intrigued but ultimately disappointed two stars.

Mark of the Lion

Mark of the Lion - Suzanne Arruda If I could, I would rate the descriptions of East Africa at least 3 stars, all the rest a grudging 2 stars. I wanted so much to like both this book and this heroine, both of which should have been right up my alley, but they were steadfast in their refusal to give me the slightest hook of appreciation. The mystery was patently obvious and hamhandedly presented; the text tells us the heroine is smart and clever and then has her utterly oblivious to the easily-obtained answers to the mystery.

And, really, the heroine is at the root of most of the problems with this book. I can handle sketchy stock characters to flesh out a scene, but when your heroine seems to be mostly a compilation of Designated Personality Quirks (she hates tea and loves coffee, because it's less stuffy har har, we're going to tell you this at least twice in every scene where she might possibly consume a beverage!; she's anachronistically modern and egalitarian and independent, and god help us all, spunky) and a lot of telling entirely mismatched with the showing, it's hard to hang a novel on the strength ("strength") of that. This was also hurt by the imprecision of the POV, which was alternately deep in Jade's head then making descriptive, flattering commentary about her lithe figure, effortless style, and entrancing green eyes.

I just. I wanted to like her so much. Former ambulance driver in World War I! An adventuress striking off as a reporter on her own to fulfill a dying request! And instead she was this slapdash amalgamation of Cool Girl (she's too practical to be interested in all that lesser girly stuff; she has no truck with fashion and her own appearance but is effortlessly beautiful and attracts all the boys while being admired by all the other girls; did we mention she likes coffee and thinks tea is silly? also she's the best shot, the best mechanic, and the bravest hunter ever) with genuinely moving, well-written moments of PTSD flashback.

And let's not even get started with some of the race issues. Our independent (she's American, you see), anachronistic heroine thinks the way most of the Happy Valley set treat the local populace is kind of despicable (and she's right!), but the narrative hardly backs her up with her "and I will treat them better and no different from anyone else" prospect. The one character of color with any sort of significant onscreen presence and a personality beyond "mysterious, possibly wise, possibly crazy mystical person," is a little boy who just, like, stops showing up halfway through with scarcely a handwave, and the glaringly obvious MacGuffin has hardly any dialogue at all. (I can't really penalize them for being poorly sketched stock characters, because that's true across the board.) It's hard to believe in the heroine's protestations of equality when the author doesn't even come close.

All that, though, and I may still seek out the next book in hopes that the author gets better at writing people, because gosh her writing about landscape and animals was enjoyable.

The Bone Season

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon Interesting world building, hampered by a bog-standard Nonsensically Reckless Urban Fantasy Heroine and her Mysterious/Dangerous Love Interest. I'm quite interested to know more about the universe the author has created, as well as some of the secondary characters and villains, but we'll see how quickly my patience runs out with this Feisty and Independent Heroine. Also, the transition from slavery to love interest was handled...awkwardly. I didn't buy the psychological gyrations of the heroine. It felt like there was a lot of handwaving and trust-building experiences that happened offscreen.

Basically, how much more would I have enjoyed this book if it weren't first person narration? So much.


Speedboat - Renata Adler I...suspect I am moving past my experimental structure novel days. There are moments of twisting beauty in the words, and I admire Adler's ability to layer innocuousnesses and slam on a finishing line to throw it all in sharp relief, but, man. I really love plot. And characters. And I had a hard time letting go of that and relaxing enough to enjoy this book for what it was. I got about a third of the way through before I could treat each vignette on its own and stop straining for connections; the strands of thematic whatnot really only popped into focus for me like a magic eye poster (though I'm far better at relaxing into seeing written themes than I am that stupid sailboat or dinosaur) when I stopped trying. A hard book for me to pick up and read in long swathes; it's a sip not a gulp. Still, I'm glad I read it and may dip in and out of it again some day, even if I never read it cover to cover again.

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness Intriguing set up, and I'm even down with the extensive, loving food and beverage descriptions, but I could. not. deal. with a stereotypical Alpha Male Romance Hero (also pronounced "raging dickweed") in my otherwise enjoyable fantasy. I mean, it was to the point of almost making me wonder if it was a parody, or poking fun at Twilight and the vampire sleep-stalking and controlling and isolating, but thanks to a quick skim of other goodreads' reviews, I'm confident enough in it not being a "see what was wrong there" situation or taking the piss or in some other way showing that Matthew's violent mood swings and stalking and otherwise bad, bad behavior are not good, romantic things or otherwise narratively justified, even though he's the hottest vampire with the coldest body temperature ever omg. Just - ew.