kaberett: A drawing of a black woman holding her right hand, minus a ring finger, in front of her face. "Oh, that. I cut it  off." (molly - cut it off)
[personal profile] kaberett
This came into my possession via the latest Humble Ebook Bundle, and I am so glad it did. This is how glad I am: I am about two-thirds of the way through it and I can't wait to finish before I tell you all how good it is.

The protagonist, Hanna, is sixteen, manic depressive (and explicitly, canonically prefers that descriptor to "bipolar", Because Reasons), and Finnish-"island girl" (Hawaiian?), raised (for most of her life) in Dallas. She describes herself as biracial and bicultural, and she's bilingual in English and Finnish - and the codeswitching is genuinely plausibly represented.

The dude she ends up hanging around with a lot is the same age, Latino, and bilingual in Spanish and English - again, really nicely represented.

The story takes place in creepy smalltown Texas. It's sub/urban fantasy and abusive parents and a critique of the medical-industrial complex and teenagers having (complicated, not always happy) sex lives all tied up in tight, funny monster-killing brilliance. It's lovely.

Content notes. )
ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile] sumofparts.livejournal.com
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
The Lifecycle of Software Objects may be a novella, but its story stretches out over years, with Chiang providing a compelling narrative which leads us through the early years in the life of several digients, i.e. computer software avatars imbued with artificial intelligence. The story begins with their creation and development as overseen by two people who work at Blue Gamma, the company that creates them: Ana and Derek. Both are impressed with the technology and quickly become attached to the childish avatars. While the digients are a success, their popularity is short-lived. Being first generation digients they quickly become unpopular and out-moded. While most are quick to abandon their digients, Ana and Derek adopt some and develop a child-parent bond with these cyber creatures, eventually proving they will do almost anything to ensure their safety even as the online world limits their choices.

There is a curious lack of sensory detail in the book. This has been a frustrating feature of Chiang's previous work, but the absence is particularly felt here, when the differences between the flatness of the online world and the richness of the real world is made so apparent. In Chiang's world the digients are able to transcend the online world by downloading their software into a robot body which allows them to interact with their trainers in a new way. Ana, training her future digient adoptee, is hugged by him in his robot form, an obviously emotional moment. Later the narrator notes that Not surprisingly, the sensor pads in the robot's fingers are the first thing that needs replacement. In the world of the novella, the avatars become enchanted by the real world, craving time in the robot suit so that they can feel. Unfortunately, Chiang's world is devoid of any richness in detail which leaves an uncomfortable void running through the novella. There are also some truly terrible transitions. The story flips through the years at a brisk pace, but Chiang often chooses to convey this with the phrase A year passed which seems clumsy the first time it is used and downright annoying by the sixth or seventh time. 

What Chiang does excellently though is track the decline and fall of the digients. There is an undercurrent of sweetness and nostalgia running through the book. The more time and energy their care-givers give to the digients and the more self-aware and intelligent they become, the better they are able to realize that software incompatibilities mean that their world is rapidly shrinking. The ugly choices that Ana and Derek consider in order to give them a full "life" are devastating and would have seemed even more so if only Chiang had spent a little more time on the emotional and a little less of the scientific.
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Through Black Spruce was the 2008 winner of the Giller award (Canada's top literary prize for those not in the know). I've only read a handful of the winners and nominees over the years, but Through Black Spruce easily tops my list as my favourite of those I've read.

In Moosonee, Ontario a middle aged man lies in a coma. His name is Will Bird and over the course of the novel he narrates the events of the past year of his life, slowly building up to the event that led to his coma. While he is in a coma his niece Annie Bird talks to him, telling him about the past year of her life, when she left the town she had lived in all her life in order to travel to Toronto, Montreal and New York in an attempt to track down her missing model sister Suzanne who ran off two years ago with her drug-dealing boyfriend Gus.

The novel alternates between Will and Annie's voices and it's a testament to Boyden's strength as a writer that each story is equally compelling. There was no sense of disappointment when a new chapter began and Will's story ended and Annie's story continued or vice versa. The missing Suzanne is also a compelling character, her abscence spurring on Annie's quest and having devastating consequences for Will. Suzanne is what weaves these two stories together despite the fact that we never "see" her within the novel.

There is also a lot of detail about Cree life and what it means to keep the traditions alive in an increasingly modern world. Will and especially Annie represent a bridge between traditional Cree culture and Western culture. Boyden is able to eloquently capture the negotiation between modern and traditional and the compromises that his characters must make in order to feel comfortable within themselves are woven elegantly into the story. 

FYI: Boyden wrote this as a loose sequel to his first novel Three Day Road (Will is the son of the main character of Three Day Road) and has announced that he intends to write a third book to form a trilogy.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
2. Sarita Mandanna, Tiger Hills

Devi is a beautiful, strong-willed young girl, growing up in Coorg, a rural, mountainous area of South India, in the late 1800s. She's in love with Machu, a warrior famous for having killed a tiger single-handedly. Devanna, Machu's younger cousin, is a quiet, intelligent boy, studying to be a doctor, who's in love with Devi. As you might expect, things don't turn out well.

This novel has some beautiful descriptions of scenery (apparently Coorg- spelled Kodagu today- is known as 'the Scotland of India'), but the plot is a bit over-the-top, with tragedy following tragedy. I enjoyed reading to pass the time on a long bus trip, but I'm not sure I can genuinely recommend it, unless you're looking for something to read that won't require a lot of thought.
[identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
1. Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India

Anjali Bose is a small town girl in rural India who has big dreams. Her teacher, an ex-pat American, encourages her to make something of herself by heading to Bangalore, which they both see as the best new city in India. Anjali eventually heads there, and ends up in more trouble than she anticipated.

The writing in this novel is quite good, very poetic, in the first few chapters, but gradually heads downhill and becomes very pedestrian by the end. The problem, I think, is that there is just way too much plot in this book. The main characters deal with rape, international terrorism, false charges of murder, police brutality, arranged marriage, teenage runaways, divorce, gay men in India, botched back-alley sex change operations, prostitution, art theft, suicide, the role of outsourcing in the Indian economy, riots, the art of photography, homelessness, telecommunication centers, and more. By about the fourth major plot twist, there's no time for poetry anymore, and even for much of a reaction from the characters, because there's just too much happening. I think it could have been a much better book if it had just focused on a few of these issues instead of all of them.

That said, many of the characters here are quite appealing, particularly Anjali. And it certainly seems to be a very current look at Indian society (I learned, for instance, that the cool new dessert is cold coffee with ice cream, which I promptly went out to try, and I can inform you that it is delicious). Overall a fun read, but not a particularly deep one.
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (still IBARW)
[personal profile] rydra_wong
There are books you can't put down, and then there are books you put down a third of the way through so that you can run to the computer and start ordering more books by the same author. The Intuitionist is that good.

I don't know whether this should be counted as sf/f, slipstream, magical realism, or something else altogether: its very own genre of lucid-dreaming surreal noir, a vision of a city that might be New York riven by the conflict between rival schools of elevator inspectors, the Empiricists with their faith in dutiful physical inspection and the Intuitionists who aspire to sense defects by tuning into the the soul of the machine itself.

Lila Mae Watson is the first "colored" woman (the book is set in what feels like the '40s or '50s) to become an elevator inspector - and she's an Intuitionist. When an elevator she inspected inexplicably goes into freefall, she finds herself at the centre of a web of political intrigue, where race, class, secrecy and mysticism intersect in the hunt for the "black box": the design for a perfect elevator.

Lila Mae is a fantastic protagonist: dour, self-contained, and, like the novel, utterly herself. But what makes the novel absolutely compelling is the narrative voice. Something like Don DeLillo, something like Walter Mosley (who contributed a well-deserved blurb), and a lot that's all Whitehead's own. This doesn't read like the first novel it is; it's unhesitatingly confident and polished in its idiosyncrasies:

Anyway, slept. In the biggest bed she has ever slept in, swimmable, Lila Mae buoyant despite her negligible body fat (a skinny one, she is). The bed possesses an undertow conducive to dreaming, but she doesn't remember her dreams when she wakes. On waking, her half-dreaming consciousness segues into a recollection of her visit to the Fanny Briggs building. It was simple: that's what Lila Mae is thinking about in her room at 117 Second Avenue.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
1. Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I haven't read Roll of Thunder since I was a kid, and honestly, didn't remember much of what goes on in it. Reading it now, I can't help but contrast it with To Kill a Mockingbird -- the two novels are very similar in themes, plot, and setting. Both take place in rural, Depression-era South; both plots center around the racial injustices of the place and time; both are narrated by young girls who are only just becoming aware of the racial politics that around them; both narrators are relatively sheltered and prosperous, as compared to their peers; both narrators idolize their fathers and alternately look up to and chafe under the influence of their older brothers.

I've read Mockingbird umpteen times in my life, and for the first half or so of Taylor's book, Roll of Thunder felt to me like I had rotated the Mockingbird world in my hands and was looking in at it through another window, seeing many bits of the story that had been hidden from Scout. And then the world twisted on me. In this story, Atticus isn't a hero.

Mr. Jamison, the fair-minded white lawyer who is respectful to the black families and willing to incur personal risk while advocating in their interest, is... well, pathetically ineffectual. He is portrayed as a good man and an ally, but he isn't trusted, either. He is very alien, very removed from their lives, and no one can forget that he acts solely from his own sense of morality and may buckle under social pressure at any time. And, as I said, despite all his efforts, he can't do all that much to help anyone. During the book's climax, OMG SPOILERS! ) This is a very, very different portrait than the self-composed Atticus reading below Tom Robinson's cell window while they wait for the lynch mob.

And, yanno, notwithstanding all these lines I just spent on Mr. Jamison? He's a minor character. He's hardly mentioned in the book at all. I just finished reading the novel this morning, yet I had to go look up Mr. Jamison's name so that I could write this post. However grand and heroic Atticus is in Mockingbird, his alter-ego barely exists in the Logans' world.

The ending of Roll of Thunder is... abrupt. More of a highly-emphasized break between acts than a true end of a novel. But I hear that Taylor wrote bunch more about the Logans...
helens78: A man in a leather jacket, seated on the ground, looks up hopefully. (Default)
[personal profile] helens78
Hello! I'm Helens. )

I discovered Octavia Butler in college, in a comparative lit class about science-fiction books. We read "Dawn", and though it would turn out not to be my favorite of Butler's books, I was inspired enough to go out and get more of them. I finished off the Xenogenesis series and then went for the Pattern cycle.

Patternmaster is the first book Butler published, but in series chronology, it's the last of the Pattern cycle. It opens on a world so unfamiliar that a first-time reader won't necessarily know what they're looking at, which I think is a pretty cool artistic decision. At only 202 pages, it has a narrowed focus, telling the story of the protagonist (Teray) and his struggle to come to adulthood in a hurry and find his place within the Pattern that connects all the Patternists in this world, but Butler's tight, clear writing style gives us a fantastic view of the world she's invented and never leaves us feeling confused. (This is a big deal for me; I often feel confused when writers invent worlds but don't ground me sufficiently enough in them for me to understand what's going on and what the "rules" are.)

I rated it 4.5 stars on LibraryThing, but only because the second (publication date) book in the series is one of my favorite books of all time (Mind of My Mind), possibly my favorite book, if I were held at gunpoint and asked to pick one. I've read MoMM several times in single sittings; it's that good. So there has to be room to go up from here, but not much! Patternmaster remains an excellent book with an engaging world and outstandingly smart, powerful, tough and brave protagonists. (And for those of you who aren't familiar with Butler's work, her protagonists are almost always Black or multiracial characters; many of her books have tall, Black, female protagonists; see the Xenogenesis series and the Parable series.)
ext_6334: (Zora Neale Hurston)
[identity profile] carenejeans.livejournal.com
Note: This book figures large in my bookish past, and I started writing this essay for an (unfinished) post for IBARW. Not all of my posts will be this personal.


I first read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye more than thirty years ago. I haven't read it very often since (about three times, once for a class in college) but it has stayed with me, lodged firmly on my memory's bookshelf. It's one of my "foundational" books -- those books that you find just when you need them (even if you didn't know you needed it) and which fit into your brain like a puzzle piece from the Big Picture of, you know, life, the universe, and How Things Really Work.
Read more... )

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