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16. Recitation, Bae Suah (translated by Deborah Smith): This is an interesting little book. It seems at first to be a collection of anecdotes (recitations, even) by a recitation actress, vaguely Borgesian in nature (it even directly references Borges at one point). But only in the last thirty pages does it remind you of who the actual narrators are, and starts to question whether or not our narrator to that point actually exists, whether the “real” narrators may be part of a larger recitation, or whether this book is in fact a recitation or a bookend to another existing recitation, and introduces another POV entirely in the last 15 or so pages. It’s incredibly meta, a wonderful meandering read, and a book I’ve really liked tackling over the last weeks while unwinding at the end of the day. Would be interested in seeing if any of her other work exists in translation.

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17. Love in a Fallen City, Eileen Chang (translated by Karen S. Kingbury): A collection of novellas and short stories that, with the exception of “The Golden Cangue” (which uses Chang’s translation), have never seen translation Stateside. It’s interesting to see her views on marriage and tradition through all these stories, the transitions that were happening in society around her at the time, and the complexity of her female characters (even when they’re out and out unlikeable, like in the Golden Cangue).

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18. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson: Fuck. A friend recommended this to me, thinking I would like it, and she was absolutely right. It’s gorgeous and heartbreaking and hurts so very good. This is my first Anne Carson, and I have three more of hers on the pile, and after this, I can’t wait to see what they’re like. If you liked Song of Achilles, you’ll love this. (Trigger warning for incest/sexual abuse.)

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19. The Odyssey, Homer (translated by Emily Wilson): You’ve probably heard hype about this translation by now. It lives up to the hype. Amazing work by Wilson, gorgeous turns of phrase, and some casual gut punch lines. Skip the (eighty page, Christ) intro, but do read the translator’s notes. 

20. The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander: Goddamn, I’m looking at likely one of the novella nominees for the big sci-fi awards next year. AU of events that happened to the radium girls and to Topsy the elephant (look it up), interwoven with a future narrative that doesn’t quite resolve and an ur-pov that is just so incredibly well done. You’ll go through it quickly. The turns of phrase are amazing (I have several quotes in a note on my phone), and Warren Ellis’s description of this as speculative fiction is perfect. Come to it clean, and enjoy the ride.

21. Artificial Condition, Martha Wells: Ehhh? This is a second book in a series, and I didn’t read the first, so maybe I’m missing something there. This feels like a reskinned “sarcastic murderous robot tries to keep the fleshsacks alive”, with side of Shadowrun cyberpunk lite intrigue. There’s not much in terms of characterization, the humor doesn’t always hit, the plot tries to build but resolves super quickly. It doesn’t feel like anything particularly amazing to me, or like something that would make me want to read the other books. Quick read given how short it is though.

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22. Crash Overdrive, Zoe Quinn: Half memoir of GamerGate, half “this is what to do if you are being screamed at by anime nazis”, half “oh god the internet is kinda terrible at this”. Not a happy read by any stretch of the imagination but Quinn interjects plenty of dark humor and a bit of hope to help. And admits the limitations of the perspective, which is good. 

23: Star Wars: Canto Bight Anthology: Four novellas by names like Saladin Ahmed and Mira Grant. Each story is its own thing, but ties into each other with other characters showing up. It’s a good touch. Grant’s story was far and away my favorite, and Ahmed and Carson’s were also good. The fourth one was the only one not really to my tastes, but 3/4 is still a pretty good ratio, and now everyone gets that dank dank Star Wars $$$.

24: Speak: The Graphic Novel, Emily Carroll and Laurie Holse Anderson: Counting this in my book count and my comic count, because Laurie did rewrite some of this to acknowledge shit like cell phones and instagram. Painful, gorgeous adaptation of the novel.

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25. The Wonder Engine, T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon): HOT DAMN. This was the perfect follow up, and doesn’t hesitate to ensure that there are consequences to EVERYTHING. Which I really appreciate. Also the real dark shit is balanced out by good laughs, and now may have me going back to read the first book to see if a slightly unexpected twist was actually hinted at in the first book or not. The cast is great, the descriptions are amazing, and you should really, really read this.

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26. In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez: Historical fiction based on the Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic. Emphasis on the fiction part apparently - the afterword emphasizes the fact that she took considerable liberties, and that the sisters are based more on the sisters in her head than the historical reality of the sisters. I read this back in middle school after seeing the movie that was made based on this (which had Edward James Olmos and Salma Hayek??), and vaguely remember this, but it’s nice to read it again.

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End of Watch by Stephen King: The third in the Bill Hodges detective trilogy, bringing back the scourge of Mr. Mercedes to the forefront, which is convenient for me since I read the 2nd book first and the first book second. Unlike the previous two which were high suspense but perfectly within reason of possibility, this one goes into comic-book style super powers including telekinesis and body-switching. King makes it as realistic and believable as possible, but in a world that has a fixed metric of realism, it's odd to not have the characters freak out at such bizarre happenings like they ought to in the real world. Still, this was another solid read. King's adherence to the action genre makes some of the conventions fall flat or repetitive. His exposition can be labored, and the characters tend to repeat or remember things that the reader is well aware of several times over. Even if it makes sense in the characterization, it feels like a handicap for its audience who King might assume lacks a stiff attention span. No one does violence better than him however, and some of the gorier bits are yell-inducing and cringe-worthy. A big theme of this book is suicide, so trigger warning for anyone who's dealt with issues related to that in their past. The National Hotline for Suicide Prevention phone number is printed near the end and at the end for anyone who needs it, showing that King is aware of the very real disease of mental illness he's weaponizing in his book. I've not decided how I'd rank this, but for now I very much enjoyed the Bill Hodges trilogy, warts'n all.

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27. Under the Pendulum Sun, Jeanette Ng: So, I am of two minds on this. 

On the one hand: this is an expertly written gothic novel - amazing descriptions, heavy dose of salvation and damnation, creepiness, angst, repressed sexual desire, forbidden things, and wound with the creepiness of the Fae (and Queen Mab in particular), a dose of the Apocrypha, and two missionaries trying to bring the word of god to the Fae, and you have an amazing book.

On the other hand: a discussion that will require SPOILERS, if you care. 

 

 

One of the central plot points in the back half of the book is ~zomg incest~, and whether or not it’s not as bad bc they might not be blood related but grew up together. (The spoiler is that no, they actually grew up together and it IS for reals incest.) And I understand the gothic genre love for this theme, but FFS, this is something I would like to know that I’m going to be dealing with before I get hit with it out of nowhere in the second half and it spends most of that time going is it or isn’t it incest if one of us is a changeling? The final turn on this front comes too close to the end for us to be able to process it properly, which is also mildly frustrating. 

I’d love to read a follow up to this, but if it’s going to be as heavy on the incest, Id give it a pass. And also if incest is a major squick for you, know that you’re dealing with it for most of the back half of this book.

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28. Jade City, Fonda Lee: This is a fun novel that you can totally tell was a world that Fonda’s been building for a while. Reductive way to describe it would be “Hong Kong fantasy mafia Godfather with jade magic”, but it’s a well paced, fun read with great world building. There’s only a few flaws - time jumps that don’t always make sense, minorly awkward info dumps. Also some of the ensemble members don’t get as much attention as the others, which doesn’t help how some of them take prominence later in the narrative with seemingly no motivation, but given that this book is marked Book One, I’d imagine that they get some more focus next book. This is nominated for the Nebula this year, and it’s definitely worth a read.

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Just now, Dread said:

I read more than half of Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle today and, god damn! That is a fine book.

I should reread that, it’s been a few years since I have.

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29. Hunger Makes the Wolf, Alex Wells: Picked this up at Emerald City. It’s a combination of a dystopia by way of miner’s union (what if the company controlled a planet?) and what Firefly could’ve been if Joss cut the bullshit and had fully committed to the concept, with a heavy dose of weird. The narrative voice is excellent, and it’s a solid dose of genre scifi with a bit of union anger and Sons of Anarchy. If Angry Robot comes to your con, and does its multiple books for cheap deal, definitely pick this up with Under the Pendulum Sun. I’ll be picking up the sequel for this if I see them at any future cons with this deal.

30. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, Daniel Mallory Ortberg: If you weren't lucky enough to read some of these back when they were on the Toast as Children's Stories Made Horrific, you now get to have them all and some more besides in this collection. He's made significant changes; the stories already written have undergone reworks that include allusions to theology and Aquinas and the Old Testament, and there's new stories besides that are even more the terrifying. There's also some interesting things done with pronouns, and given that he was in the process of transitioning while he edited/wrote these, I'm not that surprised by it. I tore through this in the space of a few commutes, and I can't recommend it enough.

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Our Kind of Cruelty: A review copy for a novel that doesn't drop until May (keeping the author's name until then), this takes the first person perspective of a man recently dumped from a several-year relationship that started in college (or, University since they're British). He's pathetically and dangerously in love with her, to the point that he never truly doubts that his ex's break-up and subsequent marriage to another guy is all part of some sexy game they're playing. I was reading this carefully, thinking about the writer a lot when going through this. The perspective is interesting, and if this has been done before I've not exactly read it. I guess the back half of Gone Girl is similar (This does contain a word of praise from Gillian Flynn). The whole thing is a comment on misogyny, and how men can be possessive and toxic in relationships. That's all fine, but as a reading experience the main character was really pathetic, and about half-way through I was sick and tired of his delusional whining. I get going at the story from this approach, but I think interspersed perspectives would've made this easier to digest. It's an eye-rolling slog to finish it out, and he's not scary enough to be engrossing or engaging. He's just a creep. The book is a solid idea that only falters in how that idea translates to an audience. It might make a better movie.

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31. The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. LeGuin: I honestly haven't read a lot of LeGuin, and when this deal came through for $2 through Kindle, I thought I should take advantage of it, and I was right. The premise is what if a man had the power to change the world through his dreaming, and what happens when a psychiatrist with a mild god complex gets his hands on it. It's also low key a horror novel with everything that ends up happening, and has some absolutely gorgeous lines in it. It's under 200 pages, and a fast paced read besides. Definitely worth your time.

32. Iron Council, China Miéville: This took me a while to get into, but once the narratives start connecting instead of seeming like their own separate stories, it really takes off. It was pitched to me by Jim as “the Russian Revolution meets New Crobuzon”, and having read October, that’s accurate, and I would also add the history of the railroads in America to that list of influences. This is his fourth novel, and you can tell he’s starting to come into himself craft wise, but he’s not quite there yet. The ending seems a bit like he ran into a wall and didn’t quite know what to do to end it and unite it all. Still compelling, but not my favorite of what I’ve read of his.

Also: his inability to characterize women except as things that make the plot happen or as sacrifices to the plot/development of others continues here and it’s frustrating.

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33. Empty Chairs, Liu Xia (translated by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern): Learning that I can count on Graywolf Press for good fucking poetry collections. Liu Xia has now been missing, or at minimum not appearing in public, since her husband’s death last summer. And frankly, that adds a new dimension to an already pretty heartbreaking collection. You can see the years wear down on her as the dates on the poetry get closer and closer to the present. Liu Xiaobo has always said that she’s the more talented poet between them, and this collection proves that’s true. I’m not sure if more of her work exists in translation at all, but if it does I need to find more.

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34. The Story of My Teeth, Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney): This is a hell of a book. The book was written in collaboration with workers at a juice factory in Mexico as a way of bridging an art gallery and the workers at the juice company that funded the art collections at the gallery. The result is an amazing story about an auctioneer that you think is one thing, turns out to be entirely another, and has a chapbook added on to it by the translator, all in just over 150 pages. I need to find more of Luiselli’s work if it exists in translation, I think. In my top five for the year so far.

35. The Descent of Monsters, JY Yang: Like the last book, I ended up mainlining this over the space of one night. This novella is done entirely in epistolary format - reports, diaries, correspondence, transcripts - to tell a story that deftly weaves together threads from the last two books, stands on its own, and lays out threads should they be allowed to continue with the novellas. The story is fast paced and incredibly well done, bringing together characters we already know and introducing new ones, and unfolds with slowly dawning horror at the scale of what’s happened. Plus, a Yuko Shimizu cover never hurts.

This comes out in July. Get this. You won’t regret it.

36. All Systems Red, Martha Wells: This got nominated for a Hugo. I read the sequel first and wasn’t impressed. They offered this for free as part of Tor’s ebook program. I got through it in a few hours? Like, I see why the internet likes this. It’s Bender with the serial numbers filed off and guns, he’d rather watch space Netflix than do his job, and the fact that he calls himself Murderbot is mildly amusing. And the fact that he has no sex drive as part of his build (no genitalia) can be interpreted as ace representation. And it got an Ann Leckie blurb. But this feels pretty mediocre besides that, and I am really stunned this got nominated for a Hugo AND a Nebula. But it was a super quick read at least?

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37. Moonshine, Jasmine Gower: Last of the Angry Robot books we got at ECCC. Fantasy world meets jazz age/prohibition aesthetics. Pretty solid, not anything particularly amazing, but not mediocre either. Just solid genre work.

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38. Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx, Chris Harman: I’ll admit to being real confused by the audience for this book. Half this book is taken up by a pretty basic explanation of Marxism/its criticisms and a Marxist economic history of most of the 20th century, in a seemingly pretty basic 101 explanation. On the other hand, some pretty important glossary terms are kept in the back, the last chapter being pretty rah rah Marxist victories, and the publisher being Haymarket Books seem to point to the book being aimed at an audience with a pretty decent understanding of Marxism. When it finally gets to the analysis of global crisis being built into capitalism and various examples of the kind of crises, and capitalism as a zombie/vampire system, it becomes an enthralling read, but again, you have to get through the 101 explanations to get to it. It exercised parts of my brain political/economic theory wise that I’ve not used since college, which was a good feeling, but the book felt unfocused and didn’t get enough time to tackle the part I was actually interested in. I got this for $5 from our favorite bookstore, which is always good; if I’d spent more, I might be more frustrated.

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39. Wolf in White Van, John Darnelle: Reread this when Des bought up that he was reading it, because it’s been a hot minute since I read this last. Unsurprisingly, Darnelle’s gift with lyrics carries over to prose, and it’s a fast paced, beautifully flowing read, and I frequently found myself stopping and just rereading lines again for how good they were. Best way to describe the structure of it is that it ripples out from one point and then slowly collapses back into stillness. If you’ve not read this yet, read it.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Story about an unarmed black teen shot dead by a white cop, we actually follow his childhood best friend and the aftermath of her being the sole witness. What this book does is personalize what so many people have gone through over the course of the last decade with the publicity of modern police shootings, exploring the reactions from different communities, social media, the media's take on what happened, and how the black community exists underfoot of such an event. The title, taken from Tupac's tattoo anagram, really fits as a dissertation of racism. Interracial relationships, code-switching, stereotypes, poverty, drug addiction and family dynamics are all explored through the lens of the black experience as choked in the grip of institutional and systemic racism.

The book isn't perfect, and I think being it's Angie Thomas' first novel, even for a Young Adult novel there are things that kept taking me out of the reading experience. From a writing perspective (speak I, someone without an MFA in Creative Writing), some bits of simple information were clumsily exposited. My main issue was with the Ebonics. This book is very slang heavy, almost slang dependent, and its realism needed to have the characters be as believable as possible.  Slang is difficult to write because it has to sound natural despite breaking up the flow of "natural" reading language. Thomas, I don't think, conquered the translation, and 9/10 times there would always be one or two things a sentence that did not read as natural in how it was written. Things like "Gave him the dap" rather than "Gave him dap", or the general lack of contractions throughout. Not saying Thomas didn't know what she was talking about, but it trips me out when reading "Girl, you're tripping!" when I know it's meant to be spoken as "Gurl, you trippin'!"

That kept me from loving it as much as many reviewers did when it first came out, but I still enjoyed it overall. Looking forward to the film adaptation.

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40. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, Olivia Laing: I don’t really viscerally hate books like this very often. This one earns my ire and then some. This book has “elements that appeared in... the Guardian and New Statesman”, which means she just barely edited some articles she submitted. What she SHOULD have done is just left it as a collection of those articles. Instead she decided to rework some very solid articles about artists such as Edward Hopper, Henry Danger, and David Wojnarowicz into a meandering ass book about how her pain as a white woman who decided to uproot her life and move from England to NYC on a whim for a lover who then broke up with her once she was in the States and left her alone is TOTALLY equivalent. But she got a residency during writing this shitpile and she could jump from sublet to sublet. The original articles, whose bones I can see in the individual chapters, are solid writing. The masturbation about the city and loneliness on her end that surrounds all of it are just godfuckingawful. The book also just abruptly ends out of nowhere. A respected author calls this a “beautiful meander” on the cover, and Christ, that is a hell of a stretch, and being incredibly kind, which I am not inclined to be.

And that’s BEFORE she makes the decision to compare the internets to the FUCKING AIDS VIRUS in how it makes us alone. I genuinely wanted to throw the book at that point. I didn’t. Marvel at my fucking restraint. However, after I am done writing this up and posting it, I am going to do so. 

Fuck this book. I paid $3 for it remaindered, and it’s not even worth that.

PS: I forgot how she romanticizes some figures and then drops shit like “oh btw he completely emotionally and physically abused his wife to destroy her drive to create art so she wouldn’t leave him/be better than him”, but he was just a tortured dude. NO. Christ, I need a drink. Time for a palate cleanser.

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41. Six Wakes, Mur Laffety: I hadn’t heard of this book until it picked up nominations for both the Nebula AND the Hugo, and I consider that a marketing failure on the part of the publisher. This is a fantastic locked room mystery, but also does fantastic world building/what ifs about what cloning being introduced would do to society. The plot itself is also incredibly well done, as are all the characters. 

Base plot is: clones wake up to themselves murdered on a ship. Their mapped memories are missing twenty years. And everyone staffing the ship is a criminal who took this mission to have their criminal records wiped. So, conceivably, it could have been any one of them. And the ship’s been sabotaged. And the wheels turn from there.

I devoured this over roughly 48 hours. Get this from your bookstore, or, if your bookstore is sold out at the distributor level like mine was, check out Amazon, and enjoy.

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42. Space Opera, Catherynne Valente: This is basically if Douglas Adams wrote a novel about Space Eurovision with a side of passion and hope and just some absolutely wonderful deep cuts. It’s funny, it’s well written, and you can tell it was written in response to the shitholiness of 2016-17. The fact that this is book 42 this year is a wonderful coincidence. Some of the run on sentences get a bit too run onny, but I laughed out loud while reading this so many times. And I kinda needed that.

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43. The Possessions, Sara Flannery Murphy: Aggresively mediocre. This is this person’s first novel, and it kinda shows. (If I read one more green analogue like plant analogue I was gonna punch something.) It’s vaguely fantasy but not enough to actually commit to the concept, way too obsessed with babies in general, and there’s not really any particular standout among the plot or characters. It’s all pretty aggressively bland. There’s a reason I found this for free at the train stop. Quick read, at least.

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