Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

I'm working on finishing off my novel (it's finished, I'm just doing the final read through) before submitting it, as well as editing another novel (someone else's, I'm just doing the proofreading), and also writing what is turning out to be a novella (why, why, why do I write novellas, why?), so I'm busier than usual with writing these days.

But! I'm still reading heaps.

Justine Larbalestier, My Sister Rosa

This, like all of Larbalestier's novels, is compulsively readable. (Larbalestier wrote Liar, which is one of my favorite werewolf books.) It's YA, from the POV of an older brother, about his younger sister, who he is pretty sure is a sociopath. His parents are high-earning, high-status workaholics who have left him to raise the sister (six years younger than he is), and given him essentially no help in dealing with her psychological issues.

He's been able to cope, mostly, until now -- when the family moves from Oceania (they have always lived in Australia or Asia) to New York, where he has no support system beyond his parents, who give him no real support.

He also learns that his parents are not quite what he understood. But now we're getting into spoiler territory! It's YA, as I said, but very much worth reading. I especially like how Larbalestier handles the technology -- these are kids who have grown up with phones and computers and the net, and it shows.

T. Kingfisher, Jackalope Wives

T. Kingfisher is Ursula Vernon's other name, and if you're not reading all the Ursula Vernon you can, under whatever name, boy, are you missing out.

This is a collection of her short stories, along with some head notes introducing each one. I'd read some of the stories before; others were new to me. All of the stories are wonderful. My favorites are probably the linked stories about Grandma Harken, who lives out in a desert where magic keeps rubbing up against reality, and who has a family and a community she takes care of.

The first of these stories, Jackalope Wives, might be Vernon/Kingfisher's most famous story. It's a variation on the selkie stories; the Jackalope women dance in the moonlight, and if a young man is quick, he can catch one, throw her rabbit skin in the fire, and take her home to be his wife. Grandma Harken's son does this, but things go wrong; and Grandma Harken has to fix it.

Her famous poem, "This Vote is Legally Binding," is in here too.

And about fifteen other stories and poems, all wonderful.

Worth the price!

James Howard Kunstler, A World Made by Hand, The Witch of Hebron

Y'all know I love a good apocalyptic novel. These are two of the four books in the "World Made by Hand" series written by Kunstler, which I found when I was sorting books. Apparently Dr. Skull bought them, back when they came out. I hadn't read them before.

They're readable. I (mostly) enjoyed reading them. But I won't be buying the next two in the series, for a couple of reasons.

First, these fall into the "cozy catastrophe" category of apocalyptic fiction -- as in, wow, this world is so much better now that the flu and disease and war have killed off 9/10ths of the people and destroyed all the technology so that we can live in 1750 like God meant us to.

And also: strong lacings of God meant us to run through the first book, and even stronger through the second. I have to suspect the pious mouthings will only increase in the final installments.

And also: both books dance a little too closely with racism. Kunstler never quite comes out and says he thinks people ought to live in segregated societies -- you know, white Anglo-Saxons Protestants in this town, and black people in that town, and Jews over there -- but wow does he hint at it; and somehow his "good" towns, his little paradises, they just end up being that way.

And also: Holy crow, the sexism.

But mostly: Nothing happens. Well, that's not quite right. Things happen. People get shot. Boys run away. A mystic witch is introduced. But none of it leads to anything -- there's no plot. As Forster told us, life is just one thing after the next -- the queen dies and the king dies and the war starts and the prince returns. Plot is a war starts because the king dies of grief after the queen dies and then the prince returns in order to save the kingdom.

Kunstler has no sense of plot. He has things happen, but then he does nothing with them -- they don't cause other things to happen; there's no sense of plot or overarching story. Maybe he pulls it all together in the last two books, but from reading the review, I don't think so.

Not recommended, unless you can get them free. They were entertaining enough.

Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl, Carry On

These two I also found again while sorting the books. I'd read both before, but only once. Rainbow Rowell writes both YA and adult books. These are both YA. The first, Fangirl, is about a first-year college student, Cath, who writes fan fiction about a series of Harry-Potter-like books. She has a bipolar father and a mother who abandoned her and her twin sister when they were eight, and pyschological issues of her own.

All of this and freshman year too. It's a wonderful book -- not too grim, set in Nebraska, with a happy ending.

Carry On is the book that Cath is writing during Fangirl.  Not really, obviously, since Cath is fictional, but fictionally the fictional book that Cath is writing. It's the fan-version of the Harry-Potter-like series that Cath is writing in the novel, and now I am so meta I can't follow my own sentence. Let me start again. All through the novel Fangirl Cath is writing a fanfiction novel about Simon Snow (the Harry Potter character) called Carry On. After she finished writing Fangirl, Rowell went on and actually wrote Carry On.

Is this legal? Can you do this? I think there was some furor from J.K. Rowling's people, as I recall. But they worked it out without a lawsuit.

Anyway, Carry On is not quite as good as Fangirl -- Rowell is better with realism than she is with dragons -- but it's also fun.

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