books

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On this livejournal blog I crosspost from Dreamwidth.

A Masterlist of all my fanfiction is here. There is Harry Potter, Highlander, Torchwood and a Bible story.
books

Book Post: Jackson, Bujold, Bacigalupi, Bulychev, Novik and Dragunskiy

Shirley Jackson: A rather haunted life by Ruth Franklin, 499pp
A biography of Shirley Jackson, an American writer, famous for "The Lottery" short story and books like "The Haunting of Hill House" and "We have Always Lived in the Castle". I'm not a fan of horror stories and I never read much of her (I do believe I read "The Lottery" in high school though) but I saw a review of this biography and I like reading about women writers. Biographies are also about the time period the person lives in and she died young, so it was 1916 to 1965. She had four children and published books and I figured that would be interesting. But it was just ok. I didn't like how the author was speculating too much and taking the details from fictional work and was trying to fit it to Jackson's real life a little too much. And she spent a big chapter on Stanley Hyman, Jackson's husband. he was a critic and a professor in Vermont. And I also didn't particularly liked Jackson herself. I couldn't relate to her as much I guess.

I do want to read her books that she wrote about her kids though - she didn't just write horror books, she wrote essays and books about her kids and women's issues that sound like fun. She is a major American writer and I'm glad I learned more about her but sometimes it was a slug to get through this book and I think part of it was how it was written.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold [Vorkosigan Saga], 487pp
This book was so much fun. I loved having a book from Ivan's perspective with Miles only making a cameo, since it gave the book a different energy. The beginning of the book and the end was a bit faster read - after the family shows up in the middle of the book until the actual heist it started to lag a bit but then it picked up again and ended on a high note. I really loved the wedding scene as it was so frentic and crazy and the energy just carried off the page. I was really rooting for Ivan and Tej too - they really do seem so suited to each other. And I liked all the time we spent with Simon and Alice as well. A slightly different perspective on them.

I don't think I ever quite realize just how close Ivan was to the the throne (I knew Miles referred to that possibility for himself but it was even closer for Ivan, and it was good for this book to give us some Barrayar's history and geneological information - like I knew most it yet it was spelled out so much better when the characters had to give Tej an info dump - and just why he wanted his life a certain way to avoid that possibility. He is very efficient and good at his job too - but he is so careful to stay where he is happy with his life. Different kind of ambition than Miles. I am really happy we got a book from his point of view.

And everyone has been having babies since the last book - Miles now has another daughter (a glimpse at him as a father using military language was fun), and Duv has two kids, and now Ivan is contemplating it. Everyone is growing up.

Next year I will get to finish the series. Such a great series.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, 370pp

This book won a Hugo and since I read five Hugo winners a year, I picked it up. I knew it was an apocalyptic thing and it is a very possible apocalypse but I didn't expect it to be so depressing because it is certainly the kind of economic and global catastrophe that can happen and probably will happen. The world ran out of fuel and felt effects of climate change and food disaster and started contracting and the whole global trade collapsed. On top of that food corporations and various genetic engineering destroyed a lot of food supply and you had to get through these powerful corporations that really control the world now to survive various food blights and diseases and plagues. The corporations are trying to encroach back into the rest of the world. This book takes place in future Thailand, a kingdom that managed to survive and hold its own against climate change and food blights and all kinds of environmental disasters and is trying very hard to keep apart from the rest of the world to survive. There are many characters whose fates sort of mingle after a while. The book is named after a windup girl, a Japanese genetically engineered woman who was bred to be a servant and was pretty much dumped in Thailand to die after she served her purpose since it was cheaper to leave her than to bring her back to Japan - she survives in a brothel and at one point does serve as a critical linchpin to start the action, but the book is not really about her, although her plight is the most sympathetic one. For a while I wondered why the book had that title. Most people are not sympathetic in this book but they are realistically drawn people who suffered all kinds of trauma in their life. I think this book is hard to read because this is not a kind of future one wants to live in and yet this kind of future looks very likely - it is really depressing because if it. It is a very well plotted book and certainly worth reading. I see why it won a Hugo. I am just glad I don't have to be in that world anymore.

Заповедник Сказок [Fairy Tales Sanctuary] by Kyr Bulychev, 156pp [in Russian].
I never did finish reading it to Tanya - she sort of lost interest and moved on to other things. I decided to pick it up and finish it when I needed a break from a more serious book. It really stands up well. Still funny and I was remembering the story as I was reading it. Pretty amusing. The villain is obvious from the start and he escapes justice but the book was never about that. Alisa just got to have an adventure and to hang out with fantasy creatures who work at the Fairy Tale Sanctuary. I remembered where the missing director actually was. I was surprised, not for the first time rereading Bulychev, that he puts his main character in an actual deadly peril - but then I remember, this is not Disney or American stories. Actual goat got to be eaten. The Wolf was hilarious and so were all the characters really. Enjoyable reread but still not one of his best works.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, 388pp [Scholomance 2].
So, so good! I spoiled myself since I was taking a walk during lunch and stopped by the bookstore, right after this book came out but before I got it through the library ehold. I just wanted to look at the physical copy, mostly for the maps, but I couldn't help it but peak at the vert end. So I knew the last line before I read the book and that line is quiet a punch. But I knew nothing else other than the general premise based on the last books. And it didn't detract me - I was curious on how we would get there and why and it made some other scenes in the book much more poignant. And I wonder what the third book will be about and I just wish it was here already. I want to see what happens next!

And this book was much better for me than the last one. I liked the last one but I loved this one - there were more emotional punches in it and I liked the ethical dilemma and how it all worked out. El was really coming into her own here. I think part of it is also being used to worldbuilding and not needing the mental space to figure it out, so the story itself was flowing much better.

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Денискины рассказы и о том как всё было на самом деле [Denis' Tales and about how it all really was] by Victor and Denis Dragunskiy, (Oct 12).[in Russian]

"Denis' Tales" is a book of short stories for kids published in the Soviet Union around 1960 that was and is very very popular. Probably every kid in all the former republics of Soviet Union has read it or had it read to them. I read them as a kid and still own a copy - we shipped a lot of books to my uncle when we came to US to join him. I read a few stories to Tanya, especially a story about kasha, when the main character dumps the kasha he is trying unsuccessfully to eat out of the window and discovers that his mother's saying that everything hidden will come out is very true as a man shows up with kasha all over his hat to complain. Tanya loves that story and laughs and laughs when Denis tries to eat that kasha and just can't. The stories have a lot of humor and punchlines too. All the stories can be read independently but they are all based on one main character and some other characters recur like his friends and teachers. The boy Denis Korablyev is a regular kid and the stories take place in his apartment, in the courtyard, in the school, in the circus, in the summer dacha etc. And these stories stand up to any age of the reader too.

Victor Dragunskiy, the author, had a son named Denis, but the stories were mostly fictional. As his actual son Denis puts it, what real in the stories is the details of what life was like in the late 50s and early 60s in Moscow. The book that I just read is a combination of the classic stories by Victor Dragunskiy and then Denis the son describing what his life was like and which details are true in the stories and what is made up. Mostly it is about his life as a kid. Hence the double title and double authors.

So instead of a typical order of tales I'm used to, the book organizes the tales by theme: home, courtyard, street, school, circus, dacha and after each section Denis Dragunskiy writes his commentary about what his home was like or his friends or school or circus, etc. It is a really fun look at what late 50s was like.

I also have not reread many of the stories since I was a kid. I read some to Tanya but not all of them. So it was my first full reread. But I discovered that I remembered almost all of them really really well. I remembered the jokes and the punchlines. And they were still hilarious and so relatable. It was all so familiar and cozy. And it stood up to time really well as well. As an adult, I did catch more nuanced things than I did as a kid. And there was a story about the car crash that I didn't remember at all. But otherwise it was just fun to read these again and to get a commentary from the author's son about all the stories.
books

Book Post: Galbraith, Brust, Cleary, Gaiman and Wllis

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) [Cormoran Strike 5], 1000pp
It was 1000 pages but I didn't want it to end. I think this might be my favorite of this series, and this is Book 5. I really liked the balance between the case - and it was a really interesting cold case of a woman that disappeared without a trace in the early 70s - and the main character's personal lives. Strike is dealing with his Aunt's cancer, an Aunt who really was a stable maternal presence in his childhood. Robin is coming off her divorce, which is still in negotiations but at least some time has passed. This book's timeline is a year in Strike and Robin's lives. The mystery is well done, and it is just so nice to spend time with these characters.

Jhereg by Stephen Brust, 172pp
I picked this up upon [personal profile] hamsterwoman ardent recommendation. And I am happy to say that I ended up enjoying it and I am planning to read the next one in the series next year, even though I am still unsure about the world yet or even the series. Brust's worldbuilding is actually pretty great - I was never confused about all the Houses and who was who, even though it seems a bit simplistic of everyone in the House sharing specific characteristics but that's probably nurture. I was glad for the pronunciation guide. And it was pretty amusing that people could be brought back to life and there is a difference between mostly dead and all dead in this world. It actually brought humor to the situation. I liked the main case of the story - Vlad has to assassinate a person who is in a place where he can't be killed - how to persuade him to leave that space. I'm still not sure why a jhereg is needed as a familiar and I'm sure there is a whole world to the story that I am still missing, but I was amused by Vlad and his musings and rooted for him to succeed and to crack the case. Brust writes in these staccato sentences - I'm not sure if that is the right word but the pace of his dialogue is very short and snappy and I think that worked; I just needed to get into it. I don't love this series yet but I like it and I'm intrigued, which is a good place to start. I find the characters pretty interesting.

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, 183pp
This was Tanya's 1st summer reading book and she told me to read it too. I really enjoyed it. Ramona was a perfect 4 year old troublemaker and Beezus' emotional dilemma and resolution worked so well. There are some books that Tanya is reading (like the Unicorn academy) which are silly to me and the prose is just blah and are not just good as books, but this one is really well written and interesting despite being from 1955. I was a fun book.

The Sandman Act I by Neil Gaiman [Audible audiobook, for Sandman books 1 to 3]
This audiobook is so good! I don't tend to be an Audiobook person but this was free to download and to listen too (Act II is coming out on September 22, and this free promotion totally worked because now I am going to buy the Act II and the all the others since I really enjoyed it). I was thinking of rereading the Sandman graphic novels because of the show on Netflix to refresh my memory (I have all volumes at home), but this was better since it was rereading it while cooking or just sitting there relaxing. (I can't do other things while listening to audiobooks or I will get distracted by cooking seems to work perfectly fine). the voices were well chosen (except for Death, she didn't work for me for some reason) and the sound effects were spot on. It was good to get little details that I forgot about. When I read a graphic novel, I read it for the story, not the visuals. The visuals are nice but not essential to me (unlike Bear, who as an artist, pays attention to that). So audiobook format worked perfectly for me. I believe Act I is still free until the end of September.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis, 499pp

Meh. This is painful to write about Connie Willis' book because I loved her Time Travel series so much. "To Say Nothing of the Dog" is one of my favorite books. I watched an interview with her where she was promoting this book and this book was supposed to be her take on the Romantic comedy just with telepathy and also a take on why telepathy would be a terrible idea. I like romantic comedy at times so I picked it up. It didn't really work for me as I was getting annoyed with the characters and the whole thing. Yes, the guy the main character is with is supposed to be bad for her and she is supposed to meet the right guy but Trent was so obviously wrong and clearly planning something, he was almost twirling his proverbial mustache. I tend to like stories where the boyfriend is not a douche, just wrong for the main character and this was not that. Also everyone at Briddey's work (and my brain could not read that name, it kept wanting to say Bridley) cares way too much about people's personal life and gossips too much, and her family had no boundaries either. It was just too much. the middle part where Briddey and C.B. are hiding out at the library also went on too long. Also the resolution where Collapse ) was just ridiculous and completely not believable. I also didn't care about the main romance of the story which mean this book didn't work for me as a romantic comedy. I just couldn't nail down Briddey as a person and her character at all. Why is she into Trent? Why does she want to have this procedure done? Why would she panic about telepathy? There were just too many things that did not make a lot of sense and I didn't care that much about the characters. I could predict a bunch of things ahead of time too. So, overall - meh
books

Book Post: Maddocks, Hawthorne, Vinge, Milne, M. Johnson

Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of her Age by Fiona Maddocks, 344pp

I wanted to read a history book and I always liked Hildegard but didn't study her in detail. And the library had a copy so I finally got to it. It was certainly an interesting biography. Maddock is using many primary sources including autobiogrpahy, hagiographies and Hildegard's numerous work from visions to her music to her science. It was interesting to learn about Hildegard childhood - we don't have a lot of information but we know who her family was and her siblings and how she entered monastic life at age 8. I was not aware that she was an anchorite. I specialized in medieval history in grad school but my specialty was England and 14th century in particular. My minor was women and gender history so I knew the context of her life and various little things about the monastic life and women mystics in general. It was great to get back to the medieval world and to read this book. Maddocks writes really well and it is both scholarly but also good for general audience. Hildegard came across like a real complicated person, with her own quirks and foibles and not a perfect person. Just a real one. It was well done. My favorite part though was the interview with a nun that currently lives in the monastery in Hildegard's town. It was interesting to see her point of view.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 235pp [reread].

I have never been a fan of classic American writers. Although now as I'm reading some, like Steinbeck, as an adult, I'm finding that I'm enjoying the authors I didn't think I would. But as a teenager I was not a big fan. I hated "The Great Gatsby", I didn't particularly liked "The Catcher in the Rye" and I was not a fan of Hemingway, and in general reading American writers was a slog. Maybe it was lack of cultural background knowledge. But there was one exception and that was Hawthorne. It wasn't so much the plot but it was his language. I was just so awed by this language in many of his works. I loved "The Scarlet Letter" in high school and was thinking lately of rereading it and finally got to it. I still love the language and I still found the story interesting, since I was catching things I didn't really understand as a teenager. But it took me a while to get through the book. I was into in when I was reading but it was harder to just want to pick it up. What really surprised me in this reread is that the book is not so much about Hester and her feelings and her mood but it was really about Arthur Dimmesdale and his internal struggle. Hester is not the main character here, it is not about her since she deals with her societal shame and copes better. Arthur, meanwhile, does not - it is all internal and that psychological struggle and his angst is what drives the plot. I still couldn't understand what exactly Roger was doing to undermine Arthur and his motivations seem weird at times, especially at the end. And also when exactly did he find out it was Arthur, before he saw his chest - it seems like he suspected? that part wasn't clear. So overall, I still see Hawthorne as a beautiful writer language wise but as an adult there are some issues with the plot that I see. Still I am glad I reread it.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, 415pp [Hugo book].

Every year I have a goal of reading 5 Hugo winning books and I love this goal since it leads me to books and authors I might not have picked up. I never read Vinge before although he won a bunch of awards and there will be more for me to read from the Hugo list.

In this book, the technology is so advanced that people basically wear internet and enjoy alternate reality overlaid with everything. Some of it is fun as you can create fictional worlds like Pratchett and live in them. Some is more serious. There is one person who is trying to save the world by mindcontrol, lots of double cross and a lab heist. But the main character is a very unlikable poet who has been suffering from Alzheimer's and is now cured and now has to deal with all this new to him technology. He attends his granddaughter's high school that has a class for older adults who need new technological education. He also gets involved in lab heist plot with other older people. As the book keeps going the main character does grow more likable.

This book really made me think about where technology is going and what it will be like in 20 years. As a person who grew up before tech but was at the right age to see internet become a thing and the rise of social media, how will things change and will I be able to keep up with it and what will it mean for jobs and entertainment and human relationship. The pandemic definitelly drove more change in tech and everything else. As I'm writing this, I am also watching/monitoring a presentation from a consultant that would have been in our conference room pre-pandemic. And I don't know if we would ever go back to in-person for those. So this book made me think for sure. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I would welcome some virtual worlds to escape too but the implications of mind control and other ways people could take advantage of it is pretty scary. I wasn't a big fan of the characters in the story or many plot coincidences to make the plot happen but I can see how this story won a Hugo and the worldbuilding of this.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, 160pp [reread].

I forgot how good this book is. I read it as a kid in Russian and I loved the Soviet cartoons, which are very, very faithful to a couple of chapters from the book, including translated dialogue. I am aware of American animated version of Winnie-the-Pooh but I never watched it much since the voice sounds so weird to me. To me those three short Soviet cartoons are just so definitive (they are on YouTube with English subtitles).

Tanya got this book for her birthday (with original illustrations) and I started reading it and read it quickly. It was my favorite book of the month! I just found it funny and there is a lot of subtle humor I like and it was just well written. I just enjoyed it. Very fun. Excellent children's literature and stands up after almost 100 years.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson, 323pp

I disliked the first half of this book. I love the concept of parallel universes and the set up was great - one could only travel or traverse to the worlds where the world is very close to your own and where your counterpart is dead, and Cara, the main character, is only alive on about 8 of 380 worlds she could travel too. So she an asset to her corporation. The problem for me is that this set of worlds, including Earth 0 is more dystopian and much darker than I like. Cara comes from Ashtown, very poor and dystorian area ruled by a tyrant outside the big and tall protected city. I think the authors' worldbuilding is actually well thought out- there are consequences to various pollutions - but I did not want to be in this world. Even the city didn't sound like a place I would want to be in. And the Ashtown with their runners and wild west type life was definitely where I didn't want to spend my time. And I disliked Cara. It is hard to read a book where you don't particularly like the main character. Yes, her life was hard, I get it. Some plot twists I could see coming and some I didn't. The book itself is put together well, there are many twists and turns but I didn't have a character to latch on to. When Cara got stuck on 172, I didn't understand why we were spending time there, why was this important and what the plot was doing.

The second half of the book, once Cara was on Earth 0, was better. New revelations and things were happening moved the book along and I started to understand Cara a bit better and got used to the world and started caring about the outcome. I thought the end was actually well done - all the set up that I didn't realize was a set up like Lot's Wife, paid off, and I like when authors do that. By the end I could see what the book was doing. But it was still not a book I particularly liked. It was too dystopian for me and not a world I wanted to be in. But written well.
books

Book Post: Bujold, Eger, Aaronovitch, Gaiman and Albertalli

There are my June books. I didn't post my May books and I will try to catch up but I wanted to do the June ones at least first.

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold [Vorkosigan Saga], 316pp
This is not the best book in the Vorkosigan Saga, the main mystery is not as good, as I find more family oriented and mental anguish working better while Miles is pretty happy here overall, enjoying his new marriage and anticipating his upcoming parenthood. It is not the best one but it is still Bujold and it is still written in her highly readable style and there is plenty of funny stuff so I still had a good time with it. I really enjoyed catching up with Bel and seeing what it was up to. And it was good to see Miles on the cusp of parenthood and just realizing what that meant when he got into the potential mortal trouble.

The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eva Eger, 272pp
My Dad gave me this book for my birthday and it is a very good one despite or maybe because of the heavy topic. Edith Eva Eger is a psychologist, especially of trauma and survival, and she believes that we all personally have a choice to make to go beyond just being victims of our situations and to use it to grow to live and to enjoy life despite and maybe because of trauma that happens to us. She survived Auschwitz with her sister when she was a teenager and carried the guilt of her mother's death through her whole live before she realized what it was. Her book is about her Hungarian childhood, Auschwitz, post-war period, escaping with her husband and young daughter from Soviet-ruled lands to America, being an immigrant, and then going to college and grad school after her kids grew up and becoming a psychologist, and a famous one at that who spoke to many about surviving and moving on past trauma. Her life and ideas are fascinating. She is in her 90s and looking back on her whole life and all stages of her life are interesting. I don't think I read many accounts of what happened right after the war, right after liberation and what it took physically and mentally to get lives back on track. And her immigration experience was also fascinating. She also used case histories of some of her patients (with names changed, of course) to illustrated her methods and how she approached psychology. It is really several books in one here, all interesting. Highly recommend it.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch [Rivers of London 4], 293pp
I knew the main twist with Leslie already, I was spoiled for it long ago, so the book didn't pack quite the punch it was supposed it. It started with many seemingly unrelated cases with many characters' names that start with R or P, which made me think a bit too much in trying to remember them all, but of course it was all one big case. The book picked up for me once Peter and Leslie went undercover in the apartment building, I liked the subtle humor there. And I was not expecting the resolution. But because I was spoiled the ending was not a surprise. Still it felt a little unresolved. And there was just too much explanation of police procedure.

There is something about this series that is keeping me at arms' length. Maybe it is the characters, although I really like Peter. I also really liked Varvara, especially her interview with Peter and Leslie and I'm looking forward to her being the "guest" of the Folly and Peter is already thinking of learning from her. But there is something in the series that is keeping me from loving it. I like it and will keep reading it but I don't have that "love" feeling like I do with Dresden Files or Harry Potter. Maybe it is the Faceless Man - he is just not interesting to me and I don't really know what his goal is. Just pure evil for evil's sake. I really liked the third book, it worked for me better than this one. I think I was just expecting more.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 194pp [reread]
Olivia wanted me to read this to her since she loves the movie and I read this book out loud to her, except for the last two chapters. I don't know how much she was actually paying attention or what she was getting out of it but I enjoyed going back to this book. I read it when I was 25 or 26 since I read it when I lived in Highland Park in NJ (I have a clear memory of me in my armchair there) and then the movie version sort of took over especially in the last few years when the girls watched it over and over. So it was nice to go back to the book. I completely forgot that Wiley was the movie character and not in the book. Also reading this book out loud made me catch several things in Neil Gaiman's intonations and voice - I could totally hear his speech patterns. When I first read it I found it very creepy it was less creepy now but I liked little details I forgot about (like one of the lost children being a fairy).

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli, 387pp
I am too old for this kind of YA - a sixteen year old theater geek girl who is crushing on the same boy as her gay best friend, only this time their mutual crush is taking a too serious turn that is threatening their friendship. It was so clearly obvious right from the start which boy Kate, the main character, will actually end up with. The book did grow on me by the end but it wasn't revelatory or anything. I am really too old for this since I am now a parent age and I just don't take high school romance that seriously. The book was also about theater and putting on a musical, since that is Kate's main interest but again that is not really something I could relate to as much. Overall it is a good YA but I'm too old for it.
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Book Post: Bujold, Hall, Liu, Ishiguro and Vernon

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold [Vorkosigan Saga], 258pp
While the story of this book took place many many years before Miles' time, it still written in Bujold style for this universe and as always a delight to read. Her books are like being wrapped in a warm blanket and just having a cozy time of it. I understand that I read this book at the proper time in the sequence of books even though it is chronologically first in the Vorkosigan saga, since in my next Miles books, Miles will encounter the descendants of the Quads in a more settled civilization. This book was all about the origins and how they went from experiment to their own freedom.

The best and the most hilarious part of this book is the glorious bureaucracy. It was very very funny. People used bureaucracy as resistance, they used it like real people would use it too. I just found it very amusing. Can't wait for the next two novels this year (I will be done with this series next year at this pace!)

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, 426pp
I read it on recommendation of [profile] falena84 and this book really won me over as it went along. I really loved Luc's sarcastic humor and I liked how in this book, the first half forced Luc to deal with his issues and then have Oliver deal with his in the second half. Everyone was honest with each other, which is was I really like - Oliver was in on the plan to pretend to be boyfriends - it wasn't a big secret (and I loved the running gag that they just tell everyone about it anyway, so this is not the main conflict at all, no secret reveals really.) This book poked a bunch of fun at some romantic tropes too. Both main characters had things to work on and it was a really nice balance. And both main characters brought out the best in each other, which is always nice to see. This was a very enjoyable romance.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu [translated from Chinese], 373pp [Hugo Book]
This book won a Hugo award and it was on my list to read for a while. This is also a very much hard sci-fi book, which I haven't read for a while. I could follow it pretty well but it lost me at the end with unfolding the proton and intelligent protons that can cause havoc - that was just pretty hard to believe, no matter how clever the "science" of it might be. But then again the author wants us to believe in aliens to can dehydrate and rehydrate their bodies.

The dialogue and some of the translation also felt very Chinese to me, kudos to the translator in keeping the cadence of the language in his translation. I think because I come from a Soviet Union background, a lot of Chinese politics and the way people behave in society was very familiar to me, so I could understand the motivations. And I thought Ye Wenjie's motivations and thought processes were pretty interesting and I could get where she was coming from even though destroying all humanity might be extreme. I never really thought about how Earth' political situation would influence the messages sent to alien civilizations and how different the human race would appear depending on which country the aliens 'meet' first.

It was a good book overall but I don't know if I'm interested enough for the sequels.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, 243pp
This just came out and I got it out of the library. It is told from the perspective of an AF - artificial friend, a robot who is typically bought by kids to be friend and companion. So a very naive robot who observes and tries to understand her family. This book started out really well by then was more meh. Like a typical Ishiguro, you have to figure out what is going on and the larger worldbuilding as you go along, from tiny clues and unspoken things since the main character is often not aware of what it itself observing. And overall it is a weird kind of society and it does give you things to think about but I still ended up meh on it at the end.

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Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon [Book 3]
Technically, I read half of it out loud to Tanya and Tanya read the other half out loud to me. But that still counts since I was reading along to help her with some difficult words. I'm just thrilled that she felt confident enough in reading to want to read it herself to me. This is the third out of six books in the Hamster Princess series. I think this is my favorite one so far. Olivia loves Rapunzel so I'm very familiar with the story and can appreciate the riffs on it. In this story it is a rat Ratpunzel who is trapped in a tower and has to let down her tail. I also found the jokes a lot funnier in this one like a very happy country and Sad story time. And Ratpunzel itself. The dialogue is hilarious. So both Tanya and I are really enjoying this series and we already started the next book.
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Book Post: O'Leary, Vonnegut, White, Maxwell, Glukhovsky and Sacks

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, 326pp
A woman, Tiffany, sees an ad for 1 bedroom flatshare where the guy, Leon, works the night shift so they can share the flat without sharing at the same time. She is leaving a relationship and it seems a good deal. Tiffy and Leon start leaving notes for each other and get to know each other through notes. They don't even meet in person until much later in the book. It was really a fun, uncomplicated read. There are a bunch of subplots and both characters change and grow but really this is a nice romance book that was just relaxing for my brain and I just wanted to keep reading it. I liked their relationship and their flirting and the general way they were behaving. Highly reccomend.

Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters, 1941-1945 by Kurt Vonnegut, ed. by Edith Vonnegut, 215pp
I thought this collection of love letters from Kurt Vonnegut to his first wife from when he was in college, then in the army and then after their marriage before he was discharged from the army would be interesting, especially as he was a POW and survived a Dresden bombing but after a while it was pretty much the same thing - just a collection of a young person trying to figure it out. I do see his writing voice in it but there is nothing truly notable in this collection and I might have stopped reading if it wasn't a gift. This collection was edited by their daughter, and I can see her essential idea- for the people who loved each other so much or at least the way Kurt was pursuing Jane, it is hard to see that he would leave her many years later for someone else, but that is what happened. So all those promised of a life together didn't amount to much apparently. Overall this was meh.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, 184pp
Tanya got it for Christmas (since I put it on my Wish List a while ago). I never read it as a child. I just knew it was about a spider and that she dies at the end. So it was a chance for me to catch up on a classic book. I read it outloud to Tanya for about a month and a half. She enjoyed it most of the time, was bored sometimes but liked it overall. And I did too. I thought all the characters were cute and I liked the pace of the book and all the descriptions of nature and the farm. It really was a cute story.

Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell, 428pp
I read it as part of [personal profile] hamsterwoman's sync read and I really had fun with it. I haven't read the original story when it was posted on Ao3 and knew nothing of the plot other than it was arranged marriage trope with two male characters. I really enjoyed the tropiness - it was well done - I also really liked "huddling for warmth" trope. This book is told from the perspective of two main characters, so we can see how they start out fundamentally misunderstanding each other and making assumptions but then they managed to actually bring it up and talk to each other and to resolve some issues that way.

The political plot was a little too much for me at times and harder to follow but I did like how the ending worked and the overall solution was pretty clever on politics level and on the personal level too, with both main characters growing and changing in very believable way. I think my favorite part of the book is that people reacted to things like crime and embezzlement like real people would - they called the authorities to deal with it and were properly horrified. The characters felt like real people. A fun read.

Text by Dmitry Glukhovsky [in Russian], 460pp
My Dad gave it to me as a present last year and I finally read it. It took me some time to realize that this won't be a sci-fi book - I was expecting sci-fi from his other titles. It is not sci-fi. It is really how one person's life is in their phone - you can find out a lot from texts, emails, recordings, photos - and you can even become that person. I can't even set up the plot without spoiling it so I won't and will just talk about general impressions. It is a psychological thriller if a genre must be assigned.

It is a really well written book - I liked the prose. I was really surprised just how much English is now part of the Russian language - mostly technological and social media terms but it was really a lot. I came to US in 1993, and of course culture and language evolved since then especially because of tech, but it still throws me sometimes when I read modern Russian novels.

There is a movie based on this book and I do want to see it at some point.

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, 470pp
This is the book that put Oliver Sacks on the map. It is about the events of summer of 1969 when he gave post-encephalitic Parkinson's patient L-DOPA with wonderful initial results which then led to diminishing returns and weird consequences. He presented various histories of the disease and the drug. The main focus of the book are the case studies of several patients (Sacks later perfected the art of writing up the case studies). He wrote the first version of this book in early seventies and added more things and postcripts. I was reading 1990 version of the book where most of the patients have died by then.

This book has a lot more medical terminology than his later books - I think the later books were written for a more popular audience, due to success of this one. So this book was a little harder to read - not harder in terms of understanding medical jargon but more technical and therefore a bit boring on those parts. But the history of the disease was interesting and so were the case histories. I have seen the movie with Robin Williams and Robert de Niro as a teenager, so I was familiar with the broad outlines somewhat (I liked the section of the book about various stage and film adaptations of the book; I was impressed with the preparation and study Robert de Niro did for the movie and their acting preparation process itself). The disease itself and what these people had to live through was horrifying though - and reading it now, during a different pandemic where long term consequences are not known, was unnerving. I watched the documentary after I was done (it's on YouTube) and it was interesting to put faces on the various people in the book. And horrifying too. But Sacks is great in finding humanity in people and triumphs even in the depth of suffering and disease. He shows how people adopt and how your personality and who you are as a whole person matters in disease.

Sacks also talked about various theories in physics to try to figure out how L-Dopa works in patients and he explored a chaos theory. He mentioned a three-body problem and that's when I realized that that name is a concept in physics, which I then looked up. And now I'm reading "Three-Body Problem" sci-fi book, since it won a Hugo and I meant to read it for a while - I do like how my books flow one into the other.
books

Book Post: Bujold, Ishiguro, Shalev, Sapkowki, Fry and Rovelli

1.Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold [Vorkosigan Saga], 71pp

This was an adorable little novella. Told from the perspective of a Vorkosigan Armsman Roic and it is the story of Miles and Ekaterin's wedding, which does not come without deathly threats and some intrigue. It is also a story of Sergeant Taura who comes for the wedding and makes a connection with Roic. It was really fun to see all the guests - some blasts from the past. The main plot twist was a bit predictable but it was good to see how Ekaterin handled it. Plus I loved seeing things from Armsman perspective, so behind the scenes stuff. This was a very fluffy and enjoyable novella.

2.The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, 213pp

A story of a elderly butler going on a driving holiday to visit a housekeeper that used to work at the big house over 20 years ago. As he travels he recalls various memories of her and of his old lord, who was a Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s, trying to reconcile that to what he knew of the man. The language itself is worth it. I knew the plot since I saw the movie long ago and that movie stuck with me. I found the movie much sadder than the book actually - I think the book had slightly more hope at the end. But it was language of the book that just made it worthwhile. Just the way Ishiguro structures this book with subtle on subtle. So much subtext. Our narrator can't admit many things to himself - he is not exactly a reliable narrator to his own feelings - but we can see it and understand it just from little things like dialogue of others. I can see why this book is so highly regarded and it was certainly my favorite January book.

3.My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner: a family memoir by Meir Shalev [translated from Hebrew], 212pp

A very enjoyable memoir of Shalev's family and his grandmother who loved to keep things clean. It is also a story of family history and family stories, many version of the stories. His grandmother is Russian and passed on a lot of Russian saying. This book was translated from Hebrew to English but a lot of parts felt Russian in structure. An interesting book at Israel of the 40s and 50s and 60s.

4.Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski [translated from Polish, in Russian], [Witcher Book 1] 459pp

The first of the five Witcher novels. A lot of setup. All the chapters feel slightly separated from each other but there is a coherent whole. But clearly a setup. It was nice to meet Ciri properly (we met her as a kid in some short stories) and to get a little more background to the main story. If I didn't like the short story collections or the first TV season, I don't know if I would have stuck with it though. But because I did love the show and I want to know what will happen next, I will continue with the books. I am curious at least.

5. Mythos by Stephen Fry, 383pp
Retelling of the Greek myths written with Stephen Fry's humor. A lot of dialogue is very colloquial. It was a fun book. I read a lot of Greek myths as a kid but some of the stories here were new to me, either just forgotten or never learned. I didn't know that Athena had a mother - I thought she just came out of Zeus' head - but she has a mother. It was fun to reread the myths I remembered well too, they are very well today and flow easily. And of course pretty funny.

6.The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli [translated from Italian], 213pp
The book about the physics of time was written for the popular audience so I could follow it pretty well. It was interesting to learn that only one single equation in fundamental physics contains the variable of time and that is for heat. It is all about us and our perceptions really and how our brain processes memories. I do like books that challenge my brain and that was good to read.
books

A-Z Meme

Taken from [Bad username or unknown identity: scream_queen.livejournal.com]

A is for Argument: Who is the last person you argued with and what was it about?
My neighbor, about us being noisy. She thinks it is the fault of our floors, we think it is normal apartment living.

B is for Breakfast: Do you eat breakfast? What do you usually have?
On weekdays, I have a bowl of oatmeal with some walnuts and craisins, a small piece of cheese with a small piece of bread and tea. On weekend I usually make eggs. If I'm visiting my in-laws I opt for a toasted bagel with cheese.

C is for Car: Do you have one? What kind? If not, how do you usually travel?
I don't personally have a car nor do I drive, although technically I have a license. My husband has a Honda HRV. Usually either he drives or I take the subway.

D is for Dinner: What's on the menu tonight?
I believe pea soup with some rye bread- my Mom is over today so she is cooking.

E is for Excellence: Name one thing you think you're really good at
Remembering little details.

F is for Friends: Tell us something you like about the last friend you spoke to
I texted with my friend Marianna yesterday. I have known her from high school and I like her kindness and her common sense approach to life.

G is for Games: What's the last game you played (computer or board game)?
Monopoly Jr with Tanya last night

H is for Home: Where do you consider to be your "hometown"? Is it where you live now?
I feel like I have 2 hometowns - Minsk where I was born and lived for almost 13 years and New York where I moved them. I grew up in both and they both influenced me. I live in New York now.

I is for Internet: What websites do you look at every day?
LJ, DW, Yahoo, dear abby, ask amy, slate, tvline, ny1 news, BBC news.

J is for Job: What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing that now?
I wanted to be a teacher when I was a kid and I did get to do that in my 20s and 30s as I taught writing and history in colleges as an adjunct. But now I'm a civil servant for a city agency working as a research assistant in procurement - something I never even thought about before I got my job 3 years ago. I do like it.

K is for Kitchen: Are you a good cook? What's your go-to dish?
I think I'm a good cook. My go-to dish is probably meatloaf.

L is for Learning: Are you studying or learning anything new right now?
I'm learning French with Duolingo.

M is for Movies: What's the last one you watched and did you like it?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker- I did like it.

N is for Nightmares: Do you have bad dreams? Any recurring themes?
Not too often. Being unprepared for something is probably most recurrent. I rarely remember my dreams though.

O is for Orders: What's the last thing you bought online?
New ballet shoes for Tanya, a Frozen hairbrush for Olivia and Frozen bandaids.

P is for Pop Culture: Do you follow the world of celebrity and know what the hottest new music, movies and trends are?
Not really. I usually know about new movies. I try to listen to some new music when award shows nominate for best song but I rarely care about new music. I only catch celebrity news if I see something on Yahoo or People. I definitely don't care about trends.

Q is for Quiet: If you're home alone, do you like silence or background noise like music or the TV?

Silence. I don't like to have TV on for noise. I only turn it on to see something specific. Sometimes I would put music on. But it is so rare to be home alone nowadays and I certainly want some quiet then.

R is for Reading: What's your go-to genre?
Sci-fi. I also read fantasy, biography and autobiography, history, historical fiction, classics and non-fiction.

S is for Sweets: What's your favourite dessert or sweet treat?
Something with chocolate probably. Sometimes something with custard or cream. Depends on my mood really.

T is for Travel: Where did you last take a trip?
Miami last year. Too long ago now.

U is for Useless: Name something you're just really bad at
Making lots of friends and getting people's contacts. I am ok with basic social interaction and have lots of friendly acquitances at work for example but I don't know how to get people to be closer friends.

V is for Vision: Do you wear glasses or contact lenses?
Glasses. The idea of contact lenses freaks me out.

W is for Weather: What's your perfect day, weather-wise?
Nice and sunny, about 72-75F, but not humid, with blue skies and maybe a nice breeze.

X is for X-Men: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Super speed. I can read fast and travel to lots of places.

Y is for Yesteryear: What period of history is most interesting to you?
European Middle Ages, especially Medieval England. I have a degree in that!

Z is for Zero: What popular activity do you have zero interest in doing?
Going to bars/giant parties and getting drunk.