Lots of Books

Rather than thinking about all the people I’m not seeing here in NYC because I’m home in bed, I’m focussing on the upside of this endless flu: reading. In the past few weeks I’ve read scads and oodles and many, many more books than I normally do. Here are the ones I most enjoyed:

    Wild Seed and Fledgling by Octavia ButlerWild Seed was one of the first Butlers I ever read. It made me a fan for life. I was little worried it wouldn’t stand up to my memories of it. Shouldn’t have. Doro is still the creepiest villian ever. Butler makes you understand why he does what he does. You almost want him to succeed. Ack! This book is about everything (power, slavery, gender, sex, race, colonialism) plus there’s a shapeshifter and a psychic vampire. Aside from monkey knife fights and airships, what more could you ask for?

    Fledgling is not one of Butler’s best, but it’s still one of the most compelling vampire novels I’ve read. My disappointment with it was that it ended too soon. It didn’t feel finished. Or, at least, it reads like it’s set up for a sequel that’s not going to come. I confess I cried thinking about that. (The shocking proofreading also made me want to cry. I lost count of how many missing articles and prepositions there were. There ought to be a law.)

    The Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci

    I read this on the plane from San Francisco to NYC. I finished before they started the movie. It’s a beautiful and elegant morality tale. There’s not a single word wasted. Libby the queen of cool learns to rethink just what cool is and what friendship can be. Hmmm, that makes it sound kind of preachy which it isn’t. I was dead impressed by the way Castellucci took a largely unsympathetic protag and made you love her. I loved the glorious Tina, too. (Can she have her own book, too, Cecil? Please?) I just wish it had been much, much longer.

    The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

    This has to be the least romantic of all Heyer’s romances. The romance plot probably doesn’t add up to even ten pages. I love that she got away with doing that! And that she has a hero who’s short, not particularly good-looking, and loves to please. I wish a film version of this had been made with a young Jayne Mansfield in the role of the foundling. Also best unrepentent villian ever.

    Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

    I believe this was just officially published yesterday so you can run out and get a copy immediately. (Or at least in the US you can.) A funny sharp examination of sexual politics in high school from the point of view of a girl who’s magically been transformed into a fly. Just gorgeous. Move over, Mr Kafka!

    The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

    I thought on this reread of The Thief and The Queen of Attolia I’d be able to savour them, not rush to find out what was going to happen next on account of knowing what’s going to happen next. No such luck. Every single time I get caught up in the story and wind up reading until the book is finished and then greedily snatching up the next one. I was still shocked by every twist and turn. I still cried at a certain shocking event in the second book. Does The King of Attolia live up to its brilliant, genius, best-books-ever predecessors? Yes it does. There were less surprises because even a dumb reader like me has learnt after the first two that stuff will not be as it seems. Doesn’t matter, really. These are books that can be read and reread and they just get better. Sigh. Wish I could write like Turner. She is a goddess.

What books have youse lot been reading and loving of late? I’ll read pretty much anything (well, except cosies, can’t stand ’em). So fire away with recommendations.

Posted: NYC, 2:50AM


  1. Niall Harrison on #

    Recently read:

    Counting Heads by David Marusek – fine near-future novel about how to live when the definitions of identity and life are constantly changing. The first 40 pages, in particular, are mindblowing.

    Fledgling – like you, thought it was good but not great. It seems that most people prefer the first half, which has a clearer narrative focus; I preferred the second half, with all the legal wrangling and worldbuilding implications.

    Uncounquered Countries by Geoff Ryman – four novellas. ‘A Fall of Angels’ (first contact, fun but not groundbreaking), ‘Fan’ (written in the early-nineties about a digital pop star, so obviously dated, but still emotionally convincing), ‘O Happy Day’ (stunning story about the gay guards running a concentration camp to which ‘violent people’ (read: straight men) are relocated for processing) and ‘The Unconquered Country’ (weird but compelling near-future story about a Cambodia at war and drenched in biotech).

    Current reading: 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Avoid! I’m reading it because it’s on the BSFA Best Novel ballot, but I have no idea how it got there – shockingly badly written.

  2. Justine on #

    Niall: that’s interesting about Fledgling, i definitely preferred the second half for just those reasons. I guess that’s why the end felt so abrupt to me. I mean, the book had only just got going. I wanted to know more about this world, about how she would make her way in it, knowing so little . . .

    I’ve heard much good about Counting Heads, but, and this is dreadful of me, I am quite put off by the small typeface. I will overcome this because a) I’ve enjoyed his short stories, and b) I’m hearing such good things about it.

    Oh, oh, oh! I love those Ryman novellas. Actually I love all Ryman, though I’ve yet to read Air. Can’t wait!

    What kind of badly written? I just read someone saying that Uglies is badly written and while it’s my least favourite of Scott’s book I still love it and cannot comprehend how someone could say it was “badly written”. Anyway I’m always curious about what people mean when they say that.

  3. Niall on #

    From page 19 of 9Tail Fox:

    “An evening like any other. The insane parrot posse was shrieking like drunken dolls from the branches of a blue gum eucalyptus on Telegraph Hill, which was what they did best; although their chatter barely disturbed the concentration of the girl in black pyjamas who practised Tai Chi on the steps that ran down from the Coit Tower. It took more than a flock of feral parrots to disturb Kris Zha when she was being stubborn.”

    1. He needs to make up his mind whether the posse is singular or plural.
    2. What on earth is that semicolon doing there?
    3. Why does the clause after the semicolon go on forever? It’s like something out of A Dark and Stormy Night.

    There are similarly ungainly bits on almost every page. At some point I think you just cross the line from ‘personal style’ to ‘ugly’. He also has a habit of moving from one POV to another within the same paragraph that I find extremely distracting (he does it immediately after the above–the girl’s Dad phones her, and by the end of the paragraph we’re in his head not hers. It’s possible to make that work, but in my opinion Grimwood doesn’t).

    What else? Grimwood doesn’t do sense of place very well either; the book is ostensibly set in San Francisco, but it’s much blander than the San Francisco I know. Brand names are used as shorthand for characterisation. He can do dialogue, and he can do pacing/plotting, but that’s about it.

    Other people will no doubt give you different opinions. 🙂

    And you could always wait for the paperback of Counting Heads–it might have a bigger typeface. But read Air first!

  4. scott w on #

    Just finished my first Patrick O’Brien, Master and Commander.

    It was a great example of how much detail you can put into a book without losing the reader. P O’B knows his sails cold. Great action and a really complete and rich sense of period and manners.

    Plus dudes get totally wasted by cannonballs.

  5. Justine on #

    Niall: I think I’d need to see more before declaring that bad. The number thing is more of a proofing error. I’m Australian so the pov thing has never struck me as a problem (unless, like everything else, it’s done badly). It’s common in Commonwealth fiction to play around with pov. USians, however, seem to be totally phobic about it. (It occurs to me that I don’t know where you are from—hah! just went and checked and it turns out that you’re from the UK. Hmmm . . . )

    Sense of place, otoh, is a major bugbear of mine. I can’t stand that kind of place description. Brand names as a short hand for anything drives me spare.

    Okay, I will read Air before Counting Heads, I promise!

    Scott: I can’t believe I forgot Master and Commander! That was the first of the illness books. I’ve been hearing about those books for so long that I felt like I’d almost read them. Now that I have read one I find I was wrong. They are not much like what I was expecting. They’re much funnier for one thing and the writing far more ornate (not sure that’s the right word). It turns out that all the over-the-top praise was too restrained. Master and Commander is easily one of the best historicals I’ve ever read. One of the best novels, too.

  6. marrije on #

    i’ve just finished jeff vandermeer’s city of saints and madmen, which i loved because he does exactly as he pleases, following high harrowing tales with silly things that also contain touching sub-stories.

    and i’m now reading richard dawkins’ the ancestor’s tale: very learned, somewhat hard at times (i’m so bad at imagining distances of millions of years) but also delicious because of the many sneaky digs at creationists.

    oh, and I bought fledgling, because I read so many touching posts by you & yours about ms. butler and i haven’t read a single one of hers yet.

    & get well soon!

  7. John H on #

    i got halfway through the ancestor’s tale and stopped – i like how he wrote it travelling back in time, so that various lifeforms converge along the way. but it started to become a bit much.

    i recently finished stephen king’s dark tower series – i had been reading them as they were published, but he took so damn long getting the final volumes out that i decided to start over when he finished.

    not to be a suck-up, but the last book i read was magic or madness. it was a fun read, and i liked the change in vocabulary with the shift in pov. i was hoping to time it so i could jump right into magic lessons when i finished, but i have yet to see it at the local borders.

    so i started reading christopher paolini’s eragon instead. i’m only through the first fifty pages or so, but it seems pretty good so far.

  8. Niall on #

    Funny you mention the US/rest of world POV thing, Justine. At a convention a couple of years ago I heard jcg talking about the experience of having his novels translated into different languages. He said they’d even been translated into American. Someone asked what he meant, and he said exactly what you just did–that the US market likes a much tighter control on POV, so he went through the Arabesks and firmed things up, even going as far as rewriting some sections from a new POV.

    Anyway, my problem is not that Grimwood shifts around POV (if it was, I would have really hated Counting Heads, whereas in fact the sudden opening out in that book is one of the things I love about it) but that he does it sloppily.

    As for the singular/plural posse–yes, it could have been caught by a closer edit, but when there are similar errors on almost every page it doesn’t create a good impression.

    Anyway, I hate being cranky about books, so I’ll finish with something else good I read recently: The Accidental by Ali Smith.

  9. Rajan K on #

    I am actually reading Wild Seed right now. I’ve had it for ages, but I never got around to reading it until now. I’m only a few chapters in but I’m enjoying it.

    I’m using it to take a break between Gene Wolfe’s Knight and Wizard. Knight was very good, much better than I thought the concept would allow and Wolfe is great at giving you only what you need in the story.

  10. Lewis on #

    I’ve read all the novels of Patrick O’Brian and was fascinated by them. O’Brian’s books have wonderful plots and detailed descriptions – I learned more about navigation, ship’s architecture, 18th century medical practises than I thought possible in a work of fiction. Have only two caveats- (1) I don’t know languages, so the dialogues in Latin and French were annnoying. (2) I was always reaching for a dictionary for definitions of nautical, botanical, medical terms. And a lot of words were archaic. Interrupting my reading to search for definitions was also annoying. Life would have easier if a glossary came with each book.

    Started to read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas. Brought back a lot of memories of the ’60s when everyone under the age of 30 seemed to be stoned. (The 60’s were a lot of fun – sex, dope, and rock and roll.)

  11. Hannah on #

    Interesting–I didn’t even get to the second half of Fledgling. I really wanted to like it, but I was squicked out and…bored. Both at once. It was sad.

    Recently, hmm. I’m okay with saying the above, because I just read Butler’s Dawn for the first time and was fascinated in the way that I get fascinated by somewhat creepy things. It was–just unsettling enough that part of why it was unsettling was that it was almost comfortable. And the post-disaster now-what? scenario is right up my alley, with crunchy social goodness. Yay! Adulthood Rites (and Parable of the Sower, but that’s a reread) are waiting for me at the library. Double-yay!

    Currently reading Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite and loving it for similar reasons. And Reviving Ophelia (nonfiction), where the commentary on the case studies has gotten a bit repetitive, but it’s making me thoughtful, anyway.

    I got 16 books at the library on Moday. Oof.

  12. TansyRR on #

    I’m reading and loving Melusine, by Sarah Monette. It’s such a rich fantasy (city based, which I love), but with a clear, page-turning authorial voice.

    She makes alternating first person work…

    But most of all, it’s impressive because the story is right there, staring you in the face from page one, dragging you along through all the luscious worldbuilding detail. The characters are fascinating and feel very real.

    Sexy, strange & very compelling. I’m completely jealous. Everybody must read it now!

  13. Rachel Brown on #

    I have been re-reading Kazuya Minekura’s wonderful, addictive, gorgeously drawn, and totally whacked-out manga Saiyuki, in which four bad-ass, wise-cracking guys drive across ancient china in a jeep (which is the other form of a small white dragon), fighting demons and squabbling in the back seat.

    her website is in Japanese, but check out the gallery: http://www.minekura.com/main.html

    Also, I have been reading books about climbing dangerous icy mountains. I have no wish to ever climb a dangerous icy mountain, but I like reading about it.

  14. Justine on #

    Marrije: Just keep in mind that Fledgling is not her best work. For her very very very best get Bloodchild and Other Stories.

    I’ve been hearing great things about the Vandermeer. Scott’s a huge Dawkins fan. I must get around to reading him some day.

    Thanks for the good wishes! Any day now I will be well . . .

    John H: Not sucking up—it’s lovely to know folks are enjoying my books!

    Niall: Oh sure, when done badly it’s maddening. But I really don’t understand the US hysteria about it that holds that shifting pov is a sign of bad writing. That’s like saying using first person is a sign of bad writing. It ain’t the tools you use but how you use ’em! But, clearly, you know that.

    So I know nothing about The Accidental. Tell more!

    Rajan K: Wild Seed‘s amazing. I’m pretty fond of the whole series. Especially Clay’s Ark which is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Deep dark secret: I’ve never read any Gene Wolfe. He has so many books that I’ve never known where to start . . .

    Lewis: I can see what you’re saying, but it didn’t bother me. I’m a pretty lazy reader I just zip past the stuff I don’t understand. I figure I’ll work it out from context.

    Hannah: I can see the erk factor of Fledgling it’s pretty much unfilmable, but it’s a shame you put it down the second half is heaps more interesting. Though I do think it’s one of her weakest novels. My favourite Nicola Griffith is Slow River which is just fabulous. Sewage of the future . . . So very cool.

    Tansy: Yet another Melusine recommendation. I’ve yet to hear a bad word about that book. It’s definitely on my list.

    Rachel Brown: That sounds amazing! A jeep that’s a dragon? Count me in. And that art is amazing. But, okay, I’m a total manga neophyte from what you’ve said I have no idea how to go about buying it in a bookshop. What’s it actually called? Help!

  15. Rachel Brown on #

    Yes, Jeep (also his name) is a small white dragon who is the pet of one of the guys.

    The manga is called “saiyuki,” by kazuya minekura. There are nine volumes available in english, plus a continuation called “saiyuki reload.” You go to bookshop and ask for the manga section. Then look under “s.” They are alphabetized by title.

    I have a long description of it in the comments to this entry (you must be logged in as justinelavaworm to read it, for reasons that will be obvious when you see it.) Do read the comments before you click on the link in the entry (should you decide to click on the link.)


  16. Rachel Brown on #

    PS. It reads right to left, ie, you start at the “back” of the book, and the panels read from right to left. This actually takes very little time to get used to. But you might also want to look at this (plus hey, you’re sick, so you need all the entertainment you can get):

    This essay on the art in saiyuki has lots of pretty pictures:


    Complete set of “about manga art, layout, etc” links, by the same person, who is also drawing the manga I’m writing:


  17. Justine on #

    Sounds incredible, though I’m deeply disturbed by the idea of starting a series with no. 4. It would make my head explode as I am very conservative about the order of things. I will try no. 1.

  18. Rachel Brown on #

    You’d also have to go back and read the first three, as they contain important plot and character info. I’m just saying, it really takes off in volume four.

    Bonus pretty art:


    From the prequel series “saiyuki gaiden,” where the characters are all gods in heaven– not yet available in english:



    And a terrific gallery here:


  19. Colleen on #

    Just finished an ARC for Charles de Lint’s latest “Widdershins”. It is fantastic – if you are a fan of his Newford books then you will think you have died and gone to heaven but even if you’re new to him, you will find so much to love here. The layered plots are outstanding, the descriptions of the music, the legends, the folklore – on war itself. This is just great stuff.

    Also just read a very good YA historical fiction set during Vietnam, “Amaryllis”. This is a great boy book in particular (althought I loved it a lot) and I’ll be including in my column next month at Bookslut. It’s so rare to find a good war book for YAs, so I was glad to see this one come my way.

    And “THe Case of the Missing Marquess” by Nancy Springer – a girl detective who happens to be Sherlock Holmes’s much younger sister. The mystery is fun, but Enola Holmes is outstanding. I am very happily telling the world about this teen. She rocks!!

  20. Little Willow on #

    A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb is BRILLIANT.

    Have you read anything by Christopher Golden yet? His newest release is THE MYTH HUNTERS: Book One of The Veil.

  21. Little Willow on #

    I meant to also say: Tiny rocks The QoC.

  22. Ben Payne on #

    I made a stack of all the books I meant to read and am reading them all at the same time… so I’m reading about 50 books… this messes with continuity but can be interesting…

    I’m kinda enjoying Vellum, so far, also Murakami’s Norweigan Wood and The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vaquez Montalban, although I’m still early on it it… also, Porno by Irvine Welsh, which is… Irvine Welsh.

  23. marrije on #

    Justine, back in october you mentioned that you were going to read the weather makers. Was it as good as you expected it to be? I’m on this non-fiction kick at the moment, and really have to undo the damage michael crichton’s state of fear did (kim robinson’s fifty degrees below isn’t hitting the spot), so if flannery’s book is good i’ll have to get that.

  24. Justine on #

    Just quickly cause we have to zoom up to the Bronx for a library appearance. Thanks so much for all the recs! Colleen, I’m particularly intrigued by the Vietnam War one.

    Nope, haven’t read Weather Makers yet. I hear it’s excellent. Scott says his fave non-fic at the moment is The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr. The only non-fic I’ve read lately have been cricket books and I can’t see you being into them, Marrije. Some really good ones, but.

  25. janet on #

    What Gene Wolf to start with….hmmm. The obvious choice would have to be Shadow of the Torturer, but I am probably not the right person to tell you since I developed a bad taste in my mouth for Wolfe a while back and haven’t been able to read him for several years. He work is unquestionably brilliant, but just too grotesque or something.

    Speaking of the proper book to start with, this is highly amusing (you have to read the whole post): http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/03/paul_krugman_sm.html
    I know for a fact that Krugman reads fafblog, too.

    As it happens, the only two full-length works that I have finished since Alice was born are magic lessons and so yesterday, both of which i enjoyed greatly. Turns out that some of the qualities of YA fiction (notably the short chapters) make them good reads for mothers of young babes — made the inevitable frequent put-it-down-pick-it-up-find-your-place-again process much easier.

  26. Mely on #

    Wait! Why are my LJ RSS feeds hiding book posts from me? I am so upset!

    I spent the weekend reading Temeraire bks two through 4.1ish, which I believe you have already read, and second the rec for Saiyuki, which I have successfully recommended to three or four people as a good first manga to read.

    Did I ever recommend Susan Vaight’s Stormwitch to you? Very good YA fantasy with a neat approach to race and gender.

  27. Justine on #

    I wondered at your silence . . . You have indeed already rec’d Stormwitch—tis on my list.

    I have not yet read beyond book one of the Temeraire series. I find it hard to read onscreen when my head is all congested. But hopefully I will have hard copy shortly . . .

  28. Mely on #

    aww. I hope you feel better soon.

    I have been meaning to read A Certain Slant of Light, since it was recommended to me by Elizabeth Scott, whose name you should look for on YA books coming summer 2007; you’ll like them.

    Now I am going back to do work.

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