cloudsinvenice: woman resting her head on her hand, thinking (Iron Man flying)
[personal profile] cloudsinvenice
I fell out of doing the Wednesday reading meme back in April, which is unfortunate because at the time I still had a backlog dating from the end of February to work on. So, nearly five months' worth of books...

Read ages ago:

Deadline by Mira Grant (second in the Newsflesh trilogy - SPOILERS for both it and book one): I took a long time to get into this because, whereas Georgia's narration in Feed pulled me in, Shaun is hard to like. Of course he's had the stuffing knocked out of him by Georgia's death; that we'd expect (particularly since he had to pull the trigger when she amplified), but he's also become enough of an arsehole to have physically assaulted his colleagues for bringing up that difficult subject. And it's happened more than once! He knows it's wrong, but he does it anyway. Shaun mentions how it bothers him that Alaric flinches when he moves too fast - as well he might, considering he previously broke Alaric's nose - and I don't get a sense that the author is apologising for or seeking to justify Shaun's behaviour (I'm genuinely not sure if I'd find it more or less disturbing if she resorted to 'red mist' cliches), but that doesn't make it any easier to spend time with him, and it's really strange that his colleagues are prepared to do so. The world they live in requires a certain brutal honesty, and I wonder why they haven't staged an intervention on their boss yet. Maybe they genuinely don't know if it'll make things worse: the elephant in the room for the whole book is the fact that since George's death, she's been talking to Shaun in his head, and he's been talking back out loud.

It's still a crapsack world - at least, it is if you're paying attention like the After The End Times crew, not content to just live in what amount to gated communities on steroids. As before, the musings on the psychology of people living the way most people do are really interesting. What does it mean to be safe? To be free? Are they mutually exclusive? There are still some people out there on the fringes of the scientific community who want to know the truth about Kellis-Amberlee (and spread what suppressed truths they already know), and that forms the plot of the book. It honestly feels a little bloated, but whether that's because it could've stood a more daringly wielded editor's pen or because it's just a very doomy book whose emotional slog makes it seem even longer than it actually is, I don't know.

What I do know is that it comes with a bravura final twist. Unfortunately, I was spoiled for that, but my curiosity about how it would play out made up for it. As good as the secondary characters are in these books, it's a relief to know that my favourite snarky, disabled reporter will be back in the next book (which I've resisted buying so far because the bookshelves are crammed as it is, but no doubt I'll cave soon), and I'm really curious about how the author is going to deal with the credibility strain of memory transfer. (I did get a little lost in the science of this book - it didn't quite snap into place for me the way the science of the previous book did - maybe I was just being obtuse, but there were moments when the characters were having epiphanies but I needed everything spelled out.)

But for my money, the biggest surprise in this book isn't the cloning of Georgia Mason: it's the fact that the central relationship subtly hinted at in the first book (and it was a masterly tightrope-walk of "you can either read this and not see it at all because that kind of thing doesn't occur to you, or you can read this as a shipper and go, "holy shit, she's really implying that, HOLY SHIT") is not just teased further in Deadline, but openly admitted and centred as a plot point. George and Shaun weren't just adopted siblings, the latter says; they were lovers. And the extent to which those around them sensed this and either engaged with or rejected the possibility in their own heads is interesting and varied. I think that, given the right chemistry, it would be amazing if two people with such similar passions hadn't developed at least an ambiguous relationship, growing up in such social isolation: fear of human contact is drummed into everyone in the post-Rising society, and with distant parents who treated them as a commodity, Shaun and George were always going to rely on each other. Whether you think that's right or not, it's a bold decision on the author's part to run with it, and I'm intensely curious about the ramifications of it all being out in the open in the third book, given that George is back...

I'm seeing reviewers on Goodreads who can't accept that Georgia, fanatically devoted to the truth, could have lied about the relationship throughout the first book. I don't find it contradictory. If George lied, she did so only by omission, and I'm not sure at what point, given the structure of the book, those readers would have found it plausible for her to state the full truth. Society has changed, yes, but not to the extent where their relationship will be seen by most as anything other than incest. I'm not even sure what the legal situation would be - presumably post-Rising, with so many adopted children, there is a greater risk of unknowingly related people getting into relationships, so one would think that there would be heightened sensitivity around such things, particularly given that intimacy in general is freighted with so much fear and suspicion because of the virus. That being the case, in many ways the Georgia/Shaun relationship is the perfect lens through which to examine societal attitudes in a world where people are in daily, denied, controlled terror of each other.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns - by Mindy Kaling - Fortuitously, I found this right after I got into The Mindy Project. It was very much like Tina Fey's Bossypants, which I'd also enjoyed, but not a lot about it has stuck, though "Why Do Men Put On Their Shoes So Slowly?" was a delight, and it was particularly satisfying to read about her desire for an all-female remake of Ghostbusters soon after the story broke that we would actually be getting one.

The Demon's Deadline by Tori Centanni (Book 1 in the Demon's Assistant series) - Full disclosure: Tori's a friend. Fortunately, she's a friend whose book I enjoyed a lot, or this review would be an exercise in painful diplomacy. Instead, I got to enjoy both a good story, well told, and the glee of watching a book in the well-trodden supernatural YA genre neatly sidestep that genre's major pitfalls.

Nicki's mother died in a car accident, and her own survival was thanks to a deal with the demon Azmos. In exchange for her life, Nicki's at his beck and call at all hours, delivering his messages to humans. Curious though she is about their content, she's okay with this being her life (which causes interesting friction with boyfriend Cam), and I suspect many teen readers will relate to her lack of career plan or drive: it rings true as a response to both her near-death (I relate) and the world we're living in, where no exam or college success brings the certainty of a secure future anymore. But complications do tend to ensue when you work for a demon, and when Nicki tries to dig deeper into Azmos's business, the danger mounts in a way seldom experienced while, say, flipping burgers or selling books.

The characters in this book feel like real teenagers, and the treatment of them feels responsible: sex, booze and drugs are around, but in an unglamorous, matter-of-fact way. It makes a nice change to see an established central couple with negotiated boundaries: I like that Nicki mentions that she won't have sex with Cam when he's drunk. This also makes it more affecting when faultlines appear in their relationship due to Nicki chasing after Azmos's secrets - it doesn't feel like the usual structure of "the chase, the will-they-won't-they, the false dawn, the false crisis, the real dawn, the real crisis". Cam is aware of her job, and supportive, so we get to skip the "nobody knows that our heroine is involved with supernatural shit" ...shit that gets so tedious in many books. And while her best friend is unaware, it's played with depth, because in light of her two bereavements (Nicki's grandmother declines and dies in the course of the book, devastating her father and leaving her conveniently alone as he flies out early for the funeral), it's realistic for her friend to worry that Nicki's sunk deep into drug use to deal with her pain.

It's not accidental that Nicki's story is bookended by these two deaths. All Tori's work that I've read is threaded with the theme of grief, and it's this, rather than some elaborate cosmology (I'm grateful that she's chosen not to reinvent the wheel with some epic pop-fantasy Christian good-vs-evil saga: there are demons in the world; just deal with it) that makes it meaningful. And strangely, we care along with Nicki when Azmos is threatened, too.

Just today it was announced that The Demon's Deadline has got a cover makeover, and you can now get it free in order to catch up before its sequel, In The Demon's Company, comes out in August.

The Lego Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz - I didn't make any special effort to procure this book for years because I assumed it would just be another collection of suggested models, but it turns out to have so much more depth than that. For each themed chapter, it shows a model (a spaceship, a car, a castle, etc.) and, rather than giving step-by-step instructions such as you'd find in a Lego kit, talks about building techniques while unfolding the chapter's theme and giving you lots of ideas to riff on.

It actually solved a problem for me, in that lately I've bought a few Lego sets while sorting through my collection of bulk-bought, mixed charity shop Lego, and while I enjoy following instructions to build a set model, the ability to free-build from my imagination the way I did as a child has withered in the face of all the tiresome fears of getting it wrong that plague us when we get old enough to be self-conscious about playing. Themed suggestions are just general enough to let you be creative, but specific enough that you don't find yourself sitting in front of a pile of Lego pieces paradoxically inert because being able to build anything means that, in practice, you wibble and don't know where to start. (Artists will know the I-don't-know-what-to-draw problem, and almost everyone I know with a huge book collection has stood tortured by indecision before the bookcase, unable to just pick something to read.)

But the book also showcases the work of expert builders - not Lego employees, but fans from an eighteen-year-old guy to a woman in her fifties, who describe how they became hooked on Lego and began building elaborate and often large-scale models. This is a delight to read because you get to plug straight into their various visual imaginations, with loads of detailed photographs providing countless, "I would never have thought of using those bricks/minifigures in that way to create that effect!" moments. Ultimately, this book is both inspiring and confidence-building, the missing link between earlier model idea books and the large-scale work of master builders showcased online: it's impressive, but it also makes me feel I can actually build amazing things too.

If you're not sure whether the book is for you, try googling the title plus 'spreads' to get an idea of how the opening pages for some sections are laid out. And if you're looking for more of a history of Lego, try the same author's The Lego Book, which is a really enjoyable look at the history of the company, the brick and the design philosophy.

Well, this has taken me into April. I'm going to try and post another batch of these every day until I get to what I'm reading now...
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"What can the cat-posters hope to gain?"

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