Friday, May 01, 2009

April Readings

So, what did I learn about myself this month? I tend to take breaks from reading when I'm busy (shocking, yeah?) and that the days when I finish more than one book tend to be the days when I've got a migraine that's just bad enough to make me want to lie around with earplugs in, but not so bad that I can't think at all.

Also? If I intersperse my novels with graphics, I get to look like a fast reader.

Here are the books I read in April:
  1. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (4/3): This is a YA story anthology. I don't know how Kelly Link manages it. Somehow, her stories manage to be both deeply weird and satisfyingly consistent at the same time. I enjoyed every story in the book, but found The Constable of Abal the most satisfying. I read it, took a deep breath, and flipped back to the beginning to read it all over again.
  2. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (4/6): This is a YA fantasy. It is also one of those books with a beginning that has its own undertow. I was sucked right in. After reading the prologue, I HAD to read this book. It was good story. I enjoyed reading it. But after I finished, I was... unsatisfied. So I went back and read the prologue again. The story I got was a good one, but it was not the story that prologue told me I was going to get.
  3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (4/6): This is another YA fantasy. It's setting is a world many years after the Zombie apocalypse. The people live their lives in a village, surrounded by a fence, surrounded by a forest full of zombies. It's an absorbing world, and I enjoyed reading about the people trying to live in it. I found it interesting that, given the tense and scary situation, I was never all that afraid. The author did an excellent job of distancing the reader from the true horror of the situation.
  4. The Female Brain by Louanne Brizendine(4/11): This is a nonfiction book by a neurobiologist. It provides a lot of interesting information about how our hormones affect our brains. It felt very one-sided, not so much because the premise was that men and women end up with differently structured brains, but because the relentlessly pushes toward the idea that women's brains are somehow structured better than men's brains. While I was reading, I kept wondering why so few of the facts were backed up with data. When I got to the end, I found the list of references. Each one was matched to a chapter and a portion of a sentence. So I could go back and find out where a fact came from. Without a computerized search function, however, finding a specific references certainly wasn't easy.
  5. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (4/13): This is YA urban fantasy, and also Happily Ever After for the Twilight series. It's a big book, broken into three sections, told by Bella, Jake, and then Bella again. The Jake section is the one where Bella suffers a lot of physical torments that ultimately end up with her getting everything she wanted. If the story wrapped here, we wouldn't have perfect happiness for anyone, and the characters's lives would have some uncertainty. But this happiness was earned, and earned well. But then, we get another section--hundreds of pages long--that brings in some fine world-building and politics, as well as a whole lot of wish-fulfillment. There's a big, dramatic showdown, which ends in a stalemate. And that is where the book ends. Bella feels like she's gotten her happily ever after, but I wonder how long it can possibly last. Long-lived bad guys aren't likely to away and stay away.
  6. River of Heaven by Lee Martin (4/16): This is literary fiction. The main character of River of Heaven lives a small, lonely life, full of regret. Something terrible happened when he was a boy. My previous experience with Lee Martin was his novel The Bright Forever. It's an amazing book. I keep giving away my copy. Other people really need to read this book. This month, it finally occurred to me to get something else the author had written. I enjoyed this book, but more than anything else, it made me want to read the Bright Forever again.
  7. House of Mystery by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham (4/17): This a graphic novel story anthology. The framing device is that some people come into a house and can't leave it. Others come and tell their stories. Hungry Sally's story is utterly horrifying. I was so creeped out, I had trouble falling asleep after I read it. I even have nightmares about it. Weeks later, it still gives me chills.
  8. Finder: King of Cats by Carla Speed McNeil (4/18): Finder is an indie graphic novel, published by Lightspeed Press. I'm reading the stories all out of order, and I love them. I love the way the world feels so big and inexplicable. I love the page notes at the end of each book. I love the art. Mostly, I love the way the stories feel so much bigger than the little bit I actually get to read in the book. I want them all, but the Lightspeed press website gave me a page load error. Sigh.
  9. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard (4/22): This is a memoir, of sorts. Here's the premise: the author went to a random city with $25 and a sleeping bag. He wanted to see if he could work his way out of homelessness within a year, and have a job, a working vehicle, and $2500 in the bank. Presumably, the idea is that if he could work his way out of dire straights, other people can follow in his footsteps. It's an interesting read. The part that I found most interesting about the book, however, was something that the author very rarely discusses. Wherever he was, he became the people around him. When he was homeless, he became a homeless guy, unwilling to use a washing machine, and unworried about his stink. When he upgraded to mover with a housemate, it became okay to tolerate his housemate stealing his stuff, and, ultimately, battering him into a bloody pulp on the floor of the home they shared. But then, maybe that was his point. He was willing to put up with anything, no matter how crazy or dangerous, if it got him closer to his goal. So, yeah, I think a person could follow in his footsteps. I'm just not sure why someone would want to.
  10. Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (4/23): This is a graphic novel. I found a list of Eisner nominees, and have been working my way through the interesting-sounding ones. Skim is definitely interesting, engaging, and... ultimately unsatisfying for me. As seems to be my usual, I felt like too much story was crammed into too few pages. But I've finally figured out why so many one-shot graphic novels leave me flat: there's a novel's worth of material crammed into what is, essentially, a few chapters worth of space.
  11. Finder: Mystery Date by Carla Speed McNeil (4/24): This is an indie graphic novel. After I finished this, I wanted the rest of the series, right now. But I'm lazy. LightspeedPress.com is still giving me page load errors. The cache just says "it's working," which is not very helpful. And Amazon doesn't have the books. I guess I may have to give in and create an Ebay account after all. Sigh.
  12. Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (4/24): This graphic novel is more than 20 years old. This is one of Neil Gaiman's dreamlike tales where the narrator tells us his story -- which part of other stories--and we have to fill in all the rest for ourselves. Dave McKean's creepy art brings it to life. Good, good stuff.
  13. The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold (4/25): This is a fantasy novel, the fourth in the series. By book four, the story is less about the main characters romance an more about making a place for their family to call home. We get plenty of drama and conflict, and a good, satisfying, well-earned, happy ending. It's a very satisfying conclusion to the series.
  14. Powers by Ursula K. LeGuin (4/26): This is a YA fantasy, the third in a series of novel that all take place in the same world. Like the other two books, this one stands alone just fine. In this book, a slave boy wanders through life until he finds his place in the world. It was a dreamy sort of narrative, interspersed with contrasting bits of dialogue and action. Huge, momentous, things happened--murder, mercy, betrayal in a variety of permutations--but they all flowed smoothly through the story. Fair warning: the dreamy tone may have come less from the book itself and more from the migraine I had the night I read it. That said, it was a deeply satisfying story with plenty of interesting themes.
  15. Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn (4/26): This is an urban fantasy, which may or may not be shelved with paranormal romance. This second book in the Kitty series was perfect reading for a day with a migraine. In this outing, our werewolf DJ protagonist is summoned to speak at a Congressional hearing in our nation's capitol. She meets others of her kind, stumbles across evil plots by some baddies, and defeats them all, and even hooks up with a tasty Brazilian guy. Reading the story was like taking a tiny vacation: escapist fun.
  16. Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell (4/26): This is a science fiction novel, stuffed with amazing, interesting elements. A few of the elements in this book: aliens, cities floating in the sky, a democracy where everyone votes on every governmental action, zombies, the borg (more or less), and a plot to destroy worlds. It's fascinating stuff. And then I just couldn't find my way into the story. The writing is good, the words looked good on the page, but fall into the story and have it come to life for me. I'm afraid Tobias Buckell may be like Kim Stanley Robinson for me: a great writer, with a well-deserved following, but not to my taste. I'm going to have to try another book, however, before I give up. I mean, look at those ideas!
  17. Locke & Key by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (4/27): This is the first graphic novel I've ever read where I was upset because it was a graphic novel. I got the first four chapters of a deeply creepy horror novel. Too short! Too short! I want more.
  18. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (4/27): This is another piece of literary fiction, which makes two in one month. It may be some kind of record for me. My April theme seems to be finding a place in the world. In this case, we have a young girl named Lily who flees her home at the rocky beginning of desegregation. There's a dusty-sweet, but very well-realized sense of time and place here. The plot is almost too neat, but I really liked the way that each character is her own person, who behaves in ways that make sense for her. I especially liked it that Lily just didn't understand a lot of the things she witnessed. It's another in a long list of books that I'm glad I read.
  19. Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell (4/27): This is a graphic novel. And it took me for a ride. Even after reading most of it twice, I just couldn't figure out what was real and what wasn't. But then, I guess that was the point.
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