Avaland & Dukedom_Enough's 2017 Reading
Join LibraryThing to post.
We've been here since the beginning (2009), although less frequent visitors the last couple of years. We still like to have a place to post what we are reading and any reviews we do (I've actually been quite bad at this recently). Both of us always appreciate your visits and comments very much and we apologize for not getting around to your threads as much as we would like. Life gets in the way, sometimes, you know?
He's the science PhD, I'm the English major, both semi-retired, and we have a house full of books, as most you know. We have a nearly 2 1/2 year old grandchild so the house has also acquired more books....
We are each reserving post space below to list our ongoing reading, and by way of a literary introduction, at some point we will also post our favorites reads from 2016.
I chronicle my sewing, quilting and other projects in the Needlearts group HERE
No plans or goals, just reading what I want when I want to.
My 2017 Reading
What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton (memoir, unabridged CDs, 2017)
Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson (fiction)
Select articles from The Washington Post online
Select articles from The Atlantic, hardcopy
NO, I DO NOT GET MY NEWS ON FACEBOOK.
32. Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction by Susan Blackmore (philosophy, 2005)
31. To the Back and Beyond by Peter Stamm (fiction, 2016, T 2017, Swiss)
30. Norma by Sofi Oksanen (fiction, 2017, Finnish-Estonian)
29. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (fiction, 2017)
28. Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray
27.The Swedish Girl by Alex Gray (crime novel)
26.Messy:The Power pf Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford (2016, nonfiction
25. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (2017, historical fiction)
24. Mrs. Osmund by John Banville (2017, "sequel" to Henry James's Portrait of a Lady)
23. The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk (2017)
22. Adua by Igiaba Sego (fiction, Italian)
21. The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson: Puritans Divided, Michael P. Kinship (2005, biography/history)
20. A Pound of Flesh by Alex Gray (crime novel)
19. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (Nov 2017, dystopia)
18. An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King (2017, US, dystopia)
17.A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (2014, T2016 French)
16.Glasgow Kiss by Alex Gray (2009, crime novel, Scottish)
15.The Lamentations of Zeno by Iiija Trojanow (novel, T 2016, German)
14. The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child by Paula S. Fass (nonfiction, 2016, social history)
10-13 The Riverman, Pitch Black, Five Ways to Kill a Man, and Sleep Like the Dead, all by Alex Gray (2007-2012, Scottish)
9.The Undesired by Yrsa Sigudardottir (crime novel/thriller, T 2016, Icelandic)
8.Cockroaches by Jo Nebø (2014, Norwegian)
7.The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch (2017, US)
6.New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren (2016, history)
5.Exposure by Helen Dunmore (2016, UK)
4.Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin (2017, UK)
3.Hollow Man by Oliver Harris (2011, UK)
2.The Dry by Jane Harper (2017, Australian)
1.The Coffin Road by Peter May (2016, mystery) the last of 2016
Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017, nonfiction, US) read in 2016, but noted here.
Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates (2017, US) begun last fall interrupted by the election, might get back to it.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred by Greg Egan
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
William Gibson's Archangel by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith
Read, not yet reviewed:
The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
The Sorceror of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
Heh your first paragraph pretty well suits me, too! I start out the year pretty good but within a couple mos or so I get bad at checking in with others as well as my own thread, then wind up bulk-updating with just a couple lines about each title, lol. I think most understand, even if some are better than others at not falling behind! ;) Welcome to 2017!
>5 .Monkey.: Strangely, while I really enjoy seeing what others are reading, and I love being around book people generally, it's rare that others actually affect what I read. I've been here for 10 years now and I think there are perhaps only a handful of LTer's who can do that. However, on a more general level, everyone in the groups I am part of has indeed affected my reading life! There is something fundamental about connecting via books & reading, something like connecting along cultural lines. Also, I have made some dear friends here on LT, and we don't necessarily read the same things.
Happy New Year! I'm looking forward to your reviews. How is that grandbaby? With seven grandchildren I know how the children's books and toys can become a fixture in the house.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The setting for this new novel (coming out in March, 2017) is encapsulated in the book's cover image. Looking north from the bay, we see Manhattan. Some familiar landmarks are there: One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, among others. Rising farther north are 3000-foot "superscrapers." Dirigibles sail through the sky. And, back downtown, there's all that water between the buildings.
In 2140, sea level has risen 50 feet from our day, and lower Manhattan, and vast stretches of Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx, mix estuary and a high-tech, 22d Century Venice. The tide washes up and down through Manhattan's downtown streets in the thirties, and buildings collapse as their foundations erode. But many other structures have been waterproofed and remain inhabited, linked by canals - Canal Street is now Canal Canal - and skybridges. And New York City's basic nature remains: a place where fantastic wealth dominates, while the middle class and the poor still find ways to thrive.
The author's diverse cast live in the Met Life Tower, world's tallest building 1909-1913, now awash to its third floor but dry inside to its subbasements, a residential co-op with agricultural levels high up. We have a pair of computer hackers, whose intervention into the world's financial trading system starts off the story. There's a tough, senior, city cop; a fequently-nude reality-TV star who specializes in rescuing endangered animals on camera; two intrepid child "water rats" subsisting in the underground (underwater?) economy; an overworked, socially-conscious mover and shaker; an arrogant young securities trader; and the building's busy super. Robinson always works into his books ideas he's currently pursuing; here, we learn the city and the world through a plot driven by intricate high finance and crooked real estate - very timely, as I write this review in early 2017. The young finance operator has invented an index for hedging the continued sea rise, "a kind of specialized Case-Schiller index for intertidal assets," and an unknown power wants to buy the Met Life Tower. There's a kidnapping, a hurricane, a hunt for lost treasure, and romances new and old, successful and failed.
Robinson explores the idea of liquidity, both of rising water, washing away buildings, and of money, enabling capitalism's washing away the livelihoods and lifeways of the poeple who live within its system. The rising and falling intertidal waters flowing through downtown serve as metaphor for life and for populist political activity. Can ordinary people somehow resist the workings of capital, and manage some creative flooding of their own? He also pulls in great swathes of New York geology and lore; we have to love those infodumps.
A few nitpicks. The technology of 2140 seems little advanced over today's. In particular, the panopticon surveillance we are plainly moving further into is not enough in evidence, and its lack enables characters' schemes that would otherwise not work. Robinson has too much faith in the possibilities of saving the world through rogue government institutions. And he needs to get better scientific vetting - there's a rather garbled explanation of how the atmosphere affects climate change.
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of modern SF's premier utopians. His previous novel, Aurora, backed away from that stance. This book serves as something of a return. With its promotion of hope for the prospect of a world less bound by capitalism, it's encouraging and welcome.
Four and 1/2 stars
>9 NanaCC: The grandchild has just discovered, with great passion, the concept of "MINE!" Will be interesting.
Enjoyed your excellent review of New York 2140
Unfortunately I don't think he is a writer for me. I am still stuck halfway through his original Martian trilogy - all those rocks.
Great review! I am waiting for that one to be published... Robinson is a favorite of mine (and I need to get around to rereading some of his older works)
>13 baswood: The Mars novels are certainly where Robinson, um, rocked out. Maybe try some of the short stories?
>14 arubabookwoman: That trilogy is another place where he has too much faith in the good offices of rogue Federal agencies - there, the National Science Foundation saves the world, as I recall. But good on milieu - his wife is a chemist and, I think, worked at NSF a while.
>15 AnnieMod: I have the advantage of being married to a bookseller - lots of ARCs.
>10 dukedom_enough: Interesting review on New York 2140. I've yet to read anything by Robinson. I've certainly been meaning to for a long time, though I only have Galileo's Dream on my shelf.
Interesting review of New York 2140. Looking forward to both of your reading lists this year.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
No cover image
I read this 1962 book now because avaland and I had started watching the Amazon TV series based on it. As it happens, we haven't gone beyond episode 1. My paperback version, published by Popular Library, has a copyright page that only mentions the Putnam hardcover, and I'm not sure when I bought it, but probably in 1963. Of course, here in early 2017 the book is timely.
The 1963 winner of the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, High Castle is an alternate history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, Germany developed nuclear weapons, and the Axis powers won World War II. The USA has been divided, with the East occupied by the Germans, the Pacific states a separate country dominated by the Japanese, and the Rocky Mountain states left alone. The Japanese rule the Pacific; the Germans are reconstructing Europe, Asia and Africa, connecting the world with suborbital passenger rockets, and launching manned expeditions to Mars. In this 1962, Hitler's successor Martin Bormann has just died, opening a leadership contest between Göring, Heydrich, and Goebbels.
These great events serve as the backdrop for the personal stories of Dick's ordinary-person characters, none of whom are the genius/hero/explorer figures so common in SF. In San Francisco, Robert Childan sells American antiquities to discerning Japanese customers, whose sophisticated taste and social poise he yearns, futilely, to match. His valued customer, Mr. Tagomi, leads a trade mission from Japan, and will become involved in intrigue between agents of Japan, and of an element in Germany. Also in San Francisco, Frank Frink struggles to support himself as a machinist; he will try his hand at making jewelry. In Colorado, Frank's estranged wife Juliana, haunted by her traumatic experiences during the Japanese occupation, meets an intriguing man from the USA, a former Italian soldier. And not far from Juliana, the man in the Castle of the title, author Hawthorne Abendsen, has published a novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is set in a world where America and Britain won the war - not our world, because Abendsen did not think that Roosevelt might serve more than two terms as President. Not surprisingly, Abendsen's book is banned everywhere outside Japan's relatively easygoing sway.
What could be more horrible than that history's worst regime might have conquered Earth and the planets, free to proceed with its plans? The dramatic possibilities of the triumph of Naziism and facism have had people writing Hitler-wins stories from the 1930s on. The motif is common enough to have its own entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; the fine alternate-history writer Howard Waldrop has discussed it in a series of posts beginning here.
The horror is there in High Castle. Frank thinks about the Germans: "And then he thought about Africa, and the Nazi experiment there. And his blood stopped in his veins, hesitated, at last went on. That huge empty ruin. (...) Africa. For the ghosts of dead tribes. Wiped out to make a land of--what? Who knew? Maybe even the master architects in Berlin did not know. (...) It horrified him, this thought: the ancient gigantic cannibal near-man flourishing now, ruling the world once more. We spent a million years escaping him, Frink thought, and now he's back." As gentle, proper Mr. Tagomi hears a confidential briefing on the characters of the contenders for Reichs Chancellor, he becomes ill. He thinks, "There is evil! It's actual, like cement. (...) It's an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, minds, hearts, into the pavement itself. (...) I perceived this...now I don't know where to go. Screech with fear, only. Run away."
But this is a book by Philip K. Dick, and it expresses his core concern with simulacra, with the real and unreal and whether we can tell the difference. His people must choose between real and fake American historical artifacts, between hand made and mass-produced jewelry. Juliana must distinguish between herself in expensive clothing and her everyday self. Frank must distinguish between his adopted surname, Frink and his real name, Fink - Jewish and thus a death sentence outside the Japanese sphere. Distinctions: between secret agents and their cover stories, and between the several histories. Between the worlds of Castle, of Grasshopper, and our own, which is real? Deep distrust in what we can know is the essence of all of Dick's greatest stories, and it is here, too.
Dick was also interested in the duality expressed in the Tao. He used the I Ching to decide plot points while writing the book, and the principal characters consult the I Ching to make decisions. The plot ends in ambiguity. We learn
Dick was always good at writing minds at the ends of their tethers, and Juliana has a psychotic break that feels powerfully real. As usual with Dick's stories, the written story is much less violent than the TV series based on it.
I'm not showing a cover image for this review. My old paperback has a prominent swastika in the cover design. That was more acceptible in 1963, apparently. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer has such a feature, and was made a bestseller by the very Americans who had fought Hitler. In more recent years, a deference to Hitler's victims has raised the bar for proper display of the symbol.
More recently still, the American people have elected a president who has allies who openly display the symbol and admire Hitler. The American adults of 1962 would have been disgusted, as the majority are today, I think. But Mr. Tagomi, and Frank and Juliana Frink, would not have been surprised.
Terrific review. If I'm not careful, you'll have me reading PKD - actually I have wanted to for sometime. Maybe this was particularly terrifying this close to Jan 20.
Excellent review of The Man in the High Castle. You're making me want to read classic sf and an alternate history, neither a genre I usually read.
>25 dchaikin: Thanks. There are better places to start than here, especially given our political situation.
I've realized that I last read a PKD novel when Blade Runner came out; so, 35 years. And most of them I read while still a teenager, more like 50 years. So my evaluations are likely unreliable.
But I'll suggest The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, or Martian Time-Slip.
Taking Jonathan Lethem as a better critic than me, the first Library of American compilation that Lethem edited has High Castle, Palmer Eldrich, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik. There are two more volumes of novels; very expensive as a boxed set, but I'm sure you can find lots of inexpensive paperback editions online.
Blade Runner, one of my all time favourite movies. I read several of PKDs novels at the time that was made. Time to pick another up this year perhaps.
I think to salve my curiosity, it would have to be DADoES...because of Blade Runner.
>24 dukedom_enough: Brilliant review of Man in the High Castle. I loved the book when I read it early last year and it's one I still have clear memories of. There's a lot to think about in there. It's amongst my favourite of Dick's novels.
This could be the year of Dick with a reboot of Blade Runner, a new series of The Man in the High Castle, and the Channel 4 (over here) making an anthology series based on his works.
At my SF book group we tried something different and had a Dick month where everyone could choose their own Dick novel to read and then we would discuss his work as a whole. This worked because as you said in your review of The Man in the High Castle Dick's real theme was the nature of reality itself and it was almost monomaniacal the way he kept reworking it. It has been a few years since I have read Dick and I had forgotten was just how often religion appears in the novels well before the Valis trilogy. I had also forgotten that he can be very amusing.
>37 Jargoneer: Oh, nice to see you out and about, Turner!
Coffin Road by Peter May (2016, UK)
A man in a life vest washes up on the shore of one of the islands of the Outer Hebrides. He has no memory of who he is and how he got there. This intriguing beginning of this short novel immediately draws the reader into a story that will broaden to incorporate two other character viewpoints. And while it is the plot that drives the story, it not what I found the most satisfying bits of the story.
This is the fifth Peter May book I’ve read. The story, well crafted, is more or less a thriller—not my favorite genre—so I did not get my usual police-procedural-crime-novel buzz from it. But, the book is redeemed in my estimation by a certain satisfaction I enjoyed from its vivid island setting (shared with previous Peter May novels), the weave of local history into the story, and the delicious info-dump around apiology, the scientific study of honey bees.
Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel (2017, nonfiction, US) Due out in March.
A young man named Christopher Knight leaves his home in Massachusetts and drives his Suburu onto the back roads of Maine, further and further into the woods until he can drive it no further. He leaves the keys on the dashboard, gets out and starts walking. He walks for days and days. He will eventually stop wandering, settle in the woods, living as a hermit in very primitive circumstances on what he scavenge from nature or steal from nearby summer cottages. He eludes law enforcement and other humans, puts the locals on edge for decades, and becomes a local legend. It will be almost 30 years before Christopher Knight has a real conversation with another human being.
Finkel writes this short book (originally a long magazine article) using a variety of sources, including interviews with Knight himself. He has injected himself a bit into the story, and has also included some short profiles of other solitary people for perspective. I nearly read this intriguing story in one sitting. How can this have happened in this era? Why would a young man do this, choose to spend the best years of his life alone? How did he survive the brutal New England winters? How did he elude law enforcement? It's these questions (and so many others) that literally drive you through this fascinating story (so much so that I tended to glaze over some of Finkel forays into other solitary people. And while most of one's questions will be satisfied, the story leaves one contemplating other questions, ideas around seclusion, solitude, community, the right to live the way one wishes...etc. (the book would be a great book club book because of that).
>39 avaland: that definitely looks like one for me Lois. Hermits and solitary people have long intrigued and interested, as I enjoy my own company, but doubt I could do so to that level.
>37 Jargoneer: Could be. Don't expect Blade Runner 2049 will be as good as the original, if only because of the impact the original had on cinema generally.
>41 dukedom_enough: - at least it has a decent director and not someone like Michael Bay.
>38 avaland: - it's interesting that with all the talk of translated works that the first book of May's Lewis trilogy was a big success in France two years before it was published in English. (It was his second 'big' translated success - he wrote a soap opera based on Lewis that was then translated into Gaelic.
>40 Caroline_McElwee:, 41 I think the questions would intrigue you both. I suppose I had never thought that there might be people who wish to be completely alone, who seem to have no need for others—at all. And the ingenuity in his survival, beyond the theft, is nothing short of amazing. And then there's his capture and return to the world of others, kind of like coming out of a psychological cave and into the blinding bright light....
>43 Jargoneer: Didn't I read something about him writing or directing the first movie that was done in Gaelic?
>39 avaland: Sounds an interesting book. I can certainly understand the desire to just get away from everything but would never be able to do something like that.
Reminds me of when I read No Surrender, the story of the Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda who kept fighting another 30 years after the end of WWII not believing that the emperor of Japan would have actually surrendered. 30 years he spent in the jungle of the Philippines by himself, continuing on his country's mission. I couldn't stop turning the pages and was left with just as many questions as I started upon turning the last page.
The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred by Greg Egan
This novella considers our tendency to view social relations through schemas, not atttending to actual people and their needs. Sometime in the future, the two largest asterods, Ceres and Vesta, have been long settled. Vesta lacks water, importing it from Ceres, and sending in return basalt as a building material. The cargo is transported in two long, counterpropagating streams of ice or basalt blocks.
Due to worsening political atmosphere on Vesta, many of the basalt blocks carry escaping refugees, inside hibernation pods for the 3 year journey. At Ceres, spaceport director Anna oversees their recovery, awakening, and integration into a new life. She befriends some of them. When a spacecraft carrying more refugees flees Vesta, the Vestan authorities give her a choice. She can either save the lives of the people on the spacecraft, or of those in the block stream.
Egan writes on scientific and philosophical questions, and this story looks to me like a dramatization of the trolley problem in philosophy - times 800, as the original statement of the problem pits fives lives against one. Must Anna consider only numbers of lives in her decision? However, Egan does not have the space to flesh out the lives of his characters, so the decision feels abstract. Since Egan, an Australian, ceased writing for some years while working to oppose mistreatment of refugees by his country, this miss is regrettable.
The story does a better job of showing the absurdity of discrimination and prejudice springing up in a society that did not, apparently, have them before. The victims have the misfortune of being descended from those founders of Vesta who supplied only intellectual property, not robots and materials, to the early struggle. IP is now considered the common property of humanity, so these people are "freeloaders" for having benefitted from it. Not the first reason I'd think of for invidious discrimination.
Three and a half stars
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
This 2010 novel is the third in Stross's series of light horror thrillers about Britain's occult secret service, the Laundry. Stories about secret organizations tasked with managing the world's magic are pretty routine today, but were maybe a bit less so in the late 1990s when he started the series.
Science fiction writer Stross imagines magic as Lovecraftian. Our world is menaced by monsters, with various of H. P. Lovecraft's boldfaced names turning up. Magic is also mathematical and algorithmic, so that the spells required to invoke and control otherworldly entities can be regularized and improved by the disciplines involved in computer science. Thus, magic has become much more powerful in the 20th and 21st centuries than in antiquity, and our hero, Bob Howard, a "computational demonologist," is a computer geek who has to keep the Beowulf clusters running when he's not fighting either horrors from beyond spacetime, or the hidebound British Civil Service.
The story begins with a fatal incident during a routine exorcism. Later, Bob is attacked by a zombie, his boss disappears after assigning him some upsetting reading dating from the Russian Civil War, his wife is emotionally distressed due to an encounter with a horrific cult, there's an occult RAF squadron, a mole in the Laundry, the expected date of doomsday has been moved up - and who is going to "respond to the RFP on structured cabling requirements for the new subbasement extension in D Block?" Stross mixes his disjunct genres, horror, humor, and action, well. He adds a portion of tech geekery. We learn a bit about the Cold War English Electric Lightning interceptor, Vannevar Bush's Memex, the narrow gauge London MailRail, and the arcane possibilities of the Apple iPhone. A fast-paced ending leaves Bob putting himself together for the next book. This story isn't for everyone; note trigger warning here for images of extreme violence, including
The series' first two books were each written as an homage to a particular Cold War spy-novel writer. The Atrocity Archive references Len Deighton, and The Jennifer Morgue, Ian Fleming. The current book follows Anthony Price, with whom I'm not familiar. I might quibble that it's not quite as innovative as those first two, but then that's a high bar. I've not been keeping up; Stross has published seven of a projected nine novels in the series, plus a few shorter stories, and I expect I'll be reading all of them.
The overall arcs of the series become clearer in this installment. First of these is Britain's preparation for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the rapidly-approaching moment when the elder gods awaken and devour every living mind on Earth. All those nuclear weapons the great powers built during the Cold War? They aren't meant for us, but for those Lovecraftian critters. All those cameras ringing London? They have a basilisk mode that can combust anything organic. The second arc is that of Bob's formidible wife Dominique, who was someone to be rescued in book one, and is now at least Bob's equal, a "combat epistemologist" armed with an extremely fearsome violin.
Stross's great contribution to horror is his recognition of a deep relationship between the Lovecraftian mode and Cold War nuclear terror: the possibility of vast calamity beyond the human scale, which we may only hope not to see, in the tiny speck of space and time we personally inhabit. Stross started writing this series in the post-Cold War, "end of history" era. History has restarted since then, and I can't decide whether that makes these books relevant, or unbearable to read.
Exposure by Helen Dunmore (2016, UK)
It might be argued that most book titles bear only a superficial connection—a pointing finger or a marketing tease—to the books they grace. But then there are titles which are powerful gateways into a book’s theme and context. Helen Dunmore’s Exposure is one these powerful titles that leads us into a equally powerful story, and lingers over each page.
Exposure is a spy novel set in the 1960s in the midst of the Cold War. Oh, not the usual high-tension thriller populated with two-dimensional, action-figure characters that we are most accustomed to, but a much deeper and more subdued tale of three-dimensional characters, ordinary and vulnerable people whom we cannot help but recognize ourselves in, people caught in something much bigger than themselves. But, make no mistake, the book is not any less gripping, perhaps more so because of it.
I will say no further by way of plot summary, but I will say, and this goes back to my first point about the title, that more than any recent book I can think of, this book’s title is a door to an understanding of the whole book, in all its multiple layers, and influences the way in which you reflect upon it afterwards.
This is the 7th novel by Helen Dunmore novel I have read and I think it’s one of her very best.
*Added note: the book is also a bit of a nod to the children's book The Railway Children by E. Nesbit.
>49 avaland: I don't think I liked it as much as you did Lois, I'd rate it somewhere in the middle of her ouvere. I kind of felt it was a bit over-worked and the territory was too familiar.
I just meant I had read a number of books that covered similar territor over the years Lois, and although I found the odd surprise, it didn't really do as much for me on the original front.
Of course that is not to say that every book has to be original, though you do have higher expectations of authors you like. I also thought that some of the characters did stupid things, people do, but it wasn't quite as believable as I'd have liked.
>53 Caroline_McElwee: Interesting. I can't bring to mind any books read that covered the same territory that I've read, but I can see how you might have. And I might agree that some characters did indeed do stupid things and perhaps I was a bit more willing to play along.... What did you make of her nod to The Railway Children, which I have never read though I did know the basic premise of the book.
Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin
Rebus is retired (define: retired) these days, physically suffering for his past sins but, other the other hand, now has time for a stable, loving relationship (a regular shag that isn’t work) and an occasional dig into old, unsolved cases whose files somehow find their way into his spare room. And he’s doing just that when he gets pulled into assist with yet another case involving some of his favorite big-time bad guys (did I say “pulled in”? I suppose that’s not entirely accurate…) Meanwhile, Malcolm Fox, who has somewhat unwilling gone on to bigger and better things at Gartcosh (Scotland’s new state of the art, crime-fighting center), ends up back in Edinburgh about the same time, and the threesome of Rebus, Fox and Clarke are reunited once again (woot! did you doubt it?!). There can be no doubt at this point that the cold case and the current one will connect. Do we really care what the case is? If we’ve gone this far with Rebus, we are hard-core fans and would probably let Ian Rankin and the three of them lead us off a cliff…. But, if you need to know, Rankin has produced another top-notch police procedural, the crime and its solving feed all the right demons within our greedy minds, and interaction of the threesome is priceless.
>54 avaland: I think I missed it Lois, and I loved The Railway Children, or if I noted it at the time I've forgotten. Going off to look at my note at the time.
57. Exposure (Helen Dunmore)
A spy takes a confidential file home in order to photograph it. An accident leads him to hospitalisation, and he entangles a previous lover in attempting to return the file, but things don't run according to plan for anyone.
In many respects a very domesticated perspective on the world of spying and the impacts it has on a variety of participants. It is also about how people can be forced into actions that under other circumstances they would never have undertaken. So the exposure is not just about a 'reveal' as about the process that might lead to unexpected behaviours.
For me, not Dunmore's best.
>56 Caroline_McElwee: I suppose I might be measuring this novel against some of her more recent works. I would be interested to know which ones of hers you liked. I liked very much the first two, A Spell of Winter & the Siege, and then apparently Mourning Ruby (according to my star rating, but to be honest I don't remember a thing about it now). I liked some of House of Orphans but was ultimately disappointed. The Greatcoat was an ok read. I read one or two others, and have a couple of unread ones on the shelf.
I'll see if I can find the review that talked about the book's connection to the Railway Children.
Lois, I've looked at my catalogue and see I have 17 Dunmore books, two poetry (not yet read), 13 novels/2 volumes of short stories. Of the novels I've read 9, in order of enjoyment: The Seige, The Lie, The Betrayal (Sequel to 'The Seige', not quite as good, but good), Burning Bright, A Spell of Winter, Zennor in Darkness, Exposure, Mourning Ruby and House of Orphans. I don't remember much about many of them, as one of the things I enjoy in her writing is the tone, so the plot doesn't always stick. I do remember The Seige, probably because I've read it three times. And I think Zennor is about or muses on D H Lawrence.
Good to see that you two are reading again always enjoy your reviews.
>48 dukedom_enough: That sounds like a good series if you can buy into the premise. I have only read one book by Stross and he lost me with all of the tech geekery.
>59 baswood: Sounds like Stross isn't for you, then; he's always about the geekery.
>55 avaland: Enjoyed your review. I just bought this one at a FOL booksale but it will be a while before I catch up on the series and eventually reach it.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
With "Lovecraft" in the title, you'd expect this book to include uncanny monsters, far places in the universe that are not friendly to humanity, ancient books filled with terrible knowledge, deadly cults, and haunted houses. And all of these appear in this tale of people in and pursued by a cult of magicians.
In 18th century Ardham, Massachusetts, a crucial spell went wrong for Titus Braithwhite, supreme magician and founder of the Order of the Ancient Dawn. His mansion burned down, killing him and his followers. The people who later revive the cult regret that loss, since a direct descendant of Titus would present possibilities for supernatural workings. But Titus's enslaved servant Hannah did survive the fire - and she was pregnant with his child. In the 1950s, Atticus Turner, an African-American recently mustered out of the army, is her descendant, and thus of great interest to the Order. The connection launches Atticus, and his family and friends, on a series of encounters with the Order, its artifacts, and its ghosts.
Ruff's story is thus partly an inversion of Lovecraft's fear of nonwhite people. Black protagonists are menaced by the everyday horrors of racism in 1950s America, where the monsters are as likely to be murderous sherrifs or lynch mobs as man-eating shadows. Atticus's dad Montrose makes a living publishing The Safe Negro Travel Guide, a fictionalized version of the real-life Negro Motorist Green Book, which guided Black Americans through the dangers of travel in segregated America, pointing them to safe lodging and dining. The senior Turner is a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. And smaller encounters also happen. Atticus and his uncle George are science fiction and fantasy fans. Montrose objects to Atticus's fondness for H. P. Lovecraft and digs up that poem by Lovecraft - and no, I'm not linking it here, and Ruff does not reproduce it, but Atticus's dismay is conveyed in a quick couple of lines.
Writing about Black characters is tricky for a white author, but Ruff seems to do a good job. The Turners and their circle come to life not only as heroes, bravely facing down racial peril and the supernatural, but as ordinary people, thriving in spite of the society around them. They prove equal to the sinister, white magicians who want to use them. Note that this success makes the book not especially Lovecraftian - lots of magic and excitement but not much cosmic dread. Even when one character travels interstellar distances, the universe feels fairly cosy.
The book has an episodic nature, as characters, solo and in combinations, face off against various aspects of magic. An interview with Ruff in the back of the book notes that the story was originally meant to become a television series, whose segments have become chapters here. I'm happy to have the story as a solid, entertaining book that connects to the racial problems we all live with.
Oops, I've been posting to the 2016 thread. Repeating my recent reviews below.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Anders' fantasy investigates the possibility of a war between science and magic, and finds that the question is not simple. What science, what magic?
As a young child, Patricia goes into the woods and learns she can speak and understand the language of birds. She is led to a great, magical tree where the Parliament of Birds meets, and given an important riddle. Laurence has parallel adventures in science; he invents a time machine that can jump him two seconds into the future, builds an AI in his bedroom closet, and runs off to meet some rocket scientists.
These two become friends later, in middle school, supporting one another against those cruel and uncomprehending toward difference: Bullies, impossible parents, secret assassins. Each eventually goes off to a secondary school suitable for their talent. As young adults they meet again. But can their relationship survive the conflict between magic and science over what to do about climatic and ecological crisis?
Laurence and his fellow scientists are
As I write, this novel is on the 2017 Hugo Awards shortlist. While it's an engaging tale, I'm not sure I understand the level of enthusiasm readers have for it. Patricia and Laurence are characterized no better than most SFF book characters, and need to be better drawn to embody the conflict between their chosen affinities. Anders does do a good job of bringing moral complexity to the conflict between science and magic. There are lots of interesting koans/quips: "You know...no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were." Or: "We need people to have more empathy. The reason the Uncanny Valley exists is because humans created it to put other people into. It's how we justify killing each other." These go toward making the book and its characters comfortable to be with.
The novel has an open ending; maybe the story is finished, and maybe not.
Three and a half stars
The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft
I read this H. P. Lovecraft novella to prepare to read The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, one of this year's Hugo Award-nominated novellas. The new book is a sequel of sorts to the old story.
Lovecraft's "dreamlands" can be reached by sufficiently strong dreamers, and are populated by humans, and all manner of monsters and gods. A dreamer can awaken back into our world - but the dreamlands are nonetheless a real place, where a dreamer can die. The protagonist wishes to enter a city he has discovered there:
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvellous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades, and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods; a fanfare of supernal trumpets and a clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountain; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what once had an awesome and momentous place.
The gods learn of his interest and forbid future ventures to this wondrous place. Carter decides to journey in dream to the great moutain Kadath, to plead with the gods dwelling there to allow him to enter the city.
This is the first Lovecraft story I've read that showcases him as a writer of weird fiction, not just horror. The quest leads though endless horrors, but where the narrator of, say, At the Mountains of Madness would curl into a whimpering ball, Carter is equal for the most part to what he encounters. We get a travelogue of eerie, fearsome, and strange places.
A travelogue written in vivid, baroque prose. Reading this story is like eating a meal made up entirely of rich desserts; the experience cloys quickly, and the story felt much longer than its 43,000 words. And the imagery is often much less convincing than the opening passage quoted above. For example:
The gugs, hairy and gigantic, once reared stone circles in that wood and made strange sacrifices to the Other Gods and the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep, until one night an abomination of theirs reached the ears of earth’s gods and they were banished to caverns below. Only a great trap-door of stone with an iron ring connects the abyss of the earth-ghouls with the enchanted wood, and this the gugs are afraid to open because of a curse. That a mortal dreamer could traverse their cavern realm and leave by that door is inconceivable; for mortal dreamers were their former food, and they have legends of the toothsomeness of such dreamers even though banishment has restricted their diet to the ghasts, those repulsive beings which die in the light, and which live in the vaults of Zin and leap on long hind legs like kangaroos.
I started giggling at "the vaults of Zin," but can certainly see laughing right at the beginning of the paragraph. The ear is paramount for this sort of prose.
Lovecraft's stories are foundational for modern weird fiction, but foundations are often best kept out of sight.
The story can be read free online.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Aqib is a Royal Cousin, the adolescent-and marriageable-son of a family close to the throne of the kingdom of Olorum. One evening, as he's taking the royal cheetah for a walk, a stranger calls to him from an open doorway. Lucrio is a soldier from distant Daluz, a member of a delegation sent to negotiate a treaty. Their erotic and romantic bond is strong and immediate. Aqib will have ten days with his new lover, before the delegation goes back to Daluz. Will he leave Olorum and follow his love, or remain behind? The couple does not have the option of staying together in Olorum, which is a land that forbids sexual relationships between men.
Wilson's fine novella presents Aqib's story out of chronological sequence, and the scene of Lucrio sailing away on the eleventh day, leaving Aqib behind, comes early. Events from the two men's intense few days together are interspersed with visions from Aqib's future life, as he marries, raises a beloved daughter, meets the gods of Olorum, loses his wife to their service, and grows old, bearing the memory of his lost love.
Around the love story, Wilson builds a fascinating world. Aqib, who eventually inherits the job of keeper of the royal managerie, has the evidently magical ability to talk to animals, and his daughter has telekinetic powers, but the people of Olorum clearly have computers, and its gods appear to be technologically enhanced humans. Math and physics - and even literacy - are women's business, but the sexes appear to be roughly equal. As Aqib is a man, the world of women remains largely mysterious to the reader. The highborn people treat the lowborn with condescension that seems perfectly natural to everyone. The tropical heat of Olorum is palpable. Much about this world is only hinted at, or perhaps left for future stories. The world of the story is the same as in Wilson's A Sorceror of the Wildeeps, which I clearly must soon read.
Wilson's language has a slight degree of formality which accords with Aqib's aristocratic outlook, an outlook which masks the Royal Cousin's character as an unreliable narrator. We must figure out many things that Aqib misses - among them, that his older brother is much more physically abusive than Aqib will admit to himself. Wilson supplies plenty of surprises. I thought I had figured out that the story's title referred to the few, sweet days of the men's affair: no, not only that.
A Taste of Honey is a vivid investigation of choice, desire, regret, and family dynamics, and Wilson is a major new writer.
Since I am soooooo far behind, I thought I'd do some quickie reviews:
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (2016, T French)
Short and compelling, A Meal in Winter tells the story of three German soldiers hunting for Jews in the winter Polish landscape. They find one hiding in a hole and take him into custody, but then they decide to rest in an abandoned hovel and pool their meager resources to make a meal. Everything becomes about the food and the meal until the little group is joined by a passing, anti-Semitic Pole who adds plenty of tension to the situation.
I'm not sure I can explain why this book is so compelling. On the one hand this spare story is beautiful and haunting, on the other hand it is devastating and, as one reviewer put it, unconsoling. It may end up my book of the year.
The Lamentations of Zeno by Ilija Trojanow (2016, Bulgarian-German)
Here's a little book, both funny and sobering (certainly entertaining), that tackles the big issues of global warming and climate change. Zeno Hintermeier is a scientist, a glaciologist, working as a tour guide aboard a vessel headed for Antarctica. The book chronicles his attempts to get the wealthy tourists to marvel at the landscape and see the world as he does. He "bemoans" the loss of his beloved glaciers and desperately wants others to understand what is happening to this world. Zeno is not the most likeable fellow, he's a bit angry and whiny, but, oh, when he talks about the icy world he loves....he clearly is a romantic, and is almost impossible not to like.
More reviews coming....
>71 Caroline_McElwee: I think you would like both, Caro. And they are both novellas so, theoretically, short reads (although I did drag Zeno over a much longer period that I should have). I would be interested to hear what you think of A Meal in Winter.
New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren (2016, history)
When we think about slavery in America, we most often think of the South with its large plantations; but in this book, Wendy Warren examines slavery in very early colonial New England, mostly the slavery of Africans and Native Americans, but she does touch briefly on indentured servitude, particularly that by prisoners sent to the colonies. Warren tells us that at its peak there were a 1000 slaves in New England.
Well-written and sourced, and very readable, Warren’s history links 17th Century New England slavery with the region's economic dependency on, and its part in, what is known now as "The Triangle Trade." I’ve read several other books on Africans in New England (one was a PhD thesis), but I found Warren’s book an honest, penetrating and humanizing look at an era of our history most often glorified and mythologized. Despite my earlier reading, I still found this book eye-opening. We should all look honestly at our history, shouldn’t we? In my opinion it makes us more humane and tolerant in the present, and much wiser.
Anyone who is fond of early American history or social history, or is doing genealogy in early New England should find this book enlightening. Apparently it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It's now out in paperback.
The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child by Paula S. Fass.
In this book, Paula Fass looks at parenting and childhood against the social, political and cultural changes of each era from the late 18th century in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, to the modern era of "helicopter" parents. She also discusses the advent of the science of child development and that of birth control, and the revolution in education. I found some of the eras more interesting than others, particularly the effects on families in the aftermath of both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War most interesting. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, when, as it happened, fathers were more involved in their children's lives, children were encouraged to be more independent and were considered more equal to their parents than European children of time were. In the aftermath of the Civil War, there was a move by some to assist children of African Americans who had been separated from their parents in slavery to be reunited with them, and much attention went to the many war orphans in cities and children exploited in factory work.
Street Arabs in the area of Mulberry Street. Late 19th century.
Some may find the modern era to be far more interesting - Dr Spock, Erik Erickson, immigration, the image of the "bad mother,"the expansion of the middle class in the 50s and the freedoms that came with it, American faith in education and the creation of the high school, and the anxiety of parenting today - to name a few of the topics touched upon. Fass covers a lot of territory in this relatively short book (under 300 pages), any part of which could fill volumes on its own. It's a concise, readable and intriguing journey through roughly 230 years of parenting and childhood history.
Even more reviews coming....
>76 Caroline_McElwee: hee hee!
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavich (2017, SF, dystopia)
The Book of Joan is a modern retelling of the Joan of Arc story set in a dystopian future where the 1% are now living off the planet in space stations. It is mostly ragged children trying to survive on the dying planet. The story, which is so much more than a historical re-telling, is intriguing, imaginative and suspenseful, the voice intelligent and deeply insightful. I had an advanced readers copy so I felt free to dogear pages, and I found myself turning down the corners of so, so, so many pages—penetrating passages, beautifully spoken thoughts, uncanny reflects of current events. All this with a damn good, complex story. I am hard-pressed to compare the book to someone else’s work in the SF field — it would sit easily on a shelf with Mieville and Crowley. And LeGuin, VanderMeer and Gwyneth Jones, also…but those are only choices within that genre....(why am I limiting myself?!) The fact that I can’t seem to find a good comparison says a lot about the book.
Here is an NPR review is you need more:
>77 avaland: I hovered over that recently... I'll put it on the list...
Hee hee indeed. It is becoming increasingly common.
The crime novel reviews:
The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris (2012, UK)
This is the 1st book in the Nick Belsey series, set in London. Belsey might be called an anti-hero, at least in this volume, but at the very least he's unethical. He's in the area when a report of a missing person goes out. He responds without calling in and discovers the missing person is a very rich man indeed, and Belsey, who has the audacity to be trying on the man's clothing as he wanders through the mansion, sees this as an opportunity to solve all his personal problems and get far away, if only he could assume temporarily the identity of the missing man long enough to enrich himself. And here, very early in the book, is where the reader thinks: he cannot possibly get away with this.
What follows is an intricate and interesting mystery and the story of whether Belsey gets away with his plan or not. I cannot say with any surety that I liked the character of Nick Belsey but I certainly came admire his talents. And I have bought the second book, so that's a good sign.
The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdadottir (2017, Iceland)
I read several of Sigurdadottir's novels when she first started writing, but stopped when they became too obviously formulaic. I had especially liked the insight into Icelandic culture and history she included in those books. This volume is a standalone, medium weight mystery (not a police procedural) that merges several storylines (from the current to the 1970s) to a satisfying conclusion. I wouldn't put her in the top tier of my crime reading, but it's a worthy read if you are in need of distraction.
The Long Drop by Denise Mina (2017, Scottish)
I like to think myself a fan of Denise Mina but there was something about the voice of this standalone novel that sadly and frustratedly turned me off and I couldn't get into it. Perhaps it was just not what I was expecting or hoping for.
More crime coming....
*I have read more than the usual crime novels due to a neck injury in mid-March that restricted my activity to the mostly sedentary. And, well, as most of you know, crime novels are easier to read than other fiction when one isn't feeling well.
Cockroaches by Joe Nesbø (2013, Norwegian)
This is the 2nd book in the Harry Hole series and the first I have read. The Norwegian ambassador has been found dead in a Thai brothel and Harry is sent to tidy it all up and make it go away, so to speak. Harry's a tough, talented and out-spoken guy, he doesn't go without an argument, and when he gets to Thailand he soon is unraveling a complex case that is certainly not easily "going away." This novel is a good mix of police procedural and thriller; a good set-up for a kind of lone wolf, action-orientated character. I tend to like my detectives more cerebral and less derring-do, and I like the detective to figure it all out and deal with before an action-sequence comes in and takes over the narrative. That said, I enjoyed the book very much and will try another in the future and see where it takes me.
"I like the detective to figure it all out and deal with before an action-sequence comes in and takes over the narrative." Well put, Lois. I'm OK with a bit of derring-do, but it shouldn't be the resolution of the storyline very often.
>79 avaland: several folk have raved about Mina, so I downloaded a selection of her books to Kindle a while ago, Lois. I'll get to one this summer.
I began this crime series (reading the 2nd & 3rd books) back in the late 90s when I was importing some select UK books to sell in the bookstore before the advent of LT or the Book Depository. Over this winter when I began to cast around for a new series, I thought of the Detective Lorimer series again, and thankfully the Book Depository had them all.
The Riverman (#3), Pitch Black (#5) and Five Ways to Kill a Man (#7), Sleep Like the Dead (#8) by Alex Gray (Scottish. 2007-2008) Currently reading Glasgow Kiss
Set in Glasgow, Alex Gray's Detective William Lorimer series are very good police procedurals (I've read 5 and I have 5 more in the pile). Publicists and reviewers like to suggest these books are somehow in competition with Rankin's Rebus series, as if we have to pick one or the other, but not both. I am up-to-date with John Rebus (and Malcolm Fox, for that matter) and I don't feel especially unfaithful to Rebus by taking up Lorimer, who is a bit more sanded around the edges than our friend Rebus. Gray adds more detail to her settings and more domestic details to the lives of her regular characters than does Rankin. Lorimer is likable, happily but not perfectly married, a good leader and works mostly within the parameters laid out for him (not always happily, mind you), while Rebus prefers to be a lone wolf (though he has worked reasonably well with Siobhan & Malcolm Fox, although half the time they don't know what he's up to) and is always one foot over the line. He seems constitutionally incapable of working within any parameters but his own, yet both he and Lorimer get their respective jobs done. I might be inclined also to mention that one series is written by a male author, the other a female and I will suggest here you that their respective and different life experiences generally and with regards to their gender is likely to effect how and what they write.
So, I read Scottish crime authors: Rankin, Gray, Peter May, Denise Mina, and Val McDermid (her standalones, not the Tony Hill series) and I can tell you there are a lot of people dying all over Scotland, but some very good detectives are out there working to find their killers....
>83 janeajones: Yes, indeed, Jane. I failed to mention that builds in a crescendo-like fashion that explodes at the end.
>84 Caroline_McElwee: I read her Alex Morrow series mostly, Caro. Although I have seen the television adaptation of her Paddy Meehan series.
Seems I've still an Anne Holt to do...I guess I've read more this year than I thought I have.
>77 avaland: You have really piqued my interest with your description of the Book of Joan. I am going to put a hold on the library copy and hope the wait list isn't too long.
I've been having a "mystery tour" myself this year, Lois. I haven't had much luck getting my head into the game for anything else, although, I did just finish Belgravia by Julian Fellows. It was entertaining in a Downton Abbey kind of way.
Feeling so annoyed that my library doesn't have The End of American Childhood, hopefully they'll order it for me. I'm very interested in the subject from a semi-outsider's standpoint (I don't have children but I have 11 nieces and nephews). It's interesting to remember what I was trusted to do at age 6 that my nephew isn't trusted with at age 8 (though I was the youngest, he's the oldest, and that does make a difference). I'll also be looking for The Book of Joan.
>87 RBeffa: I hope it finds its readers. It is explicit in some places, which I see as going along with a theme of death and rebirth.
>88 NanaCC: I'm afraid I've been watching a lot of television in the evenings since March, too. And I imagine Julian Fellowes is a reliable fun read.
>89 mabith: Meredith, if you would like it, leave your address on my profile page and I'll send it to you. It will be one less book for me to find a place for in the house, LOL.
We read a lot but we also watch quite a bit of television, usually in evenings when reading might make us nod of.... I think television has gotten really good over recent years. Some of that is because we have more choices. We have access to international television, for example. I also heard on some NPR show that the quality of television is because many movie writers have moved from movies because they can write something with a longer and deeper storyline.
With those comments I post this link from the NY Times listing the Emmy nominees.
I'm glad to see Elizabeth Moss up for Handmaids Tale. It's kind of an understated role, isn't it? I loved her in "Mad Men" and "Top of the Lake." I think the show has been well done also. I believe Atwood is working closely with them.
I'm also pleased to see "Fargo" get so many nominations. Another weirdly funny show that preserves the spirit of the movie.
I think I can speak for both us in saying that "Silicon Valley" is the funniest show. The character of Jared is my fave. I don't understand what they are talking about half of the time but I still find it absurdly funny anyways.
I did not see any nominations for "Legion" (a fascinating show starring the guy that played Matthew on Downton Abbey) and nothing for "The Leftovers" ???(based on Tom Perrota's novel by the same name), a weirdly interesting show that just ended. Both shows force you to pay attention.
>91 avaland: The Handmaids Tale was so compelling to watch- great acting and drama
I saw the first episode of 'Legion" - I thought that it was very surreal-
I think with Legion, they want the audience to feel some of what the characters are going through.
>90 avaland: That is a wonderfully kind offer, thank you! Will go leave my address now.
Another catch-up needed.
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (2016, South Africa)
This is a story of two 80+ year old women, sworn enemies, who live next door to one another in one of Cape Town’s (South Africa) better neighborhoods. Marion is white, a former architect, mother of three grown children, recently widowed and president of the neighborhood association. She is extremely snobby. Hortensia is black, a former textile designer, childless, with a husband near death; she’s just mean.
Omotoso has written an intelligent story that completely pulls you into the story of these two women; it’s hilarious at times and yet compassionate. And as we read, we wonder, can these two women ever become something resembling friends? I could not help but think the author was also saying something more expansive about South Africa but I fail to be able to give voice to it. A wonderful read, and once you start it will be hard to leave it for very long….
Odd Numbers by Anne Holt (2017, Norway)
This crime novel is part of Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsson's series, of which I have read some but not all of. I chased some of this series down after reading Holt’s Vik & Stubo series. I have also read her Agatha Christie homage, 1222.
Hanne, a brilliant detective but a bit of recluse in retirement, has been coaxed into reviewing cold cases. She has been sent help in the form of a bright, young detective Henrik Holme. While they work, with Henrik coming to Hanne’s home, the bulk of the force are dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist bombing. I admit I was more interested in the former rather than the latter but the author weaves the two together in unexpected ways. The result is an excellent police procedural, one of the best in the series.
More reviews coming....
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (2017, US)
This is a dystopia that Erdrich began back in 2002. The novel centers around Cedar Snowmaker, a young woman who finds herself pregnant in a time where pregnancy has been made illegal. Nonetheless, Cedar, who is adopted, sets off for a reservation to find her birth parents and explore her native roots. She lives in a time where evolution seems to be going backwards, births are precarious and only happen in very controlled circumstances. There are echoes of the Handmaid’s Tale here, but Erdrich’s story stands on its own. It’s exciting and suspenseful, worthy of a thriller and yet it is an intimate story of family. This is an excellent, quick read, but I admit the ending was a disappointment. See what you think.
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King (2017, Taiwanese-American)
Set in 2030 China where the country is suffering the effects of its own policies, particular its “one child” policy. The country is overrun with an excess of 40 million unmarriageable men, and women can have as many as three husbands (with permission, of course). Wei-guo thinks he has a chance of becoming part of a family and approaches May-Ling about becoming her 3rd husband. (How does one fit into such a family? Think about it...) Wei-guo captures May-Ling’s attention but must also pass muster with her current two very different husbands, who happen to be brothers. The dystopian China the author presents us with is a character in and of itself, eyes everywhere, watching, as Wei-guo navigates a complex and possibly dangerous situation.
A relatively short book, I was mesmerized with it from start to finish. The story is fascinating, and yes, suspenseful but, like the Erdrich book, ultimately it’s a story about family.
Adua by Igiaba Scego 2017, T from the Italian)
Adua is a Somali immigrant to Italy who has lived there for many decades. Her father has died and the family home has come to her, and she must decide whether to go back to Somalia and claim it or not. A gripping, sometimes humorous, and altogether captivating story of both Adua, and that of her father, Zoppe. It blends past and present into an intimate tale of family, war, de-colonization, and immigration—a tale that lingers in one's thoughts after one has turned the last page.
This is a fine addition to anyone's reading related to the Africa diaspora.
one more...coming soon...
The Times & Trials of Anne Hutchinson by Michael P. Winship (2005, Univ of Kansas Press)
This is not a book for the faint-of-heart. It is a through and detailed account of what was going on in the Massachusetts Bay Colony before and during the so-called Antinomian Controversy and the trials of Rev. John Wheelwright (who was convicted of sedition and banished to New Hampshire) and then Anne Hutchinson. This history is sometimes thick with Puritan theology and its accompanying rhetoric, which admittedly, I did not completely digest. But one should not be put off by my admission of “indigestion” for there is still much to take from this book. Winship does a great job setting the stage. And I thought this tidbit fascinating:
A fight was all the more likely to break out in 1636 because the puritan migration to Massachusetts produced a quite unanticipated stimulus to confrontation: success. In England, puritans, with their self-righteousness and severe program of social and religious reform, had always been a deeply resented minority. The expected as much, for the ungodly would always hate the godly. …As a harassed, fighting minority, it was easy for puritans to maintain fervor. But in Massachusetts, they faced no persecution, no bishops, no large phalanx of wicked people….Instead, puritans had a glut of what they thought they had always wanted: sermons, prayers and no limits to godly companionship. …There was a dangerously tempting way to compensate for the lack of enemies in Massachusetts: create them.
He also mentions that it has been suggested that the Pequot War against the natives in Connecticut may have been just that. Certainly, as one continues in this tale, one does wonder if all the drama was also just a means of creating an enemy.
The Puritans usually kept their church and state matters separated; the church handled moral issues, the courts handled the civil issues. In this controversy it gets fairly messy. And human nature being what it is, one can’t help seeing a bit of what was to come in Salem, and so many other controversies throughout our history.
I won’t elaborate on the complex hearings and trials here, nor will I tell you about Anne Hutchinson, but I will say that Winship puts her in historical context and attempts to get past the intentionally “semi-fictionized” picture that John Winthrop left behind. This is a worthy read; there is a lot in this small book. And if you are interested in early New England history or if any (many, in my case) of the historical characters are your ancestors, so much the better.
I really don’t enjoy writing reviews of non-fiction. btw, when I went looking for biographies of Anne Hutchinson, I chose this one over others because it had an endorsement from Mary Beth Norton, an historian I have read and admired (she wrote my favorite history of the Salem Witchcraft Trials)
Great reviews of some really intriguing books, Lois. I'm going to chase some of these down. Have you read American Jezebel about Hutchinson -- I found it quite fascinating.
>101 janeajones: That's the Eve Laplante, isn't it, Jane. I'm sure it's more readable than this history, but I suspect she would have read this book.
Jane, do you put the books you read in your book section on FaceBook? I started doing it some time ago. I think it makes Facebook feel a bit more homey to me (to be honest I have a love-hate relationship with it)
I'm reading the new Orfan Pamuk now and the storytelling is mesmerizing.
102> Yes, it's by Eve Laplante. Interestingly, it looks like both books were published about the same time. Laplante certainly relies heavily on and uses the trial transcript in the book. I don't have the book here as I read it at my in-laws' house, so I can't check her sources.
I haven't explored the book section on FB. I sort of enjoy having two separate and different places to visit.
I read LaPlante's editing of Abigail Alcott's writing (Louisa's mom); and I do have her bio of Samuel Sewall but haven't read it yet.
>105 SassyLassy: When I moved back to NH a few years ago, I went back to work (very PT) at the bookstore I used to work at full-time. I've taken up the habit again of reading the reviews in Publishers Weekly, and I rifle through the ARCs that come into the store (lots of dystopias coming out). The Shen & Erdrich were out of the ARC pile; Adua & Woman Next Door were starred reviews in PW.
As for the Anne Hutchinson; it falls into my long time habit of reading New England history. I did an internet search for books about her and saw that this particular book had a blurb from Mary Beth Norton, a historian I've read some books by (including my favorite book on the Salem witch trials) and that settled it!
You've hit me with a couple of book bullets too, Lois. That usually happens when I visit your thread.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
This is a horror novel; not my usual fare, but I read the first chapter on Tor.com and found it interesting. An epidemic of homicidal madness, leading eventually to suicide, sweeps the world. The madness occurs when the affected person sees...something. No one knows what; every subject is immediately beyond normal communication. Survival requires staying in buildings with all windows covered and all doors closed. Those who venture outdoors must wear blindfolds, navigating by hearing and touch. Even a glimpse of "the problem" is sufficient, and those still unaffected can only hope not to be murdered before the victim suicides.
The story follows a woman, Malorie, in two time periods. In the present, she lives in a secured house, alone but for a four year old girl and boy. She has ventured out only for brief errands, always blindfolded. She decides that now is the time to take the children on a dangerous journey to a possibly safer place - by boat, rowing with all three necessarily blindfolded. Has she trained the children well enough that they can help her navigate?
In the past, Malorie discovers she is pregnant just as the early reports come over the news. She shelters, first with her sister, then in a group house with, eventually, seven other people, including another pregnant woman. As this house is the same as the one where she is the sole adult, years later, the reader expects a terrible end to the earlier story - and is not disappointed.
Author Malerman is good at describing the improvisions his characters must use to extend their survival in this world, and at building a sense of dread in both time frames. Some of the segments are quite creepy. Solidly done.
Three and a half stars
Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford (2016, nonfiction)
I hoped that this book would be an antidote for the endless Feng shui, Scandinavian design, & anti-clutter books; a validation for the rest of us who happily live amidst the clutter; but alas, it isn’t really that kind of book (although some bits could be applied there).
In this book Tim Harford discusses messiness in all its forms and its relationship to such things as: creativity, productivity, collaboration, winning, improvisation, automation and resilience; and he provides lots of examples. Apparently, we have an inherent human desire for tidiness (I may have missed that gene), and if there is a tidy option we tend to go for it. Hartford shows us that great things can happen when we embrace the serendipitous, the unexpected, the unfamiliar (and many more “uns”) and concludes with a reminder that life is messy.
In all, I thought the book was interesting, some parts of it more than others. I especially enjoyed the discussions about humans & computers, the on-line dating (OK Cupid…etc). My one beef is that men and their actions have been chosen for most of the examples; there’s a few women in bit parts. But then, if he had more women it just might make the book….too messy.
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
Fresh off the boat in 1745 colonial New York, a handsome, young man drops in to a reputable counting house, introduces himself as only Mr. Smith, and presents the gentleman there with a note, signed by appropriate English authorities, for the equivalent of 1000 pounds sterling. The banker is a bit skeptical of Mr. Smith, but assures him they can get the money together over the next few months. Mr. Smith agrees to the wait, changes his ready cash for what serves as NY tender at the time, and enters the busy, messy world of colonial New York. Is he a rascal or the son of someone important?
What follows is a totally addictive, great romp of a story told in such a delicious voice. We follow Smith around New York where he has nonstop adventures—more than a few more like misadventures—with the locals, and all the while tongues are wagging with speculation about who he might be (and yes, the reader is among the speculators). No more should be said except that there is a bit of a surprise at the end.
Mrs. Osmond by John Banville (due out Nov 2017)
John Banville has written an interesting sequel to Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady in a prose style not unlike his predecessor. As the continued story of Isabel Archer begins, it is shortly after the death of her cousin, and Isabel is still in England trying to decide what to do next. While the young, single Isabel of the classic novel could be described as spirited, this more experienced Isabel is weary, angry, somewhat tentative, and much more self-aware. What should she do, if anything, about Osmond, Madame Merle and Pansy? And the mill owner from New England, Caspar Goodwood is STILL interested in her. She begins by taking a great amount of cash from her bank account and has it put in a large satchel for her to carry off. And Isabel will eventually go to Italy to deal with the mess there, and the book will not end without a little surprise for Isabel and the reader…
I admit I had some impatience with the prose style; I think one needs to be in the mood or in the right frame of mind for it. I enjoyed following Isabel’s movements and the description of the European society of the era, which, to me, made them sound like several, small gossipy towns.
The book is enjoyable and there was good closure for story, but I somehow felt unsatisfied. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but perhaps I wanted something even more or just something different for Isabel. What that would be would make for good discussion at a book group or among book friends.
The Red-Haired Woman, by Orhan Pamuk (2017, T from the Turkish)
I had wanted to be a writer. But after the events I am about to describe, I studied engineering geology and became a building contractor. Even so, readers shouldn’t conclude from my telling the story now that it is over, that I’ve put it behind me. The more I remember, the deeper I fall into it. Perhaps you, too, will follow, lured by the enigma of fathers and sons.
This is the first paragraph of Pamuk’s captivating story of family, fathers and sons, love or lust (or both), and the power of story and myth. A young man, a teen really, whose father is a political prisoner takes a temporary job with a well-digger hoping to make enough money to pay for a “cram course” that will help him get into college. It’s hard work, but his master fills the evenings with storytelling, and during one of their breaks in the nearby town, the young man sees and immediately falls in love with “the red-haired woman.” The things that happen in the few months of this one summer will inform and haunt the rest of the boy’s life.
I read this book in one sitting; this is mesmerizing storytelling. once started it was hard to put down. ‘Nough said.
I didn't mean to overshadow hubby's review in #112. I think it's always interesting when someone is reading something that is not their "usual fare,"
>116 avaland: - That Pamuk sounds interesting. Luckily for me the Brooklyn PL has an e-copy of it!
Tomorrow, I begin my 12th year on LT!! And Michael is just a few weeks begin me.
I can't believe it's been 11 years.
A big congratulations! How (where to) has your reading evolved in that twelve years: new directions, new interests...?
>120 SassyLassy: Interesting question. I was pointed to LT by a Random House book rep when she heard I was leaving the bookstore. She thought it would help me transition to the "real world." ha ha.
I have set no goals of any kind over the last 11 years. I wandered early into Africa and other place-based reading. I also read much more translated literature, especially that written by women. I read more short fiction collections and anthologies for a time, though I seem to have moved away away from this of late. I dove deep into specific authors like Angela Carter and deeper in Joyce Carol Oates; while trying to keep up with favorites (far too many these days, but sadly, some like Helen Dunmore, Graham Joyce...have passed away), and I have read quite a bit more nonfiction....
Aha! You're reading Borne. I'll be so interested to hear what you think.
Just posting to say I finally caught up...from July...Sorry, one of those years. But a great collection of reviews here - Anne Hutchinson, parenting, that first paragraph of Pamuk, New England Bound, A Meal in Winter, etc - it's too much at once for me to coherently comment on, but enjoyed reading through.
>122 auntmarge64: Can't believe that was sitting on the bookstore shelf and I missed it. Already, in just what I have read, it's brought to mind in passing the central theme of Asimov's The Positronic Man, the settings of Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Yuknavitch's The Book of Joan and briefly the idea in Jonathan Lethem's She Climbed Across the Table.
>123 dchaikin: No worries, Dan. We have been rather scarce here this year, though I think we both, at the very least, make an effort to get something down about the books we are reading.
William Gibson's Archangel by William Gibson and Michael St. John Smith
Gibson's newest book is a graphic novel. In a 2016 that is not ours, the world's great cities are smashed and radioactive. The US government has been moved to Montana, and scientists there have built a form of time machine - a "splitter", which can reach into the past to create a branching timeline. People can be sent back, into a past filled with new possibily, to create a new future, separate from the disastrous one they left.
The denizens of the radioactive 2016 have sharply divergent views on what this renewed world should become, and so two rival expeditions travel back to the 1945 they, and we, remember, each determined to bring about their preferred alternate history by any means necessary.
In August 1945, in the ruins of Berlin, British intelligence officer Naomi Givens must make sense of a film showing the crash of an aircraft unlike any in the world, a plane that appeared out of thin air. The Soviets have the wreckage, but she has the still-living pilot, and samples of materials no one in 1945 knows how to make. Working with an American counterpart, she must understand a secret war over the future.
Graphic novels are group projects; there are 12 names on the title page, artists, writers, and editors. I'm familiar only with Gibson. The panels are drawn realistically:
...although in action sequences the choices of views and viewing angles sometimes make it a bit difficult to see who is doing what. The book presents a splendid vision of a noir Berlin.
Thoughts of how history can branch at crucial moments are on the minds of many of us these days, and Gibson's book is an extremely timely investigation of the idea.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (2017)
Within a few chapters of Jeff VanderMeer’s latest novel, Borne, several other novels came to mind: Asimov’s The Positronic Man, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, McCarthy’s The Road and Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan. Perhaps it was an effect of getting acclimated to a new weird and damaged world, or perhaps his novel shares some thing with each of these books.
Borne is set in a future, dangerous dystopian city once dominated by “the Company” and filled by all manner of creatures—strange blends of human, animal and biotech, including the “de-facto ruler” of the city, a giant bear named Mord. Rachel and Wick live in their individual underground spaces in the “Balcony Cliffs,” surviving day by day by scavenging in the city. One day, while out scavenging, Rachel finds the mysterious Borne, a small creature that she will nurture, despite Wick’s misgivings. Who and what is Borne? What is its place in this dangerous world? While the story of Borne dominates the beginning of the book, the story of Rachel and Wick’s survival dominates thereafter.
Like Rachel, the reader has a strange creature to understand, but also, unavoidably, a world dense with strange, weird things and ideas to explore and question. This is a book about survival, life, death, creation, destruction, and what it means to be human. Yet, for all its attractions, one finishes the book a bit a unsatisfied, perhaps because of the change of focus, or because the answers weren’t entirely sufficient or not clear enough. Still, this is an engaging and worthy read if only for the strange wonder in us it creates, and for the thing all dystopias give us–—hope.
I ordered this book because I very much enjoyed the author’s previous book, The Day the Doves Disappeared, which was an interesting and complex story of Estonia in WWII, and because her first novel, Purge, has been on my wishlist since it won the Nordic Council Literature Prize.
“Magic hair,” my husband said to me, fresh from the bookstore and a bit puzzled, “not really your thing, is it?” That’s true to some extent, but I have read a lot of weirder stuff in my lifetime and I was interested what this author might do with “magic hair”.
Norma’s mother Anita has just committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, and Norma finds both the suicide and the events preceding it nonsensical and mysterious. Not particularly social but determined to investigate, Norma quietly explores Anita’s things and, not knowing who to trust, carefully questions the people around her. And yes, Norma’s hair—perhaps more curse than blessing—which she hides most often under a turban, grows exceedingly fast, and is sensitive to mood and atmosphere, among other things. In an era when hair extensions are all the rage, Anita has been selling Norma’s hair through the salon where she works, passing it off as coming from Ukrainian sources.
But the mystery around Anita’s suicide deepens to seemingly involve an underworld of surrogates and baby factories, a competitive world of hair, family histories, and the mental illness of a family friend. While the mystery in the story drives one through the book, it sometimes seems an unclear path and, agreeing with another LT reviewer, the ending does fall flat. Still, I give the author points for the ideas and effort ,and her attempt to make the whole supernatural hair thing more intriguing than fairy-tale-ish.
Well, I'm not a big reader of graphic novels; making the exception because it's Gibson.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.