rhian_of_oz Reads in 2020 - July to December

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rhian_of_oz Reads in 2020 - July to December

1rhian_of_oz
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 7:34am

I'm Rhian, I live in Perth Western Australia and this is my second year in Club Read. My reading goal for this year (like last year) is to make a dent in my TBR pile, however unlike last year I now have a target (based on 2019) that more than 25% of the books I read in 2020 must have been owned pre-2020.

So far this year I have read a lot less than normal (despite having more time) and have been even more neglectful of my reviews. I'm hopeful that the second half of 2020 will include more books and more participation in Club Read - both in my own thread and others.

Currently reading:
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

Next up:

Potential TBR from CR:
Poverty Castle by Robin Jenkins (AlisonY)
An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan (shadrach_anki)
Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend (BLBera)
The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary (RidgewayGirl)
Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem (wandering_star)
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts (avaland)
The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili (rachbxl)
My Mother, Your Mother by Dennis McCullough (kidzoc)
Into the Fire by Sonia Orchard (Simone2)
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (Simone2)
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett (dukedom_enough)
Jhereg by Steven Brust (bragan)
Smoke by Dan Vyleta (torontoc)
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (rachbxl)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin (bragan)
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (bragan)
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (JBuyer124)
The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf (AnnieMod)

3rhian_of_oz
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 30, 2020, 7:45am

Quarter 4

October

  1. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

  2. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

  3. Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

  4. Under Currents by Nora Roberts

  5. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

  6. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

November
  1. Severance by Ling Ma

  2. Paper Towns by John Green

  3. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

  4. Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber

  5. Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M McManus

  6. Night Moves by Jonathan Kellerman

  7. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

December
  1. The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman

  2. Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

  3. The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

  4. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

  5. The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman

  6. The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

  7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

QTD
Books owned pre-2020: 4 (20.00%)
Books purchased in 2020: 11 (55.00%)
Books gifted in 2020: 0 (0%)
Borrowed books: 5 (25.00%)

YTD
Books owned pre-2020: 37 (47.44%)
Books purchased in 2020: 34 (43.59%)
Books gifted in 2020: 0 (0%)
Borrowed books: 7 (8.97)

4rhian_of_oz
heinäkuu 12, 2020, 6:49am

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Millennia after humans embarked on an ambitious program of terraforming planets, the last remnants of a dying Earth set out to reclaim their birthright. However their new home hasn't turned out as planned and the human race is not welcome.

I would describe this as epic in scope and time. Lots of interesting thought experiments that are well done, as well as some almost philosophical musings.

I enjoyed this a lot. As well as the ideas I also liked the book structure (alternating chapters for the different groups, split into sections across time) though it seems to have annoyed some reviewers. The ending is a bit ... convenient though it's not so bad to colour my opinion of the whole book. There is a sequel (which I will be reading) but you could easily stop with this one and be satisfied.

5rhian_of_oz
heinäkuu 12, 2020, 7:44am

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

This book tells the (previously) little known story of the African American women who worked at NACA/NASA. The blurb and the movie focus on the space race but these women's involvement is older and broader than that.

I'm interested in the untold/overlooked history of women's achievements, especially in science and technology, so this book appealed to me from that perspective.

But gender is only half of the barrier these women needed to overcome and this book also gives details of the impacts of racial segregation and the civil rights movement.

I'm glad I read it.

6rhian_of_oz
heinäkuu 12, 2020, 9:13am

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

On the eve of 1938 Katey Kontent (our narrator) and her friend Eve meet Tinker Grey in an underground jazz club in New York City. So begins a year that changes Katey's life.

The book starts in 1966 where Katey and her husband are attending a photographic exhibition when she recognises Tinker Grey in a couple of the photos. The story of 1938 is then told in flashback, with an epilogue at the end.

This story is not particularly deep, though it does address themes of luck and choice. It reinforces some stereotypes about the lives of the idle rich, and the idea of the American dream where immigrants (or their children) can make good.

As in A Gentleman in Moscow we have a sympathetic, easy-to-like main character, though the supporting characters in this book are probably not quite as strongly drawn. Though this could simply be reflective of the relative depth of the relationships in each book.

I liked this. It's an easy read, and while there are some unexpected events, they're not "twists". It's quite a romantic view I think of a time and a place. If I'd read this first I probably wouldn't have read A Gentleman in Moscow on the strength of it so I'm glad I read them out of order.

7rhian_of_oz
heinäkuu 12, 2020, 10:16am

No Time Like The Past by Jodi Taylor

This is the fifth instalment in the Chronicles of St Mary's, a series about time travelling historians.

The description that springs to mind when I think about this series is "mad-cap romps" and while I don't usually go for wacky or silly these books manage to hit just the right note for me.

This episode includes a visit to the Crystal Palace Exhibition, a mission to retrieve artifacts from the Great Fire of London, and front row seats at the Battle of Thermopylae. There is also a resolution to an overarching storyline, an Open Day fete for St Mary's, and a wedding.

I like the characters, their friendships, the interesting persepctive on historical events, and the silliness.

Good thing I liked this one as I've already bought the next five.

8rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 1, 2020, 10:20am

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

My main sense of this book is quiet. That's not to say that there isn't any action or tense scenes, but somehow rather than the peaks and troughs of a stormy sea we have the slow build up of a tsunami.

Our unnamed narrator lives on an island where things "disappear", which is less about the objects suddenly vanishing and more about the island's inhabitants no longer perceiving or having any memory of the item that's "gone". The Memory Police exist to enforce the disappearances by ensuring all traces of the vanished item are removed (e.g. when birds disappear the Memory Police come to the narrator's house (her father was an ornithologist) and remove all books, papers and photographs with any references to birds). They are also responsible for rounding up those people who don't forget as they're supposed to. Like the narrator's late mother.

When she discovers that one of her friends retains his memories she concocts a plan to hide him in her house. In the meantime things keep disappearing.

I had the inevitable questions near the start about the disappearances (How do they happen? And what is the purpose?) and if you're someone who needs everything explained then you might be disappointed. Once I accepted that the disappearances just were, then I could go with the flow of the story.

The book includes the odd dated reference (e.g. using typewriters) but it is mostly timeless.

We'll be discussing this at bookclub which I'm really looking forward to. Except I feel all my contribution will be is how beautiful it is and how much I enjoyed it.

9rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 11, 2020, 2:45am

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

The blurb on the back of my book describes Michael Henchard as "perhaps the greatest of all Hardy's character-creations". As I was reading it all I could think was "the man's a tool", a petulant man-child whose changes in fortunes are all due to his own actions and behaviour.

And while this is an accurate description, Mr Hardy also somehow manages to imbue Henchard with pathos, especially at the end, so upon finishing I'm left with a more sympathetic view of the character than I held throughout most of the book.

Sometimes what strikes me about "olden time" books is how little human nature changes, but with this one I was really struck by how different our (well at least Australian) society is now, especially with regard to relationships.

This was a BB from a couple of CRers last year but by the time I read it I had no recollection what it was going to be about (and I make it a point not to read the back blurb in advance). So much happens and there are many unexpected occurrences - even the ending which (given the rest of the book) I should've predicted but which took me by surprise.

I'm glad I read it though I am not particularly inclined to search out other work by Mr Hardy.

10markon
lokakuu 11, 2020, 8:57am

You have been reading quite a range off stuff lately! I thought Hidden Figures was well done, quite readable as well as fascinating. And I'll have to put the Jodi Taylor with the list of fun and light, which I seem to need a lot of these days.

11rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 16, 2020, 10:52am

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the third book of the Themis Files trilogy.

I found my notes from the previous two books:
    Sleeping Giant (2016) - This was quite excellent. And the ending! Genius! Can't wait for the next one.
    Waking Gods (2018) - This was an interesting book, I'm not sure I totally loved it while reading it, but like the first one when I get to the end I need to know what happens next.

At the end of the second book our main characters involuntarily leave Earth and at the beginning of this one they return. The story is told in two timelines - between the time they left Earth and their return, and after their return. I liked the way it unfolded as we found out where they went, why they came back, and what happened on Earth in the interval.

I didn't love this last instalment. It's easy enough to read but some of the characters "voices" didn't ring true. The story is told using the epistolary method (as were the first two) which I am normally a big fan of but was a bit wearing this time.

It has a message (humans ruin *everything*) which is a common theme amongst scifi/spec fic but this felt a bit heavy handed in the delivery. I'm a bit ambivalent about the resolution - I'm not sure if it's clever or a cop-out.

It's a bit hard to tell whether this book is that much worse than the first one, or whether I have changed a lot as a reader over four years. I could read the first two again to find out for sure but Mt TBR won't read itself.

12shadrach_anki
lokakuu 16, 2020, 11:37am

>11 rhian_of_oz:

I read the entire trilogy last year, over the course of three weeks. I found the first book to be excellent, the second book to be very good, and the third one to be good. At least in my case, I think the final book suffered from too many character viewpoints. I find the epistolary format works best with a more limited cast.

13rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 19, 2020, 11:25am

>12 shadrach_anki: Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to hear a similar opinion as to the declining quality over the trilogy. For me part of it was I couldn't get past how flippant the Russian interrogator was.

A couple of books in epistolary format with multiple voices that I think worked well (off the top of my head) are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and World War Z. Have you read either of those and if so did you like them?

14shadrach_anki
lokakuu 20, 2020, 6:24pm

I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society back in 2010, and I know I enjoyed it at the time. It is on my (long!) list of books to reread. From what I recall, the total number of character voices worked well, but it's been ten years.

Haven't read World War Z; I am really not fond of zombies, so it takes a lot of prompting to get me to read books or watch shows featuring them.

15rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 23, 2020, 10:46am

Under Currents by Nora Roberts

I bought this because it was dead cheap. I do for the most part like Ms Roberts' work but I wasn't prepared to pay full price when this came out last year.

I would call this a suspenseful romance rather than a romantic mystery. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Zane and Darby, but the 'bad guy' was well telegraphed.

This was a good lazy Saturday afternoon, light read.

16rhian_of_oz
lokakuu 23, 2020, 11:21am

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen

This was a BB from RidgewayGirl who described it at the time as a "White Male Fuck-up Novel" which is a good description. I don't always have a lot of sympathy for adult characters who aren't "grown up", but Andrei grew on me.

In August 2008 Andrei moves from New York to Moscow to take care of his grandmother after his brother needs to leave Russia in a hurry. Against the backdrop of the GFC we follow Andrei as he tries to settle into life in a Russia that both is and isn't as he thought it would be.

As the story moves along and things start to come together for Andrei I was worried that it couldn't last. And I was right. I don't want to give away any spoilers, and I might be overstating it, but I thought the ending was tragic. Naivety can be amusing but it can also be dangerous.

This novel is at times amusing, thought provoking, poignant, and pedestrian. I'm glad I read it but I'm not going to rsuh out to read Mr Gessen's other work.

17rhian_of_oz
marraskuu 1, 2020, 6:41am

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

My reaction to this novella is totally emotional (I cried) so there's not going to be much subjective analysis in this review!

Our two protagonists (Red and Blue) are agents on opposite sides of the Time War of the title. They begin a correspondence that starts off being taunting and boastful but becomes more. Or does it?

While there is time travel in this story it is not the main point. There are enough references for us to understand that there are multiple parallel strands within this universe and that agents can travel up and down those strands and make changes that have impacts. But there is no explanation of the mechanism by which time travel is undertaken.

We also get a sense of how the two factions (the Agency and the Garden) are different and why they have different goals regarding how the future turns out, but nothing about how they evolved. Again not the point of the story.

This story is all about the relationship between Red and Blue. It's told partly in a narrative form and mostly in epistolary form (which I am quite a fan of). The further we go (as time passes hah!) the more romantic their correspondence becomes. Until.

The last third (approximately) of this book is what I believe makes it great. When you think you know what's going on it changes, and changes again. But not in a gimmicky "twist" way. There is a clue dropped as to what's going to happen but I misinterpreted it. Fun!

I read this for bookclub and am really looking forward to what that quite diverse group thinks of this.

18rhian_of_oz
marraskuu 13, 2020, 9:37am

Severance by Ling Ma

I'm not sure how I feel about this one.

All the blurb describes this as apocalyptic and technically it is (in that there is a world-ending plague) but it really isn't. Most of the book is devoted to our heroine's (Candace) pre-plague life and the early stages of societal collapse, and I don't feel that the post-apocalypse scenes really added anything to the story. Don't get me wrong, those parts of the book are still well written but don't really contain any new ideas.

It was admittedly a bit weird reading about a global pandemic that started in China while living through a global pandemic that started in China.

So setting aside my unmet expectations for a post-apocalyptic tale, what about the rest of it?

It's an interesting story with a number of strands. Ma describes Candace's life in the context of her being a child of immigrants. Ma also looks at career ambition or lack thereof and what it might look like if one chose to reject the "capitalist ideal" of working up the corporate ladder. Another strand is the comfort in routine and the known and living a "small" life.

And then we come to the end. My initial thought was "is that it?" which is due I think because where the book stops still feels like a middle rather than an ending or even a new beginning. On further reflection I think the end is more a metaphorical rather than literal new beginning as Candace takes control of her life rather than letting it happen to her.

Overall I'm glad I read it and would consider reading other work by this author.

19rhian_of_oz
marraskuu 15, 2020, 9:29am

Paper Towns by John Green

Our narrator Quentin (Q to his friends) is a senior in high school and is in love with his neighbour, the uber-cool Margo Roth Spiegelman. One night she knocks on his bedroom window and they embark on a series of adventures. When he gets to school the next day she has disappeared.

Margo's done this before so her family are angry, and she's 18 so the police aren't searching, but Q is worried. He discovers a series of clues and with the help of his friends tries to decipher them. Will they find Margo? And will she be alive when they do?

I thought the suspense/mystery component was well done - there were some dead ends/red herrings but not too many, it was well-paced, and the resolution was consistent. I also enjoyed the "Scooby gang" of Q and his friends, both as individuals and as a group. I really enjoyed the road trip.

The story does have a little bit about school hierarchy (i.e. jocks, nerds, popular kids) and also the tropes of 'popular kid being a regular person' and 'nerd being accepted by cool kids'. But it also looks at themes of growing up and the idea that what we know about other people is what they choose to show us.

I liked this quite a lot. I'm especially pleased to learn about paper towns.

20rhian_of_oz
marraskuu 25, 2020, 7:52am

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

I read this because I enjoyed The Library Book and this was the book listed with the most LT copies.

What I like about Ms Orlean's style is that she seems genuinely interested in people and is respectful and non-judgemental in writing about them.

I found this interesting - a nice mix of facts about orchids and human interest stories. While the title is The Orchid Thief, Laroche mostly provides Ms Orlean an introduction or a vehicle for an exploration of the world of orchid collectors. He is one of the many characters she encounters along the way.

What fascinates me is that this kicked off by Ms Orlean reading an article about these men being arrested for stealing orchids. I get that she would want to know more, but the extent to which she's taken it goes beyond "normal" curiosity. I guess this is why she's a writer and I'm not.

21rhian_of_oz
joulukuu 6, 2020, 8:25am

Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber

This was a recommendation by someone from bookclub many years ago and I didn't track which book the recommendation was in response to.

This was a bit weird but nonetheless compelling. There are two storylines - a human one where people keep mysteriously disappearing down into the basement of a man who, when alive, spent his life studying ants. The other storyline is from the perspective of three ants from the same colony - a male, a female and a worked.

Both stories were interesting in their own right but I wasn't entirely convinced of the resolution of the human mystery. It was required because it enabled the two stories to come together and I certainly liked the way the ant story resolved. Which makes the ending both satisfying and unsatisfying at the same time.

Apparently there is a sequel though I shan't be reading it - this one was enough for me.

22rhian_of_oz
joulukuu 6, 2020, 8:35am

Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M McManus

I read this because I quite liked One of Us is Lying. This book isn't a sequel.

This is a YA murder mystery and at the start it seems like our two narrators Ellery (twin, new girl in town) and Malcolm (brother of murder suspect) are going to be interesting, but Ellery turns out to be a really bad "girl detective". Really bad.

There's plenty of twists and red herrings but in the end the culprit was plausible but not really properly hinted at throughout the story.

I suspect this book suffered in comparison to me having recently read Paper Towns which was a well done YA mystery.

I don't intend to read any more by this author.

23rhian_of_oz
joulukuu 7, 2020, 1:14am

Night Moves by Jonathan Kellerman

I have been reading this series a long time and I'm still enjoying them enough to continue, but I'm no longer buying them (yay for public libraries).

The pace is good and there are enough changes in the track of the investigation to be interesting but not annoying. I feel like the resolution was fairly implausible but these are more a comfort read for me than a chance to test my detective skills.

Definitely one for fans only.

24rhian_of_oz
joulukuu 7, 2020, 1:36am

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

This is a dystopian novel that pre-dates both Brave New World and 1984. It has a number of elements from one or the other but I feel like it is more like the former (one of my favourites of all time) than the latter (which I'm not really a fan of).

Centuries in our future the Benefactor rules the One State which, at the beginning of the story, is building a spaceship (the Integral) to take the message of "mathematically infallible happiness" to the universe - whether it wants it or not.

The story is told diary-style where out narrator D-503 is the Builder of the Integral, and is completely happy in his highly structured, completely transparent life until he meets I-330.

I read this for bookclub and my thought prior to the discussion was that I didn't like it - primarily because I felt D-503's reaction to the events that overtake him was completely over-the-top. However once I considered him in the context of someone who is overwhelmed by encountering a lot of new stimulus in a short period of time I was more sympathetic.

This book has a lot of excellent ideas in it and I would recommend it to anyone who likes adult (as opposed to YA) dystopian fiction.

25rhian_of_oz
joulukuu 7, 2020, 3:06am

The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman

I read this because Ms Chapman's debut How To Be a Good Wife was a cracker. I had high expectations.

The story starts when Rook Henderson finds his wife June dead (of natural causes - this isn't a murder mystery) and does what he always does - runs away. He flies to Vietnam where he essentially "came of age" as a photojournalist during the Vietnam War. We then follow Rook both in the current day and in flashback as he examines the choices he made.

This felt a bit flat for me. There are a couple of events that are alluded to throughout the story but when we find out what they are it's a bit of an anti-climax. And while it's also supposed to be about his marriage to June (50+ years) we only really see the first 10 years and even then mostly in his not being there.

It's easy enough to read but I guess I wasn't expecting what is essentially a story about a professionally successful man who is a rubbish husband and father who finds himself alone in his twilight years.

I will read the next novel Ms Chapman publishes but without the anticipation I approached this with.

26markon
Muokkaaja: joulukuu 7, 2020, 11:11am

>24 rhian_of_oz: Ooh, glad to hear from someone who has read this. For me it's more an "I ought to read this because it's a precursor to 1984" than something I want to read. I think I'll move it to the read it with a group column based on your experience.

27baswood
joulukuu 7, 2020, 6:21pm

>24 rhian_of_oz: As Dystopian worlds go it's not too bad as long as you have plenty of pink tickets - seriously though the book has a style of its own and is well worth a read.

28AnnieMod
joulukuu 8, 2020, 7:34pm

>24 rhian_of_oz:

I read this one long before I read 1984 so the "oh, this sounds like..." had always been reversed in my head. Like a lot of the classic examples of certain stories, it may not be the best written one out there but the ideas are there and when you realize that it was written a century ago, things click a bit better. Glad you liked it (well, appreciated anyway).

>26 markon:

One advice if I may - don't read it expecting a real precursor or trying to find the parallels. Just read it as a 100 years old dystopian novel. It is different in ways that are not that easy to connect sometimes.

29markon
joulukuu 8, 2020, 8:33pm

>28 AnnieMod: Will do. Thanks for the heads up.