Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Leap

First Quarter 2020 Reading

Recommended Posts

I just finished Quillifer (2017) by Walter Jon Williams, and it was a very pleasant book indeed.  WJW wrote a lot of sea tales under a pen name, and as a result both his naval battles and his land battles are very professional.  When added to his other many talents as a writer and observer of men, the results are positive and very readable.

The world-building is also very good, just enough to be present and not so much that overwhelms the reader.  It makes me think of an Elizabethan England in a pagan world from GRRM, mixed with Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell, with a dash of Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser, and a splash of Midshipman Bolitho by Alexander Kent, infused with the financial chicanery of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle.

The story itself is picaresque a la Flashman, but the protagonist is not quite so carnal or cowardly.

I look forward to reading Walter Jon Williams' next work, Quillifer the Knight (2019).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, HelenaExMachina said:

If you are into podcasts, In Our Time did quite a good one on Wuthering Heights back in September 2017 (I found it yesterday by coibcidence doing the good old scroll and stop method of random selection). 

I also enjoyed their podcast on The Time Machine and H G Wells so I will be rereading that next

I will check it out. I am into podcasts but I've yet to listen to a literature-themed one. Thank you!

 

Today I discovered the joys of the Kindle for PC app at work, and consequently I read A Room with a View by Virginia Woolf. I vaguely remember this being an option when I was studying lit, but I never looked at it personally. I regret that now. Really great read, plainly insightful and often quite funny. Could have done with this in my many essays back in the day. 

Still powering on with Once Upon A River, which has improved after the first few pages but is still not grabbing me massively.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished In Cold Blood by Mark Dawson, first in the Beatrix Rose series.  This is like a female version of Jason Bourne, set among Somali pirates but with a longer character arc for the series.  Well written and better than most action thrillers (which I generally find too cliched). The narrative structure and tempo seem very well suited to adapting for the screen.  I could imagine each book as an hour-long episode in a mini series that covers the entire arc.  I don’t plan to read any further in the series though — this genre just doesn’t grab me.

Also finished Clash Of Eagles by Alan Smale, first in an alternative history fiction series about Romans in the 12th or 13th century sending a legion on an expedition to North America.  The overall set-up isn’t bad, but it’s difficult to accept that both Appalachian and Mississippi valley nations have developed aerial warfare with huge hang-gliders and Greek fire, not least since they never actually developed anything of the sort prior to 1492; aren’t there basic rules for alternative history?  I thought they only diverged after a change point (e.g. Rome doesn’t fall and then they reach the new world), not re-writing the history prior to the change point.  It seems like the series will develop a complex alternate history going forward as new military technology from Roman steel and tactics is disrupting the balance of power and the rate of technology among the tribal nations.  But I don’t plan to read any further.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

Also finished Clash Of Eagles by Alan Smale, first in an alternative history fiction series about Romans in the 12th or 13th century sending a legion on an expedition to North America.  The overall set-up isn’t bad, but it’s difficult to accept that both Appalachian and Mississippi valley nations have developed aerial warfare with huge hang-gliders and Greek fire, not least since they never actually developed anything of the sort prior to 1492; aren’t there basic rules for alternative history?  I thought they only diverged after a change point (e.g. Rome doesn’t fall and then they reach the new world), not re-writing the history prior to the change point.  It seems like the series will develop a complex alternate history going forward as new military technology from Roman steel and tactics is disrupting the balance of power and the rate of technology among the tribal nations.  But I don’t plan to read any further.  

The Romans exploring North America is an interesting premise, although the hang-gliders do seem a step too far.

My question is if the Romans would have brought the germs that killed off 50-70% of North Americans as part of the Columbian Exchange did in the real history.  If the Romans hit the shores of Canada/America around 1200AD, surely they still bring a host of bacteria and virus loads that will kill off huge swathes of the native population, won't they?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/24/2020 at 4:24 PM, Wilbur said:

I just finished Quillifer (2017) by Walter Jon Williams, and it was a very pleasant book indeed.  WJW wrote a lot of sea tales under a pen name, and as a result both his naval battles and his land battles are very professional.  When added to his other many talents as a writer and observer of men, the results are positive and very readable.

I'm currently reading this, and it's a really fun picaresque fantasy so far. I hope the series keeps up this quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Wilbur said:

The Romans exploring North America is an interesting premise, although the hang-gliders do seem a step too far.

My question is if the Romans would have brought the germs that killed off 50-70% of North Americans as part of the Columbian Exchange did in the real history.  If the Romans hit the shores of Canada/America around 1200AD, surely they still bring a host of bacteria and virus loads that will kill off huge swathes of the native population, won't they?

Yes, the unintended disease epidemic is conveniently omitted.  The Romans in 1200 would have had a similar effect to Columbus, especially in the densely populated Mississippi River valley cities, but that would spoil the story the author wants to tell.  The Black Death was in the 14th century obviously, but measles, small pox, etc were the ones that devastated America and they were certainly prevalent in Europe by then.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Today I took another brief break from Once Upon A River to zip through And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

This is the first Christie book I've read and I really enjoyed it. Short and sweet. The prose was a lot plainer than I was expecting, but the plot was commensurately thick. I thought I had clued in to who the murderer was fairly early on, but I had to question myself more than once as the book progressed, although I ended up being right. Overall, really good read, I definitely look forward to reading more Agatha Christie in the future.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

Yes, the unintended disease epidemic is conveniently omitted.  The Romans in 1200 would have had a similar effect to Columbus, especially in the densely populated Mississippi River valley cities, but that would spoil the story the author wants to tell.  The Black Death was in the 14th century obviously, but measles, small pox, etc were the ones that devastated America and they were certainly prevalent in Europe by then.

That would be a slightly less upbeat book: "Here come the Roman Legions...and shortly thereafter, the Black Death!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Leap said:

Today I took another brief break from Once Upon A River to zip through And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

This is the first Christie book I've read and I really enjoyed it. Short and sweet. The prose was a lot plainer than I was expecting, but the plot was commensurately thick. I thought I had clued in to who the murderer was fairly early on, but I had to question myself more than once as the book progressed, although I ended up being right. Overall, really good read, I definitely look forward to reading more Agatha Christie in the future.

That is one of her best, but I also enjoy her Poirot novels for the character himself within a typically formulaic structure.  And Then There Were None has a unique structure. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I also dipped back into some old Poirot novels I found amongst my high school things. I love how many times I stop to carefully read, say, a description of a character's coat, just hoping I've found a clue. I'm never right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

That is one of her best, but I also enjoy her Poirot novels for the character himself within a typically formulaic structure.  And Then There Were None has a unique structure. 

After years of my Dad casually watching Poirot every rainy Sunday afternoon, I feel like I know a great deal of these stories already. Can't wait to get stuck in. I really enjoyed the structure of And Then There Were None, although I do think it's a little bit hard to really know how it all happened until it was explained.

7 hours ago, Argonath Diver said:

I also dipped back into some old Poirot novels I found amongst my high school things. I love how many times I stop to carefully read, say, a description of a character's coat, just hoping I've found a clue. I'm never right.

Aha, yeah I found myself doing that a lot. Spoilers for And Then There Were None:

Spoiler

I began to suspect Wargrave fairly early on after I noticed that he was 1) directing pretty much everything that they did 2) repeatedly described as reptillian and similarly unpleasant things. There is one scene in which Christie narrates the inner thoughts of each remaining character, and you can work out who is who fairly easily. Wargrave is the one thinking murderous thoughts obviously. 

But then, the faked death really threw me. Until the last chapter I was half thinking it must be some character from their previous lives that was perhaps somehow connected to all of them - an Arthur Richmond who hadn't really died, or Hugo, or perhaps some teaming up among the group. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

That is one of her best, but I also enjoy her Poirot novels for the character himself within a typically formulaic structure.  And Then There Were None has a unique structure. 

This is the best selling mystery novel of all time, so its structure obviously appeals to readers around the world.

When I read it a few years ago I remember feeling a bit queasy about it and thinking the plot was a bit more unbelievable than others in the book discussion group I was part of at the time did -- it seemed to me that the perpetrator had an unnatural ability to predict with 100% accuracy what the emotional reactions of the other characters would be in order for his plan to meet with success. But I think everything in the story is so well paced that it's easy to just gloss over its less plausible aspects on a first reading. I think it deserves its fame.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Recently read, and highly enjoyed, books 6 and 7 of Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus Series - Veiled and Burned.  The latter reminded me quite significantly of The Dresden Files book Changes.  I was planning on taking a break from this series to read A Little Hatred, but decided to just keep on with it and have just started Bound.  Only two more books are available right now... must force myself to take a break after this one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/16/2020 at 2:17 PM, Ormond said:

Last night I finished Runaway, a book of short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013.  

I have wanted to read some Munro for years, and I ran across a recommendation that Runaway was one of the best places to start.

I have some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I fully agree that Munro is a great writer. I think one of the signs of a good story is that one catches oneself thinking about it several days after one has read it. Munro's stories have that sort of resonance. I found myself wondering about why her characters made the choices they did and wondering what would have happened to them next long after I expected to still be thinking about them.

On the other hand I'm not sure her subject matter is my "cup of tea." The stories in Runaway focus on women, most of whom are dealing with domestic situations which are actually sad or even tragic, but are dealt with in fairly matter of fact quiet ways. I found myself thinking several times that the characters were fitting the stereotype that Canadians are overly polite -- people seemed to be a bit emotionally removed from their situations. Three of the stories in the book deal with the same woman, Juliet, over a 40 year period. In the last of these her only child, a daughter, stops all contact with her when she is in her early 20s without any explanation. Throughout that story Juliet seemed incredibly passive to me -- I kept wondering why she didn't even think of hiring a private detective to track her daughter down. The title story "Runaway" isabout an older woman who encourages a young friend who is in an unhappy marriage with an overcontrolling husband to leave him -- the young wife gets on a bus but changes her mind and goes back to the husband. At the end the wife finds out the husband has probably done something horrible in a fit of anger with her, but deliberately chooses not to investigate to find out whether or not her suspicions are true. 

Munro is a fantastic writer. But I don't feel motivated to search out more of her books if they are mostly about Canadian women leading passive lives of quiet desperation. 

 

I spent a good part of my formative years living just down the road from where Munro grew up and set some of her stories. In fact when my parents moved to the same town as her, my mom and her became friends. 

That quiet desperation definitely is a part of Canadian fiction, as you will also see if you read early Margaret Atwood. 

I raised the argument that Robert Bakker, of innumerable threads here, was influenced strongly by having been assigned such writers in high school English classes. He grew up just an hour or so south of where Munro was born and raised. 

Me, I found Mordecai Richler to be a much more interesting Canadian writer. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished The Names Of The Dead by Kevin Wignall.  Another of his current day spy novels set in continental Europe, mainly about tradecraft rather than world-saving heroics.  Each of his characters has a similar detachment, which just seems to be this author’s style.  Well written again, but this protagonist is on more dubious moral footing than the others. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished @Derfel Cadarn's Resurrection Men, which I thought was a good debut novel. I thought the characterisation was good, I liked the two main protagonists and there were a number of interesting supporting characters. While it does introduce early on some strong hints about the threat they are facing, I thought it did a good job of gradually revealing the details of the world-building. The book does have a lot of antagonists in it, who could potentially have blended together but they do all have their own agendas and tangled webs of rivalries which helps distinguish them. The mix of wealth and squalor in the late 19th Century Glaswegian setting does seem to fit well with the storyline. The epilogue of the book had an intriguing twist (which I didn't see coming, even if I had some suspicions that there was some hidden truth), I'm curious where the story is going to go next.

I'm now reading Jeanette Ng's Under the Pendulum Sky, another story in the 19th Century, although in this case it is one where Britain and other countries have a trading relationship with the faerie land of Arcadia. The protagonist leaves England to follow after her brother who is living in a huge Gothic castle as a missionary to the fae. The start of the book was maybe a bit slow as Cathy waits for her brother to return to the castle, and there was a lot more discussion of biblical theology than I was expecting (although I guess the whole missionary thing should have been a hint). However, once Cathy's brother returns and the court of Queen Mab follow soon after the story becomes much more compelling. I think the depiction of the faeries and their realm also has the right mix of bizarre elements and twisted logic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had never previously read anything by Dave Duncan (the Scots writer, not the baseball player), but Ill Met in the Arena was a well-crafted novel that I enjoyed more and more as the book progressed.  Set in a world where the aristocracy comprises a group bred for their extra-sensory powers (telekinesis such as "hefting" and "porting" for men, telepathy for women), great emphasis is placed on a person's forebears to determine their own level of power and access.

An interesting bit of world-building, as the book turns out to be a murder mystery, and the telling of the tale is a series of historical and personal recountings between men participating in tournaments and lovers whose mis-matched levels of distinguished parentages mean that society looks down on their pairing.

Good descriptions of locations similar to both ancient Greece and the Scottish islands, and with gradually revealed characters, the real strong point of the book is the slow realization of the reader of who is who and why that matters.  Quite well written, it has inspired me to check out other books by this author.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished The New Achilles by Christian Cameron. It's pretty good and the Roman conquest of the Greek world is an interesting period for a historical novel to cover but he's chosen a slightly odd focus for the book. I think I might have read a few too many of Cameron's books in fairly quick succession as they can start to feel a little similar in tone after a while. I do enjoy them but I might have to have a bit of a break.

Next up I'm giving Adrian Selby's The Winter Road a try.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Spent the last month reading from  The Collected Short Stories of Lois L'amour during my lunch hour.   Have read many of the individual stories before, but always fun quick reads of his western heroes.

Also, read The Desert Gods by Wilbur Smith a story of the ancient Egyptians fighting back after the Hyksos invasion and trying to gain allies of the Sumerians and Minoans.    The narrator is the very definition of a Gary Stu, master of everything, except the fact he is a eunuch.   But an interesting view of Smith's depiction of the various cultures (I having no idea how accurate that depiction is).

Finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Liked it a lot, showing lives before, after, and at the start of a global pandemic that wipes out most of humanity.   Of course finishing it just as the coronavirus is a growing threat is a little disconcerting.

And burned through The Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson.   Part of his Longmire series, the first one I have read, though I did see some episodes of the television series.   May go back to the beginning and start there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just finished Diane Setterfield's Once Upon A River, which overall I liked. There's the odd writing flourish that I didn't enjoy much, particularly at the start, but I was quite engaged by the whole story. In fact, I'd be interested in reading more about some of these characters. 

Next up is Joseph Conrad's Typhoon.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...