Thursday, December 31, 2015

Annoying: the science of what bugs us

by Joe Palaca and Flora Lichtman

This book is really annoying. Everything that is wrong with some popular science books is wrong with this book. All the things.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Full Rip 9.0: the next big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest

by Sandi Doughton

Waited too long to read this book, so the experience was tainted by The New Yorker's alarmist and misleading article and associated internet click bait. The introduction is quite melodramatic, but the human stories threaded throughout the narrative are nicely told. Good science for the most part and okay writing, though you can tell she's more a journalist than a long-form author. At the time I had some specific quibbles but can't recall them now; they were pretty minor.

Most important take-away: yes, it will be terrible when the Cascadia Subduction Zone quake happens, but it's not as overdue as it's often made out to be. 'Course, it could happen any time....

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wicked Bugs: the louse that conquered Napoleon's army & other diabolical insects

by Amy Stewart

Well, ya know, I could've sworn I read the author's other book, Wicked Plants, but I guess not. We seem to be in pre-saved reading history territory, so maybe I'll never know.

Whichever book I read, I recall that it was pretty good in that science-lite sort of way. I wouldn't have minded more science details, but this book is no science slouch. It's done catalog style, without an over-arching narrative structure. Many bugs are covered, and some get more attention than others. Reviews are suggesting the book has a sense of humor, which I vaguely recall now that I've been prompted, but it's not the most striking feature. The focus, not surprisingly, is on bugs' effects on humans, from painful stings to parasitism and from the personal to the historic.

Being a "toilet book" (small, lots of short bits easy to read sporadically), Wicked Bugs could be a cute gift book, either for someone who's into insects, or in jest for someone who hates bugs.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Grave Mercy

Dark Triumph

Mortal Heart

by Robin LaFevers

Dogs "bay," donkeys "bray." A tremble or shiver is a "shudder," not a "shutter." A cloud can't really "scuttle" because it can't move furtively, but it's quite common for clouds to be described as "scudding." (Errors and/or editing deficiencies from the third book; I also saw four or five typos, mostly toward the end, which suggests rushing toward a deadline.)

Now that I've got that off my chest... I really liked these books — like, an embarrassing amount. I read the His Fair Assassin series over a span of three years, so not all at once, but I never doubted I would read them all. I stayed up too late reading each one.

The series has excellent ingredients: young adult fiction, strong female characters, danger, political intrigue, a bit of supernatural, and thrilling romance. The first book came out in 2012, when everyone was still looking for or trying to be the next Hunger Games, so I'm kind of surprised that the series seems not to have gotten all that much attention. Could be the late Medieval setting wasn't a draw for some people, but it's sort of Game of Thrones-y and therefore even more attuned to the zeitgeist. Also, the covers are very pretty and dramatic (even cinematic) looking. Go figure.

I actually think the setting of the books in Brittany at the very end of the Middle Ages was one of the best things about the series and really set it apart from other books that imitated Hunger Games by featuring young women and deadly combat. The author uses figures and events from actual history (though she does take artistic liberties), and makes great use of the period's pagan Celtic beliefs, which were waning in the face of Christianity but persisted longer on the Breton peninsula than they did in most of mainland Europe.

This book series could make an excellent television show. It offers plenty of room to be creative with costumes and sets and filming locations, and the multiple lead characters have overlapping but not strictly concurrent storylines that would translate well into a weekly show.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


by Naomi Novik

Thinking about this book and how to review it, I'm reminded of a quote from Lindsay Hill's Sea of Hooks: "Grief keeps coming back with the same things in its hands--Grief comes back again, its hands full of the same things arranged differently" — at first, simply because the writer of Uprooted manages to take elements common to many fantasy/magic stories and arrange them in a fresh way, but the more I consider it, the more ways I see this quote is applicable: the protagonist, a hedgewitch of sorts, and her wizard foil use the same magic but manipulate it in different ways, and grief is at the root of the immense evil they must fight against together.

I liked this book more than I expected I would. I almost didn't even read it, and now I can easily say it's one of the best books I read in 2015, an exciting book that kept me up late reading. Though I may not be qualified to say so, I feel as if the main character is more feminist than some of the popular strong/bad-ass female characters of recent years. (Yes, Katniss, I'm talking about you.) Uprooted has a dash of romance, too, and a conclusive yet not entirely resolved ending that is open in a way that suggests future possibilities for the characters without being obvious groundwork for a sequel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Kind of Intimacy

by Jenn Ashworth

I don't remember what sold me on this book, but it is published by Europa Editions, which always will get me to at least consider a book. In any case, though it's been a while since, I remember this book being not too shabby. Not great or truly memorable, but entertaining enough and not a slog at all.

Sometimes I don't think I really understand what "psychological fiction" is — and that's one of the subject headings for this novel. As is "overweight women," which is kinda weird. I mean, I guess I remember the main character being described as, and considering herself as, overweight, but that fact wasn't really integral to the plot. The book's not about her being overweight, though I guess it does factor into her mental state, which is the "psychological" bit, then. She's had some kind of trauma and goes into something resembling a fugue, but maybe she's just a sociopath and a pathological liar — or is she?! — or isn't she?! — or is she?!

Looking back it reminds me a bit of a slightly sinister and suspenseful version of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, without the triumphal ending. But maybe I'm just stuck on the obesity thing. Probably more like a sinister and suspenseful version of The Dive from Clausen's Pier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Prepare to Die!

by Paul Tobin

I think someone told me this author lives or lived in Portland, or at least somewhere in Oregon, which sort of pushed me over the edge when I was on the fence about reading this book. Also, I think I saw it on a list made by some library staff.

In any case, the book didn't thrill me. It's definitely nowhere near as good as Soon I Will Be Invincible — in fact, I'll just say it: this book isn't any good at all. I've read worse, but I almost didn't finish it, which is a big deal for me. The premise of a super-hero who wants to retire is interesting, but I had some issues with the writing, both on a technical level and artistically. I remember groaning a lot and being annoyed at stupid turns of events or character actions.

Monday, December 21, 2015

News from Home: stories

by Sefi Atta

I don't remember being wowed by this book, but it's a solid collection of short stories about Nigerians, both at home and abroad. The author's prior book (her first novel?) won some sort of award. If you like to read contemporary fiction by non-American, non-British writers, this one's definitely worth a look.

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever

by Tom Neeley & friends

The annotation I wrote for this book (in a list of books that originated as zines) might be my best annotation ever: "Like a metal-punk version of Mad About You, this collection lays bare the domestic life of an imaginary couple, who just happen to be rock gods."

I'd read several of the zines, but now I've finally read the whole amazing book. It's a mix of short graphic stories about the fictional relationship of the titular couple, Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. Being an "& friends" kind of thing, quality varies a bit, but overall it's very good. Humorous, obviously, and sometimes actually quite sexy. Hall & Oates make regular appearances as well. Lots of one-page portraits of the couple are interspersed, some in full color but mostly black and white.

Verdict: simply delightful. I almost want to own it, which is a very high bar for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How to Speak Brit: the quintessential guide to the King's English, Cockney slang, and other flummoxing British phrases

by C.J. Moore

This book was a disappointment. Not that it's bad, it just wasn't what I'd imagined it would be. I have Anglophile tendencies and occasionally aspire to incorporate more Britishisms in my vocabulary. I'd especially love to be facile with the Cockney rhyming slang, but usually I struggle to think of an example or explain how it works, let alone deploying it conversation or making up new rhymes on the fly. This very slim book isn't any sort of overview of British English, it's just a very selective alphabetical list of some Brit-speak with cheeky explanations. Fine for what it is, but don't get your hopes up.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Priceless Honey

by Shiuko Kano

A nice yaoi-ish collection of erotic manga by a great author, whose work I've praised here before. The stories are about young men in the twink age range, with various combinations. The centerpiece story has a high school janitor moonlighting as a gay escort to earn extra money for his demanding girlfriend. The stories are all inventive and nicely detailed, despite being short, and the naughty bits are pleasingly explicit (but also pixelated).

Luck in the Shadows

Stalking Darkness

Traitor's Moon

by Lynn Flewelling

Such sweet agony!!!! Reading the Nightrunner series is simultaneously thrilling and maddening. So much build up and so much action left until the last 50 pages, the plotting of the stories could drive one crazy. But that's the hook, isn't it — that slingshot ride, along with the two characters in whose lives I've become so invested. (Okay, maybe I'm  a little in love or lust with one or both of them.)

In some ways, the series is fairly typical fantasy stuff: magic people, not-magic people, in-between people; queens, kings, horses, ships; war, intrigue, enemies; the lovable rogue and his protégé; etc. Good world-building, as they say in the fantasy biz, along with intricate plots and discreet foreshadowing.

But this book also has a special appeal for me, one that I almost don't want to mention. Hints are dropped early on, but the super–slow-burning tension takes almost two whole books to ignite, in a tender moment so perfect I wept with joy (and posted on Facebook about it). In book three, the relationship is obviously passionate but always tasteful and never explicit.

On the one hand, I'm tempted to tear through the whole series; on the other, doing that might make me nuts. I just checked out the next book, but I'm hesitant to jump back into this world without a break. Also, there are now even more books in the series since I last looked: Shadow's Return (checked out today), The White Road, Casket of Souls, and Shards of Time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Prince's Boy

by Paul Bailey

A short and somewhat melancholy romance set in interwar Paris. A young Romanian man with literary aspirations is sent off to have a Bohemian summer. Instead of writing, he falls madly in love with an older man. Circumstances keep them apart for years, but ultimately they build a life together. (How lucky to have one's first sexual experience also be one's soulmate!) They live happily, more or less, but not ever after. This book is the young man, now grown, recording his mate's rags to riches story, and telling his own story in the process.

Well-written, not long, not sad enough to make you cry, erotically charged without being explicit.