Contented Reader

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Archive for December 2012

The Parasol Protectorate

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Gail Carriger

Orbit Books

I know that it seems like teaching middle school for a large, urban school district is a utopian dream job, and that people like me would never get stressed or anxious or overwhelmed.  And yes, it is usually exactly the sort of fantasy that you might see on… wait.  Does anyone ever make movies about my job?  It’s always high schools that are the subject of inspiring movies.  Middle school children are not glamorous.  Or edgy.  Or, to be honest, photogenic.  Poor little awkward souls.

So every once in a while- not often, mind you, not more than once or twice or at most three times in a really bad year- I allow myself to take a sick day even though (please don’t be too shocked) I am not really sick at all.  No, not even a little bit.

I took one such day, a little while ago.  I woke up with waves of despair washing over me, and decided that I would rather go see Wreck-it Ralph and eat a hot dog and have a nice, gratuitously long wander through the Barnes and Noble than go to work.

There, you’re shocked, aren’t you?  I knew you would be.  No other teacher has ever done such a thing.  I’m probably a terrible person, and the fact that I feel no guilt whatsoever just lends credence to the assumption that I have no moral sense at all and am probably a psychopath.

I was a little short of funds, but still I had the idea in mind that I just might splurge my last $40 on the new two-book collection of Ursula LeGuin short fiction that just came out.  Because I’ll read just about anything Small Beer puts in front of me.  I trust Gavin Grant more than I trust my own father.

On my meander through the bookstore, however, I came upon a box set of the Parasol Protectorate novels, and bought that instead.  Call it a mad, random whim.  I’m allowed to have mad, random whims, even if I am an occasionally less than fully gruntled public school teacher.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly reading and enjoying these five paperbacks.  I had a lot of fun reading them, too.  My favorite thing, I think, is that the author seems to have had just as much fun writing them.  There’s a lot of joy in these books. They’re funny.  Not quite the Jane Austen level of wit promised by the covers, but then, there’s a lot more naked werewolves than I’ve ever noticed in Austen, so it’s fine.  They’re plenty funny enough for me.

I can’t help feeling like Carriger made a big long list of everything she loves, and then put it all into this series.  Which for a less skilled writer would make for a deeply irritating book, and I speak as a woman who has often been irritated by urban fantasy novels.

  • werewolves
  • vampires
  • mummies
  • sex
  • tea
  • pesto
  • queen victoria
  • dirigibles
  • gay best friend
  • whimsy
  • absurd hats
  • a nefarious secret society
  • the sign of the octopus
  • the importance of good accessories

  • mechanical zombie porcupines?  sure, why the hell not?  put ’em in!

It all makes for a really good time, especially because the humor is funny, the sex is sexy, and the suspense is suspenseful.  I ordered the LeGuin books with my next paycheck, and they’re presumably winging their way toward me even as I blog, but in the meantime, I think I was in need of a nice uncomplicated good time, and for that, I made totally the right choice.

Maybe the next time I need a day off, I’ll just make a pot of tea, wrap myself in a warm blanket, and re-read several of these.


Written by Contented Reader

December 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Reviews

Nine Princes in Amber

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Nine Princes in Amber

Roger Zelazny


Well, now I’ve read a book by Roger Zelazny.  I was reluctant to read it, because, from the cover, it looked like a ridiculous cliche.  I gave it a try, and… I’m not sure what I think yet.

It wasn’t as bad as it looked, I’ll say that for sure.  There were bits of it I quite liked.

I like libraries.  It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me.  I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.

I liked that.  A person who can write that has me on his side.

I was thrown off by the weird blend of 1970s contemporary and high fantasy that was Corwin’s way of talking and interior monologuing.  But I liked the idea of Amber, and the potential involved in a universe in which any possible universe exists and can be visited by the characters.  I wonder if this series will explore that more?  I’d be on board for that.  I didn’t make it too far into the Riverworld series when I was a teenager but this idea reminds me of that, and makes me suddenly want to go back and read more of those books.

I think I need to get some more context regarding this writer, and why so many people consider him so important.  In the meantime, I’m up for reading the second book in this series.  I’ve just put it on hold at the library.

Written by Contented Reader

December 9, 2012 at 10:10 am

Posted in Reviews


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Lavie Tidhar


I had heard about Osama when it came out, but my public library didn’t have a copy of it, and I forgot about its existence until it won the World Fantasy Award, at which point I felt a certain obligation to give it a try.

The reviews I read talked about how complex, difficult, and inaccessible it was, so I braced myself for that.  They all said that it was hard to engage with, and very confusing, but ultimately worth the effort.  Well, I’m not afraid of a challenging, dense novel.  I liked Ulysses and The Drowning Girl. 

This was, incidentally, the first book I got with my brand-spanking-new Audible subscription, which I think I’m going to like having.  Having a good book on the iPod really makes rolling out of bed and going to the gym more appealing.

Here’s the thing, though- I didn’t find it difficult at all.  I couldn’t work out what had been so challenging and inaccessible to the other people who read it.

It’s a noir-style hard-boiled detective story.  The main character, Joe, is a private detective so classic that he’s barely a character at all.  He is hired by a mysterious woman to find a writer named Mike Longshot, who writes a series of torrid men’s adventures called “Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante.”

It’s an alternate universe story, about a world where there isn’t any terrorism at all, a world in which the whole history that led to Islamist terrorism never happened, and is known only as a trashy and implausible fiction.

It’s a parallel-worlds story, in which the world I live in and the world Joe lives in just barely connect with one another.  In order to find Mike Longshot, Joe is, I assumed from a very early chapter, going to have to uncover the truth about his universe and ours, and how they connect.

Okay, yes, I hadn’t seen these three classic story types all rolled into one novel before, but it all seemed very reasonable to me, and they worked together perfectly smoothly. 

And then I got to the ending, and realized that there had been a fourth thing going on in this book, that I had not understood at all. 

I closed the book (metaphorically, since it was an audiobook.  In fact, I turned off the iPod) and shrugged.  ‘That was a pretty good book,’ I said, ‘and I enjoyed it.  But I don’t quite get why everyone has been talking about it so much, or why it won the big award.  It isn’t that much better than any other good book.’

That was a few days ago.  But the ending of the book keeps coming back to me.  I keep rolling it over in my head, and it keeps becoming more important to me.  I’ll be driving to work, listening to something else entirely, and suddenly I’m reflecting on the conclusion of Osama and what it means, for Joe and for me.

And I guess that’s what a great book does, isn’t it?  Sticks with you, and illuminates your experiences?  So maybe this is a great book after all.

I think I need to read it again.

Written by Contented Reader

December 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

Posted in Reviews

Before my first Zelazny novel

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It appears that the Memorial Guest of Honor at the upcoming Readercon is Roger Zelazny.

I’ve never read a book by Zelazny before, and it isn’t exactly by accident.  I’m a reasonably well-read person, with a fairly broad spectrum of taste.  I’ve seen Zelazny’s books before.  My brain gives me a memory of a long line of yellow-spined, thin paperbacks on the bottom shelf of the SF section of the bookstore, something about them sending out a ‘This is for teenaged boys’ vibe.  I’ve never been tempted to pick one up.

On the other hand, the Readercon programmer people are some thoughtful and well-read people, in general, whose taste I have some respect for.  And I’ve read authors I like and respect talk about Zelazny lately as an important influence.  Wikipedia says that he was an important part of the ‘new wave,’ which I don’t know anything about but am willing to learn about.

So, I say, I’ll give him a try.  Various people seem to point to the ‘Amber’ series as an important part of his work, so I reserve the first book at the library.  Yesterday, it arrives, and I pick it up, and it is… this.

I mean, look at it.  Are you looking at it?  Look at this thing.

Here we have an extremely stalwart man, long hair blowing in the wind, holding a sword, wearing a cape.  In thigh-high black leather boots.  He is leaping from nowhere to nowhere out of fire or clouds or mist.  Or maybe flaming misty clouds.  The first question that springs to mind is, “Is that man wearing pants?”  The answer, on close inspection, is, “Yes, but they are improbably tight pants, which he appears to have been sewn into.”  And, oh, look.  Gauntlets.  He is leaping into danger that might threaten his hands, but not his ass, apparently.  The second question is, “Which way is the wind blowing?”  His cape seems to be blowing straight up, while his hair is blowing back.  The cover screams, “15-year-old repressed gay boys, this way!”

I would never, ever pick up a book with this ridiculous cover, if it hadn’t come so highly recommended by people I respect.

So I turn to the back.

Exiled to the Shadows for centuries, a man more than mortal awakes in an Earth hospital with no memory of his past- and surrounded by enemies who hunger greedily for his destruction.  For Corwin is of The Blood- the rightful successor to the throne of the real world.  But to rule, he must first conquer impossible realities and demonic assassins… and survive the ruthless machinations of the most insidious malevolence imaginable: his own family.

Riiiiight.  I’ll get right on that, then.

Is this really a book I’m going to read on purpose?  Is it really possible that hiding in this ridiculous, lurid cover is something that people I respect have seen as excellent?  I confess to looking at this object and feeling deeply skeptical.

But I have it.  And once I finish Master and Commander, I’ll cautiously give it a try.

Written by Contented Reader

December 5, 2012 at 7:34 am

Posted in Opinions