Bragan Reads on in 2019, Pt. 4
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Somehow, we seem to have made it to the last quarter of 2019. So here's my final thread for the year, continued from here.
As is usual for me, I'm just going to jump right into the reading:
77. During-the-Event by Roger Wall
This is a post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel, centering on a young man named During-the-Event ("D.E.") Perez. As a baby, he was rescued by his grandfather from the destruction of their town by government forces -- the "Event" commemorated in his name -- and was raised alone by the old man, who was attempting to live by the traditions of the local Native American tribe. After his grandfather dies, D.E. goes off in search of his parents, who he believes may still be alive.
It's a very readable novel, and even though it's kind of meandering, I found it a fairly quick read. I can't say that, as an example of this particular subgenre, it really stands out for me, though. I think I kept wanting it to give me a little more... something... than it ever quite did. Maybe just a little more detailed worldbuilding, or more emotional heft.
Mind you, I can't really help comparing it a bit to The Dog Stars which I just read a couple of months ago -- it has some broad similarity to that novel, even if it's very different in details -- and that's really not at all fair, as The Dog Stars was damned impressive, and most things are going to suffer in comparison.
My slightly lukewarm response notwithstanding, many thanks again to Lois and Jean (avaland and nohrt4me2 ) for passing this one on to me!
78. Looking for Group by Rory Harrison
Dylan has recently made a seemingly miraculous recovery from a cancer that was expected to kill him, but that doesn't mean he's really doing okay, physically or otherwise. He's dirt-poor and his mother is a neglectful piece of crap. When he tries to re-register for high school after his stint in the hospital and is told it can't be done unless his mother shows up in person -- which she won't -- he kind of snaps. Instead of going home, he drives off to find his World of Warcraft buddy, Arden. Arden is from a rich family, but she's got problems of her own, including a father who refuses to accept that she is, in fact, a "she." Together they go off on a ridiculous road trip, or possibly a quest.
YA is a very hit-and-miss genre for me, and I was afraid, going in, that this one had all the elements of a "miss." Making the main character a cancer survivor could have felt emotionally manipulative, and the road trip is very much the kind of dumb teenager stunt that usually has me rolling my eyes. But I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The writing is engaging, the characters are believable, and the teenage dumbassery actually had me feeling sympathetic and remembering a few minor dumbass stunts from my own youth. The romance was really sweet, too, and I say that as someone who is kind of a hard sell on teen romances.
79. An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi, with illustrations by Alejandro Giraldo
This very short volume contains one-page descriptions of various logical fallacies people make in arguments, accompanied by whimsical illustrations in which cute animals play out the fallacies.
I'm afraid I like this idea of this book a lot more than I like the execution. The descriptions of the logical fallacies often aren't as clear as they could be, especially given that they're supposedly aimed at readers for whom this subject is new, and the examples Almossawi uses are sometimes kind of odd. And the illustrations are charming, sometimes even delightful, but some of them are a lot more apt than others.
>1 bragan: And how many dystopias are set in North Dakota, eh? Enjoyed your comments.
>4 avaland: My uncle was stationed in North Dakota for a while, and the way he described it sounded pretty dystopian already. But I think that was mostly just the weather. :)
I did like the North Dakota setting. I'd love to see more such stories set in neglected places like that.
80. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
It's the 12th century, and in Cambridge, England, small children have gone missing only for their bodies to turn up later, mutilated. The local Jews are blamed, because of course they are, and the King isn't pleased, because he was collecting a lot of taxes from those Jews, who are now holed up in hiding and not doing any business. So he sends for an expert to examine the bodies and hopefully figure out who killed them. He gets Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, who was educated in Salerno, Italy, the one place where women are trained to be doctors.
I have kind of mixed feelings about this one. The medieval murder mystery plot is interesting enough and there are some fairly likeable characters. It could perhaps have done with some editing in the earlier parts of the novel, as I feel like we're too often given the same information more than once, but overall it's a decent read.
But I kept being distracted by my utter inability to suspend my disbelief for the way medieval medicine is treated. I don't necessarily have a problem with the idea that the main character is ahead of her time in being an unusually scientific thinker. But there's no sense at all of the context in which she's operating, in terms of the world's understanding (or misunderstanding) of medicine at the time. There are things she's ignorant of, but nothing she's wrong about, and no sense that 12th century medicine was fundamentally any different from 21st century medicine. And, while I'm no expert in history, I'm pretty sure it was. Given how much historical detail the author includes in other areas, this seems particularly odd, and I found it jarring and a little hard to get past.
81. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
This tale of a Jewish moneylender's daughter and the ruler of a wintery fairy kingdom is heavily inspired by, and makes frequent reference to, the story of Rumpelstiltskin, but it's not a retelling of the fairy tale. It's something much more original and fascinating, and I say that as someone who dearly loves a good fairy tale retelling.
It's also the best fantasy novel I have read in recent memory. The writing is marvelously assured, the characters are complex and strong and clever, the worldbuilding is subtle and excellent, and the plot utterly gripping. And every time I thought I knew where it was going, it surprised me, in ways that felt utterly right. I did find it a bit slow, but not remotely in a bad way, rather in the way that makes you want to stop and savor it and not let it be over too soon.
Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
Rating: Yeah, slightly to my surprise, I'm giving this one the elusive 5/5.
>7 bragan: I don't read much fantasy any more but your review has encouraged me to read this one.
>7 bragan: Hmm... I'm so not into that kind of fantasy, usually, but that makes it sound very tempting. I do like to branch out from what I usually read, and that sounds like a fun change of pace (and my library has the ebook).
>8 rhian_of_oz: I read a lot less fantasy than I used to, too, but this was the kind I'm still very glad to read. I hope you like it as much as I did!
>9 lisapeet: I think it might actually be a pretty good fantasy read for people who aren't normally big fantasy readers. I'd be interested to see what you might think of it, too!
82. It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America by David Cay Johnston
Honestly, this book didn't so much have me exclaiming "Oh no, it is even worse than I think!" so much as it had me muttering "Yeah, no duh" a lot. There were some things that were new to me here -- mostly involving some fairly complex economic subjects -- but I think you'd have to either be willfully ignorant or to have been living under a rock not to know most of it. (I myself often do hide under rocks when the shitstorm of US politics gets to be too much for me, but apparently I've at least crawled out often enough to get all the basics of how bad it is.)
Still. It's nice -- if that's quite the right word -- to have all the ugliness laid out in an organized and coherent fashion. Well, all the ugliness up until sometime in 2018, when this book was published, anyway. There have certainly been new revelations and developments and reasons to bang one's head against a wall pretty much daily since then, so it is a little dated already.
For the most part, it's all pretty clearly presented. I did find some of those fairly complex economic subjects a little difficult to follow, but, unlike Trump, I've never presented myself as an expert in economics.
I will say that while I appreciate how fervently Johnston makes his arguments -- which include not just laying out all the reasons why Trump is bad at his job and bad for America, but also why it feels like he's setting an extremely worrying precedent -- I think there are a few times throughout the book where he can't resist taking what seems to me to be a slightly cheap shot. It's a temptation I understand, but in the case of Trump, it's hardly one that's necessary. There are so many perfectly legitimate shots to be taken at him instead, after all.
Rating: with slight reservations, I'm giving it a 4/5.
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