sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
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Here is a batch of mini-reviews and notes on books I read from May to October. I started including descriptions from other websites but didn't do that for all the books. Also, please note there are potentially triggering scenes and events in some of the books (e.g., rape, childhood abuse, incidents with dubious consent, violence). Please let me know if you need more detail.

33. Burndive by Karin Lowachee
From Booklist via Amazon
Ryan Azarcon, the son of a notorious starship captain and planetary aristocrat and grandson of an admiral and diplomat, is a good-looking, spoiled, young celebrity constantly hounded by the media. He is also, by virtue of his pedigree, in the middle of all the conflict generated by the ongoing war with the alien strits, whom Lowachee introduced in Warchild. As this story opens, Ryan is desperately trying to escape the memories of a bombing at his grandfather's embassy. Then, when his father takes unpopular action, Ryan is targeted by assassins. To protect him, Captain Azarcon orders him aboard his ship, the Macedon. Similarity to recent headlines and their generators lend plausibility to the tale, as does Ryan's reaction when he realizes that mediacrats can be deadly.

- I read this series of books mainly because of glowing posts about the first book, Warchild, by marina on Dreamwidth so I'm going to cheat a bit and point you to her post about Burndive which crystallizes issues I had with the book but couldn't express
- after this post, I kind of want to read a version of the book in which the protagonist and his mother are really close and actually happy with each other and their lives without his father (excepting, of course, when they encounter actual tragedies in their lives, e.g., when Ryan is present at the terrorist attacks in Hong Kong)

34. Cagebird by Karin Lowachee
From Booklist via Amazon
Lowachee's third space opera depicts the conflict begun in Warchild (2002) and Burndive (2003) from another point of view, that of a young pirate. Although only 22, Yuri Kirov is a former pirate captain now in stir doing a life sentence. Then Earth Hub black-ops agents make him an offer he can't refuse: to return to the pirate organization as their agent. Lowachee interweaves the past and the present, showing the episodes in Yuri's past that formed his present attitudes and actions. She uses this technique skillfully, and produces a seamless whole featuring some memorable characters, including Ryan Azercon, the protagonist of Burndive, as Yuri sees him. This installment in the series stands on its own very well, so there's no need to know its predecessors before plunging into it for good action reading's sake

- it's been a while since I read this but I do remember I enjoyed it and  liked the alternative perspective from the antagonist of the previous book, who is now the protagonist of this one
- one thing that bugged me about all three books was the overlapping time periods in which we already know some of what will happen, removing some of the suspense

35. Ocean of Words by Ha Jin
A series of short stories about Chinese soldiers near the Chinese-Russian border in the 1970s. Interesting, varied and definitely providing some insight into the perspective at that time and place. I wish I'd noted which stories were the best examples but I did note that some of the political machinations were disturbing to me and my perspective.
36. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
A collection of essays, reviews and articles the author has written for various publications. I especially enjoyed "Dead Man Laughing", the piece about her memories of her father, their senses of humour and then that extending to her relationship with her brother.

Her piece on rereading books was thought-provoking even though I don't completely share her view on the pleasure of rereading. There were also a couple of thoughtful pieces about her feelings and experience as a person of mixed race.

I didn't enjoy the pieces that were more literary analysis as much, partly because I haven't read the books in question and also because I wasn't familiar with some of the concepts she was using.

37. The Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
I was trying to give this series another go (I had read a later book not realizing there was a series) but I'm going to copy someone else's description because it sums up a large part of my thoughts on this book and the series.
"A book in the Inspector Chen murder mystery series. This one was the same as always, some murdered woman and the man who did her in, and Inspector Chen caught up in the politicking of early 1990s Shanghai." via stephiepenguin here:

Also, I was increasingly annoyed by the poetry.

38. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang
I heard about this book via this post and had a similar reaction.

39. The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh
I liked the combination of mystery, conspiracy theory, comment on colonialism, time shifts and just plain engaging writing.
40. Pulse by Lydia Kwa
I had previously read "The Walking Boy" by this author and didn't really enjoy it.  I gave this book a go anyway because I recognized the setting in the initial scenes of the story (Toronto's west Chinatown) but found again that I didn't really feel engaged with the characters though the book did try to touch on different ideas, themes and issues.

41. Choose Me by Evelyn Lau
I didn't look up the author till after I finished this collection of the short stories but having done so, the recurring theme of a younger woman becoming involved with an older man became much more understandable though I didn't enjoy the bleakness of the stories at all.

42. The Monkey King & Other Stories edited by Griffin Ondaatje
A collection of folk stories popular in Sri Lanka though not all are Sri Lankan in origin. Retold by both poc and white authors. Some were straight-forward retellings (as far as I can tell without knowing the originals) while others moved the settings, changed the characters, etc. I think I would definitely have benefited from knowing the originals. Does anyone have recommendations?

43. The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee
This is a new style for the author who's previously written sci-fi. I found the writing overly and unnecessarily formal compared to the writing in her sci-fi books and that might be why I couldn't really care more about the characters, especially the female protagonist. Despite that the plot was interesting but paced strangely to me. Events would happen and suspense builds but ebbs away without any kind of satisfactory resolution. Still I'm intrigued enough to read her follow-up books, especially since the ending for this book was such an obvious cliff-hanger.

44. Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami
I really liked the way the immigrant characters learned to make a life for themselves and grew to love their adopted country. I also was drawn in by the characters and their relationships - their strong feelings (positive and negative) and complications, the tight character focus - and it hit me every time events in the wider world affected the characters' lives, for example, the Partition and the murder of Indira Gandhi.


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January 2013

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