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30 Days of Books: Day Twenty

Day 20 – Favorite kiss
As may be obvious from how long it took me to get this post written up, I simply do not remember kisses in books. I mean it. I remember relationships, but most of them…I honestly couldn’t tell you if they ever kissed. Sure, they probably did, but I don’t remember it. But after nearly two months of mulling it over, I’ve come up with two exceptions: one is Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan in Shards of Honor (at least, I think it’s Shards — one of the first two books, anyway), but that one’s more the whole scene (including Simon unsmiling) than the kiss itself. The other is Daine and Numair in The Realms of the Gods, the last book in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet.

She ran to Numair, slamming into him with enough force to drive him back against the willow’s trunk. “That hurt,” he gasped. Before she could apologize, he was kissing her nose, her cheeks, her forehead, her lips. She kissed him back. They came up for air, then kissed again, their hands checking each other’s bodies, for serious injury as well as simply for the joy of touch.

I don’t actually like their relationship — that is, I loved their relationship before it became romantic, and I’m not sure why it went there in the end — but the kiss is scorching.

The Realms of the Gods, Wings to the Kingdom, Luka and the Fire of Life, The Clockwork Three

Oh yes, I’m still reading. :D

Tamora Pierce, Realms of the Gods
The last in the series, which seems to have sated my need for the fantasy series of my youth for a while. I recall not liking this one as much as the earlier books when I first read it, and I couldn’t recall if that was because I had to wait before this one came out or if it was something about the book itself. On rereading, I think it was the wait, because the book itself flows fairly well from the earlier series and has an engaging and original plot. Except…there is this romance, between Daine and Numair, that comes out of nowhere. It doesn’t seem to be foreshadowed in the earlier books at all — in fact, in the first book we find out explicitly that he’s all but twice her age. Pierce seems to have fiddled with ages a little bit by this last one to make them a little closer, but it still bothers me a bit. That said, they make a sweet couple. I just wish the teacher/student romance didn’t appear out of nowhere, is all.

Cherie Priest, Wings to the Kingdom
More Eden Moore! I love these books. Eden is such an amazing character — she has some supernatural powers, she can talk to ghosts, and she’s still pretty much an ordinary twentysomething. She’s skeptical of her friends’ crazy stories, not because she doesn’t believe in ghosts (of course she does), but because ghosts don’t act like that. She hangs out with a variety of people, some of whom are kind of useless, all of whom are massively entertaining. Also, this book features a mental institution built on the site of a sacred Indian burial ground. Which apparently exists in real life. (“I couldn’t make this up,” the author’s notes say.) What more do you need?

Salman Rushdie, Luka and the Fire of Life
I got this as an ARC from the ALA conference this summer, and I’m pretty sure it’s not out yet, so that’s one more I managed to read before the release date. Yay! (I’ve already missed a couple of the September & October ones.) I liked this even more than I liked Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is saying something, because I thought that book was fantastic. The video game framing of the quest is ingenious, and the delightfully random collection of allies Luka picks up on his way through are just as delightfully random as they were in Haroun.

Matthew Kirby, The Clockwork Three
And another ARC! I grabbed this because it looked a bit steampunk, and it is, but only a bit. It is for the most part set in an entirely historically-accurate early twentieth century New York (although I don’t think it really is New York but a metaphorical city very like it), but there is a clockwork man and some mysterious goings-on with Madame Pomeroy. The story revolves around three children in different sorts of abject poverty. Hannah’s father used to be a stonemason, but he had a stroke and now Hannah is the only breadwinner for the family, working as a maid in a fancy hotel. Guiseppe was sold to a padrone when his parents died in Italy, and now he’s a busker, turning in all his money to his master in the evenings and hoping it’s enough to earn him dinner. Frederick used to live in an orphanage (for “orphanage” read “workhouse”) but is now apprenticed to a clockmaker and working on his journeyman piece. They all want very different things — Hannah for her family to have money again, Guiseppe to go home to Italy, Frederick to make journeyman and set up his own shop — and their desires eventually lead them all together and in some rather unexpected directions. I liked this book very much, and I’ll look forward to future books by Matthew Kirby.

Land of Mist and Snow, Emperor Mage, The Walking Dead, Low Red Moon

Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Land of Mist and Snow
I picked up this because the sequel, Lincoln’s Sword, just came out (Jim posted about it on Making Light) and I’d never even heard of this before. Light fantasy-universe Civil War? With boats? I’m there. I didn’t actually enjoy it as much as I expected to, and I’m not sure why; I liked the main characters well enough, and the basic plot (Union supernatural ship versus Confederate supernatural ship, with undertones about slavery and how far it’s acceptable to go when fighting evil), but it felt a little thin. I’ll still probably pick up Lincoln’s Sword when I have a moment.

Tamora Pierce, Emperor Mage
Third in the Immortals series, and I think possibly the best. This is where Daine does most of her growing, empathy-wise, and while a lot of it happens a little bit in the background, I think that’s a valid way of trying to get across some complicated things. Rather than the European-fantasy world most of this series takes place in, here we are in Carthak, a kind of North African-fantasy world. (Not entirely Egyptian, but not really Middle Eastern, either. I like it a lot.) I love the depth this setting adds to the world; Carthak is just as complicated a place as Tortall, in the end.

The Walking Dead, Compendium One, Robert Kirkman
This is the first eight graphic novels of The Walking Dead all in one massive book, and I have to say, don’t read this unless you have a surface to rest it on. My wrist ached for days. Anyway — I read volume one of this series sometime last year, when I still thought I was writing a post-zombie apocalypse novel. I’ve since gotten rid of the zombies, but I remembered kind of enjoying the graphic novel, so I got this from the library when I was feeling like something post-apocalyptic. This series is the graphic novel form of everything I liked about 28 Days Later — it’s less about the zombies than about what people can do to each other when their support structures fall apart. It’s pretty much relentlessly horrible (they have a little party when it’s been a month since someone died, about three-quarters of the way through the book), so I can’t recommend it unless you really like that kind of thing, but I sometimes do. There’s only one graphic novel out past this compendium, and I’m a bit relieved I don’t have much more to catch up on.

Caitlín R. Kiernan, Low Red Moon
I honestly do not know why I finished this book. I made a deal with myself sometime last year that life is too short to read books I hate, but I think that by the time I decided I hated this book, I was within fifty pages of the end and it seemed like a waste not to keep going. The plot was all right, and I rather liked the antagonist — Narcissa Snow, a woman with just enough supernatural in her to make her not-human, but not enough monster in her to make the mosters accept her, which was driving her crazy — but the protagonists were obnoxious and tedious, and their marriage was even more so. I’m a little disappointed, I wanted to like Kiernan’s stuff, so I might try out The Red Tree anyway, but this book…ugh.

Wolf-Speaker, Phonogram, Women Who Kill, The City & The City

I am on a book-finishing roll.

Tamora Pierce, Wolf-Speaker
Second in the previously-gushed-about Immortals series. I admit I don’t like this one as much as the first; where Wild Magic features tons of characters from the Alanna Quartet, plus some new ones as well, this one is almost all just Daine, the wolf pack, a girl from the Dunlath fort, and the basilisk Tkaa. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all new characters, or if it’s because they’re so isolated, both physically and in their concerns, but Wild Magic (and the sequel, Emperor Mage) feel much richer than this book. Not that I don’t love it, mind. It’s just the least-awesome of the four.

Phonogram Vol. 1, Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
A graphic novel about…well, lots of things. On the face of it, about a phonomancer — a magician who uses magic as his medium — attempting to save himself and the memory of BritPop from retromancers — magicians disguised as DJs who play nothing but old music in an attempt to make people feel nostalgia, which they feed off of. You can kind of see the other things they’re playing with from that; music and pop culture, of course, the difference between nostalgia and memory, what it means to be shaped by your past. I liked it, even though the main character was a wanker. (He knew he was a wanker, but that didn’t stop him, which is exactly the kind of person I hate the most.) I’ll read the other books in the series if he’s not the main character any more.

Ann Jones, Women Who Kill
The classic work on women murderers throughout history. Originally published in 1988 and reissued in 1996, this is a very classically feminist work, focusing on the way women who were subject to a law more interested in keeping them out of the way than addressing the wrongs done to them might turn to murder just to get any damn thing done. Jones explicitly says that she’s talking only about cases that excited the public imagination; she’s not talking about murder as much as she’s talking about women in history, with murder as the catalyst. I started reading a dissertation on female serial killers once that made no sense to me as part of the serial killer literature, but now makes a little more sense as a kind of sequel to this work. (Maybe I’ll dig that dissertation out again and finish it, actually…)

China Miéville, The City & The City
As usual from him, a book you can’t even begin to talk about sensibly unless the other person has also read it. Reviewing without spoilers is complicated. Basically: this book takes place in two cities that occupy the same space, Besźel and Ul Qoma. (Do you know how long I had to hunt for that accented z? I finally gave up and pasted it from Wikipedia.) That is, citizens of Besźel live in their streets, some of which are all Besźel and some of which are part Besźel and part Ul Qoma, and they go about their days and if they encounter any citizens of Ul Qoma (as they are bound to do), they unsee them. Act as if they aren’t there. Same with buildings, cars, smells, sounds…everything. (Obviously tourism is somewhat complicated.) One day a murdered woman turns up in a Besźel slum, and it seems that she was killed in Ul Qoma and dumped in Besźel, which is a breach, which is handled by Breach, a shadowy, mysterious, and entirely creepy organization that stringently enforces the boundaries between the two cities. But Breach won’t take the case (since, it turns out, there was no breach involved), and the poor inspector who started working on the case is stuck with something much, much more complicated. It’s an amazing book (featuring two of the most incredible chase scenes ever), and the effort it takes to get started is entirely worth it in the end.

Wild Magic, Lovecraft Unbound, A Rage to Kill, Getting Things Done

Tamora Pierce, Wild Magic
I read this series for the first time…in middle school, probably, because I remember having to wait for the fourth book. I actually read these before the Alanna books, so I still kind of like them better (not that there’s any Tamora Pierce I don’t like). Pierce is great at female characters — there are gender issues in these books, not just the magical “in fantasy universes women can do everything.” There’s class issues, although Tortall is kind of a utopia in that way. There are people of distinct races, and people with prejudices (and not just the bad guys, either) and people who learn things. …and this is not an advertisement for Most Politically Correct Fantasy Series Ever, I swear, they’re also full of fun and interesting magic things, and an interesting use of mythological beasts, and all kinds of other delightful fantasy things going on. I’m not sure I can talk about this series rationally, since I read it early enough that it’s kind of imprinted on me as “default fantasy setting,” but that’s not a bad thing.

Lovecraft Unbound, edited by Ellen Datlow
I love Lovecraftian stories. Most of the stories in this anthology aren’t quite what that usually means, though; there are vast tentacle-filled monsters in less than half of them, I’d say. Most of them are simply stories in that genre of horror that Lovecraft and Blackwood and Machen wrote in, that unfortunately doesn’t have a name other than “Lovecraftian.” I particularly liked Brian Evanson’s “The Din of Celestial Birds,” “Marya Nox” by Gemma Files, and the final story, “That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable” by Nick Mamatas. (And the Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette story, “Mongoose,” but you knew that already.)

Ann Rule, A Rage to Kill
I think I like her shorts-collections better than the longer pieces, if only because the book-length stories (I keep wanting to call them novels, what do you call true crime books?) tend to suck me in and make me a little bit paranoid. Which is not a huge amount of fun. The shorts don’t have the same depth of character, though, which is really what Ann Rule does best, and is the reason she’s the only true crime writer I’ll read. Also, I had to skip a whole section of this book, because it was “a prostitute kills her john,” except that apparently the reason it was an exceptional enough case to include in a true crime anthology was that the prostitute was transsexual. And I just couldn’t cope with the fail. Life is too short, y’know?

David Allen, Getting Things Done
This is an absolute favorite of the personal productivity genre, and while such books are often tremendously cheesy (see: Allen’s smarmy photo on the cover) and clearly targeted toward exactly one segment of the population (see: advice to get your assistant to do all your filing, if possible), I did think this was both interesting and useful, particularly as I’ve been reading about GTD online for years and most of the rewrites I’ve seen of it seem to miss the point. There are two aspects to the system, and the first one is the one that most websites get. That’s the physical organization system, which consists of an inbox, a “things in process” box, and a filing system that lets you save pieces of paper for a particular day without letting them pile up on your desk. Handy.

The other part, though, the intellectual part, seems to me to be more interesting and more useful: everything that you are working on needs to have a “next action” attached to it. “Do it later” is not a next action — you don’t “do” a project, he says several times throughout the book, you do a lot of small, concrete physical tasks that eventually pile up to make the project finished. So if my project is “clean my living room” (which it is), that’s not just one thing, the first thing I have to do is…hmm…the thing taking up most space is that fan that may or may not work any more. So the first thing to do is see if the fan works. And if it does, I have to put it away, and if it doesn’t, I have to put it out for the trash. And then… This, Allen says, is how projects get done, and how they fail to get done is by having “clean the living room” on your to-do list without thinking about how you’re actually going to do that. Multiply that times the millions of other projects you have going (get a job, spruce up my professional blog, work on my craft business, start working on Christmas presents) and you can see how easy it is to not get anything accomplished.

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