Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

books read, late March

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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