layla: grass at sunset (Default)
It's Wednesday again (how???) and that means time for a reading recommendation! (The way the entire rest of the blogosphere is doing this meme, people blog about what they were reading the past week. I tried it, but I ended up talking about a lot of books I hadn't much liked, and that wasn't fun. So I decided to recommend something instead, preferably something a little less-known rather than something the entire Internet is already talking about. Discussion and spoilers in comments are entirely welcome!)

This Wednesday I bring you All the Flavors by Ken Liu (subtitled "A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America"). This is a Nebula-nominated novella that's online for free. It's set in Idaho in the latter half of the 19th century, and ... well, the really dull way to describe it, I guess, is that it deals with the tensions between Chinese immigrant workers and the white migrants who make up the bulk of the Idaho City population circa 1865. Which makes it sound very heavy and serious. But, while there is obviously a dark undercurrent (the brutal racism of the times is not downplayed), it's much more than that; it's a lovely, lively novella full of vivid characters, with a subtle magical element woven throughout.
layla: grass at sunset (Default)
This week it's a link to ... well, I don't know what you'd call it -- an article, a nonfiction novella? Anyway, it's online and it's free.

Out in the Great Alone by Brian Phillips: the author (city born and bred) becomes fascinated with the Iditarod so he decides to travel to Alaska and watch the entire race, all 1000 miles of it, from a small plane. This is his account of his adventures, an outsider's-eye view of Alaska that is, I have to admit, disturbingly accurate -- from the unique blue color of the long winter twilight, to the way that rural people are so unused to strangers that they don't quite know how to cope with having another human being in their space. It's not a deep memoir full of philosophical insights, but rather a lightweight, amusing and fun travelogue.

Here, for example, his bush pilot/guide is teaching him how to land on a frozen lake in the event of an emergency. (Nugget is the name of the airplane.)

Excerpt under cut )

... which gives you a pretty good idea what the whole thing is like. It's also full of interesting details, historical and otherwise, about the race and the little towns along the way; I learned a few things I didn't know.
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. :)


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