Sibyx (Lucy) Reading in Autumn and Early Winter 2016
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Currently Reading (November)
new The Burning Stone Kate Elliott fantasy
✔The Siege of Krishnapur J.G. Farrell hist fict
✔ Forests: The Shadow of Civilization Robert Pogue Harrison natural history
♬ The Relic Master Christopher Buckley hist mys
♬ podcasts of Clarkesworld, sf stories. 12=1 book=300p sf (4 to go!)
Murdoch Marathon: ONGOING. (No plans for reading IM at present) IM readers group is HERE
Virago No plans
The New Yorker
112. ♬ Checkmate Dorothy Dunnett hist fic *****
113. lib Spirit Gate Kate Elliott fantasy ****
114. lib Shadow Gate Kate Elliott fantasy ****
115. ♬Vita Brevis Ruth Downie hist mys ***1/2
116. lib Traitor's Gate Kate Elliott fantasy ****1/2
117. new The Witch of Exmoor Margaret Drabble contemp fic ***1/2
118. ✔ Elric of Melnibone Michael Moorcock (1 of Elric saga) fantasy classic ****
119. new Athena Lee Hall biography/mythology ****
120. ✔ The Sailor on the Seas of Fate(2 Elric) Michael Moorcock fantasy classic ****
121. ✔The Last English King Julian Rathbone hist fict ***1/2
122. ✔ My Cousin Justin Margaret Barrington hist fict Irlsh Virago type
123 ✔ The Weird of the White Wolf (Elric 3) Michael Moorcock fantasy classic
124. ♬ Reaper Man Terry Pratchett fantasy
105. ✔ The Year of the French Thomas Flanagan hist fict *****
106. lib King's Dragon Anne Elliottfantasy ***1/2
107. new Jane Steele Lyndsay Faye contemp fic ***1/2
108.♬ The Ringed Castle Dorothy Dunnett (bk 5) *****
109. ✔How to Live or A Life of Montaigne Sarah Bakewell bio ****
110. lib Prince of Dogs Kate Elliott Book 2 Crown of Stars ****
111. lib Isle of Battle Sean Russell fantasy ***
Quit in November
Guide to symbols
new=year or less on shelf
♬ = audio
✔ = Year plus on shelf
RoT= Read or Toss
Books read in August
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
Best of August
How to Be Both trumps the Russo, but only by a smidgeon (and because Smith is new to me)
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet 'Cos she's new on the scene! Great start!
Blue Latitudes The only nf book of this month but a winner!
Worst of August
Range of Motion for what it is it isn't bad, but . . .
The St. Cyr audio-binge came to an end (temporarily) with Book 11 in the series . . . Audio listening was down as the month was not one of epic driving and it was too hot for much knitting. But a couple of fine fiction reads, led by How to Be Both on the serious side and Russo's Everybody's Fool plus the new sf novel by Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet made it a solid reading month--there were no surprises this month as there was last month with Farrell's Troubles. I enjoyed Banks's Matter but it is not my favourite Banks, and I was not wowed by Mieville's Kraken, which just seemed a tad mean-spirited about the urban fantasy genre, but that could just be me being over-sensitive, of course. The third Goodwin/Yashim mystery was highly entertaining--set in Venice and featuring the Polish Ambassador, Palewski. I'm deep into a couple of tough reads this month, Janet Hobhouse's memoir/novel The Furies and The Year of the French a very careful fictionalizing of the disastrous French invasion of Ireland of 1798. You know it is doomed, but you come away, I expect, knowing most of the principals knew that too, but felt they had no choice but to try. It's extremely painful reading and I'm sure I'll have plenty to say at the end of September. As for audio I've plunged into the next of the Lymond Chronicles.
96. hist mys ****
An Evil Eye Jason Goodwin
These are such solidly constructed and grounded historical mysteries - set in Istanbul in the 1830's that they delight every time. Inspector Yashim is a marvelous character, utterly heroic, yet so human, humbled by his cruel handling as a young adolescent when he was made a eunuch. In this book we learn that someone may have had reasons to do this to him specifically and we learn a little bit more about his family and background, in particular about the complicated man who was Yashim's mentor. This one is also set more within the sultan's seraglio and that is interesting too. A new character, a young boy who is maybe a bit like Yashim and runs away from the school he attended too, is introduced . . . And, as always, Istanbul herself plays a role. ****
97. fantasy ****
The Paladin C.J. Cherryh
97. The only thing fantastical about this story is that it is set in a made-up place; there is no magic, other than the superstitions of the people. A young peasant girl whose whole family has been slaughtered, her province laid waste, turns up on the doorstep of exiled warrior/courtier Saukendar demanding to be trained so she can wreak revenge on the man who led the assault on her region. Girls and women are not trained in combat, it is illegal even for a woman to carry weapons, and Saukendar has the same prejudices as anyone else on the subject, so Taizu has a hard battle to convince him to train her and even then, he only slowly and grudgingly comes to teach her everything he knows. It was a most thoughtful portrayal of what a cross-gender apprenticeship in such a rigid culture might well be like: so that only a girl of extraordinary and unshakeable determination and stubbornness would break through to achieve respect. Saukendar reluctantly comes out of his exile and goes to meet what he always knew was his fate, freeing the young Emperor and putting decent rulers in charge of the Empire, even though he knows these efforts are never more than temporary, good eras followed by bad and on and on. Taizu is an inspiring character and one can hope that it is likely a culture-changing success, not simply an anomaly. She certainly won't stop being a warrior, she is always going to carry her own sword openly, you just know it and who's going to stop her! As always with Cherryh the story starts slowly and moves with lots of detail and inward thought but then moves to a wild climax. A small Cherryh gem. ****
98. sf ***1/2
Maximum Ice Kay Kenyon
The Star Road and its occupants are returning after voyaging for ten thousand Earth years (250 for them) home to an Earth that has been battered by calamities, a plague and then an "attack" of dark matter, a "cloud" that enveloped the planet, sucking into its chaotic nothingness all the information that it could--which included DNA as well as the bytes, e.g. killing off just about every living thing. Humans came up with a defense, Ice, a polygonal crystal that dark matter cannot penetrate, and although it doesn't save much, people survive inside the huge crystalline structures, mining old cities. The Ice collects information and is a form of computer. There is a problem, however, Ice won't stop replicating and once it covers the planet, all life will end. The Star Road is full of Rom who, having been accused of causing the plague had been given, as reparations, this ship but they have not found a habitable planet and they are dying out due to radiation exposure. Oh, and there are Ice Nuns who aren't really nuns, but want to communicate with Ice and there are snow witches and all sorts of other wonders, including Ice itself. There is Kellian who is taking in by the nuns, there is Zoya, the "ship mother" of the Star Road who is sent to make contact with the surviving people . . . There are no other animals except rats which feed on humans (and yeh, humans feed on rats and algae). It's a good but verging on being too complicated and so unwieldy and/or too improbable - but Kenyon excels at imagery and creates a strange and intriguing environment. There is certainly a wild plot and it is masterfully executed, thrilling right to the end. It's really 3 3/4.
Hmm, I seem to have fallen into a communication void myself, having opened a new thread.
I'm finding myself thinking about the odd fact that some sf books do seem to become "too" improbable to sustain that all-important suspension of disbelief, and others, with truly wild premises, keep a firm grip on my attention. To those of you who find the whole genre ridiculous or just not your cuppa, that I would even think about this might seem peculiar, I know! It has to do, I think, with several things - one would be simply too much detail, so that one begins to question it -- painters don't paint every brick, and there's a reason for it, the mind just shuts off. Another is choice -- choices that don't quite feel they have enough to do with the book or ring quite true. In this case, that the Rom are given this incredible ship and sent off -- I couldn't believe that a planet in so much distress , financial and emotional, post-plague would do this, plus it smacks of "send them back to Africa" which is creepy. The digital father-confessor and the Catholicism also just didn't really mesh or give enough to the book, although I could see the point of it, symmetry between the atheistic "Ice Nuns" and the quietly spiritual Rom. Ah well. Just some afterthoughts.
99. fictional memoir
The Furies Janet Hobhouse
Can't remember how this came to be in my library where it languished on my bio shelf for too long. I began it once before, and did not stay with it. This time, picking it up, I read intently, although in smallish bites as the writing is unusually dense, not in a heavy way, but in a demanding way. I've been wracking my brains since finishing it, to explain exactly what seems so unusual and special about it because it shouldn't really work but it did for me. As someone with a childhood with its own unusual and difficult/glorious aspects and intensities, I was most taken--even astonished--at the way she describes and narrates the family saga and her own woes and triumphs, but without any of the flaws, that excess of detail that mars so many memoirs, self-pity, or any pettiness about some less-than-admirable family and friends. Her mother's family fortunes rose and fell with breathtaking thoroughness in three generations leaving her mother and the remnant, all women, reeling in its wake. One minute they live splendidly in a huge brownstone on Riverside Drive, the next, somehow all barely get by in small apartments with humble jobs--a few, like Helen (our protag) and her mother Bett, are only ever one small crisis away from homelessness. If I recited the catalog of things that go wrong for Helen, culminating in ovarian cancer, you wouldn't really believe it, or believe the book to be readable, and yet it is, or was for me. I did tire now and then of hearing about her "young and ever beautiful and childlike" mother, and she was a bit too coy about her brief fling with "the famous author" (Philip Roth) and also with some "famous brit heartthrob" she dated after her divorce. The parts I read with the most fascination was about her family's rise and fall and later about her own time in England, living with her father, who was like the amped up version of my own father, a person who simultaneously did want to do "the right thing," but was unable to ever to express positive feelings without some weird twist. Hobhouse was obviously exceptionally brilliant and she got herself into Oxford on a full scholarship and brought to mind those Bright Young Things dancing about the colleges in an Iris Murdoch novel. Compared to me she lived at a hummingbird speed, the grasshopper as opposed to the ant. At any rate, if you like memoirs by writers this is an interesting and unusual one. Unfortunately, Hobhouse died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42. Helen gets to live, unfortunately Janet did not. ****1/2
I wish I could remember who it was that recommended it, I can almost remember, but just. not. quite.
>9 sibyx: Interesting thoughts about science fiction. Sometimes it is difficult to explain why some fantastic/far fetched books and why some don't.
The Braided World Kay Kenyon
While set in the same future Earth as Maximum Ice the stories only share the premise of the plague that has been destroying humanity and the scourge of the incursion of the voracious dark matter cloud that literally "eats" information, destroying every living thing in its path. There are close to being too few humans left for a viable population. Earth receives a message from a star system many light years away to "come and get what you have lost". The governments are too overwhelmed to respond but a ship, The Restoration, funded by a fabulously rich and powerful older woman, Bailey Shaw, formerly a renowned opera singer, goes. The captain dies shortly before they arrive and Bailey chooses a new captain from a pool of two young officers (there had been three, one a woman who has died on the voyage) Nick and Anton, choosing the latter. On planet, they find a people, the Dassa, indistinguishable, at first, from humans. But the majority of Dassa procreate quite differently from homo sapiens and have different sexual mores and not only that, they regard the concept of a woman carrying a child in their own body as disgusting and treat those "throwbacks" born among them cruelly. Likewise, the human crew struggle with revulsion at the many human taboos the Dassa violate. Anton tries to remain open-minded and focussed on the task of getting along and also figuring out the message, which, it turns out, was sent by an earlier race, whom the Dassa call the Quadi. The Quadi, they know, created them, in fact. The biggest flaw in the story is the conflict between Nick and Anton which just feels completely manufactured and completely unnecessary. First there was the cliche aspect: Do two ambitious young men, when one is passed over for a promotion, have to really always end up in a conflict over power? And if they do, does it have to play out so predictably? It's a darned good read despite that, very interesting. ***1/2
101. ♬ hist fict/adventure *****
Pawn in Frankincense Dorothy Dunnett Lymond Chronicles bk 5
Look out, this is a three hankie affair, presumably the nadir of Lymond's career. I started out listening lackadaisically and then was ever so glad I had a long car ride in which to listen to the last six hours which was pretty much continual cliff-hanger plus hankie wringer. This one is set mainly in an around the eastern Mediterranean where Lymond is seeking out a) Gabriel aka, Graham Reid Mallett, his arch-enemy from the previous book and b) the mother and the tiny child that are his. The book includes also a long sojourn in Stamboul with which I am happily more familiar from reading the incomparable Jason Goodwin mysteries. In any event. Lymond and his associates--the faithful Jorett Blythe, ex-knight of St. John, the indomitable Philippa who has run away to participate in the search for the baby, the resourceful animal handler Archie, and some new characters, among them, Marthe, a mysterious young woman with an uncanny resemblance to Lymond are traveling with him. But Gabriel appears to be one step ahead of them all the way and matters come to a crisis on a gigantic chessboard. Gabriel is so truly awful that this one does make for some painful reading -- let's just say it make George Martin's Game of Thrones look tame in spots. It's not the gore so much as the psychological warfare, Gabriel's aim is to destroy Lymond, body and soul. *****
>9 sibyx: I think it's interesting to try to break down what it was that didn't really work for you in a book. I sometimes talk it out with my husband when I'm really frustrated or annoyed or disappointed by one. It makes me think about it in new ways to try to express what was really so wrong. Sometimes it leads to really interesting insights into what I'm looking for in a book. I'm much more likely to accept a book that has some relationship to our world than one that creates something new out of whole cloth. Which I guess is why I'm much more accepting of magical realism than any sort of fantasy or scifi.
102. fantasy ***1/2
The One Kingdom (1 of 3) Sean Russell
Three young men from the Vale in the far North have decided to go on an adventure, down the river to Inniseth to buy themselves horses, using the money from selling the treasures they have dug up in an old battlefield. But the first night out a stranger, Alaan, joins them and then they are attacked by mysterious soldiers in black and purple . . . And so the adventure begins, once on the river, it will take them south and there is no going back. Outside the Vale the feud between two families, the Renne and the Wills simmers along, there has been no king uniting the land for a couple of hundred years and neither family can quite best the other. They have no idea, any of them, that deeper machinations are afoot. Anyway, the lads soon begin to realize that that nothing is straightforward about the world outside the Vale. They are soon embroiled in larger plots, of course. This is only Book 1 and it ends somewhat abruptly in a very "to be continued' manner and would not be at all satisfying to read if you didn't have Book 2 (or the prospect of having it) waiting in the wings. The greatest strength of the story is in some of the ideas: 'story finders' who wander about gleaning from remnant echoes things that happened in the past; the mysterious Alaan who can find "shortcuts" and hidden paths, the river itself which often splits and takes a boat down a new channel. Here and there the language gets a bit "forsoothy" but it's decent all the same. By my own ridiculous reckoning method I'd prefer to give this a 3 1/4 leaving room for that score to rise, it's a bit uneven, but still I enjoyed it well enough to stick with it and will read on. *** 1/4
104. contemp fic ***1/2
Vinegar Girl Anne Tyler
It's a slight book but highly enjoyable even if I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced by the end that this was a conclusion Shakespeare would have quite agreed with, but maybe so, maybe so. Tyler, wise in the ways of relationships between difficult people, shows a Kate growing to recognize that her intended is someone who can save her from herself, while she sees in him a well-hidden vulnerability and a directness that she can respect in return. (I've simplified that, I can't really spoil here, can I? we all know the plot!) There is much to charm in the classic Anne Tyler manner but where I felt this project really succeeded was in bumping her out of her regular writing routine, getting her to stretch a little out of her comfort zone and to write with zip and flair. Tyler has always excelled in filling a room with people and having them all talk at once to great effect and she is also the master of the telling detail. It took me about a day, in stolen bits and pieces, to read it. Highly enjoyable. ***1/2
I've been on a writing retreat and I should explain that I don't usually read anything very serious at these times. I am plodding along through The Year of the French and I love the Montaigne book but after a long day in my head, I need lighter fare. My time also been complicated by the fact my daughter has mono and is living in city many hours away, lots of traveling and much worrying also taking up a lot of my mind. YoF is one of the saddest books I've ever read, so I can only read so much of it a time.
Things are slowly improving but my daughter has been seriously ill. She's had great care and all will, I think, be well in the end. But convalescence will be a slow affair. We are presently n Philadelphia and we hope to retreat to Vermont in a couple of weeks. I have a lot of family here and they have been AMAZING!
I have finished quite a few books and will try to get them all on here now.
105. hist fict *****
The Year of the French Thomas Flanagan
It must be said immediately, that The Year of the French figures among one of the "hardest" emotional reads of my life--perhaps disproportionately because of my immersion in Irish music (and therefore culture, as the two are completely intertwined)--as I had a strong and relentless emotional reaction the entire time I was reading this novel, which does not read like a novel, but like a first-hand account of what happened, in a few weeks in August 1798, when the French, under General Humbert, landed in Killala, Mayo and made a short, vicious, confused, and ultimately doomed attempt to make their way to Dublin and Irish Independence. It might be possible to read this novel without being deeply affected, but really, I find that unlikely. Frankly, I can't imagine anyone who doesn't care about Ireland bothering to read it, that being the way of things. Be that as it may, Flanagan manages to show EVERY point of view with compassion (with maybe the exception of English people in England--supremely oblivious to their own prejudices), from the schoolmaster poet, to protestant and papist gentry (involved and not involved), to clergymen, and to the women (it must be said, they figure in a minor way, but not shallowly the few who do figure.) I have learned much about how music figures in Irish life, "No people on earth, I am persuaded, loves music so well, nor dance, nor oratory, though the music falls strangely upon my ears, and the eloquence is either in a language i cannot understand or else in an English stiff, bombastic, and ornate . . . More than once I have been at Mr. Treacy's when, at close of dinner, some travelling harper would be called in, blind as often as not, his fingernails kept long and the mysteries of his art hidden in their horny ridges. The music would come to us with the sadness of a lost world . . . " "Terrible people, musicians, wedded to their wood and catgut, caressing them like lovers." The schoolmaster/poet Owen McCarthy: "Moonlight glancing from stone or metal washed across his mind, faded. That was the worst of it with poems. The meaning was right there, in the image itself, and you had no idea what it meant, but the image knew. The image was wiser than the poet. It disclosed itself when it was good and ready, casually, totally." A protestant clergyman sits in his house, one last night before the English take back the town of, with the young man who was both his captor and guard, both knowing the young man will die the next day, in silence and friendship with no words that could possibly said between them. "Neither of us speaks. Men are shouting in the street outside. At last he raises his hand, then drops it again to the table. I have a vivid recollection of the scene, and yet it lacks significance, a random memory. But what if the mysterious truth is locked within such moments?"
This same clergyman concludes we do not learn from history, from experience yes, but each generation starts new. Books can convey something, but not enough. Alas. *****
106. fantasy ****
King's Dragon Kate Elliott
Elliott is growing on me - I was very taken up with this first volume. It is a familiar trope. A lass might or might not have powers, a lad doesn't know his parentage . . . there is an attack from without the kingdom and conspiracy within and the two get swept up into the unfolding events. What makes it work is that there is a little grit, but not too much, and very good characterization as well as a world and logic that are consistent and while not wildly original, with its own unique twists. Lots of fun. Dogs and horses and ermine and magic, doesn't get better than that in the fantasy realm. ****
Jane Steele Lyndsay Faye
Perfect read for me at the moment. An homage to Jane Eyre with a twist, a feisty heroine with a rather fiercer moral code than Jane Eyre. Here and there it almost went on a bit too long, but I am forgiving. It is so important that clever and undemanding books like this one exist for us when we need something fun and light. ***1/2
108. ♬ hist fic *****
The Ringed Castle Dorothy Dunnett Bk 5
In this, the penultimate, of the Lymond Chronicles, Francis Lymond goes to Russia where he becomes the voivoda (military commander) of Ivan (the one called the Terrible). He becomes involved with a mission of the british trading endeavour, The Muscovy Company as well. Russia is just becoming more than a scattering of small fiefdoms and Ivan can take credit for having done a great deal to further unite it into an empire of sorts. He has come with the beautiful and mysterious .......... and they live in splendour for a short while while Lymond forges an army for the Czar. However, ........... may have designs of her own on the Czar that Lymond is thwarting by his presence, as much as she may enjoy him, she is a creature of ambitions over love. Ivan decides Lymond should go back to England and arrange for him to secretly get weapons and the men who know how to make munitions and etc, all the stuff of war. After a miserable voyage home, Lymond, of course, encounters scheme after counterscheme, not to mention a surprise when he reconnects with Philippa Somerville who is now his wife in name only. There is though the matter of that divorce, which just seems to keep on getting tangled up in red tape. Also, Philippa is determined that Lymond "deal" with the issue of his parentage and she is her usual relentless self on the matter. I was happier, I admit, when Lymond got out of Russia, but it was well done! Russia of that era was vividly evoked and I can't help but be fascinated now by Ivan. I can't believe I am about to start the final book in this series! *****
109. bio ****1/2
How To Live: or a Life of Montaigne Sarah Bakewell
Amor fati - embrace your fate, a simplification to be sure. Be in your life, be aware of all that is happening around and within you. Discover yourself, but beware, you never get to the end of it until death stops you from the exploration. Bakewell, while moving through the chronological span of Montaigne's life, posts he held, friends he had, examining questions that Montaigne himself considered as well as how he has been regarded (or disregarded) in the centuries since his death. Montaigne lived through most of the 16th century in the Perigord region of France, a minor noble, but a man who not only wrote and thought, but acted capably; he was, for a time Mayor of Bordeaux, and a good one too. He impressed Henry !V and can be credited with assisting him to the throne. Bakewell has written a delightful introduction to Montaigne and I am convinced I need to sit down with the complete essays, best, I think to have an edition in French and English side by side -- there is a need, apparently, for a new translation. ****
I have The Year of the French on my TBR but after your review I'm not sure I'll get to it anytime soon.
I shall certainly be getting a copy of How to Live: or a Life of Montaigne before I read the essays.
There have been other very enthusiastic review of The year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan. It was interesting to read the quote about the blind harper and the view expressed that harpers were blind more often than not as I have been listening to a song by Kate Rusby called The Blind Harper.
I could drone on for hours about blind harpers, being a harper myself. But I will spare you. The most renowned and revered of them all was Turlough O'Carolan, primarily a composer and genial performer be it in a local shebeen or a grand house.
Not kidding that YoF is about the most depressing book ever - but - it takes you into a world, time, place apart from the "big" events that everyone knows about, a reminder about how history of place really happens.
That is a lackluster review, btw, of the Montaigne which is a lot of fun, a very solid read. My intellect is really not functioning so really, I do recommend it if you love essays especially.
110. fantasy ****
Prince of Dogs Kate Elliott
The saga of the Crown of Stars continues and really, there is no need to go into the details, but the second installment was just as competent and well done as the first. I do like the characters very much. Elliott is drawing on medieval Germanic intertribal warfare and religious matters for her inspiration (loosely, mind you) and sometimes that is a bit jarring, I have to say, especially the religious stuff--it is perhaps just a mite too close? But really, that is just a minor point, the characters drive this book and they do not disappoint. I should add that the cover of this edition is excellent. ****
111. fantasy ***
Isle of Battle (bk 2 One Kingdom) Sean Russell
Just competent and just barely holding my attention at this point. Also irritated by the dearth of women in significant roles; it's not that there aren't any, just that they are in such traditional roles that, well, yawn. There's a sorceress, there is a scarred, lonely princess and a few others scattered about, but there is no one in the active supporting cast that is always running around chasing or being chased -- those are all men and there might be slightly too many of those--Tam looked to be a hugely important person with an air of mystery around his origins, but I have a feeling that is never really going to come to anything. Various princes (Michael) and counts (Karl) and all the other supporting cast have sort of overwhelmed his story. I am tiring too of some of the names and the spelling: Alaan, Wyrr, etcetera, does doubling a letter make it "romaunce" or something? This second book took a turn - that seems simultaneously overdramatic and overcomplicating everything. Not that I would do any better writing a fantasy novel, but as a reader, I require more. I am giving it a three, and I am admitting too that this is the sort of book to read when you can't really manage anything more complex, so it's fine for me for the moment, but just barely. ***
>22 sibyx: sorry to hear your daughter has been so unwell. I hope all is continuing to go in the right direction.
Thank you Alison, she is doing extremely well and we are going north to Vermont on Wednesday. Despite the daunting cold up there I am so looking forward to being home.
112. hist fict *****
Checkmate Dorothy Dunnett
The final book of the six in the Lymond Chronicles -- I think I've been "reading" them for over a year now! I can't really say anything at all without spoiling, and there is no reason to say anything at all other than that if you like riproaring adventure, meticulous historical research and marvelous, challenging writing, then this series will be your cup of tea. I missed a gazillion references as I was listening and my medieval french is shaky and my latin is even shakier, and everything else is pretty much non-existent. There is no dumbing down here, the settings, characters, plot lines - in short - everything is complex and riveting. In this last book Dunnett has the reader in dire suspense to almost the very end about how things will turn out for Francis Lymond of Crawford. I can understand completely why Dunnett is hailed as a writer's writer -- especially in the adventure genre. A tour de force. *****
113. fantasy ****
"The Hundred" lies under a shadow. The Guradians have been gone for a generation and now the reeves and their gigantic eagles have also lost the trust of the people of this land, comprised of a hundred towns, that has experienced peace and plenty for centuries. The primary characters are introduced, the beautiful Mai and her ghost-seeing uncle Shai, her warrior husband Anji (an "outlander" to those within the Hundred), Joss the reeve, Bai the Hierodule and her brother. The reeves and their eagles are a great idea and the characters and plot compelling. ****
114. fantasy ****
Shadow Gate Kate Elliott
The second book in Kate Elliott's Crossroads Trilogy is fully as competent and involving as the first book, and, as often happens, easier to read because one is fully acclimated to the context and characters. I was sorry that one character I had begun to rather like was offed, but that is how it goes in this genre now, sacrifices that don't further the plot are one of the memes. Not much else to say other than, if you like fantasy, this is solid stuff. ****
115. ♬ hist mys. ***1/2
Vita Brevis Ruth Downie
Medico Russo has brought his family to Rome, following his patron, Publius Axius. Only, once they get there, it turns out Publius while an important Tribune while in Britannia, is pretty much bottom of the ladder in terms of influence. Russo and Tilla end up in a bug-infested tenement until suddenly Russo is offered a post as a physician to replace a medicus who has mysteriously vanished. He's off to a bad start however when it is discovered that the big smelly barrel on his doorstep contains a dead body. Also his new patron is a self-made man, very paranoid that someone is trying to kill him. Russo impulsively mixes up a new antidote potion for the man using some old medicines he finds in his predecessor's dispensary. And then, of course, that new patron ends up . . . Did Russo's ill-advised potion kill him? Stay tuned! It's not my favourite of the books, but solid enough. ***1/2
105. ✔ The Year of the French Thomas Flanagan hist fict *****
106. lib King's Dragon Anne Elliottfantasy ***1/2
107. new Jane Steele Lyndsay Faye contemp fic ***1/2
108.♬ The Ringed Castle Dorothy Dunnett (bk 5) *****
109. ✔How to Live or A Life of Montaigne Sarah Bakewell bio ****
110. lib Prince of Dogs Kate Elliott Book 2 Crown of Stars ****
111. lib Isle of Battle Sean Russell fantasy ***
Best of October
The Year of the French *****
The Lymond Chronicles FINISHED!!!! *****
How to Live or A Life of Montaigne Sarah Bakewell bio ****
Worst of September
Sean Russell will avoid in the future. What was I thinking?!
Reading over my September reflections I see that I mostly talked about books I was reading, not books I had finished, the Montaigne and the novel set in 1798 in Ireland. I finished both of those books in October and I can still say, without any doubt, The Year of the French is one of the best and most painful books I've read. It is Nobel prize level. A book that can change you. Probably the most significant "finish" was the last book in the Lymond Chronicels, The Ringed Castle. It is hard to say goodbye to that series and to the voice of the narrator. Otherwise, I have to admit, that not only did I not read all that much, for the most part I did not read to be challenged but to be distracted and entertained. I had to put down a book about the makiing and publishing of Ulysses because I just couldn't concentrate on it, no fault of the book.
M/W writing together: 0
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 3
YA or J: 0
New author: 3
Months of NYers: several
From library or borrowed: 3
Off Shelf: 2
Read it or Get Rid of It: 1
Book titles IN: October 2016
57. J.G. Farrell The Siege of Krishnapur
58. C.J. Cherryh Cloud's Rider
59. Margaret Drabble The Witch of Exmoor
116. fantasy ****1/2
Traitor's Gate bk three Crossroads Kate Elliott
It isn't always the case that the last book is the best, but this time it is the case. A twist, and one that one could anticipate, cringing and groaning all the while, alters the story into something much darker and, frankly, more satisfying, at least to me. I can't say more without spoiling, but Elliott hits her stride in this one, which I find far more intense and interesting than the quite good Jaran series. The world she has built is solid and interesting, the characters absorbing, the situation a (literal) cliffhanger. All good! **** 1/2 for this last one!
117. contemp fic ***1/2
The Witch of Exmoor Margaret Drabble
In some ways I don't know what to think--Drabble is smart and she can write, but, I guess to entertain herself(?) she uses an annoying narrative style, the authorial intervention, interrupting to say, "And now we shall introduce a new character," and the like. The focus is on three grown children, their spouses and children and their not-quite-over-the-hill mother (somewhere in her sixties) who has been behaving strangely. They are all of them, in different ways, upwardly mobile, successful people. And not nice at all. No indeed, with the exception, perhaps, of one or two of the children. The book is cleverly put together, make no mistake. One character, a thoughtful British Guyanian, has a game he likes to play, the Veil of Ignorance, where you get to decide how to re-allocate all the wealth of a country for the greatest benefit of the people and Frieda, the grandmother, plays out her version of it in the course of the book. It's clever, and it has its moments, such as when grand-daughter Emily steps right into a fairytale, saving the hind from the cruel hunters. There is also a fabulous ramshackle house by the sea (shades of Iris). The best thing in it, as far as I'm concerned was a fabulous quote from Schiller, which I can't reproduce in its entirety in a review, but I can give you the page number! (p. 118-9 or the very last page of the chapter entitled "The Valley of Rocks"). I'm not sorry I read it. The ***1/2 reflects that Drabble has written better books.
The quote. Schiller, writing to a friend in 1788: "The ground for your complaint seems to me to lie in the constraint imposed by your reason upon your imagination . . . It seems a bad thing and detrimental to the creative work of the mind if Reason makes too close an examination of the ideas as they come pouring in - at the very gateway, as it were. Looked at in isolation, a thought may seem very trivial or very gantastic; but it may be made important by another thought that comes after it, and, in conjunction with other thoughts that may seem equally absurd, it may turn out to form a most effective link. Reason cannot form any opinion at all upon all this unless it retains the thought long enough to look at it in connection with others . . . where there is a creative mind, Reason, so it seems to me, relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it look them through and examine them in a mass. You critics are ashamed or frightened of the momentary and transient extravagances which are found in creative minds, and whose longer or shorter duration distinguishes the thinking artist from the dreamer. You complain of unfruitfulness because you reject to soon and discriminate too severely."
Makes me want to read Schiller! Wow!
Catching up here. Life is beginning to return to some resemblance to (our sort of) normalcy so that I can actually read a little more challengingly, although in truth, I am still veering helplessly toward the easy and escapist, I can't really help it, and am not inclined to push.
We are all back in Vermont and my daughter continues to steadily improve.
And we await our first real snowstorm at the end of the weekend, although today it will be 60! Last chance to secure things outside!
118. fantasy classic ****
Elric of Melnibone Michael Moorcock
From somewhere I acquired a list of fantasy classics and this series about the Melniboneans, was on it and then I happened across the set in a free book box. Then an interval of languishing on my tbr shelves. Languishing because, every time I picked up this first one it just looked too silly, even for me.
But for one reason or another, this time I decided I had to find out whether I would ever read them.
At first, the setting and prose seemed too overblown, Elric the Emperor (on a Ruby Throne, no less) is an albino, has to take special drugs to have the strength to do anything, and, weirdest of all to his fellow countrymen, he has a conscience!!! He finds no pleasure in ripping an enemy into pieces and feeding him to another enemy! He simply hasn't got the right attitude! I can't identify the exact moment when I began smiling and then laughing as I read, as I realized that Moorcock is treading the very thin line between high fantasy and utter camp, but somewhere in there, the lightbulb went on and I began enjoying it. Things end up in a flesh-like pink room called the Pulsating Cavern, into which you can only get through a narrow tunnel . . . where the evil and envious cousin Yyrkoon who covets the throne has preceded Elric in order to get one of the two great swords . . to get there Elric has already traveled on a ship that can sail over earth and sea, and so on. Very good fun and unexpectedly humorous, lovingly so, not satirically. It is just one hairsbreadth away from being too silly for me but I understand why these are considered classics of the genre. ****
119. biography ****
Athena: A biography Lee Hall
Lee Hall approaches Athena as if she was an historical figure of sorts, starting with her origins as a fertility cult goddess, and following her gradual metamorphosis into a warrior goddess, a female who is acceptable in a male culture, further transforming, as Greece (and especially Athens) moved into its golden age, into a beacon of civilization and culture. Hall shows the beginnings of this transformation happening in Homer's Iliad and Oddyssey, where, in the former Athena is relentlessly determined to destroy Troy and all its inhabitants, quite unfairly too, given that Hector and Priam were faithful to her and believed themselves blessed by her favor almost to the very end. In the Odyssey however Athena changes--who can say why--Hall speculates that the change is given a "reason" in her fondness for Odysseus, her desire to settle his problems satisfactorily, so that she opts, in the end (only after ripping the the rogue suitors wrecking his house) to negotiate a peace through diplomatic channels so that the families of the dead suitors will not feel obliged to take revenge on Odysseus and his family. It was a good read and having finished, there is a certain intriguing arc to the story, but Athena's absolute rejection of everything female, her disdain for women, is disturbing, in the end. The culture from the north, that brought the horse and the bridle and the chariot, was violently male and displaced a matriarchal culture, this much is established prehistory now. Except for sex and breeding, women were pretty much regarded as barely human: any goddess who was to survive this point of view would have to play a deep game, and that ultimately, is the point, I think, that Hall makes although she never quite comes out and says so. Athena, remarkably, succeeds in becoming the second most powerful entity among the Olympians, and it would seem that once she has established that fact, she begins to move on, combining, perhaps, some of the better feminine and masculine qualities together in a new way, her focus on Athens, or rather, with the focus of Athenians on her. Very interesting. ****
120. fantasy classic ****
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate Michael Moorcock
Second in the Elric Saga, this time he is taken up to be one of a fabulous four of fighters to overcome invaders from another plane in our universe who simply want to eat up all the energy in ours . . . or theirs, since their Earth is likely not our Earth, now is it. Anyway, Elric uses his sword effectively and has the experience of fighting shoulder to shoulder with other men and he finds that is more important to him than anything else, finding comradeship in arms. There are a few other wrinkles that need sorting out, and one of them is to get off the plane he is in as a warrior and back to the one that is his home. As good fun as the first one, so on to the mercifully short #3. ****
121. hist fict ***1/2
The Last English King Julian Rathbone
Rathbone's novel is a galloping case of where a novel wanted to go one way, but the author, having done his research, having lived and dreamed King Harold's downfall, being determined to show William the Conquering Bastard from a very different angle, was determined to Stick With the Plan. The problem is that Walt, Harold's devoted housecarl (personal bodyguard, elite warrior) from childhood, is a totally engaging character and the way the book is begun, leads the reader to expect that the story is very much about Walt. But it isn't, it is really about Harold, with Walt as a witness of what really happened at Hastings, and there are contrivances too, to have a person who can tell the story from William's "side". The contrivance, sadly, falls flat and makes the narrative about Harold just become a bit of a bore, especially in the last third of the book as events grind on to the conclusion we all know will come. Fiction can be treacherous this way, and it behooves a writer to listen to where his or her narrative really wants to go. I think he could have fulfilled his agenda, curbing it, but also giving us more of Walt, especially his future once home again. He has the aura of a true survivor. Another issue is the perennial one with historical fiction, and I'll have to read more about William and the Godwins to know how much Rathbone is making up, how much was hard research. I am guessing mostly it is hard research. Rathbone opts to have the men speak to each other informally, in our own vernacular, and also has a character with whom Walt travels for awhile, who perhaps is a bit too much, inventing words like 'psychopath' (to describe William!) and the like. But enjoyable all the same. Imperfect but worth reading for anyone interested in the feeling and basic facts of that time. The what-if is huge too -- how would England have developed if William had not won. Rathbone paints a rather idyllic society, perhaps a bit too idyllic but very appealing! ***1/2
122. irish fiction ***1/2
My Cousin Justin Margaret Barrington
Anne-Louise "Loulie" Delahaie grows up in Donegal, granddaughter of a prosperous Huguenot linen manufacturer. She grows into adulthood just as WW1 erupts and, of course, the troubles and the irish civil war. Although Loulie aren't the "regular" Protestants, and have more sympathy with the Catholic Irish, the family they are, nonetheless Protestant and thus apart. The story alternates between her own life, childhood, schooling, work, marriage, and the political events. Always, her cousin, Justin, who was also brought up in the grandfather's house, was her closest friend. In their teens they are separated to go to school, acquire polish, etc. Justin fights in the war, is not involved in any of the Irish troubles, Loulie works in Dublin for a newspaper and marries a childhood love, Egan O'Doherty. At times it is lyrical, at others a bit awkward, but overall a worthwhile read for the place and the time. Justin to Loulie later on, "Wherever we go, we are lone wolves, outcasts. In England because we are Irish. The English hunt in a close pack. Here in Ireleand because we do not belong to the people. We are thrown out by both sides." ***1/2
123. fantasy classic ***
The Weird of the White Wolf Michael Moorcock
I think three of these adventures of Elric will suffice for me for now and maybe forevermore. I'm amused off and on and likewise entertained, but I feel a lurking sameness and rue the lack of continuity from one book to the next. I'm getting little sense of what the greater arc of the overall story of Elric might be, or if there isn't going to be one really, "and then, and then." The books, ultimately, are mannerly somehow and a bit static. So adieu Michael Moorcock, it was fun. ***1/2
124. ♬ fantasy ****
Reaper Man Terry Pratchett
Pratchett is the palate cleanser of the fantasy genre as Doug Adams is to science fiction, making fun of the memes, tropes, and tendency to wax fanciful. In this, the second on the Death series, Death, is fired for having developed too much character. He goes down to Discworld and makes himself useful to a Miss Flitwick who has a farm, renamed Bill Door. However, his successor hasn't his skills and the dead are not dying as they ought and therefore too much life is kicking around and inanimate things start to act alive, and that includes a wizard who ought to be dead, who would even rather prefer to be properly dead. Naturally everything gets into a muddle before sorting itself out very satisfactorily. When you listen to Pratchett in public (I was on a plane) you have to watch yourself from snorting, cackling and guffawing now and then. ****
Nice reviews Lucy. Hadn't heard of My Cousin JMB. Your Pratchett review is fun. I don't think I've read Reaper Man.
126. fantasy ****
The Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett
Second of the Discworld stories about the witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick (or however you spell it, I've been listening, not reading). A bit of a send-up of MacBeth. Perfect for listening to on the road. ****
127. fantasy ****
Child of Flame Kate Elliott
The fourth in the Seven Crowns series -- whatever I said about the previous one holds true for this one. Ripping good yarn, that's what.
And it's on to Book 5!
128. fantasy ****
The Gathering Storm Kate Elliott
Can't really say anything without spoiling, but the titles say it all, really. I am staggered by Elliott's cool command of a complex story and set of characters. Who needs the uncompletist George Martin? Continues to grip and entertain. ****
129. fantasy ****
In the Ruins Kate Elliott
The story plunges onward. I certainly have my favourite characters at this point, and those I am less interested in, so my reading pace quickens and slows. This is a long long saga indeed. I continue to be impressed with it, but I am glad the next book will be the last one. Plenty of foreshadowing, so I have some idea what to expect, but I am sure with Elliott, there will be some surprises. ****
130. fiction british *****
The Siege of Krishnapur J.G. Farrell
Somewhere on the arid plains of Bengal in the mid-1850's lay an English enclave in a town called Krishnapur, equipped with a Magistrate and a Collector (of taxes, of course) and a Padre, a couple of doctors, and some soldiers and all the other necessary people, buildings, animals and belongings to give to the wives and children of a sizeable British community meant to administer an extremely large area, a feeling of "home." As in Troubles, the main character, The Collector, is very sympathetic which makes all the difference. Unlike the Major in many ways, oth men are innately kind and dutiful, and in some important way, indefatigable, possibly exemplars of the "best" of the ruling British hegemony. There is a huge house, more of a compound and a host of absorbing characters, not the least of which is Fleury, a young man who comes to court "the prettiest girl in India" and ends up finding himself. And there is the siege, the Collector, anticipating the rebellion, has dug fortifications around the core of the Residency, has stored provisions and weaponry and gunpowder, and is, in fact, ready when the rebellion descends upon Krishnapur. What is of paramount interest throughout is the changes that occur in various characters when survival becomes paramount. The implied critique of Empire building--that of making an assumption that your own culture is superior to everyone else's-- is brilliantly, slyly, tragically, and comically demonstrated once again. *****
A perfect book to end the year's reading. The third in The Empire trilogy (each one a separate book illustrating the futility of empire-building), The Singapore Grip awaits.
Happy New Year Club Readers. I've decided to stick with "the 75" as having two threads was more than I could manage.
Anyone interested in checking up on me once in a while, please visit me at my 2017 thread which begins here.
I have several of you starred and will continue to follow you.
A bit of final business to round off the year.
Best of 2016
Contemporary or Historical Fiction
Troubles & The Siege of Krishnapur J.G. Farrell
Year of the French Thomas Flanagan
The Furies Janet Hobhouse
Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pynchon (reread)
The Lymond Chronicles Dorothy Dunnett (five volumes) See Best Series also!!
Ancillary Mercy Ann Leckie
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet Becky Chambers
The Sarantine Mosaic Guy Gavriel Kay
Inspector Yashim The Janissary Tree Jason Goodwin
The Lymond Chronicles Dorothy Dunnett
The Cazelet Chronicles Elizabeth Jane Howard
Into the Silence Wade Davis
Disappointments of 2016
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
Fates and Furies Lauren Groff
(* This can't be quite accurate as it adds up to only 105, however I expect it is that I read many books by the same author and didn't always count them separately.I'm not going to sweat it!)
M/W writing together: 1
Contemp/Classic/Hist Fiction: 35
YA or J: 4
New author: 23
Months of NYers: many
From library or borrowed: 12
Off Shelf: 37
Read it or Get Rid of It: 1
TOTAL OUT= 31
(This could use some improvement!!!)
This year I only read 130 books falling short of the customary 150 goal, leaving only a twenty book "margin" between what I read and what I acquired. Interestingly, the men/women skew is about the same as last year. The non-fiction drop was a shocker (8 vs 23) but all nf was, at least, all of very high quality and some of them were very long. I read MORE contemporary and classic and historical fiction, 35 vs 30, and was surprised that mysteries were about the same as I still think of them as a "new" genre interest. There were far fewer new authors (23 versus 54) (more on that). I borrowed more books from the library and listened to almost double the amount of audio books (23 vs. 13). I also did terribly at reducing books on my shelves (37 vs 67) and at reading my new books, but then, I did read twenty fewer books all told. I also didn't read too many books that I quit, I didn't pick them up, basically. One reason for some of these skews, for good or for ill, is that I did get into several series--some of them VERY high literary quality (the Dunnetts, the Howards) some a little less so, but this meant that I had to acquire the NEXT book pronto whether from the library or new or however, which also reduced how many books I read "off the shelf". I would like to think that I will turn to my shelves this year, but who knows really . . .
My Unasked for Advice
DO NOT DELAY! READ OR LISTEN TO DOROTHY DUNNETT!!!
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.