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Song of a Traveller: the courtesan's salon - [Book Reviews] Excellent anthologies, an epic Grand Canyon run, and two awful books
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[Book Reviews] Excellent anthologies, an epic Grand Canyon run, and two awful books
Hello, Internet! I read a couple of terrible books as well as several that I liked. In an attempt to whittle down my backlog of book reviews some, have a post. Books I disliked:
I got a recommendation for "The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club" from a lady I was corresponding with; she swore that Laurie Notaro was the funniest woman alive and that everything she wrote was gold. I was expecting comedy stories about a group of women out adventuring. Instead, what I got was more like "it's soooooo hard having a Jersey Shore style life". I... had assumed that the title was self-deprecating. I didn't expect the author to genuinely be someone I thought was stupid. I should have read Powells rather than just jumping to Paperback Swap: She writes about a world of hourly-wage jobs that require absolutely no skills... and hangovers that leave her surprised that she woke up in the first place. The misadventures of Laurie and her fellow Idiot Girls (“too cool to be in the Smart Group”) unfold in a world that everyone will recognize but no one has ever described so hilariously. She delivers the goods: life as we all know it. Uh. That is not life as I know it. I didn't find it hilarious. I was torn between "wow, that is completely obnoxious and self centered", "you realize you could have trivially avoided this problem, right?", and just a complete lack of connection with the protagonist. Our priorities are so different that I disliked basically everything she decided to do, and that made it hard to find this funny. One episode of falling asleep on someone else's lawn in your own vomit out of five. :/

I know, I'm a heathen, but I hated Paul Park's "A Princess of Roumania" too. It's a portal fantasy full of characters that I don't care about, in a world where the only person I liked gets turned into a silent dog pretty much immediately. Bah. It's the first of a trilogy, and it doesn't stand alone very well, but I didn't care about the characters or the world enough to read the other two. If you liked the "mucking about in tents" part of Harry Potter 7, you will like this book... there are nontrivial similarities. Our Heroine (and her small entourage) are very lazily pursued by the bad guys, the weather is awful, there's always a vague feeling of threat, nothing feels resolved. Even when things happen, it doesn't feel like there's progress of the plot, it's more just like "and then in the winter of 1638 Such And So fell sick and died unexpectedly, also barley harvests were down but winter wheat taxes were lucrative". The younger characters whine and bicker a lot, which does not add to their likability. The adult characters all took a triple dose of Inscrutable Motives And Secret History, so they're all swanning about giving the fourth wall meaningful glances but never actually saying anything. Bah. One pointless winter march out of five.

Better books:
I was a Kickstarter backer for "Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History", and I had pretty high hopes for it. I like anthologies, I like the chance to get to discover new authors, and I was particularly looking forward to an anthology that wasn't just going to be a million Play Ren Fest With Magic stories about being a noble in medieval Europe. (Even or perhaps particularly as a Celt, the avalanche of magic medieval Ireland stories get really really old.) Favorite stories included Tananarive Due's contribution -- I'm not a horror fan but she writes so well that I grit my teeth and read through the creepy anyway. Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Wing” was also excellent; Green Siskin is a wonderfully well developed heroine. L.S. Johnson's “Marigolds” and Nnedi Okorafor's “It’s War” were also among my favorites. The anthology as a whole is certainly serving a market looking for its stories; about two days after I'd finished, a new book friend of mine said that she liked postcolonialist literature and speculative fiction but rarely found the two in the same works. I cackled and sent her a recommendation. For sensitive readers, a lot of the stories deal with difficult subject matter... there are plenty of cases where the plot is driven by the characters asserting themselves against an unfair world, and the harshness of their surrounding circumstances is pretty apparent. But I was regularly delighted by the narrative focus remaining on these characters as people who decided and acted... the stories were not about how hard they had it, but rather about what they did with their lives. A++ for that! Many of the stories do not end happily, which is pretty consistent with how many of the referenced periods of history used as settings went, but even when they were hard to read I still enjoyed having read them. Four and a half complex plots out of five.

"Athena's Daughters: Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy" was another Kickstarter project (and it's worth going to that page for all the associated art, but by the time I found out about it I was too late to fund it. Instead, I ended up ordering the ebook through Amazon. Pun sort of intended, it's a stellar anthology -- I found out about it through Sherwood Smith's blog, and with her story and a couple of my other favorite authors (Cleolinda Jones! Nisi Shawl!) it would be hard not to be. It was icing on the cake that astronaut and all-around badass Colonel Pam Melroy (one of only two women to command the Space Shuttle) wrote for them as well. I know I'm a sucker, but the Amelia Earhart story was my favorite. Like "Long Hidden", the included art was lovely and added to my enjoyment as a reader, even if I do always try to figure everything in the story out in advance from the art. I understand they're doing a second volume with submissions opening this summer, and I'll definitely read that one once it's out too. Four wise owls out of five.

My book friend to whom I recommended "Long Hidden" lent me Stephen King's foray into mystery/hard boiled crime fiction "The Colorado Kid". More than anything, I read it as an ethnography of Maine island life. It wasn't badly told, but if you are the kind of reader who likes all their loose ends wrapped up and everything neatly packaged, you will not like this book. It's much more "old-timers talking about a cold case" than it is a detective hurtling across the landscape trying to solve a murder before getting offed themself. Short, interesting, but not a neat fit in any genre. Three and a half ferry boat drivers out of five.

From my first trip to Third Place Books, I had to pick just one book to take home with me. (I was on a bicycle. It's a long way.) That book was "The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon". It's excellent outdoor writing -- lots of history, some geology, and enough background to understand the tension and opposing worldviews of the engineers who built and maintain the dams on the Colorado as well as the environmental activists who oppose their existence and management. Readers who like high context and understanding how things came to be will like this book. While it takes quite some time to get around to the Emerald Mile's record-breaking run down the river, by the time you get there you can appreciate what it was that just happened. I am still substantially astonished that nobody died... like the Powell party, heading dwarfed but undaunted into a partially known river of that scale is straddling the line between crazy and legendary. I sure wouldn't want to do it, but I enjoyed reading about people crazier than myself doing it. Four new faces of Crystal out of five.

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8 forks or fork, exec?
randomdreams From: randomdreams Date: August 19th, 2014 10:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Don't let anyone talk you into giving Notaro another chance. I liked the idiot girls' guide, and think that was the strongest of her books. The next three or four are largely repeats of that, only with her getting older and having more responsibility, and still doing the same general things.
thewronghands From: thewronghands Date: August 19th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh. Thanks for the confirmation. I was pretty sure I was done there... mostly I took it as an indication that that lady and I do not have compatible tastes in books or entertainment.
gement From: gement Date: August 19th, 2014 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool! I do not read nearly as much traditional fiction as my ego tells me I should, but I love reading the book reviews of others, and I *have* read The Long Hidden. I heartily endorse your assessment of it on all points.
thewronghands From: thewronghands Date: August 19th, 2014 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love reading other peoples' book reviews too. [grin] I have at least this many books still in the to-review queue, so we'll see if I get my act together and write another post this week to clear it out before I go on travel and read many many more during my zillion hours on airplanes. Heh. But it's a labor of love.
rosefox From: rosefox Date: August 21st, 2014 03:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the book.
larksdream From: larksdream Date: August 20th, 2014 01:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I... had assumed that the title was self-deprecating. I didn't expect the author to genuinely be someone I thought was stupid.

Ahahahaha. I too have had that book experience. How unfortunate.
thewronghands From: thewronghands Date: August 20th, 2014 06:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I was torn between not wanting to feel super judgmental and feeling like she could totally have, you know, not done those things and been happier thereby. But she's the judge of that, not me. But I don't want to read about it.
shewhomust From: shewhomust Date: August 24th, 2014 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Hi - I followed you home from weegoddess's comments, and I couldn't resist telling you how glad I am not to be the only person in the world who didn't love A Princess of Roumania</cite>!
8 forks or fork, exec?