January Wrap Up || Always Doing

Hey there, Kazen here, and
welcome back to Always Doing. [♪♪] This is gonna be a weird wrap up
for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, and you may have noticed from
the title, but this isn’t a Part One or a Part Two. This is just my January wrap up because I’ve only read four books in January. Which is- on one hand I’m kind of sad. I want to read more and I was planning to start off
the year with a bang but it just didn’t happen. There were some real life stuff that
got in the way, work got in the way. And you know what? I think, maybe this
was a good pace for me this month. That trying to read even more than this would
have pushed me over some kind of edge, which I definitely don’t need. And on a normal day this would be a kind of short video
because I’ve already wrapped up one of the books in a full video review, and another one is a second
in a series that I can’t talk too much about. But there’s gonna be at least one soapbox that
I’m getting on so that complicates things. And number three, I am in the process of getting over
a migraine which can leave my brain a little bit foggy. Hopefully it will be something that
I’ll be able to save in the edit, but if something I say doesn’t quite
make sense, that’s probably why. The first book I finished is also the one that
I have a full video review for, right up here, and that’s The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. This book is her long awaited
follow up to The Night Circus. And the Night Circus is
such an amazing book. It’s a book I love, it’s a book that is garnered so
much praise and recognition throughout Booktube and the rest of the bookish world, that there’s really
no way you can match that with a second book. So this one, I don’t feel it sits close to the level of
the Night Circus, but it worked for me. Like the Night Circus, The Starless Sea is a
setting-driven fantasy, which is incredibly rare and something that I absolutely love
so I was kind of in the bag for this one. The idea behind it is interesting. I love her writing,
I love the images she spins, they’re absolutely gorgeous. But the plot is weak. It’s all threadbare and disconnected, and not
disconnected in a way that you get to the end and you go, oh, that all
makes sense now. It just- no. It’s not pulling you through
as much as I hoped it would. That being said, mostly because of the
setting-driven fantasy thing and the writing, this is a book for me
so I gave it four stars. But at the same time recognize that it’s
not something that everyone will love the way that they
loved The Night Circus. If you would like even more non-spoilery thought
do check out that full review, link down below. The next book I finished was a buddy read
with the wonderful Rachel over at Kalanadi. It is Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh. It is the first book in a very long running, and I think
still continuing, series – the Foreigner series. I think book 20 is going
to be published this year. I first became interested in this book when Rachel
talked about how big of a role language played and that our main character,
Bren, is an interpreter. And I’m an interpreter and I would very much like
to read about an interpreter in science fiction. The book is broken into three
completely unequal parts. There’s an introduction, and then something we might
be able to call prologue, and then the bulk of the book. But the main story is that humans are traveling
between stars faster than light, doin’ their thing. And one ship is headed off somewhere
in particular and they don’t end up there. Something went wrong,
they miss their stop, whatever. And they end up near a planet
that has life on it. And they do their very best to hang out in orbit and not
get in the way, but after a while some people decide that they really should be going down there
’cause things have gotten desperate. And they end up meeting
the native peoples on this planet. So in the very beginning it’s a first contact story –
how do humans get along with the atevi, who are very large humanoid but very much NOT
human, creatures on this planet, and how things go. After the introduction and the prologue which outline
what I just said, it jumps ahead a huge gap in time and we see how the human society has grown up
along with the atevi, what their relationship is like. And this is where Bren’s comes into
the story. He is an interpreter for- it’s almost more of an ambassador, actually. He lives with the atevi, he’s going to boring meetings
and taking care of negotiations and stuff, until something bad happens. It looks like somebody wants him dead,
and the story takes off from there. In some ways it can be kind of hard to put a star rating
on the first book of such a long series as this because there’s a lot of heavy lifting
world building that’s being done. I think Cherryh does a great job of introducing
this world to us and giving us a lot of information in what very easily could be an info-
it is an info dump, actually, but it doesn’t feel like one. The atevi people and their language is really interesting. But there are a couple of things in this book that
I didn’t care for, and one is that the atevi are black. And at first I was worried because, just thinking about,
is this some kind of allegory for African-Americans? And it turns out it’s not. As you go through
the story you realize that the story of the atevi is nothing like that of African peoples or African-
Americans or anything like that, which is good. Also, they’re not dark brown, they are
literally night sky black, which helps. But at the same time- and this came out in 1994
so you have to make all kinds of concessions, and it maybe wasn’t realized at the time. But when she decided to make an alien race that
was completely Other, she made them black. So that [slightly scandalized humming]
could have been done better, I think. And the humans are super duper white. In the introduction and prologue we get some
character names that hint at Japanese ancestry or other people of color, but once
we get down to the planet later? Whoo! All Anglo names and no hint that
there’s anybody who isn’t completely white. Something that quite bothered me as
the story went on, and once I realized it- and actually realized it by thinking about the book
almost as if it were a romance – it’s not a romance – but it’s that Bren, our main character, has so little
agency right from the beginning of the book. His life is in danger, he has to do XYZ,
he doesn’t have any choice in the matter, he has to do what other people say,
he asks for information, he can’t get it. And when he can make little tiny
decisions they either blow up in his face or somebody tells them that was really
stupid and I can’t believe he did that. So [inhale] that was really frustrating for me, and that
lasts through the first at least two thirds of the book. Once we get through that the action picks
up a bit and he has a few more decisions. That was good. And now, actually, we’re reading the
second book, we’ve gone on to buddy read that as well, and it’s much better on
that front. But it was, ooo, there were some parts in there where I just kind of
got really annoyed that he didn’t get to DO anything. And one good thing that I forgot is that Cherryh does
a great job of fleshing him out, and other characters out, as real people in the sense that
they also have psychological limits. Bren goes through a lot of shit
in the later part of this novel and he ends up showing
some symptoms of PTSD. It’s acknowledged that you’re not gonna
be completely coherent if you’re utterly- haven’t had enough sleep or injured.
And so I really appreciated that. So I gave this book I think three stars. It’s a solid beginning and like I said,
we’re already in the middle of book two and I’m really enjoying where it’s going. The next book has a bit of discussion tied with it but it’s
not due to the book itself, it’s because of its publisher. So last year Macmillan publishing announced that
they were not going to sell ebooks to libraries. That they would only let each
library system, no matter its size, have one copy of an e-book
for the first two months. So this is an embargo, and it’s restricting information
and restricting the mission of libraries which is to get information into the hands of people.
I kind of hope you guys have heard about this. It’s led to a campaign called #EbooksForAll
led by the American Library Association. I will leave a link to that website
down below, where they have a petition for Macmillan books to tell
them to stop this practice. The reason *Macmillian is doing it is because
they say that libraries cut into their sales. Which is ridiculous because libraries create readers,
and readers go on to buy books, either books that they first spread through the library
and then they end up buying for themselves, or they ended up reading a lot as a kid
and then you become an adult with an income and you buy books on your own. So when all this went down I did a really
hard think and thought what I’m going to do. Because I do have a platform,
and do I really want to promote books that are being put out by a publisher that is
doing such an idiotic, stupid, awful thing? And the answer is, well, no. I don’t want
to support a publisher that does that. But, and especially for the books that are coming out
now, these deals were inked maybe over a year ago, way before Macmillan
started this embargo. So it’s not necessarily fair for the authors
and for their work to completely say I will never talk about
a Macmillan title again. At the same time I want to do
something that has an effect. So what I’ve quietly done, and I have NOT mentione
this, is that in my most anticipated reads videos I have not talked about a Macmillan title.
I’m kind of afraid one snuck through, it was an imprint I didn’t realize was associated,
but I’m quite sure that in my most anticipated reads nothing by Macmillan has been entered. Because that’s me creating publicity and advertising for
the publisher, usually without me even reading the book. And why would I give them that publicity and support
when they’re doing this stupid thing? At the same time I don’t
want to punish the authors. So while I’m not mentioning the Macmillan
books in the most anticipated reads, if I read one I will tell you in my wrap up,
and probably only my wrap up. Tell you if I like the book, how it went. I will also say hey,
thanks to the publisher for the *advance copy, but also they’re doing
this embargo thing. This is just something I feel like I need to do
because this is something that can’t stand and that [sigh] needs to be fought. And this is- I can’t do much,
but this is what I can do. So keeping all of that in mind, the next book
that I read was Stormsong by C.L. Polk. It is the second book in the Kingston Cycle. It is published by Tor, they were kind
enough to give me an advance copy. However. Tor is a subsidiary of Macmillan, and
Macmillan doesn’t think that libraries can have ebooks, and that makes me mad
so go check down the links below. The first book in this series was
Witchmark and I liked that quite a bit. And it did really well on the award circuit. I think it got shortlisted for some things, it won one of
the SFF awards, and gained quite a bit of recognition. It’s a gas lamp fantasy that takes place in,
it’s like an alternate England, kinda sorta, that has roots, like you can see parts of it having
a historical past, maybe like Victorian-ish. But there’s a bunch of things that are
different including that there’s magic, there’s magical beings that end up visiting,
there’s ghosts that you can see, and there’s all kinds of things going on. I can’t really talk about the plot of this book because
it is highly dependent on the first book. Don’t think you can just start
with book two, you cannot. And it has been a while since I read book one
and it took me a few chapters to catch up and to remember exactly what happened
and who all the players are. The first book followed Miles and Tristan,
and there was a little bit of a murder mystery and there was also a little bit of romance
along with the larger story arc. In this book we have
Grace who is Miles’ sister. And Grace did something not so great in the first book,
and this is almost like a redemption arc, in a way. She has to decide if she can be a force for good
and how she’s going to go about doing that. Something that surprised me about this book, especially
because the first one felt more like a murder mystery, is that this one is very much a political drama. There’s all different things going on with factions,
and who is telling what to whom, and information being bartered. It’s not slow, but there’s not a lot of action, either. I was hoping that like the first book the romance would
take up some semi-significant page room, but it doesn’t. And it’s an f/f romance. At the end
it’s not even a happily ever after for now. The book just cuts off in a near cliffhanger. Not completely a cliffhanger but like,
‘oh phew, we got out of that scrape. Now what?’ End of book. Which is less than satisfying. I ended up giving it three stars.
It’s a fine continuation of the story. We learn a lot of stuff about all the-
everything that was happening and going on. And that was interesting,
but it feels like half the story. So it might even be a better idea to wait until book three
comes out so that you can read them together. Hopefully that will be a bit more satisfying. And last we have something completely different. The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across
the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina. Urbina is a journalist for the New York Times and
he went around the world for something like four years doing investigative reports and articles about different
things that happen in and on the world’s oceans. There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to the middle
of nowhere if it’s in the middle of an ocean – who has jurisdiction, how the laws work,
what can happen out there without anyone knowing,
and he dives into all of that. In the introduction he talks *about how the goal of this
project is to bear witness to a world that is rarely seen. And it is totally that. There are so many
things in here that I had no idea about, that I didn’t know exist,
and that deeply disturb me now. He starts off with some more well known stuff such as
the Sea Shepherd, which is a group of boats, and it’s kind of an offshoot of Greenpeace. They kind of broke away from Greenpeace ’cause
Greenpeace wasn’t radical enough for them. And they have boats that they use
to harass ships that are poaching fishing grounds in, for example, the Antarctic. And the first chapter really pulled me in because it’s
a goose- it’s not a goose chase, it’s a chase chase, of one of these Sea Shepherd ships chasing
a poaching ship across the ocean. He goes to Sealand which is an abandoned
platform in the middle of the ocean just outside of the UK’s territorial waters, and the
family that has set up their own country there pretty much by dint of will
and gray-ness of maritime laws. And he gets a chance to go
out there and see what it’s like. And then he gets into some darker stuff
and stuff that really disturbed me. And I think the one that got to me
the most was about sea slavery. He goes into great depth how in Southeast Asia there
will be a boat that might be flagged to one country, with officers from another country, who end up getting
workers from a third through a manning agency. And the methods these Manning agencies use
to get workers is usually full-on deception. And once the workers are on the boat
they’re stuck on the boat for months because there’s actually supply
ships that go out to the boats. And they’ll take off their catch, they’ll
give them more food or other supplies, and that way these men are stuck on these boats for
months and months with no chance of seeing land. No chance of getting off. And then these men are-
and sometimes boys, are sold between boats. And so it’s chattel slavery in full. Over the course of the book I really appreciated how
transparent Urbina was about if he had to pay bribes. If he had to hire private security, guys with AKs, to make
sure that he could get to where he needed to go. And he doesn’t shy away from sharing how morally
gray some of the situations he ends up in. At one point he’s on a boat that is negotiating
with another boat for hostages. And he- there is an interpreter on the boat, so he
keeps on trying to give the intercom over to her because she actually speaks the language,
but the other boat only wants to speak to him. And he’s like I’m a journalist, I shouldn’t be in this story.
But at the same time I’m the only person they’ll talk to, and it may be the only way
that we get our guy back alive. He goes into all of this. The writing is great. It captures how
tense and scary these situations are. And he does a great job of pulling in backstory,
pulling in other situations in a way that feels natural and not like, ‘now for the flashback!’
It all works together. And each chapter is kind of technically its own essay
but he trusts the reader to pull together the themes between them and to see the
connections on their own, which I appreciate. So four star read for me. If you have
any interest in the area I say go for it, but do realize that it
gets heavy sometimes. And now that I’m thinking about it, I can probably blame
part of the fact that I only read four books this month on this book, because I could only read
sometimes, like that sea slavery essay. I think I had to break up into three sections
over three days because it was so much. So there we have it, the entirety
of my reading for January. Have I ever had a month where
I only did one video for a wrap up? I’m not sure. This might be a first. How was your January reading-wise? Did you make any progress on reading goals
you made? Are you feeling slumpy like me? Has it gotten off to a gangbusters start?
Let me know down in the comments below, as well as if you have any thoughts
about any of the books that I read. Thank you for watching, subscribe if you’re new,
and I will see you in the next video. Bye! [♪♪]
Thanks for watching! Here’s hoping that I can finish up
a bunch of reads early in February! First will probably be an ARC of The Art of Drag
and guys, it is 🌈 fabulous 🌈

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