layla: grass at sunset (Default)
This week's book rec, which also happens to be the last book I read: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, which tragically is only available as an ebook in the US (or you can pick up a used copy that migrated over here by way of UK bookstores, which is what I did).

I adore Hardinge's books, and always look forward eagerly to each new one. She writes YA fantasy that is unique, highly original, and never talks down to its audience, and her books tend to tackle concepts that are often considered beyond the scope of kidlit -- this one deals with class and privilege in a fantasy setting, and her first book (still my favorite, Fly By Night) is about personal freedom and thought control.

A Face Like Glass reminds me more of Fly By Night than anything else she's written; another thing about her books is that they are all very different from each other, but this one deals with similar concepts and the worldbuilding is vaguely reminiscent of it, even if it's a completely different world. A Face Like Glass is about a society in which people do not have natural, inborn facial expressions; instead they have to learn them from a set roster of different expressions, and one's place in society determines which expressions one is allowed to learn, with people in the lower classes only being allowed expressions that are blank and polite, and those in the upper classes buying a unique face for each occasion. Into this world comes Neverfell, a friendly, coltishly clumsy girl who only wants to make friends with everyone she meets, and has no idea that the people around her are hiding terrible secrets behind their perfectly sculpted faces. It's a complicated, twisty book full of mysteries and secrets and betrayals, with a wonderfully funny, complex, sometimes tragic heroine.
layla: grass at sunset (Default)
Well, I tried doing that "what are you reading on Wednesday?" meme, but I kinda petered out because it was simply too random; the last book I read was usually something I didn't have much to say about, and I ended up talking about a lot of books I didn't like, and that wasn't fun.

So instead, I'll use these Wednesday reading posts to recommend a book that I read and liked.

This week, it's Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (On the Jellicoe Road in Australia). It's YA, and it was originally recommended to me by [personal profile] naye. The library finally had it -- it's been checked out every time I've gone looking for it for the last few months -- so I read it and was completely blown away. Also I somehow forgot the part of [personal profile] naye's recommendation post (note: spoilers in the comments on the LJ side) where she mentioned that the book "wrenched my heart out and set it on fire and threw the ashes in the river." Er, yes, that about sums it up. It turned me into a sobbing MESS. Although I realized when I started trying to explain to Orion why his wife was crying her eyes out that ... it's actually sort of hard to describe WHY I was so wrecked at the end of the book. It was a good kind of wrecked! Really, I swear.

Anyway, the book is YA, so if a basic, to-the-point YA writing style and teen protagonists are not your thing, then you may not like it. Also, it really does put you through the emotional wringer. But I absolutely loved it and recommend it VERY highly. It's been a long time since I read a book that was so completely surprising, on almost every level; although I finally got a decent grasp on it by about halfway through, it's a book that really throws all your expectations in terms of genre and characters and plot. It's difficult to talk about the book in more detail without getting into spoilers, and this is a book that I am very glad I read unspoiled. However, there are some more spoilery comments under the cut (not really a "review" so much as random things I liked about the book).

Spoilers here (mainly for the first half of the book - but I do STRONGLY recommend reading unspoiled if you prefer to read that way) )

Short version: this is highly recommended. :)
layla: grass at sunset (Default)

What are you reading now?

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty – It’s tough to talk about this one because I’ve only just started, so it’s still early to tell how much I’m going to enjoy this or, for that matter, what the plot is going to be (I don’t like to read cover copy on books; I prefer to discover it as I go along). Thus far: guy is in Maine on vacation, guy’s parents die, guy’s sister is mentally ill. It was recommended by the person who loaned it to me and the writing is good — I’m liking it so far. Not everything has to be high-concept.

What did you just finish?

The Clairvoyant Countess by Dorothy Gilman – Well, for certain values of “finished”, anyway. This is another one from the cheap-paperback pile, which I had picked up at the used bookstore because I like her Mrs. Pollifax books; they’re a bit twee, but also very charming. And straight back to the used bookstore it goes, because it’s so unbearably twee that I quit halfway through. There is no overall plot, just a series of mini-mysteries in which Madame Karitska, psychic, helps the police, usually by telling them things that are so blindingly obvious that I’d already figured out the twist a few pages ago. The police in this town can’t find the bathroom without Madame Kariska telling them where it is. Tightened up a bit and with a solid plot, I think I might have enjoyed this book a lot more, because the characters are likable, but it’s just too rambling and self-consciously precious; there’s too much of Madame Karitska being wise and darling and telling people really obvious stuff that solves all their problems.

What are you reading next?

Something else from the Cheap Paperback Pile, no doubt.

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
layla: grass at sunset (Default)

… I claim Internet connection issues for not doing this the last couple of weeks. Yeah. That’s it. Totally.

What I’m reading
Gone by Jonathan Kellerman. This is from my pile of Random Cheap Paperbacks to be read and probably returned to the used bookstore for credit. So far, it’s entertaining but not memorable. I’ve read a few others in this series (the Alex Delaware books) and for some reason I keep being less than enthralled — they’re entertaining books, and I like the main characters (child psychologist Alex and his police-officer best friend Milo) but the books often leave me feeling a trifle unsettled and unsatisfied in a way I can’t quite define. One thing I’m enjoying about this book so far, though, is that it keeps you guessing about what the actual mystery is; you can’t even tell from the first few chapters who the victims are and how the book’s going to shape up, which is fun.

What I just finished
Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West by Deanne Stillman. This was a fascinating read, a horse-centric history of the mustang in the U.S. If I had one big complaint with this book, it’s that it’s very clearly written from a white, majority-culture perspective, which becomes particularly intrusive in the chapters that deal with the (devastating and horrible) conflict with the indigenous people in the U.S. It’s not that the author is unsympathetic, but she’s just kind of … oblivious, like the way that Custer’s Last Stand gets nearly an entire chapter with Custer’s life story told in great detail, whereas Wounded Knee amounts to a few paragraphs. It’s not an overt “Custer is awesome”, it’s just … something about the way that the book spotlights the individual diaries and letters of white settlers and cowboys and so forth (when it isn’t focused on the horses), while leaving out the Native perspective except in a “… and then the Cheyenne did this” kind of way, emphasizing the individuality of its white “protagonists” and the sameness of the Native ones. On the other hand, it’s full of interesting little historical tidbits from all over, and the horse stuff is great — especially the chapters on the modern-day conflict between mustangs and ranchers, something I knew almost nothing about. (And I also learned that the Bureau of Land Management rounds up wild mustangs and auctions them online for super cheap. The ethics of it are complicated, but it’s still a very interesting thing to know!)

What I’m reading next
Uh … not sure. Probably something else from the Random Paperback pile.

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
layla: grass at sunset (Default)

This is a meme I’ve seen some people doing on Wednesdays. Let’s try it! (Odds are pretty good that I’ll just forget next week and never do it again. Either that or I’ll prove that I’m not reading nearly as many books as I should be, and give the same answers every week. But you never know.)

What are you currently reading?

One Virgin Too Many by Lindsey Davis, which is number … twelve? … in a series of historical film-noirish murder mysteries about a private investigator and his girlfriend in ancient Rome. They’re fun, twisty, very well-researched as far as I can tell, and have a sense of humor that makes me giggle helplessly in places.

What did you recently finish reading?

Two For the Lions, the previous book in the series.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I have no idea. This is the last Lindsey Davis book I have out from the library, and while they do have more in the series, I think I want to mix it up a bit. I also have The Name of the Rose in this batch of books, but I’m not sure if I feel up to tackling that one right now. I tried to read it once before and bounced off it. Maybe I’ll just take it back and try to work through more of my unread book pile at home.

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
layla: (FEMA)
There's a post up this morning at Elizabeth Bear's LJ on the responsibility of the artist to Art that ties in interesting ways to some of the stuff I've been thinking about lately, on my own writing and why I write and how it's changed over time. (Also to the Patricia Wrede discussion, and this post on art vs. humanity, which I agree with 110%.) In fact, Bear's post and her core argument is pretty much a capsule example of Why Layla Dropped Out Of Art School. It was to get away from people who thought like that.

... Okay, that's not entirely fair. But when I read that post, my knee-jerk reaction was, "Oh god, it's like I'm a freshman again!" -- and not in a good way. The thing is, I loved studying art; I loved learning the techniques and studying and riffing off famous artists from the past. What I did not love, and what made me realize (among other things) that art-as-a-career was not for me, was the pretentiousness and self-importance of the fine-art world. I realized that I didn't have much in common with ahteeests whose goal as an artist was to discomfit or disgust or sicken their audience under the guise of Making A Statement.

I recognize that everyone is drawn to art (all sorts of art) for many different reasons. I believe that there is a very valid and necessary place in the world for art that discomfits and disturbs the complacent. But I resented (and still do resent), very deeply, the prevailing sense in the pro art world that this is the best and only way to be a "proper" artist. I loathe the pervasive idea that art which is created because it's fun, or created for the sake of pleasing or entertaining people, is less in every way, which goes hand-in-hand with the equally loathsome idea that the artist who creates it is not smart enough or artistic enough or brave enough to do real art.

I hate it because I've spent most of my adult life unlearning that idea and learning not to look down on myself for not being that kind of artist, even though, tangentially, my art is about what's important to me, and sometimes does make statements -- it's just that that's not my primary reason for making it.

The bit from Bear's post that really stood out for me:

My job as an artist is not to console you or distract you from the things in the world that make you unhappy. That's my job as an entertainer, and often it's in direct conflict with my job as an artist--but conflict is what makes narratives interesting, so that's okay. My job as an artist is not to give you characters and stories you care about and invest in and want to spend time with. That's my job as a storyteller, which supports and informs my job as an artist.

Yeah, well, I'm primarily a storyteller, and I'm proud of it. It's not that my work is never about anything -- my original work in particular is very often About Important Stuff. But it's more importantly about people -- telling their stories, getting invested in their lives, caring about them and making my reader care about them as much as I do. There's definitely a valuable place in fiction for making your reader think (and good fiction does), but I resent the implication that I'm not a proper artist if I'm more interested in telling my readers a proper story than poking them in the eye. And I don't think it would have prickled me so hard in the case of this particular blog post if artistic/creative academia wasn't full of this attitude (and if this one particular artist hadn't been brought up for failing to recognize her readers as people in the past, too).


Feb. 27th, 2007 10:51 pm
layla: grass at sunset (Default)
What I'm reading these days:

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber - I can't thank [ profile] klostes enough for recommending this to me, because it's *wonderful*. Traces the history of weaving from the first knotted strings in the Paleolithic through the intervening millennia, with a light, entertaining writing style that's nevertheless filled with detail and information. Despite the title and subject matter (dealing with gender roles through history) it avoids being overtly political, focusing instead on the daily lives of the women who spent much of their waking time weaving cloth for their families.

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik - [ profile] xparrot pushed this series at me with a "You'll love it!", and I did love it ... well, considering that I'm only one book into the series at this point. It's very heavily, and obviously, influenced by Patrick O'Brian's naval-warfare novels -- basically, this is the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. More interesting than the battles for me were the details of how dragonback cavalry in the British and French service have been integrated into the existing historical background. And I loved the mental image of dragons as warships or bombers, with gun crews on their backs. The characters are wonderful.

There were a couple of things I didn't like about the book, one of which was the ending (well, a certain aspect of the ending). This is going to be cut for obvious MAJOR spoilers )

Anyway, criticism aside, I *did* like the book and I *do* recommend it to those looking for fantasy of a slightly different flavor; my problems with it basically come down to personal taste rather than the quality of the book itself.


layla: grass at sunset (Default)

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