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Books read, early October. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early October. [Oct. 17th, 2012|12:19 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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I quit reading two-thirds of the books I started this fortnight. Some times are just like that, I guess. A lot of what I quit reading was from the library, so no loss there except in time, and highly variable amounts of that.

Tasha Alexander, And Only to Deceive. Victorian mystery with antiquities dealing. I wanted to like this more than I actually did. I appreciated Tasha Alexander's stated intent to write an independent woman who was independent in the conventions and standards of her era, not ours, but she seemed to be vastly underestimating what was available in that regard, and also hyperfocusing on trivialities. The mystery plot and the romance plot were both quite obvious to me from the start, and while that by itself isn't enough to kill a book, the execution of the rest of the characters and details wasn't enough to make me feel like reading more of the series--particularly since the romance plot wasn't completely resolved, and I have no interest in the really obvious will-they-won't-they dance when I know full well that they will. I would really like it if one of those would resolve into "won't, actually, but good solid friends and colleagues; onwards with other partners for one or both of them." That would win my heart for another several books at least.

Alan Bradley, A Red Herring Without Mustard and I am Half-Sick of Shadows. These are the third and fourth of the Flavia de Luce books, and if you liked the first two, you may well like them. They are doing arc plot things as well as--sometimes more than--individual murder mystery things. They are doing things with Flavia's relationships with her family and moving that along as well as giving her access to dead people and chemicals. I gulped them down and was glad of them. The bits that are stage set England instead of real England are still like that, but you know how they're like that if you've gotten through the first two, and it won't get any worse here.

Molly Caldwell Crosby, Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries. Encephalitis lethargica is horrible stuff. This book is not at all horrible stuff. This book is brisk and fascinating, provided that you find horrible diseases fascinating. Which I do.

Cory Doctorow, Pirate Cinema. Discussed elsewhere.

Gretel Ehrlich, John Muir: Nature's Visionary. This was a much more pictorial biography than I was expecting--hazards of picking something out of the library's card catalog by author's name rather than going and seeing it on the shelf--but with John Muir one doesn't end up minding related pictures so much. I would still like a more thorough biography (possibly even a less hagiographic one?), but this had some quite lovely moments.

Victoria Finlay, Jewels: A Secret History. A little while ago, a friend asked if he should be looking for WWII stuff in my fiction. Actually the WWII stuff in my reading was entirely anomalous, and the apparent randomness of the nonfiction is the pattern you should be looking for. I'm still shoveling in vast quantities of non-war-related nonfiction in hopes that bits of it will fall into place for the large project looming on the horizon. And bits of it do. And bits of this did. Finlay did chapters on several gemstones, organized in order of increasing hardness. She talked about amber and preservation, about human rights and mining, about peridot and fashion, about culturing pearls and wealth/communism...she talked about a great many things. And it was not greatly deep, but it was generally interesting and gave me jumping-off points, and as such was very worthwhile for the shoveling-in of nonfiction for a book that is not set during a war and will need things but I'm not sure what. (I'm interested in things. Please do not call me Dr. Worm, however.)

Gail Godwin, A Mother and Two Daughters. This was such a particular moment captured. Such a very particular late '70s moment. My goodness. The focus was on a family after the death of the father, and how the three titular women's lives unfolded, and various other quite plotty things happened, considering that it was that kind of book. And I was really in the mood for that kind of book, and it was one, and it did quite well with it. Except. Sometimes. Sometimes it seemed to underestimate how very Southern these people were. I mean, there were other characters who were recognized to be OMG So Southern. But then Godwin was contrasting them with her heroines, who...oh seriously. So Southern. The way the beats fell, the places the concerns were. And in places it just drove me bazoo. And in places I kind of bristled at it. The epilogue, in particular, annoyed me, although I don't want to spoiler the bits that did (I will gladly e-mail with anyone who has read the book and wants to be papersky--er, wants to talk about the ending, even if you aren't papersky). Having the "and this is how it all turned out several years later" bit felt patronizing--it was all unfolding, trust the reader to let it unfold! You don't have to spell everything in all caps! But apparently she did. Ah well. Still worth my time.

Marie Lu, Legend. Dystopian SF YA with a military school trainee and a criminal as the two main teen characters. Start of a trilogy. I would say this is a cut above a lot of dystopian teen stuff out there. Among other things, Lu is willing to actually follow through on the things her characters are supposed to be sad and upset about. She doesn't pull her punches. When they screw up, they screw up big, and there are big consequences for the other kid that affect how they relate to each other. (YAY RELATIONSHIPS GO THIS WOOHOO.) The jacket copy is describing this as a retelling of Les Mis, and if it is, it's a very very loose one--which frankly I like better than a slavish adherence. If you can always say, "And this is the bit where Cosette is with the Thenardiers, and this is the bit where Fantine has gone after Marius," that limits the book a lot, so I was very glad Legend was inspired by rather than limited by Les Mis. I also felt that Lu was doing a lot better with glossing over the parts that didn't make much sense than some recent things I've read or read parts of and put down in disgust--are the details of the underground farms and the testing perfectly sensible? Maaaaaybe not...but they're not at all where Lu has put her main focus. Her teen characters are past their days of testing by several years, so we don't have to spend a lot of time going, "Wait--but--what? That doesn't--why would--what?" We can spend our time on their actions and reactions--where the story belongs. Go Lu. I will definitely pick up the sequel when it comes out next year.

Bharati Mukherjee, The Tree Bride. Story of immigration and intertwined generations. This is one of the cases where the author's choice of focus didn't work as well for me: I had really gotten a lot more interested in the modern characters or even in the titular character, and when she shifted to spend a lot of focus on the English cabin boy on the ship heading to what were then British colonies, it was smoothly written but just not as much something I cared about as the modern family finding out their personal connections with their obstetrician after a shocking attack, or about a supposedly limited woman finding her strength in her fight for her own and her people's freedom. English cabin boy? Whatevs. I know he ended up mattering in the overall story Mukherjee wanted to tell, but the two Taras and Dr. Khanna were a lot more interesting to me than John Mist. Framing stories can be a risky choice even when they end up tying back together with the middle story, and this one kept making me yearn for the frame.

David Pietrusza, 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies. This is, I tell you what, so much more relaxing than the campaign one is actually living through. Not because it's actually more relaxing. Just because one is not currently living through it. Because it now lives in the land of Not My Problem Any More, Sort Of Mostly. Except for the uneasy bits where it kind of is, and the still more uneasy bits where one goes around the house wanting to punch people who have been dead for decades because they were horrid to Sammy Davis, Jr. (Seriously, one of the great disadvantages to the kind of afterlife I believe in is that there will be no opportunity to do any punching of this type.) This is the third of David Pietrusza's election year books I've read--the other two were 1920 and 1948--and I recommend them highly. They are light and breezy. He manages to find sympathetic faces in largely unsympathetic crowds without whitewashing the major players--and he manages to find major players unsympathetic without mistaking them for interchangeable. He could keep writing these for every American election as far as I'm concerned, and I'd keep reading them. 1864! 1900! There are dozens of elections yet to go before he gets to the ones that are uneasily close to Right Now.

Robert Sapolsky, A Primate's Memoirs: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons. I liked the bits with Sapolsky's experience actually among the baboons best. The bits where he's interacting with Africans are interesting, too, but they made me more interested in going off and reading African perspectives than in Sapolsky's. Whereas Sapolsky's perspectives on baboons are likely to be about the best I'm going to get on baboons locally, so: more of that.

Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora's Fury. This is very much one in a series, and I liked where it went and where it seems to be going, but if you haven't read the others, don't start here. I like how it's drawing on different background than fantasy default, even though American Southwest-ish stuff is not really my thing usually at all. Wilce makes it work. (But she makes it work in the "I'm so glad to have this other person's book to read" way, not in the "oh, maybe I could do that too" way. So that's good too. Do not need more to-do list items. Can just have more books to read.) I...I have hopes of the ending. Is the non-spoilery thing I wanted to say there. I have hopes of the very very ending. Also when the, er, person of previously around related interest turns into a...thing instead. I like that bit. That very spoilery bit. Yes. That spoilery bit is a bit I like. ("Roo, what's on Uncle David's head?" Okay, so that's only a spoiler for, like, a dozen people. I think that should be okay.)

Jane Yolen, Foiled. A graphic novel fantasy about a fencer girl. By Jane Yolen. If that's enough for you, that's what it is. If that's not enough for you, it's not doing anything particularly ground-breaking. But it's still...Jane Yolen. Doing a graphic novel. Whose main character is a grumpy adolescent fencer girl. There were a few notes that hit me weirdly (it is my experience, for example, that "jock" is no longer a social term that requires tweaking to apply to a female person--you can be a girl and a jock, you don't have to be a "jockette" or something), but mostly it was a solid thing of its type. And y'know. Jane Yolen graphic novel fantasy fencer girl. There ya go. Like it says on the tin, really.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-10-17 06:01 pm (UTC)
I like a horrible disease every once in a while.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-10-17 06:05 pm (UTC)
Some of us are just Like That.
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[User Picture]From: finnyb
2012-10-18 01:25 am (UTC)
Ooh, I must find that disease book--that particular disease is one of my particular interests.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2012-10-18 02:00 am (UTC)
I liked Sapolsky's memoir, but the bits with other humans gave me the strong impression that he's a bit of an asshole. Which, you know, happens, but it made some of the laughter more uncomfortable.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2012-10-18 10:52 am (UTC)
I just looked up the Flavia books' website, and was surprised that there are only two other books planned (planned release in early 2013 and early 2014) - it just somehow doesn't feel like the series is that close to any sort of plot-arc-ending.

What really struck me in Flora's Fury is how much Flora has grown up - I miss the younger Flora, but all the changes do make sense. She's gotten a lot harder; I'm sort of hoping that future books bring back some softness but given what all the adults in her world have had to do to survive, I kind of doubt it. On the other hand, this book showed some hidden depths in Buck, so maybe.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-10-18 12:17 pm (UTC)
I wonder if he's feeling like it's going to be an event-ending rather than an emotional ending. Huh.

As for Flora, I am thrilled with how much she's grown up. It took me two tries to get into the first one because I had to overcome the twee barrier, so I am very glad to leave that behind.
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[User Picture]From: princejvstin
2012-10-18 04:47 pm (UTC)
Ysabeau S. Wilce, Flora's Fury. This is very much one in a series, and I liked where it went and where it seems to be going, but if you haven't read the others, don't start here

I just (first) heard about this series from Ellen Kushner on the SF Squeecast the other day.
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[User Picture]From: oursin
2012-10-18 09:14 pm (UTC)
I have read A Mother and Two Daughters (more than once, but not very recently). I'm not sure I am equipped to pick up the Southern thing: is it one of those things like class-markers in the UK novel that passes over one if one is not part of the culture?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-10-18 09:48 pm (UTC)
Quite possibly. I'm not sure.
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