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Threadnsong's Various Reading, 2019 ed.

Read it, Track it!

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Edited: Aug 12, 7:27pm Top

Each year I learn something new about tracking and reading, and this year I'm going to simplify how I keep track of things. Kudos to various friends on this site who have instilled the idea of going month-by-month into my brain. I will also keep it to one listing/challenge to save on time and mental energy.

Because they work for me, I'm going to keep the same general categories:

Category 1 - Where am I again? (longtime reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile
Category 3 - New book pile
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

I was able to finish a book that took years to complete, First Feminists by posting whatever essays/chapters I had read onto my listing, and I hope that I can complete both Volume I of Les Miserables and complete 6-8 more chapters of The Great Shame. Oh, and heck, I'm halfway through the first volume of HME, The Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, and I really could not have made this kind of progress if it were not for this group. So thank you for indulging my quirkiness of reading choices and categories and postings!

Of course, whatever books I finish, and there are going to be those that do not fit into any of these categories, I will also track.

On a more personal note, the "song" in my name took on a larger role and gave me the reality of being a performing musician, something I had not realized was a lifetime dream. From busking, to my first public performance, to studying with some very gifted teachers I realized that a) I'm a better musician than I give myself credit for and b) the right musical community will open its doors wide when it's time. So my postings will continue to be intermittent and on weekends, and again, I beg your indulgence for this aspect of my on-line presence. I may be a few weeks late when I read your reading lists so that's my excuse for engaging you in conversation after you read and posted about a book!

Edited: May 5, 4:20pm Top

January reading log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay
Category 3 - New book pile Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them by Marjorie Taylor
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series - Chapter IX, "The Hiding of Valinor"

January current count 3
Yearly count 3

*Note: Still in the midst of "Lord of Emperors" and hope to have it finished by 1/31.

*Note 2: Yes! Yes it is finished by 1/29. Snow days are a wonderful thing!

Edited: Feb 2, 5:09pm Top

1) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Not a bad start for the year! I'm quite impressed with this book. By this point in Dickens' writing career, he is less intrigued with cartoonish, humorous caricatures of people and more involved in the depth of their personalities. Joe, the simple but loving blacksmith who is unhappily married to Pip's sister, the ward Estelle, and Miss Havisham have all finally received reasons and intrigue and a backstory to explain themselves. Strangely, though, Pip's good friend Herbert does not have as much intrigue in his backstory as the other more quirky characters.

What gives this book its depth is that Pip has "great expectations" about where his new-found fortune originates, how much more richly he can live, and yet nothing becomes as it seems. The odd Herbert and he become fast friends when they are older; Herbert relates the backstory for Miss Havisham and it is a tragic one; Pip's finds that his personal lawyer, Mr. Wemmick, is a different person at home and at the office; and finally Pip's personal benefactor becomes a central character. There were sections where I just kept reading because there was a bit of a mystery to the plot and I wanted to find out what was happening.

Jan 27, 5:45pm Top

2) The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

What a fantastic book! I was not sure if I would like it or if it would be one of these gadget-driven steampunk books, but holy cow! It's part detective fiction, part time travel, all steampunk, and all while keeping the germ of the story ticking away. With goggles :)

In the mid-1800's, it is not Victorian England. Edward Oxford has a whole different role. As do the above-mentioned famous architects of British history who at this time have different pasts. And different futures.

And then the strange adventure of Spring-Heeled Jack comes to life as an overheard story, told by one Henry de la Poer Beresford, to the ears of Sir Richard Francis Burton, investigator of His Majesty, when Burton tries to find where this mysterious creature comes from. And is he at all connected with the "loup-garous" who are taking young chimney-sweeps away? Algernon Charles Swinburne is his Second in this endeavor, which begins shortly after John Hanning Speke has accidentally (?) shot himself. And the ending? Not quite what you'd expect!

Jan 27, 6:57pm Top

January Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series - Chapter X, "The Hiding of Valinor"

This is another chapter that is altered greatly by the time it arrives at its form in The Silmarillion. It also contains the most extensive notes by Christopher Tolkien about the differences between this chapter and the earlier one, "The Sun and the Moon." As Christopher explains in this commentary, the Hiding of Valinor "it is most curious to observe that the action of the Valar here sprang essentially from indolence mixed with fear." The Hiding also includes much steeper mountains on the eastern edge of Valinor so that they are unclimable (giving some problems to the Teleri, the fisher-folk of the Noldor) and hiding from sight the Sun and the Moon.

It's for insights like these that I am grateful to all the work Christopher Tolkien did to bring his father's earliest writings to life. I am left to speculate why he made such drastic changes, as the history of his creation is much richer with these added developments of the plot, and could have provided a deeper mythology than the surface mythology that is the published "Silmarillion."

Feb 2, 5:10pm Top

3) January Category 2 - Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

I think this is the fastest I've ever read a book by Guy Gavriel Kay, and I'm very glad that I did. I become so enamored of his language and his turns of phrase that when I pick up and put down one of his books over a span of several months, the half sentences he adds can sometimes get lost over time.

A continuation to his earlier "Sailing to Sarantium," this book explores the Byzantine Empire from its center, from its Eastern edge, and from its Western beginnings in an alternate Rome. The cast of characters includes Caius Crispus, the mosaicist, though life in the Court of the Emperor of Sarantium, Valerius, is explored with greater depth. And the fact that it is an alternate history means that Kay can play with paths and characters that are composites of historical personae. The Bassanid Doctor, for example, sent from his King of Kings to study in Sarantium after saving his ruler's life, may not have existed but his life's details are well-drawn. The medicine and the rituals of the time are close to those of the desert tribes in what will become Arabia. It is also through his eyes that most of the action takes place.

Chariot racers, Senators and their spoiled sons, military leaders, eunuchs, and rigid secretaries are all beautifully drawn and their lives are explored in this remarkable, intense volume.

Edited: Feb 24, 4:35pm Top

February reading log

Category 1 - Where am I again? The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally - Chapter 19
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip (postponed till March). Instead, substituted Persuasion by Jane Austen
Category 3 - New book pile Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them by Marjorie Taylor
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

February current count 4
Yearly count 7

I can't believe I finished 4 books this month! One was a SFFKit challenge that was a re-read, I read through another chapter of Thomas Keneally's excellent work, and I finished an informative book that was not written for the general audience. More info to follow.

Edited: Feb 24, 5:49pm Top

4) February Category 3 - Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them

It is a well-researched book that is not written for a general audience. I read it to gain insight into my own family dynamics and it worked. Not all children create imaginary companions, and imaginary companions come in all different styles and species. Sometimes they are part of a family, and sometimes they remain hidden. I was older than the majority of children covered in this book when I created mine, but even that bit of research was fascinating. Taylor also covers children who create imaginary worlds, rather than just imaginary companions and discussed the movie Heavenly Creatures as an example, extreme though it is. She also found research that shows that while most children give up an imaginary companion, not all do and some adults either continue or remember with fondness their childhood imaginary companion.

It's fascinating and well-researched, but it is also written for an audience of either a parent or a child/family therapist. Being neither, the in-depth portions of the chapters were less engaging for me.

Feb 24, 5:50pm Top

5) February Category 2 - Persuasion by Jane Austen

Added to my "Classics" challenge for November, 2018 and finally finished in February. But I finished it in February!

A lively, short read that is Jane Austen's final complete work. Anne Elliott is older than the norm for marriage, and eight years before this novel begins she was engaged to young Wentworth. Sadly, her best friend (her only friend, let's face it) and the person who stands between Anne and her loveless family has "persuaded" Anne to break off the engagement.

Neither party fully recovers and when Sir Elliott finds himself in straightened circumstances and forced to rent out the family estate, Anne finds herself with a larger group of adults in the town of Bath. And who should show up but (now) Captain Wentworth??

So while manners must be followed and Empire-era protocols must be observed, Anne is able to thwart the intrusive attentions of Mr. Elliott, save her school friend Mrs. Smith, calm her never-quiet sister Mary, and find herself accepted back into Captain Wentworth's heart. While there are some persons whose later mention I had forgotten from earlier in the book, I was much more easily able to grasp the threads of this story than I had with earlier stories.

Feb 24, 6:19pm Top

6) The House Between the Worlds by Marion Zimmer Bradley

No particular category; I think it was a self-challenge from last year and I dedicated the month of February to finishing books. This was my weekend reading book that I had started in October so yeah, it was time to finish it.

This is an alright book. Not as engaging as Mists of Avalon but not so dull I wanted to put it down and walk away. This is also the first book of hers I've read/re-read since her daughter's revelations of childhood abuse and I needed to know where Bradley stands for me on the spectrum of my reading list.

The basic story is that Cameron Fenton is a participant in ESP experiments in the (fictional) Department of Parapsychology of Berkley College in California. He finds himself able to travel to a world of Faerie where there are horrible Ironfolk who attack the party of the Queen of the Faerie, Kerridis. In this first adventure Fenton finds out that he is a "'tweenman" in the world of Faerie, insubstantial but able to be wounded by tripping over rocks. His body is somewhere in Berkley, and so far, a good premise.

But the book falls apart in much the same way that Mists becomes a bit much: the repetition of an unchanging theme. In this book, it's that Fenton needs/wants to go back to Faerie and help them, but no one will believe him. And the idea of a House Between Worlds is a good one but the quest of Fenton finding this House becomes frustrating rather than an exciting plot twist.

The premise is good, the characters are pretty well-developed, the world-building is logical, but the constant re-iteration of the same themes brings any excitement down. The action resolves itself in the last few chapters and is pretty exciting. And the descriptions of changelings, including one that Fenton falls for in Faerie, are quite well done. I kind of liked at the end how Dungeons and Dragons becomes a playboard for the different worlds.

Edited: Feb 24, 7:16pm Top

7) Grass by Sherri S. Tepper

Where to begin? This is just a fantastic book that operates on so many levels. There is the feminist bent of overpopulation on Terra but abortion is illegal and poverty is rampant that then becomes a theme towards the world of Grass where it's only the women who disappear from the Hunt. There is the futuristic theme of Terra (here called Sanctity) populating other worlds, and the mind-numbingness of overzealous religious authority. And the world of Grass that Tepper has created is brilliant.

There is a plague threatening to wipe out all of humanity on all worlds, except for the world of Grass. Rigo Yrarier, an Old Catholic, is sent to this world with his wife, Marjorie, and their two older children, Stella and Tony, as ambassadors from Sanctity. Their mission is to find out whether plague is on Grass without letting the inhabitants know about plague.

They are caught up in the high society of the bons and their Hunt, though the Hippae in no way resemble the horses Marjorie and Rigo have brought with them, and the Hounds are slavering monsters. The foxen are the prey, as on Earth, and the politics of the hunt are as questionable. But there is something more to the Hunt on Grass: a mind-numbing quality among all the men and great disappearance of the young girls.

By about halfway through the explanations end and the action begins, though there are still elements of the world of Grass that need to be explained along with the action. It is a testament to the maturity of a writer who comes to her craft later in life.

Feb 24, 7:57pm Top

February Category 1 - The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally
Chapter 19

This is a long, dense book and it's been since last summer since I've read any of it.

This chapter details the "Faugh-a-Ballagh" phrase meaning "Clear the Way" in Irish, and an explanation of the Wild Geese who were brigades of Irish exiles who fought for the French (and later armies) starting in the late 1600's. So those explanations are cleared up for me.

Most of this chapter deals with the ranks of the Irish soldiers in the Union Army in the early part of the Civil War, up through about Christmas of that year. Meagher of the Young Irelanders is a correspondent of General James Shields from Tyrone, who had commanded Irish Catholic troops in the Mexican War and due to their abuse by their Commanding Officers they fled the US troops. Shields is rightfully worried about using an Irish Brigade in something as important as the Union troops.

Keneally points out how vital it was for the Union not to be defeated in this War, as it would bring back "European royalty and knaves" to the new United States. Meagher spoke during a recruitment rally for the 69th brigade, the all-Irish brigade, in New York that bucked all of the Democratic New York power brokers, including Tamminy Hall. In addition, Meagher toured Boston and Philadelphia to bring in additional Irish troops for the 69th brigade; the problem was that they would be headquartered in New York and the respective governors were not fond of that plan.

These explorations into the politics within the Irish brigades and the Union troops is totally new, having grown up in Atlanta and its view of the Civil War. An awareness of the larger picture shows how vital winning the War was for the Union, and political parties needed to be cast aside in order to make a cause for the greater good.

Several people are mentioned by name whose lives come into this part of history, including a young fiddler, Johnny Flaherty (14 years old and playing for the troops), General Shields, and Captain Lyons who had visited Meagher in his cell at Clonmel. As with my previous long book exploration, the knowing these names reminds us all that these individuals lived and were not lost to history.

Edited: Mar 31, 6:10pm Top

March reading log

Category 1 - Where am I again? The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally - Chapter 20
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
Category 3 - New book pile Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series - I almost had time for a coffee shop to read the next chapter, but alas.

March current count 4
Yearly count 11

I know, I know! All 3 books I set out to read plus a re-read of Guy Gavriel Kay! I'm definitely enjoying the discipline of this challenge and seeing my TBR list going down, as well as re-visiting old friends. And I found that reading GGK in a short period of time is a very good idea: he has so much going on in his books that it can be hard to keep up over months instead of over days.

Mar 31, 6:27pm Top

March Category 1 - The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally
Chapter 20

Hmm. Well. It's well-written and well-researched, as one would expect from the remainder of this author's work. The title of this chapter is "The Chickahominy Steeplechase" and describes, in short, an early attempt of the Union (Northern) army during the US Civil War to attack and destroy Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederate States. (Spoiler alert - it finally happened towards the end of the War.)

This battle takes place, then, along parts of the Shenandoah Valley, which separates Virginia from Washington, D.C., and the peninsula near Richmond. McClellan and Meagher, two Generals of the Union Army who were also former Young Irelanders, lead their troops through swampy areas and along on night marches and on the banks of the York River, all while trying to keep as many of their men and horses alive during this time. And that's basically what this chapter encompasses.

For Keneally's research, it sheds great light on what these two men became once they were out of Van Dieman's Land and Irish prison. The detail in troop movements and landscapes is extraordinary; it is difficult for me to envision these details because there are no maps of this area in this book. Other maps are in this book, but the detail for this set of battles is best left to individual historical research.

Edited: May 5, 3:55pm Top

8) March Category 2 - Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

OK, so this one was an extraordinary adventure. No matter what Patricia A. McKillip writes, it seems as though I am in her enjoyment of the world/subject with her. This book is no exception.

It takes place in the library of a castle, buried so deep in the caverns beneath this castle (and the castle is on a cliffside, so dark and damp are two active words here), with a scribe who is part of the library staff. When the new Queen is crowned, she begins the translation of a book of fishes, but surprise! a new book, this one of thorns, is surreptitiously given to her. Just the idea of alphabets written in thorns, in fishes, is pure creative genius. And the interweaving of the story of Axis and his beloved Kane, including the mystery of their kingdom, is an extraordinary mark of genius.

Also blended in is Nepenthe's love interest, a student at the magic school that seems to hover or be invisible, depending on the tasks set out for the students; a new Queen who does not seem equal to the task; twelve Crowns who may go to war for the chance to overthrow this new Queen; and a loving pair of older wizards just to remind us that wisdom is earned and adventures don't only come to the young.

Edited: May 5, 3:56pm Top

9) March Category 3 - Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Jane Yellowrock has a past though she doesn't know quite what it is. But she knows she can shapeshift into a cougar and that she has skill at hunting vampires. And she loves bikes and comes fully armed to any party. Her latest client is a brothel in New Orleans run by a vampire a couple hundred of years old which immediately sets up a bit of confusion on Jane's part. But she's tough and she's smart, and it's her job to catch the rogue vampire that is killing humans and vampires alike in New Orleans.

Faith Hunter does a good job creating a vampire culture, one with attraction between people and without the constant sexing that take up so many other vampire novels. (And we're not even speaking about the sparkly ones!) Instead, the humans behave like adults and admire without seducing, and Jane herself turns down the Prime Noce attentions of the head vampire of New Orleans. And he doesn't like that very much.

Jane's ability to transform into her Beast is explained as is the Cherokee ritual that created her shape shifting, the mass that has to be used to shape shift into another animal, and the "snake" that is within each living creature. Several dreams/visions show Jane more of her past and it's not always a positive one.

I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of these novels and hope they are as good as this one.

Apr 1, 7:03pm Top

Going well! 👏

May 5, 3:45pm Top

May 5, 4:00pm Top

10) The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

This book of an alternate history of medieval Spain, complete with desert warriors and persecuted outsiders, is a seat at the most sumptuous dinner served by robed desert warriors whose careful eyes show above their face scarves. The characters are well-drawn out, the plot line is full of twists and turns, and as with "Song for Arbonne," this is a piece of medieval history that almost could have been. The Kaddith are the persecuted religious minority who also possess great medical knowledge, the courts of the kings are sumptuous gardens with streams down their centers, and the two central fighters are tense springs, ready for action. The religious tension between the Asharites and the Jaddites is never far from the overall story in the book, as it was in Spain (and so often is when the priests begin to rule the rulers).

As with a feast or other books by this extraordinary author, it is sometimes just enough to sample a bit of his writing with its richness and poetry. Sometimes, just sometimes, a sample of richness is just enough. But then you find the offerings have grabbed your interest, once you've sampled the characters and begin to follow their paths, and you find that you are gorging yourself on the imagery and plotline. Not to mention the richness of the language and the poetic-ness that it brings to your soul. And then you have to put the book down to let the many flavors digest for a while.

A must-read for anyone who prefers their authors treat them as intelligent readers, or for those who enjoy some poetry with their prose, or even just because you long for a feast of words, no matter the genre.

May 5, 4:03pm Top

11) The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip

I found it hard to believe, but I'm giving this book by Patricia A. McKillip only 4 stars. It's a re-read for me, and one that includes the intricate, extensive language that she is known for. Like Guy Gavriel Kay, reading a book by Ms. McKillip is like sampling rich chocolate with a fine, deep red wine. And because this was a re-read challenge for me, I read through it more quickly than I have read her books in the past. And that's still all good.

The dedication says it all: "For Dave, who gave me Loreena McKennitt's 'The Visit,' an album that includes the song "The Lady of Shalott" based on the poem by Longfellow. So not only is there a king's champion in quest of the lady trapped in a tower, there is also the king's son of a neighboring (and warring) kingdom who is in quest for the tower of gold guarded by the dragon. And then there are the women we get to know, who are in their own tower near the sea, watching the trapped woman at her needlework and sewing their own scenes of embroidery.

I just love the descriptions of embroidery: the threads, the colors, choosing a color and letting it guide one's stitching, the revealing of the picture color by color on linen. They give the reader a viewpoint of why we who do needlework are so drawn to it, and there is a delightful scene where the bard corrects a questing knight about the difference between "weaving" and "embroidery."

But at some point the story becomes convoluted. I like the tale within a tale, the mirror within a mirror, but when Thayne of Ysse begins to fight with Cyan Dag in the tower of the dragon, Thayne shifts into something of light. Part of the dragon? A separate entity? The story of mother Sel, who remains drawn to the sea and embroiders a cloak of browns and greys that look like the sea, is a well-known shape-shifting motif. But in an effort to bring the mountains called The Three Sisters into the story of three towers, the story shifts into the un-reality of fantasy.

Still, it is a glorious book for all of its constant shifting, and probably reading the last hundred pages helped clear up a lot that would otherwise have been too confusing.

Edited: May 5, 4:22pm Top

April Reading Log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore, Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber
Category 3 - New book pile
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series - Chapter X, "Gilfanon's Tale: The Travail of the Noldoli and the Coming of Mankind" (and that is the final chapter of this book!!!)

April current count = 4
Yearly count = 15

Well, there are a couple of extra books that I had set out to read that fell into these categories, and I finished (I can't believe it, either!) Volume 1 of Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series. Now all I have to do is update all of these lists and I'll be in shape to read more.

And while it didn't fit into these categories, I included The Riddle of the Wren in my book count since it fit into my TBRR category challenge.

Edited: May 5, 4:19pm Top

12) April Category 2 - The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

OK, well, this one's done. I thought I had started it years ago, but when I went to pick it back up I couldn't find where I put the place holder in so I just started it from the beginning.

It's fun. It's not high humor, not Monty Python-esque, but has humorous takes on peoples' quirks from all over the town of Pine Cove, California. What held this book back for me was the Moore seems to need to make a humorous, satirical, or biting observation about all of his characters. All the time. On every page. Which may work for some folks, and I'm certainly cynical enough to find biting social commentary a good thing, but . . . there was just . . . almost too much of his need to bite for me to fully engage myself in this story and characters.

Maybe there are angels this stupid, and certainly Christmas celebrations in small towns can take a turn for the worst. And the ending was terrific and worth working towards, but it just left me flat. But at least now I understand people talking about Christopher Moore's sense of humor.

Edited: May 5, 5:07pm Top

13) April Category 4 - The Book of Lost Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien, Chapter X, "Gilfanon's Tale"

Aside from this chapter being the final one in this volume, it also gives a bit of bittersweet insight into an author's work. The chapter is unfinished, discusses characters in the original manuscripts who are inserted and replace other characters, a Tale-fire that is allowed to continue to burn, and a tale that is started but never told.

Christopher Tolkien describes how this tale and its resultant formation would have fit into the larger tales of Turambar, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and the Awakening of Men. Several key personages disappear from this version of the mythology, but it does describe Tolkien's ability to describe people and firelight and Earth in a way that we have all become accustomed to know through his works. C. Tolkien goes into great depth of the different versions of his father's tales and where they fit into the larger scope of his mythology.

And yes, with this chapter, I have completed Volume 1 of the "History of Middle Earth" series, made more wonderful by visiting the Tolkien Exhibit at the Morgan Museum in New York last month. So amazing to see the pages in person, such as the transformative page where Bladorthin becomes Gandalf, Gandalf becomes Thorin, and the characters we know from childhood achieve their current identities. I am so grateful to Christopher who has spent his lifetime bringing his father's work in all its originality and basic starts to the world at large.

Edited: May 5, 5:26pm Top

14) The Riddle of the Wren by Charles de Lint

A good early book of Charles de Lint's, and one that is in contrast to his later works, including the ones like "Moonheart" set in modern-day Toronto and early Britain and his more established Newford works.

It pulls much from Celtic mythology, with the Erlkin standing in for Elves, tall menhir, gates to travel between the worlds, and a version of the Tuatha de Danaan who are the undiminished Good Folk. Young Minda is living with a man she knows as her father who is an innkeeper and a mean, abusive dolt. Fortunately she has friends and support, and when her dreams are keeping her from going to sleep she learns that it is time for her to move on. Her adventure takes her to a menhir where Jan, trapped inside, gives her a protective talisman and a new name, "Talenyn" meaning "Little Wren."

Her flight from Ildran, the Dream Master who has been sending these nightmares, takes her to other worlds and a slew of new people, including a scholar, Huorn the Hunter, a talking badger, and a mischievous tinker. She learns to believe in herself and her own strength by the very end, and the worlds are better for it.

It is obviously an early work of de Lint's, with a slew of almost-Celtic terms abounding (almost too many) and a female protagonist whom he treats with respect and dignity, and creates a place where her story can grow. The idea of taw comes in here, as does an elder race and the idea of a world that is not-quite-ours. Our world is richer for this book.

Edited: Jul 21, 6:38pm Top

15) April Category 2 - Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Oh my. Just, oh. My. I read it as a book challenge and I really, really can't recommend it. Unless you are doing research into old sword-and-sorcery fantasy worlds and their relevance to the culture in which they were written.

Basic story is one of two guys, both put out and put upon by the women in their lives who are strong, smart, and deceitful, and our poor heroes have to go out and seek their fortune while Leiber seems to wonder what to do with them. The men seem impossibly strong/cunning and good, the women are caricatures and deceitful/evil or devoted and sexy. The three chapters of the first book (which is as far as I want to get) were published in 1970, 1962, and 1970 so they are definitely products of their time. Comparing the writing and impossible deeds of the men and view of women to the works of Charles de Lint, for example, shows that there are men who see women as "Other" and are therefore not to be trusted making men the real heroes, and men who see women as "Other" and are fascinating and worth caring about and growing into real human beings and heroes as well. Just wow.

Jun 16, 5:29pm Top

May Reading Log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint
Category 3 - New book pile
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

May current count = 2
Yearly count = 17

So I finished at least one book as part of the SFFKit challenge for May, Charles de Lint's Eyes Like Leaves. I also re-read one of my all time favorites The Day of the Jackal for the Century of Books challenge (written in the 1970's), and started another 1970's book The Crystal Cave which is absolutely extraordinary.

"Jackal" also brought me to decide on a personal challenge of reading in June: mysteries. I think I finished in early June (and here it is mid-June) a murder mystery I saw at the library that I will count in my June count. More postings will be on the June 3 x 3 challenge about this challenge.

Getting there!

Edited: Jun 16, 6:21pm Top

16) The Day of the Jackal by Frederik Forsyth

This is the third time I've read this book, and really, it is incredible. I know, I know, coming from a sci-fi and fantasy background, and preferring women's stories, this book just is so well-researched and well-written that it holds up well over the decades. The details, including streets in Paris and motivations and how the Jackal gets his guns and identities, is impeccable, and it's very hard to wrap my head around this fictional part of the story. Because the Google verified what was real and what was not in this book.

What also gives this book its police-procedural reality is the depth of detail that Forsyth uses to describe politics, interdepartmental cooperation (and not), those who seek a rise to power, those who kill for a living, and those who do the "grunt" work in their search for a cold-blooded killer with very few clues to go by. And the revenge that some felt was needed when de Gaulle chose to withdraw from Algeria and the chaos that resulted.

Edited: Jul 21, 6:38pm Top

17) May Category 2 - Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint

In this early written work of Charles de Lint, now published, he details how this book became a later publication. He had written it around the same time as "Riddle of the Wren" and his publisher gave him a choice of what to publish next. He chose the vein of modern, urban fantasy and he has succeeded well in that vein.

Which is not to say that this is not a bad book. It's a well-detailed book with elements of Vikings and Druids and Celtic mythology. And a hero who has self-doubts and a young woman who begins to know herself and come into her own. But it's one of many fantasy books which use these elements of mythology and really, I'm glad de Lint became an author of the new genre of urban fantasy.

The downside of this book is one that I've seen in other new authors: there's just too much, too many threads, too many stories that have to be interwoven and while they all rely on one another, there's just too many. And honestly, I don't know which story I would want to leave out, but he was able to get all of them included here and it is at last published. And I love his musical dedications, too. It was one of the reasons I am so attracted to his work, is his love and inclusion of music.

Jun 16, 7:17pm Top

>27 threadnsong: A great book!

Jun 16, 7:33pm Top

>29 Andrew-theQM: OMG isn't it??? This time through, I jumped on the internet to find out what was truth and what was fiction. I was amazed when I found out, and then to read that Forsyth only wrote it in a matter of weeks!! Wow.

Edited: Jun 30, 8:03pm Top

June Reading Log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile (several are in consideration for this one)
Category 3 - New book pile A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks, Out of the Blues by Trudy Nan Boyce, The A.B.C. Murders
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

June current count = 3 (with one more almost finished)
Yearly count = 21 (same as above)

I decided after reading Day of the Jackal that I would continue my own yearly tradition of a 3 x 3 in June. So the first one was a book I picked up at the library and found excellent. Two more books are in the currently-reading stack and I will hopefully finish them and be able to update my June pages in June this time!

Ed. - yup, finished both murder mysteries to close out my 3 x 3 murder mystery theme for June. And here it is June 30!

Edited: Jul 21, 6:39pm Top

18) June Category 3 - A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks

A really, really good book from an author of YA novels who has gone into the adult genre instead. It's told with superb style and detail about early 20th Century New York (Empire though still with the Victorian influence) with its class distinctions, new money, servants, and who will marry whom. Jane Prescott is brought into the household of the newly moneyed Benchley family to help their two daughters as a lady's maid navigate this new world of gossip and intrigue and class distinctions.

The attractive and flighty daughter desperately wants to marry the son of the wealthy scion Newsome family; she is innocent (stubborn?) enough that she ignores the danger signs of dislike and contempt. Jane is on hand when a Christmas party/engagement party becomes a murder scene and through her wits and knowledge of her "place" is able to put together the pieces. And they are surprising!

Edited: Jun 30, 7:25pm Top

19) The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

There is always something more I discover when I read this series. This time, surprisingly, it was the Barrow Downs and the time spent at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. And I say that "surprisingly" because I'm of the camp that is not a fan of Tom Bombadil and the whole lead-up to the Prancing Pony. And this time through was no exception; there have been times where I've actually skipped those chapters with no detriment to my reading pleasure.

This time through I was struck with Tolkien's descriptions of place and made sure I understood what was where and where the hill or stream or trees when. It helped to have seen the maps he created when I made my pilgrimage to the Morgan Museum this spring. Those maps are detailed, the paintings are also detailed, I can understand how the landscapes he created are more than just rock here, tree there.

Tolkien changed archetypes, he brought fantasy out of the nursery and made it a thing of pride and scholarship, and it is a rare fantasy author who is not compared to his work. And let's not forget the body of work that became RPGs and hard rock with their references to Middle Earth throughout their own work. And this is the book where he made the voyage from simple little Hobbit tales to dark, malevolent forces and an ultimate good vs. evil battle to come.

Edited: Jul 21, 6:39pm Top

20) June Category 3 - The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

It's a very good enjoyable Hercule Poirot mystery. It is written like a memoir, after Poirot and Hastings have retired, and describes a real-time challenge to M. Poirot's sleuthing ability via some quite personal letters. Along with the letters come murders in alphabetical order on the date mentioned, and train travels that form an integral part of the plot.

The final pulling together of who dunnit vs. who dunnot did it was a bit more placid. The interview that M. Poirot does is the dull part, though I will say I was surprised by who the killer was. And Dame Christie pulls that part off in great Dame Christie fashion!

Edited: Jul 21, 6:39pm Top

21) June Category 3 - Out of the Blues by Trudy Nan Boyce

It's so refreshing to read a murder mystery set in Atlanta! Like Karin Slaughter and Kathy Hogan Trocheck, Trudy Nan Boyce's newly minted detective travels streets that have a long and strange history. And these streets in this novel lead into the seedy underbelly of drug deals and strip clubs, with some blues players added for a strong emotional pull.

The details of a cop's life, especially a woman cop are tough; fortunately in Sarah Alt's world, she has enough of a reputation and enough contacts from her beat cop days to at least start to get some stories told to help lead her to a suspect. But the information does not come easy and Sarah "Salt" Alt has to deal with the ghosts of her past as well as demons in the present. Great detecting, great details, and a gritty crime drama.

Edited: Jul 21, 6:00pm Top

July reading log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile) The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally, Chapter 21
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Category 3 - New book pile Old Bones by Trudy Nan Boyce
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

July current count = 6 whole books read just this month, and a re-read that I'll complete tonight (I hope!)! Woo-hoo!
Total for this year = 27

One of these is part of the Century of Books: Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave." It was interesting reading this one while at the same time re-reading Irene Radford's "Merlin's Descendants" series starting with "Guardian of the Balance" since they tell a similar Merlin/Vortigern/Uther sequence before we even get to Arthur. They're also both set in the same post-Roman timeframe.

Jul 21, 6:41pm Top

22) Beyond Reach by Karin Slaughter

Hmmm. While a gripping book and police drama with characters we've grown to know and to love, I'm beginning to see some not-so-great parallels between Slaughter's stories and Patricia Cornwall's story-telling. This book starts with Sara Linton in court being sued for malpractice by parents of a child she was treating. While the childlessness of both the late boy's parents and Sara and Jeffrey become part of Sara's inner dialogue, the court case does not have any mention again until the end of the book. I saw a similar trend in several of the middle Cornwall series, of a series of events at the beginning being only a lead-in to the book and pretty much superfluous.

Nevertheless, the look at drug addiction in rural Georgia is certainly timely and how it gets started is quite accurate. The devastation to the community and to families is well-written, and it becomes part of Lena's troubled self-assessment. Much of her character is determined by the actions of her uncle and her mother (the former who raised her, the latter whose mysterious death Lena begins to uncover) and in true Karin Slaughter fashion, those inner discussions play a part in the mystery that Jeffrey Tolliver and Sara Linton set out to solve.

Edited: Jul 21, 7:22pm Top

23) July Category 3 - Old Bones by Trudy Nan Boyce

Another good and solid Sarah Alt (Salt) novel by this retired Atlanta policewoman and detective turned author. There are a combination of story lines here: a young Spelman student is murdered and people take to the streets; the body of a young woman from Salt's former beat is found; and the relationship between Old South and New is examined.

As Salt is called on to be part of the APD riot squad, the reader learns about the training that goes into being part of that team as well as the physical and mental demands on the officers. When rioting does break out, Salt encounters another of her young charges from The Homes, brother to the body of the young girl she finds (the "Old Bones" of the title), and when the POV of Lil D begins, a side of life opens for the reader. In addition, the home life of young Mary is explored, including her grandmother's abuse which led to Mary seeking what she saw as glamorous in the women who dance at strip clubs.

In an understated and still engrossing way, the relationship with Salt and Wills begins to deepen, leading to the decision about whose house they will live in and how they will keep their relationship secret from their bosses and co-workers. And Salt finds a box in the attic that contains a listing for her great-grandfather's slaves in the pre-Civil War era.

Edited: Jul 21, 7:37pm Top

24) Daughter of the Forest by Juiliet Marillier

This is the third time I've read this book and I was blown away by it as much as the first two times I read it. While I didn't stay up until 1:00 am this time through, I did spend some holiday time in the mornings doing nothing but reading it. It still holds up after all this time.

The first two times I read it, I didn't want there to be any more to it, and it really does stand up as a sole book on its own. Since then, though, I found the sequel and decided to buy it. Not read it, mind, just buy it.

When I was setting out my 2019 Category Challenge, I decided I could use that challenge as my basis to a) re-read this book and b) start the second book after I had finished the first one. Because, you know, holidays give lots of time for reading. So I did. And the second one is as good as the first.

My review is on the book's page, one of 110 reviews on this book.

Jul 21, 8:25pm Top

25) July Category 2 - The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Oh. Wow. It is truly an amazing book, a groundbreaking look at Arthur through the eyes of Merlin, and one that acknowledges the disparate bits of history that are traceable as well as Geoffrey of Monmouth's legends. The historical bits are the post-Roman Britons who are struggling to hold onto their lands amidst the constant invasions of the Saxons and the perceived betrayal of the Lord/King Vortigern in his alliances with the Saxons.

In this re-telling, Merlin is the bastard son to a noblewoman, whose father is Ambrosius Aurelianus, exiled to Brittany. Ambrosius is brother to Uther who will later be the Pendragon and father to Arthur, but until then, Ambrosius must claim his crown and train his retainers in fierce fighting and moveable military camps. Merlin's upbringing, his servants, his journey, and his education are well-told and full of an appropriate combination of speculation and research. And also in this book is an embrace of the element of magic through the Sight as well as an intelligent mind. And darkness and mist.

I can see why it was better that I read it at an older age instead of in the "Arthur must be medieval!" thinking of my teens. The historical Arthur was of a certain time period and the court customs of the Middle Ages were definitely anachronistic to his history. On the other hand, there is quite a thrill to see "Excalibur" or to read the poetry of Mallory. I highly recommend this book for students of this legend; it is probably the foundation of modern Arthurian tales.

Edited: Jul 21, 9:30pm Top

26) Guardian of the Balance by Irene Radford

In all my readings of the Arthurian mythos, the sole representation of the women of that era has been "The Mists of Avalon." Now, there is this book, bringing a character into the warp and weft who is the sole daughter of Merlin. Unlike Bradley's Merlin, but more in the Mary Stewart aspect, Merlin here is allowed one night's liaison with Deirdre, the Lady of Avalon, as long as he swears to all the Dieties that he will raise her in the traditions of ancient Britain. He does, and when his daughter is born, he and Wren travel the length and breadth of this land, keeping an eye on Curyll, the future Arthur, and the other fosterlings of Ector while teaching his daughter the various magicks of his craft.

This book relies heavily on magick (with a k) and ritual and the change of seasons, as well as fairies and the religious change in the world. The overarching theme is balance: balance of the elements, the king balancing the land, humans balancing their needs with the good of their folk, and so forth. Interwoven into this re-telling are the characters of Nimue, Ygraine, and Morgaine (here not a sympathetic character). While Merlin's voice is one of several POV, his is the only male voice that tells a story; the others are given to the women of the time with the exception of Ygraine and Guinevere. Radford also choose to make Lancelot a contemporary since boyhood of Arthur's and yes, he does fall in love with Guinevere. But Wren and Arthur also share a profound love since childhood, and Radford is able to make that love part of the tragedy that befalls the Arthurian legend.

Edited: Aug 12, 7:43pm Top

July Category 1 - The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally - Chapter 21, "Woefully Cut Up"

This chapter discusses the Civil War battles fought by the Irish Brigade under General Thomas Francis Meagher for the Union and how very decimated their numbers were. At this time in the conflict, Washington, D.C. is being threatened by Confederate troops; it was at Sharpsburg that much of the chapter takes place, in and around Antietam. The Irish Brigade marched up the Sunken Road and the standard bearers fell a number of times. Keneally estimates that several New York troops may have lost 60 percent of their numbers in this battle. He goes on to describe an officer and a 19-year-old enlisted man who had "no family in America to mourn him." But the leadership in Washington was thrilled with the final success of the battle.

Also presented is the story of John Mitchel's family back home in Tipperary, and their support for the Rebel cause. Mitchel and one of his sons sought transport to the Southern US to meet up with son Willy in military training, and how the news reaches them of this same battle. What to the Union troops was a victory was to this family mere Northern propaganda.

A noteworthy section back in western Maryland describes how Lincoln rode down to meet the remnants of the Irish Brigade, stating that he "was grateful to an army which had enabled him to issue his Emancipation Proclamation," a notable event in this terrible time.

Aug 12, 7:49pm Top

27) Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino

It's one of the books that changed the way I look at life, and I wanted to pick it up and re-read it for the umpteenth time. I had a break in between one road trip involving music and another, also involving music, and so I decided this was the perfect book to read in this interim. It gave me an insight, way back in 1990, into music that is still with me.

So the premise is that a young woman with a harp lives in Denver in the 1980's teaching harp lessons, but she is really from 6th Century Ireland and her harp is from the immortal lands of the Sidh. She took it with her when she escaped their lands, but sadly, her lover, Suidb (Judith) did not get out with her. Chairste has been living an immortal life of despair, wondering how to bring Judith back when the gates between our world and the Lands of the Sidh are growing ever more fragile. (The harp grants her the immortality, and her despair is for Judith.)

Enter one of Chairiste's students, a bass player, who introduces her to the world of the hair bands of the 80's, and guitar teacher Kevin, and Chairiste finds out how she can open up the gates, rescue her lover, and overcome the Master Harper who would keep Judith enchanted forever. Gael Baudino does a masterful job telling this story, interweaving threads of the dark side of Catholicism, women's efforts to make their mark in rock music, and how men can come to revere women as Goddess. The interweaving of music and magick is extraordinary, as are the glimpses into all of these worlds.

Aug 12, 7:56pm Top

August reading log

Category 1 - Where am I again? (currently reading pile)
Category 2 - Longtime TBR pile Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
Category 3 - New book pile Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey
Category 4 - Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series

August current count = 2 so far

Total count = 29

Son of the Shadows was a book I held off reading for a long, long time given my reader-girl crush on Sorcha from Daughter of the Forest. But after reading the latter for the third time, I saw where the story could, in fact, continue in a good direction. And it did, with as much love for this set of characters and their well-being as one could hope.

And Daltrey's autobiography is immanently readable. He is honest about his life in the band, growing up in post-war England, and the impact his music had on his life as well as on the world. And he does not sweeten the tales about working in an asbestos-ridden welding factory after being kicked out of Secondary School, nor the lack of glamour of life on the road.

Aug 12, 8:15pm Top

August Category 2 - Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

It took me several years to even contemplate buying this book, and several more to read it. I have such a reader-girl crush on Sorcha from the previous book, "Daughter of the Forest," that I didn't want anything to change that story.

And this book brings a new story into the Sevenwaters part of Ireland, partial setting of "Daughter" and the touchpoint for where this family is part of the land. It begins with the younger daughter, a twin, of Sorcha and Red and her path that she has determined for herself: to live at Sevenwaters, perhaps marry, but continue her mother's healing tradition for the people. Of course events transpire that change her view of this life, and also included are the continuations of the stories of Conor and Liam and even Padraig and Finbar. And of course Sorcha.

This book also deals with a child's trauma and how it affects him as an adult, a young woman's trauma when she is given to a man she does not wish as her husband, and the choice to follow what the Old Ones say or to make one's own determination about one's path. Those are the overarching themes; the most immediate ones are the threat of the Painted Man and his band of hired mercenaries who can appear, kill, and disappear, and the role of the Druids and how they control the world around them.

Excellent writing, well-created characters, and a good continuation of the Sevenwaters story.

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