Summer reading list

I’ve managed to do a fair amount of reading this summer, primarily because the library’s renovation ended, making the stacks accessible again!

Non-fiction

Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting, and Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas – there are a lot of books about the lives of the people he painted, but it seems like there are fewer biographies of Sargent himself.

Fiction

Sean Kennedy’s GetOut novellas – nice to revisit characters from the Tigers & Devils books, Young Adult-ish.

Two new(ish?) Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris.  They were easy reads, although I’m not sure I would have cared for them if they had been published close to when she first wrote the series.

The last two CS Harris mysteries – these, like the Teagarden mysteries, are like cotton candy – essentially gone/forgotten immediately, although I do like the main characters better here.  (I find Roe Teagarden to be reminiscent of a lot of small town “nice ladies” in a very unflattering to her way.)

The Widows of Malabar Hill and The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey – mysteries set in early 20th century India with an Indian woman who is a lawyer as narrator.  Very well done, felt atmospheric, although I do not know enough about Indian history or culture to be an accurate judge.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal – modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan.  Enjoyed this a lot, although I found the modern version of Lydia and Wickham to be OTT.  I’m not sure if that is because their shallowness/selfishness was worse in a modern setting or what.

Under Currents by Nora Roberts.  Her voice/style is still appealing.  And yet.  This book felt recycled and poorly edited.  It was kind of episodic, with clunky pacing and cardboard bad guys, and just straight up had factual errors about things like the medical and legal professions that could have been corrected with a minimum of research.  Also: I get that NR loves gardening/landscaping, but it’s not really engrossing to read about for people who do not.

 

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Blah blah blah – books and Marvel

The year in reading is going fairly well in comparison to last year.  Sixteen books and novellas read (compared to 27 total last year).  The reading is up in part because of the January furlough: I had time to do things like go to the gym everyday, and cook a lot from scratch, and find things to do that were free since I was being frugal.

Favorites:  Knife Children, a novella by Lois McMaster Bujold, and City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty.

Disappointments:  The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (could not bear the second person POV) and Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs (political/policy reasons as well as irritation with narrative choices).

Honorable mentions: Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone.

~~~

SPOILERS for ENDGAME

I’m not huge Marvel Comics Universe fan.  I’ve never really been able to get into comics or graphic novels, although there are a couple of series that I’ve tried and liked.  But the whole Avengers/Captain America thing?  Eh.  I’ve seen maybe a quarter of the whole series, none of the Iron Man, Spiderman, Antman, etc.  Have seen various trailers and clips of the different Captain America movies.  Caught a couple of episodes of SHIELD and Agent Carter (which I really liked, go, Peggy Carter).  Movie-wise, I’ve seen the first Avengers movie, Black Panther (excellent), Infinity War (meh), Captain Marvel (which I LOVED), and now Endgame.  I don’t really have opinions about most of the wrap up of storylines, but I have to say I found the Steve Rogers wrap up disappointing.  Not because I expected him and Bucky to ride off into the sunset together, or because I dislike Peggy as the romantic love of Steve’s life.  The disappointment stems from the complete lack of agency Peggy had, and the erasure of Bucky’s importance to Steve.  Bucky was his childhood BFF, whom he apparently broke laws to rescue; they had one scene together and almost no dialog before Steve does the thing. Peggy had zero lines and was literally the reward Steve gave himself. Their relevance as independent characters was reduced to nothing.  I get that there was a lot to fit into the finale, but that’s shoddy character-handling.

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Year end summary for 2018

According to LibraryThing, I read 28 books.  I have two others still in progress that I started in 2018 and have stalled on a little, mostly because I haven’t had the patience to settle in to a long read since about Thanksgiving.  Several of the 28 books were the Rivers of London graphic novels, which I find to be easy/quick reads, although I don’t love the art particularly. The highest rated books were Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, which I read all in one go, and two pieces of non-fiction: a biography of the Widow Clicquot and The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy.   The biggest disappointments (other than DNFs that I have stopped recording) were the two In Death books I tried to read: one had victim blaming and slut shaming, while the other had transphobia and showed a complete lack of knowledge/research about civil and criminal securities fraud investigation/prosecution. Stick a fork in me, I am done.

Theater and film:  Just film this past year, because I didn’t love what was scheduled for the then-upcoming theater season and so did not renew my subscription.

  • Molly’s Game
  • Phantom Thread
  • Black Panther
  • Annihilation
  • Tomb Raider
  • Love, Simon
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • RBG
  • Ocean’s 8
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Widows
  • The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Lisbeth Salander)

Travel

  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh
  • Asheville
  • Rome – primarily for the food and the Italian Open 🙂
  • Spain – Granada, Sevilla, Madrid

NWHL – all the Riveters’ home games for the end of the 2017-2018, including playoffs and the Isobel Cup Final; all but one home game for the beginning of the 2018-2019 season (it was Thx weekend), as well as the neutral site game in Pittsburgh.

NHL – an embarrassing number of games, including playoffs.  But I didn’t renew my partial season ticket plan to the Capitals; in part because they jacked the prices up in a crazy way, and in part because I’m tired of being harassed and threatened at the games.  One of my colleagues swears the harassment should stop now since they’ve won the Cup, but the two individual games I went to early in the season (Toronto, VGK) did not bear that prediction out.

For baseball, there were just three games:  NYY, Marlins, and Rays, all in June and July.

Museums and cultural events…the Walters, the Heinz, so much in Rome that I need to write about.  Two Frank Turner shows.  Sunday in the country, which I went to more to be social than because I knew anything about any of the acts.

Professionally speaking, the beginning of the year was a grind.  The middle of the year and into fall were pretty good.  And then the end of the year was okay in terms of the substance of work but a nightmare because of the furlough.  (So much work is accumulating. It will take a massive effort to dig out.  And the longer it goes, the harder it will be to get current again.)

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Recently read/watched

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – I enjoyed this a lot, although it created at least as many questions as it answered.  The copy editing was poor, which is disappointing but no worse than it has been for the other books of the series.  The very ending was pretty ~meh~ to me, but it won’t stop me from reading whatever comes next.

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King – biography of Fred Rogers.  I’m not sure I can emphasize what a formative influence Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was for me as a child.  The documentary released earlier this year (not the bio-pic in production) impressed me and made me want to know more about him, and this biography is does not disappoint.  I had not realized how influential and formative women were in his life; the women in his family, sure, but the professional women he worked with also.  And it has been a relief to read without having Rogers be diminished.  Of course he was human and flawed but very much embodied kindness and thoughtfulness toward children in a way that didn’t infantilize them or discount their fears and feelings.

Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women is up next, as is Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad.

 

The Widows movie was good, but possibly not properly marketed.  I did not see the twist in the middle coming at all.  Now I want to read the book it was based on because I feel like there was backstory and possibly other plot that was edited out of the film for run-time.  And also, hey, Chicago, I haven’t seen you in awhile.

The new Lisbeth Salander movie was face-paced and interesting.  I have only read the first book of that series, so I can’t critique from an adaptation perspective.  It was a thriller with fast cars, some guns, and creepy villains, filmed in a very noir or dour palette.  I liked it enough that I may actually go back and try to read the series.  Also, Claire Foy as Salander was excellent.  One review I read after the fact complained that Salander was too flat and the film wasted her backstory, reducing the plot to Bond-like action.  Eh, that is pretty harsh, but also: what’s wrong with having a Bond-like film with a woman as protagonist? Maybe dudes are tired of seeing Bond, but women seldom get to see a female Bond-type, and why must a female Bond-type be more developed than male Bond ever was in the films?

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Summer and fall reading 2018

Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau – recommended by someone on Twitter, liked the premise in theory and found the book readable, but didn’t care about the characters at all.

Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois Bujold McMaster – nice to circle back to the Vorkosigans but nothing groundbreaking here.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews.  Painful retconning to make Hugh D’Ambray a palatable protagonist.  I didn’t really care about the romance, and would’ve been more interested in Hugh as villain adrift without the retconning.

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by Lynne Murphy.  Very interesting and extremely readable for non-linguists.

Provenance by Ann Leckie.  Interesting, but not as gripping as the Ancillary series.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly.  An interesting mental exercise, but it seems a little strange and speculative to interpret backward based fiction texts; one could just as easily have selected much more conservative positions and defended them using different passages from the same texts.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews.  Andrews writes very readable books.  As I read them, the plot holes and worldbuilding inconsistencies don’t matter.  It’s only after I’m finished that I think, well, that doesn’t really match up with prior texts.  The denouement was…predictable, I guess.  With lots of other series bait.  And more retconning for Hugh D’Ambray.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar Mazzeo.  Picked this up on impulse while at the Battery Park Book Exchange; it seemed appropriate in light of their extensive champagne menu.  Fascinating if a little speculative about some of the widow’s early life/experiences, given lack of primary sources.

Leverage in Death by JD Robb.  DNF.  I’ve mostly stopped reading this series, but a copy of this was on an end cap at the library, so I borrowed it on impulse.  I’m so sorry.  Look, if Roarke is a bazillionaire capitalist and investor, he probably in theory should understand how markets are regulated, and if he’s also a brilliant reformed criminal he should understand civil and criminal authorities engage in manipulation investigations. Maybe Robb could have done some research before building a plot around it; it reads as sloppy and lazy.  Not impressed.

 

 

 

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April reading!

I read enough in April to actually write a short post about it! It’s a miracle!

I’m still inching through Color of Law, but my progress slowed in the last week or so because I became hooked by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series.  So, right now the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt library, which is an absolutely gorgeous old building, is being renovated.  It’s still open, but all of the collections have been moved around as floors are done in stages; a copy of Ancillary Justice was on one of the very small displays and it caught my eye.  Back in 2014, I read rave reviews, but couldn’t get past the first 100 pages.  But this time, something clicked after the first couple of chapters.  I finished it in a couple of days and then went back to the library to get the other two books, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.  Which I finished on Wednesday and then this morning.  I’m not sure what about my reading style or taste has changed since 2014, but the dual timeline didn’t bother me at all this time around, and I enjoyed the default she, which made me think about how gender roles even in SFF are very traditionally driven.

Early in the month I tried and failed to read Patricia Briggs’ Burn Bright, but something mentioned casually early on squicked me so I DNF’d it and returned it to the library.  Done with Briggs, I think, unless she revisits Hurog at some point.

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The first quarter of 2018

Well…the reading slump has improved, if only by the smallest of increments.  Four books finished!  Three more books from authors whose series I used to love attempted and DNF’d; two of those were library books, and now they are not even on the library list.  I would not characterize any of the four I finished as five star reads, but I am going to look for other work by one author.  Another of the books reiterated that New Adult fiction and a Very Popular Author in that subgenre are REALLY not for me.

Next up on the fiction front:  Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai.  An autographed copy was on display at the Strand when I was in New York a few weeks ago, and it was an impulse buy.

Currently working through on the nonfiction front:  The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.  I can only read this in small increments because it is so infuriating.  I live in Baltimore; the modern effects of segregation are painfully apparent here, exacerbated by the flight of heavy industry.  I worked briefly in a landlord-tenant clinic years ago, representing low income tenants in rent court.  Even so, I had NO IDEA that the segregation was written into law; I thought it was a function of the racist application of law.  My white privilege there.  *cringes*

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