What I've Read 2016


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... A woman who dresses like a man and leads the army and is tough as a man and I think my eyes rolled out of my head; ...

TLDR holy fuck this book needs an editor and needs it badly.

 

So you are saying that the woman with mans strenght was narrated like a rule 63 Captain Rum 

 

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Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey From East to West and Back, Janice P. Nimura: A nonfiction book I picked up a while ago for cheap on Kindle. Details the trio of daughters of samurai who were the first to be sent abroad to receive a Western education, and basically went abroad for ten years, and what they did when they came back. I'd never heard about this, so it was fascinating to read about these girls, and where their life paths eventually took them. It's not anything amazing, but it's definitely a servicable, lovely read.

Books Read: 45

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, NK Jemisin: Jemisin's debut novel. I read this a few years ago, but didn't really retain most of it, so this was like reading it again for the first time. Combines family and elite politics with the politics of a family of gods, and how one woman set in motion something that upends it all. Just enough world building to intrigue, but mostly focused on our main trying to find her way through all these various conspiracies to find the truth about herself and her mother, all while interacting with her crazy ass extended family and the gods. And again, after reading Liu, this went by like a breeze, and was a great reading experience on top of it all. Never finished the second book, so that's up next.

Books Read: 46

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The Broken Kingdoms, NK Jemisin: Second book in the Inheritance Trilogy. Suffers from middle book syndrome. It lays out some necessary world building mythology and provides a good check in on how the world is ten years on. That they have to introduce someone who, as far as I can tell, is a one off character for this book, and relegate most of the interesting characters from the first book to cameo appearances is where it suffers for me. Still a fun, fast paced read, but I wasn't as much of a fan of this as I was the first book. 

Books Read: 47

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Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever by Frank Conniff: TV's Frank wrote a book about a bunch of the films he had a hand in choosing to cover on MST3K. It's not very good. It's a series of essays that occasionally reference the film it's ostensibly talking about but more often have little or nothing to do with anything. Half the time he admits he can't actually remember anything about the movie in question and only knows he had seen it because it was on the list of movies he vetted for the show. And in addition to not being all that funny, it's absolutely riddled with typos and misspellings (the fact that the "Twenty Five" in the title is missing the hyphen is not my mistake). One essay in service to Bride of the Monster is a touching, impassioned, totally unironic defense of Ed Wood, but for the most part this is a huge waste of time for everyone involved.

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The Kingdom of Gods, NK Jemisin: This book is narrated by Sieh, one of the trickster gods from the books before, and openly skewers the series in its first few paragraphs, which I can always appreciate. This is a good book, but it has the first time trilogy problem of trying to do too much and reaching too far, and it kind of falls apart towards the end under the strain of too many balls in the air and too many arbitrary time jumps. Has some neat stuff to say about cycles, etc, and has a good narrator too. You can tell she's getting more conscious about what she portrays and says as an author too. I still like it better than Broken Kingdoms, but this first trilogy is a bit rough. Read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for sure, read a bit of this, but I'm not sure about the trilogy as a whole. 

Books Read: 48

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All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders: I've been hearing pretty universally good things about this book, so I picked it up. Fun, and funny read about the intersection of science and magic, and the two kids who embody the two ideas and also ends up kinda meta being about the two genres while its at it? It almost ends up being too many ideas and not enough space, but it manages to rein itself in. You can tell Anders' roots as the lead editor of io9 in some of her references in the book, but it's not grating, thank god. It's not gonna be an award winner, but it's definitely worth a read if you find it. 

Books Read: 49

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The Goddess Chronicle, Natsuo Kirino (translator Rebecca Copeland): So, having read translations of Kirino by other translators, I think I can now firmly say that my problem with Grotesque is probably Copeland's translation. This novel is mainly hindered by the awkward as fuck second section, which comes off as a poorly retold Japanese Mythology 101 lesson sandwiched in the middle of a genuinely interesting story about two sisters, the shitty island they live on, and the betrayals that shape their lives. The complexity that was seen in the female characters in Kirino's other two novels seems to have been completely erased here. The fourth and fifth sections suddenly bringing Izanagi back into the picture in what feels like them mashing two separate book ideas together and a rather abrupt ending doesn't help things. I can't really find any more of Kirino that's been translated into English (let me know if I've missed any), but if Copeland does the translation, I'm probably going to pass. Also I swear to Christ, learn what noir is, copy writers, this is not it.

books read: 50

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This and Grotesque were billed as "feminist noir". No. No they're not.

The Final Hours of Mass Effect 3, Geoff Knightley: packaged as an eBook, technically a longer piece of games journalism. Not the deep dive into production I was hoping for, but a good oral history of the series, and some interesting tidbits from the production of 3. Mainly - that a lot of the integral story bits got relegated to DLC because of the crunch, and something that seems to lend credence to the Indoctrination Theory. Worth the few bucks that I paid for it, but man, I look forward to the eventual tell all that someone from Bioware is gonna do on this someday. 

Books read: 51

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The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood: Reread, but one of my favorites to reread. The story of the Odyssey from Penelope's point of view, with the occasional interlude, in various forms (songs, an anthropological lecture, a jury trial) by the twelve maids who were hung. Short, quick read, but a fun one, and just generally well written. Worth it if you can find it remaindered.

Books read: 52

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If You're Cracked You're Happy! A History of the World's 2nd Greatest Humor Mazagine, Part Won by Mark Arnold: A history of the humor magazine you bought if you got to the store after MAD had sold out. I had a huge affection for Cracked growing up due pretty much entirely to John Severin's work, and I was interested in reading about the story of the only magazine that lasted anywhere nearly as long as Bill Gaines' frontrunner and never managed to rise above being a perpetual also-ran in the market that stubbornly hung on.

It's awful.

Thunderingly, blisteringly, supernaturally incompetent. Even if you can get past the typos and misspellings, which are plentiful, the actual prose is childish and lazy, interviews are clearly either cut and pasted from emails or transcribed word-for-word with zero editing to the point that stories repeat themselves within the same paragraph and sometimes come across as word salad, and a huge chunk in the middle is actually printed twice. What's frustrating is that some of the people interviewed are really interesting and have great stories (1980s editor Mort Todd is a terrific storyteller who took sensational glee in trolling MAD, and recounts many entertaining examples), but they're utterly ruined by the way they're presented. The author credits an editor in his opener, but there's no possible way this manuscript ever wandered anywhere near the vicinity of an editor's desk. This is a first draft that was accidentally emailed to Amazon self-publishing and sent through without a human pair of eyes ever glancing in its direction.

Also, the Kindle indicates that the actual book ends when it's 16% completed; the remaining 84% is footnotes repeated over and over again.

Aargh.

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Boy Snow Bird, Helen Oyeyemi: First off, the marketing sells this as a modern day Snow White. Get that out of your head right now. The novel uses the frame of the fairy tale to tell a story about race and passing, on so many levels. I blew through this in a bit under 12 hours. It's well written, and all the various reveals and twists are well done for the most part. There's one twist in the last 50 pages that I'm still parsing - it's a hell of a twist, but the way it's revealed and how it's handled make for some unfortunate implications. Got this remaindered at Unabridged - definitely worth your time.

Books Read: 53

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Perdido Street Station, China Mieville: I've been reading this in fits and starts since sometime last year at minimum, and I finally got over the three chapter hump (at which I either got notice that a kindle preorder had landed or got into another book I was reading concurrently usually) and really got into this. I love the world building and the absolute horror terror of the moths and most everyone Issac surrounds himself with. 

My main issue is that I figured out a third of the way in that I didn't really like our main character, and that the few female characters we did get in the novel were basically subsumed in the needs of the plot (Lin disappears about halfway through and only shows up in the last few chapters basically tortured because of Issac and then is reduced to effectively half dead for those remaining chapters, and Dekharn is ultimately only focused on when she becomes relevant to Issac's plot). I'm willing to chalk up what happens to the female characters as this being only his second novel, hoping this doesn't get to be a pattern in his other stuff (third book of his that I've read). 

But once you get past the main character and into the plot of the book (happens right around when the caterpillar shows up), the book really takes off. Beautiful and terrifying imagery and lines, and I'm interested to see more of this world.

Books Read: 54

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Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi: Oyeyemi is definitely someone I need to read more of. This novel is basically a duel and three way flirtation between a novelist who tends to kill of his female characters, the muse who's come to life and doesn't like what he does, and the wife who tries to figure out what's going on with her husband. In between are stories that all of them write, and half the fun of the novel is figuring out who's writing, and about who, and how it all reflects and refracts back on the triad at the heart of the novel. This is about the narratives that people make up to understand their lives, with a dash of fairy tales (the Bluebeard archetype) that is again a jumping off point for the larger narrative. It's dense and quick and wonderful and worth your time. Also: meta as fuck, so if that's not your thing, probably avoid this.

Books Read: 55

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My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki: Ozeki's first novel, found this remaindered at Unabridged. Story of a documentarian working for a beef interest to promote American beef in Japan shortly after the import ban was lifted, and the unsavory side of the American beef industry she uncovers, and the wife of the ad executive that makes the documentarian's life hell. Their stories overlap in odd ways about fertility, meat, and this documentary and develop in parallel, only intersecting very briefly towards the end. It's a great novel, well paced and beautifully written, but real fucking rough at times (to the point where there were just chapters where I would put the book down in the middle of a chapter (I usually try to finish a chapter before putting a book down) and just go do anything else for a while. It's quick and worth the read, though. I saw a review accusing this of being a self insert on the part of the author (documentarian who uncovers a conspiracy, has a great lover, etc), but with all that Takagi-Little goes through in this book, I really question that judgement. For $5, this was a great read. Probably going to find A Tale for the Time Being, which I've had pretty unanimously recommended to me.

Books read: 56

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Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny: A Tor novella that I blazed through in about an hour and a half. It plays like classic SciFi, in how it takes one idea and follows it to a logical horrific conclusion. Gender politics, the extension (and rapid aging) of lives, and infiltration of activist communities by way of their women, all wrapped up in a neat little package of allegory and prediction and pain. It's available and cheap on Kindle, go for it.

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Binti: Home, Nnedi Okorafor: ARC, so I'm not sure if there's an embargo on reviews just yet. Not going to say anything just yet, as such, except: very good, builds on the arc from the last book and does great worldbuilding and builds to what's looking to be a very interesting conclusion.

Books read: 58

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The Girl on the Train: Killed this in a day, it's quite the page turner. I enjoyed the sad, torturous domesticity of the characters lives. The final few chapters where the killer is revealed lets the story down IMO because the main culprit is written really over the top and "BWAHAHA"-y in a way that doesn't read well compared to everything that came before. 

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Veniss Underground, Jeff VanderMeer: VanderMeer's first novel. The boy pitched this to me as cyberpunk Orpheus and Eurydice, I would add The Divine Comedy to that, with a heavy dose of body horror. Having read Misha's Red Spider White Web earlier in the year, you can clearly see the backbone of its influence on this novel, but VanderMeer makes his own riffs on it enough to make it his own. Also follows the first/second/third person progression of povs of some of his later works. The book also includes four short stories/novellas set in the same universe. The first feels super Borges-y, and the rest introduce more of the world and liberally play with zombies and body horror. Not my favorite of what I've read of VanderMeer, but still quite good.

Books read: 59

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Louise Labe: Love Sonnets and Elegies (translated by Richard Sieburth): From the NYRB Poets series. Female French poet that I've never heard of, but her work is apparently part of the national exams in France. There also seems to have been some argument that she may not have written these poems, but near as I can tell, that seems to have been refuted. Sweet read over last night's commute home and today's commute into work. Again, I don't normally go in for poetry, but there's one sonnet that stood out in particular to me. Definitely worth a page through if you find it.

Books read: 60

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The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Jack Weatherford: Interesting read. Anthropologist does a history book. The main problem that I'm finding in this is that while it draws mostly from secondary sources (non-Mongolian history accounts), with the occasional primary source where it exists, but I can't find an academic critique as to whether or not the thesis it pursues (re: Mongolian women in politics and societal power) is in any way accurate. It has the same problem that the Weir novel from earlier in the year had, in that it can't seem to decide whether it's a novel or a popular history book. The book itself is fairly well written, even if it seems to lose itself here and there. Found it remaindered, so definitely worth the $5 I paid for it.

Books read: 61

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Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire: The urban faerie PI thing should be so overdone by now, but this isn't. That we are able to almost instantly fall for a character who's a half blood faerie and was a fish for twelve years is a sign of how wonderfully Seanan writes. The characters are great, the small and large scale story of what's going on is wonderful. Starting this series over from the beginning, and it's amazing to see what all she's weaving in this far back with the larger series plot. Even in the mystery for this book, how things are built up, you know what to look for having read it before, and it still holds up. First of about eight or so books in this series. Bring on the rest.

(Also! If you like Mira Grant's books, same author, different pen name for different genres.)

books read: 62

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Daughter of Heaven: The True Story of the Only Woman to Become Emperor of China, Nigel Cawthorne: I went into this hoping for a decently researched book about Empress Wu. What I got was a secondary source heavy book that was at least half ancient Chinese sex speculation and horrible euphemisms for genitalia, that only occasionally remembered it was about an Empress, and not just her sex life. Ugh.

books read: 63

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The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, Jessica Hopper: What the title says. I don't typically delve deep into music criticism, but the opening piece (on women in emo and a girls place as the subject in songs) hooked me hard. My favorite of the stuff seems a bit front loaded, but honestly, it's all well written and has an eye to multiple elements/angles within a piece. Worth reading if you find it. Me, I need to read more of her. Mainlined this in 24 hours.

books read: 64

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