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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 read

My library has what seems to be to be a fairly good selection of ebooks.  Just as they closed, I borrowed The Last Best Hope, a Star Trek: Picard novel.  I haven’t watched the series yet (maybe next weekend?), but I believe the book is set before the show.  It was enjoyable, a nice visit to a couple of the Enterprise crew, but it ended in a somewhat awkward/sad/bad place, I assume as a lead in to the series.  Or maybe not:  I have only ever read one other ST:NG novel, so I don’t really know how to judge the content.

Also borrowed Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, based on the recommendation of an original fiction writer from AO3, who was “trying” traditionally published romance maybe for the first time and recommended it.  Uh, all I can say is that while I have liked some of the recommender’s writing, I definitely do not have congruent reading taste, because the narrator of RWRB struck me as a twit and the first couple of chapters read as pedestrian-at-best YA/New Adult.  DNF.

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Work has not really improved this week.  Primarily this is a function of my director, who is desperately trying to add value and seems unable to get out of the way of her staff.  She emailed me today to put me in charge of a project that is already in mid-swing.  I hate this.  I’m still trying to untangle a different project that was organized by someone else is a Project Manager by training but has no practical/substantive experience in the underlying project.  Meaning that he created a timeline that is completely unrealistic; promised an outcome/product that is unlikely; and completely ignored data access constraints, the tools required, and the expertise needed to do with work.

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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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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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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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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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