Category Archives: Book related

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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Done with In Death?

I’ve stopped buying the In Death books by JD Robb, and have transitioned to library borrowing.  But after trying to read the most recent iteration, Dark in Death, I think I might be finished with the series.  There was some really poor type-setting or copy-editing, which is sloppy but basically commonplace at this point in all levels of publishing.  The plots were getting repetitive, but I could forgive that in a comfort read.  But in this book Peabody slut-shames potential victims; Dallas initially reprimands her and then does the same thing.  And then Roarke joins the judgment parade.  For a series and character that is generally sex-positive, that was really disappointing.  When you add the victim-blaming on top of that?  Nope, done.

I’m kind of sad, since it feels like the end of an era for me.  I can remember when the In Death books first appears in WaldenBooks on the little cardboard display stands.  This was back before it was common knowledge that JD Robb was a pseudonym for Nora Roberts.  I started reading the first book at about the time the third one was published, after being hand-sold the series by a bookseller who said I would like them if I liked Roberts (*wink wink*).  I read the first one and then the next two immediately after, and then all new ones as they were published.  It has only been the last couple of years that I stopped pre-ordering to have the books on release day, corresponding to my reading slump.

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Recently read

Someone retweeted something about a new book about a WWII code breaker into my Twitter timeline, and the title caught my attention:  The Woman Who Smashed Codes.

In 1916, a young Quaker schoolteacher and poetry scholar named Elizebeth Smith was hired by an eccentric tycoon to find the secret messages he believed were embedded in Shakespeare’s plays. She moved to the tycoon’s lavish estate outside of Chicago expecting to spend her days poring through old books. But the rich man’s close ties to the U.S. government, and the urgencies of war, quickly transformed Elizebeth’s mission. She soon learned to apply her skills to an exciting new venture: codebreaking—the solving of secret messages without knowledge of the key. Working alongside her on the estate was William Friedman, a Jewish scientist who would become her husband and lifelong codebreaking partner. Elizebeth and William were in many ways the Adam and Eve of the National Security Agency, the U.S. institution that monitors and intercepts foreign communications to glean intelligence.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman who played an integral role in our nation’s history—from the Great War to the Cold War. He traces Elizebeth’s developing career through World War I, Prohibition, and the struggle against fascism. She helped catch gangsters and smugglers, exposed a Nazi spy ring in South America, and fought a clandestine battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German operatives to conceal their communications. And through it all, she served as muse to her husband, a master of puzzles, who astonished friends and foes alike. Inside an army vault in Washington, he worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils for the first time America’s codebreaking history through the prism of one remarkable woman’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that shaped the modern intelligence community. Rich in detail, The Woman Who Smashed Codes pays tribute to an unsung hero whose story belongs alongside those of other great female technologists, like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, and whose oft-hidden contributions altered the course of the century.

In short: a fascinating look at the birth of what is today an industry/agency of its own.  As usual, it’s infuriating to know that this woman was essentially erased from history by J. Edgar Hoover as he bolstered his own reputation and budget.

I enjoyed the book, but one line late in the book really got under my skin.  On page 265, when talking about German activity in Argentina: “…Juan Domingo Peron, the future three-time president of Argentina, now just a young army colonel with a taste for moral larceny. (He lived with a fourteen-year-old girlfriend whom he called “The Piranha.”)”  Was the parenthetical necessary?  Does it contribute anything? If the intent was to make clear how revolting a human being Peron was, well, it worked.  As a reader, I was seriously squicked not just by Peron but by the way the information was presented: in a casual way, tossed off almost as a joke, normalizing what would have been statutory rape.  Because does anyone think a fourteen year old would have agency when it came to a relationship (of any type) with a man in his forties?  Ugh.

 

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Setting

How important is setting?  That seems like a foolish question, since setting is a basic element of storytelling.  But I have been thinking about it in the context of how well readers/viewers know the setting in question.  Years ago Nora Roberts* set a book in the Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore.  And she got the neighborhood community feel down but the housing market, floor plan of row houses, and sidewalk/parking situation wrong.  They sound like little things but were important elements to the story, so being not quite right jarred me right out of the story.

Re-watching the first episode of Queer as Folk (US) this weekend, the theoretical setting was just so obviously NOT where it was filmed that I wondered if Pittsburghers who watched the series were as jarred as I was by the not-quite-right Baltimore in NR’s book.  Literally, as one building came into view, I thought to myself, oh, they are in Toronto — it was the Gooderham Building on Front Street.  Beyond that, the geography/topography is just not right.  Back when I first watched any of QaF, I’d visited PGH briefly once and had never been to Toronto, so I didn’t notice the location.  Since then I’ve been to Toronto once for WCoH and to Pittsburgh a number of times, which is what made it painfully apparent that they were not filming in PGH.

Does it matter that much?  I don’t know, maybe viewers don’t care, since the economics of film/television production means that things are seldom filmed in the locations they purport to represent in the final product.  But I’m interested to see if there is any attempt at more

*It feels like I’ve picked on NR in the last couple of posts, and I don’t mean to.  But that book and the housing it described was just NOT accurate.  (I wrote an entire post about it at the time, many books ago at this point.

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Catching up

My reading slump continues.  I need to figure out something to write about because I’m really out of the habit of writing thoughtfully about the media I consume.  I write a fair amount for work but the results are pretty technical and blunt, very to the point with a specific purpose and a different kind of analysis and use of persuasive language.  So, I’m going to make an effort with the goal of one post per week about some sort of media, even if it is not about published fiction.

I have managed to read some stuff this summer though.

June

  1. Come Sundown by Nora Roberts.  Rosario posted a very good review of this book, although she may have liked it more than I did.  It felt really derivative of Roberts’ Montana Sky, which was once a favorite.  It might still be, maybe, but I’m a little afraid to re-read after 5+ years, because what if it doesn’t stand up?  Or what if it irritates me the way this one did?  The clustered family felt really claustrophobic to me, and the dismissal of urban lives seriously pissed me off.  (Disclosure: I grew up in the middle of nowhere in an old house set in the middle of fields of cows and corn. I now live by choice in a sort of rust-belt city with serious race and crime issues. There are good and bad things about both. Community is not exclusive to small towns and rural life.)
  2. Skin After Skin by Jordan Castillo Price.  A new PsyCop novel.  Eh, I didn’t love it?  It was interesting to get a different POV on Victor Bayne and other PsyCops, but there were a lot of inconsistencies between it and the earlier novels that didn’t seem really attributable to just a change of POV.
  3. The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch.  A short story or novella in the Rivers of London series.  Really liked seeing Abigail and a plot that didn’t involve Leslie or the Faceless Man.

July – just Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember by John Feinstein.  This follows Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine during the 2007 season.  As someone who learned to love baseball via the Orioles in the late 90s, Mike Mussina was the ace, the starting pitcher, the hero. Glavine, eh, National League, so I didn’t pay much attention except for the occasional interleague series.  It’s interesting to read Mussina’s perspective on his contract negotiations with Angelos/management as he played his final year as an Oriole and then departed for The Enemy.  Feinstein writes that Mussina felt like the fans were critical of him; as a fan, I remember feeling like the ownership/management was shortchanging their ace.  In fact, the last game that he started, I remember seeing a season ticket holder with a sign that read, “If Mussina doesn’t come back, neither do I.”  Anyway, it was a good read but I would probably only recommend it to baseball fans.  For lack of a better phrase, it’s kind of inside baseball and assumes a certain base knowledge about the game and its history and operations.

August – nothing, according to LibraryThing. Is that right?  Nope, Amazon says I downloaded Lois McMaster Bujold’s new novella, Penric’s Fox.  Although this was just published in August, it fits chronologically as the third book/novella in the series, set after Penric and the Shaman and before his later adventures in Penric’s Mission and Mira’s Last Dance.  IMO, it is just as well, because I found Mira’s Last Dance to be fairly disappointing and appreciated the return to mystery/adventure.

September – I know it’s early for this, but I read at the beach and am likely to spend the rest of the month inching through the nonfiction I started on Friday, so…

  1. God Save the Queen by Kate Locke – steampunk + paranormal.  Steampunk has been really hit or miss for me, other than Meljean Brook’s work.  And I used to love paranormal but got vampired and werewolved out a long time ago.  (Would Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten stand up to a re-read, or would it irritate me now? I don’t know.)  But this was interesting in the set up of plot/conflict and some of the world-building.  I liked it enough to seek out the second book of the series.
  2. The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke.  Maybe I should have left this series at the first book?  Or perhaps not read it shortly after the first of the series?  In any case, I’m not wasting time or money on the third book.  The POV character’s use of the same phrase about having her trusty lonsdaelite dagger tucked into her corset became irritating after the fourth or fifth repetition, and she was a giant Mary Sue.
  3. Secrets in Death by JD Robb.  It was fine.  It was JD Robb.  There was bloody murder, Eve was conflicted about things, she and Summerset snark at each other, Roarke owns everything, etc.
  4. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner.  I’m only about 25% through this book.  The massive incompetence, outright fraud, criminal activity, hypocrisy, and bloated-ego-fest that was the CIA through its first decade or so (as far as I’ve read) is terrifying and infuriating and shame-inducing.

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May reading

Where the Dead Lie (St. Cyr mystery) by C.S. Harris – I know I read this book, which I borrowed from the library, but I can’t actually remember much about it.  *shrug*

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen-Turner.  Part of her Attolia series, narrated by Kamet the Mede slave.  I guessed early who the Attolian was and the “twist”.  It was interesting, but not really a page turner for me, and the pacing was pretty slow.

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong.  I find the set up for this series to be interesting, and I tend to like Armstrong’s narrators – they are strong, independent women who are often flawed and/or violent.

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