Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway - books read, late March [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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books read, late March [Apr. 1st, 2010|12:44 pm]
Marissa Lingen
It was apparently a bookish fortnight for me. Several good things, too.

Edward S. Aarons, Hell to Eternity. Grandpa's. From the opening and the physical appearance, I expected this to be a standard center-of-the-genre war story. It has, for example, the Italian-American guy from Brooklyn, carefully rationed out at one per unit in WWII; it has the nerves of the night before the dangerous landing, and like that. But it turned out to be something quite different: the main character had been adopted by a Japanese-American family when his own parents died, and he used his Japanese language skills to convince civilians and some combatants to surrender when they were far outnumbered, rather than waste further lives on both sides. A little research indicated that this is a fairly faithful novelization of a true story. The man's name was Guy Gabaldon, and it looks like the Japanese people of the island in question actually did end up liking him and glad he'd saved their lives and like that. So that was much cooler than I expected, though the writing was only workmanlike.

The other thing about this one is, with the publication date and the type of book it was, it seems likely that Grandpa got it and first read it when he was the age I am now. And so I can imagine him reading it on a Saturday afternoon with Mom curled up with one of the kids' books I inherited from her, before Grandma came in to fetch them both to take Mother to Gran and Great-Grandpa's to sit on newspapers and eat ice cream and watch Lawrence Welk while Grandma and Grandpa went out to play cards with the relatives. It was a very vivid overlay on my own circumstances when I read it. Pretty plausible. Not the only reason I'm reading all of Grandpa's books, but.

Bruce Catton, The Army of the Potomac: Mr. Lincoln's Army. Grandpa's. This is the first of a three volume history of the Army of the Potomac over the course of the US Civil War. As far as I can tell--I am by no means up on the current literature--it's fairly well done, and it's quite readable. I'm looking forward to the other two in the series. The 19th century continues to be crazy. There is at least one episode that is fabulist bait. The other thing that struck me was how much, from his vantage point in the mid-century, Mr. Catton took as given that WWII was not at all romanticized, that the fruits of the two World Wars were a population that knew exactly the cost of war. And it made me sad and a little angry that WWII is now very much being used to romanticize the glories of war in some circles.

Blake Charlton, Spellwright. This is a first novel, overwritten in some places and overwrought in others, but what it never does is hold back. I kept describing it to people as exuberant. This is a book that would hold its head up to the sky and bellow, "Khaaaaaaan!" if only there was someone called Khan in it. So you have to take it on those terms if you're going to take it at all. And on those terms, it was a fast, fun read, and I will look for the sequel and hope that med school/residency hasn't squeezed all of Charlton's energy out, because that would be a shame.

Stephen Deas, The Adamantine Palace. Dragons and politics. This is not a book I would recommend to people who don't want the dragons-and-politics school of high fantasy, as it does not in any way transcend that. But squarely in the middle of that sub-genre, it's a fast read and better than I expected, and sometimes I do want straight up scheming princes and angry dragons.

Peter Esterka, Never Say Comrade. Grandpa's. This is a memoir written by a friend of Grandpa's from his time in the service. Fr. Esterka was a chaplain Grandpa knew. He lived in Czechoslovakia under the early years of Communist rule, then escaped through Austria to Italy and then the US. I kept saying to people when I was reading this that one of the problems with totalitarianism is that it produces such bad dialog. "I will never permit you to go to high school, for you will never be a true Communist, and further education will only make you a danger to the proletariat": bad dialog. And yet it's clear that things like that were indeed said in some form. Bad dialog, totalitarians! Bad! Unfortunately, this copy of the book contained two misprints that resulted in the omission of several pages at crucial moments, so I missed all the steps in the progression. I had also been hoping for a bit of what it was like in Austria as a refugee, or perhaps how Fr. Esterka got from refugee to seminary. Ah well. Memoirs have to end somewhere, and the Czech border was a reasonable choice of where.

Louis L'Amour, Valley of the Sun. Grandpa's. A short story collection. Human life cheap, cattle expensive, girls pretty--and surprisingly sometimes good shots. L'Amour is probably never going to be a favorite of mine, but the two short story collections I've read from Grandpa's collections have been fast going, not an unpleasant slog.

Malinda Lo, Ash. If you've heard of a "lesbian Cinderella YA novel," this is it. But it's a lot more than that. You know how some books are only their elevator pitches, and some books go rocketing past them? This is one of the latter. Rocketing. Cinderella is not one of my favorite fairy tales, so I cannot wait to see what Lo does next.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall. Award-winning historical novel about Thomas Cromwell and his place in the court of Henry VIII. The problem with historical novels is that history cannot be made to care which characters I liked best and goes around killing them with plagues and things. Other than that, I liked this, and I can't really blame Hilary Mantel for what's history's fault.

Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates. Too much Rome, not enough poison. But still interesting stuff and worth reading, particularly if you are like me and feel that your historical view of the Black Sea region has lots of holes in it. "Alexander the...oh look, Rome-and-then-Byzanti--hey, Turkey and the Soviet Union!" is in some ways what my brain does with the Black Sea region, and this wants fixing.

Patricia McKillip, Fool's Run. Some of the most dangerous words in the English language are "it's not like her other ones." I am not generally a McKillip fan, but I was promised that this was not like her other ones. And it genuinely isn't! So that was a relief. The over-the-top imagery had actually gone over the top and was on the surface there with a specially augmented machine and some crazy psychologists and musicians with secret identities and like that. Fun stuff.

John McPhee, The Crofter and the Laird. A short nonfiction work about a small Scottish island. I like McPhee's prose, so I'll read about small Scottish islands if that's what he wants to write about.

Garth Nix, Lord Sunday. The last in the series. I don't want to spoil it for the several of you who are reading my copy after Young Ms. B. is done. Let's say first that I felt it followed on Superior Saturday fairly closely, and second that I was ambivalent at best, and third that I wanted to watch Philip Pullman read this so he could decide whether his head needed to explode or not. Because I'm really not sure.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, The Ant King and Other Stories. Read on the same day as Louis L'Amour short stories for optimal contrast, uff da. Only one story really didn't hold me, which is a good track record for a whole collection, and at least two will be stories I go back and reread. I do wish more reviewers had caught the Babar story. It was just sad to see people going on about surrealist elephants and keep thinking, "But--but no! It's not Ionesco! It's not random dream-sequence stuff! It's Babar as if Babar was a modern fantasy short! Look at the ending, for heaven's sake! The sailor suit!" I also mention this in case there are those among you who would say, "I didn't know it had a Babar story!" and rush off to find it. Because I expect there are people like that.

Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder, Except the Queen. Urban fantasy (not paranormal romance, the old kind of urban fantasy) that is actually urban, with things like noisy neighbors and garbage collection strikes. I'm not sure what made this so much more charming than most of its subgenre. Possibly having two old ladies at the center of the story pulls everything out of the usual ruts and makes sure it's its own thing rather than a warmed over copy of something else. Possibly it's just that Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder are always good storytellers. I don't know. But I recommend it highly.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2010-04-01 05:55 pm (UTC)
I have a copy of Spellwright sitting on my living room floor, waiting for me to decide if I'm going to read it or not. I think yes. I've had a few pretty heavy and/or disappointing reads, so something fun and fast may be just the thing.

Also glad to see that I'm not the only one who feels that it's necessary to qualify what kind of urban fantasy one means when calling something urban fantasy. When I'm feeling particularly quarrelsome, I'll call the new kind paranormal fantasy (I am often feeling quarrelsome on that front).
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-01 05:57 pm (UTC)
The problem is, we still need a term for War for the Oaks and Blood and Iron and most of Charles de Lint and like that. The appearance and wild popularity of the paranormal romance end of the sub-genre did not destroy the other kind--nor did it rename it. So we're kind of stuck.
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2010-04-01 06:10 pm (UTC)
Well, I call that end "urban fantasy", because they had it first (even if some of it isn't necessary urban), dammit.

The first year RT had an award for this sort of thing, there was a lot of discussion around what to call it because the paranormal romance end hadn't really hit their radar yet, so their interpretation of the word urban tended more towards how it's used in music/fashion (i.e., African-American). So we compromised and called it "contemporary fantasy". The year after that was when the sub-genre really exploded in a big way.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-01 08:21 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how I feel about how it's used in music/fashion, but in any case I think in this genre it would take a major shift of the type that's happened with urban fantasy shifting to mean paranormal romance to make it mean African-American fabulism.

On the other hand, if things like Brown Girl in the Ring and Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad were the core of a really hot new sub-genre, that would make me pretty happy.
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From: fitzcamel
2010-04-01 09:26 pm (UTC)
Someone online (whom I no longer remember) suggested "metropolitan fantasy," which may be a little high-flown, but not bad otherwise.
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From: diatryma
2010-04-02 04:23 am (UTC)
The loose batch of adjectives and circles-drawn-around I use for those books has very little to do with 'urban' and more to do with 'liminal'.

Then again, my local crit group includes two novelists writing 'rural fantasy'.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-02 12:56 pm (UTC)
The Carter Hall stories are small town fantasy. So.
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[User Picture]From: careswen
2010-04-02 02:56 pm (UTC)
Given mmerriam's upbringing, "Fetch" and some of his other stories were perhaps in partial response to my insistence that he write Rural Fantasy, in contrast to all the Urban Fantasy out there.

The name shift annoys me a bit. I actually like the new name, Contemporary Fantasy, better for what we used to call Urban Fantasy, but it bothers me that Urban Fantasy doesn't mean what it used to.
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[User Picture]From: freelikebeer
2010-04-01 06:06 pm (UTC)

Wowzers

You read a lot.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-01 08:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Wowzers

Yes. Well, this time a lot of the books were short. But still, yes.
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[User Picture]From: papersky
2010-04-02 12:02 pm (UTC)

Re: Wowzers

Great, isn't it?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-02 12:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Wowzers

Yes. If I rolled this mrissa character up from scratch, I would spend the points on reading this much and this fast all over again.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-04-01 06:12 pm (UTC)
I loved Ash as well. Totally agree.
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[User Picture]From: auriaephiala
2010-04-01 06:23 pm (UTC)
You can download an interesting interview with Hilary Mantel about Wolf Hall at http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/sundayedition_20100329_29939.mp3
(warning: there's a long panel on Canada's justice system and drug policy that needs to be fast-forwarded through before you get to Mantel.)

Edited at 2010-04-01 06:23 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: jenett
2010-04-01 06:37 pm (UTC)
With you on _Ash_ as well. I try very hard not to do the "Lesbian Cinderella" story except with people who would actually find that a useful point. Mostly when waving it at students I've been doing "It's a retelling of Cinderella. No, really, it does new fascinating things, and Cinderella doesn't end up with the prince, and that's even more cool. Just give it a try."

And they look at me, and shrug and check it out, and come back and go "EEEEEE"
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[User Picture]From: blakecharlton
2010-04-01 06:42 pm (UTC)
heh. i'll quickly add a Khan character to book two ;) thanks so much for the shout out about book one!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-01 08:29 pm (UTC)
I will look for the Khan character! Of course you'll probably rename him Frank or Mel or Istvan in revisions, but you and I will know the Real Truth.
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[User Picture]From: blakecharlton
2010-04-01 10:20 pm (UTC)
ISTAVAAAAAAAAAAN!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-01 10:24 pm (UTC)
See, I like that better. We should call the Star Trek reboot people and let them know.
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[User Picture]From: blakecharlton
2010-04-08 07:17 pm (UTC)
splendid! but tell them to make sure that Istavan has an all-white power mullet like Khan did ;)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-08 10:20 pm (UTC)
I don't understand how any movies get made without the albino power mullet.
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[User Picture]From: blakecharlton
2010-04-08 10:47 pm (UTC)
agreed: henceforth all movies should have either a) the revered APM, or b) David Bowie. Exceptions might be made for the very shinny of head (but probably not).
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-10 11:27 pm (UTC)
David Bowie is almost like if the albino power mullet took over the entire head. It's like he's the hyperspace version of the albino power mullet. Or like it had very vigorous sex with a dandelion. Or something.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2010-04-01 07:07 pm (UTC)
There's a line in Fool's Run I love so much I remember it still.

"Somebody had given him a living rose."

I didn't feel like the ending held up, but that's novels for you.
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[User Picture]From: seabream
2010-04-01 08:50 pm (UTC)
The bit about The Ant Kind and Other Stories made me smile so hard. And I've been having a reasonably good day, so it's not as though I had a strong feeling that it was something I needed.

Malinda Lo... where have I heard that name before. Wait. The one who writes at After Ellen? So cool!
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2010-04-01 09:32 pm (UTC)
Wait. A modern Babar story? That will make up for the way the Colonialism Fairy visited the Babar books when I wasn't looking. Hurray!
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2010-04-02 12:11 am (UTC)
Now that you mention it, yes, my historical view of the Black Sea region has a lot of holes.
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[User Picture]From: brithistorian
2010-04-02 04:47 am (UTC)
As far as I know, Catton remains one of the more well-respected mid-20th-century historians on the topic of the Civil War. I've read excerpts from both Catton's books and from Shelby Foote's books, and found that I preferred Catton's writing style, but that's strictly a matter of taste.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-04-02 04:56 am (UTC)
Ohhhhhhh John McPhee.

I will read that and then I'll send it to my Pippin, a Scot-o-phile.

Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: rmnilsson
2010-04-02 02:07 pm (UTC)
The bits about reading your grandfather's books make me wistful and a little bit envious. Neither of my grandfathers left behind books, aside from the Bible. Which is fine. I mean, I don't think either of them read a lot. But books are a link to a person's inner life in a way that most artifacts are not. Even if I end up with some of my maternal grandfather's handsaw or some of my paternal grandfather's tackle, they don't give a lot of insight into what they thought about when they weren't being grandpa.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-02 03:08 pm (UTC)
Yah, I really appreciate what I have here.

The hardest bits are where Grandpa called me up and said, "Rissy, listen to this," and then read me something he thought was cool. I am very glad I have those memories so clearly once I come upon those passages, because I don't have a mental file of all the times he did that. (It would be a big file.) But even after a year it's a little hard to come upon one of those. A good kind of hard, though.
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[User Picture]From: benrosenbaum
2010-04-04 03:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you for getting the Babar thing! Of course, and you may have meant to imply this, it's actually a crossover with another children's book's universe... :-)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-06 04:50 pm (UTC)
Well, I didn't, because the Babar part was the part I found more exciting, but I see how you were interested in both.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2010-04-09 09:58 pm (UTC)
Apropos no book here - I have to thank you for your book reports because I had never read Reginald Hill, and I am becoming deeply deeply fond of Pascoe and Ellie.

So, Thank you. Very much.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-10 12:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad! Which one(s) have you read so far? It took me awhile to get properly fond of Pascoe, but I liked Ellie from the start. Which in my case was from the late middle. But still.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2010-04-10 01:30 pm (UTC)
I started close to the beginning; Ruling Passion, and now Deadheads. I am doling them out slowly, because it is nice to have something unread that one is guaranteed to like waiting in the wings for the slow moments. Or the forgetful ones.

Ruling Passion felt like deja vu, but it was cleanly written and I got a feel for the dynamics between Pascoe and Dalziel. Ellie just sprang to life in Deadheads and she has pleased me so much. I love her casual approach to the baby and parenting, and I would so adore to have coffee with her. I think I could make her laugh!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-04-10 11:26 pm (UTC)
I have a jealous: Deadheads is one of the ones I haven't been able to find locally.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2010-04-11 11:58 pm (UTC)
I just finished it and it is fabulously ambiguous - good luck locating it!
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[User Picture]From: akirlu
2010-04-14 10:42 pm (UTC)
I finished Lord Sunday on the drive down to my Dad's memorial and was, on the whole, quite pleased with it -- it succeeds in giving answers to dangling questions and is an honest outgrowth of the rest of the series. Having read your comments before I finished the book, I had a chance to watch for things Philip Pullman would have problems with, and I don't think it likely that Pullman's head would explode. For one thing, it's not an especially Christian mythos that Nix is working with. More importantly, The Keys to the Kingdom is not a didactic series and despite the ultimate twists, Lord Sunday does not give the series a didactic ending.

And that, I begin to realize, may be the crux of where I disagree with you about the Dark Materials books versus Narnia. I think what Pullman objected to about the Narnia books is the underhand didacticism. It is certainly what I objected to about them. And, well, the Dark Materials cycle simply isn't didactic. You may find it heavy-handed (I would disagree) but the heavy hand isn't the problem with Narnia in the first place. The problem with Narnia is this rather dishonest attempt to teach kiddies how The World Really Is by other means. Pullman is certainly not making any claims about how things actually are, but rather extrapolating one possibility of how they might be. It's a completely different project.
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