Sibyx (Lucy) Reading in Spring 2016
This is a continuation of the topic Sibyx Reads in January-February 2016!.
This topic was continued by Sibyx (Lucy) Reading in Autumn and Early Winter 2016.
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Currently Reading (August)
♬ Pawn in Frankincense Dorothy Dunnett hist fic
library An Evil Eye Jason Goodwin hist mys
✔ The Furies Janet Hobhouse fictional memoir
✔ The Year of the French Thomas Flanagan hist fict
♬ podcasts of Clarkesworld, sf stories. 12=1 book. sf
Murdoch Marathon: ONGOING. (No plans for reading IM at present) IM readers group is HERE
Virago No plans
The New Yorker currently Feb 2016
85. ♬Who Buries the Dead? C.S. Harris ****
86. library The Bellini Card Jason Goodwin hist mys ****1/2
87. new How to Be Both Ali Smith contemp fic ****1/2
88.✔Matter Iain Banks sf ****
89. new Blue Latitudes Tony Horwitz hist ****1/2
90. new Everybody's Fool Richard Russo contemp fic ****
91. new Kraken China Mieville urb fantasy ***1/2
92. Numerous New Yorkers (I seem to have gotten lazy about writing them up, but I read January and July 2016, (nothing in between). Will count as one book as I did skip around.
93. new Range of Motion Elizabeth Berg contemp fic ***
94. new The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers sf ****1/2
95. ♬ When Falcons Fall C.S. Harris hist mys ***1/2
Quit in August
Guide to symbols
new=year or less on shelf
♬ = audio
✔ = Year plus on shelf
RoT= Read or Toss
Here is the round-up for March!
Best of March
Cazelet Chronicles -- Elizabeth Jane Howard taken as a whole, 5 books.
Worst of March
A Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes very disappointing!
This month's reading was very much a continuation and completion of last month's. Once again, best of, is a toss-up between two series, only this time the winner is the 5 volume Cazelet Chronicles. These are set in and near London in a period from just before ww2 to the mid-fifties and follow the the shifting (and yes, declining) fortunes of a merchant class family as the social structure already teetering collapses entirely, especially around those who cannot move with the shifting times. And yet, although the final book is a tough read in some ways, it is clear that the next generation will find their own way somehow or other and keep on. Very nicely done and it is hard to let go of people one has spent so much time with. The runner-up was the final book in the THIRD sequence of .J. Cherryh's Foreigner series (Books 7-9). The gang is back from their mission in outer space and in the meanwhile things went to pieces at home. Bren to the rescue. In this series young Cajeiri, the heir, emerges as a full character. Lots of fun. Finally, the third in the line-up of good reads would be Look to Windward -- Iain Banks writing at the top of his form. Lots of good fun with Ship Minds. On the disappointing side, A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - in some ways a perfectly adequate book, but it felt contrived to me, can't understand how it won anything.
I went to see how many books I'd read by the end of March last year. Exactly the same as this year: 36.
Women: 5 (several by same author)
M/W writing together: 1 (NYer)
Non-fiction: 1 (Nyer)
Contemp/Classic Fiction: 3
YA or J: 0
New author: 1
Months of NYers: 1
From library or borrowed: 0 (inc audio): 0
Off Shelf: 5
Read it or Get Rid of It: 0
IN March= 1
2016 Total IN= 16
OUT March Total=3 (two to an LFL in Sarasota!)
2016 Total OUT= 9
Books IN: March 2016
16. Mort Terry Pratchett
Started in 2016
Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries C.S. Harris (9 of 11) READING: Who Buries the Dead?
The Lymond Chronicles Dorothy Dunnett (3 of 6) NEXT UP: Pawn in Frankincense
Inspector Yashim Togalu Jason Goodwin (2 of 5) READING: The Bellini Card
Continued in 2016
Lady Trent's Memoirs Marie Brennan (2 of 4) NEXT UP: 3 The Voyage of the Basilisk
Rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch (5 of 6) Next up: 6 The Hanging Tree
The Culture Iain Banks (6 of 9) NEXT UP: 8 Matter
My Struggle Karl Ove Knausgaard (2 of 6) NEXT UP: (Book 3)
Discworld Terry Pratchett Mort series: 1 of 5: Next up: 2 Reaper Man
Completed or caught up with in 2016
The Magicians Lev Grossman (3 of 3)
The Sarantine Mosaic Guy Gavriel Kay (2 of 2)
Mortal Engines Quartet Philip Reeve (4 of 4)
Matthew Shardlake C.J. Sansom (6 of 6)
Foreigner C.J. Cherryh (9 of 18) (I will continue the series on 2017)
Doctor of Labyrinths series Sarah Monette (4 of 4)
Imperial Radch (3 of 3)
Elizabeth Jane Howard (Cazelet Chronicles) (5 of 5)
To be continued?
Blue Remembered Earth Alastair Reynolds (1 of 3) NEXT UP: On the Steel Breeze
Discworld (2 of 35) NEXT UP: Mort
Shetland Ann Cleeves (5 of 6): NEXT UP: (6) Thin Air
Lady Trent's Memoirs (1 of 3) NEXT UP : The Tropic of Serpents (2)
Chronicles of St. Mary's (2 of 5 ) NEXT UP: A Second Chance (3)
Walk to Constantinople Patrick Leigh Fermor (2 of 3) Next Up: The Broken Road
The Seven Kingdoms Kristin Cashore (2 of 3) Next up: Bitterblue
KingKiller Chronicles Patrick Rothfuss 2 of 3. Doors of Stone forthcoming (undeclared)
Liaden Universe Starting Over! 2 of 19. Not sure what's next! Maybe Theo
Completed or caught up with in 2015
Ki and Vandien Quartet (4 of 4)
Cormoran Strike (3 of 3)
Trade Pact Universe Julie E. Czerneda (3 of 3)*
Lens of the World (3 of 3)
The Entire and the Rose Kay Kenyon (4 of 4)
Flavia de Luce Alan Bradley (7 of 7)
Liaden Universe Sharon Lee Steve Miller
Medicus Ruth Downie mys (6 of 6)
The High Lord Trudi Canavan (3 of 3)
Pegasus 1 of 1 (more forthcoming.....)
Serrano Legacy Elizabeth Moon(3 of 3)
The Old Kingdom Garth Nix(4 of 4)
Chronicles of Josan (3 of 3)
*Series is continued in Reunification 1
I am continuing to find this second Knausgaard volume even more unsettling than the first - I can barely think of anyone, save maybe James Boswell, who writes with such (apparent) (utterly convincing) (shattering) openness. The difference being that there is/was an artlessness to Boswell's confessions. Knausgaard is too self-aware and too well trained in critical literary thought to be an innocent - and yet - one has the sense that he is writing the only way he has found he can. In that sense, he is an innocent, despite everything he has studied and thought about.
>4 sibyx: enjoyed your musings on Knausgaard. He is my unashamed book crush.
37. memoir *****
Lark Rise to Candleford Flora Thompson
Exquisite is the first word that comes to mind, but a special kind of exquisite, a gentle and tactful, clear-eyed (as opposed to naive or nostalgically sentimental) remembrance of life in a hamlet about 20 miles from Oxford in the last two decades of the 19th century. I'm old enough to know that there is always "a way of life passing by" (I remember the milkman delivering our milk in glass bottles for example) but Flora, (disguised as Laura) describes everything of the habits, dress, food, celebrations, furnishings and social structure of her childhood and this truly was, in a very critical way, a rural life that was about to come crashing to an end. This is really three books in one and I generally read ten or twenty pages at night before going to sleep. A treasure, Thompson manages to simultaneously write both subjectively and objectively about a way of life in which she was immersed as a child. I look forward to seeking out the BBC rendering of it which I gather is quite good. *****
>5 AlisonY: Yes, it's hard not to have a crush on him! And yet, it is one of those crushes, for me, which I am perfectly happy will never be the least bit requited!
My current reading line-up:
Currently Reading (April)
new The Midnight Mayor Kate Griffin urb fant
✔The River of Doubt Candice Millard bio
new My Struggle Book 2 Karl Ove Knausgaard contemp fic
♬ Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett hist ficThat last one, the audio book is Dorothy Dunnett's Game of Kings, (loosely) historical fiction, which I am liking very much so far, about 1/3 of the way through.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
This is no more than a gentle revisiting and settling of a beloved character, Cordelia now in her mid-seventies (but expecting to live to at least 120-130). Aral has been dead for three years, but he left behind his gametes, convinced by his Betan wife that Barrayarans had to move into the modern universe, replicators and all . . . and she has gotten it into her head she'd like to have daughters. She then gets a further idea to invite Admiral Jole, Aral's other long-term squeeze (oh, did I mention that Aral was bi and that the three were all copacetic) to the use of the Aral gametes as well - Betans can somehow make them work for either gender - . Oh, and did I mention Jole is gorgeous? They are all on the planet Sergyar and there are minor subplots to do with where to put the planet's capitol. Really and truly this little novel is only for fixed fans of the Barrayaran uni and even then it might be a stretch. The 1/2 is purely for nostalgic reasons. ***1/2
It is snowing out there. So happy to be in Vermont. April 4, wood stove glowing, have on my extra layers. 18 F. Sigh. I love it here, this is the landscape I feel at home in, but I did like the warm in the southern lowlands.
>10 sibyx: Snowing here too all yesterday, more tomorrow. My Iris reticulata and crocuses have disappeared under it all. I have to get the wood stove going as I was out all day.
Vermont may be my favourite state. It is certainly my favourite for searching out books.
My favourite used bookstore is just north of Middlebury on route 7. Monroe St books, even though it is far from Monroe st (it used to be IN Middlebury.) I've driven through your neck of the woods but quite some time ago.
I get a huge hankering to go there about twice a year. Sometimes I go crazy, sometimes I barely buy anything, but it's always great!
>12 sibyx: Thanks for the tip. I'll add that to my list for next time I'm there.
>10 sibyx: Can't say I agree with you on the snow and cold, but I am enjoying a nice hot soup tonight in this little cold snap.
>13 SassyLassy: It's only thirty or so minutes from my house so, please, no passing through without letting me know! Plus, I'll take just about any excuse I can to "have" to go there. We can have coffee in M-bury after!
8 degrees this morning! That is, I think, unusual for April, even here. But at least today looks to be sunny and then the snap ameliorates for the rest of the week (year?).
It is bitter cold here in NJ too. My grandchildren were wearing shorts last week while they were on spring break, and then the weekend came. Crazy weather.
Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Lark Rise to Candleford
Of course I remember milk being delivered in glass bottles and at school we had one third of a pint each morning also in glass bottles.
So it's you guys on the east coast sending us this rotten cold snap across the Atlantic! Today there's an especially cold wind and we've dropped a good 10 degrees from what it was before Easter.
This cold weather can just clear off - my spring coat is out and the winter one's not coming back out of the closet until next winter.
>14 janemarieprice: I don't want the snow and cold! I'm happy to be home despite it!
>18 AlisonY: Yep. In theory today is the day that it backs off some. We'll see! It was so nice to get home and hear the wood frogs quackling - now the pond is skimmed over with ice, although even with the temps below freezing the sun has melted the ice by the mid-afternoon. The ducks appreciate that (this time of year we have quite a parade of migrating ducks. Sensibly they don't stay as we have a HUGE resident snapping turtle.)
39. urb fan **1/2
The Midnight Mayor Kate Griffin
Various words come to mind and a part of me wants to write a scathingly satirical and clever send-up of Griffin's effort. In part because she comes so close to being very good indeed. But Matthew Swift is a two-dimensional bore and I began gnashing my teeth after about the fiftieth time he started bleeding profusely after ripping up his stitches so that the wound flapped while he was running and bleeding, and oh, the blood dripping down his arm, down his fingers, pooling here and there, drip, drip, drip. Gawd, this fellow has a copious amount of blood! It was tedious and maddening and in the end made the whole story silly when it wasn't all that silly. And it wasn't the only repetitious tick, there were others. The core magical ideas are solid and original, the plot was sound, and the descriptions of London are sometimes inspired . . . But, for heaven's sake, give Matthew some decent clothes? Several pleasant nights off? A date with someone who won't immediately get killed? Maybe even a real relationship with someone? Friends who aren't always threatening to kill him? In other words, give him some dimension? He so obviously ISN'T a hateful person that it is bizarre how automatically people hate him. His goodness is just there, a blob of cloying honey in his personality, unearned, unexplained, obvious. He lacks depth because nothing except being pummeled and gored ever happens to him. Perhaps what is lacking is EDITING. Griffin, since she can't do it for herself, needs a thoughtful and determined editor who can pry the good book hidden inside the prolixity. There is a sub-genre of bloody fantasy, which, for some reason, urban fantasy is especially vulnerable to, and which always seems to require a person who describes it all in the first person. I am not going to read the last two books in the series (so far). I will donate them all to the local library since some people seem to enjoy this stuff. **1/2
Well you managed the scathing bit. The book has plenty of good reviews from people who 'Like this sort of thing"
Yes, I think I am more maddened by a book that has plenty of merit than I am by one that is just bad! Repetition used to be frowned upon, nowadays, many writers depend on it too much.
It is, of course, just my own reaction. It is also a bit silly of me to demand realism from a book containing magic! But that is, of course, how I manage to suspend disbelief. Stretched too far and, for me, it just snaps.
For relief, I've flung myself into Knausgaard 2 - nearing the finish line and can't wait to write about it. If possible, I like this one even better than the 1st which is saying a lot.
My current genre read is a "safe" one, from a literary viewpoint, the third in the Atwood dystopic set, MaddAddam.
The non-fiction is about TR's trip down an unexplored river in Brazil in 1913. I can see it is going to be a tale of woe and disaster and I'm not entirely in the mood for it--it's well written and engaging, just not, somehow what I feel like reading, although I couldn't tell you what sort of non-fiction I do feel like reading.
The audio book - The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett has me totally hooked. Looking for excuses to drive places since that is where I do most of my listening.
Oh good, I'm planning to give Dorothy Dunnett a try later this year. I've exhausted my Sharon Kay Penman options and have heard Dunnett is great.
>23 japaul22: I was warned to take this first book "slowly" - but I am used to what is called "inclue-ing" in sf and fantasy writing, where you get dumped in the middle of fast and furious action without any idea of what is going on initially, so I didn't mind it as some might. The writing also seems overly florid at first, but again, I can't really say, maybe I've adjusted now. Expect to be confused for -- something around 100 pages (just guessing since it is audio) but after that things will start to make sense - it helped that by then I was totally in love with several of the women characters and was beginning to enjoy some of the men more than at first. What is especially nice is that no one is all good or all bad, they are all complex, rounded characters.
Back to add that after I finish the Knausgaard I'll take another break - I can't see the point in reading all his books at once (although I do see the temptation) as each one, if the first two are anything to go by, are focussed around certain things, very novelistically, not at all serially, despite the "memoiristic" aspect. Anyway, I feel no need to find out "what happens next" in fact, maybe I dread it a little, although I can't say why, only that Karl Ove is such an "all or nothing" person.
Instead I am going to give in to a hankering for another Iris Murdoch. She has really grown on me, I have to say after whatever it is, two or three years of steadily reading her work (not in any particular order). I still have several I need to acquire in fact.
40. contemp fic *****
My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love Karl Ove Knausgaard
If Book One examines adolescence and the transformation of a child into an independent thinking person, and the influence of a father for good and ill, Book Two, A Man in Love, focusses with equal intensity on the women in Karl Ove's life, on developing and maintaining relationships (wife, children, parents) including the deep friendship with Geir, a Norwegian man who becomes his closest friend in Sweden. Much as I loved Book One for its revelatory aspects of adolescent boyhood, in Book Two I could identify with Karl Ove often, just as a person, neither male nor female; he writes about the difficulties in adjusting to having children and writing, tries to capture the tension between meeting the needs not only of others but of his private and public selves. How can a deeply introverted person reconcile the conflicting desires of connection and solitude and make space for both? Much of what he writes about here is less gender-related. Just because one is introverted and driven to create, doesn't mean one is without an equally strong desire to be part of a social unit of family and friends. This second book, because so much in it parallels or echoes aspects of my own life, (even to including a crazy scary neighbor. Ours used to sometimes sit on his roof drinking peppermint schnapps and howling just because), confirmed for me the depth of Karl Ove's honesty and attempt o capture and make some sense of the confusions and contradictions of daily life. I also hugely enjoyed the ruminations on "normalcy" and conformity (I've thought--ok ranted-- about this, but never so coherently!) and the very entertaining comic relief of Geir's riffs on the "differences between Norwegians and Swedes" which surfaces now and then. There are couple of a breathtaking sections on poetry, on how it either "opens" out for you or it does not and that only another poet could tell the difference between a poem written by a real poet and a wannabe. There are several passages where Karl Ove describes what he is seeing and talks about himself as a visual person and his relationship to art, especially painting, mentioned in the previous book, but enriched here. There is description of a walk, of the white snow, contrasting with the black of trees and rocks, that, in its exactitude gave me the shivers. Lovely. The book is so rich that I can't do more than scratch the surface for you. You will either love it or find it tedious no matter what I say! *****
With only four Murdochs left on my shelf (there are more I haven't read and haven't got around) I am choosing one The Red and the Green that is a bit different, set in Dublin in 1916, and thus historical fiction. The only book Murdoch wrote which, you could say, examines her Irish roots at all. I had to think for a moment if this was what I really wanted to read, but that's the one my hand reached for so I will stick with it. I have a pile of Irish Troubles books, Troubles and The Year of the French plus all of Sean O'Faolain inherited from my mil's library . . . so maybe this is the time to plunge back in.
OK, weird! Putting in The Year of the French caused Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to come up in the Touchstones. I guess I'd better go report that.
>28 sibyx: It is the centennial of the 1916 rebellion, Lucy, so quite appropriate reading.
>40 glad you loved Book 2 as well. I was a bit nervous starting it as on Amazon it seemed to be less well received than the first book, but I enjoyed it every bit as much, even perhaps more so.
>29 NanaCC: Of course! Now I feel energized. I love that kind of serendipity . . . although I was also, at another level, aware of it. You can't play traditional Irish music without learning your history.
>30 AlisonY: Me too! And I see Book Three looks to be a return to deepest darkest childhood. Oh boy.
FYI for some insane reason one has to "fix" some touchstones by choosing "other" and finding the title. Heaven only knows why one is sent to the Hobbit or HP, but so be it.
Confessing that I am so gobsmacked with Lymond Crawford and Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings that yesterday afternoon after getting home from errands, I just lay on the sofa listening, then listened while making dinner, listened after dinner, listened this morning . . . I rarely have done this! Not even knitting, just lying there listening! Loving it! Took a little bit to get into it--she dumps you into the story with very little help (they call it "inclueing" in sf/fantasy--you figure it out by paying attention as you go) but once you start to get what is going on, what a romp! It fits perfectly too with having just finished up the Shardlake mysteries as it takes place just after Henry VIII's death. The historical surround is pacifying Scotland, the Protector is trying to get them to agree to a pact to marry young Edward and Mary, the Scots are toying with the French as allies and a marriage to the Dauphin . . . within that context the fictional story of the Scottish Crawford family takes place.
41. ♬hist fic *****
Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett
Magnifique! Once I got inside the rhythm and intent of the tale I was riveted. Dunnett wanted to create the consummate romantic hero, as I understand it, and in Crawford of Lymond she has succeeded. With a masterfully twisty plot, she never lets up on wit or character development and can handle a swordfight as well as an excruciating courtroom scene. The Lymond Chronicles were written between 1961 and 1975 and they are not one whit dated. Most remarkably the women characters are unfailingly as varied, memorable, and fully involved as any of the men. If you like your history served up with swashbuckle and wit, and a dash of mystery, you will be enthralled. Ah, Crawford of Lymond! The narrator, Napier, took a little getting used to at first with his sometimes drawly accent and a habit of dropping downwards at the end of a sentence but around the same time I warmed utterly to the story, I began to think he was just the right choice. *****
If you do listen, what sounds like the name "McClue" is "Buccleuch". It's really a sort of hard M with aa hint of B in it. I never had a "ccleuch" before how to pronounce it!
So glad to see a good review of this book! I'm looking forward to reading it later but I'm glad to know to hang in there at the beginning and just go with the flow.
42. dystopic ****
MaddAddam Margaret Atwood
I wish I'd jumped on this the second it came out, not left so much time between it and the previous two books, but that said, I certainly remembered enough to know what was happening, as Toby and the man Zeb she was getting involved with in the previous book were the main focus and are both engaging characters (in some ways I liked the second book better than the first). So - the situation is this, a virus was released that, like biblical flood, has killed off all but a very very few people and the "newly" invented people, the Crakers, who were put together by the MaddAddamites under the mad genius Crake. These few people, who were part of a group called God's Gardeners who had had some idea that this virus was going to be released and thus knew to hide during the time that the virus did its work. This is a creepy society where the educated and useful live separate from everyone else who inhabit the Pleeblands. There is no governments anymore, everything is run by CorpSeCor, e.g. a conglomeration of massive corporations. Everything is geared toward commerce, including selling, in say, vitamins, stuff to make you sick, so you come back for medicine and procedures and so on. It's an ugly future, but it is all leavened with Atwood's wit and humor. I would say if you read the first two volumes Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood you might as well go on and read this third one. I loved Zeb's story and you certainly learn the whole of the "backstory" of how everything came to be.
Unable to wait before jumping into the next Dunnett, Queen's Play, I've begun. The narrator is Irish and pronounces Lymond Limmond instead of Lie-mond (as the narrator did in the first) and at first I wasn't sure, but he's good albeit very very different. (It is appropriate as in this one Lymond is mostly in France masquerading as an Irish aristocrat.)
As we come up to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising, I am delighted that I picked up the particular Iris Murdoch that I did! Her only foray into either historical fiction or Ireland, it is set in the week just before.
43. adventure/bio ***1/2
River of Doubt landed on my shelves a while back, after I read another book about TR when he was Police Commissioner of New York, and has sat there ever since. It is less about TR though than a book about surviving an ordeal--the sort of ordeal that, after reading the book on Mallory and Everest earlier this year, I've come to see as peculiarly of the era between, say 1850-1939, a time of furious and often bizarrely heedless exploration. Their goal was to go into the deepest rainforest of Brazil to find the start of a river no one had ever descended, that was on no map, to descend it while mapping it, and see where it emerged. The biggest differences between expeditions then and now is the social separation of the gentlemen explorers and those who labor to carry their gear. And the gear is, to our gore-texed and politically self-aware culture, ludicrous: china tea cups! The amazing thing is that, without antibiotics or any of the medical goodies that anyone embarking on a rigorous trip would take today, is that they made it. Malaria, festering wounds, horrible insects . . . endless miserable portages using cumbersome dug-outs -- everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong, and yet they did make it out, all but three and a dog. TR nearly died from complications of opening an old wound and malaria, wanted to be left behind, but his son Kermit wouldn't think of it. TR died only six years later and his health was never the same after the journey, but he had no regrets. It had been a lifelong desire to have true adventure, to be a true explorer, and he certainly achieved it. There are other characters, Rondon of Brazil, a fierce advocate of the native people as well as an explorer, and George Cherrie the naturalist, who fascinated me. I'd be interested to read about both of them. Anyway, I didn't learn anything about TR I didn't already know, (indomitable sums it up nicely) but I did learn a great deal about the rainforest and the trials of the early Euro-explorers and exploiters of it. I could give it a four, but it is, to me, a slightly odd book, something about it felt a little forced. ***1/2
>41 sibyx: Pratchett is very, very silly. But that's not all he is -- that deeper chord is usually there, too -- and I think that's part of why it's so easy to catch the Discworld bug. I suspect you'll just enjoy them more and more from there on; that does seem to be the usual pattern. :)
45. mys ***
Rock With Wings Anne Hillerman
Zipped right through this one, and although it some of it worked, some of felt labored? Slightly too carefully pieced together? A little bit too predictable? Not the Tony H.'s books were paragons of originality. On the other hand, Anne may be finding her way yet. I could see the point, however, in letting Chee and Manuelito go and finding a new person to focus on, a person all her own? Just a thought. ***
46. hist fic ****
The Red and the Green Iris Murdoch
As far as I know this is Murdoch's only foray into historical fiction. You could argue, for her just barely as this would have been her parents' and grandparents' generation experiencing the Easter Uprising of April 1916 (a mad bid for immediate independence). The story covers the week before the uprising and is focussed on an Anglo-irish family with roots deep enough to be (mostly) fully identified with the struggle, albeit with ragged edges. Some of the family has become Catholic, the more Anglo have remained Protestant. The focal point is Pat Dumay, one of the older cousins in this group of interrelated families, there is also Frances, another cousin Andrew and Pat's younger brother Cathal all of them in their teens or early twenties. Frances and Andrew (who is in the British army on leave) are assumed to be affianced in all but name, even though they are distantly related. In the older generation there is a still beautiful aunt and a religious aunt, a ne'er do well uncle (Barney, perhaps the character I liked the most, he was quite humorous) and a well-to-do and sensible uncle, a full cast in other words but they are one and all caught up in the swirl of events of that week, helpless to save themselves from the inevitable --not unlike the way the great yellow boulders Murdoch describes along the Dublin shore will destroy anything that gets caught among them. It is a "harder" book than many of Murdoch's in that it really is "about" something definite, and yet it also contains many of the classic Murdochian hallmarks, an enchantress, a charismatic, ruthless, and sexually ambiguous man (Pat Dumay) with whom everyone is secretly obsessed. The story builds also in classic Murdoch fashion to a crisis both comical and sad. And there are many memorable houses each with their own personalities, a Murdoch feature I treasure. Are there some Joycean echoes here and there in loving descriptions of Dublin? I think so, and the cadence at the end recalled to me, "The Dead." To be sure, it is a book for the habituated Murdochian and/or those interested in that moment in Irish history. ****
Enjoyed your excellent review of The Red and the Green. When I have finished with Doris (Lessing) I will get onto Iris.
47. fantasy ****
Tropic of Serpents Marie Brennan
Lady Isabella Trent of Scirland, first significant female naturalist, adventurer, and leading scholar of dragons, continues her memoirs. This time the quest is for more information about serpents in the tropics, in particular swamp-wyrms found in the "Green Hell" that lies between two warring countries, an area formed by three rivers falling down to sea level from a plateau. She is accompanied this time by young Natalie, granddaughter of Isabella's sponsor, who runs away rather than be forced into marriage. Brennan is deft and the story, while somewhat predictable, has a kind of zest to it. Very enjoyable -- I've ordered the third book, should check to see if it goes on after that! ****
Well, yes, of course there is a fourth. It is on my WL now. I'm fully committed.
48. steampunk/post-apoc ****
Mortal Engines Philip Reeve
Thousands of years after the "Sixty Minute War" which more or less destroyed civilization, people have survived by living in traction cities. Since then some tractions cities have grown huge and they chase and "eat" smaller cities. The Anti-Traction League oppose this Urban Darwinism and contend that there is no need anymore for the traction cities, people can live on the earth's surface again. Suspension of disbelief is essential to get anywhere with this YA offering, but I found the characters compelling, the setting amusing, and the story fun and read right through it. As it's a quartet I've ordered the next three through interlibrary loan since our little library doesn't have it. ****
Less than a hundred yards from my house is a fox den, no doubt filled to the brim with young pups as I see the parents go back and forth several times a day bringing them food. Foxes seem to be the theme for this spring.
If you want to be amused, search out "Foxes trampolines" on YouTube.
Currently Reading (April)
new The Snake Stone Jason Goodwin
new The Restless Supermarket Ivan Vladislavic contemp fict
new Red Fox: The Catlike Canine H. David Henry nat sci
♬ Queen's Play Dorothy Dunnett hist fic
Murdoch Marathon resumed! The Red and the Green IM readers group is HERE
The New Yorker working on October 2015
April Summed Up
Read in April
37. ✔ Lark Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy Flora Thompson eng country life
38. new Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen Lois Bujold sf ***1/2
39. new The Midnight Mayor Kate Griffin urb fant **1/2
40. ✔ My Struggle: Book 2 Karl Ove Knausgaard contemp fic *****
41. ♬ Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett hist fic *****
42. ✔ MaddAddam Margaret Atwood dyst ****
43. ✔The River of Doubt Candice Millard adventure/bio ***1/2
44. new Mort Terry Pratchett fantasy ***1/2
45. new Rock With Wings Anne Hillerman mys ***
46. ✔ The Red and the Green Iris Murdoch hist fic****
47. ✔ The Tropic of Serpents Marie Brennan fantasy
48. ✔ Mortal Engines Philip Reeve steampunk/post apoc.YA
49. New Yorkers September 2015
Best of April
Lark Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy Flora Thompson
My Struggle: Book 2 Karl Ove Knausgaard
Game of Kings Dorothy Dunnett hist fic
Worst of April
Midnight Mayor Kate Griffin
Off in some new directions this month, although curiously two of the three best reads are both what one could describe as fictionalized memoirs. The first, Lark Rise to Candleford (which is really three books put together) capture life in a hamlet near Oxford in the late 1800's. A quiet thoughtful book. Knausgaard's novel, on the other hand, is anything but quiet and understated, as he attempts to capture the frustrations of being a new parent, an serious writer, a (mostly) responsible introvert in contemporary Scandinavia. The two books share an interest in the minutia of daily life, both authors would agree that life is truly made of these small details and to overlook them as unimportant is to miss the experience of being alive. On the fun side the other great read was the historical adventure The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett. She wanted to create the ultimate "hero" figure and that Francis Lymond is, along with being a trickster and everything in between . . . he is one of the most complex characters I've ever encountered in a book that is not "serious" in the sense of being literary fiction (say, Joyce or Dostoyevsky) - ultimately what drives him is his restless brilliance, and Dunnett convinced me of it. (I'm presently deep into book 2 of the five or six book series of The Lymond Chronicles. Historical fiction is new for me also - and I seem to like it especially in the audio format, although I do intend to read the Lymond books in print in order to look up the thousands of quotes and sly references. In an ordinary month both Maddaddam and The Red and the Green would have gotten more attention, but all things being relative . . . in terms of absorbing reading and listening, these first three just had me on the hook. My last read, a YA steampunkish, Mortal Engines was a book I couldn't seem to put down so it deserves a mention, even though it wasn't perfect (one whole paragraph was repeated almost verbatim in two places). I began the second in the Kate Griffin series set in London and found, once again, that this sort of first person narration is tricky for me. There is a point where I just stop "believing" after the narrator gets pounded and is still staggering on. I also found it repetitive, which grated after awhile. A stellar reading month I have to say!
In more down to earth book news, I seem to have gone a bit wild in April, and already was given three books TODAY! I'm 2 for 1 In and Out at the moment, which is not so good. In #'s of books read, last year I was up to 57, which seems excessive!
M/W writing together: (NYer)
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 4
YA or J: 1
New author: 4
Months of NYers: 1
From library or borrowed: 0
Read it or Get Rid of It: 0
2016 Total IN= 30
2016 Total OUT=15
Books IN: April 2016
17. The Last Policeman Ben H. Winters
18. Countdown Ben H. Winters
19. World of Trouble Ben H. Winters
20. The Aeronaut's Windlass Jim Butcher
21. On the Steel Breeze Alastair Reynolds
22. Poseidon's Wake Alastair Reynolds
23. The Long Ships Frans G. Bengtsson
24. Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery Spencer Quinn
25. Red Fox: The Catlike Canine J. David Henry
26. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way Lars Mytting
27. The Paladin C.J. Cherryh
28. Fever Season C.J. Cherryh (and others)
29. The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II Elspeth Morrison
30. Cuckoo's Egg C.J. Cherryh
I couldn't agree more, but I find I get something akin to palpitations when my tbr shelves (in our bedroom) are seriously overflowing . . . And I also don't like keeping books around that I know I'll never look at again. We're somewhat maxed out in our bookshelves so I try to keep things moving. Our guest rooms and various alcoves receive most of the books I have read and loved and would like to think I might read again, although the creme de la creme live in my workroom - biased to the best books by women, best feminist writing, best nature writing, books about Boswell and Johnson, Greek stuff, poetry that actually sank in and means something to me . . . I've had guests who declare they have no interest in coming out of their room, just want to wallow in the books. Now that is my kind of visitor!
On the reading front, I really am struggling with The Restless Supermarket, set in Johannesburg, South Africa. The main character is an obsessive-compulsive retired proof-reader. Fine and dandy. But what am I to think when he refers to Rip Van Winkle consistently as Rip Van Winkel? Is this an intentional error? A little are-you-paying-attention joke on the reader by the author himself? There have been other spelling errors too in the main text, not the protag. going on and on about the mistakes he's found and catalogued. And it really really is a "nothing happens" sort of book with endless talking and pontificating and so forth and I don't know if I can stand it. I have made it to page 100 and I generally get stubborn if I've invested that much time and effort. This is a prize-winning book, by the way, in South Africa. It has its moments, but.
Winkel is a more logical spelling if you are coming from the Germanic languages (including Dutch and by proxy the Afrikaans of the white settlers of South Africa). And the books seems to be about someone that would be clinging to that world... So it may be a play on the local language? Who knows... Or it can be just a badly edited book of course - it always annoys me when that happens - if the author meant something, a note to point to it may be helpful :).
Possibly it is on purpose but I don't know what the point of it would be, to just embed an error like that (twice) in the text, it's too subtle. Am I supposed to think that Tearle isn't as clever as he thinks he is? Or, as you suggest, is clinging to the familiar, and so not even aware that he has changed the spelling? I've read steadily this evening, coming to the "work" Tearle has been writing in retirement, A Proofreader's Derby, a compilation of his various proofing mistakes and oddities he has found over his years of work made into a story . . . he is hoping that people will want to play this game he has concocted, competing to see who can find the most errors. While I am not at all caught up in it, while I feel somewhat impatient, and think it is a strangely uneven work, I have kept reading. There was a passage on the changes in names in various neighborhoods over the decades he worked proofreading telephone books (think about the tedium of that!) that was quite marvelous.
>56 sibyx: I've just picked The Restless Supermarket as my next read -- with some expectations, of course, since it's supposed to have won a prize. I can be a very patient reader, and when written well, a "nothing happens" sort of book is usually my preference, but this sounds like a book that would test my limits. Let's see...
Oh I am so glad that it is your next read! I'm quite a patient reader, I think, and I like writers who push language limits. I don't want to bias you, so I will put this next comment into the spoiler zone and then say no more for the time being. I think the book has plenty of merit or I would have quit.
50. nat sci *****
Red Fox: The Catlike Canine J. David Henry
A gem of a book, thoughtful and factual both, and written with just a touch of the playfulness you might expect from a natural scientist who has spent decades studying foxes. Henry also gives the reader the sense of the limitations of what a single researcher can do. Simply acclimating a fox to your constant presence, for example, takes up to a month. Then you have to devise experiments that take patience, arduous (and sometimes strenuous) care to fulfill, and be open to whatever the results may bring. Studying fox caching behaviour, for example, Henry created experiments that had him running about recreating various caching methods to figure out why foxes cache the way they do. His conclusions are surprising--and make a lot of sense. The final chapter is a delight, thoughts about his observations over the years of fox playfulness -- once when done playing with a vole he saw a fox take it back to the hole where he got it and toss it back in. We had a cat that collected the mice he caught in buckets, presumably so they would be there when he wanted to play with them again . . . and he makes the point that the anomalous and strange things one observes matter as much as the experiments that can be verified over and over again and that the "scientific method" needs a way to incorporate and utilize those rarer observations. Anyway, if you want to learn about foxes, this is the book to get. *****
I would have attributed the van Winkel spelling to the protagonist being a pedantic old fart who felt that Irving should have held to the proper Germanic spelling. But with other errors, who knows if it were intentional or accidental. I certainly understand your frustration with poorly copy-edited books. As a proof-reader, I am frequently thrown out of a story and into reading the text for errors.
Pedantic old fart is exactly right -- and yet -- the proofreader isn't allowed to do that, are "they"? (Yeh, the gender-inclusive new singular usage of that pronoun, eh?) This guy seems like a person who would be faithful to that principle, so that is why I am so confused. It did "throw me out the story" as you say. You see, it is an endless loop.
51. hist mys ****
The Snake Stone Jason Goodwin
Yashim, the "special ops" eunuch of the Ottoman sultanate is back in book 2 of a mystery series, set in the mid 1800's in Istanbul, that is shaping up to be wonderful reading. I spent hours looking things up and poring over maps as I read. I am fonder than ever of Yashim and his Polish ambassador friend Palewski. Pure pleasure, a good mystery, well unravelled. Recommended to all historical mystery lovers! ****
>56 sibyx: I'm now about halfway into the book and enjoying it immensely. I find it witty and funny, and I like the wordplay. Keeping your comments in mind, I tried to keep my eyes peeled for those spelling errors. I didn't find any that I think were not intended to be a play on words. There's one I noted that would seem to be a typo, but which I think is not (I wonder if you were referring to that?) -- the one where the narrator comments about the liquor store staff, somewhere in the beginning -- "Portuguese workforce: manuel labour." That would look like a typo indeed, but for me living in Portugal familiar with how the Portuguese pronounce some English words -- this is exactly how they pronounce "manual." The "ua" ends up sounding like a soft "ue", there is a tendency for that sliding tone, so similar to the Portuguese "ãe". Tearle was spelling it exactly in the way it would sound if a Portuguese speaker (like those Moçambican staff) were saying it. About the Winkel/Winkle thing, I think it's simply because the narrator uses the Dutch or Afrikaans spelling (as noted in a post above), because if the name were to be Anglicized or Americanised, the correct way of saying would have been "Of/From Winkle" which would have been odd. Keeping the Van, then, would mean using the Winkel spelling. I find the text pretty trustworthy, the idea being not to forget that it's all "lexical gymnastics" as Tearle would say. But I'm no expert in these things, I leave it to the likes of you language professionals! :-)
Btw, have you read José Saramago´s History of the Siege of Lisbon? It's also about a proofreader this time one who's working on a history book and decides to alter the narrative by inserting a single word. It's a great insight into a part of the city's history, also a love story, as well as a reflection on the uses and abuses of language. I strongly recommend it. Of course, only for when you're in the mood for another proofreader story!
Good spot! >65 deebee1: And I agree wholeheartedly that the manuel makes perfect sense, being more or less a play as well on the name, manuel, also very common. I accepted it immediately as being on purpose.
I'm holding out on Winkle/Winkel. Someone who edited names in phone books as does our protag. more than anyone would know and respect the fact that there variations in name spellings and that they matter, should be punctilious about such things, in fact. He goes on about it, in fact! Anyway, it's kind of nit-picking, I know, and I'm not at all perfect.
I have been enjoying the decline of the Cafe Europa!
I have not read History of the Siege of Lisbon and I will look into it when I am feeling courageous.
It is Sunday so here is a reading review:
new Voyage of the Basilisk Marie Brennan fantasy
new The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor memoir
new The Restless Supermarket Ivan Vladislavic contemp fict
♬ Queen's Play Dorothy Dunnett hist fic
Loving the Brennan dragon memoir, will finish that today, no doubt. After which I will pick up the 2nd of the Philip Reeve steampunk, traveling cities series, Predator's Gold which came in on ILL on Friday. I'm dragging miserably through The Restless Supermarket - I "committed" to it at some point (what this means is I have invested enough time in it that I have to get to the bitter end). It is set in Johannesburg in the 90's and it has merit, paints a time and a place from the pov of an older white man struggling to adjust to the changes, but it isn't my cuppa. He's a retired proofreader and there is just too much cleverness that fall flat for me. Finally, I don't know why it is but I get very melancholy every time I pick up Patrick Leigh Fermor -- there's something about his evocation of youthful idealism, energy and playfulness--plus the descriptions of places so many of which are gone, gone, gone--that bring up my own memories of (paltry by comparison) adventures and just how open the world felt to me. Not a complaint at all, simply an observation. And, since I am so absorbed in the Dunnett, it is possible I will just put on the headphones and lie around listening a bit today as I have nowhere I plan to drive to!
52. fantasy ****
The Voyage of the Basilisk Marie Brennan
I'm good and hooked! The slightly arch style of Isabel Camherst's memoir took a bit of getting used to, but I'm now I'm an avid and awed admirer of hers, just as if I were a Scirling native reading about her fabulous exploits. There is a steampunkish element to this series, as it is a very Victorian era time, but really it is about the dragons that live in this uni. Entirely plausible dragons, I might add. She has permission to write up what really happened on her voyage around the world studying dragons as enough time has passed so that the truth won't hurt diplomatic relations. Isabel loves dragons, but she is racing to save them. Dragonbone, when preserved, is the hardest and strongest and lightest material in existence and she is hoping if she can study it enough she can save dragons from being exterminated for use of the bone. She lives in a society where women have few rights, are not regarded as "serious" in any significant way, and are expected to behave with propriety. Isabel doesn't fit, her drive is too strong. These are a lot of fun, very consistent world-building and great character development.! ****
53. ♬ hist fict *****
Queen's Play Dorothy Dunnett
Lymond goes to France, having promised the Dowager Queen Mary of Guise, on his own terms, not as her obedient servant, to do what he can to protect the small Queen Mary Stuart. There are many who would like to see her dead and those close to her are aware there have been attempts. They do not know who is behind these attempts, though. Lymond goes to France incognito, masquerading as Thady Boy Balaugh, the olave (royal poet/scholar/companion) to Prince Phelim O'Liam Roe of the Slieve Boom (an area in central Ireland) who has come to France to ask for support for getting out from under the boot heels of the English. There are plots within plots, Lymond by walking into a room, complicates matters for he always seems to bring out the best and worst in everyone. One person, Margaret Erskine, is making a serious effort to get the charismatic Lymond to take more responsibility for the effect he has on everyone around him and that forms the deeper and most riveting aspect of the story, touching the fate of the hapless archer Robin Stuart, a bastard son of that noble family, the beautiful Oonagh O'Dwyer, and the transformation of Phelim O'Liam Roe into a true prince. The climax was, literally, explosive! Lots of fun! I'm sure I miss half of what is going on listening, but that will make reading these books again later all the more interesting. *****
54. contemp fic ***1/2
The Restless Supermarket Ivan Vladislavic
This is a tough one for me to evaluate. The protagonist, Aubrey Tearle, is a retired proofreader of telephone books in post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa. I assume he's in his early seventies at the time the book opens, pretty spry and has his marbles. When he first retired he started frequenting the Cafe Europa in a shopping mall, that was, for a time, everything he dreamed a cafe could be. He makes some friends, who find his lists (say, of shops with ridiculous names, of buildings named after women, of people with odd names that reflect their work, and so on) and comes up with an idea for creating "A proofreader's derby" that is, writing up a document full of errors and then having a contest. Slowly the group of friends drift apart and then the Europa itself changes hands and deteriorates and is now going to close. There will be a closing party and Tearle fantasizes of at last presenting his now finished Proofreader's Derby opus, but instead comes up againt . . . well, you have to read the book. I've rarely read a book where I have felt so constantly jerked in and out of the story because of the quirks and twitches (and glitches) in the text, and something else in the style of writing that I could never quite decide if was the way it was because it's first person and so it is Aubrey Tearle's "voice" or if it was a genuine inconsistency in the writing style itself, fluid and character-driven one moment, and then retreating into verbal fireworks the next. I'd like to give Vladislavic the benefit of the doubt, but I am not entirely convinced that the book itself isn't just a wee bit cleverer than the author could manage to pull off. The flight of fancy that is the text for the Derby was great reading as was most of the last part of the book, although I felt that same confusion reading the final paragraph that haunted the book. I did persevere, I did finish, but I am not sure why. I suspect that this is a book that many other readers would like and I think it has merit. ***1/2
contemp fic ***
The Pull of the Moon Elizabeth Berg
I could fulminate or I can just accept the book for what it is . . . a crafted catalogue of the grievances and hurts a woman might acquire over the course of a long and basically sturdy marriage bundled into a presentation, the American classic--the solitary road trip to think things over--that alternates between being spot on, observationally and emotionally, and improbable. The strongest parts are the woman's own private reflections on her own choices, which alternate between letters to the husband and recollections. There is an abbreviated, smoothed out quality to her recollections of the past (say, the sexual freedom of the late 60's) and most of the adventures she has on the road trip itself, the interactions with the people she meets have the quality of allegory not reality. But OK, she touches upon, systematically and thoughtfully, the frustrations that many women who started out liberated and then somehow or other retreated from working or making any of their dreams come true for reasons they can't, as they hit menopause, quite understand. It's too easy to blame "men" for those choices and it's one of the more effective aspects of this really very slight and somewhat superficial book, that the narrator veers back and forth between knowing she made many of these choices out of her own fears and out of a need for support that she didn't know how to even begin asking for--not even from her husband who might have given it if she had been more articulate or whatever . . . but it is very easy to retreat from the world into a small and safe one and Berg can write well. This isn't chick lit, but it is related, the next phase, once the gilt is off the wedding silver and reality sets in, but not too much reality. I'm leaving it on the bookshelf at the B&B and it was a decent trip book. I picked it up for free too. ***
56. steampunk YA ****
Predator's Gold Philip Reeve
Tom and Hester's adventures continue in book 2 two years later, when the airship they "inherited" from Anna Fang, is spotted and they get caught up in a plot of a radical splinter group of the Anti-Traction League. They end up on a traction city that is heading toward old North America where there are rumours of "living land." Things go horribly wrong, however, when Tom is attracted to the city's leader -- Hester makes a big mistake and then has to try and fix it. I'm very impressed with how well Reeve balances a ripping good yarn with plenty of rough stuff but rough stuff that feels integral enough to the story, not gratuitous, along with lots of character development, humor, and action all of it within a YA context. Reeve stays within the "tropes," of the post-apocalyptic but romantic setting (by that I mean many things go unexplained, where they grow the grapes for wine, where they have the sheep for sheepskin coats--those things are necessary texture and part of the fun of the story). The next two volumes have arrived from inter-library loan and I'll be plunging onward! ****
lib Infernal Devices (3) Philip Reeve steampunk YA
✔ Fine Just the Way It Is Annie Proulx ss
new The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor memoir
♬ The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnett
Very busy week driving down to NYC to pick up my daughter from college and various other things. Apologies for not visiting anyone. Hope to catch up today.
57. sf steampunk YA ****
Infernal Devices Philip Reeves
Book 3 of this series (which appears to have multiple names on LT and everywhere else--Traction Cities, Hungry City Chronicles, etc.). It's been fifteen years since the end of the last one and Hester and Tom's child, Wren, is growing up and bored to death. Well, you guessed it, she finds adventure, a lot more adventure than she bargained for. Green Storm and the Anti-Traction movement and the Traction Cities are all fighting like mad and she gets caught up. Mom and Dad set out to rescue her, but things get twisty and a secret comes out. And that's all I can say without spoiling. This is a very good series - somewhere between YA and adult in my view, rich in complex characters especially, plenty of humor, violence but not egregious violence and a sturdy plot. ****
58. sf steampunk/dystopic YA****1/2
The Darkling Plain (4) Philip Reeve
Ultimately, what distinguishes this quartet and kept me reading steadily are the excellent characters and the steady flowing prose. I've described the plot in other reviews of the previous three; here, in brief, is the final crisis and confrontation between the consuming wheeled cities and the anti-tractionist faction(s). There are a lot of characters and the core group of them, although that shifts a little as some don't survive, are complex and intriguing, dimensional and different from one another. They are not profound, mind you, this ain't Crime and Punishment, but they are solid. Throughout the writing is a pleasure, the descriptions grounded, and some of the ideas are fun, albeit it is a world/future pretty much solidly based in extant memes. (Yuh, I'm saying, not terribly original.) Even so, Reeve puts the story together elegantly and makes it work very satisfyingly. What is truly special though, are the characters. Hester, in particular, stands out but so does her much less emotionally complicated partner, Tom. It's YA because there is no graphic sex, and no long-drawn out, gory, close-camera work when violence does occur--and there is plenty of it--deaths are generally deftly managed and not lingered over. It's a lot of fun and I'm glad I went on with this series. It appears to have fallen by the wayside--I borrowed books on inter-library loan to complete the series, and it seemed no one library had all four, which is too bad. For the whole quartet: ****1/2
I got all three of these on ILL so I had to hop to it and get them read!
59. ss ***1/2
Fine Just the Way It Is Annie Proulx
This story collection has the feel of the answer to the literary agent's query, "What else have you got in your files?" And Proulx coming up with this bunch. The only cheerful stories are the two in which the devil plots up amusing and wicked ways to make lives more unhappy and another one about a hungry sagebrush. Another story is set thousands of years ago and is about a buffalo hunt -- maybe the best thing in the book as far as I'm concerned. Every single one of the rest of the stories addresses just how tough life can be for those born poor or impulsive or not terribly bright or into a family with careless or cruel parents . . . and it all plays out in rural Wyoming with whatever particularities of weather and scenery of the place and with its own special flavor of unforgiving viciousness for the hapless, helpless, and unlucky. I confess I skimmed the last story, grasping the gist; from page one it was evident that it would be a recital of cruelty and misery dogging a perfectly innocent little girl through her life and I was not mistaken. I have no doubt, because of what I know about Proulx, that the stories here are all based around a kernel of truth, something she heard or read about, but it is an unbalanced collection, just too relentless; Proulx's humor which balances her novels, is absent here even though the writing, as ever, is brilliant. ***1/2
I think you have to be in a certain frame of mind to read and enjoy a whole book of Annie Proulx short stories.
I have loved all of her novels and I didn't love these at all. I'm not sure I've read another book of her short stories. I don't think so.
Tenth of December is a fantastic collection of stories. I look forward to finding out what you think of it.
60. sf ***1/2
This is another "problem-solving" sf novel - not dissimilar to Ready Player One and I am sure there are zillions of others like it out there, highly influenced by gaming and primarily a vehicle for demonstrating how some highly theoretical ideas (like the sophon quantum computer) and some highly do-able but seriously creepy ideas (the nano slicer) could possibly be put to use. The ideas drive this novel and give it plenty of force and interest. The underlying questionis whether or not this eagerness of ours to connect with extraterrestrial intelligence is such a hot idea. What if, some civilization was on a planet in dire trouble? What if they needed a new home? How would we respond, would it bring people together or just bring out the worst in us? So what is entirely lacking in this novel are believable or sympathetic characters, with perhaps, the exception of the tough police guy Shi, who provides, at least some humor and unpredictability. Pretty much all the rest, the various scientists and intellectuals, are mouthpieces for presenting the ideas. There is a tiny passage where one character spends a year living with the peasants near the radar station where she works that is at odds in some ways with the rest. In the peasant society men and women stay separate, the higher you go the less gender makes a difference in terms of work, although it is all men who run things at the top. The real divide is between the educated and uneducated. I was, at times, uncomfortable with a cheerful and rather brutal matter-of-fact dividing everyone into intellectual vs technical vs uneducated, and also by the constant insistence on factions and rigid categorization, couldn't tell where that was a character thinking or Cixin Liu and a Chinese cultural viewpoint. Even so there are lyrical moments: "From time to time, I would gaze up at the stars after a night shift and think that they looked like a glowing desert, and I myself was a poor child abandoned in the desert. . . . I thought that life was truly an accident among accidents in the universe. The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace." But make no mistake, this is hardcore idea-driven sf. ***1/2
So, as ever, I am months behind in the NYer but I just read this piece about how research is being done into the connection between sounds and what we think we are tasting or getting . . . the crispier chip, the manly sounding spray deodorant (TSCH sh -sh) as opposed to the ladylike Sh - sh sh), the brewski with the potent pop-tab KAPOW! Are we really this pathetic? This easy to bamboozle? If you feed someone a sweet on a round plate it supposedly tastes sweeter than served on a square plate.
And the money and effort being sunk into this research. Groan.
Anyway, if nothing else, it's good timing and inspiration for stepping into one of the great paranoid classics of the 1970's, The Illuminatus! Trilogy which I took out of our local library two months ago and keep stubbornly renewing but will finally read now.
Well, actually, I'm not in the mood for The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Just. not. I know it's a classic and all and I ready steadily yesterday and was amused, sort of, but I am in a phase of higher anxiety about this and that in RL for the time being and have an actual need for reading that is absorbing rather than clever. Saunders is fine because he writes so richly and compassionately even when he is pushing limits. Anyway, I want to like the protagonist . . . and no fizzy fireworks, no showing off. I couldn't read Pynchon at the moment either, although one thing he has in abundance is compassion hidden under all the hoo-ha. Anyway I am substituting a Kay Kenyon A Thousand Perfect Things - alternate history and we'll see what happens. I liked the books I read of hers last year, I think the series was called The Entire and the Rose. The spousal unit went nuts over her and pretty much acquired all of her books a year or two ago! I used to be much more picky about what spec fic I would read - very little dystopic, very little alternate history and so on, but LT has changed all that. I'm much more willing to try books out. I didn't used to read mysteries either, or very cautiously and rarely. I didn't read much of any historical fiction although come to think of it I was mad for it in my earlier years (Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alfred Duggan,Conrad Richter too name some favourites.) I think I stopped reading it when my reading got so serious, which it was from college through to when I was around forty. Since then I've lightened up considerably. I'm glad I read so many toughies back then when I was more resilient.
Come to think of it, I have a great deal more respect for the entertainment aspect of fiction than I did all through my early adulthood. I read purely for fun or information as a child, but in those middle years I was really all about . . . honestly I don't even know what! Reading in order to become the best writer I possibly could be, a noble aspiration indeed!
So now the line-up looks like this, and the nice blue-white pattern that was emerging has sunk back into the muted palette:
Currently Reading (May)
✔ A Thousand Perfect Things Kay Kenyon sf alt hist
new Tenth of December George Saunders ss
new The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor memoir
♬ The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnett
>84 sibyx: The Illuminatus Trilogy is the first book I read after joining Club Read! Unfortunately, it didn't impress me much. I came away from it feeling like it was pretty much all cleverness, with not much worthwhile under it, and it wore thin for me pretty quickly. I don't blame you in the slightest for bailing on it, especially when that's not what you're in the mood for.
That's reassuring - cleverness without substance underneath is tiresome after a short time - and that's a longgggg book! Why is it considered such a classic, do you think?
>86 sibyx: I honestly don't know. My thought is that the whole thing is kind of one long joke, and people like the feeling of being in on it. For my money, though, that feeling wasn't really worth slogging through 800 pages worth of mostly nonsense.
61.♬The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnett
So, confession-time, I'm hooked, addicted, to the adventures of Lymond Crawford. This last one was a "stay up all night listening" (or it would have been a page-turner in book form). Lymond has been gotten out of the way, sent to Malta to help the Knights of St. John who are soon to be under attack by the Turks. But all is not well on Malta or with the Order. The Spanish Grand Master refuses to believe it and the knights are divided. There is very little Lymond can do but he appears to have a magnificent ally in Sir Graham Reid Mallet, known as Gabriel, a super-knight of the Order, maybe the first person Lymond has ever met who is his potential equal. Everyone adores Gabriel except, of course, Lymond, but he is ever one to let people prove themselves. Gabriel has a breathtakingly lovely sister Joletta who is sent back to Scotland (and of course ends up at Midculter). In the end after many disasters Lymond goes back to Scotland filled with the idea of creating his own army for hire and Gabriel ends up there too as an emissary from the Order. And then things begin to heat up, red hot, in fact. If you do pick up this series, be warned that the last 1/3 of each book is so packed and fraught, you won't want to do anything but read or listen. It was so exciting that it is almost impossible to write about without spoiling!!! I loved the young knight sidekick this time, Jarett Blythe (sp?) and greatly enjoyed the development of young Phiippa. I haven't read widely in this genre butI have read some and this is A+ historical fiction--as good as or better even than Patrick O'Brien, Hilary Mantel, Rose Tremain et al. *****
62. ss *****
Tenth of December George Saunders
What makes a short story good? I mean the kind where you get to the end and maybe sit there thinking, "What just happened?" and further "What just happened to me?" The writer took you somewhere unexpected, but once arrived, you can't avoid facing that it's the right place (often a place you didn't really want to go.) The final story, "The Tenth of December" is especially like that and I am going to keep this book around to remind me of the point it makes, which I can't take apart here or I would be spoiling it for you. You could argue that his stories and a couple of others, because they have (in a way) "happy" (not really) endings that they are sentimental, but how can a story about a boy finding his courage be sappy? Most of the time, in fact, people notice, say, that the baby is crawling too near the pool or about to pull the tablecloth off the loaded table; most of the time, you brake, you swerve, you do the right thing. Sometimes there is no right choice to make, they are all bad and Saunders writes about that with profound compassion and rightness. The majority of the stories are about the way circumstances can force a person to make those hard choices, to give in or to find the strength (courage) to resist, or act or do whatever the circumstances require of them. Sometimes a character does the right thing for the wrong reasons and ends up somewhere new and we watch a their surprise and we end up surprised too, but with a slightly additional (parental?) layer of knowing how hard this new resolve or insight is going to be for that person to hang onto. Saunder's writing style will either drive you mad or you will fall into its embrace, and yes, I wrote this review just slightly under his spell because that is the effect reading Saunders has; he brings out that hesitating layered way we actually think, two steps forward, one back. I've read pretty much all of these in the NYer at one time or another and was thrilled to revisit. One of my very favorites is "My Chivalric Fiasco" which is just funny-awful but somehow full of charm. *****
I listened to Saunders read these stories, which was mostly good, but also a little less than ideal. I don't remember "My Chivalric Fiasco" at all. I did, however, find "Puppy" to be astounding -- a perfect short story. I loved the way he showed how the same event(s) can be interpreted in opposite ways by the two people involved, showing how incredibly hard it can be to communicate/understand another's point of view.
"Puppy" was searing, I agree. I would have had a hard time with that one, listening.
Puppy was a perfect story. I read Tenth of December as an ARC in 2012 and that story is still vividly in my mind.
Ordinarily I can't abide use of pets/animals as sufferers for human failings in short stories, it's just too easy a way to draw emotion out of the reader, and I still don't care for it, but I'm not sure how else Saunders could have given the situation the weight it has. My objection is not sentimental, btw, it is specifically about using a short cut to evoke strong emotion in the reader.
63. sf/alt hist ****
A Thousand Perfect Things Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon has created an alternate history where there are only the continents of Anglica and Bharata, the first exploiting the second as Britain exploited India. Anglica is relentlessly materialistic, logical, devoted to the scientific method while Bharata puts value on the spiritual, mysterious, and magical. The Anglicans have built a pontoon bridge that spans the ocean between them. So the Harding family, with young Astoria (Tori) who has a club foot, is connected to Bharata in a unique way as Tori's grandfather found the location of the revered golden lotus and took a small piece of it secretly. Tori, because of her disability, has been allowed to work with and for her grandfather as a naturalist even though women are not allowed into the elite of the sciences. The plot turns around finding the golden lotus. Everyone knows that only Tori has the clues necessary to find it, and both Anglicans and Bharatans have their own reasons why they want her to do just that. The Bharatans wish to break free of Anglican tyranny and the Anglicans wish to strengthen their control and misjudge the depths of Bharatan determination to become independent. This is NOT YA, by the way; the themes are more complex. The violence is understated, sexuality is explored bluntly but not overdone. Kay Kenyon should be better known, this was a fine read, totally absorbing. The pontoon bridge was a bit hard to suspend disbelief of, but what the heck! ****
Had to come back and correct some careless spelling!
Read in May
50. new Red Fox: The Catlike Canine H. David Henry nat sci *****
51. new The Snake Stone Jason Goodwin hist myst ****
52. new Voyage of the Basilisk Marie Brennan fantasy
53. ♬ Queen's Play Dorothy Dunnett hist fic *****
54. new The Restless Supermarket Ivan Vladislavic contemp fict ***1/2
55. ✔The Pull of the Moon Elizabeth Berg contemp fic ***
56. lib Predator's Gold(2) Philip Reeve sf dyst steampunk YA ****
57. lib Infernal Devices (3) Philip Reeve sf dyst steampunk YA ****
58. lib The Darkling Plain (4) Philip Reeve sf dyst steampunk YA ****1/2
59. ✔ Fine Just the Way It Is Annie Proulx ss ***1/2 ss
60. new The Three Body Problem Cixin Liu sf ***1/2 sf
61. ♬ The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnetthist fict *****
62. new Tenth of December George Saunders ss *****
63. ✔ A Thousand Perfect Things Kay Kenyon sf alt hist ****
Best of May
Queen's Play & The Disorderly Knights historical fiction -- utterly superb
Traction Cities Quartet Philip Reeves spec fic/post apoc/steampunk
A Thousand Perfect Cities Kay Kenyon alternate history
Tenth of December George Saunders contemporary fiction - short stories
Red Fox: The Catlike Canine H. David Henry nat sci - top flight
Worst of May
Nothing bad enough for this category
This might best be characterized as a month of "continuation" of series begun last month. Also a month of excellent reading. Completion of one--the excellent YA steampunkish series and the next two books in the 6 volume adventures of the dashing Lymond Crawford. The last one The Disorderly Knights was a doozy! It was also a month devoted almost entirely to fiction as I slowly read my way through Patrick Leigh Fermor's third of the three books chronicling his long walk across Europe to Contantinople in the 1930's as I only read one NF book at a time, my NF progress is always slow and this is a wonderful book, not to be read quickly. Because the quality of my reading was so high, the "best of" category is a bit misleading, but it wouldn't be fair to leave out any of those reads. Probably the least satisfying sf book was The Three Body Problem - the story idea was great, but the unfolding too slow, and the main characters so wooden and occasionally so inexplicably ruthless it was hard to believe they were real and it dragged the rest down. Kay Kenyon deserves a MUCH wider readership. She's very good. As is Marie Brennan. I enjoyed her 3rd installment about Isabella, Lady Trent (and, like the Kenyon drawing on the Victorian era for atmo). This time she is chasing dragons across the oceans when she isn't rescuing Important Persons. I was overall a little disappointed in my contemporary fiction reading, the Proulx was not her best, even more apparent if set against the superlative Saunders.The Restless Supermarket was not a hit, I found it interesting but a bit overly clever, although it was not without merit and others may love it.
M/W writing together: (NYer)
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 6
YA or J: 3
New author: 3
Months of NYers:
From library or borrowed: 3
Off Shelf: 3
Read it or Get Rid of It: 0
2016 Total IN=37
2016 Total OUT= No change, still 15
Book titles IN: May 2016
31. Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Artemis Cooper
32. The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels Edward St. Aubyn
33. The Broken Road Patrick Leigh Fermor
34. The Voyage of the Basilisk Marie Brennan
35. Forge of Heaven C.J. Cherryh
36. Conspirator C.J. Cherryh
37. Intruder C.J. Cherryh
64. contemp fic ****
Last Friends Jane Gardam
I've enjoyed Gardam's three novels, starting with Old Filth and ending up with Last Friends (although I see there is also a collection of short stories . . . ). The primary focus is on three people, Terry Veneering, Edward Feathers, and Betty (Elizabeth), Edward's wife. Both men have loved Betty and hated one another. These three formed the core of a loose group of . . . not so much friends, as people who have passed their lives in connection, in part by chance, in part by design. By chance they have ended up in the same remote village in England, each other's closest neighbors. The time period, starting with childhood, is 1930ish to the present, when, in their eighties, their lives are coming to an end. Terry and Edward were in the same area of law (construction contracts and litigation) and both lived in Hong Kong. There are also satellite friends and this novel focuses mostly on two of them, two of the survivors as this group fades away, Dulcie, Fred Fiscal-Smith. It's tempting to compare Gardam to this one and that one, from Waugh to Wesley, Powell to Pym, but I think she brings her own tart flavor to the time period and to this class--the British upper middle--whether achieved by hard work or by the silver spoon. It is not biting or black comedy, rather gentler, but also not sappy. What I have liked particularly throughout is the fact that all the characters face at having become aged, but still, to their puzzlement and chagrin, not fully able to make peace with the loves and hatreds and yearnings of their younger years. Having lived to ripe old age, however, they all find, in one way or another, that they have been given the opportunity to do so, each in their own way. In this she joins Muriel Spark whose Memento Mori--a small masterpiece--in demonstrating that no matter how reduced and withered, the fires burn in our hearts right to the end. ****
Currently Reading (June)
✔ Troubles J.G. Farrell hist fict, irish fict
✔ The Broken Shore Peter Temple mys aus
new The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor memoir
♬ Pawn in Frankincense Dorothy Dunnet hist fic
♬ podcasts of Clarkesworld, sf stories. 12=1 book.
Murdoch Marathon: ONGOING. (No plans for IM in MAY) IM readers group is HERE
Virago No plans
The New Yorker, working on October
Returning to my Irish reading theme with Farrell's Troubles and taking a short break from Lymond listening to my backlog of short stories from the excellent magazine of science fiction and fantasy, Clarkesworld.
I also loved Troubles. I'm thinking I should read another book from that set.
65. **** travel/memoir
The Broken Road Patrick Leigh Fermor
As with the other two books of Fermor's long walk across Europe, I often found myself enveloped in a soggy melancholy, a regret and sadness about just how much was destroyed in WW2, not only places and things, but whole groups of people killed, shifted, torn away from ways of life that had persisted for millenia. Not that everything was so great for everyone, but there was an aesthetic and ecological price, changes set in motion then, that have snowballed until, as we all know deep in our hearts, it really can't go on--and since we can't stop ourselves--it will stop catastrophically. OK, so yeah, this has little to do directly with what Fermor writes about except . . . this precocious and sensitive twenty year old (and then the man, in his seventies-eighties who tackled this third volume) somehow intuited that he was seeing a world that was passing away. The lad falls, frequently, into deep melancholy, which the older editing Fermor leaves in, and it is frequently when he is leaving a place of great beauty and people he will likely never see again. I've never read another travel book that arouses, consistently, this sense of loss, so I don't think I am imagining it entirely.
That said. This third volume picks up as Fermor enters Bulgaria. He is struck by how entirely different it is from Rumania. The Turkish influence goes much deeper and there is a greater variety of people, I think, living in separate communities, speaking different languages, having different ethnic origins, religions and languages. Indeed, the sheer variety of types of people across this area is mind-boggling to an American. Our differences, culturally, are minor, frankly. Bulgarians appear also to be much poorer, the country wilder, and his welcome more unpredictable, the people moodier. But he finds great beauty. Eventually, however, he is drawn back to Rumania, where he lives it up in Bucharest for a time before heading toward the coast and the Black Sea, which he travels down--perhaps some of the roughest and most dangerous hiking of his trip, his life saved by a group of Greek fisherman and Bulgarian goat-herders when he stumbles into their cave-camp (utterly prehistoric) completely wet and frozen from a fall down a hillside into an icy stream. The last part of the book is a journal written and lightly edited, that he spent traveling around the monasteries on the Greek peninsula that surrounds Mount Athos. This was a wistful read in that I couldn't help pondering the oddness of this place, of so many groups of men deciding on poverty and abstinence as a way of life, of deeming a place forbidden to women or anything female, even HENS (I am guessing there were secret enclaves of hens, however, as fresh eggs turn up fairly often). I couldn't, when I looked around on line, get a full grip on what has become of the monasteries and this area, but it would appear that it is become a summer resort like everywhere else, lots of photos on the net of people in bathing suits on the shore . . . I am sure there are still some monks huddled in their eyries, but the photos show many ruins -- the odd hermitages and smaller monasteries, all gone, I expect. Fermor enjoyed his wanderings and his visits-- and it is very apparent how deeply and totally he has fallen in love with Greece. Overall, the writing in this last book is not as seamless as in the first two, and the reading of it was slower. Some of the prose (youthful excess?) was even a bit over the top but not in a bad way. I will continue my own adventure now with the biography by Artemis Cooper before completing my own long walk alongside the utterly engaging human being that Fermor was. ****
I was a tad disappointed in The Broken Road after the two others which Fermor had a chance to edit and re-edit. But overall I liked it.
Yes, it doesn't flow like the other two and is kind of enthusiastically prolix here and there, but still worthy and likeable as you say.
I am going to "complete" my Fermor adventure reading the biography by Artemis Cooper. How can I resist reading a book by someone named Artemis?
>70 sibyx: Just catching up and going way back. I read another Ivan Vladislavic book, Double Negative, which I thought was really well written and I am interested in this one. It sounds as if they share the same style, although I wasn't struck by the idea of being too clever. Do you have a subscription to And Other Stories, or how did you discover this book?
>96 sibyx: Liked your thoughts on Gardam and age. This was a trilogy I was sorry to finish.
>104 sibyx: This trilogy is on my TBR. I suspect it is the suspicion of the "soggy melancholy" which is holding me back, but perhaps this summer is the year for it. It may even depend on the weather, such are the vagaries of selecting the next books to read.
>107 SassyLassy: I think I read about it in a review here, maybe? It somehow got on my WL and sometimes I do note who recommended it, which does end up being useful when a question like this comes up! I am glad I read it, if only for the window into a side of South Africa post-apartheid. Ultimately it was an uneven read, but it is, arguably, exactly echoing aspects of the protagonist's character, so . . . I may be softening a bit in retrospect.
I am sucker for that era (ww2) and that kind of story, ultimately!
Re sogginess - literally I once or twice ended up weepy -- a rare thing with me. But I wouldn't have missed it. Fermor is just a most likeable person, so energetic and dauntless and articulate. Although that also made me wistful. Not to mention a little bit crazed at the thought that a woman, then really couldn't have even considered attempting a journey remotely like it. Even now it is very very rare and quite dangerous to travel alone like that. And this hypothetical woman would never have set foot on Mount Athos obviously. I find those thoughts more and more painful, not less, as I age.
Catching up. Such nice thoughts on The Broken Road. I own the first two books, i've even picked the first up...several times. But haven't actually managed to open it and start reading.
Going back a bit, I really enjoyed your post on Saunders in >89 sibyx:.
Why, thank you, that means a lot. The Broken Road is, in a way, well named. Worth reading as part of the whole, but, literally, more broken up.
Saunders is really something, original, interesting, adept - even when you know where he is going he takes you by a way you didn't quite expect. I am bored out of my head with 75% of what the NYer publishes (bad stories by big names, or stories they think maybe are somehow hip?), but there are a few names, Saunders being one, that I see on the masthead and heave a sigh with relief. Another one is Thomas McGuane. I don't love every one, but usually I can appreciate it at least.
Really enjoyed your review of The Broken Road, Patrick Leigh Fermor One of the best travelling companions.
66. mys ***1/2
The Broken Shore Peter Temple
Thoroughly enjoyed this one and hope there are a few more Inspector Cashin books. Set in New South Wales, Australia somewhere not too far from Melbourne (I confess I haven't looked up any town names to see if they are all fictional, I just assume that they are), it is pretty much the standard gloomy fella --Cashin messed up big-time in his last stake-out of a very violent criminal (who got away) and his young partner was killed and he was very badly injured. He's back "home", in Port Munro/Cromarty on leave from the Melbourne force, but not entirely on leave, he's filling in at the station in Port Munro as one of two station heads. Actually, my one complaint would be that I was a bit confused between the three locales of Cromarty/Port Munro/Melbourne, and the fact that Cashin was supposed to be on leave but wasn't really. . . A somewhat disgusting crime plot, not wildly plausible either, what works in this book, as tends to in this genre are Cashin's problems with his own impulsivity and stubborn independence and his personal life. His family was briefly wealthy after success in the gold fields and built a big handsome house (ballroom and all) and then his g-fa tried to blow it up . . . he's living in some ramshackle corner of it and has the daft notion of rebuilding. All this, the etting, his relationships with colleagues and the banter are what made it fun. ***1/2
I keep shifting around about what to listen to -- opted for the first Sebastian St. Cyr which I found in my audio books, rather than plunging into the maelstrom of Lymond Crawford's life. A mild irony being that once you know about Crawford, you know that he is the ne plus ultra of dashing. Station Eleven is gripping and Troubles is a marvel. I'm enjoying getting another view of Fermor's life--I am finding I remember far too little of the first two walking to Constantinople books . . .
Anyway here is the current line-up. I am also listening to sf stories from Clarkesworld a fine 'zine, here and there, plan to count twelve stories as one book and am about halfway to that. It's a great way to discover new authors.
Currently Reading (June)
new Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel sf-dystopic
new Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Artemis Cooper bio
✔ Troubles J.G. Farrell hist fict, irish fict
♬ What Angels Fear C.S. Harris
♬ podcasts of Clarkesworld, sf stories. 12=1 book.
67. sf post-apoc *****
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
My goodness what fine story-telling! It's a "genre-buster" as well. Don't avoid it because you don't like stories set in a post-apocalyptic world. This one is so immediate, possible, and full of what I can only call heart, (as well as page-turning suspense, stunning detail, and absolutely rounded characters you care about a lot) it is different, you really aren't being asked to suspend disbelief and step into some insane maelstrom of violence. A version of swine flu kills irrevocably. You get sick within a few hours of exposure and you are dead in 48. 99% of earth's human population dies. In this novel unlike the more fanciful ones, the survivors are mostly bewildered and sad, yet also determined to live but not at the expense of the civilization they mourn. The suddenness and completeness of the loss of the use of technology is a shock from which many never recover. Which existence is the more unreal? The before or the after? The pace is simultaneously graceful and suspenseful, don't ask me how! It is also, although I loathe the word, really, perfectly crafted. Mandel manages, in a not terribly long book, to move around with agility and clarity between before, during and after and there is also, the graphic novel, Station Eleven which was the creation of one of the main characters. Sure, there is an improbable novelistic intertwining of characters and fates that I've come to feel is a device that novels require the same way music or any other art form is structured and recursive; it's how our minds make sense of things. It is also elegantly and without judgement put forth that for some, the explanation of disaster has to involve spotlighting oneself as more "deserving" than another, e.g. magical thinking that can easily become dangerously self-serving. (It's all around us.) I'm not going to outline the story to you, but just mention a few of the images that I think will stay with me forever -- the Gandia airline plane self-quarantined out on the runway (the last plane to land--no one got out) always visible to the community that lives in the Severn City Airport; the tea-set in the untouched house that Kirsten and August find, twenty years after; Miranda seeing the sun rise as she dies; Jeevan baking bread; Tyler standing under the Gandia airline plane reading the Bible; the small prayers August whispers to the skeletons of people he finds when he and Kirsten are searching houses for useful things; Kirsten's tattoos; Clark's museum. Ah well, I won't give away a final image, that Kirsten sees at the end of the book; it is full of hope but also signifies change, once again, on the human horizon. *****
Fun review. I think you gave a different perspective on the book from other reviews I've read.
There you go! It is worth taking the risk, I think. And I haven't read The Road - so maybe I should get over my reluctance to do so.
Some books that have "a foot in both camps" - being semi-literary/semi sf don't work at all for me or work awkwardly (I would put that Mary Doria Russell book in that category, forget the name at this moment, about the Jesuit priest who goes off to another planet. . . ). This one does work (for me, anyway); it's so understated and unheroic, so ingeniously and playfully constructed and Kirsten, who probably has to be described as the principle character, is an amazingly resourceful and tough young woman but, she's not Katness, if you know what I mean, she is believable. I have a niece who could, easily, grow up to be a Kirsten. I didn't even say anything about the basic premise of this group traveling around performing orchestral music and Shakespeare plays. Just perfect.
68. fantasy ****
Sailing to Sarantium Guy Gavriel Kay
An alternate Europe similar but with subtle differences. Byzantium is Sarantium and the time is somewhere in what we would call the dark ages, the period after Rome (here it is Rhodias) fell but before what would become Western Europe began to organize itself. A Rhodian mosaicist, Crispin, arrives in Sarantium to work on the new great dome built by the current emperor of Sarantium, Valerius II. Crispin also bears a message from his own beleaguered Queen Gisel which sets in motion a veritable cascade of intrigue. Crispin is very outspoken and a contrarian of the first water, but he is also smart and courageous and likeable. On his journey (my favorite part of the book) Crispin acquires a young slave girl who was slated to be sacrificed to the pagan god of the wildwood and the man he hires as his guard on the road becomes his loyal servant as a result too. He also acquires a tribune, Carullus, as a loyal friend. I liked the story best when it was "in motion" better than the convoluted court intrigue (always ending in some bloodbath or other, of course). Crispin is convincing as a true artist, with that observant, detached, sensitive, questioning and original way of seeing and responding to everything around him. Solid entertainment all the way with moments rising above. There is a second book to The Sarantine Mosaic, Lord of Emperors and I plan to plunge right in. I should add - this is set in the the Tigana universe, and makes me realize I need to reread Tigana! ****
69. ♬ mys ***1/2
What Angels Fear C.S. Harris
The first of many in a series of mysteries set in the Regency period and starring, the tall, elegant, sanspareil, the dashing Viscount Devlin, Sebastian St. Cyr . Perhaps a bit on the lighter end of the mystery continuum, but perfect for someone (me) starting a first ambitious knitting project (very simple sweater). ***1/2
I don't post much here about personal things, mainly observations of natural phenomena I see and photos of our own animals (all that is on the 75) but today I saw something amazing. I live in a fairly rural spot in Vermont, tucked up on the western flank of the Green Mountains. I see plenty of critters, but this was a rare one.
We have a little floating bridge over the narrow point of our pond at present--which has a round part, a narrow neck and then a long ovalish part that extends northward-- (This bridge is soon to be replaced by a Monet style arched bridge that the spousal unit has been abuilding for several years off and on.) As I walk along the driveway on the south, round end of the pond on my way home, I have a nice view of this bridge. I noticed something dark moving there and stopped to look.
IT. WAS. A. GREAT. BIG. (EXPLETIVE GOES HERE). GLOSSY. BLACK. BEAR. It was moving slowly and carefully across this bridge. I snapped Posey (dog, corgi) onto the leash pronto and just stood there. My studio is near there tucked into the woods, so I waited, ready to bolt for it if he turned toward me when he finished crossing, but he turned away and lumbered along the edge of the pond passing close to our house (set about twenty feet back from the pond up a bit and with a narrow scrap of woods as a buffer) toward the ovalish, north part and the woods. I waited a minute or two and then scampered into the house.
Of course I had no camera with me, but I did take a picture later of the bridge and you can see if you look that the bridge supports and sides are darker where it is wet from sinking under the weight of the bear. I am astounded by how delicately and gracefully this huge animal crossed this narrow tippy thing -- I don't use it anymore -- I find it way too tippy!
You can see the cement stantions for the new bridge - slow but steady progress!
Black bears are shy - but trash/compost management is important. We've never had a bear rummage through ours because we are careful to keep the attractive (smelly) foodstuffs in the freezer until trash day!
A beautiful animal, but a bit intimidating!
We see plenty of bears here in Northern NJ. I live in a townhouse, and have had one climb the stairs to my deck. He was just checking the flowers, although I'm pretty sure he thought there might be bird seed, which we are not allowed to have. They are amazing to look at, but I don't like having them so close. Your garden must be lovely.
Ah yes, I have read about your bears! John McPhee! I find bears startlingly clever -- the way this bear was negotiating the bridge was incredible and just the fact that he chose the bridge when he could perfectly well have gone around the pond further from the house. . . I suppose he was sniffing around the house, but we never leave anything appealing and keep all our bins squeaky clean. No birdseed either, except in the depths of winter.
>126 sibyx: Spent ages trying to spot that critter in your photo - then I read the rest of your post.
Thanks to your review and RidgewayGirl's comments, I've added Tenth of December to my wishlist.
Lots of bears around my home too even though we don't keep garbage around. We live in the area of our small town known as "downtown", yet twice now we've had to clean up bear poop near the bottom of our back steps. It's not a private area so I can't think what the middle of the night attraction might be!
70. irish fic *****
Troubles J.G. Farrell
I've been sitting here racking my brains for the right way to approach what the experience of reading Troubles was like. Is it like the Brea Tar Pits? Is it the Hotel California? Is it like every disaster movie you've ever seen but happening in s-lo-w motion? Or those dreams where you revisit some house you knew as a child and find there are doors that open into marvelous and odd rooms you never knew were there?
There is never any question that a catastrophe of epic proportions is going to unfold. Firstly because it is 1919 in Ireland and if you know any Irish history at all you know that was the start of three years of miserable violence between the British and the Irish. Secondly, the story takes place in an immense (300 rooms!) formerly grand but now decaying hotel in Wexford, on the coast, run by an eccentric Englishman, Edward Spencer, who proves to be in a state of total denial about the inevitable. Thirdly, the main character, Brendan Archer, known mostly as 'the Major,' is another Englishman who fought in the war and has come to the hotel to woo the proprietor's daughter, Angela, whom he had met before the war and who has been writing to him ever since as if they were affianced. So the point of view is firmly English. Or is it? Archer arrives, he cannot figure out what is happening with Angela, he finds the hotel at turns maddening and even disgusting, at other times, beguiling. Time seems to move differently here in Ireland and for the Major, still deeply traumatized by the war, you can see that the mystery and the unworldiness of it is somehow captivating and soothing. I understand that Farrell was deeply interested in portraying the collapse of the British Empire (and continues to do so in two more related novels). Handled less well, the hotel would be little more than an allegorical stand-in for the neglect and overconfidence, the refusal to face facts and the apathy that characterizes the British upper classes at this time. From the moment you step into the Hotel Majestic with the Major, you too, begin to fall under its uncanny spell. At about the halfway mark the Major becomes aware that, "he no longer had the will-power to leave . . . all he could do now was allow himself to drift with the tide of events. Some strange insect had taken up residence in the will-power of which he had always been so proud, eating away at it unobserved like a slug in an apple."
The Majestic has so many public rooms--bars, parlours, sitting rooms, libraries, gun rooms, game rooms, card rooms, that finding his way around takes the Major months. Once very chic the hotel is now understaffed and mostly inhabited by a large group of elderly women, many refugees from the Empire, who have nowhere better to go. If the plumbing in a bathroom fails, you simply find another room. In winter, when it is freezing cold, the Major, finding a linen room that is near a source of heat and always hot, makes himself a nest and retires there often, removing his clothing and happily wallowing about! It is such unexpected revelations as these that fuel Troubles and make it so . . . unique. Downstairs, in the Palm Room the plants have taken over. Roots bulge through floors and walls. Strange cracking sounds are to be heard. Curtains rot and sofas are explosive with dust. On the top floors feral cats breed in legions. And yet, the place limps on, some of the niceties are still observed and even if the pool is filthy and the tennis court useless, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are still served formally. No one I've read in recent years except Iris Murdoch has captured the spirit of a building so completely until you realize that it is really the Majestic that the Major has fallen in love with and grieves for as it literally starts to collapse around him. The Empire? Yes and no. It is so much more than that, somehow through this hotel Farrell can show the grandeur and the folly, the charm and the evil of the Empire in its dotage. The Major, too, feels sympathy for everyone, Irish and Anglo alike and his bewilderment and continuing efforts to be a decent person throughout, is very moving. Farrell's metaphors are also exquisite and unexpected and apt. I've never read anything quite like it, such a perfect and relentless blend of humor and pathos. *****
Sorry this is so long! Also thoroughly edited!
71. ♬ mys ***1/2
When Gods Die C.S. Harris
Well, I am knitting my first (still not very) complicated project and these C.S. Harris mysteries combining a bit of Regency froth with the gore and puzzle are the perfect thing to listen to and still have some space left in the brain for counting stitches. Some books edify, some books entertain, this is definitely the latter. ***1/2
>134 rebeccanyc: Thank you! I revisited it this morning to do some serious editing, but it only got even longer!
72. mys ***1/2
Why Mermaids Sing C.S. Harris
Oh dear, oh dear, no excuse for it, I'm on an nonesensical jag. Silly, fun, and I think I am more interested in how St. Cyr's new valet is going to turn out than much of anything else. This 3rd in the St. Cyr series (try saying THAT fast ten times in a row!) was in a paperback book form lolling about in the bookshelf, so I felt obliged to read that quick before returning to the audio versions (and the knitting).
>136 SassyLassy: and >137 NanaCC: Thank you very much both of you. I can't believe how LONG that review got -- I could go on and on and on. It's an amazing book and I am surprised I never encountered it until now. I will surely find the next two, but I am presently up to my eyeballs in work (that is why I am reading silly mysteries and knitting--to relax) but that should calm down soon.
Wonderful review on Troubles. Don't fret the length, I'm really happy to have read your take.
I have begun Fates and Furies but I haven't gotten very far into it. An editing project and music things and houseguests -- which is why I am diving into the knitting and mystery refuge. I'm bogged down in the Fermor - his own writing and his walk were tremendous, but I am finding his "life" a bit boring, a recitation of various toffs who liked him although I've gotten to his exploits on Crete in the war where he and some other fellows kidnapped a German general -- not for any real reason, mind you, other than showing they could successfully do it. But even it is less interesting to read about than I expected. Perhaps the film of it with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy would be better???? I'm a little bogged down in my fantasy book as well, the 2nd Sarantium -- the first one was excellent and I zipped right through it, but this one is only keeping my intermittently enthralled--in part though it could be the summery busy disease. Troubles as so amazing that I was always eager to read some of it every day -- not a lot a time as there was too much to savor. That is a book I reread bits of as I went along.
I'm very thrilled at the reception of the Troubles review. It's an impossible book to write about succinctly!
64. new Last Friends Jane Gardam contemp fic ****
65. new The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor travel/memoir ****1/2
66. ✔ The Broken Shore Peter Temple mys aus ***1/2
67. new Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel sf-dystopic *****
68. ✔ Sailing to Sarantium Guy Gavriel Kay fantasy ****
69. ♬ What Angels Fear C.S. Harris mys ***1/2
70. ✔ Troubles J.G. Farrell hist fict, irish fict *****
71. ♬When Gods Die C.S. Harris mys ***1/2
72. new Why Mermaids Sing C.S. Harris mys
Best of June
Troubles J.G. Farrell hist fict, irish fict *****
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel sf-dystopic *****
The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos Patrick Leigh Fermor travel/memoir ****1/2
Worst of June
June Reflections in process
Two delightful surprises this month, J.G. Farrell's Troubles and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. Curiously, both are about the passing of a way of life, the first of the British Empire in Ireland and the second of "our" world after a flu epidemic wipes out 99% of people. I've reviewed them extensively so I won't go into it here, but both are superb. I only finished one non-fiction book, the last of the Patrick Leigh Fermor's about his long walk in the 1930's--not as good as the first two, but still engaging. I also seem to have started on a mystery jag with the C.S. Harris mysteries set in the Regency period. I seem to be taking a little break from Dorothy Dunnett--she does require a degree of focus that I don't have right now. I enjoyed everything I read this month, in short, even the ones I haven't mentioned here. As is usual in the summer I am reading less.
M/W writing together: (NYer)
Non-fiction: (NYer) 1
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 2
YA or J: 0
New author: 4
Months of NYers: 1
From library or borrowed: 0
Off Shelf: 3
Read it or Get Rid of It: 0
(not done yet)
2016 Total IN=43
2016 Total OUT= No change, still 15
Book titles IN: June 2016
38. The Rock Cried Out Ellen Douglas
39. Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
40. The Magician's Land Lev Grossman
41.Everybody's Fool Richard Russo
42. Death Wave Ben Bova
43. Jane Steele Lyndsay Faye
73. ♬ mys ***1/2
Where Serpents Sleep C.S. Harris
The sweater I am knitting while listening to these will be have to be named the St. Cyr, I think, that is, if I ever stop making silly mistakes long enough to get anywhere with it. Let's hope I do get somewhere before I get to the end of the series, at least! Anyway, these are fun - this one connects back to the previous book in a satisfying way and has really quite a tender romantic scene, I mean that quite seriously, very sweetly done. ***1/2
75. ♬ mys ****
Really I should be ashamed of myself, except I'm having far too much fun!
This binge has, however, served to get me to the halfway mark of my reading goal, 150. Of course, I'm not doing so well at emptying my tbr shelves . . . but so be it.
Back to add that I am reading my regular books, albeit somewhat slowly. I am finding Fates and Furies hard going. I liked the other novel of Groff's that I read--set in a fictional Cooperstownish place in NY state, but I really can't stand either of the main characters so far, just can't bring myself to care about them and also find it disjointed and a bit hard to follow in some way, people chatter away at an annual party, and I find I can't quite remember something I should probably remember from a previous party, only it was mentioned just the once, in passing. I think of this kind of novel as a "catalog novel" - or a "laundry list" novel, endless history about the people from a distant third and sudden bursts closer in . . . And why does everyone in contemp. novels these days go to Vassar?
In the home stretch of the Fermor bio which continues to be a catalogue too - of where Paddy went, who he slept with, what famous toffs he hung about with. Do I care? No. The portrait of Paddy that is emerging is . . . not that complimentary, so that's disappointing too, although realistic, of course, reading between the lines of his own work, one just knows there is a back story and another way of viewing him. Still, he could write and was obviously lots of fun to be with.
The second Sarantium intermittently catches my attention -- I think it is very good, just can't compete, right now with Sebastian St. Cyr and my knitting frenzy.
76. bio ***1/2
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Artemis Cooper
Perhaps I didn't pick up this biography at the right time--although when else? as I had just finished reading the 2nd and 3rd books of Fermor's youthful travels. This is a painstakingly researched and painfully thorough catalog of Fermor's deeds and occasional misdeeds (more like errors of omission or the results of his forgetfulness) and the person that emerges never quite came to life for me -- not in the way he brings himself to life in his own books. Paddy never pretended to be anything he wasn't, he had a zest for life beyond the ordinary, restless in body and receptive and curious in mind--in some ways he was drawn to what he wasn't--one of the most constant obsessions was of the monastic life--his irrepressible sociability made it impossible for him to also give himself the silence and solitude he needed to give time and space to the other part of him, deeply thoughtful and eager to "connect the dots" of the almost bewildering amount of information he was constantly taking in. What I found lacking in this biography, were any moments on Cooper's part where she might have stopped to ponder the complexities of Paddy Fermor's personality -- the need for company and solitude in equal measure, the need for a steady relationship with a woman as well as for sexual adventure, the enjoyment of the benefits to being gentry and well-regarded intellectually with his love of hanging about with "the lads" in whatever country he found himself. For me there was just too much of where, who, when and not enough why--so the biography has a kind of uniform blandness of tone which struck me as sad given the ebullience and intransigence of the subject! What is interesting about Paddy Fermor are these contradictions and the truly magical writing that he somehow managed to squeeze out of his inner chaos and Cooper won't go near it, for inexplicable reasons, in my view, no children or family to offend etcetera. I'm sorry to be harsh, if you want to know the facts of Fermor's life, you will not be disappointed, anything more, you will have to work it out for yourself from the information Cooper places before you. ***1/2
77. fantasy ****1/2
Lord of Emperors Guy Gavriel Kay
It took me longer to "get into" this second book but I think that might have been my fault, I was reading it in too piece-meal a fashion, for once I'd cleared the decks and had some time to devote to it, I was as absorbed as with the first volume. However, the tone, overall, of this second book is much darker, interestingly so as a meditation on the creative life and the transitoriness of . . . everything and everybody. Kay has gotten stronger and stronger as a writer, this is fantasy at its complex and mature best! ****1/2
I seem to be doing better with the Groff - somewhere past page 100 . . . some books are like that.
>149 sibyx: Sorry you didn't like the biography but I've always thought the best way to get to know him is through his own books.
>149 sibyx: Interesting take on Artemis Cooper and PLF: I agree with your conclusion about what's missing, but I wonder if it's reasonable for us to expect it to be there?
I guess anyone who writes a biography of an author best-known for his autobiographical writings is under a considerable disadvantage from the start. The added value isn't going to come from the quality of the writing, so it has to come in the shape of facts (which Cooper has plenty of) or critical insight. Critical insight really needs distance and perspective: not usually something you get in any "official" biography, least of all when the author is also the person charged with editing the subject's posthumous publications (and a kind of unofficial family-member).
Yes to those points >153 thorold: - an official bio is not the same--but here there is a flatness, a sameness, a "and then he did this and then he saw x, then went on a trip with y" that sometimes made it tedious reading for me.
I'm at a music festival this week - Irish traditional music in the Catskills - not reading!!!!!!!
Interesting to read your "harsh" review of Patrick Leigh Fermor's biography, but I understand your frustration at not getting much of a feel for his personality.
78. ♬ mys ****
When Maidens Mourn C.S. Harris
The bigger stories are what enthralls, the historical setting and the tangle of relationships between the various families and family members surrounding Sebastian. The mysteries are adequate, and some of the characters are very good, especially Hero's "bluestocking" friends. The settings are often evocative -- this one especially as it is set in one of the disputed Camelot locales, Camlet Moat. Davina Porter is a great reader too. ****
79. ♬ mys ****
What Darkness Brings c.S. Harris
This time Sebastion St. Cyr focuses his attention around the murder of a corrupt jewel merchant and the death of a friend . . . . it becomes evident that a huge blue diamond has disappeared--the Hope Diamond, that is--known now to have been part of the royal loot stolen after the French revolution, recut, and coveted by Napoleon who schemed mightily to get it back . . . And a few more little tidbits in St. Cyr's mysterious family life and a death that threatens to shift the balance of things between St Cyr and his . . well I can't say more without hinting and spoiling, can I?
I've been quiet here due to having been away at two consecutive music festivals, one as an attendee and one working--happy to be home! A few pages before turning the light off, if that, and listening during the long drives has been the majority of my "reading".
81. ♬ mys ****
Why Kings Confess C.S. Harris
Yep, this is what binge listening looks like. The plot of this one focusses around secret negotiations between the Brits and Napoleon with the complication of the dethroned Bourbons and the rumors that the Dauphin did not die in prison. Usually there is a historical note at the end of the book and it was lacking this time, and I missed it. I like knowing what Harris has used verbatim and where she has stretched things, historically speaking. I am tiring a bit of people 'pelting' about after the bad guys and other over-used words but not significantly enough to slow me down. These are fun, in short, and I like the main characters a great deal. In this one, St. Cyr's Irish doctor friend, Gibson, features in a very satisfying way. I think I have two left and then I'll have to find some more as the sweater I am knitting won't be finished. It will still be the St. Cyr sweater. ****
82. fantasy ****
The Magician's Land Lev Grossman
This completes the "Magicians" series featuring Quentin Coldwater, the young American wizard It's a funny trio of books as it pays homage to the fantasy literature so beloved by many although primarily Narnia and Hogwarts with moments drawn from everything from Oz to Middle Earth. Quentin is tapped to attend Brakebills, the magicians school in the northeast US in the first book. In the second he is struggling to make a meaningful life, post-school, and in the third he is trying to put the life lessons and magicianship he has learned into good practice to save not only the alternate world he loves but a person he loved and lost. Probably the best achievement is that Quentin convincingly matures into a decent adult. One of the strongest features is simply the way the characters think and talk (I adore Queen Janet, tough and no nonsense.) Grossman has fun and he nicely balances the yearning that fantasy readers have, to escape to worlds where things are more meaningful, bright and intense with learning who you are and living with yourself and the consequences of the things you do (or don't do).
Well done. ****
I joined Club Read because from time to time I go on binges of reading weightier than average books (plus I like hearing about a wider array of books that others are reading) and naturally, ever since, I have been reading largely on the lighter side of the equation. Sheer perversity. Can't be helped. Real Life has been complex in ways it sometimes isn't and that has a lot to do with it, I expect. This is the current line-up. Totally bogged down in the Groff, I like the Cook bio, Tony Horwitz is a terrific writer and raconteur, I'm helplessly reading the St. Cyr series and my library just got the latest Yashim Togalu - I can't recommend the Istanbul mysteries more highly.
Currently Reading (July)
Funny Lucy. I say roll with your mood. These books do look nice though.
84. contemp fic ***1/2
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
It took me far too long to read Fates and Furies and some of that was bad timing and some of it was, I'm pretty sure, that it was an uncomfortable read. Not unpleasant exactly or awkwardly written in any way - the writing is solid and sometimes excellent. For one thing, I weary of stories about larger-than-life people that I don't quite believe in -- a similar book in that regard was a novel about a couple by Mark Helprin called In Sunlight and Shadow (I think) that I slogged through--sticking with it mainly because it was good enough I couldn't justify quitting. In Fates and Furies you have Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder. They are both over six feet tall, both insanely attractive people. He becomes a wildly successful playwright while she plays a Vera Nabokovian role--dragon wife and all in the background. Behind the surface of their lives seethes all sorts of messy stuff. The first half of the book is Lotto's point of view mostly and the second half is Mathilde's mostly. This is one of those novels I don't feel inclined to say much about -- it attempts to dissect and lay out some very complex matters to do with motivations, innocence, evil, self-centeredness, misunderstandings . . . Those who like complex psychologically oriented "domestic" fiction (e.g. about family, relationships) will just have to try it for themselves. ***1/2
I finished it!!!!
congrats. : ) Glad you at least enjoyed parts. It's surely not without its flaws.
>165 sibyx: I think I enjoyed Fates and Furies a bit more than you did, Lucy. But, as Dan said, it definitely had its flaws.
86. hist mys ****1/2
These mysteries are so superb! In this one we take a trip to Venice in search of a portrait of Mahmet I, first Ottoman sultan and conqueror of Constantinople, transforming it into Istanbul. While Inspector Yashim plays a crucial role, in this one we get to see his friend, Count Palewski, the Polish Ambassador out on an adventure on his own. It's hard to write about mysteries without spoiling, but if you are a mystery reader and like the good historical ones, don't hold yourself aloof. Plunge in! ****1/2
>168 NanaCC: To be fair I think that the book suffered some injustice as I read it so intermittently over a wildly busy month. I still don't think I would have like it all that much, however, just slightly more, perhaps.
Read in July
73. ♬Where Serpents Sleep C.S. Harrismys ****
74. ♬ What Remains of Heaven C.S. Harris mys ****
75. ♬ Where Shadows Dance C.S. Harris mys ****
76. new Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure Artemis Cooper bio ***1/2
77. ✔ Lord of Emperors Guy Gavriel Kay fantasy (Sarantine Mosaic 2)
78. ♬ When Maidens Mourn C.S. Harris mys ****
79.♬ What Darkness Brings C.S. Harris mys ****
80. RR The Magician King Lev Grossman fantasy ****
81. ♬ Why Kings Confess C.S. Harris mys ****
82. new The Magician's Land Lev Grossman fantasy ****
83. The New Yorker - November 2015
84. new Fates and Furies Lauren Groff contemp fic ***
Best of July
The Sarantine Mosaic Guy Gavriel Kay
I have to admit I've been having a blast binge-listening to C.S. Harris's Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries set in the Regency period in London.
Worst of July
Fates and Furies
This was, to be blunt, a month of binge-listening. Beyond that, it was not a month when I chose to challenge myself particularly--the Artemis Cooper bio of Patrick Leigh Fermor representing the only attempt. So I am not in the mood to be edified or to work hard? I guess not, although I adored Troubles last month and would adore any book written at that level that comes my way. I have done a lot of driving around, a lot of music, a lot of knitting while people talk around me. And so be it. The reading adventure continues, never the same, never predictable. However, I do want to say that there is an odd synchronicity to my reading of late, books, whether fantasy, mystery, non-fiction or fiction seem to center on, refer to, or somehow relate to Constantinople/Istanbul with alarming frequency. Well, not alarming, exactly, but thought-provoking certainly. So far the C.S. Harris books DO NOT refer in any way to Byzantium and that is a bit of a relief. The Guy Gavriel Kay duology, is magnificent, and it is possible that even a non-fantasy lover might bite. It is the story of a mosaicist in an "alternate" earthlike universe, but just not quite (two moons, among other differences) but the places are recognizably Rome, Venice, and Byzantium, a Roman-like culture, a possible future Ottomanlike culture on the edges of things, northern Germanic cultures, recognizable but just not . . . quite. Fun.
M/W writing together: (NYer) 1
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 1
YA or J: 0
New author: 1
Months of NYers: 1
From library or borrowed: 0
Off Shelf: 1
Read it or Get Rid of It: 0
2016 Total IN=46
2016 Total OUT=26
Book titles IN: July 2016
44. Barkskins Annie Proulx
45. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet Becky Chambers
46. Alliance of Equals Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
It's really two novels -- Sailing to Sarantium and The Lord of Emperors - I think you can get it in one (probably massive) tome as The Sarantine Mosaic but probably your are better off with two volumes. Having, just by accident, read so many books in the last few years that touch on Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul and having generally read plenty about the Roman Empire one is aware that Kay knows his history and is making certain "what if" choices.
His first series (The Fionavar Tapestry) was ok--some folks love it, others, like me, do not--but since then he's shifted into writing mostly novels in a parallel but not quite Earth--in which he can freely explore the relationship between myth and reality, I think, it's a middle ground, very intriguing. I very much liked the Vikingish one I read last year--The Last Light of the Sun. There is a Chinese-ish one as well that I hear is terrific. Another one, this one more pure fantasy but very grounded in its culture and society, Tigana is in my top ten fantasy and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to try out fantasy at its best.
Probably more than you wanted to know. I am nothing if not enthusiastic!
He's an author I have wondered about. Glad you posted that extra bit.
>171 sibyx: A quick trip to Istanbul then or failing that perhaps a meal in your nearest Turkish restaurant may be in order
87. contemp fic ****1/2
How To Be Both Ali Smith
How delightful to be so surprised by the deftness of just about every aspect of a novel: the shape, the story, the themes, the dialogue, even the characters. The last, who, from the imperturbable Mrs. Rock, the school therapist to George's father (blossoming later in the book)--have an unusual degree of depth and form. Why even the elusive Lisa Goliard has a heft to her. The core of the book is formed in the first half by the imagined life of Franchesco del Cossa of the 15th century, a fresco painter, who, seemingly, has been summoned back to some sort of life and memory because of George, a 15ish year old in our present time who has recently lost her mother. Said mother once took her children, George and Henry, to Italy to see the del Cossa's frescos. Which brings me to the relationship between this girl and her mother which has about the liveliest and most (dare I say it) endearing mother-daughter interactions I've encountered in . . . well, maybe ever. There is one interchange that I have had, almost word for word with my own very lively and outspoken daughter. Her mother irritably reminds George that she is other things than just her mother, and George is having none of it. Many writers build stories, novels and poems around a painting or a painter and while I sometimes find this device cumbersome, in this case I was thrilled to be introduced to del Cossa who does strike me as unusual, lively and mysterious. Come to think of it unusual, lively and mysterious, yes, that just about describes to How To Be Both. ****1/2
Had to google Franchesco del Cossa. A 15th century painter that I had not come across before.
He's intriguing, no?
Thank you Alison. I was not at all sure for the first twenty or thirty pages, then I "got" it.
Admitting too that I came back and tweaked this review a bit, tidy it up.
>176 sibyx: Good to see another positive Ali Smith review. I've recently noted another of her books from another thread and I've just started reading Public Library and Other Stories. It's the first book I've read by her and I'm really enjoying it, so I'm looking forward to trying some of these others. You've made this book sound very appealing! I was just reading about it and was interested to see that it was published in two versions with the two parts of the book swapped around and it's random which one you happen to get.
>180 valkyrdeath: Yes! A friend on another thread I inhabit read the book with George's story first!
88. sf ****
Matter Iain Banks
Djan Seriy, Special Circumstances for the Culture, former princess of Sarl, learns that her father and one brother (king and prince respectively of the 8th level of the constructed "planet, Sarsamen) have died in wartime and goes on leave to find out more about what happened and what will happen now. Meanwhile her two brothers (one of them only rumoured to be dead) are struggling also to make sense of what has happened; Ferbin, the elder and dissolute, escapes and goes in search of Djan off-planet, and Oramen, the youngest, Prince Regent, doesn't know that the Regent is in fact the man who killed his father . . . but of course this being Banks, it is all so much more complicated than that. There are multiple intelligent species involved in Sarsamen--all at different levels of development in the Banksian manner. The most important fact tossed out early on is that once there were two thousand of these fabricated planetary wonders, but in the distant past something came along determined to destroy them and only a dozen or so are left. This was an interesting conjoining of the barely out of the middle ages type warfare and the extremes of the hyper-developed cultures (like the Culture). As always, Banks is inventive and humorous, his characters convincing and the images wonderful and strange. This wasn't a perfect Banks, but it was good enough for me! ****
Blue Latitudes Tony Horwitz
"Going where Captain Cook went before" is the subtitle of Blue Latitudes and that is just what Tony Horwitz does, or tries to do. What is interesting is that in all the course of his quest he rarely found anything of a physical nature that was either in quite the right place or authentic. Nor, he found, is the sheer audacity and breadth of Cook's achievement properly understood by any but a few very thoughtful folks--the sheer, breathtaking, unimaginable, and arguably mad courage it took to do what he did, go as far as he did, with what were still primitive ships and navigational instruments compared to what we consider essential today. He did, however, bring the ills of the Euroculture to the Pacific, he didn't mean to, but you can't really argue with it, as the ravaging effects of first contact were known by then. For a man of his day he was unusually sensitive to the fact that perhaps the ways of the English weren't the one and only way. Horwitz is willing to debate that issue, and approaches it at different times in different ways, but he never loses sight of this one over-arching fact, the scale of the voyages. As with other Horwitz adventures, he goes back and forth from his own quest in the present (the last book of his I read he was searching for evidence of the explorations of the non-Anglo explorers, mostly Spanish, in the southern USA) to the known facts and history of Cook and his sailing companions. His quest starts with a ride in a recreation of the Endeavour up the coast of Washington state, after which winds around from New Zealand and Australia, into the Pacific Isles and to the far north, the site of the third and disastrous voyage, a look for the fabled Northwest Passage, and the return to Hawaii which ends with his death. Horwitz doesn't flinch from the seeming personality change from the younger to the older Cook, whose calm judgment and tolerance both seem to fail him at long last. Horwitz is accompanied, most of his travels by his friend Roger, an Australian by way of Yorkshire, who serves as comic relief to Horwitz's basic seriousness and was quite entertaining. It's interesting to read this just after reading about Patrick Leigh Fermor, another restless adventurer, and at the end, Horwitz, also a restless adventurer, muses a bit on that personality profile and what potential value it has for humanity. A thwarted profile in our time, when physical exploration of the globe is complete. I hadn't known either, that Star Trek's Captain Kirk (down to his very name!) was invented with Cook very firmly in Gene Roddenberry's mind. Makes perfect sense to me! ****1/2
I loved this Horwitz book too. Made me wonder about all those little islands I had never heard of before.
I wonder if Horwitz next project will be to follow Star Trek's Captain Kirk's expeditions.
Enjoyed your review of Blue Latitudes sounds like a fun read.
90. contemp fic ****1/2
Everybody's Fool Richard Russo
Pretty much classic Russo, an exploration of a variety of "good enough" men living and getting by in a small town, the police chief, Doug Raymer, recently widowed and Sully, of course, now in his seventies and in need of a heart procedure he keeps putting off, plus a host of their friends and relations and co-workers. Wreaking havoc among them are a couple of psychopaths the main one being Roy, the creepy and violent ex-husband of Janey whose mother is Ruth, with whom Sully had a long term illicit affair. The men of the town all doubt themselves in a variety of ways but are better than they believe themselves to be, and, at the very least, have consciences and (mostly) (as best they can) behave responsibly. But they aren't attractive, especially, or heroic, especially, or especially intelligent either, smart enough most of them--just regular folks the way people actually are. The women are a bit less complexly presented, most of them do seem to know what they are doing and more or less what they want, but we see them through the eyes of the various men they are involved with from husbands to brothers and they have plenty of texture. The Everyman and woman aspect of Russo's work is something I like very much about it. This morning, for example, first thing, I panicked when the trash truck turned up and threw out a frozen ham instead of the frozen meat trash, mixed up the bags . . . . the people in a Russo book do these sorts of things on a regular basis and, in a way, it makes me feel like less of an idiot, or at least, just one of many. Anyhow, it's a very solid sequel to Nobody's Fool in my humble opinion. ****1/2
Sorry about the ham... I would like to try Russo's everyman/everywoman style. At one time I was all set to read Empire Falls, even read the first two or three pages. But, never did read it.
I think Nobody's Fool might be his "best" work although I like all the "early" work, Mohawk is one of the titles I remember. Empire Falls is his most expansive and ambitious novel, and rewarding though it is I think I wouldn't have wanted to read it first. Straight Man is, of course, his funniest book. My husband read that aloud while I was nursing our daughter and we would both fall apart laughing and my daughter would just look at me chidingly as if I'd gone bananas, which, in a way, I had! Actually, she still looks at me that way sometimes.
91. urban fantasy ***1/2
Kraken China Mieville
I pushed through this because although I am a solid Mieville fan, I can't say it is my favourite. At the same time, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, or that I don't think it might not tickle someone else's funnybone. Mieville wanted to have fun and it is, basically, a send-up of urban fantasy memes, a loving send-up, but like all satire, a bit close to the bone here and there which made it hard for me to maintain that oh-so-critical suspension of disbelief. Now why it would work, say, with Douglas Adams and not here? Because Douglas Adams was unbelievably funny and utterly original and so, dare I say, loving? of his characters, while Mieville is fond of them, yes, but loving? no. There is also a lot of dependence on those who have "gone before" (to borrow from Star Trek, including, a Captain Kirk figurine! That said, plenty of the ideas were funny, but they were twisted, say, apocalypses being kind of a dime a dozen, and familiars going on strike. As always Mieville likes to play around with the fact that language being what it is, we can do things like make up urban fantasy memes that feel weirdly plausible, at least, while you are reading. . . . In any event I hugely enjoyed some of the characters, Collingswood that witchy mouthy FR . . uh . .. something C police operative, can't remember the acronym awready, but she was excellent throughout. I wouldn't recommend this as a first Mieville however, as other books of his are so thought-provoking, but he is entitled to have some fun. ***1/2
>191 ELiz_M: I loved that book! I have a feeling you would like it, Dan. If you were to read any Mieville,
City would be the one. It's not fantasy more noir detective with a twist. There are two cities occupying the same space, no offenses against physics. Think Berlin Wall with no walls and higgledy piggledy all over, a psycho/political barrier. So a person is murdered in one city and dumped in the other and this detective has to figure out how to figure it out without breaking (too many) taboo/rules!
Embassytown is sf. And extraordinary! Exploring a particular aspect of language and the effect it might have on an alien culture.
93. contemp fic ***
Range of Motion Elizabeth Berg
So, yeah, I read Berg impulsively now and then, exactly the way you would eat a gooey caramel that was sitting out in a handy bowl. I won't carry this metaphor any further, but the fact is I do feel simultaneously unsated and bloated afterward, just too sweet and easy but also somewhat unsettling. Berg's characters inhabit a world every bit as fantastical as any alternative reality or fairy tale--in this case a perfect marriage, husband gets knocked out by a block of ice, is lying in a coma for several months when the book opens up. Our protag has two children, lives in duplex, has a "best friend" neighbor, Alice, sees the ghost of a former inhabitant who also comforts the protag. (Good advice about ant management, at least.). The docs, of course, are giving up on the hubby in the coma, but she isn't, no sir. He's moved to a nursing home and she does all she can to bring him back, all the while knowing he either will or won't wake up and what she does won't make much difference, or will it? Of course, she becomes a staff favorite, of course there is an amazing nurse there, of course her plain friend Alice suffers a plot twist. (Our heroine is pretty, or pretty enough, and blonde, Alice is plain.) The thing of it is, though, that Berg can write even though for whatever reason, (I have my guesses--she's sort of a missionary of goodness) she chooses to write these formulaic novels about "issues" -- which I am sure she researches carefully, collects, and plans out the trajectory of carefully. One of her strengths is observing and writing beautifully about small things, a pair of shoes by the bed of a person who will never get up again, a wind chime bought by a new friend, the way a dog feels on your lap. I can see this as a perfect read for a book group with readers with more good intentions than any real desire to engage with literature. Damning with faint praise? So be it. Undoubtedly too, I will pick up another one sometime. ***
Home now in Vermont again. I miss the sea, but I do appreciate the cooler air at night for sleeping.
Two of the books I'm reading are a bit on the serious and somewhat depressing side -- the Hobhouse and the Flanagan, but both are very very good. The first is a sort of fictionalized memoir and the second is a fictionalized account of the French "invasion" of Ireland in 1798. I'll keep on with fun sf and fantasy to lighten things up. I'm hoarding the last couple of chapters of the 11th (!) St. Cyr because I am loath to let go even though I think there is a 12th coming out fairly soon on Audible . . . I'll go back to Lymond then I think, as I now have all the Dunnett books in hand for reference as needed. It's tempting to start all over again.
94. sf ****1/2
A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers
Well this is just darned good sf/space opera, that's what. Great aliens, sturdy plot--a combination of smaller character-driven events within a larger context. You have a little "tunneling" ship -- that is, they make the wormholes, but they've been asked to do a much bigger job with amazing pay . . . so what's the catch? This has the feel of a saga just getting established with so much room for more adventures from this crew who, by the end were beginning to be a team, but one with a lot of room for development and mayhem and what have you. Loads of fun. Well done! The four and a half stars is to leave room at the top for more, better. ****1/2
My local library has purchased all the Goodwin mysteries, so instead of Lymond I will embark on Inspector Yashim #4. I can't recommend these more highly to any of you historical mystery readers out there.
>197 sibyx: I just picked this one up (although I'm not sure when I'll actually get to it), so I'm delighted to hear you enjoyed it so much. I was pretty much sold on it the moment I heard someone compare it to Firefly.
95. ♬ hist mys ***1/2
When Falcons Fall C.S. Harris
I've hit the end of the line, temporarily, with this 11th in the St. Cyr regency mystery series. And I have not finished knitting the St. Cyr sweater, but no matter. For me these were perfect for listening to while either driving or cooking or knitting. ***1/2
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