The TBR tag

I wasn’t actually tagged for this, I think – but I’ve seen it going around on several blogs I read, and felt like joining in!

How do you keep track of your TBR?

Good grief. I try to add interesting-looking things to my to-read shelf on Goodreads, but I’m pretty sure some stuff lingers in my amazon/audible wish lists too. I add pretty much everything that looks interesting, as reminders to future-self.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

Definitely mostly e-book. I buy print when there’s either an insane backyard sale thing going on, or when there’s something really special about it. A few days ago I pre-ordered a signed, illustrated hardback of a story by Seanan McGuire, for example. (And thus convicted myself to three weeks of cupboard-scavenging for food. Worth it.)  Oh, and I have a hardback of the Gormenghast trilogy on its way to me from the Book Depository, because it’s illustrated and has a foreword by China Miéville. And I want to read it.  So, yeah.

How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

On Goodreads I join some monthly buddy reads and stuff – it’s great to get to read a longtime TBR with a group/companion.  So that’s one way to determine the next book – another is to keep track of my ARCs and when they’re going to be published, so I don’t, um, betray them with laziness.   Inbetween all that, I choose according to whim, and usually as a sort of direct response to what I previously read, because I prefer not to read too similar things one after another. So a complex space opera is likely to be followed by a YA fantasy, for example.  It’s just how I prefer it.

A book that has been on your TBR the longest…

Uuuh.  I seem to have added several books the first day I started using the to-read shelf on Goodreads, in January 2012.  It looks like I started out tracking to-reads because I wanted an easy view of which Hugo winning novels I hadn’t read yet.  The very oldest entry is Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, which I am infact extremely eager to read, I just… obviously haven’t made it happen yet.  Sadface.

A book that you recently added to your TBR pile…

Roger Clarke’s A natural history of ghosts: 500 years of hunting for proof.  An online newspaper review appeared in my twitter feed and I instantly added it.  I imagine it would make a nice companion piece to Mary Roach’s Spook.

A book on your TBR strictly due to its beautiful cover…

Ah, um, I mentioned earlier a few hardcovers coming my way in the mail because of illustrations and whatnot, so they probably count.  And, though I’m not sure it counts – I’m planning a complete re-read of the Discworld novels, while I go about buying the lovely new hardcover editions.  My first time Discworld read was put together of paperbacks from two or three different print series, and then as I caught up with current publishing, I bought the hardbacks, and then e-books.  I have to assume this happened to other Discworld readers, too.  Anyway, for some of my favourite books, I consider it worth the money AND the shelf space.  I actually have to buy a new shelf for them.  Going to IKEA in a few days, infact.   (Speaking of which, I’m very amused by the cover/gimmick of Horrorstör, but will probably pick that one up in digital format anyway.)

A book on your TBR that you never plan on actually reading…

None? I only add things I’m genuinely interested in, though obviously not every title is a good match for every day/week/mood/life-situation.

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re super excited for…

Oh, MANY! Let’s go with the next Neal Stephenson novel, Seveneves, which has an amazon page and a publishing date, but zero information aside from that.  It amazes me how so many other people “gave up” on Stephenson after Reamde and Anathem – the latter is a huge favourite of mine, and, well, Reamde was a pretty funny adventure, if nothing else.  So, yeah, a new Stephenson novel in May 2015 sounds like the most perfect birthday present a fat robot could possibly wish for.

A book on your TBR that everyone’s read but you…

Hm – depends on who “everyone” is!  In the general booksy world it feels like everyone is waiting for more Patrick Rothfuss, but I haven’t read The Wise Man’s Fear yet. I read the first book and it was a nice pageturner and all, but not enough of a hook to make me rush for the next book, clearly.    But if we’re talking about the “everyone” I have actual conversations with, or have had conversations with in the recent decade,  I think the answer is the Illuminatus! Trilogy.  It’s been looming over me for yeeears.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you…

City of stairs!  I’m absolutely going to read it, I’m just trying to behave myself and avoid the purchase until I’ve read the half dozen other very-new books I haven’t gotten to, yet.

A book on your TBR you’re dying to read…

Unnnnh, Ancillary Sword!  How I didn’t get started on this the very day it was published is a mystery. Or, well, no, because I had a couple of buddy reads and also Civilization: Beyond Earth, but just thinking about Ancillary Sword is making me froth a little bit.

The number of books on your TBR shelf…

Hah.  Like I said, I tend to add everything interesting-looking, and am not completely successful at keeping track of it all in one place.  On Goodreads the to-read shelf is 331 books.  I’m pretty sure I own a couple of hundred books I haven’t read yet.  I blame kindle daily deals and sales for ruining my self control aspirations.

(You want to answer these things, too? Be a rebel, do it un-tagged. I did. I’m okay.)

The book thief, by Markus Zusak

The book thief Book Cover The book thief
Markus Zusak
Young adult, Historical fiction
Knopf books for young readers
First published 2005

I may not have been the last person in the world to read this, but it certainly feels that way, at times.  I chose the audio version, by the way, so a brief comment on that: Narrator Allan Corduner is well-suited for the task, though in the first 30 minutes or so, I found the recording a bit unclear, like the audio quality was off somehow.  His voice lends itself well to the book's identified narrator.

2nd world war stories have their own brand of atmosphere. I'd have said "sentimentality", which is true for a lot of the stories, though maybe not so much for the actual events.   And maybe it is differently felt in a European country that was occupied at the time than it is in the US?  I won't pretend to know,  though I do imagine our history curriculum in school covers more of that war, and less of, for example, Vietnam.    We grow up reading about our resistance movement and our Quisling and beloved-author-gone-nazi, et cetera.  With grandmothers talking about how the soldiers didn't really take much pleasure in seeing the kids starve, so they gave them candy, and food when they could.

This story is set in Germany, following young Liesl through meeting the strangers who are to be her foster parents, learning to read, stealing books,  jew marches and bomb shelters,  being written a book by a man in the basement, eventually writing a book of her own.   It's most definitely a story of characters; The whole thing relies on you taking the bait, growing attached to the man with the accordion and the woman who leaves the window to the library open.

I was very hesitant to start with, afraid this was going to be like a bucket of gooey sentimentality dropped on my head.   That could easily have been my experience if I was craving a different kind of story, but, fortunately, these things work out sometimes.  The book set its hooks in my tear ducts and didn't let go.   (Do you know, by the way, how annoying it is to get all leaky-eyed while wearing glasses? Eyes eject a LOT of salt and goo and you're stuck doing a lot of glass cleaning. Now you know.)

A film has been made, I know,  though I haven't watched it.  Personally I would have thought this more fit for a mini-series, to be aired through the last few days of the year; The book already feels a lot like the kind of cosy-but-sad family drama I grew up watching with the rest of the house through dark winter evenings.  Before netflix and with only one or two available tv channels, of course, but there are probably still some people who spend time together like that entirely voluntarily.  I suppose. Probably.

Who should read this? Anyone who specifically asks for a tearjerker, a little coming-of-age-ness,  something slightly historically educational for younger people.  It isn't really the kind of genre fiction I normally read, my favourite WW2 books are definitely Blackout / All Clear by Connie Willis,  but The Book Thief is considerably lighter - in multiple ways - and is probably a favourite to a lot of different types of readers.

Who should leave it alone? Anyone who'll get cranky and angrily resist pretty blatant attempts at grabbing hold of your emo glands.  I know, I'm like that a lot of the time.  It's inelegant and often feels a bit cheap.  You; you should pick up Connie Willis instead, she'll make you cry too but you'll feel dignified while doing so.



Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and Rue Book Cover Rosemary and Rue
October Daye #1
Seanan McGuire
Urban fantasy, Supernatural
1st september 2009

I have to start by telling the tale of how I came to read this book, because it describes my life as a reader of things, and I want to share. Okay? Okay.

It starts a few years back; I'm busy trying to read all the Hugo nominees, so I pick up this Feed book, by Mira Grant. I've noticed some buzz around it before, but dismissed it, because it looks like a pretty average zombie novel.  It turns out to be a great zombie novel - full of the kind of things I want, which is tons of information about the spread, the virus, the mechanics of the infection - and good characters in a setting that allows them to do things I like to read about them doing.  So I read the rest of the trilogy and the tie-in stories. I realise Mira Grant is another name for Seanan McGuire.  I read the new series starter Parasite, which also pushes all of my buttons, at least all of my oooh, parasites!-buttons,  and pre-order the coming sequel.   I read Sparrow Hill Road, which almost feels like it's set in the universe of the tv series Supernatural, in a good way.

Haphazardly, I start following the author's twitter and tumblr accounts, and develop a blushing author crush. My short summary: Smart, funny, has cats.   And writes a LOT of books that I happen to enjoy.

I come across a thing she's said about a female protagonist she's written,  October Daye,  and how she was almost rejected at first because of appearing too mean/bitchy/unlikeable.  And how this objection became invalid once it was pointed out that, if replacing the name October Daye with for example Harry Dresden,  the "unlikeable" was suddenly no longer unlikeable at all.

This is relevant in several ways,  and probably darted right into my to-read-soon-sphere because, well, I have enjoyed reading the Dresden files, but at the same time find some stuff in those books, oh, problematic.  Okay.  Inevitably, I want to find out about October Daye.  October Daye pushes through the other books I was planning to read.

...And now that I've read Rosemary and Rue, I'll tell you:  Yes, this is fine.  It's a series starter and has some classic series starter issues, but it's okay: I know how to adjust my expectations when diving into a long-ish urban fantasy series kind of thing.  This is a rich, detailed, secret world in the nooks and crannies of San Francisco; it has creatures I don't know well from other mythology-waffling things.  There is a beautiful lack of vampires (though I imagine I'll forgive even vampires, should they appear later on).    October Daye is a bad-ass changeling who makes it through the book battered by gun shots, cursed by supposed friends, betrayed by others, and harangued by her demanding siamese cats.  Not the only cats in her life, mind you.

Another enjoyable detail about October Daye is that she's undeniably a grown-up. I mean, even not considering the expected lifespan of changelings, she has a full background,  and a bank of experience that informs her reactions and choices.  She's not a teenager, not everything that happens to her happens for the first time ever,  and that's refreshing.  How often do you get an adult female urban fantasy/paranormal protagonist?

I could ask myself - would I have enjoyed this book as much as I did if I had picked it up at random, knowing nothing about it, having no prior knowledge of the author, not having put it into a genre context before even starting?    I don't know!  I don't know that it matters, either.  As leisure readers all know - sometimes your frame of mind and the book you read just clicks.  Sometimes they creak and crumble against each other. Sometimes a book like that will click with you at a later occasion, when things are different.

And a part of my mission on I, fat robot is to rid myself of the idiotic notion that I'm supposed to consider books objectively.  I need to convince myself that's not how it works, and that's okay. So I don't have to list the objective virtues of this book: The prose flows nicely, the characters have a comfortable amount of texture to them, events have plausible consequences, the magic system is internally consistent and interesting.

The series gets better in later books, I've heard - of course it does.  (It's unfair to keep talking about the Dresden files here, but they didn't really hold my attention very well until, oh, the 8th book or so? Before that, I read them at a pace of one in a year, maybe. )  (Do I have to explain why I read those first books anyway? Maybe later.)

Willful child, by Steven Erikson

Willful child Book Cover Willful child
Steven Erikson
Humor, Science fiction
Tor books
November 4th, 2014

Space - the final frontier.

Ok, when you read the above, whose voice was saying it in your head? Because that's going to matter to how you read the novel Willful child.   It might not be worth the effort if you don't have a certain amount of Star Trek in your heart.  Me, I've never watched the original series, but I've loved (and occasionally loathed, hush) all of the next generation and even voyager (which is a series that gets a lot more hate than seems reasonable, by the way).  I've been immersed and interested enough to at least consider picking up tie-in novels.  This leaves me a little blind to how much of this book is really available to, um, other people.

Our protagonist, fresh-from-the-academy captain Hadrian Sawbeck, perfectly calls to mind all the worst traits of captain Kirk, which is where a lot of the humorous paragraphs are anchored. He has selected the rest of his crew largely based on how hot they looked in the photo attached to their file, which is why we get a near-languageless pretty woman at the helm, as an example.  The rest of the crew has a neurotic claustrophobiac "medicated up to the gills",  a bitter drunk,  a vulcan-like tactical officer whose logic appears to have been replaced with nihilism and/or chewing tobacco.  The ship's doctor is a wobbly deflateable alien, apparently an expert on human anatomy.

The ship, Willful child, spends most of the story under the criminal command of a rogue AI named Tammy.

Hijinks ensue.

Unfortunately, I'm personally not hugely entertained by these hijinks, but I'm pretty sure that's just, well, me.  I know Steven Erikson to be intelligent and upsettingly funny from what I've read of the Malazan books, and I also know a frightening amount of people feel genuine affection for captain Kirk, so - yes, it's not the book, it's me.    (I am a Picard type of person, in the inevitable Star Trek captain personality identifier way of things. Which means I'm left with a raised eyebrow and a dry request for tea, earl grey, hot.)

So this is a fast read - and to many readers, I'm sure, a hilarious one.  I enjoy the attention paid to the smallest of details - and that wonderful true-to-genre thing in which sharp, harsh observational truths about what it means to be human suddenly comes pouring out of the most unexpected characters.

Verdict? If you like geeking out over campy space opera, occasionally wear pointy ears and do the hand gesture thing, and might understand why a remark about the name Wesley means more than it does? Go on, give it a shot - you should have a couple of fun hours in there.  (Unless you despise the whole stupid bravado thing even more than I do, of course - in which case you'll need to be very certain you're in a mellow frame of mind, first.)

If you don't know Star Trek at all, though, I'm not sure how much this novel will do for you.  It is essentially a silly little adventure, which has its own charm, but I don't think it would be quite hefty enough for me if I didn't have the context. I could be wrong!  But, well, in the category "humorous space opera", there should be more suitable pickings.  Not that I can think of one right now - possibly some John Scalzi would fit the bill?

The year’s best dark fantasy & horror, 2014 edition, edited by Paula Guran

The year's best dark fantasy & horror, 2014 edition Book Cover The year's best dark fantasy & horror, 2014 edition
yearly anthology
Paula Guran (editor)
Dark fantasy, Horror
Prime Books
June 17th 2014

Do I need to mention, to start with, that I'm not a very enthusiastic short story reader? I've been trying to mend this for years now, because there are so many awesome authors writing really awesome things in short form. I've read some that I genuinely liked, so I know I have it in me. Still, I find it so much harder for short stories to stick to me, you know? Time/immersion is one of my issues.  The other one is that quite a lot of short stories are of the "window"-variety, you know, they aren't actually stories, just glimpses of something going on somewhere that might have been interesting if you spent more time there.  I'm frustrated by that kind of thing.  I always want story.

But, hey.  I read this anthology,  The year's best dark fantasy & horror, 2014 edition.   A lot of it was enjoyable, too! I don't really know anything about the editor, Paula Guran, but I did know a lot of the names on the list of authors, which was what compelled me to read this thing in the first place.  The nice thing about a huge collection like this, of course, is the opportunity to discover new names to add to the mm, interesting-list.

Some of the stories were, inevitably, uninteresting to me. In a collection this size, that's no shocker.  Easy to forgive and forget, though, when there are highlights like these:

Phosphorus by Veronica Schanoes

I recently read about radiation poisoned factory girls in The Poisoner's Handbook (which is a great piece of non-fic for anyone with any curiosity about poisonous things and how lucky we are to inhabit a decade in which there are some sort of regulations) - so maybe I had some special interest in this short story about an Irish immigrant girl in London, poisoned like so many of her colleagues. Told in a haunting second person voice, the necrosis is detailed as much as old Nan's dreams of Eire.  Oh, yes, Old Nan. She knows a thing or two about, uh, a thing or two.  The story is brimming with atmosphere and some classic ghostliness around the edges.

(I thought I remembered the name Schanoes, and I did, because a while ago I read the short and similarly themed novella  Burning girlswhich can be had for free from Tor, because Tor is awesome like that. Schanoes is a name to remember if you have a penchant for hopeful/miserable immigration era spookiness.)

Shadows for Silence in the forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

Lengthy dark scariest-of-scary-forests story, in which some female characters kick ass, and man is generally worse than even a bunch of creepy zombie-ghosts.  It might sound like a spoiler, but it can't be, because just reading my sentence about it isn't going to convey any of what Sanderson makes you feel.   He takes the time to allow you to invest in the characters,  feel the darkness, scramble for your silver trinkets,  and the length allows some real narrative structure, so this made me very happy. And somewhat haunted, even a week after reading.  Silence and her family will be difficult to forget.

(I know, I know. More Sanderson is on the to-read list.  It's not a list. It's the cloud of titles sliding in and out of my most immediate awareness zone. Sanderson will slip inside it once I get some other epic fantasy things out of the way.)

The Plague by Ken Liu

Ultra-short, but a huge favourite to this reader, who has a throbbing heart for evolutionary/post-human ethical debacles. Or, well, horrors. It's often horrors.   These few pages pack a heavy punch,  though the "the tables have sure turned!"-thing isn't exactly unexpected or shocking. It's just harrowing. And neat.  I love it even though I wish it was a novel, or even three novels.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Last December I visited Prague, and went to stare at the Copernicus clock at the turn of the hour, while munching some roasted chestnuts from a hot paper cone. I've had a special interest in the history of astronomy, because nerd, and this made it very easy to provide the visuals for Tidbeck's story, in which a strange and distant professor with an Eastern-ish European name sits by her telescope, while the moon is up to no good.  The writing is stark and stylish, and I'm glad I have the author's collection Jagannath somewhere on my kindle, shuffling closer to being paid attention to.

It takes me some time to read a thing like this. An anthology, I mean.  It becomes something I take a bite out of between chapters of other books.  I think I just get fatigued if I slip into too many different worlds/settings/moods in quick succession.  But being able to give it enough time helps to improve the experience of each of the stories;  there were others, aside from the ones mentioned above, that I'll remember for a while.  Some of them just do the horror thing where they manage to find a direct line of communication to my nerves, because of some weirdly specific theme or even just a sentence that strikes the right chord, but it doesn't necessarily mean the story is exceptional.  The most haunting horror-thing I've ever read was actually another short story, Stephen King's Survivor type- if you've read it, you'll know it's not exactly intellectually stimulating stuff, it's just... it just freaked me out, and still does, though I cannot really explain why.   That's how some of the stories in this anthology work, too.  Others, of course, fall flat, but for all I know they'll smack others in the face just like that Stephen King story did to me.

Anthologies are nice tasting menus for narrow sub-genres, I realise, and I should consider, um, considering them where I usually just go "Ok, point me at a novel that'll show me the features of this sub".  It is nice to have alternatives, and when offering recs to other readers, a short story is much less of a time investment than a novel. For good and bad.

It ate my post!

OH MY FLARBH wordpress just ate my anthology review.  My fault, I know, should never type out original text in this box, yadayada. I do that anyway. Because I like to inflict hopeless rage on myself, obviously.   Ugh.  Maybe see if I can gather the will to write the review again tomorrow.  Maybe also join Dewey’s read-a-thon tomorrow for a cheer-up. Maybe just mash my face into a barrel of junk food and firmly fix my feet inside bunny slippers.  There’s no END to the self pity possibilities!

Broken monsters, by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters Book Cover Broken Monsters
Lauren Beukes
Horror, Mystery
July 31st 2014

Lauren Beukes is one of my "auto-buy" authors. With good reason, because she can write novels that look eerily like plain crime investigations that I still find very interesting and readable.  Of course, that might be because it turns out not to be very plain after all.  Some of the imagery in Broken Monsters will inevitably make certain readers long for the next Hannibal season, though there aren't many similarities beyond that.

Our cast is a handful of police detectives, a couple of teenagers, a struggling-for-hipness author with graying hair, a diabetic DJ, bits and pieces of the art millieu, oh, and the city of Detroit.  Detroit plays a major part, and its characterization is difficult for me-the-foreigner to judge. I accepted Robocop-Detroit,  I'll obviously accept any Detroit.  The rest of the gang, though! Beautifully nowhere-near-perfect but also not-irreedeemably-flawed, all of them.  Even the big bad is, well, it's complicated.

I noticed a review headlined "The heir to Stephen King's throne?" - which is, well, not a thought I had, but it does place the novel on the genre-map.  (And it means it's a good read for Spooktober, you know, if you weren't convinced yet.)  Other qualities this novel possesses include "unputdownable-ness" and "sharp-but-casual-observations-about-human-beings-ism".  That last one might not be a commonly used -ism, but, well, there you go.

The changing character viewpoints are not a new or extraordinary technique, but in this book, I feel like it firmly cements the feeling that everything has an audience, all the time. For good or bad - though perhaps mostly bad:  The moment a boy stands alone waiting for the bus, unwatched, someone shows up to watch him. A bad someone.   A girl having an unfortunate experience at a party doesn't get to be forgotten; she, too, is watched, by several-digit youtube hits.   An internet predator watching for prey is in turn watched by others.  Everyone is under constant scrutiny, sometimes extending far beyond the moment of action.  No one lives off-stage.

I'd recommend this book to - a very wide audience, actually. If it was translated, I could even try pushing it at my family members who tend to be "normal readers", which means they read crime/thrillers. And then readers like me will find the same story appealing because of 1) the part of it that is infact horror/supernatural and mostly 2) the excellent, excellent writing.

Would I advise anyone against reading this novel? Well, maybe if you really hate police procedurals. Or you know it'll give you nightmares.  No one needs extra nightmares, even if it is October.


Reassemble, Stephanie!

The blog is quiet because its author is still knocked out by some mystery microbes. Sorry!  It’s so bad I can’t really make words about words I’ve been reading.  Desperately trying to get through the fogbrain in time for pumpkin pies and NaNoWriMo.  Armed with slime destroyer mixtures and cough remedies,things will probably be back to normal soon enough.

For Teaser Tuesday I could be quoting either Zusak’s The book thief or Erikson’s Willful child, or the Norwegian non-fic about the scientific method and how to apply it to the mumbojumbo industry, but, um, none of them are within arm’s reach right now and I’ve got to go deactivate myself again.  Back soon!

Waiting on: Firefight

One of the first books I read in 2014 was Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, which was a lot of fun and oomph,  so it’s nice to know the sequel Firefight will be out in early January 2015.  I could make a January tradition out of it, right?

I haven’t read anything else by Sanderson yet, except the short Legion,  but I’m pretty sure I’ll be entertained if or when I ever pick up Mistborn or the Stormlight Archives.

Anyway, Firefight blurb:

They told David it was impossible – that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart – invincible, immortal, unconquerable – is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realise he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic – Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

(Right, I’d forgotten about it being called Newcago. The only appropriate response to Newcago is to stop eyerolling and step over into the it’s disgustadorable!-camp.  Or maybe it’s just me.)

Tuesday Mucus

Ah, I neglected to make a Tuesday meme post. That’s because I’m still too busy being sabotaged by phlegm and other horrors in various unpleasant parts of my face and chest.  Being made out of organic matter is terrible.  I figured I could stop by to mention that, at least.  And that I just opened a book in the Bluefire app on my phone, which I never expected to do, because why would I want to read on a phone screen?  (The answer is not because light sensitivity and myopia are joyous and beautiful things!)

Oh, that’s why:  Because when you’re inexplicably given an .acsm file instead of any other reasonable ebook format, you would consider reading it scratched into congealed milk rather than attempt to do it in the Adobe Digital Editions reader on a tablet.

…That has been my experience, in any case.  Maybe someone should tell those local Nobel winning scientists about a new research project idea called “Rage is made out of mucus?”