Books read August - December 2011
15 books read in 5 months:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Valente, Catherynne M.
The voice started off a bit twee for me but I found it better as it went on - whether it actually improved or I just got used to it I don't know. Valente's Fairyland felt more composed of lots of neat ideas than something of an organic whole but there definitely were lots of neat ideas in there, and the climax and conclusion were worth it.
Molly Brown's Senior Days (Molly Brown, #4) by Speed, Nell
I had to read this since I'd read the previous three... The moral of the year is apparently that trying to look nice is bad. Problematic treatment of "our coloured man", Irish cooks and housekeepers, and the token Japanese schoolfellow continue, with our heroines cheerfully mocking the father of this last for his accent and then being shocked, shocked, that when his daughter finds out about this she takes it the wrong way and is offended.
Predictable love affair continues predictably.
The Case of the Fugitive Nurse by Gardner, Erle Stanley
This is my token book by a white guy for the year. Picked this up from the returns bin at work while on a restbreak from my keyboard, kept reading to distract myself from being stuck on the story I'm writing.
It's nicely convoluted while being an easy read. Della Street gets a reasonable amount to do though of course Perry Mason's the star of the show and monologues from time to time to remind us of the fact.
Charmingly, sigh, the Gordian knot of the mystery is cut by the simple expedient of having it be the shifty Latino who did it.
Kura Toa: Warrior School by Tipene, Tim
When Haki's hurt in a drunken car crash, an old man steals the necklace his grandmother gave him. Later he returns to get her necklace back, but instead finds himself listening to the man's advice on becoming a warrior and defeating a taniwha.
This book was really quite unrelentingly miserable. His friends bully him, his teachers don't notice the bullying, his home is abusive. In context of course this all works. The story portrays excellently the racist microaggressions Haki faces every day.
My major problem was that his mother is presented as a woman obsessed about her career at the expense of being a good mother. She is furious that his accident interrupted her meeting. At first she seems to be complicit in the physical abuse his father dishes out; later we discover that she is emotionally abusing the father to make him do it. She has forbidden the entire family from having any contact with the father's mother. She no longer even makes her banana cakes like she used to.
Talking about it with a friend, I remembered that the other villain of the piece, a man, was also presented as villainous for the same obsession with individualism and financial success. So the author, I'm sure, never intended this to be about how having a career makes a woman a bad mother -- but the trope is still there. If only the gender of both villains had been swapped...
All Seated on the Ground by Willis, Connie
As per usual for Connie Willis, none of this book could possibly have happened if the characters talked to each other. Also, puzzle stories are more fun if the readers are given the clues before the characters have figured out the answer. Possibly she was afraid that her readers might have been smarter than her characters?
Still, it's a nice light and fast read with cute ideas.
Impossible Things by Willis, Connie
I think I'm forced to finally conclude that there are only so many Connie Willis books one can read before the repeated themes make all the rest kind of redundant. They are still great stories, but they start feeling like all the same story with the names changed: the female lead, battling bureaucracy and political correctness, joins forces with the male lead and, after many amusing complications and misunderstandings caused by the ineptitude and illiteracy of those around them, not to mention some annoying children, together make an astounding discovery about the way the world works, and another astounding discovery about the fact that they've fallen in love.
That said, the World War II story in this collection had a new twist, and "Winter's Tale" was different from her usual; "Chance", too, was abnormally dark (though thankfully not as dark as "All My Darling Daughters" from another collection). And of course "Even The Queen" (though I'd read that one before).
The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey, #11) by Sayers, Dorothy L.
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) I figured out the murder mechanism very early on, and I always enjoy feeling clever so much I didn't mind at all how long it took everyone else. I preferred my own theories of whodunnit to what actually turned out to be the case (which I felt was unnecessarily convoluted), but have now forgotten what my theories were anyway, so oh well.
My Girragundji by McDonald, Meme and Boori Monty Pryor
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) A sweet story about a boy, his frog, and the protection it gives him.
The Binna Binna Man by McDonald, Meme
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) Sequel to My Girragundji, slightly more sober about social issues (not that the first wasn't about them too) and for slightly older readers. The scene of the car stuck on the hill, and the scene at the beach, particularly stick in my memory.
Njunjul the Sun by McDonald, Meme and Boori Monty Pryor
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) Sequel to My Girragundji and The Binna Binna Man - more sober and for older readers yet. Portrayal both of reasons for hopelessness and for a way out of that.
When the Kehua Calls by McKinnon, Kingi
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) An urban Māori family moves out to a farm haunted by a kehua; the son, the protag, is the only one who sees what's wrong, but despite his new friend's advice is hesitant about saying anything to his parents until his sister falls ill.
Tales from the Swamp by McKinnon, Kingi
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) A collection of stories, mostly about boys; the one from a girl's pov was all about how a girl will think she's dying of love but next thing you know she's dying of love for someone else. So, y'know, maybe skip that one. Otherwise the stories were all enjoyable though I did start recognising tropes that overlapped with When the Kehua Calls.
Te hiakai tangata, the taniwha of Tuara-rangaia by Mead, Sidney Moko
(Reviewed in 2012 from memory) This was fantastic - shelved as children's/YA but the story-telling tone of if makes it accessible to adults too. All about the men who try to stop the man-eating taniwha, and the women who succeed. Highly enjoyed it.
Are Angels OK?: The Parallel Universes of New Zealand Writers and Scientists by Manhire, Bill
This has got something for everyone - short stories, poems, essays, a Dylan Horrocks comic - which turned out to mean that most of it wasn't for me. (I have highly specific taste in poems, for instance: I need them to be telling a story, and preferably to do so in good metered rhyme.) But I did enjoy Elizabeth Knox's "Unobtainium", and though "Dead of Night" by Witi Ihimaera (with scientists Carmichael and Wiltshire) wasn't a unique concept it was told differently than I've seen it before, with some nice new twists.
Oddly I bounced entirely off the Margaret Mahy story. If you want to know what that's about you'll have to read it yourself.
The Land of Painted Caves (Earth's Children, #6) by Auel, Jean M.
I read the first three in this series before I'd started high school (skipping the boring parts like the long descriptions of scenery and sex) so despite being terribly unimpressed with book 5 (the stunning thing was that before it came out I'd read a bad speculative fanfiction, and then book 5 turned out to cover all the same plot points) I retain fond memories.
I'm almost certain that the early books in the series contained actual plots; unfortunately, to the extent that The Land of Painted Caves does they're entirely recycled and only start in the last third or so of the book. A few misguided souls hate Ayla out of jealousy and in due course receive their comeuppance. She and Jondalar recycle their epic misunderstanding of doom from The Mammoth Hunters and are reconciled after she recycles her nearly-dying-of-spirit-walking efforts from ibid. The cover copy and an anvil in chapter one suggest that the book's meant to be about conflict between her motherhood and her calling to be zelandoni, but not only does this never come to a head, it doesn't even come to proper tension.
What the wordage does contain is a travelogue of the eponymous painted caves (fair enough) spaced out with Ayla meeting every single person in a dozen caves of the Zelandonii. Every single meeting is recounted, and every single time we get the recitation of her names and ties and the explanation for why she has a wolf and horses with her and the astonishment of the people meeting her at how said animals listen to her. I'm not joking. Over and over and over they say the exact same things. Forget fanfiction: this book could have been written with a random Auel generator.
Stats for 2011 as a whole:
Total books read - 89, of which
71 by women;
35 by people of colour;
3 by LGBT authors (! okay, I need to do more reading here)
17 by New Zealand authors
22 science fiction
8 "unfantasy" which is a tag I use when I don't think/don't know that the author would call it fantasy (eg it portrays spirituality or cultural beliefs) but I think fantasy readers would enjoy it for the same reasons that they enjoy fantasy. Or something like that. It's a very subjective thing.