mabith's 2019 Reads Part II
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July through December reads, hopefully. I've certainly been getting through a lot of books this year. Asterisks denote re-reads.
Patience and Sarah – Isabel Miller
A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies – Bartolome de las Casas
The Figure in the Shadows – John Bellairs
Life Among the Qallunaat – Mini Aodla Freeman
Neutrino Hunters – Ray Jayawardhana
Iran Rising – Amin Saikal
Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather
Almost There – Nuala O'Faolain
I Remember Beirut – Zeina Abirached
A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
Lydie – Zidrou
How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England – Ruth Goodman
Archangel – Sharon Shinn
Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
Grief Works – Julia Samuel
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
Paper Boats – Dee Lestari
Rabid – Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
The Battle of Churubusco – Andrea Ferraris
Dragonsdawn – Anne McCaffrey
The Master Butcher's Singing Club – Louise Erdrich
A Dream Called Home – Reyna Grande
Enjoy Our Universe – Alvaro De Rujula
Beautiful – Juliet Marillier
Jovah's Angel – Sharon Shinn
Say Nothing – Patrick Radden Keefe
Angels in America – Tony Kushner
Hell's Princess – Harold Schechter
The Dark Mirror – Juliet Marillier
The Name of Death – Klester Cavalcanti
The Lies That Bind – Kwame Appiah Anthony
The Snakes – Sadie Jones
Tomorrow I'm Dead – Bun Yom
Inseparable – Yunte Huang
Girls of Riyadh – Rajaa Alsanea
The Alleluia Files – Sharon Shinn
You Changed My Life – Abdel Sellou
Ungovernable – Therese Oneill
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here – Karima Bennoune
North of Dawn – Nuruddin Farah
The Silent Steppe – Mukhamet Shayakhmetov
You Can't Just Kiss Anyone You Want – Marzena Sowa
The Unquiet Grave – Sharyn McCrumb
Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
Dancing Shoes – Noel Streatfeild
An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine
The Trial of Lizzie Borden – Cara Robertson
Growing Up in Public – Ezequiel Garcia
The Fires of Vesuvius – Mary Beard
Freddy and The Bean Home News – Walter R. Brooks
Age of Anger – Pankaj Mishra
A Grain of Wheat – Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Mukwahepo – Mukwahepo, Ndeshi Namhila
How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan
The Sickness – Alberto Barrera Tyszka
Poso Wells – Gabriela Aleman
Invisible Ink – Bill Griffith
Mandarin On the Go Passport – Mango Languages
Women's Work – Elizabeth Wayland Barber
The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng
My Individualism and the Philosophical Foundations of Literature – Natsume Soseki
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michele Richardson
Alpha – Bessora, Barroux
American Spy – Lauren Wilkinson
Lenin – Victor Sebestyen
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Bratislava Pressburg Pozsony – A. Robert Neurath
Spring Flowers, Spring Frost – Ismail Kadare
The Mutiny on the HMS Bounty – William Bligh
Thrall – Natasha Tretheway
The Graphic Canon of Children's Literature – Russ Kick (editor)
Exoplanets – Michael Summers, James Trefil
Showa: A History of Japan 1939-1944 – Shigeru Mizuki
Gravity is the Thing – Jaclyn Moriarty
Rat Queens Vol. 4 – Kurtis J. Wiebe
24 Hours in Ancient Rome – Philip Matyszak
Sartre – Mathilde Ramadier
To the End of June – Cris Beam
The Boiling River – Andres Ruzo
Saturday is for Funerals – Unity Dox, Max Essex
Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Girl Named Zippy – Haven Kimmel
The Day the World Ended at Little Big Horn – Joseph M. Marshall III
The Carl Barks Library: Christmas in Duckburg – Carl Barks
The Accusers – Lindsey Davis
Cities: The First 6,000 Years – Monica L. Smith
Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Cordova
Norma – Sofi Oksanen
The Wife's Tale – Aida Edemariam
Sakina's Restaurant – Aasif Mandvi
Ozma of Oz – L. Frank Baum
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist – Sunil Yapa
Asleep – Molly Caldwell Crosby
The Cost of Sugar – Cynthia McLeod
Last Night in Nuuk – Niviaq Korneliussen
The Way We Never Were – Stephanie Coontz
They Called Us Enemy – George Takei
H.H. Holmes – Adam Selzer
Out of Darkness, Shining Light – Petina Gappah
The Recollections of Rifleman Harris – Benjamin Harris
The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman
The Ghosts of Cannae – Robert L. O'Connell
The Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett
Mapping the Heavens – Priyamvada Natarajan
Maggie the Mechanic – Jaime Hernandez
The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Sukla
Lily Renee, Escape Artist – Trina Robbins
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
The Lives They Left Behind – Darby Penney and Peter Stastny
Woman at Point Zero – Nawal el Saadawi
Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse – David Mitchell
Girl Under a Red Moon – Da Chen
1919 – Eve Ewing
Waves – Ingrid Chabbert
The Girls Who Went Away – Ann Fessler
Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett
Ordinary Girls – Jaquira Diaz
Mourning – Eduardo Halfon
Medieval Bodies – Jack Hartnell
The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
Red Land, Black Land – Barbara Mertz
The Body Snatchers – Jack Finney
Commute – Erin Williams
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister – Jung Chang
Homecoming – Cynthia Voigt
The Invention of Yesterday – Tamim Ansary
Not Your Sidekick – C.B. Lee
My Life as a Traitor – Zarah Ghahramani
The Cuban Comedy – Pablo Medina
Gentleman Jack – Anne Choma
Educated: A Memoir – Tara Westover
Angel Mage – Garth Nix
Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi
Portugal – Cyril Pedrosa
What You Have Heard is True – Carolyn Forche
Batavia's Graveyard – Mike Dash
Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire
The Letter, The Witch, and the Ring – John Bellairs
It All Adds Up by Mickael Launay
Good Behavior by Donald E. Westlake
Cutting School – Noliwe Rooks
Story of a Secret State – Jan Karski
Heavy – Kiese Laymon
The Canon – Natalie Angier
Red Famine – Anne Applebaum
Doubt: A History – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Born Criminal – Angelica Shirley Carpenter
Sweet Little C*nt – Anne Elizabeth Moore
Nine Continents – Xiaolu Guo
There Was a Country – Chinua Achebe
How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky
Shooting Stars – Stefan Zweig
This Land is My Land – Andy Warner, Sofie Louise Dam
A Cup of Water Under my Bed – Daisy Hernandez
Guapa – Saleem Haddad
Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
Heartbreak Soup – Gilbert Hernandez
Daughter of Fortune – Isabel Allende
The Winthrop Woman – Anya Seton
The Complete Wimmen's Comix – Various
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard – Kiran Desai
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
Good Morning, Comrades – Ondjaki
The Wolf and the Watchman – Niklas Natt och Dag
The Gilda Stories – Jewelle Gomez
Patience and Sarah (original title A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller RE-READ
Originally published in 1969, this is such a sweet historical lesbian romance. It was inspired by the story of the painter Mary Ann Wilson and her partner Miss Brundage. Their lives are somewhat mysterious but Wilson was actively painting between 1810 and 1825.
Patience is an educated painter whose father left very careful instructions in his will that would allow her to have some slight independence. Sarah is one of a family of girls. Her father picked her out to be the 'boy' and help with the heavy work because she was tall and she likes it that way. The two very quickly fall in love (this is my own quibble, it's practically instantaneous), and seek a way to find their own life together.
The narration goes back and forth between the two, and it really is just such a sweet, enjoyable, comforting book.
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de las Casas
De las Casas is an interesting figure. He emigrated to the Hispaniola with his father in 1502 and is thought to be one of the first priests ordained in the Americas. After a group of Dominican friars denied confession to slave owners to oppose it, and after hearing some fiery sermons by same, de las Casas initially opposed them. Later he was chaplain on the campaign to conquer Cuba and seeing the atrocities committed by the soldiers led him to rethink his positions. De las Casas had a long journey to full enlightenment regarding slavery (he initially suggested using African slaves rather than the native peoples) and human rights, but he did seem to keep moving ever forward.
This book was written in 1542 and published in 1552. It's an interesting little read.
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The second book in the Lewis Barnavelt series (the first is The House With a Clock in Its Walls), and only Bellairs second children's book. I would say all of his are middle-grade level vs YA even though they involve teenagers. In this book Lewis has a new friend, Rose Rita, one of the only kid-aged female characters Bellairs wrote. I love that his protagonists are always outcasts, one way or another. Strangely the book features illustrations by Mercer Mayer which don't fit at all.
Lewis lives with his uncle Jonathan, a sorcerer of modest abilities whose best friend next door, Florence Zimmerman, is a much more accomplished witch. In this book a coin with a strange story attached to it is declared to have absolutely no magic. Lewis isn't sure though, and a furher test shows it does have power. He starts wearing it even though it seems to be drawing a menacing presence. Meanwhile he's being bullied by Woody Mingo and would do anything to get back at him but when the coin takes control it scares him.
It's not bad, and I love Rose Rita, but I think you can tell it's only Bellairs second kid's book and is a bit off. Admittedly I'm also much more devoted to Bellairs Johnny Dixon book which have a really perfect blend of characters.
Life Among the Qallunaat by Mini Aodla Freeman
Freeman is an Inuk author who was born in 1936 on Cape Hope island. This memoir was originally published in 1978 and the bureau of Indian and Northern Affairs in Canada tried to suppress it by hiding a substantial number of copies (3,000) in a basement.
The book is largely about her childhood but starts out (for some reason I can't quite understand) in 1957 with her time in Ottawa working as a translator of Inukitut for the government and struggling with the adjustment that way of life. It does cycle back to her childhood and proceed from there, but spent enough time in Ottawa that I was wondering if maybe the description had been wrong.
It's certainly well worth reading and I'm glad I saw it by chance when browsing the library.
Iran Rising by Amin Saikal
"When Iranians overthrew their monarchy, rejecting a pro-Western shah in favor of an Islamic regime, many observers predicted that revolutionary turmoil would paralyze the country for decades to come. Yet forty years after the 1978–79 revolution, Iran has emerged as a critical player in the Middle East and the wider world, as demonstrated in part by the 2015 international nuclear agreement. In Iran Rising, renowned Iran specialist Amin Saikal describes how the country has managed to survive despite ongoing domestic struggles, Western sanctions, and countless other serious challenges."
Now this was very illuminating and a pretty necessary read. The absolutely main focus is from 1978 on, with a little bit of background for the revolution itself. Definitely recommended.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
I've been meaning to read more Cather for some years, and finally Dan's review from earlier this year made me put this one on hold. I'd forgotten that it takes place in New Mexico, a place I've loved since I was a kid and we started having yearly visits to my aunt who lives in the nowhere outside Sante Fe.
Cather's writing is so excellent and the sense of place make me extremely 'home'sick for my aunt's land. The book follows two French Jesuit priests who have been sent there after the end of the Mexican-American War when the territory now belongs to the US. It's an ambling, slow novel, without big plot developments, and it's one that worked very well for me. There is, as one would predict, a fair bit of casual racism but not as much as I'd feared.
Almost There by Nuala O'Faolain
On the surface, O'Faolain and I share little. Her relationship with her parents was strained and perhaps emotionally abusive. She was born in 1940 and grew up in a very conservative society that expected women to marry and have children and gain their purpose and identity from that. She became a successful journalist and wrote her first memoir Are You Somebody?, which became a success as well (I could not easily get that one to read, annoyingly). She had a 15 year relationship that while it ended, still lasted a significant amount of time.
Yet, in her fear of sharing, fear of intimacy, and yet deep desire for both, I felt so connected to her during this memoir. She is blunt and open and absolutely exposed. This was precisely the book I needed somehow. Highly recommended.
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
A family saga following Mr. Biswas and his family (and in-laws) as they struggle to make ends meet and establish a house of their own.
A times I really enjoyed this and at others I thought it was only so-so. Biswas' wife continually getting pregnant when they weren't living in the same place and barely seemed to speaking kept bothering me as well. Just all of a sudden there's another baby being born out of nowhere.
It won't be my last Naipaul novel but won't be my favorite either, I predict.
Lydie by Zidrou
Graphic novel by a Belgian artist. It focuses on a mother whose child, Lydie, is stillborn. After the funeral she says the baby has come back and holds an invisible/imaginary bundle. The neighborhood goes along with it because they love the mother, but is Lydie real after all?
Meh. I don't know. Needed to be longer or more substantial. I don't think the magical realism aspect was really developed enough. Lovely art though.
How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England by Ruth Goodman (also titled How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain, apparently)
To my mind, Goodman can do no wrong. She's endlessly enthusiastic interested in every aspect of everything, has a great sense of humor, and has lovely red hair. This is her favorite period to study because she feels it's the earliest that the roots of life today can be seen. It was a fun book, though I like her How to Be a Victorian best. BBC needs to hurry up and give her some more TV work. She makes my life better.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
Finally got to this fun 'based on real events' historical mystery. Constance Kopp and her two younger sisters are just trying to get by farming on their own when a recklessly driven car strikes their wagon, destroying it and injuring the youngest sister. Constance sends numerous invoices for the cost of the wagon repairs to the driver of the car, a local factory owner well able to pay the measly $50, with no response. When she keeps pressing him he begins a campaign of harassment against her and her sisters. The county prosecutor doesn't care but the local sheriff takes an interest, even acquiring guns and teaching them to shoot.
Stewart has previously written non-fiction, and this is her first novel. It's a little rough, and there's some character stuff that I think she was trying to half develop here for the next book but which feels very awkward. Still, it was a fun little read and Constance is a great subject. I'll certainly still read the next book.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
The first of Maupin's novels based around the lives of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco. It was originally serialized and certainly reads like very separate incidents. The parts are brief and I didn't feel like they really delved below the surface of the characters much.
It wasn't a particularly enjoyable read for me. The rest of the books were not serialized, so I might read the second in light of that. I feel a strange pressure to give them more of a chance due to it having queer characters and me being a queer person (even though I found this first one extremely mediocre).
I wouldn't particularly recommend this to anyone, honestly, though obviously plenty of others disagree.
Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving by Julia Samuel
I really needed this. Samuel is a therapist focusing on grief, and this book is about the process and specific patients dealing with specific types of loss. I found so much of it so validating, particularly in terms of what some of the patients say. People say a lot of silly things to me when I bring up my mom's death, because they want to make me feel better but how silly to ever imagine that a few words will hold the key to dealing with grief (particularly with someone you don't even know!).
Absolutely recommended for anyone.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A really good work of contemporary fiction. An actual fire is referenced in the very beginning and then we're spun back in time to see all the little emotional/inter-relational fires that led to the actual one. There's some great stuff here about classism, racism, and entitlement here, plus plenty of family drama.
Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), the Richardson family own two houses there. One family home, and one duplex that's rented out. Elena Richardson congratulates herself for giving less well off folks the opportunity of living in Shaker Heights and has now rented a unit to artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl. They have moved around Pearl's whole life, and now Mia promises they can stay here until Pearl finishes high school. She becomes close friends with two of the Richardson children, and Mia becomes a sort of mentor for a third. A tense custody case over a baby left outside a fire station splits the community and the families.
Recommended. The tension building is excellent and the dynamics and characters all felt quite realistic. The ending might be a touch unsatisfying for some but did feel true to life to me (which is what I want in contemporary fiction).
Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
More contemporary fiction, but this time from Indonesia and skewing towards romance. A group of old and new friends attending university, two are obviously meant to be in a romantic relationship but the girl is already seeing someone. He's an artist, she wants to write fairy tales, no one talks to ANYONE.
Obviously there are things we don't end up sharing with a crush or a partner or friends at that age but this took it way too far. Just no one shares anything until all the friendships are messed up, people disappear with a word, it's all just ridiculous. Maybe it's partly cultural, but is something actually your best friend if you're not really sharing anything important with them? All felt quite mismatched.
Lovely cover though.
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
I feel like this was more just a regular and scientific history than strictly a cultural history? It hits all those notes but I think the science/medical side was the really the prominent focus. It hits on Old Yeller, of course, and very briefly the relationship with some zombie (and maybe vampire, I'm well behind on reviews so details are getting fuzzy).
A good read, and fascinating about the development of the vaccine and such. I'm kind of surprised it didn't go more into the animals that are largely immune? The noble Virginia opossum wasn't mentioned once!
Nice broader treatment read though. If a a book on this subject sounds interesting to you then you'll probably like it.
The Battle of Churubusco: American Rebels in the Mexican-American War by Andrea Ferraris
New conscripts from Ireland and Italy especially deserted to fight with the Mexicans in this war, for varying reasons, forming the San Patricio Battalion which made their last stand against the US army at Churubusco.
This is a graphic non-fiction work, and I don't think the art style was the right fit. For one thing, rendering bloody battles in charcoals only is muddled and the artists's style for people was a bit odd (90% of the faces look basically like skulls, which may have been a conscious choice but didn't work for me). The rendering of the landscape is stunning but the people just aren't.
Not something I'd particularly recommend, but if it's at your library and the basic background on this battalion sounds interesting then it might be worth picking up just for that.
Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey
This is a prequel to the Pern series, coming chronologically first it's about the settlement of the planet by those with advanced technology planning to go back to a simpler way of life, though some elements are planning to get rich and then try to escape the planet. It starts just before the people disembark. The planet is specifically chosen because it lacks many of the elements that would be needed to develop higher technology.
The people discover fire lizards and many are 'impressed' which will become vital seven (or so) years after landing when the first threadfall takes the settlers by surprise. Thread eats up anything green and badly burns life forms. The settlers have to create dragons using fire lizards as their base and work out how to survive.
Generally enjoyable but I wasn't prepared for the sexism of the earliest Pern books with prominent male characters to resurface. I don't think if McCaffrey when back to that because this is set 300-ish years before most of the others or what but I hate it. I haven't read loads of the Pern books, but the more YA oriented Dragonsong trilogy is so different. That disparity in the sexism is part of why I haven't read many of the Pern books. Starting with the very progressive Dragonsong I just don't care to go backwards.
The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich
This is my first Erdrich and I really enjoyed it.
"Having survived World War I, Fidelis Waldvogel returns to his quiet German village and marries the pregnant widow of his best friend, killed in action. With a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher's precious knife set, Fidelis sets out for America. In Argus, North Dakota, he builds a business, a home for his family—which includes Eva and four sons—and a singing club consisting of the best voices in town. When the Old World meets the New—in the person of Delphine Watzka—the great adventure of Fidelis's life begins. Delphine meets Eva and is enchanted. She meets Fidelis, and the ground trembles. These momentous encounters will determine the course of Delphine's life, and the trajectory of this brilliant novel."
It's a relatively quiet but beautifully realized work of historical fiction. The characters are interesting and fully developed and the writing is very good. Recommended.
A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande
This is a followup memoir to Grande's first, The Distance Between Us. Born in 1975, Grande lived in Iguala, Mexico until she was about 10. Her father went to work in the US to earn money to build a house in Mexico. Then her mother left as well. Around age 10 her father came back and they all crossed into the US.
Her life through high school is covered in that first book, while this picks up with her life in college and struggling to the first in her family to graduate and . Both memoirs are well written and worth reading. Enough time had passed that Grande is really able to look back with honesty and understanding. If you only read one of these, go with The Distance Between Us, but both are good.
Enjoy Our Universe: You Have No Other Choice by Alvaro de Rujula
Popular science book focusing on fundamental physics, cosmology, Higgs bosons, etc...
This one felt very imbalanced to me, both in length and content and in tone. Some aspects are presented in detail thatt's far too complicated for the average reader before going back to basics. Maybe that would work for a longer book, but because this is quite short I don't think it served any good purpose.
Beautiful by Juliet Marillier
This middle-grade and up book is a sort of a follow up to the Norwegian fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which features a bear husband, a wife not allowed to see his true form, and a quest the girl goes on to get him back and break the curse before he marries a troll princess. This book is narrated by the troll princess who has been carefully controlled by her mother for her whole life and kept away from other trolls and their customs.
It was an interesting treatment and I know fairytale retellings and extensions have been very popular in the last ten years or so. This definitely isn't my favorite Marillier book. She is my favorite fantasy author but most of her books have historical settings, which I much prefer. It is also quite a simple book, so good for a younger age group (would have been fine for me to read as a 9 or 10 yr old, though some might save it for 12 and up).
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
This one is making the popularity rounds and for very good reason. The writing, reporting, and pacing is truly excellent.
Keefe takes the kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville at the height of the Troubles in 1972 (the most violent year of the conflict), and uses it to build quite a broad book. It's deeply informative and compulsively readable on top of that. Recommended.
Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner
Finally got round to an audio edition of this. It's one that really needs to be seen to fully appreciate the work though, I think. This included both parts of the play (Millenium Approaches and Perestroika), which end up being almost 7 hours long. The cast on this audiobook is the same that starred in the 2018 stage revival (the initial premieres were in the early 1990s).
"A play in two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is a complex and insightful look into identity, community, justice, and redemption. New Yorkers grapple with life and death, love and sex, and heaven and hell as the AIDS crisis intensifies during a time of political reaction—the Reagan Republican counterrevolution of the 1980s. Published to celebrate the Broadway revival, this is a unique opportunity to hear one of the most honored and timeless plays in American history. "
I think the fantastical elements were a bit much for me, but certain aspects also would have just worked much better seeing the actual play. I'm glad I finally got round to read it at least. I saw there was a TV adaptation made in 2003, so maybe I'll check that out.
Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter
Schechter is particularly renowned for his books on 19th and early 20th century serial killers, but also writes mysteries and books on American popular culture. I've had a few of his books on my to-read list for some time but this is the first I've read.
It is very well written and organized generally, using a lot of primary source material. I particularly enjoyed the use of the awful (but amusing) yellow journalism. Belle Gunness immigrated from Norway to the USA in 1883 and pretty immediately started committing insurance fraud (via arson) and then murdering husbands (combined with collecting on their life insurance). She also found time to adopt several children. After the second dead husband roused a fair bit of suspicious she switched to killing men who were just looking to potentially marry her (she owned quite a good farm). She killed at least 14 most of whom were burried on her farm and presumably died in 1908 in a house fire potentially set by a man who worked for her, but there were questions about that.
A very good book though Schechter really misses a trick by not introducing curent knowledge about how the human body changes during fire in terms of weight differences, effects on bone, etc... Perhaps he was more interested in keeping a mystery element.
People may despair of the interest in serial killers now, but after Gunness' crimes came out her farm was basically a fairground attraction and people were buying bits of bones purportedly from the victims (but generally from pigs or dogs). I don't think that would happen these days...
The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier RE-READ
Re-read of a particular favorite Marillier novel. This one focuses on the life of Bridei who (in the actual real world) was king of the Picts from about 554 to 584. We don't really know much about him so this is Marillier's imagination history with some mild fantasy thrown in (druids have some real powers, the religion of the Picts is truth, and the fey are real). While her books are fantasies, they are always character driven and the fantasy elements are not the prime focus.
Bridei is being raised by the druid Broichan in such a way to prepare him to be king of Fortriu. When Bridei is about 5 the primary goddess, the Shining One, wakes him to delivery a tiny fey baby. It is a gift that allows Bridei to be balanced (vs all work and no play), and he names the baby girl Tuala. As they grow up Tuala's place in the household is threatened due to fear of the fey, and Bridei is away more and more.
I love this book. It's just a really solid historical fantasy, all about people, human foibles, and what we need to thrive. Marillier always succeeds in making me care.
The Name of Death by Klester Cavalcanti
This is puportedly a non-fiction book on the life of a prolific Brazilian hitman. I say purportedly, because, well, if you have one source, they can kind of do what they like. The author mentions one instance where they checked up on a story, but it was very early in the subject's life and before he was actually a contract killer. After that there's really no checking up which made me hesitate to believe anything.
The subject's "Oh I was sort of tricked into this and I really didn't want to do it" is rather overshadowed by the fact that it didn't seem to take much for him to kill the second or third person.
I don't particularly recommend this.
The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah
I quite like Appiah's books. They're very thoughtful and he brings up interesting points. This one was particularly good. There were a couple areas where I think his view was a little limited (I'd say dated but this just came out last year), maybe in the area of sexuality or gender. Unfortunately getting behind on reviews has made those critical details fade.
Good read overall.
The Snakes by Sadie Jones
I had great hopes for this book, and was really enjoying it until it took a strange turn for the sensational with characters acting like all the intelligence they previously had was sucked out of their brains. Perhaps I just have less and less patience for characters acting like plot-driving inanimate objects.
"Recently married, psychologist Bea and Dan, a mixed-race artist, rent out their tiny flat to escape London for a few precious months. Driving through France they visit Bea's dropout brother Alex at the hotel he runs in Burgundy. Disturbingly, they find him all alone and the ramshackle hotel deserted, apart from the nest of snakes in the attic.
When Alex and Bea's parents make a surprise visit, Dan can't understand why Bea is so appalled, or why she's never wanted him to know them; Liv and Griff Adamson are charming and rich. They are the richest people he has ever met. Maybe Bea's ashamed of him, or maybe she regrets the secrets she's been keeping."
Tomorrow I'm Dead by Bun Yom
Memoir by a man who was captured by the Khmer Rouge at age 14. He eventually escaped and joined other Cambodians working against the regime, becoming an exceptional leader for them. After finding out his mother was alive in Thailand, he escaped and eventually ended up in the US.
It's told very simply and straightly, simply from the author's experiences vs anything broader. Not a bad book, but not the best of its type either.
Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang
A good biography of Chang and Eng Bunker, including all the bits you never hear about (settling in North Carolina, owning slaves, and going bankrupt supporting the Confederacy).
Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
This novel is the story of four Saudi girls and their differing stories and current lives, told by one narrator who knows them. She puts out their stories as an e-mail newsletter anonymously (for both herself and the subjects). Much of the struggles here relate to love, marriage, university, and jobs. The author is 37 and grew up in Riyadh, and it is a nice snapshot of some everyday life issues.
It was an interesting read, though I found it didn't really form a cohesive book for me. There are also way too many notes, something I never thought I'd say. Some of them are for quite common words (hijab), and others are clear in the context (they could have also just used a general glossary for the really common expressions that they still wanted to include rather than footnotes). Others are nice to have, but it was just a little extreme in my view (especially as it's so easy to look things up now).
Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn RE-READ
Why am I rereading these again... I just read them in December and January. My easy access comfort re-reads need expanding. I do really like the way Shinn builds relationships and I like this SF world especially.
Samaria was settled after the god Jovah carried the settlers away from their violent home world and gave them a new chance at society. They have chosen to leave behind technological advances in an effort to live more peaceful. Angels (literally just humans with wings) are able to pray to Jovah for weather intercessions, grain, medicine, and retribution and are always answered. The citizens must also come together for a yearly Gloria and sing as one to prove they're still living in peace.
Things are not always what they seem though, and sometimes cruel and selfish angels become leaders of the world. It's a fun trilogy. There are two other books set in Samaria which are extensions rather than part of the initial trilogy, and the books really must be read in publication order.
Recommended if you like SFF.
You Changed My Life/The Upside by Abdel Sellou
"Abdel Sellou and Philippe Pozzo di Borgo were two people marginalized by society: Sellou a wisecracking, unemployed immigrant, just out on parole; Pozzo a man born to wealth and privilege, recently paralyzed from the neck down after a paragliding accident. How they came to help each other, and the unlikely friendship that became a lifeline for them both, is an uplifting story that's now been told and retold around the world."
Their lives were the basis for the excellent French movie The Intouchables, which I highly recommend. An American version of the movie came out in January, and ugh. God forbid people read subtitles.
The memoir was pretty average, but nice to get part of the real story.
Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent's Guide to Raising Flawless Children by Therese Oneill
I really loved the author's previous book Unmentionable, but liked this one somewhat less. It was still fun, but some bits had a strange tone for the "modern person asking questions" persona. It also spent a large part of the book (almost half, maybe) on the conception and pregnancy, which I wasn't expecting, given the subtitle.
Still pretty fun, but maybe it was put together in a shorter time than the previous book.
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune
"In Lahore, Pakistan, Faizan Peerzada resisted being relegated to a “dark corner” by staging a performing arts festival despite bomb attacks. In Senegal, wheelchair-bound Aissatou Cissé produced a comic book to illustrate the injustices faced by disabled women and girls. In Algeria, publisher Omar Belhouchet and his journalists struggled to put out their paper, El Watan (The Nation), the same night that a 1996 jihadist bombing devastated their offices and killed eighteen of their colleagues. In Afghanistan, Young Women for Change took to the streets of Kabul to denounce sexual harassment, undeterred by threats. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Abdirizak Bihi organized a Ramadan basketball tournament among Somali refugees to counter the influence of Al Shabaab. From Karachi to Tunis, Kabul to Tehran, across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and beyond, these trailblazers often risked death to combat the rising tide of fundamentalism within their own countries.
But this global community of writers, artists, doctors, musicians, museum curators, lawyers, activists, and educators of Muslim heritage remains largely invisible, lost amid the heated coverage of Islamist terror attacks on one side and abuses perpetrated against suspected terrorists on the other."
Really worth reading.
North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah
I don't know quite how to describe this novel, but it had a sort of quietly intense normalcy around difficult/abnormal events. I think the balance may not work for a lot of people, but it did for me.
"For decades, Gacalo and Mugdi have lived in Oslo, where they've led a peaceful, largely assimilated life and raised two children. Their beloved son, Dhaqaneh, however, is driven by feelings of alienation to jihadism in Somalia, where he kills himself in a suicide attack. The couple reluctantly offers a haven to his family. But on arrival in Oslo, their daughter-in-law cloaks herself even more deeply in religion, while her children hunger for the freedoms of their new homeland, a rift that will have lifealtering consequences for the entire family."
The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov
An interesting memoir, and how many books by Kazakhs does one come across? The author was about eight years old when collectivization reached his area (around 1930) and the traditional way of life was broken. So while young he still had strong memories of the nomadic traditions. His family, though not well off, were designated as kulaks and his father was arrested. Traditional codes of family loyalty were breaking and they had an extremely difficult time, being shuffled around and trying to survive the large scale famines of 1932-34. In 1942 he was drafted, joined the artillery, and served at the siege of Stalingrad before being injured.
While the book goes into some of the policies and wider issues of Soviet rule in Kazakhstan, it is largely a personal work. Not an amazing literary masterpiece, but extremely readable. I was disappointed that it ended soon after his discharge from the army though. I'm very curious about his life, and Kazakh life in general, post-WWII.
You Can't Just Kiss Anyone You Want by Marzena Sowa
A graphic novel by a Polish author about the repercussions of a single schoolyard kiss. A boy suddenly kisses a girl, and she yells for an adult. A fairly normal occurrence in a grade school, but this is Poland under Soviet rule and the event spirals into multiple lives.
A decent read, though I wish it were longer and more fleshed art. The art fit the story very well.
The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb
This mystery-ish/court room tale is about a real crime and its aftermath, and the birth of the Greenbrier Ghost (the Greenbrier resort/former government bunker is uninvolved, this simply happened in the same county). It's a local story for me.
In 1897 a woman is murdered. Her husband behaves very suspiciously, not letting her body be examined. After a month, the woman's mother goes to the county prosecutor and says her daughter's ghost came to her to say she was murdered. Either because West Virginia Reasons or everyone was very suspicious anyway, the body is exhumed and there's evidence that she was strangled. The novel is written switching between the murdered woman, Zona, and her family, and James PD Gardner's reporting of the case to a doctor in 1930 while he's held in a mental institution. Gardner was the first black man to practice law in the area and served on the defense in the murder trial.
The structure of the book and switching back and forth is done very well and was quite effective. The writing is fine and the story is interesting. There are definitely some issues and points that are thrown in because they were to reported to have actually happened, but they aren't explained (because we don't know if they actually did or just don't have a report on that specific thing) and just leave the reader confused. Generally quite a decent read though.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
I've been meaning to read this since I was in middle school and saw the book in my house. Somehow I never got around to it (too busy being angsty and using that newfangled internet, perhaps). I really wish I'd read it then. There was abuse in my childhood and some aspects of this book would have made me feel less alone.
"Greenville County, South Carolina, is a wild, lush place that is home to the Boatwright family—a tight-knit clan of rough-hewn, hard-drinking men who shoot up each other’s trucks, and indomitable women who get married young and age too quickly. At the heart of this story is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a bastard child who observes the world around her with a mercilessly keen perspective. When her stepfather Daddy Glen, “cold as death, mean as a snake,” becomes increasingly more vicious toward her, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that tests the loyalty of her mother, Anney—and leads to a final, harrowing encounter from which there can be no turning back."
Allison's writing is simply incredible. Just so lyrical and evocative, though it may help that I'm very familiar with the area the book is set in. Absolutely recommended, though the subject is hard.
Dancing Shoes/Wintle's Wonders by Noel Streatfeild RE-READ
A palate cleanser after the previous book... I grew up seeing almost all the Shoes books on our bookshelf but they had such awful 1970s-80s covers that made them look hopelessly girly so I refused to read them. They were some of my mom's favorite books as a child though, so I started reading them in adulthood and was disappointed I'd missed them growing up. They really aren't girly per se, and all feature children working toward goals with greater or lesser success. Some are orphans, most are poor, and the children and adults always feel very realistic.
In this one two step-sisters, Rachel and Hillary, who are very close are orphaned and sent to live with an uncle and aunt they don't know. The aunt runs a dance school and troupe for girls, with her daughter as the ultimate star, and immediately shoves the sisters into that world. Hillary was supposed to be joining the royal ballet school and Rachel is determined to get her there and out of the popular dancing of the troupe, as their mother would have wished.
It's not my favorite of the Shoes books (which are unrelated to each other, fyi, they just got lumped together later and the titles changed to match the first two books), but they're also sweet little reads. There are generally some very obstinate children (Streatfeild was one herself) and I enjoy that. The books still hold up really well.
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
WOW. This book was so good. Everyone in my online book club has loved it.
"An Unnecessary Woman is a breathtaking portrait of one reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, which garnered a wave of rave reviews and love letters to Alameddine’s cranky yet charming septuagenarian protagonist, Aaliya, a character you “can’t help but love” (NPR). Aaliya’s insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and her volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. Here, the gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East and an enduring ode to literature and its power to define who we are."
It's one of those book where not all that much really happens but the narrator's past is so rich it feels like a lot is happening. I was very glad to have an older woman narrator and was honestly amazed at how well a male writer was able to capture this voice. It's chock full of literary references too, and the writing is simply gorgeous. I made a lot of notes but then forget to copy them over before my e-book copy returned to my library. I will be re-reading this book sooner rather than later though.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
Non-fiction covering the actual trial of Borden. While the book felt very complete, the author was not able to make it feel compelling or particularly vivid. I believe it's her first book. The ability to make the people and situations live is probably a hard one to come by. The contrast in engagement between this and the other recent true crime book I read, Hell's Princess, was quite stark.
Not a bad book by any means, but don't go in expecting great narrative non-fiction.
So here, if anyone is interested, is my 100 best/favorite/most meaningful/important books from my life.
It was interesting trying to make the list, and in some ways I think I overthought it, but it was a nice exercise anyway.
Great idea and I'll post 'Bryan's best 100 reads' and 'Bryan's best 50 fantasy reads', hopefully soon, cheers.
Growing Up in Public by Ezequiel Garcia
This is a graphic memoir by an Argentine artist, done in what I think of as one of the classic black and white styles a lot of artists use. The art worked, and it was really interesting to read about the vibrant art and film scene Garcia was part of. The memoir felt sort of random though. Random start, random end, that left me with a feeling of pointlessness. More of a "well, I started this project and I got a publishing deal for it, so here you go." That may be completely off-base, but that's how it felt.
The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found/Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard
Note the more sensational US title (I really despair of publishers)... Beard is always excellent and this is no exception. She's also always straight about "people theorized this but actually it's that or just as likely to be this" and reminds us how little we know.
Recommended for history fans who like this sort of thing. I also really enjoyed her documentary about Herculaneum, which was hit a bit differently from Pompeii, so things are preserved and recovered in a different manner.
Freddy and the Bean Home News by Walter R. Brooks
I grew up on Freddy the Pig and start re-reading the ones we owned three or four years ago, finding them just as delightful as I did as a child. They're still just SO funny and I love the way Brooks writes his characters. He brings a beautiful balance to them, everyone (okay barring some of the rats maybe) has both flaws and strengths.
This is one that we didn't own and that I hadn't read yet. It's the 10th in the series and I used "well I ought to own the first ten books at least" as an excuse to buy it. Freddy dealing with issues that are still relevant tend to make for my favorite books and this one kept to that trend (Freddy the Politician is particularly good). Local power and using journalism for selfish ends is the theme here, with a backdrop of collecting scrap for the war.
If you have kids or grandkids under 12 or so, I really recommend these books. They're just brilliantly done. The animals ability to talk to humans changes over the first few books, but it works. The first in the series is Freddy Goes to Florida but there's no need to read in order. Freddy and the Ignormous is particularly good.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra
"How can we explain the origins of the great wave of paranoid hatreds that seem inescapable in our close-knit world―from American shooters and ISIS to Donald Trump, from a rise in vengeful nationalism across the world to racism and misogyny on social media? In Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra answers our bewilderment by casting his gaze back to the eighteenth century before leading us to the present."
A very good read for me, and less horrifically depressing (as a general read, the present world still very depressing) than I feared. I put this one off for quite a while, but I'm glad I finally read it. Recommended.
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
"Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya's independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952–1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village's chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers' tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested."
Originally published in 1967, this was quite a good read. It didn't quite it the Great! Amazing! levels, but it was interesting and well-written.
Mukwahepo by Mukwahepo, Ellen Ndeshi Namhila
This is the memoir/transcribed interviews of Auguste Mukwahepo Immanuel, a Namibian freedom fighter who lived in exile for 27 years. She is said to be the first Namibian woman to go into exile over the cause of independence. In 1963 she and her fiance, a member of SWAPO (South West African People's Organization), left Namibia and entered Angola where their camp was bombed and they survived drastic food shortages. They eventually made their way to Tanzania where she went through military training and helped look after children and pregnant women in the camp (parents were often away fighting or sent overseas for further education).
After independence in 1990 she was very much left alone without recognition for her service. Parents whose children she raised from birth and looked after for years or decades sometimes came and retrieved them and then didn't communicate further. It wasn't until the early 2000s that SWAPO/PLAN members like her were getting pensions (she was 53 at independence), so her life was very difficult for some time.
The book is a simple oral history, basically, with no real sense of those 27 years passing. It was a good snapshot of someone's life though and gave me some knowledge about Namibia, so was worth reading.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
Subtitle says it all really! This covers a few psychedelics with a focus on LSD and psilocybin (active ingredient in magic mushrooms). It deals with the history of use and development as well as modern users and experiments.
It was an interesting read. I never did any drug experimentation growing up or in my twenties, so it's largely an outsider's view (now my mom... LSD was her drug of choice). Though I did have legitimate IV therapy using ketamine for my specific nerve pain issue and UGH. Obviously being in pain in an outpatient treatment center basement is not a great setting, but my brain does not like hallucinating.
Pollan is always such an enjoyable author to read, so recommended if you're interested in the subject. The addiction treatments were the most interesting part for me (those experiments actually started in the 50s, for alcoholism).
The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka
This is a novella about a surgeon dealing with his father's recent stage IV lung cancer diagnosis (and struggling to tell his dad about it at all). It is a rambling book in a way, but with a lot of tension holding it together. Enjoyed the writing a lot.
Poso Wells by Gabriela Aleman
An extremely strange magical realism novella. At a political rally a presidential candidate and others on stage with him are electrocuted in a accident and killed. On the same day his political successor disappears. Women are also disappearing in Poso Wells, a local slum. And what of the blind men from an isolated valley?
A Kirkus reviewer described this as "One part Thomas Pynchon, one part Gabriel García Marquez, and one part Raymond Chandler," which means it was probably never going to be to my taste, though I really enjoyed aspects of it between the surrealist/magical realist bits.
Invisible Ink: My Mother's Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist by Bill Griffith
Graphic memoir about the author's discovery of his mother's long (14-16 years, I forget exactly) affair with a cartoonist. She saved journals and letters relating to her life before and during this period for Griffith. It also concerns his great-grandfather William Henry Jackson, who was a photographer and artist.
Some interesting bits here, but it did feel a little thrown together. Honestly this may be my issue, as it's a pattern of criticism I've noticed lately. I want these works to have a very purposeful beginning and end and some point to them other than "the author working some stuff out."
Mango Passport Mandarin On the Go
Okay, this isn't technically a book, but it ate 25 hours of my life and required more concentration and effort than any print or audio book.
I decided kind of at random to do this entire Mandarin course. I needed a good distraction, I like listening to Mandarin and I like the grammar of it (which I knew a bit about from doing the beginning of the course some years back). Should I have done something potentially useful that I have a small base of already, like Spanish? Maybe, but Spanish has conjugations and Mandarin does not. Mandarin also only has 3 pronouns with two add-ons that can be added to the three to make them either possessive or plural. If it weren't for the tones it would be so simple.
It was fun to do all in and all, and I'm proud I finished it. I can still talk about reading books, ask for all the types of alcohol, know two words for bathroom, ask for basic foods/meals and tell people "I think I'm too tired," so I think I'm set! I'm continuing reviewing and doing an app (that just tests me on the pinyin romanisations), and enjoying it. Is there any point to me doing this? Nope, but that's life.
Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Title and subtitle says it all. Absolutely loved this. Really fascinating and well written, and Barber is quite clear on what we do/don't know and not getting ahead of things with speculation (which she speculates she points it out). She also brings out not-justified speculations that get touted, which I find helpful.
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
I really liked Eng's novel The Garden of Evening Mists, and was excited when I saw this at the library. I didn't realize it's actually his first novel and much weaker than Garden.
This focuses on Philip, a mixed race (white and Chinese) Malaysian who grows up feeling like an outsider in his family, which is otherwise all white, as his Chinese mother died when he was a child. It takes both place in the run up to the Japanese occupation of Malaysia and during WWII and in the present day, going back and forth but spending most of the time in the past.
For me it had way too many issues around character actions/motivations just not making much sense. Even when Philip seemed to realize whatever sacrifice or action wasn't going to have the desired outcome he just went ahead with what he'd been doing. It had some added interest for me as the martial art Aikido is featured heavily, and that's something I used to do. Only his Aikido teacher behaves so outside of the principles of the art it was ridiculous. Plus Philip manages to become quite the expert in both Aikido, meditation, and speaking and reading Japanese in about six months, which didn't sit right either.
My Individualism and the Philosophical Foundations of Literature by Natsume Soseki
I was looking for a not-too-long non-fiction e-book to read and plucked this out of the ether. The book is comprised of two long essays, created after lectures were given on the subjects. Did I understand all of it (esp. Philosophical Foundations...)? Nope! Did I find a lot of odd/amusing quotes throughout which made it worth reading? Yes!
“This is the firs time I have been in this Gakushuin. It is not very different from what I have long imagined it. However, what I was imagining was a little vague.”
“Finally, when there were only two or three days left and the deadline was near, I had a vague notion that I should think about preparing for the lecture. But this was such an unpleasant prospect that in the end I spent the day painting.”
“However, as there is some difficulty in commenting on this space on a theoretical level, it is worth remembering that Newton affirmed the existence of space on an objective level, that Kant himself talked about “intuition,” and that therefore, as regards the subject on which I am speaking, do not trust anything I say.”
“People who strut around and display their spirit of excess are irremediably wedded to death. As a result, as I am sure you know, humanity today is healthy and is composed only of pedants and dishonest men, and that those who belonged to a virtuous past have been hit by the tram, have fallen into the river or have been arrested by the police and are all dead, without exception.”
“As to the examples taken from Maupassant and Zola, these produce an impression of crudeness and baseness that recalls what one feels about the secret police.”
“I am going to tell you what I believe I understand, even if I do not really understand it properly.”
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Well here's a recently popular book which I thought was pretty dreadful. The author wanted to do eight different things and didn't do any of them well. The writing style was fine, sometimes quite nice, but the pacing and character development was awful. The historical elements aren't firm, other than the depiction of the pack horse book service WPA program.
"The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything―everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy's not only a book woman, however, she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble."
So the blue people of Kentucky are a historical fact. They were part of the Fugate family who had a recessive gene that resulted in pretty blue (by all account) skin. The reason for this and cure were found in the 1960s, though Richardson backdates that to the 1930s for almost no purpose (doesn't really impact the story). She also takes about them 100% in the language of racism, and that didn't sit well with me (and I can't find any historical basis for thinking that was the case). She's barred from the local dance, etc... There really were never very many of these people around either and in this book there's only the protagonist left.
A simple novel about the pack horse library program would have been so much nicer. She could have certainly included a cameo from the Fugates as well.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
I didn't enjoy this as much as some others, but it wasn't bad. For me the pacing and detail were lacking, though perhaps that was a choice made because the protag was supposed to be writing her story down for her kids (she goes into novel-narrator detail on most of the book though). I didn't particularly feel that much tension in the story either. I did like the narrator and the general thrusts of the book.
"It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. Her career has stalled out, she's overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she's given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes.
Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she's being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent."
Lenin The Dictator: An Intimate Portrait by Victor Sebestyen
Good solid biography, quite readable in my opinion. Recommended.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Ready this one for my online book club, though it was on my list anyway. I don't relish spending reading time with teenagers, but it's an important book.
16 year old Starr Carter is an expert as code switching, moving back and forth between the person she needs to be at her majority white private school and the person she can be at home in her majority black neighborhood. While riding home with a childhood friend they are pulled over by a police officer. During the stop her friend is shot and killed in front of her, and the officer continues to hold his gun on her until an ambulance and other officers arrive. In the fallout she and her family initially try to keep her identity as the witness secret, and she struggles under the strain and the indifferent or judgemental attitudes of her private school friends.
It was a really hard read, but an important book to have available. I think it's handled well, but is definitely a book for young people (I'm 34, I know I'm 'young' but I'm a fair bit beyond the target demographic). They're the ones who need it the most and will get the most out of it.
Bratislava Pressburg Pozsony: Jewish Secular Endeavors (1867-1938) by A. Robert Neurath
Basically a who's who of Slovakian Jews working in art, music, architecture, medicine, etc... Includes some history of the city of many names but it's a book to keep alive their achievements and memories. It was a very random read for me, but an interesting jaunt. The author grew up in Bratislava and remained there until his early 30s.
Spring Flowers, Spring Frost by Ismail Kadare
Kadare books are usually good reads for me and this was no exception (I've read five and really enjoyed four of them).
This one is set in a provincial town in the 1990s, when blood feuds had returned to the countryside after the fall of the communist regime. We largely follow a painter and the rumors and gossip about a old book that records all the vendettas which hasn't been seen since WWII. It's rumored the book is hidden near the town and that its appearance would cause a huge amount of trouble.
It goes a bit wild and wooly (maybe a big magical realist, though I hesitate to call it that), but in a way that really worked for me. I think it's best gone into without reading too much about the plot.
An Account of the Mutiny on the HMS Bounty by William Bligh
I still have extremely strong memories of my reaction to reading The Bounty by Caroline Alexander after a childhood of loving the old Mutiny on the Bounty film. I was so incensed on Bligh's behalf (it's a brilliant, extremely readable book and I highly recommend it).
Bligh's account is much starker and brief, of course, without any of the anger I might have expected. A quick, generally interesting but occasionally very dull read.
Thrall: Poems by Natasha Tretheway
Excellent book of poems, exploring black history, art, culture and Tretheway's relationship with her father and childhood (her father was white, mother was black and were married illegally at the time of her birth - her birth certificate lists the race of her father as Canadian).
Really brilliant, cohesive collection that I loved. I managed to mark poems on my digital loan of this and then forgot to copy them over before returning the loan again.
The Graphic Canon of Children's Literature: The World's Greatest Kids' Lit as Comics and Visuals edited by Russ Kick
I did not really like this. Many, maybe a third or more, of the comics weren't really suitable for kids of the same age that the original tales are for (and I am not conservative about what kids can read/see). Most of the others didn't do the tales justice. There's a series of one page comic summaries of the Baum Oz books (which I love) some of which give a very skewed view of the books or events (compared to the one page Harry Potter summaries by Lucy Knisley which were great and the highlight of the book).
Don't particularly recommend this to anyone.
Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earths, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life Beyond Our Solar System by Michael Summers and James Trefil
This was a particularly good popular science book for me. The authors are both proper scientists and the level of detail in the book hit the sweet spot of not too much, not too little. Plus it's just a really interesting subject.
Showa 1939-1944 by Shigeru Mizuki
This is part of Mizuki's epic graphic history of Japan's Showa era, which covered most of the 20th century (1926-1989). The volumes are all at least 500 pages. They're slightly odd to read as the sort of narrator character is this odd cartoon character, but what can you do. The books cover the history and what was going on in the author's life (he was born in 1922).
A good series.
Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty
I am hopeless devoted to Moriarty's YA novels, despite disliking spending reading time with teenagers. Hers are so realistic and nuanced, and she writes the adults so well and they're just properly funny. This is her first adult novel.
This contemporary fiction story won't appeal to everyone, but it really worked for me. Abigail's 11-months-younger brother disappears when he is 16. The same day she starts receiving chapters from the Guidebook, a sort of self-help book. Twenty years later, she and others who received the Guidebook are invited to a free retreat.
The book goes sort of back and forth between Abigail's younger life and the fallout of her brother's disappearance, the breakup of her marriage, and the present day of her and the others finding out the story of the Guidebook.
Abigail is a bit of a train wreck adult, and the scenes involving her four year old son are extremely realistic (to my eye as a child-free person who has been on the front lines with my niece and nephew). I think she'll especially appeal to readers in their 30s and early 40s.
I hesitate to recommend this widely, as it will likely be a love it or hate it book, but I really enjoyed it. One aspect of the end I found too neat, but I have forgiven that.
24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There by Philip Matyszak
For each hour of the day we're introduced to a different character in different stations of life. The book is part historical facts and bits about whatever industry, hobby, or aspect of daily life and part fictional imaginings (sometimes based on direct evidence, sometimes not).
It's not a bad book, but didn't work well for me. Maybe because I've already read a lot about ancient Rome, maybe because the balance just wasn't right or I'd just rather have either a full history book or a novel.
Sartre by Mathilde Ramadier
A graphic biographical novel about Jean-Paul Sartre. Art and such was good, but the pacing was also a little odd. We pop in and out of periods so quickly with huge gaps which at least need a little narrator bubble of information.
It did make me want to read Sartre again. I read a lot in high school due to a friend who was engrossed in existentialism, but a book of his short stories depressed me so much I called it quits despite finding them brilliant (I mean, was 17).
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam
This is such an important book. I kept putting off reading it, because I knew it would be a hard read. It wasn't quite as hard as expected, since I had built it up in my head a lot.
The book covers policy changes and shifts, issues with foster parents, and spends a lot of time just talking to the kids themselves. It's extremely well written and balanced, and Beam largely reports and never says "We must do X" or "X is always wrong." At times I wish she did! One set of foster parents had taken in so many teenagers that they couldn't give them each the attention they really needed, and didn't seem to understand why things were going wrong suddenly. I just wanted to shake them.
The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon by Andres Ruzo
A legendary boiling river which turns out to be quite a well known unknown wonder of the world. This is a very short book that tells Ruzo story of looking for, finding, and investigating this site in brief. A bite-sized book, but interesting.
Saturday is for Funerals by Unity Dow and Max Essex
This is about the AIDS crisis in Botswana and how the country handled it and got treatment options under control and readily available. Dow is from Botswana and is a high court judge, she provides many personal stories and experiences from her family and her work as a judge. Essex is one of the foremost HIV researchers, he was one of the first to suspect AIDS was a retrovirus and with others provided the first evidence that HIV could be transmitted through vaginal intercourse. He has worked in many countries and was a key member of a group that helped set up programs in Botswana.
The book was published in 2010, so there have been a number of a key developments that it misses. It was really informative on that count though. The deeper details of HIV are something I've never investigated. For instance, there are subtypes of the virus, and the one most common in southern Africa is more easily transmitted than other subtypes (such as the one prevalent in east Africa). A tough read, but well balanced. Botswana has long been an outlier country and they handled the crisis exceptionally well.
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is one of Burnett's earlier well known novels (published in 1886, compared with The Secret Garden, published in 1911). You can certainly tell this is an earlier work. There's no growth in the main character, and the changes to his grandfather are just a little too sudden. The book definitely needed to be fleshed out. The extreme coincidence his American friends at the end was also rather silly (and can't be counted as magical realism, unlike some events in The Secret Garden).
Fauntleroy is an exceptionally kind boy who has grown up in the US. His father died when he was too young to remember, and it turns out the father was the son of an Earl. The other sons all die and Fauntleroy becomes the heir. The grandfather sends for him, deigning to let his mother live near the estate. Fauntleroy is the perfect, caring, goody goody child that is frankly rather boring.
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel RE-READ
A comfort re-read of an exceptionally funny memoir which perfectly captures a child's view and voice. I HIGHLY recommend the audiobook, which is read by the author.
Zippy is growing up in Mooreland, Indiana, a town of 300 people. Her family is somewhat dysfunctional, but that's not the focus of the memoir. It is her child's eye view of people and events that were important or meaningful. There is very little analysis of these things, we largely just get child-Zippy's views, which I appreciate. The version of Quakerism described in this book is an outlier.
Trigger warning for animal death. This is a country memoir. There is some violent animal death and a lot of just incidental "lots of pets" death. I wouldn't think to warn for this, because I grew up in a town of 300 that wasn't dissimilar. My book club is full of people who won't read any book where a dog dies though.
The Day the World Ended at the Little Big Horn: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III
Marshall is a well known Lakota scholar (author of The Lakota Way), and this is a very well done book. It is both scholarly and personal, and the balance is well done. It strays down certain paths, but they generally tie in well to the main focus.
Christmas in Duckburg by Carl Barks (Carl Barks Library Vol 23)
The nth volume in this series. One stand out story and the rest pretty standard.
The Accusers by Lindsey Davis RE-READ
I remember particularly enjoying this one on my first read. Falco struggling with the court system was just a lot of fun. This is the 15th Falco book (there are 20 total).
Fresh from his trip to Britain, Marcus Didius Falco needs to re-establish his presence in Rome. A minor role in the trial of a senator entangles him in the machinations of two real life lawyers at the top of their trade. The senator is convicted, but then dies, apparently by suicide. It may have been a legal move to protect his heirs, but Falco is hired to prove it was murder. As Falco shows off his talents in the role of advocate, he exposes himself to a tangle of upper-class secrets and powerful elements in Roman law that may have consequences he hadn't quite bargained for.
Cities: The First 6,000 Years by Monica L. Smith
Really enjoyable historical jaunt. Does what it says on the tin. Made me want to re-read Debt: The First 5,000 Years.
Six thousand years ago, there were no cities on the planet. Today, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas, and that number is growing. Weaving together archeology, history, and contemporary observations, Monica Smith explains the rise of the first urban developments and their connection to our own. She takes readers on a journey through the ancient world of Tell Brak in modern-day Syria; Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan in Mexico; her own digs in India; as well as the more well-known Pompeii, Rome, and Athens. Along the way, she presents the unique properties that made cities singularly responsible for the flowering of humankind: the development of networked infrastructure, the rise of an entrepreneurial middle class, and the culture of consumption that results in everything from take-out food to the tell-tale secrets of trash.
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
This YA fantasy novel set around the traditions of Mexican brujeria got a lot of hype when it came out. I didn't love it, but YA fantasy isn't something I particularly love.
Alex hates magic. She blames it for driving her father away when he discovered how powerful she was at such a young age. Since she has suppressed her powers totally. When it finally slips to her sister and they prepare for her Deathday celebration (which helps a bruja or brujo better control their powers), she devises a spell to rid herself of magic. Unfortunately the process also takes her family and she must journey to an underworld with the help of a teenage brujo she just met in order to rescue them.
It's not a bad book, I don't think, just not hitting my sweet spots or not what I was in the mood for when I read it.
Norma by Sofi Oksanen
Magical realism by a Finnish author.
Norma has just lost her mother, Anita, in apparent suicide. When some old acquaintances show up at the funeral she starts questioning her mother's death and what this has to do with the Lamberts who own the salon where her mother works. While doing this, Norma must control her hair, which has a mind of its own. It grows a meter or more per day, moves on its own, and has other magical properties. Her life has been overshadowed by the need to hide this from others at her mother's behest.
I don't quite know what to think of this one. I really like aspects of it, but found the end quite unsatisfying.
The Wife's Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam
Edemariam presents the life of her grandmother, who was born in Ethiopia in 1916, and along the way gives a snapshot of the country's tumultuous 20th century history.
It's told in an extremely narrative way, which gave me some mixed feelings, but was a good read over all.
Sakina's Restaurant by Aasif Mandvi
A play centering around Sakina's Restaurant, the family who owns it and the people who work there. The audio is by Mandvi alone, and I wasn't sure if that was just for the audio production or for the live play too. Turns out it is just a one-man show, which I have mixed feelings about (one of the characters is a teenage girl) since it didn't work all that well on the audio. I kind of wonder if that was a monetary restriction choice or an artistic choice.
Otherwise, it's a pretty good play. Certain segments I liked much more than others.
Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum RE-READ
Re-read of one of my favorite Oz books. I read all the Baum and a lot of the Thompsons as a kid and am always amazed how few people read ANY of the books.
This is the third in the series, and brings Dorothy back adjacent to Oz (just over the deadly desert) via being washed overboard while on a ship bound for Australia with Uncle Henry. With her is Billina, a chicken who gets excellent dialogue, and they're shortly joined by Tiktok, a mechanical man. This is the book that introduces the Gnome King, a character I also greatly love. There are just a lot of great elements in here, though the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, remains my favorite.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
This novel built around the 1999 Seattle WTO protests was a really difficult read for me. Perhaps the core of the novel is the story of Victor, a biracial kid, and his white step-dad, Bishop (who is also the chief of police). The focus switches among a variety of people though, including police officers, protestors, and a WTO delegate. Victor and his dad have a very strong relationship that goes a bit sideways after Victor's mother dies and neither processes their grief well. Victor runs away when he's 16 and hasn't seen his dad for three years (though occasionally sends postcards). He ends up at the protest thinking it's a good place to sell weed, but gets roped in to being part of a direct action to block intersections.
I think the book could use some editing, but it was generally well done.
Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby
An interesting study of encephalitis lethargica which spread across the world between 1915 and 1926 and then pretty much disappeared. Generally a good work, though it's one of those books that's extended a little farther than it should have been just to make up some length. The extension bits weren't uninteresting, but it can be frustrating to feel off topic.
The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
This is such a fantastic historical novel and as a bonus it might be the only book you read by an author from Suriname.
Set in the last quarter of the 18th century it follows a family of planters, their relationships, and Suriname's dealing with a force of escaped slaves living in their own hidden settlements. It switches focus through the book between a few key people, and deals with the wider history of Suriname as well. Highly recommended.
If your library allows your access to Hoopla, the ebook is available there.
Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen
From Suriname to Greenland!
This is a very young book. Full of the urgency and insecurity of people in their 20s figuring themselves out. I don't think it's an amazing book, and the YOUTH vibe isn't something I exist well with, but I did like it all the same. I believe it's also the author's first novel and that shows. The book switches between a group of five people (if I recall correctly). One of the standout aspects for me was that all the main characters had an LGBTQ identity and being queer myself it was nice to be surrounded in a book for once.
The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz
This was initially published in 1992 and has since been updated twice (last in 2016, I think).
The book is as you'd guess from the title, focusing on the fact that "the good old days" were not as people assume they were and there was never any period of history where people weren't pining for a bygone mode of living of their own imagining.
H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil by Adam Selzer
A full biography of Holmes that doesn't take yellow journalism accounts of the day at face value. It's pretty dry, but that's life. Selzer has some odd concerns about whether Holmes 'counts' as a serial killer due to his motivations in killing (monetary and hiding previous murders), but that wasn't a big part of the book.
Good if you want some accuracy since Larson's The Devil in the White City is extremely fictional.
Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah
This is a historical novel about the traveling party of David Livingstone conveying his body out of Africa so he could be buried on his home soil. It's narrated back and forth by two members of the group.
I found it to be a very good novel. Not necessary something I'll re-read, but I thought it was well done and a good read.
The Recollections of Rifleman Harris by Benjamin Randell Harris Henry Curling
The experiences of an enlisted soldier (95th Regiment of Foot) in the British army during the Napoleonic wars. It's a very rare account of regular soldier, dictated in the mid-1830s and published in 1848.
A nice companion to Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier by Jakob Walter, a German.
Interesting reading for someone with a strong interest in history.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman RE-READ
Historical fiction set in late 18th century England, focusing in on Bristol and the sport of boxing. We follow a small group of people and they're all interesting.
I loved this book the first time I read it, and loved it just as much the second. It's very character driven, and they're all well developed. No one gets an easy ending, no one gets a perfect ever-after. One of the best recently historical fiction books I've read.
The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic by Robert L. O'Connell
Title says it's all. Good solid book, though I lost interest at times. I think that's more my mood than anything else.
Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos by Priyamvada Natarajan
Very nicely done popular science astronomy book. Really enjoyed this one.
Maggie the Mechanic by Jaime Hernandez
The first volume of the Locas stories from Love and Rockets. It's very uneven with the emphasis on the science fiction aspect that faded a lot after these first stories. A lot of people recommend skipping this and going straight to Locas II. If you've got limited time for comics, but are interested in the series, that may be for the best. I do think the first volume of the Palomar stories (Heartbreak Soup) holds up very well.
These titles refer to the newly released volumes which separate out Locas and Palomar stories (and Penny Century, I think), which is not how they were originally published. I do miss getting a mixed bag in the reads, but I suppose it's helpful.
Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer by Trina Robbins
Graphic biography aimed at children. Nice little read, definitely not so much here for the adult to grip onto, but I'm not sure there's enough information about Renee to allow for a more indepth adult book.
Recommended for kids.
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over--and see everything anew.
I really didn't like this book. It felt like it was written specifically to sell to book clubs (which is the only reason I read it). It was simultaneously twee and full of perfect coincidences while also being full of death. I think every main character experiences a major loss. The characters actions often didn't make sense to me either. There were probably three book ideas crammed into this, and it's not a long book.
My November has largely been taken over by my sister having a c-section two months early, in the hospital in my city (an hour from her house). She has two older children so I've had various people staying at my house, had to do lots of babysitting, and cooking and driving my sister around. She and the baby are doing well, it's just difficult since their hospital wasn't equipped for what she needed.
Fingers crossed the baby can go home soon and my reading can get back to normal! I've got a goal to meet.
The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny
Book came about as a result of finding a large store of patient luggage when Willard State Hospital (a mental institution) was closing and getting cleared out. The authors pick a few people to research and give us their stories as well as the stories of Willard State Hospital, overviews of psychiatric care in and deinstitutionalization.
Good, but I really want a book of photographs of all the luggage and possessions. That's what I saw first, before this book came out (a few, not a book of them), and what piqued my interest.
Woman at Point Zero
Nawal El Saadawi’s highly acclaimed feminist novel, Woman at Point Zero, follows the life of Firdaus, an Egyptian peasant girl, from her childhood of incomprehensible cruelty and neglect to her end in a grimy Cairo prison cell. From her earliest memories, Firdaus suffered at the hands of men—first her abusive father, then her violent, much older husband, to finally her deceitful boyfriend-turned-pimp. After a lifetime of abuse, she at last takes drastic action against the males ruling her life. Still as beautiful and cutting as it was when it was first published, this new edition will continue to resonate powerfully with readers for years to come.
An important read, and an interesting one, but I expected to like it more than I did. Something about the pacing or the direction it took at the very end felt off maybe.
Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse by David Mitchell (the comedian, not the fiction writer)
Originally published in 2014, these are mostly articles Mitchell wrote for newspapers with a little later commentary in the audiobook version at least.
It was semi-nice to go live in the pre-Trump world for a bit, and there are lots of very funny bits, since it's Mitchell and I enjoy him generally. A very light read.
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler
Title and subtitle says it all. Fessler herself was given up for adoption by one such mother. This is a very good book of social and cultural history. There is a lot of focus on the mother and baby homes where most of these girls and women stayed before giving birth.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Diaz
Extremely hard-hitting, personal, and exposing memoir. Diaz and her family moved from Puerto Rico to Miami Beach when she was child (around 8 or 10 maybe?). Life was very difficult and her mother fell into severe drug addiction. She had already been abusive and Diaz's father was unwilling to do anything about it. Diaz fell into fighting, drinking, and using drugs early and had a difficult time climbing out of that life.
The writing is absolutely beautiful and somehow seems to either compress a long period into a short amount of writing or gives you a lot of writing about a short period at the same time. It skips around a lot, and feels a bit stream-of-consciousness. It worked for me.
Mourning by Eduardo Halfon
Another memoir/biography hybrid written in a very distinctive style. Interesting, but not totally my cup of tea.
In Mourning, Eduardo Halfon’s eponymous narrator travels to Poland, Italy, the U.S., and the Guatemalan countryside in search of secrets he can barely name. He follows memory’s strands back to his maternal roots in Jewish Poland and to the contradictory, forbidden stories of his father’s Lebanese-Jewish immigrant family, specifically surrounding the long-ago childhood death by drowning of his uncle Salomón. But what, or who, really killed Salomón? As he goes deeper, he realizes that the truth lies buried in his own past, in the brutal Guatemala of the 1970s and his subsequent exile to the American South.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
This one won all the big SF award, but didn't really work for me. Really fabulous and interesting concept though. In 1952, the earth is hit by a large meteorite, pretty much directly on Washington DC. Elma, our heroine, is a maths genius and former WASP pilot. She realizes that the impact will have dire climate consequences, potentially triggering an extinction event. She and her husband (an engineer) present their findings and a program is set up to start looking at establishing a moon base and getting to mars.
Cue issues with sexism, racism, severe anxiety, and Elma desperately trying to became an astronaut while dealing with changes to daily life and the loss of almost her entire family.
The pacing just jumped a lot, and some actions didn't make much sense. Parts felt very repetitive. It just felt like a first-novel and that's definitely not the case with Kowal, or like Kowal was just setting up the next book. Disappointing, but I may still read the next book or the original novella that this was a prequel to (The Lady Astronaut of Mars).
Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz RE-READ
It can be hard to commit to re-reading non-fiction, even when I want to. Just feels like I should read new-to-me non-fiction, even if it's on the same subjects.
Regardless of that struggle, I'm very glad I finally made time to re-read this one. Mertz is so wonderful to read, and there are good reasons this has been continuously in print since it's first publication in 1966. Mertz is sharp, honest, funny, and a feminist, which is everything I want in a history writer.
I highly recommend this book. It was revised fairly recently.
The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
I picked this up pretty immediately after seeing Baswood's excellent review. This type of book was definitely what my mood needed, as my baby nephew was finally let out of the hospital, all of them went home, and my body utterly and completely crashed right down to my immune system.
This was definitely a properly good read for me, not one of the silly old pulpy reads that I really enjoy but aren't great objectively. I hadn't realized the movies were based on a book. The action gets going pretty immediately, and I was a little worried what the rest of the book would be filled with, but the pacing all worked out in the end. Some sexism issues, of course, but not the misogyny you often get from this era.
Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams
Each page in this book serves as a large panel. I absolutely loved the art style, and the content is very strong. Williams recounts her history with assault and coercion, how it impacted her alcoholism (and vice versa), and the shame that goes along with it.
Very well done, and this little bit stands out for me:
What I notice, however, is that men of my acquaintance who dislike Freud only bring up cocaine and falsified experiments/research, they NEVER bring up misogyny.
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China by Jung Chang
Chang's biography of the Soong sisters, one of whom married Sun Yat-sen, another married Chiang Kai-shek, and the third was made money hand over fist and was married to China's richest man (and Minister of Finance 1933-44 and governor of the Central Bank of China 1933-45).
Really fascinating, full of things I didn't know. Potted biography of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek in here as well. Very good read for me.
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
A really excellent middle-grade novel, the start of a small series about the Tillerman family. I first read this when I was 12 or 13, about the same age as the oldest Tillerman sibling, Dicey.
Dicey and her three younger siblings are with their mother on their way to see a great aunt and hopefully get some relief from their financial problems. Their mother stops and tells them to wait in the car but fails to return. Dicey is fearful of going to the police and being put into foster care and potentially separated, so makes the decision that they'll walk to the rest of the way. They only have a few dollars, but Dicey's inner strength and desire to stay together carries them through.
I loved this book then and love it now. Stories of kids fending for themselves were always my favorite, though I'm not sure why as the adults in my life were generally lovely. Dicey's struggle to find a new home for her family, her defense of her siblings and her ability to understand how their mother became so lost in her mind that she got lost in the real world too, just stand out to me. I'll be giving this one to my nephew Benjamin in a year or two.
The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection by Tamim Ansary
I'm torn on this book. I always love Ansary's writing and how he presents things, but I know there's misinformation in here (common knowledge that isn't quite true generally). There's still good stuff to be gained from this book, and the connections he makes are very interesting. Worth reading, but don't use it as a base for essays/dinner table speeches without some double checking maybe!
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
I really enjoyed this book as a mid-30s adult, and if I'd read it in the pre-teen years I would have been absolutely obsessed with it. It was really fun and built as a really diverse world very naturally. The story was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the way it built and the humor in it. The book has a firm ending while making you excited for the sequel. This was just what I needed.
Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship--only it turns out to be for the towns most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then theres the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
My Life as a Traitor by Zarah Ghahramani
Memoir by a woman around my age who was held in solitary confinement in Iran for 30 days after some mild political activism. The book focuses strongly on the imprisonment and her mental state during that period, though of course goes into the background of her family life and political activities.
The Cuban Comedy by Pablo Medina
This is a beautifully written novel, though I think it's very difficult to describe The descriptions I see now on the back cover and in reviews don't seem quite right.
Elena has grown up in an isolated village with a high proportion of residents being soldiers injured in the revolution who frequent her father's firewater business. She dreams of becoming a poet and eventually has a chance to contrast life in the city with her upbringing.
It is not the most amazing novel I have ever read, but the language just sings, and I enjoyed it all the way through. I can't actually remember how it ended now, which probably doesn't say anything really good about the ending but it wasn't that kind of novel for me.
Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma
Tie in for the BBC/HBO TV show about Anne Lister, written by one of the historical advisors for the show. If you haven't seen it, the show is excellent. Incredibly well done, well acted, with lots of humor and poignancy.
One of the biggest strengths of the show is that they don't need to make things up to add drama or fill space. Lister lived an incredible life and left decades worth of detailed diaries.
I'm still slowly working on her actual diaries, but this was a very enjoyable break, being mostly commentary with diary excerpts.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Finally got around to reading this much lauded memoir of a girl raised by extremely strict Mormon survivalists (no doctors, no using OTC medications, etc...). She and most of her siblings did not attend public schools and didn't actually receive homeschooling either (particularly her and her closest in age siblings). The lack of fundamental knowledge, they did not even have a TV until Westover was around 14, was so extreme that when Westover wasn't aware of what the Holocaust was. She and her siblings weren't so much raised by their parents but survived them.
It is a particularly horrific book, as their parents turned a blind eye to physical violence between the siblings (some of it extreme) and particularly never believed/stood up for the girls. Westover's father was also extremely casual with their safety when working with him in his scrapyard or just driving the family home, feeling that if they got hurt that was god's will anyway.
The writing and telling of it is done extremely well done.
Angel Mage by Garth Nix
Nix's newest, and what I assume is the start of another trilogy (or some such, I haven't really checked). As usual, Nix gives us a very original world where practitioners of angelic magic call on angels for everything from medical to help to general protection. Liliath, one of the most powerful angelic mages ever, has awoken after over 100 years, and is gathering disciples for an unclear purpose.
Meanwhile four young people from very different spheres feel an unshakeable familiarty with each other despite having just met. In parallel with Liliath they attempt to get to the bottom of their strange connection.
A good read, and I'm curious to see where it will lead. I enjoy Nix's writing so much. He always gives us fantasy worlds devoid of sexism (vs those where characters must fight against standards very much like our own). It's fantasy, folks, you can build an egalitarian world.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
"From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path."
Despite the sound of that summary, this is a rather quiet book. I quite enjoyed it. Not a rave read, but extremely solid and interesting for me.
Portugal by Cyril Pedrosa
Wow, this is an absolutely gorgeous graphic novel (semi autobiographical). The story is pretty interesting as well - French man of Portuguese decent has reached an aimless point in his life when he reconnects with that side of his family, eventually going to Portugal for an extended stay. It's very real and grounded, and a lot of the main characters emotions will be recognizable to most people. The relationships between them especially struck me as realistic.
However, even if the story weren't as well done, this is worth picking up just for the art. Truly a beautiful book.
What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forche
Another WOW read, for different reasons. Forche is a poet (as well as having written various non-fiction books), and the language in this memoir is beautiful. The emotion is so present and effective.
The book covers her time in El Salvador before (not exactly before but when things were still more underground) and during their civil war in the late 1970s. Through a connection with a relative of his, Leonel Gómez Vides shows up at Forche's door asking her to come to El Salvador so that she'll be able to explain the coming conflict to her fellow Americans.
It's a must-read (particularly for Americans).
Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash
Mad heretic might be overstating the case, but the story of the wreck of the Batavia and the unnecessary slaughter that followed is certainly strange and interesting.
Pretty good read, not amazing. Another author probably could have made it feel more like an exciting narrative, but it was fine for me.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
The second book in the Wayward Children series. I really loved parts of the first but it needed at least another 50-100 pages because the pacing was dreadful. This second installment, is much MUCH better in that regard. It's also just a beautiful set of thoughts on parenting, childhood, family, and choices. I absolutely loved the way she wrote it, and I might have to read it in print so I can more easily record quotes from it.
Twins Jacqueline and Jillian has been made into their parents perfect pawns and puppets, one the perfect girly girl and the other a tomboy. They are five when their grandmother, the only person who really loved them, is packed off, and twelve when they find an impossible staircase that leads them into a dangerous fairyland.
Really satisfying read, if you're interested in the series maybe read this one first (there are no spoilers for it, this is the prequel story of two characters in the first book, Every Heart a Doorway) to see what McGuire is really capable of.
The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs
I loved Bellairs growing up, but am only now working my way through his Lewis Barnavelt and Anthony Monday books. As a child I decided his Johnny Dixon series was the only one for me. However, two of the his three Barnavelt books have his only young female protagonist, Lewis' best friend Rose Rita. As usual with Bellairs books, they're both misfits. Imagine my surprise reading this one that it's really a Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann book with Lewis at camp for the entire thing! I wonder if this is why it was his last Barnavelt book...
I thought the second book with these characters was pretty mediocre but my faith was restored with this volume. I love Rose Rita and it was a lot of fun. She's a tomboy and spends a lot of the book feeling apprehensive about starting junior high and knowing that being a tomboy will no longer be acceptable (and feeling annoyed that people except her to start dating Lewis in the next couple years). Bellairs writes her really well, I was pretty impressed.
Mrs. Zimmermann is a witch and gets a letter from her brother about a magic ring he's found. Soon after he dies and she needs to settle his estate. Since Rose Rita is out of sorts over Lewis going to boy scout camp, Mrs. Z takes her on an extended vacation. It's soon clear that someone is targeting Mrs. Z with dark magic and she eventually disappears, leaving Rose Rita to try to pick up the pieces and rescue her.
A notable quote from it:
"Come to think of it, she had never heard of a girl hobo. What a lousy deal girls had, anyway! They couldn't even be bums if they wanted to."
It All Adds Up: The Story of People and Mathematics by Mickael Launay
Short popular math book. It was okay. Not amazing, but decent. I'm not hugely passionate about math, though I did like geometry and proofs (why do people complain about doing proofs? They're so pleasing and now they don't teach them apparently) which take up a good chunk of this book.
Good Behavior by Donald E. Westlake RE-READ
Here it is, my last book of the year! Normally I wouldn't say that until 11:55 on the 31st, but I'm at my perfectly-divisible-by-52 number and I read so much this year that I'm kind of burnt out. In light of that, I decided to go with a joyful comfort re-read.
I've been reading and re-reading this book for 22 years. I've probably read it 50 times. Westlake's first nine Dortmunder novels are largely brilliant, and this is a particular stand-out novel to me. Westlake is such a smart, sharp writer. Like Terry Pratchett, he's able to write in a way that uses seemingly deep knowledge of the past, present, and a keen eye for predicting the future. It's amazing to me. This book in particular deals with corporate power and had some sharp "oh hell, that's where we are now" moments in terms of the CEO's dreams of the future. It was written in 1985.
Dortmunder finds himself on another job gone wrong, and ends up stuck in the rafters of a convent. After being rescued by the nuns, they decide he's just the man to rescue a member of their order who has been kidnapped (the CEO's daughter). Sister Mary Grace is now being held at the top of a skyscraper and with her father trying to deprogram her out of the Catholic church.
Quote from our unpleasant CEO character:
I don’t expect national governments to disappear, any more than the British or Dutch royal families have disappeared, but they will become increasingly irrelevant pageants. More and more, actors will play the parts of politicians and statesmen, while the real work goes on elsewhere.”
Dortmunder books don't need to be read in order, and this wouldn't be a bad one to start with. Highly recommend.
My goal of reading authors from non-anglophone countries was also a success. I read authors from 72 unique countries this year and read my first authors from Greenland, Namibia, Angola, and Kazakhstan.
66% of my reads by authors from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Could stand to be lowered, but given I've been desperate for my comfort reads which are mostly authors from those countries, I think it's a pretty good ratio. 62% of those reads were by authors with all the privilege (white, straight, cis, abled), which again, could stand to be lower but could be worse.
Given how I feel like I'm generally floundering, I think I did an excellent job on the reading front. I started reading more in print this year as well, taking advantage of all the e-book novellas in translation available on Hoopla.
Author nationality map:
I don’t think that even my two most productive reading years would add up to 312.
I've slowed things right down now and started Antonia Frasier's Cromwell, Our Chief of Men biography, which I definitely won't finish before the new year.
Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx – Sonia Manzano
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer
No Good Men Among the Living: America, The Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes – Anand Gopal
Heavy: An American Memoir – Kiese Laymon
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation From Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson – Jennifer Michael Hecht
Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist – Angelica Shirley Carpenter
There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra – Chinua Achebe
How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky
Shooting Stars: Ten Historical Miniatures – Stefan Zweig
Almost There: A Memoir – Nuala O'Faolain
Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving – Julia Samuel
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland – Patrick Radden Keefe
Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times – Elizabeth Wayland Barber
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care – Cris Beam
Ordinary Girls: A Memoir – Jaquira Diaz
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China – Jung Chang
What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance – Carolyn Forche
Guapa – Saleem Haddad
Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
The Winthrop Woman – Anya Seton
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard – Kiran Desai
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Wolf and the Watchman – Niklas Natt Och Dag
The Gilda Stories – Jewelle Gomez
Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine
Spring Flowers, Spring Frost – Ismail Kadare
The Cost of Sugar – Cynthia McLeoid
Out of Darkness, Shining Light – Petina Gappah
Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire
Portugal – Cyril Pedrosa (graphic novel)
Complete Wimmen's Comix - by Various (mixed fiction and non-fiction)
This Land Is My Land: A Graphic History of Big Dreams, Micronations, and Other Self-Made States - Andy Warner and Sofie Louise Dam (non-fiction)
Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame – Erin Williams (non-fiction)