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What are you reading? Fourth Quarter 2022


williamjm
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This week I wrapped up the fourth of Christian Cameron's Chivalry books, The Sword of Justice.  This book continues the very high quality of storylines and characters from the previous book in the series, both of which shift up a gear from the first two in the series.  Generally, this section of the tale of William Gold and his wife as they return from their wedding in Jerusalem and from Outremer to Europe is gripping enough to make me want to continue to listen even when I should be doing other things.

I listened to the audiobook read by Peter Noble, and he exceeds expectations as a performer for this book.  His reading is such that I am completely immersed in the tale, and then when I finally break out of it, I have to go check on the historical events and characters from the story to learn more about them.

The timeline of the book runs from the aftermath of the Sack of Alexandria (October 1365) by Peter I to the Italian Wedding (June 1368) of Lionel, the Duke of Clarence to Violante Visconti.  The Turkic and Greek politics are very interesting, and the only drawback for me was that the Italian politics of the latter half of the book are so baroque, with so many different parties and interests, that I would need a diagram to fully realize all the ramifications.  Let's just say that murder, poison, assassination, and general Bad Pope action occur.

Clearly this is historical fiction.  But it is also so well written that even if it was the purest fantasy, it would be absolute top-drawer fantasy.  I am really enjoying these audio books, and once again Cameron's work proves to be some of the most absorbing and memorable stuff to my taste.

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Still reading One Night in the Lonesome October because I'm trying to not read ahead of the book chronologically. 

Finished The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang and it's very good. For those who love stories about "The Chosen One" or messiahs, and all of the issues that this kind of story entails, you might enjoy this one. Without getting into spoilers, I'll also flag that this book relies on unreliable narrators, which I found a little challenging at times. Anyway the book also involves giant battle space mechas. 

Now enjoying It Came from the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror a collection of essays by queer and trans writers on the many connections between queerness and horror films; each writer tackles and analyzes a single horror film through this lens. Only three or so essays in but they've all been excellent thus far. Anyway, if you're queer and a horror fan, there will definitely be something in here for you. If you're an ally and a horror fan, you'll definitely gain some insight into queer/trans experiences. 

Edited by Xray the Enforcer
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I finished Naomi Novik's The Golden Enclaves, the final book in her Scholomance trilogy. I've really enjoyed the series and I thought this was a good conclusion, even if perhaps it wasn't quite as good as the first two books. It does have a dramatic change in setting, having left behind the claustrophobic setting of the first two books and now having the characters hopping from one side of the world to the other and back. I think it does perhaps lose a bit of tension and atmosphere as a result. To start with it's a bit unclear where the plot is going but I thought it did get more compelling as it went along and did a good job of revealing more of the backstory that was hinted at in the first two books. The key plot device here is something that builds upon a lot of the events in the earlier books and does explain a lot of things in retrospect, some of the big revelations here were set up as early as the first chapter of the first book. I think the ending had a bittersweet element to it that worked well, a lot has been achieved but not all the problems in the world have been resolved. El has always been a fun protagonist and I think it's an unusual perspective to be following someone who is trying very hard not to be the villain of the story even though the rest of the world thinks that she should be. I do also like the side characters that El has met along the way, some of whom we see a lot more of in this book (Leisel was an entertaining character here) although some were perhaps sidelined a bit.

On 10/9/2022 at 5:39 PM, Underfoot said:
Spoiler

There really was never a sense of danger for El or like she was ever really going to mess up/make the wrong choice. Moments like when her mom went into the hut, or the rescue of Liu, or even the final face off with Orion you wondered about those people and if they'd survive (tbh I wish Orion hadn't, never liked him. He always felt like an empty shell, and I guess he was a really really full shell up until the end), but you were never worried about El which is a bit of a miss.

Even though there wasn't suspense about personal danger so much, the lingering "how can we solve the big issues baked into the wizarding world" was enough to keep me pulled along for sure. I liked the themes of collectivism vs individualism throughout the whole trilogy, even if this one really hit you over the head with the classic conundrum of if it's okay to have a perfect society at the expense of "one" person's unending torment. 

I also liked El's character beats, and thought all the mysteries were wrapped up really well; there were enough hints dropped along the way that you could probably have picked them up if you were really paying attention (I caught a lot of them!)

Spoiler

I don't mind Orion surviving but I'm not sure I really think he's a good fit with El for a relationship afterwards - although I think the ending was a bit vague on how close they were likely to be. It's perhaps not really his fault due to his nature and upbringing but apart from wanting her to not be harmed he doesn't seem to ever think much about what El wants, which doesn't seem a good foundation for a relationship (although perhaps not unrealistic for a teenager's first romance). El's fling with Leisel did seem to be a bit out of the blue but at least Leisel cares about how El feels, and is a more fun character that Orion.

I think the ending could have been too neat if Orion had been saved and the enclaves and Scholomance refounded better than before, but it does add a bitter element to it that there isn't any justice meted out to the real villains of the story and there is an irony that El doing the right thing has also helped them achieve their goals. I think this works because it's hard to see how it could work differently without El become Dark Galadriel and compelling everyone to abandon the old enclave system, and El's character development has largely been about not trying to become that person.

I agree the mysteries well laid out well, I did start to suspect that El was causing the enclaves to collapse a couple of chapters before she realised it - apparently about the same time Leisel started to work it out.

 

Edited by williamjm
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Finished The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz last night, which was a fun, easy read. The conceit is that the first half of the book is a Golden-Age-style murder mystery, a lightly disguised Poirot fanfiction in effect, and is written in the third person. The second half is set around 2009/10 in the first person, and consists of the editor of the Agatha Christie knockoff investigating an actual murder. It's smart, smooth, and very neatly done. Perhaps a little too neatly – that's the trouble with Horowitz.

I think it would have been really interesting if he'd taken on a co-writer for this particular book, so they could have split it between them. Although he makes a good stab at differentiating the voice of narrator of the first half from the narrator of the second half (and the third person/first person helps), actually having a second writer would produced a more textured effect, if the right person could be found. 

Next up is All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay. I was in my city's central library on Friday looking for Alan Garner. Didn't find him, but spotted this on a shelf and nabbed it. Serendipity FTW. 

Edited by dog-days
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On 10/12/2022 at 7:26 AM, Lord Patrek said:

Just finished Stephen King's Fairy Tale. More than just another portal fantasy story, it's a love letter to SFF giants such as Bradbury, Lovecraft, Howard, and Tolkien, among others.

It's also a love story about a boy and his dog, and that's the best part about the book.

Full review here.

I binge read fairy tale over the weekend. I agree pretty much with your full review although I would advise reading the book first. 

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Lol I googled Chockpoint Capitalism! Sounds like a proper read for a rage inducing heart attack no matter which side you're on.

If you're for the big corp and unfettered capitalism, then you wouldn't want the plebs to take back the markets, and if you're for more regulation and cutting the greedy corp practice, then you're nodding choking with anger at these huge conglomerates making bank stepping on everything, expecting to get to the "take back the market" bits.

It's so interesting how many people read so many different things in what probably started as a nerdy fantasy book forum!

Anyway, working my way through a masterfully written disgusting book about the evil makings of US foreign policy and the very real consequences of interfering into other nations' business at only part of the country's request. I have a huge doubt we will ever learn to keep out of others nation's internal dealings. We're talking Vietnam war and The Sympathizer.

So far a third of the book in and I totally see why this book won the Pulitzer prize. It is an exquisite self flagellation of any American that keeps reading it, that's worthy of an Oscar seen through the eyes of a communist spy in the Saigon army that evacuated with the people he spies on. I ended up so far thinking US would be amazing without Americans in it according to the Vietnamese refuges and Cuban immigrants. Also, there's way too much freedom given to women who wear tight fitting skirts and listen to rock music. And there's not enough dead squid penis penetration for 13 yr olds either. Democrats who were anti war were disgusting and so are the Republicans who keep pushing the anti commie propaganda. Also, I learned bestiality is not obscene, it's millions of dead people in a civil was that's obscene. Somehow they are mutually exclusive because of scale and species.

Anyway, I have a feeling this thing is going to change tune at some point in a way, I could be wrong. Very, very good writing. I mean the dude is pretty much a poet in cruelty, pain and general horrible scenes on what humans can and do to other humans.

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Last time I attempted to read The Eye of the World, I didn't get very far, as I was bored. How I ever got through it once upon a time twenty some years ago, I'll never know...but let's see how the dulcet tones of Michael Kramer and Kate Redding reading the story to me goes...

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On 10/15/2022 at 5:22 PM, Wilbur said:

Peter I to the Italian Wedding (June 1368) of Lionel, the Duke of Clarence to Violante Visconti.

I was reading about that a few weeks ago in Hawkwood (2016), by Jack Ludlow! Part of Hawkwood's continuing relationship with King Edward, despite being a merc in North Italy.  He kinda, at least in this novel, initiated the idea to King Edward that Clarence marry into the Visconti family.  None of this worked out well, did it, mostly due to who these people are?

~~~~~~~~~

I have embarked on what is also an historical, but so much else as well, including a murder mystery, Orhan Pamuk's Nights of Plague (2022).  It's huge so it is going to take many nights of before companionate Read-Aloud Before Lights Out reading. 

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9 hours ago, Zorral said:

... the Visconti family.  None of this worked out well, did it, mostly due to who these people are?...

I am always a bit surprised at how "square" western civilization turned out to be, given the levels of moral bankruptcy, weird perversion, and downright bizarre worldviews among many of the thought leaders and political players at the start of the Renaissance.  Like the Visconti / Sforza clan.

Although maybe it took some wild pendulum swings of society to break Western Europe free of the structures of the Middle Ages.   Like the Reformation reacting against a corrupt church, etc.

It is some wild times for history, that is certain.  Truth is stranger than fiction, a lot of times, and if you wrote a book that included an equivalency of weirdness, you would get something a little more hardcore and random than ASOIAF.

Edited by Wilbur
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1 hour ago, Wilbur said:

you would get something a little more hardcore and random than ASOIAF.

In history you do get sunshine, art, music, poetry and fun -- and that's even with the Bubonic Plague coming back every year or 4 or 5.  Which is a whole lot of something that matters, as the poetry is still read, the art still valued, the music, some of it still sung.  People did fall in love, get pregnant and get married and continue loving each other.  Quite different from that other thing -- though of course it makes no more sense than that other thing does!  Ha! :cheers:  That's history for ya -- patterns in the charnel house.

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Moved on to non-fiction for a bit.

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in New York City by Elon Green focuses on the lives of the gay and bisexual men murdered by the so-called Last Call Killer, a serial killer who found each of them in piano bars across NYC in the early 90s. I generally hate true crime, but I took a chance with this one because Green focused almost entirely on the lives of the men before they were murdered, and more broadly on the gay community in NYC that persevered, and even flourished, despite the vicious homophobia that pervaded every institution (and especially the NYPD) and interaction in the country at that time. Anyway, I think Green succeeded in his goal to avoid the pitfalls of the genre and he even made me miss visiting Marie's Crisis, which is truly something. A worthwhile read if you have any interest in NYC, the lives of closeted gay men, and especially the history of the gay community centered in Greenwich Village/Chelsea.

Now reading:

The Women's House of Detention: The Queer History of a Forgotten Prison by Hugh Ryan. Hoooooboy I've been looking forward to this one for awhile. Ryan digs into the history of the "House of D," a notorious women's prison in Greenwich Village and especially how it was a nexus of lesbian, masculine of center, and transmasc community from the 19th century until it was shut down in 1974. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but I'm already fully on board with this book because of Ryan's care for his work and his explicitly abolitionist framework. One oft-blurbed portion of the book details how one could actually see the Stonewall Inn from the upper windows of the prison, and when the Stonewall Riots kicked off, the women in House of D staged their own riot, setting fire to their belongings and throwing them out the windows onto the streets below while chanting "gay rights!" Will report back once I've finished it, but damn I'm loving this already.

Edited by Xray the Enforcer
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@Xray the Enforcer Among the most popular walking tours in NYC are those centered around these sites.  This is even more so in the month of June.

Another one of the sites in this area is what is now a NYPL branch, the Jefferson Market Library.  From its history:

Quote

 

.... In 1909, The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, on Washington Place, one block East of Washington Square in the Asch Building, was notorious for its tough labor policies: low wages, long hours, and annoying rules, which included a prohibition on speaking to one's neighbor at the workbench and a penalty of being sent home and losing half a day's pay for taking more time for a toilet break than the floor supervisor felt was necessary.

The workers, in alliance with middle-class sympathizers, demonstrated and went on strike. The Triangle's owners struck back aggressively. Pickets were verbally and physically harassed by hired thugs and the police, and dozens of strikers were arrested. To add insult to the injury of incarceration and fines, the arrested women were taken to Jefferson Market Courthouse and tried in Night Court, a tactic meant to intimidate strikers through association with the prostitutes whose cases usually filled the court's dockets by that time. "No nice girls go there," one arrested shirtwaist maker asserted. These intimidation tactics did not succeed. The striking women's spirits were not broken and great strides were achieved in their working conditions. Unfortunately, though, not enough changed for the better. The factory, famously and tragically, burned to the ground in 1911. 125 garment workers, most very young girls, died in the fire or were killed jumping from the high windows to the pavement below.

By 1927 the courts were used solely for the trials of women, and in 1929 the market and co-ed prison were torn down and replaced by the Women's House of Detention, probably the only Art Deco prison in the world. Mae West was tried here soon after on obscenity charges when her Broadway play Sex became a target of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. West received a $500 fine, one day next door in the Women's House of Detention and nine days at the workhouse on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island). The House of Detention was razed in 1973 and replaced by a lovely community garden. ....

 

https://www.nypl.org/press/history-jefferson-market-library

I was just in it again, yesterday!

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I realised belatedly that I didn't write anything about The Dawn of Everything by Graeber and Wengrow despite finishing it a few months ago. Well, now it's largely too late because my memory is very oriented towards the short-term. However, I can report that since then I've been enriching my dentist by grinding my teeth with increasing frequency when people casually try to support their arguments or explain their behaviour on the grounds that "it's what hunter-gatherers did". 

Which hunter-gatherers? The Yoruk of California who admired ascetic lifestyles, subsided to a significant degree on heavily processed acorns, and disliked slavery, or the Northwest Coast tribes, who liked slavery almost as much as fish, parties, aristocrats and elaborate decoration? Or like the Inuit or Lakota with shifting seasonal hierarchies? 

A lot of specialists in particular seem to disapprove of The Dawn of Everything because it's too much slanted towards the optimist/anarchist view of the authors, and forcibly interprets too much of the evidence in that direction. At the same time, for the huge non-specialist audience, especially to those among them prone to talking about hunter-gatherers as if they were some sort of fixed point in time and space, it can only have a net positive effect. 

I liked it because simply in presenting the diversity of the different non-western civilisations, it offered a kind of hope – humans don't have to behave in predictable, predestined ways. We can be different. 

 

Edited by dog-days
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Just finished my second book this week (the first being On her Majesty's Secret Service) and it was excellent. David Remnick is an incredible writer and King of the World lives up to all the praise it receives. It's a biography about Muhammad Ali during the early years of him become world champion of heavyweight boxing, but it's also about the two previous champs, Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston*. Patterson is such a sad yet open character and Liston, while a brute, was also never really treated well throughout his entire life. And if I'm being honest, Ali comes across as a complete piece of shit. 

*It's wild to think he was seen as some unbeatable hulk back in the early 60's when by today's standards he'd be considered hilariously small. 

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On 10/16/2022 at 3:56 PM, Xray the Enforcer said:

Now enjoying It Came from the Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror a collection of essays by queer and trans writers on the many connections between queerness and horror films

Neither horror films or collections of essays are really my thing so I won't be reading it but that's a good title.

Sharpe's Assassin went pretty much as I expected. I like Bernard Cornwell books and it was entertaining enough but it didn't really add anything of significance to the series. I get the feeling Cornwell just wanted to write another Sharpe book and was scraping around to find any time period he could fit a story about a British Army officer in the Napoleonic wars into that he hadn't already covered.

At the moment I'm reading Far from the light of Heaven by Tade Thompson. I read the first book of his Wormwood trilogy and sort of liked it but haven't been motivated enough to get round to reading the rest. The issue I had was there was a lot of intriguing stuff hinted at in the background which the main characters weren't that interested in which I found a bit frustrating. So far I'm getting a similar feeling with this book, hopefully it gets better.

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