Marissa's 2017 Reading Register
This topic was continued by Marissa Reads in 2018.
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...In which I hope to do a better job of talking about the books I've read instead of my usual bad habit of realizing it's been weeks since I last posted and hastily listing them. :)
Happy New Year, may 2017 bring you lots of exciting books (and the time to enjoy them)
Happy new year! Good luck talking about the books you've read. I too am hoping to do a better job of talking about what I've read this year. May 2017 be a wonderful year and your books plentiful and enjoyable!
Wrap-up for 2016... not bad, actually--I read a lot more than I thought I had:
New books read: 78
2017 is opening with a Georgette Heyer re-read, Arabella and then will probably take an abrupt left turn with a Weird West fantasy, Lila Bowen's Conspiracy of Ravens, sequel to Wake of Vultures which I enjoyed last year.
Happy new year :) I look forward to hearing all about your reading (donning my best bullet-dodging boots now).
Happy new year! I suspect this will be a dangerous place for me, given your accuracy with the book bullets, but I can't stay away!
I'll be here! :o) I'm not even going to try to dodge your bullets this year. BRING IT ON!
>1 Marissa_Doyle: In which I hope to do a better job of talking about the books I've read instead of my usual bad habit of realizing it's been weeks since I last posted and hastily listing them.
Look at it as you're enjoying the books too much to think about anything else ;) I'm hoping I can keep up with the posting as well. Regardless, I'll be following along :)
Happy 2017 reading!
Not as much reading as I would have liked, what with work and other real-life stuff impinging on my time and attention span, but here goes...
After a reread of Black Sheep for a Georgette Heyer group read on GR and another Heyer re-read of The Nonesuch just for fun, my first new read of 2017 was Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness, which was precisely that--19-year-old Annie Hobbs takes a job teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on the Alaskan frontier in 1927, where the racism against Native Americans and the Inuit is almost as terrible a force to contend with as the elements. Annie's spunky and fights back when she nearly loses her job and is ostracized for wanting to teach Indian children (and later for taking in two "half-breed" orphans and for falling in love with *gasp* a half-Inuit young man)...but she's not too spunky; she admits she's terrified of making waves and nearly doesn't stand up...but eventually wins the respect, if not always the approbation, of her neighbors. Very enjoyable read, if at times heartbreaking, and a great lead-in to a book I've been waiting for, The Cold Eye, follow-up to last year's Silver on the Road, very enjoyable "weird west' fantasy.
Tisha was a favourite of mine when I was young, but I have not revisited it in years for fear of the suck fairy.
"I love the smell of a freshly purchased e-book!"
Doesn't quite work, does it?
>18 pgmcc: No, it doesn't. But I do love knowing I have a pile of freshly purchased e-books. ;o)
>19 clamairy: etc. Always know where my ebooks are, which is more than I can say about regular books. Are they at the house? In the RV? In the car?
>20 majkia: I once told a teacher friend that e-books would be great for her pupils as it would save them having to carry all their books to and from school. She said, "Hey, my girls are always losing their books. With an e-reader they would only have to lose one book to have lost them all. No thank you!"
By the way, I find the batteries in my physical books never run out of power.
>17 clamairy: Heyer's a fabulous comfort read because her books are (in general) quite funny and you know everything will work out in the end. And they're not "romance" in the more recent trend toward angst and body parts. Re Sayers...for some odd reason, I think she's better read in physical book form. It might have something to do with liking to page back to look for clues, which is easier (at least for me) to do with actually pages... I've found I can re-read her books electronically just fine, though.
>18 pgmcc: Oh, it's a sort of dusty ozone odor... ;)
Finished The Cold Eye, and while happy to revisit this world, I did feel it suffered from Middle Book Syndrome (of course, I'm making the assumption that this will be a trilogy...) Still, I love this particular brand of weird west.
After a read of Rondo Allegro for technical reasons (it's a long, enjoyable story...both the book and why I read it!) I'm on to Dark Alchemy thanks to a book bullet from Sakerfalcon, and enjoyed it a lot--enough to have the next book in the series, Mercury Retrograde (love the title!) all queued up.
>22 Marissa_Doyle: & >24 Marissa_Doyle: Okay, I'm going to hunt down a Heyer. And if it's Venetia I'll see if I can find a version of Twelfth Night to watch first to refresh my leaky memory.
Edited to add: The hunting might have too easy. There are seven of her books on OverDrive, only Venetia isn't one of them. So I might go for Frederica.
Frederica is lovely--in my top six favorites--and a good intro to Heyer. I hope you'll enjoy it! If the Regency slang she loves to drop in gets too much, give a shout.
If I didn't know better I'd think you three were in cahoots. :o) I think I'm going to actually have to make a TBR list so I don't get off track now. LOL
:jots down titles:
I recently read my first Heyer - Friday's Child - for a challenge in another group, and enjoyed it quite a bit. She has such a large catalogue that I wasn't sure where else to dive in, so I'm glad to see these suggestions.
>26 Marissa_Doyle: is the slang she uses true to the period? I've never seen a lot of those words before. I got used to it quickly though; the context is mostly comprehensible.
>30 Darth-Heather: Yes, it is. She did a prodigious amount of research in all aspects of early 19th century life, and other Regency romance authors began copying her usage of language (which in a few cases was blatant because she uses some expressions that she found in letters and weren't in published materials, so it was clear where they got it from.) There's a wonderful and often hilarious book called the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue where you can find a lot of her slang. I think it's downloadable for free on Project Gutenberg.
I definitely have a list of favorites--besides Frederica, I love The Grand Sophy (despite one horribly racist caricature in it), Cotillion, The Unknown Ajax, Black Sheep, Sylvester, and Arabella.
We are all in such perfect accord. It's just meant to be! (Resistance is futile.)
>33 SylviaC: And why would one want to resist? :)
Finished Dark Alchemy and liked it, and went on to the second book in this urban fantasy that just happens to be set in the back country around Yellowstone (so not urban, but you know what I mean), Mercury Retrograde, and...the quality dropped precipitously (no chemical pun intended.) The mood of the storytelling changed--went from slightly dark to more than a little snark (and wasn't very good at it), the plotting kind of went to hell (oops, this character isn't useful any more and might prove inconvenient--kill 'im off!) Plus a great whacking chunk of backstory at the end to create a reason for the book's events, and an unrealistic feeling romance. I was disappointed.
However, a book bullet for Stray Souls led me to A Madness of Angels which begins the series, and while I'm not far into it, I'm enjoying the rich prose and have high hopes for this one. And it was already on my Nook--guess I'd picked it up when it was on sale, so I can feel virtuous for reading my own tome. :)
And just had to update that I'm on page 65 of A Madness of Angels, and suspect it may be on my Best Books of 2017 list. Just saying.
>36 MrsLee: I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it! I'm reveling in the gorgeous writing and the world-building and the humor--despite its grittiness at times, I'm not finding it dark. And I'm finding Matthew sympathetic, especially in that he/they care that there's a body count.
I finished A Madness of Angels which remained a 5-star read for me, and have jumped directly into The Midnight Mayor, in which poor Matthew is already in deep trouble without quite knowing why. I do hope this series sustains the deliciousness of the first book!
Also obtained Ten Restaurants that Changed America, which looks like it will be one of those books that can be picked up and put down at will--more a collection of long essays than a synthesis (or rather, the synthesis happens as you go along.) I love food history, so am sure I'll enjoy it.
Completed The Midnight Mayor and still loving this series
>42 Sakerfalcon: Me too. I can't help wondering, for example, if
I ran across The Dark Days Club, which sounded exactly up my alley--YA Regency historical fantasy...but alas, got to about page 35 and am declaring it a DNF. It's just too much for me when the inciting incident of a story can only be brought about by the main character doing something stupid for no very good reason.
>43 Marissa_Doyle: I wondered that too. But I could happily have read more about the rest of the gang too.
Thank you for the un-recommendation of The dark days club. I've been eyeing the copy in my local charity shop but was put off by the cover blurb which made it look as though romance is the most important aspect of the plot. As I share your annoyance at characters having to act stupidly to advance the plot I shall stay well away from it.
>43 Marissa_Doyle: What a shame about The Dark Days Club - I'd just picked it up in the Ibook store for free. I had ummed and ahhed for a while about whether I wanted it (even though it was free), before deciding to go for it - seems like that was the wrong choice. Still apart from a bit of memory space there was nothing lost for which I am delighted.
Slipped in few re-reads, two of which probably don't count as re-reads because it's been so long since I first read them that I couldn't remember any plot details: Light Raid and Promised Land, both by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice, as well as Crosstalk which I did remember but needed more of a Connie-Willis-in-light-hearted-mode fix.
Started but put down Love, Lies, and Spies--a little too twee; am halfway through Gilded Cage, which I'm enjoying though dystopian is not usually my thing, and there have been more than a couple of credulity-stretching plot elements that are made up for by the confident writing. It's the first in a series--not sure I'll pick up the others when they come out, but this one is passing the time.
A quick non-fiction, The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence, an account of the rebuilding of the White House in Truman's administration because it was, quite literally, falling down after decades of tinkering and poor upkeep...in fact, some members of Congress thought it was in such bad shape that it made more sense to tear down and start again. Interesting look at the personalities and work involved because I'm one of those people who loves to watch home renovation project shows on HGTV when I'm pedaling madly away on the elliptical machine at the gym. :)
Onto The Golden City, a historical fantasy (and semi-book bullet from @Sakerfalcon--semi because it turned out I already owned it!) which has totally slurped me in--I love the unusual setting (Portugal, in an alternate 1902) and the world-building, and like the characters as well.
>47 Marissa_Doyle: "... some members of Congress thought it was in such bad shape that it made more sense to tear down and start again."
ACK! I'm so glad they didn't! I know by continental standards it's not that old... but still.
>49 clamairy: It was pretty much a wreck, though--like, quite literally falling down (Margaret Truman's piano actually broke through the floor at one point.) Workmen installing ductwork in the 19th century had cut huge notches in the main support joists to accommodate a hot air system--and that wasn't all. It was quite eye-opening.
>47 Marissa_Doyle: If I had any chance at all of finding the White House book I'd say you scored a direct hit with a BB.
I'm back to my old tricks, it seems, getting wrapped up in work and forgetting to post here (sigh.)
Unfortunately the excellence of The Golden City faded in its sequels--The Seat of Magic was okay but not as good as its predecessor, and the third book in the series, The Shores of Spain turned into a skim-read after about page fifty. I think it's because the mystery elements and solving of same took over, so there was less worldbuilding and character involved--or rather, the characters just became pawns to carry out the mystery plot. Ah well.
On the other hand, the other two Kate Griffin books about sorceror Matthew Swift just got better and better--The Neon Court and The Minority Council continued the same pyrotechnical writing and inventiveness and depth of the first two books. I love it when books blow me away, and very happy indeed when a series goes from strength to strength. I'm about to embark on her related book, Stray Souls, and will definitely sample the YA historical fantasy series she wrote under her own name, Catherine Webb.
Completed Stray Souls...and while it was great fun, it was kind of, sort of Matthew Swift lite--a lot of the same themes explored, but with a different main character whom I just didn't like as much as Matthew. That being said, it was still great fun to be in this world, and some terrific side characters make their appearance (Sally the banshee and Gretel the troll were my favorites, though Kevin the vampire was also great fun) and will, I hope, appear again in The Glass God which I'm jumping into next.
Finished The Glass God...and again, while I love this universe, the Magicals Anonymous sub-series leaves much to be desired in the main character, Sharon, who tends to be on the whingy side. Fortunately Matthew Swift and the Blue Electric Angels were presences here, which helped.
Also finished The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle, a YA by the same author as above, writing as Catherine Webb. A mixed bag--aspects were excellent (some lovely convoluted plot elements) and not quite so (pacing and some characters). I may give the next one a try, to see if they settle down.
On to Nina Kiriki Hoffman's The Silent Strength of Stones, which I enjoyed--I like her quirky, lots-of-threads-left-hanging story-telling, and how well she writes close first-person point-of-view, and am into
The Thread That Binds the Bones, which promises more of the same.
Just catching up with you here, Marissa, and seeing, not surprisingly, that your thread is not just a bullet or two but a firing range.
You guys might even have made me turn my head, for the first time (but only slightly), in the direction of Georgette Heyer.
>59 Meredy: Oh, I hope you'll consider giving her a try. I think her books being classified as romances has done her a disservice, though they do all feature courtships--but the humor and the plotting are what makes them such fun and so wonderfully therapeutic when one needs to fall into a book for a while. If you do consider looking at her work, I suspect you might enjoy The Unknown Ajax.
>59 Meredy: Check your library's digital loans. Mine has almost all of the Heyer books available as ebooks.
Enjoyed Brother's Ruin, a novella by Emma Newman who wrote the Split Worlds series which I have so enjoyed. This novella could have been a little stronger (or perhaps longer would be the better word, as it felt like a lot of areas could have used further development) but overall was a good start to a new historical fantasy series.
Currently in the middle of a collection of Nina Kiriki Hoffman short stories, Permeable Borders, draws in shorts previously published in various SFF magazines. Quality has been variable at the halfway mark, but still enjoyable for fans of her writing.
Borrower of the Night was a DNF about forty pages in. I think I had better give up on Elizabeth Peters, since the Amelia Peabody books also didn't do it for me. However, I will always love her nonfiction books on Egypt published under Barbara Mertz.
The Wolf of Allendale was...mediocre. Looking into the author, I note that she primarily writes short stories, and it shows--this book would have done much better as a novella. There's more or less just one thing happening here--the paired stories of two men, centuries apart, fighting a supernatural wolf in the Lake District. There are few complications and the barest rudiments of subplots, and the descriptions of magical rites and accoutrements were honestly on the dull side. I did enjoy the physical descriptions of the Northumbrian fells, but the storytelling wasn't robust enough...and
On to Lila Bowen's Conspiracy of Ravens. I enjoyed Wake of Vultures last year, so fingers are crossed for another enjoyable Weird West read.
>64 Marissa_Doyle: I didn't care much for either the Vicky Bliss or the Amelia Peabody books (except the first one), or the Barbara Michaels historical fiction ones, but I did like a lot of her other books, both as Peters and Michaels. The Jacqueline Kirby ones are good. Have you read Die for Love? It takes place at a conference for historical romance writers.
Well, maybe I'll give it a try...but I'm not sure I'd do well with that particular title--making fun of romance writers gets my back up a little.
Just acquired Through the Woods, a graphic novel by Emily Carroll--it looks good...
Through the Woods was wonderfully creepy.
Finished Conspiracy of Ravens the follow-up to last year's Wake of Vultures, and am not sure I liked it as well, mostly because
Also read Penric's Demon, an entertaining little novella by Lois McMaster Bujold set in the same world as her Chalion books about a young man who somehow ends up with a resident demon--literally living in his body with him--and highjinks (as well as less humorous occurrences) ensue. Am moving on to Penric and the Shaman
But first, tomorrow I get to have lunch and visit a wonderful used bookstore with our own Meredy, who's visiting the Boston area. Yay!!
My heart gets all warm and fuzzy when I know Green Dragon friends are meeting. :)
>67 Marissa_Doyle: Tell Meredy I said, "Hi!". I hope the two of you have a lovely time.
Which bookstore are you visiting? I know Meredy has a penchant for the bookstores around Harvard Square.
Meredy did the Coop on her own. but I took her to the Bryn Mawr Bookstore in north Cambridge, which sells used and rare books and is run by Boston-area Bryn Mawr College alumnae to raise money for scholarships. I, um, bought some books:
Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (a first American edition)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith--been meaning to read this, and found a wonderful 1943 edition in which the author bio on the back of the dust jacket begins "Buy War Bonds!"
The Motor Girls Through New England, Or, Held by the Gypsies by Margaret Penrose. Published 1911. How could I turn up my nose at a book with such a title, and which begins thusly:
"Look girls, there's a man!"
"Just creeping under the dining-room window!"
(Eight exclamation marks on page 1 alone.) :)
English Children in the Olden Time by Elizabeth Godfrey, dated 1907 and bearing a sticker from the Old Corner Book Store in Boston
Akenfield by Ronald Blythe
Mary Chesnut's Civil War edited by C. Vann Woodward
And two treasures: Nothing to Wear by William Allen Butler, a humorous illustrated poem dated 1857, and for my daughter, a 1926 Universal Indian Sign Language of the Plains Indians of North America
We also had a lovely lunch, and a great deal of excellent conversation about books and writing and books...pictures forthcoming when she arrives home and posts them.
It was so great to meet Marissa! Perfect lunch and visit, and I am shameless about asking waiters to take pictures.
At the Bryn Mawr bookstore I picked up two tiny paper booklets from the 1920s that tell you how to spell correctly and use good grammar.
Later I walked through my old Cambridge neighborhoods, found that a bar that was new in my neighborhood 40 years ago is still there, and stopped in to, um, feel the vibe. Made two lifelong friends and listened to live jug band music and had a great time. Harvard Square is bright and alive on this warm night. I go home to San Jose on Monday and will post our picture then.
>75 clamairy: I can't get them off my camera until I get home because I need a USB port for both the camera and the mouse. My tiny traveling mini-PC has only one. When I get organized and time-zone-adjusted in a day or two and stop bumping into things out of sheer disorientation, I'll post pictures on my journal thread.
>76 Meredy: I hear ya. Traveling is a brain-scrambling activity. No rush!
Reading two books concurrently can be strange, but in the midst of Penric I couldn't resist A Tree Grows in Brooklyn gazing up at me from the pile, especially as I recall that MrsLee (I think it was you, Lee!) recently read it and enjoyed it. I am too--it's very much an American Lark Rise to Candleford in feeling and circumstances, even to the fact that the girls played an almost identical schoolyard game ("Wally Wally Wallflower/Walter Walter Wallflower) in both. Though Tree is going more deeply in character, with a resulting increased emotional impact.
And in related bookish news, I've just had a short story accepted for a forthcoming Book View Cafe anthology publishing later this year. Short stories are new territory for me, so this is exciting.
>79 clamairy: Thank you!
Well, it's a pseudo-trilogy--all three short books are usually published as one (I have a Penguin edition.) It's a gentle, restful sort of book, so if you're ever in a mood for something like that, I highly recommend it.
>78 Marissa_Doyle: wonderful. What anthology? I support (eg buy books from!) BVC from time to time.
>78 Marissa_Doyle: Glad you are enjoying it. I still have some vivid images from the narrative pop into my head now and then. Just so you know, we are even, because your comments on the Penric series have decided me that I will be reading those once I am caught up on the Vorkosigan series.
And congratulations on your story!
>85 SylviaC: Well, admittedly, there's no plot whatsoever in Lark Rise...I can see that being annoying to people.
I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this afternoon and loved it. In some ways it felt like a very modern book, and I can't help wondering what initial reactions were to it when it was first published. I'm also undecided as to whether it really qualifies as a young adult novel, despite the fact that it's a coming-of-age story--there's still something about it that feels too firmly like an adult remembering, rather than a girl experiencing. Didn't diminish my enjoyment any, though.
Off to finish the Penric stories and do a re-read of The Unknown Ajax for a group read...O Woe is me (not!)
Catch up posting...
Finished Penric and the Shaman--fun, but more a snack than a meal.
The Unknown Ajax re-read--this one remains in my top three Heyers list.
The Tudor Rose DNF. I've enjoyed some of Margaret Campbell Barnes's other dramatizations of history, but this one fell utterly flat--with so many "As you know, Bob" moments and such a Mary Sue for a main character.
The Jane Austen Project In which time-travel is a reality, and two researchers are sent back in time to snag copies of Jane's correspondence with Cassandra and a completed version of The Watsons...and of course complications ensue. I sort of enjoyed it, because Jane Austen--but I didn't at all care for the narrator/main character, who was not convincing, and found the plotting forced at times.
The Man Who Grew Two Breasts More of Berton Roueche's New Yorker "Annals of Medicine" pieces. Excellent as always.
Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis I think I'd been expecting something more Berton Roueche-like, which this was not--but it was still a very interesting look at how doctors diagnose (or don't) illness. According to the author, the process needs fixing; one can only hope, in the seven years since it was released, that it has.
>88 SylviaC: I remember that one--the jeans! I've tried reading some of the newer authors following in his footsteps, and have been disappointed--none have his ability to be both clinical and yet sympathetic to human suffering.
Excuse me, but exactly why am I supposed to be washing new clothes before wearing them? Is it just jeans? Or does that rule apply as well to the tee shirts I picked up last week in anticipation of 90 degree weather? Cuz I don't have time to wash them given what the forecast is for tomorrow.
*whine* Am I about to die from chemical poisoning?
I wash some stuff before I wear it. Especially jeans. Not soft cotton tee shirts, though!
Is it all full of mouse turd dust or something?
>90 jillmwo: If the tees came from a salvage store, yeah, better wash 'em. What we're talking about was an Annals of Medicine piece in the New Yorker (reprinted in The Medical Detectives) about a boy who displayed bizarre neurological symptoms which mystified doctors before they figured out that they were caused by the jeans his mother had bought him from a salvage store...and which she didn't know were saturated with a highly toxic organophosphate herbicide. The kid had been excited to wear them, so she let him have them without washing them first.
Mouse turds? My dear clamairy, is the problem that you are looking for cheap entertainment on a Wednesday night? Are you trying to freak me out? To see if I run upstairs to gather everything out of the shopping bag and race it over to the all-night laundry for pick-up in the am? Holy cr*p!!
>93 jillmwo: Well, if you start to twitch and salivate uncontrollably, don't say we didn't warn you...
For some reason that report really made an impression on me. It has to have been over 15 years ago that I read it, but i think about it alarmingly often. I'm pretty sure he has at least one report about mouse turds, too.
>95 SylviaC: I expect he does. ;) There is the one about the cottage in the woods and the exterminator...but I think that was termites, not mice.
>92 Marissa_Doyle: Salvage store? You mean like a 'job lot' type place? I don't think I've even bought clothes at one of those. Chocolates and gourmet jams, yes. And salsa! Gardening supplies... Even books!
>93 jillmwo: So sorry, my dear. I was just thinking about the warning from a few years back to wipe off all cans before opening them due to the *whispers* mouse dropping remnants on many of them. And I wondered if the mice found their way into Kohl's and Nordstrom these days, too.
I just love the tone of the conversation on this thread. "mouse turds"; "Holy cra*p!!" (Two exclamation marks. Oh dear!); "highly toxic organophosphate herbicide"; "the *whispers* mouse dropping remnants".
I love it!
I thought that everyone knew to wash new clothing before wearing. They are not exactly made in a clean room.
>92 Marissa_Doyle: >94 Marissa_Doyle: Thank heavens there are no signs of frothing at the mouth or other symptoms of impending collapse. It's a work day and I have phone calls to deal with. Actually, I was thinking of the brand new cotton tee shirts that I had made a special trip over to Duluth Trading to inspect for quality before making a final purchase decision. I stopped buying real jeans years back.
>97 clamairy: Inspecting and wiping down the canned goods is a generally wise practice, I agree.
organophos herbicides and pesticides were outlawed a couple decades ago, so hopefully people aren't still being exposed to them these days. we test groundwater sources for them but i've never seen any detected.
i have recently learned that new clothes and other textiles are coated with a fixative that gives them a shiny soft surface so they look nice in the store. It is meant to come off in the first wash. we have determined that it is this fixative that gives my brother a rash, so we wash all textiles before he can use them. it also makes towels less-absorbent.
>101 Darth-Heather: The essay in question dates back to the sixties or seventies, so I think Jill is okay. ;)
Interesting about the fixative--I always wash new clothes because they feel "weird"--now I know why.
The Royal Nanny has made me feel excessively curmudgeonly, because the reviews all seem to be glowing--and mine is decidedly not. A fictionalization of the life of a real person--Charlotte Bill, nanny to the offspring of the future King George V and Queen Mary--whose charges would grow up to be the Duke of Windsor and King George VI...and I'm not sure there was enough in the subject matter to build a novel upon. The characters were unremittingly two-dimensional and one-note (selfish, wilful David, horse-mad Mary, blustering Prince George), the invented romance for "Lala" (as she as called by the children) was emotionally unconvincing...and OMG, the "as you know, Bob" dialogue, wherein the author did her best to shoe-horn in bits of history, made me grit my teeth at times. I'm glad I only paid $1.99 for it, though in retrospect even that seems a little costly.
For a group read over at Goodreads I pulled out and dusted off (figuratively speaking) a book I haven't read since my teens--Katherine by Anya Seton, about the fourteenth century figure Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt (son of Edward III), and ancestress of most of the English and Scottish kings thereafter. Alas, the Suck Fairy seems to have sprinkled some fairy grit on this one, though I can see why it appealed to sixteen-year-old me--the romance was wonderful and the world-building entrancing. But on re-reading, I found the religion far too heavy-handed, and couldn't help wondering if Seton really wanted to write a novel about the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and found Katherine an interesting conduit through which to approach the subject. Part of the problem is that very, very little is known about the details of Katherine's life--not even her birthdate--so Seton simply made most of it up. Fun, but ultimately unsatisfying, so I've pulled out a book from my personal TBR Everest and am launched into Mistress of the Monarchy: the Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Alison Weir, and am happily ensconced in that (as well as pleased that I'm finally getting around to reading it.)
>103 Marissa_Doyle: I had a feeling the Fairy O'Suckage would be flitting about any attempt to reread Seton. As a teen I too loved Katherine and Dragonwyck, but my favorite of hers was Green Darkness, which I can only image would be completely repellent to me now. :o( I do love Alison Weir though, so thank you for the heads up on that biography. :o)
Edited for touchstones.
I never read that one. I am pretty sure I have Avalon sitting around somewhere, but I haven't read that one, either. Doubt I ever will now.
Well, even if it is an invitation to that wicked Fairy who ruins everything, I am seriously tempted to re-read Katharine after reading your comments and those of @claimary. I too read the novel as a teenager (or maybe in my 20's). I picked up a lot of the historical background from that one -- John of Gaunt and Geoffrey Chaucer. I wonder if my mileage will vary...
I can't recall having read any Seton in my youth. It sounds like I'm probably best off not trying to make up for that oversight.
>106 clamairy: A lot of The Winthrop Woman takes place in 17th century Connecticut..and since Elizabeth Winthrop's life is pretty well documented, Seton couldn't make as much stuff up.
>107 jillmwo: I'm having a grand time reading the Weir after the Seton--she, um, really did make up an awful lot of nonsense about Katherine's life (for example, Katherine was actually more or less raised by Queen Philippa from early childhood and went to live with Duchess Blanche at age ten, so grew up at court knowing everyone--not at a convent, as Seton has her.) So maybe plan a read of both? And yes, I learned a lot of the background of the 14th century from those first reads way back when. :)
>108 SylviaC: I don't know--her stuff isn't painful like, say, Barbara Cartland or Kathleen Woodiwiss, but it's very much a product of the mid twentieth century. Katherine or The Winthrop Woman might be worth at least looking at if you run across cheap copies, but avoid Green Darkness or Dragonwyck.
Sigh...resorting to the list approach again, after I said I'd try not to. :(
10% Human: How Your Body's Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness -- book bullet from clamairy.
Coed Demon Sluts: Beth
Coed Demon Sluts: Jee
Coed Demon Sluts: Melitta
Coed Demon Sluts: Amanda All by Jennifer Stevenson--tongue-in-cheek fantasy women's fiction (if that's a category) with a feminist message under the fun. Great summer reads; looking forward to the last book in the series.
Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book I love reading cookbooks, and am a sucker for any with a historical connection. The recipes aren't terribly inspiring, but the background and discussion (all were taken from Emma Darwin's handwritten manuscript) were enjoyable.
And now am happily ensconced in the last book of Emma Newman's Split World quintet, All Good Things. More on that when I finish, but I've been looking forward to this for months.
Finished All Good Things... and while I think she did a good job resolving most of the plot threads, the book itself felt rushed and crowded, as if she tried to cram two books' worth of story into one. So, satisfying but unsatisfying.
And as a palate cleanser, next up was Nature Noir: A Park Ranger's Patrol in the Sierra, written by a former park ranger at the American River Recreational Area in the foothills of the Sierra, west of Sacramento. I liked it--he's a good writer--and only wish it had been a bit longer, and included more anecdotes about his work (which he was forced to quit after a severe, undiagnosed battle with severe Lyme Disease). The American River basin has an interesting story--it was supposed to be dammed to form a reservoir, but existed for nearly fifty years in a sort of suspended animation, with the damming tied up in legal/environmental and budgetary battles. It appears now, according to Wikipedia, that the dam idea is dead (as of the writing of the book, it was still not a settled issue.)
On to Lynne Olson's latest WWII book, Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War. She's an auto-buy for me--all her books about the war have been excellent, and so far, this isn't an exception (though I think her best to date has been Citizens of London: the Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour)
Last Hope Island proved to be difficult to finish--not through any fault of its own, but because of the heartbreaking circumstances around Poland's betrayal by the west after the war--especially in light of the gallant role played by Poles in both combat and in resistance and intelligence-gathering that benefited the Allies so much. My mother's family was Polish; this was a painful read.
Then onto something completely different: Arabella of Mars, a quirky steampunk-y alternate history (well, sort of--maybe "alternate universe running on completely different physical laws" might be more accurate) in which great clipper airships ply the atmosphere (uh-huh) between Earth and English colonies on Mars. I wanted to like this more than I did, but found the character-building and any subtlety in plotting were left by the wayside in favor of worldbuilding. It felt as if it couldn't decide whether to be a MG or a YA, and the main character, Arabella, may as well have truly been the boy she was pretending to be. YMMV, but this didn't work for me, much in the way that His Majesty's Dragon also left me cold.
On to Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane--so far, the section about Leander Perez, the de facto dictator of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana in the 1920s-1960s, has been an eye-opener.
>113 Sakerfalcon: You're welcome, I think. It just made me sad that I couldn't like this book more.
Next book down--Disease Detectives by Gerald Astor. I was hoping for more Berton Roueche-like work, but this author was no Roueche--he completely lacked the empathy that underlies all of Roueche's work, his compassion for the suffering of others. This is an older work, so scientifically very out-of-date...but what especially struck me was how attitudes and language have changed since the mid-eighties. The section dealing with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in particular struck me--I was surprised at how offended I was by the author talking about "the gays" and how he lingered over the suffering of married men who'd hidden their extramarital homosexual flings and then contracted AIDS, as if it was sooooo unfair that they should be stricken. So while I didn't learn much about the cases (apart from a bit about endemic cholera in southern Louisiana--interesting in light of the book on Hurricane Camille I just finished), I learned something about myself.
Currently reading The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World which is both fascinating and lovely.
After deer, it was time to look at trees with The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, who also wrote The Hot Zone--a somewhat meandering but generally fascinating look at old-growth trees in the Pacific north-west, and redwoods in particular, as well as the scientists who study them (and, um, climb them.) Imagine thickets of huckleberries growing in the tree-tops, and terrestrial animals who spend their entire lives 300 feet up in a tree--which sounds very limited, until you learn just how huge and complicated these giant redwoods are. I really enjoyed this.
On to more non-fiction, with Antonia Fraser's autobiography of growing up, appropriately titled My History.
Just had to note here that it's rough being peppered with book bullets by a book while reading it: the Antonia Fraser memoir I'm reading just got me good and proper with the work of Lord Dunsany, whom I've definitely heard of (and probably read short stories by), but he seems to have written a series about a character named Jorkens which sounds marvelous (a precursor to Wodehouse's Mr. Mulliner, it sounds like, but with a fantastical edge), as well as My Talks with Dean Spanley, about an alcoholic clergyman who is convinced that he is the reincarnation of a dog named Wag.
Completed The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, and it has probably earned a spot on my best non-fiction books of the year list. The writing is clean and elegant; the structure was a little eye-rolly (the author builds it around Shakespeare's "the seven lives of man" yet essentially effective. I think I especially enjoyed the earlier chapters, which focus more on how common women--from peasant to middle class--lived. The later chapters, built more around the religious controversies of the mid-to-late sixteenth century and around what Mary I and Elizabeth I were up to, were to me not as interesting, just because much of it was old news, so to speak. Definitely recommended for history lovers.
Reading both a non-fiction Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide and an alt-history novel River of Teeth, which was a book bullet (but I can't remember from whom!) Oddly enough, they have a lot in common in feeling, being slightly "prickly", somehow. Will report back when they're completed.
I am intrigued by The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women. I always wondered about Elizabeth I and that unnaturally white pallor used as part of her appearance. Does the book talk about the use of make up at all?
Yes, a little bit. As s young woman she seems to have had that pale, transparent red-head complexion, but as she aged she probably used white lead paste (a common cosmetic of the times which of course did horrible things to one's skin after a while.)
Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power is a very enjoyably-written and seemingly well-researched group biography not only of the aristocratic Wyndham sisters--Mary, Madeline, and Pamela--but also of the group known as "the Souls" in late 19th century British, of which they formed a central part. Incidental figures include Arthur J Balfour, Margot Asquith, Wilfred Scawen Blunt (lover of both Mary and, previously, her mother), and many others.
On a related note, I've embarked on The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House, 1918-1939
Finished The Long Weekend...and while it was reasonably interesting, it was more architectural history than social history. "Life OF the English Country House" might have been a more accurate title.
On to Winter Tide, which I was quite excited to embark upon--a story based on the more "human" bits of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos? Heck yeah! Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. The writing was often clunky and obscure: characters and plot points appear with little or no introduction, characterization is lacking and the dialogue is clumsy, the whole book could have been whittled down by 75 pages (perhaps more) and not suffered...and any of the eerieness of the Mythos has somehow been bled out. I found myself skim-reading the last hundred pages, and if there's a follow-up, I won't be bothering to find it. Ah, well.
A College of Magics and A Scholar of Magics - comfort rereads because heaven knows comfort is needed these days.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds - Meh. The prose needed a lot of editing and trimming, and I never warmed up to Eden at all. Won't bother reading more in the series.
The Five Daughters of the Moon - Also meh. It felt like it tried too hard to be ethereal, and instead just felt inconsequential.
Thanks to Narilka and her thread, I found Sleeping Giants--and loved it. It reminded me a bit of one of my son's favorite old anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, in a lot of ways--the giant battle robots, with their almost symbiotic pilots. I liked the occasional glints of sly humor, the nameless narrator, who sometimes seems inhuman but is revealed to be very human indeed--all the characters, really. The writing was very good, too--I was never yanked out of the story by an authorly solecism. I'm already on the next book, Waking Gods.
>127 Sakerfalcon: And when you find something else to spend money on, I expect I'll take a book bullet from it. :)
Finished Waking Gods, which I enjoyed just as much as Sleeping Giants, and will definitely be looking forward to the final book...though the
After a book bullet from stellarexplorer I jumped into The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., particularly because a review pegged it as good for lovers of Connie Willis's time travel books. I'm about 100 pages in, and while it's fun so far, it very much lacks Connie Willis's skill at building characters. But I do want to know where it's going, so I'll keep reading, even though I took a very direct bullet from tardis for Ghost Talkers
I bogged down on D.O.D.O. around page 180 (out of 700-ish)--not sure I'll go back. This is my first Stephenson; my son, who's read most of his books, says it's fairly typical in terms of plot vs. character development. Since I like rather more character development in my reader, he may not be a good author for me. So, on to...
Stargazy Pie was...interesting: a fantasy of manners, set in what seems to be a richly-developed fantasy world...which, alas, remains mostly in the author's mind. The protagonist, Jemis Greenwing, has returned home after a tumultuous college career and early life (was his father a war hero or the blackest of traitors?) to find himself plunged into mystery and intrigue, economic and political as well as magical. I'm still not entirely sure what I think; it took almost until page 100 to begin to grasp what might be going on (talk about beginning in medias res!--this made Dune look like an early reader.) But I persisted just because the writing was good, the main character engaging, and the world being painted in such oblique brushstrokes such a fascinating one. I'll read the next one in the series now that I kind of know what's going on. Recommended for fantasy lovers who don't mind having to work for it a little (or a lot.)
Stargazy Pie sounds utterly delightful! :D Perhaps not wholly my thing, but I do often love having to work for my fantasy stories and it sounds like it'll be a blast if I do get on with the story.
>130 lynnoconnacht: If you give it a try, I'd love to hear what you think.
Finished Ghost Talkers, and unfortunately, it was another of those books that I really wanted to love, and just...didn't. That seems to be my track record with this author--the same thing happened with her first Regency story. The premise behind Ghost Talkers was excellent--the ghosts of dead soldiers in WWI reporting back to HQ giving any intelligence about their deaths, to help the war effort, before moving "into the light." But the characters just didn't work--they were there to make the plot work, but didn't feel particularly real (no back story is ever given explaining what an American socialite is doing working for the British Army in 1916, or how she meets her fiance, for example.) The pacing was also off, though I can't quite put my finger on how--while there was plenty of motion, I found myself doing a lot of skimming because scenes often dragged. I wish I'd liked it better.
Went back to finish Mistress of the Monarchy, Alison Weir's biography of Katherine Swynford, which I had gotten distracted from. An excellent bio, considering the seven hundred years that separate us from Katherine's life; I appreciate how while the author made conjectures, such as about where Katherine might have been on occasions where no record exists, the conjectures were all based on historical fact and not of the fluffy, "So-and-so would have enjoyed eating roast swan when visiting London" sort of thing.
The book I'm about to start might be of particular interest to Dragoneers: Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese The introduction was delightful; I'm expecting good things of this one.
I can't remember if I have that one, or simply was tempted by it, but I am interested in hearing what you think of it.
I think the topic could be either deeply fascinating or nit-pickingly arcane. I'll be interested to hear where you think it falls, Marissa_Doyle.
>131 Marissa_Doyle: I'm glad you enjoyed the Katherine Swynford bio. I tried it a few years ago when it was first published but lost interest quite quickly as it became clear that there was very little primary evidence about her life and most of what I read was "she might have" been here and "could have" done this. While I appreciated Weir's honesty in not making stuff up it made the book fatally dull for me. I enjoyed some of Weir's earlier work, such as Henry VIII: king and court but probably won't give Katherine another try.
I daren't read the cheese book as I suspect it would result in an expensive shopping spree at the dairy counter!
I'm a few chapters into Reinventing the Wheel and can say that it continues to be a delight--fascinating, yes, and well seasoned with humor...and it's as much about the human beings (and the livestock!) behind the cheese as it is the microbes, but the microbes are almost as personable. It will be a slow read because I'm diving into drafting a new book, but I'll happily read a few pages every night.
Completed over the last few weeks:
Winterwood and Immortals both seemed to run on far too long (I ended up skimming the last hundred pages of Winterwood) and I think it was because of poor pacing and inept building of tension, because in terms of page count neither was unduly long. Quite frankly, I got bored with both after a series of plot setbacks that did very little to forward the story. Ah well.
On now to Bee Sting Cake, the followup to the problematic but highly engaging Stargazy Pie.
>138 Sakerfalcon: I feel a little bad if my pronounced pickiness is warning people off from books they might truly enjoy--but pickiness is an occupational hazard I suffer from and perhaps my views should be considered with that in mind. OTOH I wanted to love Immortals, but couldn't set aside the irritation that the romance raised (um, the main female protagonist is Artemis, fer heaven's sake!) as well as the poor handling of the dramatic tension (when the actual climax of the story happened, it was...well, anticlimactic.)
A quickie read thrown in--John Cleese's memoir of his early career, So, Anyway... He's my favorite python, and this was an enjoyable and fairly honest-feeling look at how he came to be one. My word, he got to work with some amazing people over the years leading up to MPFC--Peter Sellars, David Frost, Marty Feldman, and on and on and on.
>139 Marissa_Doyle: I think I just found a Christmas present for my husband. He is a huge Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fan.
>139 Marissa_Doyle: It was the mention of romance in the blurb that gave me doubts and made me hold back, so I think we are on the same page (sorry) in this case.
>141 Sakerfalcon: Thank you--that makes me feel better!
Finished Bee Sting Cake, the sequel to Stargazy Pie and found it much easier going, knowing all the background details this time around rather than being dropped in medias res. I do like the writing and the worldbuilding and the characters in this series, despite the structural issues in the first book--if you're a fan of fantasy of manners type stories, this might be for you.
On to The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (on ca. page 100) which I am enjoying, but not without reservations. More on that when I'm done reading.
And not sure if there's any interest here, but it looks like most of Mary Stewart's romantic suspense oeuvre has finally been released in ebook form--they're at Amazon and Kobo, ranging from .99 to 2.99 (only a few are up at Barnes and Noble as of yet. Not sure what the lag is.)
Finished The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. It was a neat idea--what if the often victimized daughters of some 19th century mad scientist literary figures got together to redress the wrongs perpetrated against themselves? And hey, why not create a few fictional ones to add into the mix since there weren't, strictly speaking, all that many of them (aside from Beatrice Rappaccini of Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter fame and the bride Victor Frankenstein created for his monster). A fun conceit...but it didn't quite work for me. For one thing, tossing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the mix was completely eye-rolly for me (enough Sherlock already!), and took away from the female characters' agency. Plus the
On to the new Paul Cornell Lychford novella--yay!
A Long Day in Lychford -- another excellent installment in the Lychford world
Natural Attraction -- an odd book, sort of feminist historical magical realism set in 1870s America with a young woman determined to be a naturalist like Darwin and Audubon, so she takes a potion made by a local alchemist that turns her into a man...superficially, that is. It could have used a firmer editorial hand, but overall I think I enjoyed it.
City of Fae -- Nope. Gave it forty pages, decided not to go on. For all the action in the opening chapters (intrepid young newspaperwoman! dangerous Fae rockstar! police investigations! rescued from spiders!), very little happened--and since I was not taken in by the writing, it didn't seem worthwhile to continue.
Weaver's Lament, the second installment in Emma Newman's Industrial Magic series...I continue lukewarm, chiefly over
The Marriage Bureau was a fun quick read--an account of an actual marriage bureau started in London just a few months before the start of WWII. Some funny bits, some tragic, some heartwarming; the writing style was a tad underdeveloped and unsophisticated, at times annoyingly so, but the material was interesting.
(edited to fix typos)
Forgot to mention Dinner with Mr. Darcy , a compilation of recipes for foods and dishes mentioned in Jane Austen's books and letters. Includes both a recipe from a contemporaneous source as well as a modern interpretation using ingredients and techniques for current cooks. Fun for foodie Janeites. :)
The Marriage Bureau does look interesting. Too bad the writing isn't better.
Bloody Good A fun premise--ca. 1941 Nazi vampires infiltrating a quiet English village to link up with fifth columnists in order to sabotage a nearby munitions factory...a quiet English village that TOTALLY COINCIDENTALLY is home to a Welsh dragon shifter, some pixies from Devon, a fox shifter, etc. etc. Um, yeah, those all-caps above are indeed dripping with sarcasm. The gratuitous sex scenes didn't help. I skimmed the second half and won't be pursuing the other two books in the trilogy. Sigh.
The Ghosts of Cape Cod A little more ghost and a little less of the author's attempts to flesh out the legends behind the hauntings into "folk tales" would have been preferred. As would a copy editor.
>149 Marissa_Doyle: Copy editors, or should I say the people willing to pay copy editors, are in short supply these days.
>150 pgmcc: Which is a pity, because a thorough copy-editing is a thing of great and wondrous beauty.
>151 Marissa_Doyle: For some of us a thorough copy-editing is a vital necessity, never mind any kind of beauty.
>152 hfglen: Well, that too...but the degree of polish it can add, even to an already clean manuscript, is amazing.
The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter was an okay read--by no means on the scale of a Flora Fraser or Mary Lovell writing-wise, but it was fascinating to read about how most records about her held by the Royal Archives are "unavailable" to scholars--honestly, if the poor young woman had a fling 150 years ago and had a child out of wedlock (as the author posits, based on a great deal of fairly convincing circumstantial evidence), I think the modern public can deal. ;)
Queen Victoria's Family: A Century of Photographs Precisely what the title says. Interesting collection--I read it for research purposes but enjoyed it as well for the costume history and sheer humanity revealed in the images.
Caroline Subtitled "Little House, Revisited" and written with the permission of the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate, this is a retelling of the events detailed in Wilder's Little House on the Prairie from the point of view of "Ma"--Caroline Ingalls. Perhaps it's a a part of the curmudgeonly state of mind I've been in reading-wise, but this just did not work for me, and I'm scratching my head at the reviews. The style is painfully "literary" and internal, even during "action" scenes; the pacing is highly uneven, and the writing ludicrously overburdened with similes and metaphors. Most of all, the characters were painfully flat, including Caroline herself: I never felt truly in her head looking out at the world. Disappointing.
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II - excellent. Probably the best non-fiction I've read this year.
The Folklore of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Exactly what it says. Not elegant writing, but a pretty thorough overview. Excellent notes and bibliography.
How To Be Pretty Though Plain Oh my. A beauty guide for later 19th century young women. At times highly contradictory and almost always silly, but with a few surprisingly modern insights.
>155 Marissa_Doyle: Can we expect to see some beauty tips in your blog?
>155 Marissa_Doyle: A beauty guide for later 19th century young women. At times highly contradictory and almost always silly, but with a few surprisingly modern insights.
Does the inclusion of these tips in this book not indicate that the, "surprisingly modern insights", are not as modern as their present day proponents might want you to think?
And some of us could use the tips. Can't always depend on PGGB's insight!
>156 SylviaC:, >157 pgmcc:, >158 suitable1: Here you go: take up rowing and fencing, spend an hour each afternoon lying flat on your back (no pillow!) and avoid pickles at all costs as they are most unwholesome and injurious!
Aprons and Silver Spoons was a fast, delightfully voicy read (I suspect she may have received a little help with the "voicy" part) about a young girl's experience as first a scullery maid, then kitchen maid, then fully fledged cook in several great houses during the 1930's, and how that world came to a crashing end with World War II. This was published in 2013, when the author was 97 and still going strong. A slightly different view of how the world left the 19th century and roared into the 20th.
A Hilltop on the Marne An American ex-pat woman journalist, in her early sixties, buys a small house to retire to in France, not far from the Marne...in June 1914 (cue foreboding music) and writes letters to friends in the States about her experiences. This book was...I don't want to say gripping, because there wasn't much tension--you're not particularly worried about the author's well-being (and she lived another decade after the end of the war.) But it was so vivid, not only in its descriptions of the exterior events of the war around her but also of Aldrich's interior reactions and thoughts about what she was experiencing, that it was difficult to put down. Highly recommended.
>160 Marissa_Doyle: Well that was a direct hit! So much so, that I went to put it on my wishlist, then, when I went to Amazon, I see the illustrated Kindle version for .99 and bought it! I'm not sure the illustrated is the whole thing though, as there is another Kindle version for $11. It said it was 102 pages.
>161 MrsLee: The copy I read is a paperback from a British publisher, no illustrations, and clocks in at 333 pages of text plus bio and other ancillary stuff. Sounds maybe like the one you found is extracts from her letters?
>162 Marissa_Doyle: Yes, I think so. I thought I would start there, at the price, but leave it on my wishlist.
>163 MrsLee: Makes sense. I'll have to go check out that edition, just to see the illustrations. One thing that I wish the edition I read had included is a map.
Also, I originally found it at Daedalus Books--they have it for $3.98: https://www.daedalusbooks.com/Products/Detail.asp?ProductID=128940&Media=Book
The Folklore of Wiltshire and The Folklore of Devon Both more readable than the previous entry in the series and quite enjoyable.
The Last Goodnight: a World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal Although I disliked how the author framed the telling of Betty Pack's story, the details of her life were fascinating--a young American debutante who marries a stuffed shirt of a Briton and eventually (and only in her early twenties) becomes an operative for the British government in the Spanish Civil War and then in WWII, cheerfully sleeping her way into doing a great deal of important intelligence work. Wow.
Queen Victoria's Granddaughters 1860-1918 Read for research purposes, for which it served quite well; not elegantly written and often judgemental, but a good source of facts.
Mrs. Charles Darwin's Recipe Book Exactly what it says--recipes (with modern "translations" from Emma Darwin's recipe book, along with biographical and historical details. The food isn't terribly interesting (Dinner with Mr. Darcy was more so) but the history was.
Under the Pendulum Sun was a book bullet from @Sakerfalcon...and I absolutely agree with her assessment of the story. The writing was lovely, the premise intriguing (a Victorian setting in which missionaries go to proselytize in the newly-accessible land of the Fae--or at least they try to), the author obviously erudite and used a wide range of research and historical--but the storytelling itself was lacking and the characters unappealing
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder A new bio of Wilder and of her work, and it's excellent. I enjoyed the side forays into the historical, economic, and meteorological/climate research background as it pertained to Wilder's life, and the author's analysis of the complex editorial relationship between Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane was well done, I think. Lane comes off much the worse, and I found the author's suggestion that she suffered from serious mental illness convincing. Very well done.
>168 Marissa_Doyle: I'm sorry you didn't enjoy Under the pendulum sun more, but glad I hadn't overly raised your expectations! I too am keen to see what Ng writes in future, as she clearly has a lot of talent and interesting ideas.
And I'm looking forward to finding a copy of Prairie fires sometime soon - glad you give it such high praise!
No Picnic on Mount Kenya was fascinating and yet, ultimately unsatisfying. The memoir/account of a trio of Italian prisoners of war being held in a British prison camp in Kenya during WWII who are so bored and tantalized by the sight of Mount Kenya looming nearby that they put together a makeshift suite of mountaineering tools, escape the camp, climb the mountain (not an easy feat with their lack of equipment), then return to camp. Totally mad, of course, but how stylishly so! The only disappointment was the writing--if it had been elegant and beautifully written, this would be on my top reads of the year list. But despite that disappointment, I still enjoyed it.
I emphatically did not enjoy Young Elizabeth: the Making of Our Queen, a biography of Queen Elizabeth II from birth to the mid-1950s (Princess Margaret's ill-fated romance with Peter Townsend.) Honestly, the author shouldn't be allowed to write history: I've seldom run across a more error-ridden, poorly written, and biased piece of work--and there was so much factual error in the background material that it makes me suspect everything I didn't already know about. Avoid this one.
Wow! That review of Young Elizabeth is quite unusual for you. I'm sorry it was such a dud! (But yes, there are times when, as a reader, you just have to call a bad book a bad book and be done with it.)
Maybe the next read will be better.
>171 jillmwo: As far as I'm concerned, there was no excuse for all the factual glitches I noticed--either the author herself, the editor, or the copy editor should have caught them, but nope. It was pretty appalling, actually.
Fortunately, the next book has been light-years better--The Riviera Set by Mary Lovell, who is an exemplary historian and wonderful writer. It's been very soothing, and the subject matter tons of fun.
>170 Marissa_Doyle: depending on which side you're on, Mt Kenya is one of the few notable mountains that can be climbed quite readily on foot with no mountaineering skills equipment or climbing required. I wonder if the author has actually visited it.
>173 reading_fox: As the author was one of the people who made the trip, yes, I assume he visited it. :) As they were prisoners of war at the time, they had little in the way of equipment and food, and not even a map. It sounded considerably more challenging than a walk uphill--climbing was indeed required.
Kim Newman's back to his old shenanigans with Angels of Music, dipping again into the world of his Anno Dracula stories, this time with a strange sort of homage to Charlie's Angels in the form of crime-fighting woman from literature who work for the Phantom of the Paris Opera (the first set of angels is, naturally, Christine of Phantom fame as well as Irene Adler and Gerald du Maurier's Trilby.) Good fun, but in a way unsatisfying as it was more a collection of novellas with some characters continuing on, but not all. Still, it is a lark to wander around his world.
The Riviera Set I'll happily read anything by Mary S. Lovel--she's a fine biographer (I still recommend her A Scandalous Life to all and sundry), and this was no exception: a history of the rise of the Riviera as the playground of the beautiful people, as told through a house--the Chateau de l'Horizon. Built by an extraordinary American, Maxine Elliot (much of the first part of the book is her bio), who knew just about everyone and was best buds with Winston Churchill, among others. Everyone who was anyone was a guest there in the 1930s; though the house suffered through the Vichy and Nazi occupations, it rose again in the fifties and was the setting of the courtship of Rita Hayworth by Aly Khan. Enjoyable yet erudite fluff.
I semi-caught a book bullet from (I think) MrsLee with The Enchantment Emporium--semi-caught because it turned out I already had it on my e-reader. I thought it sounded a bit like Nina Kiriki Hoffman, contemporary fantasy with a magical family...and yes, they both have magical families, but that's about where the resemblance ends. I really like Hoffman's stories; Huff's did not work for me. I never warmed to any of the characters--the heroine (and all the family, really) were kind of insufferable and Mary Sue-ish (though the dragons were kind of fun.) I won't be pursuing any more in this series, and probably not trying further Huff--a previous book of hers, the title of which I can't remember, also didn't do it for me. And so it goes. ;)
Happily, though, I get to end the year on a good reading note, having found a wonderful contemporary fantasy series set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The Hum and the Shiver is about a curious group that lives deep in the mountains and mostly keep to themselves; rumor has it they're a little "different"...and rumor has it right. I love the writing, the world-building, the use of music and song in the story, and how nuanced the characters are: the heroine has a history of having been a troubled teen before joining the army and returning home a wounded war hero, and she has to reconcile her new role with her past and the very real emotions that created that past. I'm already into the second book of the series, Wisp of a Thing. Definitely recommended.
>176 Marissa_Doyle: I don't think you can rightly blame me for that one, unless it was before I read it. I gave it 2 stars and quit reading it. Didn't even get to the dragons.
>177 MrsLee: I gave it 2 stars too; I picked it up because I wondered how it might compare to Hoffman. The magic system was weird and off-putting, but it was the unlikeability of the characters and the way they regarded ordinary humans as "lesser" that hit the wrong notes for me.
2017 was probably my best reading year yet. I don't do detailed analyses of fiction vs. non-fiction or author gender or that sort of thing, but here's what I do keep track of:
new books read: 92
Noteworthy books read: Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series (A Madness of Angels was a terrific way to start the year last January), the first two books of the mecha-fantasy Sleeping Giants (looking forward to book three in 2018), Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women, Stargazy Pie and Bee Sting Cake (both weird and wonderful), A Hilltop on the Marne, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The Hum and the Shiver. A good year, on the whole--hoping for more of the same to come.
>176 Marissa_Doyle: I've been dithering over whether to pick up The hum and the shiver as i've seen mixed reviews, but your recommendation has probably pushed me over the edge into the "try it!" camp!
I was given Prairie fires for Christmas and am looking forward to reading it soon.
I'm glad this was a good reading year for you, and wish you more of the same in 2018!
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