Katherine's Book Babble

I was looking through Zeynep's website and she had a list of the latest books she'd read. I thought that it was a pretty neat idea, so I stole it. Most recently read stuff is listed first. Books that I'm rereading are in this color. You can generally tell from the blurb whether I liked the book or not, but an asterisk (*) means that I really, really liked the book in question. And books with two asterisks (**) are even better than that.

December, 2003:
*A Storm of Swords George R. R. Martin Fantasy; third of A Song of Ice and Fire. Compelling, gorgeous, holds nothing back. Politics become ever more intricate, and war becomes correspondingly grim.
Me Talk Pretty One Day David Sedaris Biographical snippets with a cynical bent, hilariously funny besides. I particularly like the ones about why and how he tries to learn French.
*A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again David Foster Wallace Great essays, witty and sardonic and over-the-top. The ones about television trends and literary theory aren't for everybody, but the cruise ship one is great, as is the one about the midwestern state fair. The writing is so good that even reading about playing tennis in the midwest is fun. Seriously, give this guy a shot.
The Mousetrap and Other Plays Agatha Christie Christie's a really good playwright. All of the plays are tense, and the language is written so well that you can almost hear the voices in your head. Some were a bit unbelievable come the final-curtain twists, though.
Endless Nights Neil Gaiman A collection of haunting stories about the Endless, each written in a different style, a different artist. For once, I like the one about Desire the best.

November, 2003:
**A Clash of Kings George R. R. Martin Second in the Song of Ice and Fire series. The epic fantasy continues with no sign of slowing or diminishing of quality; Martin ruthlessly piles on layer upon layer of complexity and wonder.

October, 2003:
Selected Poems Pablo Neruda Choice poems from Neruda collections over the years. And with a dictionary, I can actually understand most of them. So pretty: Quiero hacer contigo / lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.
The Thief Lord Cornelia Funke Why couldn't they write kids' books like this when I was a kid? Deceptively simple premise, wonderful characters. Two boys run away to Venice and get more than they bargained for.
In the Dutch Mountains Cees Nooteboom A fairy tale. No, a meta fairy tale... I'm not quite sure. A very selfconscious work, in a beautifully lyrical style. The plot isn't as important as the way the story is told.
*Peter Pan J.M. Barrie A classic children's piece, very quirky and solemn, very low-key British humor. Gorgeous piece of work. Don't let Disney ruin it for you. I've loved this since childhood.

September, 2003:
*Brief Lives Neil Gaiman More Sandman: the intersection of morality, duty, and love. Definitely my favorite volume of the series.
**A Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin Amazing fantasy novel, first of what looks to be a series of four. Intricate, political, wonderful, utterly magical. Very, very good; if he manages to keep this up through the rest of the series, I'll be wildly impressed.
King of Shadows Susan Cooper A child actor gets knocked back in time to encounter Shakespeare. I loved Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and this novel is just as wise and sympathetic. A young adult book, but Cooper doesn't skimp on the Elizabethan culture and politics either. Very good, quick read.
Ten Little Indians Agatha Christie It's a stage version of And Then There Were None. Christie is a vastly underrated playwright, and I liked this treatment better than the story format -- it's more tense, somehow, and the ending is more satisfying.
Dream Country Neil Gaiman Sandman graphic novels are my mental comfort food, when my very thoughts feel dull. A series of touching, wistful stories, hopeful but firm.

August, 2003:
The Avram Davidson Treasury Avram Davidson A collection of short stories, gathered throughout one author's life. Davidson's tone is wise and funny, and he has a great economy with the English language, using exactly the words he needs. Although some of the stories didn't do anything for me, others were beautiful, and left me stunned.
The Wild Girls Ursula K. Le Guin A short story, touching and serious, that pulls no punches. A study in sacrifice and human nature.
Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. Robert Asprin At long last, the wrap-up to the MYTH series. This one was written years after the others, and it's wistful instead of pop-culture fantastic. Nevertheless, there's growth and resolution, and as a finale, I like it.
The Wolves in the Walls Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean It's purportedly for kids, but of course it's fun for all ages. Gaiman bends the line between imagination and reality, and McKean helps him along with an intriguing blend of patterned cutouts and ink sketches. Cute and compelling. (I used to dream of living in the walls, too.)
Mona Lisa Overdrive William Gibson Cyberpunk, more "punk" than "cyber" this time around. Follows Neuromancer. Mysterious and intricately crafted.

July, 2003:
Sea Dragon Heir Storm Constantine Gothic fantasy, ambitious and dense. The story is pretty neat. I'm not terribly impressed by the writing; though the descriptions are beautiful, the style is just a shade childish.
A Fine and Private Place Peter S. Beagle Great story, funny and touching. A graveyard inhabited by people and ghosts, each of whom have something to discover and learn.
*Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand 40% amazingly intense story, 60% blatant objectivist philosophy. Reading the first is worth suffering through the second. Rand is terribly preachy but her characters and story are compelling.
My Father had a Daughter Grace Tiffany Historical fiction, a somewhat fanciful treatment of the life of William Shakespeare's younger daughter. Entertaining yet sympathetic.
Sir Orfeo N/A Epic poem, Middle English, a Breton lay. A somewhat happier treatment of the Orpheus tale.
The One-Armed Queen Jane Yolen Fantasy, sequel to Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. I had no idea that this had been written and grabbed it immediately. Poetic, thoughtful, and beautifully constructed in the manner of all of Yolen's works; solemn, with an almost mythic quality.
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code Eoin Colfer Artemis Fowl again: somewhat older, somewhat wiser. As usual, an urgent, racing plot was combined with absolutely hilarious escapades. The bittersweet ending of the book took me by surprise, however. Very well done.
*Earth David Brin SF, philosophical, intricate, hopeful. A view of what might happen if humans continue on their current trend of pollution and population. Sounds chilling but there's a lovely thread of hope running through it.

June, 2003:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix J.K. Rowling Terribly arbitrary, terribly dark, but has its moments of triumph and hilarity. Harry grows, learns, loses, and becomes stronger. I'm still not sure about the premise, but the execution was amazing.
High Spirits Robertson Davies A collection of ghost stories, but not your typical shadowy thrillers. These are lighthearted wonderful things, in which the master of a Toronto college meets and mollifies the ghosts of political figures and discarded saints.
Summon the Keeper, The Second Summoning, and Long Hot Summoning Tanya Huff Okay, now these are just cute. Contemporary fantasy, with more than a bit of fun little tweaks at pop culture. Lots of puns, a Hell that talks to itself, and very arrogant cats.
Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness Anne Bishop Mmm, dark fantasy. And when I say dark, I mean it. Angst and suffering, pain and awesome responsibility. But there's also a surprising amount of lightheartedness, and somehow the general tone manages to be hopeful. A story of a young girl, coming to her power in a complex magical society, and then fighting for the right to keep it.
West of January Dave Duncan SF/Fantasy. Sexist as anything but there's a reason for it, and what an amazing story concept: a planet whose rotation is slightly shorter than its revolution, and therefore doomed to lose entire civilizations as they plunge into year-long killing summers or icy, dark winters.
The Cunning Man Robertson Davies I like this character, a sardonic humanist physician. Davies' characters are flawed but sturdy, and he has the trick of letting you see through their eyes and showing you their weaknesses at the same time. Reflective and wry, like the rest of his books.

May, 2003:
Murther & Walking Spirits Robertson Davies Fiction, contemplative, historical. A murdered man's ghost learns about himself and his ancestors. Lots of lovely Jungian philosophy and a worm's eye view of early Canadian history.
The Merry Heart Robertson Davies Literary essays and speeches by Davies, about the joys of reading and writing. Very cool stuff, and his take on being a Canadian writer is amusing as well as educational.
All Tomorrow's Parties William Gibson SF, apocalyptic, utterly ambiguous. More underlying tension than you can shake a stick at, and peopled with characters that you can't help but like.
Virtual Light William Gibson SF, technotrippy. I swear Gibson's books are worth it for the descriptions alone; his vision of life on a futuristic San Francisco bridge is amazing. Fast-paced, tense, mysterious. Good read.
*A Circle of Quiet Madeleine L'Engle This isn't so much a book as a related collection of L'Engle's journals. The tone is autobiographical and gently wry, with plenty of room for reflection.
Windhaven George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle Sci-fi, sort of. It's a delicate treatment of prejudice, weakness, and strength, set in a land where people can learn to fly, if they earn the right.
*Fifth Business, *The Manticore, and *World of Wonders Robertson Davies aka "The Deptford Trilogy." I think I like this trilogy best of all his books; this one ties together a group of people, linked by the far-ranging consequences of an innocent childhood prank. The books hover around and about the main point, filling in the details from different points of view, and it's beautifully done.

April, 2003:
Little Myth Marker Robert Asprin Part of the M.Y.T.H. series, which I read rabidly when I was younger. These books are so cute. And a lot of the puns and sly references don't come clear until you're older. The Sen-Sen-Ante Kid, indeed.
Heir to the Shadows Anne Bishop Book 2 of the Black Jewels Trilogy. Guilty pleasure, once again. The woman tosses around myth/lit/witchcraft references like they're going out of style.
Daughter of the Blood Anne Bishop Book 1 of the Black Jewels Trilogy. Guilty pleasure. It's like... dark fantasy meets romance novel. Love and death, blood and sex, jewels and magic, winged pleasure-slaves. Easy read.
The Seven Towers Patricia C. Wrede Either her writing or my taste in fantasy has gotten more sophisticated. (Probably both; this is a very early novel). The premise is good, but the characters are very flat and hackneyed: the woman warrior, the honorable knight, the misguided sorcerer. Still, the dialogue is pretty enjoyable.
The Tower at Stony Wood Patricia A. McKillip Fantasy/adventure. Dreamlike and fragmented, blending fairytales and Arthurian legend.
Kushiel's Chosen Jacqueline Carey The sequel to Kushiel's Dart and just as riveting as the original. Fantasy, with plot and politics intricately woven, and references to a lovely variety of ancient culture and myth.

March, 2003:
Alternate Realities (Port Eternity, Voyager in Night, Wave Without a Shore) C.J. Cherryh Now this is true sci-fi. What I love best about Cherryh is her ability to completely embrace a totally alien culture, that has no relation to anything in the known universe -- and yet have that world contain very human characters, thus anchoring it in belief. These three short novels are amazing to read.
*Kushiel's Dart Jacqueline Carey Wow -- amazing work of fantasy. Started reading it and thought "oh no, it's Richard Adams' Maia!" but thankfully it's more than just sex against obscure background politics. There is sex, yes, but also religion, diplomacy, love, and ambition, all intertwined on a lovely grand scale.
*Idoru William Gibson It's good cyberpunk. But it's also spectacular fun for all of us Western otaku; Gibson added quirky Japanese culture and modern-day fandom into the mix, creating a fascinating almost-familiar world.
Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties Robertson Davies aka "The Salterton Trilogy." Shakespeare, small town life, and singing, respectively; bursting with literary wit and human fallibility.
The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories Patricia Craig (ed.) Short mysteries, by nineteenth and twentieth century British authors. It's fascinating to experience the different time periods and character mannerisms as you move chronologically onwards, and the stories are (more or less) great. Lots of new authors for me to chase down.
Neuromancer William Gibson Classic cyberpunk. I saw this book on the shelves years ago and finally got around to it. Gibson has a compelling style with words; he layers the description deeply, but manages to keep the action going.
*The Rebel Angels, *What's Bred in the Bone, and The Lyre of Orpheus Robertson Davies aka "The Cornish Trilogy," an omnibus impulse buy. Turned out to be contemporary fiction, academic and touching. It's about art, wisdom, civilization, Canada, and above all, living. Davies has a wonderfully engaging writing style, wry and knowing.

February, 2003:
*War for the Oaks Emma Bull Urban fantasy -- elves in Minneapolis, sort of thing. Very good story, smoothly written, fun to read and with a distinctly human element that's absent from most books of this genre.
**If on a winter's night a traveler Italo Calvino This book is sheer joy to read, and it's about sheer joy in reading. Two readers, who love to read and want to learn. As they read, one learns the other by navigating a maze of interwoven stories, all suspenseful and all intriguing, and all of which mean nothing without someone to read them.
*Archform: Beauty L. E. Modesitt Science fiction. In a world where everyone's basic needs are looked after, and anything can be created at need, what room is left for art and music? Pensive and compelling.
Pyramids Terry Pratchett Yet another Discworld novel. This one sweetly manages to poke fun at ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, math, myth, and family.
Jingo Terry Pratchett Discworld again. Oddly applicable to current world affairs. I can only hope that our own situation can be solved as neatly and well.
Bard III: The Wild Sea Keith Taylor The problem with making a buxom maiden into a pirate captain is at the end of the day, she's still just a silly girl. The bard-hero is just as satisfyingly chivalrous and mystical as always, though.
Bard Keith Taylor Old-school fantasy, swashbuckling Irish bard and buxom maidens, not PC at all. Loved this sort of thing when I was a kid. Rereading for the newly discovered sequel.
The Green Knight Iris Murdoch Fiction, contemporary, philosophical. Murdoch writes such human characters that you want to hug and strangle them at the same time.
*Night Watch Terry Pratchett Have I mentioned that I love the Discworld novels? This one is a very underhanded reminder that people are shaped by their decisions. Funny, sad, piercingly sweet.

January, 2003:
Fool's Errand Robin Hobb First book of Hobb's new series. Characters just as believable, just as wonderful. Writing not quite as good as before, but excellent reading all the same.
Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident Eoin Colfer Artemis Fowl returns, along with other lovable characters. Very snide and subtly sweet; fun for all ages.
**Assassin's Apprentice, **Royal Assassin, and **Assassin's Quest Robin Hobb Rereading for the companion series, which is just now coming out in hardback. Robin Hobb is my favorite fantasy author of all time, hands down. (And trust me, I've read a lot of fantasy.) Compelling universe, very complete characters, amazing writing.
The Magic Engineer L. E. Modesitt Fantasy; another Recluce novel. I rather like the concept of mixing magic with engineering.
*Artemis Fowl Eoin Colfer Too delightful! A book for children and adults alike, amazingly written. Features a charmingly evil antihero and a troop of LEPrecons.

Booklist archive:  2002 and earlier.

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