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Thing 1: So, Intercon people, what's up with the game bid decision making? The decisions for the July 1st deadline were supposed to be out by the 14th. They're not out yet. Mind, this is hardly an emergency, but when Lily doesn't know something, the curiosity eats away at her.

Thing 2: I'm currently reading Amanda Downing's The Drowning City, which came highly recommended. There's a lot the author is doing right, from the detailed setting, to the major protagonists all being female and active, to the vast majority of the characters not being white. Unfortunately, Downing split her story between three protagonists, effectively telling three different stories. This is a risk because each of these stories has to pass the reader's 'give-a-shit-meter' individually. Roughly a hundred pages in, the only protagonist who affects me on any sort of emotional level is Xinai. What she's going through is personal and painful for her, and so I care. Issylt is pretty cool, but her mission isn't personal to her, which makes her sections drag a bit, unless something critical is going on. So far, Zhirin mostly annoys me with her ingenue-ness. One out of three ain't good, people. This book has so much promise, I keep forcing myself to read further, but unless the focus is on Xinai, I have to keep forcing myself. Oi.

Thing 3: That's two days of unabated migraine now. Do not want!
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I'm currently reading Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It, and every so often, I have to get up and remind myself that the world isn't actually ending. That there's internet, and air conditioning, and fresh food in the fridge. The world Pfeffer's extrapolated feels particularly, disturbingly real. Not melodramatic horror, but attrition with no end in sight. It's a high recommendation, but it may also be 'book-in-the-freezer' time.
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...Cause I've been slacking on these.

The Gate of Ivory, by Doris Egan
This book came highly recommended - and wound up just as highly disappointing me. The author struggles to present the world as original and multifaceted, but winds up with a mishmash of ‘exotic’ traits borrowed from existing cultures. The characterization is serviceable but bland: the only two characters who really come to life are, ironically enough, dead by the end of the book. The protagonist is ok, but nothing to write home about. And god, I hate the main romance, with the male lead manipulating the protagonist and keeping information back from her ‘for her own good.’ Condescending shit. Come to think of it, the parts of the book I actually enjoyed all have a particular trait in common: he wasn't in them.

Maybe it's a medium thing, or an experience level one (this book was written in the eighties.) I certainly enjoy Egan's writing on House. Ah, well. I'm extremely unlikely to continue on with the sequels.

Love's Executioner, by Irvin D. Yalom
This is a collection of case studies from Yalom's career. He has a great narrative voice, making each case come out like a story, without compromising the fact that these stories are real. It's also worth mentioning how honest Yalom is about his own reactions to various clients - sometimes cringingly so. I have to give him serious credit for doing so, even if it makes me raise my eyebrows on occasion.

The God Engines, by John Scalzi
This is Scalzi trying something new, and I gotta say, he's got the chops, though I miss his trademark humor. This novella is darker than other stuff he's written, and reaching for bigger, newer ideas. I found it a fast read and a thought-provoking one, though it didn't engage me on quite the same emotional level as, say, the Old Man Verse books.
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The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin D. Yalom, MD.
This book consists of short essays, advising beginning (and veteran) therapists on technique, approach, and other subjects in the field. Both Yalom's therapeutic style and writing voice feel warm, honest and engaging, meshing well with what I would ideally like to do as a therapist, myself. Moreover, the essays are short enough not to drain someone like me, who has trouble reading non-narrative nonfiction for a long period of time (the fact that he does utilize some narrative doesn't hurt, either.)

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
The sequel to The Hunger Games, which I'd read and adored earlier this year. It did suffer from a bit of 'second book in a trilogy' syndrome. The ending, especially, felt a bit rushed and glossed over, since the author knew we'd be returning to the scene later. That said, there were still some really powerful moments. One, in particular, stuck with me, where another author might have been content to write an inspirational, uplifting crowd sequence, and Collins, instead, went there, following through with the consequences and throwing a much darker tone on the event. Well worth reading, and a case where saying 'not as good as the prequel' isn't saying much.

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Ok, let's start with the good stuff. Waters' writing is fucking gorgeous. She's clearly done her research and then some, and evokes the Victorian era masterfully, warts and all. That said, I still had some problems with this book, which is why I took so long to finish it. First of all, for the longest time, she had me convinced that this would be one of those 'feminist' novels, where the men are all scum and the women are all victims. That sort of narrative only makes me want to bang my head against the wall. The addition of a sympathetic male character, albeit fairly late in the game, alleviated my concerns somewhat, but didn't lift them entirely. True, Waters' women are hardly saints (something I did appreciate,) but her men felt more irredeemable and less nuanced, for the most part.

Moreover, it felt like Waters was a little too in love with making her protagonists suffer, a phenomenon I like to refer to as 'trauma porn.' There were some segments that felt like they had no purpose other than to show suffering - the prolonged description of one character's stay at a mental asylum comes to mind. To show a little would evoke emotion as well as painting the setting. To show a lot just feels like a gratuitous form of voyeurism.

Moreover, while I still felt a certain warmth for the protagonists having achieved a happy ending, I thought that forgiveness came too easily, after all the shit they'd put each other through. More interpersonal struggle in the denouement would not have been amiss, but I suppose Waters thought the book was already long enough.

It's hard to say if I recommend this book. From a historical geek perspective, it's golden; from a narrative and character perspective: rather frustrating. You decide.
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The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Others have described this book as 'Battle Royale for a YA audience.' I'd argue that it's, if anything, a better read, with a more affecting protagonist, not to mention owing as much to the myth of Theseus as to Takami's novel. In a dystopian future, what was once the United States has been divided into thirteen districts. Some time before the beginning of the book, the districts rose up against the Capitol, and were defeated. District Thirteen was decimated, and the others are now forced to send their children each year, to fight one another and die for the Capitol's entertainment, as a brutal reminder of their defeat. When Katniss's sister is one of the children chosen from their district, Katniss steps in to take her place.

Can I just say that I love Katniss? I love that she's tough and practical, kind but utterly unromantic - I especially love that part, as well as her flaws. The protagonist often makes or breaks the book for me, and Katniss makes this one. The subject matter never feels 'PG-ed' up or dumbed down, frequently brutal and heartbreaking. I sat down to read a couple of chapters and wound up finishing the book that day! One of the year's best I've read in 2010 so far, easily.

All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald.
Or: Depressing Memoir, take one. As the title makes self-evident, MacDonald tells of him and his siblings growing up in Southie, in the days of Whitey Bulger and the bussing riots. Not the safest or most comforting atmosphere, to say the least, and one that produced both numerous adolescent (and adult) deaths, and a culture of silence surrounding them. It's this culture of silence that MacDonald set out to break, with his book.

It was a memoir. It was depressing. It was pretty darn good, actually, but having to incorporate it into one of my eight page papers kind of soured it for me.

Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk, by Marc Parent
Depressing memoir number two, but this one got me on more of a gut level. The professor who assigned this book warned us not to read before bed, and she was right.

In this book, Parent tells of the four years he spent on the night shift of Emergency Children's Services, before burning out. There's some seriously heavy stuff in there. I don't have trouble believing the horrible things people can do to their kids, but I really, really wish I did. To his credit, Parent doesn't take the easy, sensationalist route of vilifying the parents, striving instead to show the points of view of everyone involved. And then, there's the trouble from the agency. While most of those involved seemed to be doing their genuine best, Parent also showed pockets of stupefying incompetence and trained indifference within the system.

I'm pretty sure no one could ever pay me enough to go into this profession, but I'm glad to have read this book. Parent's recollections are powerful and not easily forgotten.
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I'm not going to be doing [livejournal.com profile] nanoreamo this year, what with school starting, but I do have a nice to-read pile I feel like sharing with you all.

I'm currently reading Marie Brennan's In Ashes Lie, sequel to her Midnight Never Come. It's denser and more historical-fictiony than the first book, but oddly enough, I find myself liking it more for just those reasons.

Up next, once I'm done with that one:

Five Hundred Years After, by Steven Brust (I actually got some 150 pages into that one already, but I'd timed things poorly and started it too late to give myself enough time to finish before it was due back at the library. Hint: three days did not cut it, especially with Blogathon in the middle.)

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters (On [livejournal.com profile] nevacaruso's recommendation)

Manga:
Currently on volume 9 of Death Note, volume 7 of Saiyuki, volume 7 of Rurouni Kenshin, volume 13 of XxxHolic and volume 19 of Tsubasa. Devouring all of the above. I've also read all that's out of Wild Adapter (the Saiyuki mangaka's other work) and am craving more, though I don't think there is more, even in Japan.

In other news, I've managed to read and re-read Tamora Pierce's entire oeuvre this year. It's funny, when I was younger, I significantly preferred her Tortall books to her Circle ones. Now, the preference has done a one-eighty. I find the Tortall books entertaining but too black-and-white for my tastes, as opposed to the Circle books, which are more shaded, nuanced and therefore interesting. It may well be an age-aim thing. I will note that the Beka books (Pierce's newest in Tortall) are an exception to this rule, being both more detailed, gritty and shades-of-grey than previous books set in this world. So it may just be a case of Pierce growing and developing as a writer, the more she practices her craft, and that can only be a good thing.

The Trickster duology stood a good chance of breaking the mold as well, but it had some unfortunate race issues coming to the fore in the second book. Sure, these natives have been fighting for their freedom for centuries, but what they really need is the help of this white chick. Bah. This was less noticeable in the first book since Aly was at enough of a disadvantage, being a slave herself, that it didn't feel like a Great White Savior narrative. Knowing what I know of Pierce, I can say with certainty that the less-than-stellar overtones were unconscious on her part, but an unconscious fuckup is still a fuckup and it kept me from enjoying the books as much as I'd hoped.
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Traitor's Moon, by Lynn Flewelling )

Barayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold )

In other news, an Ascender is me! Yes, I know it took me a while, but there were a few trophies I had to bag first.

It's very likely I got more of a kick out of defeating the Naughty Sorceress than I should have, but considering she managed to kick my ass twice before I kicked hers, it's understandable.

In other other news, I want my own, smaller keyboard back. I swear, I made more typos in this post than there are words. Heck, I probably missed a few. Sigh.

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Lily

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