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I just started listening to Storm Front on audio, and I'm enjoying it a lot. However, I'm having to pretend it's set in an alternate universe, because the Chicago that Jim Butcher is writing about--with its "midtown" and "10th street" and rent of less than $500 a month--bears no resemblance to the one I inhabit. It's an interesting town and I'm looking forward to reading more about it, but it doesn't exist in this here dimension. Of course, since vampires and faeries and whatnot don't exist here either, I suppose it's all of a piece.

ETA: There's a nice article about the Dresden/Butcher version of Chicago over here, featuring some interesting links to not-well-known underground places. I've been walking in the pedways and it really is like a weird other world in there.
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Ok, I'm finally catching up with the rest of the crowd and reading a steampunk book.  I'm enjoying it, but - okay - if the purpose of your particular special eyewear is to let you look through special lenses, rather to protect your eyes from harm, why oh why are they goggles instead of glasses?  And why is everybody else in town also wearing goggles instead of glasses? Is metal and metalwork free or something? Are noses and ears made out of bone, in this alternate reality, instead of cartilage, so the extra weight is no biggie? 
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Jenna at The Chronicles of Munchkinland has started a cool reading challenge for 2011 - you can read about it over here.  I'm just doing level one (3 books) because these days I count it as a good year if I manage to read 10 whole books.

For those interested in doing it and looking for a good starting point, I highly recommend The Kid by Dan Savage.  I'm not sure what I'll start with--I've been wanting to buy Lois Malina's The Open Adoption Experience for a while now (I like her Raising Adopted Children quite a lot) so I may go for that, but I'm more in the mood for a memoir at the moment, so maybe I'll look in that direction instead.

If anyone can recommend a book about international open adoption, I'd be delighted--I haven't found one yet. Most adoptions are still one or the other (open or international), seldom both.  Ours isn't technically international but it's not strictly domestic either.
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I dislike most of P.D. James' characters--some mildly, some passionately. And the disability fail in The Black Tower is so bad* I don't know if it can even be called a fail, since to fail at something sort of implies that you tried in the first place. At the same time, even her most loathesome and/or pathetic characters have agency, and she spends time developing them as people (loathesome people) instead of leaving them as archetypes. And the reason I keep returning to her is that--with the exception of the atrocious Innocent Blood and maybe some I haven't read yet--she crafts really terrific mystery plots. They're full of interesting clues that keep me guessing but generally don't actually let me figure out who did it. This may be because, when every character is basically a sociopath, it's impossible to say that any of them isn't a murderer. But she also seems to have a particular knack for showing important structural bones of the plot as clues, without showing any of the connections to the other structural bones.

I still find Dalgliesh to be an insufferable wet blanket, and his puppy-eyed staff followers to be whiny little suck-ups. And I'm still pissed that her not-a-mystery The Children of Men never bothered to explain the cause behind its central event (all the men become infertile for no reason) or the cause behind its resolution, which is cheating when judged as SF, but doubly cheating when considering that she's a mystery writer by trade. And I'm tired of reading about people who don't love their children, parents, spouses, or friends. But right now I'm 4/5 of the way through Original Sin, and wow! It's an absolutely crackerjack whodunnit, and I'm annoyed that I can't simply sit and read it at work, because it's got me completely hooked.

Still, I may have to re-read a Ngaio Marsh, in which people fall in love and end happily despite that beastly murder business, or a Sayers, in which everyone is charming, including the murderer, before I go on to another James.

*it's set in a private facility for disabled and chronically ill people, and many words are spent on how disgusting disability and illness are.
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I held off reading The White Company for the longest time because somehow I'd gotten in my head that it was a Famous Racist Thing along the lines of Birth of a Nation.  I was pleased to discover, in the course of research, that I was mistaken, and more pleased to discover what a fun book it is.  Which is not to say it contains no racism; for the most part everyone who appears in it is white (it's set in the 14th century, in England, France and Spain), but early in the book the main hero is set upon by a couple of thieves in the woods, one of whom is black, and both of whom are guy first, white guy with much more ceremony.   And there are various references to those rascally Moors.  Overall it's about what you expect of Doyle--black and brown people, when mentioned, are exotic and sometimes also low--but it doesn't have any murderous Pygmies or wicked Lascars, so it's better than some of the Holmes canon.

The story follows a couple of ex-novices who leave a monastery to make their way in the world--one noble naif and one rough country fellow--in England in 1366, during the Hundred Years' War.  They meet up with a lusty archer and the foppish-yet-valiant knight he follows, and off everyone goes to Europe to fight in Spain's civil war.  Various historical figures make appearances, and basically everything a person might want to see in a historical adventure of this period happens, and happens in an entertaining way.  Fighting pirates at sea, being beseiged in a castle, dueling on a riverbank, jousting with a mystery knight, young love, wrestling contests, rock climbing, archery contests, disgruntled peasants, and bear wrangling are all featured, along with philosophical discussions of the place of religion in people's lives and how the times they are a'changing. 

The protagonist is likeable, but is kind of a straightforward nice guy; I think this is necessary, though, because he's traveling with three really quirky characters, the sort that Doyle excels at creating, and he changes and grows up in the course of the story.  The action scenes are cracking, and the political and historical commentary is interesting.  The book (originally published in 1891) has an interesting mix of traditional and progressive views--war is good and noble, peasants are cheerful and loyal *if* they are treated properly, but are brutal and viscious if mistreated; women are essential to the happiness of men, but because of their brains and talents, instead of for their beauty or purity.  And there's a very pointed speech about the future belonging to the ordinary working man and his family, not to the church.  Oh, and while one woman is briefly threatened with being forced into a marriage, there is no raping of anybody in this book, unlike so many contemporary books set in similar environs.

The audiobook is available on, and I enjoyed the reading quite a bit, despite one character saying his Rs as Ws, which I thought would be irritating but wasn't.  The reader does a particularly good job with the character of Aylward, who's always saying "by my hilt!" and "by my ten fingerbones!" and suchlike.  I think the book is available in e-book format for free, too, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes AC Doyle or old-fashioned historical novels.
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I'm reading a free sample of Villette on my Kindle. I don't remember when I decided to try it, and am puzzled as to why I did, since I hate Jane Eyre with the fire of a thousand firey things. But there it is, so I'm reading the first bit.

The little girl is the creepiest child in all of fiction. It doesn't say how old she is, but since she has a crib I'm guessing...five or younger, possibly around three, since she's "tiny?" But she talks like she's 25, and acts...really weird.

Naturally my brain has come up with a working explanation for this. "Oh, I see," says my brain, "she's a vampire! Well, this will be an interesting book."

I fear my brain is mistaken.
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From the publisher's blurb for a book of vintage erotic photography: "This is a book to relax with and enjoy over and over again."
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Ok, I've only read about 100 p of the Twilight Saga, but I do encounter reviews and synopses.  So, tell me, internets: do those vampires seriously have to go to high school over and over and over and over for eternity, in order to maintain their cover story?  Because oh my GAWD.
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Recent reads:

I trusted all of y'all and went ahead and read Memory despite my bad reaction to Mirror Dance. And y'all were right! It was excellent and mostly Mark-free. I really love Miles' relationships with Illyan and with Gregor, so this was a real treat, with a good mystery and a lot of interesting nuance.  Then I toddled along and read Komarr and liked that one quite a lot, too.

Then I skimmed around A Civil Affair Campaign a bit, and it seems to have large quantities of Mark, bugs, and romance--bleah.  Don't get me wrong, I like love stories, particularly when they're shoehorned into other genres, a la Dorothy Sayers or Ngaio Marsh.  I don't generally like love stories that are structured like romance, though. Sigh.   I think I might be more interested in reading it if I read some Georgette Heyer first, since it's an homage, and it's possible that I'll turn out to like Heyer. Recs?

Before this burst of Bujold reading, though, I read Terry Pratchett's The Color of Magic as a bit of a post-Mirror Dance unicorn chaser.  It was quite delightful--like Douglas Adams, but with structure and narrative purpose and more entertaining (to me) characters.  The luggage, of course, being my favorite.  Anyway, everyone on Earth but me has read piles of Pratchett, so you all know this already, but there it is. I'll read more soon.  The audiobook is extremely well-read, but I initially found it kind of boring, because the book strikes me as sort of a madcap romp that works best with the faster pace of reading-on-paper (well, on Kindle, in my case) than the more ponderous read-aloud pace.   Once I'd gotten about halfway into the book I did enjoy the audiobook quite a lot, though.
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When your characters sit around on couches for an entire chapter discussing what kind of people they are, and what kind of person or archetype each of your other main characters is, and what their life paths have been and are meant to be, while your main character continually bemoans his lack of a clear sense of identity, this reader feels that she has ceased to read a novel and is instead reading the author's notes about a novel.
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So far everything I've bought for my Kindle has come from Amazon, but it turns out that stuff that's not available at Amazon may be available other places.  I suppose this is a "duh" moment but I figured if something was an e-book that all the stores would have it. Duh, apparently not.  Anyway my favorite way to read a book is to listen to the audio version during my commute, and then pick up and read it on my Kindle when I'm in the house.  It's very annoying when I'm listening to a really engaging audiobook and can't switch formats!  *Impatient*

Anyway, it turns out that while Amazon has none of the Vorkosigan books in Kindle format, Fictionwise has heaps of them, including novellas and whatnot, and for cheap, too.  And they take paypal, which makes it simple, or at least it was simple once I found my Kindle's usb cable.  Yay, I get to keep reading Cetaganda tonight! Since obviously I ain't sleeping.
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I've mentioned my concentration problems, right? That's been much better in the past 4 months or so, which means I have actually finished some books.  Thank god for (although when I'm highly agitated I have a hard time listening to books, in addition to not reading 'em); having gotten in the swing of listening regularly, I am no longer spending two hours a day merely grumbling at traffic and ruminating.

So, here's one of those book post thingies.  This is stuff read since....oh, let's say December 2009.

Eleanor Aronson, A Woman of the Iron People  (Kindle).   Anthropologists studying people on another planet, muchly told from the POV of the other-planet people.  Really interesting, fully-developed alien people and culture coupled with much-less-interesting human people and culture.  The aliens and their story are fresh and intriguing--complex social structures, layers of myth, morals and taboos that are intrinsic to their way of being.   The human story is hampered by stereotypes and dated political issues, but it only occasionally gets in the way of the main story, and the human characters are likeable despite those caveats. Definitely recommend this to anyone who likes sociological SF.

Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.  (Audible)   Classic story of a revolution on the Moon.  Really, really good, even with the ridiculous sexism and plattersful of exposition. The characters are all interesting, smart, and brave; the story is terrific and full of tension, and the ending is satisfying and poignant.  Also has a guy with a robotic arm--win!  The reader does a great job with different voices and makes some of the odd speech seem natural.  Friday put me off of Heinlein, 30 years ago, so this is only the second book of his I've read and I'm glad I did.  Thanks, [ profile] ashnistrike & Nameseeker, for the rec.

Arthur C. Clarke, The Fountains of Paradise (Audible).  God, I loved this.  This is the first book in a long time that I've finished and immediately wanted to start over.  It's about a space elevator and what it takes to get it built, which sounds dry and probably is, but I found it totally fascinating and compelling.  This is the first Clarke I've read (another bad early experience--2001, the movie, always bored me to tears) and I'm excited that I have his whole life's work ahead of me to enjoy.  I'm planning on reading Rendezvous with Rama next.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Audible, also Paperback).  Orwell's memoir of his experiences fighting in the Spanish Civil War.  Alternates between chapters describing his own experiences and chapters explaining the political situation at the time.  Very interesting and witty.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Warrior's Apprentice (Audible) and The Vor Game (Audible, also e-book currently avail. at Fictionwise).  These are great, as everyone except me already knows.  I did have to work out my own personal cosmological explanation for the frickin coincidences, because there are some really whomping coincidences, but I salute Bujold for not offering any explanation within the text. That makes them less distracting than they would be if there was an attempt to make them seem plausible.   Anyway, the plots are fun and twisty, the characterizations are exquisite, and the prose is brisk and elegant at the same time. 
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Thanks for all of the great responses to my rec request!  I'll be sending Paladin of Souls and its series companions to my friend to start with, and then will go hunting for The Interior Life and Brisingamen--those all seem to have things in them that suit her situation.  For handy furture reference, I've put a summary list together of all the recs.  Useful caveats offered by commenters are noted by the books.

Multiple recs:

Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls. (seconded, thirded, fourthed, fifth’d…)
Tamora Pierce, anything by, but particularly the Protector of the Small series. (YA) (seconded and thirded)
Ellen Kushner, Privilege of the Sword (seconded)
Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock (seconded)
Katherine Blake, The Interior Life. (seconded, thirded)
Single recs: 
M.Z. Bradley's The Shattered Chain and Thendara House. (SF/F hybrid)
Lois McMaster Bujold, The Sharing Knife series
Kristin Cashore, Fire or Graceling (YA)
Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts, Daughter of the Empire and sequels
Deborah Hale,The Wizard's Ward and The Destined Queen (cheesy-but-good)
Barbara Hambly, Dragonsbane (really seriously skip the sequels)
Jim C. Hines, Princess books--The Stepsister Scheme and the Mermaid's Madness
Nina Kiriki Hoffman, A Fistful of Sky
N.K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (maybe depressing)
Kij Johnson, Fudoki
Mercedes Lackey, The Fairy Godmother and The Serpent's Shadow.
Ursula Le Guin, Tehanu
Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted. (Children’s)
Margaret Mahy, The Changeover
Margaret Mahy, The Tricksters (YA)
Patricia McKillip, The Tower at Stony Wood
China Miéville, Un Lun Dun (YA)
Elizabeth Moon Deed of Paksennarion (triggery)
Diana Paxton, Brisingamen
Terry Pratchett, any of the 'Witches' novels, or the Susan+Death books
Spider & Jeanne Robinson, Stardance (skip the sequels)
Michelle Sagara, Chronicles of Elantra series beginning with Cast in Shadow
Lisa Shearin Magic Lost, Trouble Found
Sharon Shinn, Archangel books (romancey)
Sherwood Smith, Crown Duel
Nancy Springer, Larque on the Wing
Caroline Stevermer, A College of Magics and When the King Comes Home (maybe elegaic)
Shanna Swendson, series beginning with Enchanted, Inc.
Jo Walton, The King's Peace and The King's Name (maybe elegaic)
Martha Well The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, starting with the Wizard Hunters

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I have a friend who is going through some stuff, and I want to send her a book that's

1. a fantasy 
2. is about a woman (preferably, anyway)
3. has some kind of journey or transformation in it (internal or external). 
4. is uplifting.  

Unfortunately she reads way faster than I do, and borrows books from me, so she's read most of what I have in my library that fits that description, including assorted De Lint & Gaiman, Tam Lin, and War for the Oaks.  But that's the sort of thing I'm looking for--something to bolster a person's belief in life's possibilities, without being treacly.  Also I'm not sending her anything elegiac or sad, despite liking those things myself, because now is not the time for those, so that's limiting my choices.

Help, o readerly friends?
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1. Ashok Banker's Prince of Ayodhya.  I haven't read any Banker very excited to get started. I also haven't read The Ramayana so I expect to (1) not understand a lot of this book or (2) eat it up and be spoiled for reading the proper Ramayana.

2. Baby shower invite for infertile friend.  "A shower for mother-to-be _____________, and her surrogate, _________."  Very glad they're doing it openly like this...and very glad they have babies safely on the way after a looong time trying one thing and another.  I knew about the pregnancy, but it was still early and high-risk when mom-to-be and I last talked.  Hooray!  I will have to think of a gift to bring her care products are a good default, I guess a lousy idea for pregnant women, apparently. LOL, I know not of these pregnancy things. (potentially also a problematic idea for non-pregnant people too...) Further ETA: I don't know what the law in IL is about surrogacy and compensation, actually. Will have to look that up. With adoption you can't compensate the birth parents in any way, including gifts, until after relinquishment. But surrogacy is a whole different dealio.
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Here are some things that annoy me when I encounter them in my travels:

Possible spoilery things for the first 100 pages of Mythago Wood )
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I managed at last to slog my way to the end of The Historian, aided by an audiobook version that employed one good, engaging reader (the fellow doing "Paul"), and one reader who...well, she brought the dullness of the primary narrator fully to life. I think she's actually a good reader, but hadn't much of interest to work with.

Overall, I liked the book pretty well. I enjoy travelogues and memoirs, and I don't mind long stretches where not much happens, as long as they're portrayed engagingly. The book's primary narrative is the one told in the letters by Paul (the father of the primary narrator), and I found his voice and story entertaining and reasonably suspenseful. The framing stuff, featuring his daughter, is mostly tedious, because there is literally nothing interesting about her, despite her interesting forbears.

Here Be SPOILERS!!!!! )
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Sometime I would like to see a group of characters in an SF novel sit down and have a meal that doesn't consist mainly of giant barbequed hunks of exposition. It's like there's a rule: if an author wants to have someone deliver a tedious speech explaining how the in-story government, water plant, or FTL drive works, it's copacetic as long as everybody's eating.

(Why yes, I *am* reading Heinlein at the moment!)
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I'm reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian,  which is too tedious to be borne if you're expecting a moderately thrilling vampire novel, but is absolutely a delight if you're in the mood for a ruminative travelogue with a very occasional vampire sighting.

There is a scene in which two people, separated by a language barrier, have a conversation aided by translation dictionaries.  After days of communicating things like "meet me here in this same place at the same time tomorrow" by pointing, they spend several minutes searching through the dictionaries in order to communicate the word "shoulder." 

Mostly the characters are not stupid (which is nice), so that moment jarred me out of the story for a bit.
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Via [ profile] browngirl 

"This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes."

[I have chosen only books that stick with me for good reasons, although some of them also have sucky elements]

1. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
2. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
3. Hippos Go Berserk, by Sandra Boynton
4. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
6. Perfume, by Patrick Suskind
7. The Assault, by Harry Mulisch
8. Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg
9. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
10. A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
11. Collected Poems, by Rumi
12. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
13. The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
14. The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault
15. The Drinking Life, by Pete Hammil

Hm, this has led me to recall that I used to like reading contemporary European novels in translation, though I haven't read any lately. Maybe I'll go see what's going on in that arena. Also I adore memoirs, whether factual (15) fictional (1, 7, 14), or a little of both (2).

(3) will stick with me for the rest of my life because I have read it aloud about 100 times already, because of a small person who insists on having it read to him nightly, sometimes twice. It is a permanent part of my brain. Fortunately it's also delightful.

April 2013

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