aidenfire: hermione is the brains of this operation (hp: the brains of every operation)
[personal profile] aidenfire
I've been reading some really excellent things lately, both novels and some Yuletide stuff, and I wanted to share my squee! I'm stilling working through Yuletide, so I'll post those in a day or two, but for now, have some book talk! I also have a couple more books I want to talk about, but I figured I'd go ahead and post this now.

Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder. Fantasy, Adult/YA. ♥♥♥♥. Highly Recommended.

Let me preface this by saying that I read a lot of fantasy, both adult and YA, and I was so surprised that I'd never read nor heard of this book or author before, because it was absolutely enthralling. The story begins with a young woman waiting in prison to be executed. She is offered a choice -- either become the king's poison taster, or go forward with the execution as planned. She decides, of course, to become the taster, and the plot moves forward from there. I especially enjoyed the book form of her training-montage, and her self-initiated quest to Figure Things Out. There were a lot of really interesting elements to this book that I hadn't seen before, including the setting. It is, as I said, a fantasy novel, but it was a very regimented, vaguely Brave-New-World country, which was new to me. Everyone has a rank dependent on their abilities, citizens need paperwork to move or change jobs or marry, etc. In the later books in the trilogy, the author does an interesting comparison of a more laissez-faire society, and shows the pros and cons of each. There were also several plot points that took me completely by surprise, which doesn't happen too often in these kinds of books anymore.

The characters were well drawn and intriguing. The romantic relationship that develops was very well-paced and a pleasure to watch develop, and I'm a sucker for a strong, powerful heroine every time. The plot moved quickly with plenty of action, and there were some espionage elements that I really loved! I give it four stars rather than five because there were some common tropes: orphan-with-mysterious-powers! powerful-unknown-magician-shows-up-at-crucial-moment! unexpected-betrayal! and so on. However...not gonna lie, I love all those tropes, and was totally willing to indulge a few moments of disbelief to carry the story along. (One could, after all, easily argue that HP includes all those tropes as well.) It was well written and completely engaging. I essentially inhaled this book and its two sequels, and despite a few flaws, I can confidently recommend this to most people, and especially to fans of the genre.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Sci Fi/Future, Adult/YA. ♥♥♥♥♥. Highly Recommended.

It's the year 2044 and life as we know it has rather become life as we create it. The real world is essentially falling apart, its resources exhausted, and no viable solutions on the horizon. However, no one is devoting much attention to this, because what we now call "real life" is much less real than the virtual reality the vast majority of the population spends almost all of their lives jacked into. A cross between Second Life and World of Warcraft with full immersion body suits and visors, people work, go to school, make war and fall in love on an immense number of worlds without ever leaving their homes. Then, the creator of the virtual reality system dies, and rather than a will, he leaves his fortune, and a controlling share of the reality, to whoever can find an Easter Egg first by solving a series of interrelated clues about his obsession -- 80s pop culture.

This book was so good in so many ways. The world-building was incredible. There were so many small yet cohesive details that made the world -- both real and virtual -- seem so real it was hard to believe it doesn't really exist. The characters were full-bodied, complex, and achingly realistic. Throw in a classic little guy vs. The Man plotline (our protagonist and his handful of equally nerdy friends are racing against a giant corporation who wants the shares of the virtual reality so they can privatize and commercialize it) that gets a lot more real than the protagonist was expecting when he got himself into all this and you have got yourself one hell of a novel. The protagonist himself is an overweight, desperately poor trailer park kid named Wade, and I think most people can empathize with his need to prove himself, to be someone, and to escape his reality for a more pleasant one where he can be a crusading quester named Perzival. The details and trivia are worked in seamlessly, and you don't need an 80s obsession of your own to follow this book, or to love it. As a bonus, you get the full force of every sci fi, fantasy, or real life weapon, power, or skill to throw around, all with their own limitations and strings attached Highly recommended!

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. Non-fiction. ♥♥♥♥. Highly Recommended.

As opposed to the other novels on this list, I don't read too much non-fiction. However, this book was enthralling. It is about a sociologist from the University of Chicago studying urban poverty. As a grad student, he came up with the great idea to go into the projects and try to ask people multiple choice questions like "On a scale of 1-5, how bad is it to be poor and black?" As you might guess, it didn't go over too well, but instead of getting his dumb ass shot, one of the middle-high level gang leaders takes him under his wing, and lets him essential shadow him for close to ten years. It's an unparallelled look at the infrastructure and economy of the urban poor, and it left me with a lot to think about. As someone who has consistently been in the middle-upper class in a town with something like 12 people of color in it total, it was so eye-opening, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in privilege, poverty, race relations, or urban development. There are so many things that I didn't think about and would never have had reason to think about, and I'm glad this book gave me a chance to examine them more closely. One thing that I had not considered was that gang leaders, as represented by Venkatesh, seemed to regard themselves as community leaders. They worked closely with pastors, heads of housing associations in the various buildings, and even police members. To put it bluntly, violence and unrest are bad for business for everyone, including drug and gun selling, and the leaders had a vested interested in keeping violence from getting out of control. The gang as described in this book operated in a very buisnesslike manner -- "clerks" on the street serving the customers, "shift-leaders" keeping an eye on the clerks and reporting their sales to a middle management operative, who in turn reports to a board of directors. It was just...very surreal, and absolutely fascinating

It reads quickly and easily. It's written primarily in narrative style, and is very accessible even to a non-academic audience. It also includes interesting mental wrestling the author did over the sometimes murky ethical grounds the author found himself in by witnessing or hearing of drug dealing, assault, and robbery. I give it four stars instead of five for two reasons. First, it on occasion got a little hard to keep track of who all the bit players were. More back-reference when referring to someone would have been helpful. The more problematic reason is also the touchier one. Sometimes, it seemed like the author veered a little into voyeurism. He discusses this himself, but there is something a little uncomfortable about a professional academic making his career by observing and writing about poor minorities. However, with those caveats, I still think this book does much more good than bad, and I have no qualms about recommending it strongly.

In other news, I'm out visiting my boy in Pittsburgh and it's really nice. :)

And, final unrelated random question...I'm considering changing my default to this one of Hermione I used here. Thoughts?
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