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First Quarter 2022 Reading


Fragile Bird
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Lol, posted in the wrong thread!

I just finished The Black Tongued Thief and can’t recommend it enough. First of all, the voice the audiobook narrator uses is that of a working class (?) Irishman and the lilt is just perfect for the character. (Oh, it’s the author! Who has a 25 year background of being an entertainer at Renaissance fairs, as “Christophe the Insultor”) And the profanity and the pithy comments about sex are hilarious, as are many other observations ie “(that nationality) actually had a word for finding something in your shit that wasn’t supposed to be there”. I guffawed a hundred times.

It really is quite different from anything I’ve read recently. Not in plot, which is a fairly common kind, but in the details.

I will confess though, I skipped over a few minutes of the book that I couldn’t bear to listen to, the pulling scene, if those of you who have read the book remember.

It was lovely to realize by the end that there must be more books coming. I looked up the author and the plan is for a trilogy. Risingshadow has a release date set for next year. And there are 39 pages available for preview.

eta: of course now I can't find the link to those 39 pages.

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Hild by Nicola Griffith 

Historical fiction about the early life of St. Hild, a saint from early 6th century Brittian.  This is a story of her early life and since there is no surviving records the author researched the times, culture and conflicts and wrote Hild's story with that as her foundation. 

In this story, starting with Hild at age three, it explores her development in becoming a 'seer' who went on to advise the over-king, her Uncle Edwin.   What I liked about this was Hild's deep observation skills which flourished from her time spent outside observing nature closely: birds, trees, water and weather.  She came to habitually look for the patterns in her world and became sensitive to them.

She also listened to gossip and conversations of the people around her and had excellent recall of people and names. This allowed her to 'see' without the use of magic which I quite liked.

There were two major conflicts in this novel, the ongoing wars and battles of the kings of Britian the other conflict came from the rise of Christianity and the pressures this put on the people and other religious beliefs and practitioners.  While Hild was counselor for her uncle Edwin, the Bishiop that was part of the Queen's entourage, also became a counselor with Edwin and let him know that the Bishop did not like or trust Hild, even though she was baptized.  

These tensions were the major themes in this novel, and the novel ends with the Bishop finding a way to marry Hild off to a solider, and therefore neutralize her as a 'seer' for the King.

This was a good story, and the world building of 6th century Northumbia was good as well, would recommend.

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After Hild I read two Discworld books: The Last Continent and Thief of Time.  Turns out The Last Continent was a reread for me and Thief of Time was one that I hadn't read before.   These were picked up on a whim at the library and am very glad I did!  Reading Pratchett again was such a pleasure; the silly jokes, never ending puns and kooky storylines were just what I needed.   

Thanks Sir Terry.    :cheers:

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Semantical question, I said in the new years resolution thread that I wanted to read at least 18 books this year. Do I get to count ones I started in late 2021 if I read less than a quarter of it?

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3 minutes ago, Tywin et al. said:

Semantical question, I said in the new years resolution thread that I wanted to read at least 18 books this year. Do I get to count ones I started in late 2021 if I read less than a quarter of it?

If you said you wanted to "finish 18 books this year" then you have 1 down, if you said "read 18 books this year"  you're at 0.25 and counting ;).

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7 hours ago, Tywin et al. said:

Semantical question, I said in the new years resolution thread that I wanted to read at least 18 books this year. Do I get to count ones I started in late 2021 if I read less than a quarter of it?

I think that's fair as long as you don't also end up counting any books you start but don't finish until 2023.

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I read the second in the Books of Babel series, The Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft. I thought that it dragged a bit at the start, but my interest picked up once they reached the, as it were, main destination in the novel. I like all the characters - they're all sufficiently sympathetic and sufficiently different to make it pleasant spending reading time with them. That said, I'm sometimes a bit irritated by sudden POV jumps - I prefer the GRRM approach of single chapters tied to a single POV. Omniscient pov is fine with a strong authorial voice (Dickens, Pterry etc.), but Bancroft doesn't do that kind of writing. He tries to merge into his characters. Anyway, I'm now well into the third book, and it's just as good as the other two. 

A week or so ago, I finished listening to The Mabinogion (more accurately: Y Mabinogi). This was the Naxos audio version read by Matt Addis and based on the Guest translation. I didn't find the English of the translation as hugely mannered as I expected too, but I think I will have to read a more modern version, because I'm pretty sure she bowdlerised some sections. Only a Victorian lady could make multiple counts of incestuous bestiality sound polite. 

I was familiar with the Pedair Cainc - the Four Branches, the first four stories in the collection - from reading the beautifully illustrated version by Gwyn Thomas, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Margaret Jones (the illustrator) when I was a child. I think that's partly why, when listening, I had the impression that those four stories were easily the strongest, the most vivid, the most creative of them all.

The Arthuriana that followed seemed quite repetitive in comparison - knights go out and bash things, Peredur (Percival) beats up Sir Cai which no one's very sorry about because it turns out that Cai's a bit of an arsehole by both modern and medieval standards - with the exception of Breuddwyd Rhonabwy (Dream of Rhonabwy), which is just weird. A prince's retainer dreams that he meets Arthur playing chess prior to the Battle of Mount Badon while ignoring complaints that his squires are attacking his companion's ravens. The whole thing does sound just as if a monk ate a load of rich cheese and liberty caps then went to bed, and wrote down everything the next day. Then wondered how to make his habit more psychedelic. You kind of hope for his brother monks' sake that they followed the Rule of Benedict and had silence at mealtimes, or you just know he wouldn't stop talking about it. 

The narrator was fine - he seemed to pronounce the names well. Still, I found the soft breathy voice he used for all the female characters deeply annoying. 

Tonight I finished listening to the first of the Gamache detective stories set in Quebec. Because I'm still labouring to keep my German up to its low level, it was Das Dorf in den Roten Wäldern that I heard, and it was narrated by Hans-Werner Meyer, who has a beautiful, warm voice that worked very well across the board. The setting felt well-realised; it definitely leaned into the cosy crime genre, but that's fine by me. It reminded me a bit of Midsomer Murders, though I've never read the books that the TV show is based on - I don't know if the author of those was able to write characters as sympathetically as Louise Penny does. I've got the next book already. 

Edited by dog-days
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Since I am locked down with covid, I decided to crack down on the backlog since I moved close enough to work I no longer take public transport I can read on (will really need to adjust my routine to add a reading hour in most days tbh). Started with She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. Good stuff, though I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as some others did. It's gonna get comparisons to The Poppy War, both being books based in fictionalised versions of an occupied China featuring a woman who with anger and great determination and a willingness to do bad things fights against her fate and the invaders, but not only is it a very different time period- this one set right back at the end of Mongol occupation - it's a different focus, both in tone (there's magic here, but much more understated to the almost comic-booky superpowered leanings of Poppy War) and in themes (while racial prejudice does come up here, just by nature of the occupation, gender is a much bigger focus). 

Worth your time, anyway. 

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I very much enjoyed Christopher Buehlman's "Between Two Fires", a medieval fantasy horror road trip, with plague, devils and fascinating characters. That's the third of his books I've read in the last six weeks or so. To those who mentioned him here, thank you! I'm declaring myself a fan and will almost certainly read the rest of his books in the very near future.

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I read Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots. I thought the novel was an interesting subversion of the traditional superhero story being told from the perspective of a lowly henchwoman working (initially) for a second-rate super-villain. Before reading it I was wondering how much of a comedy it might be, but although there is quite a lot of (mostly dark) humour in it, I think it was probably a bit more serious than I was expecting. Despite her job the protagonist is often sympathetic, particularly when faced with disproportionate consequences for her actions. While I think Anna does make a good argument against this setting's heroes and how they can be as much of a problem for the world as those they are fighting I think she is sometimes also being a bit disingenuous about the consequences of some of the things she does. I'm not sure that's necessarily a flaw of the novel, since everyone like to think themselves the hero of their own story. It does move at a good pace and it comes to a strong conclusion which resolves some of the big mysteries about the setting. I think this works as a stand-alone and resolves the central plotline but there is definitely scope for sequels as well.

I then read Neil Gaiman's Fables and Reflections. As a collection of unconnected stories it covers a lot of time periods and types of story, I think they all worked well with Three Septembers and a January and Ramadan being particularly good.

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I read three books lately, two of Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld books; Snuff and Raising Steam, they were OK. 

Next was Rubicon by Tom Holland which was just Roman history from Gaius Matius through Julius Caesar.  I thought it was going to be just about Caesar, but I got a quick overview instead.  Nothing new in that one.  

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To start the year, I chose The Last Wish, The Witcher #1.  I could only get through the first 2 short stories.  I was hoping that it would add some extra nuances to the characters after finishing the tv series, and that didn't happen.  If we ever make a Movie / TV Series Is Better Than the Book list, this probably needs to be on it.

I recently finished Age of Myth by Michael J Sullivan.  It was a fun, quick read, so now I'm moving onto the next book in the series, Age of Swords.  

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Yesterday I finished A Fountain Filled With Blood, second in Julia Spencer-Fleming's mystery series where the two detectives are the chief of police and a woman Episcopal priest in a fictional town in the far northern Hudson Valley area of New York state, on the southern edge of the Adirondacks. I really liked this book. Spencer-Fleming is an excellent writer and her two viewpoint characters are complex and interesting. Clare Fergusson, her Episcopal priest, was formerly a helicopter pilot in the US Army, and that plays a role in this story. The mystery concerns a murder which at first seems to be a gay-bashing hate crime but turns out to be considerably more complicated. 

Though Spencer-Fleming's series often gets listed as a "cozy", it is really on the border between "cozy" and "police procedural". The violence is more graphically described than in a pure "cozy" and there are no purely "comic" characters like in many cozies. The book was also really good at suspense -- I found myself genuinely scared at times for the characters even though I knew since this is the second book in a now 9-book series they'd have to get out of the danger somehow. I think Spencer-Fleming's books would make a great TV miniseries, and recommend at least the first two to all fans of good crime novels. 

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I finished the Koli trilogy with The Fall of Koli, and I thought it was fantastic. Always a rare and good thing for me when the final book is my favorite of a series! (I gave the books 4-3-5 stars on GR).

I also started listening to The Last Graduate and it's sooo good so far. Also it's interesting switching to audiobook after reading the first one myself. I never really imagined El with a British accent, so that was jarring. And even after a few hours I still find the way the narrator says "sophomore" with 3 syllables fascinating!

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The late James D. Hornfischer's The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors was a terrific book, dense with detail and thrilling in its story.  One of many, many excellent quotes is, "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can."

In retrospect, the tide of the Pacific War had turned, but neither the IJM nor the US Navy knew it at the time, so when Admiral Halsey left MacArthur's landing force unprotected except for the "Taffy 3" naval force of small jeep carriers and destroyers, the arrival of the main Japanese battleships was bad news for the Allies.

US Naval Aviators firing their personal revolvers at battleships as they fly past and landing on newly-captured airfields on land to repair their planes - wild.  The largest battleship ever built engaged against a tiny US Naval force - terrifying.  The horror and destruction of a naval battle at sea - harrowing.  The sacrifice of the sailors - humbling.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book, in either audio or text format.

Also good - Drach's short retelling:  

 

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I just reread Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy.  I read them back-to-back over the past 5-6 weeks.  I enjoyed them so much.  It’s probably old news around here but the prose and characters are just so good.  Considering how little happens in the first and second books (most big events and action happen “off-screen”), it’s always compelling.

I have the second book of the sequel trilogy waiting for me.  Perhaps not a great sign that I was more drawn to a reread of the original trilogy, but it’s hard to recapture the impact of those original characters.

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Finished the Traveler's Gate trilogy by Will Wight this afternoon.  Prose is definitely the weak link in his writing, but man does this dude just nail pacing, action, and magic systems.  All his books have a Mistborn kind of feel to them, but just a little bit better in almost every way.  You could tell this was the first set of books he wrote, but I thought these were still a really fun read.  If you like Sanderson without the bloat of some of his longer titles, you'd probably enjoy Will Wight.  Gonna read his set of short stories next and then his shadow/sea series - which are two trilogies set from opposing viewpoints of a single event.  Everyone that I know personally who has read those said it was done really well, so I'm pretty excited!

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2 hours ago, Iskaral Pust said:

I just reread Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy.  I read them back-to-back over the past 5-6 weeks.  I enjoyed them so much.  It’s probably old news around here but the prose and characters are just so good.  Considering how little happens in the first and second books (most big events and action happen “off-screen”), it’s always compelling.

I have the second book of the sequel trilogy waiting for me.  Perhaps not a great sign that I was more drawn to a reread of the original trilogy, but it’s hard to recapture the impact of those original characters.

Same feelings here all over. I was not impressed by a Little Hatred but most seem to agree that Trouble with Peace is a better, more engaging book.

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Just read Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate.  Read the Fifth Season awhile ago (years I suppose) but lost the copy of TOG that I had and recently found it.  I enjoyed it very much, didn't feel like I had to reread the first one to get back in the zone or anything, which I usually need to do.  I think it was a little weaker than the amazing first installment, I know I have a copy of the Stone Sky somewhere so I've been tearing my house apart trying to find it.  May have lent it to my sister?  Going to get it from the library tomorrow if it doesn't turn up.  

I like that this series keeps a pretty tight focus and that even though I feel like I've caught all the 'surprises' and twists before they happened, they are all earned and the narrative isn't dependant on these things being surprising or anything to deliver.  The prose is def above genre average by a longshot.

 

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