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Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick - I kinda wish I could have dinner with Anna Kendrick, but like, random pizza at a mutual friend's house low-stakes dinner. Because she seriously seems like such a fun person. And I realize that she's got an editor and was being diplomatic, but it's impressive she can be so grateful to the Twilight series for paying her rent while she got the rest of her career of the ground. And what she says about Stewart and Pattinson cements my theory that they were a great cast of people who were trapped in hell together. Though I think my favorite of her stories was about attending an awards show stoned off her face. I really enjoyed this book; it was a fast, enjoyable read and really funny.

I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence! by Richard Roberts - A side-story to the Supervillian series, my initial impulse was that I didn't like the mostly-immortal Team Tiny as much as our usual middle-school protagonists; and that didn’t change much. Honestly, Irene isn't a terribly likeable character. She's taken it upon herself to be shallow and immature in her advanced age, and it's irritating. The story overall is uneven, and the ending is a bit of a whimper, as we don't even get to see the big fight between the truce-enforcers and the killers, not to mention the actual takedown of the Bad Doctor. And a bunch of bits either don't make sense or you have no idea why they're important unless you're up to date on the rest of the Supervillian series. I thought this was the weakest of this author's books that I've read.

How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel - Fascinating and blasphemous deep-dive into how the Hebrew bible has been interpreted, how we currently think it was constructed, and how much historical validity we can trace to the events therein. This is a very long and very dense book, and about a third of it is footnotes. (It probably could have used another editing pass--there are a bunch of repetitive bits in different chapters, and the “ancient interpretation / modern interpretation” formula breaks down in places, and the Kindle version screws up a number of the footnotes.) I was familiar with a bunch of the concepts, like the documentary hypothesis (JEPD etc. as different authors) but this gets into significant details of the history of that theory and its evolution. Also, I didn't realize how many of the Genesis characters directly related to later historical nations and people. (Cain and the Kennites was the one that really caught me off guard. But also the sons of Israel's tribulations and their relation to the historical fortunes of the corresponding tribes.) There’s a lot of material here—it does cover the entire Hebrew bible, after all—but if this author did a corresponding book on the Christian bible, I’d totally read that too.
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Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi - Scalzi's first novel, which apparently has been republished over and over as his other work continues to be popular. It's not quite as brilliant as some of his other work, but there are a lot of clever ideas. Some parts are trite or absurdly glossed-over, but they’re often different from the usual ones, so that’s nice. It's fun, it's funny, it's a fast read.

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage - Part travelogue, part informational, large part fuck-you to various hypocritical conservative pundits; the rough theme of this is Dan Savage looking at the seven deadly sins and writing a chapter of the current state of each in America. Really, it's a series of articles about things that interested him; interspersed with explaining exactly why Bennett, Bork, GW Bush, etc are sexist, homophobic and hypocritical assholes; and held together with a rough framework that's mostly an excuse. It feels dated to me, and I suspect it would be really weird for someone who wasn’t conscious of politics circa 2002. I thought The Kid was a much stronger book.

The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories by Terry Pratchett - A collection of Pratchett's earlier works (from when he was a teenager), intended for young readers. The description that kept coming into my head was, “Pratchett writing Just-So Stories,” though that's more about the tone than the content. They're cute, but fairly shallow and the best bits are the footnotes he clearly inserted later. I think this is only for the completist fan.

My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut by Hannah Hart - Hart is a Youtube star who I've follow on Tumblr for years; I enjoy her humor (generally off-the-cuff drunken wackiness) in measured doses. That said, the book is less a book and more a thrown-together series of long-form rants with a vague food theme. Each segment tries to vaguely drive towards a bit of positivity or a life lesson of some sort, but the progress towards it is scattershot at best. Sometimes there are puns; sometimes there is inexplicable hatred of vegetables. At basically no point is heat applied to food. This is entertaining, but leaves no lasting impressions.
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Secret Loves of Geek Girls ed. Hope Nicholson - An anthology combining prose and graphic storytelling, with an assortment of mostly-personal stories about being a geeky girl and dating. While most of them were decently-written experience summaries, they got a bit repetitive by the end, and several of the graphic stories seemed oddly condensed. (And honestly, the bits from Ménage a 3 and Girls With Slingshots felt thrown-in.) Not bad, but not amazing either.

As a completely random aside, I found it amusing how many of the contributors were named some variation of “Megan,” as Jethrien and I have a running gag that if you meet a woman in our neighborhood and don't know her name, you can guess Megan and be right half the time.

Dear Cthulhu Vol. 4: What Would Cthulhu Do? By Patrick Thomas - More of the same, the future devourer of all that lives as a classic agony aunt. The question-writers are often more amusing than Cthulhu’s answers in a lot of cases, because his advice is decent and his routine has gotten stale.

Extracted by RR Haywood - This is a series of fight scenes strung together by a time-travel hook that never really pays off. The first third of the book is dedicated to getting the band together, then the rest is them training and setting up hooks for a longer series. The descriptions and exposition get ridiculously repetitive (if I have to hear one more time about Ben changing his name because of what he did when he was 17; oy). The attempts at being witty don't really work; it mostly comes across as inappropriate levity. An entire chapter is dedicated to the characters marveling at prehistoric megafauna...that could never have existed because of the cube-square law. Then we get several chapters devoted to one character being depressed about being extracted, until he gets beaten to shit and gets over it. Oh, and there are only two female characters, one of whom is only referred to and is apparently a legendarily horrible person, the other of whom gets a loving description of being sexually harassed by her boss. To sum up: It's a crap book without any real redeeming qualities.

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente - Similar to Kelly Link’s short stories in that they have a mystical, dream-like quality to them. Better than Kelly Link in that Valente knows how to end a story. Though I think she occasionally gets into Grant Morrison territory where everything must have a wacky backstory and long description, even if that doesn't matter to the thrust of the story at all. There's a lot here, and how much gets interpreted as pretentious fluff is heavily dependent on the reader, but I was generally positive on it.

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett - Having now read virtually his entire corpus, I find that Pratchett doesn't always produce brilliance, but he hit a stride mid-career and even in his later years things remained serviceable. Clearly some of his ideas also work better as short stories; "The High Meggas", which was the basis for The Long Earth series Steven Baxter wrote 25 years later, was one such case. I had read two of the longer Discworld pieces many years ago, but they remain very solid assuming you already know all the players. This is less a stand-alone book and more a completion piece for the thorough Pratchett fan.

Rise of the Dungeon Master by David Kushner - I hadn't realized until I saw this at a bookstore that it was a graphic novel, which prompted me to actually buy it. The problem was, they didn't actually have that much material and took a very surface-level view to the story of Gygax and Arneson creating D&D. Also, they were trying to gloss over the parts where the two of them behaved badly and were dicks to each other. (Though the author pretty clearly thinks Arneson was in the right.) It's a fun fast read of shallow history and the art is acceptable (I mean, Gygax looks like his pictures, so...) but it's probably not worth your money. Borrow my copy if you're intrigued.
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Daphne has just won a major award for her performance in her MMORPG of choice, Eternal Reign. Unfortunately, in doing so, she committed the crime of appearing female on the internet and the wolves descended. It’s “love in a time of GamerGate.” Fortunately, this is a romance novel, so it’s a reasonable assumption that by the end our hero will manage to find love, if nothing else. And that they won’t be arrested for forcibly removing chunks of sensitive bodily tissue from the fedora warriors.

Notes on content: This is hella queer, with pretty much the entire core cast being some flavor of LGBTQ. And as you might guess from the blurb above it includes (in a manner that makes it clear to the reader that they’re terrible) sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, rape threats, death threats and stalking.

Read more... )

Overall: Buy and read this book--unless you actually believe that anyone ever cared about ethics in games journalism, in which case feel free to buy forty copies (preferably direct from the publisher at full retail price) and set them on fire.  
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Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz - Easily summed up as “Breaking Bad meets Mage: The Ascension.” Paul gains magic powers but his daughter needs expensive medical care, so he learns to make a probability-bending drug called Flex. The “child in danger and parent needs to do insane things to save them” aspect is well done, but hard for me to handle. (Steinmetz’ goddaughter died of cancer while he was writing this and clearly that had an emotional influence.) The fact that the limits of magic are never clearly defined beyond “push the world and it pushes back” (not even rough areas of expertise like Mage spheres or Fullmetal Alchemist’s individual styles) creates plot holes, but it’s clever and very vivid in its descriptions. I may look up the sequels at some point.

Hemingway Didn't Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations by Garson O'Toole - This was clearly O’Toole’s blog/hobby, that he wrapped up into book form with hopes it would make a good gimmick book. It’s clearly well-researched, but he doesn’t put and useful amusement value or “oomph” behind the entries—it’s not fun reading, like Snopes, just dry breakdowns of the histories of famous quotes. I might look to it as a reference book for a specific entry, but it’s not fun reading.

Miniatures by John Scalzi - A collection of his short fiction. He has obvious themes that he loves, mostly regarding humorous human/alien interactions and misunderstandings. These are all fun little stories that it’s just as well he didn't try to build into novels.

Final Girls by Mira Grant - An elaborate VR psychological tool can make people experience horror movies as a way of healing psychological scars. Things go terribly wrong in a new and exciting terrifying way. Novella-length and appropriately disturbing.

Split Second by Douglas E. Richards - A book for techbros, by techbros. Includes several impassioned speeches about how smart people are superior, a digression about Islamic terrorist “savages,” a magnificent showing-off of every buzzword the author knows about physics, and a single female character who constantly notes that while she’s smart, her fiancé made her look like “special needs.” Oh, and an actual main character who’s ex-military and the fastest, toughest, cleverest guy who ever did anything. Really, everybody who does anything of note in this book needs a page of explanation of why they count as a Randian Superman and are therefore allowed to accomplish things. (The author, like many hard science “smart guys” needs to stop thinking that taking Econ 101 makes you an expert on economics. Because the philosophical and economic implications of post-scarcity are much more than “we must keep this away from the masses because terrorists will make lots of enriched uranium and blow us all up.”) This is a solid contender for worst book I read this year, possibly beating out Blue Limbo.

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell - Did you know that a key component to building your own wind or water power source is the alternator from a car? It's the most easily-available tool for converting irregular circular motion into 12 volt DC electricity. As you would suspect, though, this book doesn’t really have step-by-step or hand-holding instructions for anything; it’s mostly just a “you can do this thing” that assumes you’ll either figure it out by trial and error or you’ll get a more detailed book. Distillation, for example, is critical to pretty much all the chemistry suggested here, but if you want anything more complex than three buckets and a cover, you’ll need an actual guide to distillation. Smoking and canning are presented as methods of preserving food, but you’d have a hard time managing either if you hadn’t actually learned to do them pre-apocalypse. The book in general is an interesting thought experiment, and a fun “how things work” bird’s eye view, but not a particularly useful how-to guide.
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The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde - Set in a magical version of England that has becoming less so for some time. “Wizidrical power” has been getting weaker by the year, and the story follows Jennifer Strange, the organizer/liaison for the last few dozen operating wizards as they fix people’s wiring and get cats out of trees. It’s a very, very British book with active satire of most aspects of government and media, plus a bunch of fantasy tropes. I wouldn’t call it fabulous, but it was definitely fun.

Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link - A collection of short stories that focus on the whimsical and mysterious. Similar to Gaiman’s work in a bunch of ways, but with a tendency to be open-ended and give the reader more blanks to fill in. “Slice-of-weirdass-life” stories, as it were. (I remember being told by Jethrien at one point that I wouldn’t like this, because, well, pretentious wankery. I found they’re lighthearted enough to actually feel interesting and magical without necessarily reading as wanking that’s trying too hard, like many things in this genre.) Link doesn’t seem able to actually end a story—most of them just stop or end on a completely different note than they started on—but I knew to expect that having read her other work. Oh, and there are some very witty lines, which have always been a weakness of mine.

Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have Minions by Richard Roberts - After the second book took Penny and friends well out of their usual environment, this one pulls back the entire supporting cast from the first book and life races ahead with breakneck speed. It’s fun, but occasionally a bit disconnected and involves so many new characters I could barely keep track of them. Also, obviously setting up at least one more book, this leaves so many hanging threads it isn’t even funny. If you’ve read the first two and gotten invested in the ongoing series, then this continues it apace.

A House Like a Lotus by Madeline L'Engle - Years after her previous appearances, a 16-year-old Polly O’Keefe finally gets to be the protagonist of a story. And that story is about her teenage angst as she learns the truth about a much older friend and is snookered into a romance with a suave rich boy. I mean, there are motions towards a mystery and some drama, but really, it’s a slice-of-life/coming-of-age story. (And boy oh boy does it date itself—is the fact that Max and Ursula are gay supposed to be a surprise or something? L’Engle is going for “gay people aren’t monsters, mostly” which I feel like is a lesson most of us are past at this point. For that matter, there’s a bit of a, “Wait, did Jett just die?” moment when we see what actually happened with Max.) I think I’ve had my fill of L’Engle’s teen drama work at this point.
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Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon by Richard Roberts - The second book in the series, one that raises the stakes for Penny and her friends by taking them into off-planet steampunk adventures. Jethrien notes that, man, Jupiter colonies are a terrible and terrifying place to live—this universe actually isn’t very nice. Bigscary has a theory that Penny has two powers: Channeling other people’s mad science, and understanding her own. I’m going to guess that they’re actually bundled, and channeling is the method by which she deconstructs mad science into reproducible science (which is specifically her father’s power). I suppose if I keep reading the series I’ll find out.

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star - I’m not entirely certain this was a good book—it’s about a family of broken people, told in multiple time periods from the perspective of the eldest daughter—but it became a page-turner for me because, excepting a few details and (admittedly major) events, it could have been my mother’s family. The mother’s unhealthy selfishness/self-involvement and the father’s disengaging/non-involvement created three women who, while “functional,” are screwed up in dramatically different ways and, in turn, inflict that on their children and each other. The tuning out, the hyperfocus, the casual exaggeration, the careful avoidance of emotional talk; and all the mental flinching and catastrophizing. It’s disturbingly relatable, and it stamped on my hot buttons in a couple of places.

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi - I think this is actually one of Scalzi’s weaker novels because it feels more like a strung-together collection of satire than a coherent narrative. The Old Man’s War series was solid sci-fi with some funny or satirical bits built in; Redshirts was consistent and loving satire. The series of events here can at best be called “wacky” and mostly just runs through opportunities to show off either a) near-future spec-fic ideas or b) thinly-veiled satire of a wild assortment of topics. (And the most unbelievable of these was that the government kept records of all 3D printers that could be used to make guns. The idea that any kind of gun-related regulation, let alone a manufacturing database, could ever be passed is ludicrous.)

Blue Limbo by Terence M. Green – This is a pot-boiler action/revenge movie that happens to have some sci-fi props: Mitch is deeply disturbed by his divorce and general manpain. His ex-wife calls him violent and dangerous, and she’s absolutely right. We’re presented with a crappy, crime-ridden world and the people who have it hardest are cops; those poor, poor cops. “Thin blue line” mentality at its finest, convinced that police need to be psychopathic heavily-armed soldiers, and they can’t effectively fight the army of criminals because of all the namby-pamby politicians tying their hands. On the other hand, I enjoyed this as a triumph of “zeerust”, sci-fi that shows the dated future predictions. There are absolutely no cell phones, but everyone has a video phone that can be switched from “tone” to “pulse” (and I’m amused that I remember what that means!). They also use cassette players and physical address books, but have hand-held laser guns, perfect lie detectors, and bionic limbs (and the titular “blue limbo” which allows an intact brain to be briefly revived after death). It’s amusing to see what a man born in 1947, writing in the mid-90s, predicted for the future; and how shockingly little difference 20 years can make when it comes to sociopolitical trends.

Dear Cthulhu Vol. 3: Cthulhu Know Best by Patrick Thomas - More of the same from the first two volumes, but still amusing in measured doses. The wildly inflated idiocy of the writers (which is still not actually that far above some letters than actual advice columns get) continues, and Cthulhu takes on the long-suffering tone of an agony aunt who can, and probably should, just devour all that lives rather than listen to your stupid babble, but is magnanimous enough not to.
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This year, I read 38 books, significantly more than last year’s 27 or the dozen-or-so in most preceding years. Emphasizing reading books rather than the internet, along with getting very few comics and new rpg books, meant that I was dedicating most of my reading time to prose.

By type: 16 Kindle books, 11 other ebooks, 11 physical books.

While speculative fiction was a heavily emphasized genre, there was also a bunch of modern drama and assorted movie-style books that Amazon gave me for free. I read nine anthologies/short story collections, three humorous memoirs, two non-fiction and two self-help books. I think the variety helped (especially reading “easy” books outside of my normal wheelhouse), and many of the short stories were read conveniently on my phone while ARR was playing nearby.

In terms of authors: Three Scalzi books, two L’Engles, one Pratchett, one Gaiman and one Carey. (Which my to-read list echoes for next year, actually.) Richard Roberts came recommended and I suspect I’ll read his remaining novels in the coming year. I’m also likely to hunt down more by Mary Robinette Kowal, Nalo Hopkinson, and/or Kelly Link.
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The Anti-Anxiety Toolkit by Melissa Tiers - A very straightforward collection of exercises to help deal with the “brainweasels” sort of anxiety, when it either doesn’t have a clear cause or it has a cause you can’t do anything about. I feel like it’s in the same vein as cognitive-behavioral therapy, though this is in bite-sized “tricks” rather than an overall plan of attack. I suspect you need to actually pick a few and practice them when you AREN’T having severe anxiety before they’ll do much, though. Many of them rely on a willingness to let the anxiety go, and like depression, when you’re in the throes of it, you don’t want to let the anxiety go.

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane - Setting: Camp for emotionally-disturbed teenagers. Characters: Assorted damaged teenagers, standard Breakfast Club references included. Observation 1: Grover is an asshole. Granted, he’s the sort of snarky, boundary-pushing asshole that we as a society have decided should be the male lead in teen romantic comedies, but he’s still an asshole and the fact he’s never called on it irritates me. Observation 2: Cassie is a justifiable, abused asshole; but it shouldn’t be Zander’s responsibility to “save” her. Observation 3: This book loves the classic YA “adults are useless” narrative, though I suppose a softened reading of that would be “adults are broken people too.” Observation 4: Nobody gets “fixed” so much as they go into remission, which is refreshingly realistic. Theory: The author was once a kid like this and at least some of the characters are based on real people. Conclusion: I don’t think I actually like “put a bunch of broken people together with incompetent supervision and they’ll fix each other” stories. It fits a certain anti-intellectual theme that pervades our society, writing off professionals and systemic help in favor of bootstrapping. This wasn’t a bad book, but left a bad taste in my mouth in retrospect.

Good Intentions by Elliott Kay - I lost track of where I heard about this, but it’s the story of a man who accidentally gets an angel and a succubus both bound to him. The thing is, it’s clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy (as the number of sex scenes would indicate) and it goes on FAR too long with too little interpersonal conflict and too few jokes. As the wit was lacking and the story dragged, I only made it a third of the way through before giving up.

Dear Cthulhu Vol. 1: Have a Dark Day and Dear Cthulhu Vol. 2: Good Advice for Bad People by Patrick Thomas - Heavily influenced by the classic Dear Abby and Ann Landers columns, including bits about mailing her $4.95 for a pamphlet of advice. The second book actually gets stronger as it goes on, as he stops leaning on the Cthulhu responses as the entire joke and makes the people writing in progressively more terrible. This was sold to me as “bathroom reading”, and that’s accurate—reading a couple of columns at a time is amusing, but marathoning the books gets repetitive…just like reading the archives of ANY advice column.

Hidden Youth ed. Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke - Definitely has the “anthology problem” of the stories being wildly uneven—a few are genuinely clever, but many are ho-hum paranormal stories (and historical fiction paranormal stories, at that) that happen to have minority/marginalized characters. I bought this (via Kickstarter) because [personal profile] ecmyers had a story in it, and his Chinese steampunk mech story didn’t disappoint. I was also amused by K.T. Katzmann’s golem story, “The Bread-Thing in the Basket” and Alec Austin’s “The Paper Sword.” Overall, though, I was unenthused.

And as a bonus graphic novel, Unmasked Seeking Same was one I picked up at Philcon, about superheroes attempting to have love lives. Amusing concept that I’d see elsewhere, very sitcom-esque, credit for diversity, enjoyable but forgettable.
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Before You Leap by Keith Houghton - A Kindle First book obviously intended to appeal to fans of Fight Club, featuring a main character so up his own ass that he could brush his teeth from back there. As this is told from the first-person viewpoint of that character (and the prose is almost Lovecraftian in its purpleness), it’s hard to believe that the author isn’t just as much up his own ass, prone to sweeping pronouncements about the nature of all men or all women, and why despite his crippling deficiencies (the character is prone to stress-induced blackouts) he’s a cut above them. The ending, by the way, decides to skip the obvious buildup and claim it was a double-twist, which makes significantly less sense than Kyle being Tyler Durden. Eve, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d expect. Meh.

Rewinder by Brett Battles - A cute little YA time-travel adventure, so long as a) you don’t think about it too hard and b) you don’t mind a little America, Fuck Yeah! Denny is a low-caste citizen of the North America British Empire in 2015, until he’s recruited into the time-traveling Upjohn Institute and accidentally screws up all of history. He then proceeds to bounce around our world’s present until he decides which world deserves saving. (No guesses which he eventually picks.) I don’t think I’ll hunt down the sequel, but I was entertained.

Why Me? by Sarah Burleton - A memoir by a child abuse survivor best described as misery porn. It made me sick to my stomach and made me want to just hug ARR for hours. I have no idea why I thought reading this would be a good idea.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Creepy yet adorable, a trademark Gaiman blend of terrifying things and childlike innocence. I suspect that if I read this to ARR in a couple of years, he wouldn’t find it particularly frightening at all—it isn’t presented as frightening, for the most part it’s presented with childlike wonder. But the same story in a different tone, or to an adult who understands all of what’s going on? The stuff of nightmares. Like most things Gaiman has written, this is highly recommended.
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The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen - A Kindle First book that I appreciated as a random, fast read out of my usual wheelhouse. The movie genre this corresponds to is “Lifetime Channel,” as it features four different women at different stages of their lives, each coming to terms with their own and others’ secrets and perceived failures. The pacing plays out like a mystery crossed with a coming-of-age story (or perhaps four interwoven coming-of-different-ages stories).
I give big credit for having the most ridiculous realistic name I think I’ve ever seen in a book: One character is called “Jencey”, which I thought was just a pretentious white-girl name until it was pointed out that she was actually “Jennifer C.”—there had been a “Jen C.” and “Jen L.” in her elementary school, and the nickname stuck. (My father worked with a woman at CTY who everyone still calls “Lauren Bobstier”--pronounced like it’s French--because she was “Lauren, Bob’s TA.”)

Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain by Richard Roberts - Recommended to me by Bigscary, this is a ridiculous YA-superhero romp about a girl with super mad scientist powers who accidentally puts herself on the wrong side of the superhuman community. There are some plot holes and a few insane coincidences—even more so than the superhero-thick worldbuilding would allow—but overall it’s a fun little story. SCIENCE!
I think, actually, my biggest suspension of disbelief was that, in this age of helicopter parenting, not only do her parents let the 13-year-old protagonist roam around LA by herself, but they actually leave her home alone for several days while they go to a convention. And her mom’s entire power is being an overplanning control freak!

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi - I think I’ve generally just become a Scalzi fan; I really do like his worldbuilding. Definitely read Old Man’s War before you read this, because this brings you up to speed on that, but I think you’d lose a lot of the fun of that book if you’d been spoiled by this one first. He pays off everything he starts and foreshadows everything in the ending; it's a grand lesson in Chekov's gunmanship.

Pump Six And Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi - A collection of fascinating sci-fi worldbuilding with a lot of emphasis on body horror and environmental destruction. I read this in pieces on my phone, so had less opportunity to write down my thoughts about individual stories as I read them. It ranges from macabre to pitiful, but none of these are happy stories. Bacigalupi clearly follows the “humans are bastards” theory of spec-fi. There's also some very clear inspiration to some of them--two stories are set in a "Monsanto destroys the world" universe, another in a "California's drought destroys the world" setup. The former, incidentally, is a lovely introspection except that it posits that solar power doesn't exist--nothing happened to the sun, mind you, crops can grow just fine--but all energy is either plant or muscle-based, and that glaring scientific problem just threw me right out of the story. This book falls into the category of “interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable.”
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The Book of Mormon - It’s interesting in that when Jethrien and I see a play that’s terrible, we can pick it apart for hours, but this one left us without much to say. It was fun, it had some clever bits, it is, as I noted at intermission, “exactly what I should have expected.” It’s thought-provoking only if you’ve never had your ideas about religion or your white privilege ever challenged before, and it does both in a very soft way. Despite the toilet humor and cursing, this is as family-friendly as it gets—they want to get middle America to think about what religion means without scaring them, and that succeeds wildly. (Heck, the Mormons themselves apparently ran ads in the programs for a while.) I’m glad I saw it, I had fun; but I see no reason to buy the album and I’ll probably forget most of the details within a month.

The Tomorrow People (2014 TV Series) - It’s interesting to watch this following Sense8, because it’s a very similar premise (people with telepathic superpowers are hidden among normal humanity, watch these characters discover that they aren’t normal), but where Sense8 reveled in breaking episodic TV tropes, this plays them entirely by the book. White boy “chosen one” with daddy issues turns out to be more powerful than everybody else and saves them all, but decides to try working for the villains to hunt down the truth about his missing father. I made it two episodes before deciding that, although I thought the overall concept was cool, I didn’t care about the characters or the actual events.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey - While this is arguably a “thriller”, I’d really put it more in the thoughtful sci-fi category. We get a variety of viewpoints about a post-apocalyptic world and the people who live in it, most notably that of the brilliant-but-weirdly-sheltered Melanie. (It’s a zombie story, and I’m frankly sick of zombie stories, but it’s a wonderful take on the genre.) I devoured it in two days; and I totally recommend it.
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David Sedaris has lived an interesting life. And by “interesting” we mean “not quite a garbage fire, but close.” This is a collection of his writing about various events in his life.

Read more... )

Overall: Not every one of these worked for me, but the ones that did really did. Are his other books also about drug-addled misadventures and terrible mistranslations? Because I’d love to read those.
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Simon Renier had been living with his elderly Aunt Leonis since being orphaned. A distant cousin named Forsyth Phair appears on their doorstep, interested in buying a valuable portrait of Simon Bolivar to donate to a museum in Caracas. Eager to expand Simon’s horizons, Leonis sends him on the boat passage with Forsyth. There, he meets members of the ubiquitous O’Keefe family, and gets embroiled in a ring of mystery and murder.

Read more... )

Overall: I think it’s safe to assume at this point that I prefer L’Engle’s sci-fi over her attempts to write what are essentially YA mystery thrillers (with mild fantasy notes). This didn’t really work for me.
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Vanessa is a deeply unpleasant person, though her terrible attitude and suicide ideation might be the result of her brother’s recent death, her mother’s self-medicating with sedatives, and her being accused of cheating on her ACTs (which dashed her college hopes). So now she’s flying to Paris alongside three other girls from her school, and she’s planning to jump from the Eiffel Tower.

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Overall: Middling coming-of-age drama with an unlikable narrator. In a world where Mean Girls exists, the book doesn’t really need to.
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“You are probably wondering why I am living in my father’s garage. My father is probably wondering why I am living in his garage. It worries his neighbors.”

A collection of short stories that Jethrien got in a Humble Bundle years ago, and I discovered on my phone while bored and away from the rest of my book collection.

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Overall: These stories are evocative, but deeply weird and often unsettling. (One Goodreads reviewer called it, “If David Lynch did urban fantasy,” which is apt.) I may eventually read Link’s other collection, but I’m going to give it a bit of a break first.
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“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer - Jethrien recommended this to me out of the Hugo nominee packet. It is delightful. It’s a commentary on human behavior via an accidentally sentient AI who would just like to be helpful, really. I hope it wins whichever award it’s up for.

Jupiter Ascending - Yes, we finally saw the film that got Airspaniel to the theater 20 times. This film is seriously the self-insert fic that Lana Wachowski wrote when she was 11 and found in the bottom of her closet, and then uncovered and decided to make into a movie. The love interest is an alien angel werewolf with rocket skates! Bees can recognize royalty! Everything you know is a lie! (Except bureaucracy; that’s omnipresent.) I mean, it’s a terrible movie for a lot of reasons, but I understand the itch it scratches for nerdy girls and I appreciate that exists.

WOD The Heck Episode 6: Mage the Ascension - This is a podcast recommended by a high school friend, apparently part of the Role Playing Public Radio Wod The Heck series. In short, it’s two guys trying to explain Mage to their friend who’s never seen it before, and reminding us all exactly how absurd the 90s were. I think if I were into listening to podcasts (I’m not; I actually kinda hate the “talk radio” format) I’d sign up for these guys. As it stands, it was an amusing diversion—especially since I’m running Mage 20th Anniversary Edition now, and everything they say is absolutely true.
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Exactly what it says on the tin: Fairytales. From Japan.

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Overall: An interesting curiosity, but unless you have a fascination with such things, don’t go out of your way.
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The question for all of these books (which I got for free, mind you) was, “Is it worth my time to read this?” I’ve been doing pretty well in terms of reading books instead of the internet, but that’s much easier to do when the books are something I enjoy. If I’m going to force myself to read something I dislike (or am just not interested in), well, I might as well read more commentaries on Brexit.

War Brides by Helen Bryan - Historical fiction regarding a lifelong bond of friendship. Not my thing.

Follow You Home by Mark Edwards - A horror novel about a British couple who get thrown off a train in Romania and encounter something terrible in the woods, only to have the trauma of it follow them home and destroy their lives. I think I prefer my horror in short story chunks—there’s just too much setup and too much book here for me to enjoy the twists, because the author clearly wants you to enjoy the suspense and I don’t.

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette - A memoir from the Humble LGBT bundle. I think my issue here is that Monette was born in 1945, so his growing up / coming out story feels more like a history lesson than a memoir.

So many books, so little time…
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“I mean, it’s not gay if it’s a dude raptor and a dude human, right?”
”Totally not gay.”

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Overall: This is hilarious. I suppose it would be hot if you were into gay man-on-sentient-dinosaur sex, too.
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