Master Booklist 2010

As of January 1st, 2010.
- denotes incomplete readings.
* denotes flocked review.

1. Divine Misdemeanors by Laurell K. Hamilton
2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (reread)
4. Branded Sanctuary by Joey W. Hill
5. Mercenary by Trista Ann Michaels
6. The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay [x-posted]

Under Heaven
by Guy Gavriel Kay
573 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Historical

Let me say first: READ IT NOW, if you are a Kay fan. Or a historical fantasy fan. Or a lyrical-writing fan. Or a Chinaphile (great references to follow-up in the Acknowledgements). Or a GRRM fan, because this reminded me of his epics. One similarity they share: what do you say in summary, when so much has happened?

In the beginning, this is the tale of a minor-aristocratic man in imperial Kitai who mourns his father's death by burying the dead of a great battle by a long-haunted lake. In honor of his travails, after two years, Shen Tai receives an outrageous gift from the White Jade Princess who married into foreign Tagura: 250 Sardian horses, Heavenly Horses from the far west, so very rare in Kitai. And so Tai is thrust unwillingly into a world of dance and music, of words and blades, of beauty and sorrow and love.

More than that, you must read for yourself--the journey is awe-inspiring. Though he does not shied from violence, Kay manages to evoke a sweeping epic feel without quite as much bloodshed as George R.R. Martin. There is beauty in Martin's story, too, but what I love about Kay--what shines in all of his novels, but especially this one and in Tigana--is the brief lingerings on significant minor characters, or insignificant major characters, and their paths decreed by the twin whims of fate and will.

Okay, I'll stop waxing now, I promise. Under Heaven ranks with Tigana and the Sarantine Mosaic duology in being one of my favorites of Kay's work. So go READ IT NOW.

Booklog Bankruptcy Liquidation [x-posted]

I've read barely anything these past few weeks and months, but today I finished Guy Gavriel Kay's newest novel, which didn't fail to awe me. And with that, I think it an appropriate time to quickly write up my backlog of reviews and start afresh, hopefully more on-time. (Note that the updated master booklist is on DW.)

Everyday Asian
by Marnie Henricksson
193 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Nonfiction/Cooking

Actually useful. I am supremely picky, enough to modify most of the Southeast Asian recipes beyond recognition, but that's just me. I especially appreciated the ingredient explanations (e.g. onions vs. shallots vs. garlic vs. scallions) and the genuine home-cook approach to Asian cuisine.

Ice Queen
by Joey W. Hill
211 pages
Genre: Fiction/Romance

Depicts a powerful romantic chemistry, but the ending left me unsatisfied. It does not illustrate how I perceive a switch relationship--Marguerite should be able to Master Tyler just as he Masters her, a uniquely equal give-and-take in a world ruled by unequal power... but when a (female) switch is paired with a (male) Dominant-only, and is portrayed as happy with this, it strikes my intuition the wrong way. Fundamentally, I am unconvinced that Marguerite can be a Mistress if she allows Tyler to utterly Dominate her.

Other than that quirk, it's a lovely romance story and recommended with the usual Joey Hill caveats. I do prefer her Vampire Queen series to this one, for the plotty intrigue and fantasy aspects.

Kings and Assassins
by Lane Robins
353 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

The sequel to Maledicte--more bloody, enigmatic, and divine gods. This one focuses on Janus rather than Miranda, although other characters get POV time as well. I'm not sure how I feel about Lane Robins's work. I liked this novel enough to earn it a spot on my limited bookshelf space, yet I don't remember very much a few months later, and memorability can be telling.

Demon Princess
by Michelle Rowen
? pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

Plot: girl discovers she is faerie half-demon royalty, must also decide between two competing love interests... what else is new? I expected and received fluff--a brief skim-type read while sitting in Borders--but still I was disappointed by the triteness of it all. Don't bother.

Change of Heart
by Jodi Picoult
447 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Mainstream

I'm not sure how to characterize this by genre--mainstream? It's not really "literary," but my tagging system doesn't distinguish. Oh well.

I had this on my TBR list but not very high-priority; a friend gave me a hardcover for my birthday, so I started reading on a whim (as usual) and got sucked in. Picoult is good at compelling reader attention, even if her work is of questionable literary merit. If you're interested in having heartstrings tugged about religion, the death penalty, and female self-esteem--this is the book for you!

Master Booklist 2009

As of January 1st, 2009.
- denotes incomplete readings.
* denotes flocked review.

1. Amberlight by Sylvia Kelso
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (reread)
3. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know about Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student by Loren Pope (reread)
4. The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville
5. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
6. The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom & Their Lover by Victoria Janssen
- Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology by Nick Gevers (ed.)
7. Fat Envelope Frenzy: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize by Joie Jager-Hyman
8. Fruits Basket vol. 21 by Natsuki Takaya
9. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
- Looking beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You by Loren Pope
10. The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden
- Worlds Apart?: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias by Dunja M. Mohr
11. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
12. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
13. Chalice by Robin McKinley
14. Westmark by Lloyd Alexander
15. Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
16. *Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
- Perspectives on American Politics by William Lasser
- Rugg's Recommendations on the Colleges (2008) by Frederick E. Rugg
17. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
18. Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss (eds.)
19. *Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert
20. The Kestrel by Lloyd Alexander
21. *Midwinter by Matthew Sturges
22. Slow Hands by Leslie Kelly
23. Questions and Admissions: Reflections on 100,000 Admissions Decisions at Stanford by Jean H. Fetter
24. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
25. Natural Law by Joey W. Hill
- Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers by Elaina Loveland
26. Rock Hard Apps: How to Write a Killer College Application by Katherine Cohen
27. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
- The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy by Nicholas Lemann
28. *Wildfire by Sarah Micklem (ARC)
29. *The Betrayal by Pati Nagle
30. His Lady Mistress by Elizabeth Rolls
31. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
32. What Colleges Don't Tell You (and Other Parents Don't Want You to Know): 272 Secrets for Getting Your Kid into the Top Schools by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross
- The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions by William G. Bowen & Derek Bok
33. Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro
34. Acing the College Application: How to Maximize Your Chances for Admission to the College of Your Choice by Michele A. Hernandez
- Documentary Expression and Thirties America by Bill Stott
35. Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America by Leon Dash
36. Stranded with a Spy by Merline Lovelace
37. The Black Jewels Trilogy: Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness by Anne Bishop
- The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm
38. Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton
39. Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges--and Find Themselves by David L. Marcus
40. *When the Tide Rises by David Drake
41. *In the Stormy Red Sky by David Drake
42. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
43. The Dark Reaches by Kristin Landon
44. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
45. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
46. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
47. Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by Yu Hua
48. L'etranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus
49. Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
50. Beloved Vampire by Joey W. Hill
51. Rhinocéros (The Rhinoceros) by Eugene Ionesco
52. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
53. Maigret et la vieille dame (Maigret and the Old Lady) by George Simenon
54. The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins
55. Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter
- Jhegaala by Steven Brust
56. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
57. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
58. Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop
59. Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid) by Molière
60. Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks
61. The Family Trade by Charles Stross
62. Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
63. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
64. Riversend by Sylvia Kelso
- Incubus Dreams by Laurell K. Hamilton (reread)
65. Mort by Terry Pratchett

NYE Backlog Eradication

I'm super-behind on reviews, so let's start the New Year afresh. The usual information plus comments if I scribbled or remember any.

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A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
353 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy

On first glance, this novel just seemed dang weird. Then I met a dear friend who adores Murakami and assured me that he was indeed dang weird, in a good way. Then I read A Wild Sheep Chase and personally confirmed that Murakami writes dang weird stuff--in a very good way.

The nameless narrator works in a small advertising agency, has a normal ex-wife and a strange girlfriend, and is one day sent upon a quest: to find the sheep with the black star on its back, as depicted upon a postcard from an old friend. What happens after that doesn't make much sense, but it's so glorious that I don't care. I mean, there's a picture of a sheep man. Murakami is at the epitome of both Japanese mainstream popularity and Japanese magic realism; I, of course, loved his existentialist themes.

That said, many of my friends are just bewildered by this book. Read it with an open mind; being familiar with magic realism conventions helps a lot. I am reminded of A Hundred Years of Solitude without the emphasis on folklore or family, or for that matter the sheer density.

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolpho Anaya

Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolpho Anaya
290 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Fantasy

More required reading, my least favorite of the five I had to read. Anaya is a wonderful writer with a talent for landscapes and symbols; I just wish he was less brusque with Meaning and Theme and This Is an Important Bildungsroman. The sub-subgenre, Chicano (as differentiated from Latino) magic realism, does not interest me much more than Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, a brilliantly written masterpiece that I can't bring myself to like very much.

Plot, you ask? Well, Antonio Márez is a young boy (age 6, I believe?) born to a happy but divided family--his father is a Márez wanderer of the llano, his mother is a Luna farmer who wants him to become a priest. Ultima, a wise old curandera or healer (Anaya mostly avoids the inherent pitfalls in this characterization), comes to live with them, bringing mystic if not magical events with her. Antonio's religious struggle throughout the novel was the most/only interesting part to me. For example, he secretly admires Florence, a schoolfriend and declared atheist who later meets a significant end. His devout Catholic mother is almost a cariacture of blind faith, while his father's subverted agnosticism feels natural. It's certainly a novel worth exploring further on issues of faith and belief, in the supernatural or otherwise; but I can't say I liked the book much. [/Keix's never-ending search for entertaining works of literary merit, Module 496]

The Dark Reaches, by Kristin Landon

The Dark Reaches
by Kristin Landon
292 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I picked this up from the library on pure whim. It's pulpish soft SF--fluffy to the max, but more to my taste than equivalently pulpish hard SF. Landon skims over space battles but doesn't shy away from gore (Exhibit A, the captured Cold Minds pilot). I'm vaguely interested in the worldbuilding, though not enough to seek out Landon's other books. The romantic relationship was interesting, not compelling.

Sorry I don't remember anything else... it's been a few months, and it was quite a forgettable tale. Warning for some serious backlog spam up ahead.

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
245 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Literary

Stevens is an English butler of highest repute and ability now serving a modern American employer, Mr. Farraday, who inherited Darlington Hall after Lord Darlington's (untimely?) death. The tale is structured, like Ishiguro prefers, as a rambling first-person narrative. Stevens reminisces at length, through convoluted verbal hedges and self-denials, about his long time in Lord Darlington's service and his complicated relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper.

This was mandatory reading for me, and I had high expectations of Ishiguro. It's important to note that narrative structure is about the only similarity between Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go (his wonderful dystopic SF novel); still, I did enjoy Steven's distinct voice.