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First Quarter 2022 Reading


Fragile Bird
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Books I’ve read (or listened to) in the last few weeks. 
I finished Silverview by John le Carre and I have to admit it was a bit disappointing. It seems it was a last opportunity for the author to criticize the secret services, particularly with regard to the betrayal of agents. Gently. I have read that his penultimate book, Agent Running in the Field, is much better and I will put a hold on that.

I finally gave The Angel of the Crows a second chance and I have to confess I gave up on it too soon the first time around. Once I got into it I really, really enjoyed it. It feels like a book Katherine Addison might turn into a series. I hope for more of the world of The Goblin Emperor but the end of that book feels like closure on the character, which is why she may have switched to The Witness for the Dead, which has the feel of a story that might be continued.

Addison’s real name is Sarah Monette, and funnily enough, searching her name at my library united me with a weird genre that has suddenly popped up on my Facebook pages, in the form of invitations to sign up to free books on a website with lots of wolf fiction. Werewolf fiction. Holy crap, is there ever a lot of it at the library, and so many books with content warning labels! I picked up a book of short stories, and, um, leopards too. Ooh la la! Anyone have any good werewolf books they can recommend? Which brings me back to Monette, she has a trilogy written with Elizabeth Bear (can’t resist - “snickers”) in the Iskryne World, book one being A Companion to Wolves. I don’t think the wolves shift-change though. Also, found Clarkesworld, volumes of short stories that have appeared in the magazine of that name, and she shows up there. Apparently she’s an excellent short story writer. 
 

I also read a book by Diana Wynne Jones, a name I was vaguely familiar with but an author I don’t think I’ve ever read. Her name popped up on a classics booklist that I saw. Some of her books are YA and I guess others look for an older audience. I’ve started with Howl’s Moving Castle, which I quite enjoyed. A feisty young lady gets cursed by an evil witch and ends up finding refuge at the floating castle of another evil mage, who isn’t all that evil it turns out. I’m waiting for the second book now, Castle in the Air, which is described as an Arabian Nights type story. There’s a third book which goes back to the original characters.
 

I also have her book Fire and Hemlock, where a character gets wrapped up in a situation where time travel and changes to events occur, making her think she may be losing her mind. But more fascinating than that is the fact that the edition of the book includes a speech she gave about how she creates her stories (The Heroic Ideal - A Personal Odyssey). I often think about writing but OMG, her parents were teachers who only had learned books in the house and she grew up reading Greek myths, Morte d’Arthur, Pilgrim’s Progress, everything from Grimm, The Arabian Nights, The Iliad, The Odyssey, etc. And she sets out how various of those books were guides to her plot in that book. Among others, Neil Gaiman was apparently heavily influenced by her books, and GRRM as well. Look up the book just to read the speech, originally published in the journal The Lion and the Unicorn, in 1989.

Finally, I read a chunk of The Golem and the Jinni, which I have renewed to try to finish. At points I really like it, and then at times it seems like the author is just droning on needlessly. Maybe it will end up like The Angel book for me.

Edited by Fragile Bird
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6 minutes ago, Fragile Bird said:

A Companion to Wolves.

I read that, wasn't my cup of tea, as the wolf bond is strong and since the male main character had bonded with a female wolf, well, when it came time to breed, the male wolf's person 'bred' the female wolf's person, and this just wasn't for me.  I read somewhere that after the first book the sex was toned down, but I'm just not interested.  Also, I'm not a dog person so that didn't help me like the story.   YMMV   :dunno:

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3 hours ago, Fragile Bird said:

I also read a book by Diana Wynne Jones, a name I was vaguely familiar with but an author I don’t think I’ve ever read. Her name popped up on a classics booklist that I saw. Some of her books are YA and I guess others look for an older audience. I’ve started with Howl’s Moving Castle, which I quite enjoyed. A feisty young lady gets cursed by an evil witch and ends up finding refuge at the floating castle of another evil mage, who isn’t all that evil it turns out. I’m waiting for the second book now, Castle in the Air, which is described as an Arabian Nights type story. There’s a third book which goes back to the original characters.
 

I also have her book Fire and Hemlock, where a character gets wrapped up in a situation where time travel and changes to events occur, making her think she may be losing her mind. But more fascinating than that is the fact that the edition of the book includes a speech she gave about how she creates her stories (The Heroic Ideal - A Personal Odyssey). I often think about writing but OMG, her parents were teachers who only had learned books in the house and she grew up reading Greek myths, Morte d’Arthur, Pilgrim’s Progress, everything from Grimm, The Arabian Nights, The Iliad, The Odyssey, etc. And she sets out how various of those books were guides to her plot in that book. Among others, Neil Gaiman was apparently heavily influenced by her books, and GRRM as well. Look up the book just to read the speech, originally published in the journal The Lion and the Unicorn, in 1989.

 

I love Diana Wynne Jones, though I've never read the sequels to Howl's Moving Castle. Homeward Bounders is good if you're looking for something with a slightly grimmer/more adult tone. Dark Lord of Derkholm for a gentle parody of eighties fantasy. I particularly liked the second book in the Dalemark Quartet Drowned Ammet for - well, for loads of things. Wynne Jones was really an author of abundance. Abundant fun and creativity and refusal to take the most expected route or to take things too seriously - except when they needed to be. 

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17 hours ago, dog-days said:

 Dark Lord of Derkholm for a gentle parody of eighties fantasy. 

I liked Dark Lord of Derkholm. But for a really hilarious take on fantasy literature by Diana Wynne Jones I highly recommend The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.  This isn't a novel but a "guidebook" for "tourists" to Fantasyland with short entries of few paragraphs covering topics in alphabetical order. Here's the start of one entry:

STEW  (the Official Management Terms are thick and savoury, which translate to "viscous" and "dark brown".) is the staple FOOD of Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak, or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time. .....

I know humor is subjective, but I think the Tough Guide is hilarious. Its copyright is 1996 and it's a great send-up of commercial fantasy novels published before that date. 

 

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Tough Guide is also excellent. My favourite entry is for QUEST, NEVERENDING 

I don't want to just start listing the complete works of DWJ, but I liked The Time of the Ghost as well. Of all her books, it's probably the one with the most pronounced autobiographical elements - three neglected sisters living in an educational institution run by their parents. But with time-slips and stuff, which I assume is not autobiographical, though you never know with Wynne Jones. She claimed to have a travel hex, which sounds unlikely, except that events tended to bear her out

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Started off the year much more productive in my reading than I usually am:

I started Lindsey Ellis's The Truth of the Divine at the very tail end of 2021 and finished it early in January. It was good. Ellis has clearly grown as a writer and I feel her character work is her strongest skill. While the character work is good enough to propel the narrative forward, the story itself is... a bit lacking. It feels very much like a middle book, setting things up for the next book and not really going much of anywhere. Things certainly happen but, it very much feels like it ends in a very similar place to where it began.

If you enjoyed the first book, you'll probably like this one, maybe even a bit better. I liked Axiom's End a bit more (mostly because of the better balance between story and character work), but this is easily the better written, more assured novel overall. 7/10

I followed that up with Susanna Clarke's Piranesi which was just a wonderful, little novel. Thoroughly entertaining and engrossing, I just wish there was a bit... more to it honestly. It just goes by so fast, but then, maybe its briefness is part of its strength? 8/10

After that I read Noah Hawley's Anthem and... I'm not sure how I feel about this. It is expressly political and topical, in such a way that it feels out of date already and it came out last month. There are references to the "lost year" of the pandemic and it's 2022 and we're still dealing with this shit ffs. Its utter lack of subtlety will likely turn many off and really feels like a self-aggrandizing, smug liberal preaching to the choir. Hawley also does the thing Herbert does where he constantly switches between POV's, though in a much more messy fashion. Herbert is a bit better at that (in the terms of making it clearer whose thoughts you are currently in) but I still hate that style of writing. That said, for some reason, I actually found less obtrusive in Anthem than I did in Dune.

So I'm not sure how I felt about this. I didn't have to force myself to finish it, the story was engaging enough, the writing was decent, the characters good. The ending is incredibly abrupt and feels almost like an anti-climax. If we're incredibly, stupidly unlucky, then this book may be prophetic in some ways, so hopefully it instead gets relegated to the dust bin of history as a post-Trump, liberal, fantasy think-piece on the state of the now. 5/10?

I just started Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore. I'm not very far into it, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it as much I did the previous two Earthsea books I read last year.

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I just finished Benedict Jacka's Risen. The series has always been kind of stupid but entertaining but in the last few books the stupid has definitely started to outweigh the entertaining and that's still the case with this one. Still, it was the last in the series so having read all the others at least I've gotten to the end.

I've also been reading Barack Obama's memoir A Promised Land which isn't bad. It's interesting and quite well written even if it isn't revealing much most people won't already know so far.

Next up I'm going to read The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison.

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Just finished Peter F Hamilton's The Salvation Sequence and am pretty disappointed. The story didn't really get wrapped up, and it felt like such a chore to get to the end (trying to understand / visualize any of the massive space happenings was too much for my poor non-corpus brain). A lot of the characterization felt repetitive and didn't really ring true in the final book, either. That was the strength of book 1 and what made me keeping going. 

Feeling pretty let down by it. Finishing up the Expanse at the end of last year put me in a rare sci-fi mood, but this killed that for now. 

Next up: A Practical Guide to Conquering the World.

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Finished Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell. Of the books of his I've read - Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, The Bone Clocks, Black Swan Green, Slade House - this was my least favourite. A lot of it did feel as if Mitchell had spent rather too much time reading pop memoirs and haunting the Wikipedia biographies of famous people from the late sixties. There was bloat. By the final third, I really felt like the last thing I needed was another extended description of a rock concert. 

The supernatural element seemed like it belonged in a different novel - possibly a full-on sequel to Thousand Autumns - and ended with a whimper, which was a pity, because the story thread started promisingly. 

Spoiler

If Jasper had had more of a dialogue with Knock Knock, it could have been more compelling. 

I like Marinus and the Horologists, but I'm getting quite tired of Marinus Ex Machina. It feels like a cheat. I think for his next book Mitchell should maybe just use Marinus as his main protagonist, since then it won't feel so random for him to sweep in and sort things out at the last minute. 

That makes it sound as if I hated the book, and I really didn't. I've spent the last week suffering from a manageable but irritating anxiety attack, and Utopia Avenue has done a good job distracting me from it, which it couldn't have done if it had been boring. Mitchell obviously has a lot of interest and enthusiasm for this particular era of pop culture, and he writes powerfully enough that some of it came across to someone who doesn't share his particular nerd-corner. 

I liked the characterisation of dissociative autistic (?) Jasper most of the band; Levon the manager probably came across as the most likeable character of them all.

I'm also onto my third Gamache book. Just happy going with the flow with this series. The next instalment should probably be called Croissants at Dawn. 

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I started listening to Light From Uncommon Stars today. Had no idea what to expect and it's a bit bizarre so far. There's Devil went down to Georgia style soul-bargaining demons but also intergalactic aliens?? Just a couple chapters in and really have no idea where this is going to go.

I finished listening to The Last Graduate, the second Scholomance book. Really enjoyed it, though it wasn't perfect. Ended on a big cliffhanger so hopefully the last book doesn't take too long!

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I am reading Suri's Realm of Ash, the second of the Books of Ambha. It's going well so far. I liked the first one, Empire of Sand, also. It does kind of amuse me that I discovered Suri on that strange Time list of the "greatest fantasy books of all-time" that was really just a poorly titled list based on diversity.

In other news I am once again wanting to start a Malazan re-read.

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Last month I read Jade Legacy - the concluding volume in Fonda Lee's Green Bone trilogy -- and I liked it a lot.  The focus of this book is a bit different to the previous two: it spans a couple of decades, and as a result introduces quite a few new characters, largely the children of the main characters from the first two books.   Unavoidably perhaps, these characters aren't quite as developed as the original cast. The time period covered also means that some plot threads move at a slightly unexpected pace.  In particular, the central conflict teased by the end of the second book is dealt with much sooner than I'd have guessed.  But overall it was a very satisfying conclusion to the series, and probably the best thing I've read so far this year.

The other books I read in January I didn't like quite as much:
 
Cold Steel by Kate Elliott was ... fine, but not really one of her best.  (I read the first two books in the Spiritwalker trilogy back in autumn 2017 but for some reason hadn't got around to the last book until now.)  I think I found a lot of the background elements more compelling than the central plot.

Towing Jehovah by James Morrow never really lived up to its opening premise (as the blurb puts it: "God's body is adrift in the mid-Atlanic, a menace to navigation and faith alike...").  This won the World Fantasy Award in 1995, and as I read it I was reminded quite frequently of Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas & Electric (which I read last year); largely because I think both books demonstrate that mid 90s' attempts at satire have not necessarily aged well.

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman is the latest -- and, I would assume, final -- book in the Invisible Library series.  This one wasn't bad, but it definitely felt like the eighth book in a series that's had a book published every year since 2015.  (And it seemed to really rush through some of the plot hooks that were shown in the previous entry.)

Next up I'm going to (finally) read Seth Dickinson's The Monster Baru Cormorant (or just The Monster, to give it the far less interesting title it's lumbered with in the UK).

(One book I've not read yet, despite getting hold of a copy a while ago, is Ada Palmer's Perhaps The Stars.  I'm a big fan of the Terra Ignota series and in particular I think the first book, Too Like The Lightning, is one of the best SF novels I've read in the last decade.  But I read the first couple of pages of this one last year and realized I had almost no memory of what  had happened in the previous two books.  So I think I'm going to have to reread before I can pick that up.)

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Oh hell, there’s another book in the world of The Goblin Emperor, a follow-up to The Witness for the Dead, called The Grief of Stones. It’s supposed to come out on June 14, 2022. Celehar uncovers a scandal with regard to what happens to orphan girls in Amalo (boys go to the Prelacies). Something to look forward to!

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Been working my way through Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer for the past couple of weeks.  Its slow going, but fascinating, so many tangled relationships and plots.  You need to go slow to understand all that's going on (which I'm sure I still don't).

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12 hours ago, Peadar said:

Me too! It starts well.

I just finished A Practical Guide to Conquering the World! This series has reminded me how quickly I can read something when I really want to, and dang it it was supposed to last me until Age of Ash comes out! Ah well. 

Great fun, just like the first two. A lot happened VERY quickly per usual, but even more happened here than the other two. I think I'd give the edge to How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It as the best of the series, but I'm glad we got this one too. 

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