Review: Gemini Cell

Military science fiction and fantasy aren’t generally my subgenres of choice, but I was intrigued enough by Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell to give it a chance. My following of the author on Twitter, combined with its inclusion on this list of unconventional love stories tipped my hand from the “eh, maybe someday” list to the “sure, I’ll read it now” list.

Cover art for Gemini Cell

Gemini Cell, Myke Cole

As the story opened with Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer trying to be a supportive husband to his wife Sarah but being pulled away to deal with terrorists, I had my doubts as to whether this would be my cuppa. And yet, I kept reading, devouring it in large chunks, a bit here before bed, a bit there before work, and before I knew it, I accidentally the whole thing, intrigued enough to place its forthcoming sequel on hold at the library as well. Military fiction may not be my thing, but a world with newly awoken magic and creepy reanimation of corpses into killing machines had my attention, particularly if said corpse retains enough humanity to ask questions and challenge his handlers when they withhold important information.

There’s plenty in here to keep the pages turning. I was intrigued by the dynamic between Jim and Ninip, the demon who shares his reanimated body, watching them struggle for control for their shared vessel. Ninip toes the lines well between appalling monster, spirit maddened by centuries of torment, and petulant warrior in a world that has changed since he last walked upon it. Jim too was a compelling character, a good guy in a world of terrorists and superiors with agendas not in his best interest. My only real criticism in characterization is the depiction of Jim’s wife, Sarah, who felt very much like a man’s depiction of an ideal woman (the emphasis on her being not like other women was particularly telling), but on the whole, I’m not going to complain too loudly about a character who tries to hold her own against terrorists with a canvas knife when terrorists target her home.

Of course, there’s also action aplenty, with an almost cinematic quality to some of the fights. It was a bit like reading an action movie, albeit one with more plot than many contemporary offerings. Intense fights, interesting visuals, and characters at the center of it all that you come to care about – it’s a good formula for a movie, and it works here as well too.

I have not read any of the other Shadow Ops books, but I was able to easily jump into this one without prior knowledge, and as mentioned, I plan on reading its sequel when it comes out. I’m not particularly versed in this subgenre to know how it stacks up to others, but as a reader new to it, I’m intrigued enough to give others a try now.

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That new book smell

I joke frequently that I use the library because there’s no way I could afford my reading habit, a statement that is mostly true, given a yearly reading rate spanning 50-100+ books. However, it’s perhaps less true than it once was. I’ve noticed, recently, a subtle indicator that we’re starting to get a more secure financial footing: the number of brand-new books purchased in this household is increasing.

Make no mistake–Half Price Books still gets plenty of money from us as we fill in author backlists and find new-to-us gems. But we can afford new books, and giving money to support the creative ventures of authors producing things we like is important in this bookish household.

Here are the most recent gems I’ve acquired:

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The Fifth Season, Truthwitch, and Winterwood

N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season – because I’ve always been a sucker for the end of the world, and friends I trust have raved about the world-building and touch of social issues. Jemison’s been on my to-read list since her Inheritance trilogy came out, so this seems as good a time as any to dive in without being two books behind. Plus, it’s recently been nominated for a Nebula award.

Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch – because in a YA landscape saturated with love triangles, I heard about a novel with female friendship at its core and want to see more of that. I also read highlights from the author’s Reddit AMA and was further intrigued, especially when she mentions some of her soundtrack inspirations, which I was familiar with and would love to see how someone else interprets them.

Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood – Confession: I was sold on this from the moment I saw its pirate cover art, and I didn’t need to read much further in the synopsis than “cross-dressing privateer captain” (pirates are my catnip, and woman-disguised-as-a-man is a favorite trope from my formative years of preferring adventuring shenanigans over romance in my reading). Throw in magic, and it’s sold to the lady in the black cardigan.

I love the worlds that fantasy can take me away to, bleak ones sometimes, awe-inspiring ones, beautiful ones, ones ripe with adventure and discovery–and I can’t wait to travel to these.

 

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Review: The Raven Boys

I am not, by and large, a cynical reader—I dive into most books with an expectation of being reasonably entertained, and generally, I am. Occasionally, a book blows me away—Code Name Verity is the last book that I recall that did—but now I can add Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys to that list. When the last page was done, I just sat back and basked in the ride it took me on. By blurb alone, I probably would not have picked this book up, but people I trust kept saying I should, and I’m thankful for them. Continue reading

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Ch-ch-ch-changes; Or, Almost There

Barring any screw-ups of my part or sudden and bizarre roadblocks from the universe at large, this is my last semester of MLIS coursework. In some ways, this will change a lot, and in others, it’s a blip on a radar. I’ve been here before though, on the cusp of graduation, and I have to say, this time is much, much, much better.

Last time I was poised on the brink of graduating, I was terrified. OK, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis didn’t help things too much either. Who would hire me? What could I actually do with a master’s degree in English? Who would I be once school no longer defined who I was? Besides being good at school, what could I offer the world? To say nothing of the personal things I was also sorting through. That semester was marked with panic attacks and frequent tears, and you could not pay me to relive that time. In hindsight, that probably had a lot to do with being 22 and in the midst of Sorting Shit Out, but it felt like being a butterfly  emerging from a cocoon and finding that my wings were still wet and crinkled, not enough to take flight with, with the ground looming up fast.

Truthfully, I didn’t hit the ground, but I spent years hovering in a holding pattern of a good-enough job and a good-enough life. Until neither were enough anymore. Things started changing. Continue reading

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Review: Roller Girl

Middle-grade fiction is one of the trickier elements of professional reading for me. A picture book can be thumbed through quickly, a young adult novel will often tell a more gripping story than its adult counterparts, and adult books are just a matter of expanding genre choices. But middle-grade fiction is a weird, nebulous place between new-ish readers and young adult – the presence of chapters and length of story lead me to anticipate a more mature story than is often present, which ends up disappointing. Still, I keep trying new tales, and sometimes that stubbornness pays off.

Roller Girl cover art

Roller Girl

Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, a graphic novel, is one such rewarding read. It’s a perfect combination of subject matter, themes, and girl-positive storytelling. In many ways, the story itself is not a new one—protagonist Astrid discovers that she and her best friend Nicole are growing apart when she discovers roller derby, signs up for summer derby camp, and assumes Nicole will join her, only to find out that Nicole has a new friend, would rather do ballet, and maybe likes boys a little bit. Astrid has to make new friends, keep practicing her moves in spite of an often frustrating lack of progress, and learn to be part of a team, all while grappling with the bigger question of who she is. Continue reading

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Read to Me

A recent-ish BookRiot article, “Five Tips for Reading Aloud to Your Partner,” made me smile and then in the same breath mutter, “Amateurs.” A bit judgy, perhaps, but not unfounded. Assuming I’ve maintained my records accurately, my husband and I have read 12 books aloud together, alternating choices. Most of those books are, er, not short books (Count of Monte Cristo, I’m looking at you in particular).

hands-hand-book-reading

The list has some good pointers; I’d like to elaborate on some of them.

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Hey, Listen!

Alternate title: How our Heroine Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Audiobooks

I am, unabashedly, a fan of reading my books in paper form. There’s nothing quite like curling up with a book of an evening or day off, just getting lost in the tale. A rainy day curled in a comfy chair with a book, a cat in my lap, and a cup of tea is pretty much my idea of heaven. Except, well, life can get in the way of that. I would not go so far as to say I have no time to read; indeed, an outsider looking at my list of books read so far this year would probably assume I do nothing but read. But what can I say, I’m greedy. No, my main problem isn’t lack of time to read. My main problem is splitting my off time between conflicting hobbies, namely crafting (knitting, crocheting, and lately, coloring) and reading for leisure. And then an idea struck me, an idea that took way too long in coming for someone who works in a library branch where so many people love their audiobooks: listen and craft at the same time. Derp. My past attempts at audio book listening were with mixed success. I tried listening to books on tape when I had an hour-long commute, but long drives are irrevocably linked with listening to music in my mind, and I had a poor time sticking with books. I’d read one here or there, and then I’d just drift away. If I could stick with one, I enjoyed it enough to linger in the car upon arriving at my destination and listen for a few minutes more each time, but getting there was the tricky part. Then, last fall, my husband and I took a mini road trip and took the audio book of Stephen King’s The Wastelands with us; it was too short of a trip to finish the book, but we took it in the house and listened to it together in the evenings. Reader Frank Muller, I realized, added something to the story with his distinct voices. So we kept listening. And when that was done, we listened to the next Dark Tower novel. And then… well, the next one had a different reader, and we needed a change of pace. At some point, I decided to take advantage of my library’s e-audiobooks, and this was where the paradigm shift happened. I no longer have a long enough commute to listen in the car. And listening to books on CD kinda ties me down to my laptop. But books in my smartphone, a device that is somewhere on my person 75% of the time anyway? That I can handle. I started listening to Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling one evening during work because the backroom is quiet then; with one earbud in, I could still hear if the phone rang but still listen to my book too. At home, I realized, I could knit and listen too. And even during parts of my shift where I’m tucked away in the workroom and not in a public-facing capacity, why, I could even listen then too! The real eye-opener came when I didn’t finish the audiobook before it was due back. With a hold on it, I had to wait until the next reader finished it, so I checked out the book… and it sat on my shelf… and sat on the shelf… and sat there. I was enjoying the story, but more specifically, I was enjoying hearing reader Katherine Kellgren’s powerful telling of it. It was, to quote a famous ‘90s movie,

A whole new world

A Whole New World

Now, my appetite for audiobooks is insatiable. Yes, I still have a few print-on-paper books going at a given time, but having an audiobook on the side lets me squeeze more reading time into my schedule. No longer do I have to choose whether to craft or whether to read. If it’s quiet at work and coworkers and I are quietly all doing our own things, I can squeak in some reading without stopping what I’m doing. It’s the closest thing to a Time-Turner this reader can get, and I can’t wait to discover new reading experiences. What about you? What audiobooks have you found that add to the reading experience?

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Thoughts from Teen Lit class

Teen Materials has been one of the drool-inducing classes I’ve been looking forward to in my program of study. One look at the class goals, including the aim of giving students a better understanding of and appreciation for young adult (YA) materials told me I would be in for an enjoyable semester. And so far it is.

But.

The other day, instead of picking back up the beautiful coming-of-age story I should have been reading, I found myself with this thought: “Man, I just want to read a fluffy romance novel. One of the several I have checked out already, maybe.”

This reaction puzzled me at first, since this semester’s readings are full of materials that have been on my to-read list already or in a couple cases were things I already read and loved. Then a part of me wondered whether my impulse to read heteronormative romances had anything to do with this week’s focus on LGBTQ themes. But, again, back to the fundamental truth that these are titles I wanted to read already. Of course, there’s also the possibility of good old-fashioned stubbornness, that somebody making me do something is less enjoyable than doing it on my own; that one I can’t entirely rule out, but I was a pretty good English major, so I do know how to make myself buckle down and read.

Then it hit me: I’ve been reading a lot of YA literature these last couple months, between class and a city-wide library initiative for staff to read as much juvenile and YA materials as possible to improve our readers advisory in those areas. As one coworker used to joke at the end of the challenge, “I feel like I’ve come of age enough times, thank you very much.”

And there I had it: what makes YA literature so rich is also what makes it heavy sometimes–coming of age, figuring out who you are vs who you’re expected to be, railing against a world that seems and is fundamentally unfair–that’s heavy stuff. I care about (most of) the characters whose journeys I immerse myself in (I will vent no more about a certain novel rife with First-World Problems). Sometimes those journeys involve post-apocalyptic or dystopic settings. Sometimes it’s cancer. Other times, it’s navigating the waters of friendships. Or relationships. Or sexuality. Or religion. Or tough moral choices. Of course, the stories are rarely about just one of those things; after all, sometimes a story wrapped in vampire wrapping paper can really be about navigating the waters of friendships in the wake of growing up. Or a book about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse can actually be about an eating disorder.

Fundamentally, growing up is hard. Yeah, it makes for rich stories, but boy it can get heavy sometimes. While I can immerse myself in the pages and care about the characters, there’s no guarantee that things will be “Okay? Okay” for them. I’m glad for the opportunity to read such a cross-section of materials, but I think the desire for something with a pat, guaranteed happily ever after is not so amiss amidst this YA-heavy few months of reading.

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Obligatory retrospective post

Farewell, 2014. It’s been an interesting year with major life stresses but also good changes. And lots of reading.

For the first time since I outgrew picture books, I read 100 books in a year, no small feat since I went from working sixteen hours a week as a page to a full-time job as a clerk with grad school for extra… fun. My reading had a lot of the familiar staples of my leisure reading, and some new stuff too–popular materials I decided to read as personally-driven professional development, and historical romances, which have become my go-to reading “snack.” Somewhere in there, I’ll generate a list of my top 10, a feat easier done with a pool of 50 books. Confession: it’s probably going to be more like a top 13 or 14 shoehorned into 10 by virtue of lumping series installments together.

I did somewhat remember to blog here, once I found it again. I intended this blog to be about reading, library school, and crafting. I managed that first one, at least, so next year, I hope to bring it back into balance and get better at posting more regularly.

Library school was a mixed bag this year, with some amazing classes (Readers Advisory and Public Libraries – what I consider “dessert” courses) and some less so. On the upside, I survived cataloging (definitely a “vegetables” class), and life seems a lot less bleak without that hanging over my head. I thought it, combined with my not having had any face-to-face classes in a year and the decreased urgency that comes of gaining a full-time job in one’s career path, had killed all my fire for library school, but I’ve found myself looking forward to the fresh start of the spring semester, with a class on teen materials and one on literacy.

Crafting continues to be a regular part of my life. My 2013 resolution post had me planning to expand on my knitting skills, and I’m tickled to report that somewhere over half my projects at a given time are knitting lately. Another new/ongoing goal is to continue working from stash, a goal I started in on, ringing in the new year with winding yarn for a new project, mmmm, new project anticipation! With that, I’m off to craft. It took 2 1/2 hours of tussling with the tangles alone–I am not going to let that stop me.

Here’s to a 2015 filled with good books, good yarn, and further growth of my library career. Cheers!

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Review: The Clockwork Dagger

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a steampunk romp. Sort of. I adore the subculture but often find the literature lackluster. I had high hopes for Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger but have come away from it with very mixed feelings.

Cover art for The Clockwork DaggerAll the requisite trappings are present here—a spunky heroine, airships, an alternate universe where scientific progress exists alongside older magic. Heroine Octavia is a medician, a Druidic doctor of sorts whose connection with The Lady (a healing goddess of sorts) is particularly strong. This leaves her the target of assassins, or Clockwork Daggers, as they are known, as she sets off to take a post in a city traumatized by plague and war. Her traveling companions include Mrs. Stout, a writer of lurid pulp tales with a few secrets of her own, and the enticing Alonzo Garrett, a hottie with one mechanical leg and an irresistible attraction to her.

Assassination attempts, first love, and in the backdrop, war—these should make for an appealing tale, and to some extent, they do. The most intriguing part of the story, to me, was the backdrop, by parts bustling industrial cities and in other parts of the world, post-apocalyptic wastelands. Octavia has tended to soldiers at the front and seen firsthand the horrors of war and what it does to people, which is a dynamic I haven’t seen a lot in steampunk. The different magic systems were also fascinating—while her own magic is of the healing variety, Octavia also encounters “infernals,” mages who can wield fire (naturally, they are among the ranks of the villains, a pity, since what little was revealed of them would have indicated some intriguing cultural attitudes had they not been filtered through Octavia’s biased lens).

Unfortunately, Octavia is the crux of my problems with this story. In my fanfiction days, she is what would have been called a Mary Sue—here is a gifted young woman who remains blissfully unaware that the power she wields is so spectacularly beyond what others of her rank can accomplish. Don’t get me wrong—I love a strong heroine. But by the end of the book, readers wonder if there is anything Octavia can’t do. Perhaps those are matters for another tale.

The Clockwork Dagger is clearly the setup for a series, and while this first volume didn’t overwhelm me, it is one I would follow for at least the worldbuilding.

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