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Love Is the Drug

4/5. A student at a near-future Washington D.C. prep school wakes up after a party with no memory of what happened to her, and with the world in the grip of a pandemic flu virus.

This, on the other hand, is wonderful, and deserves to be hyped a lot more. It's not really science fiction, more near-future sociopolitical thriller with some speculative elements. But the flu is not really the point, and the thriller plot is so not the point (if you haven't figured that out by a quarter of the way through, this may be the first book you've ever read). No, the point is the heroine, who is struggling with competing models of how to be black in America, and working through the use and abuse of power on her and by her, and falling in love with a drug dealer.

This is the rich, complex book that her Summer Prince fell short of, in my mind. Which is partly her – she got a little less overdramatic, a little more controlled. And partly about how I'm getting really sick of specfic books about race that have to take the world at several steps remove from ours to be about race. This book really doesn't do that; it's not about race "through the lens of" or about race "reimagined." It's about this black girl and her black family and her friends and boyfriends and what they do to survive. Fuckin' applause.
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A Darker Shade of Magic: A Novel

3/5. There are four Londons in four worlds, and only a few can travel between. One of those who can takes the opportunity to smuggle, and gets caught up in a complicated magical scheme.

Overhyped. This was entertaining enough, but you know I'm kind of bored when one of the main characters is a cross-dressing lady pickpocket who dreams of being a ship captain, and I find it overbaked and kind of tiresome. Points for later establishing that she likes menswear just for the sake of wearing a good suit, though, rather than the usual fantasy bait-and-switch where the lady cross-dresses but in the end just wants to be "herself" again or whatever.

Lots of people thought the hype was called for, so maybe I'm just cranky. Or maybe this is, at its heart, just bland.
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Penric's Demon

3/5. A Five Gods novella. Through (random?) circumstance, a rural lord's younger son on the way to his wedding unintentionally comes into the possession of a demon. Subject and object purposefully left unclear in that last bit.

This is a pleasing, if inconsequential little tale. Maybe I've just read too much LMB, but I understood pretty much everything about this story by a third of the way through and nodded along comfortably to the end. Our protagonist is rather unformed – as a person, I mean, not a character – which is a bit of a departure for this universe. The whole thing works a bit better if one imagines onself, the reader, rather like the demon in Pen's head: significantly smarter than him, and seeing a great deal more through his eyes than he does. But even those things were not terribly complex or interesting.

Still, comfortable and rather sweet. Good for completists, I guess.
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Crash & Burn (Cut & Run Series Book 9)

3/5. Ninth? . . . in this M/M series about the FBI agents. I'm not gonna lie, this (and the prior couple books) have been really disappointing, since they seem to fundamentally misunderstand what is good about this series. Namely: a sense of genuine hilarity, and tropes tropes tropes.*

Let's review the glory days. The second book brought us wilderness survival straining a tenuous relationship with – if my recollection does not fail me – actual huddling for warmth. Oh, and the third book gave us pretend-to-be-married and kept boy roleplay. The fourth book gave us temporary disability, but let's not talk about that. Oh but the fifth book, that gave us zany road trip with bonus hitmen. Ooh, and the sixth book is peak whacky, with bonus meet-the-family and cowboys, and a random tiger (trust me, it's funny).

Damn, this series was good when it was good.

And, I mean, I guess you could read the first book if you want (partners who hate each other but fall in lust), but eh, it's not the best.

*Though in its defense, this ninth book did have 'roleplaying dubcon to fool the cameras while actually having intense, consensual, kind of hilarious sex.' So that's okay.
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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

3/5. Telegraphist in the London Home Office is given a mysterious pocket watch which saves his life from a bomb. So he goes looking for the watchmaker, and finds a Japanese man with a secret. And a friend. And something else.

Okay, several of you guys are going to really like this one. I came close, but I was distracted by my initial misunderstanding of this book. I had the vague impression that it was a historical spy thriller with a supernatural thread. It's actually – and you'll note this is quite different – a queer philosophical romance with a supernatural thread. Whoops.

This is slow, thoughtful, atmospheric. Very concerned with gesture and the ticking of a weird, pretty mechanism at the heart. One character can predict human actions – he knows what you'll do as soon as you decide it. Which is . . . complicated, when it comes to loving someone you haven't met yet, based on the might be.

Anyway. It's pretty. And unusual. Not as clever as it set out to be, at least not to me, and I think Pulley didn't really have control of the dismount. But I've never read anything quite like it. And it'd probably help to know what it is going in.
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Children of Morrow and Treasures of Morrow by H.M. Hoover

3/5. Vintage (so vintage it's not even on Kindle) post-apocalyptic YA. Two pre-teens living in a repressive paternalistic micro-society run away, guided by the voices of other survivors they can hear in their heads.

So I think Children of Morrow might well be the first science fiction I ever read as a child. It's certainly the first that mattered. And it made a hell of an impression on me -- I've been looking for this book again for about twenty years. And here it is, with a sequel!

So anyway, this informed a lot of my narrative inclinations, I think. Probably filled the niche that Mercedes Lackey did for a lot of my peers in that this, too, is about the very special children who are isolated by their specialness and go on an arduous journey to find their true home.

I will say that, as a child, I didn't grasp the true creepiness of this world. It doesn't lie in the post destruction Northern California landscape, as I thought, or in the violence inherent in the society the protagonists flee. No, the creepiness is solidly in the home they flee to, which is cozily nonviolent . . . oh and also deeply and quietly oppressive. I honestly can't tell what Hoover thought she was doing here; much is made of Morrow's superiority in intelligence which, it is implied, explains its lack of gendered power structures. And which also underlies its, um, restrictive breeding program. Awk-ward. I honestly can't tell what is irony and what is genuine enthusiasm for a "better world." A lot less irony going around than I would like, is where I came down.

It's also amazing what you don't remember. I had zero recollection of the rather casual mention of a prior abduction and forced impregnation, I imagine because I didn't understand it at all (see also: Morrow is totally morally superior you guys, ahahahahah. Ha. Ha). The WTF faces I made when that came up were quite epic.

Points for nostalgia. And for the landscape, which pried open bits of my pre-teen brain that had never seen light before. And for young children of power. But yikes.
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Lightless

3/5. A "research" space vessel is invaded by two "thieves", and the three-person crew is joined by an interrogator from the totalitarian solar system government bent on getting one of the captured prisoners to talk. Meanwhile, the ship computer is slowly coming to consciousness.

I'm being a bit unfair giving this a 3/5. What I'm really doing there is giving myself a bit of room, because this is a debut, and while it's really very good, I'm going on record now and saying that one of C.A. Higgins's later books is going to be a knockout. So I'm rating on that entirely speculative scale. It's a compliment.

This is tense and twisty and claustrophobic. The entire book encompasses the inside of a single spaceship whose every nook and cranny is under surveillance, populated by a cast of fewer than ten characters. Yet the story it tells – alternating between the mental duel of the interrogation and the increasingly desperate efforts of the ship's architect to understand what is happening to it –is also the story of a revolt against totalitarianism playing out in the wider solar system. The word "controlled" comes to mind when trying to describe this book. Maybe "poised." Not words I use for debuts very often.

The tension of this one lingers.
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69 books read in 2015, which is both sadly few, and typical. I'm kind of surprised I managed even that many, as I have cut my commute time significantly, and that was my major reading opportunity. It was a noticeably good reading year, though. I am trying to be better about choosing things I'll enjoy, rather than being a stubborn completist or insisting on giving a dud author another chance. And since October 1, I have been reading only women authors, and will continue to do so for another nine months. Thus far it has been more invigorating and interesting than my wildest expectations.

Anyway, notable books of the year:

Science fiction
The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Read early in the year, and honestly, nothing quite compared.
Review here

Fantasy
The Goblin Emperor by Catherine Addison
N.B. Currently $4.99 on Kindle.
The kindest novel I've read in a while.
Review here

Most trope subversive
Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks
I don't generally think about self-inserting, but I would visit this world. I would absolutely get married there.
Review here

Best childhood favorite rediscovered
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Twisty puzzle game with a sharp eye for people.
Review here

M/M romance
The Boy with the Painful Tattoo by Josh Lanyon
Third in a series of mysteries, but the point is the wonderfully difficult, cranky, ungraceful protagonist.
Review here

Most fun
The Royal We by Jessica Morgan and Heather Cox
The Fug Girls do royal romance. I'm into it.
review here

Debut
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Frothy but clever historical fantasy.
Review here

Single author collection
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
She just keeps being that good.
Review here

Themed multi-author collection
Sisters of the Revolution ed. Ann and Jeff Van der Mere
Okay, it's the only one I read this year, but it's a goodie.
Review here

Transformative work
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
I want to reread this, actually, and I almost never reread.
Review here

The one I'm still thinking about
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Hm.
Review here

Young adult
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
This book messed with me, and I thanked it.
Review here

Younger than young adult
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
Delightful!
Review here

Urban fantasy
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Only a decade late, but yes. Also, made me bake for a month straight.
Review here

Nonfiction
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Painful, necessary.
Review here
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Planet of Twilight: Star Wars (Star Wars - Legends)

2/5. Sequel at one remove to Children of the Jedi. That one I liked; this one had one redeeming feature, and the rest can go to hell.

So for any completists out there, the intervening book between Children of the Jedi and this one in the loose sequence is Darksaber, which I skipped because I remember it and also it was written by a dude and I'm not reading books by dudes at the moment. Kevin J. Anderson, no less. You guys have fun with that shoot-em-up.

Anyway, in this book, a lot of deeply boring stuff happens, culminating in a boring and entirely predictable conclusion that has been done at least three or four times in every major science fiction continuity ever, yawn. Rendered rather intolerable by Luke Skywalker, who is being a super creepy stalker ex-boyfriend who does not understand the word "no" at all, what the fuck. His obnoxious inability to deal with being broken up with sort of makes sense if you realize he's in his early thirties and that was, like, his first relationship ever, so yeah, he reacted like a thwarted teenager because in romantic terms, he's still basically fifteen. But ugh so so so gross, and the book expects us to have massive sympathy for him, which, uh, wait, let me think about it, nope. Get a fucking grip, Luke.

The one bright spot: Threepio and Artoo have a marvelous roadtrip subplot in which they bounce around a sector together, from smuggler ship to impound facility to warzone. At one point they attempt to earn passage by making themselves into a band. Artoo is the drummer. Obviously. At another juncture they are sent by bulk mail. It's great, basically. Two stars for Threepio and Artoo.
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Children of the Jedi: Star Wars: Star Wars Series (Star Wars - Legends)

4/5. Star Wars expanded universe. Leia and Han follow rumors of a hideout where Jedi children were protected from the purges, while Luke gets trapped on a thirty-year-old imperial battle cruiser controlled by a malevolent artificial intelligence, and haunted by the ghost of the Jedi woman who died trying to destroy it.

I'm not gonna front; I like this book partially because of just how much hordes of Star Wars fanboys haaaaaaate it.

Oh, hey, did I mention this is that relatively rare beast, a Star Wars book written by a woman? Gosh I can't imagine why I felt it necessary to insert that sentence after my last paragraph, it must be coincidence, huh how weird.

So anyway, I hadn't read this since I was a teenager. I remembered it as an unusually complex and rich EU book, and I was absolutely right. That doesn't mean it's successful in what it's doing, but by God, it's doing a lot of stuff.

I could actually write a couple thousand words about this and why it's so interesting to me, but I don't have time. Short version: this book is thematically about being a remnant person: the young man whose partner could not surrender him to disease so she built a droid to hold his memories, and the Jedi trapped in the gunnery computer for thirty years. The book cycles through multiple iterations of struggle with this, and like a lot of scifi, it has a strong bias towards discounting any kind of life that doesn't comfortably match narrow notions of proper embodiment. But it tries; there are several touching and strange conversations in which various people struggle with how they seem to have lost themselves in losing their bodies. I entirely agree with Luke's response that you are who you are right now. You're never not yourself, he means, you're just a displaced you, or a frightened you, or a transformed you.

And related to that thematic line are repeated instances of co-opted self-determination. Artoo, for example, is at one point forced to spoiler ), and in parallel the droid holding the memories of that young man I mention above is forced by a restraining bolt to watch his partner imprisoned, and to do nothing. The book plays with these, and with choices taken away – from the ghost Jedi when she was left to die, from Luke, at the end of this book.

So yeah, there's a whole lot more here than there usually is in the EU. I think it's ultimately unsuccessful, to say nothing of problematic. For one thing, Hambly is forced to wrestle with one of the fundamental moral flaws of the Star Wars universe, which would like us to believe that droids are not sentient beings while also encouraging us to love them as sentient beings. You cannot spend any serious time thinking about Star Wars without coming to the conclusion that all of our heroes are, in fact, slave-owners. And, well, Hambly doesn't have a handle on this, because it's a really big fucking problem. She tries – there's a great conversation where Luke is trying to talk to someone about self-definition, and Threepio keeps interjecting with his entirely different viewpoint – but it's not enough. And she just can't fundamentally bring herself to credit nonstandard forms of life as valid, not when push comes to shove. That's what I think a couple of the key deaths at the end of this book are entirely about. But that said, it's a damn interesting book.

So yeah, the fanboys hate it because there's, like, a romance (which I'm meh on myself, actually), and Luke spends the whole book physically and mentally disabled by pain, which is apparently not acceptable, and because, well, we all know why the fanboys hate it, let's be real. But I like it, so there.
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Earth Logic (Elemental Logic Book 2)

4/5. *helpless gesture* Uh. It's fantasy? About elemental powers? But mostly about peacemaking? Except anything I say is inadequate and inaccurate, so.

Laurie J. Marks infamously has not yet finished the fourth volume in this series. In somewhat similar fashion, the audiobooks are being produced at the rate of approximately one every two years (hint: it doesn't normally work like that). You'd think this would drive me nuts, but it actually doesn't. There's something . . . meditative about taking these books so slowly. I mean, I don't know how you can think of only three books as a whole set of prayer/meditation beads, and yet, that's where my mind goes.

Anyway, yes, this series is awesome, and unusual. The obvious stuff first: it is populated by a lot of queer and generally non-normative people who build complex and beautiful poly families, and we don't have to have a whole big fuckin' thing about it. Less obviously, this series is subversive as hell in that it actively counters standard fantasy narratives. The appropriate response to violence in this book, in the end, is not violence. How rare is that?

But I think the most extraordinary thing about these books is the magic. It's elemental, like I said, and the "logic" of the title is part of the magic. The power comes as much from character as from, like, birthright. This became clear to me when I was jaw-droppingly outraged by a particular set of character actions in the first third of this book; they were just so obviously idiotic to me, I was astonished. What was wrong with these previously intelligent people? …Ah. Yes. I am not a fire blood. That is one success of these books, creating a personality-based magic system so interesting and accurate that I feel genuinely alienated from those parts of it that I don't understand. Gryffindors, WTF
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The Sparrow: A Novel (The Sparrow series)

4/5. The lone survivor of the first Jesuit mission (get it?) to Alpha Centauri makes it home and tells his story to a largely hostile audience.

I have mixed feelings about the Jesuit community, which I bring up because it quite neatly parallels my feelings on this book. For reasons, I know a lot of Jesuits – actual priests, I mean – and they are in general the sort of excellent people who thrive more the harder the work is, and who treat Ph.D.'s like a nice lark but okay where's the next one. On the other hand, I received healthcare from a Jesuit institution for several years, underwritten by a Jesuit-held insurance policy, and well. The misogyny embedded in that policy impacted my life in an incredibly expensive and painful way. So yeah. Love the people, still really, really angry at the institution. Except institutions are people – we like to pretend they're not, but they are – so it's complicated.

Anyway, this is a book about finding transcendence – in hard work beautifully done, in found family, in God – and then watching it all fall unto so much dust. So, kind of painful, then. I love good writing about transcendence, which this definitely is. Personally, my moments of transcendence are found in hard work beautifully done, in music, and in endurance sports, except as an atheist I like to be alone with myself in those moments, whereas several of the characters in this book are reaching for God.

So this book is beautiful, and wonderful, and funny, and sad. But I have mixed feelings, because this book is confronting trauma, and how awful it Is to be a trauma survivor who has been trained to believe that everything happens for a reason. And I think that ultimately this book leans too hard on the bystander perspective of people who weren't fucking there, and who didn't go through it, and who are, in the way of bystanders, really really eager to assign a comfortable reason and meaning for it all, and to impose that narrative on the survivor who doesn't want it. All of this framed in explicitly religious narratives (along with a lot of more or less poisonous general notions about the survivors of rape and prostitution). And this book is challenging these narratives, but only to a point. But maybe this is the point where my atheism gets in the way. Maaaaaaybe.

Also, I dearly wish the twist of vicious social commentary in this book had been drawn out further. Russell makes it explicit once and only once that, in judging this alien culture, we are failing to look in the mirror first. And given that this book is at its heart about predators – alien, many of the humans in Sophia's life, providence from Emilio's perspective at certain points – the congruences could have been more sharply drawn. It would have been a more obvious book, and an angrier one. But it would have brought out the . . . parable buried in the science fiction elements, and I think that actually would have been a benefit.

Anyway, I'll be thinking about this for a while. And I suspect when I read it again, I will have to think all over again.
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Sunshine

4/5. From early on in the current urban fantasy movement, from the early Vampire Period (you know, like the Blue Period, but vampirier). A baker in a slow-motion-supernatural-apocalypse world comes into her power after getting entangled in vampire wars.

Finally reading this, only a decade late. On the plus side: baking; a beautiful sense of extended family and community around the bakery; characters who all want to feed everybody; a protagonist whose romantic relationship is strong and steady and respectful the way two very independent people would be. On the minus side: oh, whoops, there were clearly supposed to be another eight books that she never wrote. And that, IIRC, she got incredibly snotty with people over requesting, even though this is the first book in a series, I'm sorry it just is.

I will say this about the fact that this book is 85% setup for a series that doesn't exist: it lets the vampire be the vampire. He is genuinely inhuman here, and creepy, and only sexy in the most uncomfortable of ways where it's clear the impulse is rather horrible to both parties. And the intimacy built between the baker and the vampire is . . . well, it's two aliens squinting uncertainly at each other across the wreckage, basically. And a series would have ruined that, most likely. As it is, this book can end well for everyone, but with ambiguous and uncomfortable implications, and I liked that.

So in short, a good example of the genre, with more warmth and richness than many later followers. But you've got to go in understanding that this was, like, a world-building exercise for McKinley or something. I almost wish she had turned the impulse to creating an elaborate tabletop game; it might have gotten her what she wanted and pissed off way fewer readers.

Note: Currently $1.99 on Kindle.
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The Merlin Conspiracy (Magids)

2/5. Standalone sequel to her Deep Secret, which I loved. More alternate universe-hopping magical shenanigans.

I am at a loss here. Deep Secret is charming and sweet and complicatedly kind. This book is – I don't even know what this book is, aside from a mess. It's a splattery mash of magic and personalities; it is perhaps appropriate that a literal elephant walks through this book, randomly trompling things. The plot is, eh, whatever, things happen, it more or less hangs together. But the few parts of this book I can comprehend on a meta level strike me as confused at best, wrongheaded at worst. This book is sort of about influence – magical, familial, political – in relationships, which is a way tidier explanation than anything in the actual pages, and to the extent it is a thinking creature at all, this book has no comprehension of consent or why it's important.

What the hell, DWJ?
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The Cure for Dreaming

3/5. Portland, 1900. Olivia's anti-women's-suffrage father hires a mesmerist to hypnotize her rebelliousness out of her. Except the mesmerist tells her that she will "see the world as it truly is," and when she wakes up, she does. The world is full of monsters.

Snagged off last year's Tiptree longlist. The concept made me hopeful that this would be a watered down Frances Hardinge. (And I don't even mean that disparagingly, it's just no one who isn't Frances Hardinge can do her thing like she does it).

Unfortunately for this book, it is not that. It's a perfectly lovely 'introduction to feminism 101 for teenagers' type book! But I was not in the market for one of those, so, y'know. This book is just so incredibly on the nose; at one point Olivia's ability to speak her mind when she is angry is removed and – the book carefully explains to us on at least three occasions – this is just like being disenfranchised. Do you get it? Do you? Do you?

Anyway, ignore my crankiness. It's a good book, and it's got things to say. Just, those things are written on the sides of anvils. And since you can't fit much on the side of an anvil, they're also very 101 level things, with all that implies. But 101 level books are important, too; I'm sure there are lots of teenagers who would be surprised or enlightened by this book.

Content note: One scene of attempted sexual assault. Trust me, you'll spot it coming a mile off, and it's easily skipped.
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Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass series Book 1)

3/5. YA fantasy. Infamous assassin is removed from prison death camp to compete to be the king's champion; also magic is banned and stuff.

So the front matter of this book proudly proclaims that the author began posting it at the age of sixteen on Fictionpress.com. Remember fictionpress? That would be the original fiction spin-off of fanfiction.net, for those who don't.

And I was like you go, girl. So many authors try to hide their internet origins; even those who claim not to be ashamed sure don't act like it. This author lays it right out there, and thanks her fans and commenters from the site. It's like she realizes these people helped to get her published! And like she's genuinely grateful! And like she really doesn't care who knows how she got her start! Imagine.

So major kudos. Unfortunately, the book itself, despite several edits I can only assume, is incredibly sixteen. I mean, our assassin's name is Celaena; she is an orphan with a tragic past and – it is not revealed in this book but seems inevitable – royal parentage, and she is involved in a brewing love triangle with a crown prince and a captain of the guard, and her eyes might not really be purple, but I'm sure they are in Sarah J. Maas's soul. I wish her well of them; her and the thousands and thousands of girls and women who really dig this series. But it's not for me.

Note: If it might be for you, this book is super cheap on Kindle right now -- $2.24 as of linking.
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Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) and Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles Book 2)

3/5. A princess runs away and volunteers to be the "captive" of a dragon, and foils various wizardly plots.

Cute! If your definition of cute involves making a girl cool by cutting down every other girl in the world. They're all so vapid, you know, and girly, ugh.

Anyway, this is middle grade fantasy, and it will do, if that's what you want. But like her other series I have tried, this one starts out with a sweet and poised first book and then goes rapidly downhill into obnoxiousness. I see the writing on the wall here, so I'm bailing early. You can't fool me, Patricia C. Wrede, I'm never reading whatever the hell that third Sorcery and Cecilia book was called again.
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Fangirl: A Novel

3/5. The story of Cath's first year of college. She has an anxiety disorder, and her twin isn't talking to her, and she has lots of work to do on her slashy fanfic magnum opus, oh and there's this boy….

Aw man, this book was so hard to read because reading about anxious people makes me super anxious. But don't let my issues stop anybody else, because this is awesomesauce. Actually, more accurately, this is so fucking truefax. Cath's struggles with writing original fiction, the intensity of her feelings for her fanfic, the beautiful way this book creates intimacy between people by having them share fanfic read aloud . . . yeah. Been there.

I love the way this book is about slash. It's just part of who Cath is, and some people get that and some people don't. And if the reader doesn't, well, whatever, basically. There are excerpts sprinkled throughout from Cath's WIP and her older work, and from her canon book, and they made me facepalm and chortle in turn. Cath's writing is that awkward but compelling stuff that an eighteen-year-old with genuine talent will turn out . . . and that will horrify her a decade later. Yes, also been there, thanks.

My only objections are (1) that I was utterly uninterested in the romance here. Just . . . nothing; and (2) Cath's fannishness is oddly isolated. She doesn't seem to have real online friends, just fans, which is a little weird.

But if it's a young adult book that normalizes and validates fannish behavior you want, then here you go, this is a good one.
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Carry On

4/5. Simon Snow is in his last year at British magic boarding school. He has a prophecy about him, and more power than any ten mages, and a mortal enemy to fight, and also the lesser enemy of his roommate. Who at some point he starts inadvisably making out with.

So everyone keeps saying that this is the book that Cath in Fangirl writes fic about; that is totally not true, as this book does not match in style or content the excerpts we get in Fangirl. In truth, this is a grownup version of the fanfic story Cath writes; grownup because this is clearly tighter and more mature than Cath's eighteen-year-old style.

So really, this book is the AU version of the slash fanfic that a character in another book writes about a different fantasy series that doesn't exist. Got that? Great.

I liked this. People are being predictably obnoxious about the Harry Potter analogs, because it is 2015 and we are still not over denigrating transformative works, not even close. And yeah, this book owes a lot to Harry/Draco fanfic. This book owes a lot to Harry Potter fandom at large. That’s the thing about it – this book isn't really about Harry Potter. It's about Harry Potter fandom, which is an entirely different and more extraordinary beast. This book is about those esthetics, emotional and stylistic. About my esthetics, I realized halfway through, because I grew up in Harry Potter fandom, and in a fundamental way, reading a book about the hero of the magical world falling in love with another boy is like coming home.

Also, it's a young adult novel that is getting marketed as much for its fantasy elements as for its queer romance (and by "marketed for queer romance" I mean shoved in the queer romance ghetto, obviously). So there.
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Cuckoo Song

4/5. 1922. The thirteen-year-old daughter of wealthy parents wakes up after a near-drowning. With gaps in her memory; and a bottomless, terrifying hunger; and hair that turns into leaves overnight; and dolls that try to flee her; and a sister who calls her a "thing" and hates her guts.

I talk about what I'm reading a lot with my nearest and dearest. Seriously, my poor wife gets the disorganized and incoherent thought soup that I yank these reviews out of. You know, my sparklingly coherent and organized reviews. You know.

But anyway, I keep saying "Frances Hardinge" to people, and they keep saying "Who?" And that. I do not understand that.

So hear ye, hear ye.

Frances Hardinge. Frances motherfucking Hardinge.

She writes young adult…ish. Fantasy….ish. Her brain is a magical tree that bears strange fruit, and I want to eat every single one, even when I know there are teeth on the inside. And people do not know who she is, which is incomprehensible to me, because she's written more than a half dozen books by now, and they only get better.

As a first Hardinge, I recommend Fly By Night, which beings with our young lady protagonist starting a fire and gets more madcap and wonderful from there, or Gullstruck Island which is the best young adult about colonialism I have ever read. Both of those books will give you a sense for Hardinge's powers, the way she yanks stories off their tracks and drops them into new ones, and where she puts the bite (spoiler: everywhere), and how no one can stop her writing amazing young women relating complexly to each other.

This one is kinda advanced level Hardinge. The first quarter is a slow motion, claustrophobic interpersonal car accident, and it kind of fucked me up. And then the accident happens, and the book leaps right off the road, and we have sisters, and jazz, and spells to trap the dead, and magic by architecture, and a motorcycle with a sidecar, and a woman chased by perpetual winter, and other kinds of sisters. It's a wonderfully prickly, complicated book that made me brace, on every page, for pain. And then surprised me, at the end, with a drop of mercy. Not her most accomplished, on a technical level, but there is something . . . unrestrained about the horror at the center of this book that really got to me.

Frances Hardinge, you guys.

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