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Wednesday, 2 July 2014 21:47
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Right, okay, this is just getting RIDICULOUS -

One paragraph book reviews!

10 books: highlights include Judith Butler, Jackie Kay, and Sarah Waters )
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Right, okay, been far too long since I did one of these. Kind of trailed off in 2013 there, but here goes:

1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

I enjoyed thinking about this book more than I enjoyed reading it. )

2. The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall.

Oh, come on, everyone dumping on the book (including the writer of the foreword in the edition I own) (!!!), she and Jane Eyre would have been total BFFs. )

3. A Kiss Before Death, by Ira Levin.

Competent but not hugely compelling. )

4. Borstal Girl, by Eileen Mackenney.

There is a lot of swearing in this book. )

Now I'm reading: Yu Hua's To Live in the original Mandarin. Not as grueling an endeavour as I hoped, due to judicious attendance of Mandarin lessons + having read the English translation + having seen the movie about three times. Also, bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. But to be honest, I'm not reading very much at the moment and it sucks, you guys. I haven't yet sussed out a public library close to where I live and being broke means that I really can't afford to buy books, even secondhand. THAT BEING SAID. At some point I really want to read these:
- Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selassie
- The Orchard of Lost Souls, by Nadifa Mohamed (!!!!!!!)
- Staying Power, by Peter Fryer

Any other recs welcome! I started rereading Jane Eyre before I left Singapore, but didn't get to finish it. Still not impressed by (the lack of engagement) with how so much of its racism feels inherent to Jane's creation of her self through narrative, but also I got reminded of how much I enjoy 19th century feminist literature. Maybe I should start reading George Eliot?
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I have other things to do, like studying for the GRE or packing for London, but let's face it: reading fiction is the best and funnest. In this entry: I (belatedly) make good on my 2013 resolution to read more novels by POC. More novelists to explore: Xiaolu Guo, Sanjeev Sahota, Taiye Selasie (yes, I am using the Best of Young British Novelists 2013 as a resource, a gambit that has so far paid off), Teju Cole, & Mo Yan. Also: new Claire Tham novel about CRIME AND IMMIGRATION! Exciting! ... anyway, to the books:

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh

My review amounts to 'Good, but too long'> )

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith.

Zadie Smith's least good novel, but still compelling in parts. )

The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi.

Precocious, but extremely respectable debut. )

Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood.

By far the most comic novel Atwood has ever written. )
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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz.

Reread. The new Great American Novel. )

Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman.

Briefer review than this series really deserves. )

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith.

The JKR novel. Better than The Casual Vacancy )

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Possibly the dumbest review I've ever written. No spoilers! )

What else what else. I'm sure I'm missing a couple of books, but this year's book-keeping records have been distinctly shoddy so that's no surprise. I've finished Culture & Imperialism (while waiting in the queue to submit my visa application, whoo, life is full of moments of situational irony like that), but thoughts on that will have to wait as they're currently fermenting. I am also reading Anna Karenina and enjoying it much more than the last time I attempted it (I was fourteen, there were 500 chapters, and I gave up when Tolstoy wrote his entire chapter on Levin's agricultural habits). Levin is such a dick though!

fire & hemlock.

Friday, 17 May 2013 15:04
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Fire & Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones.

I felt totally bleak and desperate after finishing this book. What a good book, though! I think it might be one of my favorite DWJs - it achieves a psychological complexity that didn't quite work for me in Time of the Ghost, and tied that up with really intriguing thoughts about the way fantasy and magic and time and childhood works. I really, really loved it.

wordvomit )



Sunday, 6 January 2013 08:39
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Escape from Camp 14, by Blaine Harden.

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a North Korean gulag and was the first person born in a North Korean political prison camp to escape, and this is his memoir: brutal and harrowing and potentially triggery )

Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon.

This had some good bits - like the part at the start where he talks about how the standard for 'good fathers' is drastically, simperingly, unfairly, low - but at the end I just found that I didn't really care? As a memoir filtered through the recurring theme of his gender - I definitely felt like at some points that Michael Chabon didn't really have that interesting a life, which is probably not the impression you want to give your readers. And also - I'm not sure how to explain this, I just wasn't very interested in his perspective on life, in a way that is probably connected to.... the demographic of his being a middle-class American male. WHO KNOWS.

Islam and the Arab Awakening, by Tariq Ramadan.

A really good, and really nuanced book - blather )

I meant to review Code Name Verity, but I feel that deserves a post all by itself. (SPOILERS: I REALLY LIKED IT)
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Stopping for a Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Kind of a short, fun read - DWJ's at her best when skewering the grown-up world of etiquette, and here she does it to great degree re: visitors. I read this in the library so can't really quote from it, but delightful! Not one of her best - and I don't know that she really excels at short stories as opposed to the full-length novels - but really really sharp and fun.

Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse.

This is kind of embarrassing to admit - oh whatever - but I have to admit I am constitutionally incapable of telling Jeeves & Wooster plots apart. Intricate as they are - usually, idk. Wooster nearly gets married to Madeline Bassett? There's a piece of clothing Jeeves doesn't want Wooster to wear? Aunt Dahlia or Aunt Agatha come bursting in on Wooster? YOU SEE MY DIFFICULTY. So... this was a fun read, but not outstanding by any measure of the word!

Although this part was cute:

Read more... )

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick.

Brilliant and harrowing. )

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves - and Why It Matters, by B.R. Myers.

Interesting, but I disagreed with about 60% of this. )

Long Road Home, by Kim Yong.

"memoir of growing up in a comfortable existence in North Korea, only to be thrown into one of the worst prison camps in that country - and then escape to write about it all."

Read more... )

Finally - on the last day of the year I bring to you: the end of year book meme!

meme )

To round off an extremely long LJ entry, here's the full list, in all its unformatted and chronological glory!

The List )


Sunday, 30 December 2012 19:27
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Sneaking this under the wire! I actually have four more books I want to review but probably tomorrow, as I want to do this justice.

Postwar, by Tony Judt.

THE history of post-WWII Europe. )

Anyway, who wants to talk about Europe with me?!

#124 - 127.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 11:17
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Taking a break from revisin' to write down what I thought about some books.

Possession, by A.S. Byatt.

To be honest it's long ago enough, and I don't have a copy to hand, that I can't give a very detailed review of this - I really liked it, and I think it's a good book, but I didn't love this. Part of this may be personal (give me the novel about three doctoral candidates writing their dissertations on legal theory, who're sharing a flat and also falling in love with each other, now). Part of it comes down to a wider problem about accessibility in novels about academia; not only insofar as the hyperacademic, relentless intellectualising of the characters can get frustrating, but also to the extent that participating in academia dooms you to unlikeability. THEY'RE JUST SO UNHAPPY AND SELF-AWARE ABOUT IT THO.

Nevertheless, cracking good literary mystery, and you have to give her lots of points for writing all the poetry (which was mostly good enough to convince you they were classics). I did enjoy that Byatt was reflective enough about the pitfalls of academia to skewer everyone who came into to the picture, even her protagonists, for it. And that's sort of all I have to say?

The Archaeology of Knowledge, by Michel Foucault.

This entire review is 'Idgi... 'I'm going to criticise the shit out of it anyway' )

The Rule of Law, by Tom Bingham.

Lord Bingham represent )

Silent House, by Orhan Pamuk.

If I gave out grades for novels, this would probably be a B. )

PS. I'm really tempted to review all my law books but I probably shan't, hahaha! That being said: John Eekelaar's Family Law and Personal Life is very good, but why doesn't he (and a bunch of other academics) ever acknowledge the great intellectual debt they owe to Martha Nussbaum and Philippa Foot?

#121 & 122.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 10:12
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Two books I read on the plane. Expect me to read basically nothing else until December rolls around... still, it's been a good run! I definitely didn't expect to read over a hundred books this year.

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

SO GREAT. This should basically be required reading for everyone, and I am glad to see that in some places it is.

that's all I have to say without quoting

I'm pretty sure I read the original 1980 edition so I'd love to read the extended new one?!

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte.

Mostly liked this. tw for discussion of abuse. )


Friday, 7 September 2012 16:08
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Partners in Crime, by Agatha Christie.

A short story collection linked by an overarching plot featuring Tommy & Tuppence Beresford, whom I am incredibly fond of - the format worked, better than it did in The Big Four. It was a really delightful partnership! Sometimes Tommy wins, and sometimes Tuppence wins, and sometimes you think Tuppence wins when really Tommy does, and it's all very silly and twisty and parodic. Stuff I liked: that they got bored, that they jumped at the chance to take on a covert assignation and literally play at being detective (such puppies!), and that neither of them are really on top of the game yet, so they don't reach superhero levels of brilliance. They're just really likeable, I think. ♥

Poirot Investigates, by Agatha Christie.

Classic Poirot - Hastings is incredibly dense, and Poirot has foibles. For some reason, that was literally the only thing I can remember from this book. So, uh, cool, but not very involving, I guess?

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Gah, I loved this - Charmain is exactly my kind of heroine, by which I mean 'spends far too much time lounging around reading and being useless but also knows it and is delightful anyway', and also her biggest ambition is literally to be an archivist at the Royal Palace. Nerrrrd! Also, the way DWJ writes not-perfect families is just perfect:

quotes & spoilers )

They Do It With Mirrors, by Agatha Christie.

I liked this! No spoilers )

Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones.

no spoilers )

Currently reading: Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I have somehow become a person with Opinions on how urban fantasy should be done, apparently. /o\

#109 - 112

Saturday, 1 September 2012 20:32
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My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk.

Fantastic. If you've read this, COME TALK TO ME ABOUT IT. )

The Burden, by Mary Westmacott.

I was looking forward to reading a non-mystery novel by Agatha Christie but this wasn’t enjoyable at all; I actually enjoy her take on romance and love a lot most days but she really needs a good plot to hang this on? She tried to structure it in three acts here but that didn’t really work either. I quite enjoyed the uncle figure who also provided good Toryish comic relief but that was about it, everyone else was so wet.

Democratically Speaking, by Chee Soon Juan.

Mixed )

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie.

I’m not sure if this is because I read a blurb on Wikipedia years ago but for one of the very first times I can say I TOTALLY CALLED THIS. Not opportunity, but totally motive! That never happens! :D

… I don’t remember much about this, but it’s apparently one of Christie’s best and I can def. see why. Worth a read.
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I've just finished the first five episodes of Borgen: it is such a good show. It's basically everything I care about - gender, indigenous people, quotas, and ruminations on the nature of democracy - and some things I didn't, but now do - politicking, power struggles, and corporate boards. I know zero about Danish politics but Borgen has it right on with the most odious Labour Party leader I've seen in a long time (Tony Blair anyone?). SO GREAT, YOU GUYS, IT'S SO GREAT. Also, full of terrifyingly competent people - I think the person I identify with the most is by default the hapless secretary (who isn't that hapless and has good instincts; just gets intimidated by the people she's surrounded by)???

Birgitte come to me.

Also, I read a book!

Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown.

Kind of forgettable. )
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I was tempted to create a Guardian account just to comment on this piece of shit article. Because, obviously, there's only ONE WAY to be gay and we have to stick to that ONE WAY because... culture! practice! solidarity! who the fuck knows. I'm all behind protesting and going to Pride, but 'having a diva' is SO essential to maintaining the white male face of LGBTQ culture, you guys. Sure, the article has some interesting ideas - he seems to be edging into a debate about separatism vs. assimilation here - but he seems to think that the best way to maintain a unique culture is by hearkening back to the worst bits of gay (and I do mean gay rather than LGBTQ) culture with all its white male privilege. Gross. Read this post instead. Resistance and self-critique 4eva.

Black Hearts in Battersea, by Joan Aiken.

very short review but some spoilers )

The Amazing Maurice & His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett.

Objectively great, I just didn't get into it? idk. )

Dido and Pa, by Joan Aiken.

Eh, this was all right. I don't know how I felt about Simon's random proposal to Dido at the end of the book - how old is she even there? Is was introduced here and she wasn't as cool as she becomes in Is and Cold Shoulder Road, either. I do like Penny's redemption here, though, and Aiken has a gift for describing beauty - and music.
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This is me reviewing all the books I've read recently that aren't Winter's Bone.

(Seriously - if I haven't brought to bear enough in the last review post I made: Winter's Bone is so good. It's good in a way that makes me want to watch the film for a fifth time, and makes me want to reread it and understand more and read up on Ozarkian tradition, and more in that universe - what happens to Sonny and Harold? Relatedly, if you've watched the film but not read the novel, read THIS FIC, which draws on backstory in the novel but is a fic for the film; anyway it's great. Then come talk Winter's Bone with me, omggg.)

Step-Ball-Change, by Jeanne Ray.

So Jeanne Ray is totally predictable and I love it. Kind middle-aged lady who has one big driving passion (baking, journalism, dance, flowers)? Check! Beleagured husband in public service? Check! Self-absorbed younger daughter? Check! There are usually a couple of sons hanging around here, too. And then SOMETHING HAPPENS, and everyone gets through it with humour and grace, and people learn a couple of things about themselves and their family, and people grow closer together. This is kind of the novel version of The Cosby Show. Not that I've ever watched The Cosby Show, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about. /o\

light spoilers )

The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie.

Reading this made me kind of sad because in my head Miss Marple is my favourite detective ever, but I don't think I enjoy the novels she's in that much, if that makes sense? Anyway, this was pretty underwhelming even if it was really clever (I totally should have caught the Big Clue in the middle, argh); maybe because the setting (a hotel) just didn't do it for me and neither did the characters, perhaps Agatha Christie was still trying to get a grip on the kind of Middle England As Narrated By Miss Marple she was trying to depict here (this was only her second Marple novel, after all), or maybe because spoilers start here, I guess )

The Mysterious Mr Quin, by Agatha Christie

I'd read and loved the Harley Quin stories in Problem at Pollensa Bay but this collection as a whole didn't shine for me? I think it takes remarkable skill to sustain a universe in which the supernatural is an expected and reliable element (as it must be, in detective fiction) because the whole point of the supernatural is to be unpredictable. So... kudos to Agatha Christie, I guess. This format, especially when repeated throughout the entire collection, just isn't an inherently successful one, I don't think.

the ending is kind of amazing though )

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman.

DUDES I CONFESS. Totally missed the Neil Gaiman bandwagon! Never read anything by Gaiman besides Good Omens and Stardust, picked this up, totally loved it - I've been told American Gods is even better, which makes me writhe in glee and anticipation. For some reason, after reading Good Omens, I'd come under the impression that Pratchett was responsible for the funny parts and Neil Gaiman was responsible for the myth-y bits, and came away from Anansi Boys totally surprised at how funny this was. WHY DOES NO ONE EVER TELL ME ANYTHING?

seriously )

So THAT IS THAT. I am now reading Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, though very slowly and warily (scarred forever by The White Castle tbh) and liking it a lot so far. When we next meet up, [livejournal.com profile] forochel is lending me Lord of the Rings! THAT'S RIGHT I AIN'T EVER READ IT BEFORE. [livejournal.com profile] extemporally: forever a handful of decades behind the pop culture curve.
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Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell.

Really glad this is number one hundred. I've been wondering how I should review this novel - Winter's Bone the film was absolutely one of my favourite films I've watched this year, if not ever, not that you can't tell it from the incredibly protracted discussions I had about it, um. So I knew I was going to enjoy the novel too, but I wasn't sure how I was going to talk about it on its own terms.

A long-ass book review in which I go into THEME and CHARACTER. Spoiler: I loved it )
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Calling Invisible Women, by Jeanne Ray.

AWESOME - middle-aged Clover Hobart wakes up one day and finds that she's become invisible. not a long review but cut because some spoilers - not huge explicit spoilers, but spoilers nevertheless. whoops! )

The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones.

I liked this a lot but it wasn't my favourite Chrestomanci book; I guess a lot of that is down to my personal hangups about how I associate DWJ with a particular kind of Englishness and so the Italian setting here kind of knocked me off-course, which is weird, because I didn't think that DWJ failed at writing Caprona or anything like that. In fact, it was pretty great!!! I was a fan of all the Petrocchi-Montana partnerships, esp. ahhh spoiler cut ) and the singing especially was great. I... just don't have a whole lot to say about this novel, is all. /o\

Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Someone (I forget who) told me that Witch Week is one of their favourite Chrestomanci novels and OH MAN I TOTALLY SEE WHY. Like, this was such a weird perspective because in all the Chrestomanci novels magic is front and centre in a way it was (but wasn't!!!) here; I mean in the sense of this world being completely similar to Real Life so that when magic or witchcraft showed up it was this huge threatening thing.

It hurts to be burnt. )

Is, by Joan Aiken.

I always tend to think that Joan Aiken is much less famous than she actually is, with the result that whenever I read one of her novels I always end up beating at my chest and rending my clothing and doing some seriously weird things with sackcloth and ashes and being like WHY ISN'T SHE MORE FAMOUS THOUGH??? Throwbacks of being of the Harry Potter generation: writing YA suddenly seems so much more lucrative and glamorous than it actually is.

This review is all about Charles Dickens and also is way too long. )

Cold Shoulder Road, by Joan Aiken.

Not as brilliant as Is, but I think I make it pretty clear in my last review that that's a pretty high standard. I'm all talked out now but I enjoyed this! I didn't think the Dickens mojo was as strong in here, if only because it was pretty different in terms of theme and character - Dickens can do a lot of things, but he never really paid any attention to 'somewhat dysfunctional and mismatched families trying to work it out while saving the world' without reducing it to caricature, so.

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters.

ANOTHER DICKENS HOMAGE and no I'm not even kidding, GUYS this is so obviously the lesbian version of Great Expectations and this sentence goes on for a while. )
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The Fairy Godmother, by Mercedes Lackey.

A SHORT BUT DAMNING REVIEW: under a cut because I know some of you are Mercedes Lackey fans. )

Let The Circle Be Unbroken, by Mildred D. Taylor.

Fucking fantastic - actually, no, there were a lot of different plot strands all over the place, but who cares because they were just all amazing. spoilers )

Then I proceeded to reread The Ladies of Grace Adieu but I'm not counting that; except to say that it's even more amazing than I remember and also Susanna Clarke is probably the standard by which I measure all fantasy* ever (unless it's Diana Wynne Jones). Mr Strange & Doctor Norrell shoutout!!!

* what I really want more and more is fantasy that acknowledges its cultural roots in some way, hence I think why I love Mr Strange & Doctor Norrell for refusing to elide THE KYRIARCHY while not making it the main point (though that is also great! she does that quite subtly in The Ladies of Grace Adieu, I think) of her narrative. Also I would like fantasy about ~~the frontier~~, basically like Cathy Park Hong except in prose (tho even that's optional) and with added magic.

Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia Wrede.

I tried to be kind with this because it was probably written a bit younger than I was expecting, but it turns out that I have, against all expectation, quite recently become the kind of reader who has Strong Opinions about fantasy universes, so all through this I was like yelling NO BUT DRAGONS DON'T EAT COOKED MEALS!!! (dragons may be kind but biology, obviously they still have to eat raw meat) and WIZARDS AREN'T EVIL!!! (maybe so individually but.... not as a class) and stuff.

Also I really appreciate the message that princesses are boring and girls don't necessarily have to be princesses, because like... really, I am all behind that, but also it was so unsubtle I just got bored with it. See also: me reading books meant for 8 y.o.s and being a jerk, etc etc.

Julie & Romeo, by Jeanne Ray.

Jeanne Ray basically writes the same protagonist over and over again, doesn't she? She's lucky that her characters (and her writing) are just so goddamn likeable. I loved Eat Cake and I really enjoyed this - basically Julie & Romeo are proprietors of two feuding family flower firms (say that three times, real quick) and meet in late middle age and fall in love, against the wishes of their family. So yeah, this was pretty great in that it was all about older people having a meet-cute and actual sexuality and ~~engaging in narratives of empowerment~~, and also career fulfillment. Such a breath of fresh air, and also has that vaguely kind, drily comic narrative voice that is so - watch my huge arsenal of vocabulary here, ladies and gents - likeable. Awesome! ♥

I also read Calling Invisible Women and the remaining Chrestomanci novels but I'll review them later yis

88 & 89.

Saturday, 4 August 2012 12:21
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The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones.


Sense & Sensibility, by Jane Austen.

... huh. )


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