Avaland and Dukedom_Enough's Thread, PART 2 July-Dec
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A retired scientist & a retired bookseller (sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it?)
The Road to UnFreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder
Vast by Linda Nagata (1998, ebook)
ALSO DABBLING IN:
The Year's Best Science Fiction #35, edited by Gardner Dozois (2017)
People's Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams (2019)
Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevada-Lee (2018)
√ denotes reviewed
BOOKS READ 2019:
Exhalation by Ted Chaing (2019, short stories)
Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson (1995)
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand (2019)
True Stories: and Other Essays by Francis Spufford (2017)
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
Lords of the Starship by Mark S. Geston
√To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (2019, SF)
√Mission Critical edited by Jonathan Strahan (2019, anthology)
√This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar (2019)
√Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan (2019)
√Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks (1990, a re-read)
√Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
√Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye (1964)
√The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick (2007)
Woman of the Ashes by Mia Couto (2019, 1st in a trilogy; Trans. from the Portuguese)
Fascism: A Warning by Madeline Albright (nonfiction, in book & audio form, 2018)
(larger covers are to remind me I haven't reviewed them yet...)
√ denotes reviewed
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (nonfiction, 2018
Leila by Prayaag Akbar (2019, dystopia, India)
Frankissstein by Jeannette Winterson (2019, UK)
√The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria by Helon Habila (2016, nonfiction)
√The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019, Canadian)
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2009, T 2019, Polish)
In the Shadow of Wolves by Alkyds Slepikas ( 2011, T 2019, Lithuanian)
√The Good Cop by Peter Steiner (2019)
Travelers: A Novel by Helon Habila (2019, Nigerian)
√Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (2019, Canadian)
√The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer (2017)
√The Women of Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (2019)
√Prairie Fever by Michael Parker (2019)
√Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher (2019, crime novel)
√Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori (2018, UK, nonfiction)
√Conviction by Denise Mina (2019, UK)
√Feminism and Pop culture by Andi Heisler (2018)
Q2 2019 READ--------------
√The Hungry Ghosts: Seven Elusive Comedies by Joyce Carol Oates (1974, short stories)
√Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (2019)
√My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates (2019)
√Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaflan (SF, 2019)
√In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman (2018, nonfiction)
√Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page (fiction, 2018, Canadian/UK)
√All that Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes by (Dame) Sue Black (2019, UK, nonfiction)
√The Innocents by Michael Crummey (Nov. 2019, fiction, Newfoundland)
√Austral by Paul McAuley (2018, UK, SF)
√During-the-Event by Rpger Wall (2019, dystopian fiction, US)
√Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli (2018, T from the French)
√Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side by Julia Shaw (2019, nonfiction)
√The Amateurs by Liz Harmer (2019, post-apocalyptic fiction)
√The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag (2019, Swedish historical crime novel)
√In Dust and Ashes by Ann Holt (2017, Norway, crime novel)
√My Heart Laid Bare by Joyce Carol Oates (1998, one of her "American Gothics")
√Finding Katarina M. by Elisabeth Elo (2019, due out in March, US)
√I Feel You: The Surprising Power pf Extreme Empathy by Cris Beam (2018, psychology)
√Gravel Heart by Abdulrazak Gurnah (2018, UK)
√Out of the Ice by Ann Turner (2016, Australian)
√Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (2018, UK)
√Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey by Alice Robb (nonfiction, 2018)
√In a House of Lies by ian Rankin (2019, a Rebus novel)
√The Susan Effect by Peter Høeg (2017)
The Katharina Code by Jorn Lier Holst (2018, crime novel)
Abandoned: The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl; Terra Nullius by Clare Coleman (2018)
The house is full with people now, and I don't think either of us have picked up a book since last Friday (!). I have the new Garry Disher and Helon Habila, and an older Maggie Gee waiting for me when I get some downtime.
That's good to hear! Have you mastered the skill of chilling without physical books yet?
"Dacy's Patent Automatic Nanny" by Ted Chiang
A steampunk (strictly, "clockpunk") tale about a robot nanny, built by just about the last person you'd want to influence childcare.
Three and a half stars
"The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang
Looking into what might be next week, Chiang imagines the ability to keep "lifelog" audiovisual recordings of every instant of our lives, and quickly and flexibly search for any event. The narrator is disturbed to find that
What Chiang missed in this 2013 story is that easily-retrieved facts can be swamped by disinformation, and that people choose the facts they wish to attend to. But this is still a moving story about how our technologies of expression and recall affect how we think and who we are.
Conviction by Denise Mina (2019)
I wasn’t going to buy this standalone thriller from one of my (many) favorite crime novelists. My reasoning was that, as with most thrillers—the fast food of literature—I would blow through it in a day and, well, it’s a lot of money—but, I’m a weak person when it comes to books.
Narrated in the first person by Anna McDonald, a suburban wife with a nice life who is listening to a podcast when she hears a familiar name mentioned in a story about murder and a sunken yacht. Turns out, Anna has secrets and her curiosity about the murder brings them all back to mind. As if on cue, her best friend shows up to run away with her husband (and the children), and Anna’s world breaks wide open and she soon finds herself on the run with her best friend’s anorexic musician husband trying to discover the truth about the deaths on the yacht.
The comedic tone and breathless pace of the book is set pretty much on page one and the reader is left running to keep up with Anna (or is that really her name….wink, wink). There was a moment about three-quarters in that I started to tire of the chase but I stayed with it for the reward. This is a fun thriller, a compulsive read.
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (2019)
A haunting mystery, beautifully written, set on the Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia’s pacific coast, this debut novel is an engrossing story that begins with the mysterious disappearance of two young girls and moves over a year’s time from person to person, all connected in some way. Rich characterizations of the local people and a vivid and sensitive exploration of an unfamiliar-to-most-of-us land is truly immersive and elevates the book far above the average mystery. Particularly recommended for those who like to explore or be transported to other lands in literature.
(sorry, trying to keep the reviews short & sweet as I have four more to do!)
Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori, Illustrations by Lucille Clere (2018)
Jonathan Drori has created an irresistible book for tree lovers. In 80 short pieces (a page or two eacn), he illuminates the history, culture (and more) of trees from all over the world, exotic and ordinary (and thankfully he doesn't feel the need to give them human qualities). The illustrations are lovely and add to the tone of the book. I love to pick this book up at some odd moment and read an entry randomly; Dutch elm, the Horse chestnut, the European box (I never really thought about the wood and oboe is made from), Neem, Quinine, Banyan, Linden, Weeping Willow (mentioned in Psalm 137)… and my local nemesis, the Quaking Aspen. It’s not exhaustive (what, no entry for Sassafras?), but I forgive the author.
I love this book. I’ve bought 4 or 5 copies—gifts to fellow tree-lovers in my life. I don’t think I will ever be officially "done" with this book (I'm reading about the Upas tree now), so I thought it best to tell you about it sooner rather than later.
>18 avaland: I was wondering about this one, Lois. Thank you for the comments. I’ll add to my list.
I've heard nothing but good things about Disappearing Earth, most recently from the contributors to The NYT Book Review podcast. Phillips is appearing at the Decatur Book Festival and I'd like to read it before hearing her speak.
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher (2019)
Fabulous standalone crime novel from versatile and prolific Australian Garry Disher, author of the excellent Hal Challis/Ellen Destry crime series, the Wyatt crime series* (sort of a reverse crime series, as it follows the thief), and numerous other novels for adults, YA and young children.
In this crime novel the focus is on an older cop, Alan Auhl, now working several cold cases after being a homicide detective. A skeleton has been found under a cement slab, clearly put there more than a few years ago; a family of a log-dead man still insists he was murdered and there’s a doctor who claims his latest wife is going to kill him (that last is connected to a earlier case Auhl was a part of).
Besides the appeal of including several simultaneous case. Alan Auhl is a great character, a bit different than the usual, perhaps. Alan inherited a big house and he big-heartedly rents rooms out to “random boarders and hard-luck stories” which sometimes includes his ex-wife. He can get a bit too involved in things, gets frustrated with the system, sometimes plays it too close to the edge, sometimes crosses the line. A few times I mused that perhaps he shares a common ancestor with Rankin’s Rebus. All in all, another top-notch book from Disher (and sadly, it's over too soon).
*I have only read one of the Wyatt novels. Not my thing.
Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler (2018)
One of my favorite books regarding women and pop culture is Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media, which I read in the mid-90s. It offered fascinating insight into the contradictory messages pop culture had been giving women from the 50s through the 70s. Before reading her book, I hadn’t really looked objectively at or made a study of pop culture. For example, I had never noticed, even in hindsight, what she called the era of the “magical woman” when there were so many television shows featuring women with “magical” powers (i.e. “Bewitched”, “The Flying Nun”, “I Dream of Jeannie”) and what was that communicating to us!? I had always hoped she would write a second book bringing the discussion forward. For example her discussion of television ended in the 70s with Maude and I thought, what about Murphy Brown. Roseanne and Designing Women? She didn’t write a sequel, but some time ago I found this book by Zeisler and have only recently picked it up off the pile.
Zeisler writes a excellent, succinct book (148 pages) on the same subject, equally insightful, a bit dense and not quite in as entertaining style as Douglas’s, but certainly not dry. About half of her book is redundant if one has read the earlier book, but really it’s a nice revisit of the subject and a warm-up for the discussion of the later eras (the Zeisler was published in 2008).
The newer book, however, includes women in advertising and the consumer culture; much more content on music, and touches on media literacy (i.e. how politics have now become part of pop culture because of the media). I admit I’ve not kept up with all of pop culture over the year but the subject still fascinates me and this is an accessible and smart book on the subject.
The Hungry Ghosts: Seven Allusive Comedies, Joyce Carol Oates (1974, 1978 edition)
While I was up on the library ladder putting away the now-read latest novel by JCO, I rediscovered this collection, a gift from a friend. The Hungry Ghosts it said across its plain butterscotch cover. A few pages in there is this: "A preta (ghost) is one who, in the ancient Buddhist cosmology, wants the earth’s surface, continually driven by hunger—that is, desire of one kind or another." Hmmm.
"Seven Alusive Comedies" the subtitle reads. I might be up for a comedy, I thought. "Alusive"…an interesting word choice. Found it later online in A Dictionary of English Synonymes and Synonymous or Parallel Expressions Designed as a Practical Guide to Aptness and Variety of Phraseology by Richard Soule (Little, Brown, and Co., 1871) "Alusive, a. Hinting, suggestive, em- dissension, war of words."
And the stories were originally published in the late 60s, early 70s….that could be fun. Luckily, I got down off the ladder before I started reading.
The seven stories in this collection—all of them about academics (mostly male)—are what I might call ironic comedies. Ones laughs but feels a little uncomfortable doing so. Several of the stories have interconnected characters and are set at the same university, Hilberry College in southern Ontario. In all of the stories, these academics are undressed by Oates; their insecurities, fears, desires, prejudices…et al, revealed through their actions and inner thoughts.
In “Democracy in America” Ronald Pauli rushes to the apartment of his suddenly-deceased copy editor to retrieve the one copy of a survey of the works of Tocqueville and Grattan (those of us of a certain age will appreciate the fact that he didn’t make a carbon copy when he typed it. That is certainly more fun to read now, but would be less funny in the late 60s, early 70s). Turns out his copy editor, who had been found dead in his Murphy bed, was a hoarder….
In “Pilgrim’s Progress” a young, timid female lecturer in English is taken under the wing (or falls under the spell) of a charismatic and domineering male colleague, much to her detriment.
In “Up from Slavery” psychology professor Franklin Ambrose (who is not “black” but prefers the “more sanitary and middle-class” word, “negro”) falls in love with Molly, a new hire for the English department, much to his detriment.
A newer professor feuds with a more veteran one In “A Descriptive Catalogue”.
In “The Birth of Tragedy” a young man accepts a TA position at the college under the tutelage of the star of the Humanities department (and learns to bullshit when giving a lecture, imo)
The inner thoughts of Murray Licht, a “famous” poet attending a Poetry Week celebration, reveal the unexpectedly cutthroat world of poetry in “Rewards of Fame.”
And in the final story “Angst,” noted novelist B. G. Donovan disguises herself in order to sneak into an academic conference where there is a three-person panel discussion of her work. The panel gets out of hand, chaos ensues, and the audience mistakes another red-headed woman for the noted author, much to the author’s horror.
Certainly I found some of the stories more enjoyable than others (I wince at the use of the word enjoyable, LOL) Forty-five years after publication, this collection is (still) delightfully amusing. And while the outer trappings might be a bit dated, humankind clearly has not evolved further, so I suspect the foibles of academics and academia are still much the same.
We have had much activity this last 10 days or so which has brought our book-reading almost to a standstill We aim to rectify that even if we have to wait until September when we have a quiet, lakeside getaway planned.
Prairie Fever by Michael Parker (2019, historical fiction)
Set in Oklahoma in the early 1900s, Prairie Fever tells the story of three people: Gus McQueen, a young man with a talent for memorization who is sent to Oklahoma to teach at a small one-room schoolhouse; and Lorena and Elise Stewart, two very different inseparable sisters who are two of his students. Lorena is practical, steady and determined, whereas Elise is flighty, imaginative and, as some say, a bit “touched”. Gus McQueen will come between the two of them.
In an easy, charming and seductive prose Parker transports us to the prairie of a hundred years ago and tells a big-hearted story about love, family and passion. Once started, the book is hard to put down, and it’s the perfect read for the beach or a rainy day…(or in my case, hiding from the heat and humidity outside and the housework inside).
The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (2019, historical fiction)
Mary Doria Russell is a storyteller par excellence whether she is writing about Jesuits on a mission to another planet or “Doc” Holliday’s friendship with Wyatt Earp. She writes a vivid and easy story one can disappear into and the stories are full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I have read and enjoyed all but one of her books.
The Women of Copper Country takes us back to the summer of 1913 and tells a riveting tale of the women who were involved in the now-famous miners’ strike in the town of Calumet, Michigan, a community located on a small peninsula off the larger upper peninsula of the state. Russell zooms in particularly on the over-six-foot tall, twenty-five year old Anna “Annie” Klobuchar Clements (Clemenc), president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, and “America’s Joan of Arc” as she was dubbed in the press at the time.
Russell drops the reader into a difficult, turbulent and violent time in a engrossing story that will end in tragedy, but the bright light in this story is the courage, persistence and humanity of the women she portrays.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
In this short epistolary novel, rival powers, the Agency and Garden, war over Time itself - not just a single malleable timeline, but entire braids of them. Small changes vastly reshape each thread of time. Agents Red and Blue are superlative servants of their respective organizations. Forbidden any fraternization, they begin exchanging communications that begin as taunts, then become explorations of each others' long lives and, eventually, love letters, letters that must be hidden from discovery by their near-omniscient home offices.
The alternate histories, past and future, that the two visit and change are cleverly imagined, as are the numerous methods they use to transmit their notes. Their growing regard for each other convinces. The book is filled with poetic flights:
I have been birds and branches. I have been bees and wolves. I have been ether flooding the void between stars, tangling their breath into networks of song. I have been fish and plankton and humus, and all of these have been me.
But while I've been enmeshed in this wholeness - they are not the whole of me.
Each adversary is far more than the role assigned her in the war. Can they find a space for themselves?
Vacation at the lake cabin booked for 2nd week of September and I am already thinking about which books will come with me. I usually take a bag so I have choices
What is a "thought spot" for a type of fiction? I saw this in one of your early posts this year, and I keep wondering about it.
What is a "thought spot" for a type of fiction? I saw this in one of your early posts this year, and I keep wondering about it.
I do love museums, as does the hubby, but we live in the country (more or less) so take advantage of opportunities when we travel (we saw the middle finger of Galileo in the Florence History of Science Museum!) I am a former bookseller so got into the habit of shopping from the publisher catalogs and various trade publications. I also enjoyed a nice discount and access to advanced reader copies. So, what I couldn't get from the publishers, I bought, which works out well because I am a mood reader. I still buy, but no longer keep all the books (for obvious reasons). I got called back to the bookstore a few years back to help them with a turnover to new software (they had been using DOS-based software which finally crashed) and stayed on PT until last December. Funny, you should mention all that, because I have been thinking it might be time to stop surfing that "new stuff" wave and take up some reading projects I've been accumulating.
I used to read much more SF and magical realism but much less so in the last 10 or so years, so it's mostly favorite authors with an occasional new book.
>50 LadyoftheLodge: Thanks. Not all vacations are reading vacations, of course :-)
Thought you all would like this photo....this is the younger of our two grandsons; he's 14 mos. His mother tells me he spent an extraordinary amount of time (for a 14 mos old) quietly sitting and paging through this book which, you might notice, doesn't have any illustrations! It's his dad's book.
The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer (2017)
In a beautifully written novella, Jeff VanderMeer has given us the story of the Strange Bird, a minor character from his novel, Borne. The bird is a construct: part bird, part human, part other things. Told by the bird itself, its story from life to death is both wonderfully uplifting and ultimately tragic and yet…
This is how the story begins:
The Strange Bird’s first thought was of a sky over an ocean she had never seen, in a place far from the fire-washed laboratory from which she emerged, cage smashed open but her wings, miraculous, unbroken. For a long time the Strange Bird did not know what sky really was as she flew down underground corridors in the dark, evading figures that shot at one another, did not even know that she sought a way out. There was just a door in a ceiling that opened and a scrabbling and scrambling with something ratlike after her, and in the end, she escaped, rose from the smoking remnants below. And even then she did not know that the sky was blue or what the sun was, because she had flown out into the cool night air and all her wonder resided in the points of light that blazed through the darkness above. But then the joy of flying overtook her and she went higher and higher and higher, and she did not care who saw or what awaited her in the bliss of the free fall and the glide and the limitless expanse.
Oh, for if this was life, then she had not yet been alive!
I may have enjoyed this novella even more than the novel, but it is perhaps not fair to compare the two as if they were like things. The Strange Bird is a seductive and transportive tale that can, more or less, read without having read the novel.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalalduuin (2019, Canada)
Temptingly promoted as a “modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice….”, Ayesha at Last is a romantic comedy set in the Toronto area which features the expected young man and young woman… and their families. Certainly not a direct rewrite of P&P, perhaps more of an “inspired by,” the story is about the devout, conservative Khalid, who thinks his mother will find him a good wife when the time is right; and the outspoken Ayesha, who at 26 is considered an old maid already. Her first impression of him is of a “block of immovable, judgmental, unsexy concrete” and his impression of her drips in disappointment when he declares that he “stays away from the type of Muslim who frequents bars.” Like P&P, the story is full of prejudgment, miscommunication and the inevitable, involuntary attraction. Setting it in the Muslim community makes the story more complicated (although at its core, it’s not, is it?), certainly intriguing, and for some us, educational. Add to this, all the interfering family members (good, bad and otherwise), and family dramas past and present, and one has the making of an addictive, fun read. Even if you know how it will end :-)
Note: As I read this, it reminded me of the excellent 2003 novel Madras on Rainy Days by Samina Ali, for those who might like a more serious read. I read this well before my LT days so no review available.
List One. √ denotes deceased
√Dexter, Colin UK
√James, P. D. UK
√Hill, Reginald UK
√Sayers, Dorothy UK
√Mankell, Henning SWE
Robinson, Peter CAN
Holst, John Lier NOR
Holt, Anne NOR
Disher, Garry AUS (a generally prolific writer, I don't read his Wyatt novels (viewpoint from the criminal)
Indridason, Arnuldar ICE (
Jonasson, Ragnar ICE (a newbie, but he's getting better)
Edwardson, Ake SWE
Ericksson, Kjell SWE
Grey, Alex UK, SCOT (of late I have been less enthused)
Rankin, Ian UK. SCOT
McDermid, Val UK. SCOT (although I have not read her Tony Hill series)
List two is interesting in that that it is comprised of mostly women authors. With the exception of Mina & Hill, most of these authors were read in the late 90s, early otts
List Two. .
Mina, Denise (a new favorite, she may get moved to List One eventually)
Crombie, Deborah (I can't remember why I stopped '...they got married?, too tame?)
George, Elizabeth (Got miffed after character dies and a book was written featured only the secondary characters. I did read a few more before moving on)
Todd, Charles (there was an installment where at the end of the book he is shot. It royally irked me because as readers we don't rely on cliffhangers to get us to the next book. I moved on after that)
Hill, Susan (maybe read five, great 1st in the series, but got tired of Simon's continual personal crises. I read her other novels, too)
Massey, Sujata (light reads with some aspect of Japanese culture highlighted)
Rowland, Laura Joh (also a light read, set in 18th C Japan)
√Kemelman, Harry (read the Rabbi series in the 80s!)
List three could go on forever, really. Here I tried to stick to genre authors (meaning, more or less, they produce series or connected books). There are of course authors of mysteries who write the occasional one; China Mieville, for example.
List Three, sampling of authors whose books I have dabbled in)
Peter May (UK) 3 books, more to read.
Jim Kelly (UK) 3 books (they were hard to get in the US when the early ones came out)
Julia Spencer Fleming (US, read the 1st, did not continue but have handsold that first to many others! )
John Burdett (Amusing, set in Thailand)
Boris Akunin (historical Russia, read two)
Xiaolong Qiu (1990s, China, if I remember correctly, read four in the early otts)
Carol Goodman (her early books, standalone mysteries, US)
Dennis Lehane (US, the standalones)
Patricia Carlon (AUS, psychological thrillers)
Sarah Andrews (US, lighter reads, features a geologist)
Laura Lipman (a few read, a few on audio, US)
Alexander McCall Smith (UK, a few of his early books)
Karin Fossum (SWE, should have gotten to her earlier, really)
Asa Larsson (SWE, 3 or so; main character had a near death encounter in every book, a bit over the top)
Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett (Italian, humorous, only 3 published here)
Yrs Sigurdardottir (ICE, read about 3 before I felt it was getting too obviously formulaic)
Fred Vargas aka Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau, FRA (abandoned the 2nd book. Too hokey for me)
Peter Temple (AU, Broken Shore was a 5 star book, Truth was bleak beyond reasonable)
Karin Alvtegen (SWE, psychological thrillers)
Adrian Hyland (AU, aboriginal. Would have liked to read more....)
Elisabeth Elo (US, two books, one a standalone, one a thriller, liked both)
Attica Locke (read a couple...liked them)
Jørgen Brekke (NOR, historical Dreamless was outstanding)
Oliver Harris (3 books, more thrillers than mysteries, really. features bad boy cop)
Jo Nesbo (NOR, read a few, have more)
Ausma Zehanat Khan (CAN. Features a Muslim detective/poet. Read two, want to read more)
Linda Fairstein and Jeffrey Deaver (US, audio only, long commute, library sale aquisitions)
These lists cover roughly 40 years of reading. Crime novels/mysteries have always been my "comfort" reads or my "palate cleansers" between other kinds of literature.
The view will look something like this:
Back the following week. We might post reviews...maybe...but maybe not.
I came to see the list of crime writers (interesting, thanks), and am going away with a much fatter wishlist (the Denise Mina stand-alone, Disappearing Earth, Cold Bright Lights, Prairie Fever, Ayesha at Last...)
He read: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson, Lords of the Starship by Mark S. Geston, and is partially through The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross.
She finished The Travelers by Helon Habila, then read The Good Cop by Peter Steiner, In the Shadow of Wolves by Alkyds Slepikas, and is nearly done with Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk.
Reviews will be coming, eventually.
>72 avaland: Wonderful photo! And a good one to announce your vacation's end.
The Good Cop by Peter Steiner (2019, US)
Munich, 1920. Detective Willi Geismeier has a problem: how do you uphold the law when the law goes bad?
This is the irresistible premise of this unconventional crime novel set in the tumultuous years between the world wars, during the rise of Hilter. Geismeier is a “good” cop: ethical, caring and damn good at his job (which is becoming more difficult to do). When the Munich Post is bombed, Geismeier investigates but as the investigation becomes more political he is taken off the case. So, what does a good cop do? Takes his investigation underground. Can any justice be served in such a situation? This is a engrossing, thoughtful, and relatively fast-paced story told expertly (and astonishingly) in under 200 pages.
The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria by Helon Habila (2016)
Habila, a native of northern Nigeria, tells the story of the Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014. He succinctly introduces us to the region—both it’s past history and geography, and more recent history, all while also narrating his return to the area. By the time we as readers reach Chibok, we are ready to hear the story of the horrific kidnapping of the girls and its aftermath through the voices of the local people and families who were affected, and in the last chapter we hear from three of the girls who had been kidnapped.
I have read all of Helon Habila’s fiction but had not thought to read this small nonfiction book until now. Truth be told, the book came out in 2016 and my attention and horror were elsewhere. The subject of the kidnapped girls came up recently when I heard a podcast discussion of Edna O’ Brien’s forthcoming novel, an imagined story of one of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. I’m sure it is not necessary to read the nonfiction before reading the O’Brien book, but it serves as larger context and a refresher of a harrowing and tragic story that the media so quickly seemed to move on from.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)
In short, The Testaments is a worthy sequel to The Handmaids Tale and rollicking good read. For me, this sequel did not have the power of my first reading of Handmaids back in the mid-80s (when I was 31), but it certainly equalled that of later readings. There are a lot of plot points in the book that could be discussed and I will leave that for other reviewers.
A few notes though: I thought the character of Nicole was a bit less believable but then perhaps I've forgotten what being 16 is like. I was disappointed the Marthas didn't have more a part in the book. Those mentioned seemed compliant, just doing their jobs. I was not that surprised by what Atwood did with Aunt Lydia - but it did not make Lydia a hero in my mind. I really liked that Aunt Lydia speaks directly to the reader. Very effective. Very effective, indeed.
As I am a fan also of the limited television series, I am glad the sequel works okay with that also. No doubt, Maggie had a hand in that.
The following day we spent four hours at Strawbery Banke roaming through the historic houses & extensive gardens before having a drink and snack at the Book & Bar in downtown Portsmouth. It really is a bar/bookstore combo (a bit noisy for browsing). There is also a restaurant in the city with a library theme.
The bar is to the left, mostly out of the photo. Yes, we bought a book or two.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
I had been meaning to read something by Chambers, who won the Hugo Award for best series in 2019, and this novella, about the exploration of another stellar system, was a good choice. The four members of an interstellar expedition come out of hibernation and visit the new star's planets. Earth is fourteen light years away, the speed of light is an absolute limit, and all news from home is old.
The story is eventful, but skips over the sorts of conflict and peril common in exploration stories. There are no villains. Rather, the story's turning points, told through the point of view of ship's engineer Ariadne, are the many discoveries that the diverse crew makes on four very different exoplanets. Obstacles arise, but the spacefarers always find some more or less satisfactory way around them.
The pleasure presented here is to share in the crew's experience; consumed by their work, ever renewing their joy in scientific discovery. A typical encounter, on an ice-covered moon with water beneath the ice cover:
She grabbed my arm. "Oh, my god."
Adrenaline shot through me. "What?"
"Turn off your lights." I did. She did. "Look," she said, pointing.
Red. A small patch of soft, fluorescent red, shining quietly up through a hazy pane of ice.
But the ice muted the light, blurring its edges, scattering it in hazy auras that shimmered well beyond the source. New colors joined the party - orange, pink - and new shapes as well. There were snake-like things, full bodied things, worms and flowers and combs. Some shoaled by the dozens. Some travelled alone. Some bobbed. Some chased. The ice sheet below us became a luminescent symphony (...) Imagine a summer carnival behind a wintered windowpane. Imagine the most fabulous aurora you've ever seen, shining below your feet.
The book feels like a modern echo of the sense-of-wonder stories of the 1930s.
Three and a half stars
Instead of a bookstore, my past includes libraries. I worked in public libraries for ten years before becoming a nurse, and I loved it. I had nearly finished an MLS at one time, but then got distracted by nursing ... for forty years.
My reading is clearly "lighter" than yours. When I was younger I read very seriously; after multiple life traumas (none fatal for anyone) I began to have less tolerance for it. My chronic pain makes me less tolerant as well. Life seems so painful for humans (and I suppose non-humans too) that sometimes I just can't add any more pain to my consciousness. I suppose I am a literary wuss at present.
I envy you some of the traveling you seem to have done. We've never had much money, which limits our activities quite a bit. Also, my husband has an awful anxiety disorder. We seldom go anywhere any more. We don't even go to gallery openings. However, we are very rich in family, and we love our tiny ramshackle house, thank goodness.
We have no more room for books in the house, but that hasn't really stopped me from buying them. For over ten years I couldn't really afford to buy any, and I went a little overboard this past year. I chiefly buy used books, but they still add up.
You mention that you don't read a certain set of books which feature a thief. Do you shun them because of the criminality, or is it something else? I took your list for my computer. Is that okay with you? Personally, I am rather fond of some "villains" in fiction, and I love Lawrence Block's series about the Greenwich Village bookseller who is a (mostly retired) burglar. The burglar is Bernie Rhodenbarr, and he has some friends who straddle the polished line between law-abiding and, well, not.
There is nothing wrong with 'lighter,' we read what we need or want at any time. I have had eras of light reading myself.
We purged about 1000 books from our collection five years ago when we moved. And in the years since I have enjoyed sending some of the books I read to friends & relatives for their enjoyment. Still we have a lot of books in the house.
I, too, would rather not bother with "thrillers". I also don't like "spy" novels, or those with intrigue. Quite often I can't manage to figure out what I was supposed to infer from the oblique conversations or the clues. I don't generally try to anticipate the detectives' results, and figure out "who dunnit". I'd rather just watch it unfold.
I haven't moved since we moved to our little house, the one we still live in. I know that would probably make me prune my collection, too. But although I loan books often, and don't worry if they don't come back, and I buy books to give away very often, I usually feel that I need to keep my own, and I just buy a new one to give. I am the "acquisitions" department of my little library, and I guess my children will be the ones going through my books when I am gone.
And here are the last three stories in the Ted Chiang collection:
"The Great Silence"
A short meditation on the Fermi Paradox - if the universe is filled with intelligent alien species, why haven't our great radio telescopes found any? It's told in the imagined voice of a parrot in the jungle around the Arecibo telescope, wondering why we humans ignore the evident intelligence of its species, instead driving it ever closer to extinction. Moving and thoughtful.
If Chiang can be said to have grand themes, one is the idea of alterity. As in "Exhalation", he invents worlds no one has essayed before. Many of these alternate worlds are alternate theologies, where the different architecture of existence has not only a physical, but a religious dimension. Think of "Hell is the Absence of God" (not in this collection), where people know God is real because his angels are always healing or hurting people.
"Omphalos" is told in the form of several devotional prayers, plus a letter, all spoken/written by a woman archaeologist, Dorothea Morrell. We know quickly that the story is set in some sort of alternate world by variant spellings of place names: Arisona, Chicagou, Yosemeti. We soon learn how alternate, during a popular-science talk she gives on tree-ring dating of past events. Dr. Morrell tells her audience how she can trace back through the past with this method, year by year, from younger trees to older ones, until the record reaches
Morrell is soon confronted with a serious challenge to her faith. Chiang's character's voice limns the experience of a bright person who has learned that her God's purposes are not what she thought.
Four and a half stars
"Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom"
A wonderful story about the choices we make, and whether they matter. Chiang posits the invention of the "prism", a gadget which, when started, performs a quantum measurement with two possible outcomes, and lights up a red or a blue indicator depending on the result. By the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, it then splits the universe into two alternate branches, initially identical but for the red/blue distinction. As the two worlds evolve differetly, more quantum bits in the prism can establish communication between them. A person may - or may not - be able to see how a different choice in a crucial case turned out for their "paraself." Does this mean that every struggle with a tough decision is meaningless, because another you went oppositely to your direction? Several characters explore these questions in their lives and those of their friends and acquaintances.
The average of my story ratings is 4.4, but the whole is more than its parts.