Karspeak (Karen) Reads On

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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Karspeak (Karen) Reads On

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 24, 2020, 11:00am

I'm happy to be back with Club Read for another year. I have gotten so many excellent book suggestions from you all! My most enjoyable read from last year was the Murderbot Diaries sci-fi novella series. Fun and well done. My best non-fiction read was The Coddling of the American Mind, followed by Factfulness. Some of the books I plan to read this year include The River by Peter Heller, Upheaval by Jared Diamond, and a few more books that won both a Hugo and a Nebula. I also plan to read/clear the oldest 8 books from my TBR list (from 2016 or earlier). Happy reading!

1. A Memory Called Empire
2. Foundryside
3. Miss Jane
4. The Overstory
5. The Raven Tower

6. Meritocracy Trap
7. The Fate of Food

8. Smoke Bitten
9. Clean Sweep
10. Sweep in Peace
11. One Fell Sweep
12. Sweep of the Blade
13. Sweep with Me
14. The Last Emperox
15. Lady of Quality
16. The Grand Sophy

17. Network Effect
18. Cloud Roads
19. Rosemary and Rue
20. The Word is Murder

21. Every Heart a Doorway

22. Beneath the Sugar Sky
23. In an Absent Dream
24. Come Tumbling Down
25. The Empress of Salt and Fortune
26. The Illustrated Man
27. The Invisible History of the Human Race

28. The House in the Cerulean Sea
29. Nothing to See Here

30. Rules of Civility
31. Severance

32. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
33. The Last Human
34. The Rules of Redemption (The Firebird Chronicles 1)
35. Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles 2)
36. Who We Are and How We Got Here

37. Convenience Store Woman
38. Gideon the Ninth
39. The Mother Code
40. The Social Conquest of Earth

tammikuu 5, 2020, 7:03pm

I have been procrastinating about finishing a rather serious novel for my book club, so here is what I read in the meantime:

1. A Memory Called Empire
This is a recently released first book in a trilogy. The world building was very good, and the plot was entertaining. It is described as space opera, although it almost exclusively focuses on planet-based empire politics and intrigue.

2. Foundryside
This is the first in a fantasy trilogy. Again, very good world building. The first quarter or third of the plot was exciting because it read as real-time action, but then things slowed down.

Both of these were fun, but I won't continue with either series. The world building won't be novel in the second books, and I don't think plot alone would carry the next books for me.

tammikuu 11, 2020, 8:08pm

A little bit late, maybe, but happy new year. Following...

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 2020, 11:36pm

>3 dchaikin: Likewise! I follow about 30 different threads on CR, including yours, but I rarely comment. I’m a definite lurker!

tammikuu 11, 2020, 11:50pm

Thanks. Nice to know. (Of course, you’re welcome to comment on my thread anytime). I try to follow everyone in CR, but then I don’t follow anyone elsewhere on LT.

tammikuu 12, 2020, 12:04pm

I’m a lurker too, for the most part. But I also read everyone’s threads. I hope your year is filled with books that make you happy.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 3, 2020, 10:26pm

>6 NanaCC: Thank you!!

3. Miss Jane
This novel was on the longlist for the 2016 National Book Award and the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize. I believe it was a long-ago LT rec for me. The author imagines what life might have been like for his (real-life) great aunt who was born in rural Mississippi with a genital malformation such that she couldn't control her bowels or have sex. I found this novel enjoyable and read it in one sitting. The author presents a hard, unromantic view of farm life, but he paints a picture of his aunt having a graciousness about her in spite of her background and circumstances. He didn't know her well, apparently, but he imagines her thus.

4. The Overstory (book club selection)
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2019. It interweaves the stories of many different characters, just like the branches of trees interlace and overlap in the forest canopy. The main themes of the book are the destruction that humans are wreaking on the planet, and the change of mindset needed for people to be able to see things from nature's perspective. My (small) book club discussed this book several nights ago, and we had a great discussion. There is much to pick apart with this book, and several parts of the book are left open to interpretation.

But I found it fascinating that all three of the other women who came to book club felt that they had become more concerned about climate change as a result of reading this book, and each had taken a few small steps to try to be "greener." All three of these women already thought that global climate change was real and concerning, but this book really resonated with them and brought the issue home. For me personally, although I appreciated the skill of the author, I found this book sad and therefore difficult to read. I have already read many books on trees, ecosystems, global climate change, etc, and I already feel very strongly on the issue. So reading this novel felt like pouring salt on a wound. But I am thrilled that this book can apparently touch/convince many people of the urgency of climate change the way that science/nonfiction had already done for me. As an aside, if you have ever read The Hidden Life of Trees, you'll definitely notice its influence when you read this novel.

tammikuu 18, 2020, 9:31pm

>5 dchaikin: The only 2 threads I follow outside of Club Read are the monthly nonfiction challenge thread in the 75ers, and margd's thread in the Pro and Con group entitled Climate Change Issues, Prevention, Adaptation.

tammikuu 21, 2020, 4:36pm

Enjoyed your review of Overstory. Possibly my reaction would be like yours - salt in the wound. But the daily news does that too. I might check out Margd’s pro and con thread.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 22, 2020, 7:10pm

>9 dchaikin: "But the daily news does that too"--indeed!! Here is the link to Margd's thread, to make it easier: https://www.librarything.com/topic/310627

tammikuu 22, 2020, 8:14pm

5. The Raven Tower
This is the first fantasy book by this author, Ann Leckie, who is well known for her science fiction writing, particularly Ancillary Justice. This book has excellent world building, with a very uniquely imagined system of gods, including a god narrator who is a million or more years old. The primary plot thread is a retelling of Hamlet. There is not much action, but I was still drawn in. I didn't catch the drama/tragedy aspect until the end, so perhaps she should have used some foreshadowing. It wasn't riveting, but the author's imagined system of gods was very unique, and I quite liked the god narrator.

maaliskuu 15, 2020, 9:09pm

6. Meritocracy Trap
Statistically, in the US, this generation of children will probably earn less money as adults than their parents earned (adjusting for inflation, etc). This is a significant change that has come about in the past decade. The author argues that top universities are becoming more and more accessible only to the rich, not because of the high cost of tuition, but because expensive private prep schools and private tutors give those students an edge in the admissions process. So while entrance into top colleges is technically based on merit, the rich are able to use their money to confer extra merit on their children, through specialized and intensive instruction. Furthermore, he argues, middle class jobs have been made more menial overall and less lucrative due to the digital revolution. Gone are the mid-level HR managers, replaced by computer systems and top tier management, who come with an elite education. He also suggests that this growing divide between the educational elite and the non-educational elite explains the popularity of Trump. “Make America Great Again” is reflective of how the American middle class is slipping lower on the income and job satisfaction ladders.

I’m not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, and his views are definitely skewed by being a professor at Yale and dealing with students who enter top law firms or investment banking firms upon graduation. The field of medicine did not seem to fit hardly any of his arguments, for example. However, he definitely had some interesting views. His writing could be repetitive and seem long-winded at times, but he did continue to present new ideas throughout the book. I’m glad I read this one.

7. Fate of Food
Aquaculture, vertical farming, GMO crops, lab-produced meat, etc--this book covered a lot of topics. Given global climate change, how are different aspects of agriculture already being impacted by climate change, and how are they adapting or preparing for a hotter climate? The author did a great job of keeping her writing interesting while also interviewing people and observing farms or labs around the world. It was informative and entertaining. I don’t think I had any huge aha moments reading this book, but I did learn quite a bit about possible food/agriculture trends.

maaliskuu 22, 2020, 12:49pm

>11 karspeak: Huh, I read and enjoyed The raven tower and hadn't made the Hamlet plot connection until you mentioned it. Thanks! I too liked the god narrator quite a bit.

huhtikuu 4, 2020, 10:43pm

8. Smoke Bitten
I have found it nearly impossible to focus on reading during the coronavirus drama, but this latest book in the Mercy Thompson series did manage to hold my attention. This is the 12th book in a werewolf/vampires/fae/etc series that is well written with particularly likable characters. This was definitely not in the top five books of the series, but it was entertaining, nonetheless.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 19, 2020, 10:58pm

I stumbled across the Innkeeper Chronicles series, and I like it almost as much as the Mercy Thompson series. I blew through the five books (below) that have been published thus far. Like the Mercy Thompson series, it is urban fantasy with various supernatural beings and a clever, independent female protagonist. Both series also have a high number of likable, positive characters, so the overall tone is upbeat.

9. Clean Sweep
10. Sweep in Peace
11. One Fell Sweep
12. Sweep of the Blade
13. Sweep with Me

I also finished the final book in John Scalzi's The Interdependency trilogy. It is an intergalactic space opera, with lots of political maneuvering. It was a fairly satisfying conclusion to the series. In the afterword, the author hilariously says "if you are living in the United States, please...try not to vote for anyone who is a whirling amoral vortex of chaos (in November 2020). I would really really really appreciate it, and you would also probably get more books from me."

14. The Last Emperox

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 22, 2020, 11:33pm

15. Lady of Quality
16. The Grand Sophy

This was my first time reading a Georgette Heyer Regency novel/s. They are roughly along the lines of Jane Austen's novels, and I was fascinated reading articles comparing and contrasting the two authors. Anyway, I found these books quite diverting and plan to read more of her novels.

toukokuu 2, 2020, 9:14pm

I read 3 or 4 more Georgette Heyer novels. Some were better than others, and some were quite diverting. I think I've had my Heyer fix for now.

toukokuu 2, 2020, 9:17pm

I like the Heyer novels (I've only read 3 or 4). I like them as a good diversion, but they do seem to vary in quality.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 7, 2020, 3:38pm

>16 karspeak: I have been reading Heyer for over 50 years. She's so delightful! I find Jane Austen a better writer and observer of the social contract than Heyer, but I sometimes find her painful to read. What she says about mothers and sisters, the silly ones, that is, just makes me cringe. And the way she criticizes her mother with her father in Pride and Prejudice is so outside decorum, although it is easy to see how this happened, that it hurts. I know I would do the same, but I would be ashamed of it.

Her portrayal of many men is equally painful at times. Once again, it is easy to understand, and so very like truth, but it is ugly. Dickens and Trollope seem to be able to portray ridiculous people in ways that you can tell they also have great affection for them. Austen has no such love of people in general. She likes only the virtuous and the congenial.

toukokuu 25, 2020, 6:50pm

>19 sallypursell: Great observations, Sally, thank you.

17. Network Effect
This was the fifth installment in the Murderbot Diaries series. The first four were delightful novellas about an android that has managed to become sentient and have (very illegal) free will. Its sense of humor is fun, as well as its intelligence, competence, and unvarnished view of humanity. The Murderbot Diaries were my most fun reads last year.

Network Effect is the first full-length novel in the series, and, unfortunately, it fell flat for me. The plot dragged a bit and was often predictable. And the main character spent a lot of its time dealing poorly with its emotions and having freak-outs. This was quite a change from its super-efficient and logical performance in the first four novellas. The dealing-with-your-latent-emotions theme didn’t work well with this character, or it was handled poorly. Overall, disappointing.

18. The Cloud Roads
This is the first in a fantasy series by the same author as the Murderbot Diaries, so I thought I’d try it. The main characters are shape shifting dinosaur-dragon thingies. They inhabit a world full of various other types of beings/creatures. The world building is unique, the plotting is solid, and the characterization is well done. But I didn’t love it. Well-done, but it didn’t resonate with me for some reason. I wish the main characters weren’t dragon-y; I think that was a detractor for me since they have figured prominently in so many fantasy books. The other world building components felt fresh. Perhaps the character interactions and relationships felt a little juvenile, as well?

19. Rosemary and Rue
In my quest for more quarantine books, I tried out this urban fantasy novel. It was fairly enjoyable, but as I read/skimmed more books in the series, it became quite annoying that the main (female) character was presented as more important/special than everyone else. Multiple male characters swooned steadfastly for her, multiple friends and admirers were ready to bleed and die for her at the drop of a hat, and she is gradually revealed to be much more important in the book’s fairy god-blood hierarchy than we had originally thought. The series turned eye roll-y for me, but I was entertained by the first book.

20. The Word is Murder (LT rec)
This was a fun, modern murder mystery! The format is different from any other mystery I’ve ever read. The author weaves himself in as a character, and it becomes hard to sort out fact from fiction. Apparently this falls into the “metafiction” category, which I had to look up on wikipedia. Quite fun. Not sure the sequel would be as much fun, though, since the format wouldn’t be novel anymore.

toukokuu 25, 2020, 10:37pm

>20 karspeak: How interesting! Disappointing about Network Effect, of course. But I recently read The Cloud Roads too.
I had the same reaction, as far as the form of the characters, and the rest. I decided to try and read another of them to see what I thought of it.

And I have been reading the Rosemary and Rue series, too. I like them better than you do. They seem like "Young Adult" fiction to me, but although I found them uneven, they did improve over time. It was the "hidden princess" theme that you apparently disliked. We find, and she found, that as her memory returned and she had more experiences, she was really more important than SHE thought she was. I thought it rang that way, anyway, that her position is recast as she moves away from the time when her memory was wiped, since she was a fish, and enchanted. Think of the trauma, too, of learning that she lost all that time, and her husband and daughter, and has no excuse, that they blame her for abandoning them. I thought that it was believable, in the Young Adult fiction way.

kesäkuu 27, 2020, 8:34pm

>21 sallypursell: I'm probably not explaining it well. I partially liked the hidden princess theme, because it did explain some things. I just felt like she was treated extra special by people who didn't know her true heredity, without convincing reasons given by the author. I liked her personality and character, but I wouldn't jump off a cliff for her, necessarily. Maybe it's just one of those things that quirkily bugged me in particular. It had good world building, though!

I have not been reading much this past month. I just can't seem to find anything that fits my reading mood, or lack thereof. I did skim The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here, by Hope Jahren. If you have read any other books on climate change, this book doesn't add anything to the discussion, either its problems or solutions. But the author is very eloquent in discussing it, which might resonate more with some readers. It was not an uplifting read.

heinäkuu 29, 2020, 7:50pm

I skimmed a few other books, but nothing really took hold. We are in the midst of buying a house, and I'm switching to a new job, so things have been a bit fraught.

21. Every Heart a Doorway
This was very enjoyable and clever! This was an LT rec, from several different people, I think. Children sometimes go through a door into another fairy world. Alice in Wonderland, for example, was a girl who fell into an absurd world. Or perhaps a child will find herself shrunk down and transported into a tiny, magical fairy kingdom (reminiscent of Thumbelina). But when children must leave those worlds behind and return to their own world, it can be a very difficult adjustment. This book takes place at a school for some of these returned kids. I loved the variety of worlds described, and their effects on the kids who had visited. It was like getting to gather up and sample the world building from several different fantasy or sci-fi series, in one short book. Clever and well written.

elokuu 16, 2020, 7:15am

>22 karspeak: No, I think we're screwed, and I wonder about the world our great-grandchildren will deal with. It is excoriating to think of.

elokuu 16, 2020, 7:17am

>23 karspeak: Buying a house and also getting and starting a new job! I'm shocked you are not more bonkers. Those are reputed to be among the top few stressors one can undergo.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 22, 2020, 10:17am

>24 sallypursell: Agreed, and "excoriating" is a great word choice.
>25 sallypursell: I wish I could fast forward to October and be done with the move already!! Ugh!

22. Beneath the Sugar Sky
23. In an Absent Dream
24. Come Tumbling Down

I read books 3-5 in the Wayward Children series. The first book, Every Heart a Doorway, is reviewed a few posts prior to this one. Some of these books were better than others, but all in all they were enjoyable, diverting, and well-written reads.

25. The Empress of Salt and Fortune
I recently heard about this novella from our group. It is fantasy, but really it felt more like reading historical fiction set in a Chinese dynasty. The young empress, married off to the emperor for political reasons, is sent away after she bears an heir. Political plotting ensues, as related by the empress' faithful maid.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 22, 2020, 10:16am

26. The Illustrated Man
This collection of science fiction short stories, published in 1951, mostly centers around space flight. They are creative and well-written, and the imagined/projected technology held up remarkably well. The sociology, not so much. ALL of the astronauts were men, and all of the women were housewives. Well, I'm glad there has been some progress on that front.

27. The Invisible History of the Human Race
This nonfiction book explores the intersection of human genetics and genealogy. The author is remarkably good at explaining very complex and nuanced concepts. Recommended if you have some interest in both genetics and genealogy.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 21, 2020, 10:14pm

28. The House in the Cerulean Sea (book club selection)
This "modern fairytale" was cute and well-done but too light for me. It very much reminded me of a few children's picture books, without the pictures. The women in my small book club (we met at an outdoor patio) either liked it or loved it, and they declared it "excellent 2020 reading".

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 21, 2020, 10:13pm

29. Nothing to See Here (book club selection)
This was an enjoyable novel with a quirky premise that somehow works. A woman is called up by an old high school friend, who asks her to come and care for her stepkids while her husband, a US senator, is considered for an even higher position in the government. It turns out that her friend's stepkids have a condition that makes them spontaneously combust when upset. The fire doesn't harm the two children, just the people and objects that come in contact with them. It made for a good audiobook on a long road trip.

lokakuu 21, 2020, 10:12pm

30. Rules of Civility
I am so glad that I finally got around to reading this novel, because I loved it. The style and elegance of upscale 1920s Manhattan made for a fun setting, a nod to the era of perfectly poured cocktails (similar to the author's nod to 1920s Europe and the perfectly selected bottle of wine in A Gentleman in Moscow). I liked the protagonist, who is a level headed and intelligent young woman. And the plot pulled me in. But my favorite thing was the author's clever and well-articulated insights on wealth, poverty, social skills, New York and its inhabitants, etc, that were woven into the novel. This was not as light and heartwarming as Gentleman in Moscow, but it resonated with me more.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 22, 2020, 10:25am

31. Severance
This is a post apocalyptic novel which seems freakily prescient. A plague from China sweeps the globe, but the protagonist remains very caught up in her unfulfilling corporate job in New York City. Her coworkers wear masks and the offices are routinely sprayed with disinfectant, but people gradually stop coming in to work, and the city slowly grinds to a halt. But even though it all sounds horrific, it somehow comes across to the reader as distantly interesting. The protagonist observes and goes along with events, but memories of her Chinese immigrant mother finally help move her to be more proactive and engaged with her present reality. I don't think it will stick with me, but I also think I never unpacked some of the novel's aspects, which might have made a stronger impression.

lokakuu 24, 2020, 10:38am

>26 karspeak: The Wayward Children Series really is easy to breeze through. {Come Tumbling Down was the weakest of the bunch for me though. Never felt like a complete story.

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 12, 2020, 1:12pm

>32 stretch: Agree with you about Come Tumbling Down. I guess the author was trying to resolve that storyline, but it didn't merit a whole book.

32. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
This novel about a woman, Addie LaRue, who sells her soul, although not under the terms she had meant to sell it, dragged on for me. Addie has lived hundreds of years because of this curse, and I feel the author felt like she had to write and write and WRITE about Addie's life to impress that upon the reader. A more skilled author could have done this much more concisely or have made it more engrossing. It was an interesting premise, though, and should make for a good discussion for my book club.

marraskuu 27, 2020, 11:53am

33. The Last Human
34. The Rules of Redemption (The Firebird Chronicles 1)
35. Age of Deception (The Firebird Chronicles 2)
These three books are all space operas, but none was particularly memorable. I do remember that The Last Human suffered from serious plot issues toward the end.

marraskuu 27, 2020, 11:55am

36. Who We Are and How We Got Here
This book about recent advances and discoveries in the study of ancient human DNA is excellent. The author is a lead researcher in the field, and he also has the ability to clearly explain complex scientific concepts to the lay reader. We are already familiar with the rise, fall or spread of various human civilizations—the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Roman, Incan, etc. Using new methods to obtain and analyze ancient human DNA, our knowledge of the sweep of human history has been expanded back in time by many thousands of years. And the ancient spread of various human groups, some of whom have disappeared and others who have merged or branched into subsequent groups or been isolated geographically, has varied much more than we first thought. Our previous simple models of ancient humans gradually moving eastward and southward across Eurasia and then spreading out in the Americas after crossing the land bridge have been proven wrong or, at the very least, vastly oversimplified. This book is recommended for those with an interest in ancient history or human evolution.

joulukuu 23, 2020, 10:15pm

37. Convenience Store Woman
In this Japanese novel, a woman with a social-emotional processing disorder tries to figure out what society wants and expects of her, even though many social rules and constructs are absurd when examined logically.

38. Gideon the Ninth
This was a 2020 finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards. One of the reviews I read summed up this book succinctly and cheekily: "Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!" This was well written and inventive, but I thought the intricate plot fell apart at the very end. And the necromancy was a bit much for me.

39. The Mother Code (book club selection)
Hmm. The characterization in this near-future post apocalyptic story is very weak, as is sometimes the case with concept-focused sci-fi novels (I'm looking at you, Three Body Problem). I guess I was entertained, and there were some creative aspects. But there were also a LOT of oh-come-on problems with the plot. Overall, it didn't work for me.

joulukuu 24, 2020, 10:23am

40. The Social Conquest of Earth
I really enjoy reading new (to me) information about human evolution, since I think it holds the key to understanding our selves, our societies, and our strengths and flaws as a species. Or, as this author more eloquently states, "The more we learn about our physical existence, the more apparent it becomes that even the most complex forms of human behavior are ultimately biological." I really enjoyed and learned from the first two thirds of the book. One of Wilson's main points is that humans are the result of "multi-tier" evolution. Altruism benefits the group/tribe and affects natural selection at the group level, while selfishness benefits the individual and affects natural selection at the individual level. Both of these factors have evolved concurrently within humans, thus the warring angels and demons of our conscience. The final third of the book was (for me) a review of information on human religion and the humanities that I had read elsewhere. Recommended if the topic of human evolution interests you.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 24, 2020, 10:54am

What a year, it makes my head spin to think back on it. Anyway...

My Reading Year in Review

NF books that taught me or changed my thinking:

Meritocracy Trap --The rich in the US can give their children more advantages than I had realized.
Who We Are and How We Got Here --There have been amazing recent advances in the ability to sequence DNA from ancient human, neanderthal, etc bones, thus extending our view of human history much further back in time.
The Social Conquest of Earth --E. O. Wilson is brilliant, and it's always fun to listen his latest musings on human evolution. Also, sorry, Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene), looks like your theory of kin selection as the result of biological "selfishness" is out.

Favorite light read during a pandemic:

The Innkeeper Chronicles, beginning with Clean Sweep --above average urban fantasy with a strong female protagonist and upbeat characters and tone

Also fun:

The Word is Murder --a metafiction murder mystery

Favorite novel:

Rules of Civility --a stylish and elegant nod to the era of a perfectly poured martini

joulukuu 27, 2020, 8:27pm

My new thread is here. Here's to a better year for everyone!

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 27, 2020, 8:36pm

joulukuu 27, 2020, 8:37pm

I'm playing around with inserting book pics into my thread. But this is actually the book I'm ending the year on (for professional development).

joulukuu 28, 2020, 8:05am

I always enjoy following your reading! I haven't read Rules of Civility yet - maybe this year!

tammikuu 1, 12:57pm

I've dropped a star on your new thread. The new Club Read 2021 isn't set to allow non-members to post comments. I debated moving over this year but think I'll remain in the 75er group.

tammikuu 1, 6:17pm

>43 RBeffa: Yes, I hope that issue is resolved soon. I starred your thread on the 75ers, Happy New Year!