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BeSerene Returns to Reading in 2018

75 Books Challenge for 2018

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1beserene
Edited: Jul 7, 12:14am Top



It's been a strange couple of years, not least because I've mostly been away from LibraryThing and away from reading. But this year, things are starting to change. I've been reading regularly again, my life seems to be settling back down a little bit from it's craziness, and I'm hoping both of those patterns continue.

So, I thought I might try to come back. I might not be too active yet -- there's still a lot on my plate -- but I've missed the wonderful community of this group. I'm not necessarily ready to post and review about every single book yet, but I'll start a list and see where we go.

I hope you've all been well and reading along like always. Anyone is welcome here, though my thread will be a quiet one compared to others -- fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional classic will be a lot of the themes and reads. I love my fellow book nerds and friendly, geeky talk is always a joy. (Also, as some of you may remember, I am a book panda -- I move slowly and usually have snacks.)

Sorry I've been away so long.

Here we go.

PS: Previous threads found here:
-- 2016 was when I ghosted because life and reasons: BeSerene in 2016: the Struggle Is Real
-- 2015's thread was a list and not much else: BeSerene Reads (I hope) in 2015
-- BeSerene's 2014: Books, with Occasional Panda
-- BeSerene's Lucky 2013: Books Read, Part First, and Part Second
-- BeSerene in 2012: A Very Good Year (for Books), and Part 2
-- BeSerene's Reads of 2011: the Beginning, and the Next Chapter
-- To see my masterlist from 2010, in which I read considerably more books than I have in more recent years, visit my second 2010 thread: BeSerene's Reads 2010, Part Two.

2beserene
Edited: Yesterday, 5:39pm Top

Sarah's Reads of 2018

Classics
1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (reread)
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (reread)
3. Persuasion by Jane Austen (reread)

Fantasy
4. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (reread)
5. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (reread)
6. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik (reread)
7. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik (reread)
8. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik (reread)
9. Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik (reread)
10. Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik (reread)
11. Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik (reread)
12. League of Dragons by Naomi Novik (reread)
13. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (reread)
14. Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (reread)
15. Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal (reread)
16. Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (reread)
17. Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
18. A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (reread)
19. The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan (reread)
20. Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan (reread)
21. In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan (reread)
22. Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
30. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
32. The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss (reread)
33. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Children's/YA Fantasy
24. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
25. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
26. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Science Fiction
23. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
27. Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry
28. The Power by Naomi Alderman
31. Everfair by Nisi Shawl
34. All Systems Red by Martha Wells (novella)
35. Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (novella)
36. Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells (novella)
37. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
38. The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
39. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
40. Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (novella)

Mystery/Suspense
29. The Flats by Kate Birdsall

3beserene
Edited: Jul 7, 12:35am Top

You might be able to tell from the list above that I've been rereading a lot. That was what brought me back to reading regularly: comfort reads.

I hadn't finished a book in close to a year (for many reasons) and we were getting into March and I realized that all my down-time had been spent either watching something or on the computer. (I have GOT to get away from the computer more -- ha! Irony!) And I'd even been watching movies that had been books first, like the BBC version of North and South, but not actually reading the books themselves. My dreams were starting to scroll like Facebook timelines and I was struggling to focus; being able to sit down to watch a four-hour BBC miniseries was even starting to feel like a challenge. And that has never been a challenge for me.

So I knew something had to change.

Jane Austen is the author I run to when I simply can't read anything else. Her language is bright and sharp and faster than most people (who don't read Austen) think. And I've read her books so many times over the years, it's hardly like reading at all anymore. It seems, these days, more like visiting; opening the book is like opening a door and all my good friends are there and I don't need to focus very hard. I just say hello.

That's how I restarted reading this year, after over a year of hardly finishing a book. I sat down with one of my oldest friends, Miss Jane Austen, and said hello.

It wasn't an immediate cure. Reading Austen didn't actually make me want to read anything else. But Naomi Novik's Temeraire series is also set in the Regency period, and is also a very great favorite of mine (it was pretty close to the only thing I read at all last year) that I've visited many times. Reaching for that seemed easy.

And once that was done, why here was Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories, also friendly acquaintances of mine, also still comfortably in the Regency period. I hadn't yet read the last book in that series, so I started once again at the beginning.

Same with Marie Brennan's Lady Trent novels, which took me a step toward Victorian rather than Regency sensibilities, but still felt comfortably familiar.

And by the time I finished that series, I felt like my relationship with books was finding its normal footing again. It's only been just in the last month that I've read really new things. It took time and baby steps to get me there.

It's so strange that a thing you've done, almost constantly, your whole life... can just slip away. One minute you're a book person and the next you are only a person who buys books and not one who reads them anymore. The shift in identity and practice can happen so fast, you don't even realize how momentous that change is until you find yourself dreaming in Facebook instead of in bookland.

I hope you all don't mind me sharing this little struggle, because it has been a bit of a journey and I feel like there are folks here who will understand how strong my feelings are about this. I feel like I almost lost myself, in the past year, and now I'm climbing back into my own skin, living behind my own eyes again, finally.

If anyone finds themselves on similarly unsettled ground, I encourage you to go back to your old friends, your true loves, your comfort reads. And be patient with yourself. You'll find your way back.

Thank you, Miss Austen.

4FAMeulstee
Jul 7, 12:10pm Top

Good to have you back with us, Sarah.
I know how re-reading can be the start again, until 2008 I did hardly read at all. Had a dip again from 2012-2015 and since two years I am back at the top of my readings, reading fast like I did in my teens.
I hope finding yourself back with reading continues, good luck!

5beserene
Jul 7, 2:22pm Top

Thank you so much, Anita. It's good to be back and so nice to see a visitor here on the new thread.

And your reading is amazing! I've just stopped by your most recent thread and what a whirlwind of books! Fantastic! If you are an example of the kind of restarting I'm doing now, I feel vastly encouraged. :)

6leahbird
Jul 7, 3:40pm Top

Sarah! I'm also glad you are back! You've been missed!

My reading had changed in the last few years too. If it wasn't for audiobooks, I'd probably never finish anything these days. It was kinda upsetting for a while but I've embraced it.

Posting on LT has been a bit harder to keep up with. What I've found keeping me more engaged right now is the newly LT acquired Litsy. It's like LT in FB bites.

7norabelle414
Jul 7, 4:29pm Top

Yay, hi Sarah!

8beserene
Jul 7, 5:10pm Top

Yay! Hello to you both! I'm still catching up on how everything on LT works -- it feels like I've forgotten how to do the most basic stuff -- but I'll have to check out Litsy and see what that's all about.

And yay for pandas!!!

9beserene
Jul 7, 5:30pm Top

I'm doing some catch-up blurbs (just highlights, not all of them) for my reading so far:

Book #12


League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
This is the last book in the Temeraire series, which is set in the Napoleonic era and imagines that the nations of the world have an airforce... of dragons. The whole series is a delight, a perfect mash-up of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels with a touch of Jane Austen and a whole lot of dragons and their affiliated fantasy trope. Though the series as a whole is a little uneven, it holds up to rereading very well, which I can attest to since I keep rereading it every year. Yeah, it's a favorite.

I've read this last installment twice now and I find it to be a satisfying end to the series, though of course I wish we could spend more time and more books with these delightful characters. Those who were perhaps put off with the priggishness of our main character, William Laurence, in the first book or so would hardly recognize him by this last volume; one of the joys of the series has been to see our POV characters evolve. Novik does a wonderful job showing how the forces of the fantasy elements she has added would shape not just the world but the people (and dragons) within it, and here we see the culmination of that character development as the partnership between Laurence and Temeraire has reached its maturity, following the logic of the world but also the individual loyalty and intelligence that Novik brought forward consistently since book one. It's nice to see such steady, well-rounded character development in books that are situated in the context of war.

Speaking of war, this book still features its fair share of aerial combat and dragon-back warfare, action sequences which fire the imagination and propel the reader through sometimes-dense prose (though I enjoy Novik's writing style, not everyone does). It also showcases, more than ever, the social implications surrounding dragons as a part of global society. I love seeing the dragons put themselves forward and Temeraire and his friends are, as always, both charming and compelling. Overall, a worthy close to a series that no one ever wanted to end.

I know I've posted about this series more than once, but if you enjoy any of the things discussed above, I'm still recommending that you read it! Or reread it!

10beserene
Jul 7, 5:43pm Top

Book #17


Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
This was a first-read for me, even though the rest of the series was a reread, as well as another final installment of a favorite series. It's a strong finish to a series that gets better as it goes along. The relationship between Jane and her husband Vincent is, as always, at the center of the story, but this volume -- like its immediate predecessor -- has some twists and turns that make for more exciting reading. For a series that started out as a Jane Austen-esque romance, the fact that we end with, essentially, a heist novel (in #4) and then a family saga/adventure novel (this one) might seem unexpected, but somehow Kowal makes the unexpected work, while never losing track of the emotions and relationships that brought us all to these books in the first place. This might be my new favorite of the series!

Book #22


Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
If you like Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, but you wish it was less about war and more about dragons, then Brennan's Lady Trent novels are probably the series for you. In Brennan's alternate world, the sensibilities may be slightly Victorian, but everything else is absolutely about the dragons. Lady Trent, our POV character, is an independent scientist and, in this last book, now once again a wife. You might be surprised, however, that much of this book features her separated from her husband by circumstance. Will they be reunited? Will her accidental discovery change the world? Yes, of course -- but the adventure in getting to all that is the real point. Filled with all of the rich detail, world-building, and general sass that one might expect -- not to mention more of Todd Lockwood's remarkable illustrations -- this book brings Lady Trent's memoirs to a smashing close. Delightful!

All of these books I've just been talking about are obviously the ends of favorite series and, once you've spent so much time with a certain set of characters, it's hard to say a bad word about them. They aren't for everyone, but if you like one, you'll probably like them all.

11ronincats
Jul 7, 6:42pm Top

Welcome home, Sarah! I appreciated your story of finding your way back to reading and am glad you included it. I didn't find the third Temeraire book to my taste and never went back to them, but you remind me that I need to pick up the Glamourist books again. I think my last was the Venice heist story. And I love, love, love Lady Trent!

You might like a time travel story, The Jane Austen Project, and I really enjoyed an alternative Regency trio by Sylvia Izzo Hunter starting with The Midnight Queen.

12leahbird
Jul 7, 7:55pm Top

I agree on your thoughts on Temeraire and Lady Trent. They can be a bit uneven but the characters are so engaging that you can't stop coming back to them! I think I prefer the characters-based stories in Temeraire better but I like the science/exploring much more than the war.

13beserene
Edited: Jul 7, 8:50pm Top

Hi Roni! Thanks for visiting! I can understand not liking the Temeraire books -- they are an acquired taste for many. But thanks for the recommendations! I think I have the first Sylvia Hunter book around here somewhere -- I'll have to put that on the TBR Sooner-Than-Later stack! And the Jane Austen Project sounds interesting too!

Leah, glad to know you're another Temeraire and Trent fan. The writing does tend to be uneven, but I completely agree about the characters. The first time I read through the first half-dozen Temeraire books, I almost stopped about every other book because I didn't like the sheer volume of battles, especially in the books that don't take place in a particular location. Those ones felt especially unsettled to me. But they all are beautiful rereads, because the characters are such comfortable friends by then.

Am trying to decide what to read next, now. I'm feeling a bit braver than I was earlier this year, so I might save the Hunter book for a less brave moment. The Power is staring at me from across the room. Am I brave enough for that? Have y'all read it yet?

14beserene
Jul 7, 9:05pm Top

Book #23


Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
The story of how this book got written is the stuff of Internet/SFF legend. In sum: Once Upon A Twitter Discussion... Valente confessed her love of the Eurovision song contest, someone tweeted a wouldn't-it-be-cool about Eurovision in space, Valente said she would totally write that book, Saga Press editor Navah Wolfe tweeted that she would totally publish that book, and BOOM here it is.

For those who are already Valente fans, this is... really nothing like her other stuff. Not at all.

For those who come in expecting the Douglas-Adams-esque promised by the hype, this is... also not that.

It is, in fact, hard to characterize this book except as exactly what Eurovision-in-space probably would be like. The narrative starts at Mach 1 and doesn't slow down, tumbling and stream-of-consciousnessing through a litany of wonderfully imagined and oddly characterized alien species at roughly twice the speed of sound -- or approximately the same pace as my particular brain when I'm really, really awake -- all while hodgepodging together something like a story about the last ditch efforts of a has-been pop band to maybe save the entire human race through song. There is no real way to keep track of plot or character -- this is the kind of book you have to let carry you off, give up on trying to control, and just enjoy the ride.

Even recognizing the narration as similar to my own thought-ramblings, I still had to go back and reread passages just to keep track of all the aliens. And, as an only-sometimes watcher of Eurovision, I didn't laugh out loud quite as much as I probably would have if I'd gotten every single little inside-joke. But I'm still glad I read this. As silly as it is -- and as silly as Eurovision is -- it still presents a small bubble of science fictional hope that prompts the reader to remember both the beauty and the ugliness of humanity, a little push to appreciate each other as we face our place in the universe. Life is beautiful and life is stupid, the book says... and that's what the book is. Silly, stumbling, whackadoo, and well worth reading.

15ronincats
Jul 7, 9:11pm Top

>14 beserene: I'm waiting for this one to move down the library hold list and make it to me. Currently #18 in line for 5 copies.

16beserene
Jul 7, 9:41pm Top

The Twitter legend is clearly working for Valente! :)

17norabelle414
Jul 7, 11:58pm Top

I just read The Power recently and it was freaking fantastic. Go for it!

18drneutron
Jul 8, 9:16am Top

Welcome back! Rereading old friends is definitely my idea of a cure. 😀 I've got Space Opera on my list of things I really want to get to this year - we'll see if I can make that happen.

19beserene
Jul 9, 9:10pm Top

>17 norabelle414: Nora, I have taken your advice. I'm a little over 100 pages into The Power and so far it's AMAZING.

>18 drneutron: Thanks so much! Glad to see you here, Jim! And I hope you like the Valente -- it's definitely something a little bit different!

20beserene
Jul 9, 9:31pm Top

More catching up...

Book #24


Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I can't believe it took me so long to read this -- I've had the book on my shelf for years -- because it is exactly the kind of thing I like: a richly detailed, thoughtful fantasy with deep worldbuilding and strong character development. The fact that this book is listed as YA shouldn't stop anyone from reading it -- it is a beautifully built fantasy in the most classic sense. Here there are dragons -- but not of the kind you are used to -- and princes as well, but you can tell early on that that author (who is brilliant) has thought through each classic trope with care and twisted them around to suit both the world she has created and an audience hungry for more original fare in the fantasy market.

Yes, there is a wee bit of a love story here, but it doesn't end quite the way you think it will. And yes, the protagonist starts off as an angsty young woman. But anyone who assumes that Hartman's elevated take on the YA fantasy adventure novel will go as typical will be pleasantly surprised by the details here. I devoured this book and moved immediately on to the sequel. What more can I say?

Book #25


Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
This sequel is just as rich, just as beautifully developed, in short just as good as its predecessor -- another classic fantasy of dragons, saints, and queens. Instead of castle intrigue, the scale of the story is broadened to national politics as our favorite heroine and all our favorite characters from the previous volume attempt to save both dragonkind and human kind from a plot that has been unfolding whilst they were busy elsewhere.

This book deals more directly with the religious culture that Hartman created for her world, as well as the intersections between species. Much of it takes place in Seraphina's own mind and, while it took time for me to adjust to her narration in the first volume, here that voice seems comfortable and familiar. The only real crack in the impressive story is that the ending feels a little rushed and convenient... but by that time, you'll be rooting so hard for these characters that you probably won't mind.

Book #26


Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
I won't lie: I went straight into this book expecting it to be just like the other two books that Hartman wrote in this same universe. I was ready for this to be a fantasy quest with all the fine and fascinating twists upon tropes, with all the same sense of brightness-amid-the-grime, all the same hope and delight.

This is a much different book than I expected. Much harder, much grimmer in places, and I would even go so far as to say triggery, as it deals with consent and sexual assault and gender and trauma in ways that are deeply personal. It was, at times, difficult to read because the richness this time is more about emotions than world. It's set in the world we all know, if we've read Seraphina and Shadow Scale, but follows Seraphina's younger half-sister, Tess, who takes to the titular road early on, running away from herself as well as her family.

Hartman, by now, has a tradition of young and unreliable narrators and does not, this time, reveal the truth about Tess so quickly as she did about Seraphina in the first volume. As a result, it's even harder to settle into Tess' narration -- it's hard to like Tess, as a reader, because Tess doesn't like herself. But, you might guess, that emotional state has to change and it's that kind of journey that the novel takes us on. In the end, it's just as brilliant as Hartman's other work -- and more brutal and human than one might expect from an author billed as a YA fantasy writer. Don't underestimate Rachel Hartman or her genre, though. In the end, this is extraordinary stuff.

21leahbird
Jul 10, 1:40am Top

>20 beserene: I adored Serephina but was a little less enamored with Shadow Scale so I've been a little hesitant about Tess on the Road. It should be coming up in my holds soon so I'm glad to hear you liked it.

22beserene
Jul 10, 7:37pm Top

>21 leahbird: I did like Tess of the Road, even though it was sometimes hard to read. I'd recommend reading it when you are feeling steady on your feet, so to speak.

23beserene
Jul 10, 8:09pm Top

Book #27


Space Unicorn Blues by TJ Berry
The idea of space unicorns made me anticipate this book with something like glee. The novel's handling of that beloved icon, however, surprised me. It's much grimier than I ever expected. As a science fiction novel, it presents a future extrapolated from humanity's worst behavior -- and, frankly, falls logically into recognizable patterns, indicting the way that humans probably would behave if/when we encounter other inhabited planets and species. And it's not pretty. Grim is the word I would use, in truth.

It's also a compelling interplanetary adventure. The reader is introduced to Gary, an ex-convict half-unicorn who is quickly reunited with the crew of spacers who mistreated him years before, which led him to murder. The relationship between these characters is much more complicated than it sounds, with the entire history of human-alien relations playing out between this group of roughshod space adventurers, the government that's after them, and the magical aliens (unicorns, elves, dwarves, etc.) whose lives are at stake. Believe me, there are no sparkles and rainbows here.

While the writing plays fast and loose with ideas, and sometimes tangles itself up enough that I had to go back a page and reread to understand the dynamics at play, the fusion of fantasy tropes with sci-fi, the sheer brass of the worldbuilding, is enough to keep one reading. Add to that the interesting emotional themes as Gary comes to terms both with his own past and the humanity of the people he used to hate, as well as the overarching story of impending doom, and you have a novel that carries you right along. I wouldn't call it a perfect book, not by a long shot, but it's one of the most intriguing and certainly one of the boldest I've read in a while. The ending, which flirts with deus ex machina like it's an old boyfriend, doesn't satisfy so much as create a sense of anticipation: there's more story coming from this mess of a future and I kind of want to be there for it. It's definitely not pretty, it's not the unicorns you expect, but this book is worth a read.

24libraryperilous
Jul 10, 9:04pm Top

Welcome back! This is my first active year in the group. I'm still getting to know a few people. It's nice to make the online acquaintance of a fellow rereader, especially of Jane Austen and SFF.

I'm glad you found your way back to reading. My copy of The Unpunished Vice should be arriving soon. White lost his interest in reading after an illness, and parts of the memoir explore finding his way back to it.

I'm jealous you've been able to read Space Unicorn Blues already. I may have to break down and buy a copy of it.

25beserene
Jul 10, 9:52pm Top

Thank you so much! I appreciate your visit -- it is lovely indeed to make new reader-friends, and this group is just the place to do so!

I'm not familiar with The Unpunished Vice but I'm definitely going to check it out. It sounds right up my alley -- I love books about books.

And I will be honest, I pre-ordered Space Unicorn Blues because I know TJ Berry. She's a friendly acquaintance of mine -- we were on the same writer's retreat cruise together and then traveled around Germany for a few days afterwards, with about 20 other writers, and just generally had a grand time. She and her husband are a delight -- they have an SFF podcast about fandom, books, etc. and are altogether lovely people. So, I always try to preorder the books that friends write, to give my support. I will tell you what, though -- TJ is so bubbly a person, I did not expect her unicorns to be murderous. But they are! What a crazy book! I hope you get to read it soon!

26libraryperilous
Jul 10, 10:03pm Top

>25 beserene: Oh, very cool that you know her, and it's rad that you support your friends that way.

Tbh, I couldn't tell from reviews of it whether or not Space Unicorn Blues would be funny, or grim, or both, but it sounded from all of the them like at least a good kind of crazy sauce. I'm feeling very tempted to bypass the library and buy it ...

Here's the excerpt that made me order Edmund White's memoir. I think almost every book about books calls reading a solitary or alone or interior act, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it called a lonely one before. Another bab I just finished, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction also notes how sociable an act reading is, even if one does nothing more than make notes in a book journal afterwards.

27beserene
Jul 11, 12:01am Top

I'm a book pusher, so I totally think you should buy TJ's book. ;)

The White is now on my to-buy list -- looks really interesting! Thanks for the rec! The other one I could swear that I have a copy around here somewhere... guess I'd better hunt it up!

I think it's interesting that reading can be both lonely -- in the sense of being alone, a solitary activity, but also being so deep in one's own mind that you aren't connected to other real people -- but then also, it really can be quite social. Like here on LT, or through book clubs or book blogs or just chatting about books with friends. Books provide a bit of grease for social interaction, because finding a shared genre with another person can prompt all kinds of conversation. And yet, when we read, we still usually do so alone.

Unless you have a silent book club. Have you heard about this? It's a thing, apparently. You go to a bookstore or a library with a small group of people and all sit together and read, silently and individually, together. I've never tried that. I wonder if one remains conscious of the shared experience?

28libraryperilous
Jul 12, 6:07pm Top

>27 beserene: Yes, that's a good way of putting both reading reading's interior qualities and the social interactions it prompts in us. I had never used the word "lonely" to describe it, because I associate the word with sadness, but I see that the second definition for lonely is "solitary." Mind blown. :)

Hmm, I almost feel a silent book club would be better with a partner or friends? And done in a private setting? Or perhaps the book clubs are trying to replicate that experience? I wonder if the group experience compels one to blurt out comments as one is reading, or if the rules of the club weigh heavily enough and prevent that?

29beserene
Jul 12, 8:30pm Top

>28 libraryperilous: That's an excellent question regarding noise at a silent book club. I suppose part of the reason that one has it at a shop or library is so that noise is forgivable, but what if someone finds the book funny and no one else appreciates the laughing out loud? Or if everyone reads the same book, but one person reads exceptionally fast and gasps at all the best bits? Quel horreur! I'm rethinking this whole idea already. :D

30beserene
Jul 12, 8:42pm Top

Book #28


The Power by Naomi Alderman
Hooooooooooly crap, you guys. This book is AMAZING. And seriously violent and triggery and, on many levels, a depressing meditation on the fact that humans are garbage. At the same time, however, it is absolutely cathartic; while it may very well trigger those who have had sexual assault and abuse experiences, I would encourage fellow survivors to read it anyway, because the process of the book creates an emotional and experiential arc that, in the end, is both horrifying and deeply, deeply satisfying.

Let's be clear: this is speculative fiction that looks toward the near future and is drawn straight from today's very real gender dynamics. In the book, teenage girls and women manifest the power to produce electricity in their bodies sufficient to electrocute -- you might imagine that such power turns society on it's head, and it is that upheaval that the novel follows. It's also set up a book-within-a-book, with far future citizens looking back at what would be our near future and arguing amongst themselves about what's true in their history. That very set up creates enough distance to make even the more violent scenarios of the internal story fascinating in context.

A friend of mine told me that there are two camps of people who read this book: those who think it should be viewed purely as a meditation on the absolute corruption of power (which, on many levels, it definitely is) and those who finish the book with the phrase "Burn it all down" on their lips. I leave you to decide which camp you are in, but I'm telling you that you need to read this book. The very last line of the very last far-future letter puts the entire novel in perspective -- when you read it, it will hit you. Amazing. Seriously.

31drneutron
Jul 13, 7:45pm Top

On my list... nice review!

32beserene
Jul 13, 11:46pm Top

Thanks!

33beserene
Jul 18, 7:40pm Top

So... not a book thing (I'm reading The Flats right now, which was written by a friend of mine and isn't exactly in my genre wheelhouse, so it's slow going) but I watched a movie today that I think everyone should go see: "Sorry to Bother You".

It's this brilliant and unsettling film that pushes you to think about your role in racism and late capitalism (and the intersections between the two), while at the same time managing to sit somewhere between near-future science fiction and horror in genre, replete with spot-on satire of current social trends and tolerances and the ways in which humans can spin just about anything to be "normal" as long as it's not challenging the dominance of white mainstream culture? I think?

It's also just freaking weird. And great, great filmmaking, with a really precise interaction between music and set pieces that prompt the audience to anticipate its twists and turns. So sharp.

Anyway, go see it, if you haven't already. At the least, it's this year's "Get Out" and, realistically, it's much more than that too.

34libraryperilous
Jul 18, 10:05pm Top

>30 beserene: I don't read dystopias, but I appreciated this thoughtful review. Thank you for writing it.

>29 beserene: I feel like this would have made a good Friends episode.

35norabelle414
Jul 19, 10:18am Top

>33 beserene: Ooh, that sounds great

36beserene
Jul 19, 11:41am Top

>34 libraryperilous: We could start our own sitcom about a group of people who struggle with Silent Book Club, lol

37beserene
Jul 19, 11:41am Top

>35 norabelle414: It's really worthwhile. I hope you get to see it too! I keep thinking about all the layers.

38libraryperilous
Jul 19, 11:58am Top

>36 beserene: Ha, yes! And it would be super popular and relatable with every bookworm everywhere, so we'd make oodles of money with which to buy more books. This plan. I like this plan.

39beserene
Jul 20, 10:02pm Top

>38 libraryperilous: Hollywood, here we come!

40beserene
Jul 27, 2:52pm Top

Book #29


The Flats by Kate Birdsall
Full disclosure: Kate Birdsall is a good friend of mine, one of my writing partners, in fact. So, ok, I'm biased. Also, contemporary procedural mystery is not my usual genre, so it's been an interesting read.

Detective Liz Boyle is still working through some serious trauma as the book opens. The narrative runs in first person throughout, so a lot of the most intriguing stuff of the book is to see Liz react to things and to get a clearer and clearer sense of how much she bullshits herself. The messed-up cop might be a trope, but this depiction is personal enough to feel genuine and compelling. Liz's relationships and screw-ups are foregrounded in ways that help the reader bond with her as a relatable POV character.

The mystery itself builds successfully, with tiny clues in the front of the book that I couldn't see clearly until the end. A bit of a twist, but with all the dots connected, makes for a pretty satisfying conclusion. While I'm not an expert in how contemporary mysteries are supposed to go, I liked the ending and the fact that things got nice and creepy in the last quarter of the book, taking a step up from just a step-by-step solve of the case.

By my measure, the prose is pretty stark, but I'm more used to the oft-florid phrasing of epic fantasy, so that might just be me. At times, Birdsall uses objects to flesh out more of Liz's character, but then doesn't seem to know what to do with them once they're in the scene. Even so, Liz is a complex character, a Philip Marlowe for the post-post-modern age, wanting to put on her tough cop veneer but crumbling and soft underneath like soaked drywall. It took me a while to settle in with her, but in the end I was very glad I did.

PS: Kate's writing the next Liz Boyle mystery right now, y'all. I'm looking forward to reading it!

41beserene
Jul 27, 2:57pm Top

Also PS: On a completely unrelated note, I've started reading Naomi Novik's new book, Spinning Silver and it is AMAZING so far! I just want to eat it all up, I swear, but I'm trying to pace myself.

42libraryperilous
Jul 28, 8:34am Top

I ran to the library on Tuesday New Release Day and grabbed the Novik. I haven't started it yet. Every time I walk past the shelf, I just want to hug the book while chanting, "Please be everything I think you'll be" over and over.

43beserene
Jul 28, 2:32pm Top

Oh it is SO good. I'm nearly finished with it already, because every time I tell myself to stop reading, it just pulls me back in for a few more chapters. It's been so long since I'd read Uprooted, I'd forgotten how the complexity of her narrative builds and builds over the course of each novel, so by the time you're in the last third of the book, there are all these voices and all these pieces that you're keeping track of... but not one of them feels unnecessary. Such good stuff!

44beserene
Edited: Jul 29, 10:22pm Top

Book #30


Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
For those who read Novik's Uprooted, this new novel in the fairy-tale style will feel familiar. The world here carries much the same tone and details, although both books stand alone. This time, however, the fairy tale origin is immediately apparent, as the novel is an expansion of Novik's Rumplestiltskin retelling that appeared in The Starlit Wood, an anthology of modern-spun fairy and folk tales. Here, as in that story, Novik reclaims the core ideas of Rumplestiltskin, addresses the racist overtones of the traditional tale, and creates something deeper and more beautiful in doing so.

That Novik weaves in more than one tale and more than one voice as the book progresses should surprise no one. Those voices, in fact, are one of the most impressive things about her writing. Starting with three POV characters -- young women, each of whom might be a fairy tale heroine in her own right -- the book teases out each story and perspective with slow care, adding in related voices unexpectedly but beautifully. By the time the book ends, we the readers have seen the story from at least six different viewpoints, not one of which feels unnecessary.

And there, in essence, is the power of this book; it is complex but not a bit of it feels difficult or overwrought. Every line of story weaves through the others with elegant connection, driving the reader from page to page but never making one feel rushed. Even so, I wanted to devour this book whole, the way a certain demon within it wants to devour... well, just about everybody, and had to hold myself back from tearing through it faster than the book itself wanted to go. The final paragraph made me weep, in all the best ways.

What else can I tell you? If you liked Novik's previous work, you're going to like this. If you haven't experienced her rich worldbuilding and magnificent character development yet, I encourage you to give this a try. To be quite frank, I could've simply written a two-word review of this book: READ IT. Because it is that wonderful.

45libraryperilous
Aug 1, 7:44pm Top

Haha, great review. I've seen more than one review mention the final sentence of the book—and how perfect it is. Can't wait to read it myself. I just need a few more days to prepare mentally for it.

Apropos of our conversation about the joys of reading, I thought you would find this NBC article interesting: Getting lost in a book is good for you.

46beserene
Aug 2, 2:48pm Top

I had just read that article myself! It's a good one. Thanks for sharing and I hope you're ready for the Novik soon -- I'd love to know what you think!

47beserene
Aug 15, 10:55pm Top

Book #31


Everfair by Nisi Shawl
This is not an easy novel to read. It took me two weeks, reading with care and patience and, frankly, sometimes needing to take a break. But it is worth the heavy-going. Shawl's careful historicism, the details clear and real even in the context of the alternate history she is writing, makes the weight of the novel evident from the beginning. Her formal and sometimes even academic prose might put off a reader who comes to the book expecting the breezy adventure that the "steampunk" label implies.

This is a very different kind of steampunk. Where other novels in the subgenre often ignore questions of colonialism and empire, Shawl focuses her, and our, attention on the imperially-founded mass murders and mass exploitation that took place in the Congo in the late 1800s. Her characters are a mix of native, European, and American people of varying colors, each of whom has a perspective and a stake in overthrowing or escaping the colonial enterprise and its violence. But, as with history, nothing in the novel is simple; relationships form and fall apart much like colonies or intended utopias, and the book follows those efforts with measured care. The book's pace -- which leaps over significant stretches of time from chapter to chapter, particularly in the first half, making each chapter feel almost like an isolated episode rather than a piece of a larger narrative -- may thwart many readers. There is no whirlwind of adventure here; instead, the slow unfolding of espionage, religious conversion, machine-building -- a kind of cross between steampunk thriller and a Ken Burns historical documentary is the resulting tone.

Though the airships and mechanical wonders of steampunk are present, it takes time and patience to get to them, and their inspiration comes from violence rather than mere whimsy. Mechanical arms, for example, become necessary because the all-too-historically-real representatives of King Leopold of Belgium tend to chop off the hands of children. Shawl does not hesitate to sink the reader into those details and more, making the reading of the book at times uncomfortable. But sticking with it rewards the careful reader with a lot to think about and more to appreciate. Impeccable research, thoughtful and oh-so-human characters, and a strong awareness of culture make this book stick with you long after you've closed the covers. In truth, Shawl has blown open what steampunk can really be. This is a serious book and one that I honestly expect will only become more significant with time.

48beserene
Aug 25, 2:31pm Top

Book #32


The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
I'd read this book when it came out last year, but never reviewed it, so this time around was a reread for me and I must say it does hold up well. Some of the surprise is gone, especially when it comes to the novelty of the narrative style -- the book is peppered with character commentary that both adds to and unsettles the progression of the plot, and that is slightly less effective when you know what's coming -- but the characterizations and intrigue remain strong and the whole premise is still sheer delight.

In essence, this book is The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, wherein the "daughters" -- some by birth, some created in experiments, all slightly different than your average gentlewoman of the Victorian age -- of famous literary characters meet up with each other and begin to solve a series of mysteries.

The largest mystery of all is, of course, their own creation: Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Beatrice Rappaccini must work together to discover why they were experimented upon in the first place. But that mystery is bigger than this one volume and so the sequel is next up.

Truly, I love this book. It is precisely in my wheelhouse: chock-full of literary references, character asides, a certain skewering fondness when it comes to Victorian sensibilities and society, and plenty of literally and figuratively strong women. Anyone with the least familiarity with classic literature will enjoy the book; anyone with a strong wish that classic literature had had more agency for women will positively cheer. Highly recommended.

49beserene
Aug 25, 2:39pm Top

PS: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter really does get richer the more you have engaged with 19th century literature, but it is worth reading even if you haven't, by any woman especially. There is a note at the end, which I will not fully spoil, but which references Mary Shelley and the idea of women speaking in their own voices and looking out for each other, which really made me cry on the first reading. Goss is quite deliberate with her themes and, to be honest, I think that makes this book really beautiful.

I'm halfway through the sequel right now. At 700 pages, it's half again the size of the first and quite the brick all together, but so far so good!

50libraryperilous
Aug 28, 5:08pm Top

Goss' book was one of my favorite reads last year. It's one of the most honest, kindest depictions of female friendships I can recall reading.

It also was the book that comforted me the most post-election, in a way that even A Gentleman in Moscow and my annual holiday reread of LotR hadn't been able to do.

Goss is quite deliberate with her themes

She talks a little bit more about those themes in this interview with the LA public library.

51beserene
Aug 29, 10:38pm Top

Oh I completely agree with you about the way the book shows female friendship -- it's so clear how important those relationships are in the book, which is so rare. And so refreshing that the little crushes and romances are acknowledged, but never centered, because the book is clear that romantic relationships need not be the focus of female life. That's even more true in the second book -- have you read it yet? Because it's lovely!

And yes, comforting... that's probably why it was one of the only books I read last year at all. Thanks for the interview! Excellent stuff!

52beserene
Edited: Aug 29, 11:00pm Top

Book #33


European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
I cannot fully express how much I love the Athena Club. I can only say that I wish we had had such books when I was a kid -- perhaps I would not have felt so monstrous myself growing up, or at least not so alone.

This sequel picks up where its predecessor left off, which is to say a few months after a certain dramatic rescue and only a short while after the arrival of a certain mysterious telegram. Mysterious telegrams, in fact, abound in this particular volume, which finds our gang of monstrous females traveling not just around England, but all the way to Budapest in order to rescue a fellow experiment. Along the way, there are kidnappings and fires and plenty of snacks, just as anyone who has read the previous installment might expect.

The series carries on with its experiments in narrative style, with character intrusions and commentary in and on the narrative itself, often peppering humor and insight in with the plot twists. In this particular book, those insertions are often joking and unsubtle foreshadowing of the coming events, as well as the occasional breaking of tension. Nothing here is meant to be purely logical, so those who don't care for such interruptions may be better off with a more straightforward book, but those thinking of reading this probably already know what they're in for.

Indeed, those asides are indicative of the book's greater point: the emotional growth of our central characters and the development of their relationships as a club of young women in a world that too often underestimates and limits young women. The bonds between these characters are the most important part of the book; in reading their interactions, one does feel enveloped in the warmth of their emotions and, indeed, less alone than perhaps one did when one started.

Add to that the delicious period details, the familiar literary guest-stars, and the thoroughly modern attitude, and you have a book that speaks to my readerly soul. Seriously. I love all 700 pages of it. That's it and that's all.

53beserene
Edited: Aug 29, 11:10pm Top

Apparently I am the first person to review the above book on LB. How odd! I don't think that's ever happened to me before!

ETA: This is really blowing my mind. Hey, you all need to read this! I think anyone who appreciates the Lady Trent books would also enjoy Theodora Goss. I'm gonna start pushing these books on people, I swear!

54norabelle414
Aug 30, 9:12am Top

>53 beserene: You got me with the first one!

55beserene
Aug 30, 11:43am Top

>54 norabelle414: Excellent! I think you'll really like them!

56ronincats
Edited: Sep 1, 9:30pm Top

I've just started Spinning Silver, Sarah, and expect to like it as much as I liked Uprooted.

I ended up skimming the second half of Everfair. The historical elements were important and essential, but I just couldn't care enough about the characters to immerse myself in the story. And that's why I skimmed to the end, to see if that changed. I agree with what you have said but it was a DNF for me.

And I've taken book bullets for >48 beserene: and >52 beserene:. I think I will really like both of these.

57leahbird
Sep 2, 1:51pm Top

I finished Spinning Silver a few days ago and did love it as much as I hoped. I listened to the audiobook (the only way anything is ever getting finished by me these days) and it was great. I didn't have any problem with the shifting narration.

My hold for The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter should be coming up soon and I'm looking forward to listening to it even more now!

58beserene
Sep 4, 1:07pm Top

>56 ronincats: I can't blame you for not feeling connected to the Everfair characters, Roni -- I didn't either. I think the formality of the book really put a distance between the readers and the events that was hard to move past. Understandable DNF. But yay for Spinning Silver! It's SO GOOD. And so are the Goss books. I'm so glad you're going to read them! I think they will be right up your alley for sure!

>57 leahbird: Audio totally counts! I bet Spinning Silver is really good read out loud, too. Here's hoping the Goss is equally good in audio -- I'd be very curious to know how they do the character asides/interruptions in the audio version!

I haven't picked anything else up since the second Goss book. Am currently debating between Dread Nation and An Unkindness of Ghosts, or perhaps something more lighthearted because I still have a little bit of an oppression hangover from reading Everfair, so maybe a quick Tor.com novella? I could reread the Matt Wallace Sin Du Jour series, but I haven't read any books by dudes all year and I kinda like that streak. Can't decide, therefore reading has halted. Oh, the joy of my overthinking brain! Any and all votes toward a decision are welcome!

59libraryperilous
Sep 5, 10:45am Top

Have you read the Murderbot novellas yet? Those are super fun!

I finished European Travel yesterday and loved it. I especially liked the expansion of the friendship circle. It reminded me of Lumberjanes in that regard. Also, I love that Goss is committed to making the men, even the good ones, as drippy as possible.

Also also: MORIARTY!!!!!!!! (yay!). Like, duh, and I was extremely hopeful, especially b/c of the spider web comment, but, reader, I *cheered*.

60beserene
Sep 5, 1:56pm Top

I KNOW! I'm so excited about that particular *spoiler*! I mean, obviously I was going to read all future installments anyway, but now I especially am! lol

And I hadn't thought about it before, but I do see the connection to Lumberjanes -- I love those comics as well. What an excellent time for female friendships in literature!

I have not yet read the Murderbot series -- they are on my wishlist. But I am leaning toward a novella. Nothing seems to be catching my eye this week, so maybe I'll just finally order those!

My fear is, of course, that I'll drift back into the habit of not-reading, like last year, so I think I'm psyching myself out a little bit. I should just grab whatever is on the top of the stack and start reading. It's sometimes a little hard to do that after a book you really love, however, because nothing you read next will be quite as good as that. This sounds completely ridiculous now that I'm typing it out, though.

First world problems ftw!

61beserene
Sep 10, 1:08pm Top

Aaand 5 days later, I just read the first Murderbot book and holy shit it's amazing! In fact, it's...

Book #34


All Systems Red by Martha Wells
All the buzz and awards (*cough*HUGO*coughcough*) this has been getting are, frankly, well-deserved. On the surface, this novella is the story of a cybernetic construct, part cloned-organic and part technological-robot, who has technically gone rogue, in its own quiet way, and just wants to be left alone.

But, for real, the book is about being a person. Murderbot, as it semi-ironically calls itself, is all of us who sit by ourselves and feel isolated and tell ourselves we don't like people anyway. It's anyone who has social anxiety. It's every person who has wanted to disappear in a crowded room.

And it's freaking great. The whole novella, told from Murderbot's perspective, is fast-paced and occasionally brutal, but not so much as to make one deeply uncomfortable. Instead, the intriguing discomfort comes from Murderbot's own frank observations of humanity and itself. The shift of its emotions are the real plot here and, as a person, I could completely relate to every single moment except for the actual murdery bits. (There aren't as many as you might think.)

I can't really explain this book except to say that it's one of the most inventive and most human science fiction stories I've come across in a long time. Thanks to everyone who recommended and now I'm off to read the next one!

62drneutron
Sep 10, 2:33pm Top

I keep meaning to get to the Murderbot books, but I have this huuuge pile of TBRs I'm trying to get through. One day soon...

63beserene
Sep 10, 9:19pm Top

Honestly, they read so quickly you should just move them right up the stack. I think this first one took me all of an hour. Lunch break reading, perhaps? :)

64libraryperilous
Edited: Sep 10, 9:52pm Top

Yay! I'm glad you liked Murderbot. And I agree, the best part of the book is Wells' insistence that Murderbot doesn't have to be or identify as human to be deserving of autonomy, respect, and kindness.

Also, re: the Athena Club books, I can't wait for the third book, but I fear we shall never hear the tale of Prince Rupert and the paste diamonds he paid them. I thought so in the first volume as well, but the second volume solidified my feeling: He's their Giant Rat of Sumatra.

Also also, I finally read Spinning Silver and OH MY. Perfection. That last line. My heart. And its timely messages, of course, which I just want to bang over the heads of every idiotic Labour member who thinks Corbyn's anti-Semitism doesn't matter because he's not a "real" anti-Semite.

It's sometimes a little hard to do that after a book you really love, however, because nothing you read next will be quite as good as that. This sounds completely ridiculous now that I'm typing it out, though.

No, no. This happens to me frequently, too, and it sometimes takes a few days to recover. Other times, I can't wait to sink my teeth into the next one in hopes I'll love it as much! I also hug my books, sometimes, so ...

>62 drneutron: It'll only take you about an hour and a half for each one. Of course, you might like the first one well enough to read the next two ... :)

65beserene
Sep 12, 8:05pm Top

I have, in fact, just read the next two Murderbot books! They are also amazing.

But now I have to WAIT because the last one isn't out yet?!! What the heck!

>64 libraryperilous: So glad you liked Spinning Silver too. It's such a magnificent book all the way through, but yes, that last line is just. so. perfect. I kind of want to read it again already.

Tragically, I quite agree that we may never know exactly how nefarious Prince Rupert really is. But, at least we can hope that the forthcoming adventures will be delights in their own right.

Except, of course, for the WAITING part. I don't like that part. Can I have all the books right now, please? That would be great.

66beserene
Sep 12, 8:20pm Top

Book #35


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
Very nearly as good as the first one, this sequel novella gives us more of what we love -- Murderbot, figuring out more ways to pretend not to care -- and someone new to love -- ART, a transport vessel with both an attitude AND obviously a heart of gold -- and so is another surprisingly charming, delightfully awkward, and altogether enjoyable piece of sci-fi action. The only challenge I had with this one is that the action seemed all too easy, but that might simply be because of the heightened stakes of the previous volume. Overall, wonderful!

Book #36


Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
Aaand more Murderbot! I love every one of these sci-fi novellas and this one is just as brutal, emotional, delightful, and engaging as the previous installments. If anything, this one moved even faster and yet in very satisfying ways toward the larger conclusion of the whole series -- but then, we cut off with a hint of what's next and have to WAIT until October for the final book! Ack! More Murderbot, please!

67beserene
Sep 18, 9:32pm Top

I'm finishing the second of Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut novels. They are lovely and earnest and all together enjoyable. I'll write more about them later. Here's a thing I'm noticing, though: there is just some AMAZING sff out by women right now. I've got a stack of books I want to read next and there is not a dude amongst them.

Not that there isn't plenty of good stuff by dudes out there, but I really think sff is in the midst of a renaissance when it comes to the quality and quantity being produced by women. I can't even tell you how happy I am about that!

*off to read more hardcore lady-type stuff*

68ronincats
Sep 18, 9:51pm Top

113 to 28--that's my ratio of female to male authors read this year, and most of it fairly new stuff. I hear ya!

69drneutron
Sep 19, 10:14am Top

Agreed - there's some great stuff out these days by women authors, especially in the sf arena. Almost all the sf books I'm reading these days are by women.

70libraryperilous
Sep 21, 11:49am Top

>68 ronincats: NICE ratio. Love it.

I'm waiting for the library to order the second Lady Mars novel before I start the first one. Still waiting ... drumming fingers ... really waiting over here

One thing I would like to see more of—and maybe I just need some good recs— is more hard sci-fi by women, especially WOC.

71drneutron
Sep 22, 9:36am Top

Two that I’ve read this year: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor and An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon.

72beserene
Sep 23, 8:07pm Top

>70 libraryperilous: I just started reading An Unkindness of Ghosts and am finding it really interesting, so I second that recommendation as well as the one for Binti, which is a very short novella but really cool. And it has two sequels! Hooray!

I assume you've read Ann Leckie, including and especially her Imperial Radch series? Have you also read Planetfall by Emma Newman? That's an extraordinary book for the way it deals with mental illness, but is also good planetary exploration sci-fi.

A couple of other new sf things on my TBR list: Nancy Kress has expanded an award-winning novella into a whole trilogy/series, starting with Tomorrow's Kin and that should be pretty good stuff -- I just picked it up. Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series isn't strictly HARD sf -- it's actually humanistic futurism with a heavy dash of someone's degree in Enlightenment-era French literature -- but I hear it's well worth reading, so I bought those from my fave bargain books website. Similarly, Malka Older's Infomocracy is moving up my list, as is Annalee Newitz's Autonomous, both of which are future-set political sf-thrillers, involving robotics, AI, etc.

So, I hope some of these are up your alley too. :)

73beserene
Sep 23, 8:10pm Top

>68 ronincats: That is an excellent ratio. :)

>71 drneutron: Awesome recs, Jim. You and I appear to be sympatico in our reading! Not only was I just starting the Solomon book, but I also just added Binti to my reread list so that I can get to the other two in the series, Binti: Home and Binti: The Night Masquerade. I hope they are as good as the first!

74figsfromthistle
Sep 23, 9:34pm Top

Your excellent review of The power made me immediately order it. Can't wait to read it!

75beserene
Sep 23, 10:10pm Top

>74 figsfromthistle: Thanks! I hope it lands for you the way it did for me -- such an extraordinary book.

76beserene
Sep 23, 10:41pm Top

Book #37


The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
The first full novel in the Lady Astronaut series, which began with the wonderful novellette "The Lady Astronaut of Mars", this book is a thoughtful alternate history of the space program, one which imagines what might have happened in the mid-twentieth century if North America had been struck by an extinction-level meteorite. Would we, perhaps, have saved humanity by taking them to the stars? Kowal imagines that moment, accelerating the space program and imagining the latter half of the 1900s as a wholly different kind of space race, all while maintaining the character of the period.

If you've read Kowal before, you'll know her reputation for exquisite research and her knack for fitting the fantastic -- or, in this case, the futuristic -- neatly into a time period without disturbing its nature. This book once again showcases her gift. Our main character, Dr. Elma York, encounters the same challenges and characteristics of the 1950s that happened in the real world -- post-war prejudice is alive and well in the novel, for example. Dr. York, a human calculator at the novel's version of NASA, struggles with sexism, cultural ignorance toward her own Jewish heritage, and other such issues still common today. She also struggles with her own personal prejudices and puts her foot in it more than once as the novel progresses, eventually having to face her own mistakes and assumptions even as she takes steps toward breaking the glass ceiling that prevents women from becoming astronauts.

In a move becoming -- thank goodness -- more and more common in literature today, Kowal has given her main character another struggle: mental illness. In this case, Elma has severe anxiety -- and the portrayal of both her outward symptoms and her inner struggle feel authentic and exceptionally human, a well-handled and sympathetic portrayal that may ring bells for readers. (Kowal kindly puts a note at the end of the book, encouraging those readers for whom the descriptions ring particularly true, to seek help and know they aren't alone.) And, lest you think our main character's life is all struggle, we are also treated to a wonderful depiction of a healthy -- very healthy, in fact -- marriage between Dr. York and her husband, Dr. York. Kowal brings out the humanity and the genuine love of their relationship with the same deftness she brings to all her characters.

The opening salvo of the novel is breathless, intense, and so engaging you won't want to stop reading. It's a well-crafted first act, so much so that the slower pace of the rest of the novel sometimes fails to compare. That and its occasional over-earnestness, though, are the only complaints I can muster, and it's hardly a flaw to have an opening so extraordinary that it makes the rest of the book look merely very good by comparison. And that earnest tone is perfectly appropriate for a novel that makes use of its time period both factually and by reputation. Kowal masterfully combines frankness with nostalgia in her setting and does right by the era by including the many different voices that were active in the space program at the time.

Overall, this is a wonderful book, full of very real references and yet soaring with imagination when it comes to what might have been. An enjoyable read, even in the moments where one is breathless with the shock of large-scale destruction or cringing at the familiar flaws of the characters. An excellent read all around.

Book #38


The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
I have to say, I think the sequel might be even better than the first book in this alternate history series. All the things that I loved about the previous installment -- the exceptional attention to mid-twentieth century period detail, the honesty of Kowal's representation of characters and their cultural experiences, her sympathetic characterizations and especially her treatment of mental illness, her evident appreciation for the science of space -- are all still here. The science of space, in fact, is even more abundant in this book, as we follow our heroine, Dr. Elma York, to the moon and beyond! But, better and better, here we get more even pacing, with a book that builds beautifully to its central adventure and doesn't let up until an ending to cheer for. An elegant structure and a fantastic second act for Dr. York's story.

All I can really say is that I was delighted to hear that there are more books coming in the Lady Astronaut universe and I plan to read every single one. I think you should too.

77libraryperilous
Sep 25, 7:43pm Top

Thanks for the recs, drneutron and beserene. It sounds like part of my problem is that my definition of hard sci-fi has been too rigid. And, these all sound like great titles to try. I really liked Leckie's series, but perhaps a reread is in order.

There are more Lady Astronaut books coming?!?! Huzzah!

78beserene
Sep 25, 9:57pm Top

Huzzah indeed!!!

79beserene
Sep 25, 10:04pm Top

PS: The various subgenres of SF can be tricky to pin down. If you by "hard sf" you mean the strictly science-based tech-focused extrapolation story, then that's a little thin on the ground lately. In part, I think that's because SF has been opening up to a lot of cross-genre exploration, which I appreciate because it results in extrapolative stories that are mostly interested in people and culture and our relationships to science and technology and, consequently, a very human future. In SF, I tend a lot more toward Ursula K. LeGuin than I do toward, say, Larry Niven or Asimov. So I guess my "hard" SF is still pretty soft, lol, and that might give a little context to my recommendations. But I think there's a lot of good stuff out there, either way. :)

80ronincats
Sep 25, 10:45pm Top

I will definitely have to try this new Kowal series, Sarah, as I liked her Glamourist series.

81tapestry100
Sep 26, 12:51pm Top

I'm going to pop in here for a hot minute and also offer my recommendation for The Lady Astronaut books. I'm not quite done with The Fated Sky yet, but The Calculating Stars was sensational and TFS is proving to be just as amazing. Like Sarah says, I'm fairly certain I'm enjoying the sequel better than the first.

I've been listening to the audio, which is narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, and her performances is spot in. I just finished a particularly moving chapter last night and had to sit in my car for a moment when I got home last night and have a good cry. These books are a solid reminder on how strong a writer she MRK is.

82beserene
Sep 26, 9:33pm Top

>80 ronincats: Yay! I think you'll like them!

>81 tapestry100: Hi honey! Thanks for seconding the rec!

83beserene
Sep 26, 9:46pm Top

My friend Randi and I both had the day off today, so we did a cinema movie marathon, most of which ended up being movies based on books. My takes:

"The Wife" = definite Oscar-bait, with Glenn Close turning in a masterful performance (that woman squints her left eye and I swear to god it speaks volumes!) and Christian Slater in a remarkably good supporting role; as expected, full of understated drama and a lot of white people. Didn't realize until the end that this was based on a Meg Wolitzer novel -- can't decide if I want to read it or not, now -- unless Glenn Close narrates it or something.

"Searching" = unexpectedly compelling story, helped by an innovative structure (the whole movie is told through social media and online video) and John Cho, who makes you believe every minute. Not my fave way to make a movie, but I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Unexpected ending ratcheted up the drama and my appreciation.

"A Simple Favor" = definitely my favorite of the day, Paul Feig's seriously stylish meta-noir is absolutely a bright spot, with all kinds of good twists and self-aware humor that lightens the missing persons mystery but doesn't spoil the wicked awesome atmosphere. And holy crap everyone in this dang movie is BEEEEYOUTIFUL.

84libraryperilous
Oct 2, 6:53pm Top

>79 beserene: Yeah, I'm really looking for the female version of Greg Egan, although I hold out hope he's a Tiptree anyway. But I appreciate the recs and it's a good reminder I should expand my definitions when I say things like, "I can't find anything in this subgenre to read!"

>83 beserene: Oooh, a cinema movie marathon! Awesome, sounds like tons of fun.

85beserene
Oct 9, 1:28pm Top

Book #39


An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
This science fiction novel takes place in a far human future, aboard a generation ship that has already been traveling for several hundred years, and still human beings subjugate, abuse, and marginalize people of darker skin. Some have said that the circumstances of the novel echo the Antebellum South, which is true, but attentive readers will find much that echoes our current American conflicts as well.

The ways in which cultures evolve, and their language evolves with them, gets acknowledged early on in the novel; the decks of the great ship are culturally divided, divisions which have advanced over hundreds of years as linguistic differences have grown within the insular spaces of individual decks and wings, just as they have done in regions and countries. Solomon asks us to pay attention to those cultural markers, especially the significance of language, as we follow our protagonist through the mystery of her mother's earlier death and her own navigation through the rigid social boundaries on the ship itself. Aster, the focal character of the book, has her own way of speaking but also code-switches as she moves from deck to deck and culture to culture, out of necessity as well as identity. She is a fascinating character; in today's world, she might have been classified as somewhere on some spectrum, but in her world she is simply unique, for better or for worse.

Aster is a doctor and a scientist, but officially she is merely a field hand, because of her skin tone. The ways in which she chafes against the roles that others force on her resonates, as does her eventual rejection of those imposed limits, though that rebellion has unexpected consequences. Those who are looking for a straightforward space story, with clean lines and a victorious ending, may not enjoy this book. It isn't an easy read -- parts of it are frank and brutal, within a narrative that slides from one idea to another with little warning -- but it is a rewarding one, granting the determined reader much food for thought, much recognition, and its own sometimes ambiguous beauty. For those who like their science fiction fresh, thoughtful, and self-aware, this is an excellent book.

86leahbird
Oct 10, 10:45pm Top

That sounds great!

87beserene
Oct 11, 12:39pm Top

It was really amazing. Heads-up: there are some triggery moments, but well worth reading, I'd say. A truly unique piece of sci-fi.

88brodiew2
Oct 11, 2:46pm Top

Cool thread, beserene! I had fun reading your reviews. There is a lot of love floating around the 75ers fors for Spinning Silver. Though it is not my normal genre, I may have to look into an audio addition. Dropping a star. :-)

89beserene
Oct 11, 3:28pm Top

Thanks, brodie! And welcome! I really hope you get Spinning Silver -- so far, it's probably my top read for the year and one of the best things I've read in several. SO... yeah... all that love is for real! :)

Have a fantastic day!

90beserene
Edited: Oct 11, 3:34pm Top


ALSO, have y'all watched the new Doctor Who yet? Because I already love this new crew of people.

91norabelle414
Oct 11, 3:36pm Top

I'm going to see it in the movie theater in *checks watch* four hours!

92brodiew2
Oct 11, 3:44pm Top

>90 beserene: Watched on Sunday. Great pic you chose here. I love the grandpa and look forward to some bonding with his grandson. I also really enjoyed 13. She is definitely The Doctor. I can't wait for her to be reunite the 'her ship'!

93beserene
Oct 11, 8:52pm Top

>91 norabelle414: AAAHHHH!!! I'm super jealous and also super excited for you, Nora! How fun!

>92 brodiew2: I am so excited to see her in the TARDIS and to see what the new TARDIS looks like, too! I had to watch the first episode twice to really get all the pieces, but she's really inhabiting the role well already, I agree. So much good stuff ahead!

94leahbird
Oct 13, 10:41pm Top

I liked but didn't LOVE the episode, but I LOVE LOVE LOVED Jodie as The Doctor. Like, so much freaking love. She's so handy and maker-y! She made her own sonic screwdriver!!! (I'm trying to ignore the fact that it looks a bit too much like a vibrator hahahahahaha ;) ) I can't wait to see how her episodes progress.

95beserene
Oct 13, 11:41pm Top

Sames, Leah. I liked the episode better on second watch, but I loved all the people immediately! And, yeah, I kinda noticed that issue with the sonic too. ;)

But hey, a girl needs her tools!

96beserene
Yesterday, 5:34pm Top

Book #40


Exit Strategy by Martha Wells
The fourth and final Murderbot novella will make you wish there were more Murderbot novellas. Wells does an excellent job of bringing things full circle, as Murderbot reunites with the characters from the first installment and, while we don't know everything about our main character's future by the end, we do have a nice sense of closure. And, in the in-between, there is much mayhem and action and the series' characteristic dry, dark, and often awkward humor. If you've been reading these books all along, I don't need to tell you to read this one -- you already know.

97beserene
Yesterday, 5:38pm Top

Also, I've hit 40 books! I know it's not 75 -- I don't think I'll hit anything close to 75 this year -- but it's more books than I read in 2016 and 2017 combined, so I'm pretty happy about that. My goal is maybe close to 50 (?) by the very end of the year, but I'm already counting this as a win, because I'm back to reading regularly. Yay!

98norabelle414
Yesterday, 5:43pm Top

YAY 40 books!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2018

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