Natural Childbirth the Bradley WayNatural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually don't fuss much about ratings. I do it by feel, generally as an afterthought, throwing in both my emotional reaction to something and a more analytical assessment of quality. This time I had to think hard about it, and I ended up averaging my 1 star and 5 star impulses.

The five stars is for being one of the first books I found to talk directly and candidly about unmedicated childbirth and how to think about it. I had an instinctive negative reaction to all the hypnobirthing stuff that got thrown at me early on – it's popular right now – and this book squarely confirmed my feeling that no, what I wanted was to engage squarely with labor, to use my brain every step of the way. This book talks about how to do that, and the discussion of particular emotional signposts was incredibly useful to me. I didn't even know what information I was craving – that no other source was talking about – until it was presented to me in this book. My labor didn't go sideways to crazytown until I hit 7 cm – until then I labored unmedicated, and it was this book I thought about while I swayed and breathed and thought my way through each contraction. (Well, it's worth adding that by unmedicated I mean no analgesia – I did have increasing amounts of Pitocin. And let me just say, doing augmented labor unmedicated is a different animal than this book contemplates). After 7 cm – well, that's a TLDR story for another time, but let me just say: 10 hours in transition. Enough said. At that point, this book became rather irrelevant.

Anyway. Enough about me. The one star stuff is everything else. The scare tactics about interventions, the manipulative and downright deceptive use of study results, the moralism and smugness, the sexism. This book hits every checkbox for what is fucked up about the natural childbirth movement. I am really glad I stuck with this book to get to the parts about actual labor, because like I said, they were absolutely invaluable. But man oh man, the opening and closing chapters are dire, guys.

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Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Epic fantasy of the street urchin with great powers joins a thieving crew intent on overthrowing the evil empire variety. Y'know.

Entertaining in a juvenile and rather clumsy way. This series was sold to me as having a "really original" magic system. Uh . . . no. Some of the finer details – powers granted by digesting certain metals – might be unique, but when you come right down to it, this is the sort of writing about magic where I keep expecting a pop-up window in the middle of the text that says, "to activate this power, hold down the B button and push the joystick forward." I was also told this series is "philosophical," which is painfully not the case either. Well, unless you consider the investigation of such deep and interesting questions as, "Are all rich people evil or just some of them?" to be philosophical.

So it is nothing I was told, but still entertained me in a brainless sort of way.

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Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Four women – a psychologist, a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor – are sent into the mysterious Area X to investigate after the failure of eleven other expeditions. Shit gets weird.

Yeah, I just don't dig Weird as a genre, with the notable exception of Kelly Link. This book is all about what the Weird is about – infiltrating consciousness with inexplicable but somehow still meaningful memes – and I just . . . don't . . . care. Our narrator has been stripped of her name and parts of her identity; the book explores her personal isolation as it tells an entirely unresolved and unexplained story of the powers running wild in Area X, and how they eat people alive and transform them. All the expected moves are here: you've got your sudden deaths, your forebodingly inexplicable writings on the wall, your encounters with the still living but altered remains of former colleagues, etc. I don't know, for a genre so intent on the operation of the strange on the consciousness, the Weird is just so damn obvious.

I don't even need an explanation – the Weird can supply one or it can't, in my experience, because the explanation is largely irrelevant to the project of Weird. Which is, you know . . . being weird. This book doesn't supply a single explanation. There are two others in the trilogy that might, but . . . eh.

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The Dickens With LoveThe Dickens With Love by Josh Lanyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

M/M Christmas novella about the antiquarian book dealer with a tragical past and the British professor selling a lost Dickens book. Cute, with all the expected grace notes – deception, misunderstanding, self-hatred, the sort of resolution where everything works out because people just spontaneously decide to trust each other. So, you know, fine.

But man oh man, don't read Josh Lanyon for the porn. Don't get me wrong, at his best (which this is not) he's totally worth the investment for the depth of character and emotional range. But there's something so very dated about his style of sex scene -- the writing gives me intense nostalgia for late 90's fanfic, back when everyone was still scared of using the word 'penis.' And by dated, I mean hilarious.

That pump and pull was like a hammer striking the golden frame of angel wings, pounding them into shining, glinting pennants. Perspiration sheened our bodies, and our breath grew harsher as we bent our backs and worked this forge. And then the wings began to beat, trying to take flight, moving faster and faster, and we seemed to lift right off the ground, right off the pillows and bedding and hang there, transfixed as warm white halle freakin lujah surged through.


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Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in AmericaCollision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America by Dan Balz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will be sitting out the midterms this year, so I wanted a hit of wonkiness to tide me over, and here it is. You already know if you'll like this sort of thing, so I'll confine myself to saying that this is well-organized and interesting from a trade of elections perspective, but far less gossipy than the casual reader seems to want. I liked it.

Some observations: this book offers an excellent overview of what the Obama for America internet operation was doing and how it worked – I was particularly interested in getting a few more details on the Facebook utilization and how the tools worked to suggest that, e.g., rather than sharing this campaign video with your entire feed, why not send it to Facebook friends X and Y, undecided voters in Florida that you seem to know well. For me, the most interesting aspect of that part of the campaign is the strides made in deciding who not to contact. I'm a swing-state resident and a political donor (though not to presidential campaigns because that is a total waste of my money) and I was contacted by OFA multiple times in 2008. In 2012, I was not contacted at all because, presumably, the OFA algorithm determined correctly that I was a sure thing and did not require the use of resources. Works for me. The only annoying thing about that is I suspect it will only increase the romance of the "independent" voter in the popular consciousness. Note: these people do not actually exist. You can almost always tell what a supposedly "independent" voter is going to do, except in a very small slice of the population. It just so happens that small slice is increasingly valuable these days. But you get a full third of Americans claiming to be independent voters because it sounds sexy and independent-minded, when actually it's a giant self-deception. But a lot of these people actually like being courted by campaigns, which is utterly baffling to me, and with more and more campaign resources being precisely targeted to them, I guess they're welcome to enjoy the fruits of the massive money machine they continually bitch about.

Also, I am increasingly suspicious of the Romney campaign's post election "couldn't be done" narrative. I mean, don't get me wrong, I thought with 95% confidence Obama was going to win by the spring, and so did anyone else who knew what they were looking at, and that was without the series of lucky breaks he got in the summer and fall. But no race is unwinnable, and this idea that the Romney campaign was irretrievably outclassed from day one, particularly on the electronic and ground operations, seems self-serving. "Oh woe is us, they built better software than we did, if only we'd known we would have given up in June." Yeah, whatever, dudes. You lost. Suck it up and figure out where you lost it (early and organizationally) and stop acting like you bore no responsibility whatsoever.

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The March of Folly: From Troy to VietnamThe March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collection of pieces exploring terrible policy, and specifically policy counter to the actors's interests. Appealing in concept, but lacking that put together incisiveness of Tuchman at her best. She can talk about the ruinous behavior of the Renaissance Popes and Britain's blinkered inability to correctly handle the American colonies with her usual detail and erudition, but this book lacks cohesion, or a real message other than institutional idiocy: weird, eh?

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The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1)The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

He's a duke with a rather obnoxious case of the privilege guilts. She's an apparently timid young lady whose tragic past, for once, has nothing to do with illegitimate children. They do exactly what you think they are going to do.

A lot of my friends rave about Courtney Milan. I thought this book was okay, if not spectacular (the duke's aforesaid angst about the terribleness of being so wealthy and powerful grated on my nerves, but ymmv). And I really think a book with a reference to war in the title and a setup promising a competition should have . . . you know . . . more competition. But that's just me being disgruntled because I love romances where the leads spend the whole time attempting to best each other, and this said it was that but really was not.

But what I meant to say is, the entire book was saved by the wedding night sex. Which, first time through, was terrible. Ahahaha, I love it. And our heroine is flat out like, "no, you totally did that wrong, that can't be it." The whole book was worth that.

Not sure where to jump to next in her catalog – thoughts?

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EchopraxiaEchopraxia by Peter Watts

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Follows Blindsight, which was that hard scifi first encounter space horror novel arguing – rather revolutionarily at the time, less so now – that consciousness (the singular I self) is an evolutionary mistake, and a costly one.

Blindsight was interesting as hell; this book less so. As Watts himself says in the end matter, "Echopraxia is to autonomy as blindsight is to consciousness" (and if you can follow that, you are officially his target audience). He's referring to the conditions, but of course it also applies to the books. Watts himself admits that the examination of autonomy in an age of neuro programming isn't terribly interesting. It's not, particularly compared to Blindsight's genuinely mind-expanding concepts.

And what this book is doing, I don't think it does terribly well. It's what Watts calls "faith-based hard SF" – a future which posits that certain types of advancements in physics require a return to religious frameworks and a melding with science. Watts has some interesting tidbits in his notes (the notes being my favorite part of any Watts book) about what religious belief does to the brain. Makes it better at pattern-matching, for one. Which is interesting and all, but I never thought this faith/science meld went beyond some suggestive imagery (hive-minded monks speaking science revelations in tongues) and a lot of wordplay about God. It just didn't . . . well, honestly. It just didn't ever make more than "that's a nice party trick" sense.

Still. Being able to identify God as a virus running in a universe ruled by a digital physics model is fun. And I give points for the effort here, and the endeavor. It just ain't Blindsight.

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Labor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True TalesLabor Day: Birth Stories for the Twenty-first Century: Thirty Artful, Unvarnished, Hilarious, Harrowing, Totally True Tales by Eleanor Henderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For context, I should note that my response to this collection probably has a lot to do with the fact that I read two-thirds of it while repeatedly slamming my head into the emotional brick wall that is a stubborn breech baby. So in one respect, this collection was helpful because pretty much any group of birth stories, in the aggregate, will be all about how this shit doesn't go to plan. It just doesn't. It is peripherally comforting to remember that, as one's plans crumble around one's ears.

On the other hand. This is a collection of stories of singleton births and twin births; births in the hospital, at home, the birth center, the car; births after miscarriage; births after infertility; births of well babies and sick babies and at least one dead baby; complicated births and easy births; medically mismanaged births; traumatic births; beautiful births. That sounds like it covers a lot of ground, and it does. But for all that, there's a . . . sameness here. And I don't mean that this collection has put its finger on the concerns and experiences of America's gestators. More like this collection has put its finger on the concerns and experiences of well-educated, well-informed, married, intentionally pregnant women writers of New York Times notable books who seek out midwifery care and who have caesarians at a noticeably lower rate than the norm, which is to be expected as an artifact of economic/access privilege. I mean, some of that describes me, too, and yet this collection didn't truly speak to me, didn't reach me while I'm wrestling with this thing that is happening to me, which it should have.

I don't know. Maybe it's not the fault of this book. Maybe it isn't just that the experiences of women who write New York Times notable books (most of which I suspect I would loathe – the books, not the women) are so similar in essence, even while being different in facts. Maybe it's birth stories themselves. Maybe they are like relating a dream: so personal and vital to the teller, but rather strange and impenetrable to the listener, because that's just how it is with an experience so profound.

Or maybe it's me. Maybe this memo from the universe I am taking right now -- let go, you are not in charge here, there is no amount of smart that will fix this, let go -- maybe I still need to hear it a few dozen more times before I can hear anything else.

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The Ninth Circle (Tour of the Merrimack, #5)The Ninth Circle by R.M. Meluch

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Right, it's been a while, so as a refresher, this is the military scifi series where the Roman Empire went underground for a few thousand years, only to re-emerge in the space age and set up a whole new empire in opposition to the U.S. in space, and then a lot of homoerotic things happened. Got that? Good.

I stress-read the first few books in this series and enjoyed the hell out of them. You know, where you make a Cartesian plane with good/bad on one axis and enjoyable/not enjoyable on the other – this series was waaaay deep in the bad/enjoyed quadrant. But we've been through a few twists and turns, killed off some major characters, sent others off to get married to a random, and it turns out the enjoyable was coming from a very specific scenario, and when you erase that, well.

What you're left with is Meluch's politics (pro-military to the point of jingoism), her series-long disdain for civilian peacekeeping forces turned up to eleven, and this really awful moment where I realized she's genuinely interested in a bunch of teenaged boys who deliberately set out to become spree killers because daddy didn't love one of them enough (no, for real, that's his actual reason). There's also a lot of frankly weird back-and-forth about how the right-thinking people can recognize a hostile species on sight (it's . . . genetic? Apparently? Evil aliens just look . . . wrong?) but those stupid scientists, they want to talk to the ugly aliens before starting a shooting war and don't recognize the superiority of the cute aliens, what bullshit.

Blech. Someone let me know if she resurrects the bio-engineered vicious Roman genius. Otherwise, I'm out.

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Reflections: On the Magic of WritingReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Curated collection of essays, speeches and the like. Enjoyable, if repetitious. I talked my girlfriend's ear off about this book for half an hour over dinner, which means I said most of what I wanted to there and don't have much left here. Except that she was a lovely, critical, complicated person. Her analysis of Lord of the Rings actually made me half want to reread it, and that takes doing, trust me. I also identified a great deal with what she said about her writing process: mine, too, is organic and nonlinear, starting with a crystalized notion of a scene or emotional beat and building a story out from there in a 'feeling your way' kind of process. Her conviction that the author must know ten times more about a character than goes into the story is entirely opposite of my practice, but this is not the forum for the line of thinking that set me off on.

But mostly, I enjoyed this glimpse into her social consciousness. Her feminism, in particular, stemmed from a keen observer's eye, but she didn't have a lot of the tools or background to really work her way through it. Hell, a lot of the tools and background didn't exist when she was coming into feminist consciousness. So she could observe the way children's literature encodes maleness as a default as a social artifact, but she couldn't . . . interrogate that, and when she could, later, it was to subvert it by leaning hard on gender stereotypes.

So yeah. Interesting to the completest, the amateur scholar, the biographer (and oh man, how much do I want the excellent, meaty, analytical DWJ bio now?), and the fan.

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The Magician's Land (The Magicians, #3)The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well that was . . . disappointing. Which is a funny thing to say about a book written as well as this one, and that made me as happy as this one did at certain points (really, I would read hundreds of pages about the magic in this universe and how it works and doesn't, no plot required).

The thing is, this book doubled down. The series as a whole has been playing with coming of age narratives and coming into power narratives, trying out different ones, contrasting them, complicating them. And then this final book just . . . plays it straight. I was worried by the jacket copy which, in my edition, actually says something about "a boy becoming a man." Okay, but not really, I thought, that's just stupid marketing nonsense.

Guys. This book is about a boy becoming a man, and what that means for a boy who loves magic and stories about it. Really. Like, this book actually thinks Quentin is interesting (he is, in flashes, but come on, not really). It is actually invested in Quentin's angst over not being quite as special as he thought he would be. And then it's really interested in having a little interlude about how very special he truly is – no one loves fantasy literature like Quentin, apparently, to the point where the universe takes notice. For real.

Here's the thing. In every book of this trilogy, I found myself thinking at least once, okay, but why aren't we reading a book about her? It's always a her, and she's always interesting as hell, and her story is always more complicated and harrowing and difficult than Quentin's. In the second book, we did actually get to read about her, thank you very much, and it's no coincidence that book is my favorite. In this book, we don't get to read about her. And I would much, much rather have been. Because as this book was winding up, delivering a few thematic statements and the like, I just kept saying, wait, really? You're really . . . going with that? That's what this has all been for? We did all this to talk about the hero's journey of . . . getting over the ennui of being really lucky and privileged?

But as I said to my girlfriend, you can object to a lot of what Grossman is doing, but it's harder to object to how he's doing it. I really would read Grossman on magic for books and books. A sample:

And lately, they'd [books] begun to breed. Shocked undergraduates had stumbled on books in the very act. Which sounded interesting, but so far the resulting offspring had been predictably derivative –in fiction – or stunningly boring – nonfiction. Hybrid pairings between fiction and nonfiction were the most vital. The librarian thought that the problem was just that the right books weren't breeding with each other, and proposed a forced mating program. The library committee had an epic secret meeting about the ethics of literary eugenics, which ended in a furious deadlock.

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Smoke and Shadows (Tony Foster #1)Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Trilogy about a gay production assistant on a, by all appearances quite terrible, Canadian vampire detective show.

Hey, check it out, these are books I actually finished!

So, I could just say 'too much boyfriend: not enough production assistanting,' and leave it at that. But actually I don't think that really gets at the problem.

These are quirky, well-intentioned, fun little books about a former street hustler turned PA turned wizard. I remember people talking excitedly about them ten years ago, the way we did when we had so little commercial LGBT fiction to read, let alone genre fiction. But the thing is, even if I hadn't checked the copyright dates, I could have accurately dated these books by the shape of the romance.

See, this is one of those 'gay guy falls for beautiful unattainable straight guy' stories, except oh wait maybe he's not so straight – oh wait he totally is – touch me – touch me not, where the allegedly straight dude plays mind games and is generally an all-around dick, but hey it's cool guys, finding out you like guys is really hard okay. And you just don't see that much in LGBT fiction anymore. At least not played for romance, as it is here.

I'm tempted to make some sweeping statements about cultural esthetics of queerness, and how allegedly straight dude's convulsions and reversals and spewings of internalized homophobia are actually a larger commentary on the place of queerness in the general psyche, or in genre fiction. And I think that's pointed in the right direction, though it's painting with too broad strokes. I mean, there's a reason the esthetics of queer romance shift over time – when's the last time you read an actual we're not gay we just love each other story written in 2014? But that was, like, the narrative of the 90's – the trappings of queerness without ever having to use the word. The shifts over time reflect the cultural reckoning that a lot of straight writers were doing with queerness, and it's not as if queer writers like Huff are immune to the tides.

Anyway, my point being that the particular esthetic of queer romance in these books is pretty uncomfortable to read now. It was better when I flipped gears to read as historical document, but still. Yikes.

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The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Post food apocalypse scifi with tremendously original and genuinely frightening world building.

DNF, and right on the verge of finishing, too. I've just swapped audiobook players, meaning I lost my place in everything on the SD card, and yeah, okay, three years later it's probably time to admit I'm never going to finish this. I wouldn't bother saying anything about it because I don't remember much aside from repeatedly thinking how great his short stories are and how badly constructed the novel was, and how he should go back to shorts.

Except that I apparently left myself a note attached to the file, and that note says:

Robot rape for emotional effect/robot rape complicit in sexualized violence?

And you guys. I got nothing. Three years ago me, I'm glad you had apparently deep thoughts about robot rape?

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Grimspace (Sirantha Jax, #1)Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF. Hard-bitten lady space navigator is broken out of prison for blah blah revolution adventures.

#Thatthingwhere a bunch of people are excited about a new science fiction series written by and featuring a woman, and you try it because you try that sort of thing, and then . . . no.

It takes chops to pull off first person present tense for an entire novel. I mean, you've got the uphill battle of convincing me that the book isn't actually stitched together emo wailings of a sixteen-year-old Tumblr user who writes in first person present the same way my teenaged generation put safety pins in our jeans – it's edgy, yoe. Spoiler: these ain't those chops.

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Taste (Horizons, #2)Taste by Mickie B. Ashling

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF halfway through. Why yes, I'm cleaning out my unfinished books, how can you tell?

M/M that I started out quite liking. Contemporary romance/drama set around a huge Chicago food festival. But then we got to the kink.

Look, here's the thing. A lot of M/M subscribes to the notion that what you are is how you fuck. You know, the smaller dude always enjoys being overpowered, that sort of thing.

Which is screwed up and uninteresting in equal degrees. But the thing is, you can't separate sex from character. And you definitely can't separate something as specific and personal as kink from character. I mean, you don't have to explain it, you don't have to draw nice straight lines from someone's specific trauma to why he likes asphyxiation. Really, it's better when you don't.

But kink doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's an expression of some really intense and fundamental emotions – desire sure, but also antipathy, pain, joy, you name it. The kinky person doesn't have to know why, but there is a why, and the shape of that why – often done in the negative spaces by the writers who are really good at this – is what makes the kink vital and interesting. Also hot. This stuff gets installed in us in, like, the root directories. It's so deep in the operating system that looking at it is also looking at how we function. Or don't.

Which is what makes it interesting. And thus why this book, which wandered along doing food festival/family things for a while, and then basically out-of-the-blue was all, hey, these dudes like to wear women's panties! was so, so boring. I don't care. This is the sort of writing about sex that is all bodies and no brains. Sex acts aren't by themselves hot. Personal, contextual sex acts can be blazing.

And thus endeth Light on kink. For today.

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Deadline (Newsflesh Trilogy, #2)Deadline by Mira Grant

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF at 70%, though I went and spoiled myself when I realized just how little I care. And nope. Don't care.

It's interesting how polarizing Mira Grant/Seanan Mcguire is. The people who love her looooove her, and the people who don't are utterly baffled at all the fuss over such terribly written tripe. I've been on both sides of this: I have friends who speak in trembling, delighted voices of the Toby Day books, whereas I thought they were so poorly written as to irritate my brain like nails on a chalkboard. Then again, I genuinely enjoyed Feed, even though it had all the same leaden character work and thudding prose. So I wondered . . . which was the fluke?

Yeah. It was the book I liked. This one, without the political foreground designed to appeal to me, and without the emotional climax? *whistles between teeth*. All you've got left is writing that I find irritating to a really extraordinary degree. I mean, I read original M/M! I know from bad writing, and have excellent mental muscles for tuning it out! But there is just something to her writing that is unignorably bad, and reading it makes my brainstem hurt.

Maybe it's the endless, endless repetition of detail. I would put down solid money that, at some point, someone really impressed Grant with this idea that to build convincing characters, what you do is choose some distinguishing characteristic and emphasize it. So she was like, I know! I'll make these people drink Coke! That's character-building!

And I wander off with a terrible headache, muttering about how brand association isn't the same thing as characterization, and also oh my God please please stop with the Coke we know stop stop stop.

Or maybe it's how her world building is not done through variation and elaboration, but repetition. Characters in this book take repeated blood tests to assess zombie infection status. Every step of this process is described in such precise and identical detail, over and over and over again, that at one point I started reciting the paragraph along with my audiobook narrator, and I had most of the words right. That's not world building, kids. That's bad writing.

These are just guesses. Neither of those things alone could account for my near allergic reaction to her prose. It's just. Nails on a chalkboard. In my soul.

I dunno, maybe she'll happen to drop another book right on my buttons some day. She seems to publish something every ten minutes, so it's possible. I just don't see why I should bother irritating myself trying to find it.

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Heart of Stone (Negotiator Trilogy/Old Races Universe #1)Heart of Stone by C.E. Murphy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF around 60% through. A largely unobjectionable if boring urban fantasy about the lawyer who encounters the supernatural while out jogging at night. But you know how we all have these specific things that a book has to get right? Like, the author can invent a magical creature out of nowhere, no problem, but she better get the details of how the heroine bakes biscuits exactly correct?

Well, it turns out one of mine is poverty legal services. Who knew! And this book gets that so completely and offensively wrong. I mean, the heroine doesn't have a caseload of 80 open matters, she has one "big" case (which is exactly the sort of case that never lands on the desk of someone like her since private defenders would have been lining up to try it for free for the publicity). And that one case -- yeeeeeah. It's really telling what an author chooses to do when she wants to amp up someone's heroism. And what this author chose to do was erase an ethically complex, grinding, in-the-trenches-of-the-race-war reality with something apparently way more palatable, which is to say ethically unchallenging and full of righteousness about racism without ever engaging with the realities of the heroine's mixed race status. The actual heroism of defending drug dealers and pimps and rapists because everyone, absolutely everyone, deserves someone standing up for them and ensuring the state proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt because that's what motherfucking justice is -- yeah, that's too icky and complicated.

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Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)Broken Harbour by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Proving that, along with everything else, French can bring the creepy. Investigation of a triple familial homicide reveals a house with holes knocked in the walls and cameras pointing into them, which is just the start.

This was, hm. I can't say I wasn't riveted, because I was. And I can't say it isn't a good book, because it is. It's more complicated than this sounds, but it's about the order that we keep to shut out the wild, and about where violence comes from. Our protagonist genuinely believes in victim-blaming – it's not that he won't pursue justice, he's just so very sure that anyone who gets dead did something to open up a crack in their life and let the violence in. And it doesn't take much, just the smallest slip will do it. The book is – I won't say sympathetic to him, but it is even-handed. We know why he thinks that – he has to think that – and French is very, very good at complicating the viewpoints of people with those kinds of self-serving blinders on.

But for all that, and I've said this before. I really wish she'd write a different book. Like around the 20% mark of this one, two characters began deliberately building a strong, healthy, functional emotional connection, and I knew instantly that it would be destroyed, and had a pretty good guess as to how. French writes that kind of destruction beautifully, but come on. We've seen this before. Maybe I've just read all of her books too close together, but there's a sameness to them which is frustrating given her obvious and ridiculous talent.

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EmbassytownEmbassytown by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of those books whose wild inventiveness leaves it very difficult to describe. Let's go with scifi about an alien language spoken simultaneously through two mouths by one consciousness and thus inaccessible to humans and computers; a species incapable of lying or sustaining metaphors because it cannot lexically account for anything that isn't true; a human woman who is made part of that language by enacting a simile so that it is true and can be used; a society-wide catastrophe; a war; a bloody birthing into a new kind of consciousness through the transformation of language.

My problem with Mieville books is that I'm always left wondering what they're for, after they're done being absurdly clever and beautifully written. This one has a lot more going for it – it has that Mievillian chilliness when it comes to character, but there's a far greater emotional range. Maybe it's just that the territory he's exploring is so rich and interesting; the book had to grow a soul, the way bacteria has to grow under the right conditions. Who cares why if it was horrifying and sad and tense by turns in ways his previous books haven't been for me.

That said, and this genuinely is my favorite Mieville so far. That said. There is something . . . off about this book. It's the story of a tiny human foothold on an alien planet, a human-introduced catastrophe, the transformation of an entire species through the act of learning, from humans, to lie. Is it a love letter to language and the order it regulates over thought? Is it a frightening but ultimately satisfying cultural coming of age story for a technologically-advanced species? Is it, ironically, a metaphor – for human intellectual evolution, for the artistic journey, for flipping capitalism? Or is it, when all's said and done, just another celebration of the colonial destruction of a native species? It's all of that, rather messily and undecidedly. And uncomfortably, I have to say.

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