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What Are You Reading? Third Quarter, 2022


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Just finished one short story and one novella: The Sisters of Saint Nicola [etc etc] by Garth Nix and High Times at the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson.

The Nix short story is a lot of fun with a lot of worldbuilding packed into a small space (while still having a full and fleshed out narrative arc).

The Robson stoner buddy novella is ambitious, but I probably should have been trippin' balls while reading it because then maybe the plot would make sense and all of the glaring holes in it would magically disappear. (to be very clear, I'm not talking about missing worldbuilding explanations, something a lot of boring completionist reviewers are complaining about. I'm talking about actual logical flaws in the main storyline.) Props to Robson for making the POV character, Lana, just as tedious and annoying and overconfident (with nothing to back that confidence up) as most 20-year-old stoners are. There are good ideas, some of them only barely hinted at, buried in this novella and Robson is a skillful writer, so I'm hoping that Robson will explore this world a bit more. But maybe not with Lana as the sole POV character.

I also recently finished The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (in the United States she got an extra 0.5 deaths due to similarities with another title) by Stuart Turton. I went in completely uninformed, aside knowing that it was a murder mystery with a spec fic twist, and I'm glad that I did it that way. Anyway, in the spirit of that last sentence, I won't get into any detailed descriptions, but I will say that I enjoyed the journey -- the writing and characters are very engaging (even when they're awful human beings) and the book's ending works well enough if you don't interrogate it too much.

Now starting Ymir by Rich Larson, which is described as a far-future retelling of Beowulf.

Edited by Xray the Enforcer
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The final book of Jack Vance's Demon Princes novels finally arrived, and so it was that I completed listening to Stefan Rudnicki read The Book of Dreams this week.

By the time Vance wrote The Book of Dreams, he had arrived at the height of his powers, his editors no longer limited him to "saleable material", and he really liked to portray convoluted travel by various modes, humorous interactions between idiosyncratic characters at cross-purposes, and situations where villains executed terrible actions but retold in comic fashion.  And so this story is kind of a dénouement of the tale of Kirth Gersen's life-long effort to find and exterminate the five Demon Princes whose raid on his world when he was a child cost him his family and hope of a normal life.  The high point of the five stories is the fourth book, The Face, and this story is a kind of end-cap to show that Gersen can complete his quest.

Vance's portrayal of an antagonist with multiple personality disorder is very subtle, and so it should be from the author of award-winning mystery, horror and thriller novels like Bad Ronald.  However, the book focuses more on the series' protagonist, Kirth Gersen, and at the end, it seems that with the completion of his avenging quest, he is left to drift, without focus or goals.  So like many Vance works, The Book of Dreams is quite ambiguous in its treatment of good and evil, existentialism and the meaning of life.

Stefan Rudnicki as a reader for this series of book is a surprising but excellent choice.  The Demon Princes is a very good series, if not quite at the heights of creativity, excellence or with an incredibly satisfaction-filled ending such as The Planet of Adventure series.  Do yourself a favor and load up some Jack Vance audiobooks and enter a world of classic science fiction from a Grand Master.

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Recently I've read Guy Gavriel Kay's All the Seas of the World which was okay. I liked it, I tend to like all his books I read, and I enjoyed seeing some of the characters from his previous book again but the plot felt a little unfocused. Before that I read Kate Elliott's Servant Mage which was good. I actually felt like it could have done with being a novel rather than a novella with the amount of story which remains unexplored.

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Harlem Shuffle (2021), Colin Whitehead.

This could just about be classified as an historical novel, as it begins in 1959, looks back frequently from there, and concludes in the 1960's, while the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author was born just at the end of that era, 1969. 

From the book's promo:

Quote

.... Harlem Shuffle's ingenious story plays out in a beautifully re-created New York City of the early 1960's. It's a family saga masquerading as  crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about rce and power, and, ultimately, a love letter to Harlem. ....

 

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On 8/27/2022 at 12:34 PM, Zorral said:

Harlem Shuffle (2021), Colin Whitehead.

This could just about be classified as an historical novel, as it begins in 1959, looks back frequently from there, and concludes in the 1960's, while the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author was born just at the end of that era, 1969. 

From the book's promo:

 

What did you think? I adore Whitehead and enjoyed this but was unfortunately somewhat letdown due to The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad being unforgettable. 

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I came to it as an NYC novel, a particularly Harlem novel, of that period, I think, and thus I really liked it.  He really did his work because he got all the places he described, that I know too, right, and thus presumably has gotten all the places he describes that are now gone, right too.  It had a feel of a time and place that was so close to my own life, though I wasn't there, of course -- I just sometimes feel that I was, due to the many people I've known, including so many musicians, who were there and workin' it all out back then.

I don't know if that says anything useful for you or not! There are so many different reasons to read a book and find it good.

 

 

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This weekend I listened to Michael Prichard read the final Nero Wolfe mystery published in Rex Stout's lifetime, A Family Affair.

Michael Prichard is the perfect reader for the Nero Wolfe stories, and he is probably one of the top ten readers of all time in my estimation, and once again he is outstanding with this story.  The background of Richard Nixon's presidency and crimes set the tone for the book, but then Stout wrong-foots the reader with a feint and an actual crime and criminal that come out of left field.

There is a bit of sadness to come to the end of the stories, and furthermore the (spoiler!) revelation that it is Orrie Cather who is the murderer.  To that end, it feels like Stout is intentionally wrapping up the Nero Wolfe stories, as Orrie (and his earlier stand-in, Johnny Keems) had always had an uneasy relationship with the protagonist and narrator of the mysteries, Archie Goodwin.

The 1970s were probably the last possible time frame for a Nero Wolfe mystery, as it would be increasingly difficult to write that sort of mannered genre in the 1980s and have it be reasonable believable.  Nevertheless, even in this final story, the plot is tight, the characters interact in familiar and yet enjoyable ways, and the reader gets their money's worth.  With New York itself as both a location and a character, these stories always have a cheerful outlook on life, and they stand right up there with Poirot and Holmes in the pantheon of mysteries, and certainly the apex of American mysteries.

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On 8/16/2022 at 4:56 AM, Ser Not Appearing said:

I've been listening to The Black Company for the first time. It feels super disjointed. I'm going to have to listen to it a second time before I make up my mind on continuing the series.

Just finished listening to the second book. It had a much tighter narrative and I enjoyed it much more. It was less a series of glimpses and took more time with events. This added much that the first book lacked for me.

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Just put Woken Furies down part way through in order to dive into Heat 2.  Enjoying it so far. Pacino comes in strong with the Vincent Hanna dialog 

ETA:  Hit a weird moment last night. I don’t read much crime/mystery fiction (Hillerman is about it) but as I’m progressing into the book, I’m finding the level of geographic detail to be a little much - sort of like mapquest crossed with a tour guide. Is that a feature of the genre or the author(s).

Edited by hauberk
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On 9/1/2022 at 5:37 PM, hauberk said:

Just put Woken Furies down part way through in order to dive into Heat 2.  Enjoying it so far. Pacino comes in strong with the Vincent Hanna dialog 

ETA:  Hit a weird moment last night. I don’t read much crime/mystery fiction (Hillerman is about it) but as I’m progressing into the book, I’m finding the level of geographic detail to be a little much - sort of like mapquest crossed with a tour guide. Is that a feature of the genre or the author(s).

That might be more from Mann as he needs the spatial awareness as a director to understand how the pieces of the action will move across the screen. 

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Been re-listening to The Angel of the Crows, which I am growing more and more fond of with each listen. Originally I couldn’t be bothered with yet another rework of Sherlock Holmes but my goodness, Addison has beautiful turns of phrase. The Goblin Emperor is great, but the writing here is a cut above.

I really hope there’s a second book, she certainly left enough threads dangling. Just as I hope in the 3rd Witness for the Dead (I feel strongly his powers will be restored) book Maia will reappear.

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On 9/3/2022 at 12:16 PM, Leofric said:

That might be more from Mann as he needs the spatial awareness as a director to understand how the pieces of the action will move across the screen. 

That’s certainly possible though from what I’ve seen much of the book is based off of deep background character dossiers of the characters from the movie. There have been some interesting things that I hadn’t picked up from the movie - the post Platinum Exchange meet up was held at that electrical substation to take advantage of the EMR to help block any bugs they may not have found. 

The asides about things like Mies Van der Rohe and his arrival in Chicago after the closure of the Bauhaus by the Nazis (As Detective Hanna drives past IIT) feels like something else. 

Edited to correct autotext issue.

Edited by hauberk
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