Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Top Ten Books I Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

I'm a little late with Top Ten Tuesday...

1. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

2. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

3. Marriage, A History by Stephanie Coontz

4. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

5. Messenger (And Son) by Lois Lowry

6. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

7. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

8. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

10. The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin

(Now the real question is how many books do I want to read that I DO own...)

Monday, August 25, 2014

August Updates

Just Finished:

Well worth reading, it was an impulse library grab, which just goes to show that random browsing is still an effective method for choosing books! It reminded me of when I used to go to the library as a kid. The experience of reading also felt relevant and impactful, in a way that most books haven't since I reached young adulthood. Maybe this is the payoff for scrupulously avoiding non-fiction throughout my childhood? Anyway, review to come.

A purposeful library grab, this read was also well worth it. I may also have cried because I will never write with Karen Russell's innovation and grace. A stuttering mouth becomes a "stubborn syllable engine." Oh perfection! I will be grokking this one for some time to come.

Currently Reading:

It's an ARC from LibraryThing, coming out in September. I'm liking it so far, it does an excellent job of immersing the reader in Talmud era Persia-although there is a lot of misogyny about the period to dislike.

Next Up:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling Me That I Must Read

1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I've read the other two, and I just need to get on it already.

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

It's been recommended to me so many times.

3. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I read and loved The Name of the Wind. I was waiting for the third book to come out, but apparently I should just read it anyway.

4. The Magician King and The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

Again, I read The Magicians on a friend's recommendation, and need to finish.

5. Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

I bought it for my mom, who heartily recommends it, but I still haven't gotten around to it. And then I'll have to read A King's Ransom too.

6. Stoner by John Williams

A friend recommended this to me a while ago.

7. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

A number of people have told me to read this, but something about it just makes me sad.

8. Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (or anything by Haruki Murakami)

So many people recommend Murakami to me, but idk...I was underwhelmed by The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, despite the fact that I still think about it sometimes, so there's that.

9. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

No excuse. I really want to read it.

10. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana

A woman recommended this to me when I worked in a bookstore.

In the course of writing this post, I realized that (unfortunately or fortunately?), I don't really have a cadre of people in my life telling me what to read. Most of the recommendations I get are from book blogs and newspaper reviews.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

30. The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno

*Published in June 2014, available now from Mundania Press*

The dream of human life after Earth has been realized-within a bedrock of crippling limitations. Humanity cannot travel beyond the solar system, which is replete with dead, lifeless rocks. Impressive, inventive structures allow people to eke out an existence in the barren wastelands of the Moon, Mars, Titan, and an asteroid called Ceres, but only a small elite enjoy anything resembling luxury. There is no Star Trek style terraforming, no warp speed. Yet neither is there an oppressive Central Planet structure, or an evil dictator (yet).

Bruno’s tempered vision of life after Earth is interesting because it manages to be pessimistic, but not quite dystopian. The Circuit's political and economic forces draw on familiar narratives from Herbert and Asimov, but reflect more contemporary sensibilities. The Circuit's economic transports of the necessary Gravitum element, and the New Earth Tribunal's comforting theocracy, are stop-gap measures to sustain, not spread, humanity. This stagnation leaves the solar system vulnerable to a veritable Game of Thrones in space-albeit with far fewer viewpoint characters and a much lower dial on diabolical scheming and irredeemable misery.

Cassius Vale, a primary viewpoint character, is perhaps the most difficult to relate to. He and his android creation ADIM (Automated Dynamic Intelligence Mech), are staging a secret coup against the oppressive Tribunal throughout the course of the novel, but his personality is more reminiscent of You-Know-Who than a popular rebel hero like Captain Mal. At one point, Vale, justifying genocidal actions, proclaims, "There are no monsters...only different perspectives." It's a chilling reply in context, as an army of his metal creations "mowed [some of the finest soldiers the Tribune had to offer] down like children zapping insects with magnifying glasses." Although ADIM remains relatively flat for most of this book, one wonders how he will use his superhuman powers in accordance with his beloved father/Creator's callous attitude toward human life.

Like much other science fiction, The Circuit explores the blurred lines between human and machine, but with a dark twist. The question is not whether androids can become human (Re: Data, Bicentennial Man), but whether humans can become mindless (or, more terrifying, fully aware) killing machines. Furthermore, if Cassius is a monster, how much more of a monster can the non-human ADIM become?

This theme is apparent in another viewpoint character, Sage Volus. Sage, a formidable redhead with a mechanical arm, is an Executor for the Tribunal. An undercover spy and assassin, she is sent to infiltrate the rebels on Ceres, to determine who is responsible for a series of missing Gravitum shipments (the reader, of course, already knows that Vale is at fault). Sage's struggle with her faith and her human vs. mechanical nature makes for a much more sympathetic, but still complex character. Sage's gender also makes her the target of particular violence and prejudices, that female readers will relate to and appreciate.

The most likeable protagonist, however, has to be Talon Rayne. Here is the rugged, tortured, self-sacrificing hero that readers will recognize. Dying slowly of the Gravitum exposure-induced Blue Death, Talon is fighting for his young daughter's future, with a dash of rebel cause thrown in. A ruling family of Ceres tasks him with stealing some Gravitum from the over-stocked Tribune, and unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, the undercover Sage joins his band.

The Circuit is a dark (and unfinished) creation legend, a Foundation for the 2010s. It's not as intricate as much other contemporary sff, and the character building is underwhelming in comparison to say, George R.R. Martin (though ages beyond Asimov), but the social and economic structures have enough complexity to be interesting while not being daunting to understand, as in, say, Herbert's universe. Overall, my greatest complaint is that the ending is woefully unresolved-a bold move for a first-time author, but one that I hope pays off in a sequel!

Received for review from the author.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Recently Finished:

28. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Highly recommended to Civil War and medical history buffs. Mary Sutter is a young midwife who aspires to be a doctor. Rejected by medical schools on the basis of her gender, she volunteers as a nurse during the Civil War and learns the surgeons' art. Accordingly, this is not a book for the squeamish. Some of the best parts include graphic descriptions of Civil War medical procedures, primarily amputations. The author drew on resources from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, as well as written accounts from doctors and nurses during the war, notably Louisa May Alcott's Civil War Journal and Hospital Sketches. Dorothea Dix features prominently, and Florence Nightingale is an inspiration. I kept waiting and waiting, and Clara Barton, my childhood hero, did finally make an appearance!

The male characters, including President Lincoln, are less interesting, and the muted love story is unnecessary. Portions of the book are overwhelmingly bleak, but the character is captivating, the writing evocative, and the plot tightly wound.

29. The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

There is so much I have to say about this book, I could probably write a dissertation. But since it's currently necessary to spare my mental faculties the exertion, I will note only a few things:

1. The concept, of examining the relationship between the fictional and historical Anne, and tracing the progression of Anne's image over the centuries (though mostly the twentieth and twenty-first), is manna to my soul. In fact, I engaged in a similar project in high school, in regard to Elizabeth I.

2. Susan Bordo is the most "present", non-memoirist, non-fiction writer I've ever read. Her views and opinions are extremely upfront, which is both helpful because I can more easily judge her biases, and distracting, because I disagree with many of her opinions and they sullied my view of the book.

3. Specifically, Bordo quite viciously harangues one of my favorite books, Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, and also more cautiously criticizes one of my favorite popular historians, Alison Weir. I think her criticism of Gregory is more fair than her criticism of Weir, although I think the larger basis of her criticism of Gregory is rather silly.

4. Bordo's largest complaint is that Gregory's novel has tainted readers' sense of history and skewed their view of Anne. She's not wrong--but that is not at all Gregory's fault, nor, I feel, a legitimate criticism of a historical fiction writer. Criticizing a historian for inserting non-verifiable narration is legitimate, but when someone is writing fiction, they have license to invent. Now, Bordo takes issue with Gregory's statements that her works are as historically accurate as possible or "likely" scenarios. In this case, i agree with Bordo that Gregory's scenarios are not remotely likely except within the bounds of her universe--but I fully support and applaud Gregory's right to invent that universe.

5. To add, Bordo is concerned that readers will believe events that occurred in Gregory's books are actual history. This may be true, but that is on them. When I read The Other Boleyn Girl, I was already well versed in Tudor lore, and knew that many of the events are just inaccurate or based on malicious rumor, and of course, there's no way we can know what Mary or Anne Boleyn's personalities were really like.

6. Bordo doesn't like that Gregory appears to follow conventional stereotypes of both characters-Anne as conniving bitch and Mary as sweet and simple-but a) That's Gregory's perogative as novelist and b) I don't think she DOES. That's where the characters' baselines are, but both characters are so much more. In Bordo's version of The Other Boleyn Girl,"Anne [plays] the role of wicked witch and Mary the long-suffering virtuous heroine...Anne...goes to the scaffold while Mary, with Elizabeth in her arms, retires to a bucolic life with her husband and children" (p. 220).

The whole point of the novel is that Anne and Mary are two sides of the same coin. Mary is also clever and also manipulative at times, Anne is also sweet and also sympathetic at times. Plus, the book is ABOUT MARY. Mary is the PROTAGONIST. That means she gets more attention, more character development, and she gets to be the "good girl," though even in the book, she is hardly virtuous by any standard. Anne is more complicated, Mary's "shadow" in the novel, but definitely not the "wicked witch," or Villain, that would have to be Henry, the Duke of Norfolk, and a whole cadre of powerful men.

Also, while this may be the case in the movie, at no point in the book does Mary have Elizabeth in her arms. And the bucolic life with her husband and children? Hardly. Mary remains a courtier, and her children after her, and neither a bucolic ending nor the actual ending is mentioned in the book, since it just ends with Anne's death. Next, Bordo argues with Gregory's statement that "Mary's story is one of absolute independence and victory" and is a "triumph of common sense over the ambition of her sister Anne." (qtd. 221)

In response, Bordo says "Huh? Sex is allowed, but ambition isn't? What kind of feminism is that?" (p. 221).

What Bordo isn't considering is that it took a great deal of independence for Mary to choose, on her own, to marry a man she loved. This was a bold move for a sixteenth century woman, and in turn, she was financially and socially cut off by her family. And since when do we measure feminism by ambition? I get that ambition should be permissible of course, but many view it as a negative trait in men as well as women. Feminism is making conditions so that everyone has the freedom to choose. That includes the right to choose a family--plus this is set in the sixteenth century, which makes the relevance of feminism debatable-Gregory claimed Mary was independent, not feminist, as she could not have been historically.

7. Phew. Also, The Tudors gets mentioned a lot. It seems Bordo is a big fan, and it gets a mixed bag of criticism and compliments (a lot of compliments for Natalie Dormer's performance), but if Gregory is historically inaccurate, The Tudors definitely is. I stopped watching because the inaccuracies drove me crazy. And yet, Bordo openly acknowledges their rights to fictionalization, even though, if anything is skewing a wide range of peoples' perceptions of Anne, it's The Tudors.

8. Anne of the Thousand Days, another incredibly historically inaccurate film, would be the heroine if Bordo's book had a heroine. She gushes continually about the film and the actress who played Anne, Genevieve Bujold. Now, I agree, it's a remarkable film, and I do like Anne as a free-love hippie, but is it even allowable to consider the possibility that the historical Anne may have been this wonderful strong-minded independent woman---but she may also have been a shrew? WE SIMPLY DON'T KNOW. So while examining the images of Anne is interesting, policing them is simply arrogant.

Currently Reading:

Next Up: