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Book Notes: Most of 2009

At the beginning of 2008, I started posting "Book Notes" entries about all the books I read. That lasted a whopping five weeks or so and then I slacked off, and really, my reading frequency has dropped precipitously. However, I do have a list of (I think) all the books I've read since then (not in any particular order, though). Here is my catch-up, with mustard.



Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy, L.A. Meyer, 320 pp.

YA pirate historical fiction! Fun and simple, well written, engaging. Looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

The Spiderwick Chronicles books 1 - 5 and A Giant Problem (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles), Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, 848 total pp.

Middle grades fantasy, kind of simplistic but still easy to get into and blow through in a matter of hours. I think I read all six of these books in less than a week's time. I understand why the kids love these books.

Specials, Scott Westerfeld, 400 pp.

YA science fiction. I read the first two books in this series (Uglies and Pretties) a couple years ago and enjoyed them even though they weren't challenging or groundbreaking. Because of that, this felt like settling into a familiar armchair: comfortable and relaxing, but nothing new. I'll probably end up reading the next book, Extras, just because I'm a completist, but I don't feel the urge to run out and get it immediately or anything.

American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, 240 pp.

YA graphic novel, difficult to categorize. Three related but unique storylines (one a realistic story of a Chinese-American kid, one a sitcom plot with a dreadful Chinese stereotype character, and one a folkloric story of the Monkey King) are used, incredibly skillfully, to convey what it's like to grow up Chinese in America and explore racism, family, cultural heritage, and identity. It's easy to tell why this was a finalist for the National Book Award, and a winner of the Printz Award. Very highly recommended.

Sun of Suns: Book One of Virga, Karl Schroeder, 318 pp.

Science fiction with a strong swashbuckling adventurous bent. Virga is a giant Dyson shell, within which float myriad mechanical suns, cities that spin to generate artificial gravity, and flying ships. The science behind all of this is fleshed out quite well and you can tell Schroeder loves playing with the ideas. On top of that he's put together a bunch of interesting social and cultural structures and crafted an engaging and fast-paced narrative. A great read.

Transmetropolitan Vol. 3: Year of the Bastard, Warren Ellis (illustrated by Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos), 142 pp.

Science fiction graphic novel. Spider Jerusalem is the idea of gonzo journalism taken to the extreme in a dystopian future society. If you know Warren Ellis, you probably know Transmet; if not... well, it's packed to the gills with mind-bending ideas and disturbing imagery. Ellis is a master of pushing trends past the brink into the realm of the tasteless and doing it in a believable way. I love this series, but it's not for everyone.

Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut, Warren Ellis (illustrated by D'Israeli), 128 pp.

This was an awesome and unexpected birthday gift from the_jenya. It's Ellis' first major comics creation, and very prototypical of his later work. Churchyard is the victim of a successful science experiment to make someone immortal, and as a result has lived far longer and seen far stranger and more disturbing things than any human should. As with almost all of Ellis' work, this too is set in a future dystopia, but unlike his later work it's less refined. Instead of taking a handful of ideas and crafting something specific out of them, it seems like he's just throwing everything against the canvas and seeing what takes shape. The story doesn't suffer for it, thankfully, and Churchyard, sort of an Iggy Pop-meets-James Dean character with a strong sense of personal morality, is compelling and likeable in his constant drive to off himself, with justice. D'Israeli's artwork is sparse and simple, and does a solid job conveying the essentials of the story. Recommended if you're a fan of Ellis' later work. It's a unique experience to see something more raw and primitive than his current stuff.

New Genre #4, edited by Adam Golaski and Jeff Paris, 141 pp.

Since meeting golaski a few years back, I've been reading every issue of New Genre, the speculative fiction periodical that he co-edits, and I've enjoyed every issue. This one, though, has by far my favorite story of any of them: "The Last to be Found" by Christopher Harman is one of the best ghost stories I've read in a long time. Everything about it does a great job evoking emotion, and on my first reading it did what many so-called horror stories don't: left me unnerved, turning on lights to keep the dark away. I remember that from reading spooky things in my childhood, but it doesn't happen often anymore. The other three stories in this issue were also quite good, but none stuck with me so well as that one.

Out of the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst, 272 pp.

YA fantasy. Sarah Beth is one of the nicest authors I've ever met. She's cute and funny, and friendly to everyone, and her writing makes it obvious that she absolutely loves being an author. This book is the sequel to Into the Wild, and both explore the lives of fairy tale characters who've escaped from their eternal servitude to the tales themselves and are living as regular people in our world. I think I actually enjoyed the sequel more than the first book, but it probably wouldn't have been as good without having read the first.

Realms: The First Year of Clarkesworld Magazine, edited by Nick Mamatas and Sean Wallace, 256 pp.

Speculative fiction. Clarkesworld Magazine is an online monthly periodical that publishes at least two pieces of fiction each month from new and established authors. Their fiction runs the gamut of sf from slipstream to horror to hard science fiction to straight fantasy, and they do a good job of varying their stories. That said, the stories in this collection seemed kind of hit and miss. While I found them all entertaining, some of them weren't as stunning as others (it's been a while since I read the book, so I can't point at specific ones here; I just do recall this being my strongest impression of the collection as a whole). That said, the good ones are very good, and a majority of the stories fall into that category, so it's worth picking up. Plus, Neil Clarke is a great guy and I'm a fan of small presses, so the book's worth buying for that reason alone in my opinion.

Worse Than Myself, Adam Golaski, 212 pp.

New weird. I bought this from Adam at Readercon in July, and he signed it and wrote "look forward to the review!", and ever since then I've felt guilty that I haven't gotten around to reviewing it. Finally, the weight is lifted! Adam really seems to know his horror fiction, and every time I talk with him about it, the things he says really pique my interest, and I'm always eager to check out the authors he recommends. I didn't hesitate when I saw he had published a collection of short stories of his own, and upon reading it I wasn't disappointed. Like I said earlier, the most memorable horror I've read has left me vaguely disturbed and creeped out for a while afterwards, the sort of feeling where you're a bit nervous going around every corner. While the genre "new weird" isn't the same as horror, at its best it can evoke similar feelings, and practically every story in this collection did that for me. While many of them aren't outright scary, they're just off-putting enough to inspire those disquieting thoughts and emotions that leave you thinking for hours or days afterwards. The collection was quite satisfying, and I'm glad to own it.

New Genre #3, edited by Adam Golaski and Jeff Paris, 92 pp.

Spec fic. This issue of New Genre took me an embarrassingly long time to read. I think my reading slowdown hit just after I started reading it, and after that I didn't pick it up for long stretches, which is too bad because all four of the stories in it were captivating. It's not the best issue of New Genre I've read, but I enjoyed all the stories, and especially "Glass-Stoppered Bottles," which did a fantastic job evoking the rainy French countryside and the mystery of an unknown place.

Blankets, Craig Thompson, 582 pp.

Graphic novel, autobiography. I don't think I can say anything in praise of Blankets that hasn't already been said better by someone else. It's a moving and evocative honest portrait of the elation, pain, confusion and triumph of growing and loving, and on top of that it's a stunning achievement of storytelling and art. I loved every page, every panel.

The Expectant Father; Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be, Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash, 249 pp.

Non-fiction, parenting. I picked this up and finished reading it a month or two before Sarah actually got pregnant. It's very accessible, well-written, and open-minded about non-traditional relationships, families, and lifestyle choices, which pleased me. It has a lot of very practical, matter-of-fact info, and goes into a lot of detail about many topics. I felt like I learned quite a bit reading it.

Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughn (illustrated by Niko Henrichon), 136 pp.

Graphic novel, based on a true story. This is Vaughn's fictional account of what might have happened when three lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during the American bombing of Iraq in 2003. It's at turns amusing, exciting, poignant, and heartbreaking. It's a very quick read that conveys a powerful story; Vaughn is a supremely talented writer, and Henrichon's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Very highly recommended.



So I guess that's everything I've read since early February 2008. Not a very long list. By my count, I read 21 books last year (if you count the 6 Spiderwick books I read as one, because they are all very short). I'm glad I didn't take that 50-book challenge.

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