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Annie's Reading Diary 2017, Part 1

Club Read 2017

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1AnnieMod
Edited: Dec 21, 2016, 10:23pm Top

And here we go again. Let's see if I will manage not to drop off my own thread in 2017.

I read pretty much anything - although Science fiction and mysteries are probably closest to my heart (followed by fantasy, horror (and speculative fiction as a whole), crime stories and thrillers.

I tend to get a bit crazy when I decide to read on a specific topic - a few years ago I decided to read history of the world in order... and somehow ended up down to Earth and universe formation. I probably will be back to this sooner or later - usually when I least expect it. I also tend to buy a lot of books on a topic, not to read all of them and then to return back to the topic at some point.

I love stories (speculative fiction and mystery/crime mainly but I also like non-genre ones occasionally) and essays. As a result I subscribe to a lot of magazines, journals and reviews and in 2016 I did not seem to read them as a rule. Maybe I will get better at that and following the few online only magazines that I usually like reading.

I have a soft spot for the verbosity of the Victorians and their direct descendants and even if I do not always feel in the mood for that, I return to them now and then (yeah, I know it is the opposite of stories but... I did say I read pretty much anything). And a lot of the current fantasy authors are getting close to them in they aspect so I end up pulled into their stories as well.

Comics and graphic novels are one of my soft spots as well - even though somehow I did not read a single one in 2016. That will change in 2017 for sure. :) As a novels and stories based on TV shows I like.

I never make plans - I may have some ideas about what I need to read more (stories, comics, get back to magazines and some series) but I end up reading what I feel like. So we will see what I will end up reading next year.

Welcome to my thread. Pull a chair, pour yourself some coffee/tea (or something stronger if you prefer) and have a wonderful reading 2017!

2AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 23, 2017, 1:10am Top

*(links point to the post for the book)

Novels
1. (2015) Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky - Science Fiction, standalone
2. (1931) Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon, translated by David Bellos from the French - Detective, #1 in a series
3. (1981) A Savage Place by Robert B. Parker - Detective, #8 in a series
4. (1947) The Case of the Lazy Lover by Erle Stanley Gardner - Detective, #30 in a series
5. (2014) The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames - Detective, #2 in a series
6. (1982) Port Eternity by C. J. Cherryh - Science Fiction, Part of Universe

Non-fiction
1. (2016) Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin - Journalism
2. (1999) The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Władysław Szpilman - Memoir

Collections
1. (2016) The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P. D. James - mystery, crime, detective

4AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 10, 2017, 10:14pm Top

Stories

1. (2016) The Mind Is Its Own Place by Carrie Vaughn, in Forever 24, Science Fiction
2. (2006) The Muse of Empires Lost by Paul Berger, in Forever 24, Science Fiction
3. (1995) The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, Detective Fiction
4. (1969) A Very Commonplace Murder by P. D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, Detective Fiction
5. (1979) The Boxdale Inheritence by P. D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, Detective Fiction
6. (1996) The Twelve Clues of Christmas by P. D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, Detective Fiction
7. (1999) Forty, Counting Down by Harry Turtledove, in Forever 24, Science Fiction

5AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 10, 2017, 10:53pm Top

Magazines/journals/newspapers and other periodical thingies

Links are to the posts where I am talking about the magazine/journal/newspaper. No link means I had not read it yet.

Forever (Website), edited by Neil Clarke - Science Fiction Reprint Magazine
2017: 24 - January

London Review of Books (Website)
2017, Volume 39: 1 - Jan 5

The New York Times Review of Books
2017: Jan 1

6PaulCranswick
Dec 28, 2016, 7:16am Top

I will to share in your reading adventures Annie. Thanks for stopping by my thread and making me feel so welcome here.

7NanaCC
Dec 28, 2016, 2:20pm Top

I'm glad you're back Annie. Your selections are always interesting.

8AnnieMod
Dec 29, 2016, 1:02am Top

>6 PaulCranswick:

Hi Paul. Welcoming is a special gift of this group. :) I am going to stay strong and not post until the new year about books :)

>7 NanaCC:
Hi Colleen. Let's see if this year I will be better than the last few to keep posting :)

9ELiz_M
Jan 1, 2017, 9:56am Top

Happy New Year! I love following your thread -- the books are eclectic and the discussions are enjoyable.

10dchaikin
Jan 1, 2017, 10:39am Top

Hi Annie - wish you a great year of reading.

11AnnieMod
Jan 1, 2017, 6:47pm Top

>9 ELiz_M: Thanks :) Happy new year!

>10 dchaikin: Hi Dan - have a wonderful year yourself.

12valkyrdeath
Jan 1, 2017, 6:57pm Top

Good to see you back with a new thread again, I enjoyed following your reading last time. Hope you have a good new year!

13The_Hibernator
Jan 1, 2017, 9:12pm Top

14avaland
Jan 2, 2017, 5:51am Top

Happy New Year, Annie. Hope to get over here and follow your reading from time to time this year.

15arubabookwoman
Jan 2, 2017, 6:58pm Top

I hope to enjoy following your reading again this year. I was mostly a lurker last year, but hope to comment once in a while this year.

16AnnieMod
Jan 2, 2017, 7:21pm Top

>12 valkyrdeath: Thanks :)

>13 The_Hibernator: Love the... whatever that chicken is.

>14 avaland: Happy New year :)

>15 arubabookwoman: Welcome :)

And an update:

I just got my new bookcases delivered today (yey!). Now I need to assemble them. I love IKEA's Billy series... after they are assembled.

17AnnieMod
Jan 3, 2017, 11:19pm Top


1. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Type: Novel
Length: 600 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2015
Genre: Science Fiction; Space Opera
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Pan Books
Finished: 2 January 2017
Rating:

Notes: Arthur C. Clarke award winner (2016); New author for me

Dying Earth, nano-virus, terraforming, arkship, non-human intelligence, a crazy scientist, AI, human-AI mix, crazy ship captain and a few millennia of history. It sounds like a checklist of what can be added to a science fiction series, doesn't it?

For his debut science fiction novel (but not his debut novel by a lot), Tchaikovsky did not just pick one thing from the list. Or 2. Or 5. He used all of them - and added even more. And then he decided that this will be a standalone story and wrapped the story in 600 pages. It should not have worked. And yet, it is one of the best SF novels I had read in a long time.

It all started with the uplift project (ran by the Brin Habitat of course - how else could it have been called?) - a project to terraform a string of planets, add monkeys and a nano-virus to allow them to reach intelligence a lot faster and see what will happen. It should have been the biggest success of the human race. But that being humanity after all, the things do not go as planned and the slightly crazy scientist Dr. Kern ends up overseeing her own project - minus the monkeys. And while the planet is evolving with the help of the virus (but without the recipients for it), humanity destroys Earth in more than one way (and lives through an ice age just to make it really messy) and ends up on an arkship, trying to follow a map everyone had forgotten for millennia. And that's where the story really starts.

The planet, Kern's World, now has a living population - of big intelligent spiders (at least it was not cockroaches - that would have been logical but would not have worked - Tchaikovsky knows his animals and picked the one that actually could pull off a success). The protection inside of the virus that was supposed to protect the monkeys from competition, does its job rendering all vertebrae animals stupid. But everyone forgot the other members of the animal family - and the green planet is more of a nightmare. And humanity is coming.

Add a few battles, a shifting story (we have one chapter with the humans, one with the spiders) and evolution on a scale that noone had ever seen (time passes and the nano-virus helps as well), more than one reversal of fortune (for both species), the titular crazy scientist getting crazier and causing a lot of the issues on both sides and an end that was so logical but also so unexpected that I did not see it coming. And it is a perfect end of a story about intelligence and beliefs.

But it is not just a story of battle and survival - because Tchaikovsky builds his evolution story step by step - through the dark ages and the religious dark times (and it is almost logical that the first time the spiders go on a war against each other, it is because of a human); through innovation and progress. It is a success story, even if the monkeys never made it on the planet - and at the end, the evolution wins against stupidity.

A wonderful story (as long as you are not afraid of spiders) and I am not surprised at all that it won the Arthur C. Clarke award - it is a reimaged story from the past but told in a new way.

18baswood
Jan 4, 2017, 10:24am Top

Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky sounds good. Evolution winning against stupidity perhaps there is hope after all.

19AnnieMod
Jan 4, 2017, 5:43pm Top

>18 baswood: Perhaps. It comes down to looking at the same problem from different sides more than anything.

20valkyrdeath
Jan 4, 2017, 6:20pm Top

>17 AnnieMod: Good review, I like the sound of this and it seems to have some interesting themes. And I'm always happy to hear of good new science fiction that isn't just the start of a series. Another one for the list!

21ipsoivan
Edited: Jan 4, 2017, 6:28pm Top

Yes, I'm bookmarking this at the library's website. Somehow (even though I don't often go for SF), this appeals to me. Thanks for the review.

22AnnieMod
Jan 4, 2017, 10:58pm Top

>20 valkyrdeath: Sometimes the authors that come up with the good ideas fail miserably at execution. Not the case here (he even points out why the new civilization cannot rely on fire as we did (terraforming and accelerating intelligence leaves a very young planet geologically -- which means nothing to burn besides the trees - somewhere around the whole story, he almost writes a "this is what happens in real life" sub-story without making it boring or invasive).

>21 ipsoivan: In a way SF is used exactly what it is best for - allow a flight of imagination that leaps and leads to people dreaming and finding way around issues. :)

23AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 5, 2017, 2:41am Top

1M. The New York Times Review of Books - January 1, 2017
Finished: 4 Jan 2017
Current issue: This one (I am up-to-date, yey!)

What would you know - I actually managed to finish a newspaper before the next issue is published. :) Not all articles will be covered in the notes - just the ones that I either liked or disliked.

Notes on the issue:
- The opening article"Her Little Black Book" is written by Woody Allen who looks at a book that I would never even think of picking up: "Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Greatest American Sex Scandal of 1936" by Edward Sorel. I don't like gossip magazines (of course, I did go through a phase when I did) and books like that sounds too sensational. And then comes Woody Allen - who provides such an enthusiastic and lively review of both the book and the life of Mary Astor (while explaining that he is not that enamored with Astor as the author is) that I want to read the story now - with all its historical notes and the caricatures by the author. On a more personal note, that is the first review of a book I read this year and it convinced me that I want to read the book. This does not bode well for this year... at all.

- Joshua Cohen's "A Balkans of the Mind" and "The Shortlist: Families in Fiction" by Mike Peed are the only Fiction reviews in the issue. Cohen's is about a new book by Peter Handle (which name I had never heard before and from what I read in this note, I am not interested to. On the other hand, Peed's selection of family chronicles interests me enough to at least note the books and look for them in the library: "The House at the Edge of Night" by Catherine Banner, "Shining Sea" by Anne Korkeakivi, "Addlands" by Tom Bullough and James Lee Burke's "The Jealous Kind".

On the non-fiction side:
- David E. Sanger's review of "The Tragedy of U. S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest" by Walter A. McDougall is timely and contains notes on both Bush and Obama (without making a villain of either) and make me want to read that book (yeah, that whole "read your magazines and newspapers exercise will not finish well). And that book pairs well with "The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the present" by John Pomfret, reviewed by Simon Winchester later in the issue - which sounds like an awesome overview (including the fact that USA is a very young country compared to China).

- Carl Safina's review of "Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origin of Consciousness" by Peter Godfrey-Smith contains a lot of facts I never knew (did you know that the octopus has 3 hearts? Or that they (as part of the cephalopod family) developed a complex nervous system (I think I actually knew that from my biology classes but had not thought of that for a while). One of the best notes both from the review and from the book is that we do not need to go and look for "other" minds elsewhere - we kinda have a distant cousin that is very different from us just here. (In a funny turn of events, Tchaikovsky's book I talked about above also talked about cephalopods (spiders don't swim after all and the new world has oceans) and their abilities but I am not sure I actually appreciated some of his notes until I read this review and why he did not stress how the virus helped them as much as the spiders. Variety in reading causes this sometimes :) )

- Janna Levin's look at "The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of The Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars" by Dava Sobel and "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" by Margot Lee Shetterly is heart-warming and highlights nicely the difference in approaches - documents upon documents for Sobel and personal story for Shetterly. Unless if you live under a rock, you know that the movie based on the second one is now in theaters but I have a bad feeling that I want to read the book before the movie - both books really. The parts from the story that Levin discloses makes me even more curious than the titles already did.

- An interview with Bernard-Henri Levy about books and writers (and sometimes about politics and books) is charming and makes me want and go read something by him.

- Douglas Wolk's review of Graphic novels is surprisingly diverse - it covers a classic story : Pushwagner's "soft City" (finally published into USA), A murder SF story: Tom King and Gabriel Hernandes Walta series "The Vision", a straight SF: Tom Gauld's "Mooncop" (which is at the top of my Graphic TBR just now so stay tuned if you want to hear an opinion), surreal/fantasy story (from the sound of it): Atwood's "Angel Catbird", three auto-biographical stories - "Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63" by Marcelino Truong, "Flying Couch: A Graphic Memoir" by Amy Kurzweil and "Becoming Unbecoming" by Una (which is going after topics like shame and isolation and what's not after rape and even explains how that helped the Yorkshire Ripper in teh 70s) and even a book about Tetris. I am not sure I want to read the Tetris book but the rest are straight into my list (that list is definitely not going well).

- Daniel Halpern's essay on "Why Poetry" is charming and amusing and he makes his case eloquently and with notes and reactions from a lot of named contributors (some of them I had heard of, some I had not).

- The 17 books for 2017 adds to my list of books again (that poor list). :)

- Simon Baron-Cohen's defense of empathy is worth reading - after an author apparently managed to publish a book that claims that we will better off without it. Apparently the book is partially a semantic nonsense of the author redefining empathy and then explaining how you cannot feel empathy for more than 1 or 2 people at the same time... and more in that vein. Baron-Cohen succeeds in not just reviewing the book professionally and rebutting the main theme but also to make you understand why the book does not make sense. Is it possible that the book itself really has something to say? Maybe. But after this review, I would never read it. I'd read another review of the reviewer anytime though.

The rest of the reviews were readable but nothing that really stood up (there were a few more that were mostly negative as well). Overall an enjoyable issue - and way too many good books.

So... did anyone read this whole rambling post? :)

24valkyrdeath
Jan 5, 2017, 6:12pm Top

>23 AnnieMod: There's an interesting selection of graphic novels in there, most of them already on my radar. I'll be interested to hear your opinion of Mooncop because I keep seeing it around but haven't decided whether I want to read it yet. Such a Lovely Little War is at the top of my to read list for graphic novels though, so I should be reading that one within the next month or so. I even saw that Tetris book in the shop just the other day, since it stood out as a baffling title on a book shelf. I added The Glass Universe to my wishlist at the end of last week after finishing Longitude, so there's lots of interest in this post to me!

I came across that anti-empathy book via an article by the author where he started by saying outright that he was defining empathy to mean the same as sympathy, and then explaining why it's a bad idea to use this type of empathy as a sole means of making a decision. So he really was redefining the word and then arguing against something that I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone claim. Baffling nonsense.

And yes, I read the whole post. :)

25AnnieMod
Jan 5, 2017, 6:34pm Top

>24 valkyrdeath:

My library has the Tetris book so I may decide to check it out actually - just to see what it is all about. And yeah - I think I will be reading most of those GNs so... watch that space :) You know - that whole section caught me a bit off guard - I've read NYTRB on and off for years (mostly off) and I do not really remember reading a section like that before. And I listed them because it is an interesting collection, showing again how powerful the graphic format can be.

The empathy guy in that book apparently is saying that you feel empathy only if you have exactly the same feelings as the person you are feeling it for - so if a girl is scared from a dog, you can feel empathy only if you are as scared as her. (or so the reviewer presented it) Which is... nonsense. And leads to things like "you cannot feel empathy for a victim of war" and what's not. Under his definition, yes, you cannot do that but... this is not what empathy mean. It really does not make sense to say: "let me redefine that word and then explain to you why you were wrong about it". It reminds me a bit of my first exercise in Abstract Algebra (Groups, Rings, and Fields exercises) where you redefine +,=,1 and 2 to mean something else in a ring/field and then prove that 2+2=1 or something like that. of course neither +, nor =, nor 1, nor 2 mean what you think then mean but still when you see it on paper it is startling...

:)

26AnnieMod
Jan 6, 2017, 12:05am Top


2. Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin

Type: Non-fiction
Length: 275 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2016 (1964-2016)
Genre: Journalism
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House
Finished: 4 January 2017
Rating:

16 articles from The New Yorker - the oldest one is from 1964, the newest from 2008; each of them with a note at the end about what happened after the article.

Trillin starts his book with a quick note explaining that the article had been shortened occasionally and some repetitions had been removed (as I read the magazine, I know what he is talking about) but they had not been edited otherwise for content or language. And that is important because when you read through the book, you see the language evolve and change. I would have hated it if those articles from the 60s and the 70s were changed so they do not sound offensive today.

But before the articles, he also writes an introduction - the story of 50+ years in a few sentences. Of course it is about race and about memories and it sets the tone of the book.

The articles are in almost chronological order - actually the first 14 are in order and the last two are reversed - the 1996 one is last and the 2008 is before it. When I was the contents, I wondered if I want to read them in their chronological order but decided to trust the author. And that is the correct way to read it. Because that last story pairs with the very first and shows the difference brought to the state of Mississippi in a little over 30 years.

Why would a book about race relations start in the state that is notorious for its issues in that area especially in the 60s? I expected to read a story of suffering and awfulness... and it turned out that there was actually a voting registration movement in the summer of 1964 in Jackson and the area and that despite politics and everything, something had been happening there. And from there, we start moving through the country and the decades - in New Orleans for the Zulu parade, in Wilmington, Delaware with the National Guards Patrols of 1968, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for a university that does not really like integration in 1969, to the Mormons and their believes in Utah in 1970, to Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, New Jersey, Seattle and Boston in the 70s. And the topics and the language shifts - from Negros, voting rights and just the right to exist to blacks, the right to enter a discotheque, not being killed for being black and on the street and build where you want. It is the story of a turbulent couple of decades in 12 articles - not connected in any way and still painting a nuanced picture.

The last 4 are a bit different - partially because of the times and partially because of the topics - a hearing about an appointment that allows Trillin to muse on the topic of "the people that were behind the scenes" in 1977 leads these. That one resonated with me. The country I was born in, Bulgaria, was a communist country until 1989. After the change, everyone claimed that they were dissidents - people that had opposed the regime, most of them behind the scenes. As you can imagine, most of them were just trying to win something in a bad situation so I loved the sentence that Trillin reported to have heard from a black lawyer in New Orleans: "It must be getting mighty crowded back there, behind the scenes".

The last 3 cover 3 decades - a story about race designations in Louisiana in the 80s (which allows an exploration of race and identity), the death of a young man in the new century (a white boy killed by a black home-owner) and the last story - the opening of the archives of the race commission in Mississippi in the 90s. But despite being just one per decade, they still show that the problems are still with us - even half a century after the turbulent 60s.

There is a meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of the articles of course as is some local and national politics and bashing at public figures. And there is a lot of local feeling in each of them - people who I had never heard of became live in the pages.

And what scares me is that more than once through the book, I had to check again what year that piece was from - because if you changed the language a bit, it could have been published last week... or next week.

It's not an easy book to read in places but it is worth it and I would recommend it to anyone - 50 years apparently were not enough to change things.

27dchaikin
Jan 6, 2017, 7:43am Top

>23 AnnieMod: I used to subscribe just to the the NY times book review, but stopped only when I stopped reading them (and the section had gotten thinner when the papers were cutting costs and losing money). Now I can just follow your thread. : ) I enjoyed this post a lot.

>26 AnnieMod: great review. I've listened to an Alice book by Trillin (does he have more than one? ... yes, three!) and he writes very nicely. Interesting sounding collection.

28RidgewayGirl
Jan 6, 2017, 9:25am Top

Excellent review of the Trillian book. I'll look for a copy.

29AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 6, 2017, 12:27pm Top

>27 dchaikin: Hey Dan. It had gotten thinner, hadn't it? I am subscribing just to the review on the kindle and it is perfect for a lunchtime reading for the most part. I still would pick up a Sunday paper now and then but I usually would read a couple of articles only and then just the review... It is a nice way to discover books I would not even think of because they are not exactly in my wheelhouse.

I like the longer and more involved essays in both NYRB and LRB as well but NYTRB hits a different part of my brain I think (together with The TLS). We will see how long I will keep up with all 4 this year - I tend to fall behind fast. And even though they are reviews, they tie to the current so reading them in a few months sometimes is a bit too late. Plus - most of those are done in a way that allows you to learn things just from the review (the octopus has 3 hearts... I still cannot get over that) :)

As for Trillin - I am afraid I have a confession to make - I've never heard of the guy before this book. I did look him up of course but his articles are all before I started reading the magazine so the name just never came up.

>28 RidgewayGirl: Thanks RidgewayGirl :)

30AnnieMod
Jan 7, 2017, 7:00pm Top

2M. London Review of Books - January 5, 2017 (volume 39, number 1)
Finished: 6 Jan 2017

A gorgeous cover by Alexander Gorlizki (why do the two London reviews have wonderful covers (especially LRB while the two American ones are too busty putting headlines on the covers? Is it cultural?) It is over here if you want to see it: http://cdn.lrb.co.uk/assets/covers/m/cov3901.jpg

Adam Tooze's "A General Logic of Crisis" takes a look at the economical situation in Europe post the crisis and at "How Will Capitalism End?" by Wolfgang Streeck. The review starts with an overview of the situation in Europe (the Western part anyway) and how Streeck and his views came into prominence. And then he went on to explain why and how he does not agree with the author and the book. He took some pains explaining what he agrees with - as little as it was. It's a heavy essay - I almost needed a dictionary here and there. But it was a great overview of a situation that is away from easy... or clear.

Susannah Clapp's "The Buffalo in the Hall" takes a look at the new biography of Beryl Bainbridge by Brendan King. I've never heard of Bainbridge (I have a bit of a blind spot with modern non-genre authors where modern is probably anything in the 20th century). Clapp proceeds to present not just the book but also the subject of it - as a woman and an author. I am not interested to read a full book about her but the review was informative and a good way to learn something new. As for the book - Clapp found it comprehensive but stylistically challenged.

Mike Jay's "Don't fight sober" explores the usage of drugs during war. On the surface it is a review of course - of two books: "Shooting Up: A History of Trugs in Warfare" by Lukasz Kamienski and "Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany" by Norman Ohler. But Jay uses the two books to support his essay - starting with the drugs in the current wars, going through the past using Ohler's research, stopping in Germany with Kamienski's book and then continuing with Ohler. The two reviews and the overarching essay are weaved into a wonderful unity that you do not feel that you read a review - it is more of an essay. Which may not be what the author had in mind but that is how it reads.

Nicholas Penny review of the Kenneth Clark biography by James Stourton brings Clark back to life - a contradictory human being for sure. Not interested enough to read the book but I am glad I read the article.

It all started with a picture of a girl for Marina Warner, back in Egypt when she was a small girl. From that memory will spawn a research of the Westerner that commanded the Ottoman Empire military and the dressing choices of the British in the colonies. "Anglo-Egyptian Attitudes" is not a review but it talks about books - to support the story. And the story is as much about that young girl memory or the Ottoman empire as it is about colonialism, languages and clothes.

Ian Penman tackles one of the topics that I had been waiting to show up - Bowie and the huge amount of books about him that got churned after his death (one of them written in 10 weeks). From the look of it, none of them is really impressive (if anything Penman finds one of his older biographies to be better). But the review itself, when not bashing the authors and their books, is a short tribute to an artist - without the glamour and without trying to say that all he had done was great and without putting his personal life at the front. Nothing I did not know but still a good read.

Madeleine Schwartz uses the new biography (by Ruth Franklin) and new collection of Shirley Jackson to present the woman that she was. She wrote but she was also a housewife, a wife and a mother; she was a better writer than her husband but it took him a long time to recognize that; she was a woman in a town where women were not supposed to want to leave the house (more or less). It's an interesting look at an author that I really liked but who I knew nothing about. Maybe I will pick that biography...

Did you know that the bland cuisine that is considered English is not really what English were eating in the Early Modern Age? No, back in those days it was French-influenced and quite different. And the housewives learned how to cook from the same books that taught them how to perfume gloves or make a medicine. Interested? Wendy Wall wrote a book called "Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen", reviewed by Adam Smyth - and if the name had not convinced me I want to read it, the review did.

I don't like lazy authors. Fredric Jameson wrote three essays about Raymond Chandler in 1970, 1983 and 1993. Scroll forward to 2016 and he is publishing a book about him - a 87 (I am not missing a number) pages book collecting the 3 essays without much of an editing (to the point that in two different places of the book he claims a different novel is the best of Chandler's. Add to this that the book is about the then of Chandler and the now and that is sloppy - what is Jameson's now? That span is longer than the span between the first essay and Chandler's times. James Meek stops short of calling him lazy and does a great job talking about Chandler, apparently despite Jameson's book.

I like reading critique of works I had read. A full book on critique may work for me. But a review of such book? I could not even finish the review - not because it was bad but because I could not get out of my head the recursiveness of the whole situation.

A story about Cristmas Trees contained enough history to keep me interested and the story on "Opus anglicanum" was very informative - I did not know that this kind of embroidery even existed (the article was because of an upcoming exhibit).

Alan Bennett's Diary of 2016 is a good read as usual except that it is more subdued and mournful than I can remember it ever being. The rest of the shorter articles and all of the poetry were somewhere between "I really do not care" and unreadable (especially some of the poetry).

It's not unusual for me not to be interested in most of the books LRB reviews - I love their essays and I learn a lot from them but rarely want to read a full book (although I would probably pick up the Early Modern English Cuisine one). A good issue as usual.

31dchaikin
Jan 7, 2017, 7:17pm Top

I've never read the LRB and I've always wondered what was inside. Partially for this reason I found your summaries fascinating.

32AnnieMod
Jan 7, 2017, 7:28pm Top

Dan, they have some of their articles online for free: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n01/contents in case you want to check it.

I tend to call them essays more than reviews - they technically review but it is more like the longer reviews of NYRB than the New York Times ones - using the book as a base to write an essay on the topic of the book with the book in the narrative somewhere...

33kidzdoc
Jan 8, 2017, 8:56am Top

Great review of Jackson, 1964, Annie. I'll be on the lookout for it as well.

34baswood
Jan 8, 2017, 9:49am Top

I am also a subscriber to The LRB, mainly because of its left of centre politics. Well worth reading and I try also to read from cover to cover.

35PaulCranswick
Jan 9, 2017, 1:20am Top

>31 dchaikin: I think that I will probably subscribe to the LRB when I return to the UK this year, Annie. Fascinating.

36AnnieMod
Jan 9, 2017, 2:07am Top


3. Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

Type: Novel
Length: 162 pages
Original Language: French (Translation David Bellos 2013)
Original Publication: 1931
Genre: Detective
Part of Series: Maigret (1)
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin
Finished: 8 January 2017
Rating:

The first Maigret novel is a little weird - part of it is the time, part of it is the setting, part of it is the detective himself. But it has enough good moments to actually be worth reading.

A known criminal, Pietr the Latvian, is on his way to Paris. Maigret is the one that get the notes and heads to the station to see the man arriving. And he does - together with stumbling at a dead body. And the chase is on.

If Maigret was written today, he would sounded like just one of the eccentric detectives that had dominated the field. But considering when he was created, he is one of the ones that actually created the cliche. His obsession with his stove and his beer (did Stout read some of these novels before creating Nero Wolfe or the two of them just came up with that in the same decade?) make him different from some of the other detective in the classic series; his methods are unorthodox (but successful).

That first murder ends up just the start of a much more serious case which will lead to more deaths (including a policeman), a few women that seem to be in love with men that could not exist and an internal conspiracy. Add a wealthy American who is beloved by the government, an old family story and a few bullets hitting where they should not, a few lost ribs and more misdirection than you would expect in such a slim book and you will have the novel.

Part of the issues of the book is exactly that complexity. It feels more like a puzzle and an attempt to add more and more misdirection just for the sake of misdirection. But it does have its great moments - from introducing the police network in Europe and the instructions on recognizing people by their ears (I did not realize that theory was that old) to Paris - the Paris of the 30s with its great places and dives.

A good start of the series - even if it is not a great novel, I ma happy I read it.

37AnnieMod
Jan 9, 2017, 2:11am Top


4. Mooncop by Tom Gauld

Type: Graphic Novel
Length: 94 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2016
Genre: Science Fiction
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Finished: 8 January 2017
Rating:

If you are expecting an action story, go elsewhere. If you are expecting a crime story, that is not that either. What Gauld created is a story about a policeman that is one of the last people left in a place that everyone leaves. It happens to be the Moon - but it could have been any village that is getting depopulated (and my home country has a lot of them), every place that loses its population when the jobs get sent elsewhere.

Once upon a time, the Moon had a thriving colony - with agricultural specialists and people. Then things started to go down - we do not see all the details of how, by the time we start the story, it had already happened. But we do see a few robots replacing people (although in the usual way corporations work, there is also a reversed action when a vending machine is replaced with a human-fronted cafe).

And outside of the moon setting, it is a standard cop story - with donuts, missing pets and mismatched technology - the help our main character gets is so weird - the way it gets when someone reads reports and sees everything like numbers - why would send to the moon a robot that is not suited for rough terrain?

It is a bit repetitive in places (although it serves its purpose of showing the everyday). But the economical art suits the story perfectly.

38valkyrdeath
Jan 10, 2017, 8:10pm Top

>37 AnnieMod: I actually didn't have a clue what this book was about but I'd seen the title around a lot and seen it in the shop. It sounds like an interesting idea. I'll hopefully be able to get to it eventually.

39AnnieMod
Jan 10, 2017, 10:13pm Top

>33 kidzdoc: Thanks :)

>34 baswood: There is that as well - although the articles I skip occasionally are the heavy political ones. I am not always in the mood for them - but the reviews are usually balanced and informative.

>35 PaulCranswick: I'd love to hear what you think of it if you do - or if you decide to look at the free articles online.

>38 valkyrdeath: I saw it almost my chance and decided to try it. Paid off I guess :)

40AnnieMod
Jan 10, 2017, 10:20pm Top


5. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P. D. James

Type: Collection
Length: xvi+152 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2016 (original stories 1969-1996)
Genre: Mystery, Detective, Crime
Part of Series: Standalone/Adam Dalgliesh
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Finished: 8 January 2017
Rating:

The small (both in number of pages and in format) collection collects 4 previously uncollected stories by P. D. James - 2 non-series ones and 2 Adam Dalgliesh stories, with a single connection thread between the 4 of them - past choices.

Val McDermid had written a short but nice Forward about the P. D. James and her craft and before we get to the stories, the collection also contains a Preface by the author about short stories and the genre. It is amusing to read McDermid talking about James and then have James citing Dorothy L. Sayers - a line of wonderful women that had been influenced by each other

The title story, "The Mistletoe Murder" gets an aging crime writer recall how she became one - via an old murder that happened in a house she was in 50 or so years earlier. She never shared her thoughts on what happened although she thought she knew who the killer was. But did she? It is the last paragraph in that story that resolves it - and makes you rethink everything.

"A Very Commonplace Murder" opens with a man returning to a place where he witnessed a murder 16 years ago. And through his recollections, we see the story unfolds - and the choices he makes during the murder and the trial that followed it. And just when you think you know what happened, P. D. James just turns the table on you. Twice. Masterfully executed.

Then in "The Boxdale Inheritence", everyone's favorite Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh is asked by his godfather to look into an old man murder that happened 67 years ago and which may have been the way an inheritance changed hands. A woman had been tried and found not guilty but a lingering doubt always remained. By the end we know how the old man died - but is truth really that important.

The last story, "The Twelve Clues of Christmas", is the only one that does not look at an old crime - while driving to his aunt's cottage, the newly promoted Sergeant Dalgliesh finds himself at the site of a suicide. Or so it looks. As much as I liked the reasoning, this story was way too short to be able to be more than just a sketch.

A good collection if you like P. D. James. And I should really read the remaining Dalgliesh mysteries.

41AnnieMod
Jan 10, 2017, 10:49pm Top

3M. Forever, Issue 24, January 2017, edited by Neil Clarke
Finished: 10 Jan 2017

Forever is a reprint science fiction magazine that reprint 3 science fiction stories every month - 1 novella and 2 long stories or novelettes. The first issue for 2017 contains 3 really good stories.

The novella, "Forty, Counting Down" by Harry Turtledove (originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, December 1999 and second in the Hugo awards the next year in the category) is set in 2018, initially anyway. Justin Kloster, 40 years old computed programmer had lost the woman he loved because of his own stupidity. So he decides he wants to fix things - by going back in time. And as it turns out, time travel is possible - just noone in his life had figured it out yet. So off he goes to 1999. Most of the time travelers try not to influence their own past too much; Justin is back to change his own history. Except that the universe (or time) has a weird way to balance things - and to show people how wrong they can be.

In "The Mind Is Its Own Place" by Carrie Vaughn (originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, September 2016 - maybe I should read my magazines when they arrive, then I would have read that one already), a man wakes up in hospital after something bad happened and noone wants to tell him what happened. Ships are crossing the void with navigators at the help - people that have a gift to calculate the routes and lead the ships to safety. Except that there is a weird malady that seems to influence them occasionally - and then they wake up in the same hospital. And then he starts remembering - while we see the world that he lives in. But are memories a good thing?

And in the third story, "The Muse of Empires Lost" by Paul Berger (originally published in the anthology "Twenty Epics" in 2006), humanity had dispersed among the stars, managed to build a society or 3 and to lose them. Somewhere along the lines, half mollusks/half machines were created that live in the space between the stars and even create their own offspring. And inside of each of them, humans live. And the story opens in one of those mollusks - with a girl with special powers that noone wants - and an old man arriving from the stars that seems to have a similar gift. Maybe he should have learned to listen a bit better though - because he manages to make a mistake that anyone could see happening.

I like that magazine more and more -- Neil Clarke is making very good selections.

42dchaikin
Jan 10, 2017, 11:22pm Top

Very entertained by the Maigret series review (>36 AnnieMod:). Will you be reading more?

43AnnieMod
Jan 10, 2017, 11:25pm Top

>42 dchaikin: Yeah, I am planning a full Perry Mason treatment - which is why I returned for the first one after reading two later ones last year. So there will be more of them this year :) And more Perry Mason. And a few more other classic mystery/crime/detective series.

44baswood
Edited: Jan 13, 2017, 5:01am Top

I will be following your Maigret series reviews, and now I know where to start if I tackle the series.

45AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 13, 2017, 11:27pm Top


2GN. How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

Type: Graphic Novel
Length: 62 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: June 2016
Genre: Fantasy*
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Finished: 10 January 2017
Rating:

I had not read the story this graphic novel is based on but even without Gaiman's name on it, I would have probably recognized it as one of his.

Two boys decide to go to a party, the address of which they do not exactly have. So when they find a party, they go in. One of the boys is a ladies man, the other one is shy and cannot speak to girls. And the girls he meets at the party do not exactly help - telling stories of impossible places.

There is more than one way to read the story - you can choose to see it as a fantasy story (which I prefer) or you can think of it as the way a boy sees women. Or something in between.

It is a short and sweet story about that age when everyone wishes to be just a bit older. And if you read it as a fantasy story, it is also a story about universes, changes and longing.

46valkyrdeath
Jan 15, 2017, 6:47pm Top

>45 AnnieMod: I've been considering reading this one, but I've read the short story and wasn't sure it was worth it. On the other hand I can get it from the library and I'm sure it's a quick read, so maybe I'll just read it anyway. Do you think the artwork goes well with the story?

47AnnieMod
Jan 15, 2017, 7:11pm Top

>46 valkyrdeath: You can tell most of the story just from the art, without reading the words. Which for me means a very successful one. Does it add to the story? I am not sure. But even if I knew where it is going, I would have liked to see the graphic story anyway. I generally like the art of the two Brazilians and they do not disappoint here. Get it from the library - it is very short - and if it does not work for you, nothing lost...

48AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 15, 2017, 10:50pm Top


3N. A Savage Place by Robert B. Parker

Type: Novel
Length: 184 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1981
Genre: Detective
Part of Series: Spenser (8)
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Dell
Finished: 14 January 2017
Rating:

For a second book in a row, Spenser did not get shot or beaten (or both). Change in the direction of the series or just a couple of books? We will see in the next ones.

Which does not make the book less violent than usual - people get beaten (and Spenser does some of the beating), people get dead and Spenser even manages to get arrested. What the book is lacking are Susan and Hawk - none of them make an appearance in the flesh or over the phone. It is strange - in previous books outside of Boston, Parker still managed to get them into the picture, including Hawk flying to Europe to help. But not here.

We do see someone we had met before - Rachel Wallace calls Spenser to tell him that he was recommended by her to a friend of hers in Los Angeles. Enter Candy Sloan - a reporter in LA that had stumbled upon some mafia-connected studio executives and now requires a bodyguard. So Spenser packs his suitcases and goes West. Of course things start as bad as possible for everyone involved, a man gets killed and somewhere in the whole mess, Spenser ends up in his client's bed (which is not that surprising all things considered). Then things get really complicated - more people die, more people get beaten, more connections that should not exist get uncovered. Add a police detective that wants to help (and does at the end) and the streets of LA and you have a complete cast of characters.

The story is somewhat predictable in places as most of the Spenser novels but it is peppered with the usual humor (not always PC one) and the views of a man that tries but not always succeed to be an evolved one. I had more issues with Candy - some of her reactions were one-tone - a raging feminist that does stupid things just because she wants to prove something. It may be a sign of the times (the novel was written in 1981 after all) but it did sound a bit too "in the face". She did remind me Rachel Wallace from a previous book though - even without the connection at the start.

I like the series - the humor and the food and clothing commentary (all of them delivered by Spenser - you really need to read it to appreciate the latter) make the series a lot better than it should be - considering that its overall testosterone-filled language and actions. Spenser is a strange detective but his stories are entertaining. Off to the next one.

49AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 16, 2017, 4:15pm Top


4N. The Case of the Lazy Lover by Erle Stanley Gardner

Type: Novel
Length: 250 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1947
Genre: Detective
Part of Series: Perry Mason (30)
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Finished: 15 January 2017
Rating:

Usually you know who had been killed early enough in the Perry Mason novels - or at least you can suspect. 1/3rd into this novel, noone had died yet and there was no way to see what is coming.

It all started with two checks for 25 hundred dollars each - received with consecutive mail deliveries (more than one delivery per day reminds you just how different the world we live in is), both from the same person, both with no notes attached but from different banks. That of course makes Perry suspicious - and before long it is clear that one of the checks is forged. Which makes our lawyer even more convinced that he wants to understand what is going on.

And then things get a bit weird - a car that had hit something, a married woman that had ran away with her husband's assistant and a woman that pretends to be someone else. Nothing unusual for Mason, right? Of course at some point there is also a body, a man with amnesia (seemingly caused by a hit of the head but ascribed to shell shock at some point - reminding me again how soon after the end of the war this novel is) and another crashed car (this one is really not good for the cars). There is also a farmer that seems sincere and the constant whining of Paul Drake.

It's a story of misdirection and lies - everyone lies and when someone's lie sounds better, other people decide to support it with their own even more elaborate one. And in an already familiar pattern, when a stupid policeman is needed, Tragg acquires an assistant - this time from the sheriff office. No Hamilton Burger either, he sends another underling - Danvers - to the preliminary hearings - which is all that we really get. The hearing itself, despite achieving the usual success, is almost understated - partially because it is not a full trial and partially because of all of the time taken chasing people across the state. And untangling what is the truth and what is someone's idea of the truth. And at the end you wonder if the person that died is not better of dead - for the sake of everyone else.

Not the strongest novel in the series but entertaining enough. 30 books into the series and it is still going strong. And I am always surprised how fast Gardner makes a series book read as a standalone - remind us who Della, Gertie (who has a somewhat bigger role than usual) and Paul are and inject enough background so you do not need the previous books.

50AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 18, 2017, 6:37pm Top


2NF. The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Władysław Szpilman

Type: Non-fiction
Length: 222 pages
Original Language: Polish, German
Original Publication: 1999 (original text 1946; diary from WWII), translator: Anthea Bell
Genre: Memoir
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Picador
Finished: 16 January 2017
Rating:

How do you review a memoir of the Holocaust? I've been looking for a way to start this review for 30 minutes and I am still not sure what a review should be.

Szpilman's story of his survival in Warsaw during WWII is heartbreaking and almost understated. It is almost as if he believe it was nothing special - that it just happened. And yet, he never got sent to a camp as most of the Warsaw Jews (partially due to luck, partially because of his own ingenuity), he did not get shot as a lot of the ones that somehow were left in the city, he never ended up in a prison or worse. But not because he sold out to the Germans - he lived in the Ghetto and refused to enter the police, he lived in hiding despite people cheating and people dying around him. And at the end, it was a German officer that made sure that he was clothed and fed enough to survive until the city was liberated.

The Warsaw Ghetto is one of the best known horror stories of the war - together with the camps and the gas chambers. But in most memoirs I had read, people end p out of Warsaw to survive. Szpilman never leaves the city - he hides and survives fire and cold; he even survives when his name is selected to be sent with one of the cattle carts that moved people out from the Ghetto. He lost his whole family and more than once he was ready to die - just to find a reason to live again.

The fall and liberation of Warsaw are bracketed by two renditions of Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor - the last thing to run on the radio before the broadcasting location was shelled; 6 years later, Szpilman is performing the same on the newly restarted Polish radio.

The story is written immediately after the war and one expects it to be bitter or disillusioned. But it is not - Szpilman sound almost detached from the horrors and the unspeakable tragedy he is describing. And somewhere in that story, there is also a German that saves him when everyone else had left.

The book contains not only the memoir of the Polish musician but also parts of the diary of that German, Wilm Hosenfeld, - showing that not everyone in Germany was part of the machine - even when they were part of the army. One of the tragedies of the times is that he was killed despite him helping more than one Jew - not in the war but in the Soviet POW camps after that, partially because they did not believe him.

It is a story of healing and acceptance. A way to exorcise the demons so the life can continue. Or a way to say everything that is in a man heart so space can be made for new and better memories. Whatever the reason, it is one of the memoirs that should be read.

The fact that the German officer had to be changed to an Austrian so it can be published in the new Poland after the war shows clearly that the war taught humanity nothing. The fact that it was pulled out soon after publishing and never republished until the times changed due to the Ukrainian and Baltic helpers of Germany being shown clearly is unfortunate and direct result of the split of the continent after the end of the war. (the afterword of that edition is more informative than usual). The war that should have united everyone ended up with the world split worse than ever. And humanity is still healing. But that is a different story. And not part of this book.

51RidgewayGirl
Jan 17, 2017, 7:17am Top

Excellent review.

52kidzdoc
Jan 18, 2017, 6:32pm Top

Great review of The Pianist, Annie!

53AnnieMod
Jan 18, 2017, 6:37pm Top

>51 RidgewayGirl: >52 kidzdoc:

Thanks! Once I started on it, it actually worked out pretty well - needs editing but I am not going to lose any sleep over it :)

54AnnieMod
Jan 18, 2017, 11:02pm Top


5N. The Last Death of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames

Type: Novel
Length: 253 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 2014
Genre: Detective
Part of Series: Samuel Craddock Mysteries (2)
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Finished: 17 January 2017
Rating:

Welcome back to Jarrett Creek - the small town in Texas with a Miss Marple complex. Remember Samuel Craddock - the ex-chief of police who is now retired in his ranch with his cows and the fine art he keeps buying, still mourning his wife? If you never read the series before, this one can be as nice of a start as any - even though there is continuity inside of the series, they do stand on their own.

A heart attack, a ball game that should not have been lost but is lost, a Gulf War veteran, a bunch of motorists and a sheriff who is more interested in drinking than in solving any crimes. It does not sound like a normal checklist for a small quiet town in the middle of nowhere (relatively speaking). Add to that a murder, old secrets, a religious cult, gambling, a head coach that have a real problem and a deputy that is even worse than the sheriff and you pretty much have the main elements of the novel.

And of course there is Craddock - who gets a title in this novel - Special Investigator for the Mayor - mainly so that he has some powers. It should have been a very busy novel but it is not - it is quiet and slow as the life in a small Texas town. Because Jarrett Creek is one of the main characters of the series - together with the neighbor Loretta and the lawyer Jennie - they all serve as the support network of our ex-chief. Even when they are weird, they still are better than what passes for police in the town or the local businessmen. If you are reading the books in order, this one will add just a little more to the background that keeps building. And to the town.

I am not sure if that qualifies as a cosy mystery - it is a bit too bloody for that. But not violently so. It is a wonderful series if one needs a bit of fresh air between more serious books.

55dchaikin
Jan 19, 2017, 8:06am Top

Terrific review of The Pianist. Enjoying your other reviews too.

56AnnieMod
Jan 19, 2017, 3:38pm Top

Thanks Dan. :)

57AnnieMod
Jan 19, 2017, 10:35pm Top


3GN. Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau; art by Alexandre Franc

Type: Graphic Novel
Length: 112 pages
Original Language: French (translation into English by Edward Gauvin)
Original Publication: 2014 in French (2016 in English)
Genre: Biography
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback
Publisher: SelfMadeHero (new publisher for me)
Finished: 18 January 2017
Rating:

How much do you know about Agatha Christie? There is probably noone that had never heard her name but I am not sure how many people know about her life - from a mysterious disappearance to being an archaeologist for awhile; from being a nurse during the war to becoming one of the most celebrated crime writers in the world.

This graphic novel tells her story - not just the story of how she wrote her novels but the story of a life lived to the full - from a little girl being told that children under 8 should never read books to a Dame; from being in a not so happy marriage to finding the love of her life. The story goes linearly - except for the start - because it opens with a real mystery.

The Dame of the mystery field lived through a mystery of her own. One day she disappeared - her car found next to a lake, her documents inside and she was nowhere to be seen. Her husband got accused (especially considering that he had an affair) and lived through some very unpleasant days. Until she showed up -- and claimed she does not remember anything. Despite the fact that she orchestrated everything.

And then the story returns back to her childhood and start moving through her life. Even though I knew the facts, I still liked reading the story again. She lived an interesting life and despite the brevity which the format requires, the story flowed well. A few pages for every important moment and then moving to the next one.

And somewhere between the pages of the graphic novel, we also get not only to hear about her detectives - Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence, but we also get to meet them. They are given real lives - advising their author and being there for her when needed. And that works - surprisingly it works beautifully.

Add to this Alexandre Franc's old fashioned illustrations. I was a bit worried about the art when I saw the book on the shelf - a modern layout and style just does not suit Agatha Christie. And Franc understood that - and created exactly the correct style for this biography. I do not know if he was selected because of his style or he chose the style for the book but it was a perfect match.

Even if you know the story, the book has so many details that there may be some surprises. I wish there were more details and some elements were more pronounced but that's always the choice of the author. And if you do not know the story, it is a nice way to learn about the woman that was Agatha Christie.

58ursula
Jan 20, 2017, 12:14pm Top

Chiming in to agree with everyone else that that's a great review of The Pianist. I read that some years ago and was really affected by it. Such a different story of the Holocaust but just as harrowing.

59DieFledermaus
Jan 20, 2017, 5:28pm Top

Great review of The Pianist. Also, the Agatha Christie graphic novel sounds interesting. I'd heard about her disappearance, but the rest of her life sounds dramatic as well.

60AnnieMod
Jan 20, 2017, 6:00pm Top

>58 ursula: Thanks. And yeah - sometimes I think people forget that it was not just the camps and the dead people...

>59 DieFledermaus: She had the chance to live in interesting times and to be an extraordinary woman. And that was not that common if you were born in the 19th century.

61valkyrdeath
Jan 21, 2017, 10:30pm Top

Great reviews of The Pianist and Agatha. They both sound like things I'd like to read. Books like The Pianist tell important stories. I like the graphical format for certain types of biography and memoir. It reminds me that I saw a graphical biography of Herge with the artwork done in the style of the Tintin comics that I'd meant to check out but never got around to.

62AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 25, 2017, 8:11pm Top


6N. Port Eternity by C. J. Cherryh

Type: Novel
Length: 173 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1982
Genre: Science Fiction
Part of Series: Alliance-Union Universe
Format: Paperback
Publisher: DAW Books
Finished: 19 January 2017
Rating:

Note on the images: As I am reading it in an omnibus, the pictures above are: a cover that represents the story and the cover of the omnibus that I am actually reading.

Meet Dela Kirn - the mistress of the space ship "Maid of Astolat" and a household full of Azi (in case you had never read a Cherryh Alliance-Union novel that deals with the Union side before, Azi are vat-grown people which are not considered human from most people and who do not have emotions and desires and get programmed via tapes - different from the ones used for education of the real people). In addition to that she is also one of the richest and well-known women in the Union and lives a life of leisure. But she is not the narrator of this novel. That would be Elaine, her Azi hand-maiden (even if she was never called that, she is essentially that).

Azi do not have names, they have numbers. But in the Dela household, the ones that are part of her close circle and the ones that crew on her ship, have names - straight out from Tennyson's "Idylls of the King". And in case you somehow miss the names, each chapter starts with a few lines from it, pointing to what happens in the story of the "Maid". It's an Arthurian tale - in an unusual setting, with strange protagonist but still, following the story.

At the start of the story the ship is preparing to leave the planet with the newest conquest of Dela, Griffin, on its usual trip for her to get annoyed and bored with her latest lover and return to Lance, the Azi programmed to love her. Except that Griffin is different - which makes the Azi a bit worried. And then the unexpected happens and just before they can take their drugs and jump through the stars, the ship is pulled... somewhere. And the race to try to escape is on. Or so everyone thinks anyway.

So what do you think happens when the Azis whose personality is based on tape and who are named after heroes of a tape actually experience that tape? Exactly what you imagine. Did the tape change their personality or did it just wake something that was already in them? Or was that always going to happen?

And just to make the things even more complicated, there is something outside... wherever they are.

While reading the novel, your opinion of what you are reading shifts between a love story, a horror story, a science fiction one and an Arthurian one. It is all of them and none of them. Because of that it has a few problems - in places the push to get it closer to the Arthurian makes the actual story illogical. And I wish that there was a bit less of the wide-eyed Dela and her knights. It's trying too hard in places to keep the different kinds of stories together and fails in doing that. And for all its complexity, it is predictable in places.

It is not one of Cherryh's strongest novels but it is still worth reading.

63AnnieMod
Edited: Jan 23, 2017, 12:27am Top

>61 valkyrdeath: Thanks :) Hm, I need to track down that Herge biography. :) Some aspects of Franc's art reminded me of Herge actually - a bit difference but I won't be surprised if there is a known influence there.

64AnnieMod
Jan 23, 2017, 1:08am Top


4GN. Soft City by Hariton Pushwagner

Type: Graphic Novel
Length: 160 pages
Original Language: Norwegian?
Original Publication: 1975 (2016 for the English version)
Genre: Satire
Part of Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: New York Review Comics
Finished: 20 January 2017
Rating:

Welcome to Soft City - the place where you take a pill to live and a pill to sleep and you are the same as everyone else on your block, in your town, in your world. That's one of the comics that need to be read in the context of the time it was written. Which is why I wish that Chris Ware's introduction had not delved into the details of the work itself - part of it introduces the times and the context but part of it tells you what happens in the work you are about to read. I almost with I had not read it before I read the graphic novel but I do wonder if I had appreciated some of what was happening without it.

Written in the 70s, with the artist under the influence more often than not, the graphic novel is a satire of a society that is heading towards higher and higher buildings and more "being the same". Both the introduction and the afterword (by Martin Herbert) make connections to other works from the same time (or from earlier) and it fits.

Then there is the art - hand drawn (and some of these pages have a lot of repeated details), massive and in black and white (not even grey) except for a few traffic signs. It is a story of reversal - get up, say goodbye to the family, go to work... then when work is done, go home, say hello, go to bed. That repeated reversed cycle is beautifully realized. Together with a few surprising elements here and there (which you may miss if you are not looking for them) that show that people are not part of the machine as much as it looks. And the story is framed by a baby that wakes up and goes to bed; by the sun coming up and the moon coming up.

It is a massive book and because of the details and the size of the pages drawn by Pushwagner requires the big pages. That's a book that won't work in a smaller format or in a digital format - the details are more important as part of the tableau and not as themselves so you need to be able to see the whole double spread at the same time.

I've never heard of Pushwagner before this book was published (and it has an interesting enough publishing story on its own). I am not sure that I want to see more of him - the art is a bit too crude for my taste and I wish that there was more of those hidden gems like the tropical scene. But I am happy that I read it. It won't be for everyone and it does have a bit of an old fashioned style to it - even though compared to the comics of the time it was written it, it looks a decade if not more ahead of its time.

65Bridgey
Jan 23, 2017, 10:00am Top

I just bought a copy of Pietr the Latvian, enjoyed the series with Rowan Atkinson so thought I would try the books

66dukedom_enough
Jan 23, 2017, 12:52pm Top

>62 AnnieMod:
Since C. J. Cherryh became the most recent SFFWA Grandmaster last February, I've been wanting to read more of her. I find her a tough read; uncompromising in her project of presenting a world as though we readers were already living in it, and thus not in need of being told details - details that we actual 21st-century readers haven't a clue about. Lots of incluing. Have been considering a reread of Downbelow Station, but Port Eternity sounds interesting too. Easier to follow, being shorter.

67AnnieMod
Jan 23, 2017, 1:15pm Top

>66 dukedom_enough: It does not represent her as well as Downbelow Station does... It is weak compared to most of her works and it does have a few callbacks back to other novels. I'd go for Downbelow Station from her early novels if I have to chose one... Or even the Faded Sun trilogy.

68dukedom_enough
Jan 23, 2017, 4:29pm Top

>67 AnnieMod: Ah, thanks.

69AnnieMod
Feb 22, 2017, 1:03pm Top

So a bit of a personal update (because I mostly fell from the face of Earth as it seems).

One of my grandmothers (Mom's Mom) died in mid-January. The other grandmother, my last surviving grandparent, was admitted to hospital with a stroke a few days later - about the time when I stopped posting (and then released after 2 weeks with no real prognosis - she could live a day or 10 years was what the doctor said. Between that and my Dad's death anniversary a few days ago, my mind was in weird places. I had not been feeling like writing much of comments on books although I had been starting to come back to normal and even started a review last night. Then today my last grandmother died.

I will be back talking about books at some point - may be today, may be in a few weeks. But I am fine - being away from home makes it harder (and I am not going back - not enough time to catch the funeral anyway).

So that is why I had been so silent.

70Narilka
Feb 22, 2017, 10:15pm Top

So sorry for your loss. It is rough losing two loved ones so close together.

71Rebeki
Feb 23, 2017, 5:23am Top

Hi Annie, I'm very sorry to hear about your grandmothers. Wishing you all the best.

72valkyrdeath
Feb 23, 2017, 8:52pm Top

Sorry to hear of your loss. It must be a difficult time. I hope the rest of the year gets better for you and your family.

73PaulCranswick
Feb 27, 2017, 11:21pm Top

I am a little late across from the 75ers Annie but please also accept my deepest condolences on the passing of your grandmothers. In 1994 my upset at losing my gran saw me throw up the UK and move to Malaysia and it will have taken me 23 years to work my way back.

74Bridgey
Mar 14, 2017, 11:55am Top

Sorry to read about the run of bad luck. Hope the rest of the year gets better.

75AnnieMod
Mar 14, 2017, 1:54pm Top

>70 Narilka:, >71 Rebeki:, >72 valkyrdeath:, >73 PaulCranswick:, >74 Bridgey:

Thanks everyone! It all will pass - you cannot expect people to live forever but you are never ready for them to die. I should be back posting about books soon.

76AnnieMod
Apr 2, 2017, 1:27am Top

New month, maybe time to start posting again.


And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Type: Poetry
Length: 54 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1978
Genre: N/A
Part of Series: N/A
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House
Finished: 1 April 2017
Rating:

I don't read a lot of poetry. Actually, I am not sure that I had ever read a full collection of modern poetry in my life. But my library shelves the poetry next to the short stories so I had been looking at them every time I look for some stories. And then decided to try them.

I love classical poetry and I prefer my poetry rhyming (or at least with some rhythm in it). White poetry just does not work for me - it can make me imagine a scene but I cannot connect to it on the emotional level.

Angelou's verses vary between the poems - there are some which are perfectly rhyming and then there are some that are just long flowery sentences split into lines in random places with no visible reason. Most of them made the picture they were describing stand out and fleshed the scenes in a way that a newspaper account cannot. So in a way, they did their job. But still - something was missing. They would have worked just as well in prose - except that they would have been too short to be ever published. And then there are the poems that sound like a song, or like a chant. The text itself lacks a rhythm but there is enough repetition to actually make it work.

32 poems later, I still do not like white verse. I am happy that I read it and some of these scenes will stay with me for awhile. And I think I will try some more poetry in the next months.

77dchaikin
Apr 2, 2017, 10:50am Top

Annie - sorry for your loss. And glad you're posting again.

I've come across a few angelou's poems. They were entertaining and sounded well, if that makes sense. But they were light.

78AnnieMod
Apr 3, 2017, 8:44pm Top

>77 dchaikin: Dan, thanks! Light is probably a good word for them - most of them are really just scenes... powerful in places but... not what I expect from poetry (then again - I do not read much of it anyway)

79RidgewayGirl
Apr 3, 2017, 10:12pm Top

Take care of yourself. I'm so sorry for your loss.

80AnnieMod
Edited: Apr 3, 2017, 11:13pm Top


White Dog by Peter Temple

Type: Novel
Length: 352 pages
Original Language: English/Australia
Original Publication: 2003
Genre: Crime
Part of Series: Jack Irish (4)
Format: Kindle
Publisher: Text Publishing
Finished: 2 April 2017
Rating:

A woman is accused of killing her ex-boyfriend and Jack Irish is asked to help investigate the case and to try to exonerate her. This is the story in the heart of the fourth Irish novel. But just as with all the other novels in the series, it is just the bones of the story.

Outside of the story, there is Melbourne and the circle of friends and acquaintances of Jack Irish. There is the Youth Club and the football, the horses and the cabinet-making, the irrational love interests and the deaths. And if you thought that Jack was in trouble in all the previous books, things go even worse here - he almost gets killed more than once, he loses another woman he loves (and it wakes memories of the wife he lost) and somewhere along the line, life continues.

You can see the solution of the crime story from the middle of the book but as with all the other Temple books, it is not about who did it, it is really about how and why. He may not point a finger to the culprits until very late in the story but he does everything else to point it to us - even if Jack Irish does not see it.

It is not a good book to start with if you had never read the series - it relies on the back story and on the familiarity with the characters to build the story. Add the very distinctive style of Temple and the book takes a bit to get used to - it is so Australian, so Temple.

I will miss Jack Irish - this is the last in the series and even if Jack shows up in cameos in later books ("Truth" for example), I wish there were more books telling his story. On the other hand, I am not sure he can survive much more abuse.

81AnnieMod
Apr 5, 2017, 12:25am Top


A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker

Type: Novel
Length: 368 pages
Original Language: English
Original Publication: 1985
Genre: Crime/Detective
Part of Series: Spenser (12)
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Dell
Finished: 3 April 2017
Rating:

I am not sure what I think about this book. On one hand, it is the end of a story line that started a few books ago. On the other hand, I am really tired of Susan's actions.

I do not need my heroines to be likeable or even nice. And I would admit that there are women like that in real life. I just do not understand them. At all.

Back to the book - Susan is not only still in California, she also has a relationship there and the guy is a bit... possessive. And has a father that is even more possessive. Which Spenser has no idea of until he gets a letter that Hawk is in jail and Susan is in trouble. And off he goes.

Welcome to the Spenser and Hawk comedy special - the dynamics between the two of them had always been there but that is the first book where their friendship takes a front seat compared to Spenser's love story. Jail-break, murders, arson, assault, kidnapping - all these are normal in a Spenser novel. Except that usually our favorite detective is investigating it. This time, he and Hawk are the ones that are wanted for it... and they did it all. Add a few illegal immigrants and a mutiny in a pseudo-military compound, running from one coast to another, the reappearance of Rachel Wallace from a previous novel (she starts to become a feature in the series), a millionaire that is actually a decent person and keeps his promise (also given earlier in the series), the two policemen that seem to trust Spenser no matter what, FBI, CIA and Susan... the damsel in distress that cannot make up her mind who she loves.

Somewhere in the middle of the story, Spenser breaks any code he ever had. It does make sense in the long run and based on where he was heading anyway but... he may have crossed a line he should have been a lot more careful of. On the other hand, at least Susan is back so he should get to his normal - or a new normal at least.

I am really curious where the series will go from here - a less competent story teller would chose to end the series here. Parker did not - hopefully using this whole thing to build up a more rounded Spenser. If he reverts back to his old self, it will be a disappointment.

If you had never read another book from the series, do not start here. It is a wrap up book of a series in a way that makes it almost impossible to work as a standalone. It is as full of machismo and testosterone as usual, with the humor leaking from each page.

I do not need to like where a character is going - and Parker seems to have a plan. And after a full book of Hawk, I really hope he does not blend into the background again, just to be called when there is an emergency.

82AnnieMod
Apr 5, 2017, 12:27am Top

>79 RidgewayGirl: Thanks! I am fine... just a bit stunned for a while. I am getting back to normal - even if I will always miss them.

83dukedom_enough
Apr 5, 2017, 8:37am Top

>69 AnnieMod: So sorry to hear about your grandmother. One never stops missing them.

84VivienneR
Apr 5, 2017, 4:49pm Top

>69 AnnieMod: So sorry for you loss. Grandmothers (and grandfathers) are so important to us that their passing marks the end of an era. My thoughts are with you.

85AnnieMod
Apr 5, 2017, 4:55pm Top

Group: Club Read 2017

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