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Carpe Demon

3/5. Demon-fighting soccer mom.

There is a running joke in my household about my TBR pile. I was trying to find something to read towards the end of June [N.B.: I billed more hours in June 2017 than in any other month of my career] and my TBR was . . . dire. I was scrolling, and it was, "apocalypse . . . apocalypse with zombies . . . reproductive dystopia . . . ooh I think teenagers burn to death in that one." Yeah.

So I read this instead! Which is an extremely fluffy, comfy book about a suburban SAHM dealing with demons. She has a great best friend and a cute teenager and a dark past demon hunting for the church. Like you do. This goes the expected places – it's subliminally about the ways homemaking and running a family are like preventing the apocalypse – but it's also breezy and fun. And would make a great TV show, actually. Would watch. While collapsed half-dead with a glass of wine at the end of the week.
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The Iron Hunt

3/5. Urban fantasy about the loner woman with demons who live in her tattoos trying to slot herself into a life with a partner and friends while the potential apocalypse comes.

Yeah, so, most people probably know Liu now through her comics, but I knew her from a long-ago series of recs from several different people that left me with the strong impression that she writes delightfully batshit stuff with, like, hot gargoyle-on-lady action. So I finally grabbed this book – being one of the few options available in audio – and. I am saddened to report there is no hot gargoyle-on-lady action here. I mean, it's nice? There's lots of plot and cool worldbuilding and oodles of backstory barely hinted at. And a central relationship that is established and quietly awesome (he's so respectful of her, it's actually confusing!)

So I went and looked at Liu's website and it turns out this series is listed as "urban fantasy," and she has another series listed as "paranormal romance" which I suspect is what was recced to me.

And here's my question: why oh why oh why can't I have lots of plot and worldbuilding and interesting backstory and hot gargoyle-on-lady action? This does not seem so hard!*

And yet. Genre rules, kids.

*Aside from the gargoyle dick.
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Borderline

3/5. Millie, a double amputee, is recruited out of the psych facility where she is being treated in order to work for the organization monitoring the flow of fairies into Los Angeles.

This surprised and challenged me in a good way. For one thing, when you have a lot of friends with disabilities, as I do, you can't help but notice how often disability abhors a vacuum. It brings friends. And, yeah, no shit living in this world with a physical disability can precipitate a psychological disability, too. In Millie's case it's the other way around – her injuries are the result of a failed suicide attempt – but people don't like to write about multiple disability. It's "too much." But reading about Millie felt very familiar to me, particularly how the Nexis of oppression for her could shift from the physical to the psychological depending on the circumstances. I know this girl. I've known this girl a lot. She's had a hard life, every version of her. Her narrator voice does have an unpleasant tendency to 'splain Borderline Personality Disorder in such sweeping terms that she seems to reduce herself to her diagnosis, but it's in the service of explaining a lot of the things she does to readers who would mostly really not understand her, otherwise.

The challenging part is, well. Confronting my own internalized ableism as I read about Millie and screamed internally at her a lot and just wanted her to get her shit together, oh my god woman. But she can't. That's the point. And that was hard for me, whose presentation to the able-bodied world depends so heavily on having my shit together epically. I'm working on it.

Anyway. It's a good, surprising urban fantasy. The plot sort of runs on rails and you can, like, see where the author was working through her index cards or whatever, but it's good. And there's something rich to this world, to the link between fairy and the inspiration of creative work in Los Angeles. I will be interested to see where this goes.
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Body Work and Night Witch

3/5. *trumpets* The first graphic novels to appear on this here reading blog! These are the first two completed interstitial graphic stories set between the Rivers of London books, as read to me alternately by [personal profile] cmshaw and [personal profile] gnomad. They were pretty easy to read out loud, for the curious, given that they are dialogue-heavy and drawn in what was described to me as photorealistic style. So the panels are what they are showing, and not a lot else. Good for trying to be mainstream, I guess, though I do wish from an artistic point of view they'd made other choices, like giving the Nightingale point-of-view sections a different style.

Things that please me: Nightingale wanders around having one-sided conversations with the dog, bless; Molly is a scary motherfucker; we get more insight into the way Nightingale thinks through problems (for better or worse, lol, use your phone, child); we get roughly equal quantities of Peter nudity with lady nudity.

So I liked these, but I continue to be vaguely annoyed that they are included by reference in the books now. IDK, something about that bugs me, and I can't figure out whether I'm being ridiculous about it. I think it's that I kinda feel about different kinds of media the way some people feel about the food on their plate: they are different things and they should not touch!

Something we didn't know going in – the single issue comics have extra material included, like interviews and historical background, that were inexplicably left out of the printed trade paperbacks.
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The Hanging Tree

4/5. Book six, delayed but worth the wait. First because it's good, second because it might actually have gotten me into these books as a fandom. It's been coming, but I wasn't quite there before.

Anyway, about the book. It's thematically expanding on familiar ground in that its concerned with faces, real and metaphorical. Spoilers ).

This is not as much a Tyburn book as the title might leave one to hope, but she is there. I continue to really enjoy what she and Peter are textually and subtextually arguing about. On the surface it's purely political. Underneath…it reads to me like an argument on the different modes of being black and being a force for change in a white institution. Because there are different modes of doing that, and I don't think either of them actively dislike the ways the other has chosen. They're just orthogonal and, sometimes, at cross-purposes.

Anyway, predictions. I've said it before and I still think that we're heading towards something semi-apocalyptic, at least on a local level. If the Folly is still physically standing at the end of this, I will be shocked. Also, Peter, thank you for finally stopping to follow the same chain of speculative logic that [personal profile] gnomad and I did after, like, book four.
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3/5. Book *pauses to look it up* nine. Urban fantasy *gestures* stuff, but let's talk about babymaking.

So they get married in this one, and there's a couple prophecies about their kid, and then [spoiler, except come on, it's totally not] at the very end she's surprise! Pregnant. And because I'm me I am stuck on whether they were using birth control. I guess we're supposed to assume not, based on the pregnancy (though in reality, birth control accidents happen all the damn time). And I don't remember if we know anything about how birth control works in this mixed magic/tech post apocalypse world anyway. But can we just –

If you are a couple people with the requisite parts and the ladyparts are, like, less than say 43 years old, and you aren't using protection, you are trying to have a baby. Like, there is no 'oh we weren't preventing but we weren't really trying either' – no. That is not a real thing. That does not exist. Babymaking does not depend on, like, deciding that this month you really mean it. And more pointedly, not using birth control is a specific choice to get pregnant, because 90% of couples will conceive within six months of dropping birth control.* That is, like, why there are billions of us crawling around this planet. This shit is supposed to be easy, and just because it wasn't easy for me and it was in fact impossible for several people I care about doesn't change that.

I am just sick unto death of books of all genres – romance, urban fantasy, general lit – treating pregnancy as a surprise random occurrence. As if not getting pregnant was equally – if not more – likely, and really who could have expected this! Who the fuck are these people who go around banging unprotected and don't expect the outcome?

Write me books about people who actually plan their family-building. Who have conversations about the nitty gritty of it like adults. You know, not just the vague will-we-won't-we, but all the actual shit you talk about like doing the math and realizing that having a baby nine months from right now would be super terrible so let's use a condom for these two weeks. Accidents happen, sure, but funny how they seem to account for 90% of the stories about conceiving I read. And for god's sake, let's stop pretending a lot of these pregnancies are accidents at all when they fucking aren't. It's your body, fucking own what you decided to do with it.

Ugh.

*There's a lot more nuance to this, but you get me.
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Imprudence (The Custard Protocol)

3/5. More steampunkish airship supernatural nonsense, interchangeable with the rest of Carriger's books in being entertaining nonsense. Except this one includes a charming trope inversion where the virginal young lady selects a young man of her acquaintance to learn sex things from and proceeds to ruthlessly dally with him. That was pretty great, even if it ends in romantical feelings everywhere.
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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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Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Series Book 2) And Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School Series Book 3)

3/5. A couple more titles in that young adult alt Victorian urban fantasy finishing spy school series.

There is something not quite right about this series. The adult titles maintain this airy soap bubble of frothy charm, and they make it look effortless. But there's some internal wobble in the young adult set that I can sort of put my finger on, but also sort of can't. Like, okay, in one of these books, our heroine is thinking about someone on the opposite side of a conflict from her, and notes that he's not bad, he's just evil. "Not that there was anything wrong with that." Which typifies this universe, and this series more specifically; it's not about good and evil having any particular valence, because good and evil are really just words that have a lot more to do with how people dress than anything.

That's the charming part.

But – here's where I get a bit hazy about it – but the racism. This is an AU where servants have been replaced largely with mechanized laborers, and yet – it is carelessly implied – there is still an African slave trade, and all that flows from that fact. It is still a scandal for a young lady to fall in love with a black laborer, specifically because of his race more than his class. And I just. Idk.

I guess I just really don't want to be reading a book whose charm is that evil is an esthetic choice, but oh also racism, ha ha. I'm not drawing this connection very clearly, but yeah. No. This series isn't right.
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Fated (Alex Verus Book 1), Cursed (Alex Verus Book 2), Taken (Alex Verus Book 3), Chosen (Alex Verus Book 4), Hidden (Alex Verus Book 5), and Veiled

3/5. Urban fantasy of the lone wolf dude mage gets an apprentice and friends and entangled in wizard politics variety. The series deliberately invites Dresden Files comparisons – there is a specific in-text reference to that wizard in Chicago who advertises in the Yellowpages very early on, as if Jacka wants to make the comparison before the reader does. So fine, I'll make the comparison. This is less misogynist than Dresden Files, significantly less D&D, but has basically the same damn backstory and broader world, the same lack of awareness of what noncon is, the same love for high school level discussions of morality, and the same addiction to battles with half the creativity. Also similarly, I love the supporting cast far more than the putative hero.

Fun popcorn reads. I did read all six, you'll note, though it's also worth pointing out I had pneumonia at the time.
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3/5. Urban fantasy London cops sequel to the well-received London Falling.

People I follow almost entirely enjoyed the first book, and then diverge sharply on the second. I avoided all reviews, so I didn't know why. Now I do, and it's . . . awkward.

So like Neil Gaiman is a character? And not just an in-jokey walk-on, but a recurring character? With, like, a plot line and motivations?

And if I take several steps back from this, I can go yeah, okay, that's doing something. Cornell talked about the space Gaiman is filling in this story in re magical underground London and access to its spaces, and if you think about the landscape of these books – this genre niche, I mean, as it has grown over the past fifteen years or so –incorporating RPF for the author of Neverwhere makes a certain amount of sense.

But the truth is I'm not taking a few steps back from this and viewing it from that vantage. Because close up, within the pages of this book? The Neil Gaiman RPF was super fucking awkward and super fucking weird, and it made me so uncomfortable for nebulous, inarticulate reasons that it nearly ruined this otherwise entertaining book. I don't care whether he got permission (he did) or how good of friends they were (not that close, as far as I can tell). It's . . . sort of about how Cornell thinks he's doing something groundbreaking and interesting when he's, uh, really not. And sort of about a man profiting off of RPF while so many women push boundaries in much more interesting RPF as part of a maligned subculture. And sort of about how secondhand embarrassing it all came off, particularly in light of Cornell's self-confessed celebrity crush. And sort of about the role Gaiman is playing and what Cornell thinks he is saying about access to magical spaces and fannish spaces via Gaiman when I am one of that apparently rare clique of people who don't like Gaiman's stuff and don't think it represents us and our fannish experience.

And just . . . nope.
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Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5)Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


So when the summary of this book came out – Peter goes to the countryside – I assumed it would be a monster-of-the-week book. And it is, though clearly also a lot of setup. Which is actually the salient feature of this book – it convinced me that Aaronovitch hasn't even put all his pieces on the board yet, let alone started moving them.

So anyway. Yes, this book suffers from a tragic deficit of Nightingale. And also a tragic deficit of London, a character in her own right. And yes, the ending is abrupt as hell. (And speaking of, apparently only the Waterstones edition has the short story epilogue? I can only assume to boost special edition sales. What is this dead tree bullshit, I ask you?)

But, Peter is still Peter. And there actually is enough architecture in the country for him to geek over. And the occasionally slow march of this book's rather obvious plot was interrupted, every fifty pages or so, by Peter wham breaking my heart out of nowhere. So yeah. Still worth it.

P.s. This book does present an obvious theory about the Faceless Man's identity/origins, which is so obvious I can only assume it's not true? We'll see.



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The Witch With No Name (The Hollows, #13)The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Welp. I stuck it out to the end. What do I win? Is the prize that I get back however many hours of my life I spent reading this series?

I kid! Mostly. This book qua book is kind of a disaster. It's indistinguishable from the last half dozen books, except that it has a "twenty five years later" epilogue to let you know that we're done. And it suffers from that worst of afflictions that a fantasy novel can contract: metaphysics. You know, the thing where the magic has become so high order that it all occurs within the mind or on a higher plane or whatever, and the writing about it becomes laughably bad.

But. This actually was a seminal text in the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre (no, it really was). And I feel a grim accomplishment for having stuck with it. Because if nothing else, this series and it's perpetual sameness was an annual measuring stick for me. I came to consciousness as a reviewer – which for me, is almost synonymous with coming to consciousness as a reader – over the run of this series. So would I like those hours back? Would I happily scrub my brain of the enumerable "I shouted" and "I sobbed" dialogue tags (seriously, Rachel shouts and she sobs, she never . . . y'know . . . talks). Yes I would. But I also wouldn't, because this series didn't really get smaller, I got bigger. So now I know.




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Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels, #7)Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read this at the very end of pregnancy, which was just a few weeks ago but might as well be another country. But I remember enough to know I was deeply bored by this: battle, running, battle, shipping, battle, battle. The thing is, this series has a refreshing brutality. That's actually a compliment – the shit that happens to the heroine is genuinely frightening (without going instantly to rape!) and it's treated with the proper respect and gravity, with this cool understanding that you keep moving, even with your trauma. Except the problem is? The romance is cast as, like, a refuge from all that. The whole port in a storm, your back against mine sort of thing. Which is great! Right up my alley!

…Too bad the dude in question is obnoxious, clichéd, and boring. Ugh, with the very worst of the possessive animal behaviors thing. And I know, I know I keep harking on this, but werelion, guys.




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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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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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London FallingLondon Falling by Paul Cornell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Man, the subgenre of urban fantasies about London cops dealing with the supernatural is hitting it out of the park lately, isn't it?

I was hearing about this book before it was published, and to be honest, for the first thirty pages, I couldn't tell why. I was reading a well-executed but not-my-thing book about an undercover operation staffed by a bunch of really unpleasant people. And then it all dislocated bloodily hard to the left. And then did it again, more viscerally and frighteningly. And where we ended up was a magical London whose rules remain largely unknown, and those four cops I didn't really like were much more complicated in its weird light. The obvious comparison is to the Peter Grant books; that's fair, superficially, but the esthetics here lean way more towards horror and less towards detective. I like them both quite a lot, though with different parts of my brain.

This is about accessing power through trial and error and pain. Uniquely in the genre, there's no mentor here. No one explains shit to these people, which means shit just don't get explained. It's a book, a little bit around the edges, about how already being the other – black, queer, traumatized – can make it easier to slip into the cracks of a world beneath ours.

And if nothing else, this book managed that oh-so-rare trick of signaling the awful truth to me over and over again, but only letting me figure it out a page before the characters did, so I spent that whole page going "no no oh no oh no." That stuff never works on me – I always figure it out too early or not at all.

Basically: aces.




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The Undead Pool (The Hollows, #12)The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was going to use this space to talk about how much I dislike Marguerite Gavin's reading of the commercial audio of this series, with a sidebar on human-voiced audio as transformative work and how I am still pissed about the whole thing where we're going to block an artificial text-to-speech capability on certain devices because having a computer read a book out loud to a print disabled person is copyright infringement – yep still pissed – because for real, guys, this series is pretty long and there's not much to say at this point, and also Marguerite Gavin delivers 75% of spoken dialogue as if the tag were "she sobbed."

But it turns out I have something else to say, which is OMG!!!11111!!!! <3!! Called it! Like a decade ago! And also those two or three days out of every year I spent shipping this hardcore have all paid off, aw yeah!*

Ahem. Carry on.

*Delivered, I must admit, while dead sober. But if you want to pretend I was drunk for this, I'd actually appreciate it.




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Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence #1)Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A young magician is assigned with her mentor to resurrect what's left of an unexpectedly dead god.

I didn't love this like I was promised, but it's pretty cool. The worldbuilding is by far the highlight. I'm actually kind of bitter about that, because I've had this notion of melding magic with contract law in the back of my mind for a few years, and here it is. Done quite well, at least. This brief note by the author explaining his starting points gets at a lot of what I enjoyed about the worldbuilding – creative, complex, very organic feeling because it resembles one of our major systems of power more than most magic systems do.

But for all that, and the competent, smart heroine . . . eh. This never caught fire for me. I wasn't really pulling for anybody. And I should have been, since this book is full of women relating complexly to each other and striving at a difficult profession.




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