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Another book that I wanted to like more than I actually did. It's a perfectly fine book, but I don't love it.

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Octavia Butler is a highly-renowned author in sf and I've been intending to read her for ages, so when a friend lent me an omnibus of the Xenogenesis trilogy I was excited! But although Dawn (first in that trilogy) is objectively a good book, it really wasn't for me.

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I picked this up because it was recced by [personal profile] skygiants as her favourite Snow Queen retelling, which obviously was going to be of interest to me as a thorough and longstanding Snow Queen fan.

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And if anyone has recommendations of other novels based on The Snow Queen please do let me know so I can read them too! So far this one and the one by T. Kingfisher are the only ones I've come across.
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It's time for my approximately-annual short story recommendation list, wherein I tell you about ten stories I read in the last year that I think are particularly worth reading, and link you to them. I've been reading more short stories of late so keeping the list to only ten was particularly hard this time!

Without further ado, here's some stories to read:

1. Who Will Greet You At Home, by Lesley Nneka Arimah
A story about how babies are made out of physical materials and the blessings of your mother, and the lengths to which people will go to have a baby. Strange and sad and disturbing.

2. Probably Still the Chosen One, by Kelly Barnhill
At 11 years old, Corrina was the Chosen One in a land through a secret portal only she could access. Then she's left behind in this world, expecting at any moment to be called back. It's a great look at, among other things, how the political situation you're thrown into looks very different when you're eleven than when you're an adult. I love this sort of deconstruction of tropes.

3. Seasons of Glass and Iron, by Amal El-Mohtar
In which the heroines of two fairy tales (the princess on the glass mountain, and the girl who has to walk through seven pairs of iron shoes) help each other see how terribly they've been treated. What an excellent way of doing a fairy-tale mash-up!

4. Suradanna and the Sea, by Rebecca Fraimow
I love this story so much! The worldbuilding is incredible, and the characterization, and the relationship between the main characters, and basically everything. I'll borrow a description from the author of what this story's about: "Trade routes, magical fertilizer, and one girl's centuries-long effort to impress a woman who is already in a committed relationship with a boat."

5. The Nalendar, by Ann Leckie
Leckie has written a number of short stories that all take place in the same world, broadly speaking. You can tell which stories these are by the gods. I love all these stories (so interesting!), but decided to rec The Nalendar in particular. This story is about a woman who makes an agreement with an untrustworthy small god who's after something.

6. Extracurricular Activities, by Yoon Ha Lee
This one is a fun space adventure story! (Yes I am in fact capable of enjoying and recommending straightforward adventure stories, even if you wouldn't guess it based on the other kinds of things I tend to rec....)

7. The Wreck at Goat's Head, by Alexandra Manglis
About a free-diver in the Mediterranean, one of the last remaining in the 21st century. A lovely story of grief and loss and living, and I like how well-grounded it is in its setting.

8. And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker
In which Sarah Pinsker is invited to a convention of multiverses of Sarah Pinskers, and then one of the Sarahs is murdered at the convention. A delightful premise, and a really interesting story.

9. The Dark Birds, by Ursula Vernon
The degree to which this story is horrifying creeps up on you the further you get - it's really effectively done. It's the story of a family where the ogre father eats his daughters, as told from the pov of the current baby of the family.

10. Utopia, LOL?, by Jamie Wahls
A man awakes from cryofreeze in the far future, and we see his introduction to this new world via the pov of his Tour Guide to the Future, who is easily-distractable and alarmingly enthusiastic. This story is weird and incredible and I was very surprised to be having feelings by the end given how much I was giggling through most of the story. I love it.
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Okay so I spent a few days in June reading a bunch of Courtney Milan. Apparently she's a "betcha can't eat read just one" kind of author for me. I read ten. Most were rereads, which I don't have anything new to say about, but this time I did get around to reading a few books of hers that I hadn't read in November when I last did this. Namely: the Carhart series, the first romances that Courtney Milan ever published! This was back when she was being conventionally published by Harlequin instead of being a self-published author.

This Wicked Gift, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #0.5)

cut for discussion of rape )


Proof By Seduction, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #1)

And so I continue with the Carhart series despite the extremely inauspicious beginnings. This one, well, at least it didn't have a rapist main character? I still didn't love it though. I dunno, I didn't write down my thoughts soon enough after having read it so I don't remember all the reasons. But it doesn't have the things I like about later Courtney Milan (such as strong female friendships and interesting families) and also doesn't have a romance that I enjoyed reading about. And the leading man was pretty uninteresting to me, and the leading woman kept making baffling life choices.


Trial By Desire, by Courtney Milan (Carhart #2)

The Carhart series continues to improve! This one was actually mostly enjoyable. I liked the leading woman's mission in life, and I enjoyed the nature of the romance being one of having to develop a relationship between a husband and wife who don't really know each other and have been on different continents for years. But although this is closer to the Courtney Milan I know and love, this book just didn't get me excited the way her later books do.
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I first heard a recommendation for this book a LONG time ago, so when I finally got my hands on a copy and started reading it, I had totally forgotten everything I'd been told of what to expect from this book.

So I found that what the book was actually about was rather unexpected for me. But in a good way!

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This evening I listened to the new Broadway Cast Recording of the musical “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812”, which you may recall I was obsessed with a while ago. I’ve listened to the original recording a million times, but I’d forgotten how many songs I’d excised from the playlist of it I listen to? Basically: I remove ALL OF PIERRE. Which is actually a fairly significant amount of the musical.

And listening to this other recording of the soundtrack, I didn’t skip any of the songs because then I wouldn’t get a complete sense, and I’m ONCE AGAIN AFIRE WITH RAGE ABOUT PIERRE. Why is Pierre such a major character? Why is there so much focus on Pierre? Why is Pierre the most boring person in the entire musical? PIERRE DOES NOTHING and yet he gets entire songs all about him, and he gets the emotional focus and resolution at the end of the musical instead of Natasha (who the story’s ACTUALLY about) and it’s the WORST.

AND this new version adds A WHOLE EXTRA 6.5 MINUTE PIERRE ANGST SONG WHAT THE FUCK. Adding an extra Pierre song does not actually make Pierre feel more integrated into the musical. And it is the most boring song. Why does it exist. Why does Pierre exist.

UGH. I love this musical so much in so many ways EXCEPT PIERRE’S EVERYTHING.

At any rate I guess it’s back to my carefully-excised original cast recording for me!
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I hadn't really been planning on going to see Wonder Woman because I've been feeling kind of burned out on superhero movies, but then the reactions started to get posted over the last few days, and seeing so many people be enthusiastic about this movie made me go WELL FINE and go and see it.

AND LO IT WAS GREAT.

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Friday night I saw a production of Guys & Dolls. This is apparently a well-regarded and award-winning musical, and Stratford did a good job with it, but.....it is not the sort of musical calculated to win my affections. Its only appeal as far as I can see is just the spectacle. I mean there is a story but it's predictable (and sexist).

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This is one of those books that I've been intending to read for a lot of years, have actually owned a copy of for multiple years, and just could never quite get around to reading it because I kind of got the impression it was the Serious Literature of the SFF world. And okay yes it kind of is that but it turns out it's also very readable!

This book is most well-known and widely-discussed for what it does with sex/gender. Namely: a planet of people who five-sixths of the time are sexless/genderless and also do not experience sexual desire, and the remainder of the time become either male or female for the purposes of reproduction and sexual activity.

It's disconcerting to me then that actually this stuff is what I care least about in this book? I have arguments with its treatment of gender (and sexuality). But I really enjoyed everything else about the book!

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THE NEXT BOOK IN THE QUEEN'S THIEF SERIES!!!!

Megan Whalen Turner does not write fast. This is the first new book that's come out since before I got into the series. I was very worried about it not living up to expectations, since I have pretty high expectations for this series. But Thick as Thieves is a thoroughly worthy book to be added to the series and and I am relieved and delighted!

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WELL I am now finished the Rivers of London series so I suppose I will post about the last four books all at once here since it feels weird to keep posting one at a time as if I'm not already done. Here we go!

Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch )

Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch )

Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch )

The Hanging Tree, by Ben Aaronovitch )
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Alison Bechdel's second comic memoir. Her first was Fun Home and was about her father and her relationship with him. This one does the same with her mother.

I wasn't nearly so into this book as I was Fun Home. I think my biggest problem with it is that it just so very much about psychoanalysis, which is not a topic that interests me, and in fact I'm rather skeptical about given how based in Freudian theory it is, and how much of Freud's theories have been discredited.

The book really felt more like it was about the psychoanalysis of Alison's relationship with her mother instead of actually about her actual relationship with her mother. So for what it is, it's well done, but it's just not what I personally wanted to be reading.

Oh well. I was warned going in by the friend who lent me this book that it's not as good as Fun Home, so at least my expectations were appropriate going in so I didn't experience unexpected disappointment.
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Second in the Rivers of London series. Another enjoyable book!

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A kids' book about a preteen girl who wants to save the outsider-art tower structures her uncles created, whose neighbourhood society wants to get rid of the towers for looking weird and driving down the value of the gentrified historic neighbourhood.

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Eh. It's well-written, but as a work of Christian apologetics I have some issues with it. I do not agree with all of Lewis's theology or ruminations on human nature. It's not all bad, but I have enough points of departure to be annoyed with him. Plus the deliberately negative perspective of the book (it being written from the pov of demons after all) just feels to me like it puts the reader into a really unhelpful headspace.

And since the point of reading this book is, I gather, supposed to be that the reader finds it useful in becoming a better Christian according to Lewis's understanding of how to be Christian, these issues mean that the book fails for me.

Oh well. I was kind of expecting to have this response to it, given that I've come across people's discussions of their issues with CS Lewis's approach to Christianity in the past. It's just that I own a copy of the book and since it's so widely known and well-regarded, I felt obligated to give it a try before getting rid of it. And now I can! And I think I can at this point also get rid of the other non-Narnia book I have of his as well, without bothering to read it.
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So one of the reccing communities I follow recently had two novel-length fics recced for the Rivers of London fandom and they looked kind of interesting so I gave one a try and loved it, read the other and loved it too, and proceeded to spend the next week or so reading nothing but Rivers of London fanfic. And eventually I was like....okay so maybe I should actually read the actual books these are based on, I've heard good things about those.

So I am! This is the first one in the series, and is known as Rivers of London in most of the world and Midnight Riot in North America because apparently we can't handle books with titles that indicate the book is foreign.

I was a little nervous going in that maybe I wouldn't like the books because fandom....does not always do a good job of representing what a canon is actually about or actually like. And I mean it's not quite what I expected, but still good. More focus on cases and less on people, but also much more of a sense of humour than I was expecting! I was 100% charmed by just a few pages into the book. And then I accidentally stayed up past my bedtime to finish the book. So, you know: I liked it.

For those who are unfamiliar, the basic premise is: policemen in London who do magic and deal with magic-related crimes. The main character, Peter, discovers the existence of magic early in the book and ends up apprenticed to Nightingale, more or less the last practitioner of Newtonian magic in Britain.

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

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A self-published memoir about a man's experience as a sent-down youth during the Cultural Revolution in China, translated by his children and posted to tumblr one chapter at a time over the last two and a half years. I think I've been reading it since nearly the beginning of that time! It's weird to think it's actually over and I won't be getting any more semi-regular updates on out-of-date rural Chinese farming techniques and the like.

This was a fascinating book and I loved following along over the last couple years. The author talks a lot about the facts of his life and not much about the emotions or the personal side of things, but given how little I knew about village life in China, or about the experiences of the sent-down youth, I didn't mind, as it was all very interesting.

I gather that Xia Jianfeng's experiences as a sent-down youth were more positive than many - the village he was sent to was relatively prosperous as these things go, and he seems to have adapted well to his new life. It would be interesting to also read the perspective of a sent-down youth who had a more difficult experience.

At any rate I'm very glad that this guy and his kids decided to share his story with the internet. And you too can read the book if you want to at the tumblr tenyearsapeasant.
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Let me start by saying that this is very obviously the first book in the series and it ends without concluding anything major, and in fact the very end of the epilogue has a character realize an important thing and the narrative doesn't tell us what it is. And it's a new book so any sequels are not yet available to be read. So like, there's that.

But on the other hand I really thoroughly enjoyed this book! John Scalzi, whatever else one might to say about his writing, knows how to write a book that is fun to read. His dialogue, as usual, falls more on the side of "clever" than "realistic", and the narrative tone is lightweight, and the book clips along at a quick and immensely readable pace.

The characters aren't super deep, but I enjoyed reading about them. And there's fun politics, and interesting worldbuilding, and I really truly want to find out what happens next! But I'm left having to wait for the next book to get any kind of resolution. Or possibly several books down the road, depending on what happens next. Sigh.
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This book was incredible. It's a memoir of a biologist, interspersed with small sections of thematically relevant plant facts. But as well as it being the story of her scientific life, it's also just as much the story of her relationship with Bill, her best friend/chosen brother/platonic soulmate/lab manager/whatever you want to call him, and how central the two of them are to each other, how important.

So at its heart this book is just a lovely look at two weirdos who love science and each other, and that is just like EVERYTHING GOOD?? I had a lot of feelings. Plus the quality of the prose in this book is great which is always nice too, and not to be relied upon in memoirs!

(it's super weird though to read professional reviews of this book. One review I read mentioned Bill in all of one paragraph out of about fifteen, clearly seeing his and Hope's friendship as a minor facet of the book. Hope's pretty clear in the last chapter of the book that in large part writing this book was writing about Bill, and the important connection between Bill and Hope permeates the entirety of the book! But because the rest of the world doesn't know how to understand important platonic relationships, this gets sidelined in reviews. Ugh.)

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