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What Are You Reading? Third Quarter, 2022


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It’s July, folks, time for a new thread!

I’ve been reading The Prague Cemetery and so far the comments about various nationalities (the French! The Germans! The Italians!) and religions (the Jews! The Catholics!) have been so bizarre I wonder where the hell this dual personality is going.  I’m sure I’ll be finding out soon.

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After a disappointing but brief encounter with This Is How You Lose the Time War, I picked up The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah to listen to next. Not my usual read but had pretty good reviews and it was available at the library, so off we go!

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Miles Cameron's Against All Gods had a bit of a slow start but it was a good read in the usual Cameron style once I got into it. Next I'm going to be reading The Martyr by Anthony Ryan.

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13 hours ago, The Wolves said:

I have started my first Robin Hobb trilogy which is Ship Of Magic. So far I’m really liking it though I’m not to far into the book. 

It might be a good idea to put that on hold and read the Farseer trilogy first. Liveship Traders does work as a standalone trilogy, but there are some links to its predecessor, and you certainly should read both before moving on to the third trilogy.

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The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard. It's about a middle-aged beaurocrat who invites his boss, the emperor, on holiday once.

So far it's great. Something a bit Guy Gavriel Kay about both the prose and the way a seemingly low-key character is a key player in empire-shaping events, but (so far at least) it eschews Kay's interest in battle and assassination and high drama and that for... well, mostly just people talking, albeit often talking about extremely important things. I realise that doesn't sell it very well - you just have to try it, really.

It's also so far been an absolute masterclass in slowly dripfeeding both exactly what the fantasy and magic in the world is, and in introducing the import of events as the story rolls on. 

 

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2 hours ago, felice said:

It might be a good idea to put that on hold and read the Farseer trilogy first. Liveship Traders does work as a standalone trilogy, but there are some links to its predecessor, and you certainly should read both before moving on to the third trilogy.

Alright, thanks for the heads up. I just got the first book in the Farseer Trilogy and will start it. 

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4 hours ago, polishgenius said:

The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard. It's about a middle-aged beaurocrat who invites his boss, the emperor, on holiday once.

So far it's great. Something a bit Guy Gavriel Kay about both the prose and the way a seemingly low-key character is a key player in empire-shaping events, but (so far at least) it eschews Kay's interest in battle and assassination and high drama and that for... well, mostly just people talking, albeit often talking about extremely important things. I realise that doesn't sell it very well - you just have to try it, really.

It's also so far been an absolute masterclass in slowly dripfeeding both exactly what the fantasy and magic in the world is, and in introducing the import of events as the story rolls on. 

 

Interesting. I jumped into that overall series with the Greenwing & Dart sequence, the first book of which is like book 6 in the overall series. I actually enjoy the books but I decided to pace them all out. 

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I'm almost done with Moon Witch, Spider King. Been reading this since... goddamn, the end of May?

Fucking hell, I'm so slow at this shit.

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The fourth of Jack Vance's Demon Princes novels is The Face, which is my personal favorite of the five books.

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, the story, which features an outstanding climax, contains all of the elements in their full maturity that the first three novels included separately.  So in addition to many Vanceian conversations and situations (think P.G. Wodehouse in Space), this story includes planetary action and adventure, underhanded business shenanigans, romance, the gradual solution of a mystery, the finding and identification of an unknown and hidden antagonist, and two excellently characterized races and cultures of humans on far planets.

Published in 1979, Vance was nearing the height of his powers, and as a result The Face is the smoothest of the stories in terms of writing and the slickest of the plots.  This is the best antagonist, not just because Vance is on top of his game, but because Lens Larque is a trickster and almost an anti-hero.  By the end of the tale, the reader wants Lens Larque's scheme to succeed and identifies with his motivations despite the terrible and sadistic acts he has perpetrated.

Within the plot, the protagonist Kirth Gersen is required to acquire stock in a holding company.  The stock is scattered among the Darsh, one of the most amusing cultures of alien humans that Vance ever created.  The process of stock acquisition includes straight purchases, deceitful purchases, betting, swindling, robbery, participating in dangerous cultural practices and armed competitions, and impersonations.  The Darsh eat disgusting food, favor unpleasant personal chifes and engage in weird, fetishistic sexual habits.  The combination of the two in Vance's tale is excellent.

Highly recommended in audiobook form.

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3 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

Interesting. I jumped into that overall series with the Greenwing & Dart sequence, the first book of which is like book 6 in the overall series. I actually enjoy the books but I decided to pace them all out. 

 

I'd legit never heard of her before I saw this being recommended around the Malazan forums, I was quite surprised to see there was a whole slew of other books- but she appears to have specifically designed 'Hands' to be an entry point and recommends it as the first in the reading order on her own site, so I've lucked in on that one. 

 

Not unhappy to discover that there's more, mind...

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12 hours ago, Durckad said:

I'm almost done with Moon Witch, Spider King. Been reading this since... goddamn, the end of May?

Fucking hell, I'm so slow at this shit.

 you made me laugh! I am slogging through Flights by Olga Tokarczuk since June and I was thinking the same.

I did read a couple of books while still stuck on that one. “Colorful” by Eto Mori and almost done with “While Mortals Sleep” by Kurt Vonnegut.

Both Flights and While Mortals Sleep are short stories but such different styles it’s incredible.
 

Vonnegut’s are his earlier works and they are self contained stories with a moral and clear ending, while Flights is a long ass enumeration of stories. These do not seem to have a conclusion but are themed philosophically and open ended.

It does not help that Kurt’s stories are consistently well written while Olga’s are uneven and so different in style and subject that it hurts. For Flights I went from Polish man losing his wife and kids on an island in Croatia, to Philip Verheyen’s life and his studying, drawing and naming the Achilles’ tendon with no apparent connection and having in between a bunch of other stories, some just small essays on the psychology of travel delivered by people holding seminars in airports.

I’m sure it will all come together at some point. It has to!

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Started The Buried Giant, by Ishiguro (author was recommended to me and this is what they had on my library shelf), and am hoping to see where it goes.  Also, doing Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker (sort of hit or miss, sometimes poems that are very direct in addressing contemporary social issues don’t land for me).

Halfway through Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, by Dennett, and I like the bite-sized presentation of the information, and it’s helped me look at how I think and assess.

Finished (both graphic novels): 

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks, by Igort.  Really eye-opening illustrated book, based on interviews, about Ukraine during Stalin, and Chechnya in modern times.

The Night Witches, by Garth Ennis.  Another decent semi-historical story about Russian women pilots in WWII.  Nothing revolutionary, but I enjoy his war comics -  they stay at a human level without any glamor or nostalgia or white-washing of the past.

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Grand Hotel Europa (2018 - Netherlands; 2022 USA) by Ilja Leonard Pfeiljffer; trans. by Michele Hutchinson.

"What Has Mass Tourism Done to Europe? A Novelist Digs In.
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s “Grand Hotel Europa” combines a comedy of manners with cultural commentary."

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/14/books/review/ilja-leonard-pfeijffer-grand-hotel-europa.html

"The love story takes second place to an operatic, chest-beating, stylish, but overstated exploration of place and perspective."

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/iija-leonard-pfeijffer/grand-hotel-europa/

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I finished Ryka Aoki's Light from Uncommon Stars. I had mixed feelings about it, it is trying to pack a lot into a single story and I think perhaps it was trying to do a bit too much. The tone was also inconsistent, the emotional heart of the story is Katrina and how she overcomes the horrible abuse she has suffered but this was juxtaposed with the often whimsical portrayal of a family of alien refugees from an interstellar war trying to figure out how to run a donut shop in Los Angeles. There's also a mix of genres between the space opera elements and the magic realism elements about a demon trying to collect souls of seven violin prodigies for Hell. I'm not sure all these storylines belong in the same book and the characters are unconvincingly quick to accept revelations about Faustian pacts or aliens living amongst us. The book does also seem a bit too quick to gloss over the moral implications of one of the protagonists having condemned multiple souls to eternal damnation. It does have some strengths, I think it is at its strongest when focusing on Katrina as she gradually builds her confidence in her own abilities and I think it does a good job of the tricky task of writing about music, particularly when the finale of the novel focuses on someone playing a violin.

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I finished The Farseer Trilogy just now.

I'm admittedly rather torn on what to think about it. Some things were done exceedingly well and, overall, it's an enjoyable series ... but there were a number of things which pulled me out of enjoyment for a time. Some of them are true burrs in the narrative (things I would hold out as narrative building mistakes that defied my suspension of disbelief) but I suspect a greater part of my occasional distraction was stylistic and preference, which is something I can't (won't) deem a true fault.

My takeaway at this immediate moment is that the author is not a great fit for me, yet the world she builds is intriguing and interesting enough that I'll read her works and be overall happy anyway.

In the end, I think that's a compliment.

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I just finished The Grief of Stones and I was a bit surprised by the sadness some folks expressed about the ending of the book in the last thread.

There’s another book coming and this is what I expect will happen.

Spoiler

Celehar gets his instructions about the new assignment and he needs help so he hires the orphan girl who expressed a desire to work for him. He continues to assist the new Witness for the Dead whenever she needs help. His relationship with the opera guy progresses. At the end he decides to take the pilgrimage to the Unfinished Stairs, the place from which the token in the murdered girl’s pocket originated , and the gods restore his witnessing powers in reward of his faith. Or, alternatively, his powers are not restored but his faith is renewed and he did such a swell job in his recent task that the Arch Prelate makes it permanent and Celehar fo stay!

 

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I've got a hold on the library's copy of The Grief of Stones, which is on order but hasn't arrived yet. If it takes more than a couple of weeks, I may crack and buy it as a present to myself for *checks calendar* Sarawak Independence Day. 

In the meanwhile, I read The Second Sleep by Robert Harris. A young priest Fairfax is sent to a remote west country village by his bishop to preside over the funeral of another, older priest. The novel starts with him on horseback, facing difficult weather, a town with an occupied gibbet, and unhelpful locals sitting outside an inn. 

Spoiler

Harris establishes on page two of the novel that this Wessex contains parakeets, so obviously isn't interested in genuinely convincing his readers that the setting is medieval/early modern England; I think he's more about creating an illusion of it while leaving in some careful discrepancies - playing deliberate wrong notes here and there to make us uncomfortable and add to the atmosphere. 

Fairfax starts the novel ambitious with an eye on the greasy pole; he'd probably be an intern in a political thinktank if he lived in 21st century London. But a discovery makes him question his beliefs, and ultimately reject large parts of them. I enjoyed the shape of his arc, and bits of the writing for it; at the same time, everything takes place over a few days, so his change does feel a little shallow and hurried. I don't think Harris is a marvellous character writer, but he isn't a bad one either - his characters mostly feel like people rather than plot ciphers or moral lessons, even if they're rarely terribly interesting or multi-sided. His male characters tend to be more developed than his women. In The Second Sleep, I did like Hancock the mill owner who seemed to be drawn with more enthusiasm than the main love interest. 

The ending was a bit of a cop-out. Not the reveal of the nature of the Devil's Chair which I was fine with, so much as the rocks fall, everyone dies resolution. In my teens, I thought lots of death in fiction was fun and edgy. These days, I think it mostly gets in the way of characters doing anything more interesting. You aren't going to have a brilliant conversation if you're a corpse. 

The book's reception on this board was luke-warm to chilly pace Ordos, but I liked it. It's not a brilliantly original work, but it is a well-told adventure story written in clear, steady prose, one that kept me absorbed for a good part of the weekend. 

I also finished listening to The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Disclaimer: I was listening to this over the course of a month in my second language often while doing the ironing, so my impressions aren't that fair. Anyway, this was the first Tchaikovsky I've read (of Guns of the Dawn, Dogs of War, Spiderlight and Elder Race) that I didn't much care for. Short summary: a group of beings from parallel Earths are drawn together to try and save the universe. 

The book is a mixture of plot and essay-like sections about the nature of intelligent life on the other Earths. Oddly, it was the essay sections that tended to be more entertaining since it was clearly Tchaikovsky having fun and letting his imagination out to play. I particularly enjoyed the race of giant felines who control their primate servants through a parasite that infects them with feelings of awe and wonder in the presence of a cat.

However, the actual story felt oddly shapeless, and the large cast of characters (including five point-of-views at least) were underdeveloped. It also lacked a strong villain —Rove the evil businessman is a cardboard cut-out with a personality that's basically a series of post-it notes - scarlet post-it notes written in all-caps in black felt-tip. Despite the imminent end of everything, there wasn't much sense of peril. Everyone minus Rove was fairly sensible, and it was pretty obvious they'd be able to find a solution without breaking much sweat or facing any big dilemmas. 

To my moderate shame, there have been a couple of books that I didn't finish. One was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip. I bounced hard off the style, which came across as twee and mannered. I seem to have less tolerance for stylistic variation than I used to. The other was Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. It started with a massacre and went on to FGM. I decided some emergency PG Wodehouse was in order. 

Edited by dog-days
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Within the last two weeks I have read been reading Katherine Addison Goblin Emperor had been on my radar for a while but just got around to it and off i was on this ride, I really liked it, but that's a side issue.. 

Both Witness for the Dead and Grief of Stones are dry methodical and absolutely cannot be put down, I can honestly say I don't know why I find both these books to be so fascinating but they are, I will think on it and come back to this post, all I can hope is that we have not seen the last of Thera Celehar..

 

 

 

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