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A very, very belated book round up. Spoilers throughout for things I didn’t enjoy or feel need to be spoiled. Shorter than you might think given how long it’s been because I didn’t do much reading while I was playing shell games with my living arrangements.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay: Set in the same world as GGK’s Sarantine Mosaic novels, this book is fantasy!Spain a few centuries later. The political intrigue is between three different claimants to the throne of the entire country and the fantasy!Moors who currently rule a large portion of it. The cultural pressures between the fantasy!Catholics, fantasy!Jews, and fantasy!Muslims provide most of what drives the plot.

The main characters are; Jehane a doctor and fantasy!Jew following in her father’s footsteps, Rodrigo a fantasy!Catholic and military leader, and Ammar a fantasy!Muslim and military strategist and not so secretly an assassin. All three of these are character types I enjoy in fiction. The professional woman who’s used to not being taken seriously and is starting to look up at the world and define herself outside of her career path. The soldier who is brilliant at his job and would rather be on his farm with his family. The man with the dark past who will do whatever he thinks is correct at the time. They’re all simultaneously competent and interesting people. There’s no point where one of them has to be less capable to serve the others’ plots.

The love and jealousy between them is played out in such a way that even if I don’t approve, I understand what’s happening and can find it interesting enough to put up with. I have mixed feelings about Ammar’s bisexuality. In some ways it’s playing into a lot of tropes. It felt like it was tossed on there because he was the “type” and felt all the more jarring because the main three aren’t characterized haphazardly in any other way. His feelings for Rodrigo are mostly implication while their feelings for Jehane are fleshed out in detail. On the other hand, Ammar is portrayed as intelligent and no less deadly in a fight for having had sex with men. Nor is his relationship with Jehane something that “proves” his relations with men were a fluke.

Ultimately, no one wins but some characters do live happily ever after. I feel like the epilogue was a letdown in a lot of ways but everything up until that point is exactly the kind of story I like. There’s humor, it’s not a grim slog to the end while also including wartime and political atrocities without glossing them over. That said, this is a book focused on medieval style politics and warfare. Violence is done to men, women, children, and animals. There are sex workers and soldiers barely into their teens. I think GGK does a good job of striking a balance in acknowledging the difficult parts of living in his setting without wallowing in them.

I loved this book. I’d recommend it to anyone with the patience for GGk’s writing technique.

Feed by Mira Grant: I don’t usually like first person narration but it allows Seanan McGuire to do a few things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. George is a highly unreliable narrator with an interestingly limited perspective on her world.

The premise is that decades ago, some people were very stupid and released the cure for the common cold into the atmosphere without adequate testing. It encountered a virus intended to cure cancer and mutated. The result was a virus that prevented colds and cancer and when triggered to its active state causes zombies. All mammals are infected but only those over forty pounds can become zombies. The zombies are accepted part of the world when the story picks up. The world didn’t end, it adapted. Pets over forty pounds inside city limits are illegal, blood testing is everywhere, and there are parts of the world you just don’t visit if you ever want to be allowed back into your neighborhood.

George and her brother Shaun are bloggers looking to create their own news site when they’re chosen to be the blogger team to cover an American Republican Presidential Nominee. The politics are what the book is really about. The zombies are the defining feature of the political landscape. Seanan McGuire enjoys studying epidemiology in her spare time and it shows. The information is dumps are a bit clunky and more useful later in the trilogy.

It’s interesting to see the way George edits and flavors the truth she tells the world. Even when most story conventions would have her word be unvarnished truth, she’s been kept in the dark and fed BS all her life. And she has major secrets that she neatly avoids talking about. Most of my love for this book comes from the narrative tricks McGuire pulls and the way it fits into the trilogy. As the start of the story, it’s slow and a little clumsy.

Deadline by Mira Grant: Shaun is an even more unreliable narrator than George and more open about it. The way his trauma induced psychosis is handled is really, really well done. His hallucinations aren’t just for edginess or comedic effect or angst. The very spoilery reason for them, their impact on him, and the form they take are all drawn together with a beautiful attention to detail. I can’t praise this highly enough.

This book is even more science heavy than the previous one but it feels less forced because the plot is more focused on the politics of finding a cure. Or more properly, the politics of pursuing avenues of research to find a cure. Illegal animal testing is front and center quite a bit.

I like it more than the first one but it’s very definitely the middle of a trilogy.

Blackout by Mira Grant: The end of the trilogy and it has two first person narrators. The make or break item is a really major spoiler. So:

SPOILERS

George and Shaun are the trilogy’s main ship. There was some clever narrative editing to avoid stating it outright in the earlier books. A lot of it relies on how far people will go to avoid making assumptions about sex that’s seen as taboo. Shaun and George were adopted by parents who raised them as an ongoing publicity stunt. They never got close to anyone else. It feels very much like it’s playing into the gothic horror element Newsflesh has going on. If I ever end up in another conversation about incest in fiction, this and Amber will be my examples for when I don’t mind it.

It’s also impossible to ignore. The entire trilogy is the sweeping story of their romance. It’s a crucial part of the resolution to the plot about finding a cure. It can’t be ignored and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a hard no for incest. (They’re not biologically related but everyone around them sees them as brother and sister. The people who expressed romantic interest in previous novels certainly see it that way.)

END SPOILERS

There are some fantastic side characters in this series. Maggie, Mahir, Buffy, and Beks are my favorites but most anyone who appears has a moment of characterization that really works. The one notable exception is explained.

Newsflesh is great for gothic horror, politics, and science.

Dragon Age: The Last Flight by Liane Merciel: Like Newsflesh, Dragon Age is about politics and a culture that’s become used to the zombie apocalypse hanging over them. This one focuses on two different elf mages, one fighting the Fourth Blight and one four hundred years later in the games’ “present day. The framing device is that Valya is reading Isseya’s account of the Fourth Blight.

Isseya’s parts were much more compelling than Valya’s. Isseya is the twin sister of the great hero of the Fourth Blight, Garahel. A Grey Warden is needed to end a Blight and Garahel was that warden. The picture Isseya paints is much bleaker than the one the games’ codex entries do but that’s to be expected. It’s been four hundred years. The book does an excellent job of showing Isseya’s path from a Grey Warden who didn’t expect a blight to happen in her time but will answer the call to a woman who has sold her soul and everything she loves for a future she won’t live to see.

By comparison, Valya is a young woman looking to join the Grey Wardens after Fiona held the vote that disbanded the Circles and turned her and her companions into fugitives. In many ways her part feels perfunctory and like it’s there to tie the book to the events of Dragon Age 2. With the exception of her final scene, nothing very interesting happens with Valya. She’s interested in elf rogue who’s already a warden. She struggles with her rage with the Templars. Reimas was more interesting than she was and I would have liked to have seen her perspective. An older human Templar might seem like a less obvious parallel but she’s very much a woman who’s questioning the choices she made for the greater good and how many more she’ll have to make before the end.

As awkwardly as Valya and Beritte’s interest in Catronel is handled, Isseya’s asexuality is handled decently (in my opinion as someone who is not asexual). She’s never stated outright to be aromantic and asexual but over the course of her life, she never engages in a sexual and/or romantic relationship. She blames her lack of interest on the blight but her brother finds love with Amadis under the same conditions. When she goes to find a connection to remind her why she’s fighting, she goes to her teacher and it works. She doesn’t regret not having someone the way Garahel has Amadis. Whether she’s one of the good guys is highly debatable but no more so than a majority of the other characters in the series.

If you like Dragon Age, it’s worth it for the lore. I really liked the backstory behind the setting for Mark of the Assassin. Character wise… I really like Isseya and Reimas interested me. That’s about it.

The Wells of Shiuan by CJ Cherryh: This book picks up where Gate of Ivrel left off. Morgaine and Vanye continue her quest to close the gates. I have no idea how to describe this without getting spoilery.

Spoilers

They travel to Vanye’s future. We don’t know where it falls on Morgaine’s personal timeline. The clans he grew up with have altered and the waters are rising. Everyone, human and alien, is in danger of drowning. A young woman native to that time tries not to drown too.

Neither Morgaine nor Roh is completely in the wrong. Roh wants to use the gates to save the people from their dying world by transporting them back to when the continent could support life. Morgaine wants to close all of the gates forever because of the potential for their abuse. Which in her personal timeline is a thing that has already happened. She argues that the people of the time Roh would open the gate on deserve to live their lives without a sudden influx of desperate refugees.

END SPOILERS

This series is dark. Fatalism is a central theme and the fact that there is no answer that will save anyone isn’t a spoiler. Many people will die no matter which path they take. Vanye clings to what honor he has by serving Morgaine. She has more power and more knowledge of what’s happening. They aren’t equals and don’t pretend they are. She feels she’s abusing his trust and continues because she sees no other option. She is the personification of death to thousands upon thousands of people. It falls somewhere between folklore and a standard stable time loop story.

Recommended for people who are into that.

The Fires of Azeroth by CJ Cherryh:

SPOILERS

The Conclusion of the trilogy finds a way to get even sadder than ending with people stranded on a drowning world.

Aliens and humans live together in peace in this time before Vanye’s. The difficulty is that that peace is based on the power of the gates. Turn off the Gate of Ivrel/Wells of Shiuan/Fires of Azeroth, and their power to maintain law and order goes with it. Without it they will be at the mercy of the refugees.

And that’s how Vanye and Morgaine leave them. They also leave Roh behind, giving the intelligence in him no way to continue body hopping. It ends on that bittersweet note. Roh’s better nature wins out and the people he ends his days with know their civilization is on the wane. And they’re simply in Morgaine and Vanye’s wake.

Exile’s Gate by CJ Cherryh: The first three are a trilogy and complete on their own. Exile’s Gate was written years later and it shows. The plotting is looser, several things that were subtextual in the trilogy are spelled out, and some answers of a sort come out in the last ten pages. The interpersonal portions are interesting but not enough to be worth the read over all.

Not recommended unless you really need to know exactly where Morgaine and Vanye went after their excellent ending in the previous book.

Finder by Emma Bull: I’ve read some of Charles de Lint’s short stories set in the BorderTown world and one by Patricia A McKillip. This novel is in keeping with de Lint’s short stories. BorderTown is the place where Faerie rubs against Earth and people who don’t quite belong in either world gravitate toward.

Orient and Fixer are friends and business partners (who don’t harbor romantic feelings for each other, secret or otherwise!). He’s a human with a talent for finding objects and she’s an elf with talent for all things mechanical. Together they stumble across something they can’t leave alone.

Time passes differently in BorderTown and while people can cross to Earth, humans can’t cross into Faerie thanks to wards and elves in general being xenophobic. For some humans, getting to BorderTown wasn’t enough. They wanted to go all the way to Faerie. And someone is selling a drug that’s supposed to turn them elfy enough to get there. The problem is, everyone who takes it dies. But kids keep taking it, hoping they’ll be the lucky one to get to see Faerie.

Orient, Fixer, and a self-appointed police officer named Sunny take it on them to shut that drug trade down. It’s quick and it doesn’t pretend to be deep but it was fairly enjoyable as PI novel.

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire: Book four is also about Alex and Shelby. This time they go to Shelby’s home turf in Australia. There are some interesting statements about Alex’s upbringing as a secret cryptozoologist against Shelby’s upbringing as a wildlife conservationist.

McGuire’s science background plays a big part in this book too. Everything from learning about the different kinds of venomous critters that live in Australia to the way aconite spread and colonialism messed up the local ecology. She makes an effort to have things make sense even when she’s throwing in things that aren’t how science works. She lets her characters be baffled and try to discover a reason. Some of the answers are pure fantasy but there’s a logic to it and the way the characters come up with their answers makes them believable as scientists in a fantasy world.

The interactions between Shelby’s family and Alex make me really unhappy. I don’t enjoy watching people insult their loved ones by refusing to accept their sexual/romantic choices and calling that caring. I don’t need everyone to like each other or get along. Family drama makes for interesting stories. “She’ll always be my little girl! Rarrgh!” chest thumping is one of the most off-putting things for a character to do when I’m supposed to see him and his daughter as close and loving. Even if Alex were just using Shelby, I would have a hard time seeing Riley Tanner in a positive light.

And in the positive column, the werewolves in this makes me so happy. It’s a form of rabies that originated in therianthropes and crossed species when people intent on exterminating therianthropic species followed rabid members into their hidey holes.

I liked it even with the Tanner family bits being frustrating.

A Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda:

SPOILERS

I rarely do this but I'm giving up. I have tried really hard to finish this book and I just can't.

Good Stuff: The world building on this is lovely. The level of detail is amazing and well thought out. Everything fits together smoothly and makes sense. Characters are consistent and their relationships with one another provide a dependable cast that's introduced smoothly enough that I don't feel like I'm being bombarded.

Bad Stuff: Most of the people in this valley seem like decent people but Czerneda tells me to like them and not in a convincing way. Not a problem except that this isn't just a book with a happy ending or even a book with a well telegraphed happy ending. This is a book where most of the characters seem certain things will end well for them.

The heroine is an awful person who has to be using her reality bending powers on the valley because everyone keeps going on about what a good heart she has. That would be pretty cool if it were done in a creepy way but instead the book just plows forward like this is normal behavior for an 18 year old. She has the emotional maturity of a 12 year old and the empathy of a rock. As of a little more than halfway through the book, this has shown itself in a few different ways. In no particular order:

1) Her decision to turn Wisp into a human which the plot hinges on. She was told to ask first so I know somewhere in the writing process it was acknowledged that this was an evil action but almost immediately Jenn's family starts reassuring her what a good person she is. She didn't mean to hurt him, therefore he'll forgive her. It wasn't really clear to me how much Jenn felt like she'd done a bad thing and wanted to be comforted versus how much Jenn felt like hurting her friend was the wrong thing to do. She still hasn't asked Wisp/Wyll if he actually wants to marry her. She just declared it in front of the whole town without talking to him first after not really asking if he wanted to be a human. Even when she realizes she was being a self-absorbed brat in the first case, she still doesn't even think about the second case. She thinks more about how tingly touching him makes her feel.

2) Her ability to assess other people and what they're feeling is low enough that in a real person, I'd recommend her taking classes on how to read people. Her father and aunt want her to get married and settle down because that's what their vision of her happiness looks like. Besides half expecting Jenn to burst into song like a Disney princess (which would have been an improvement), I was surprised to find out how reasonable her aunt's motives were. Then it turns out Jenn's father knows she's cursed and is refusing to tell her even as she sobs at him. It's bad enough that it's a revelation to her that he doesn't want her to just marry someone to take over the family business.

Then there's Roche. Jenn thinks he's harmless. I disagree. He followed her once and if she hadn't had a dragon watching her back, he probably would have kept at it. He obviously wants a sexual relationship but most of the descriptions of his behavior towards her are creepy in a way that comes close to escalating into violence. But she's confident that he would never try to hurt her and I have no idea why. I don't know if the author lost track of something here or why this is necessary. Roche is 11 years older than Jenn, which fine, it's the frontier and you take what you can get. But then the author slips in a lot of details that make sense for their dynamic but not for that age gap. For example, Jenn was born near the harvest festival and as a small child she was confused on the purpose of the celebration. When she first started going to school and found out isn't wasn't for her, Roche made fun of her for it. At the youngest, that is a 15 year old teasing a 4 year old. Then he grows up to be the guy who tries to prank and scare the girl into running away with him to get married. But no, Jenn sees no potential harm coming from him.

3) Jenn tells herself she needs to stand up for herself more often but almost all the time Jenn is doing what Jenn wants. The first time we see her she's leaving her sister to do the cooking and left someone else to do her chore filling the cistern. She knows she should apologize to her father but instead she goes off to talk to someone about toads. She knows people want her to stay away from this one path and so she goes there and thinks "but I never promised not to" is sound logic. I don't care that she realizes the people who warned her away from the path wouldn't accept that as an answer. She was still thinking of it as an acceptable line of reasoning to do whatever she felt like. I could see it as the path seducing her despite her knowing better except that she compares it to the time she fell through the ice after her father told her not to go skating. That makes it a pattern of behavior and definitely not the thought process of someone who gives in to other people's demands too easily.

If it were just the heroine, I'd hold my nose and keep reading to see where this wonderful world building goes. Instead, I feel this way to some degree about nearly all the human characters. Jenn is the sort of girl who goes skating because she wants to despite warnings and very clearly wants to leave the valley but her father and "Uncle" Horst don't tell her she's cursed to die if she attempts it. The dragon knows too but he's sworn not to explain anything the audience might be interested to know so I don't hold him accountable. What makes her father think she isn't going to nip down the road just to see what's there? Why does he assume she won't talk herself into taking just a few steps the direction she wants to go and then just a few more? In short, the author seems to be trying to sell me on the idea that these grown men are acting out of love for Jenn. To me, it looks more like they'd rather endanger Jenn's life through ignorance than deal with her being sad because of something they told her. If it were simply about her happiness, it's obvious that staying in the valley is making her unhappy and they're not explaining. That's not love, that's selfishness. Her father's confidence that Marrowdell itself will fix everything undercuts any urgency this subplot could have had.

That's the problem I couldn't keep reading past. There is so little sense that anything bad is going to happen that I stopped caring. Too many characters are sure things will turn out just fine. Most scenes have at least a touch of retread to them.

Bannan is a decent character but his POV is redundant at most turns. The book spends time telling us exactly who he is and why he's doing what he's doing, then it turns around and has the villagers wondering about what the reader already knows. We know why he's shaved his beard and packed off to parts remote so when Roche questions his motives and tries to make Jenn doubt Bannan, it feels empty. We know he has honorable reasons. We know he isn't going to kidnap Jenn or hurt her. On the reverse, when Bannan is making his discoveries about how wonderful Jenn is, we already know she's no farm maid who's content with her lot. We had loads of words on the subject from her already. Most of the things his magic reveals could be more easily shared from the dragon's POV because they're elements of Wyll's home dimension.

As of just over halfway through, the more I know about Bannan and Jenn, the more I sympathize with Wyll. Knowing less of him makes him more interesting. The problem is that the scenes of his that introduce new information are all obviously truncated to exclude anything that would reveal too much plot at once. Wyll has a conversation with Bannan where Bannan asks something plot related, the book cuts to another scene where something unrelated is happening, then the book comes back to Bannan and Wyll for Wyll to give a non-answer. It doesn't make me more interested, it just makes me think the author is dragging things out because she has so few ideas.

One of the ways Czerneda keeps slowing the book down is with scenes of food. Something plot relevant happens and then either people are eating or people are planning to eat. I get that it's the frontier and people's lives were focused on eating food, preparing food, and doing the necessary chores to grow food. But this is a magical place where the grain harvests itself and the toads make eggs from rocks. It isn't a quick mention of eating a meal before getting on with the plot. There are descriptions of what the food is, how it's prepared, who did the preparing and so forth. Food is a main character with as much screen time as Jenn. You're getting married? Better prepare a dinner to eat with your fiance! You're trying to bribe someone for information? Give him dessert! Feeling sad because you turned your friend human without his permission? Have a snack and some tea! New arrival in town? Have a big public meal to celebrate! Need an excuse to visit a neighbor? Bring him fresh bread and sausage!

Most of the action so far happened years ago. There was political drama that made everyone leave the big city. There was family drama with Jenn's mother's family not wanting her to go. There was her family sending a man to bring her mother home. There was an accident on the road where Wainn was hit on the head and two members of his immediate family died. Cheffy's mother drowned. Wyll had his wings ripped from him as a punishment for wartime activities he did as a dragon. Scourge had his armor ripped form his body. It's all already past. Even when slightly exciting stuff happens in the present, it's almost always offscreen. Bannan's ox runs into the grain field and is killed by invisible protectors of the grain but we only hear about it from the villagers. The closest thing to onscreen excitement in over 400 pages is Bannan and Jenn rescuing Wyll from drowning.

On a more minor note, the overwhelming heterosexuality of this book reached cloying levels when Hettie turned up pregnant. I don't necessarily mind totally when everyone in a book is straight so long as there is something going on besides straight people being straight. I guess there's something more going on with Jenn's curse but when the book isn't detouring to lovingly render everyone's dining habits, it's going on about how heterosexual everyone is. I don't really mind that Jenn's milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, that's pretty much a given with this type of book. It's the number of secondary and tertiary relationships that are romantic ones between men and women. Uncle Horst and Riss are secretly in love. Peggs and Kydd are getting married. Wainn and Wen are a couple. Hettie is deciding between Tadd and Allin. Bannan's sister is happily married. Jenn's aunt is married. Davi and Cynd are married. Tir is described as lucky with the ladies. Bannan, Wyll, Roche, and Devins all express interest in marrying Jenn. Of the adults still living not mentioned in this list, the only one with no marriage or other way of displaying his heterosexuality is the oldest living resident of the village. And like I said, not usually a huge deal for me but even Hettie and Peggs's friendship screen time is spent talking about boys as is a lot of Peggs and Jenn's sister time. Their aunt and father are constantly going on about getting them married and then about their courtships. Jenn has a chance to ask Riss about her dead by childbirth mother and after some cursory discussion of that (which still manages to be about her mother's relationship with her father) ends up talking about Riss's relationship with Horst.

I gave up when Wyll started trying to write a letter back to Jenn. She turned him human, she decided she was going to marry him, and she isn't going to stick around long enough to teach him about interacting with humans. She hasn't even asked if he really wants to marry her. He's known her since she was a baby. He loves her and he's a lot more forgiving about the shape change than I would be in his circumstances but he's not indicating any kind of romantic love and she's too wrapped up in herself to listen to what he's saying. It's still all about her and how guilty she feels and how confused she is and how she wants this and she wants that. And everyone's still praising her for having such a good heart. I just want Wyll and Bannan to go about their own lives until she stops acting like a 12 year old. I'm quitting because that's obviously not what's going to happen.

Festival Moon: This short story collection is in a format I’m not used to. The parts with Tom and Altair (from a previous novel by CJ Cherryh) act as connective tissue between the stories written by other authors. I don’t know that I can give an opinion on Tom and Altair’s story other than that it seems in character. So just picture each of these stories being spaced out by a couple pages of Tom and Altair running around during the Festival.

The idea of Merovingen is that it’s a human colony seeded by Union and bombed back to the Stone Age by an alien race in what the descendants assume is some sort of territory dispute. Technology is hidden for fear of reprisals by the aliens but the wealthy still have access to technology beyond current standards. Altair Jones has a motor and that’s it. Religious strife drives the politics in Merovingen while the city states are driven by jockeying for resources.

First Night Cruise by Leslie Fish: It’s an interesting idea. Two bards are “secret” rabble rousers who hire Altair Jones’s boat for the night. They’re using the cover of the Festival to orchestrate a miracle for one of the pro-technology cults. It’s fun but not something I’ll be in a hurry to reread.

Two Gentlemen of the Trade by Robert Lynn Asprin: Very cynical and also fun. If they were all like this one, I’d be really happy with this book. Two of Merovingen’s upper class families have had vendetta declared on each other for so long it no longer matters why. The two eponymous men are a doctor who has taken money to poison a patient and a hitman who drowns a young woman. The reasons are steeped in bitterness and irony.

Cat’s Tale by Nancy Asire: I found this frustrating. A young man attempts to rescue a cat from classmates intent on selling her. It’s like watching a sitcom and waiting for the punchline while the laugh track goes off at random. The student is so clearly telegraphed to be the butt of the joke that I just felt second hand embarrassment.

Deathangel by Mercedes Lackey: Two Adventist boys know secrets they use to get Tom Mondragon to save them from the hit that’s been out on them since their mother’s death. Probably at the hands of other Adventists. It felt a bit bland to me. Not bad, just nothing special.

Sword Play by Janet and Chris Morris: This is my kind of political intrigue. A man from one of the other city states has taken on a spy mission ostensibly to raise his family from middling merchanters to top of the heap. Really, he’s hoping for a glimpse of a woman he saw years ago and had chemistry with. He’s trying to keep both his handlers and his bride-to-be’s family from noticing. His overtures to the girl’s family are cover for trained operatives to try to take out Tom Mondragon. The results have enough layers to be interesting. I would read more of this.

First-Bath by Lynn Abbey: The above mentioned attempt to assassinate Tom Mondragon has more effects for the city’s wealthy. This is a good follow-up from another point of view.

Night Action by Chris Morris: A little less interesting than the one written by both Morrises. It goes back to the merchanter and covers his confrontation with Tom Mondragon himself. Good but whatever Janet Morris contributed, the loss is there even if I can’t pinpoint what’s missing.

Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand by Ursula K. LeGuin: A short story collection centered a tiny coastal Oregon town. It’s a very sad collection with a focus on the ways in which we can never know each other and the loneliness of trying to reach out.

Foam Women, Rain Women: It’s written as prose but it’s poetry about the Oregon coast. It’s not really my thing but evocative.

The Ship Ahoy: Covers the different hotels in Klatsand before settling in at the cheapest one and concentrating on the woman who runs it. It gives the details of her disappointment with the world, her husband, her job, and her clientele. She isn’t self-pitying. She’s just always planning for a nice thing that never happens. And then the next nice thing that doesn’t happen. And the next. And the next. For years.

She begins to imagine a friend. Or maybe he’s real. It’s hard to tell.

Hand, Cup, Shell: My biggest difficulty with this story was the way it flowed between the three protagonists without warning. Three generations of a family are staying in a beach house of the summer. Gret is of the youngest generation and just finished her freshman year of college. Her mother, Mag is an instructor at a community college. Her mother Rita is a retired secretary.

The family history is convoluted and while some anvils get dropped, it’s mostly an effective discussion of the way the workforce has historically treated women and the ways it continues to value men. Rita outlived her male relatives and made better money during the Great Depression because women’s work was cheap. Places that wouldn’t hire a man at full pay would hire a woman at part. Rita watched her father fail to get over being supported by his wife. Not in a way that lashed out but an inability to adjust his self-perception.

Mag supports Phil and the opposite is happening. Phil is fine with not being the breadwinner. He’s fine with not making money at all. He takes what jobs please him, does what chores please him. The story never calls it out directly but both his wife and daughter go out of their way to do small things to make his life easier while he acts like an impediment to the chores they do.

Gret’s portion is more focused on trying to figure out where she fits in generationally. Her part is actually fairly hopeful.

The story covers more than that but that’s the heart of it and it’s arranged so well. It’s a bit of a downer but it’s not being depressing simply for the sake of being depressing.

Geezers: I think this is Ursula K. LeGuin trying her hand at Raymond Carver’s style. It wasn’t very effective for me.

In And Out: A dying woman, her daughter, her neighbor, and her caregiver all struggle to give and receive company and affection. I can’t tell how much of this is depressing for the sake of writing a depressing story and how much is a commentary on a relationship where the mother lives vicariously through the daughter and she in turn feels both obligated and smothered.

Bill Weisler: A disabled man found order and structure in the army. He requires more support than he’s currently receiving. He’s being paid for his artwork but a relatively small percentage because he had no idea how or when to negotiate with his distributor. His primary concern is that people are paying too much for his artwork. Deeply, deeply uncomfortable on a personal level for me.

True Love: I liked this one. A bibliophile who loves books more than anything has a fling with a man. He inevitably disappoints her and rather than blame the other woman he’s seeing, she had a pleasant afternoon where she and the other woman chat and she dumps him. She’s fine, she has her books. I liked this more than I thought I would.

Sleepwalkers: One woman as seen through the eyes of everyone in Klatsand who knows her. What they see is more reflective of them than her. I liked the twistiness of that. It’s done in broad strokes and that works for the piece.

Quoits: Shirley outlived Barbara. They’d been together for years and still didn’t have a word for their relationship that they liked. With all the time LeGuin spends on female relationships, this is the first time I’ve read her take on a sexual one. Even then, one of them is dead and her live-in is talking to her daughter after the funeral. Given that they were apparently happy together, that puts them up on most of the couples so far, I guess. I’m left a little unsure how to respond.

Crosswords: A woman contemplates her relationship with her dead mother and reaches out to her daughter as a result. It definitely gets the racism problem we have correct. The bulk of the story happens near where I grew up.

Texts: A woman sees words in everything. China Mieville did it better.

Hernes: This is a complicated piece that I really enjoyed. It drifts back and forth in time across a century and five matrilineal generations of a family. All four mothers are single parents for different reasons. Fanny outlived two husbands and a son. Jane divorced her husband having realized she couldn’t put his infidelity behind her. Lily was assaulted by the son of her mother’s business partner. Twice because she needed the first time to have been love. Virginia had an affair with a man she had no intention of marrying and decided to keep the child.

There are so many excellent moments that are a little anvil-like from time to time. Jane realizing she wants a moment of nostalgia with her ex but that he would interpret it as regret for leaving. Virginia’s argument with her ex where she tells him exactly what she wants while he insults her without even noticing and still can’t hear her. The way Jane decides to never serve her granddaughter’s grandfather at her job again and doesn’t care who sees her as unreasonable. He raised his son and caused him to assault her little girl, he doesn’t get service. The ways they support each other without understanding one another. Jane sees her marriage as a failure. Lily sees angels. Virginia tries to capture them both in her poetry, trying to see herself.

What makes this one different besides its length, is that the characters may never overcome the isolation of being in their own heads but they aren’t alone. They love each other and they have each other. Even when Jane outlives her parents, her step-father, her brother, and her daughter she still has Virginia. It might not be worth the whole book but I did enjoy it a lot.

Date: 2015-10-30 03:07 pm (UTC)
meridian_rose: pen on letter background  with text  saying 'writer' (writer)
From: [personal profile] meridian_rose
I enjoy your reviewing style :) EG " decades ago, some people were very stupid" could come straight of a Pratchett novel and probably sums up a lot of novel plots and real world events.
"she dumps him. She’s fine, she has her books" sounds like a good resolution :)
"incest in fiction" I have an outline for a blog article on this in response to a tumblr post because No, Tumblr Assholes, you do *not* get to tell me not to "ship incest" and here's a ton of real life examples of things like aren't really incest that you think are, real world relationships you'd disapprove of, and canonical incest pairings that you might not like either but damn well exist.
Why is it on Tumblr you can supposedly never ever hate on someone for their sexual activities, kinks, or any woman ever, and then BAM NO THIS IS EBIL U ALL NEED JEEBUS THIS IS SOOO WRONG about consensual activities, kink, and relationships when someone's personal squicks/religious beliefs are hit. I've seen more than one kink shaming/policing post which sits very badly with the sex positive and mandatory sex sides of Tumblr.

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