Category Archives: Book related

Two books finished!

It’s a noteworthy accomplishment these days for me – finished two books!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune – several readers on Twitter recommended this book, and the blurb was fanciful enough to capture my attention.  I’m not entirely sure how to classify it, and I have a lot of questions about the world-building/setting, but the narrator was engaging and the story did not drag.  It’s been a long time (9 years) since I read anything by Klune, and my primary criticism back then was that the book needed read like a first draft in need of serious editing and tightening.  That criticism is not, I think, warranted with this book.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance –  a colleague mentioned reading this for her book group, saying it made the opioid epidemic and related issues make more sense to her.  She grew up on Long Island, solidly middle to upper class, went to private/parochial schools and then a Jesuit college, and her husband is very much the same, so their worldview and experience, while not small or provincial, is framed by that.  I have Opinions and Feelings about this book that I am sorting through still; although I did not grow up in Appalachia, some of the socio-economic situations described are not unfamiliar among my extended family.  Vance vacillates between self-congratulation and self-flagellation in a way that is disconcerting at times, and seems to sometimes to absolve himself and his own choices of responsibility.  Ex:  at one point he lists a bunch of things in the realm of etiquette/manners that he didn’t know when starting law school, but since many books on interview prep mentions them, and any college job placement center includes them (or did back when I was in college at a state school), it seems unfair to blame Appalachian culture for that lack.  Like I wrote above, I’m still sorting through my reaction.  And I’m interested in checking about Appalachian Reckoning, which seems to be a collected counterpoint based on the blurb.

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Recent reads – February edition

Someone on Twitter recommended a hockey-set romance trilogy, and the blurb was interesting, so I one-clicked.  The writer’s voice/style worked really well for me, and I read the first book and then the second in a couple of days.  But by the time I hit the third book, I hit a wall and started noticing all of the shortcomings I’d sort of skipped over and let slide in the earlier books, in part because I did not care for the love interest at all in the third book.  (He was a selfish, judgmental jerk, and I DNF’d because I couldn’t imagine him adjusting his attitude or believe any HEA involving him with the hero without the hero reshaping himself in an unhealthy way to get his approval.)

What shortcomings, you wonder?  Well, they were little things that accumulated.  The books are set in a league that lifts all of the teams and rivalries from the NHL, but renames them, presumably for trademark reasons.  But then does things that are inconsistent with the league.  For example:  road roommates are governed by the CBA and are for players on ELCs; a seven plus year veteran would not have one, and using that as a plot point seemed really forced.  Second: moving a player from Boston to Ottawa to diminish a rivalry with Montreal is…not realistic.  Beyond that, there’s a lot of not quite right hockey.  Defensemen play in pairs, not lines.  Pure enforcers are gone from the game. And so on.  It felt sometimes like someone mainlined a lot of fan-fiction before writing these without actually watching much hockey.

Substantively, I felt like the books addressed toxic masculinity in hockey with respect to gay men in a shallow/surface way, but ignored racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and a lot of other problematic aspects of North American Hockey Culture.   An opportunity to address mental illness and addiction was more or less ignored.

The first two books weren’t terrible; if you don’t know about hockey, you may not be as irked by their missteps as I was.  But frankly, there’s a lot better gay hockey romance out there on AO3 (let me plug Superstition, original hockey fic) and from former RPF writers who now write/publish original fiction (see Taylor Fitzpatrick‘s alternate hockey universe/league, which is partially on AO3 and partially self-published).

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On a happier note, I really enjoyed the new Peter Grant book, False Value.  It reads as a re-set for the series, and the beginning of a new story arc for Peter and the Folly.

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I’m back from vacation.  Went to Ilha Terceira in the Azores (or Açores, more properly).  Loved it.  Planning on going back, although probably I’ll visit São Miguel or a couple of the other islands first.  Really like how neighborly everyone was.  The food was amazing – seafood, local dairy and beef, a lot of local produce thanks to micro climates that permit growth of all kinds of things ranging from coffee and bananas to pineapples and potatoes.  The landscape is gorgeous – so green – and there are a fair number of (easy) hikes and walks.  Visited Algar do Carvão, an extinct volcano chimney with a rain forest interior and lake at the bottom; it felt like a lost world.

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Addendum to 2019 reading

Finished Gideon the Ninth.  It took several tries to get past the first 50 pages or so, but then it was an engrossing read.  Having finished, I feel ambivalent.  It was very well written, with excellent world building.  And I didn’t see the end coming until just before it happened.  The ending is what I’m ambivalent about, but I can’t really explain why without spoilers.  Enough to say that I wish I had read the ending first, because my mindset about the whole book and characters would have been somewhat different.

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Year end summary for 2019

According to LibraryThing, I read 45 books.  I have three still in progress that I started in the last month or so, but am likely only to maybe finish one (Gideon the Ninth).  Several were the Sean Kennedy Micah Johnston novellas, which I liked fairly well.  The highest rated books were City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which I loved (although I felt kind of meh about the second book of the trilogy); Knife Children by L.M. Bujold; and Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone.  Honorable mentions to Alderman’s The Power and Sujata Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone; and Aaronovitch’s German Peter Grant offshoot, The October Man.

Theater and film:  Just film this past year, plus one opera.

  • The Magic Flute – loved the scenery, which was done by Maurice Sendak
  • The Favourite
  • Captain Marvel
  • Rocketman
  • Men in Black
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Hustle
  • Downton Abbey
  • Terminator: Dark Fate
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Travel

  • Phoenix
  • Las Vegas
  • Dallas
  • Boston
  • Terceira (Azores)
  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh

NWHL – all the Riveters’ home games for the end of the 2018-2019, including the home playoff game.  The home 2019-20 games (only a couple so far).

NHL – an embarrassing number of games, but no playoffs – was in Terceira during the first round, when my team was swept.  [I was surprised by the sweep but not by the series loss; they were utterly disinterested in playing defense all season, and it caught up with them in the playoffs.]  Went to games in Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.  Was in Boston during playoffs but not when Boston was playing at home, so TD Garden is still on my list of venues to visit.

For baseball, there were just two games:  Detroit and Rays.  The Orioles were SO BAD.  It was painful.  And it was absolutely reflected in attendance.  Weekend game, gorgeous weather, maybe 10,000 fans in seats at the most.

Museums and cultural events:  the Walters, the Heinz, Fallingwater, Polymath Park, loved the Phipps Conservatory, many lovely chapels on Terceira, the MFA in Boston, the Isabella Gardiner Stewart Museum (favorite).  Enjoyed both the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, adored the Lego art exhibition at the science museum in Dallas.  Went to the Dallas Book Depository because it was very highly recommended.  It was fine?  I mean, I’m glad I went, but it didn’t really speak to me.  Kinda meh about the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which felt kind of rah rah about law enforcement.

Music – to Boston for Lost Evenings III, four nights of shows at HOB with Frank Turner, all with different themes, opening acts, and set lists.  Heard “Balthasar Impresario” live, so all my FT boxes have been checked.  Also saw FT and the Sleeping Souls at the Warner Theater for the No Man’s Land tour, which was different – a venue with seats – and a little weird.  The music was good but it was literally the first time I went to a non-general admission FT show and sat the whole time.  Loved “Kassiani” and “The Lioness” live.

Professionally speaking, eh, I’m doing things I’m not really interested in or trained to do: I’m a lawyer by training, not a technology project manager or a contract manager.  This is not the best deployment of my skills.  But I do what my director wants done.

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More recent-ish reading

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege – translated from German, 2016, was a book found on a shelf over Thx.  Written by the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, about discovering who her grandfather was and reconciling it with her Israeli friends, her somewhat vague memories of her grandmother (Goeth’s lover), and her existence/life as a woman of color.  Interesting, especially in terms of how her reconciliation includes discussion of how generations of Germans have dealt (or not) with family members who were active in the Nazi party or passively complicit.  I struggled, though, with the narrator’s descriptions of her attempts to establish contact with her mother, who had put her up for adoption and did not really seem interested in a relationship.

Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses by Meredith Mileti.  Liked seeing glimpses of Pittsburgh in fiction, even if Bruno’s was a *very* thinly veiled Enrico Biscotti Co. Didn’t find the narrator particularly sympathetic or compelling. Readers are told that she was fiery and successful and had a temper, not really shown that. Extremely predictable.

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong.  It was fine? I’ve already forgotten the plot.

Tried reading Beartown by Fredrik Backman, but the narrative style didn’t suit me.  A reader whose taste I trust recommended Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which I’ve borrowed from the library, but I haven’t managed to get past the first 50 pages and keep putting it back down; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not grabbing me.

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September reading

More library books!  Mostly checked out when I visited the Grand Reopening, which included a block party with deejay and music, dance performances, speakers/readings, and more people in the library than I have ever seen.

Wherever She Goes by Kelley Armstrong.  I first started reading Armstrong’s paranormal/urban fantasy books, back before werewolves were popular in SFF/UF/romance, and gradually stopped reading them when other magic stuff was involved.  But every so often she publishes a stand alone or short series with a female protagonist that isn’t paranormal/UF, and I usually check them out.  This one was kind of unimpressive, mostly because I thought the narrator was not as smart as she thought she was.  Also, as I get older, I find mysteries as fantasies of justice wrought by police or by civilian vigilantes less and less palatable.  It wasn’t terrible, but I would probably not go out of my way to read another book with this narrator.

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Another Penric and Desdemona novella.  Pleasant read in the Five Gods world, which I like very much.  The pacing was a little uneven, but still worth the time and waiting through the hold list for ebooks at the library.

Small Change (Vol 1) by Roan Parrish.  This was a free Kindle recd by someone on Twitter. Liked the bi narrator, but ultimately felt like she was a spoiled twit. I’m so non-standard, my family is so terrible, blah blah blah. She had the traditional tortured, uncommunicative hero role; it didn’t work any better for me with gender roles flipped. Felt like the hero deserved better, much as I generally feel like the heroines deserve better than the emotionally constipated heroes they get in traditional romance.

The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre.  Liked this very much.  Although I guessed the twist early on, it was well done and kept me reading to get to the end for the wrap up.

Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde.  Meh.  Did it want to be a cozy mystery or a social commentary a la Austen?  Kind of failed at both.  The writing style was fairly old fashioned and full of telling rather than showing, with a pretty predictable whodunit.  The narrator’s voice was not particularly distinctive, with a Big Secret that was hinted around but ultimately predictable.  (I think I was supposed to find her sympathetic but mostly she just struck me as pathetic.)  There’s a second book out in this mystery series, but I won’t be borrowing it from the library.

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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.

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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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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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