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Ten books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Ten books
* for ebooks, # for audiobooks

Look! I have read some physical books again!

# A Civil Contract (by Georgette Heyer)
Hah! Another book that features the return of Napoleon from Elba! (Glamour in Glass was the previous one). Slow but charming, but then, I'm not listening to Heyer for the speed of plot. She really does do well at showing gradual change of opinion. I kept wanting to call it a Civil Campaign, but there are no butter bugs in this one.
* The Shadowed Sun (by N. K. Jemisin)
I think this is the end of a two-book series, not the middle of a trilogy. There should be more duologies. Anyway, I think I like the Dreamblood pair a little more than the Inheritance trilogy (which I finished last entry); the Inheritance gods are interesting to watch, but Dreamblood is all about people, and she does people really well. All the emotions feel strong and real - love, grief, anger, steadfastness, loyalty. Most of the book is an "outsider among 'barbarian' culture learns of new customs" section that reminds me a lot of Kate Elliot's Jaran, which I still remember fondly. Five stars.

* Redemption in Indigo (by Karen Lord)
An African-flavored story about how to use your chaos dice. The story is short but charming, and the constantly digressing narrator's voice is quirky and engaging. Three and a half stars - not a must-read, but I enjoyed it.

* Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue (by Hugh Howey)
This is the first of another series by the Wool guy; this one is YA space opera. It's not as solid as Wool, but not as exasperating as the prequel. It wobbles back and forth between really nicely done scenes (I really liked the opening Kobiyashi-Maru-esque space battle) and implausible or annoying scenes (the most egregiously bad was (SPOILER) a spreading wildfire that destroys an entire (oceanless, rainless, yet rolling-green-fields vegetation, though there is a handwave for that) planet in less than a day, as the forest fires travel... something like three times the speed of sound?). I think this is Howey's first book ever, though, so I know he gets better, and they're cheap on Kindle, so I'll probably read at least a couple more and see how they go. Three stars.

# Act of Will (by A. J. Hartley)
This was clearly going to be a story about character growth for an obnoxious, insufferable, whiny main character into a more decent person. But he was just too obnoxious, insufferable, and whiny at the beginning for me to find him at all sympathetic, and I couldn't bear to keep listening. Probably it would have been better not as an audibook, because he might have gotten to sympathetic faster. Ah well.

Circle of the Moon (by Barbara Hambly)
This is the sequel to Sisters of the Raven, but I read that half a decade ago so don't remember the details very well. I loved this one just as much as I loved the first book, though - believable different people, beauty, grief, striving, sacrifice, joy, mystery... Oddly, it reminded me quite a lot of The Shadowed Sun, with the dream-plague and the Arabian-ish setting and the one woman trained by male mages, but the world could use more books in this vein. Five stars.

*Starfish (by Peter Watts)
The initial dystopic premise is a deep-sea power station, which is enough of a horrible stressful environment to work in that it drives people crazy, except for people who are "pre-adapted" (the corporate word for it) - that is, come from horribly abused backgrounds. It's an unsettling cast of characters to start with, but Watts does a good job of making them sympathetic for me while not shying away from making them broken. It takes a while for the Main Plot to start up, but when it did I was almost surprised - I had been just reading along with the general travails of the people in the station and had to remind myself that yes, something does actually have to Happen. Then, having suspicious mysterious things start to happen, in that setting, works quite well. Plus, underwater makes everything spookier for me. Anyway, it's a darkish book, but it's not heavy, if that makes any sense, and I found it hard to put down. (Huh, it's creative commons licensed, and the whole series is available on the author's web site). For most metrics - semi-dystopia, abusive characters - I wouldn't have expected to like this book, but I did. Four and a half underwater bioluminescent stars.

# Still Life, by Louise Penny
A mystery, set in a very small town. Normally mysteries are popcorn for me - tasty but not enthralling - but I really loved this one. The characters were likeable and sympathetic and different from each other, and flawed in interesting ways. There was an undercurrent of humor - not that the book is a comedy, but one of the things that takes a book from one I like to one I love is having a sense of humor around the edges. Plus there are a couple of bits of mad eccentricity - take this description:
Myrna then dragged in her contribution to the evening, a flower arrangement. 'Where would you like it, child?'
Clara gawked. Like Myrna herself, her bouquets were huge, effusive, and unexpected. This one contained oak and maple branches, bulrushes from the Rivière Bella Bella which ran behind Myrna's bookshop, apple branches with a couple of McIntoshes still on them, and great armfuls of herbs.
`What's this?`
`Where?`
`Here, in the middle of the arrangement.`
`A kielbassa.`
`A sausage?`
`Hummuh, and look in there,` Myrna pointed into the tangle.
`The Collected Works of W. H. Auden,` Clara read. `You're kidding.`
`It's for the boys.`
`What else is in there?` Clara scanned the immense arrangement.
`Denzel Washington. But don't tell Gabri.`
It has the old-fashioned cozy aura (small isolated place, everyone knows themselves, a police force which can spend a week to investigate a death that might not even be murder), but is also modern (a gay couple gets harassed by teenagers and defended by the community, the word 'gazillion' is used the same way I would). Finally, this particular story has a conceit that really appealed to me, of figuring out a clue in stages and as a team, and letting the reader come along with the figuring it out. It reminded me a lot of the thing I aspire to when trying to put together a mystery in a role-playing game - that things will become clearer, in stages, with thinking work as opposed to by luck or dramatic fiat or by the bad guy showing up to try to kill the detective. There were two things that niggled at me that I found implausible; one turned out to be a clue since it was in fact implausible, but the other was I think a mistake. Oh well. I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't ruled out an explanation because I thought the signs of my explanation would have been impossible to miss, and since such signs hadn't been remarked on, I decided it couldn't have been true. I seem to be being careful to not spoil anything here - I don't know if anyone goes and reads mysteries based on my recommendations, but if you might, this is one to try. Five stars. This is the first in a series which feature the same inspector and the same small village - I am not sure if they will avoid the "Cabot Cove has the highest murder rate in the country" problem, but I look forward to finding out.

Life of Pi (by Yann Martel)
I recently saw a preview for this movie, which reminded me it was sitting in my "to read" pile. For some reason, I had gotten the idea that it was one of those fabulous books everyone loved. It was... a fine book, but I didn't find it enthralling. The final chapters turned it from a story into a story about stories, and that did make it (retroactively) deeper and more thoughtful, but I didn't find it full of insight about the human condition or a compelling argument for God. The trailer sure looked pretty, though. Three and a half stars?

Mr. Monster (by Dan Wells)
This is the sequel to I Am Not A Serial Killer. It's another light-ish YA novel about a teenage sociopath who doesn't actually want to be a bad guy. If you liked the first book, this is a fine followup (the main thing is it's no longer a mystery what exactly the genre is). The cover is very clever, with actual scores as if it's been cut by the knife.

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Comments
gilana From: gilana Date: September 10th, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know if anyone goes and reads mysteries based on my recommendations, but if you might, this is one to try.

I do! Just reserved it at the library. Thanks!
lillibet From: lillibet Date: September 11th, 2012 02:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Louise Penney is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year or so. I think particularly this first one transcends genre, particularly in its depiction of the grief of the survivors.

firstfrost, if you want to PM me or something to discuss the slips you spotted, I'm happy to discuss it further. And while there is a bit of a murder-epidemic feel after the first few books, she does move Gamache et al. further afield over time while connecting things back to the village in interesting ways and contemplating the long-term effects of murder and conviction on the people who experience it.
arcanology From: arcanology Date: September 10th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Starfish is the sunny cheerful book in that trilogy... but very hard to stop reading them.
countertorque From: countertorque Date: September 11th, 2012 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Howey would not have made it as an engineer. There are a number of screw ups in Wool as well.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 11th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
That bouquet description is very ... very. It sounded lovely (if rather much for most spaces) until it got to the kielbassa ...
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