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Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology

4/5. I backed this collection on Kickstarter and got an early release copy. Took me a while to get through it, though, so it seems to be out now.

The introduction to this collection specifically notes it is not intended to be a full survey. Which it isn't, and shouldn't be. It's just unfortunate that – and I knew this going in – the Vandermeers and I have very different tastes. They really like the Weird and the surreal, and I often don't. I spent the full first third of this collection sighing a lot in boredom and complaining to my wife about stories whose entire purpose is to turn women into thematically significant animals or objects. You know the sort of thing. It's not my thing. Those of you who do enjoy it, I wish you well of it.

Anyway, I still enjoyed this, and do recommend it. This introduced me to a lot of authors I was only peripherally aware of before, and made me think. Some brief story notes on a few pieces that jump out as I look back.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "Sur" – One of my favorites. Tale of the women who were secretly first to reach the South Pole. Beautiful and restrained and warm and cold at the same time.

Susan Palwick, "Gestella" – This story of a werewolf aging at a different rate than her (misogynist) husband was the most viscerally upsetting in the whole collection, to my mind. I almost didn't read the last page, but ultimately made myself. I owed it to the protagonist.

Nalo Hopkinson, "The Glass Bottle Trick" – A Bluebeard story, told, frighteningly, from within his home.

Joanna Russ, "When It Changed" – Another version of 'men arriving into a society of all women.' And a good one. Not particularly subtle, but the thing is it needed to be unsubtle, because the patriarchal assumptions it is pushing against are too pervasive for many readers to see around without a lot of help.

Octavia E. Butler, "The Evening the Morning and the Night" – Hm. I had a lot of issues with this story of living with impending disability, and ultimately I shook my head over it. But I was engaged, I'll give it that.

Hiromi Goto, "Tales from the Breast" – One of the few Weird stories that really worked for me. Hallucinatory and disturbing story of post delivery and breastfeeding.

Carol Emschwiller, "Boys" – Hm. Sort of interesting (post apocalyptic? Unclear) story of a gender-separated society, that gets less interesting the more I think about it, because the more I think about it the more I realize the story doesn't work unless you base it on a lot of gender essentialist assumptions before the first word was in place. Which might have been part of her point. Or not. Also unclear.
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The Silvered

3/5. Tanya Huff in her taking self seriously mode, as opposed to my personal preference, her oh fuck it all, let's have fun shame is for the weak mode. Which is annoying, because as usual with Huff, I read this while sick, and let's just say that taking self seriously Huff is not what I'm looking for at that juncture.

This is some standard magic and werewolves in fantasy war scenario, with some bonus torture porn that I really did not appreciate, and, well. It's funny how, even when she is not writing about bestiality, Huff manages to write about bestiality, y'know? Y'know. Like, no bestiality appears on these pages! And yet you are clearly supposed to be going there in your head every ten seconds. I'd much rather she'd just written it herself, as she clearly likes to do.

I guess what I'm circling around saying here is that taking self seriously Huff doesn't think shame is for the weak, and it shows. Her taking self seriously books are always kind of flat to me, weirdly constrained, weirdly stiff. Like those boring space marines books. None of the joy or kinky don't give a fuckness of her not taking self seriously books.

I know which I prefer.
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Prudence (The Custard Protocol)

4/5. Cute steampunk adventure set a generation after the Parasol Protectorate books.

Just the thing for that week where you're five days into being sick and still getting sicker, not better. Fun, frothy, and occasionally downright pleasing (our largely virginal lady heroine makes advances upon a young gentleman, and she is rightly concerned about the state of his delicate sensibilities and nerves at various points. He's fragile, you know).

As usual, I'm not quite sure how seriously to take these books. On the one hand, their entire point is not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, this one includes an offhand, if apparently sincere, defense of imperialism? So, uh, okay? Everyone should eat more custard and we should have another couple pages discussing Victorian fashion, how about that.
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Dangerous Ground

3/5. Collection of novellas about partners in a made up government security service who do a lot of running and shooting punctuated by sleeping together. And good grief, he really really likes his law-enforcement/military guys, doesn't he?

There's nothing wrong with this – Lanyon can write, which distinguishes him from a lot of people in this genre – but there's also nothing right, specifically for me. My favorite thing about Lanyon is that he likes established relationship as much as I do, because he understands that the hard part doesn't end when you get together, it's just starting. So his established relationship stories are full of negotiation and work, and I love that.

But the particular work here is the work of a couple where one of them is way more into it than the other is – or at least that's the way they both perceive it, at various points – and it's just . . . not what I came for. Not what I come to this genre for, specifically. Other people may really enjoy this, because it is a grown up, thoughtful examination of that dynamic. I just don't like that dynamic. Probably because the worst relationship of my life, in retrospect, was the one where I was the one way less into it, and argh, nope, that is not the fun relaxing brain candy place.
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BLACK UNICORN (Ibooks Fantasy Classics)

3/5. Young adult fantasy back from when the genre as we understand it today didn't exist.

Read for the obvious reason. This made me think about Diana Wynne Jones, and Narnia, and, weirdly, Fullmetal Alchemist. It's not exactly like any of those, that's just the context in which I was reading it. The DWJ because this is quite a young book, but the writing has that flickering, fast-moving quality where it can deliver an improbable plot twist or a painfully precise observation in less than five words and keep right on going like nothing just happened. Narnia because of a fuckin' weird direction this book goes in the last quarter that makes no damn sense to me at all. And Fullmetal Alchemist because children in deserts building life out of dead things, and monsters and doorways.

I should have read this in the nineties. Tanith Lee would have been one of the seminal authors of my childhood, and that would not have been a bad thing. It's too late now, though.
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3/5. Sequel to the wonderful True Meaning of Smekday. Tip and J.Lo go on an interstellar adventure. By car. Like you do.

Is this the weird and wonderful and touching Smekday? Nope. Is it the story I wanted? Well, it's not about J.Lo taking the place of J.Lo as a judge on American Idol, so no (seriously, Yuletide, why have you not made this happen? I am disappointed in you).

This is a silly cute adventure that is far less subtle and far more shallow than Smekday, but it has a heart and a sense of fun. And I am just never going to be one of those people who thinks a really awesome thing is ruined by a less awesome thing also existing. Like . . . what? Can someone who believes in this theory of art explain it to me? Because no lo comprendo. But you hear this all the damn time – from people who read a lot of fanfic, no less! About how the sequel ruined it by existing and, like, not being as good. I mean, I'm all for – whatsit – intertextual readings and of course no piece of art exists in a vacuum, but how does it ruin something beautiful?
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2312

2/5. Solar system scifi with – I understand – KSR's usual interest in environmental issues.

I've been sitting on this review for weeks, which turns out to be long enough to have forgotten most salient facts of this book. Which tells you something right there. But the thing is – everyone said I'd like this. It was all "interesting gender ideas!" and "post humans that push our boundaries but are all still very us!"

And I . . . didn't think so. At all.

Like, either I missed some key early turning in this book. I am very, very busy this spring, and very, very tired, so yeah. Maybe there was some path it should have led me down and I just wandered on by, head down in my commute, and then looked up two days later to wonder where this floppy, start-stop, confused book was going.

Or maybe. Or maybe the "interesting gender stuff" is just a thin layer of speculation over the same old shit. Maybe he interleaved so many fake nonfiction excerpts to explain this culture because he can't, on more than the most surface level, make these people live those lives. Maybe this is pretending to be a story of flowering biological and gender possibilities, except it's funny how comfortable it all is. Like not a single pronoun in this book challenged me. We get lots of nonfiction excerpts and the occasional passing reference to a central characters non-binary sexual identity, but hey everyone's pronouns are familiar and comfy and the relationships are heteronormative.

Yeah. One of those.
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3/5. So the moon blows up. I mention this in passing, which I feel is appropriate, because in this book the moon blows up due to the actions of some presumably alien unknown agent, and this book gives negative fucks about the who or the why. Whatever, handwave, let's follow the admittedly harrowing adventures of the few thousand surviving humans who escape into space, and then skip ahead five thousand years to their descendants coming back.

Yikes. A goodreads friend said that this book is what happens when you send an engineer to do an anthropologist's job, which is bang on. Basically . . . oh Neal Stephenson NO.

It's always telling what an author insists on getting right and what he doesn't give a fuck about. Neal Stephenson really, really, really wants you to know that he thought long and hard about orbital mechanics and – it appears – did a decent amount of back-of-the-napkin math to back up his made up technological innovations here.

On the list of things he can not be bothered to have basic facts on? Women's bodies. Which is a telling oversight for a book which is greatly concerned with how to rebuild the human population from a tiny remnant containing only a very few women. According to this book, how fertility preservation science works is a man and a woman have sex, she gets pregnant, and the embryo (and all zillion branches of the trophoblast and placenta? Apparently?) are, like, scraped out of her and flash frozen. Apparently he never bothered learning what the V in IVF stands for. Also according to this book, post menopausal women cannot bear children. This is (1) incorrect – of course they can, just not with their own eggs; and (2) presented as fact in a situation where there are literally less than 10 human wombs in existence, and everyone desperately needs to start making babies. Except apparently the menopausal woman? Even though they are all using advanced reproductive technology to get pregnant? And it makes zero sense not to ask her to gestate embryos with someone else's genetics? But oh wait that would have required knowing about lady things.

So there you have Neal Stephenson. By god the science behind some made up technology had better be right, but don't bother him with women's business.

And don't get me started on – okay, if I really get going on the last third of the book, we will be here all day. Can I do this briefly? Because it's worth doing, it really is.

The first two thirds of this book are gripping extreme survival porn. Like, really gripping. Full of amazing female friendship and adventure and bravery and sacrifice. See that 3/5 up there? That's the first two-thirds. And yeah, the human emotion part is really slipshod, but okay, whatever, we're too busy talking about how you move a megaton ice comet around, so okay.

And then we jump ahead five thousand years to – and I'm not spoiling this, it's on the jacket copy – a time when seven new "races" of humanity have propagated. And there's a whole lot of authorsplaining about this, and I was like 'blah blah blah, can we go back to the space adventures?' until Stephenson authorsplained that in this future, racism doesn't exist anymore.

*Record scratch*.

The entire last third of the book is an exercise in racism. On the Watsonian level, every. Single. Character spends 90% of their social energy on categorizing everyone by race, explaining each tiny behavior and quirk as racially based (down to posture, personality, conversational style, everything). The joke I made was that it had suddenly turned into Divergent in space. The not funny part is none of these people are allowed to be people: they are all, to every nuance, racial types. And on the Doylist level, you know what these new races are defined by?

Yeah. Awkward. They're defined by specifically twenty-first century racial stereotypes. Like the descendants of the Asian woman are all focused on intelligence and achievement. And the descendants of the Muslim woman value being quiet and helpful and invisibly accommodating, like servant wives.

But there's no more racism, don't you know.

In future, he really needs to stick with the duct-tape-spit-and-hope space survival, and not touch sociology ever, ever, ever, ever again. To say nothing of race relations, JFC.
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The Pinhoe Egg (Chronicles of Chrestomanci Book 6)

3/5. Another Chrestomanci book, this time about an egg hidden in an attic and an old witch clan feud.

Yeah yeah, I'm reading these out of order, whatever.

This is . . . interesting. The weird underpinnings of this world show through more here: part of the point of this book, for one, is Chrestomanci paternalisming all the fuck over everyone, deciding who's been naughty and nice, and handing out "justice" with all the integrity of Dumbledore awarding the house cup to Gryffindor.

DWJ almost knows this. The book is about parenting of many sorts, and family loyalty in a larger sense. It's familial pairs from start to finish: one of our main characters hatches and raises a griffin, the other has complex parental and grandparental relations, etc. And DWJ is almost pushing at the weird edges of the world she created by talking about the power inherent in these relationships, and showing us many occasions where it is abused. And then she just . . . stops.

So it's cute, and there's a whole sequence early on with a rogue magicked table running away down the street that is clearly intended to be rendered in animation. But there isn't the right there here.
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My Name Is Legion

2/5. In a computerized future where everyone is publicly databased (and by future I mean 2005), one of the programmers writes himself out and becomes a hired gun.

That deeply awkward thing where an author thinks he's writing an intriguing and philosophical work about a sexy, interestingly sad lone wolf … and he's actually writing about a mass-murdering terrorist.

Man, I have just been picking wrong with Zelazny lately. My one solace through this painful, wanky, fridgey slog was deconstructing Zelazny's notion of future. It's always fun reading old scifi whose "future" is our now; it's not about the ways they projected technology incorrectly, it's about the many things you can learn about a person by the social projections they make into the unknown. Like, in Zelazny's future, everyone is still a smoker, and more importantly, smoking is still sexy. Remember that? And more interestingly, the world is entirely digitized and largely transparent; our protagonist has some vague misgivings about this, but nowhere in this entire book does a single person ever make an argument based in privacy rights.

Any old hack can be all, "we'll have undersea domed cities in 50 years!" and make it plausible. It's the rare talent who can dislocate his sense of social place into the unknown. In Zelazny's defense, that was really not the project of the majority of his milieu. I'm being spoiled by rainbow SF, which has as a central premise de-centering social assumptions – what is attractive and what is not, what is polite and what is not, what is violence and what is not.

But still. Everybody smoked, and that's sexy.
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http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FC14L2/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000FC14L2&linkCode=as2&tag=light013-20&linkId=TWNOHX75FICNNVFJ

3/5. Cheerful little boarding school story set in a world where witches are still burned alive as a matter of national security. One class receives a note saying that one among them is a witch: shenanigans ensue.

I entertained myself greatly playing the [insert queerness here] game with this book. You know, where you take the shameful, dangerous secret everyone suspects of each other and replace every use of the word "magic" with the word "queer." It generally works eerily well, as it does here. It's fun in this iteration, where the author was not deliberately coding the text this way. It's way, way less fun in the case of, say, X-Men, where certain authors are deliberately attempting to use mutation as a metaphor for queerness, which is all well and good until you start wondering . . . um . . . if they're so interested in talking about queerness . . . why don't they put in any queer characters or, gosh I don't know, actually talk about queerness without the metaphor.

But DWJ wasn't playing that metaphor game. Other metaphor games, yeah, but not that one. So it's fun to read 'secret frightening exhilarating power' as queerness because, well, it's actually a bit more interesting than what DWJ was doing with this book: things out of balance, trying to do it right and getting it wrong every time anyway, kids being kids. Nothing wrong with it, I mean, just not as interesting as the story of secretly queer kids and their teachers.
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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel

3/5. Fictional memoir focusing on a stretch of time in college for our narrator, whose sister is gone and whose brother is in the wind.

Okay, I tend to be moderate on the spoiler question as a general rule, but in this case I strongly recommend against reading the jacket copy. Because it will tell you the sorta science-fictional "twist" to this book, whereas when the book tells you – about a quarter of the way through, IIRC – is so artfully precise and well-calculated, and you should not let an idiot publisher fuck that up for you. That space before you know the score is incredibly important for what this book is doing with families and kin and self.

Because damn kids, Karen Joy Fowler is good. I'd gotten that vague impression from people, but no one told me she can do funny and bitter in the same sentence, or that she can control such a complicated narrative and make it look effortless.

This is a titch more literary than I tend to bother with, and noticeably less spec fic. And it upset me in places. Exactly, I should note, the places intended to upset me. And I kind of don't ever want to read it again. But. It is very, very good at what it is doing.

Here's the thing I really admire about this book though. Could be spoilery, vaguely ) So yeah. I admire that.

Content note: Animal harm. Like….a lot. There isn't actually a lot on screen, with a few exceptions, but animal harm permeates the book. See above re how this is really good but I don't want to read it again.
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The Royal We

4/5. The Fug Girls do 'American exchange student falls in love with a British prince.'

I assumed, going in, that this would be a bubbly, young adult romp full of fashion porn and one-in-a-million romance. It is, in fact, a thoughtful adult novel containing very little fashion (our protagonist does not really care about clothes) which is perhaps more concerned with the relationship of two sisters than with all the boy-girl nonsense. It is also deft and pointed regarding the cost of fame. Not in the oh woe is me, it's so haaaard being rich and famous way, but of the sympathetic and awful, So now we find out which people we love are actually just using us way. I think the Fug Girls are peculiarly well-situated – and sufficiently thoughtful and self-aware – to get at that sort of thing.

I am supremely uninterested in talking about whether this book is Will/Kate RPF or not, and which incidents are true to life and which aren't. I just am so so so over having a version of that conversation, the exact same way I'm over talking about which young adult novels are fanfic with the serial numbers filed off. Like, for real, it is 2015. And yet we are all supposed to still be gatekeeping and classifying and arguing over how much transformative workness is good and how much is bad? Really? Color me un-fucking-interested.

It's a lovely book about family and England and love and friends and being young-and-fabulous and young-and-afraid and doing hard things and screwing up with everyone watching. It made some . . . choices . . . regarding mental illness that I'm still thinking about because I'm not sure I'm down with them, and you can still see some of the places where the authors apparently cut large amounts of material, but. It is what it is. And I liked it.
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Dreaming Spies: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

3/5. Another Russell/Holmes book of the usual formula – going back in to fill in a previous gap in the timeline with an international adventure which, in the middle of the book, catches up to narrator-standard-time in England.

Eh, you know, the charm is wearing off here.

Things I am in this series for: (1) the picture of a marriage of two very smart, very independent people who love each other, but do not need each other and they both know it; (2) Holmes's disguises; (3) partnership; (4) cleverness.

Things Laurie R. King is in this series for, these days: (1) Cultural tourism (Japan, this time); (2) set pieces.

This was competent, and I am bored. More clever sleuths loving each other but living their own lives, less travelog, please.
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The Girl With All the Gifts

4/5. So the National Library Service description of this book is all, "blah blah post zombie apocalypse, gifted young girl is infected and held in military custody, emergency cross-country road trip through zombie-infested England while her humanity is debated."

And I went siiiiiiiigh, because can we – with the debating of humanity – can we just fucking stop. This is a thing that a certain subset of vampire/zombie/creature fiction is really interested in: who is human and, more importantly it seems, who is not? And I hate these narratives. Hate them. The authors appear to think they are probing at something important and meaningful, whereas from my perspective – well. Let's put it this way: slavery didn't exist in the United States because no one had thought of the concept of human rights. Far from it. Slavery was maintainable because it was decided, collectively and systematically, that Africans were not human beings. That's what this boundary drawing is always for, ultimately: deciding whether someone is human or not is a proxy way of deciding whether they are an object or a person. Objects can't be raped because they don't have consent. Objects can't be assaulted; they can be damaged, as property, but that damage is done to the owner. And let's not fool ourselves that these decisions come down to sentience or intelligence; history begs to differ.

So for me, a lot of supernatural fiction is participating in one of the oldest acts of social aggression there is: deciding who counts and who doesn't. And I think the entire endeavor is corrupt from start to finish. It's not interesting. It's not deep. It's not philosophical. It doesn't reflect on the true nature of humanity. It's just a tool of violence being co-opted for fiction.

Um. Anyway. Now that I've gotten that off my chest. This book isn't that, and it's great!

Things this book doesn't care about: (1) who is human and who is not; (2) Endless – or really any -- authorial wanking about the contours of this dystopic society.

Fuck yes.

Things this book does care about: (1) A very smart little girl; (2) giving me the cold horrors as a person who can barely stand to touch mushroom flesh (this will not likely apply to other readers, but ugh, zombies through fungus infection AAAAUGH); (3) the last thing to come out of Pandora's box.

It is grim as fuck and difficult to read in places, and mesmerizingly good. And it's kind of obvious, looking back on it, and yet I was so busy being wrapped up in it that I didn't bother clocking the overarching narrative. And that overarching narrative – it's not just that it isn't concerned with who's human and who's not, it's that it actively rejects the question.

So really good, then.

P.s. M.R. Carey is a not-really-pseud for Mike Carey, the Hellblazer guy and urban fantasy guy.
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Welcome to Temptation (Dempsey Book 1)

3/5. A rather slapdash romance about two women coming to a small town to film what turns out to be porn (sort of) and the straight-laced mayor who may not want to win his next election and etc. Giving it good....ish marks only because it got me through the second major dog surgery/hospitalization in under eight weeks, so okay.

Not her best by far, but I don't really want to talk about that. I want to talk about sex.

This book is . . . confused about sex, let us say. Nonconsensually bringing a third party in to watch a couple having sex in order to fulfill a discovery fantasy that the dude never even stopped to ascertain whether his partner even has? That's apparently fine. Filming two consenting adults having sex? Disgusting and reprehensible, apparently.

This book is so confused, I can't even put my finger on what issues Crusie is putting out on the laundry line here. But boy, they sure are out there. This is one of those books that is sex positive right up until the point when it snaps back to incredibly shaming and sex negative, and I just have no.freakin'.clue.why.

Well, I know why. We all know why. Just, y'know. Confused.
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Small Gods: Discworld Novel, A

3/5. One of the Discworld standalones. A god is turned into a tortoise, and only one monk out of his entire religious order can hear him, because only that one still believes.

Read for the obvious sentimental reasons. Which was a good choice because this is Pratchetty and charming. And also a bad choice because it is Pratchetty and, uh, full of quick flashes of his particular brand of racism. You know, the cheerful kind of racism where a white guy goes "ha ha ha aren't racist stereotypes so stupid they're funny?" And you're like, "uh okay dude, but pretty sure that's a thing you get to think when they aren't about you, and also you apparently believe in a number of them yourself, so…"

But what I meant to talk about was Pratchett and religion. Because I don't think he is very good at it? Like, he seems very clear on the idea of religion as a system of order, and he seems extremely clear on it as a tool of political aggression. Both of which it totally is. But then, for him, it stops. Which – and I'm saying this as an atheist – doesn't seem right to me. The main character here is a man of faith. One of the very few in the novel. And I'll grant you faith is a different concept when your god won't stop talking to you, but. But there's no . . . the people I know who believe don't do it with their politics. Or their heads. They do it with their limbic systems, you know?

Like, I'm pretty sure Pratchett wrote Sam Vimes having much more complex, intense, personal feelings about city cobblestones than the protagonist of this book has about his god. Vimes's feelings are pretty strong, mind you.

Anyway, whatever. I'm just saying, if you're going to go mucking about in theocracies, you've got to put some actual religion in. And this book ain't got religion. It's got, like, a secular pragmatist talking about religion.
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All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel

2/5. Historical about two teenagers – one blind French girl, one German underaged soldier – who intersect briefly in 1944.

So for background, my father-in-law is a darling man who knows I'm a reader and, because he is a darling man, likes to buy me books from Audible. He, however, is not a reader. What he does read is The New Yorker. You can see where this is going.

Sigh. It's not just that World War II stories are easy to find; it's more that good World War II stories have been told and told and told. This one – about radios and cursed diamonds and children sent to war – is aggressively well-written, I'll give it that. But it's also one of those war stories that is supposed to elevate the suffering of the commonplace or whatever, and instead just ends up 95% suffering porn.

The other 5% being a lot of lit fiction symbolism bullshit where a diamond is supposed to metaphorically speak to the sweep of human history or whatever, and it's all just so meaningful, and you can totally see the author daydreaming about the landscape shots in the movie after its optioned for seven figures.

That's lit fiction for you. Set out with the goal of illuminating the suffering of the commonplace, but totally fail to resist trying to make it about OMG the humanity, and in the process lose authenticity and grip on real people, so in the end it's just suffering-suffering-suffering-thematic moment-suffering-suffering.

I swear one day I'm just going to decide that I will henceforth never again read a book subtitled "A Novel," and my life will be instantly improved.
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3/5. Later written but chronologically long ago prequel to the Old Kingdom books. So the usual – a teenager flung into magic and court politics.

This book fooled me nearly to the end. I assumed I had it figured out from page 1. Our protagonist was immature and self-centered, willfully disinterested in the justice or injustice of the struggle she is dropped into. But she'd grow up quick enough and take up the responsibilities thrust upon her, and blah blah blah, I thought. And then I was kind of bored, because she wasn't doing that, and she wasn't doing that, and the whole book was sort of shallow and blinkered and angry, and not what I've come to expect from Nix. Did he lose his form, I wondered?

And then around the 85% mark I sat up and said oh quite loudly, because I'd suddenly realized what book I was actually reading. And that book uses its shallowness to fool you – under the surface, it is sad and frightening. And – not compassionate. But kind, in a clinical 'this, too, shall be told' kind of way.

Not the story I thought it was at all. Did I enjoy it? Sort of. But I wasn't supposed to, not exactly. Or my unthinking enjoyment was supposed to have the rug yanked out from under it in favor of something much more complicated.
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All In with the Duke (Gambling on Love Book 1)

2/5. M/M historical inexplicably titled with reference to gambling when it's actually about a duke and a prostitute.

This is competently written, and appears to have pleased people who like the duke/prostitute thing, but. There is just something intensely claustrophobic about this book. It contains two main characters, who spend most of the book shut up together alone in the country, and roughly 0.75 other characters. I started developing suspicions halfway through, checked, and yup: the only other two characters in the book with more than a couple of speaking lines are product placement main characters for the rest of her series.

And I just, look. Publishing is a business, and the business is selling books. But for real, if you can only ever be bothered to create a character for the purpose of selling a book he headlines, you have a problem.

And you also write shallow stories, with no depth or texture.

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