Reading Journal Entry: Skin Folk, by Nalo Hopkinson

Skin Folk is a collection of short stories by Nalo Hopkinson, the author of Salt Road who I saw read this summer at the Clarion West series.

She really won me over at the event and I've been seeking out her fiction since then. She is Canadian but grew up in the Caribbean and the tropes of that area infuse these stories with a light and heat that makes them truly original.

They are spooky, sexy and funny.

Reading Journal Entry: Stiff, by Mary Roach

Stiff was on the bestseller lists for a long, long time, and generated a lot of buzz. I expected to like it a lot less than I did, because, while I'm really NOT stuck-up about romance novels, I can be stuck-up about non fiction. If stuff has too popular a feel to the prose, it bugs me.

In Stiff Mary Roach talks in excrutiating detail about the uses to which we put dead bodies - this I knew. I didn't know it was funny. Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny.

And informative! Who knew that I could donate my body to be used in a car crash, dissected by surgeons, rotted on a meadow, plasticized as an art exhibit - and so on and so forth. I am almost intrigued enough by the museum idea to be tempted, but I think I'll stick with my current organ-donation-bury-the-rest plan out of consideration for the family.

I probably shouldn't have tried to read it during meals, though. That was a mistake.

Update on The Wedding Surprise by Trish Wylie

Ooo, Trish Wylie does vanity Google and found my review of The Wedding Surprise. And she didn't like it.

My little blurb about her book sparked a 1500 word essay from the outraged author. It's too bad I didn't proofread before posting my 'review' as she calls it, because I made two mistakes - I misspelled Mills & Boon, and I omitted the word 'category' in front of 'romance' at the beginning of the review when I said 'I haven't read a romance lately'. As anyone could see from a cursory glance, I read romance novels a lot - it's category romances that I wanted to get a refresher on.

Wylie takes offense at a number of things I didn't say in my review, which is quite a feat. But since she so graciously directed readers of her blog to mine (with an invitation to 'add a comment of your own or if you're someone who has read the book and didn't think it sucked like apparently all romances do...') and picked it apart piece by piece, I'll go back and explain the parts that confused her.

Trish says: "I will smile graciously and take criticism with grace when it comes from someone who has any clear idea of what category romance is about these days... Which this person- Clearly doesn't -"

Geez, Wylie, I said right up front that I wanted to know what they were up to 'these days'. I don't know what more you can ask for in terms of a disclaimer. I guess Ms. Wylie thinks only the 'educated' reader (ironically she uses the term 'educated' as a put-down a couple of times in her post) should dare to have opinions make comments about the books that they read.

Trish says again: "If you don't like a particular book then fine, that's entirely your choice, and mine, and the rest of the planets - but don't knock an entire genre because of one book and the pre-conceptions you already have in order to make you feel like a more 'educated' reader. If you're an educated reader then you do your research, read across the lines and discover what the best-sellers are - allow that others may like something that you do not - and you do not feel you need to put them down because of it."

I'll give you a pass on the first part of this one, Wylie, because I said (mistakenly) in the review that I hadn't read a romance lately. But WTF are you talking about? I didn't pan romance novels. I didn't even pan category romance novels. I panned YOUR NOVEL. And I didn't even pan it that hard.

Wylie goes on to pick my 89 words apart sentence by sentence phrase, by phrase. "Now let's look at the words 'but it's probably not typical' - Well actually, I'd love to say I was the first category author to come up with Reality TV as a back drop(...)"

That's great. Modest of you. But what makes you assume I was talking about the Reality TV aspect of your book? I wasn't.

"The thing about the kind of people that run down the genre without knowing better(...)," Wylie continue to dribble in this paragraph, calling me 'too lazy' in the next line.

"Then we have 'It's a Mills and Boone book, and set in Ireland. It took me a while to get my head around that, but I got over it.' - Mills and Boon may be a London based publisher - but (...) the books are set ANYWHERE (...) They have a diversity of settings, of plots, of characters and of authors voices that mean to lump them all under the one heading for criticism is a tad naive, don't you think?"

It wouldn't be naive. It would be a complete non sequitur. I was surprised that the book was set in Ireland because the only thing that tipped me off to the location was the mention of Dublin and the Irish names for all the characters. I started off with an assumption that had to be corrected mid-stream. This was annoying. I don't think, nor did I say, that publishing books set in a variety of locales is worthy of criticism.

"'Not a bad idea, but not very believable either - truly fell apart at 'the big reveal'. (...)But to choose one, as it happened mine (which is why I found it) to use as a way of running down an entire publishing house... well... Do I really need to spell it out?

As to the 'not very believeable either' - I could choose to write 'real-life' romance from the experience of my friends and myself as modern day women in our thirties - but I'm writing books that are meant for 'escapism' - for guaranteed Happily Ever Afters for the reader - because that is what they want, it's why the romance industry exists - and really, isn't life depressing enough???"

I am truly baffled. Apparently the fact that I mentioned the name of the publisher means that I was running them down. And the fact that I said her book 'wasn't very believable' means I have a problem with upbeat endings for romance novels.

Her hysterical conclusion: I hate romances and have used my dislike of her book as an excuse to slander the entire genre.

Perhaps if Wylie had read more closely, and if she hadn't been 'too lazy' to educate herself about the person who she was making personal attacks against - she would have realized that I didn't slam the genre - just her book.

And it wasn't much of a slam at that. I felt the characters were mildly likeable and I did enjoy the set-up. I didn't feel the ending was believable - because the idea of anyone trying to solve a relationship problem by creating television montage is only less laughable than someone accepting such a montage as proof of sincerity from someone who had lied to them for months. It struck me as humiliating, heartless, and far-fetched.

To sum up, Wylie used an 89 word review which made only one clearly negative remark about her book to throw a hissy fit of a tirade in which she accuses me of saying a whole lot of things that I didn't say and don't think. She was snide in my direction, she invited her readers to make nasty comments on my blog, and she called me uninformed, lazy, naive, and narrow-minded

Thanks for the link, Trish Wylie. I like romances a lot. I didn't like your book much, though I didn't dislike it as much as you seem to think. I definitely don't like YOU. I don't appreciate your behavior, and I won't be buying any of your books any time soon.

Reading Journal Entry: Mission Child by Maureen McHugh

Mission Child started by surprising me. The beginning of Mission Child was adapted into (or from, I'm not sure) a story in the Mchugh anthology I reviewed last month, Mothers and Other Monsters. That story was about a 'mission' among people on another planet colonized by Earth centuries before. The residents had lost their technology when rediscovered. The mission is run by believers in 'appropriate technology adoption' trying to teach and support a community in a wintery area where residents depend on hunting and herding engineered renndeer for food. Janna is a 'native' teenage girl living at the mission when a visit by itinerant young men goes horribly wrong. In the short story, she is charged with the safety of another young woman, a recently arrived off-worlder.

The visitors become drunk, and then violent. They kill most of the residents of the mission, including Janna's parents and younger sister. Janna survives by hiding; she is given an implant with the ability to send a distress signal and another that permits her to hibernate. The title of the short story is "The Cost To Be Wise", and it was one of the stories in Mothers that I had to walk away from. Janna and her new friend survive and are rescued. But her longing for the 'forbidden' offworld technology gives the story a terrible sting.

In the book, Janna is alone. She is not rescued and whisked away. She and her boyfriend are among the few survivors of the mission community; they must struggle to survive together, finding brief respite in a new community before encountering violence again. Janna finds herself a refugee and alone. She dresses herself in a man's clothing and begins to call herself Jan - it is easier to be a man than a woman in her circumstances. Eventually her circumstances change, but she does not. She is unable to let go of the male identity even though she assummed it under duress.

Jan's flights are multiple; from the very beginning until almost the end of the book she runs from one situation to another, desperately trying to avoid putting down roots or explaining herself to anyone. The English she learned growing up in the mission puts her into contact with the off-worlders again and again. She never really seems to grow up or recover from her first traumas. But eventually she finds some people she can call family. Ultimately this is a very sad book.

Reading Journal Entry: A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett

Yes, more Pratchett. Don't look at me that way! It's summer! And I'm reading as many books as I can in order to get in some more entries for the Seattle Public Library's summer reading drawing, which ends 8/31. I'll get back to the classics next month.

A Hat Full of Sky is very much a girls' book. It's a Discworld novel, but not aggressively. Pratchett has reined in his rampant footnotes and digressions and Ankh-Morpork makes no appearances. This has a very local, very anywhere-fantasy-land, and a very YA feel to it and there are no 'barriers to entry' for readers who are unfamiliar with the rest of (extraordinarily long) series. So much so, in fact, that I wonder if this was written with the American YA market in mind.

It's about Tiffany Aching, who is eleven and being sent away from home to be an apprentice to a witch. That's OK, making cheese on the farm was getting old, even though she was very good at it, and apparently in some previous book she proved herself to have some magical talents that probably need training up. Tiffany is very likeable and feels totally natural as a character. I'm surprised Pratchett does girls so well! There is a particular scene where Tiffany makes a mis-step with a group of her peers which made me redden in sympathy for her.

Tiffany isn't just magically talented, she also has a special relationship with several tiny blue men - The Wee Free Men of the previous installment. They are drunken, rowdy, very funny, and just want to help Tiffany. With everything. Sometimes this is a bad thing. But when a powerful magical creature begins to stalk her, they are determined to help.

The final conflict had more than a bit of Deus Ex Machina to it, but the way there was so amusing that I can't help but love this and recommend it.

Terry Pratchett on religion

I was listening to an audio book of Pyramids by Terry Pratchett today and came across this scene; one of my favorites in the entirety of the vast Discworld series. I'd forgotten which book it was in. I laughed and laughed. Luckily I wasn't the one driving.

He'd always remember the first night in the dormitory. It was long enough to accommodate all eighteen boys in Viper House, and draughty enough to accommodate the great outdoors. Its designer may have had comfort in mind, but only so that he could avoid it wherever possible: he had contrived a room that could actually be colder than the weather outside.

'I thought we got rooms to ourselves,' said Teppic.

Chidder, who had laid claim to the least exposed bed in the whole refrigerator, nodded at him.

'Later on,' he said. He lay back, and winced. 'Do they sharpen these springs, do you reckon?'

Teppic said nothing. The bed was in fact rather more comfortable than the one he'd slept in at home. His parents, being high born, naturally tolerated conditions for their children which would have been rejected out of hand by destitute sandflies.
He stretched out on the thin mattress and analysed the day's events. He'd been enrolled as an assassin, all right, a student assassin, for more than seven hours and they hadn't even let him lay a hand on a knife yet. Of course, tomorrow was another day . . .

Chidder leaned over.

'Where's Arthur?' he said.

Teppic looked at the bed opposite him. There was a pathetically small sack of clothing positioned neatly in its centre, but no sign of its intended occupant.
'Do you think he's run away?' he said, staring around at the shadows.

'Could be,' said Chidder. 'It happens a lot, you know. Mummy's boys, away from home for the first time-'

The door at the end of the room swung open slowly and Arthur entered, backwards, tugging a large and very reluctant billy goat. It fought him every step of the way down the aisle between the bedsteads.

The boys watched in silence for several minutes as he tethered the animal to the end of his bed, upended the sack on the blankets, and took out several black candles, a sprig of herbs, a rope of skulls, and a piece of chalk. Taking the chalk, and adopting the shiny, pink-faced expression of someone who is going to do what they know to be right no matter what, Arthur drew a double circle around his bed and then, getting down on his chubby knees, filled the space between them with as unpleasant a collection of occult symbols as Teppic. had ever seen. When they were completed to his satisfaction he placed the candles at strategic points and lit them; they spluttered and gave off a smell that suggested that you really wouldn't want to know what they were made of. He drew a short, red-handled knife from the jumble on the bed and advanced towards the goat-

A pillow hit him on the back of the head.

'Garn! Pious little bastard!'

Arthur dropped the knife and burst into tears. Chidder sat up in bed.

'That was you, Cheesewright!' he said. 'I saw you!' Cheesewright, a skinny young man with red hair and a face that was one large freckle, glared at him.

'Well, it's too much,' he said. 'A fellow can't sleep with all this religion going on. I mean, only little kids say their prayers at bedtime these days, we're supposed to be learning to be assassins-'

'You can jolly well shut up, Cheesewright,' shouted Chidder. 'It'd be a better world if more people said their prayers, you know. I know I don't say mine as often as I should-'

A pillow cut him off in mid-sentence. He bounded out of bed and vaulted at the red-haired boy, fists flailing.

As the rest of the dormitory gathered around the scuffling pair Teppic slid out of bed and padded over to Arthur, who was sitting on the edge of his bed and sobbing.
He patted him uncertainly on the shoulder, on the basis that this sort of thing was supposed to reassure people.

'I shouldn't cry about it, youngster,' he said, gruffly.

'But - but all the runes have been scuffed,' said Arthur. 'It's all too late now! And that means the Great Om will come in the night and wind out my entrails on a stick!'

'Does it?'

'And suck out my eyes, my mother said!'

'Gosh!' said Teppic, fascinated. 'Really?' He was quite glad his bed was opposite Arthur's, and would offer an unrivalled view. 'What religion would this be?'

'We're Strict Authorised Ormits,' said Arthur. He blew his nose. 'I noticed you don't pray,' he said. 'Don't you have a god?'

'Oh yes,' said Teppic hesitantly, 'no doubt about that.'

'You don't seem to want to talk to him.'

Teppic shook his head. 'I can't,' he said, 'not here. He wouldn't be able to hear, you see.'

'My god can hear me anywhere,' said Arthur fervently.

'Well, mine has difficulty if you're on the other side of the room,' said Teppic. 'It can be very embarrassing.'

'You're not an Offlian, are you?' said Arthur. Offler was a Crocodile God, and lacked ears.


'What god do you worship, then?'

'Not exactly worship,' said Teppic, discomforted. 'I wouldn't say worship. I mean, he's all right. He's my father, if you must know.'

Arthur's pink-rimmed eyes widened.

'You're the son of a god?' he whispered.

'It's all part of being a king, where I come from,' said Teppic hurriedly. 'He doesn't have to do very much. That is, the priests do the actual running of the country. He just makes sure that the river floods every year, d'you see, and services the Great Cow of the Arch of the Sky. Well, used to.'

'The Great-'

'My mother,' explained Teppic. 'It's all very embarrassing.'

'Does he smite people?'

'I don't think so. He's never said.'

Arthur reached down to the end of the bed. The goat, in the confusion, had chewed through its rope and trotted out of the door, vowing to give up religion in future.
'I'm going to get into awful trouble,' he said. 'I suppose you couldn't ask your father to explain things to the Great Orm?'

'He might be able to,' said Teppic doubtfully. 'I was going to write home tomorrow anyway.

'The Great Orm is normally to be found in one of the Nether Hells,' said Arthur, 'where he watches everything we do. Everything I do, anyway. There's only me and mother left now, and she doesn't do much that needs watching.'

'I'll be sure and tell him.'

'Do you think the Great Orm will come tonight?'

'I shouldn't think so. I'll ask my father to be sure and tell him not to.'

At the other end of the dormitory Chidder was kneeling on Cheesewright's back and knocking his head repeatedly against the wall.

'Say it again,' he commanded. 'Come on - "There's nothing wrong-"'

'"There's nothing wrong with a chap being man enough-" curse you, Chidder, you beastly-'

'I can't hear you, Cheesewright,' said Chidder.

'"Man enough to say his prayers in front of other chaps", you rotter.'
'Right. And don't you forget it.'

After lights out Teppic lay in bed and thought about religion. It was certainly a very complicated subject.

The valley of the Djel had its own private gods, gods which had nothing to do with the world outside. It had always been very proud of the fact. The gods were wise and just and regulated the lives of men with skill and foresight, there was no question about that, but there were some puzzles.

For example, he knew his father made the sun come up and the river flood and so on. That was basic, it was what the pharaohs had done ever since the time of Khuft, you couldn't go around questioning things like that. The point was, though, did he just make the sun come up in the Valley or everywhere in the world? Making the sun come up in the Valley seemed a more reasonable proposition, after all, his father wasn't getting any younger, but it was rather difficult to imagine the sun coming up everywhere else and not the Valley, which led to the distressing thought that the sun would come up even if his father forgot about it, which was a very likely state of affairs. He'd never seen his father do anything much about making the sun rise, he had to admit. You'd expect at least a grunt of effort round about the dawn. His father never got up until after breakfast. The sun came up just the same.

He took some time to get to sleep. The bed, whatever Chidder said, was too soft, the air was too cold and, worst of all, the sky outside the high windows was too dark. At home it would have been full of flarelight from the necropolis, its silent flames eerie but somehow familiar and comforting, as though the ancestors were watching over their valley. He didn't like the darkness.

The following night in the dormitory one of the boys from further along the coast shyly tried to put the boy in the next bed inside a wickerwork cage he made in Craft and set fire to him, and the night after that Snoxall, who had the bed by the door and came from a little country out in the forests somewhere, painted himself green and asked for volunteers to have their intestines wound around a tree. On Thursday a small war broke out between those who worshipped the Mother Goddess in her aspect of the Moon and those who worshipped her in her aspect of a huge fat woman with enormous buttocks. After that the masters intervened and explained that religion, while a fine thing, could be taken too far.

Reading Journal Entry: More Wandering Stars by Jack Dann

More Wandering Stars from Jack Dann. This collection contains a sequel of sorts to Horace Gold's The Trouble With Water, the creepy but not-up-to-the-last-one Warm Dark Places. An Isaac Bashevis Singer story, The Last Demon, puts all the rest to shame. Woody Allen's meditations on the Tanach, The Scrolls, made me laugh out loud. A worthy anthology, but a bit slim. And it's been 25 years since this was published. Isn't it about time for some more Jewish-themed science fiction and fantasy? C'mon, Jack Dann! What have you been up to?

You'd think it's out there - but I don't know. I was looking for Jewish-themed speculative fiction for my Jewish book club (you can only read so many holocaust books in a row) and I couldn't really find any that were in print. Recommendations would be welcome.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

This is the book I was running away from when I read two Georgette Heyer novels this weekend. Black Hole has been on my list for way too long. It's brilliant, and I wanted to buy it, but it was just too spendy and too heavy - both emotionally and physically. I kept picking it up and putting it down.

It's a graphic novel set in an alternate 1970's suburban Seattle. A weird disease changes people's bodies in unpredictable ways. The art is haunting & bizarre, white on black with a visceral quality that literally made me sick to my stomach a couple of times.

'It' is transmitted by sex, and only affects teenagers. We follow the stories of Chris and Keith, who each come in contact with the disease in different ways.

Ugh - take a trip back to high school, and then add horrible nightmarish stuff on top of the already horrifying experiences you remember.There are some very trippy dream sequences. This was very difficult to read. But it needed to go back to the library, so after reading two Heyers as insulation I picked it back up again and struggled through.

Good - sad - serious art. Extremely uncomfortable on every level. Not only did the art make me nauseated a couple of times, but there were at least two times when I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment - remembered or symnpathetic? Hard to tell.

Reading Journal Entry: The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer

This Heyer, on the other hand, has a bit more dash to it, and is definitely more memorable. Pre-Regency, the characters are allowed the fashions and flourishes of the Georgian period - red high heeled shoes, powdered wigs, wide skirts - and use them to good will. In fact, the two main characters are cross-dressing siblings who fool all of London society into accepting them as a brother and sister when they are in fact a sister and brother.

I did not quite expect this. It was fun, and funny, and very amusing that they should fall in love (with gender-appropriately dressed individuals) and be all sorted out nice and tight with decent identities and so forth by the end of the book.

This was unexpectedly one of two books about cross-dressing that I read this week, and compared to Maureen McHugh's Mission Child it falls a bit flat. I mean, c'mon, Georgette, surely there had to be a bit more going on with these two than a simple desire to escape the consequences of Jacobitism. No?

Reading Journal Entry: Sylvester, by Georgette Heyer

A new Heyer! Two, actually, this week. I will be so sad when I've read the last one. Heyer is the Queen of Regency, and this is a very palatable example. It's her 'Pride and Prejudice'. I read this rather quickly, though, and the characters are bland enough that they are beginning to slip from my mind. Sylvester: self-important Duke, with very good manners. Prudence: plucky but timid (?) authoress of a roman a clef skewering said Duke. They conceive ill opinions of each other, but Fate Brings Them Together! Most satisfactorily.

Reading Journal Entry: Secrets of the Lean Plate Club by Sally Squires

This diet book is written by a who wrote a nutritional column for the Washington Post. Pretty standard feel-good diet fare, with the usual scaremongering about the dangers of fat (THE FAT IS COMING TO GET YOU!)

The best part about this book is the advice to start weight-lifting, which comes with illustrations and instructions for exercises that can be done by beginners.

Readng Journal Entry:The Wedding Surprise, by Trish Wylie

A romance novel! I was curious to know what they're like these days, so I picked up a random recent volume at the library.

A Wedding Surprise is certainly recent (it's about two people who agree to participate in a reality show) but it's probably not typical. It's a Mills & Boone book, and set in Ireland. It took me a little while to get my head around that, but I got over it.

Not a bad idea, but not very believable either - truly fell apart at 'the big reveal'.

Reading Journal Entry: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

The third volume about Captain Lawrence and Temeraire takes place after the successful resolution of the crisis with China. They are called suddenly away to deal with an international crisis - Great Britain has bought two dragon eggs from SItanbul, and they must be secured before they hatch in a few months time. The urgency necessitates an overland trip (for a nice change from the previous long sea voyages) which allow for plenty of adventurous encounters and local color.

I didn't feel this colume was as successfully plotted as the previous two - things seemed to resolve themselves mid-book, and the last third of the volume almost dragged, with nearly a completely different storyline. She did leave us with a kicker of a teaser for next time, though. Damn her. Hurry and write, Naomi Novik!

A response

I previously expressed dismay at Will Duquette's review of S. M. Stirling's Dies the Fire.

Will has responded in a somewhat prickly manner. I didn't say anything of substance in my post, and he seems to read in a great deal more than I intended. The reason I didn't say much is because, as the title of the original post stated, I really was at a loss for words. At the time I wasn't sure why his review struck such a wrong chord for me.

Since he went to the trouble of noting my response with a further explanation of his feelings about Wicca, sprinkled with concern about his - gasp - –intolerance, I've taken a few days to examine why his words struck such a wrong chord with me.

I was not offended, nor do I think he was 'intolerant'. Duquette may remain faux-gasp-free. My reaction had nothing to do with the merits, or lack thereof, of the Wiccan faith. In fact, my opinions about Wicca align in many respects with those that Duquette expresses (although I like to believe I would choose more tactful phrases than "hodgepodge of play-acting and high fantasy" and "willfully self-deluded").

Duquette disapproved of a positive portrayal of characters following a religion other than Christianity. His exact words were, "It troubles me to see them lauded in what is arguably a mainstream novel."

Religion, Duquette explains, is a matter of truth, not of psychological utility. Besides, real pagans converted to Christianity. I'm not sure what his point is with that bit of info. So back to me.

I'm not Wiccan. But I'm not Christian either. I'm Jewish. Until fairly recently, there haven't been many positive portrayals of Jews in literature. It's been pretty much Shylock & Fagin all the way. And these twisted ideas of Jews were used to justify the worst kind of hatred and violence.

When I read the above, I think: well, what SHOULD Wiccans have looked like in this book? What would a book that did NOT trouble Duquette look like? Should the main character have been less 'kind, intelligent, and clearly sincere'? How charismatic is it OK for them to be? Should mean, stupid Wiccan characters have been included for balance? Or is it OK for them to be positive characters as long as none of the other characters are influenced by them?

What about Jews? Or Mormons? Are positive portrayals of people of those faiths disturbing? And what exactly does 'mainstream' mean? It's OK as long as only the religious minorities involved are exposed to them? Hmmm. I wonder.

Yeah, I find it sad. In fact, you might say I find it 'troubling'.

Reading Journal Entry: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Throne of Jade is the sequel to His Majesty's Dragon, which I gulped down a couple of weeks ago. I loved the idea of combining a historically realistc Napoleonic warfare with dragons, and I was thrilled to learn that the publishers released all three books in quick succession. That meant I didn't need to wait another year to find out what happened to our lovely black Celestial Temeraire and his daring Captain Lawrence. I just had to wait two weeks for the Seattle Public Library to get me one of the fifteen copies they bought.

It was a long two weeks, but it finally arrived, and I brushed aside the 37 other books I have sitting on my 'SPL' bookshelf in favor of Throne of Jade and its sequel Black Powder War.

At the end of His Majesty's Dragon, Lawrence had become reconciled to departing his beloved Navy and entering the Aviation Corps. Temeraire had proved his mettle in defense of the British Isles and revealed himself to be in possession of a smashing new fighting ability: the divine wind, which is pretty clearly an audio shock wave of some kind. Fun stuff!

But at the beginning of Throne of Jade, Lawrence and Temeraire aren't basking in the gratitude of the multitudes. An embassy from China has arrived, demanding the return of the precious Celestial they had intended to be a companion to the Emperor of France. As Temeraire refuses to be separated from Lawrence, and Lawrence refuses to lie to Temeraire in order to trick him on board ship, things are at an impasse until Lawrence finds himself volunteered for a trip to China.

The long sea voyage is not glossed over; one reader complained about this, but I enjoyed it very much and I think many others will also - because the Naval atmosphere is so compelling. Novik again does a great job weaving the realities of 'dragon support' into the historical situation. Temeraire and Lawrence find themselves on what is essentially an aircraft carrier that has to support three different entourages. There's the regular crew, Temeraire's crew, and the Chinese embassy. Plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings and tension.

Well done, although I wish some incidents had been wrapped up more neatly.

Reading Journal Entry: The Salt Roads, by Nalo Hopkinson

I saw Nalo Hopkinson read from her next book last month at a Clarion West event. She was so magnetic that I immediately rushed back to the library and reserved all her books (no, I didn't buy them - why? Because I read 5 books a week, duh, if I bought them all I'd be poor.)

In The Salt Roads Hopkinson interweaves several storylines about black women connected by Ezili, the goddess of love, and the power of the sea road on which the Ginen were taken from Africa. The three women are Mer, a healer in Saint-Domingue; Jeanne Duval, a historical figure and the lover of Charles Baudelaire; and Meritet, who becomes St. Mary of Egypt.

These are richly told, heartwrenching portraits. Hopkinson is really skilled at evoking the historical era; the smells of the Mer's cane fields, Jeanne's powder and makeup, and Meritet's dusty Roman roads.

Hopkinson's vivid writing makes up for the lack of resolution. Ultimately the three stories (and Ezili's story) didn't come together in a satisfactory way. I can't decide whether the loose structure is a strength or a weakness. I think, though, that it's enough. It's good as it is. Forcing it into the mold of a traditional story arc would have crippled it.

Adjectives I will apply to this book: interesting, exciting, thought-provoking.

In which I muse on an unnamed self-help book

I can't review the last book I read this week because it would get me in trouble.

Let's just say I've been experiencing some difficulties in one of my relationships. And I picked up a self-help book that references said relationship in a derogatory manner in the title. Out of a sense of self-preservation, I will not be revealing the name of the book.

If you're reading this, and you know me, it's not you. Really. I swear. It's totally not you!

You (generic reader you) are not missing much, though, because thus wasn't a great book. Pretty run of the mill. Classifies people into neat little categories, tells a few funny anecdotes about how moronic people can be, and gives the reader a nice slap upside the head. The problem may not be your fault, says this (and every other self-help book), but it is at this moment your responsibility. You are undoubtedly contributing to the problem. So adjust your expectations and your attitude.

I adjusted myself and tried wearing a new attitude this week. So far, so good.

Reading Journal Entry: Saving Dinner the Low-Carb Way by Leanne Ely

This cookbook and dinner planner was recommended to me. Ely provides no-nonsense dinner recipes that won't cause anyone's palate to rebel; she includes shopping lists and serving recommendations. A strength is that nutritional information is provided and she does not adhere to any particular 'brand' of low carb diet. Very sensible, not too exciting, but it did give me some ideas....

James Tiptree, Jr. biography released.

I am so excited about this book.

I attended the release party and wrote about it for Seattlest here.

Reading Journal Entry: Wolf Who Rules, by Wen Spencer

We read Wen Spencer's Tinker in April. At that time I mentioned that Tinker's new dreamy husband, Wolfwind, doesn't really make much sense. I was hoping to get some of that sorted out in this sequel. But Spencer doesn't seem to have the words 'slow down' in her vocabulary. All that wacky stuff that Wolfwind did in volume 1 (like marry Tinker without her knowing it, and turn her into an elf without asking permission) isn't revisited. Instead, Spencer picks up right where she left off with the action (Pittsburgh has been catapulted seemingly permanently into Elfland - there's a big growing deadzone - Tinker still has the hots for everything with a dick) at the end of the last volume, throws in some additional complications, and gets to work.

Actually, there are a LOT of additional complications. The numerous plotlines become confusing and weaken the story. By the end of the book there are just too many players, and some of them are underdeveloped.

Still fun though!

Reading Journal Entry: Wandering Stars, edited by Jack Dann

In search of interesting Jewish-themed fiction for my book group, I came across this collection of Jewish science fiction and fantasy stories.

Originally published in 1974, this is old enough that Isaac Asimov was around to write an introduction, and other Jewish SF authors could confess to hiding their religious/ethnic persuasion in order to avoid discrimination. It's also old enough that some of the best stories in the volume feel dated; funny, original, sad, often classic, they have a patina of other decades.

More than one deals with the problem of alien Jews. Most are funny. I was particularly happy to re-read Horace Gold's 'The Trouble With Water', about a Jewish store owner who annoys the wrong water spirit.

This is definitely worth a read, but I would like to see a collection of more modern works. We'll see how More Wandering Stars (originally published in 1981) delivers.

Reading Journal Entry: Only You Can Save Mankind, by Terry Pratchett

Johnny Maxwell is a perfectly average twelve year old (with, perhaps, an embarrassment of interesting friends available to serve as supporting characters). His parents are splitting up and he spends a lot of time playing bootlegged video games. He's quite surprised when the bad guys - aliens - in his latest game surrender. It's just that they surrender so aggressively. They refuse to shoot back at him or other human players and they start fleeing computer screens all over the country.

It turns out it's not so much fun to fight people who have an infinite number of lives.

Pratchett layers on some oblique (OK, not actually so oblique) political commentary, as this is set during the first Gulf War. Johnny's buddies are hilarious, as is the girl geek he eventually teams up with. A very competent YA book.

Reading Journal Entry: Salt by Mark Kurlansky

I first heard of Salt when the author objected to President Bush bringing it on vacation with him.

Well, he didn't exactly object, but here's what he did say:

"What does it mean that George W Bush, a man who has demonstrated little ability for reflection, who is known to read no newspapers and whose headlong charge into disaster after cataclysm has shown a complete ignorance of history, who wants to throw out centuries of scientific learning and replace it with mythical mumbo-jumbo that he mistakenly calls religion, who preaches Christianity but seems to have never read the teachings of the great anti-war activist, Jesus Christ, is now spending his vacation reading my book, Salt: A World History?
(...)maybe he should put my book down, walk outside and talk to the grieving mothers of the American youth he wasted, who are camped in front of the ranch."

Well, damn, that sounds like a man worth reading.

I can see why Bush found Salt attractive. It's not very demanding. Kurlansky surveys the history of human use of salt, with a dash of geological information as well. He dances nimbly between different cultures and time period, stringing together lovely little anecdotes about places and salt extraction techniques like salt crystals on a necklace of chapters. Or something. There's very little required of the reader except that he or she sit back and enjoy the ride. It's quite enjoyable, actually. This would be a good read for young adults. It's massive, but doesn't require a long attention span.

Kurlansky's Cod was recommended to me a while ago, but I don't feel the need to seek it out now that I've read its older brother.

Reading Journal Entry: Murder by Magic, ed. by Rosemary Edghill

A short story collection edited by Edghill, showed up on my reserve list at the same time as Warslayer. Unfortunately, there's no Edghill story in it! So I was disappointed. It's difficult to do mysteries well, especially within the added confines of a short story. And fantastical mysteries are even more challening because there are more conventions to balance. The result is an uneven batch of works. There were about five interesting stories in the collection; the rest range from lackluster to completely inadequate. I know I have high standards, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect these stories to actually include a mystery.

I enjoyed most Laura Resnick's 'Doppelgangster' and Doyle's 'A Death in the Working'. Friesner's 'Au Purr' had a nice playful tone to it as well.

Reading Journal Entry: His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

I stayed up late to read Peace Like a River. When reading His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik, I stayed up late, and then woke up early to read some more before work.

I like reading fantasy novels. I like reading novels set in Regency England. What could be better than a combination of the two? Dragon is set during the Napoleonic wars, and Novik pulls off the best evocation of the Royal Navy since Patrick O'Brian.

Captain William Lawrence, of the HMS Reliant, discovers at the conclusion of a successful naval engagement that he has captured from the French a large dragon egg. This doesn't come as a complete surprise, as dragons are a domesticated species and their handlers form a Regency equivalent of the Air Force. The egg is close to hatching. As aviators are viewed as near-pariahs, neither Lawrence nor his officers are eager to harness the being about to emerge. Nonetheless, such a valuable asset to His Majesty's forces can't be left to fly away unharbessed. They draw straws. And the dragon promptly turns up his nose at the poor midshipman and chooses the most senior office on board - Captain Lawrence.

Lawrence must perforce leave the navy and enter the Aerial Corps, a branch of the British military consisting of dragons, the men who have bonded with them, and various support personnel who are key to the war against France. Of course, Napoleon has his own dragons, and so does everyone else.

The rather typical 'newbie' plotline in which Lawrence and the readers are together introduced to this world is well-executed; Novik is obviously well acquainted with the era and gets the historical and cultural details right. The insular, but atypically relaxed culture of the aviators gives her an opportunity to have characters with more modern attitudes and dialogue without seeming anachronistic. Lawrence is a good guy with a pole up his ass when it comes to ethics (just my type) and Temeraire is charming. The aerial battles (and yes, there is some action after a long, long time spent on training exposition) are well-described and plausible. And finally, the biology and the zoology of the various dragon breeds is explored in a naturalistic way that lends some hefty underpinnings to the drama.