thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Keep Hoping Machine Running ([personal profile] thefourthvine) wrote2010-08-30 11:11 pm

Rec me something. Please.

I am good at picking fan fiction. I am. I can look at a header and think, YAY or OMG NO or If I had world enough and time, and also someone had glued me to my chair. I can generally tell in a few paragraphs if this is back-button-it's-too-late-for-me-save-yourself territory. Ninety percent of the time, I know if I'm reading my way into trouble, or if I should check the ending first or just get someone who knows me to pre-read the story to see if my eyes might melt right off my face if I try it.

And I know when something is going to be in that sad grey area between "bad enough that you can laugh" and "mediocre but maybe worth your time if it hits your current narrative kinks and character needs."

Unfortunately, I have never had this ability with published fiction. (This is why I laugh when people say, "But published fiction doesn't have headers and notes and warnings and stuff!" No, it doesn't, and we are the poorer for it. Think of all the published work you wouldn't have read if it had had "part 1/???" in the title and "Summary: Stuff happens. People die. Life sucks. Girls can't hack it." in the header.) But the thing is, ten years ago I was more tolerant of published crap. I accepted that I would have to wade through it up to my knees to find great things to read; I thought it was my fate and duty as a reader. Now, I get to the midpoint of a book, realize it exists in the sad grey area, and I don't think, well, maybe the next book will be great. I just want to back button. Except, god damn it, I actually paid for this. Which means there can be no happy ending: either I finish the book and wish I had not, or I don't finish it and feel ripped off.

And lately - oh, man. Lately I have hit a really long run of sad grey area books. I had honestly forgotten there were so many ways to fuck up a book, you know? And Best Beloved has been recommending me stuff (good stuff!) from her recent reads, but she's run dry.

So I am asking you: please, please rec me something good to read. Ideally something available on the Kindle, because I'm doing all this extra reading because I've spent the past two months variously sick or injured, all in the ways where getting up to get another book is a serious investment of time and energy.

I like:
  1. Non-fiction, particularly memoirs, detailed histories of unlikely things (chopsticks, a single typeface, the compass rose), and anything funny or told in an engaging narrative voice. (I am also always looking for really good books on WWI pilots, planes, and the war in the air.)
  2. Speculative fiction. I generally prefer robots to elves, but frankly I will take either. Robots and elves also 100% welcome.
  3. YA books of almost any stripe, provided there is something else going on besides A and B kissing or not kissing.
  4. Anything amazingly awesome. I will read the best book in any genre!
I do not like:
  1. Child or animal harm or death. (If you're not sure about this with what you're recommending, let me know and I will have it pre-read.)
  2. Stories that are entirely about whether or not A and B will kiss. Or, alternatively, stories where saving the world is the B plot, and the A plot is whether or not A and B will kiss. (Saving the world comes first. Or there will be nowhere comfortable to fuck.)
  3. Torture porn, rape-o-matic plotting (Can't figure out what happens next? Rape someone!), authors who think that gore is somehow a substitute for characterization or plot.
And if you're looking for more detail on what I don't like, a rant! Dedicated to the authors of the crap I've been reading recently.


There is now a three-drink limit on fading to black. I'm talking specifically here about the kind of fading to black you do when your character is unconscious or near death. Because, okay, if your character is taking multiple head injuries and/or really serious injuries just generally - look. You can get away with that. Serial immortality! Just plain old immortality! Wolverine! But if your character has basically a normal human's stamina and healing factor and number of lives and so on - seriously. Please don't knock her unconscious or shoot her or have her nearly beaten to death at the end of every chapter. Especially if the entire book takes place over the course of a week. After a while, I start humming the Die Hard theme, you know? There are other ways to end a chapter! Like maybe your heroine could knock someone else unconscious!

Please remember to have an actual protagonist. Because, okay. If your entire plot summary can be written like this:
  • Something random happens to X!
  • Something else random happens to X!
  • A third random thing happens to X!
Then it's time to consider one of two possibilities:
  1. You don't actually have a plot.
  2. X is not actually your protagonist.
See, protagonists DO STUFF. They do something. They may make everything worse. They may make stupid choices. They may be brilliant and sparkly and solve every problem and also cure cancer and make our sky a permanent rainbow. But if they just stand around and wait for things to happen, and then things happen and they say, "Oh! Something happened!" or, alternatively, just pass out, then they are not actually doing anything. Including entertaining your readers. Protagonists: a literary tradition for a reason! Look into having one for your next novel, won't you?

Please remember to have a protagonist. Seriously. I am not kidding. It's a good idea if you give the reader someone to like. Not someone, you know, perfect, or even close to perfect, but it's nice if at least one of your characters has a positive trait or two. Otherwise reading the book is kind of like being in an elevator with people you hate. With the doors open, so you can leave any time you want. I am looking at you, author of the book where in the first 10,000 words the only thing approximating a main character is completely nondescript except for his willingness to kill people for no very good reason. "Willing to kill monks if the plot demands it" is not the kind of thing that endears me to a protagonist, particularly if that appears to be his only characteristic.

There is a very good reason to have people of various genders and sexual preferences in your books. No, I am not going to talk here about accurately representing the world, although that's a great thing, too. But here's the advantage to you: you will not accidentally have all your main characters fall in love with one person. They can't! They won't all be interested in the same person. And obviously it gets really tempting after a while to make everyone fall in love with the character you love best. Look, I read fan fiction, so you don't need to tell me that it's tempting. I'm just saying that that it doesn't work. After a while we all secretly rename your main character Prince Sparkleshit Mesmerstare. And here's a way you can keep that from happening!

Try genderswapping sometime! Specifically, try swapping the genders of your book's characters. If you're looking at your now-male characters and going, "But that's totally unrealistic! They're all like cartoon villains!" and you're looking at your now-female characters and saying, "But this is entirely unrealistic! They have three dimensions and breast size is never once mentioned! I can't even describe them as bitches!" just - okay, look, I am not going to give you any advice. You won't take it anyway. But if you would be so good as to send me a note so that I can stop reading your books - which are obviously not written for girls anyway - that'd be aces.

Love and kisses!
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[personal profile] jumpuphigh 2010-08-31 06:36 am (UTC)(link)

Ash by Malinda Lo

One of the main characters is the Royal Huntress and iirc, there are hunting scenes. I don't remember them being particularly graphic and that would have squicked me. Other than that, it's a delightful re-imagining of Cinderella (published fanfic!).
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[personal profile] wired 2010-08-31 02:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Seconded! Also there's a non-spoilery review I wrote about it under my review tag.

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[personal profile] torachan 2010-08-31 06:43 am (UTC)(link)
Hee! I'm the exact opposite in that fanfic is set up so that I really can not tell very well whether I will like a story or not (fanfic headers concentrate on things like pairing and rating and lists of kinks and warnings rather than summary, to the point where it's not entirely uncommon to find fics that don't have a summary at all, not even a line from the fic), but with published fiction, I have a very high chance of liking books I think I will like. (Though yes, "part 1/???" on books would be nice. But I don't read fantasy anymore, so that's not as much an issue.)

Here are the five most recent books I read and gave 5/5 stars to:

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I really, really loved it. It's vampire fiction, but not sparkly vampires or emo vampires who swan around being artistocratic and hawt. Miiiight have child or animal harm issues for you? I can't remember if any animals get killed, but it is about vampires and murders and some kids get killed.

Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Short stories about growing up in Hawaii in the early '80s. (About kids, but not YA.) Um, the main character's dad hunts and there is frank talk about killing animals.

Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo. Also about kids, but not YA. This is about a twelve-year-old boy who moves to the US from Korea.

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide by Andrea Smith. What it says on the tin.

Tim and Pete by James Robert Baker. Gay lit, but not romance.
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[personal profile] daegaer 2010-08-31 12:50 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't have a high gore-tolerance, and loved Let the Right One In, but TFV, you might want to have someone check it for you - there is some animal harm ([personal profile] torachan, the scene where Virginia decides to visit the friend she considers least necessary to the group /attempt to be vague about spoilers) and some definite harm to children and violence against women, not all of it from vampires (most of the vampire victims are adults or young adults, though)

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[personal profile] exceptinsects 2010-08-31 06:46 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt?
Here's what I said on Goodreads:

At first I thought it was the book that the Tom Cruise movie was based on, so I didn't read it because I thought the movie was stupid.

And then I read the synopsis, that says it's about a single mother raising a son who ends up searching for his father, and I thought well, THAT story hasn't been written one million times already, pass.

BUT it was recommended in a discussion of women writers who are similar to Neal Stephenson, so I thought I would try it out and it is AWESOME.

I like the sense it has that the author is going to tell the story in the way SHE thinks is interesting, and is not going to slow down and wait for people to catch up who can't even read the Greek alphabet for godsake.
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[personal profile] exceptinsects 2010-08-31 06:50 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, and you must have already read Daniel Pinkwater's amazing amazing books, right?
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death? Only my favorite book of all time.

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[personal profile] damned_colonial 2010-08-31 06:47 am (UTC)(link)
This is just me randomly looking at my shelves and thinking "what shall I rec?" (ETA: with a heavy emphasis on stuff that I consider comfort reading, since I'm in that mood at present and you aren't well so I am projecting that on you too.) You probably know about many of these already but what the hell, here are some random books that I like!

Rosemary Sutcliff's "The Eagle of the Ninth" and its two sort-of-sequels, "The Lantern Bearers" and "The Silver Branch". Roman Britain, buddy adventure stuff, full of loyalty and affection. I think they're meant to be YA but I never read them til I was an adult. (Might want to check for animal harm/death... I can't think of any but it seems possible. I'm pretty sure there's no *character* animal harm/death though... there are hunting scenes and stuff, though.)

Umberto Eco, "The Name of the Rose". I just re-read it and it's fabulous. 14th century murder mystery (that's also Sherlock Holmes fanfic) with huge lashings of philosophy and theology thrown in. Which you can actually skim if that's not your thing or you're not in the mood... it's actually very readable on many levels. Lots of stuff in there about how books reference other books, though, in a way that I thought of as media-fannish this time through.

P. G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves and Wooster" books. Fluff! Perfect for when you're feeling unwell! The Blandings Castle series are also pretty good, as are the Psmith books, but the standalones are pretty awful for the most part.

Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. My recommended reading order: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison(*), Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Have His Carcase(*), Murder Must Advertise, Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night(*), Busman's Honeymoon(*). Those with a star form an arc that must be read in that order... the others are standalones that can kind of be read in any order, but I've just tried to intersperse them a bit with the others in ways that will make sense, I think. (ETA2: there are other books I haven't listed, and IMHO they're not so good, so I don't rec them particularly, but if you love this lot then you can go all completist and read the rest.)

Connie Willis, various. I like "To Say Nothing of the Dog" (time travel comedy of manners romance), "Doomsday Book" (time travel pandemic drama in the same universe, contains child death in said pandemic), "Bellwether" (fluffy spec-fic romance about fad research), and "Miracle and other Christmas stories" (spec fic Christmas stories, like it says on the label -- mostly humorous).

Those are just some things I can see from my seat here on my NEW SOFA. (Did I mention I have a new sofa? That is actually in my living room? And placed in a standard, horizontal position, so I can sit on it? Oh! Speaking of which, you should read "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas Adams. Time travel musical sci-fi romance mystery. And then some. With a geometrically impossible sofa stuck in the protagonist's stairs.)

Many of these are probably available for Kindle. I haven't checked, but they're mostly mass market fiction, you know?
Edited 2010-08-31 06:53 (UTC)
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[personal profile] out_there 2010-08-31 07:15 am (UTC)(link)
P. G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves and Wooster" books. Fluff! Perfect for when you're feeling unwell!

Oh! Yes! I'll second that rec. Ridiculously fun to read, even though I picked it up expecting it would feel dated but... it doesn't. It does have a very peculiar, insulated from teh real world feeling, but I like that in comedy. It's a lovely world to visit -- full of wit and charm and threats that have all the fun of danger with no real scare -- and something I should definitely re-read, I think.

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[personal profile] starlurker 2010-08-31 06:49 am (UTC)(link)
Non-fiction recs:

Mary Roach has an oeuvre all her own of funny books with a scientific bent as explored by a layperson. Of her three books, I'd recommend Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. The writer has a superb sense of humour, and has an enviable knack of making science accessible. It is also one of the funniest books I can remember reading, and considering the topic, that's high praise from me! While the book does involve death, the writer has such respect for the bodies that the book never once felt ghoulish or disrespectful.

I really liked The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry by Chandler Burr, who is a scent critic (?!?) for The New York Times. Going through the cosmetic aisle gives me migraines, so it was fascinating to explore that world. The writer does a pretty good job of describing scents, showing what goes into making them, and the book made me so curious about one of the premier colognes that I actually bought a bottle of it, a scent called Un jardin sur le Nil. I have some caveats, which might be spoilery, but I can certainly expand on them if you'd like, but overall, I really liked the book and appreciated the look behind the industry.

Er, I actually have more, but I think I'll refrain from making a novel of recs. Of the two, I think Stiff is better, if you can only pick one. Have fun!
Edited (wonky tags) 2010-08-31 06:51 (UTC)
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[personal profile] exceptinsects 2010-08-31 06:51 am (UTC)(link)
I loved the Chandler Burr book, and I liked his other one, The Emperor of Scent, even more!
(I also bought Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. Love it!)

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[personal profile] out_there 2010-08-31 07:09 am (UTC)(link)
I will, on a general and all-encompassing note, recommend Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. These two are my stand-by writers, those writer's who I'll always, always trust to read (even though, to be honest, I didn't finish Terry Pratchett's Nation due to sheer lack of interest/busy life/a general 'eh' feeling although I'm pretty sure it's objectively a good book). When I htink of recent books I've loved, it's always one of those two.

Case in point, I want to recommend the Graveyard Book and Coraline, both by Neil Gaiman, because those are children's books that capture what I loved about children's books: an entire *world* inside these pages, a narrative and characters that you'd love to re-read over and over. (It's the way I felt about Roald Dahl's "Matilda" when I was in primary school and borrowed it from the library at least once a year to re-read it.)

Likewise, my favourite non-fiction book is really a fiction book with *ideas*: The Science of Discworld. I love the conceit of taking a fictional world and using every second chapter to discuss fascinating scientific theories that I will never use -- unless the world turns into an apocalyptic movie and useless science is the key point to Saving The Earth.

For other fiction... hmmm. I don't think there's any other novels that I actually managed to both finish and remember. Unlike fanfic, where you remember those last five stories and occasionally find that gem that stays with you for months, published fiction gets forgotten from my head.

Having said that, I'm pretty sure there'll be someone on your FList way more able to recommend some awesome stories to read.
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[personal profile] schneefink 2010-08-31 12:32 pm (UTC)(link)
I can´t believe you recommended both Pratchett and Gaiman without mentioning Good Omens. Everyone should read Good Omens. It´s about the apocalypse, with bonus octopus, and it has too many funny parts to quote, characters who are weird and flawed but interesting and huggable anyway (well, some of them - probably not Crowley, at least not literally). I´m not good at descriptions, but you should read it.

And I definitely second the Graveyard Book recommendation.

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[personal profile] coraa 2010-08-31 07:11 am (UTC)(link)
I adored Delia Sherman's Changeling and its sequel The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen, which are YA urban fantasy without any romance and with a great deal of adventure in which the protagonist (and her friends) are proactive. Plotwise, the protagonist Neef could be male without changing much, but she isn't, and I'm glad she's a girl.
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[personal profile] via_ostiense 2010-08-31 07:13 am (UTC)(link)
Fuchsia Dunlop's memoir Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper was excellent (I reviewed it in my journal today, if you want a short description of it). It's a memoir, has detailed sections on things such as Sichuan peppers, and it is AMAZING. Karen Healey's YA book Guardian of the Dead is also AMAZING.
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[personal profile] petra 2010-08-31 12:43 pm (UTC)(link)
I came into this thread ready to rec Guardian of the Dead, hoping someone else had beaten me to it. Seconded, and hard, for character diversity and general awesome.

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[personal profile] samvara 2010-08-31 07:13 am (UTC)(link)
1. Non-fiction, particularly memoirs, detailed histories of unlikely things (chopsticks, a single typeface, the compass rose), and anything funny or told in an engaging narrative voice. (I am also always looking for really good books on WWI pilots, planes, and the war in the air.)

I am kinda assuming you have already read Reach for the Sky but if you haven't it is a WWII biographical account of flying ace Douglas Bader by Paul Brickhill and I remember enjoying it a lot. That and Nancy Wake by Russell Braddon, the story of an Australian lass working with the French resistance in WWII.

2. Speculative fiction. I generally prefer robots to elves, but frankly I will take either. Robots and elves also 100% welcome.

Darn, I do not have any worthwhile robots AND elves combinations so I present you with dragons. Sort of. Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs. Boy with no sword or birthmark and a habit of pretending to be stupid to avoid being beaten to death by his father finally comes into his birthright. This involves an ancient curse, an angry horse, dragons, political intrigue and the best family ghost ever.

3. YA books of almost any stripe, provided there is something else going on besides A and B kissing or not kissing.

Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts. YA, urban fantasy. Velody came to the city to become a dressmaker and on her first night a naked boy fell from the sky. Cue several years on, one vaguely remembered kiss and a fantastical city that parties by day unaware of the desperate battles enacted in the skies at night.

It's a book one so if you cower in the presence of unpublished trilogies this is not for you, but Tansy very cleverly got the kissing over with in the prologue then concentrated on everything else.

4. Anything amazingly awesome. I will read the best book in any genre!

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. I am in love with this and have read it aloud to people to tempt them in. Chinese fairy tale. Young and pure of heart Number Ten Ox recruits venerable wise drunkard Master Li to save the children of his village (they get saved).
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[personal profile] rhi 2010-08-31 06:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, definitely Bridge of Birds. Amazingly wonderful book with Ox, who's a complete sweetheart and Master Li who's as gloriously likeable an old rogue as you could ask for. And amazingly *smart*.

Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells is also excellent fantasy, as is her book, Element of Fire.

For non-fiction, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is exactly what it says and full of odd, obscure bits of information.

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[personal profile] auburn 2010-08-31 07:16 am (UTC)(link)
Something of a sidewise rec, since I haven't managed to read it yet, because my father snagged it before I could begin, but he marathon read it over the next two days (very fast for him, because his eyes are bad and too much reading leads to headaches) and very much liked it.

Richard Whittle, The Dream Machine (The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey)

(back cover of my hardback says an ebook version is available and Amazon does have it on Kindle)

History and planes - I admit I've been fascinated by tiltrotors since I first heard of one.
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[personal profile] innocentsmith 2010-08-31 07:30 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, so you've likely already read them, but if you haven't, I can't recommend them highly enough: Connie Willis's Oxford time traveling series. The two best known are To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is hilarious and fluffy and Wodehousian, and Doomsday Book, which will scare you and make you cry but is still completely worth it. There's a new book in the series out, and another coming out this fall. If you've read all those, pretty much anything Willis writes is well worth reading (though if you get her short stories for the love of God and your triggers do not read one called "All My Darling Daughters.")

For non-fiction, a book I loved was The Perfect Prince, about a young man who claimed to be one of the two famous murdered/disappeared Princes in the Tower, and the world he lived in: the worldbuilding and detail of this is fascinating, and the intrigue and mystery at the core is great.

On the lighter, easy day's read side of things, Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates is a smart and very funny look at the Puritans and the myth of American exceptionalism, with an informal tone and snarky POV.

One of the best books I've read in the last year is The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, which is not so much a biography as a deconstruction of the myths that have built up around the historical woman, and what they say about the kind of narratives society imposes on female pop icons. Even if you're not especially interested in Marilyn, it's absolutely brilliant meta, and very readable (though it will make you want to punch quite a few biographers in the face. A lot).

And finally, I pretty much recommend The Man Who Was Thursday every chance I get, because it is surreal and funny and thrilling and revelatory, and the writing is stunning. Also it is free on Gutenberg. :)

[personal profile] vito_excalibur 2010-08-31 07:38 am (UTC)(link)
I'm not even a Christian, and I love the shit out of The Man Who Was Thursday. It's so good.

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[personal profile] marina 2010-08-31 07:31 am (UTC)(link)
I have at least four recs that I would consider bullet proof given the parameters you've set up!

"Warchild" by Karin Lowachee. It's bascially a scifi book exploring how one is turned into a child soldier. The narration voice is flawless and impossible not to fall in love with, there's war and sexual abuse and the consequences of both and I think if the protagonist was female instead of male my own triggers wouldn't have allowed me to finish the book. But it is, hands down, the best and more authentic treatment of that subject matter I've seen in genre fiction, including the life of someone who has no home culture to come back to and is trying to navigate alien languages, customs, and social norms to build himself a home. The author's work has been described as "questioning masculinity in science fiction," and I don't disagree with the rec; my friends originally recced it to me as "pirate geisha boys in space," which is also not inaccurate.

Getting a copy might be tricky, I know they're sort of out of print? But if you can manage it you won't be disappointed. There are two sequels, which are a different story. They're all standalone books, but to me "Warchild" is head and shoulders above the other two books, even though they deal with similar subject matter.

"Soulless" by Gail Carriger. If you haven't read this yet (I understand it's a bit of a best seller), it is, amazingly, exactly what it says on the tin. Supernatural steampunk mystery/romance, with saving the world coming first and a female protagonist who is not only objectively awesome (and not say, supposedly awesome but really annoying) but also has relationships with other awesome female characters! And the book is hilarious, I'm not kidding. It was recced by a friend and our entire circle of friends has since been addicted to this book series. There are two books after Soulless - Changeless and Blameless - and I reccomend them VERY, VERY STRONGLY. The books are also standalone and possible to read in any order. Again, enjoyment guaranteed if you're OK with these general story elements.

"Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" by N. K. Jemisin, if you haven't read it yet. It really is very, very good YA, and I say that as someone who doesn't enjoy YA. But I enjoyed this book, and I think if you're into YA you'll enjoy it even more.

The Administration Series by Manna Francis. This is a series of novels that were originally published online and remain online to this day on the author's insistence, though they've now been published by a publishing house. I love them like burning. I mean seriously, these are books that people can get for free, any day, original fiction that gained a significant audience that an agent decided to publish it despite of this, and they sold extremely well. Dystopian future London, police investigator and software company owner solve murder mysteries and conduct a fully consensual BDSM relationship. EVERYTHING THESE BOOKS SET OUT TO DO they do perfectly. The characters are impossible not to care about very quickly, the writing is wonderful, the porn is hot and the plot otherwise is actually really well spun. So much YES.

ETA: I managed to miss that you're into non-fiction too! I've run out of computer time, but I'm adding 3 non-fiction books about extraordinary narratives/events that I've really enjoyed lately. I'm not sure they fit your criteria but they're worth checking out on Amazon for vetting purposes at least?

"Infidel" by Aayan Hirsi Ali

"Dishonored" by Mukhtar Mai

"Generation Kill" by Evan Wright
Edited 2010-08-31 07:36 (UTC)
brownbetty: (Default)

[personal profile] brownbetty 2010-08-31 07:10 pm (UTC)(link)
WHAT. Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is YA? GODDAMIT, SOMEONE TRICKED ME.

But totally awesome.

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odditycollector: Woman staring through a window of a space shuttle. The curve of the Earth fills her view, bright and blue. (Perspective)

[personal profile] odditycollector 2010-08-31 07:35 am (UTC)(link)
Try genderswapping sometime!

See, I read this, and immediately got excited because here is my excuse to tell you about these sci-fi books I am fannishly in love with, as there is a sort of genderswappery! And then I read the rest of the paragraph and realized that, oh, maybe you meant this as *sarcastic* advice to the author.

But since I started.... You should check out Spin State and Spin Control by Chris Moriarty (who is a lady).

I have cunningly tricked [personal profile] brownbetty into reviewing them for me, here and here, so I don't have to! Which is probably best all around, because she is far better at not resorting to pleased hand gestures when it comes to this sort of thing, and also I can sleep pleased in the knowledge that her life is measurably improved due to my efforts!

(And I am racking my brain - I do not believe there is child or animal abuse in either.)
abyssinia: Sam Carter looking up and smiling, math equations in background (SG1 - math makes Sam happy)

[personal profile] abyssinia 2010-08-31 01:34 pm (UTC)(link)
I was coming here to rec Spin State (which I am currently 2/3rds through and LOVING to pieces. Physics! AIs! Genetic manipulation and cloning! A future not full of white people! Women! Interesting characters! Military Sci-Fi and so much more!). Thanks for doing the job for me :)

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[personal profile] azurelunatic 2010-08-31 07:35 am (UTC)(link)
"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" is one of my all-time favorites. I was raised on that book.

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[personal profile] lilacsigil 2010-08-31 07:37 am (UTC)(link)
I don't know if you read manga, but if you do, you will want to avoid Ōoku. It fits many of your narrative requests (it's an alternate 17th century Japan where most of the men die and so the women take over), but it contains a narratively-important and disturbing incident of animal harm. I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere in the glowing reviews, so I thought you might like to know to avoid it.
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[personal profile] l_elfie 2010-08-31 08:11 am (UTC)(link)
i would like to second this recommendation (excepting of course that manga is basically impossible to get legally in digital format). ooku won the james tiptree award last year, too--it's pretty great! (it is definitely a 3/??? though, as far as i am aware.)

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elf: Quote: She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain (Fond of Books)

[personal profile] elf 2010-08-31 07:37 am (UTC)(link)
Ebook recs. Heh. I can *do* that.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow: online gaming, global economy, third-world culture clashes with white privilege, kids vs corporations. Is glorious. (There is some child harm, and some child death 'cos some of the protagonists are, well, kids, and this is basically a story about a weird kind of techno-war. But it's not... what's the word? Gratuitous? Pornographic, where readers are supposed to get lost in the "art" of injured kids?)

Same author: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. "Alan’s father was a mountain, and his mother was a washing machine—he kept a roof over their heads and she kept their clothes clean. His brothers were: a dead man, a trio of nesting dolls, a fortune teller, and an island." (Aah. Also includes some child harm & death, now that I think of it. It's such a *weird* story, that's not on the list of traits I would've mentioned.)

Short stories at Fictionwise (with more complete descriptions at the site); these are all multiformat, which means Kindle/Mobi is one of the download options:
Inclination by William Shunn, Hugo nominee; 18725 words, $2.05; sci-fi, culture-clash story.

Eight Episodes by Robert Reed, Hugo nominee; 3881 words, $.55; sci-fi, what if the world were invaded and nobody noticed?

Flowers of Aulit Prison by Nancy Kress, Nebula winner; 14000 words, $1.59, sci-fi, "A female alien whose culture has a vastly different view of reality from humans finds herself forced to be a prison informant. Engrossing story you won't soon forget."

A bazillion free mobi formatted ebooks at Mobileread, public domain & creative commons, hand-formatted by people who care about ebooks.

If you're unfamiliar with the works of Saki, they are *beyond awesome*... Reginald in Russia and other Sketches is at MR in mobi; two other collections are at feedbooks. Highly recommended: from Beasts & Super-Beasts, the stories "The Lull" & "The Story-Teller;" from Chronicles of Clovis, "The Unrest Cure" and "Sredni Vashtar."

Short story: A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (1882–1948) "A classic short story, much admired in feminist circles. A man is found murdered in his bed. Suspicion falls on his wife. The local women examine her kitchen and gradually piece together the sequence of events." (Short & memorable.)

Sci fi classic Little Fuzzy by Henry Beam Piper.
"The chartered Zarathustra Company had it all their way. Their charter was for a Class III uninhabited planet, which Zarathustra was, and it meant they owned the planet lock stock and barrel. They exploited it, developed it and reaped the huge profits from it without interference from the Colonial Government. Then Jack Holloway, a sunstone prospector, appeared on the scene with his family of Fuzzies and the passionate conviction that they were not cute animals but little people."
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[personal profile] innocentsmith 2010-08-31 08:03 am (UTC)(link)
Everyone should read Saki. His stories read like Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, and Rudyard Kipling somehow had a lovechild. An animal-loving, slightly evil, incredibly snarky lovechild. AMAZING stuff.

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[personal profile] kindkit 2010-08-31 07:52 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda and its sequel, Flora's Dare? They're YA, and I don't normally like YA, but I adore these books, which are wonderfully creative fantasy with excellent witty prose. Instead of the standard cod-medieval European setting, these books take place in an alternate California that's a vassal state of an alt!Aztec empire. And the protagonist is a teenage girl who's balancing school, coping with the household during the frequent absences of her mother (a general), dealing with her PTSD-sufferer father, finding a way to avoid the family tradition of military service, and oh yeah, saving her city. And her sidekick is a boy who likes fancy hats!

There are no queer characters who are identified as such in the novels, alas, although at least one minor character is identified as queer in an adult story Wilce wrote in the same universe. I'd say the books are pretty sophisticated about both gender and romantic love.
derryderrydown: (Default)

[personal profile] derryderrydown 2010-08-31 08:12 am (UTC)(link)
On the YA front:

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. Inspired by Maori mythology and has a plump, awesome heroine and an asexual best friend.

Any of Scott Westerfeld's YA stuff. I'm especially fond of Leviathan (Steampunk! Sentient airships! Averting the First World War! Girl pretending to be a boy so she can work on a sentient airship!) and the Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras series (Friendship between girls! World and society affected by events earlier in the series! Totally awesome heroine!)

On the non-fiction front:

I'm more about the WWII aviation than the WWI (despite the fact my great-great-uncle was a WWI pilot) but Aces Falling by Peter Hart was an interesting read. If you already know the basics of the period, though, it may be a bit obvious.

If you're at all interested in WWII aviation (with a focus on the British side) Spitfire Women by Giles Whittell is about the female pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary - the women who took the planes from factory to airfield. And Fighter Boys by Patrick Bishop is about what the title would suggest.

I'd also recommend any of Max Arthur's oral history books, which mostly cover the British military in the first half of the twentieth century.

And going a century or so earlier, Fiddlers and Whores by James Lowry is the memoir of a surgeon with Nelson's fleet.

ETA: Oh, and a couple more I forgot! Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes is about scientific development in the Romantic age and how that's affected our current view of science. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is about media portrayal of science today and how most of it is utter bollocks. (Ben Goldacre's a doctor who has a column in the Guardian, a left-wing-by-British-standards broadsheet.)

More ETA: A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm. Biography of Vera Atkins, the woman who pretty much ran the French section of the SOE. It also has a fair bit of info about Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, who's possibly one of the most interesting of the SOE operatives. Indian Muslim princess as a spy in Second World War France? HOW MUCH AWESOME IS THAT? If you want more about her, Noor Inayat Khan: The Princess Who Became A Spy by Shrabani Basu has been recommended to me but I haven't read it myself yet.

Yet more sodding ETA: Okay, I'm just going to leave this comment edit window open for a while in an attempt to stop things getting ridiculous.

Somme Mud by E.P.F. Lynch is the memoir of an Australian infantry soldier in WWI.

Debs at War by Anne de Courcy is about posh women during the Second World War.

What Did You Do in the War, Mummy? by Mavis Nicholson is a collection of mini-biographies of various women and the work they did in the Second World War - lumberjills, Bletchley Park, WRNS, etc., etc..

Working For Victory: A Diary of Life in a Second World War Factory edited by Sue Bruley is exactly what the title suggests, except the life in question is that of a couple of middle-class, middle-aged almost-certainly-lesbians. (It's never specifically mentioned but they share a bed when there are two beds available, so I suspect they are.)

The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (YA) - diary of a maid who's bricked up in a tower with her mistress, because her mistress refuses to marry the man her father says she should. Dashti is totally fucking awesome and has a pet yak. Fantasy set in cod-medieval Mongolia. (Also by Shannon Hale - Princess Academy, which I avoided for a long time because the cover made it look like a Princess Diaries rip-off but in fact is full of awesome. For various reasons, the prince is going to marry a girl from a small mountain village. They just don't know which girl, and therefore all of the girls in the right age range have to be trained in the skills of a princess. The prince is just a catalyst for the events - there's no kissing.)

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscal - story of a notorious Victorian murder and the investigation.

The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl - "In 1612 Shakespeare gave evidence at the Court of Requests in Westminster – it is the only occasion his spoken words are recorded. The case seems routine – a dispute over an unpaid marriage-dowry – but it opens up an unexpected window into the dramatist's famously obscure life-story."

The Tiger in the Attic by Edith Milton - all about the Kindertransport.

The Whisperers by Orlando Figes - I'm kind of reluctant to recommend this, because it's by the guy who was wrote bad Amazon reviews about other works on the subject and then blamed it on his wife, but it's really interesting.

With Passport and Parasol by Julia Keay - stories of six female Victorian/Edwardian travellers.

Okay, I'm going to shut up now.
Edited 2010-08-31 10:29 (UTC)
starfishchick: (Default)

[personal profile] starfishchick 2010-09-01 03:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the recs - I picked up Debs at War and Princess Academy at the libary last night!

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[personal profile] lolaraincoat 2010-08-31 08:33 am (UTC)(link)
Colson Whitehead's first novel, The Intuitionist, is sort of an imaginary history of a single thing: elevators. Also, wonderful female protagonist who really does, at points, read like Whitehead took your advice about genderswapping his characters. His subsequent stuff is also good, but might not pass a Bechdel test - I'd have to go back and look at them. But this one is a pleasure.

Oh, and speaking of Bechdel tests, you've read the complete/selected Dykes to Watch Out For, right? It's a comic strip rather than a graphic novel so it has the plot structure of a soap opera, but it's a funny soap opera and it is about you and me and everyone we know. And the humor is never at the expense of any of the characters - it's compassionately hilarious, if that makes any sense. Gorgeous, clear, not-comic-booky art, too.

Alma Guillermoprieto's memoirs/reportage Dancing with Cuba and Samba are about ... well, it's hard to describe. She's a dancer (modern dance, as in Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp) from Mexico who became a reporter for US magazines, mostly on Latin America, and these are about dance and daily life in Cuba and Brazil, respectively. The Cuban one is more about her own life; the Brazilian one is more about the lives of ordinary people in a Rio slum. They are way more interesting and engaging than that makes it sound, and beautifully written.

And a book that fits none of what you asked for, except for best: James Scott, Seeing Like a State. This is his theory of why the world is the way it is, and it connects up Picasso and the city of Brasilia and naming practices in Mongolia and 18th century German forestry practices ... just a charming, crazy book that's also as persuasive as a Theory of Everything can be.
exceptinsects: (Default)

[personal profile] exceptinsects 2010-08-31 05:27 pm (UTC)(link)
I love The Intuitionist! I absolutely second this rec.
aris_tgd: Personal avatar Phumiko (Default)

[personal profile] aris_tgd 2010-08-31 09:01 am (UTC)(link)
For nonfiction, I heartily recommend anything by James Burke. And not just because I imprinted on the Connections series when I was a kid. Okay, maybe a little.
soc_puppet: Words "Mad Fangirl" in blue (Mad Fangirl)

[personal profile] soc_puppet 2010-08-31 09:25 am (UTC)(link)
...Wow, it is actually disturbing how many books I like involve animals getting injured or dying at one point or another. Uh. I'll see what I can come up with anyway?

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy is, technically, a 1/???, but it can stand pretty well on its own. Here's the Unshelved rec for it, which gives it a better hook than I probably could.

Goblin Quest by Jim C Hines is basically a D&D storyline as told from a goblin's POV. It does have some animal death/injury, but it's almost entirely things that are out to kill the main character(s), and the one exception [SPOILER] gets resurrected almost immediately [/SPOILER]. It is the first of three, all of which have been published already, and all of which are pretty darn cool. I'm pretty sure I don't need to warn about anything for the other two, as well, though it's been a while.
(Truth be told, I like his Princess series better, but for all it has Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty being awesome and kicking ass together, it also has more of your Do Not Want moments.)

If you haven't gotten to Naomi Novik's Temeraire series yet, I would definitely say it's worth a look. I don't know how you would classify fully sentient dragons on the "animal" scale, but they are active participants in a war with Napoleon in this series, so that may be a deterrent. There's six books out so far, and more to come, but there is a definite ending planned (I think possibly nine or ten-ish total?). If you feel like giving it a go after all that, you can locate a free electronic copy of the first book via the links in this entry at the author's LJ.
tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)

[personal profile] tevere 2010-08-31 10:06 am (UTC)(link)
I think everything I'm reading at the moment, or have read recently, involves death of some kind! I recently read and highly recommend Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, but-- as it's about the Biafran war, it's kind of grim (not unrelentingly so, but has child death and war-time rape). I also like her other stuff, but-- IIRC, even Purple Hibiscus has child abuse in it. So while I think they're objectively good, perhaps you wouldn't like them.

Umm. For comfort reading, I find Jeffrey Steingarten's food essays quite relaxing and entertaining. Often they're rants, but amusing rants! The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must've Been Something I Ate. He's an omnivore, though, and one of the essays involves him watching the backyard slaughter of a pig in France, so. (To be honest I've never found French food that vegetarian-friendly, and he does love French food.) But there are also awesome essays about bread! and vegetables! and homemade pizza! (I also warn for the fact that I know him solely from his writing, not from his participation on Iron Chef America. I don't know if that makes him more or less attractive to some.)
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[personal profile] james 2010-08-31 10:08 am (UTC)(link)
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey: urban fantasy but not exactly the standard variety. The protagonist was sent to Hell, but not killed, so he's spent several years there fighting gladiator-style in the arena. Now he's returned to Earth to hunt down the people who sent him there. Magic is real, but not necessarily public, and angels and demons both try to get him to join their side in the big war over the fate of the Earth. He's not interested in the war over the fate of the Earth, he just wants to kill the people who sent him to Hell.

Fascinating reading, rich in mythology, very dark humour, and a hero who doesn't care about the big picture. I loved it. So very refreshing after reading too many elves-in-New York urban fantasies.

Jon and Lobo series by Mark Van Name: science fiction with a solitary hero with a mysterious past and abilities no other normal human has falls in love with makes friends with an artificially sentient battle tank. For me this is slashy, because over the course of 4 books the tank and the man admit they are each other's only real friends, and stumble through learning to trust one another and Lobo, the tank, shares his deepest secret with Jon and waits patiently for Jon to do the same. Lobo is also hella snarky and takes no shit from Jon.

Apart from the relationship, the plots are complex and interesting, with more than one layer to what is going on. Jon is hired to do a mercenary-style job but things are never that straight-forward. The most recently published book, Children No More, is donating all of its proceeds to a foundation that helps children soldiers re-integrate into being normal children again.

any autobiography by Richard Hammond (there are three now, I believe, including the one which primarily details his experience of recovering from his crash and subsequent brain injury). Humourous and full of adventure, Hammond is a presenter of the UK's Top Gear as well as a journalist and his books cover some of the adventures he goes on for filming various things. Certainly not a deep read, but for a quick but thrilling adventure, his life makes for truly fun reading. Titles include As You Do, On The Edge, and Or Is That Just Me? If you like science for kids, he also has Blast Labs books.

Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith: time travel, future private eye noir, and mind-fuckery. It's hard to talk about without giving away some of the fuckery, so basically if you like getting to the end of the book and discovering maybe you didn't know what was going on for most of it, this is a grand book.

azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)

[personal profile] azurelunatic 2010-08-31 10:25 am (UTC)(link)
Speaking of typefaces and awesome, have you heard of Neutra Face?
writerlibrarian: Oriental calligraphy in red (Default)

[personal profile] writerlibrarian 2010-08-31 10:53 am (UTC)(link)
YA: Silver Phoenix which was recommended to me. First novel. Fantasy/medieval China. Really interesting heroine. The mythological/fantasy aspect is really good. Girl quest to find her father.

Jo Graham's Black Ships (which is a retelling of the Eneid) really, really good speculative/fantasy. Wonderful lead female character in Gull.
Her Stealing Fire (which is set post Alexander's The Great Death) is a great no really sequel (characters get reincarnated under other names) Gull is now Lydias, awesome soldier/Companion in Alexander's army.
yasaman: picture of jasmine flower, with text yasaman (Default)

[personal profile] yasaman 2010-08-31 05:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I second the recs for Jo Graham's books, though I will note there is some animal harm in Stealing Fire with horses being injured in battle, and there are probably animals being sacrificed throughout all the books though I don't remember specific instances. There's also another book in the series following Cleopatra's half-sister Charmian, Hand of Isis. Graham gives a really great sense of the ancient world, and her characters are really grounded in the setting. They're all gorgeous books, and definitely some of my favorite comfort reading.

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