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, 2004:
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal Christopher Moore Fiction, satire. Starts out sardonic and fluffy, gets somber as the childhood of Christ draws toward its inevitable doom. The characters are flat but incredibly amusing. I enjoyed it more during the lighthearted beginning; the jokes begin to fall a bit flat towards the end.
The Hedge Knight George R. R. Martin, w/ Avery, Miller, Crowell Fantasy, a comic book adaptation set in Martin's Song of Ice and Fire universe. A tale of medieval morality, with good and evil (as ever) not as separate as they should be. The illustrations are glowing and lovingly detailed.

November, 2004:

October, 2004:
Into Thin Air Jon Krakauer Nonfiction, autobiographical. One journalist's journey to the summit of Mount Everest in 1996. He made it down alive; many of his group did not. Good read, very intense.
The Vor Game Lois McMaster Bujold SF, space adventure + coming of age, yet another wonderful Miles Vorkosigan story. More layers of disguise, more accidents, more shenanigans; Miles completely fails to learn subordination despite his best efforts.
Guilty Pleasures Laurell K. Hamilton Fantasy, aptly titled. I'd call it some sort of gothic horror fantasy if it weren't so darn fluffy. Also, Anita Blake is such the Mary Sue. But the descriptions of aged powerful vampires are great, and the narrative is amusing.
The Warrior's Apprentice Lois McMaster Bujold SF, one of the Miles Vorkosigan books. Bujold's books are great to read even if you're not an SF reader; the spaceships and space travel are great, but they're merely details. The real gem is Bujold's writing and her characters. Miles is young, crippled, impetuous, and utterly fascinating.

September, 2004:
*Quicksilver Neal Stephenson Historical fiction, first of the Baroque cycle. Brilliant. Neal tackles the Natural Philosophers, the plague, the muddle of European politics during the Glorious Revolution, and does it all in his trademark wonderful writing. Also, his characters continue to be wonderful. Must go find the sequel.
Black Dogs Ian McEwan Fiction, brief, meditative. McEwan is clearly an amazing writer, but I would have liked this novel better if it had been a short story. A young man who grew up parentless finds meaning in the lives of his in-laws; we journey with him as he uncovers a pivotal moment in their past.
**Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson Historical (somewhat) fiction, sequel to the Baroque cycle. I've loved this book for years, and not just because I'm an unabashed nerd who thinks that cryptography (both WWII-era and modern computer-related) is cool. The writing is gorgeous, from bloody war descriptions to delicate haiku to organ music. The plot and the characters are dense and intricate and wonderful, and even with all that, the plot is so engrossing that you'll find yourself racing through it. Great stuff.
Kingdom Come Mark Waid and Alex Ross Comic book. (Graphic novel, if you want to be snooty about it.) A look into a possible future, and what might happen in a world overcrowded with superheroes. Lots of pensive moments along with the obligatory action scenes. Gorgeous artwork, too; the watercolor adds a certain depth and softness. Enjoyable reading, even for a DC Comics newbie like myself.

August, 2004:
The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood Fiction, contemporary. An intricate mix of fantasy, periodicals, and early twentieth century Canadian life. It reads like a beautifully assembled puzzle, the pieces falling into place over time.

July, 2004:
Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer Documentary, the terror of Mormon fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Mormons, I'm sure, bear as much resemblance to everyday Mormonism as the KKK does to Christianity, but that doesn't stop them from being scary. An ironic but not unsympathetic look at Mormon history and Mormon fundamentalists, and what drives them to do things that the rest of us would consider not quite kosher... like killing a mother and her young child, and calling it the will of God.
Post Captain Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction, Napoleonic era, second of the Master and Commander series. I continue to find Aubrey and Maturin absolutely adorable. The boys struggle with money problems, girl problems, and general political unrest.
Of Love and Other Demons Gabriel Garcia Marquez Historical fiction, stylized and strange. A young girl, raised by African slaves, is bitten by a rabid dog. Her symptoms are taken for demonic possession. A literate priest finds her in a convent cell and a very odd relationship is formed. Enjoyable reading, but very, very weird.
*Fudoki Kij Johnson Fantasy. An empress distracts herself from death by writing a story about a cat just as lonely and lost as she. This is beautiful writing, full of insights and imagery, and I love the poignancy of the main character: the closeted life of an imperial Japanese princess who wants to be free.

June, 2004:
The Little Country Charles de Lint Fantasy, came highly recommended: a book is more than it seems, and people are more than they think they can be. A skillfully woven tale of two seemingly unrelated stories that come together seamlessly, perfectly. I like it immensely, despite the almost comedic romance-novel aspect. De Lint's characters are particularly charming.
The Pleasure of My Company Steve Martin Fiction. A birthday present, 'cause, yeah, catch me picking up anything by a celebrity like Steve Martin, much less a tiny little hardback that would take me less than a day to page through. But it's surprisingly good, fully-fleshed characters (I especially love the narrator) with their fair share of problems and victories. It's all about learning to step out of your shell.
Fool's Fate Robin Hobb Fantasy. Third of the Tawny Man trilogy. I take back what I said about Golden Fool -- this series became good. I don't particularly like the plot, and I don't like the ending, but it's because I'm so very much in love with the characters. Really, a book that can make me feel so torn has got to be good.
Kushiel's Avatar Jacqueline Carey Fantasy. Third of a trilogy about a god-chosen cheeky submissive geisha-equivalent, which by all rights ought to be cheesy but instead becomes epic and wonderful. Lots of intricate politics, lots of spot-the-reference as Carey builds equivalents of histories and myths. A bit darker than the other two, but a very, very good read.
Golden Fool Robin Hobb Fantasy. Second of the Tawny Man trilogy. Robin Hobb continues to disappoint me - not because the book isn't good, but because it's not as good as the six books that preceded it. This one seems an echo of Fitz's childhood: much lurking about on the borders of things, suspicions building one upon the other. At least the writing is still gorgeous.
The Door Into Fire, The Door Into Shadow, The Door Into Starlight Diane Duane Fantasy. You can see where she gets the roots for her later novels. This is the first three of a quad (can't find the fourth) filled with love and heroism and self-discovery. Very fun to read. The fire element is especially lovable.

May, 2004:
Spirits in the Wires Charles de Lint SF. Old spirits and new flourish in the strange modern world of the Internet, and people of both the real world and the other will work together to tackle the problems created by technology. Doesn't really work for me (too many characters, the development almost forced), but the story concept is nice.
The Last Light of the Sun Guy Gavriel Kay Fantasy, Kay's lyrical take on ancient Britain. It makes a great story all on its own, but thematically, it feels like a coda to Sarantium - as if there's more to the tale than the book contains.
Little Black Book of Stories A. S. Byatt A collection of short stories, very moody. Darker tone than I'm used to. I especially liked one about a woman who found herself slowly turning into stone.
Darknesses L. E. Modesitt Fantasy, sequel to Legacies. It's the second stage of the Modesitt Hero: aware of his powers, still reluctant to save the world as he ought, just wants to go home. (Modesitt keeps writing the same story over and over again... and I keep reading them...)
*The Wake Neil Gaiman Fantasy, graphic novel: the epilogue to the Sandman series. Sad, thoughtful, beautiful. What happens after the main character is gone.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Dave Eggers Biographical, terribly selfconscious. A search for deeper meanings, a quest for life and belonging, an upwards climb from a tragic moment. I dunno, it didn't really work for me, though it was well written. I liked the foreword and the afterword much better than what went in between.

April, 2004:
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov Fiction. Nabokov's Great American Road Trip (+ extra Romance) Novel... written from the viewpoint of a pedophiliac traveling with his schoolgirl mistress. Intensely disturbing, fragmented first-person account by an unstable, unreliable narrator.
New Spring Robert Jordan Fantasy, prequel to the Wheel of Time saga: how Moiraine and Lan met. Magical and smooth; it reminds me of why I liked WoT to begin with. Now, if only Jordan would hurry up and actually finish his series, I could get around to reading it again.
*Cordelia's Honor Lois McMaster Bujold SF, the beginning of the Vorkosigan saga. People have been telling me to read this for ages. They said I would love it, and they were absolutely right. Why did I wait so long? Intricate politics, strong characters, amazing plot, deep universal themes, tightly and skillfully written. Now I have to find the rest of the series...
Kiln People David Brin SF, madcap detective story. Sardonic clones, puns everywhere, and a surprising amount of philosophical delight. In a world where you can make copies of yourself in clay, then send the dittos around to experience life for you, and then download the memories back into your head without having moved so much as a muscle -- what would you do with this quasi-immortality?

March, 2004:
The Fur Hat Vladimir Voinovich Parody. Hilarious, very cute. A Russian writer finds one day that the quality of his writing is reflected in the quality of his hat.
The Cutting Edge, Upland Outlaws Dave Duncan Books 1 and 2 of A Handful of Men, continuing the story from the quartet A Man of his Word. I'd had no idea that Duncan had written a follow-up series and pounced on it. Very good so far -- lots of action, great dialogue, and the intricate worldbuilding that is Duncan's trademark.

February, 2004:
The Kindly Ones Neil Gaiman The penultimate Sandman novel. (Why had I never read this until now?) Gaiman's a real artist; he ties his stories together beautifully, even though the storylines are actually quite separate. And the ending was heartbreaking, inevitable, and perfect.
Spy in the House of Love, Seduction of the Minotaur Anaïs Nin The last two of the Cities of the Interior novels. Beautiful imagery, dreamlike writing, and more confused characters trying to find themselves in who they love.
Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry Yes, I generally don't read Westerns. But this is much more than cowboys and Indians and endless prairies -- it's people, real people with depth and faults and brilliance and stupidity. A slow-moving novel, but an excellent one.
Monstrous Regiment Terry Pratchett Fantasy, the newest Discworld novel. Very cute and slightly dark, like the rest of the series. I love Pterry dearly but he may have gotten a little too carried away with the plot twists. Ending strangely unsatisfying but good read overall.

January, 2004:
Foucault's Pendulum Umberto Eco Fiction, thriller if the pace weren't so leisurely. Three idle intellectuals first invent and then discover a vast historical occult conspiracy. I was impressed by Eco's knowledge and his sure style of writing, but disappointed with the weak ending.
Legacies L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Fantasy. I think Modesitt's turning into Eddings. His books are still well-written, but same old revisted if you've read the Recluce novels (or the Timegod series, or the Dawn series). A boy has power, lots of power, and finds himself changing the world.
Sky Island L. Frank Baum Kidlit. A simple children's tale of Trot and Cap'n Bill, characters from the Oz books. This purportedly takes place outside of Oz, but it's just as innocently magical.
The Blinding Light of the Mind Jane Smiley Short story. How an average guy tries to cope with war, threat, and fear.
H.M.S. Surprise Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction. Aubrey and Maturin again; Aubrey is given the command of the Surprise. They voyage to the Orient, and the two men try to woo the fairer sex. (They make better sailors than lovers, sad to say.)
Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, The Four-Chambered Heart Anaïs Nin Fiction. Fluid, deep, psychological; beautifully written. But all of these Cities of the Interior books can be encapsulated thus: "You are not who you think you are. Nor are you who your lover thinks you are. At any rate, your lover is not who you think he is. For these reasons, you probably won't be happy together."
The Name and Nature of Poetry A. E. Housman Essay: text of the Leslie Stephen Lecture, 1933. Vintage Housman, sharp wit laced with humility and wonder. He begins by saying there is a quality in poetry that humans are not able to grasp, then spends the rest of the lecture attempting to grasp it as best he can.
Skin Divers Anne Michaels Poetry. A contemplative, emotional collection. I've loved Anne Michaels' poetry for a very long time. Great short pieces and some truly beautiful historical ones.
*Master and Commander Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction. First of the series of the same name and quite enjoyable; Jack Aubrey gets his first command. Naval warfare in the 1800's. Full of salty sailors and seafaring, and I'm particularly touched by the tie between captain Aubrey and his landlubber surgeon Maturin.
The Hundred Days Patrick O'Brian Historical fiction. One of the later Master and Commander books: Aubrey and Maturin deal with an Islamic conspiracy to back Napoleon. I find the premise weak and the plot meandering; however, the writing is witty and generally smooth.

Booklist archives:  2003 list,  2002 and earlier.

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